Saturday, November 26, 2011

The dry erase table

Our family loves to doodle. The kids go through dozens of sheets of paper each day filled with drawings and doodles and cartoon characters. When their friends come over, they often all sit around drawing together.

So, this weekend, we have been working on converting our basement into a bedroom for the two boys. We have been sorting through tons of stuff to clear out an area that my husband used as an office, as well as lots of storage bins full of photo albums and toys and papers.

One of the items in the basement is our old train table that the boys used to play with back in the day they were obsessed with Thomas and all things train. For the past few years, they have been using the table as a place to build their Lego projects.

I decided to move it upstairs and convert it into a dry erase craft table. I was envisioning a place where they could sit around and draw with dry erase markers, color on paper or play games.

I started by covering the table with white contact paper. I was convinced that dry erase markers would wipe off clean. BUT I was wrong. So, I covered the contact paper with laminating sheets. (By the way, if I did this again, I would probably go shopping for some rolls of laminate so I didn't end up with so many seams. I also saw dry erase paint at Home Depot, but it got really bad reviews, so I decided to try something else.)

I then found dry erase decorative circles that I adhered to the top. As you can see from the photos, the kids couldn't even wait for me to put the top on the table before they started doodling!

My son and I both tried to draw Animal from the Muppet show. This is my attempt.

The drawers are now stocked with stacks of white paper and construction paper. I also found an awesome set of broad tipped dry erase markers that came in some really cool colors.

I'm not sure how long the dry erase table will stay in the middle of our family room. But we are having fun with it for now!


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tales of the two-year-old

Our "baby" is just a week away from her second birthday, and every day with that girl in the house is a new adventure. You would think that after going through this stage with three others, we would know what to expect when it comes to living with a 2-year-old. Not so.

This girl is full of life. She is learning so many things so quickly that it keeps us all busy trying to stay one step ahead of her. One of the unique things about her is her absolute adoration for baby dolls. 

Her big sister has a big basket full of baby dolls that have barely been played with. Jayda has taken over this stash, and she lovingly cares for each of the babies, as well as a toddler can. 

She often carries one under each arm as she walks around the house. One of the babies might be hanging upside down by a foot by the time she makes it down the stairs, but she coos, "Aww, ba-by," in such a sweet way that it would melt even a plastic heart. She cuddles and rocks the sweet baby in her little mama arms and then one second later throws it full force onto the hard-wood floor, its head making a loud, "Bang!" on impact.

We started allowing her to sleep with a baby doll about a month ago. Each night, she demands that more and more babies be placed in her crib with her, until she now has about 10 dolls lined up at the end of her crib. Each one must be carefully tucked into bed under their blanket before she will relent and go to sleep herself.

She usually wakes up in the morning screaming because SOMEONE! has tossed all of the baby dolls over the rail and they are lying on the floor too far for this sweet, loving toddler mom to reach.

But one of the babies stands out among the others as the most beloved of the plastic-headed children. Jayda has no way of knowing that this baby is a prized Bitty Baby from the American Girl Store, but she must have a sixth sense for the best in baby dolls. 

When Jayda's big sister was about 4 years old, she gave this baby the name, "Dasher." (We have no idea why.) And even though Jayda STILL calls all three of her older siblings the same name — "Ah-bee" (as in "Everybody") — she clearly calls her baby doll, "Dash."

She carries Dasher around under one arm and carries her baby doll sleeper under the other arm. Dozens of times throughout the day, she hands me the sleeper and hands me the doll and demands, "Clothes!" Just as I'm about to close the velcro on the back of Dasher's outfit, she screams, "NO!" and pulls the outfit back off.

So, Dasher spends most of her day in nothing but the cloth fabric that makes up her torso. Jayda loves to put wet washcloths on her head and when she does, she insists on putting one on Dasher as well. Here's a photo of the two of them in their, "HOT!" (Hat!)

Today, before the toddler could give me Dasher's sleeper and insist I put it on before ripping it off, I found a babydoll outfit in the basket of baby stuff. Jayda had never seen Dasher in this outfit, and I could tell she was quite impressed to see her baby doll dressed in such cute American Girl style. This lasted about an hour.

That was when Jayda brought me Dasher and began yelling, "Clothes!" This time, however, she was pulling at her own clothes. She screamed and jumped and gestured and yelled until I took off her clothes. Then she pointed at her diaper and yelled, "Pee! Pee!" until I removed the dry diaper.

Then she pointed at Dasher and insisted, "Pants! Pants" pointing to her own legs. She would not be satisfied until I took the doll-sized pants off the baby and put them on the her.

I wish I could publish the whole photo so you could see her facial expression. But here she is with the baby doll pants around her ankles. She would not give up on wearing them until she had fallen down several times trying to walk around like that. 

And that, my friends, is a day with our 2-year-old. Always an adventure. Always something new. Sometimes a little frustrating. Often crazy. Always a laugh. 


Saturday, November 19, 2011

The beginning of us... the end (with photos!)

There are so many other things I could write about that happened during the next two years. We would go to extremes to see each other. At least once a month, he would call me on a Friday and tell me he was headed my way. He could drive the 590 miles in about 10 hours.

(This photo was taken in Kent's apartment in Mississippi. You can almost see that he is wearing The Ugly Shoes. Now I'm noticing that my shoes weren't exactly pretty!)

I would visit him as often as I could. I would convince my dad to give me a plane ticket. Or I would pack up my red Sunfire and make the long trek myself. It took me about 12 hours to drive all that way, past St. Louis, through the tip of Missouri and part of Arkansas, through Memphis and finally across Mississippi.

I bought a CD player "boom box," and I would check out audio books from the library. The books only came on cassette tape at the time, so I couldn't play them in the CD player in my car. I filled the front seat with D batteries so I could keep my boom box going as I listened to book after book on that long drive.

I have always loved to ride my bike. Once we started dating we started riding mountain bike trails. Kent would leave Mississippi around 4 p.m. on Friday and get to Springfield around 2 a.m. Somehow, we had enough energy to ride the mountain bike trails on Saturday.

(Here we are after a ride in Springfield. Our bikes were always covered with mud. This photo was taken in front of the garage to my apartment, "The Berkeley.")

We would enjoy every second of that day together, but the whole time we had this sense of impending doom that Sunday was on its way. Usually around noon, he would say good-bye and begin that long drive down south.

We also liked to play tennis. Several times, I would leave Springfield on a chilly day in early spring and we would play tennis all weekend in shorts in Mississippi.

We loved the warm weather in the south. But neither of us ever adjusted to the culture in Mississippi or the heat and humidity in the summer. The first time I went to visit him, we walked into a restaurant for lunch and saw his co-workers sitting together at a table.

"Look at that!" one of the guys announced. "Kent's got himself a woman."

I was so embarrassed.

(This photo was taken in Jackson, Mississippi. I thought it would be hilarious to take a photo in front of that big monument to "The Confederate Dead of Mississippi.")

After about a year making the Mississippi commute, he had the opportunity to take a job in the Chicago area. While we would still be about four hours apart, it seemed like next-door neighbors compared to Mississippi.

From that very first weekend when he made the unexpected trip to Springfield, we both knew we were meant to be together. We just knew. We had barely started dating, and yet we had known each other nearly all of our lives. I knew his family and he knew mine, so that alone gave us a jumpstart in our relationship.

He moved to the suburbs in October and that next June we got engaged. On Nov. 15, 1997, we were married. We had dated just over two years and had lived in separate towns the entire time.


I can't imagine my life without my husband. He is my rock.

I'm the one who is always out there, pushing the limits and trying new things. I'm not afraid to learn something or try something new. But I always seem to doubt myself or need reassurance.

He always puts me at peace. When he's out of town for a long period of time, I start to go crazy without his calming presence. He keeps me grounded. He helps me see the good in me. Sometimes, he seems to understand me in a way that I don't even understand myself.

We've been married and been parents for long enough that sometimes it's hard to remember that life was ever different. But once in a while, I glance at him and remember seeing him ride his BMX bike in sixth grade or walking across the field in high school in his football uniform.

I remember sitting in the back of his dad's car shouting out directions or The Ugly Shoes or the drive to Mississippi. I think about the Thai restaurant or The Berkeley or riding our mountain bikes around Springfield.

It's hard to believe that those two people are parents with four children. It's hard to believe we're even responsible enough to keep things going sometimes.

It's fun to remember those days.

It's good to remember when life was so much less.

I'm so thankful for today that life is so much more.


Friday, November 18, 2011

The beginning of us, part 6

The plane ride from Columbus, Mississippi, to Springfield, Illinois, took less than two hours. But it was plenty of time to replay that scene hundreds of times in my mind. What had happened?

After all of the anticipation of those weeks and months of e-mails, followed by endless phone conversations, finally resulting in that fun first date, how could it end with me telling him he was a jerk?

I already knew that this guy had an extremely dry sense of humor. I have always had a sarcastic sense of humor, so I totally got it. One of the things we liked about each other was that we made each other laugh. But I had such a hard time deciding when he was serious that I had asked him to use a code (the symbol ~) to indicate when he was being sarcastic in his e-mail.

I assumed those parting comments were his dry sense of humor, covering up the nervousness of saying good-bye. But I would have preferred honesty at that moment.

By the time I got home, I already had an e-mail with the subject line, "the jerk."

He said he liked the fact that I was strong enough to say what was on my mind. He deserved to be put in his place, and he was glad I had done it.


I really didn't expect that response.

At the end of that week, I got a Fed-Ex package. It was April 14, and he had paid for an overnight delivery of my birthday card. That really wasn't necessary.

No seriously, it wasn't.

My birthday wasn't until the following week, April 21. He had gotten the dates mixed up and was so afraid he would miss my birthday that he sent the card Fed Ex. I hardly had the heart to tell him that he was a week early.


A couple of weeks after that I got a call saying he was in Chicago. He had gone on a business trip and left his car in southern Illinois where he and his co-workers all grabbed a train up to Chicago. He thought maybe he would drive a few hours out of his way and come by and see me on his way home.

It was the worst possible time he could come to visit me. It was during the final days of the legislative session, and it was assumed that, like all of the other reporters, I needed to work pretty much around the clock to cover whatever happened.

I was always functioning in "survival mode" that time of year. I would eat on the run, sleep very little and work until late in the evening. I was stressed enough just trying to get through my life, at that point. But there was no way I was going to delay this visit. I was surprised and excited that he was actually coming to town.

I scrambled furiously to clean up my apartment. Springfield is a town with so much history, and it still has streets lined with historic homes. I lived in a four-flat apartment building that was probably built around 1940. My apartment had gold patterned wallpaper and thick shag carpeting. The kitchen had the original stove and refrigerator. I held my breath every time I used a match to light up that gas stove, hoping the whole apartment didn't go up in flames.

I could look past all of that though because of the thick solid wood molding, the built in bookshelves and the sunroom on the front. Instead of a shower, I had a clawfoot tub, and the place used radiator heat. Above the front door was a plaque that said, "The Berkeley."

To this day, we still talk about The Berkeley. That place had so much character. It instantly brings back great memories of our early days of dating.


I was working when he got into town.

I remember standing outside the Pressroom on the mezzanine level of the Capitol, waiting for him to walk up the steps. I worked in an office with a group of men who were going to have a lot to say if I came walking in with this visitor.

Instead, I showed him to the gallery of the Illinois House of Representatives and helped him find a seat. He would have to hang out there until the session ended for the evening, and I could go home.

I told a few of my other female reporter friends that this guy had come to visit me and was sitting up in the gallery. I tried to point him out from where we sat in the press box on the House floor.

I came back a few hours later to find him mesmerized. He had made a few friends who had kept him company while he got a first-hand view of how laws are made in the state of Illinois. Much to my surprise, he wasn't bored or anxious to go home. He was loving it.


I took him to a Thai restaurant that was a popular hang-out with and all my friends. The restaurant was a total hole in the wall. The waitresses were mean and would yell at you if you didn't order fast enough. But the place was always packed. The food was amazing.

Unless, of course, you are someone like my husband. Someone who loves meat and potatoes. Someone who really doesn't like Chinese food or Japanese food or Thai. I had no idea at the time how much that restaurant must have been outside his comfort zone.

The only thing I actually remember about that meal was that I was trying to get to the bottom of why he had traveled all the way from Mississippi to Chicago and then went out of his way to visit me in Springfield. Why was he there?

His answer was simple and straightforward.

"I had to see you."

Little by little, he was taking his chisel and hammering away at the bricks and mortar I hid behind. He was chipping away at a little hole to my emotions.

I was learning that he was a guy who didn't mess around. He didn't play games. He was exactly who he was. He didn't care what anyone thought about him, but that didn't come across in an arrogant way. He was just completely OK with who he was.

He wasn't interested in mind games or playing with my emotions. I asked a question. He would answer.

"You had to see me?" I repeated.

Chip. Chip. Chip.... Clunk. One brick down.


This story is almost done...


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The beginning of us, part 5

We started talking almost daily, and I was loving this relationship. It was completely safe.

We spent long hours on the phone or e-mail, just getting to know each other. He asked me about my day. He made me laugh. It didn't matter how I looked or what I was wearing. There was no risk involved.

I still don't know if the next part of the story was fabricated, like the e-mail address, or what was going on behind the scenes.

My parents told me that they had decided to go to Mississippi for a tour of the antebellum homes that happened every spring in the town where he lived. They asked me if I would like to go along. My dad traveled so much for his job that he had tons of frequent flyer point. We could all fly down, and Kent could show us around.

I still don't know why, but Kent's parents were going to make the trip, as well. They lived in Cincinnati and my parents lived in southern Illinois. The four of them knew each other, but they had never been close friends.

It seems funny now that both sets of our parents planned this trip. I think I found out later that they had actually called each other and plotted it somehow. Whatever the case, I was very nervous about meeting this guy in real life, not to mention in front of both sets of our parents! We would all meet at the house that was the start of the tour of the antebellum homes.

"Do you think we'll even recognize them?" I asked my mom.

"Of COURSE we'll recognize them!" she said.

I actually noticed Kent's mom first. I couldn't remember what she looked like, but as soon as I saw her, I immediately remembered her.

The first thing I noticed about Kent was his shoes.

He was wearing white Nike basketball shoes that had a thick black stripe down the side and black shoe laces. They were laced very loosely and the laces hung open at the top.

They were the ugliest shoes I had ever seen.

To this day, we still refer to them as "the ugly shoes."


In a way, I was impressed that he would wear such ugly shoes. I had probably spent hours choosing what outfit I would wear for that moment. I thought it was kind of cool that he was so self confident. The shoes said it all.

Other than that, I noticed his big smile. He was smiling constantly, and I could see he had already used that big smile to charm my mom and dad. He took such an interest in everything they had to say. He asked my mom questions and listened intently as she answered.

I wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as I thought I would be. It was like we had known each other our whole lives. And I guess that makes sense because we really had known each other most of our lives.

The six of us piled into two cars and began driving around town to see all of the beautiful homes in this small town in northern Mississippi. Kent and I sat in the back seat of the car with his mom and dad.

The two of us were using a map to try to navigate around town. We were both holding the map and he would point out where he thought we were. I noticed that his tan fingers were bent in funny ways. He told me that between playing football, baseball and just doing crazy boy stuff, he had broken nine of his 10 fingers. Apparently, he let most of them heal on their own. I thought those bent fingers were the coolest thing.

We were driving his dad crazy trying to give directions from the back seat. I think he actually had to pull over for a while because he was so frustrated with us shouting out, "turn left!", "turn right!"

For the next few days, it seemed like I spent more time with my parents and Kent's mom than I did with him. We would wander around and look at the homes. We met his mom for lunch. Kent and his dad always seemed to be busy playing golf.

Finally, it was the last evening of the long weekend we would be there. The phone rang in my hotel room. He asked me to go to dinner.

It took me a minute to process this. You mean, just you and me? 

I hadn't lived with my parents for eight years at that point, but I still had this strange feeling I should ask permission. I was finally going to escape my parents and his parents and all of those old Mississippi homes.

He picked me up in his black pick-up truck, and we headed to a Mexican restaurant. He had been so quiet when we were with all of those parents. Now that it was just the two of us, he talked non-stop.

We talked and talked and talked that night. It was probably 3 a.m. when he finally dropped me off and headed home.

I had to leave the next morning.

I only had one problem. My parents had reserved two hotel rooms — one for them and one for me. They left me a note the next morning to tell me they had to leave early for the airport. I was stuck there without a car.

I called Kent's apartment to ask if he could give me a ride. His mom answered. He was still sleeping, so she would come pick me up. We must have gone by his place to pick him up on the way to the airport. The only thing I remember is that just as I was about to board my plane, he made some comment along the lines of, "Well, have a nice trip. Maybe I'll see you again some time."

I didn't think it was funny.

I looked him in the eye and said, "You are such a jerk."

Then, I turned around and walked onto the plane.


The beginning of us, part 4

I had my modem set to check my e-mail once an hour. Many times I couldn't wait though for the computer to wake up from its sleep and the modem to start its screeching. I had put myself OUT there, and I was a nervous wreck.

About 24 hours later, I heard that familiar voice.

"You've got mail."

I can't remember exactly what his message said. I know he asked me some questions about where I had been the last eight years since we graduated from high school. So, I had to write back. I made sure to wait at least an entire day before sending my reply. I didn't want to seem too interested.

I was living in Springfield, Ill., at the time. I was a newspaper reporter, working in the state Capitol Building. One of my main "beats" was the Illinois Department of Corrections. I had been covering a death penalty case and somehow the subject came up. For several e-mails, we chatted about the death penalty. I didn't really care if he was for it or against it. I was just impressed he had some thoughts about it.

He lived in a university town in Mississippi, and he was proud of the fact that he had managed to get a password into the Internet on campus. That was what he used to check his e-mail. At some point in our string of conversations, I realized he also used the university's Internet to look up some of my articles on line. He was spying on me.

For the next few months, we would e-mail almost daily. One time, I didn't get an e-mail for several days.

"That's it," I decided. He must have met some cute Mississippi girl and forgotten completely about me. When he finally wrote back three days later, he apologized profusely. He had been sent on a work trip to Texas and couldn't write. He checked for my message the minute he got home.


This was perfect. I had lived by myself for five years already, and I was accustomed to having the freedom to do my thing: hanging out with friends on the weekends, working late when I needed to, going for bike rides in Washington Park, meeting up with my reporter friends or their wives for our "book club," meeting people for dinner.

I could come home and have some interesting conversation at the end of the day. I was starting to settle in. This was nice. Then he asked me if he could have my phone number.

"Oh, no!" I thought. "This could ruin everything."

Things were going so well. Did we really have to destroy our relationship by talking on the phone? What if he turned out to be a complete idiot in real life? I wasn't excited about this new phase, but I knew I was only prolonging the inevitable. At some point, we would need to talk. I mean, really.

Reluctantly, I gave him my number. He told me he would call me on Saturday. I tried to stay away from my apartment as much as possible. I wanted to make sure I missed his call.

When I was home, I would try to talk on the phone so he couldn't get through. I definitely didn't want him to get the idea that he could just call me any old time, and I was going to be there to pick up the phone.

He left a message.

He didn't sound too bad.

I called him back at a time I knew he would be at work just so I could listen to his answering machine.

OK. He sounded normal enough.

I called it a few more times, just to be sure.

When he finally called back, I couldn't handle the suspense any longer. Caller ID hadn't even been invented yet at that point, but I could tell who was calling. My stomach was full of butterflies when I picked up the phone.



To be continued...

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