Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

nine months

  9 months 2 

At nine months, Nolan is...

* 21 lbs and 7 oz, 28" (though his daddy says he's really 29")

*funny, sweet, affectionate, a little bit obstinate, and loving

Goofy guy web

(Is that the funniest grin ever? Sometimes he'll talk out of the side of his mouth, ala Bill Murray in Caddyshack and he totally cracks me up.)

New fav web 

*becoming more and more of a boy and less of a baby. I have a friend who says you know your boy's not a baby any more when you stop wanting to eat his toes. Sorry, Nolie, but you have stinky toes:-) For whatever crazy reason, this just makes them more adorable to me.

Joy in a biscuit web 

*enjoying feeding himself, especially mashed potatoes and anything he sees his big brothers eating. The biscuits that were once SO exciting are now more of a dropping toy.

Mastery web 

*playing...really playing now. I find it a little startling. It is so clear that he has intent and purpose in his play now---and wants something and not others. I guess it's been happening slowly over months that he no longer just wanted to put toys in his mouth.

Nolie and seanie web 

*adored by his big brothers. When he wakes from a nap, I can't beat them to his crib. They live to make him laugh, and, for now it seems, he lives to demand whatever they are holding;-) There is a bit of arguing over their different interpretations of Nolan's baby talk. "Aaaa" is for Aidan, "Awww" is for Sean. But they of course hear every sound he makes as an "aww' or long "A".

Nole at 9 months web

*has two new teeth (or did they show up last month?)...without his front teeth, he has a bit of a vampire look going on.

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of baking, shopping, card-writing, planning, and packing. I took these photos last week when he turned 9 months, and uploaded them before we left Utah...but haven't had a chance to post until now, from Illinois. Nolan has been fighting a bug, with a random fever over the last week, and there have been numerous moments when I thought to myself, this is why Christmas centers around the image of a infant: so that mothers who are overwhelmed with a mile-long to do list will put down whatever task is at hand and cuddle their babies, knowing there is no better way to celebrate this season.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

As one of six sisters, I have a fondness for all things sisterly, including all the Dillow sisters' blogs. Elizabeth Dillow is a scrapbooking guru, and has read more children's books than anyone else I know on Good Reads. Her blog offers up humor, photos, nostalgia, kiddo stories, and most recently a bit of a challenge.

At Thanksgiving she wrote a post about Mia McDonald, a five month old baby in Washington state, who recently underwent a heart transplant. Mia has a long road ahead of her, but according to her family's web site, was finally able to go home last week.  I really encourage you to click over to her mom's blog. It is uplifting despite the challenges they've faced, features great tunes. John Hiatt's "Have a Little Faith in Me" is one of my favorites. And I love her Quote Wall which featured this keeper: "Okay, put the cookies away, the brownies are almost done..." :-)


As you can imagine, the medical bills are overwhelming. Friends of the family have created a web site, Help Baby Mia, to raise money. There are giveaways and auctions, and a very simple way to give via Paypal at the top of that site. I love how Elizabeth put it:

"I thought it would be nice if everyone reading might consider donating a small amount of money to Mia's medical fund—maybe $1 per member of your family. Every small amount would help, I'm sure, and Mia will benefit from the kindness of strangers...No one has much extra cash this year, but everyone has a little room in their hearts for a baby who is learning how to live with her new one."

I have personally benefited from the kindness of strangers. Here are the stories of two specific angels whose names I don't know.

One was a short Hispanic man who pulled over in a very beat up Toyota on the Interstate in Oregon. It was 6:30 am, pouring rain and I stood next to a flat tire, all dressed up in my schoolteacher clothes as semi-trucks sped past. I didn't own a cell phone and didn't expect anyone to stop. I opened my trunk and found nothing. I remember being slightly relieved because I wouldn't have known what to do with any of it anyway. Then this man pulled over. 

Mr. Scott, my esteemed colleague who knew me and my distrust of strangers so well, said afterward that the man was lucky I didn't have a gun. Even when he offered me his cell phone, I used it to leave his license plate number on Brian's voice mail, just in case he kidnapped me. He didn't know any English;  he did, however, know to lift the cover in my trunk to reveal a spare tire and some tools. He changed my tire without a word. I tried to give him the $20 I had on me, but he refused. In the rain he took the time to pantomime that I would need to drive slowly on that spare. I got in my car and cried in gratitude, amazed that anyone would stop and help paranoid ole me. And then I thought of my dad, who annoyed my mom on many a roadtrip by stopping to help someone on the side of the road. I remember him saying, "I just hope someone would do the same if it were one of my kids." So I think of that man as the angel my dad sent.

The other story is too long to tell here, and too unbelievable anyway. Here's a brief sketch: the city of Birobidzhan, a day-dreaming girl carrying the master keys to a university, a vile garbage container, two apartment buildings without plumbing, and an angel with a fishing rod. Enough said.

I believe these were real people who chose, in those moments, to be angels and help someone they didn't know. They asked for nothing in return. You and I have a chance to be angels for the McDonald family, and we don't even have to stand in the rain or climb into a gross pit. I hope you'll take the opportunity.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Welcome Christmas

08 advent our house web 

A big thanks to those who responded to my last post and shared their similar frustrations or anxieties. It always helps to know you are not alone. My advent spirit has arrived in full force now; how could it not in a house with three little boys?

We went to two places that advertised a visit with Santa this weekend, before finally finding him at our third stop. Aidan told him, "Santa, we've been looking for you everywhere!"  He had a lot to tell him, all about the alien chamber he's wishing for (and which I hope Santa has connections for because it seems to be sold out EVERYWHERE), and how we'll be at his grandmother's house this Christmas. Sean was a little shy, just in awe. I didn't get any good shots, but this blurry one captures the moment:

Santa 08 web 

We watched Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer one night, and they've been singing it ever since.

Aidan picked Christmas in Noisy Village as our book on Friday night. Don't think you can read that one without getting into the Christmas spirit. Last night it was The Snowman, which doesn't have any text, so we took turns telling the story. Made my heart so happy.

Busy weekend. Aidan went to a friend's bowling birthday party--note to self, we need to take the boys bowling more. He loved it.

Aidan bdy prty web 

About 20 of us met at Zax for pizza and beer. 10 kids under age 8 at their own table = chaos. But it was a good, crazy kind of chaos. They all watched the light parade from the bed of Brian's truck (best view and best way to corral them!). Wish I had gotten a shot of their faces when Santa drove by in a fire truck at the end of the parade---but by then I was snuggling with Nolan and not willing to trade him for a camera.

2008 light parade web

I realized a couple things this week, lessons I am sure to relearn again and again this season. The cliche--inch by inch, life's a cinch; yard by yard, life is hard. If I pay attention just to what is in front of me, what I need to do today or just in this moment, it is always doable,  enjoyable. I get overwhelmed when I imagine all that needs to be done, when I get ahead of myself. AND especially when I start worrying about other people's expectations. Have to let all that go.

More and more I realize that it is my job to create joy, an atmosphere of joy, for our sons. That is all they really want---to sense that we are happy, to have our attention, to tell us stories and play together. Simple things really.

I heard this prayer read today and it struck a chord. Especially that line about seeking "quiet spaces". Hope you enjoy it too.

Lord Jesus,

Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We, who have so much to do, seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, "Come Lord Jesus!"

-Henri J.M. Nouwen

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Above video is from Advent Conspiracy, with a hat tip to Stacy Julian's blog.

Where is my Christmas spirit?

I'm having a hard time finding it, and I NEVER have a hard time finding it. I'm one of those annoying ones who love Christmas carols all year round. I love the excuse to bake. I love the smiles and greetings strangers give each other at this time of year. I love houses all lit up and all the traditions I described last year.

Maybe it's because for the first time in five years or so, we are traveling at Christmas. Not just traveling, driving. With three boys. For three days. Each way. We will probably spend more time in the car than we will with either of our families. And December is just not the best time to visit Chicago.

And I can't complain because this was my idea ----I had to campaign for months to get Brian on board. I wanted our boys to see their cousins. 

Brian has already hung up the outside lights and has none of my ba-humbug-ness. Perhaps because he doesn't have to do any of the Christmas shopping. Other than for me. And I'm easy to please (if he reads this, that is sure to make him laugh).

Now I can't see putting out last year's advent calendar when we won't be here for the last half. I stole the idea from Kelli Crowe last year---look how she's made it even cuter this year:


Instead of focusing on what we'll miss here at home and what we won't do, here's what I will do:

*steal an idea from Melissa Deakin using our stash of Christmas books as a sort of advent calendar.

*read Borg's The First Christmas along with Angie and I hope that will renew my Christmas spirit.

Aidan's advent wreath web

*light the candles on the advent wreath Aidan made at "church club"---and give thanks for women like my friend Kathy that gathered the supplies from resale stores and made it happen!

*resolve myself that we probably will disappoint both our families by not doing all the things they'd hoped to squeeze into our visit, and focus on our sons, making sure this visit isn't a rush of coming and going and sitting in traffic.

*see my dad meet and hold Nolan for the first time.

*meet two new nephews and see our niece Maria for the first time since she was a wee infant.

*go to Christmas mass with Brian's mom and all our boys.

*listen to Liam Neeson read The Polar Express while we drive through through Nebraska. And then again through Iowa. And maybe a few more times.

*watch "It's a Wonderful Life" this week since it probably won't happen on Christmas Eve this year

*focus on a few handmade gifts rather than the never-ending shopping/online ordering.

*remind myself that our time here is limited, and our time with family in Chicago even more limited, so keep my sense of humor, let things go, and relish being able to hug everyone in person.

*and know that next year, we'll get a real tree again and have Christmas at home.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


I love so many things about Thanksgiving: a beautifully set table, the traditional dishes, the whole emphasis on gratitude, and just the idea that so many people around the country are sitting down to similar tables and bowing their heads in thanks. And I have so many great Thanksgiving memories.

The first time Brian met my family was Thanksgiving '90.

Omalley table 

And Angie and I bonded over a failed pie-extravaganza at Coronado on Thanksgiving '91.

Thanksgiving 91 with Angie 

Even in Russia, we hosted a big Thanksgiving feast after scoring some turkey legs in the city. I also remember an event hosted by the English department at the university in Komsomolsk, where the female students dressed up as Native Americans and the males dressed up as mobsters, yes--ala "The Godfather", in their celebration of America.Thanksgiving in Komsomolsk 

We were so young---*sigh*.

We've always either been guests (at the Chandlers in '02, at my sister Eileen's in '03, and at the Rockows in Flagstaff last year) or, more often, hosts (the Numaguchi's and my sister Maria in '04, my college friend Kris and family in '05, Brian's mom and our neighbor Carol in '06). 

1999 web 

Thanksgiving 1998 when we hosted Brian's parents in our tiny Oregon apartment.

This year we had the least stressful Thanksgiving of our adult lives. For the first time ever we were neither host nor guest; it was just us. And guess what, it was heavenly. I love a big table of family and friends, like we enjoyed last year, and I hope we will again next year. But it was also nice to put aside whether the whole house was company-clean, and if the turkey needed another half-hour, there was no worry.

Thanksgiving 2008 web

Our Thanksgiving traditions are simple. The usual dishes: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes & gravy, sweet potatoes, corn or green beans, walnut-craisin salad.

Brian always makes the turkey. And apparently I always take a picture of him doing so:-)


We go around the table saying what we are grateful for.

Gratitudes 08 copy 

Becky Higgins wrote about giving winter jammies on Thanksgiving instead of Christmas Eve, so they have a longer season. I love that idea (and as I type this, I realize that happened last year when the boys received pjs from Angie & Jeff on Thanksgiving). So that is a new tradition.

I never thought my boys and the curmudgeon Andy Rooney would have much in common, but when it comes to Thanksgiving, they're on the same page. Aidan and Sean were the Thanksgiving police, complaining in the grocery store about the Christmas decoration display "when it is STILL November!"  They stared aghast as our neighbors strung Christmas lights on their front porch last week.

Rooney makes a good point about why Thanksgiving gets cut short every year---it's not a big marketing holiday. There's nothing commercial about this holiday, which perhaps explains why I'm so sad this year to see it go.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

a photo, a prayer, and a recipe

Thanksgiving web  


We thank thee, Lord, for happy hearts,

For rain and sunny weather;

We thank thee, Lord, for this food,

And that we are together.

And my very favorite Thanksgiving dish---the cranberry sauce! I love every possible way it is prepared, but this is my newest favorite, with a hat tip to Angie's mom, Carmen, who shared it with us.  It uses raw cranberries and is really more of a relish. Enjoy your day of giving thanks!

Cranberry Sauce
1 lb fresh cranberries, finely chopped
2 tart green apples (Granny Smith), chopped
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup orange marmalade
10oz pkg frozen raspberries ,thawed
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Mix together and enjoy,  will keep in refrigerator for a month.

Friday, November 21, 2008

the bigs

Dance craze web 

Quick post about the big brothers.

The day after Halloween Nolan came down with a fever and cold that hung on for a week. Sean had to entertain himself a lot that week, and he took to coloring at the kitchen table with a passion.

3 yr old concentration web 

And, in proof of the benefits of benign neglect that my friend Deirdre Barber always espoused, Sean went from scribbling to drawing characters and by the end of the week, his figures had arms and legs for the first time. Now they even have fingers, though they often resemble claws.

My favorite thing in Nov web 

I can't express how much delight it brought to that rough week to have Sean present me with his latest work of art. During a normal week, I'm sure I would have balked at all the computer paper he kept bringing downstairs, and my own boredom would have led us outside or to other activities. I love the confidence he brings to his work, with such clear intent.

The same kind of intent and confidence with which he declared the red power ranger  (that he chose for Thursday's show-n-tell) was really a spiderman in disguise.  He kept referring to it as Spiderman, and I couldn't understand, if he wanted to bring a spiderman, why he didn't just pick one of the actual spidermen in his character box. But no, this was a special disguise.

My new favorite photo web

Not sure sure why, but the above photo has become my latest favorite.

And despite all my discouragement, Aidan is still "Ben-10" obsessed. He seems to come home every day with new information. "Mom, Dylan says Spidermonkey can climb..." "Mom, Simon told me that Grey Matter..."

And every time I take my camera out, he requests I capture his latest Ben-10 move:

Ben 10 at the dinner table web 

I may be the uncoolest mom ever because we don't get Cartoon Network (thank GOD), but you should have seen his face when I made him this:

AIdan 10 copy 

Because next month, it will be something else, I want to remember here that November was the month that Aidan decided swinging in the backyard was cool again.


He can't get enough of it.

Every day after school, after putting away his ice pack and hanging up his backpack, he asks, "Can I go outside?" which immediately leads to Sean asking the same question. I scored a Right Start baby swing for $4 at a Human Society sale last week that Bri already hung up (not pictured) so now Nolan can join them too.

It gets dark early now, and we have to drag them back inside. So grateful for this yard, for their brotherhood, for these boys.

Eight months

8 months old web 

At eight months, Nolan is...

* ?? lbs and ?? inches, to be filled in later

* playing peek-a-boo, with a book, with a cloth napkin, with everything. He lifts it over his head (sometimes revealing his face) and waits for you to say "Where's Nolie?" and then drops it down and laughs. And so do we:-)


* going through a major case of "stranger anxiety". It took me a while to clue into it. I thought he was having a hard time getting over his cold, even though all the symptoms were gone. He was a little more clingy than usual, and while he would giggle and smile for us, out and about he gave everyone else a dead stare.

8months stranger fear web

(doesn't it look like he is protecting his Elphie? And, aren't those the cutest pants?)

I thought I was so clever getting a babysitter to be here during Brian's 40th bday bash, and he refused to go anywhere near her (despite loving her previously). Suddenly instead of flirting with my neighbor Carol, he would bury his head into my neck. I was complaining to my mom and she said, "Of course, he's eight months old. Right on schedule." Duh. It hadn't even occurred to me.

Hopefully he'll be over it by Christmas when we head to Chicago to see  his grandparents.

Teething 8M web

* teething again, which means drooling again, upper teeth to appear any day now.

Good eater web

* eating everything, even bits of pasta and LOVES when Daddy gives him pieces of crushed ice. Prefers sweet potatoes and fruit to green peas and green beans. It's clear already that he can't wait to feed himself.

Baby hands  baby hands, oh how I love them

* reading along with "the bigs" (aka: Aidan and Sean) these days. Favorites: any board book with photos of babies.

8 Nolie's new obsession web  

*super playful and curious. Latest obsession: the stacking cups. All 3 boys have loved these. You can't stack them fast enough for him to knock them down. Luckily he has two brothers who are willing to re-stack over and over. Loves bouncing in the office chair. Making music with my metal measuring spoons. Dropping said spoons over and over from his high chair while his gullible brothers pick it up over and over. 

*babbling and talking. Lots of da-da and ga-ga. Major conversation. And then this hilarious, deep grunting noise. No idea what that's about.

*sleeping better and worse. Some very good nights (like last night, a short 1 am feeding and otherwise sleeping from 6 pm to 6 am) and some rough days (like Monday when he only napped in my arms).

8monthsold043 web

*not crawling yet. Some backward scooting and up on his knees. Loves standing up, and, with our hard slate floors, even I---a devout believer in crawling first--can understand his desire to walk instead of crawl. 

For several reasons, this month has been a big challenger than others. But we couldn't be more grateful for our Lil Pumpkin, who makes us all laugh and smile, who loves kisses and cuddles, and is SO interested in everything and everyone long as his momma doesn't leave the room!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Autumn Joy

I saw the boys playing outside and had to sneak out and capture some photos.

Sunday afternoon web   

I can just imagine Sean walking up and asking Aidan, "Whatcha doing?"

And in answer to Aidan's response of either "I'm raking. Now go away," or just "Go Away", Sean decided to do this:

Sunday afternoon 2 web  

And Aidan realized if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Sunday afternoon 3 web 

Sunday afternoon 4 web

Friday, November 14, 2008

Book Week: Day 3, Memoirs

"Above all else, it is about leaving a mark that I existed: I was here. I was hungry. I was defeated. I was happy. I was sad. I was in love. I was afraid. I was hopeful. I had an idea and I had a good purpose and that's why I made works of art."  - Felix Gonzales-Torres

I love memoirs. All art is about deciding what to edit, what to leave in and what to leave out, and I imagine it must be even more challenging within the genre of memoirs. Four that I'm most grateful for:

519HKX9M69L__BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_ Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

Sometimes while reading this, I think maybe I shouldn't be, maybe it is too private. Frank is so honest, so vulnerable here, about the transition from young girl to woman, about mothers and daughters, and then about the unspeakable evil that surrounded her family.

Mostly I am just grateful that we are able to read this book. And in awe that such a young girl could capture in her words, written only for herself, such characters and drama and truth.

41YQTH3QZ2L__BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_ Bring Me a Unicorn by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead is the greater work of art, the story of joy followed by tragedy. But I love this collection of Lindbergh's early letters and diary. It gave me such hope as a young girl myself, because she comes across as sensitive and immature and all the things a young girl is, and I knew she eventually became the woman who bared the worst and wrote so beautifully in Gift from the Sea.

41MDSDAH05L__BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_ Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

I was assigned this by a speech teacher my first year at Loyola. I don't know how it was connected to Speech 101, but I'm grateful to that teacher all the same. It is a slight book, but contains so much. It's far from perfect, and in many ways isn't a memoir at all but an explication of his theory of "logotherapy." For me, it was the right book at the right time and I still pick it up whenever I see it at used bookstores so that I can give copies away.

Frankl survived four different concentration camps, only to learn they had taken all of his family, including his pregnant wife. I'm attracted to such stories not because of the drama or the terrible pain involved, but because I'm curious about what we become when the worst happens. Frankl suggests that it is completely up to the individual:

"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

Also love this: "The immediate influence of behavior is always more effective than that of words."

The misanthrope in me is heartened when those who have seen the worst of humanity can still find meaning in anything. I still have much to learn from Frankl.


West with the Night by Beryl Markham

Since I already mentioned Out of Africa, on Day 1, I'll include Markham's book here. I don't know much about the controversy surrounding whether her 3rd husband may have ghost written it with her, but it is the best written of all the books listed here. The kind you reread not only for the great stories but also to wonder at the writing itself. The kind of clean, clear prose that I am unable to write but adore. And the stories themselves are amazing---my favorite is a battle between her beloved dog and a lion.

Thanks, Anne, for the inspiration of Book Week. Check out more great books at her site and the links to others who participated. I meant to post more than three days but it's been a crazy week. Nolan also turned 8 months old this week, but I'll wait to update next week.

Here's to a great weekend and wonderful books.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Book Week: Day 2, Children's Books

I love children's books. Correction---good children's books. Man, there are a lot of crappy ones out there. I know I'm preaching to the choir, but people, please read the book before you give it to a child as a gift.

To find some way to limit myself, here are the 10  7 ( ran out of time) I'm most grateful for:


The Little Farm by the Sea by Kay Chorao

I don't want to read it, I want to crawl inside it and live there.  Or at least live nearby and buy fresh eggs there.


I love the detailed illustrations, the playfulness of the animals set against the labor of the humans, and the narrative of how life on the farm changes with the seasons. Recommended for all ages.


Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel

Love Frog and Toad. They still make me laugh. My favorite is "The Lost Button." Ages 5 and up. 


Farmer Will by Jane Cowen-Fletcher

Best for 2 yr olds. Will takes his favorite animal toys outside, where they stretch to real life...


 and have a great time till his nap beckons.


Ten Minutes Till Bedtime by Peggy Rathmann

Love Rathmann, and her attention to detail. Dad counts down to bedtime, oblivious to the hamster tour/party taking place, while his son diligently gets ready for bed. Both my boys LOVED Rathmann's Goodnight Gorilla as toddlers, and there are several little nods to its fans (note the familiar gorilla below). Minimal text, but you are guaranteed to notice new details, even on the 101th read.


The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear by Audrey and Doug Wood


Another favorite of our little boys. They love the repetition (one of the first books they "read" to us) and the expressions on the little mouse's face. Aidan finally picked up on the unreliable narrator around age 4, but there is plenty to enjoy even before they get the joke.


Harry the Dirty Dog by Gary Zion & Margaret Bloy Graham

This was a childhood favorite of mine. Harry runs away to avoid a bath, and returns so dirty that his family no longer recognizes him.


Bloy Graham uses only orange, green and shades of black to illustrate, and somehow those limits open it up even more to the imagination.


The Little House by Virgina Lee Burton

Seems like everyone else on the planet already knew this book when I finally discovered it last year. First published in 1943, it is the story of urban sprawl and, yet again, another great depiction of seasonal changes.



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