Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Story Telling and Immortality

David's grandma has always been a great storyteller (I wrote about some of her stories here and here). So last weekend, when my friend Kristin e-mailed me about Storycorps' Thanksgiving story project (and also blogged about it here), I forwarded the information to David, knowing that he'd have the opportunity to interview his grandma.

I've always loved hearing the Storycorps interviews on NPR. Now, there's an app you can download on your phone to record an interview with anyone. This Thanksgiving, Storycorps is especially encouraging high school students to interview someone in an older generation and preserve their memories. You can submit the interview to Storycorps and NPR, and it will be stored in the Library of Congress.

So David sat down with his grandma last weekend, and they talked through many of the interview questions. He has about thirty minutes of her sharing her memories. I haven't listened to it yet, but I'm really looking forward to it--maybe on our drive home this weekend. 

David and I are sad that our girls are still so young that they won't be able to remember their Grandma Peppa (though Zuzu might--her little brain is kind of uncanny with recall sometimes...), so it means a lot to us that we have this keepsake, and that someday the girls will get to hear her tell them about her life. I like to think of it as a way for her stories to live on in them. I wish I had something similar for all of my grandparents--what a gift!

So if you are getting together with family this weekend, put the app on your phone, pull up some interview questions, and record a conversation with someone you love. 

Emily Dickinson wrote, "Unable are the loved to die / For love is immortality." 

I think she's absolutely right, but I also like the idea of capturing some of that love in a conversation that will last forever.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Talking to Grief

I'm sitting on the couch in the back room of my house. I've just done a bit of online Christmas shopping. Coco is asleep in her crib. David is reading books to Zuzu. Cooper is snuggled up next to me under a blanket. Poor, sweet Coops. He's adjusted pretty well to sharing a house with Zuzu and Coco, but he's still happiest when he has me to himself. I can't believe he's going to be ten years old in February. As aggravating as he can be, he's my good boy and I love him.

Because I am The Meanest Professor Ever, I make the students in my Intro to Lit class memorize a poem and recite it to the class. It's part of their final. They can choose any poem they like from the textbook, it just has to be a minimum of 12 lines. Sometimes I allow them to choose a poem that's not in the book, as long as I approve it.

Anyway, I had a student recite Denise Levertov's poem "Talking to Grief."

Talking to Grief

Ah, Grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should trust you.

I should coax you
into the house and give you
your own corner,
a worn mat to lie on,
your own water dish.

You think I don't know you've been living
under my porch.
You long for your real place to be readied
before winter comes. You need
your name,
your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
to consider
my house your own
and me your person
and yourself
my own dog.

I've been thinking about this poem, as the countdown to Eliza's birthday marches on, and I try to come to terms with what it means to be five years without her, and five years removed from my last moment with her.

I've written about grief as a wolf at the door, but I haven't considered grief as a dog that I might welcome in, feed and water and cuddle up with on the couch.

Not that long ago, I would have dismissed this poem. Grief is not a dog. Grief is a monster. But grief is not so frightening these days. I guess because it's familiar now. I eat, I sleep, I laugh, I grieve. I parent my living kids, I miss my dead baby. It's not easier, it's just... familiar. So maybe grief does feel like a dog--it's been lurking outside, just waiting under the porch to be invited in. It's ready to be owned, to belong, to be part of the family. It's ready to take its place as a quiet companion, resting next to me, keeping intruders away. I should trust you.

Grief is never easy, but it's quieter now. At five years old, it's like an old dog that no longer demands my attention constantly, though it never goes too far away--especially when the weather grows cold. It finds me when I'm tired, it senses my stress and anxiety. There are days when--unexpectedly--I step in its shit. But it's patient: like Cooper, it waits to join me until I've talked and tickled and chased and soaped and rinsed two laughing, shrieking little girls. Sometimes it spends the evening outside, and sometimes it pads softly in the room for lullabies, nudging open the door and finding a space even when my arms are full.

Grief can be demanding and relentless and maddening in its determination to be near me, but it doesn't scare me these days. I've invited it in. It's here to stay. I wouldn't leave it behind if I could. It would be like leaving behind a part of myself. It slows me down, sometimes, but that's not always a bad thing. Sometimes what I really need is just to sit with it, and let it be.

It's really not unlike a certain canine companion, who saw me through that first December, and who will see me through this one. And right now, you can find us under a blanket on the couch.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Let's Call This a Case of the Mondays

How are you doing this fine Monday morning?

How am I doing? Well, since you asked, here's how I am doing.

(1) I got to work today without my purse (which is usually tucked inside my school bag). I have no license, no faculty ID, no money, no credit card. It is a damn good thing I don't need gas. And they took pity on me and let me get lunch on the credit of my good name.

(2) I stepped in dog shit this morning. Not in the basement, where Cooper has been known to hide his shame, but in the LIVING ROOM. On THE NEW RUG. I was wearing shoes, but that just meant I had to clean shit off the bottom of my shoes, the rug, and the dining room floor because I didn't realize I'd stepped in it until I'd walked through the dining room to strap Coco in the high chair so I could clean it up without her assistance.

(3) I have a parent/teacher conference today at Zuzu's school with the director of her school. I requested this conference because of an incident at school on Friday. An incident which consisted of my oldest living daughter, my rainbow baby, the light of my life, the baby whose existence helped to heal my heart, the original sunshine of the "You Are My Sunshine" lyrics, my sweet little sweetie, BIT another child (Yes, this is not the first time. Yes, we know these things happen. Yes, maybe it has something to do with our sad news, or maybe I just want an explanation that doesn't make her a total monster. Yes, we are still embarrassed and concerned enough to request a conference.). You see, not only did she bite another child, she bit this other child ON THE FACE. (!) And broke the skin. (!) (!!!!!!) So we are going to go discuss my little Hannibal/Annabel Lector and her anger management issues.

Backstory, for the curious: It was nap time. Zuzu did not want to nap. Zuzu was running away from her teacher (also not the first time). This other student told her not to run. In Zuzu's words, "She told me 'Don't run!' and I was fwustrated, so I bit her!"

Right. Because when you can clearly explain your feelings using words like "frustrated" in the appropriate context, you should totally be biting people. ON THE FACE.

I cried after the director called me. Because sometimes when your kid does something wrong, you know they're just being a turd. But sometimes when you're kid does something wrong, it feels like a reflection of and comment upon your parenting. And also I want everyone to see her for the lovable, hilarious, sweet and kind little girl that I know she can be, and not this volatile, flesh-eating crazy person.

And then I wrote an apologetic e-mail to the parents of the victim (I'm getting really good at crafting e-mails apologizing for my child's socially unacceptable behavior, so if you want some tips, just let me know). I got a VERY KIND reply from the victim's mom, which made me feel better/worse.

Hope your Monday is, if nothing else, free of misplaced wallets, dog shit, and cannibalistic preschoolers.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Day in the Life

I decided to try to document my Saturday by taking a photo every hour... I didn't quite get it exactly, but came pretty close. Here's what Saturday looks like at our house (when David isn't home).

7:11am. Coco is crying. I was up with her at 2am (obviously, because every healthy 15-month-old still wakes up and needs mama-milk in the middle of the night). (Seriously, though, just a few weeks ago, we had a good thing going with sleep. I don't know what happened!)

7:30am. Both girls are awake and we have a little snuggle time in the chair in Coco's room. After a busy week, we're all glad it's a stay-at-home-day. Zuzu wants to get dressed before breakfast. Coco gets a diaper change but stays in jammies.

8:30am. Breakfast! We had barely any food in the house, so they both ate bagels with cream cheese and applesauce. I made a grocery list while they ate and had oatmeal and tea because I am (1) elderly (2) British (3) awesome. {A: (3)}.

Coco is being silly. Cooper is worshipping at the High Chair of Plenty. Zuzu is serious about drinking from her Big Girl Cup.

9:30am. I tried to do a 25 minute yoga workout. You would think I could manage this, but of course the minute I lay down on the yoga mat, both girls were all over me. Once I'd made my way through most of the yoga (there's no point doing savasana when a twenty-pound baby is bouncing on your belly), we called David to Facetime with Gma Peppa. Then I hopped in the shower.

Zuzu reads aloud the farm noises book to Coco and Cooper.
10:30am. It's snowing! And time to go out.
I'm annoyed that this photo is blurry because they looked SO adorable. We got many compliments on their coats. (Both were gifts from Grammy.)
I took a quick picture of the girls in their "dressy cotas" before we left for Zuzu's puppet show. When she was a baby, I signed her up to participate in studies at the psychology department at a loca university, and this was the second time they've called us. This time they had her watch a puppet show with two different sets of hippos. One set would play and interact with her for the whole show. The other set would play and interact with her, then stop part way through without explanation and only play with each other after that. The experiment was to determine whether three-year-olds feel left out.

11:00am. Zuzu watched the puppet show while Coco and I waited in the waiting room. The grad student running the experiment told me most three-year-olds said they liked both sets of hippos the same, and Zuzu was no exception. It was only if the hippos said overtly, "We don't want to play with you any more," before only playing with each other that a three-year-old would have a negative reaction and say they favored the other hippos. I found this fascinating because "I'm not going to play with you anymore! You're not my friend!" is the MAJOR insult at Zuzu's school. Three-year-olds obviously prefer ghosting over confrontation.


Playing with a fancy magna-doodle and warming right up to this dude.
The undergrad helping with the exam who walked us out to our car to collect our parking pass told me that the kid who did the experiment right before Zuzu cried the whole time and it was really awesome how fun she was. She was totally chatty and perfectly willing to go in the other room by herself with complete strangers to watch a puppet show--although she did ask if Coco could come, which I thought was sweet. Coco, on the other hand, clung to me, sat in my lap the entire time, and finally wanted to stand next to me as long as she could keep her hand on my leg.

12:30pm. After a clean-out-the-fridge lunch (quesadillas and pita with hummus plus canned pears and Inner Peas from TJs, which Zuzu calls "French fries), I parked Zuzu in front of Mickey Mouse and took Coco up for nap. Unfortunately, Coco had cat-napped on the way home, so she was happy to nurse and rock on my lap for 45 minutes, but she never dozed off. I called D to see how things were going and he said his grandma seemed to be feeling good today.

I love how she holds her little ear as she nurses.

1:30pm. Since Coco refused to nap, I decided to go ahead and go to Trader Joe's, so at 1:30pm I started rounding things up to get us out of the house. I've had a few (local) friends say that I should let them know if there's anything they can do to help us out since D is out of town, and I was very tempted to send one of them to TJ's with my list, but it really seemed like too much to ask of anyone. And it was.

Zuzu loves TJ's and the chance to wear her rainboots.
2:00pm. Once I got to the parking lot, I remembered why I don't go to Trader Joe's on weekends between Halloween and New Years. The place was a mad house. And of course Coco fell asleep in her car seat on the way there. I felt bad about it, but I dragged her out of the car and into the stores. We started out in World Market, where I bought coffee.

2:30pm. We entered the madness of TJ's. Fortunately, Zuzu was willing to ride in the big basket of the shopping cart. Unfortunately, we needed so much food there was barely room for her. The free sample was a delicious apple tart that we all liked, but there were so many people that I almost had a little freak out when I couldn't get where I needed to go because the check out lines were going back into the aisles, and Coco was started to get screamy. I kept her happy tickling her and playing peek-a-boo with my scarf and Zuzu was pretty good except for one point when she scurried through the line in front of us and acted like she was going to leave the store. I started hollering her name, and the ladies in front of me also called her name, so she actually turned around and paid attention to them. Then I bribed her with "fruit leather"--her favorite treat at TJ's and all was fine.

Cooc was a happy baby (who had kicked off her boots) but the lines were crazy. I think the guy behind her is at the end of his rope.
3:30pm. We got home and I decided that we should go to the park. We needed fresh air and to burn off some energy. I was aiming for early bedtime for the girls and TV-alone-time for me! So I rushed around getting groceries put away and bundling up the girls in layers. Zuzu does not like bulky clothes (or coats), so winter is going to be challenging for us.

Zuzu has mittens on her hands. Coco has... socks on her hands. I couldn't find our smaller mittens and we were in a hurry to get out of the house before it got too dark.

4:30pm. We were racing daylight and it was freeeeeezing at the park! Plus, Coco was tired (No Nap Nancy is not my favorite baby personality), but she really wanted to swing. Cooper enjoyed the freedom to wander since we were the only people crazy enough to hit the playground when the high was in the low 40s. My hot tea got cold fast and we headed for home.

"Push me HIGHER, Mommy!" Poor ragamuffin Coco with her sock-hands. Lol.


No caption necessary.
The girls were starving when we got home from the park, so by 5:30 they'd already eaten (turkey meatballs from TJs, peas, pears, and raspberries, plus three TJ-brand triscuit crackers for Zuzu). We had a spilled-milk incident, but of all the things that make me crazy, accidental messes are no big deal to me. Zuzu helped clean it up, and then it was time for me really to clean up the kitchen and also treat ma self. (I actually waited to open the wine until bedtime, but I did have three Joe-joes.)


Cooper needs a bath himself--you can see the marks on his head where Zuzu spilled her milk on top of him.
Bath Time for bozos and Facetime with David again. Zuzu pretended the ducks were her pets and was very particular about them. It's fun to see her imagination get more and more creative and elaborate in her games.

7:00pm. Pajama party. I love their footie pajamas. They like to put on music and dance before bed.

Tuning the radio and turning up the volume.

Dance party!
7:30pm. Coco asleep. WINNING! Zuzu watching Daniel Tiger (I find he is more relaxing than Mickey and easier for her to turn off (Mickey is like a drug she can't get enough of)). Once Coco was snoozing in the crib, Zuzu and I snuggled in my bed and read three books--What's In a Name? (a personalized book that was a baby gift from our friend Gina), Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots (picked it up at a thrift store--the answer is yes, and princesses also do chores and ride bikes, among other things), and some selections from A Treasury for Three-Year-Olds--the story of Thumbelina, The Gingerbread Man, and a few poems.

8:30pm. Zuzu asleep. WINNING! I left her in my bed and headed down to the TV room. I'm eating pizza, opening that bottle of wine, typing this, watching Law and Order SVU, and getting ready to grade a few papers. Adult time is so much fun.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Update on Grandma Peppa

I have sad news.

As you may remember from this blog post, David's grandma has been battling lymphoma. She was originally diagnosed about three years ago, went through chemo, was declared cancer-free, and everything seemed fine. She's always been very healthy and active--yardwork, housework, volunteer work.

This 30-second video of Zuzu laughing with Grandma Peppa is from the June of 2013 (before we painted the kitchen!) Grandma Peppa had completed her chemo treatments, but she and Zuzu were both bald at the time.

This summer, her lymphoma recurred and she went through chemo again. Once again, she was declared cancer free, and in early October she came and stayed a week with us. She was feeling good, her hair was coming back, and she had a new boyfriend (!). They have been planning a trip to Hawaii in January, along with a group of friends.

Unfortunately, she was hospitalized at the end of October with abdominal pain and it was determined that her cancer has come back suddenly and aggressively. Treatment has not been effective, and she has decided to begin hospice care this weekend.

David was essentially raised by his grandparents, as he and his mom moved back in with them when he was a year old and his parents divorced. He's really close to his grandma. He'll go back down there this weekend and we plan to take the girls to see her over Thanksgiving. I hate that they probably won't remember her. I wish I would have taken more photos and video last time she was here.

It's sad news at a time of the year that is already heavy with loss.

Grandma Peppa with baby Zuzu

Grandma Peppa with Baby Coco

Friday, November 20, 2015

Old Puzzles Made New

Zu has several nice puzzles that were generously handed down to us. They've been well-loved, but lately they've become too simple and not interesting enough for her.

I saw a post from @busytoddler on Instagram and decided to borrow this idea. It worked so well, I wanted to share!

I took three puzzles--these were all food-related--and I dumped all the pieces on a cookie sheet with edges. This helped keep the pieces from getting lost, but it was also something new and different, which made the whole process feel more exciting and like a special treat.

Just having to scan through more pieces to work the puzzles added a little challenge and interest, but I made it interactive by calling out things like, "Find a red food!" Or "Find the cupcake!" So she would really have to hunt. 

After the first round, we added a number puzzle to the mix, which was great practice because Zu can easily count to ten, but she's still working on reading numbers so she was able to practice recognition.

I wondered if she would lose interest if I weren't there to name specific pieces to search for, but when I left the room to switch the laundry, she kept working and got all three puzzles nearly completed by the time I returned.

I'm not saying this activity will babysit your kid for thirty minutes (that's a job for Mickey Mouse's [Godforsaken] Clubhouse) (#kidding) (#notreally) but it was a nice alternative to playing Family (the Mommy is so bossy!). And she did request to do it again (twice) after the first set. She might have kept going after that, but it was bath time. Definitely an activity to keep in mind for indoor winter days.

Also, I may need to invest in another Hanna Andersson nightgown. She gets home from school and immediately wants to put it on. It's comfortable AND beautiful, obviously. She asked me this morning if it was pajama day at school. (It wasn't.) (But, oh, she wishes it were.)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

My Materialistic Christmas Wish List

I've found that people are divided when it comes to Christmas wish lists. In my family, we always do wish lists. You name some items you'd be thrilled to get, or at least give a general category ("Dad needs a new flannel shirt."). My brother usually buys literally from my Amazon wish list, which can get funky because sometimes I put stuff on there that is more of a "Remember this exists and you might want to think more about it or request it from the library later" and less of a "OMG I totes want this."

David's family, on the other hand, does not do wish lists as (allegedly) the surprise is part of the fun!

I may have written about this before, but the first Christmas David and I were together, he was aghast at how great the gifts were that my mom and dad gave him. It was like they knew just what he wanted! He said this to me later, and I just stared at him. Finally I said, "Yeah, honey. Because I TOLD my mom what you would like." (See? Lists!) (For the record, David's mom does a good job with non-list gifts, based on past experience. She usually gives me something from my favorite brand of make up (Tarte) and pretty jewelry. No complaints!)

Anyway, daydreaming about wish lists is part of the fun as far as I'm concerned. So JUST IN CASE you, dear Reader, would like to buy me (or someone like me!) a Christmas gift, here are a few things that would make my Christmas morning pretty sweet.

Gap pj pants
I got a pair of these last year--I got one for my brother's girlfriend (now my SIL!) and one for myself. I wear mine constantly and would LOVE another pair so I don't have to take a pair off to do laundry. So soft! So comfy! So awesome with slipper booties! (Tip: Don't pay full price! Gap always goes 40% off.)

Be Brave bracelet
I love this bracelet and proceeds support Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss support. I like the gray.

Bluetooth AM/FM radio
OMG if you're wanting to spend more money on me (and I strongly suspect that you are), then I would love to put this little number up in the kitchen and replace the radio/ipod player that fits our old phones and not our new ones. The beige/walnut is my favorite.

Rose Gold Stud Earrings
My taste in jewelry these days is super simplified. I like delicate jewelry and earrings that can't be yanked on by small children. I'd love to have these.

Gold Watch
The clocks on my campus are notoriously unreliable, and I don't want to use my phone as a clock while I'm teaching, so I'm back to wearing a watch everyday. I really like the silver watch I have, which David gave me for Christmas years ago, but I'd love one that dresses up my outfit in gold. (And this one's on sale!)

Gumball Desk Lamp
It's so awesome! It would bring some bling to my office! It would make me happy every day! And its' on sale.

Milk Bottle Measuring Cups
David and I have this little "joke" about how he threw away a set of my measuring cups because he didn't think we needed more than one set and I was SO PISSED (this was like ten years ago; I'm pretty sure I've written about it before--ah, yes, in 2009--and obviously I'm totally over it now and it's a funny joke because hahaha who's upset about an inexpensive set of measuring cups 10 YEARS LATER? Nobody! Certainly not me!). Anyway, this would look freaking adorable sitting out on a shelf in my kitchen, and I'd probably be able to put that old grudge to rest. (Not that I'm still mad about it! I mean, that would be crazy, right?)

Faux Fur Infinity Scarf
For those cold winter days when I'm feeling kind of Anna Karenina.

So there you have it... things I'm wishing for these days.

How do you feel about Christmas wish lists? How old are kids when they start making them? Zuzu hasn't asked for anything except a Frozen lego set that is very expensive and recommended for 6-12 year olds. Not three-year-olds with a short fuse and a one-year-old sister who tried to eat the lid to a chapstick the other day. So... not happening!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Conversations with Zuzu in November

Scene: First thing in the morning. Zuzu is in our bed.

Zuzu: Is today my birthday?
David: No.
Zuzu: One more sleep until my birthday?
David: No.
Zuzu: Two more sleeps?
David: No.
Zuzu: A lot more sleeps until my birthday?
David: Yes.
Zuzu: Mommy, how many more sleeps until my birthday?
Me: A lot.
Zuzu: That's what I just told Daddy.


Scene: At the zoo, walking through the parking lot.

Zuzu: I don't hear the train.
Me: When we get inside the zoo we'll hear it.
Zuzu: I hear the water fart.
Me: (laughing)
David: You hear the water fall?
Zuzu: Mm-hmm!


Scene: In the car driving home from school. Zuzu has been chattering about her grandparents.

Zuzu: And my Grammy misses me, and my Mimi misses me.
Me: You don't have a Mimi, sweetheart.
Zuzu: Yes, I do!
Me: Who's your Mimi?
Zuzu: We're not gonna talk about her right now because I'm too tired.

Scene: In the bathtub. Zuzu is being naughty. We give her consequences of losing favorite toys when she is misbehaving, and her favorite toys are small figurines of the characters from Frozen, which we call her characters. She is filling up a cup with water and evidently spilling it outside the tub. (I overheard this conversation from the next room.)

David: I told you not to do that or it would spill out on the floor. So now I'm going to take away one of your characters.
Zuzu: Hans!*
David: No, I get to choose which character. Elsa.

(If you're not familiar with the characters in Frozen, then I'm not sure what you're doing with your life, but all you need to know is that Hans is obviously not Zuzu's favorite.)

Scene: Early morning before work/school. I'm nursing Coco and Zuzu is sitting in the chair with us.

Zuzu: Maybe when Coco gets a little older she can dance with me and she won't fall down and cry.

(Poor Coco. Zuzu frequently casts her as the prince, but Coco is not (yet) a good enough dancer to meet the strict requirements of this role, so then she has to be the "step-mutter.")

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Guest Post from Aunt Beth the Great

My great aunt Beth (or "Aunt Beth the Great" as she signs her cards) is my Grandma V's littlest sister. She's my mom's aunt and a faithful blog reader!

When I posted the photos for Veteran's Day, Aunt Beth sent me an e-mail with some stories from her childhood, and I told her that I wanted to share them here--a little history lesson from my favorite octogenarian. 

Just a little context: My grandma, Joyce, (my mom's mom) was the eldest of five children. She had a younger sister, Jean, who was close to her in age, then a brother, Dick, then two little sisters, Lois and Beth. They all grew up in Webster City, Iowa, where my mom and her siblings were also raised (my grandparents were high school sweethearts). I'm cutting and pasting this from Aunt Beth's e-mail, with my editorial comments in brackets.

Aunt Beth writes...

As a young child (around 7 years old I think) I watched my siblings go off to war. My brother was in the army infantry served in the Battle of the Bulge, was wounded twice, so two purple hearts and a silver star for saving another soldier's life.

Your grandpa was a bomber pilot who lost most of his crew but survived himself with no injuries, and my sister served in the Waves [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, the World War II women's branch of teh U.S. Naval Reserve] and was an airplane mechanic 

[this was my grandma's sister Jean, and here's a short article Jean wrote about her experience] and her husband, my brother-in law, was in the Navy.
Long before that, during WWI, my father, your great-grandpa served in France during that war. WHEW!

I have lots of memories especially of telegrams that brought bad news to our house.  Also I remember when your mom [she means grandma] got married and the dress was an off white----gorgeous thing!   Yes, the fringe was so fun and trendy at that time. [Fun fact: Aunt Beth's daughter Amy now designs and creates couture wedding gowns.]

They were married in Liberal Kansas and my mom and dad attended their wedding-----going by train from my little hometown of Webster City in Iowa.  Lois and I were to reamain at home in the care of our maternal grandmother-----Grandma Carrie (Caroline Hollister Payne). [My mom was named after her maternal grandmother, and Zuzu was named after her maternal grandmother.]

I, immediately after my parents left, had an  asthma attack and was left with my grandma's cure.  She fed me some sort of pill and I would not swallow it so she put it in a spoonful of jelly which went down smoothly, I guess.  For years, I had a sort of problem facing jelly in a spoon or otherwise.  I am glad I got over childhood asthma and my dislike of jelly.   

My older siblings were my idols and all but your grandma and grandpa were married in our congregational church in Webster City.  I got lots of letters and cards from all of them in various parts of the globe.  I will never know that pain my parents suffered having to have their children go off to war.  

My father served our hometown as one of the ones who supervised the blackouts that we had to do sometimes in case enemy planes were going to fly over our little town.  He had to go out and monitor the neighborhood.  The other vivid memory I have of those times is when my mother would go off and cry when a telegram came reporting my brother missing in action and then the ones that said he was wounded in action a few weeks later. [Uncle Dick survived the war and returned home safely.]

Today's world is so small and our children and grandchildren and our 3 year old great grandson have no idea what war years mean as none of those things have affected them personally. I do, like you, sincerely hope they never have to know the horrors. 


I love the way family history (and world history!) comes alive in Aunt Beth's stories, and I'm so grateful that she shared these. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

J'taime, Paris.

I didn't hear about the terror attacks when they first happened. I was in Memphis with the girls all weekend, so I didn't have much time to myself and I didn't want to watch (or even read) news reports with them. My cousin's husband read us the headline off his phone Friday evening, and my heart just sank.

Today, NPR was reporting from Paris and after I dropped off Coco, I gripped the steering wheel tightly as I listened to news I would honestly have preferred to turn off. Sometimes I let myself shut off the radio, but sometimes I feel like I need to force myself to hear it--like I owe it to the victims to pay witness to their suffering. (This is one of those things I don't think I would have felt before I became someone who has a story of suffering that many do not want to hear or acknowledge.)

Paris has been on my mind all day, and while the reality of the terror attacks has been at the forefront of my thoughts, I've also been reflecting on the four days that David and I spent there, and how enchanted we were by the beautiful city. We stayed in a flat just down the block from the Luxembourg Gardens and each evening we'd get a nutella gelato from the corner shop and then walk down to sit in the gardens and talk and people-watch. It was such a happy place for me--literally when someone talks about imagining your happy place (like when my trainer was making me do wall sits and told me to "Go to your happy place,") I imagine a wrought-iron chair in the warm sunshine of the Luxembourg Gardens, surrounded by lovely blooms and green grass, watching Parisians saunter by, soaking up the end of a summer day with a gelato cone.

I went back to my blog archives from 2009 to revisit that vacation. That trip was such a sweet spot. We were celebrating 5 years of marriage, nearing the end of my PhD program, and it felt like we were in a really good place in life. It was on that trip that David and I decided to get serious about having a baby, and we bought a sweet little onesie while we were there as a memento of a beautiful vacation and a new direction in life. It has a frog and a duck on it, and the frog is croaking and the duck is saying, "J'taime" back to the frog.

Bought with the hope for our first Baby Duck, modeled here by Coco
We got home from Paris in August, I finished my dissertation that December, defended it in February, got pregnant with Eliza in April. In some ways, it felt like the grown up part of my life really started in Paris, with a champagne toast to new adventures.

It's painful to think of that city crippled by fear and marred by outrageous violence. It was such a thrilling and magical place for me, and we were so very happy there.

On our first day, we located our lovely flat and made the required visit to the Eiffel tower (there's also a shout-out to friendly Canadians).

On our second day, we toured museums and discovered the Luxembourg gardens.

On our third day, we saw Notre Dame (I write a lot about flying buttresses), Shakespeare & Company bookshop, and the Louvre.

And on our last full day in France, we went to Versailles, but made it back to Paris to see the catacombs and revisit the Luxembourg gardens.

And--just in case you can't get enough of someone else's vacation stories from several years ago--here's the tale of us heading home from Paris and getting separated on the way to the airport in London.

Thanks for the memories, Paris. May the future hold many more good ones. J'taime. xo

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday Evening, Home Again

I don't like being exhausted on Sunday night. But this weekend was worth it. I drove with the girls to Memphis to visit my aunt and cousin and to see my friend Molly and her kids. More on that visit later (and on my three-year-old's atrocious behavior--yeesh). 

For now, I'll just say it's nice to get back home to David and clean sheets and a tidy house (for all his craziness, not every husband would thoroughly clean the house when home alone for the weekend, and I'm so grateful!). 

Another full week ahead of us, but if I can just get through it, it will be Thanksgiving and then the last week of class. I'm not planning beyond that, yet.

I'm really not ready to look ahead to December and all it brings... This year Zuzu understands birthdays so that will add a new sad/sweet element to Eliza's birthday. This is also the year she really gets Christmas, so that will be so fun, though I expect it will also be a little bittersweet. I usually prep for my sadness slump by getting shopping and Christmas cards taken care of, but I've bought 1.5 Christmas gifts and I need to get organized.

David's grandma is doing okay since going home last Monday. Not much improvement and still feeling quite uncomfortable, but will continue with another round of chemo and hope that stuff is doing its job. She'll have a scan in December to see if there is a measurable difference in the cancer. 

Zu asked me out of the blue today if Grandma Peppa was feeling better yet. She can be so sweet, which is comforting since she was an exercise in toddler sociopathy for much of the weekend.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


Can we talk about Podcasts for a sec? I do a lot of Podcast listening. I have about 30 minutes alone in my car on my way to and from work, and considering I'm not someone who really loves driving (if given the choice, I'd almost always prefer that someone else drive), I've found that I actually look forward to this time, mostly because of good listening material. I try to hit the NPR news on the hour, but then I turn on a podcast and just listen without the tension, guilt, or despair I often feel when I listen to the news.

My go-to favorites are Snap Judgment (I love Glynn Washington's voice SO MUCH) and the Moth story hour. This American Life is a weekly listen. My podcast obsession started, of course, with Serial (I think he's innocent). But what else should I be hearing?

I enjoyed The Mystery Show and also Invisibilia. sometimes I listen to Throwing Shade, Fresh Air, and, occasionally, In Our Time and Stuff You Missed in History Class. I can sometimes get into The Longest Shortest Time. I started Limetown, but David and I decided to wait until the first season is complete because we are binge listeners and this business of waiting weeks for the next episode is too much for us.

Recently, my friend Erin told us about the Black Tapes podcast, which is a fictional investigation into paranormal activity. It's highly entertaining but kind of scary--sometimes it has me seeing shadowy figures everywhere! I'm almost finished with season one, and then what will I do on my drive to work?

So any other recommendations? I like good stories, nerdy stuff, and spin offs of anything nerdy and good. 


(I'm late only because I didn't have wifi last night!) I wanted to post here a link to a petition for funding research into understanding and preventing stillbirth. There are significant number of babies who die for unknown reasons. Although I was determined to be heterogeneous for a clotting factor, it was not ruled as the cause of Eliza's death. Her loss remains unexplained, as do so many others. 

The hope is that increased research can lower the number of grieving parents by understanding more about these mysterious cases, and by working to prevent death from causes we can pinpoint, such as umbilical cord accidents.

The petition is available here for you to sign. As the friend who emailed it to me pointed out, there is a typo in the opening sentence. That's crappy, but doesn't diminish the importance of this cause. I also heard that if they get 10,000 signatures that Congress will respond to the request. Considering 1 in every 160 babies is stillborn, I would imagine we could hit that number.

Please consider signing here:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Veterans Day, One Day Late

I'm late for Veterans Day, but I still wanted to share these photos of my two favorite vets--my grandfathers. This first photo is my mom's parents, taken the day they got married. I'm obsessed with the fringe on the shoulders of my grandma's dress, and how awesome is her hair?

Gpa Vance, WWII
This photo is my dad's parents. I'm not sure when it was taken (well, we know it sometime around 1950-1953... Crafty Cousin Amanda sent it to me but didn't give me any details). What is extra-adorable about it is that Nana and Papa so closely resemble my cousins Rebekah and Bradley. It's almost freakish how genetics work in those cases.

Papa, Korean War
I'm thankful for their service, and the men and women who served alongside them and kept them safe, and those who continue to put their lives at risk for what we all hope is a greater good. If only the legacy of their military efforts, and those of so many others, could be that my daughters grow up in a world without war. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Grief Group, 5 Years Out

I went to a grief support group tonight.

I've only attended a grief support group a handful of times in the past five years. I met some great friends through the group, but I also found a tremendous amount of support and connections online, through my blog and websites like Glow in the Woods and Faces of Loss.

I can remember going in the early days and being freaked out that there were people there who were three or four or five years out. Like, would I STILL be going to grief support groups in FIVE YEARS? How could I possibly manage to survive my life if I felt so miserably in need of grief support that far out?

Probably other people understood that those people were there to offer support to others rather than receive it, but the idea of being in that position seemed equally impossible at that point in my grief.

And now, here I am. I'm not sure I always have something super helpful to say--I remember certain moments in those early weeks/months very vividly, but getting through the day to day stuff is kind of a blur to me (and I still can't really go back and look at my own blog archives). It doesn't seem very useful to say that the only thing that really helps is time--as one person mentioned tonight, you can't fast forward through it (though I can remember desperately wishing I could).

It's hard to hear the stories of moms (and dads) who are desperately missing their babies. It's hard to know that I am one of them.

Life is so much easier than it was four years and eleven months ago. But it's nothing like I imagined it would be five years ago.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Lessons from the Preachers' Kid

My friend Monica and her family stayed at our house last night as a pit stop on their way to family vacation in Gatlinburg.

(Side note: When I was in high school, my friend Erin went on a family vacation to Gatlinburg and brought me back a shot glass that said "My friend went to Gatlinburg and all I got was this lousy shot glass." We thought this was hilarious and ironic in the way things are especially hilarious and ironic to nerdy high schoolers. Anyway, I currently use that same shot glass in my medicine cabinet to hold the brush heads for my electronic toothbrush, so as far as souvenirs go, it has actually proved extremely useful, though not in the way intended. How's that for irony?)

Monica and her husband are both UCC pastors (open and affirming) and with parents who both work in ministry at two different churches, their daughter, EK, gets a lot of exposure to Jesus. We attend my parents' church when we visit them, and occasionally we got to a Unitarian church here, but we're not frequent flyers at this point, mostly for practical reasons (we get very little out of the service when we're constantly having to keep the girls settled down and we're reluctant to drop them off in the nursery for a few hours on Sunday morning when we send them to school all week long, and our weeks are so hectic that we treasure slow days on Saturday and Sunday).

(Side note: If we lived in the Kansas City area, we would totally attend Johnny's church. I've only heard him preach a couple of times, but he's awesome.)

(Side note: The only reason I say we'd attend Johnny's church instead of Monica's is because she is in charge of the children's ministry and doesn't get to preach every Sunday, which is a shame because she's fantastic.)

All this to say, Zuzu has a couple of children's Bibles and books about the Christmas and Easter story, and this lovely Desmond Tutu book about God, but her exposure to Jesus is certainly not as extensive as EK's.

(Side note: David recently texted Monica and Johnny the link to this song and suggested Johnny get t-shirts made for hischurch members with the chorus of the song on the front and the name of their church on the back--wouldn't that be a winner?)

Zuzu and EK were happily dragging out ALL THE TOYS, the way kids do, when EK pulled a children's Bible off the bookshelf and announced, "I have this book, too!" (Of course she does.) They then proceeded to have the following conversation:

EK: Zuzu, do you want me to read this book to you?

Zuzu: Yes!

EK: Oh-tay. Which Jesus story is your favorite?

Zuzu: *silent*

EK: The one where he gets killed?

Zuzu: Yep!

EK: That's my favorite, too!

(Adults exchange slightly alarmed looks while also laughing. Monica confirms that is, in fact, EK's most requested Bible story.)

Last month, when we stayed with them to make our annual pilgrimage to the pumpkin patch, the girls did plenty of playing and a little bit of squabbling. At one point during a disagreement, EK was overheard saying, "Zuzu! The Bible says to be kind!"

So she has a taste for violence in her Bible stories, but we're basically considering EK our spiritual guru. Preach it, Preachers' Kid!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Stay at Home Day

So I'm home today with Coco.

Yesterday morning, I thought she felt kind of warm when I got her out of the crib, but I attributed it to warm sleepy smushy baby, and after she had some mama-milk, she was happy and ready to play with Zuzu, so I didn't think much of it. I gave them some breakfast and then tried to pick up the house, and around 10:00 we headed to Target to grab a few necessities. I told the girls that if they were good listeners, we'd go to the park after the store.

I got Coco fastened into the shopping cart and Zuzu loaded up in the big basket, and then I took a look at Coco and she looked like this:

Uhhh... kind of glassy-eyed. Leaning back against the shopping cart. Not wanting to ditch the binky. (I don't have a strict binky policy at all, but generally we use it only at bed/nap time and in the car. I figure if she's up and running around, she doesn't need the bink. Sickness of any kind means unlimited access, though. Any comfort I can offer!) Poor little punkin.

Cooper was in the car and he was whining for us by the time we returned. I got our bags unloaded, and Zuzu was standing up in the cart, so I lifted her out and put her in her carseat. She HATES wearing jackets and coats this year (should be a fun winter), and she insists on taking off her jacket in her carseat, even when it's just a sweatshirt. So I left her to remove her jacket and went around the car to get Coco loaded up.

We were parked right next to the cart return, so I pushed the cart in there, but I was already holding Coco in my other arm and doing it one-handed. I didn't realize that the cart didn't get all the way in there and the part of the parking lot we were in is on an incline, so as I buckled Coco into her seat, our cart slowly eased its way out of the cart return backwards and then careened through the parking lot, bumping three different cars before coming to a stop against one of them.

Fortunately, the cars were all hit just on their back bumpers and there was no damage (and no other witnesses!). I felt like a total idiot, but I hadn't noticed the creeping cart because Coco was doing one of those back-arching fits as I tried to buckle her in.

(Side note: If you were at Target yesterday and the back bumper of your car got scuffed by a shopping cart, you have my heartfelt apologies.)

So with a screeching baby, whining dog, and embarrassed feeling of responsibility for potential shopping-cart-damage, I jumped in my car to make a quick getaway from the Target parking lot. As I pulled out onto the street, Zuzu piped up from the back seat, "I'm holdin' on tight, Mama!"

And THAT'S when I looked back and realized I hadn't buckled her into her carseat and she was cheerfully gripping the cupholders in lieu of actually being safely restrained.

#facepalm #momfail #allthehashtagsofparentalscrewups

Needless to say, I immediately pulled over, jumped out of the car, and got her buckled up.

Poor Coco did have a fever, but no other symptoms, so I doped her up on baby Tylenol, bundled her up into the stroller thinking she might fall asleep, and walked the girls up to the park. It was a gorgeous day and Zuzu wanted to swing, but then Coco started fussing like she wanted to swing. Except she was so droopy, she just sort of drooped and swayed in the swing.

Once Zu decided she was done with that, Coco half-heartedly walked around the playground, but got back in the stroller without fuss and was super happy to take a long nap that afternoon. She seemed to be feeling much better after nap, and her temperature went back down, but it went back up at bedtime. I felt really conflicted about canceling class to stay home because I just had to do this last Monday with her ear infection (which the doctor said had cleared up when we were back in last Wednesday for a rash that I was worried was a reaction to her antibiotic but turned out to be viral and unrelated).

But I did the little 10-10-10 thing again and figured that ten months from now, no one will remember or care that class was canceled today. And I really didn't have a choice since it's against daycare policy to send her if she's had a fever within the last 24 hours, and David obviously couldn't stay home after missing an entire week of work last week to stay with his grandma. My mom offered to come up, but the fact is that I have less going on today and tomorrow at work than I do later in the week, so it's easier for me to miss now and then call in the Grammy reinforcements later if necessary.

It was definitely the right call as Coco is still snoozing and it's an hour past her normal wake-up time (I've already checked on her twice, and she feels warm to me but not burning up).

Hopefully I'll get in lots of snuggles and a little bit of paper grading and she'll be feeling better soon. All of this change in our regular routine has thrown everyone for a loop--or maybe it's just me.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Back Together!

David's home and we are glad to see him. Facetime on our phones is pretty awesome, but no match for the real deal.

Having him gone for a week made me think about how we make things work at home, and I realized that we do a lot of trading off rather than team work. I mean, trading off is a kind of team work, but it's different to do 100% of the work 50% of the time rather than 50% of the work 100% of the time.

Does that make sense? Not that we really divide up all of our time that way, but hopefully you get what I mean.

What I'm trying to say is that too often I think one of us observes that the other one is "on duty" or engaged with the kids, so the other one feels free to check out--sometimes that means taking care of other chores, and sometimes that means flipping on the TV (him) or scrolling through my Instagram feed (me).

Running things here for a week by myself made me appreciate SO MUCH that someone else takes care of dinner prep and just handles some of the kid interaction/supervision, but I also think we should try to do more of that stuff together instead of treating it like a baton handoff. It's not easy because we'd both like a few minutes to ourselves in the evenings to check out and chill out. I'm an introvert. I like my alone time. But when we take alone time and leave the other person in charge of the kids, we end up spending very little time all together. So I think we can work on more of a balance. (Also if we could get another hour or two in our day, that would be helpful).

Poor David had only been home about an hour and I was already irritated with him because while he was fixing dinner and I was upstairs giving Coco a bath, he let Zuzu have a yogurt even though (1) she'd already had yogurt at lunch (he didn't bother to ask me what she'd eaten today) and (2) the yogurt I purchased was specifically for me to take to work with me on my busy/early morning when I have to drop off both girls and don't typically have time for breakfast (which she knew, having had this discussion with me when I bought it, which is precisely why she asked David for it instead of me). This sort of small but aggravating failure to communicate is a source of friction and the kind of thing that can build over time like a million little paper cuts. As I told him, parenting by yourself is exhausting, but at least you don't have somebody undoing the things you did, or putting away things you wanted out, or nagging you to do things differently. So maybe we need some clearer communication going on.

Sure, that sounds like an easy solution, but frankly it can be hard to get a word in edgewise around Zuzu (we watched Survivor this afternoon and had to put closed captioning on because we literally could not hear the show over her chatter as she played with the Fisher Price barnyard). And talking about stuff--even stupid stuff like yogurt (or maybe especially stupid stuff like yogurt)--is exhausting and usually boring. It's like you need the help, but in the time it would take to explain it to someone else, you could just do it yourself and not have to worry about shouting over two squawking kids, you know?

This suddenly sounds like I'm complaining about my marriage when this post is supposed to be celebrating the fact that David has returned! I'm just saying that living with another human is kind of hard, and, in my experience, it gets more challenging when you have two small humans sucking the energy out of you in a relationship that is mostly symbiotic but occasionally feels parasitic. I think being apart for a week gave us some clarity on what we can do to make life easier and more fun for both of us, and that includes doing more 50/50 stuff together instead of trading off kid/kitchen duties, though we have to do some of that in order to maintain our sanity and keep the household functioning.

And in spite of the little irritations, I'm so happy to have him back to share the laughs and the beaming-with-parental-pride moments that we always have around the girls. Zuzu playing Family tonight was priceless: "Well, we're going to a party later in the week! And there will be dancing at this restaurant! So I'll be the Mommy and Daddy will be the Daddy and you and Coco will be the Sweeties."

It's nice to have some (limited) adult conversation at the dinner table, and to have someone voice their appreciation for things like vacuuming and organizing the backdoor entry way, since babies and toddlers tend to kind of take things for granted when it comes to parental sacrifice. Ingrates!

AND he did all his own laundry at his grandma's house, so he didn't even bring me more work when he came home. Hashtag husband of the year. He's a keeper.

Also: I've been listening to The Black Tapes podcasts, which is a fictional investigation of paranormal activity, and I confess that it's actually scary. And kind of freaking me out. So, selfishly, I'm really glad to have David back home in case there are things that go bump in the night.