Friday, October 31, 2008

The only day it makes sense all year when I call her 'pumpkin'

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Earlier this week, we carved pumpkins.

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I got a white one for the first time and was
excited to see the guts were different.

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Miss Allison wasn't so sure about it at first.

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Then she really got into it. Jerry is completely disgusted.

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We made a huge mess. Its photos like these
that remind me how much I despise my kitchen floor.

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I opted not to get political, but thought of something creative instead.

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Because central PA is weird, we trick-or-treat the Thursday before
Halloween. Allison was a flower. I found a watering can for her treat bag.

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Our neighbor Nicholas was Darth Vadar. I hadn't thought about it,
but I bet the concept of Halloween is tough to grab for first-timers.

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For awhile, we hung out on our front porch
and handed out candy. Toby was a bumblebee.

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We saw some awesome costumes.

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Allison was content playing with the pumpkins. Mine turned out great, but
we had to crack the lid to get enough oxygen in there to keep the flame lit.


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Then we met up with cousins Ben and Emily at
grandma's house and went door-to-door there.


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It was so much fun. Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lets keep the discussion going

A lot of excellent points raised on the last post, and a few of you even voiced opinions in favor of the opposing side that I hadn't considered.

As best put by mhale:

What a great country we live in where such different views can still coexist peacefully and express their opinions in so many forums.

(And some from other countries weighed in, too.)

I particularly liked this thought from an anonymous commenter:

As an Obama supporter, I was interested to hear in church (Roman Catholic, no less) that the church wants you to consider "life" when voting. BUT that life is just not abortion. It is health care, education, capital punishment, help for the poor, foreign affairs AND a person's character.

And this from Courtney in California where a measure to overturn gay marriage will be on the ballot:

I'm deeply in love with my partner of four years. She helps me to be a great person, and I know I want to spend the rest of my life with her. I desperately want the assurance that I will be able to see her in the hospital and help make medical decisions if necessary, the comfort of knowing that our joint assets will be protected, and the knowledge that, when we're ready, we can raise children together without fear of losing them. We hope to get married this summer, but we won't be able to do that without your help. Please do not let the opposition take this chance away from us.

But one thing I don't understand is, why has "socialism" become such a negative catchprase in the final days before the election? We are clearly a capitalist society -- as evidenced by the subprime mortgage mess and the overwhelming economic crisis it created worldwide. I don't think offering collective health care is going to suddenly change the way the majority of our system operates.

Erin from Canada offers her perspective:

Seriously, I wish more then anything that people in the US would understand that universal health care systems are a GOOD thing. They don't cost you more money, they aren't sub-par doctors or service, and we don't have crazy wait times. We get the same sort of medical help you get, only we don't have to worry about HMOs denying us.

Call me an idealist, but that would be a plus for everyone.

Besides, why can't one of the richest countries in the world collectively take care of the health of its own people? Shouldn't that be a major priority?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Let the lambasting begin

I'm not exactly sure why, but I've been a little afraid to get political on my blog.

Years ago when I made fun of Bush and his policies that crapped all over our civil liberties, I got inundated with hateful comments and it just sort of sat with me, I guess. But that was before he bankrupted the country and his approval ratings plummeted to an all-time low.

I'm sure part of it also has to do with my profession. I make a conscious effort not express my political views in the paper. I weigh everything I do carefully to make sure both parties are equally represented.

I guess that mindset sort of translated to not discussing it at all here.

But the few of you who commented on the last post showed me that it is possible to have a thoughtful exchange of ideas without tossing insults, demoralizing someone else's views or threatening to set each other on fire.

In short, you inspired me.

Months ago when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were still battling it out for the Democratic nominee, my friend Gisela said, "I'm sort of surprised you haven't endorsed a candidate yet on your blog."

Funny, I hadn't thought of that. I mean, who cares what I have to say on the subject? Like the Internet isn't already saturated with political commentaries and analysis pieces down to how much the Republican National Committee paid a hairdresser to follow Sarah Palin around the country and make her look like a polished Caribou Barbie.

But, then again, why not endorse a candidate? Without raising my own pedestal too high, I am probably more well-informed than a large majority of the voting population. I mean, my job is to scour, select and edit political stories almost every. single. night.

But before I get into why I'm voting for Obama, I'd like to take a minute to express my greatest fear -- people voting on a single issue. Namely abortion.

Yes, abortion is a big deal. Yes, the next president likely will have to appoint someone to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, which could result in overturning Roe v. Wade. But is that singular issue going to affect the majority of voters? Probably not.

What about the energy crisis? What about the economy? What about foreign policy? How should we address Iran's nuclear goals? Or funding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? What about health care? Gay marriage? And education?

People who vote on a singular issue are telling me that the rest of it isn't important.

Just today we had a letter to the editor in our paper from a man who said his religion forbids him to vote for a pro-choice candidate. But he felt conflicted because McCain went through a divorce. And in the eyes of God, he's living in sin.

Sure, I question his decision-making methods, but at least he was using his head a little rather than just voting the way his priest told him to.

As for Palin? Gah, where to start? I'm infuriated that a woman with no experience in Washington is being offered one of the highest positions on the global stage without climbing the rungs first. As thrilling as it is to be alive to witness the first woman named to the Republican ticket, I'm angered beyond belief that she was chosen for her gender. Sure, her far-right beliefs appeased the party's majority voting base, but McCain's campaign needed a shot in the arm before the Republican National Convention and he knew one of his Senate buddies wasn't going to cut it.

Enter winks, guns and lipstick.

(Excuse me me while I puke.)

Besides the family scandal that has swirled around Palin and her uncompromising views that terrify me, I can't get around the fact that she seems to abuse the power she already has. Troopergate. Fudging documents so the campaign will pay for her children's travel expenses.

And this woman could become president by default? Someone who hasn't ever placed a vote on the House or Senate floor? Someone who has no experience in Washington whatsoever?

That would be like throwing me into the publisher's seat of the New York Times.

By comparison, think of the job position you have. Now place yourself as the owner of that corporation. Or the superintendent of your school district. In eight days. Would you feel comfortable making that leap? How can she?

I would love nothing more than to see a woman vice president in my lifetime. Viewpoints aside, I just don't think Sarah Palin deserves it.

As for me? I won't lie. I voted for Hillary in the primary election, but when it comes to McCain or Obama, the choice wasn't hard for me.

Here's why I'm voting for Barack Obama:

  • I support a woman's right to choose. Although I thoroughly disagree with his stance on late-term abortion, I think it's important that a woman is ready to take on the role of motherhood. Mistakes happen. Pills can be forgotten. Condoms break. It would be terrifying to live in a country where desperate women felt forced to take matters into their own hands in attempt to end a pregnancy.
  • I am against off-shore drilling. One of the most important things the Republican party did in my opinion was make a wildlife refuge in Alaska. We need renewable energy resources. Experts have said drilling won't reduce gas prices for about 10 years. And even then it wouldn't be a permanent solution. Wind power. Solar energy. Methane gas from landfills. And all of the jobs that would come with it.
  • Obama supports universal health care. Right now there are little kids who have teeth rotting out of their mouths because their parents can't afford to take them to a dentist. There are retirees living on Social Security who have to choose between heat and their prescription medications. I would be more than happy to pay higher taxes to help those people. And who knows? If I ever was unfortunate enough to lose my job, I might need that type of coverage, too.
  • Obama has said he'd be willing to meet with foreign leaders who have long been shut out by the United States. Maybe opening one door would lead to some increased communication and understanding. We have to start somewhere.
  • Obama supports bringing our troops home. Financially, because of the $700 billion bailout plan, analysts have said that we may have to choose which is the bigger threat -- Afghanistan or Iraq -- because we won't be able to indefinitely fund both. I don't support an immediate withdrawal, but a timetable would be nice.
  • Although against gay marriage, he supports giving homosexual partners who want to enter into a lifelong committment the same rights married couples enjoy. To me, this is just a no-brainer. When you care about someone enough to stay by their side during their darkest hour, you should be able to do that in a hospital too.
  • I genuinely believe that Obama wants to improve life for middle America. His hope and enthusiasm for a better tomorrow inspires me. I think many of us could use it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Who needs millions in campaign money when you've got illuminated gourds?

Discussion that followed after I mentioned I'd like to get political when carving our pumpkins this year:

"You don't want Allison's first pumpkin to be a face?"

"I have a feeling she'd be okay with it."

"Yeah, but what about everyone else? We'd just be inviting McCain supporters to smash them. And some of them are crazy! Like that chick who carved the backwards B in her face!"

"Less cleanup for us. They'd already be taken care of."

"Well, I don't even know which way I'm voting yet!"

"Don't joke about that. That's totally grounds for a divorce. Ranks right up there with when you leave the fridge open."

"Trick-or-treaters are KIDS! They're too young to get it."

"Yes, but who takes around those kids? VOTERS."

"Like a pumpkin is really going to make a difference."

"Not with that attitude it's not! Who says my Obama pumpkin wouldn't be the deciding factor for someone? Like they get into the voting booth and think, 'Man, that pumpkin on that family's porch was really awesome. And they had Snickers. I'm voting Obama.' ... And then that one vote totally wins the election because WE LIVE IN A SWING STATE."

"And then, in his acceptance speech, Obama will personally thank you for your creative contribution."

"See? I knew you'd get it eventually."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Newspaper column

I could sense the unspoken tension in the room. There were long-standing rumors that the south wing of the third floor was haunted, but there were three beds up there and someone was going to get stuck with them for the following school year.

As one of the newest members of the sorority, I knew I had a little less say about it than some of older girls. Besides, how bad could it be? Our chapter had occupied that house for a few decades and the stories passed down from one generation to the next never included bodily harm.

I nudged the two friends I had hoped to room with and tried to get their approval. It was the only way the three of us could bunk together anyway. Most of the other rooms were only big enough for one or two.

Begrudgingly, they agreed.

As I unloaded my car on move-in day that fall, it was impossible not to notice that the old Victorian had a lot of history. Off the kitchen was a servant’s quarters with quick access to the gilded dining room that easily sat 30. It had three fireplaces, a grand staircase in the front and another, slightly less showy one in the back. There were 18 bedrooms and an off-limits section in the basement that apparently housed slaves during the Underground Railroad movement in the 1800s.

The house was practically a breeding ground for supernatural activity, but I couldn’t help but think the stories were a result of active imaginations and exaggerations from one year to the next.

Ghost, schmost.

I was the first of my roommates to move in, so I temporarily had the place to myself. Not wanting to risk someone else grabbing the biggest closet, I started unpacking my clothes.

Because we hadn’t called to get our cable hooked up yet, the coiled wire was sitting on top of a dresser waiting to be attached to my TV. I hadn’t paid much attention to it, but each time I emerged from the closet to grab more hangars, it seemed closer to the edge.

Suddenly, I became very aware how quiet it was.

I dug out my stereo and settled for the radio because I didn’t feel like searching for my CDs. The music helped settle my nerves a little, but not for long.

After a few more trips in and out of the closet, the movement of the cable was unmistakable. I darted my head around to see if one of the girls had decided to play a prank on me before saying hello. My mind was almost willing someone to giggle and come bursting out from behind the door.

Instead, the radio dial spun to static and I watched as the cable raised a foot off the table and dropped in a controlled arc to the floor.

Then I ran.

And the door slammed behind me.

That was the first of many paranormal activities my roommates and I experienced that year. Most of them were electronics related – our alarm clocks would go off in the middle of the afternoon, CDs would play tracks out of order, and the TV would inexplicably flip through the channels when the remote was in plain sight, untouched.

The door slamming became such a regular occurrence that we anchored it to the wall with a rope, and it wasn’t unusual to come home to discover our beds had been moved while we were in class.

The three of us were more than happy to leave that room to the next occupants, but one good thing did come out of it – it takes a lot to spook me this time of year.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Turns out, it's nice having a maintenance guy

"We're out of lunch meat."

"That's okay. I have to go to the store anyway because I'm running low on tampons."

"I understand."

(laughing) "You understand? You understand what it's like to be starting your menstrual cycle and nearing the bottom of the box of tampons?"

"Yes. ... I mean, I don't own a vagina, but I maintain one."

"You WHAT?!"

"I have to take care of a vagina every day now. Wipe front to back. I get it."

"So because you've changed a few diapers, you know all about it?"

"Yes. I'm on the maintenance crew. Like the guys picking up on the side of the highway. Only I pick up poop."

"So you'll have no trouble running to the store then to get lunch meat and tampons. "

"WAIT! WHAT JUST HAPPENED?"

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My cooing miracle cries too

As I sat slumped on a mirrored stool in one of the shoe aisles in Target, Allison crawled at my feet, shoving a Size 9 tag in her mouth that she grabbed from the floor. Next to me was my red shopping cart filled with the final piece to her Halloween costume, a non-slip bathtub mat, a few cans of formula, a box of diapers and an economy-size pack of condoms.

I had retreated to what I thought would be a quiet place in the store where Allison could get her energy out. If I really stopped to think about it, she had put up with being confined to a seat for much longer than most active 11-month-olds would tolerate. I guess that's part of life when your house is 35 minutes from the nearest shopping center and you have a baby to bring along. Even the most seemingly simple outing turns into an event.

Moments before giving up and putting her on the floor, I had been opening the musical greeting cards to blast their contents one by one. A warbled version of "Celebrate Good Times" and cats meowing the birthday song were the only things keeping her from convulsing in frustration. Before that, I had been attempting to, well, actually shop, but after bending over for the fiftieth time to pick up the plastic polar bear and lion figurines that I had snagged from a toy aisle for temporary use, I realized I shouldn't bother.

I feigned interest in a pair of boots when an older woman appeared at the other end of the aisle. She stopped to admire my little girl.

"Oh, she's adorable," the woman said.

"Thanks," I said, tousling Alli's hair. "She just got a little tired of the cart."

"Mommy, I just needed to stretch my legs is all," the woman said in a sing-song voice, bending over to inspect Allison a little more closely. "Although, that tag probably doesn't taste very good."

"Yeah, I know," I said, making a vague attempt at pulling the cardboard from her teeth and clenched fists until the woman walked away.

Inside I was screaming, I'M DOING THE BEST I CAN! But I know that pre-baby me would've been appalled at such a sight. That mother doesn't deserve her child, I would've said to Jerry when relaying the story to him.

The truth is, reality is a little different. Right now, as I type, my legs and arms ache from all the running around, bending over, lugging, lifting and carrying I did today. My entire morning was spent prepping her for our outing, and the entire afternoon was spent handing over snacks, wiping a drool-coated chin and keeping curious hands occupied.

What I really wanted? Ten minutes to look for a new shirt. Something. Anything. Because every single piece of warm clothing I own is at least two years old after spending last winter in maternity wear, and I honestly can't remember the last time I bought something for myself. Just yesterday my thumb popped a hole through my faded black hoodie. All of my socks are threadbare at the heel. I only have one pair of jeans that fit me properly. And even though I'm not breastfeeding anymore, I'm still wearing nursing bras because that's all I have.

Instead I was hunkered down next to an unnerving amount of pleather, trying to figure out why my daughter would prefer a small piece of cardboard to actual toys.

This is what I prayed for, I tell myself. This is the miracle I desperately wanted and cried over two years ago after my miscarriage.

How could I have forgotten that heartache?

It's just that my days are still a blur. An intense struggle to get everything done in a continual sleep-deprived state while fighting off the feeling of inadequacy.

Sure, there are times when I look at Allison and I'm overtaken by love. I feel indescribably privileged to have this amazing little being in my life.

I hold onto those moments. They help get me through the ones when I summon the courage to pocket the saliva-drenched Size 9 tag and endure the looks of others when I push my crying child to the checkout lanes.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A planet of pain, where no words are quite right

Two years ago this week, I found out I had experienced a miscarriage. At the time, I wrote about it extensively as a way of coping, even detailing my disastrous surgery. I received more support online than I ever could have imagined. Other women confided their own stories, often admitting that it was the first time they were talking about it openly.

It stuck with me that something so out of our control could be reserved to hushed whispers behind closed doors.

Until now, I hadn't read someone else's account of miscarriage that explained my feelings about the topic so thoroughly. Yesterday I found a New York Times article by N. West Moss that begged to be passed along.

Like her, I don't think it should be "a secret or a shadow or something that is endured only alone." So if you feel compelled, copy and paste, link, share:


There are no pink ribbons to wear if you’ve had a miscarriage, no walkathons or T-shirts to encourage awareness and prevention. And to the extent that we have a language to talk about miscarriage, it’s full of airy platitudes: ‘‘Don’t worry, I had one once, too,’’ or ‘‘I had two, and then — poof — Davey was born, and he’s graduating from college this week.’’

But until you belong to the imaginary club of Mothers Without Children, it is a secret planet of pain, all but invisible to the outside world.

I recently had my third miscarriage in a year. It happened early in the pregnancy, and it was dismissed as no big deal — ‘‘chemical pregnancy’’ seems to be the term of art. Let’s not overreact, no need for hysterics, keep moving. ‘‘We’ll treat it as though you’re just getting your period,’’ as my doctor put it.

But honestly, it is not just like getting your period. Psychologically, of course, it is nothing like it, but physically it is different, too. I had cramps for hours that left my ribs feeling bruised, and then four days later I was back at work and exhausted because I was still bleeding a lot — not an alarming amount, but enough to make me schedule meetings in rooms near bathrooms, and to send me home in the afternoon for a two-hour nap. I wonder how men would cope. All of the pain, mess, furtive tidying-up, shame and soldiering-on seem so fundamentally female to me.

People act as if a miscarriage were a locatable event on a calendar, with a beginning, a middle and an end. But in fact it starts when you feel that first unmistakable twinge that something is totally wrong. It continues through the rough days of sorrow and deep cramps, and then it meanders through every single day of the rest of your whole stupid life. I will probably mourn about this miscarriage in some outwardly unremarkable way until I either have a healthy baby or die.

Talking about miscarriages is so loaded and pitiful and hushed and fraught with meaning about age and usefulness. It feels as though having three miscarriages in a year means I did something wrong, when the reality is that most miscarriages take place for chromosomal reasons out of our control.

Yet a woman who has had a miscarriage has likely asked herself why. ‘‘God must not want me to have a kid,’’ she might think, or ‘‘I am too old.’’ There are moments when you can feel that the miscarriage and the calamities of the world are your own doing and you should have somehow known better.

Maybe we don’t talk about our miscarriages because we don’t want women with children looking at us with pity, or teenagers in their immortality-flushed way thinking, ‘‘That’ll never happen to me.’’ We do not want happy families to whisper, ‘‘Thank God that’s not us.’’ We don’t want to wonder if men are thinking, ‘‘If they can’t have kids, then why are they here, anyway?’’

I cannot tell you, though, what you should say to women who have had miscarriages. While it can be touching to hear other women’s stories, it can also be irritating: It makes our moment of extraordinary sadness feel ordinary and unremarkable. Why would I want to hear about your miscarriage when I am lying on the floor trying to lift 500 pounds of failure, disappointment and crashing hormones off my chest?

I can tell you that I want people to know. I don’t want it to be a secret or a shadow or something that is endured only alone. I want people to know that I have been through something, that I am tired but optimistic, that I’ve been knocked down but don’t help me up because I can get up myself.

It’s fair, I think, to want witnesses for our suffering. But with the sorrow also comes hope. And after all, we are resilient creatures. A friend of mine said it well in an e-mail message after she heard my news. ‘‘I hope you don’t give up,’’ she wrote. ‘‘I want to take a picture of your child one day against the tallest sunflower.’’

Sunday, October 19, 2008

You say tomato, I say I'LL MAKE SAUCE

Surely Jerry's Italian ancestors would be bursting with pride, I thought as I sampled my first-ever attempt at homemade tomato sauce.

And, if I do say so myself, it totally kicked ass.

A little zip, majorly chunky and I used olive oil. Yep, I officially earned the "i" on the end of my married name.

So what if I used canned tomatoes? And a jar of roasted sweet peppers instead of doing it myself? No one else has to know. I mean the gigantic mess in my kitchen speaks for itself -- especially the tiny splotches of red all over the stove.

The point is, I didn't just open a jar of Prego.

Since it was hours before we planned on eating and I couldn't wait that long to brag about my awesome sauce, I delicately carried a warm spoonful up the stairs to the office where Jerry was playing with Alli and Toby while talking on the phone to his friend.

"I MADE MY OWN SAUCE!" I said upon entering the room, practically willing all of them to burst fourth with applause.

"Hold on a sec," Jerry said into the phone. "Wow Kelly, that's great!"

It was the perfect response. He was just the right amount supportive and not overly enthusiastic to the point it could be construed as forced.

So I lovingly placed the spoonful in his mouth.

Then he gagged.

And coughed.

And sputtered how fantastic it was.

"Wow! It's, uh, got some bite! I wasn't expecting that," he choked out. "But it's really good! I think it just went down the wrong pipe or something."

Maybe those Italian ancestors wouldn't be bursting with pride after all. Maybe my tastebuds were overpowered by my innate feeling of accomplishment.

Unfortunately, the only thing I did manage to get right is quantity. So now I have a vat of gag-inducing semi-homemade sauce fit for the mouth of the garbage disposal.

Now where's that jar of Prego?

My camera got a workout this week

It's been a little over a year since I've seen my friend Gisela, so when she picked me up on the sidewalk in front of our house, swinging me around in a circle while squeezing the shit out of me, all I could say was, "I FORGOT HOW FREAKISHLY STRONG YOU ARE!" Then I added, "God I missed you!"

It was her first time meeting Allison, and you'd think they were longtime BFFs. Gisela just seems to have this natural affinity for playing with kids, and Alli was no exception. Although I always worry it must be a gigantic snoozefest for a Philly-dweller to visit the everything-closes-at-9 suburbia of central Pennsylvania, Gisela was perfectly happy spending a few days in our Plastic Toy Wonderland and snuggling under blankets with the giggly Alli on our couch.

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Gisela added a phone to Allison's Plastic Toy Wonderland
and sung all sorts of Spanish lullabies to her.


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Later that night, we took a girls-only trip to Chili's for dinner.


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Maybe the reason Alli loved her so much is because
Gisela tossed her around like Jerry normally does.


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Saturday afternoon we took a long walk
and stopped at a candy museum.


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And looked at the old metal chocolate molds
hopefully not made out of lead.


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Then we stumbled upon a huge pile of colorful leaves
and decided Allison should play in them.


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Hours later, I found a leaf in her diaper.


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Then we stopped and got ice cream.


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Although he doesn't look it here, Jerry
was super psyched Penn State beat Michigan.


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It was too short a visit, but it was great
reconnecting, even if just for a few days.

Friday, October 17, 2008

No need to wipe my butt with it

After four coats of paint, the rockin' mirror I got on uber clearance is finally worth hanging on the wall, which I did this morning while Allison inspected the drill bit box.

First I handpainted it black. And despite all the time and effort it took, the end result looked like garbage because I could see all the tiny crevasses I had missed. So I used painters tape and newspaper to cover the mirror and went to the craft store for some spray paint.

Then I got inspired by a can of muted silver.

When Jerry came home, it was resting on the living room table in all its glimmery glory. As he walked past to the stairs, he blurted one comment without even so much as a pause in his stride.

"BIG MISTAKE!"

Apparently he wasn't a fan of the new shade.

And dammit, neither was I if I really scrutinized it.

After another trip to the hardware store for a can of black, I tried once again. Then this amazing thing happened. When I sprayed it on lightly, portions of the silver still came through, giving it some depth, a touch of shine and, well, PERFECTION.

Its like the mirror was overworked and tired and hadn't given itself enough attention over the years because it's tough making sure everyone else looks good all the time, ya know? And then after Oprah got wind of the mirror's touching story, she gave it a whole segment on a makeover show and WOAH! STAND BACK! Who even bothers to look at their reflection now? THEY JUST WANT TO STARE AT THE GORGEOUS MIRROR.


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Before.


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After.

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I know. PERFECTION.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Letter leftovers

Every month when I write Allison's letters, I always struggle to choose which anecdotes to write about and agonize over which photos to post. I always feel a tremendous amount of satisfaction when I'm finished because Alli is such a huge part of my days and the initial purpose of starting this blog was to give myself a writing outlet and document my thoughts about life.

But after reading it a few times, I usually get frustrated because "Shoot! I forgot to mention that. And that. ... Oh yeah, and that." And by the time the next month rolls around, those observations are lost. She's changing so rapidly.

So I've decided to introduce a monthly "Leftovers" feature, which will primarily be the photos I didn't select for her letter, many of which include the rest of the family. I may also compile a few bullet points of things I don't want to forget.

It seems like a good solution. And I like leftovers. Wall, as long as they're not taco shells reheated in my toaster oven. Because guess what? They catch on fire.


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Alli-gator, I took you to your first parade earlier this month
and you CLEANED HOUSE with the flag handouts.

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You're an expert at walking when you have help.
(Just please ignore my pre-shower ensemble.)

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You and Toby are officially partners-in-crime. Dad tells me you
worked together to pull this can of cheese snacks off the coffee table.


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I try to prevent you from playing with the blind cords because
of that whole "strangling hazard" thing, but YOU LOVE THEM.

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You also love when Dad gives you zerberts.

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New York grandma and grandpa came to visit this month
and grandma noticed that every time we pick you up, you
pat us on the back because you want to return the favor.

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You also had your first cookie. Grandma's chocolate chunk.
And holy sweet sugar did you mow that thing down.

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I'm also finally starting to see the resemblance between you and me.

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And this photo, although not spectacularly active or even interesting
in composition, is just so ... you. Years from now, I know I'll want to
crawl into it back in time and scoop you up and get your pat on the back.

  • Lady, you are going to looove gum. I know babies are supposed to put everything in their mouth, but you like to keep stuff in there. I guess to feel it roll around on your tongue, maybe? Whatever the reason, it seems like each time you explore on your own, when you return to me, you have a wad of something in your mouth. You pull it out and inspect in on occasion -- which is when I notice it -- then you try to cram it back in before I can grab it. I've confiscated carpet fuzz, wads of magazine pages, bits of toilet paper and all sorts of barely identifiable things covered in your spit. Trust me, Trident will taste much better.
  • Your chattiness has continued this month, but you only seem to be able to utter one thing at a time. Your repertoire includes Go! Go! Go!, stop, Mommom, Dada and, your favorite, baby. Everything is "baby." Even the hulking linebackers on the Steelers defense.
  • You fell in love with books this month. You are content to just sit on your floor and flip through your cardboard books and look at the pictures. I often have to turn them around so they're facing the right way, but you don't seem to be bothered if I don't. You carry them around and talk to them as if you're carrying on a very thoughtful conversation. As someone who gets paid to read stories every night, I sincerely hope that love continues a lifetime. Words can take you anywhere you want to go.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Month 11

Dear Alli,

You are officially a person. Not that you weren't always one, but now you're able to communicate, you have definitive likes and dislikes, you react to your surroundings, you exhibit comprehenshion of ideas and, mostly, because you wear shoes.

Speaking of which, have I told you yet how fun you are to dress? Not literally, of course. You are a writhing body on the move who would much rather go around in a pea- and puke-stained outfit than be interrupted long enough for me to shove any combination of clean clothes over your head.

But fashionably speaking, you are so fun to dress. I love all the nauseatingly adorable ensembles you have in your closet. The corduroy overalls with matching hand-stitched applique collared-top onesie. The floral-print pants with the fuzzy fleece top. And the pink! Gah! I could eat you up in pink!

Each time I put you in new clothes, I have to resist the urge to take 4 gaswillion pictures of you.

And the shoes. Oh, the shoes.

Now that you are using your feet in the manner in which they were intended, shoes have become somewhat of a necessity when we go outside. And it's like something clicked. Like this shoe addict just found a WHOLE NEW GENRE OF FOOTWEAR TO FALL IN LOVE WITH.

So what if you can't totally walk just yet?

I promise your first steps will be in style.

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Your love of music grew by leaps and bounds this month, which couldn't make me and your dad any happier. Well, maybe we'd be happier if you pooped gold nuggets, but it honestly ranks right up there.

Ever since you were born, you showed an intense interest in melodic sounds, but now you're completely captivated. The mere presence of music will stop you in your tracks, put a huge smile on your face, and if it meets your approval, you'll dance.

When you started rolling and standing up while I was changing your diaper, I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to get you to stay still. So I started grabbing random items around your room that I wouldn't normally allow you to have and stick them in your hands in hopes that it would hold your interest long enough to get a clean diaper around your butt. The snaps and zippers on your clothes I've learned to do on the move.

Things like extra outlet safety caps, the butt paste container, my hair ties and an empty tissue box worked for a few days, but then they just lost their luster.

At one point, I got so desperate that I reached into my hoodie pocket and pulled out my cell phone. In a moment of pure parenting genius, I scrolled through the toolbar, selected the sound settings and started playing the ringtones one by one.

You would've stayed on your changing table all day.

You just held my phone very delicately, completely uncharacteristic of your usual hurricane hands, and stared. It was as if you knew that hitting a random key or flipping the phone shut would stop the wondrous sounds delighting your ears.

Now we listen to the phone on a regular basis.

I'm just happy to report that you have good taste. Ringtone 9 is my favorite too.

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I could be crazy, but you seem to have an aptitude for sounds and rhythm. I know, the entire world population just rolled their collective eyes. Because don't all parents think their child is a super genius? Faster than a speeding bullet? Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound?

Maybe so. But frankly, after 40-some hours of labor, I think I'm entitled.

A few days ago, you and I were down in the basement while I was doing laundry. Since I detest the task so much, I overloaded the washing machine as usual, and it was making some insane clunking noises as it tried desperately to complete the final spin cycle.

Meanwhile, you were standing at the dryer while I was unloading it, and without prompting, you started slapping your hands on the lid. IN SYNC WITH THE WASHER.

A total fluke, right?

So I stopped the washing machine and you stopped. When I started it up again, you did too. IN SYNC. AGAIN.

As if that wasn't cool enough, the next day while we were playing in your room, I started imitating one of your random "Ahh" exasperations. You stopped and listened and joined in, matching the note I had picked.

So I stopped and picked another note.

Then you matched it.

I nearly fell over and made a mental note to tell your great grandma who has dedicated her entire life to teaching, playing and otherwise fostering music. And New York grandma who has directed high school musicals every year for the past few decades. And Pennsylvania grandma who plays piano for church. And Dad who turned his obsession with music into a career.

But, no, it can't entirely be your genes. I credit all that awesome music I listened to while you were in the womb. Please tell that to your father who insists my taste sucks.

It just goes to show that NOT EVERYTHING BLURTING FROM SPEAKERS HAS TO MAKE YOUR EARS BLEED.

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When we're all home in the afternoon, Dad likes to play house deejay. Apparently doing it professionally on a radio station all morning isn't enough.

In addition to our constantly growing iTunes library, MySpace has become one of his favorite sites for free music. He has his usual bookmarks but often mixes it up with an occasional surprise. Either way, it livens up our playtime when the three of us hang out on the floor in the office and toss random stuffed animals to Toby.

In his online travels, Dad discovered that you love Vampire Weekend. Not their entire repertoire, not even a full song. Just the first few notes of "Ottoman." A couple guitar plucks before the bass comes in.

I'm not sure what's so special about those notes, but they are the shining pinnacle of your days. You could be having the worst meltdown of your entire life -- Toby could've just denied you access to the toy he was playing with, throwing you into a convulsion of tears and flailing appendages -- but if Dad walks over to the computer and plays those notes, all is forgotten.

You burst into a grin, and life? What could be better?

If drugmakers could harness that kind of euphoria, you can bet it'd require a prescription.

And maybe even a waiver.

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Every few months, I have to come up with a new trick to get you to smile and look at the camera while I'm trying to take your picture. First there was holding up toys, then there was whistling. After that, I simply called your name! ALLISON! With EXUBERANCE! But when all of those things became commonplace and no longer elicited a smile, let alone a passing glance, I decided to sing.

Wouldn't you know, it worked. Now whenever I want you to look in my direction and smile, I start singing the alphabet. The other customers at the farm we went to for pumpkins a few weeks ago must've thought I was nuts, but I've officially come to terms with the fact that my days of being somewhat cool have come to an abrupt end.

You lose interest around the letter Q, but A through P? Captivating.

In my former life -- you know, before I became a mother -- I used to sing quite frequently. But as my solo days dwindled, so has the quality of my voice because I'm out of practice. I still sing in the car on occasion, but more often than not, I've taken to zoning out to talk radio just to clear my head and let other people's thoughts rattle around in there for awhile.

But lately I've been finding myself singing to you all the time because you love it so much. You know, really engaging stuff like "Twinkle, Twinkle," "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" and "Puff the Magic Dragon." Even so, it calms you when you're upset. It gives you joy when you're in need of a boost. It allows you to wander into another room because you can hear me and know I'm nearby.

Lady, of all of the audiences I've sung for over the years, of all of the stages I've performed on, singing to you in our living room is by far my favorite.

Thanks for giving me a reason to sing again.

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Love,
Mom

Act now while supplies last

This weekend, while flipping through our mail fliers in search of coupons, I stumbled upon these gems:

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After telling Jerry I want an activity apron in every color for Christmas -- maybe two of the coffee cups in case one is in the wash -- he grabbed it from my hands to get a closer look.

"SIZES TO 5X!" he said. "Women that big aren't doing enough activities to warrant an apron! That's just a place for them to store their grilled cheese!"


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Be the one to light up their faces. Because the emaciated, bloodied child vampire bride at your door could seriously use a smile.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

11-months-ago me would've sympathized with him

When Allison paused from shoving bread in her mouth, sat back in her highchair and started grunting, I knew it was going to be bad.

That's her poop face. And this one apparently required a great amount of work and concentration.

We were at a little family-owned Italian restaurant with my parents who are in town visiting for the weekend. I wasn't sure what the facilities were going to be like to address a six-grunter, but my hopes weren't high.

And rightfully so.

My mom came with me to help, and the three of us nearly filled up the entire space. Not surprisingly, there wasn't a changing station, but there was a tiny little counter off to the side with a mirror wedged between the paper towel dispenser and one of the two stalls.

Unfortunately, it was one of the motion-sensor kinds. And my mere presence kept setting it off. Before I even got Allison situated, the apparatus had spewed its contents to the floor and it was piling at my feet.

Just as I suspected, the poop was monstrous and the diaper hadn't stood a chance. It folded like a 5-year-old trying to take on the World Heavyweight Champion in arm wrestling. The poop was all over her clothes, down her right leg and all the way up her back.

"Oh, ugh, GROSS!" I said, trying to prevent Alli from wriggling and transferring any more of the disaster to other surfaces.

No luck. Before I knew it, the poop was smeared on the mirror, all over the counter and then she slammed one of her socks down in it. When I finally managed to free the diaper, I tossed it in the garbage and it opened midway, leaving all of its gooey goodness in a swipe on the stainless steel.

At that point, my mom and I just started laughing hysterically. Allison, who had managed to stand up, half dressed with poop everywhere, joined in, bouncing her legs and clapping.

Then she peed.

All over her pants, her socks and her shoes, forming a puddle on the counter that ran onto the floor.

Present me could've kissed 30-minutes ago me who had the foresight to pack an entire backup outfit in the diaper bag.

It's an understatement to say it wasn't easy changing her clothes and cleaning up the mess, but with four hands, we managed. Besides, we had half a roll of papertowels to help.

When we were finished, I told my mom to head back to the table with Alli and said I'd go in search of a bag to place her soiled clothes in. Stupidly, 30-minutes-ago me hadn't thought of that.

When I rounded the corner toward the kitchen, I noticed our waiter.

"Hey, I know you're busy, but could I have a bag for these clothes?" I asked.

His eyes darted to the pink wad I was holding, and I think I saw him puke in his mouth a little. There was a noticeable moment where his brain had to tell his stomach not to retch all over the floor.

"Actually, you can just take them to the dumpster out back," he said, apparently pointing in the general direction of the trash receptacle.

I was appalled and somewhat humored. Appalled at the fact that a server would even consider ordering a patron to walk out of the restaurant to deposit anything into a dumpster while their appetiser was on the table getting cold. And humored at the fact that this guy had absolutely no idea that, although it looked completely foul, it's nothing, NOTHING to a well-seasoned parent.

"I'm not going to throw them away!" I said, unable to hide the shock in my voice.

"Oh," he said, fighting more puke. "A bag. Sure."

With that, he started to head toward the kitchen while I waited, then turned around again.

"Oh, and I forgot to tell you, there's a changing station in the handicapped bathroom," he said before spinning on his heels and resuming his quest for a bag.

Thanks guy. That information would've been clutch 10 minutes ago.

Friday, October 10, 2008

People tell me I can plant them -- if they don't shrivel up first

We decided to take advantage of the warm weather and get pumpkins last weekend. Even though she'll never remember it, we wanted Allison's first trip to be special, so we drove out of town to a farm that offers hay rides to a patch where you can pick your own.

When we got there, it was closed. On a Sunday. Three weeks before Halloween.

PRIME TIME TO GET A PUMPKIN, PEOPLE.

Jerry quietly turned the car around, and I noticed his knuckles were turning a subtle shade of white while clenched around the steering wheel.

"Screw them and their crappy hay rides," I said. "Who wants to sit on that scratchy crap anyway?"

"Shh ... I'm counting to 50," Jerry said with a hint of a smirk.

"Because 10 isn't high enough?" I asked.

"Yes."

But despite the setback, central Pennsylvania is full of farms. Pumpkin and otherwise. We knew of at least three others to try and the drive on the winding back roads was kind of nice -- especially with all of the fall colors.

"We're leaf peeping," I said. "I bet people in other parts of the country would kill to see entire mountains covered in color like this."

Fortunately, the second farm we tried was open and full of people. Probably the same ones who would've been on our hay ride if the other place had been open, but who's counting?

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The mums were amazing.


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I asked Jerry whether I should get two of the small ones or one of
the big ones. His response: "Do you want to kill one plant or two?"


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The first pumpkins Alli looked at were too big.


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These were too small.


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Then she found two that were just right.

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And she refused to let go.

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"Um, excuse me? Dad? Where are my pumpkins?"

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"Got em!"

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Although, a little hard to crawl and carry at the same time.

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"This is hard."

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"AW! Who farted?"

Yeah, I'm so mature. But we had a great time. And even better? It's been a week and our flowers aren't even dead yet. Probably because I walked out to get the mail a few days ago while I had a glass of water in my hand and I decided to dump the rest on them.

They must thrive on good intentions.