Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Jerryisms

After Allison snuck an apple out of the fridge while we were loading in groceries and secretly ate nearly the entire thing while we finished:
"Let's face it, we're lucky she hasn't eaten Toby yet."

While watching a commercial for an online dating service where a woman riding a horse professes she's "Just a goof waiting for her ball":
"More like BALLS."

When I got upset watching our garbage men take turns punching the guy on the box our new TV came in:
"They're just breaking up the monotony of their morning. They haul trash for a living and you're looking to them to be the moral compass of society?"

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Newspaper column

In a matter of minutes, our living room was destroyed. There were bits of shredded wrapping paper in every couch cushion crevice, toys had been revered for moments and then cast aside for the next concealed one, and I barely had time to get any of it captured in pictures -- let alone take it in for myself.

As a new parent at Christmas, it seemed almost comical how fast a month of list-making, coupon-clipping, driving, parking, deciphering, pondering, selecting, paying, carting, detagging and wrapping could be undone before I had time to blink.

I found myself looking at our beautiful tree with the carnage around it and laughing because the only other reaction would've been to start pounding my head against a wall, and I couldn't have gotten over to one anyway. I guess Santa's going to have to up his arsenal next year.

At least we still have grandma's house, I thought.

If ever Santa had competition, it would be from my mother-in-law. With four grandkids, every flat surface in her entire downstairs is covered with wrapped packages, including the back of her piano and any floor space not absolutely necessary for walking from room to room. Plus, the biggest presents become tables for even more boxes, bags and bows.

This year, one was so big it was wrapped in a Christmas-themed tablecloth.

But just as soon as she could divvy up the packages to their intended recipients, it was over in a series of shrieks heard above the din of ripping paper. If I thought coaxing our 1-year-old through pulling tissue paper out of a bag went fast, I was quickly reminded that older kids with better finger dexterity go even faster.

The next phase of opening came soon after. Knives and scissors were pulled from the kitchen to free dolls, games and batteries from their plastic casings. I found that there's no pressure in the world like trying to wrangle a new toy out of its twist-tie prison as an anxious child bounces with anticipation at your lap.

I couldn't help but wonder if adults would be able to savor the reactions of little ones more if we could figure out how to wrap toys like manufacturers do.

In the meantime, I watched helplessly as tiny little parts got lost under the chaos. I tried my best to keep my daughter's new dollhouse family together, but after a few minutes, the baby was on his own in his crib on the roof next to the kitchen sink while his parents were off in a thick jungle of red and green.

I attempted to retrieve them before they ended up in a garbage bag as her big cousin announced the maze game that had come with six balls now had only four. And where was her stuffed kitty? And could I open this please?

With some intense searching, we found most of our targets, but eventually I gave up and decided the baby may have to remain an orphan forever.

After dinner -- which had its own mini disasters including the moment I shattered a glass on the kitchen counter and spilled beets all over the white tablecloth -- we resumed our search and found the baby's parents in the dollhouse attic hideaway. It was then that I realized there are all types of Christmas miracles.

The biggest of all is that we experience annual holiday amnesia and do it all over again each December.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Even eventual vindication is gratifying

I couldn't post these until today because some of them went out to relatives as Christmas presents, but here are the second set of pictures from our portrait studio trip.

Even though Allison's little butt barely fit in it, Jerry loved the one in the wooden cart so much that he ordered one to put on his nightstand. And a week later, as I was standing in line to buy a frame for it, I realized the teen boy behind me was doing poorly at stifling a giggle.

"What?" his girlfriend asked.

He kept laughing.

"WHAT? Seriously, what?"

When I went to grab my purse to dig out my wallet, I saw the folder with Allison's photos were in view. And peeking out the top was her crazy face in that cart photo.

Dude was laughing at my daughter's picture.

Part of me wanted to throw a curse on his unborn children, but it's not their fault their father was a douche bag when he was younger. Besides, I know he'll get it the first time he takes them to a portrait studio and tries to get them to sit, stay and smile.

And at that moment, I can bet an unexplainable warm fuzzy feeling will wash over me.


1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Contrary to what her shirt says, she does NOT heart Santa

DSC_0354
Who the?


2
Santa: Smile for Mommy. Allison: SUCK IT! HELP ME DAD!


3
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Completely consumed

Reading Twilight. Can't stop. So good.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Reminiscing about my reporting days

Our house got us a present for Christmas.

A clogged kitchen sink.

Which, I can tell you, is wonderful when you've just finished eating dinner and you have a dishwasher already filled with a dirty mess. In our typical style, we crammed the rest of our plates in and crossed our fingers that the problem would resolve itself overnight.

It did.

Temporarily anyway.

We woke up to find that all the standing water had magically disappeared, leaving a gross frothy residue of whatever morsels had been tucked away inside the garbage disposal. I sort of knew it wouldn't be the last of the sink issues, but I got to work cleaning off Allison's high chair anyway before making breakfast.

It took a moment, but the water rose steadily and never receded.

"Now what?" I asked Jerry, who looked equally frustrated.

"Draino?"

It was a start.

The label said it was safe for garbage disposals, but the increasingly disgusting water didn't budge. So we gave in and called a few local plumbers hoping someone would be available to come out on a Saturday.

The first said his "sink machine was broken."

The second was basically an advertisement for his top competitor, Roto-Rooter. He stopped just short of dialing the number for us.

Eventually Jerry had to leave for work, but not without giving me strict instructions to weld my phone to my skin for fear of missing the call. Yes, I'll admit I do have a tendency to leave my phone laying around in places I can't hear it, but he was forgetting that I wanted our sink back just as badly as he did.

On his drive, he must've filled in his mom about our problem because a few minutes later, she called and came over with her drain snake and more tenacity at tackling our problem than either of us had mustered. She pulled over a chair, used a plunger as I bailed out the mess and tried to figure out a way to wriggle the coiled metal snake through our ancient sink, but it wouldn't fit.

We worked right up until the Roto-man knocked. He came in as I delicately explained that I may or may not have emptied an entire container of Liquid Plumber Gel down the pipes in hopes of averting his nearly $200 fee.

Fortunately he had a sense of humor and had seen much worse in his days. Including looking past my paint-stained sweatpants.

He dug out the piles of grocery bags in the cabinet under the sink and shined the beam of his gigantic flashlight on the pipes to inspect our setup.

"Do you have access downstairs?" he asked.

So I took him to the basement where the new PVC pipes connect to the original galvanized pipes in a coiled mess on the ceiling.

"Is everything else working alright?"

"I flushed the downstairs toilet to check and that was fine," I said.

He shined his light around the coils. "That's the toilet right there. And that's a sink. How about the shower?"

"We don't have a shower downstairs."

He walked over and pointed out the pipe had been capped off. "Well, if you ever want another one, it'd be easy to do."

I know our house has a lot of history, but it's always fascinating finding out more about it. I'd give anything to see what it looked like when it was built in 1901. Entire walls and doors and windows have changed since then.

He determined his course of action and asked to borrow a bucket and a towel. He covered our washing machine and uncapped the end of a pipe and all of the foul standing water that I had been dumping chemicals into all morning cascaded with such force into the bucket that half of it went right down his sleeve.

"Oh, UGH! Use the towel! Seriously! I don't even care."

He just laughed.

"This is nothing. You should see some of the jobs I've done."

The curious ex-reporter in me couldn't help but start asking questions.

"I used to work in Baltimore. A landlord called for one of his tenants explaining that the place was filthy, but he had been unsuccessful at kicking him out. Anyway, I went in and the whole apartment stunk like ... ever been in a chicken coop?"

"Yes, actually."

"Like that. Like the ammonia from feces."

"Oh, gak."

"Anyway, he led me to the sink, kicking a path through all the junk on the floor, and it was completely filled with standing water. But, get this, a dead rat was on the counter with its head sticking in the water. Like it had purposely drowned itself or something."

I almost vomited.

"WHAT DID YOU DO?"

"I asked him if he knew there was a dead rat on his counter."

"And did he?"

"Yeah. He just shrugged. So I told him if the dead rat didn't bother him, then a sink full of water shouldn't either. And I left."

On the other hand, he said he was the regular plumber for Sen. John Murtha, one of the top-ranked Democrats in Congress. The one who infamously called his own constituents "racist" and "redneck" before the election. One he, incidentally, had been running in to reclaim his seat, resulting in regular spoofs on "Saturday Night Live."

"What's he like?" I asked.

"Really cool actually. But definitely a politician. It was probably three years in between my first and second time there and his wife remembered everything about me -- my middle and last name, knew I had moved here from Maryland. She even asked how my mother was."

"I wonder if they write that stuff down somewhere. You know, keep a record," I said.

"Wouldn't surprise me."

We went on to talk about working in industries that never sleep. Like the news business, Roto-Rooter is open 24/7. Like me, he is scheduled to work Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

After grinding the gunk out of our centuries-old pipe and flushing the system with water from the kitchen sink a few times, he told me we should be good for awhile.

Having watched his technique, I asked him if it would be crazy to try it myself if it ever happens again.

"Well, if it doesn't work out, we're always open," he said with a laugh. "Just be sure to have a bucket ready."

I couldn't help but find his daily routine interesting. More times than not he probably deals with regular calls at regular homes like mine. But there are a whole range of extremes on the other ends of the spectrum.

The whole afternoon, although spurred by something I would've preferred to avoid, reinforced my belief that everyone has a story.

You just have to ask the right questions.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Letter leftovers

Well, it's fair to say this new feature is off to a roaring start. I had great intentions of doing a post like this for month 12, but with my grandma in the hospital, it just didn't happen. And this month's leftovers would be growing mold in the fridge if they were edible. I BLAME THE HOLIDAY SEASON.


DSC_0230
Alli, I really struggled whether to pick this photo or the other one
of you reading in your sled. We haven't had a chance to actually use
it outside yet, but you could spend hours in it. Every morning you
grab a book and sit and read, freeing me to do very important stuff.
Like watch an episode of "Ugly Betty" and free up space on our DVR.


DSC_0244
You also love your f&@#ing birthday chair. I would've been
suicidal if you hadn't. Thank you for being so accommodating.


DSC_0281
Your father is getting pretty good at dressing you for Sunday school.


DSC_0286
I don't know who is more proud of your walking skills -- you or me.

DSC_0369
When you take time out of your busy schedule to put down your toys
and come over and fling your little arms around my neck, I can
tell you it is honestly the best feeling in the entire universe.


DSC_0376
Bear? Check. Bunny? Check. Bottle? Check. ... Bed.


DSC_0386
I want you to know that I love you enough to post a horrible picture
of myself in my bathrobe pre-shower. I figure if you're going to be
half-naked, it's the least I can do, right? Anyway, sometime this month
you started clapping when I sing, "If you're happy and you know it ..."
I nearly jumped through the ceiling I was so stunned. You're brilliant.



  • Your saying "Go, go, go" has morphed into "No, no, no." Your response to everything is "no," and I can't tell whether you just enjoy the sound or if you really mean and comprehend it. I'm confused as to how you picked it up because Dad and I try really hard to say other things instead of continually uttering it. Like, "Come here please" instead of "No, don't touch that." Or, "Be gentle with Toby" instead of "No, don't yank Toby's ears off." I can't wait for the next word. Let's shoot for "Absolutely."

  • About a week ago, I pulled out the wrapping paper for all our Christmas gifts and you showed interest in all of it. What's not to like? Crinkly tissue paper, gigantic toilet paper rolls filled with colorful prints, tape and scissors. To distract you, I gave you the cardboard tube when I finished a roll of wrapping paper and showed you how to talk through it. You were so taken by the sounds I was making, but when I held it up to your mouth for you to try, you just giggled. The concept was just too funny for you to form your lips into anything other than a laugh. But a few days later, I heard a funny little noise coming from the next room. Sure enough, when I peeked in, you were sitting on the floor holding the tube to your mouth making all sorts of sounds. Now you carry that tube everywhere.

  • You really started to be able to make correlations this month. You know to look for the missing pieces to a toy set if they're not all in one place. Which is a little daunting of a task because your plastic crap is EVERYWHERE. It's like dog hair. Random parts make their way under the bed, in between couch cushions and seemingly everywhere I step when I come home in the middle of the night and try to walk down the upstairs hallway in the dark. Fortunately, you are just as good as reuniting toys as you are scattering them. The Little People car set you have relied on the baby to do all the driving until you found the Mommy wedged between Scrabble and Monopoly. Hey, even grown ups need play breaks once in awhile.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fa, la, la, la, la ... la, la, la, la

Busy coupon-clipping, driving, parking, pondering, shopping, buying, carting, de-tagging, cutting, wrapping, taping, baking, mailing and all that other festive crap.

Monday, December 15, 2008

1 year, 1 month

Dear Alli,

This month I started to wonder whether you are actually the daughter of some circus performer somewhere and perhaps I took you home from the hospital by mistake.

Because sometime in the last few weeks you summoned your inner daredevil.

Walking is becoming less and less of a challenge for you, so you've decided to tackle new physical feats. Like trying to get to a lamp by using the coffee table to boost you high enough to wriggle onto the couch, toss your body over the arm of the couch, straddle the empty space between that and the end table to reach with all your might until either a) I stupidly realize I can't take my eyes off you for even 3 seconds and swoop in and scoop you up, or b) you toss the lamp to the floor and laugh uncontrollably at what fun games await at higher altitudes.

Then there's the high chair. Even though eating is your second-favorite activity behind making your parents crazy, you are no longer interested in food while sitting down. Not when you could be standing up!

And because your father and I are idiots and couldn't figure out how to strap you in correctly until just this morning, all of our meals up until then consisted of holding down your legs so you couldn't wriggle them underneath the seat and stand up, grinning with gooey chunks of peanut butter toast in each fist.

Other chairs have proven just as irresistible. Like the rocking chair in your bedroom. You were smart enough to shove over my footstool and climb aboard. You looked so happy to be sitting in a big-girl chair that I showed you how it rocked back and fourth. Then you stood up, put your hands on each side, pumped your arms and squealed as it shook.

Then there's the little antique wooden seat just for you that has always been stationed by the window. Now you can climb on top, stand up and slam your hands against the glass. Unfortunately, your father was coming home from work at that exact moment, saw you, stopped the car and started waving.

Now you think if you pound hard enough, your dad will magically appear. Needless to say, much of our mornings are spent keeping you off that chair and away from the window.

And this is the part where I tell you you're lucky you're cute.

DSC_0212

Your ability to move and climb, combined with your utter boredom with all of the things you've been inspecting for months at ground level has also prompted you to get into other things.

Like the toilets.

You have always been enamored with water, but now you know where to find it.

Meanwhile, I'm regretting teaching you how to open and close things. Who knew that showing you how to open the lid on your lion seat would translate to your hand splashing around in toilet water a few days later?

Fortunately, I outsmarted you and wedged your bathroom stool between the back of the tank and the lid. And the downstairs bathroom door is now permanently shut.

I suppose it should come as no surprise. You would spend all day in the bathtub if we allowed it. If life were up to you, people would spend the majority of their time in water and a few moments out of it to prevent major chapping.

In fact, when I was home from work one night earlier this month, your dad showed me a new part of your routine that had me laughing so hard, I nearly collapsed on the floor. To get you ready for your bath, he gets you undressed in your room then walks down the hall to the bathroom. As soon as you hear the water flowing, you take off in a naked crawling dash to the tub, panting and swishing your tiny butt the entire way.

It just won't be the same when you decide walking gets you there faster, so sometimes we pick you up and put you back in your room just to see you go crazy twice.

Hey, it makes up for the times we have to pull your sopping arm out of the toilet.

DSC_0229


When you were born, you were showered with stuffed animals of all sizes and shapes. Now you have numerous bins crammed with cotton-filled elephants, a rooster, an owl, rabbits, lambs, various bugs, penguins, lions, tigers and bears.

When you became old enough to start taking naps without having milk first, I started a new routine to help you understand that it would soon be time to lay down and go to sleep. We would close your blinds, walk over to your bookshelf, and I would encourage you to choose a stuffy.

Each day it varied. You would reach for different toys, but they all made you gloriously happy. It was enough to get you to lay down with a smile so I could kiss you and scoot out of the room.

The fact that you didn't have a favorite didn't surprise me. You seem to like variety and haven't formed any habits like sucking your fingers or relying on a pacifier. Which, trust me, is a wonderful thing. Ask your grandma and great-grandma how they had to bribe me with expensive jewelry to get me to stop sucking my fingers. IN FIFTH GRADE.

But this month you finally settled on a favorite. Well, two favorites -- Bunny and Bear -- one for each arm. The most amazing thing is that although they are different shapes and colors and came from different people at different times, they are both made by Ty Company. That may not seem significant, but at one point, they were the makers of all things coveted -- Beanie Babies. And your favorites have the beans in their extremities, giving them a similar feel and heft.

I am amazed that you were able to differentiate between all of your toys and settle on the two that are most alike.

Now Bunny and Bear go everywhere with us and they show it. Bunny was starting to look less white and more gray. I was terrified of putting him in the washing machine, but fortunately I didn't have to make a frantic toy store shopping spree in the middle of the night because he came out just fine. And I heaved a huge sigh of relief.

Every morning I awake to two thuds as they hit the floor, and I know your cries will soon follow. When I walk into your room, your face is covered in tears and you're desperately reaching toward your friends. I explain to you that you shouldn't throw them if you want them back right away, but you are too frantic to care. When I place them in your arms, you hold them tight and bury your face between them smiling.

It's good to have something soft to hold onto sometimes.

DSC_0330


When you were much smaller, I was worried that you wouldn't develop any social skills because you don't have other children to play with on a regular basis. But thanks to your weekly play group at the library and dad taking you to Sunday school, you have become this amazingly outgoing little girl.

Just last week, the two oldest boys at the library started making a bunch of noise by rattling around some blocks in a bin on the other side of the room. The rest of the kids stopped what they were doing and watched, but you charged over, wedged yourself between them and joined in.

Then you crawled into the bin.

And the boys grabbed two other bins and did the same.

I hope that is a lesson you never forget: Don't be afraid to play with the big boys. You are just as confident and capable as they are.

Your desire to interact with others was very apparent when we waited in line to see Santa this week. The line snaked around the Christmas display and you were not interested in staying put. Not when there were so many other kids around.

You walked around visiting everyone, chatting up a storm, waiving and nodding. Everyone was mostly keeping to themselves until you decided to spread your joy. It was tremendous to watch a line of adults who had been somewhat impatient, encourage their children to talk to the "baby." Everyone just kind of perked up.

Granted, you weren't too thrilled with Santa, but I'm sure you'll come around.

Call it a mother's instinct.

DSC_0269


Your love of food hasn't waned one bit and it probably can be credited to the two giant molars that popped up out of your bottom gums. Now that you can actually chew things, EATING IS THAT MUCH BETTER.

After visiting Santa, Dad and I took you out for dinner. Knowing you'd probably be hungry before our food arrived, I had thought ahead and packed some snacks. I started by giving you a few sprinkles of the baby trail mix I create -- a combination of Cheerios and raisins -- and YOU ATE THE WHOLE CONTAINER.

Desperate, we started giving you the cheese off your father's French onion soup. Then spoonfuls of the broth. Then bites of the bread. Then, what the hell, some onions.

Next?

Thankfully, our waiter rounded the corner with our meal. Glorious real food so I didn't have to resort to ice cubes out of my water.

I diced chicken and broccoli from your kids meal. Then you reached for my plate. So I gave you shrimp. And mashed potatoes. And coleslaw. And Dad gave you some of his burger. And a fry. And before I knew it, you had eaten more of our meals than we had. You were just sitting there, kicking your legs with joy under the table, reaching for more.

So we thought we'd throw you a curve ball and handed you a lemon wedge.

Not only didn't you flinch at the bitter taste, you said "Mmm" and proceeded to EAT THE WHOLE THING. Every last juicy bite right down to the rind. Then you handed the carcass back to me as if I could somehow replenish it for you.

Next we'll try curry.

DSC_0370


Lady, you are so much fun to be around these days. Even when you're defying gravity and trashing the place, you remind me what it's like just being a kid. Exploring. Testing limits. Learning new things.

Now that you've been in our lives for more than a year, I'm able to look back and remember what life was like with you last holiday season. I remember saying things like, "Next year she'll probably like shaking the snow globe." Or, "Next year she'll be able to open her presents."

The transformation is nothing short of mind-blowing.

And although it's easy to jump ahead and think about what you'll be doing next year at this time, I'm trying so hard to stay in the moment. To cherish your babble as you toddle around the living room carrying the stuffed ballerina lamb ornament in your hand, gnawing on its little tail butt puff.

I'm so thankful for your health and your strength that it has encouraged me to do a lot more giving this year than I ever have before. Because of you, I know how important it is that other kids have a warm coat and access to books and good doctors.

You inspire me to be a better person every day.

DSC_0221


Love,
Mom

Sunday, December 14, 2008

If you don't have any tissues, I've got ya covered

DSC_0216
When we were finally able to decorate our tree, Allison wasn't
anywhere near as enamored with it as I thought she would be. In fact,
I had to coax her over to inspect it at all. She was like, "A tree? In our
living room? What's the big deal? There's TONS of them outside."


DSC_0237
She was far more interested in the gigantic mess we were making in the
living room. Specifically the ornaments. More specifically the boxes,
tissue paper and bubble wrap they were stored in. Here, I'm handing
here the "Allison" ornament Jerry and I got her last year. She broke it
in less than two minutes. Apparently the bell is much better on its own.


DSC_0288
Toby must've had a rough day. I mean with all of the lap-sitting and
nap-taking to be done. And then to do it all over again the next day?
Absolutely exhausting. No wonder he found a soft spot and passed out.


DSC_0289
Here's me. Taking an extra box of tissues to the downstairs bathroom.
Because nothing says "GRAB A CAMERA AND CAPTURE THIS
MOMENT!" quite like Kleenex brand does. Well, to Jerry anyway.


DSC_0265
We eventually enlisted Allison's help hanging ornaments. Even
though she's is MUCH better at taking them down. And eating them.
This picture is absolutely amazing to me.


DSC_0284
Because this is what she looked like one year ago. Amazing.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Central Pennsylvanians are pussies

For days, local meteorologists were shouting slogans like "wintry mix" and "icy sleet" and "danger" and "immediate and sudden death" and "THE SKY IS FALLING" in regard to a storm that was supposed to hit sometime Thursday.

In typical style, everyone here overreacted. Entire school districts closed. Events were postponed or cancelled. People rushed to grocery stores to stock up on staples. Stray cats forcefully evicted hibernating groundhogs from their dwellings.

Even Jerry, who had to work a late-night broadcast at a bar insisted that I take the bigger vehicle for the night because it's safer. You know, because a single snowflake in the air might cause a chain reaction on the roadways that inevitably leads to my untimely demise.

And you know what we ended up with? A day that rivaled spring, people. It was warm with a steady mist that occasionally turned to rain. There was a little bit of ice that fell sometime around midnight, but it had melted by the time I got out of work.

This snow-belt native couldn't help but laugh. When you walk out of your house and you can't find your car in the driveway because four feet of the white stuff fell overnight THEN you're allowed to overreact. And by overreact I mean call your boss to tell them you're going to be 10 minutes late. Because that's nothing. There will likely be another foot in an hour.

When I was growing up, even the worst snow storms wouldn't keep my school from closing. Our only hope was windchill and even that had to be negative 20 or below. In my entire grade school education, I maybe got 10 snow days. And that's being generous.

Here? Here they pass them out like Tuesdays.

So it shouldn't have come as a surprise when I passed four, yes four, salt trucks on my drive home.

In the rain.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

With friends like these

When we got home after spending a few days in New York with my family for Thanksgiving, we discovered a disaster on the sidewalk in front of our house.

Since the sun rises directly behind, any ice on our brick sidewalk rarely gets enough sunlight to melt on its own, which is completely infuriating because the homeowners on the other side of the street barely need to own a shovel. We need a shovel, a pickax AND a blowtorch.

Apparently while we were gone, an ice age hit. There were uneven sheets more than two inches thick in places -- not something completely out of the ordinary on the east coast even in November. But the strange part was the unidentifiable black substance covering it.

It appeared as if something had been scattered deliberately on top of the ice from one end of our property to the other, perhaps as a traction device. Unfortunately, when the weather warmed a few degrees, the mixture formed a black, muddy disaster.

I knew Jerry was going to flip.

"THIS IS VANDALISM! VANDALISM! WHO THE F.... alright. Alright. I'll just get out the hose."

As we carried in our bags, we tracked the mess inside, further enraging him.

In my heart, I knew what had happened. Our well-meaning neighbor who is an active environmentalist knew we were out of town and probably tried a questionable "natural" substance instead of salt which, in his words, is "toxic."

Last winter he convinced us to buy a bag of natural salt alternative, which turned out to be tiny pebbles that scratched the crap out of the fresh coats of paint we had placed on our front and back porches.

Rocks. He told us to try rocks.

I'll stick with rock salt, thank you.

Memories of that flashed through my mind. This is the same man who heats his house with corn in the winter. And wants to install solar panels on his roof. And has a gargantuan receptacle in his backyard next to his shed to catch rainwater for plants.

Absolutely admirable, yes, but I knew the black stuff was probably his handiwork.

Meanwhile, Jerry was downstairs in the basement lacing together a string of profanity that would rival any rap album.

"WHO WOULD DO THIS?!" he said, exasperated when the black stuff didn't budge after a lengthy dousing of water with the hose.

"Dave."

"Huh?"

"I'm sure he had good intentions, Jer," I said. "I'm sure he was trying to be helpful."

"WHAT THE HELL IS IT?"

"I'm guessing it's soot from his corn incinerator thing."

"Jesus."

After calling him to borrow his push broom, we confirmed it. Because Jerry was tied up with the hose, I walked over instead.

"You should've seen it," Dave said. "The ice was incredible."

"Thanks for trying to take care of it," I said.

We've since laughed it off and asked that next time he just throw down the actual corn. Because even now, weeks later, we still have a grey film covering our sidewalk with black crust wedged in between the bricks in places.

Apparently going green isn't always the way to go.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ho, ho ... holy hell he's outta control

My husband thinks he's Santa Claus.

And despite his lack of flying reindeer and his inability to wiggle his nose and whisk up a chimney, he almost is.

In spirit anyway.

As far as parenting goes, this really feels like Allison's first Christmas. Last year she was a little more than a month old and stayed flat on a blanket while we shoved blinking musical toys in her face. Then she spit up, pooped and passed out.

This year she'll be able to comprehend NEW TOYS. And that fact has not been lost on Jerry.

Sometime in October, he started scouring toy store circulars in the Sunday paper. And trolling toy sites online. Then he made a list. And checked it twice.

"WHOA! LOOK AT THIS BALL CRAWL!" he said, pointing to the computer screen with exuberance. "Oh man, how COOL would THAT be to come downstairs to on Christmas morning?"

And he knew because it was on sale that I'd agree. Even better? It's deflatable, so when it loses its luster, I can happily tuck it in a corner of a closet somewhere.

Once November arrived, he was so worked up about the protocol of portraying Santa that we HAD to go shopping IMMEDIATELY. If not, I probably would've ended up smothering him with his stocking or choking him to death with a string of lights just so I wouldn't have to hear the words "get on board" again.

So Jer's mom agreed to watch Allison for an afternoon while we tried to find a compromise somewhere in between buying the whole store and buying just enough to use the coupon I clipped.

Surprisingly, it went really well. We just started loading up the cart with things we knew she'd enjoy. At the end, we figured we'd review our options, tally up the cost and edit from there if we needed to.

Then we got to the Elmo Live display.

It has been billed as the "it" present for the toddler set.

It sings, it dances, it tells jokes. It was supposed to be hard to find. Which is why Jerry had INSISTED that we preorder and prepay for one online.

But now, there they were. Dozens of Elmos in a towering stack.

"We have to get one," Jerry said.

"WHAT? ... No," I said. "We've already paid for one."

"But it's on BACKORDER," Jer said. "It's not supposed to come until sometime in December. And what if it's late like the chair?"

Admittedly a low blow, sure, but he knew that would convince me. So I begrudgingly put it in the cart knowing that I could go online and cancel our other order. And at least we'd avoid paying shipping fees.

Wrong.

When I got home and followed the instructions on how to cancel the order, I was sent a lovely response informing me that Elmo No. 2 had already been shipped. Weeks earlier than expected.

So now we have both in our attic -- one in a Toys R Us bag and one in a Fisher Price box surrounded by styrofoam peanuts.

And because it turned out not to be the "it" toy thanks to the insane price, now retailers are putting them on sale. And I want to kill myself.

Jerry, however, sleeps just fine at night. To him, ending up with two Elmos is just a routine part of being Santa.

And if only one Elmo lives to see Christmas morning, I'll blame a rogue elf.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Our house smells so good that even our worst farts get lost in the pine


DSC_0268
We went to cut down our own Christmas tree Sunday. The farm we
go to is absolutely amazing. It offers rides to and back from the fields.
On our way there, I started singing Jingle Bells to Alli, only I changed
the lyrics to "Oh what fun it is to ride in a two-horse open wagon."


DSC_0216
I wish I could convey how bitterly bone-chilling cold it was.
When the wind hit, my teeth hurt. I was thankful I had wrapped Alli up
like the kid in "Christmas Story" when he couldn't put his arms down.


DSC_0222
She didn't seem to mind, but we tried to be quick because of the weather
and settled on one of the first trees we came across that met our criteria:
Jerry has to struggle to touch the top. Normally we would've kept going
because it can't be that simple, right? Wrong. It's the best tree. Ever.


DSC_0234
Alli was enamored with all of the stuff on the ground,
but couldn't. quite. get. at. it. STUPID MITTENS.


DSC_0242
The trees always look small outside, but this one scrapes our ceiling.


DSC_0245
Alli: Another picture? Seriously? How many days until my graduation?


DSC_0246
Yes. I realize it appears Jerry is cutting the tree in the direction
that it would fall directly on our daughter. But don't call
Social Services just yet. I moved her. Honest.


DSC_0254
Alli and I were MUCH happier once we got in the cabin next to the
fireplace. We even got an impromptu lunch of hot dogs and sauerkraut
after Jerry was done getting our tree shaken and bundled.


DSC_0259
We tied the tree to the top of the car for the first time instead of shoving
it in the back and living with the pine needles that wander their way
into our butt cracks for the rest of the year. This time we were smart
and remembered to bring rope. But Jerry mistakenly tied all the doors
shut except one, so we had to crawl in through the front passenger side.


DSC_0271
Before leaving, I ran back to take a picture of the horses and they
were so majestic and beautiful that I felt my heart flutter.
And now I WANT A HORSE FOR CHRISTMAS.


DSC_0274
As usual, the outing warranted a nap for Little Miss.
She really is in there somewhere. Under all that pink.

No wonder she hates oatmeal

On the weekends I work, Jerry makes a point to get up with Allison so I can catch up on my sleep. Although I typically wake to even her slightest whimpers, Saturday and Sunday mornings I do my best to block out the noises around me.

A few days of sleep deprivation and the comfort of knowing Jerry can handle it usually does the trick.

But this week, I got out of work a little earlier than usual on Friday night, so I felt rested and woke up on my own around 8 a.m. the next morning. I heard squeals of laughter coming from downstairs, so I decided to get up in the hopes of eating breakfast with the family.

When I got to the kitchen, it was empty. And the highchair was missing.

So I walked around to find Jerry sitting on the coffee table in the living room, Toby in his lap and Allison next to him in her highchair with "Sesame Street" blasting on our flatscreen while they ate.

"What's going on down here, huh?" I asked, laughing.

"Say, SATURDAY MORNING CARTOONS, MOM!" Jerry said, tickling Allison, which earned a huge laugh.

I walked toward them to kiss everyone good morning and noticed she was eating an unidentifiable substance.

"What's on the menu?" I asked.

"Um, well, Nilla Wafers. ... But only temporarily! Waffles are in the toaster."

"COOKIES FOR BREAKFAST?!"

"Just ONE! It was a quick fix. The box was next to the toaster."

"How about the banana sitting on the other side?"

And, I swear, as it left my mouth, the two of them shot me an identical look. Then Jerry said what they both were thinking:

"GO BACK TO BED, MOM!"

Friday, December 5, 2008

One thousand, eight hundred and twenty-five days

Five years ago today, Jerry and I went on our first date.

4

2005_2

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Now when I call her a big girl, I really mean it

When did my baby become a little girl?

I know I've been fervently documenting her development for the past year, but it still somehow managed to sneak up on me. All of a sudden I have this walking, talking little lady to spend my days with.

In the first few months, I remember pining for any sign of an emerging personality. Now there's no question that she's outgoing, curious, loves music, laughs freely, is open-minded to trying new things and has a generally upbeat disposition.

Being a parent to this energetic, constantly on-the-go child is by far the most difficult thing I have ever tackled in my entire life. There are days when I think she deserves better than what I have to give. When I struggle to summon the patience to prevent her from pulling a plant to the floor for the fiftieth time, I tell myself that we'll get through this. Years from now, I'll probably wish I could magically clean up her mistakes with a vacuum.

I'm still looking forward to everything to come, but it's tough not looking back and missing that snuggly little baby who was most content just to lay in my arms. Now if I hold her too long, she tosses her head back, kicks her legs out and uses her free arm to try and push herself away from me.

It's tough not to wonder if I stole enough kisses on her cheeks before she learned to turn her head. In the meantime, I'm trying to revel in kissing her at all because someday she'll inevitably consider it an invasion of her personal space.

I guess I started thinking about all of this last week when Timberly came to visit. She was in town from Nebraska for Thanksgiving. We only had an afternoon together, but in the few hours she was at my house, her pregnancy mandated frequent trips to the bathroom, an emergency snack and much excitement about what was to come. Strangely enough, it left me feeling very nostalgic. It is such a blessing to be awaiting a new baby's arrival.

The next day I got to hold Courtney's son Jackson, and my heart honestly melted feeling the weight of him against my shoulder. His entire body snuggled against mine, unlike Alli who sits tall on my hip, hand outstretched and neck craning to take in everything going on around her.

Add to it the final pregnancy photos I discovered a few moments ago in my e-mail inbox of my friend Andrea who is past her due date and the newest ultrasound images of Timberly's little one, and I couldn't help but wonder where my baby went.

It's not that I want another one. On the contrary, it has everything to do with Allison. It's very difficult for me to accept the fact that Alli will never be that baby again. Every day she's a little different and it's so easy to miss it. I think back to this time last year with that cooing baby who fell asleep in my arms and sigh.

Yes, it's easy to forget the nausea, heartburn and aching back. Or the projectile spit up, nightly wake-up calls and inability to set newborns down.

But it serves as a fresh reminder to cherish all those moments.

Before bed, I'm going to peer into Allison's room and try to burn the image of her snuggled in her crib, wrapped in her pink polkadot blanket and clutching her bear and her bunny into my longterm memory.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Why do I always want to make a reference to Bill Cosby's Picture Pages every time I post photos?

DSC_0283
Allison decided she was big enough to pack herself for our
Thanksgiving trip to New York. When I got out her suitcase,
she started cramming all of her stuffed animals in it.


DSC_0292
On Thanksgiving, she got to open her birthday present her
great grandma made -- a Steelers hoodie and matching hat.


DSC_0299
Although the wrapping paper also made a nice hat.
Can you tell this is post-pumpkin pie?


DSC_0312
Later that night, Courtney and Matt came over with
oh-so-adorable Jackson, who is now 4 months old.


DSC_0327
Not only did I get some smiles, I also got to hear his first laugh.


DSC_0339
I know. He's totally perfect.


DSC_0363
Sometime over the weekend, we pulled out my old rocking horse.


DSC_0385
Then we adopted a turtle. Just kidding. We went to the zoo.


DSC_0375
And this bird was probably thankful it's not a turkey.


DSC_0389
Aw. Happy family posing near a rhino.


DSC_0390
A crapping rhino. ... You're welcome.


DSC_0398
Allison loved the otter exhibit.


DSC_0407
And I have no idea who these people are, but the seals were
really frisky. They were jumping out of the water and doing flips.


DSC_0408
Years from now, I will tell Allison that her mere existence convinced
her grandmother to go to a zoo. For the first time in decades.
The woman WHO HATES ANIMALS and THEIR mere existence.


DSC_0428
And on the last day, Alli got her first hair cut. For 11 bucks.
It took all of four minutes. But, whatever, it's a rite of passage.


DSC_0427
She was surprisingly cooperative.