Thursday, April 30, 2009

O We of Little Phone

The times they are a changing.

Last night, Brett and I went out to dinner at one of our favorite Italian restaurants.

I don’t know what the hostess actually sees when we walk in, but I’m guessing it is a giant sandwich board that says, “Please seat this couple in the closest vicinity to any available infants.”

Because, let me tell you, they always do.

This time, we were seated next to - not one, not two - but THREE different tables all with various infants.

The table closest to us was definitely the most interesting. There were four women and a baby. The baby was actually very good and did hardly any squalling. The women were another story.

All four of the women talked to the baby - and each other - using baby talk. A snippet of the conversation consisted of:

(to the baby) “Does ewe yike sketti? Does ewe?”
(to each other) Ewe does yike sketti! Ewe does!”

It was nauseating.

I mean, I can understand talking baby talk to the baby, but to each other? Give me a break.

Brett and I about eye-rolled ourselves into a seizure during THAT conversation.

The other baby didn’t cry, thank the good Lord. But he had an issue with volume. A LOUD issue.

He would point to various objects on the table and scream, “THAT A FORK! THAT A SPOON!”

That a-nnoying.

Thankfully, his parents had a sense of humor. His dad kept trying, unsuccessfully, to shush him. Then, when his dad complained to his mom, his mom cracked me up when she said (addressing our entire dining area), “Well, he was good last time. You all should have been here then.”

She delivered her speech with a good-natured smile and accommodating little bow that had most diners, including us, smiling in acquiescence.

Our last toddler was a bratty little girl who nastily told her parents how much she DID NOT WANT TO EAT HERE. She refused to order anything off the menu and gleefully, repeatedly threw all her silverware on the floor.

“God help us,” was all my husband said after her parents finally sedated her into a macaroni-and-cheese-induced coma.

As we sat there, amidst the collateral of baby noise, I began to notice another trend.

There was a family of seven seated directly behind Brett. The family consisted of a mom, dad, four daughters, and a son. The son, who looked to be about eight years old, was playing one of those handheld electronic devices.

I watched curiously as the boy played his game during the entire dinner. The family talked to each other and seemed to ignore the boy. When the waiter asked if the boy would like anything else, the mother answered for him, while the boy’s eyes never wavered from the screen.

The boy ate one-handed and when he was done, his dad wrapped up his leftovers. Later, he pulled his coat on one arm at a time, using his free hand to keep playing.

I was astonished. It was beyond rude. I couldn’t believe for one second that a family would accept such unbelievably bad manners at dinner. It seemed completely and totally foreign to me.

Then, I took a good look around the room.

At the table next to the family, there were two couples who looked to be college-aged. Although they were laughing and interacting with each other, the two males had their phones out and were texting and calling other people during their dinner.

Next to them sat a table of four high school students who looked to have just gotten back from an audition at The World’s Most Attractive Teenagers. They were shined, glossed, and Abercrombie’d within an inch of their life. It was obvious they were friends – or maybe even dating – by how close they were sitting to each other.

However, each one had a phone out, their beautiful faces bathed in the blue neon glow of their respective screens. They spent their entire dinner with heads dropped low over their phones, silent as zombies, expect for the occasional outburst of OMG’s or LOL’s.

Directly behind me sat a couple in their mid-fifties. I suppose I was being a bit ageist when I assumed they, like us, would have an actual person-to-person conversation.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. They, too, whipped their phones out within minutes of sitting down and twittered back and forth about their Twitters.

Brett and I were both taken aback by the sheer volume of technology being actively used in our small dining area.

We have cell phones, of course. Neither of know how to text, so we don’t. Our phones are basic. They don’t take photos, or video, or support any internet functions. They’re just phones.

For, you know, talking to people.

Of course, at that moment it seemed, even in our out-of-the way restaurant, people didn’t want to talk to each other. At least not without some electronic distance.

I felt a little sad that the once comforting hubbub and hushed tones of friendly conversation were being replaced by the informal tickety-tack of texting.

But the times they are a changing, I suppose.

I also suppose there will come a time when all we have to do is flash a hand-held screen at our howling baby and have him conveniently lulled to sleep, so as not to disturb the other dinners.

You know, when it comes down to it, I think I’d rather have the screaming.

Ewe doesn’t always yike technology and the human factor it’s robbing from our civilization.

Ewe really doesn’t.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pregnancy Brain Bomb

My friend Susan was pregnant with her third child just about the same time Brett and I started really “trying” to have a baby.

One day, I remember her telling me she had “serious pregnancy brain,” and that she kept forgetting everything. I was a little skeptical about her claim and actually thought it was kind of silly.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

Yesterday, I was on my 700th trip to the restroom. As I stood up and was pulling my jeans, I had the same thought that has ticker-taped through my head since I was eight years old.

“Man, Ann-Marie! You have just got to lose weight. You’ve really been packing it on, girl!”

You guessed it. Somehow, someway, I actually forgot I was pregnant!

I continued to feel bad about my rotund physical condition for approximately 20 seconds until the stretch band of my maternity jeans snapped across my abdomen.

“Oh, duh,” was the only thought that flickered in my brain, as realization dawned.

I couldn’t help laughing at myself with the guilty awareness that I had just suffered a major attack of my very own “pregnancy brain.”

I’m so sorry, Susan. Vindication is finally yours!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What’s In A Name

A while ago, I posted one of my major pet peeves – people who keep their baby’s name a secret. It was one of my most commented-on posts and prompted much good-natured discussion.

One thing I love about having a blog is being able to express my own personal feelings, opinions, and convictions, even when I know they’re not going to be popular (I’m including the flip-flop post!).

After all, that’s what makes me who I am.

I find exploring who I am through blogging is a rewarding experience. I don’t expect everyone to be like me (what a wacked out world that would be), and I cherish my family and friends who are different and wonderful all in their own way.

That said, I want to say I am 100% happy we announced our baby’s name prior to his arrival.

First of all, describing how we came to decide on Samuel (and his bounty of other names) was a gratifying exercise in writing for me. Giving the honor and glory to God for this miracle as early as possible just felt right.

Secondly, someone’s name is their most identifying factor. Samuel is not just an ethereal idea anymore; he’s not just “Baby Sod.” He’s a real person. Naming him (and announcing it now) gives him pre-birth solidity and tangibility. People will know his name and call him by it before he is even born. That is undeniably powerful and significant.

And, let’s face it, I love being able to refer to my Sam by his name. I love how my mother already introduces him by all four names. I love how Brett calls him “Sammy” in regular conversation. I love how he is already validated as a person by value of that thing we all have – a name.

I know our choice is not everyone’s choice (see Why the Big Secret? for more opinions on that), but for us, it was most definitely the right choice.

It’s no secret how much we love our Sam. Our Samuel Robert Alan Soderstrom.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bullies of the Past Have Facebook Accounts?

Okay, so it’s no big thing, right?

I just saw one of my high school bullies on Facebook.

I mean, I didn’t SEE him, but I saw his photo and his comment on a mutual friend’s status. This guy…I knew his sister was on Facebook (even though we’re not “friends”), but I’d never seen him on there.

In reality, I guess I’ve just been extraordinarily fortunate not to have run into this bully (or any of them, really) since high school – in real life or even online.

I told myself that I was 30 years old and to just GET OVER IT ALREADY. I mean, we are talking over 15 years ago that he ridiculed, debased, and disgraced me.

So, if I’m so over it, why did it take everything I had not to post a scathing comment after his?

I wanted to say, “Well, it’s SO nice that you went on with your life after carelessly leaving me scarred and emotionally battered in your wake. Thanks SO much!”

Hoping, of course, he would pick up on the sarcasm. I think he would, considering he worked it wonderfully when he was shaming me in the halls of our high school.

He’s the one who came up with my “Moby Dick” nickname and the cafeteria stunt that left me shell-shocked.

I found my fury was still very much intact. I had to take a deep breath and try VERY HARD to remember that it all happened in the past. I had to remind myself that forgiveness is a greater power than bitterness, and I have tried to forgive all my bullies.

Still, it distressed me to see his name, to know he is out there living his life, blissfully unaware (or uncaring) of how he ruined mine for a short time.

To be honest, up until now, I have been living under the happy delusion that all of my bullies graduated from high school and were promptly sent to prison. I know it’s not true, but I found it extremely comforting.

I realize now the real delusion was thinking I’d never run into them again. We ARE all from the same hometown, so it’s pretty fanciful for me to think I’d never see them again or that we wouldn’t have made at least some mutual friends in the course of our lives.

However, it still stung when I looked at his photo. I was instantly transported back to high school. To his humiliating me in the hallway, making my insides a shaking, quivering mess. For a split-second, I was 15 again and being told I was disgustingly fat, horrendously ugly, and a “worthless waste of space.”

Nice guy, huh?

And here he sits, making witty comments (he always WAS very funny and sarcastic – he just released a constant torrent of it at my expense) on his friend’s status.

I was disgusted thinking we even SHARED a friend. This was not a person with whom I want to share the ozone layer.

After I calmed down, talked myself down off the edge of the cliff, I gave myself the “forgiveness speech,” and reminded myself Jesus forgave me – of far worse than bullying, I might add – and in gratefulness, I am supposed to forgive those who have “trespassed against me.”

So, I have emerged relatively unharmed from the whole experience. Even if my psyche feels like it has been riding a roller coaster of emotions.

Thankfully – I’m pretty sure – the Bible doesn’t say I’m not allowed to write about the experience.

If you haven’t checked out my Bully Chronicles, I highly recommend reading them to explain my strong sentiments on this encounter. Particularly:

The Last Straw: Part 1 & 2

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pirate Booty

Since I’ve announced my pregnancy, many friends have offered me their resources. People have graciously loaned me maternity clothes, books, and other baby-friendly items.

My friend Kristie even gave me something called “Toddler Spray.” I have no idea what it’s for, but I have a feeling I’m going to be grateful for it.

To be honest, I’ve been so scatterbrained I can’t always remember who loaned me what.

Yesterday, Brett cleaned out my car. It was SO jam-packed with junk. And, for once, it’s mostly my fault. When your energy level is a low as mine, stuff like that just has to wait.

Anyway, my sweet husband took the time to clean out the car and sort through the mess I had stuffed deep in my back seat. He called me at work to tell me he “found a pair of baby jeans.”

“What pair of baby jeans?” I asked.

“In the back seat,” he explained patiently. “I put it in a Target bag on the counter.”

I forgot all about it when he picked me up from work yesterday. I was too excited, because I had received a $10 Kohl’s gift card in the mail. Brett and I planned to hit Kohl’s after work and buy Sam his first official outfit from Mom and Dad.

However, as I searched the Kohl’s racks for baby boy clothes, I was heartily disappointed. There was not ONE baby boy outfit I liked, even a little. The outfits were either WAY to “cutesy” or just plain, old boring.

Eventually, I found an organic T-shirt that was just “okay.” I hesitantly picked it up, and Brett said, “Honey, you don’t HAVE to buy a baby outfit. You can buy something else.”

I decided he was right. I found two bottles of “indulgent body wash” on sale for $5 each, and since I was running low on body wash, decided it would be a better use of my gift card.

This morning, as I was getting ready for work, I found the Target bag Brett had put on the counter. I peeked inside and was surprised to find a cute pair of brand new baby jeans and an adorable T-shirt exclaiming “Pirate Loot” in a great font.

It was EXACTLY the sort of thing I would have been ecstatic to find at Kohl’s. I loved it at first sight.

The problem? I have no idea who it's from!

Either someone gave it to me, and I completely forgot, or someone decided to “secret sister” me and slipped it in my car when I wasn’t looking.

So, I just want to say – to whoever gave us such a thoughtful gift – thank you! Please let me know if it was you, so I can thank you in person.

You have provided one less day Sam will have to run around naked!

And probably one less time I’ll have to use the “Toddler Spray.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Rough House

It’s one of those times I really wished I had a video camera.

Brett and I stopped by on our near-weekly visit to Candice and beautiful Brielle’s. The three of us (Brielle and Sam don’t really count yet) usually split the cost of a Papa John’s pizza for dinner.

Candice and I talk and play with our gorgeous girl, while Brett does his two favorite things 1.) stretches out on the couch and 2.) watches cable TV. It works out well for everyone.

When it’s just the four of us, it’s rather quiet, unless Brielle lets loose with one of those adorable laughs, somewhat reminiscent of a baby dinosaur's squawk. Her laughs are so infectious and exuberant; I don’t doubt one day she’ll inherit her grandmother’s memorable and much-missed belly laugh. At least, I sure hope so.

When we got to Candice’s, we discovered there would be a fifth to our little party. Candice was babysitting our second cousin, Aidan.

Aidan, my cousin’s son, is three years old with the largest, most beautiful eyes (and eyelashes) you’ve ever seen. He has the sweetest smile, and if I were his mother I’m not sure I’d be able to tell him “no” to anything. Most of all, he’s got a wonderful temperament and enough boy-energy to power three nuclear reactors.

After dinner, Brett was sprawled lazily on the couch; Candice and I were gabbing, and Brielle was amusing herself. From across the room, I watched as Aidan reared back, took a running start, and launched the full force of his entire body onto Brett’s chest.

“Oof,” Brett said, as all the air whooshed out of his lungs. His face turned beet red, as surprise and shock found him desperately trying to breathe.

Aidan was giggling and laughing as he rode Brett’s stomach like a bucking bronco. I could almost see the wheels turning in Brett’s head. He decided to play along, grabbing Aidan’s waist and refusing to let go.

“Help! Help!” Aidan shrieked while he struggled and chuckled loudly.

Candice and I were no help as we were laughing pretty hard ourselves at that point.

Eventually, Brett released Aidan who slid happily off the couch and ran across the room to play with his ball.

At that point, I broke one of my own rules. I said, “Well, you’d better get used to it!”

I meant, of course, that we are having a boy and there’s every likelihood he will be just as robust and full of life as Aidan.

But I was instantly mad at myself for saying it. The truth is that we don’t know what Sam will be like, and it’s unfair to superimpose a personality type on him.

It’s sort of like when I talk about pregnancy making me tired, and people say, “Well, you’d better get used to it!” Well, thanks a lot, you know?

I mean, “Well, you’d better get used to it!” is not edifying, encouraging, or uplifting – and therefore it just stresses someone out and does absolutely no good. Unless making me want to punch someone in the face can be considered good.

Watching Brett goof around with Aidan made me smile, though. There’s just something about Brett that attracts kids and animals. I think they sense his kind compassion and innate gentleness.

(They obviously don’t ride in traffic with him.)

When my niece Brigitte was just a toddler, she covered Brett with glittery unicorn stickers while he was fast asleep. When he awoke, awash in sparkles, she proclaimed him “pretty” and crawled up in his lap, after refusing adamantly to come near any of us already in the room.

That’s the quality I think will make Brett an exceptional father.

The experience with Aidan took me back to my own childhood. My dad and I never roughhoused. We never wrestled on the ground or anything like that - although he was not above tickling me until I begged for mercy.

Brett has never seemed like the kind of guy to roughhouse, so when we got back from Candice’s, I asked him if he had ever wrestled with his two older brothers.

“Yeah,” he said, not very enthusiastically.

“Did you like it?” I was suddenly very curious.


“Why not?”

“It’s no fun when you’re the one being thrown around. Besides, people can get hurt.”

Brett’s dad was never the type to roughhouse, but his older brother Bill is legendary for coming home after school, picking his mother up, and swinging her around the kitchen until she threatened him with what would happen if he didn’t put her down.

For some reason, the rough and rowdy gene didn’t pass to Brett. I sure don’t have it, either.

When my cousin Aaron brought his then three year old daughter, Molly, to visit us, I thought she was the most precious and fragile little angel I had ever seen. Aaron and his wife, Linda, were talking to us as Molly wandered around our living room.

At one point, Aaron yelled, “Hey, Molly!” and hurled a pillow at his little girl. The pillow struck her in the stomach and sent her reeling until she finally fell backwards onto the carpeted floor.

Brett and I stared in amazement. We looked nervously at each other. I snuck a look over at Linda and was awed to find her not looking troubled in the least.

I thought, “Oh no! Not one but TWO sadistic parents!”

I was about to reprimand Aaron when Molly squealed loudly, bounced back up, and raced over to her dad. She thrust the pillow in his lap and exclaimed, “Again!”

Brett and I watched as Aaron threw the pillow and knocked Molly down repeatedly, each time being rewarded with a sweet tinkle bell of laughter and a request for more. I felt incredibly silly at my first reaction, as the daddy-daughter connection was clearly strong, warm, and obviously fun-loving between them.

It took me back to my own childhood’s first experience with roughhousing.

I loved going to Sunday School at Memorial Baptist Church. I loved wearing pretty dresses, ribbons in my hair, and Mary Jane shoes. I also liked my little five year old friends. One of the girls, Cynthia, had a pale white face, long raven-colored hair, and violet-flecked eyes.

She looked every inch a little lady.

Which is why I was so taken aback when she slugged me.

One minute we were just talking and laughing as kindergarteners do, and the next thing I knew, she hauled back and punched me right in the shoulder.

“Ow!” I said, tearing up a bit. I couldn’t figure out why she would do something like that. I hadn’t said anything mean. We were friends, and as far as I knew, friends didn’t whack each other around. Nasty, neighborhood bullies did things like that.

The strangest thing was that Cynthia kept talking and laughing like nothing had happened. I was definitely in shock, but I managed to shake it off and tried to put it out of my head.

Until it happened again the next Sunday.

I had no idea what to do. I waited until we were driving home from church. I showed Mom my blossoming bruise and asked why Cynthia kept hitting me.

“Oh honey,” Mom said. “I’m sure Cynthia’s not trying to hurt you. She has a bunch of older brothers, and she’s probably just used to playing more roughly than you are.”

Mom was a veteran of a twelve-child home which included five brothers, so she knew what she was talking about.

“If you don’t want Cynthia to hit you anymore, just tell her that it hurts, and ask her to stop. Politely,” my dad said from the front seat.

I rolled my eyes. Dad always wanted me to use words to solve problems, when all I wanted to do was run crying to Mr. Ascher, my Sunday School teacher, yelling, “She HIT me!”

But I took Dad’s advice. The next time Cynthia raised her fist, I clasped my hand over my shoulder, and launched into Dad’s little speech. For a second, she looked hurt. Then, she shrugged and said, “Okay.”

Cynthia and I stayed friends well into junior high. She told me later she had gone home that day and told her parents what happened between the two of us.

Her dad had laughed, but her mom had given her dad the evil eye and said, “I told you something like this would happen.”

Whether she meant Cynthia would play too rough or whether her daughter would make friends with a Little Miss Priss like yours truly, we’ll never know.

Either way, I began to understand that every family communicates love and affection in its own way.

My dad and I played board games, read history novels, and watched Sci-Fi together. Other girls watched sports to be closer to their dads, and even others play-wrestled their dads to the floor.

Not every family roughhouses. To be honest, I don’t think we will.

But the important thing is that we DO communicate love – with words and deeds.

And heaven knows, if Sam decides he WILL follow in Aidan’s footsteps, Brett better start working out.

Monday, April 20, 2009

In It After All

After Dad’s death, Mom and I took great comfort in the astounding voice and songs of Larnelle Harris.

We had only recently discovered Larnelle - exactly how I don’t remember - and found his ministry to be unique and fitting for the trials we were personally experiencing. His songs were rich in theology, yet perfectly conveyed the emotion, the passion, essential to worship.

I can’t tell you how many times the two of us would sing through one side and then another of Larnelle’s tapes in the car. We knew every verse, every word, and every note on every tape we possessed.

One of our favorites was “In It After All.” This particular song gave us hope God was working for His - and our - good through the immense pain and suffering we were enduring over the unexpected loss of a wonderful husband and father.

Often, we would refer to the words in the song (I’ve edited for length):

So You were in it after all
All of those moments I spent crying
When something inside of me was dying

I didn't know that You heard me each time I called
You had a reason for those trials
It seems I grew stronger every mile
Now I know You were in it after all

We're always ready Lord to take the glory
But we're seldom willing to endure the pain
You were with me when the sun was shining
And You were still beside me when it rained

So You were in it after all
Taking the blows that I'd been given
Mending the wounds that needed mending
I didn't know that You heard me each time I called

I guess it's easy now to see it,
I don't know how I could have missed it, Jesus
But You were in it after all

Now I know You were in it after all

The words are poignant, of course, but when paired with Larnelle’s velvety voice and stirring music – well, it’s awe inspiring. And heart breaking.

During the days following Dad’s death, I can’t say I confidently knew God was in it. In fact, I struggled mightily with WHY God would take such a godly servant, loving husband, devoted father away from this world – and this daughter – when he was so clearly NEEDED.

Mom, in spite of her agony, never wavered. She had complete faith that “our times are in His hands.” She loved “In It After All,” specifically because it enforced the truth that God is always working – even through the pain.

The song took the view that sometimes it is only in hindsight – and in certain occasions, only in glory – we can see how God was, indeed, involved in all our circumstance, working behind the scenes.

I grew spiritually through those trials and came to love "In It After All" with the same fervor as Mom. I credit the song for making me increasingly aware that God is always working, always evident, even in the minutia of my life.

While I’m not always Johnny-on-the-spot about it, I try very hard not to take blessing for granted. I don’t believe in luck any more than I do the Tooth Fairy.

But I do believe in God.

A year or so ago, we were just starting to experience the budget-crunch that would eventually envelop us. I remember having only $20 in my account. I desperately needed new work shoes, as mine were literally falling off my feet.

I had hit every shop, every sale I could find but failed to find a good, sturdy shoe for under $20. I was extremely frustrated.

On my way home, I stopped by Kohl’s to look for shoes. I examined the sale racks for sizes 8 ½ -9 but none of the styles were suitable for office attire. Nothing but strappy sandals and gaudy flip-flops (no wonder they were on sale!).

I even went looking for size 10 shoes, thinking I could stuff tissue paper or use cardboard to cover any gaps, if necessary. Still nothing.

I was about to leave when I saw a pair of shoes on the far rack. I was immediately drawn to the style but nearly cried when I saw the size.

Size 11. Way too big for me.

I almost left them there, but something pushed me to at least try them on. I felt ridiculous trying on a pair of clown-sized shoes. But I did it anyway.

Imagine my surprise when the shoes snugly fit around my feet! I couldn’t believe it. I knew I wasn’t a size 11, so I assumed the shoes had simply been mismarked.

I flipped over the shoes to see the price and recognized the expensive brand name. And the price tag. Even at 20% off, the shoes were too expensive for my meager budget.

I started to put them back on the rack when I noticed the sign above the rack, “This rack only! 85% off original price!”

I was dumbstruck. 85% off? Really?

I wish I could say I did the math in my head, but you all know how much I hate math, so instead I whipped out my calculator. A minute or two later, the salesperson was ringing up my size 11, brand name, new shoes for the low, low price of $17.50.

I was elated and did a happy dance on my way back to the car. I thanked God immediately, having no doubt He arranged it all, and headed home to show Brett my new bargain.

The shoes have served me well this past year. I call them my “miracle shoes,” and wear them ALL the time.

The other day, my co-worker stopped in to see how I was feeling. We were talking about common pregnancy symptoms, and she asked if my feet had started to swell.

“Just a little,” I told her.

“That’s too bad,” she said. “Now, you’ll have to get new shoes.”

I looked down at my feet and realized a miracle had taken place. The shoes that had fit me perfectly at my 8 ½ - 9 size were now at their full size 11 capacity and easily accommodating my swollen feet.

It struck me at that moment. Over a year ago, God had known I would soon be pregnant. He also knew we would be broke. So, He provided a miraculous pair of shoes that would go the distance.

I wiggled my toes inside my shoes and realized that this was just another instance when He was “in it after all.”

From my miracle shoes to our miracle baby, I revel in what a mighty – and involved – God we serve!

I guess it's easy now to see it,
I don't know how I could have missed it Jesus
But You were in it after all!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Registering for Sam

Love, Marriage, and a Baby Carriage

I was stupid.

Stupid and young. Too young to grasp how stupid I really was.

I was barely 22 when Brett and I got married. I knew next to nothing about setting up housekeeping.

After all, I grew up in a home where microwave dinners were normal fare for just about every meal. As far as I knew, all we needed to register for were cups and silverware (both of which I knew could also be purchased in the plastic variety, if necessary).

When we went to Kohl’s to register, I failed to notice the excited gleam in my intended’s eye as the salesgirl handed him the scanner, which he referred to as “the gun.” At the time, I thought his insistence on handling all the scanning was a sign of chivalry.

Little did I know.

I followed him around the store as he buzzed just about everything in sight. I found myself having to shout to get his attention to scan necessary things like plates, glasses, and crock pots. Instead, he was busy scanning crystal salad bowls, kabob holders, and fondue sets.

A fondue set? I knew the moment he scanned the little silver box that we would never use a fondue set. For one thing, we could barely boil water without burning ourselves. And he wanted to try scalding oil?

By the time we escaped from Kohl’s, Brett was suffering from “trigger finger;” we had over 500 items on our registry, and I had learned a handy lesson about my fiancé.

Brett is a Useless (or) Ugly Item Purchaser. UUIP, that’s him.

I don’t suppose it’s all that flattering to say that, considering he chose to marry me, but I consider myself the exception to his condition.

Over the years, Brett has kept up his reputation as a UUIP.

From the pink Christmas sweater vest he got me to the infamous Puffy Coat, he just has a knack for acquiring the tasteless and useless.

For years, he collected books he never read. I could never decide if he purchased them and never got around to reading them, or if he thought if he owned the books, people would assume he had read them.
All I know is that I was relieved greatly when he decided to donate the bulk of them to our Pastor’s library where we both knew they wouldn’t just be expensive dust catchers.

We’ve been married nearly nine years now. In that time, we’ve never opened our silver fondue set, the sterling kabob collection, or our crystal bowl set. We have, however, put our plates, glasses, and crock pot to good use.

I’m not saying I knew better.

Oh wait, yes I am.

I am eternally grateful to the people who purchased the necessary items from our registry and chose to ignore the ridiculous. Thank you.

Such went my one and only experience with registering.

For me, registering for my wedding and registering for my baby were two very different things.

First of all, I had lived in a house. I knew, at the bare minimum, what a family needs to keep in their cupboards.

When it comes to babies, however, I am completely clueless.

I was an only child, so I never had a younger sibling on which to practice. As a teenager, I limited by babysitting clients to “ages 5 and older,” so that was no help, either. After my one disastrous debacle in the nursery, I stayed far away from that end of the church.

As my friends had babies, I was able to fob off any uncomfortable activities, instead choosing to exclaim my adoring comments from across the room.

I don’t tell you these things to scare you, since I am adamantly looking forward to holding my own child. I am so incredibly excited to welcome Sam into our strange, Soderstrom world that, at times, I can barely contain my joy.

At least, so far - while I’m never completely confident in the future - I’m eagerly anticipating it.

I knew the time would come when I have to register for baby stuff. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it. For one thing, I had no idea what babies need. I didn’t want to follow some salesperson around the store, scanning everything recommended.

So, I begged, pleaded, and cajoled Candice into being our baby stuff expert. I extracted a promise from her to help us register. And God bless her, she graciously agreed.

Still, I struggled with feelings of being overwhelmed any time I walked into Babies R Us. I kept putting off registering. I used work as an excuse. I told everybody I just wasn’t far enough along yet, and so on.
However, when both my pregnancy book and pregnancy website reminder kept asking “Are you registered yet?” I finally got the point.

I had Sam’s 25 week ultrasound coming up, so I decided to take the day off. Mom, Brett, and I would go to the ultrasound, and then meet Candice at Babies R Us to register.

The ultrasound went well, with the technician proclaiming Sam healthy and well into the 60th percentile for all his vital statistics. Sam also posed beautifully for the camera. The technician was able to capture his angelic face for three photos, and (of course) another money shot proving he is, indeed, of the male persuasion.

Afterwards, we trekked to Babies R Us. Mom and Candice gabbed in the corner while a salesperson took Brett and I through the current protocols for baby registering. It took nearly ten minutes for our learning session before she handed over “the gun.”

I should stop here and say that – while we’ve been in dire financial trouble – it’s been easier to curb Brett’s UUIP tendencies. After all Brett is the youngest, and I am an only; it’s not like either of us heard “no” very often.

In the days of milk and honey, I could only sigh at his UUIP’s habits as he purchased a label maker, industrial-size paper shredder, and police scanner.

For some reason, the purchase of the police scanner really got on my nerves. I don’t know if he thought he’d hear fascinating conversations or what, but other than severe weather reports, it’s like having the World’s Most Boring Conversation going on non-stop in your living room.



“Yeah, Bob. Car in the ditch off Elevator Road.”


Not quite an enthralling police drama.

However, as our checkbook has dwindled to double digits, it’s been easier to simply say, “Well, we can’t afford it.” And that’s that.

But, as the salesperson handed over the scanner, I saw the light go on in Brett’s head. For once, he could register for WHATEVER he wanted, and HE wouldn’t have to spend a cent. Other people might BUY it for HIM. This time, I fully recognized the gleam in his eye.

I gulped in anticipation and knew I was in for it.

Mom, Candice, and I started at one end of the store. As Candice explained the difference between the awesome variety of available bottles, my baby daddy slipped behind a display.
The three of us then heard a familiar beep-bop.

“What did you just scan?” Mom demanded, giving Brett the evil eye.

“Nothing,” the love of my life lied.

Mom rounded on the display and started reading off the items on the shelf. “Belly Bars?” “Pregnancy Tea?” “Ginger Ale?” all while Brett looked everywhere but at the three of us.

Eventually, I peeked around the display.

“He scanned the pregnancy pops. He likes the raspberry flavor,” I said simply. I know my husband.

Mom’s eyebrows flew up and just the slightest flush rushed my husband’s face. Candice vigorously pretended to study the baby bottles.

“We are registering for the BABY, not for you,” I hissed as a warning.

As we journeyed through the aisles, Candice gave valuable advice on everything from pacifiers to nursing pads. Mom weighed in on issues of style and taste, while I had to babysit Brett who would lag behind scanning random items.

At each unsanctioned beep-bop, Mom and I would exchange frustrated glances. Candice smartly stayed above it all, just smiled, and probably though inwardly, “Dear Lord, why did I agree to this?!”

We were in the stroller area, debating Chicco and Eddie Bauer, when we heard another beep-bop in the aisle behind us. I left Mom and Candice to hunt down Brett.

“What did you scan, NOW?” I was exasperated.

“Nothing. It doesn’t matter. Never mind.” Brett shooed me back in the other direction.

Well, that did it.

“Well, I’m sorry if I care about what kind of crap you are putting on our registry! People may buy these things for us, and I don’t want to waste their money on things we will NEVER use. They want their money to go toward things we’ll actually USE!”

I shouted that last part.

Chastised, Brett sighed and followed me dutifully into the next aisle. You do not mess with a pregnant, hormonal woman who is already, clearly on edge.

Our struggle was hardly over. Mom, Candice, or I still had to throw ourselves bodily in front of certain items to keep Happy Trigger from scanning them. We also had to talk him out of registering for (quite possibly) the ugliest baby carrier ever.

“But this company makes backpacks,” he said, holding the gun dangerously close to the barcode.

“Yes, but it’s an icky blue. It’s scruffy and feels like it’s packed with Styrofoam. Look at this one! It’s soft and feels so snuggly.”

I held my breath, prepared to throw a tantrum if necessary (I am an only child after all, and know everything possible about throwing a successful tantrum). Behind me, Mom and Candice were quiet, but I could psychically feel them agreeing with me.

Brett relented, with a heavy, heart-felt sigh, and scanned the cute baby carrier.

As we headed down one of the last aisles, I was regretting the very idea of registering. Perhaps sensing my discouragement, Candice came alongside me.

“You got the online registration, right?”

“Yeah,” I sighed. “It comes with the package.”

“Well, you know you can go online and take stuff off, right? I mean, it’s not permanent.”

“It’s not?” My eyes lit up, and I felt a second wind rush through my spirit.

“Nope. You can just let him scan whatever he wants, and then go online and adjust it.”

“I can?” The very idea had me grinning, as I looked over to see Brett studying the potty chairs.

Candice nodded slyly, and - can I just say - she only looks naïve. She’s smart as a whip, that one.

I was relieved to have some level of harmony restored to my marriage as I stopped sighing, rolling my eyes, and tapping my foot at every unauthorized beep-bop. I just smiled, nodded, and held on to Candice’s advice.

To alleviate Mom’s stress (which was nearing my own nuclear levels), I told her my plan. She looked incredibly relieved, and the four of us finished registering in a much happier frame of mind.

As Brett and I drove home, he told me how happy he was I’d included him on the adventure (oh, if only I’d known NOT including him was even an option!). I said the sweet nothings you say when you are secretly putting a dastardly plan in motion.

I reassured him – the truth – that he will be an excellent father, compassionate, affectionate, and kind.

I didn’t mention his UUIP was showing or even bring up the unofficial beep-bops that had driven me half-mad for most of the day. Instead we talked about our Sam and fell quite comfortably back into step.

In the meantime, I’ve yet to hop online and adjust the registry.

So, if you’re curious, let me tell you right now, whatever you do, don’t buy the ugly red Columbia diaper bag, the stroller carabineer, or the NASCAR sunshade.

And, for heaven’s sake, please don’t buy the raspberry pregnancy pops!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Proudly Wearing It On My Sleeve

This post will probably not make me popular.

I don’t care, since some things just have to be said.

If you know me at all, then you know I am a “live and let live” kind of person. I try (really hard) not to pass judgment. Not just because the Bible tell us not to, but also because I personally don’t like having judgment passed on me.

But there are some things so offensive, so horrible - I can’t help myself.

For instance, my take on khaki.

I hate khaki. I really, really hate it.

I don’t just mean, “Oh, I don’t like khaki and never wear it,” I mean, you should never wear it, either. No one should ever wear it. It shouldn’t even exist.

Khaki is clearly something the other colors threw up.

I mean, just listen to the sound of "khaki." It sounds like something nasty got caught in your throat.

No one (and I mean NO ONE) looks good in khaki. You could put khaki on the most beautiful person in the world (current votes are on Angelina Jolie), and she would look like, well, me.

You could put khaki on the cutest, little angel-faced baby. Within seconds, you’ve got your very own Quasimodo lurching across the floor.

I have stood proudly unwavering on my opinion of khaki.

I curse the feeble-headed morons who anointed khaki the holy color of business casual. A few years ago, I was supposed to staff a booth for our company, and my boss wanted us to wear matching polo shirts and khaki pants.

“I will quit before I ever purposely wear khaki,” were my exact words to her. (She let me wear black.)

I didn’t just not join the military because of a complete lack of interest and schlubby physical condition - there was all that khaki to consider. No way could I have survived (the exertion or the explosion of crappy khaki).

I will say khaki seems perfectly appropriate on one entity – maggots. Maggots embody khaki sentimentality beautifully, and I think (as reasonable people) we should not try, on any level, to imitate maggots.

Moving on, next to my utter disdain of khaki, is my opinion of flip-flops.

I really despise flip-flops.

There is exactly one place where flip-flops are acceptable (besides the trash). If you are going into a communal showering facility with people of questionable hygiene, then (by all means) protect your feet.

Otherwise, um, no.

First of all, I’m still a relatively conservative Baptist girl at heart (I can hear those of you disagreeing based on my earlier use of the word “crappy” which is definitely not condoned in the Baptist circles.).

And, really, aren’t flip-flops essentially bikinis for your feet? In some circles, they are even called “thongs” (you don’t want to get me started on actual thongs).

I should clarify I also don’t think feet, as appendages, are necessarily beautiful and worthy of showing off. And all the cutesy, patterned, flowery, glittery, sea shelled flip-flops in the world aren’t going to change what is clearly not meant to be displayed.

There’s a reason God put ‘em at the end of our bodies. It wasn’t so we could draw special attention to the five-pronged hobbit limb that mutates grotesquely off our stumpy legs.

This brings us to the real reason for my post. I am in absolute disgust over a current fashion trend.

Sleeveless clothes.

“Oh, Ann-Marie,” you scoff. “Surely, you know sleeves have gone the way of the horse and buggy, the corset, and the buttonhook!”

Yes, yes, I know. I have seen it with my own eyes. I have searched rack after rack of clothes with nary a sleeve in sight.

Never was this trend more in evidence than when Mom and I were hunting for bridesmaid dresses.

Mom and Gary got married in May, which (in Illinois, anyway) is not the height of summer. It should have been a cakewalk to find a dress with sleeves. Instead, we had to go all over town, search several stores, all just to find ONE design that featured (albeit very short) sleeves.

I started fuming then and there and haven’t stopped since.

Sleeveless is not a trend I can applaud.

So many people - the majority really - look hideous in sleeveless items; their saggy skin and fat flaps waving brazenly in the wind. I’m not making a fat joke (like I could). I’m talking about your average, every day, sleeveless garment wearer.

I have met exactly one person who looks amazing in sleeveless clothes.

Her name is Dominique Dawes, and she is an Olympic Gold Medal-winning gymnast. She wore a brown sleeveless dress and looked fantastic. Her arms were incredible and sculpted to perfection. Her arms were so beautiful; they should be bronzed and placed in a museum.

Dominique can confidently go sleeveless. The rest of humanity? Not so much.

Much of my chagrin exists in not knowing what, if anything, the sleeve has ever done to be discarded in such a manner!

I love sleeves! In fact, I love anything that covers my imperfections and highlights my… (well, forget what it highlights).

Think of the sleeve-related Americana sayings that will soon be shorn from our vocabulary!

“He wears his heart on his sleeve.”
“She’s got something up her sleeve.”
“Let’s roll up our sleeves, and get to work!”

Gone! Poof!

Now, in order for someone to wear their heart on their “sleeve,” they’ll have to get a tattoo.

Sleeves have long been a thing of beauty to me.

My favorite is the sleeve that starts at the shoulder and billows gracefully down my arm and ends at the back of my hand. Long, flowing sleeves enable me to entertain the delusion that I have willow-thin and decidedly lovely arms.

Even my childhood heroine, Anne Shirley, desired “puffed sleeves.”

I also love 3/4 length sleeves. They say, “Hey, I’m willing to let my hair down and have a good time.” Without ever crossing the line into, “Hey, baby, what’s your sign?”

I’m not a huge fan of short sleeves, but they’re okay at the bare minimum.

Unlike cap or barely-there sleeves which I call “teaser” sleeves (and yes, that’s why). It’s like wearing a sheer robe over sexy lingerie. Why bother, you know?

I know my opinions are not popular, judging by the sheer volume of khaki clothes and gawdy, tacky flip-flops available in the stores. Not to mention, the pantheon that has been unofficially erected to sleeveless clothes at most major retailers.

Like Laura Ingalls had to forbid farewell to her sun bonnet, I, too, will have to say goodbye to sleeves. For now.

After all, I live in Illinois. Where we have a little thing called…winter.

*Begin evil laughter soundtrack*

Try going sleevless then. Just try it.

While most of this is said tongue-in-cheek, I’m totally not kidding about khaki. May it die a swift death, and be instantly forgotten.

“Khaki? What’s that?”

Ahh...the sound of things being right with the world.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thin Skinned

Okay, friends! I need your help!

Pregnancy is wreaking havoc on my skin. Currently, I’m dealing with a severe breakout on my neck.

I don’t know if it’s an allergic reaction to something (I’ve stopped using perfume, just in case) or just a bad case of pregnancy breakout, or WHAT. Either way, it’s gross, and it itches!

I’ve called my OB to let him know, and hopefully either he or my APN will be able to look at it during my ultrasound on Thursday.

However, I would REALLY welcome YOUR suggestions concerning what brands of pregnancy-safe cleansers, moisturizers, or home remedies you used to deal with skin problems during your pregnancy.

Currently, I am using Cetaphil cleanser and moisturizer. The pregnancy websites have recommended it very highly, but I’ve been using it the whole time and this breakout is just getting worse.

If you can help, PLEASE do!


It’s My Thing

Last night, I dreamed about an evil, dancing little person (dancing to the tune of Do What You Wanna Do), featuring a performance by Rudy Huxtable of the Cosby show.

Apparently, it was more than enough to keep even Sam entertained, seeing as how I slept for 6 ½ hours straight!

This is more than a minor miracle, as my little punkin’ usually keeps me awake by kicking like mad from 3:00 – 5:00 a.m. every morning. Last night I went to bed at 11:30 p.m. and (after my strange, musical dream) woke up at 6:00 a.m.

I hope this is a positive sign of things (sleep) to come.

As far as I can tell, the only negative will be getting Do What You Wanna Do out of my head.

“It’s your thing!
Do what you wanna do…”

Aha! Now I've got you singing it!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Grace & Truth Conference

I just want to remind everyone of the opportunity to attend one of the best women's conferences in the Chicago/Rockford/Madison area! You will have a wonderful time and come away blessed.

Plus, I'll be there.

And really, what more could you ask for?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Mrs. Olive Purdy

I was fortunate to grow up with a bunch of neighborhood friends just about my age.

There was my across-the-street neighbor, Jason Cook, along with Jason DuPont and his kid sister, Amy. Further up the street were our friends Ady, Shannon, and Petey.

The seven of us made up the Dresden Avenue Posse.

Both Ady and Shannon’s parents were divorced and lived on our block. Ady lived with her mom, and Shannon lived with her dad. The rest of us had married parents. As far as I know, I was the only one who went to church.

We used to play in the street, in each other’s backyards and houses, and take long bike rides down by the train tracks. The more daring among us *ahem* brazenly bumped our bike tires along the train tracks.

I remember the time I found the two Jasons and Petey in Jason Cook’s backyard. They told me I couldn’t play with them anymore, because they were starting a “Boys Only” club.

My incense at gender discrimination started early in life. Steamed beyond belief, I raced over to Shannon’s house.

Shannon was a thimble-sized girl with blond hair that swung in long, curling waves nearly to her waist. As I hotly explained the injustice I had just experienced, Shannon looked at me and grinned, her blue eyes and blond hair sparkling in the sun.

“We need to start a ‘Girls Only’ club,” I insisted.

“Ann-Marie,” Shannon explained patiently, “Girls are just naturally better than boys. We don’t need a club to prove it.”

I like to think pint-sized Shannon was my very first feminist friend.

When I wasn’t playing with my posse, I was in my own backyard. It may surprise those of you who know me as an outdoor-avoiding, nature-abhorring sun-hater, but I spent the majority of my childhood outside.

Not to say I wasn’t still a bookworm. It was a usual occurrence for one of my parents to storm into my room, declare it a nice enough day to be outside, and shoo me insistently out the front door.

For countless hours, I played happily in my own little world.

Despite our house being hemmed in on all sides, we had a very nice backyard. My parents took great pains to make it kid-friendly, and I had a sandbox made out of a monstrous old tractor wheel, a tire swing (my absolute favorite), and a swing set.

This was before people were overly concerned with the swing set safety.

I can’t tell you how many injuries I obtained on my succession of swing sets. The cheap plastic seats would break, and I would scrape my legs. The hanging bar would rust and collapse mid-swing, sending me sprawling in the dirt beneath. The see-saw would fly up unexpectedly and smack me in the face every so often.

Safe to say, Sam will only be allowed to play on swing sets made of unbreakable steel and approved by no less than six quality control inspectors.

You think I’m kidding.

My favorite thing to do was swing on the tire swing. Dad had secured it firmly to a steady branch on a tall tree in the backyard. I estimate 80% of my childhood consisted of my standing half-in, half-out of that tire swing, pushing off with my foot against the tree, and swinging as high as I could, for as long as I could.

As I soared through the air, I couldn’t help but sing at the top of my lungs.

Being the sheltered Baptist girl I was, I knew only two sets of songs. The first was a varied selection of Patch the Pirate-themed songs. The second were the hymns we sang at church on Sunday.

My only other option was the dirty limericks put to music by Jason DuPont. Out of all my neighborhood friends, Jason DuPont had, by far, the foulest language.

Jason Cook once told me that if he ever used “those” words, his mom would wash his mouth out with soap for a week. I, myself, got in trouble when I asked Mom what certain of Jason’s words meant.

“Where did you hear THAT,” she’d gasp. I learned quickly to never, ever repeat Jason’s words, least of all in my own house.

Instead, I favored the spunky hymns for my tire swing song sessions. Two favorites were “Rouse, Then, Soldiers! Rally Round the Banner!” and “Onward, Christian Soldiers!”

When I think of the patience my poor neighbors must has possessed to hear me bellow out the bloody lyrics to “Onward, Christian Soldiers!” I must have sounded like a tiny terrorist-in-the-making.

They must have breathed a sigh of relief when I stopped singing and darted back in the house. How it must have tried their patience to realize I’d only gone inside to retrieve Dad’s old hymnal so I could now happily scream out all the verses in fractured harmony.

As I swung high above the neighborhood fences, I took stock of my surroundings.

Our neighbor to the right was Lou, a cashier at the local hardware store. Her daughter, Connie, lived with her. Connie had two young sons, didn’t work, and lived off welfare. She smoked, drank, swore openly, and was known to let her sons wander aimlessly. Often, she didn’t even put diapers on her youngest son, letting him do his business in the front yard.

Connie’s oldest son, Eric, was a troubled child. As a kid, I thought he was creepy. As an adult, I feel incredibly sorry for the way he had to grow up. He turned his frustrations outward, often instigating fights, lashing out, and setting fire to things just “to watch them burn.”

The Snyders lived in the first house kitty corner to our backyard. They had two young daughters, and the bulk of my teenage babysitting dollars was earned by watching the Snyder girls. While I hated babysitting, I didn’t mind sitting for the Snyder girls who were bright, creative, and went to bed without a fight.

Mr. Snyder worked for Hostess, and I can attribute at least 20 pounds of my teenage heft to the amount of free Hostess cupcakes I consumed while babysitting.

The yard directly behind us belonged to Jeannie and her husband. They were an older, retired couple who kept their yard ruthlessly manicured. I still remember Mom and Jeannie visiting over the five foot hedge that separated our two yards. Jeannie tended to snip off her words with the same veracity as the stray branches she lopped off with her garden shears.

My favorite neighbor was easily Mrs. Vaughn, our neighbor to the left. I began daily trips to Mrs. Vaughn’s house about the time I started walking. I loved visiting with her, and it didn’t hurt that she always had Swiss Miss chocolate pudding in her fridge.

I would eat pudding, wander around her house, and pepper her with incessant questions. Sometimes, Mrs. Vaughn’s granddaughter, Jenny, would visit her. Jenny and I had an awesome time playing together. We would mount the full-size plastic deer, serenely posed in Mrs. Vaughn’s backyard, and gallop away to adventures in far away lands.

Sometime later in my childhood, I wandered up to Mrs. Vaughn’s door and knocked. She came to the door, looking unusually disheveled, and seemed confused. She asked me several times who I was, and at first I thought she was joking. I was devastated when she claimed not to know who I was and slammed the door in my face.

I sobbed the story out to Mom at home; convinced I had somehow made Mrs. Vaughn mad. Mom looked worried and said she would call Jenny’s mom, Mrs. Vaughn’s daughter.

Eventually, Mom sat me down and told me she had learned Mrs. Vaughn had a disease called Alzheimer’s. She said people with this disease lost their memory and that was why Mrs. Vaughn hadn’t known who I was. As a result, Mrs. Vaughn would be moving to a nursing home, and we would be getting new neighbors.

I was despondent about losing my long-time friend. Not only would I miss my daily pudding fix – and don’t think that wasn’t a felt loss – but I’d miss the conversation and silly jokes we’d shared.

For a long time, nothing cheered me up. Not even when Mom told me Mrs. Vaughn’s daughter had relayed to Mom that Mrs. Vaughn had adored me and looked forward to my visits with glee.

Months later, I was outside pretending I was on a deserted island, while covertly hiding in Mom’s prized lilac bushes. I heard a voice from the second yard kitty corner to ours.

“Would you like some lemonade?” An older lady was leaning over the hedge that separated our yards.

“I’m on deserted island,” I explained.

“What a coincidence! So am I!” She smiled and offered up a tray with two glasses.

I shrugged my shoulders, climbed the fence into my neighbor’s yard, and popped through the hedge.

The older lady introduced herself as Mrs. Olive Purdy. I knew my parents knew her. I knew she went to one of our former churches, but this was my first time seeing her up close.

She was thin and spry with a 1,000 watt smile. She led me to her outdoor patio and poured me a full glass of sweet lemonade.

As you might have guessed by now, I was quite the chatterbox as a little girl. My parents tried their best to listen to my relentless stream of prattle, but I caught them occasionally responding simply out of eye-rolling politeness.

I do not hold them responsible in the least; since I’m relatively sure I talked non-stop for eighteen years with barely a breath in between. I’m lucky they didn’t kill me in my sleep.

Olive (who insisted I call her by her first name) loved to listen to me! She regarded me with a slightly amused smile and engaged in delightful banter with me. In no time at all, I was hopping the backyard fence every week and landscaping an Ann-Marie-sized hole in Olive’s hedge.

We became kindred spirits. She’d serve me fresh lemonade or a steaming cup of hot tea, served in a real china cup. She would show me photos of her loved ones, and I’d marvel over the yellow haze that seemed to infuse those sepia-toned memories. I would ask her questions about her furniture and soon learned she lived in a house of “antiques.”

As I grew older, I became even fonder of Olive and the way she treated me like an equal. I was too old to hop the fence anymore and too rotund to barrel through her hedge. Instead, I walked around the block on the cracked sidewalk for my weekly visits.

When I turned 15, my parents decided to move. I still remember visiting Olive and telling her how my dad felt the neighborhood was going “downhill.” I was completely unaware of my tactlessness, never having been anything but completely honest with Olive. I didn’t even consider how that might make a little, old lady feel - living alone in that very neighborhood.

To her credit, Olive only said how much she would miss me. She hugged me tightly, and I took one last glance around the living room I’d come to love.

Somewhere, in the space of the next 15 years, I managed to grow up. I survived high school, thrived at college, and found a job I loved.

Talk about coming full circle, my office is now only blocks from my old neighborhood.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed my daily drive by Dresden Avenue. I smile at seeing the neat row of houses that once contained my friends and still contain my memories.

Often I would smile at the sight of Olive’s house and wonder how she was doing. Was she still living? (I mean, she had to be at least 80 when I knew her.) Was she in a nursing home? Had she succumbed to Alzheimer’s like my beloved Mrs. Vaughn?

My thoughts of Olive were always infused with a warmth and honey-toned happiness of an unusual and extraordinary friendship.

Last night, I went to Pampered Chef party at my Cousin Tammy’s house. As Mom and I pulled into the drive, I saw a stooped, elderly woman climbing out of her car. A halo of soft gray hair surrounded her head, and I recognized her profile immediately.

“Why, it’s Mrs. Purdy!” Mom exclaimed.

“Olive!” I said joyfully.

Within a few moments, we were reunited. Olive greeted me warmly, and I melted effortlessly back 15 years. She embraced me heartily upon hearing the news of our impending arrival.

“A baby,” she breathed out in gentle wonder before favoring me with that amazing smile.

I had a good time at the party, but seeing Olive again stirred up the long-lost memories of my childhood. Memories I often let stay dust-covered in my mind’s attic.

By the time the party was over; this post was already percolating in my mind. I was thinking how much I wanted to remember – and honor – my dear friend, Mrs. Olive Purdy.

I find myself hoping that someday a special adult will take the time and effort to make a difference in my son’s life, as well. One day, I hope Sam is able to celebrate an age-defying friendship with his own “Olive.”

Now, I am looking forward to bringing Sam to meet my dear friend. Olive all but insisted we resume our visits. “And bring that baby with you!”

When I silently studied Olive last night (and realized she is perhaps just now reaching her 80’s), I found myself thinking of a wonderful quote –

"Some people, no matter how old they get, never lose their beauty - they merely move it from their faces into their hearts."

- Martin Buxbaum

That’s my Olive.

That’s my friend and forever neighbor-of-the-heart, Olive.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

You Might Be Pregnant If…

Well, let me qualify that by saying you never MIGHT be pregnant. You either are, or you aren’t.

During all my years of sitting in the doctor’s office, I got really tired of being asked, “Do you think you might be pregnant?” I always wanted to scream that you can’t be ALMOST pregnant! It doesn’t work that way.

This point came up again recently when Brett and I were watching a political commercial.

One of the people interviewed was a pastor. He said, “I’ve talked to people in my congregation, and they really feel like crime is down.”

I was like, “That’s ludicrous. You can’t ‘feel’ like crime is down. Either crime IS down, or it isn’t. Please.”

People, THINK, before you speak. (Physician heal thyself, huh?)

Leading with that tone, I think you might see where this post is going.

Yesterday was a crappy day. I don’t know if it’s because I’m pregnant and hormonal that people were driving me nuts, or if people are normally morons and pregnancy has just sharpened my idiot vision.

Years ago, I was talking to a friend of mine. I told her my PMS was making me very cranky with people.

“Well, now, I don’t know. Just because you have PMS doesn’t automatically qualify the people around you for sainthood. They could actually BE jerks.”

I appreciated the sentiment, and along those lines, that old chestnut – “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you.”

In any case, people were getting on my nerves yesterday.

Allow me to explain.

I’m a nice person. I really am. I am a team player. I will do most likely anything you ask, on one condition.

That you ASK me.

I prefer it if you ask me nicely, but I’d probably still do it, if you just asked.

What I absolutely CANNOT stand is when people TELL me what to do or what not to do. This gets my back up like nothing else.

My father suffered from the same affliction. He once told me he would do anything for anyone, but if someone “painted him into a corner,” he’d come out swinging.

Folks, if you didn’t know it already, I am my father’s daughter.

Yesterday, during the course of my workday, a sum total of FOUR people gave me direct orders to do or not to do something.

I might add that none of these four people are my direct supervisor. I mean, I get it, if your boss tells you to do something, it’s different. These are my PEERS and in no way do ANY of them have any authority over me.

You can see my growing frustration in the progression of my responses to each person.

Person 1
Me– “You are more than welcome to do that yourself.”
Person 1 – “I’d rather you do it.”
Me – “I’m sure you’d ‘rather,’ but if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. K?”

Person 2
Me – “You’ll have to take that up with someone else. I’m not wasting my time sitting here listening to you blather about it.”

Person 3
Me – “I don’t appreciate either your tone or treatment. You will not treat me like this, because I am NOT your slave.”

Person 4
Me – “Do you seriously want to get started with me? The next person who attempts to tell me what to do or what not to do is going to get punched in the mouth. I am not kidding.”

See? These are rather harsh words for a nice person. But, let me fully assure you, these people were ASKING for it.

By the time I got home, I was fighting mad. I stormed in the front door and asked Brett what form I had to fill out to officially withdraw from the human race.

I proceeded to sputter out my whole day - and the idiots I had to deal with - from beginning to end.

God bless Brett. He sat there patiently, listening to every word and nodding his head emphatically. At key points, he would loudly exclaim:

“Those jerks!”
“Man, I can’t believe it!”
“Are you serious?”
(And my favorite) “I’d have punched ‘em right in the mouth!”

Well, it did wonders for my downtrodden heart, just to have someone listen and affirm my (somewhat overblown) emotions.

Brett knows what it is like to come home in a foul mood.

For years, he drove into Chicago from Roscoe for work. If you know my husband (at all), you know traffic does NOT make him a better person.

For over five years, I was his sympathetic set of ears. I hope it doesn’t make me sound callous, but he OWES me this kind of behavior, and I’m not above collecting it!

My bad mood burned off within a half an hour of being home. I got comfy in my sweats, stretched out in bed, and read one of my favorite books until the buzzing in my head went away.

I know there are just days like that – days that test you – days that try a woman’s soul. But I honestly couldn’t work up a lot of introspection yesterday.

I found myself even enjoying a little bit of the mad as it rolled off my shoulders, and (for once) being able to tell people what I really think when they treat me badly.

Most people won’t hit a pregnant woman.

I know that my bad days, at least when I really feel it in my mood, aren’t all that common. So, I try not to focus on them.

As I was driving home last night, still hyped on all the anger, I hoped voraciously I wouldn’t get pulled over by a police officer. I found myself chuckling at the thought of tomorrow’s headline being:

Hormonal Pregnant Women Attacks Cop!

How dare he TELL me I was speeding!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Boys on the Side

I’m glad the yelling has stopped.

For the past two nights, my dreams have consisted primarily of people screaming at me.

People such as my mother, my old boss, even some very dear friends (the kind of dear friends who, in real life, wouldn’t yell at me if I was standing in the path of an oncoming Mack truck).

I know this is my subconscious’ (can you anthropomorphize your subconscious?) way of relieving my inner anxiety over becoming a parent.

My pregnancy books tell me it is completely normal to have nightmares during this time.

Your brain is working overtime to prepare you for the upcoming major change to your life, and all the fears and trepidation head straight into your dreams where they can express themselves freely.

Still, it’s not fun waking up and thinking people are mad at you.

So, I was surprised with last night’s string of dreams that ran the gamut from weird to whimsical.

I dreamed my friend from college was married both to her real life husband and the Oscar-winning actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman. I had spaghetti with the polygamous couple and their two children. Odd.

I dreamed my dad was still living. We were back in my high school bedroom. Dad had all these wicker baskets on his lap (including a cornucopia horn!), and my bunnies were jumping in and out of the baskets while Dad happily petted their little furry heads.

Mom was also in this dream, showing me photos from the past. I saw 70’s era photos of my cousin Michelle, Aunt Jan, and Aunt Laurie. In some other photos, I saw my cousin Naomi (not even born in the 70’s!) as a little girl.

In another segment, I was at Windsor Baptist Church (which also included a 360 degree revolving balcony) racing up and down the aisles with my friend Tania and her two brothers.

My last dream had me huddled outside the door to my high school study hall. I was with my friends - the 2 Amy’s - along with some boys from our class. For some reason, we couldn’t enter the study hall without a “buddy," and there was an odd number of us, so we were afraid to go in.

Eventually, we burst through the door together and raced to get seats at the back table. I slid in to my seat, next to my high school crush, Jeff Z.

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about Jeff.

Jeff is among the very few boys who were nice to me in my childhood. Those boys include Jason, my across-the-street neighbor; Tony, the boy I met at summer camp; Shane; my best friend’s brother – and Jeff.

Jeff joined our class in high school. It was nice to have someone new. Someone who didn’t know all our sordid little secrets, our rank-and-file social standing, and stupid past mistakes.

Jeff was a fresh slate.

He was a toothpick-sized kid, of normal height, with some Asian heritage in his past, reflected in his olive skin and dark, almond-shaped eyes that twinkled with humor and wit.

I liked him (not LIKED him, but liked him) almost immediately. For one thing, he was smart. In my years at Berean, the only academic competition I faced was from Josh – who, as we all know from my bruises and bloody noses, didn’t welcome it.

Jeff was really smart. He was real competition, and I loved going head-to-head over who was getting better grades, who could answer the fastest, and who would be at the top of the class.

I could tell he liked it too, from the steady gleam of rivalry in his eyes.

Secondly, Jeff was sarcastically funny. He walked that fine line between witty observation, without ever dipping into the nasty, mean, hurting-other-people-for-laughs that was considered kosher in my conservative, Christian high school.

Unlike the other boys in high school who made fun of me, or even the boys in my own class who avoided me, Jeff talked to a real person.

My least favorite class was Keyboarding. I am a right-brained person, and my motor skills are more tuned to (as my friend Julie would say) “riding the short bus.” Typing just didn’t come naturally to me.

Keyboarding was made much more tolerable thanks to my seating assignment right next to Jeff. As we sat bony shoulder to chubby shoulder over the course of a couple of months, we developed our own little…friendship, I guess.

In spite of our Laurel and Hardy appearance, we shared an eerily similar taste in what was funny. The same things made us laugh, and I enjoyed the sarcastic back-and-forth banter we shared during class.

I found myself looking forward to Keyboarding with an almost unbridled sense of joy. I still remember stepping into the class and seeing Jeff sitting there, looking bored as all get-out. As soon as he saw me, his face would light up.

I found my feelings of friendship were growing into something else. Something I was afraid to acknowledge.

Well, it was bound to happen. Sooner or later.

Jeff and I were at our seats, hands flying over the keys, and talking.

“You’re looking at your hands again,” Jeff deadpanned, his eyes never leaving the screen in front of him.

“So what? Mr. H isn’t even looking,” I defended myself, while sneaking another look down at my hands.

(Side note to Mr. H.: I still look at my hands when I type, and the world has yet to implode.)

“So, *Thad was talking to me after last period. He think I should ask *Penny to go out with me.”

I felt my heart sink. I had known this was coming. Jeff was too smart, too funny, and too cute to go without a girlfriend for very long.

No matter how much I liked Jeff, I despised his close friendship with Thad, an upperclassman who was enormously popular in spite of being a colossal dill weed.

“Well, Penny’s really nice,” I said sincerely.

The truth was that Penny WAS really nice. She was smart and funny, too. It wasn’t her fault she was slender with long, blond hair and a bright, welcoming smile. I couldn’t blame her for being desirable.

(I could, however, blame Thad, who I personally wanted to stake to an anthill in the middle of the desert.)

In truth, I was fortunate to avoid going to school with any “mean girls.” The only “mean girls” I encountered were several years older than me, and I wasn’t even in their realm of consideration.

(Side note: Although our class did not contain the height of sterling moral character, at least we didn’t hook up with each other, and then lie about it when other kids turned us in. Oooh…remind me to tell you THAT story sometime…)

“Penny’s all right, I guess,” Jeff shrugged. “She’s not who I’d pick if it were up to me.”

(What is it about high school kids that makes them think who they date isn’t up to them?!)

I didn’t pursue that line of inquiry. I had enough rejection issues going on.

I knew there was no way Jeff could date me, even if he wanted to. It would be social suicide. While Jeff wasn’t unkind, he wasn’t going to throw himself on the ever-burning altar of high school popularity for me, either.

“I’d like to date a girl who is smart, funny, and mature,” Jeff said, his eyes steady on his screen. “I haven’t told Thad what I’m going to do yet.”

I remember thinking that was a good thing, as no doubt Thad would have dragged him out into the courtyard and beat him senseless for even thinking about dating the school’s fat girl.

“What do you think I should do?” Jeff stopped typing, turned his head, and looked straight at me.

I didn’t even hesitate. “You should ask Penny out. She’s great. Thad’s right. I know she’d say yes.”

He nodded slowly at me and then said the words I obsessed over for years later.

“If things were different…” His voice trailed off, as he snapped his attention back to his screen.

I felt my throat close a little. It was the closest any boy had ever come to admitting he liked me. I felt a tiny sliver of joy in my heart. It felt good to know that while Penny might be getting Jeff, she wouldn’t be getting ALL of Jeff.

Jeff took Thad’s (and my) advice and asked Penny out after our next class period. They dated for a while and even attended our school’s Junior/Senior Banquet (our sterilized equivalent of prom).

I let Jeff go.

I still sat next to him in Keyboarding. We still vied for the top spot scholastically. We even traded sarcastic barbs once in a while, but there was a finality, a sadness, in our unrealized friendship.

I missed him.

Shortly afterward, I prayed and told God (I love how we “tell” God stuff) that He had made it clear through my experience with Jeff that His will was for me to remain single.

I “told” God this when I was 17. I prayed for His guidance as I went to college. I prayed for good female friends and His protection against jealously as my friends dated and got engaged and married.

It wasn’t until I walked the hallowed halls of Moody that I discovered the world was full of “Jeffs.” There were nice guys in abundance! Unlike my timid high school heartthrob, there were honest-to-goodness nice guys willing to date a girl who wasn’t necessarily society's ideal of pretty or thin or perfect.

I began to hope my “Jeff,” whatever his real name, was out there somewhere.

Waiting for a realized friendship. Waiting for love. Waiting for me. The real me.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

I may have dreamed about Jeff, my long lost love, last night.

But, my real dream was realized in waking up next to Brett, the one who loves me for me, no matter how different things get.

And, thankfully, no one has yelled at me yet.

*names have been changed to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent dill weed

Friday, April 03, 2009

Friday Fanfare

This morning, Brett and I received a blessing.

A shot out of the sky, blinding white light, knocked down to the floor amazing blessing. God used some people we barely know to shed His grace abundantly upon us.

I can’t share all the details, because so much is yet unknown. But the very idea. The very idea that God is so obviously involved in our lives, that He hears us when we pray, left me staggered and breathless.

A melody sprung up within my heart, along with these words that have given me great comfort, both as a child and even now.

I remember hearing it lifted high by the choir at Memorial Baptist Church, and to this day – to THIS day, especially – it remains one of my favorite songs.

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,

He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,

When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,

His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A Moody Girl Tradition

I remember the first time I took part in the tradition.

My roommate Kelly stood in the doorway of our dorm room clad in her pajamas, her curly hair a perfect ponytail puff, and a bag of tantalizing microwave popcorn balanced on her hip.

“So? Are you coming or what?” She popped a perfect piece of buttery, salted popcorn in her mouth.

“To what?”

“Down to Houghton 2 to watch ER. If we don’t leave now, all the good seats are going to be taken.”

“Okay,” I hauled myself up and started toward the door.

Kelly sighed. “You can’t go in jeans. Put your pajamas on!”

“Oh, for crying out loud,” I rolled my eyes, before dashing around the room getting ready for “bed.”

Eventually, Kelly and I headed down the hallway of our beloved Houghton 9 West and submerged ourselves in the giggling, yawning, and chattering crowd of 9 North and West girls already waiting for the elevator.

When the button dinged, we crowded as many of us as possible into the elevator. A few girls from Houghton 10 got squeezed in the back as we piled on. The elevator flew open on Houghton 8, and we all sing-songed “Sorry!” to the waiting girls. The doors closed and re-opened on every floor.

We repeated our apology until we got to Houghton 4 and 3. Those waiting girls heard, “Oh, come on! What? You can’t go down a few stairs?”

Secretly, I was always glad to live on Houghton 9. No one ever yelled at us for taking the elevator. (You all know how much I love exercise.)

When we hit Houghton 2, the only floor in our dorm with a TV, we burst out of the elevator and raced toward the lounge.

Kelly and I had a plan. She would grab the first two seats she could get her hands on. These would be our fall back seats. I would boldly charge forward and try to get closer seats. Whichever one of us ended up with the better seats would gesture wildly to the other one, and we’d settle in before the theme song started.

We loved George Clooney. Every girl in that room would sigh and sometimes even call out a marriage proposal or two. It was like a scheduled sleepover with 50 of our closest friends every Thursday night.

It was our own unique, special tradition. There was a bigger TV and a bigger co-ed lounge on Culby 2, the men’s dorm. But being able to watch TV in our pj’s – unkempt, ungroomed, and free from the evaluating eyes of guys was a boon none of us wanted to pass up.

I have never been a pajama person. Not the same could be said for the majority of my Moody sisters. In fact, one girl used to come back to her room in between classes, just to take off her skirt, and put on her pajama pants for the scant 15 minutes before her next class. (I’m looking at you, Vanessa.)

The comfortable camaraderie of my college colleagues made those Thursday nights precious and valued. It was a great way to meet new girls, connect with the friends you didn’t see enough, and an ideal roommate bonding experience. We’d sprawl over the couches on Houghton 2 and cheer, laugh, and cry together.

We’d yell at the loudmouth in the back to shut up, and then crack up laughing when she torpedoed her pillow at us. Seeing as how Kelly and I were rarely quiet ourselves, we also got told to shut up a number of times. We wrinkled our noses at each other and showered the offended shusher with popcorn.

I never imagined ER would last this long. We enjoyed it during its early heyday when it was THE show to watch.

You know? I can hardly recall watching any other television during my days at Moody, but those Thursday night ER parties are crystal clear.

After college, I lost interest in ER. I picked it up again when the talented Kellie Martin, of Christy fame, was added as a regular. But when she was killed off later in the series, I stopped watching again.

NBC has been touting the series finale of ER for the past seven years (it seems). However, tonight is really the end. All the people who made it worth watching are coming back. As I watched the cameo previews and saw those familiar faces, it was like greeting old friends.

Anthony Edwards, Julianna Margulies, Noah Wyle, Eriq La Salle, and of course the IT man himself, George Clooney. Just a glimpse of their faces sent me spiraling back.

Once again, I was 18, carefree and happy. The girls on my floor were among my very best friends, despite my only knowing them for a few months. I was free and unencumbered. The world spread out before me, a limitless buffet of what I could accomplish.

For the first time in my life, I had real friends, real people who liked me for me. Every day was an adventure. The streets of Chicago were my oyster, and I was already aware these were going to be among the best days of my life.

The best day of the week by far was Thursday when I joined my friends in that warm and homey lounge, only two floors up from Chicago’s snow-dusted streets. Clad in our pajamas, clutching our popcorn, and holding onto the youth and innocence we had no idea was fleeting.

With ER’s season finale tonight, that long standing tradition ends. But the memories remain.

As the notes of the theme song started tonight, I went back to Houghton 2.

I missed Kelly with her poufy dark hair and infectious laugh. I missed the crowd of gracious and loving girls who made up my family for those four years. I missed being part of something that helped define our small band of sisters as a cohesive, impenetrable unit in the big city.

As I watched those familiar faces on screen and wished it were my own dear friends I was seeing again, I thanked God for those years and those friends.

Most of all, I thanked Him that I have the distinct honor and privilege of always being counted as a Moody girl.

Huzzah, my Houghton sisters, huzzah!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

One of the Greats

As many of you know, I work for a non-profit.

What you may not know is that most non-profits are willing to do almost anything to bring in extra money. I mean, almost anything.

A couple of years ago, my boss was hired to help our company raise money and make new partnerships in the community. Within a few months of her hiring, she sent out an inter-office e-mail.

She said we had gotten a unique offer from the Winnebago County Health Department (WCHD). The WCHD wanted to offer free gynecological exams to disadvantaged women in our area.

In exchange for our promoting the service and allowing WCHD to do the exams at our location, we would receive a generous financial donation from the county.

My boss had offered our downstairs conference room for the location. The conference room would be completely sterilized, and all the equipment would be brought in from the WCHD. The doctors and nurses would be donating their time for the cause.

I thought it was a great idea and e-mailed her back. I told her that I had several friends who were currently without insurance and would appreciate the free exam. Our bookkeeper agreed with me and called her 17 year old daughter with instructions to start spreading the news at local high schools.

Other staff members thought it was tacky. “Come on! There’s a kitchen down there. We eat down there,” one of my co-workers complained.

By the end of the day, we were an office divided. About half of us were in support of the idea, while the other half was disgusted and put off.

I don’t suppose it’s any different from any other office, where controversy and disagreement can run rampant in the ranks.

We were shooting e-mails back and forth, sniping at each other in the hallways, and just generally behaving like a bunch of junior-highers.

In the midst of it all, we received another e-mail from my brand new boss.

In the e-mail subject line were two words.

April Fools.

And with that, it became apparent that my boss – who we hardly knew at that point – had managed to pull the wool over an entire office of reasonably intelligent people. Within seconds, there was laughter pouring from every office, and my co-workers were chuckling in the hallway.

It’s the most thoroughly thought out and carefully phrased April Fools joke I’ve even been suckered into.

I have to bow in recognition of a master and wish you and yours a very Happy April Fools Day!

Here’s hoping you catch on faster than I do!