Thursday, December 31, 2009

Day 365.

It's hard to put to words the mix of emotions I feel as I write this last post. I have completed my journey, my year of gratitude, having not missed one day. This blog started out as a goal, turned into a welcome discipline, and now I admit it was feeling some days as annoying homework. The amazing thing about it, however, has been the blessings that have overflowed from my openness and will to not give this up. Each time I sat down at the computer to do my blog, rolling my eyes, I would end up smiling by the end of my post. I mean it - looking at the bright side really does make you happier. At least writing about it does. Because of my blog, I've had one of the most positive and stress-free years of my adult life. Everything is put in perspective when you focus on gratitude. Even outside of my blog, I would notice myself talking about being grateful so much more than I ever had before. I had developed a whole new gratitude vocabulary.

So, what am I grateful for this last day of 2009? That feels like a lot of pressure, to punctuate this experience with something extra meaningful. So, I'm going to halfway cheat (cause I can do that - it's my blog) and I'm going to have a list.

Things I'm grateful for, looking back at the year 2009...

I am grateful for this blogging experience, this spiritual discipline, and for fulfilling it.

I am grateful for a year full of health for my family.

I am grateful for Jason having a stable job, when many in this country are struggling.

I am grateful for four wonderful parents who love us unconditionally.

I am grateful for siblings (both natural and in-laws) who are fun to be around and who love my children.

I am grateful for my nieces and nephews, who I love and can't get enough time with.

I am grateful for two amazing children who challenge me, make me more patient, give me hugs, and make me laugh every single day.

I am grateful that I am able to stay home with my kids.

I am grateful for my church; it's been a hard year, but things are looking up.

I am grateful for my incredible husband, who is also the best dad I could ever want for my children.

I am grateful for you, all the readers of this blog, who have inspired me and encouraged me to keep writing, even when I felt like I was writing something no one would want to read.

Happy New Year!

P.S. I will continue (or go back to...that blog has been neglected) to post life updates on my Rhodes Family blog ( and may continue to do some gratitude posts here and there on this blog. Check back for more updates!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Day 364.

I had heard good things about the Wonderland Express, an exhibit at the Chicago Botanic Garden which had several trains running through a nature wonderland. One man had crafted various Chicago landmarks out of different forms of nature and it all worked together seamlessly to form a really cool exhibit! I highly recommend.

I am grateful for family outings.

Whereas I married a homebody, and I have recently admitted how much I love my days at home, I am still a person who LOVES a good outing. I love leaving home to go do something fun. Anything really - going out to eat, to a park, a trip to Target, a museum. It's all pretty fun for me, as long as it's not freezing cold or raining - too times I don't really like outings all that much.

So today we ventured out in the just about 30 degree weather, slightly snowing (only enough to be pretty and not slow traffic too much), and headed to the Botanic Garden. It was a lovely afternoon/evening and even though our first three restaurant attempts did not work out (first one closed, second one 45 minute wait, third one 20 minute wait), we finally found a little quaint Mexican joint to hit up for some much needed chips and salsa and a margarita. Yum!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Day 363.

It snowed in Chicago while we were down at my parents' house for Christmas. So, we came back to plowed roads and trampled sidewalks. BUT, there was still barely enough snow to play, and barely enough snow to go sledding down the side of the viaduct by LakeShore Drive. Yay!

I am grateful that I got both kids home without any major meltdowns.

Snow play is fun stuff. It has to be, because anyone brave enough to put on two pairs of pants, two shirts, snow pants, socks, coat, mittens and hat on two preschoolers better be in for the time of their life. Lucky for me, it didn't disappoint. But there were several moments where I thought...this could turn very, very sour.

For one, I made them walk...I mean DUH, it's two blocks to the park/viaduct we were going to. That is not far. BUT, put on layers of clothing, snowsuits, coats and mittens, and you have a "The Christmas Story" situation, and all the folks passing us on the sidewalk could not contain their amusement. I knew on the way there that the sledding/snow play was bribe enough to get their little feet moving. But when we were done, what would be the cheese luring them home? I spent the way there thinking about the possible bribes I could use to get Noah to walk just one. more. block.

Then we lost Noah's orange ball that he brought especially to play in the snow. Somewhere it just disappeared among the white fluffy stuff. Luckily as he started crying, I enthusiastically threw out, "Let's come back and look for it when the snow melts!" and he thought that was the most incredible idea EVER (phew). He stopped mid-tear.

Or a meltdown could have ensued from the stupid broken mitten that Noah was wearing on his left hand. The zipper broke (to hold it on) last year and I'm too cheap to replace it (I paid $10 for that pair of child's snowproof mittens!). So, it kept falling off and he was getting a cold, snowy hand. You can just picture how that could go bad, no?

But instead, the worst meltdown of the day? When I had to convince them to go home. Yep, that's right. It was THAT fun.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Day 362.

I blinked. Guess what happened? The baby that was in my womb so snug and warm, who was birthed in less than three hours of labor, who was taken from my arms, who I wasn't allowed to feed, who was so critical...but still mine, YOU are no longer a baby.

I am grateful for growing up.

I am equally sad, nostalgic, and happy for this milestone. This special baby of mine is no longer a baby, and no longer in a crib, but in his very own Big Boy Bed! With a capital B! And not just any bed, but a bunkbed to boot. Noah Quinn, I cannot believe you are big enough for a real bed, but you are. You're happy and healthy and full of life.

Watching your kids grow up is an amazing and wonderful thing. But there are elements of sadness there too, and so while I will happily kiss you goodnight in your bottom bunk tonight, I will also remember the more than a thousand times I've lifted you in and out of that crib. I'll remember your first night in that crib, sharing a room with your big sister. I'll remember how rested I felt the first time you slept all the way through the night (although that did not last). I'll remember when you wouldn't go to sleep unless you'd told me "I want this right here, this right here, and that right there" (arranging your pillows and animals just right). I'll remember when you couldn't be tucked in without us laying down your blanket just right (feet first, then up to neck, in one swoop). I'll remember when you decide no covers was actually the way to go and you forbid any blankets in your crib.

We've never been without a crib in our house for the past five years. It's hard to believe that we've been in "baby" mode for that long. Part of me longs to keep it going, to hold on to the crib for the next go-around. And part of me is happy...content...and grateful, for what is and what is yet to come.

Finally letting them climb on after three hours of putting together...

Their room, with the extra space now that they have bunkbeds (notice my daughter who is disobeying one of the new "bunk bed rules").

Reading peacefully together, all snug in their beds.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Day 361.

We're walkin' in a Winter Wonderland. Why is it that whenever we wake up to a day of travel it starts snowing like crazy? It is beautiful here, and we finally got the snow I'd been hoping for all week...but on the day we are leaving. How inconvenient!

I am grateful for traveling mercies.

At my parent's church a lot of people asked for traveling mercies for family and friends on the roads. When I heard the prayers in church I was thinking how vague it seemed, like a blanket prayer that didn't have as much meaning or something. Now I feel so grateful for the same thing I was judging just hours before.

Sometimes it's hard for me to pray for something that seems generic or vague. Like, "I pray for my family." Or "world peace" or "the situation in the middle east." But while I feel inadequate in these moments of prayer, for not naming something specific, God is lifting my prayers up and holding not only my words but my thoughts and my whole being in his arms. Just because I feel like my prayer is falling short, doesn't mean it actually is.

Lately I have loved the "sitting in God's lap" image to sustain me in times of fear, helplessness and depression. But why can't we "sit in God's lap" in vague and generic times too? Sounds like a safe seat to ride home in.

Day 360.

Saturday, December 26, 2009.

I don't like the day after Christmas much. It's sort of a let down after spiritual highs, fabulous family overload and fun in gift giving and receiving. All the planning and waiting of advent is over. Well, not entirely over...we still have Epiphany, right? But really. I have to be honest here, and it's sad for me. So what is my silver lining today?

It's not hard to find, as I look around at my wonderful family, our abundant love and many blessings of health and happiness. What is there NOT to be grateful for.

I am grateful for time, however fast it goes.

This week has sped by. We came on Tuesday to enjoy almost a week with my family. And now it's drawing to a close, while feeling like we just began. But as I moan and sulk about how fast it went, I realize how wonderful it is that we had it at all.

Our kids are making memories that will truly last a lifetime. It's very possible that Dylan and Anya will remember some of this Christmas celebration this year. We have pictures to account for Noah's adorable obsession with baby Nora. I'll remember Evan's free love and hope that he's still telling me "Hilwee, I love you too." (without me saying it first, mind you :)) when he's 15.

These are beautiful times, and so whatever time it is, however fast it goes, I am so happy it was here at all.

Day 359.

Friday, December 25, 2009.

Christmas Day.

I am grateful for Jesus Christ, and for his mother, Mary.

Back to my wonderful devotional book by Jan Richardson. I love Jan's focus during advent on mothers, birth and women in general. Usually I don't focus on Mary all that much during advent. Besides one of my favorite songs being "Breath of Heaven" (which is very Mary focused) - I just kind of fail to dwell on that perspective.

But as a mom, when I start to think about Mary's own journey to motherhood, I am really blown away. I guess for so long I thought of the Christmas story in very abstract ways. I didn't picture an actual mother and father with an actual baby all that often. So I didn't think about that mother as someone with labor pains, with anxieties about her new role, with hopes for her newborn child.

Now I see Mary, and can see all women past, present and future, linked together. And I am so grateful for this deeply felt bond with people I don't even have to know, but whom I can appreciate and be inspired by. I am also grateful for the many wonderful female role models in my life. I am truly blessed.

Day 358.

Thursday, December 24, 2009.

Christmas Eve. The Christmas Eve church service at First Mennonite Champaign-Urbana is a destination. It is always a magical time for me. The pastors change, the people change (but many stay the same), the Christmas carols rotate through, but the Spirit is always there. God is always thickly present in this space.

I am grateful for First Mennonite Church.

This church had a good part in raising me to the person I am today. Our family valued our church community like no other, and we were dedicated to being a part of this body. Now I still feel connected to the church, and especially to the magic of the Christmas Eve service. I am blessed and filled.

Day 357.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009.

I've been struggling with headaches lately (may have something to do with trying to give up caffeine again...or eating trace amounts of dairy?? Don't know). And so this morning when I wanted to be looking forward to going to my parent's cabin with the whole family for the day, I was annoyed to wake up with another headache. Ugghh.

I am grateful for pain medicine.

I am not a huge pill-popper. I would like to think I wait until I really need medication to take it...I'm just wary of medicating for every little thing. This morning, I was all about the pain relief, and I was so glad to have taken it, have it work, and have a happy day with the family at the cabin.

Day 356.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009.

Over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house we go.
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the white and dusty snow.
Over the river and through the woods, oh how the wind does blow.
It stings the nose and bites the toes as over the ground we go.

I don't actually know if those are all the right words, but that's how I remember it. And what's we essentially did this morning as we packed up and left our snowy winter wonderland, better known as Chicago, to head to my folks in Champaign. So snowy and beautiful here...but so exciting to go see family for Christmas!

I am grateful for anticipation.

I have been waiting to see my niece Nora again for three months!! I can't wait to hold her again, to see my other niece and nephew and to be with the rest of the clan. Christmas and the days surrounding it are certainly the most wonderful time of the year (duh, they wrote a song about it).

Monday, December 21, 2009

Day 355.

I wish I still scrapbooked. I mean I try to do it, but golly gee it sure takes a long time. And so I'm almost three years behind on my kid's books - I've just barely done Noah's birth. That makes my blood pressure rise just thinking about all the catch-up I need to do.

Back in 1999, after my first year of college, I put together a scrapbook of my first year of college. Back then it was fun, four years later it seemed a little ridiculous, and now it's fabulous! I love looking at it and really, it seems like a totally different person from who I am now.

I am grateful for scrapbooks.

Today while packing for Christmas, I found my freshman-in-college scrapbook and showed it to my kids. They had fun trying to find me in all the different pictures. "Mommy, why are you doing that? Why are you making that face?" And I had fun remembering why it's good to do scrapbooks, and now I need to get back on the bandwagon!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Day 354.

I woke up too early this morning, for it was my morning to sleep in (this term is relative now that we are parents - sleeping in is 7:30/8:00 at best). I was wide awake at 7am with my kids running around the house in the background. I wanted to stay in bed but couldn't justify it. So, I got out my devotional book I recently started (eager to begin a new spiritual discipline since this one, my blog, will be ending soon) and decided to do my 2 minute time with God in the morning. It was just what I needed.

Because of Advent, and with the help of this wonderful devotional for women, I've been doing a lot of thinking about waiting. I'm not a very good waiter. I am anxious, impatient, and often annoyed at the waiting. I just want to get it over with and get the good part here...or the bad part over with, depending on what I'm waiting for.

I've also thought a lot of about waiting in regards to our own church conflict and healing. I just want to get it over heal, to welcome, to be done. But the waiting is powerful.

from Sacred Journeys: A Woman's Book of Daily Prayer by Jan L. Richardson:
"We must acknowledge that not all waiting ends in the birth of new life. Babies arrive stillborn. Dreams disperse. Revolutions die.

At these times, community becomes particularly important. Awkwardness and uncertainty may sometimes dull a community's response when a long-awaited birth ends in brokenness. Yet communities with skill in healing know that what sustained us in waiting will sustain us in grief. Our wounds begin to heal as they are bound by strong threads of connection: spirits that recognize and know our inner beings, voices that bless, arms that hold our rage and embrace our sorrow."

I am grateful for the words of Jan Richardson.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Day 353.

I know I already wrote about Dylan's favorite words, but seriously, it is getting better and better.

I am grateful for Dylan's imagination.

Not only is she working "frank" and "damage" into everyday conversation (and all characters in pretend play/dollhouse are guessed it), but she has added some more words to her favorites.

Dylan's Favorite Words, Dec. 19, 2009.

(Yes, Derek, that is you and your wife in there. You have been named often these past few days...not as people, but as the wonderful words that are your names.)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Day 352.

I am a big fan of the "How to Talk So Kids will Listen" book and I often go back to their timeless techniques of parenting and relating to your children. And so right now, I desperately need to be reading their companion book, Siblings without Rivalry. My kids don't fight incessantly, and really it's pretty harmless when they do. But it's annoying. And possibly harmful to their relationship? The bickering is just so YUCK. I'd love to help ease them out of it. So if anyone needs a last minute Christmas gift for me, I'd love that book.

They fight and they bicker and they whine and they sometimes push. But when they play nice, they play SO good together. And for so long! Today they were in their room together (shut the doors on their own to make up a camp or something) for over an hour having a ball. Not one cross word, not one tear, not one raised voice. It was heaven.

I am grateful for moments of sibling bliss.

Do I want another kid? Maybe so.

Day 351.

Thursday, December 17, 2009.

Wrapping presents is one of my favorite traditions of the holidays. A couple of years ago my family decided to get a bunch of fabric and wrap presents in that instead of having 3 or 4 garbage bags full of crumpled paper at the end of Christmas Day. My mom and Lara were the initiators on this and I never got any (probably cause I didn't ask). Now I do wish I had some, solely for the environmental reason. But, I admittedly LOVE wrapping paper...and cloth is not quite the same to wrap with. So, until I do get cloth...

I am grateful for wrapping presents!

I largely underestimated the interest my kids would take in this task this year. Dylan was my "writing girl" who did the names on some of the packages. And Noah was my "tape boy" who got me almost every last piece of tape I needed to wrap around 20 presents. That's a lot of tape! He enjoyed every moment. He also enjoyed rolling out the huge roll of Frosty the Snowman wrapping paper across the whole family room floor and walking all over it and wrinkling it up. And he enjoyed laying down on the paper and asking me to wrap him up. I started to get mad, and then caught myself and actually halfway did it (being careful to keep the paper nice enough to use again!). Dylan enjoyed whining about how she wanted all of the presents for herself and didn't want to give them away. They both enjoyed using the leftover scraps to wrap up little toys of their own themselves and "play Christmas." And I enjoyed it all...even when I was mildly annoyed and impatient.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Day 350.

I'm making arroz con pollo for dinner tonight. It's a dish that both Jason and I love - I had it a lot in Costa Rica when I went on Study Service Term there 8 years ago. This recipe was a little more cuban than Costa Rican, and I see now that I might like the drier Costa Rican version better. But this is still a great meal. It took some time - actually about double the time I accounted for. I planned on dinner at 6 as usual. And at 6:07 I realized it was still another 40 minutes....woops. I am a slow cook and it sometimes is really frustrating as I make my family wait.

I am grateful for the patience of my family.

Often if the kids are hungry they are hanging at my feet whining, "Can I have a snack?" and I just cannot cook like that. So tonight, Jason had the kids in the other room for the last 40 minutes of my cooking and I was listening to Christmas music, checking my recipe twice and sipping Beaujolais. Thank you Jason, because tonight when I said, "40 more minutes" you didn't say "Really?!" You said, "Ok" and took the kids away to play (unintentional Dr. Seuss moment). Thank you thank you thank you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Day 349.

I am grateful for Christmas books!

I love Christmas books. I guess I have to love them. Both my mom and aunt Jeanie have given me a Christmas book every year that I have been alive - and so my collection is thick (30x2 plus others). It's so much fun to get all my Christmas books out each year and is like a walk down memory lane as we read them, now with my own children.

For bedtime stories, Dylan and Noah have been using the extensive Christmas book collection to pick out their books, and tonight Noah had picked "There Was No Snow on Christmas Eve." It talks about how there wasn't actually snow on Christmas Eve cause Jesus was born in the hot desert, etc. Much more eloquently put in the book of course...and it's a beautifully illustrated one. So anyway, I was about halfway through the book and Noah asks me, "Where is Santa in this book?"

Monday, December 14, 2009

Day 348.

I had a killer headache (no caffeine I realized after the day was over...duh...but good for me to stop drinking it...) all day, so when naptime hit, I demanded that I lay down in Dylan's bed while Noah was trying to fall asleep. Dylan wanted to be near me, so she lay too, and although she tossed and turned and annoyed me for the first 25 minutes, I finally fell asleep for about 5 minutes, abruptly woke up to a phone call, and found her totally zonked. Woops! I didn't mean for her to take a nap...but OK!

So then I leisurely started dinner ahead of schedule so I could leave and take Dylan to violin and come back and have it pretty much ready. I was making Yellow Split Pea Dal with Roasted Cauliflower and Quinoa. One of the main flavors in the dal is fresh ginger, which I had, until I took it out of the fridge to use and it was moldy. Big bummer. I couldn't substitute ground ginger for fresh in this instance, so I called my upstairs neighbor and asked if she had 10 minutes - could I run to the produce market down the street while she sat in my condo for a few minutes while my kids slept?

I am grateful for helpful neighbors.

She said yes! And so 20 minutes later she was down with her twin girls and I was briskly jogging to the store. Score! 74 cents and 6 minutes later, I was back home and back on track with dinner. Thanks, Maggie!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Day 347.

I am grateful for the worship theme today.

Rejoice! It felt so refreshing to be joyful today in church. I really needed a positive, happy service that reminded me to embrace joy, for myself and others. I have a lot to be inspired from in the service, and especially Todd's sermon, was very challenging to me. It's one thing to have your own joy and feel joy because of God's presence. It's another thing to assure another person of this assure them that God is with them...even if they don't feel His comfort or feel joyful.

I hope that this Advent season, and beyond, I am able to reflect joy.

Day 346.

My dear firstborn had her first real violin recital today. She had the spooky suzuki play-in back in October but they didn't actually play anything then, just hold the violin, do some singing, pluck, etc. So today, she played! And she played well, and she looked so old.

I am grateful for my little performer.

I had to hold back the tears as she looked so big up there. REALLY big. I was just so proud of her, and pretty amazed at how far the Suzuki school can take kids so painlessly in three months! Thanks Hyde Park Suzuki Institute!

Day 345.

Friday, December 11, 2009.

TGIF. I love soups in Fall and Winter. So tonight was a soup night. There is just something about having a bowl of soup when it's cold outside...and soups are generally cheaper than other main dish options, so what's not to love?

I am grateful for Tangy Carrot Soup.

Tangy Carrot Soup comes from Simply in Season, a cookbook I use a ton, and one I've mentioned here before. I just love cooking seasonally, and cooking simply. So what's not to love about this cookbook? This one I even got to use my delicious grass fed beef in, so there was another bonus. This tasted like an updated version of vegetable beef soup. But better, cause I actually don't really like vegetable beef soup. And this was good. All in all, a winner.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Day 344.

Today I had big plans, things to do, people to see. Field Museum, DSW shoe return/exchange, haircut for Noah, get new tires installed on my car. And I scrapped them all.

I am grateful for videos, snacks, crafts, books and cuddles.

This is what our day was. We played, we snacked, we read books, we cuddled, we watched some videos (well, THEY watched a Scholastic DVD from the library while I threw in some laundry and caught up on some random projects). It was a good simple day, and I had a nice fresh perspective. Dylan had a really bad night last night where she was up crying for an hour and a half from 10:15-11:45 - just woke up as I was going to bed. It was really frustrating, and even my patient self (don't all laugh at once) couldn't listen to crying for that long from a 4.5 year old. It just was irrational and she couldn't stop herself and I tried everything and AHHHHH! I was seriously going insane. So, today, with a little bit of sleep (not enough) under my belt I vowed to make it up to her. At one point last night she sobbed, "I just don't want you to be angry with me!" Heart sinking now...

Oh Dylan, how can I be MAD at you because your nose is bothering you and you can't stop thinking about it? How can you really help yourself? I'm sorry I lost my patience. I'm sorry I was frustrated. I'm sorry I wasn't nice after about an hour of this back and forth. I was just really tired. And I hope our fun and cuddles together today made up for least a little.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Day 343.

I'm sitting here on my computer, just put the kids down to bed and got the dishes done. Glass of 3 buck chuck shiraz. And what am I listening to? A delightful melody of holiday tunes, thanks to my favorite online music source.

I am grateful for Pandora.

I listen to Pandora throughout the year, but didn't think about it until today in regards to holiday music. I typed in my favorite Christmas song, "Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)" by Amy Grant, and sure enough, it recognized it as holiday and made me a lovely holiday station full of mellow holiday hits! Yay! I'm grooving to

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Day 342.

When I was growing up I used to have favorite words. I would have words that I just really liked the sound of. They sounded good, they felt good rolling off your tongue. They were good words.

Somehow, that must have been genetically passed along to Dylan, because she has come up with the idea of favorite words all on her own. I had even forgotten that I used to do the same thing until she kept repeating these same words for days and I was thinking, "Those are cool words. I like them too. Whoa...I used to do this too." Kind of funny.

I am grateful for favorite words.

What are Dylan's favorite words you ask?
Frank and Damage (say them now...and I dare you to admit they aren't fun to say)

What were some of my favorite words as a kid?
The only three I can remember: Trenchcoat, Pancake and Barricade.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Day 341.

Family. Is there anything more refreshing and easy as being around my family? I cannot wait for our family Christmas get-together coming up in 2 weeks - and so today, having my parents come up for a day of Christmas shopping, was a great foretaste of fun.

I am grateful for family time at Christmas.

I guess I'm counting Christmas-time as now, because it just felt festive and fun and we were Christmas shopping afterall. It was so great to have a day where my parents and I took the kids shopping and I didn't have to brave a mall or any store alone! It was three adults to two kids, and believe me, we felt outnumbered! But the kids really did great, considering we were at the mall for SIX hours. Seriously? How did that even happen? All I know is that I'm exhausted, and while it's a good kind of exhausted, I was definitely hitting the couch with a glass of wine minutes after we walked inside. Ahhh....

Yesterday during Sunday School, Janie prompted us to think about how we in the class were able to find peace in Advent, amongst a busy holiday season. My answer came to me quite easily. For me, I'm just trying to do less. Less parties. Less playdates Less on my to-do list and more family time. I find if I do less, I feel more. I feel like I have more energy for the important things like loving and playing with my children. More time for making playdough and snickerdoodle cookies. And more time for Christmas cards (which I don't find stressful and actually find fun to address, stamp and get off in the mail). So, cheers to less! Less is more during the holidays for me this year, and may less busyness mean more time to recognize my many blessings.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Day 340.

I was invited to join the church choir for today's performance. I've been in it before, but not since pre-Dylan. So wow, it's been almost five years! I don't consciously think about missing it, I just know I had a good time when I would sing. But I got a taste of choir membership again today. So fun!

I am grateful for choral music.

It's so rewarding being a part of a choir, making beautiful music together. There is something so communal about it that I have really missed the past few years. Now that I think about it, these last five years have really been the only time I haven't been in choir my whole life!

So, I'm glad I got a taste of it again today...someday I'll have the time to do it again, when my kids can take care of themselves! Thanks LMC choir for letting me (and Jason!) join you today.

Day 339.

Saturday, December 5, 2009.

I am grateful for Breakfast with Santa.

I remember doing this as a kid every year, and it beats standing in line at a mall to see Santa! So, when I found out that a local catholic school was doing this, we had to get in on the fun. And it was fun! I especially appreciated the low keyness of the event. Well, that is everything except the fact that they were using a microphone to have Santa ask the kids what they wanted for Christmas and shoving the microphone in their face to have them answer. What is that about? What happened to the intimate moment between Santa and child?

But it was fun, and I'm glad the four of us could go together. It was a nice morning and even though Dylan didn't tell Santa what she wanted (she went on with this whole story about her camera but never did tell Santa what she actually wanted this year) and Noah was too scared to come near Santa, let alone sit on his was still their favorite part of the day.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Day 338.

It's fun to have a four year old, almost five year old. You can do things with an almost five year old that aren't so easy with a younger kid. Like ice skating, for example. (I guess you could do that with a younger kid, but we didn't...)

I am grateful for Mommy and Dylan time.

Jason took Noah to a Kenwood Broncos basketball game, so Dylan and I had to figure out something to do together that was equally special. I came up with ice skating, and she was beyond pumped. She could barely wait all day long until 4:30! Mind you, we did not have a car since Jason was taking it with Noah to the game. So, we walked to the bus stop, took the bus several blocks, then got off the bus and walked four or five more blocks. Not too far really (about 10 minutes of walking), but it was COLD! It felt like winter finally came today, and the temperatures were in the 20's. We had on layers, gloves, hats and scarves, and we were still cold.

But we made it, had a blast and she did not want to leave. While I was busy worrying about hypothermia (really, my toes were BURNING), she was busy not giving up. I guess I can thank DragonTales for something. "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!" (You have no idea how often I hear that from my children.) Give up she did not. There was only one point where she crossed her arms and looked frustrated. The rest of the time, she was all smiles and stamina, even through the 100+ falls she took on the ice. That one little moment of frustration, unfortunately, was the ONLY thing I got on my crappy cell phone video camera. I thought I was taking this beautiful sequence of her skating, but apparently I don't know how to use this piece of technology. So, instead I got this.

It doesn't reflect any of the wonderful outing except that one negative SECOND. Oh well, I guess we have to go again soon, and it will suit her just fine.

Now for some trivia. In one hour of skating we made it around the rink how many times? Any guesses?


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Day 337.

Made a new dish out of Extending the Table tonight, a South African Meatloaf. Very interesting to have a curry flavor to meatloaf, but we liked it! Curry makes almost everything better, if you ask me. And since I'm not really a meatloaf fan, it's actually the first time I've ever made meatloaf in my life. It all was made totally better because of one other important factor.

I am grateful for grass-fed Iowa beef.

Thanks, Steven, for the delicious and better-for-us beef that you sold us. And seriously, the price was about 1/5 of what I would pay for a pound of grass-fed beef in the stores here in Chitown. Pretty awesome stuff. So, while I made room in my freezer for 20 lbs. of ground beef this past weekend and thought...who wants that much beef?!...I am so giddy about the good taste, low fat and happy cows that we are eating.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Day 336.

Noah might be giving up his nap (no nap 3-4 times in the past week). Rewind about a year and a half ago to when Dylan started giving up her nap, and you'll find an over-agitated Hilary, constantly thinking about sleep and determined to get that nap in. I was not afraid to threaten, bribe or beg. Seriously, I thought it was the end of the world if she did not take a nap.

Ok, go back to the present time. Noah gives up his nap? Who. Cares.

Is that really how different it is with the second kid? Am I that much more relaxed?

Definitely a little more relaxed, but more, I think it has to do with the fact that we will have so much more time in the day for fun if he doesn't nap. As it is now, Dylan and I have two hours - make that three hours - by the time we read books, get him down, allow for cuddle wakeup time (which I will miss) etc.). It takes up most of our afternoon, and by the time lunch is over and we've had our nap/quiet time, it's basically time for me to start cooking dinner!

I am grateful for my chillness about naps.

So he takes a nap, so he doesn't. Newsflash: it's just not that big of deal. I won't stop trying, but I also won't start losing sleep over it. I promise this time around not to bribe or whine or beg. I promise that I won't waste my whole afternoon laying down with him just so he'll close his eyes. I promise I won't get angry when he cutely smiles up at me from his crib, puts his hands out and with full drama says, "I just can't sleep!" I promise I won't even get frustrated that he's singing Old MacDonald instead of at least TRYING to sleep. Let's let this one go, and just enjoy having no kids who have to take naps. It only means longer trips to the zoo and more fun in the afternoons! 2:00 playdate anyone?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Day 335.

Growing up, every late November in the Breeze household included a Christmas card photo shoot. Take a trip to my parent's basement and you'll see 22 years of Christmas photo shoots on display that were then made into cards for the yearly family card send-out. It's pretty cool to see them all there.

So, I hard can THAT be? I remember fondly the bribery of Reese's Pieces for every good picture taken. So, with my candy in tow, I took on the task today at home. Let me just say thank you to my aunt Jeanie was here to be my assistant. I could not have done it (gotten through it without stabbing myself) without you.

How did my parents get 22 years of good pictures?!?! Every click of my camera was another example of how little control I have over my children.

I am grateful for the Christmas photo shoot to be a success.

I didn't come away with a phenomenal picture, but I did get enough decency to go with it. I'm trying to give up on some of my perfectionism when it comes to projects like this. Afterall, those we send this to will never know how much work went into it. I'm letting go.

Here are a few outtakes for fun. Really, this is where I had difficulty choosing just four! Earlier today I looked through all 120 pictures searching desperately for one to use for a card, but outtakes...I have plenty!

looking down instead of up...

overdoing the joy...

a little too much hugging...

we've lost one folks...

Monday, November 30, 2009

Day 334.

It's easy to get caught up in everyday violin practicing and have a hard time seeing any progress being made. Really. Hard.

But then I took some video of her (to show her that she was moving her elbow!). I was just uploading everything this evening to my computer when it hit me - she really has come a long way. In only two months she's learned to play the violin! Two months ago she didn't even know which hand was her violin hand and which hand was her bow hand. Now she knows that better than her right and left.

I am grateful for progress.

Sometimes you need a little low quality video to give you a good reality check.

Do you want a pickle, on your ice cream sandwich?
Yes I want a pickle, on my ice cream sandwich!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Day 333.

I want to be ready for the Christmas season. I want to listen to Christmas music, decorate our house, sing advent songs at church. But something is keeping me from feeling ready. Maybe it's that the fall is flying by. We never even made it to an apple orchard to pick this year, something I'm still regretting. It just seemed to pass by with me hanging on for dear life. And so I feel like I'm still celebrating Halloween when actually I need to be getting out the manger scenes!

I am grateful for "Avent."

Dylan can't seem to get the "d" in Advent. She knows it's there, but it's just one of those words for her. Like "Perftect." Or "Alother."

It was officially the first day of Advent, and from church to decorating at home, listening to about five hours of Comcast Holiday Radio (it's actually pretty good!), I am so ready for this Christmas season to be here. Yay for the holidays! I guess I'm just realizing how fast time flies when you're an adult. I used to feel like the Christmas countdown took FOREVER, and no I'm thinking, "WHAT? We only have three weeks until Christmas?!?!" So, I'm trying to get some perspective. Not wanting it to rush, not wanting it to go slow...just wanting to enjoy it all. Breathe in. Breathe out. And be in the present. The present that is Advent.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Day 332.

The way TO Iowa on Wednesday night was long. We left at 3:15pm and did not arrive in Kalona until 9:20pm. Just over 6 hours. We did stop for a 45 minute dinner, but really - it should not have taken over five hours. Chalk it up to Thanksgiving traffic and rain I guess.

I am grateful for a short ride home from Iowa.

Today we left at 2:45 and got home at 6:30! 3 hours and 45 minutes for the math challenged. Granted, we did have about a 30 minute head start as we hit up the Hawkeyes basketball game on our way to I-80. But still.

I think I've decided 4 hours is a magic number when it comes to traveling with kids. At 4 hours they lose their minds and think it's cool to cry, whine and ask for things they don't normally get. We just squeaked by this time and they actually wanted to stay IN the car to finish Mary Poppins! Score.

Day 331.

Friday, November 27, 2009.

I am grateful for visits to cousinland.

I remember fond vacations to Las Vegas that revolved around family. That might sound bizarre, unless you know that my mom's two brothers and their kids live in Las Vegas. It has always been a wonderful destination, as it is warm, sunny and the strip is always lively.

Now, my kids have two equally exciting destinations to go and visit their cousins - sunny, mountainous Colorado and the farm-tastic land of Iowa. This Thanksgiving we have been enjoying the farmland, and today the kids even participated in some of the farm fun.

On any property with mature trees, leave pickup is always abundant, so here on grandpa and grandma's farm is no exception. Auntie Mo-Mo got out the tractor and the wagon and the kids climbed in. They rode around the yard to the different piles of previously raked leaves and would get out, eagerly pile the leaves into the wagon and then jump back on top of them to go dump on the burn pile. Then we'd go to the burn pile, throw them out the side of the wagon, and do it all over again.

They were hard workers and even though it was cold, they were so into their work, they never complained. They loved the tractor rides and they got to jump in the leaves whenever they needed a cleanup break. What fun you can have on the farm - and what a world of difference from the city!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Day 330.

Happy Thanksgiving 2009. What an incredible holiday that now, after this year of gratitude, I have a new appreciation for. But what is the difference between being grateful and being thankful?

I am grateful for gratefulness over thankfulness.

Thankfulness is important too. It's a good think to be thankful for what you have, to thank those who do something for you or give something to you. You are thankful, or say "thank you." But I think gratefulness is not something you even make a conscious decision about. I don't decide if I'm grateful or not - I just am. I might need to recognize it and may voice it with a "thank you." But to me, it doesn't seem to be a choice but a feeling. I guess you can be grateful and thankful for the same things, but one is felt in the heart, while the other is more expressed with your words.

So, today on Thanksgiving - what am I grateful/thankful for?

- A warm, inviting home to be invited to (thanks Mo!)
- A wonderful family of in-laws who I feel perfectly at home with
- A delicious spread of food, complete with all my favorites (cornbread stuffing, cranberry relish and gravy!)
- Gluten-free, dairy-free food, and family that is willing to make it for me
- Two beautiful children that drove me wild last night when I tried to put them to sleep (they wouldn't settle down until 11:00)...but I still love you both and yes Dylan, I'll always come back to you
- My Breeze family in Champaign and Colorado - I miss you dearly today and have so many fond memories of Thanksgivings past

Day 329.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009.

13 years ago today my grandpa Joe passed away. And 13 years ago today I lost an incredible mentor, a dear friend, and a second father. He was a man of great integrity, and someone I desperately wish my family could have met. I think the worst part of losing him so early is that he didn't get to see me as an adult. He didn't get to see me in college, graduate or do Americorps. He wasn't at my wedding, and my husband has not met him. But most sad of all for me is that my children will never know him.

I am grateful for Grandpa Joe.

Grandpa was kind, gentle, but firm, and they would have snuggled up in his lap and loved listening to his stories. They would have loved playing games with him. They would have loved going out to his workshop in the garage with him. They would have loved feeling special with him. That was one of his greatest gifts - he would single you out and make you feel incredibly special at certain times. You deeply felt his dedication to you in that moment when nothing else was as important to him.

Grandpa Joe, I know we'll see you again in heaven, and I take comfort knowing that Dylan, Noah and Jason will meet you there. In the meantime, each day of my life is a part of your legacy - I hope I am doing you proud.

Day 328.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009.

I am grateful for confident prayer.

I often don't know how to pray or what to pray for exactly. All I know is that when I do pray, in whatever form, I feel a sense of peace. So, while I sometimes fumble through my prayers, I still go back to them, because I know they are crucial to my relationship with God.

I have been feeling a huge weight on my shoulders to decide about kindergarten. Nevermind that Dylan just started preschool two months ago. In Chicago, you think about kindergarten now, or you have no options come next fall. So today as I showered and prepared for a school interview, I prayed. I prayed for peace, for direction, for an open mind. I prayed for help on this journey, so I didn't feel like I was going it alone.

I can whole-heartedly say a huge weight has been lifted off my chest. No, I don't know for sure what we're doing about school next year, but that's OK. I no longer feel like I have to figure it out right now. I have time, and I have help along the way, and I'm not worried about tomorrow anymore.

Day 327.

Monday, November 23, 2009.

This is the week of gratitude throughout the nation. It's funny to hear and read everyone focusing on thankfulness and gratitude all of a sudden when I feel like I've been in this gratitude mode for eleven months. It feels like a secret I've been keeping that has now gone public.

I recently was asked to write an article in my church newsletter on gratitude, related to my blog, and just in time for this holiday of thankfulness.

I am grateful for public outlets to share my thoughts on gratitude.

I'll post the article here to share (although I'm not sure if it's technically been published yet!).

Being Accountable for Gratitude

I have never been very good at spiritual disciplines. I do about two weeks of a devotional book before I fall off the cart. I buy a new Bible thinking it will inspire me to set aside a daily time to read…then I fall short of my expectations. I have always longed to grow closer to God through these disciplines…I just could never implement them.

On January 1st, 2009, One Mom’s Year of Gratitude was born. I committed myself to gratitude for the whole year, and I embarked on my journey. It started without a lot of thought and to be honest, it had nothing to do with spiritual discipline. I wasn’t really sure why I did it. At the time I think it had more to do about parenting, trying to stay in the present and not worrying about tomorrow. But now that only about 40 days of gratitude are left in 2009, I am in awe of what this blog has become, both for me, and others.

This past year at church has been really hard for me. Being on the Ministry Team in a time of such conflict and decision-making has pushed me way beyond my comfort zone. But I also have seen this year as one of deep growth. I have spent the year focusing on gratitude when there were many days I felt like I had nothing to be grateful for. The ritual of sitting at my computer every single night and having to find something to blog about every single night has been transformative.

With my blog, I knew people were checking it (even if it was only my mom and sister the first month!) I knew I had made a public commitment to gratitude, and I did not want to fail. I guess that’s the kind of spiritual discipline I need – one that holds you accountable and walks alongside you.

What have I learned from focusing this year on gratitude? I could write much more than I have room for here. But I think if I sum up what I have learned with one word it has to be about “grace.” To have daily gratitude you have to understand grace. Grace given to you by a postal employee, your own children, and even yourself. Grace coming from God, but manifested in other people…even myself.

2 Corinthians 4:15:
“It is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Day 326.

It gets dark SO. EARLY. I hate daylight savings time. Every day when Noah wakes up from his nap, I want to take the kids outside. It's the perfect time to get out and get some fresh air and exercise. Except, it's DARK.

I am grateful for our bike ride in the dark.

Daylight savings time - you won't get me down. Noah woke up at 4:30 and I was determined to still get some outdoor fun in. We have streetlights, no? So, we all put on our vests (LOVE that we're not wearing coats the week of Thanksgiving!) and went outside. What a peaceful night in the city. 50 degrees out, sun just set, lots of people out on a Sunday evening. The kids rode their bikes around the block and Jason and I strolled. I love these simple moments. This is when I want time to stand still and I'd rather be nowhere else on earth. We gotta do that again.

Day 325.

Saturday, November 21, 2009.

A beautiful fall day today, and a great day for a holiday sale. The fam went out to Wheaton this afternoon to shop and support the Ten Thousand Villages annual international craft and rug sale. It always amazes me to see what a well-run machine this sale is!

I am grateful for Ten Thousand Villages.

This is the mission of Ten Thousand Villages, taken from their website:

"Ten Thousand Villages provides vital, fair income to Third World people by marketing their handicrafts and telling their stories in North America. Ten Thousand Villages works with artisans who would otherwise be unemployed or underemployed. This income helps pay for food, education, health care and housing."

How can you not get behind an organization like that? I am so happy our church supports this company and has this amazing sale every year. I only wish I lived closer so I could help out more regularly at the store. Did I mention that the store runs on volunteers?

I remember volunteering at the store in Champaign growing up as a kid. My family would always volunteer there around Christmastime as a family and it was a real highlight. I especially loved bagging things and using the cash register. :)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Day 324.

Once again in my quest to be the perfect mom (not really my quest...just making fun of myself a little here), I'm going to contradict something I posted about a few days ago. I was giving myself a hard time, in a round-about way, for thinking too much about cleaning, cooking and other things I end up filling my time with besides "mommying." I think I need to explain.

Yesterday we spent a great day with friends (as mentioned in my post from that day), and there was a big lightbulb that happened for me in my conversation with the other mom. I think I was mentioning my guilt over turning them down for play and getting things done. She remarked, "I never play with my kids." Now when she says that, it does NOT mean she's not spending time with her kids - quite the contrary. She's a fabulous homeschooling mama with kids who are very secure and adore it's not like she hasn't bonded with her kids...far from it. That's what was so great about it. I thought about it more after they left, and thought, gosh, did my parents really "play" with us like I feel guilt for not doing enough of? I remember them reading to us, playing games with us and just being with us a lot, but not this stuff. The kind of play my kids want me to engage in on an hourly basis is hard core pretend play with a lot of imagination and creativity...and to be honest, I just end up feeling old and boring when I do this. Give me a book to read, a game to play or a craft to do anytime and I am THERE.

So, I am cutting myself some slack. I'm not a bad mom when I cook and clean or tell them to "go play." In fact, I think I'm a better mom because of it.

I am grateful for letting go of guilt.

I'm letting go of guilt that I feel when I don't spend hours of my day pretending with them. Yes, I'll still do it with them because they love it and I love them and it makes them happy. But, it's also cool when I ignore them and they end up playing beautifully and creatively together. I'm OK with not being the fun mom all the time...that's not my purpose.

I also think I realized where this guilt comes from. I spent most of my 11-18 year old life babysitting. I was obsessed with babysitting. I loved kids. I loved the responsibility. I loved the money I got. I loved being the fun babysitter that brought over a "kid kit" (any Babysitter's Club fans out there?) and made up cool obstacle courses. I loved being in demand and people booking me months in advance for New Years Eve. I was the fun babysitter. And so when I eventually had my own kids (only about 8 years after that 7 year run was over)...I couldn't separate fun babysitter from mom. I molded that into one entity and tried to be a mom who played with their kids all the time.

So, it's not a terrible thing to try to be fun and entertaining, but what ends up happening is when I actually do have stuff to do, I carry that guilt - did I play with them enough today?

I'm over it...for today at least (I'll go back and read this post tomorrow).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Day 323.

I am grateful for shared laughter with my kids.

Today was a great day. Great friends, great fellowship, great food. I loved this rainy day at home. I have to say my day is always good when I have an opportunity to laugh with my children. Something about letting loose and laughing together brings us so much closer together. I guess that's true with anyone.

Here's an exchange from dinnertime that made me laugh:

Me: We don't have any more milk because we drank it all for lunch. We'll have water for dinner.
Noah: Why don't we have any more milk?
Me: We shared it with our friends who were over for lunch. It's good to share things with our friends. It's good to share what we have with everyone.
Dylan: Why?
Me: It's the right thing to do. A long time ago when Jesus lived in our world, he helped other people get what they needed.
Dylan: Was he the President one time?
Me (holding back giggles): No, Jesus wasn't the President.
Noah: Santa was the President.

I couldn't hold back the laughter at that point. Seriously, you can't make that stuff up!

Note: I don't make a lesson out of everything we talk about, honestly. But when I do, it always seems to backfire.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Day 322.

Nothing cures a rainy day like homemade playdough. Thanks, Lara, for the great recipe. It's softer than store bought playdough, which for little kids is great and easier to mush around. Now we just have to make more!

I am grateful for playdough.

½ c. salt
1 c. flour
1 T. canola oil
1 T. alum (find in spice aisle of grocery store)
1 c. boiling water
food coloring

Boil the water and stir food coloring in water. Add colored boiling water to the rest of the ingredients. Stir to combine. Keep airtight in the refrigerator and it lasts for months.


Day 321.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009.

Violin is going well. Dylan loves it, I love that she loves it. And we have some great bonding moments practicing together. Tuesday is group class which is my favorite thing about Suzuki. Group class brings it all together, gives the learning a fun twist, and gives us parents more ideas to use at home in our practice sessions. But what I really will miss is the parent class that we've been having the last 10 weeks...and tonight was the last one.

I am grateful for the Suzuki parent class.

It seemed ridiculous when we first signed up. After all, I know how to play the violin so why would I need a parent class? Turns out, it had nothing to do with me knowing or not knowing how to play the violin. Instead it had everything to do with learning how to practice with your child and how to implement and believe in the Suzuki philosophy. I left this last class tonight a little sad. This class has been the perfect setting for all of our questions and the class has really been helpful in my focus. It has made these violin lessons so much more than they would have been if I just showed up to her lesson each week with no framework.

Day 320.

Monday, November 16, 2009.

I think as a stay-at-home mom life sometimes get confusing. I am busy doing life...doing dishes, doing the laundry, doing the cleaning, doing the insurance calls, doing the appointment scheduling, doing the drive to preschool. And I forget what my real job title is.

I am grateful to realize my present purpose.

My job description right now does include those things mentioned earlier. But it's not my title. I'm not stay-at-home cleaning lady. Or stay-at-home cook. I'm a stay-at-home MOM. So, I need to stop freaking out about the other things when what I'd really rather do is play with my kids.

Day 319.

Sunday, November 15, 2009.

Today was a long day at church full of meetings and work from an outside facilitator to help in our recent church conflict. It was long, but it wasn't draining. In fact, it was, in a strange way, uplifting. It felt like a huge relief and what happened in those meetings allowed me to reclaim part of myself again.

I am grateful for integrity.

I have always considered myself a person of integrity and an honest person to the core. I haven't had many moments where I felt that was challenged, until this year. In my leadership role at church this year, I felt like my integrity had been unfairly ripped out from under me and I was left with no foundation. That feeling was awful and it wasn't any one person or thing that made me feel like that. It happened slowly...gradually erupting into a complete mess that had me feeling ashamed...and confused why I felt that way.

So, it's a pretty huge step when I feel like some light was shed on things to make a whole picture - to the point where I can now reclaim my integrity. I guess it was never lost...just hidden.

Day 318.

Saturday, November 14, 2009.

It was an amazing day and it will be hard to pick just one thing to be grateful for today. It was a day full of friends and family, love and joy. Really, I feel so blessed.

I am grateful for love.

1 Corinthians 13:13. "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." There's a reason that love trumps everything.

Jason and I celebrated a wonderful wedding of two dear friends and it was pure joy to be a part of the evening. We danced our hearts out, ate incredible food, wore nice outfits, held hands. But most importantly, we saw incredible love start a marriage and I felt that commitment all over again with my own husband. A beautiful thing.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Day 317.

Friday, November 13, 2009.

Today we started a whirlwind weekend of fun, celebrating two very dear friends getting married. My parents arrived in town last night for a work event my dad had downtown. And so today, we spent the day together. It was wonderful, and again reminded me why we need to live closer to them.

Part of our morning involved visiting a school option for Dylan for next year and my mom went with us. It was great to have her perspective and another person looking out for red flags (or lack thereof).

I am grateful for a positive school option.

I don't know if Dylan will go there next year...I hope so because I loved it. But the money is a big deal breaker. We'll hope that someone doing the financial aid takes pity on us and decides we need a big break.

I have no energy to go into why I liked it so much, but I remember looking at my mom and us just being like...Whoa...this is good. And I commented afterward - I kind of wish we wouldn't have gone there because now I can't see her going anywhere else. Here's hoping for acceptance and financial aid!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Day 316.

Have you seen Mad Men? If not, go directly to your Netflix Queue and move it to the top. Now.

This show is my new favorite, and I am just amazed how good it actually is. Afterall - it's on AMC. Apparently that is the new place for well-done TV shows. It's so cool to see what it was like in the early 60's (well, it is a TV show, not real life but sometimes I forget!). I often think of my mom and dad, growing up during this time period and it's so hard for me to believe - things have changed so much since then and simple things folks used to do, like drinking during pregnancy, are so taboo now! I also think - wow - will my kids see a show made about growing up in the 80's or 90's and think that what we did was so crazy and ancient? Strange to think about.

I am grateful for Mad Men.

That's all I can say right now, cause we have the season finale to watch - so I have to stop blogging and start watching. Yay!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Day 315.

Wow, I really only have 50 days of gratitude left. Seriously, 50 DAYS?! That seems hard to believe considering that means I've been doing it for 315 days. Yeah, I know that I type that in every day - Day ____. But really stoping to think about it - that I've been grateful for 315 things - is pretty amazing.

I am grateful for my readers.

I haven't wanted to quit ever, but I have gotten in a few valleys - mostly times when I leave two or three or six days without posting and have to sit and do them all at once...that sucked. But, I'm back on track and plan to finish strong. Who do I have to thank?

You my dear readers. Yes, I did this for myself, but you have kept me going. I still find it hard to believe that you all think I'm interesting enough to keep reading on a daily know, more than my husband, sister and mother.

Day 314.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009.

I vaguely remember my high school and college days when money was a little more abstract, and going to the mall was the best way to pass my time. I wasn't buying designer jeans, just enjoyed perusing Old Navy, so while my purchases were cheap, they were plentiful. Fast forward to today, and the only shopping I do these days is in three categories:

1. for my children - they are the way I make a fashion statement - and lately that means hand me downs and whatever is on the $4.00 table at Target.
2. for gifts - Christmas or birthday or wedding shopping is still VERY fun for me.
3. for myself on impulse, usually less than $20 and with a huge mega-dose of guilt on the side.

So, to shop (mostly) guilt-free for myself is divine. I occasionally long to be the cute, hip mom in skinny jeans and tall boots with dangly earrings and a fun top. Usually I am the mom in the 5-year old Old Navy sweater that has shrunk because I've dried it out of laziness too many times, paired with designer jeans (because that's the only thing I do spend time and money on these days related to fashion).

I am grateful for shopping!!

My aunt Jeanie here to help with the kids, I stole away for 2 hours and rushed downtown. I hit five stores in an hour and a half and tried on about 30 things. I walked out of there with a complete outfit: skinny jeans, fun dressy top, dangly earings, cute bracelet. Now all I need are the boots, and I'm hoping to secure those tomorrow.

So, my credit card bill will be moaning for awhile...but me...for now (until I read the credit card bill) I'll be stylin'.

Note: for those of you that are reading this and might see me in this new outfit this weekend, please be kind...I'm making it sound like it's transformative or's just an outfit. So, lower your expectations now.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Day 313.

Monday, November 9, 2009.

I am grateful for the Secret Clubhouse.

Dylan has been wanting her own Secret Clubhouse for several months now. She wanted to build one - with wood. Yeah...not so much happening in our condo or in our shared urban backyard. So, I convinced her that a big huge cardboard box would suffice. I told her we could still paint it and she could decorate it however she wanted. I called an appliance store and asked for them to save me a huge box, and we went and picked it up! So easy!

Here is our beautiful creation. It's only partially done (we were going to paint the roof, make curtains, put a door knob on, paint shutters...), but I have a feeling this is maybe how it will stay. Just because it's functional, they play in it all the time, and so any further aesthetic is probably for my benefit only. It's hard to get motivated to finish something that is functioning, well, perfectly.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Day 312.

I've mentioned my tendencies to worry incessantly on this blog. Mostly about my kids, but often about, well, anything. It's who I am.

Enter the best book I've ever read. Ok, so I say that about a lot of things. My husband makes fun of me because I'm always speaking in superlatives. "This is the best sushi I've ever eaten!" or "That was the best movie I've ever seen!" or "This is the best thai restaurant we've ever been to!" I'm just a passionate person, what can I say? When I love something, I LOVE IT. (He should be thrilled right? Afterall, I LOVE him!) Anyways, it might not be THE BEST book I've ever read, but it's the most timely and might turn out to be the most important book I've ever read. As my friend Megan (who thankfully recommended the book to me) put it: In reading this book, "I feel like I've been hit over the head with a brick. In a good way."

That totally sums up this book for me too. I love it on so many levels, even though most of what she's saying is common sense. It reveals this common sense in a humorous, insightful way that makes you redefine how you parent. Yikes...not another book to help me redefine who I am as a parent!! But stick with me - it's not in an overwhelming "I have to say this and do that or my kid is going to be totally screwed up" kind of way. It's a "trust your kids, let your kids walk to school, throw out all your other parenting books and just RELAX" kind of way.

I am grateful for Free Range Kids.

Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry, by Lenore Skenazy.

This morning, as my kids watched Backyardigans, I read this book and drank tea (that's a good sign too, when I choose READING over internet time in the morning with my tea). I was in the chapter "Get Braver: Quit Trying to Control Everything. It Doesn't Work Anyway." And I just started tearing up. I was so grateful for what I was reading.

It's funny - Lenore isn't a parenting expert (in fact she's been criticized by many), but she's written one of the best parenting books I've ever read. She's a columnist and humorist, but because she let her 10 year old son ride the New York City Subway and got dubbed "America's Worst Mom" by the media, she wrote a book that gives me great hope. For less worry and for more living!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Day 311.

I am grateful for some self time.

Thanks to Jason for encouraging me to go out and do something just for me today. It was so great to get out of our messy house for a few hours! I started my day at a Make Your Own Toys workshop which was incredibly fun. We learned wool felting techniques and I was shocked how much I loved it. It was extremely fun and I am really excited about the possibilities. I really want to try and make some more toys soon! Then I went to my fave Hyde Park lunch spot, Z & H Market Cafe for lunch - the ducky salad is DIVINE there. Yum. Then off to do a bit of shopping up on North Ave. I got Jason two shirt/tie options for an upcoming wedding. I bought a wedding gift at Crate and Barrel, and I just enjoyed being in a store by myself. :)

I do admit I was ready to hug my kiddos by the time I got home six hours later. But those six hours were very special. Thanks, Jason! Let's make this a habit.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Day 310.

The kids and I ate at Panang on Chicago for lunch today, with a dear college friend, Allison. She was in Chicago for a few days helping to chaperone an art trip, so it was so fun to reconnect with her! The kids were great, letting us gab on for most of the time, inserting funny faces or comments here and there. Of course it helped that they were stuffing their faces with Pad Thai Tofu and loving every bite (oh yeah, and mangoes and sticky rice! my fave!).

I am grateful for an outside perspective.

Alison commented a couple of times when one kid did something cute or funny..."How do you just not smile at them all day long? I'm like constantly smiling!" It was so kind for her to say, and such a good reminder...that even though there are timeouts and tantrums and diarrhea and backtalk...there is so much to be thankful for. These two beautiful children give me daily joy, and while it is so stressful at times and all I'm doing is trying to find a way to escape...I always come back to their two faces staring back at me in love. How can I really get that mad?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Day 309.

I did a workout video this morning: The 30 Day Shred. It's my favorite to do when I don't have more than 30 minutes to devote to exercising. Guess who joined me?

I am grateful that Dylan did the workout with me.

She lasted through the whole thing. I was amazed. She often starts the thing with me and moves onto something else by halfway through. Today she did it all, only taking a couple of breaks to lay on the couch for a few moments ("Phew! I'm tired!"). The last two minutes of hard cardio, we were doing jumping jacks, butt kicks, punches and jumping rope and we motivated each other. I just kept yelling, "You can do it! Keep going - we're almost there. It's almost time for the cool down! (she loves the cool down)" and she stayed up. It was awesome.

After the video Dylan said, "I'm sweaty from being shredded."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Day 308.

We went to the park after preschool today, to have a picnic and play. It turned out to be quite the gorgeous day, weather-wise. It had said 40's and cloudy, but when we got to the park it was sunny and 50's. Beautiful. So, we basically didn't eat and played our hearts out - for about 20 minutes, when Dylan suddenly announced in the pirate ship that "I have to go poopies!"

I am grateful to have made it to the bathroom.

This feat is not to be taken lightly. We were in a very large park, and I panicked, not knowing where we would go to make this happen. Usually when Dylan finally accepts that she needs to go to the bathroom and tells me, we don't have much time. So, I threw everything in the stroller (including Noah - Dylan needed to walk to help "hold it") and we rushed to the park's bathroom - a good several hundred feet away. Well, we got there and LOCKED! Ugghhh. She would start walking faster and it would make her have to go more, so we had to find this balance of quick walking without going too fast to make her go right there in the middle of the park. In a split decision, I decided we'd take our chances with the Jewish Community Center, knowing it was locked, but hoping they would take pity on us (What would I say, I wondered - my daughter is going to poop her pants...PLEASE?!?!?!?). Lucky for us, they quickly buzzed us in and didn't even ask why we were there. We MADE IT! And we even got to sit there for 10 minutes (that's about how long the process takes with Dylan because you have to tell stories) in an immaculately clean bathroom, as opposed to a park district hell hole.

So for all those who think this is a ridiculous thing to be grateful for, you must have never cleaned up a 4 year old's poop-filled underpants...and you surely have never made them walk 5 blocks home in them.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Day 307.

I know I've talked about this at some point this year, but I guess life has been so busy, when it slows down, you notice. This week, not much is going on. My mom was in town yesterday, but besides that, life is simple this week. Besides our normal routine of preschool, soccer and violin, we have nothing going on. It is divine.

I am grateful for a week at home.

We tooled around this morning, took a mid-morning bath and played until they requested to get out - no me pushing them to "play for 5 more minutes" so we can wash up and get out. I played with them and then I actually went through the bathroom cabinets to toss and organize what was in there. Stuff like that doesn't get done if you go on too many field trips or playdates! So, we reveled in our simpleness, went to the grocery store and hardware store on foot, and hung out this afternoon, playing people and stringing beads for Dylan and Mommy time. It felt good to live in our own lives, and not rush through it.

Day 306.

Monday, November 2, 2009.

Had Dylan's first parent-teacher conference today. It's so funny to go and talk about your child with people that see her for several times a day without you there. I was so curious what they would say! Was she herself at school? (yes!) Was she shy? (no!) Was she making friends? (yes!)

I am grateful that Dylan is thriving in preschool.

I am also grateful for the great school that she is at - KAM has been a wonderful place for her so far, and I am so happy we are there. It is so focused on play, and has no "standards" to which the students should be at. It just knows that they are preschoolers, learning to interact with one another and have fun together and need to play, play, play! When I mentioned that Dylan had told me a story about her stepping on a classmate's hand on accident and how she was too shy to say "sorry," the teachers quickly assured me that was OK. They said, "Some kids can say sorry very easily and it's very hard for others. They say sorry with their eyes, and so we tell the other kids that they are sorry, and we move on." A good reminder for me too, when sometimes I feel the need for my kids to "say sorry like you mean it."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Day 305.

Remember my Toy Story post not even a month ago? Remember the innocence I wanted to keep in my children - not pushing them to grow up too soon, especially because of media that I chose for them? too. NOW I do.

I checked out Pinocchio from the library and thought it was a good family movie night choice. From my memory of the movie, it was pretty tame. I took them to a children's theater production of Pinocchio a few years ago, and it wasn't scary. So, we sat down with popcorn, grapes, cheese and turkey roll-ups to enjoy it together this evening.

Then, I got this feeling I should check out I usually do (with fuller feature-length stuff, which they've hardly watched any of), and didn't know why I hadn't done it before for Pinocchio. Here's what I read:

"Some scenes and themes may be intense for younger or sensitive viewers, such as when Pinocchio is kidnapped and caged, threatened with destruction, can't find his father, and/or nearly drowns. They should also be aware that Pinocchio's friend Lampwick introduces him to cigar smoking, but is punished for it. Kids may be disturbed by Pleasure Island, where "bad boys" are turned into donkeys and sent to work in salt mines."

Ummm...yeah. Then I read parent reviews:

"this is the most inapropreate G movie i have ever scene!!!!!! and for these ressons: there is underage drinking and smoking, some vilonce and peril, and language like "jackass". I think they should have rated it PG-13. Or at least a PG because having it G rated with all that stuff in it is wrong!"

Ok, get over the fact that she can't spell inappropriate or reasons or violence. And it's just one parent (there were other negative reviews on there). But that was enough to make me frown. I passed the laptop to Jason to read, as Jiminy Cricket was finishing "When You Wish Upon a Star." We did some parent sign language and lip reading to agree this was not a good idea.

I am grateful for white lies.

I am not a fan of lying to my children. Most often, I would rather tell them the truth and have something difficult to explain than to lie to them. But I also felt like an idiot. I checked this movie out for them - they didn't pick it, and they didn't even care about watching it. I wanted to watch it with them, and Jason and I are always looking for fun things to watch with them for our occasional movie nights. I didn't feel like explaining why I didn't look at the reviews ahead of time or why it wasn't appropriate. I just felt like turning it off and watching Pooh...or something equally as harmless. These are our babies, and by golly, what is the rush to expose them to "jackass" and kidnapping. I don't feel like I'm sheltering them, but rather just not pushing them over the media cliff too soon.

So, Jason gave me the go ahead and I pushed stop. We both did a really bad job (but sufficient for this age bracket) of acting...and we easily convinced them the DVD wasn't working. They didn't care one bit, and we chose a Backyardigans episode that we all thoroughly enjoyed.

Day 304.

Saturday, October 31, 2009.

Halloween on Harper Ave. in Hyde Park is a blast. We haven't gone over there in a few years (thought it might be too crazy/scary for the kids), but now that they are a little older, we braved it.

I am grateful for the Harper Ave. residents who put on quite the Halloween spectacle!

People that live on this street go through hundreds of dollars of candy each year (that's PER house). One person said her friend who lives there gave away over 2000 pieces last year. Wait, WHAT?!?! Two-thousand?! After being there at 4:30pm and seeing the madness (and know it continues and even gets busier up until 8pm), I believe it! No one there even goes inside - all the homeowners participating just sit on their front porch or steps and have HUGE pots or cauldrons full of candy. You have to wait in line to get to the front of the house. It's just one big traffic jam.

The kids had SO much fun, but it was funny how timid they were to go to the doors and say trick or treat. I finally gave up saying "Say Trick-or-Treat!"

Some of the fun of trick-or-treating is actually ringing the doorbell and waiting for someone to answer. And there is no time for homeowners to stop and admire anyone's costume - they are just working like machines to throw candy into pumpkins and get on to the next kid. So, some of that part is lost. But they make up for it with their elaborate decorations and even their own adult costumes. They go ALL OUT, and we hyde parkers appreciate it. It has to be pretty overwhelming to live on those two blocks for Halloween. I think you'd have to either participate or go out of town. Thanks Harper residents!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Day 303.

Dylan today: "Mom, are you weared out or stressed out?"

Yikes. She's been asking me if I'm "weared/worn out" a lot lately - really - do I look that tired and frustrated? I have been pretty tired lately. I can't get myself to go to bed before 11:30 - and when Noah wakes up at 5:30-6am each day, that's not enough sleep for me.

But geesh, I hate that my daughter is watching every eye roll and listening to every sigh. I'm not that unhappy...I just may be coming across that way.

I am grateful for a child reality check.

It's hard to not act frustrated/worn out/stressed out when I feel that way. But maybe that's the problem. Besides extra sleep, I think I just need to chill out on most things. I don't need to FREAK OUT if I mess up a recipe. I don't need to FREAK OUT if they want to get another cup for water when they already have one. I don't need to FREAK OUT when someone spills the big tub of markers all over the floor. Ok, so that will be hard, but it is necessary. I need to practice my deep breathing and start smiling more and stressing less. Life's too short to stress about markers.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Day 302.

I am grateful for kid interpretations.

It's always fun to talk about what daddy does at work all day. Or in my case, what I teach my Bradley Method students. This afternoon, Dylan just started telling me what I would teach my childbirth students tonight. Here is her list of things of teaching points:

1. The first thing you need to do is push the baby out.
2. The second thing is when your water breaks, you have to go to the apartment building to have your baby come out (where did she learn about water breaking?!?!)
3. The third thing is wash your hands every time before you touch the baby.
4. When you don't have a baby, then you lay around and watch TV all day (so that's what you all do who don't have kids!).
5. Take care of your baby lots and lots.
6. And the sixth thing for your baby is you have to milk them.

Childbirth and newborn parenting in a nutshell.

Day 301.

Wednesday, October 29, 2009.

Jason has a lot on his plate right now. I hate to see him this busy and stressed because there isn't a lot that I can do to help. Make dinner for him, do his laundry...things that I already do. But I can't make his job easier or do his grad school research paper or reading for him.

I am grateful for Jason's hard work.

I know that I get selfish sometimes, because I'm not seeing what's going on at work and school for him. I only see what is happening with us at home, so I get impatient when he can't come home and relieve me from overwhelming days at home. I don't want his weekends to be filled with work, I want them for family time. And I don't want his evenings to be chocked full of grading papers, planning and reading for school. I want his time! I guess I miss the summer - when every weeknight we just sat together and watched shows, caught up on life and enjoyed each other's company. The school year (with grad school especially) is not like that. And I shouldn't expect it to be. THIS is life. We have to have money to live, so we must earn it somehow, and I'm so grateful he does that for us.

Thank you, Jason, for doing this amazingly hard and stressful work for us, your loving family. You make it possible for me to stay home and raise our children right now. We do want you home more, and we do get sad when you can't be as available as we want you to be. But, we will try and be more understanding. You have so much on your plate, and I don't want home to be another place you get stress. It should be your refuge, the place you look forward to no pressures. I am going to try and work harder to make that happen.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Day 300.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009.

We went to the Garfield Park Conservatory today with good friends Christy, Caroline and Case. We spent a lot of time indoors enjoying the humid plant weather, but did venture outside for about 40 minutes of running around.

I am grateful for unstructured outdoor play.

It was amazing - the scenery was bleak - a huge circle path with brown grass, a patch of just planted trees, and that's about it. But the kids made their own fun. They just spontaneously started this whole elaborate story line - something about teachers and school and trees. They were running around together hand in hand all over the big grassy field and having a blast. It was cold, and I had under-dressed them (no sun as promised on, but they didn't even notice cause they were having so much fun. Christy and I were the ones who made everyone go in - we were freezing cause we weren't imagining (and running).

For this exactly, I want a big backyard. I want space for my kids to run around free and make up stories and feel uninhibited. I don't want to be the director of playtime all the time - I want them to be inspired by nature. I guess this happened today even without us having a big backyard - we just have to make more opportunities for going to these kind of places - where they can be free and RUN. There aren't a lot of places set up for kids in the city that are this open and free.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Day 299.

Monday, October 26, 2009.

Today started like any other Monday morning. Dylan had preschool and Jason had the car, so we were walking. I carried the stroller outside and the kids climbed in. We went along our way...

Three blocks later a lady stops me (who is coming from the other direction) on the side of the road. She is calling out her rolled down window and I have to stop the stroller and move closer to hear what she is saying - she was saying something over and over again, so I knew it must be important.

I got about 4 feet from the car when I began to hear her.

This is her:
"I saw you come out of your building, and I saw that you didn't buckle your children in the stroller. I really think you should be buckling them in. It's not safe..."

And I stopped listening. Not only did I stop listening but you better believe I started talking (as she continued to explain herself). This is me:
"Are you KIDDING me that you are telling me this right now? Are you their mother? Wow." A big sarcastic thank you, a huge roll of the eyes and in disbelief I went back to my stroller muttering about her nerve. Was she stalking me and following me as I walked the three blocks from home?

Dylan and Noah didn't understand what had happened and why I was upset. They kept saying, "What did that woman say to you mommy? Why are you mad? She wasn't very nice to you, was she mommy?" They could tell I was on fire inside.

I mean COME ON. Criticize my cooking. Tell me I'm fat. But DON'T tell me I'm not a good mother. I couldn't stop muttering, "I cannot believe her!" and Dylan was obsessed with the whole situation. I finally wanted to just stop thinking about it, but Dylan wouldn't let up. I told her, "Dylan, I just want to forget about it. She wasn't nice and it's making me angry to think about it."

Well, my ever-sensitive daughter said, "Mommy, can I just tell you ONE thing?"
"Sure," I said.
"One part of what she said was nice," Dylan responded.
"What was that?" I asked.
"The part where she doesn't want us to get hurt or fall out, so she thought we should have on our belts," she replied.
"'re right," I cracked a smile. And she was - completely 100% right.

I am grateful for "It takes a village."

I've always heard that expression and in theory agreed whole-heartedly with it - communities should take a vested interest in the raising of our children. As a philosophy, I love it and know it was how life used to be, and still is in many cultures. But, here in my urban-American environment where I am the gatekeeper for my child's well being, I do not want anyone questioning my decisions as a parent. So, it wasn't a huge decision to not buckle them in the stroller. It was just what we did. They are 2.5 and 4.5 - not babies. They have NEVER fallen out of the stroller. I'm strolling, not jogging. And they aren't wiggly in the stroller...ever.

So, was I justified in being ticked off that lady X made a judgement about my parenting decision? Well, maybe. But maybe it was also no big deal. Maybe she was just a nice lady who really did care about children and didn't want to see one get hurt for lack of good advice about stroller safety. Maybe she had a family member who was hurt in a stroller-related incident and just feels strongly about this particular issue.

Whatever the reason she stopped me, my overreaction was far more embarrassing than her attempt at conversation. What ever happened to "It takes a village to raise a child?" Should I be so righteous about my every parenting move that I have to get upset if someone questions my judgment on stroller safety?

After thinking about it for the morning, I talked to Dylan on the way home about it again. And I told her I thought I overreacted. I told her that the lady was just being nice, and just didn't want them to get hurt. I shouldn't have been upset about that.

Dylan said, "Mom, isn't that what I said this morning?"
Yep, sometimes it takes adults three hours to understand what a 4 year old does in 30 seconds.