Monday, January 26, 2009

in gratitude for Janice

Janice-webHer name is Janice Borndahl, but, in the same way that I always knew my mom's oldest friends by their maiden names, she will always be Janice Wisbrock to me.

Every girl should be so lucky to have a friend like Janice live down the street from her. We met in second grade, that pivotal year in a Catholic school girl's life when she makes her first communion. I can only smile at the memory of us, two religious zealots at age eight, sometimes choosing to forgo playing four-square during recess to go pray in the chapel. Even though it would end up leading us in very different directions, that youthful hunger for faith, inspiration, and meaning always united us.

My family switched parishes at the end of that school year, but we were reunited in 6th grade. We would walk home from school together---cutting through the college campus near our street. Laughing with Janice is what I remember most, and, forgive me for telling it now J, but one time Janice laughed so hard, she wet her pants (actually her uniform skirt) on that walk home. I never told till now.

We had a falling out the first year of high school, but at the beginning of senior year we both broke up with our boyfriends and started working at the local hospital. I believe we walked every block of our hometown that year, telling each other stories of the two years we'd missed out on, and sharing our hopes and ambitions.


Janice would visit me at Loyola, and push me to explore the city all around me. From her I learned of the treasures within thrift stores.  I remember staying up all night with her and Kim Justice in the basement of Coffey Hall, and missing the first hour of my PoliSci final exam the next morning (she'd tease me that I never forgave her for the resulting B+). I remember calling her late one night with the news that I had discovered the meaning of life. That was her gift to me---I could be as embarrassingly earnest or sentimental or corny as I really was, without fear of ridicule. Janice didn't have a fake or pretentious bone in her body, which must have made growing up in Elmhurst all the more difficult.

Janice and I couldn't have been more different in some ways---she loved to dance and I loved to read. She introduced me to the Smiths on the turntable in her grandmother's living room, and I introduced her to Simon & Garfunkel's oldies. She was an artist---my first apartment was decorated with her ink drawings and collages. She was adventuresome and I was always hesitant. But we both loved words and language, discovery and learning.

Taking the train downtown, running through Lincoln Park Zoo, getting harassed at Oak Street Beach. Too many memories, too few recent ones.

I remember introducing her to Brian. She was home from California, visiting with her boyfriend. We met at Taste of Chicago, and watched the fireworks on a blanket in Grant Park.

Years later we'd visit her after she'd bought a house on the same block as Brian's grandmother. How that little coincidence made us happy.

Then I had babies. That's my excuse for losing touch. There was an email here and there, an even rarer phone call, some Christmas cards.

I never planned to lose touch, I just thought there'd be time later. I'd see my mom, and Brian's mom too, both closer to their childhood girlfriends now than they ever were while they were busy raising kids, and I'd think, that will be us. I'll have time then.

Last week I learned I was wrong.

Janice was diagnosed with melanoma tumors on her spine and four lesions in the brain last August. She died three months later.

I type that still not believing it. It is impossible. She just went to Thailand last July---working at a Christian children's camp. Now that sounds like Janice. But sick? Unable to walk? No.

And selfishly, I can't help thinking, how did I not know?

She kept a blog during those last months, My Rehab Notes, that gives you a glimpse into her grace and sense of humor and faith. And reading it has helped, because it sounds just like her, despite the huge storm all around her. And I can understand how I never knew.

Perhaps all this belongs better in a journal, like the ones Janice and I kept as young girls. I am full of sadness and of rage. My sense of fairness is furious; it doesn't matter that intellectually I know there is no fairness involved.  "Were you there when I created the universe?" No, yet I know she deserved more time. Time for babies and grandkids and 100s of students. For more of everything.

Maybe I should wait before writing this, wait for it to sink in, to be just a little less raw. But I think years from now it will still be a shock to think she is not here.

From Mary Oliver:

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

Janice took the whole world into her arms, sucked the marrow of life, and inspired everyone who knew her well.

I imagine Janice reading Mary Oliver now, and saying to all of us these words:

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Friday, January 23, 2009

10 months old


I'm ten days late, but the photos are from the 12th or earlier. The new year began in full swing, and hasn't slowed down yet.

Nolan's Chicago cold turned into a sinus infection, so we had to give him antibiotics. When they measured him, he had grown 2" since his 9 month visit, so we're pretty sure the nurse just measured him wrong then. His weight was actually down an ounce or so, probably due to his cold and being on the move now.

Hard to believe he's been in the world now longer than he was growing in me (why does pregnancy seem so much longer?).

Marine crawl web 

At ten months old, Nolan is...

*on the move. He's still doing more of a marine belly crawl, but he is constantly pulling himself on everything/everyone and starting to cruise. This is both wonderful (he's growing up!) and horrifying (he's growing up!)...especially in a house with 100s of little lego pieces.

*cutting more teeth every week. I believe he has seven now...though at Christmas time he was sporting his top side teeth before his front teeth came in, which gave him this look:


*adoring his daddy more and more. Seriously complains when Brian leaves for work in the morning.

Cowboy nolan web 

*waving hi and goodbye now. Oh so cute. Need to get video of this before too long.

*wanting to feed himself. I'm looking forward to not buying baby food, but I need to give more thought to his meals now. He loves mashed potatoes and soft chunks of sweet potatoes, as well as cooked carrots. He even tried a bite of tuna and some mushrooms last week (which is probably earlier than any baby book would recommend, FYI). He loves cut-up orange sections and bananas, pieces of grapes not so much.

*starting to sign. Definitely signs "all done" but I can't always tell if he is signing "more" or just clapping (since he is always clapping!).


*enjoying all his Christmas treasures. His favorite toys continue to be the old stacking cups that Aidan loved at his age too, my metal measuring spoons, and the parrot from Aidan's Little People Pirate Ship. Gotta have the parrot!

*loving his Handy Mandy toolbox from his Uncle John & Aunt Angie. The tools do a little dance and Nolan boogies to it too:-) Too cute.

Crackin himself up web 

*capable of cracking up himself and the entire family with his funny facial expressions.

*getting more and more vocal. One of the older ladies at church commented on his singing;-O

MA and Nolie web 

*getting past his stranger anxiety a bit. He let Mary Alice hold him as long as he could see me & had no tears when Tori came to babysit last Saturday night (though we came home between dinner and a movie to put him to bed).

*still a big fan of the ABC song & Patty Cake, but now prefers Old McDonald (Aidan and Sean have added a versus where McD's farm has a baby that goes "wah wah wah").

Untamable hair web 

*sporting some wild hair these days. It looks so cute for the first 10 minutes after his bath, and then it has a mind of its own.

*wearing 18M or 2T depending on the brand. Crazy. Even a few 2T shirts won't fit over his big noggin.


*the most beautiful boy, with lots of hugs and kisses to give away, who still loves to nestle his head against his mom or dad, who lights up at the sight (or sound) of his big brothers, and who, it is already obvious, can't wait to start exploring this world on his own.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009



Welcome, President Obama. How we've been waiting for you.

I remember the first time I saw today's date on a bumper sticker. It was well over two years ago, before our current president had even entered the race. How we have anticipated this day! Yet could we have imagined just how inspiring it would be?

During the fall, a friend and I would meet with our kids at the park and often discuss the election. She terrified me with her constant admonition that our country would "get the president that we deserve." 

Now I just hope we can prove her to be right.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Coming soon

I am planning to post here again...some time soon. I have yet to write my Best of 2008 letter (thankfully neither MA or Angie have finished theirs either), capture Nolan's10th month (did his lil photo shoot today, only two more to go, *sob*), or post about Mary Alice's visit last weekend.

I will though, as soon as my family stops demanding clean laundry, and my sons stop demanding to eat regularly (as my dad used to say, "Didn't we feed you all yesterday?"), and Brian stops tempting me with new episodes of "Battlestar Galactica" (John A---you are really to blame for all I'm not getting accomplished in life now!).

I don't know when I'll get to it all, especially since getting at least six hours of sleep regularly is one of my 2009 goals, but I will eventually. Till then, here's a photo of Sean---because everything he does is adorable, even just sipping cocoa.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Gifts of the Season, Part II

Momma and nolan web

I'm accepting that I'll never finish this post if I try to capture our whole trip.

First the low points:

Low point #1: As I was pulling clothes out of the dryer to pack the night before our trip---you know, that final load that has a bit of everything in it, I found a tiny, mostly melted-away brown crayon at the bottom of the dryer. And brown marks on all the clothes.

Goodbye white turtlenecks. Goodbye most of the boys' underwear. Why'd it have to be a brown crayon? I would've been able to live with them wearing orange marks on their undies...

Low point #2: Our second day in Illinois, our boys meet up with their cousins Maria (age 1) and Anne (age 6) and Aunties at Legoland. Brian pulls my camera out for the first time and discovers that instead of packing my digi Canon Rebel Xi, we somehow packed his film Rebel. Given that I was most excited about taking photos of my boys with family, this was a little devastating. Bri's old camera is a good one, but I'm out of practice using film, and with little ones, have gotten used to taking 30 shots to get that one really good one.

I had packed our point-n-shoot for the roadtrip, and ended up using that most of the time.

Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise to let go of capturing the moment. I think Bri was almost as depressed by this as I was, as most of his gifts to me involved the camera that wasn't there.

Low point #3: Basically the weather during the entire trip. We saw several accidents while driving through a blizzard in Iowa. Then there were freezing temperatures, then 24 hrs of snowfall, followed by fog and ice, followed by unseasonable rain that led to swift melting of all that snow and floods.

Our boys were dying to play in snow, but it was too cold to enjoy it much. They did get to sled a little one afternoon. I felt housebound much of the trip, which was especially hard with little boys who are used to playing outside daily. It also made us less willing to run out and drive across town more often...

Luckily the high points easily outnumber the low ones.

High point #1:

Aidan bought small gifts at his school's Santa Workshop, and came home ecstatic about his choices, which he kept secret until Christmas. All he would say was, "Mom, you're gonna faint!" and "I think Grandma/Gramare is going to cry when she sees my gift!"  He also made some gifts, including a board book called Alien Leprechauns for my dad.

Grandad and Aidan Dad's 11 finger trick web

The high point of Christmas was watching him give those gifts, and the amazing reactions of his grandparents, who lived up to his expectations.

And I love my blue rhinestone, lucky-horseshoe necklace from Aidan.

High point #2:


My presidential moment. I won't go into the details here, because it reveals just how much of a geek I am and perhaps you have to be a middle child from a family of 11 to fully understand why meeting my sister Elizabeth's challenge to name all 44 presidents was such a great moment for me. And it was a gift from her--a totally perfect moment that cracked me up all week every time I thought of it.

High point #3:

Brian gave me, as well as his mom and my parents a gift about which I knew nothing. I had been disappointed by the photos I took when the boys visited Santa, and he tracked down the professional there that day and framed copies of this one:

Visit to Santa 08 web 

I love that he took the time and effort to track it down, buy frames and wrap them and keep it all a secret. Nolan looks a little freaked out that we just abandoned him with some strange old man, but every year when we pull this photo out at Christmas it will remind me of so much more.

High Point #4:

Seeing family. Of course there wasn't enough time, and it was a little painful on the ride home to realize the trip was over and that was all the time we got (especially considering the 4o hrs of driving, roundtrip). I got to see my parents three times, and I'm grateful for it, but I wanted more. I'm especially grateful for the evening we went to their home for pizza, before the big Christmas Eve party my mom throws every year.

Looking at the list I wrote on Dec. 3rd, the season went well. We relished reading Christmas/Winter books at bedtime. We lit Aidan's advent wreath at dinner each night. We went to mass with Brian's mom and she made a Buche De Noel cake so the boys could sing "Happy Birthday Jesus."

Both grandmothers had been out here to meet Nolan, but this was his first time meeting his grandad:


Babies love my dad.

Nolan also met his godparents for the first time, Aunt Elizabeth & Uncle Gabriel.

Nolan and his godmother Elizabeth web 

If I had been thinking, I'd have made sure to get a photo of just him with both of them. Or of all three boys sitting in front of the Christmas tree like we usually take every year. Or of their expressions opening gifts (Sean's reaction when opening the Buzz Lightyear set from my parents: "It's just what I always wanted!"). Or of the boys with their Gramare, whom we spent all week with and have NO photos with---I feel bad about this but luckily we have lots of photos from her visits earlier this year (and we did give her a disposal camera in her stocking so I don't feel fully to blame!).

There are hardly any photos of the big boys at all, but I will remember Aidan playing beside his cousin Anne at Legoland, and how both boys relished making their cousin Leah laugh and hearing her sweet giggle (the next day Aidan declared her his "best friend"). I'll remember how my brother Kevin put on Sean's shoes for him, and how Brian sat beside Karen as she played Santa. I'll remember lil Maria singing "I'm a Little Teapot" and wanting to sneak her home with me. I'll remember meeting my nephews Henry and John for the first time--and witnessing my baby sister as a mom for the first time. I'll remember the traditional punch and my sons' excitement over getting cranberry sauce again. I'll remember Star and Melody putting on a little concert for the family, and how Aidan and Sean joined in at the end. I'll remember them decorating cookies with Brian's mom and how she went on to create several masterpieces on her own. I'll remembering getting to see "Slumdog Millionaire" on a rare night out with Brian---and how, when it was sold out at the first theater and we were driving across town to another one, he took my hand and reminded me that it wasn't about what movie we saw but about being alone together.

There were tons of presents and way too many toys, but these were the real gifts of the holiday and if I don't remember them, at least they are captured a bit here.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Gifts of the Season, Part 1

 We are home. Is there a more beautiful word in the English language?

I want to add one more week to December. All this momentum toward the 25th and then you blink and the new year is here. I want more time--time to decompress, process the past few weeks, put away all the Christmas decor and find places for the plethora of new toys, time to fill out the new calender, write my "best" list, set goals and gain a little perspective on 2008.

I'm reading Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries (thanks Cousin Barb!) and he says the new year always begins for him once he has thinned his raspberry patch in January, rather than when the clock strikes and the music plays. When does your new year start?

My new year really starts in September with freshly sharpened pencils, but I play along with January anyway. I need as many fresh starts as I can get.

I can't, however, start the new year until the old one is packed up a the next few posts will attempt to catch me up.

These photos are all from before we started our holiday journey. Bits I want to hold on to...

Dec snow web 

Snow here is a rare treat. Aidan and Sean had been praying for it daily, so I let Aidan go to school late that day. So glad I did---it was all gone by the time he came home that afternoon. 

Aidan 08 web

We went with brown paper packages tied up with string (& a bit of mailing tape) as wrapping paper this year---Sean and Aidan helped illustrate them:-)

Hand me down slippers web 

Found Aidan's snowman slippers to keep Nolan's toes warm in Chicago (and then promptly lost one in Chicago).


Our 2nd annual caroling at Dave's Corner Market. You can hardly tell Bri is holding Nolan up at the edge there. Great fun was had until...

Ouch web 

...Sean fell face first on gravel. He bit his lip and freaked himself out with the blood that produced, but really we were very lucky. He was proud to show off his owie a few hours later.

The world's best soup web 

The world's very best soup. If you haven't made this yet, why not?

Funny hat web

Possibly the greatest gift of winter this year: the excuse to dress Nolan in all sorts of funny warm hats:-)

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