Friday, December 25, 2009

The Greatest Gift

I am thankful that two thousand years ago, we all received the most important gift anyone could give.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God send not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."

John 3:16-17


Again, you knew they would feature eventually....
I'm thankful for my husband. He does the dishes, he does his best to surprise me, he knows not to wear white socks with dress pants and shoes, he always checks to be sure my water is full before filling his own, and he gets up with the baby (almost) every other day. And now, in addition to being a loving husband, he's also becoming a very fun and caring dad.
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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My little bundle of joy

In a move of blatant parental bliss (read: pride), I won't even caption these. I'll just let you enjoy the sweet, endearing beauty that I'm grateful is part of my every day.

Come on, you knew she would show up in the gratitude list somewhere.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Tonight I was helping with a service project. People had brought gifts for families who needed help providing Christmas. We helped with wrapping and sorting. There were a lot of families, with piles of presents in several different rooms. As things were winding down, there were just a few really old women left with my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law and me. These kind women must have been at least seventy-five. One had a walker, none were going anywhere quickly. But they were sitting and lying on the floor, wrapping presents and selecting toys for the families. They all seemed so happy to be bringing Christmas to these families and there were absolutely no complaints of being tired, aching or anything of the like (except from my seventeen-year-old sister-in-law). I was grateful to be more than able-bodied.

As we sorted gifts and ensured that the numbers were balanced among siblings, I thought of the parents who would be giving these gifts to their children. They must want to make Christmas nice for their children. I remember how much I always looked forward to it. I hope it lifted a burden for the parents, knowing that their children would receive something for Christmas.

I was struck by how many of the children would be receiving as many or more clothes than toys, probably because that's what they needed most. Then, we stacked up the gifts for a family with twelve children, including eight month old twins. And there were diapers. I imagine, or at least really hope, that these families do have diapers and the gift of a few more packages of diapers will only release some money to go other places. Still, I thought of what a necessity diapers are for me. What if I couldn't afford them? What if the next can of formula or the next pack of diapers would be too much for our little budget?

Now, we are certainly far from wealthy, and have benefited greatly from the generosity of others, particularly since the arrival of our baby. And I cringe a little every time I have to buy another can of formula, even though I've almost always gotten a coupon or two from somewhere. But I am grateful that diapers are something we can do. And the formula doesn't break us.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with my brother a few weeks ago. He was telling us about a wealthy friend who passed up an investment opportunity saying, I have enough money. I guess that's incredible to many people, but I think it displays great wisdom. In contemplating the story, I determined that I also have enough money. It's not that I wouldn't love to have more, nor that I couldn't think of plenty of places to spend it (I have lists for that too). But, I think an aphorism I heard the other day describes it perfectly, you can never get enough of what you don't need.

I'm grateful that this Christmas, not only do I know exactly where my own and my family's next meals are coming from, but we are also able to give gifts to those we love. When I can no longer afford to be generous, then I will truly consider myself poor.

New Insights

Yesterday, I was grateful to learn some new symbolism of Christmas. I learned two new things associated with Christmas that will make me think more of the Savior. For some reason, it really struck me, so I'll share what I learned.

First, food, which is definitely a part of my Christmas, is a symbol of Christ. In particular bread. Christ said, "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." John 6:35
This is probably not news, but here's what I didn't know:

Bethlehem (the city where Jesus was born) means house of bread. What an appropriate name for the birthplace of the bread of life.
It is further appropriate that when Jesus was born, he was lain in a manger, which is usually a feeding trough for animals, or the place where they get their food. So, even in the circumstances of Jesus's birth, God was teaching us about his purposes.
Second, we talked about Santa Claus, who (unfortunately) is almost as much a part of Christmas as Jesus Christ these days. The instructor read this book, which points out all of the similarities between Santa and Jesus. Both wear red, have white hair, come in the night, bring gifts and want everyone to be good. So now, whenever I think of Santa, I will think of Christ.
I love receiving new insights that will help me to think more of the Savior.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Solid Ground Beneath My Feet

I hate flying.

Check Marks

My brother says I need a clipboard, and maybe he's right. I am a maker of to-do lists. But I think I make the lists only because of the intense satisfaction of getting to check off the things I've done. The first thing on my list is always "make to-do list"; it's good to start things off well. I am always grateful to have a day (or two) to stay at home and take care of things around the house, particularly on weeks like this, when the work seems to grow exponentially.
Dishes.... Baby....


...sorted, washed, hung, dried, folded and put away.

...emptied (it's still done, even if I didn't personally do it).

Kitchen, bathroom...
...mopped, cleaned.



...paid and mailed.

Swing Virginia can climb out of, new hand-me-downs, unseasonable clothes...
disassembled, sorted, labeled and stored.

Christmas cards...

...written, addressed, stamped and mailed.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Chocolate Cake

I love chocolate cake. It is my absolute favorite food. I might be able to eat it every day. Today I was pondering who first figured out that grinding up wheat and mixing it with unhatched eggs would be a good thing? And who thought that throwing in some cacao might be a good idea? That was a great idea. Well, whoever it was, well done! I am thankful to partake in delectable treats, in particular chocolate cake.

Incidentally, I apologize for the lack of pictures recently. I did take photos for today's post, but for some reason my camera stubbornly refused to focus on the cake, and gave me a nice, clear background instead. Unfortunately (or fortunately), by the time I uploaded the photos to my computer and discovered the problem, the would-be subject of any retakes was gone.

So, instead of a photo, I will leave you to envision chocolate cake in whatever may be your favorite permutation (try this if you're not feeling imaginative). Or, you can make or buy yourself a chocolate cake to look at instead. Or, if you're in Madison, you can come over and eat some of ours; there's plenty left and still will be when we leave town on Saturday.

I promise that tomorrow's post will contain pictures; I've already started taking them (it's a blessing two days in the making).

Thursday, December 17, 2009


On the way home from our friends' house tonight, James remarked that for the first time since moving away from home, he's a little sad to be leaving for the holidays. Of course, we're very excited to see our families and are thrilled to be visiting them (and their warmer climates). But, at the same time, there are people in Wisconsin we will miss seeing, if only for a few weeks.

Almost from the moment we arrived in Wisconsin, we have been very blessed to find people with whom we connect. This was conspicuously missing from our childless, newlywed life in Virginia. We didn't fit the single law-student mold, nor did we do too well with the husband-in-law-school, wife-at-home-with-a-few-kids model. In Madison, however, we have many friends from all walks of life, who are happy to associate with us and enjoy both our similarities and differences. Perhaps we have changed, perhaps the people here are different, or perhaps it's just a another sign that, freezing or not, Madison is the place for us. Regardless, having done without for a while, we are very grateful for our abundance of friends with whom we connect on so many levels.

"Oh, the comfort -- the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person -- having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away."
Dinah Maria Craik

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Down Time

In the midst of an often hectic life, it's nice to be forced to sit still for a few minutes and have a little time to think and reflect. I'm thankful for five minutes in a waiting room, thirty seconds and a traffic light, twenty minutes rocking the baby to sleep, and another twenty minutes of feeding her a bottle. Sometimes I think of all I have to do; sometimes I think of things I'm looking forward too. Often, I clear my mind and think of nothing, enjoying the snow covered trees, or soft baby skin, or the fact that my life is pretty great.

Monday, December 14, 2009


I am thankful for snow. It is peaceful and cozy and makes it socially acceptable for me to drink hot chocolate and wear layers. I like how fresh snow makes everything look clean. And when it is snowing, I forget how flat Wisconsin is. When it snows near the mountains, you can't see them. Today, as it was snowing, I thought: who's to say there are no mountains behind this big storm cloud? Of course, I knew there weren't, but there could have been.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"I love technology, but not as much as you..."

Today I am thankful for technology. Not only has it brought me a realistic sounding piano at a reasonable price, weight and size (yep, still extremely excited about that), but it also brings my family closer to me even though I live so far away.

I love cell phones. When I first went to college, life was all about calling cards. I once went six weeks without talking to my parents. Okay, maybe it wasn't quite that long, but I think it was more than a month and I definitely didn't recognize my mom's voice on the phone when she finally called me. But that never happens anymore. Thanks to my cell phone, I call my mom all the time. Sometimes every day. Sometimes three times a day. And it's all no more expensive than it would be if we lived next door to one another. Thanks to cell phones, over the past two days I have talked to every single member of my family. I especially love it when one of my brothers calls while I'm on the phone with the other one and they think it's cool to be the one for whom the other gets ignored. And I love it when I call my mom's phone and get my sister instead, or I'm trying to call my mom and have to go through three different phone numbers to find out that she really is unavailable. It's great to have so many ways to connect.

Technology lets Virginia's grandparents see her every single week, so that when she sees them in person they will already be familiar. Technology lets me play Scrabble with my Aunt in Utah and my friend in Atlanta. It lets me see pictures of my nieces and nephews who are all thousands of miles away. And it lets me follow my friends' lives even though we only get together in person once in a great while.

So even though it's nice sometimes to go "off the radar" and camp in the middle of the woods where there is no "signal," I am thankful for technology.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Look What Santa Left Under (well, next to) Our Tree!!

I'm thankful that today, for the first time in over ten years, I live with a piano. I almost got a piano from Freecycle a few times, but for various reasons it never worked out. And now, thanks to the TA Union (I never thought I'd have good things to say about them--but for now I love them!), we have one of our very own. And it doesn't have to be tuned. And it's (relatively) easy to move. And I can turn down the volume and play at night after Scout is gone to bed.

Technically, this is Virginia's Christmas present. She's a lot of the reason we felt it was time to own a piano. But, since she can't fully appreciate it yet, I'm going to be taking care of it for her for a while. And of course, we felt good about getting it out before Christmas because she has no concept of such things anyway, and I did need to practice for the musical number I'm accompanying tomorrow.

I've been looking at pianos longingly for quite a long time. I try to play whenever I can. I pack a pile of music with me whenever we visit family with a piano. And every time we've stayed in a place where I could play one, I've felt like I was stealing a dance with someone else's boyfriend, wondering when the next opportunity would come along. But this baby's here to stay! I did jump up and down and clap my hands like a little girl for several minutes when James pulled out the keyboard portion. I can't believe it's really mine...I mean ours...I mean Virginia's. I spent a few hours this evening making sure it feels sufficiently welcome.

De-compartmentalizing My Holidays

As far as holidays go, I've always felt that Thanksgiving gets short changed a lot of the time. As soon as Halloween is over, boom!, up go the Christmas decorations. I know, I know, that's just commercialism. After all, Thanksgiving is basically only profitable for Weight Watchers, yam farmers, the Rachel Rays of the world and people in the turkey business. And many people I know are annoyed with the immediate transition from October to Christmas. However, many of those same people are sneaking out their Christmas music in early to mid November. And they're making Christmas lists. And they're writing Christmas cards. And their Christmas presents are mysteriously all bought by the day after Thanksgiving, even though they didn't capitalize on the Black Friday shopfest. I'm not saying that these people dislike Thanksgiving, I'm just saying that you don't see people making cranberry sauce, dressing like pilgrims and drawing turkeys with their hand print in December. This is all to say nothing of the fact that many people's Christmas trees are still up well into January. Let's just say that the Christmas "season" gets its fair share of facetime, and Thanksgiving sometimes gets a little squashed between costumes and stockings.

I will confess that I'm slow to get going on Christmas. I basically never do any shopping until December. People who want lists have to beg me for them. My decorations aren't up all that long before the semester ends and we leave town for the holidays. Hey, even my Christmas tree is less than two feet tall. I do love Christmas, but I also enjoy basking in Thanksgiving. I should say that I am, however, like all those other people who leave their Christmas decor up until it's definitively January.

So, in honor of its usual short-shrift, I've decided to extend Thanksgiving a bit this year. Today is the first day of my favorite month of the year. Winter is upon us, it's Christmas in two weeks, we'll soon be visiting family and dear old friends and a month from yesterday will be my birthday. It's a great, and busy, month. With so much going on, I want to remember all the things I'm thankful for.

I always find great pleasure in stepping back and noticing the abundance that fills my life. It's not hard to feel that "my cup runneth o'r." So, for this month, I'm going to articulate something I'm thankful for every day. Note, this is a goal, and will likely not get posted every day. But there will be something for each day. And so, in addition to everything else wonderful about it, this will be my month of giving thanks.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

As it turns out...

...we ARE a happy family after all!

"Getting" Jane Austen

Am I the only person who thinks that Jane Austen's works are meant to be funny? In fact, I find them hilarious on many occasions. Yes, they contain a good helping of romance, and often center around some couple getting together. However, I would argue that if her work were assigned to a modern movie genre, they would be more romantic comedies than dramas. I thus find myself frustrated that many cinematic versions of Austen's books are all drama and, all too often, melodrama. In an effort to create angst they seem to have lost much of what I find delightful about her work. I know a lengthy book nearly always must necessarily be condensed into a movie of manageable length. But I don't think that this must result in a total loss of Austen's clever mockery of society and its typical characters. Many of her delightfully comedic figures become flat, boring and often annoying in an effort to emphasize and increase the melodrama. Two egregious examples come to mind.

First, Hollywood's most recent interpretation of Pride and Prejudice. Now, I'll admit that I haven't watched this movie in quite a while (after one showing, my husband refuses and often mocks), but I have some lasting impressions that speak to its tone. First, I remember seeing previews for the movie. When the preview ended I said, "well I don't know what version of Pride and Prejudice they read, but that doesn't look anything like the story I know." And, while the movie was enjoyable enough as a period drama/romance, it was missing so many of the things I love about Pride and Prejudice. The director deliberately tried to make Mrs. Bennett less of a ridiculous character. Why? She's supposed to be funny and over the top! She is a caricature of everything that is ridiculous in mothers who desperately want their children to get married. Donald Sutherland, while a fine actor, just doesn't capture Mr. Bennett's amused indifference for me. I did enjoy the scenery, the costumes and Rosemunde Pike as Jane (has anyone else noticed that Jane Austen's works quite often include a virtuous and beautiful side character named Jane?), but it couldn't make up for the artistic liberties that I think were untrue to the original.

I know many Brits and so-called purists were upset by the added scene at the end of the movie with Mr. and Mrs. Darcy kissing at Pemberly. That was fine with me. Perhaps I hardly noticed it following so closely on the heels of the early morning half-attired stroll across the misty moors in which Elizabeth and Darcy seem to "know" that the other wants to meet them there and declare undying love. What? That's certainly not in the book. Nor is it anything like the book. Nor is it anything like Jane Austen. "You have possessed me body and soul"?! Don't get me started. Was it really so ineffective for Darcy and Elizabeth to finally find a chance to be alone without sacrificing sleep, societal norms or their much-guarded pride by simply going on a walk where their companions slowly drop off into other pursuits? Austen's version is, at least, more true to real life. Things happen at the most unpredictable times and places (you're just as likely to be unexpectedly proposed to on a normal day in your friend's front room as a pillared stone monument in the pouring rain). And it's still delightful and romantic without being over the top.

The second adulteration of Austen came in a recent interpretation of Persuasion, which was produced for Masterpiece Theatre. I watched it the other night and found myself shocked and dismayed. The climax of Persuasion is perhaps the best. But this movie changed it completely. Anne's all-important speech on the constancy of woman's affection was heavily edited and moved to the middle of the film. It's not so important that she says it as that Wentworth hears her saying it. In this version, he was busy flirting with Louisa Musgrove when the crucial lines were delivered. How, then, could Wentworth be prompted to write of his undying love which he could not openly express to Anne even though she was in the same room? Well, he wasn't. Instead Anne literally runs all over Bath for about ten minutes and happens to collect a much-edited (again) note that he has left her. I don't believe she would be in the sort of shape required for this little marathon, nor would propriety allow for it, nor was it necessary. Then Wentworth buys her father's estate? Except that a major plot point tells us the estate is entailed to Mr. Eliot. Entailment is a testator's way of keeping control over the property's ownership after death for the sole purpose of preventing such a sale. Perhaps this is legal nitpicking, but I don't think Austen would have made such an error.

The movie was, of course, short enough that some of the book had to be sacrificed. But the added scenes and several lengthy scenes of Anne crying or dashing about her house in a fret could easily have allowed for more time spent on Austen's actual work. So many wonderful characters were essentially nonexistent. I felt the Crofts were important in their blissful display of what Anne could have had if she had only accepted Wentworth. Their marriage is not even discussed. Further, Anne's family is a shadow of the pompous caricatures Austen wrote. Then there's Mary (I think Austen must have known someone named Mary who she didn't like), who is hilarious in her hypochondria. Except in this interpretation, where we want to strangle her for a level of annoyance surpassed only by the likes of Jar Jar Binks.

This is all to say nothing of the movie's morphing Anne into a melancholy waif who weeps at everything and seems unable to cope with anything simply because Wentworth is not hers. She was not, in retrospect, happy about her decision, but it didn't cripple her. A great deal of the book's appeal is that we only know what Anne is thinking. This builds suspense marvelously, as we wonder whether she is actually going to get Wentworth or not. The movie, however, chose to tell us what he's thinking, greatly decreasing the wonder that is part of real-life romance as well as Austen's work. Most unbelievably, the movie spoils Anne's discovery that Louisa is to marry Benwick by having Capt. Harville tell Wentworth before the Crofts break it to Anne. What a great moment, in which the audience doesn't get to share Anne's euphoric shock! The movie does have beautiful scenery, a beautiful hero and beautiful music, but it completely misses Austen's wit, destroys the artful pacing of her plot, and robs the audience of its sumptuous climax.

Lest you wonder, there are many cinematic interpretations of Jane Austen's books that I do enjoy. Several versions of Pride and Prejudice come to mind. But, without modernization or taking six hours to tell the tale faithfully with exactness, Austen can still be channeled appropriately. For example, the Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility is of manageable length and is positively delightful (even if Elinor is not 35 in the book). And contains only ONE line straight from the book. Characters are left out, scenes are omitted and rearranged, but the movie still reasonably recreates the romance and humour of the book. The version of Emma with Gwenyth Paltrow is also delightfully funny.

Now I don't find anything wrong with drama and romance. Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books, and I really do enjoy a little tragic, epic romance every now and then. I just think the Bronte sisters fit the bill better than Jane Austen. And I don't believe my brother and husband enjoy Pride and Prejudice for dramatic proposals in the rain, scenes of misty mores and lines like "you have bewitched me body and soul." So the makers of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion should perhaps try their hand at Jane Eyre or Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South instead. And I'll keep laughing every time I read Jane Austen and finding her just as witty as she is romantic.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Why H1N1 can be fun for the Whole Family

1. We don't have to decide whether or not to get the vaccine anymore, nor do we have to worry about shortages.

2. I got to stay home a lot and finally got around to digging the high chair out of storage and cleaning it off.

3. I finally got over the icky-ness factor of taking a rectal temperature.

4. Virginia got to spend her entire half-birthday in her pajamas (three different pairs, actually).
5. Our friends brought us hearty chicken soup and other delicious food, to ease our suffering (thanks Chastons and Mobleys!).

6. It turns out being in a nice, tight full-body swaddle is still fun, and effective, even at six months old (Thank you Reynolds! This is the only way we got any sleep, day or night).

Varied Expression

She doesn't always stare intently at the camera with a very straight face. Just usually (It took me around a hundred shots to get this variety).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Little Scout to Brighten Your (My) Day

James calls this collage "Beauty and the Beast."
We have tongues
Ready for a fall walk
Playing with Dad

These are from Virginia's first feeding. As you can see, she wasn't too sure about rice cereal. She primarily let the food sit on her tongue until it melted and ran down her throat (very little actual swallowing involved). Giving her her own spoon to hold did stop her grabbing mine (mostly), but it did not prevent her putting the rice cereal from her mouth onto her spoon and smearing it around anyway.

And if you look at the photo with her pants, you can see why it's not a good thing that our daughter's main form of communication is spitting (nice, raspberry spitting with the tongue and everything). She discovered that it's even more fun to spit when there's something in your mouth.

Is this the part where I get lemonade?

You know those days where you wake up at 3 a.m., realize that your contacts are still in and once you take them out you just can't get back to sleep? So you turn on your laptop to be a little productive and discover that after you fell asleep your husband (accidentally) downloaded a virus? And then the baby wakes up earlier than usual? And her morning nap, during which you're supposed to take a shower, lasts five minutes? And the only pair of pants that you were going to wear is dirty? And you start getting everything together really early so you'll be sure to leave early, but somehow you're late anyway? And you discover that you got a parking ticket in the night? And your turn signals decide to completely cease working just because they can?

Well, I am having one of those days. I think I will move to Australia.

The good news is...the weather is perfect (yep, a rainy, cloudy fall day is my idea of perfection), although the baby wasn't sleeping she did lay in bed cooing until I went to get her, and I'm on my way to the grocery store, where I can purchase myself some lemons, some lemonade, or just a nice brownie mix. Forget the lemonade, I'm having chocolate!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Baby Blogging Overkill

Virginia can now hold her pacifier, and is trying as hard as she can to put it in her mouth.

I have it here.
I take aim.
It won't go (pout).
I give up.

She loves to "fly" while we sing the Superman song to her.

Her favorite pose, always with the finger in her mouth.
On the alert.

Our favorite pose....
"More alluring Grommit!"

No, we didn't pose her. She seems to have a swimsuit model in her already.

Who's the biggest baby?!

Do those pj's look familiar Eric and Geoff?