Monday, December 29, 2008

Animal Alphabet by Diddily Dee Dots

Animal Alphabet

A's For the Antelope always on view
Which Algernon saw,
When he went to the zoo.

B Was the bear that came up at a run
When Benjamin threw him
A very nice bun.

C's For the camel;
""Poor thing, what a lump!""
Was what Caroline said
When she looked at his hump.

D's For the deer with the soft
pretty eyes;
Doris found them so tame
She had quite a surprise.

E Was the elephant ;
sixpence a ride but
Eric soon found that
you can't sit astride!

F Was the fox very crafty and sly,
Watching Frank from his den
with a cunning old eye.

G's The giraffe which made
Geraldine smile;
She was sure with his neck,
She could see quite a mile.

H Was the hippo asleep in his pool,
Harry thought it an excellent
way to keep cool.

I Was the Ibex, a kind of wild goat.
Ida thought his horns nasty,
But liked his fine coat.

J Was the Jaguar like a big cat,
But Jane didn't think
She would like him to pat!

K Was the kangaroo off with a bound;
A fine way , thought Ken,
To get over the ground.

L's For the lions; they made
such a fierce noise
Laura wished she were safety
At home with the boys.

M's For the monkeys,
all patter and chatter,
But Miles couldn't tell
What on earth was the matter.

N's For the Nilgai which jumped
off a rock;
He took such a leap that
Nell had quite a shock.

O's For the ostrich,
A wise-looking bird,
But Olga remembered
the tales she had heard.

P's For the parrot
that had lots to say,
and tried to peck Paul,
As he passed by that way.

Q's For the Quagga
Which Quentin found tame;
He is quite like a Zebra,
with stripes and a mane.

R Is the Rhino,
A fierce-looking beast;
Rosie watched him with awe
In the midst of a feast.

S Is the snake which
Suzanne found asleep;
He was shiny and slimy
and made her flesh creep.

T's For the Tiger
that gave Tim a fright;
He was horribly scared
Lest they got out at night.

For U (That's the Unicorn)
Nobody looks;
As Una can tell you,
He's only in books.

V's For the Vulture,
A big bird of prey,
Veronica saw him
and soon ran away!

W's For the Wolf
Lying flat on the ground,
Though when Walter
came near he was
up with a bound.

X Just looks on
and has nothing to do,
There's no creature
That claims him
Through-out the whole Zoo.

Y Is the Yak;
He's worthy of note;
Yvonne was amazed
at his long shaggy coat.

Z's For the Zebra
That kept Zoe busy,
She counted his stripes
till she felt she was dizzy.
--Diddily Dee Dots (Maybe?)

This poem was either written or appropriated by somebody calling themselves Diddily Dee Dots. It's hard when I find a perfect poem online, and there's no attribution. I'm probably far over the edge of legal copyright use of poetry, but I tell myself it's mostly all right if it's already out there on the internet, and I give a proper attribution. Oh well...

Peter and I were at the mall the other day, and I saw something that really caught my eye. It was a zip up book with a little stuffed animal for each letter of the alphabet. I thought it was a great idea as a quiet activity, but the price was appalling -- $78! I also thought that the animals were kind of boring because they all looked pretty much the same.

I've been thinking about feverishly making one of these for Elizabeth's birthday, and have pretty much convinced myself that she won't care one way or another whether it's done for the actual birthday. I was also thinking that it would get pretty tiresome to make all those animals myself.

So here's my idea -- please tell me if you think it's doable for you in your present circumstances -- if each of Elizabeth's aunts and uncles (and grandparents and cousins and friends if they feel so inclined) makes a little animal out of felt, that would populate most of the book. If you made the animal 2 or 3 inches tall at the largest, it should only cost about 50 cents to a dollar in supplies (felt and embroidery floss are pretty cheap) , and it could be completed in one evening -- maybe as an FHE activity.

I don't want this to be a burden on anyone, so please feel free to decline the invitation. Also, like I said, it doesn't have to be done in time for her birthday -- that's pretty much impossible at this point -- but it would be nice to have it finished within a few months.

If you would like to participate, please coordinate with me about which letter you'll be making an animal for -- it would be sad if I ended up with 15 aardvarks.

The two pictures below are of the original book, and this link and this one are to give you an idea of the sort of felt animal I'm thinking of. Feel free to get as creative as you want, but if you feel intimidated, then simply cutting out two copies of an outline, stitching around the edge, and putting a little stuffing (or scrap felt) inside, is all I'm really asking for.

Thanks for even considering this. It would be so fun to have something for Elizabeth made by all the people who love her!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Oh, What Songs of the Heart by Joseph L. Townsend

Oh, What Songs of the Heart

Oh, what songs of the heart
We shall sing all the day,
When again we assemble at home,
When we meet ne'er to part
With the blest o'er the way,
There no more from our loved ones to roam!
When we meet ne'er to part,
Oh, what songs of the heart
We shall sing in our beautiful home.

Tho our rapture and bliss
There's no song can express,
We will shout, we will sing o'er and o'er,
As we greet with a kiss,
And with joy we caress
All our loved ones that passed on before;
As we greet with a kiss,
In our rapture and bliss,
All our love ones that passed on before.

Oh, the visions we'll see
In that home of the blest,
There's no word, there's no thought can impart,
But our rapture will be
All the soul can attest,
In the heavenly songs of the heart;
But our rapture will be
In the vision we'll see
Best expressed in the songs of the heart.

Oh, what songs we'll employ!
Oh, what welcome we'll hear!
When we kneel at our dear Savior's feet.
And the heart swells with joy
In embraces most dear
When our heavenly parents we meet!
Oh, what songs we'll employ
As the heart swells with joy,
When our heavenly parents we meet!
--Joseph L. Townsend

This seems to be a week of reexamining song lyrics. When I had heard or sung this song before, I always thought it was a nice song about the millennium--very much in the same vein as "Beautiful day of peace and rest...beautiful bright millennial day." Something along the lines of how great it'll be when Christ comes again and we won't have to deal with all the hassles of mortality anymore. When I got an email today asking me and my cousins to sing this song at Grandma's funeral, though, I read it with new eyes, and see that it's probably talking about a different ending to mortal woes. It really doesn't matter what the author intended, though. It's an excellent song to sing at a funeral, especially in these circumstances.

My Grandma, Helen Lela Valantine Stay, passed away today at 2:19 pm. She died peacefully, after a relatively quick decline, and had a few of her children there with her. I was there yesterday with Elizabeth to say my final goodbyes, though she was in a coma, and probably didn't know we were there. I last spoke with her on Wednesday of last week, when I went down for my weekly visit. I read her some Christmas cards, and sang some carols after doing the bills. Her visiting teacher stopped by with a strawberry milkshake and some cinnamon rolls (having dropped all pretense of trying to get Grandma to eat anything healthy, she brought some sort of fast food and strawberry milkshake at least once a week hoping that Grandma would eat anything at all).

We were very worried about Grandma last year when she was in and out of the hospital. She tried very hard to get well for Grandpa, and would often eat just to humor him after she lost her appetite. I think it surprised all of us when Grandpa's cancer suddenly returned and he died first. Grandma rallied at that point, and was the healthiest I'd seen her in months at the funeral and just after. I think that if she had been in the middle of family like that for the next few months, she may have found something to live for without Grandpa. There was no shortage of family that invited her to go live with them, or offered to come to California to take care of her, but one of Grandma's defining characteristics was the determination not to be a bother to anybody. I once joked that she would rather die than let somebody wait on her hand and foot -- and I soon realized that it was no joke -- she would rather die.

Grandpa's death was very hard on me, and came during a very chaotic month when it seemed like my life was about to fall apart. I really resisted the idea of Grandma dying so soon after, and would often leave her house and call my Mom for comfort and advice on the drive home. I finally realized, in October, that it wasn't my decision. Grandma was ready to go. This wasn't the way she wanted to live. She missed Grandpa, and spent most of her time being cared for by relative strangers. The most exciting thing that happened most days was watching an episode or two of Hogan's Heroes.

That's not to say that she didn't have some little pleasures. Sharon visited often, as did members of her ward. She liked to watch the sparrows and finches and doves and hummingbirds that came to her bird feeders. I planted some cheerful flowers in the back yard, and later, Sharon planted some more. She liked to listen to the books on tape that I brought from the library. And she loved to see Elizabeth.

She called Elizabeth her "little Kewpie doll" and was excited to see and hear about every new trick Elizabeth learned. Elizabeth, in turn, obligingly looked cute, and showed off her tricks by rolling over, sitting, pulling up on Grandma's shiny red walker, crawling under the foot of her recliner, and standing and walking along the edge of the couch till she could reach out and grab Grandma's foot and chew on her slipper. Most recently, she decided that Grandma's Life Alert necklace was the most wonderful thing in the world, and that she really wanted to grab it and push the button. She always brought a smile to Grandma's face, and always smiled for her. She loved to wave to Grandma as I held her up to see when Grandma was in bed.

Driving all the way to Grandma's and back every week was hard on Elizabeth. She didn't like sitting in the car, and she often couldn't eat or sleep well until we got home, but every time I thought about telling Grandma that yes, it had finally gotten too hard, I would think about how much those visits meant to all of us, and I'd reconsider.

I have been so blessed by having Helen for a Grandmother. She took me in when I was sad and lonely and at loose ends in 2002, and she took care of me until I could get out on my own again. She was a wonderful example of quiet strength and determination, and I found that she had an unexpected adventurous side too. Most of all, she was an example of Christian service -- and I have benefited my whole life from having a Dad who was taught at her knee. I also got from her, and from my dad following in her footsteps, a love of books and storytelling, and the ability to entertain small children in almost any situation.

I have also been blessed by the opportunity to be of service to her. I was telling her about Elder Holland's Conference talk on angels, and she said that I had been an angel taking care of her this last year or so. It is a great gift to be given the opportunity to give back something meaningful to someone who has given you so much. It taught me about the pure love of Christ and unconditional love. It let me be an example of charity to my daughter in her earliest days. It was an experience I'll never forget.

Once I came to terms with the fact that she was dying, even the process itself took on a kind of sad beauty. Grandma didn't seem sick or in pain, she just got weaker and weaker, quieter and quieter, until she was gone. I'm grateful that he kept her wits about her until the end. It would have been much harder to watch her mind go long before her body. She let go of everything material -- money didn't matter, food didn't matter, neither did any of her things -- all that mattered were the memories, and her house and her heart were full of those. I had wondered what on earth I could get her for Christmas since there wasn't a thing in the world that she wanted. I finally settled on a little toy seagull that flaps his wings in the wind to hang outside the living room window. He was absolutely worthless, but I think he would have brightened her day a little. I knew that the real gift was giving her as much time as I could justify, and doing things she couldn't do for herself anymore like sending out the Christmas cards, putting up the decorations, and singing some carols.

I know this is an odd post. It would have been nice to write a eulogy for her, but it has ended up being about me and my feelings about watching her die. I guess I needed to write this because I'm having a hard time knowing what to feel. Am I sad? Yes. I'll miss my Grandma, and I already miss my Grandpa. Am I happy? Yes. I know for a fact that this is what Grandma wanted. She gets to spend Christmas and her birthday with Grandpa (and the rest of eternity, too)! I know that she was at peace, and would want the rest of us to be as well. That's why she picked that song for her funeral. It's a happy song because she has gone ahead to the great family reunion in the sky, and she's rejoicing there tonight, and beckoning to the rest of us to follow in her footsteps so that we can join her there when our journeys are done too.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Holy Innocents by Christina Rossetti

Holy Innocents

THEY scarcely waked before they slept,
They scarcely wept before they laughed;
They drank indeed death's bitter draught,
But all its bitterest dregs were kept
And drained by Mothers while they wept.

From Heaven the speechless Infants speak:
Weep not (they say), our Mothers dear,
For swords nor sorrows come not here.
Now we are strong who were so weak,
And all is ours we could not seek.

We bloom among the blooming flowers,
We sing among the singing birds;
Wisdom we have who wanted words:
here morning knows not evening hours,
All's rainbow here without the showers.

And softer than our Mother's breast,
And closer than our Mother's arm,
Is here the Love that keeps us warm
And broods above our happy next.
Dear Mothers, come: for Heaven is best.
--Christina Rossetti

I was thinking of posting the Coventry Carol today, but while looking for the words online, I stumbled on a site full of Christmas Poems by Christina Rossetti (She also wrote "In the Bleak Midwinter" for those of you who don't quite recognize the name). Having a baby of your own changes the way you think about things, and for the first time this year, I realized that the Coventry Carol is not about protecting Jesus, but singing one last Bye Bye Lullay to all the other children that "Harod the King in his raging" ordered his soldiers to kill. I can't imagine how horrible that would have been, and I'm glad that I live in a world where nothing like that will happen to my sweet Elizabeth. Of course there are always tragedies -- this poem also reminds me of the one I posted after the Chinese earthquake earlier this year.

Now that you've been duly depressed for Christmas, let's lighten things up by posting our Christmas letter and family photo. I'm pretty impressed with myself for not only figuring out how to use the timer so that I could take the family picture, but also for getting a good shot of a Christmas ornament with pretty starbursts on the lights, and also for figuring out how to make GimpShop work well enough to merge the two images and put words on it with shadows and everything.

Merry Christmas Everyone!!
Let’s see what happened in our family this year...

In January, (Peter says: We expanded via an acquisition!) in other words, Elizabeth Anne Ahlstrom was born! She arrived on January 14th and weighed 8 lbs 10 oz. She had pretty red hair prompting her Grandma Becky, who was there for the blessed event to say, “A little Girl? And a redhead? You hit the Jackpot!” (And Karen is a Compulsive Capitalizer.) And I must say that we certainly agree with her. Elizabeth is about the sweetest baby you could wish for, and beautiful and clever to boot. (Peter asks: Does she have boots? Karen answers: She does, but they’re too big for her.)

In February, Peter gave Elizabeth a name and blessing (Peter notes that there were no surprises in the name or blessing). Grandpa Jim, Grandma Kathey, and Aunt Kirsten came to visit that weekend, as did Grandpa Randy and Uncle Mike with his three boys. (Peter says: Which was very nice.)

In March, we all got influenza. (Peter says: Which was not very nice.) We had to take Elizabeth to the Emergency room and let them do all sorts of horrible tests on her (Peter says: And they couldn’t find her blood) which would have been bad enough if we were well, but since I could barely stand and already felt like death warmed over, the whole experience was pretty traumatic.
Also in March, we welcomed another member to the family when we went to Steve and Rachel’s wedding. It was a lot of fun to get together with the whole family and talk and eat and take lots of photos. (Peter says: And it snowed and we got to see Barb and Kyle.)

In April, Elizabeth got a lot more “interactive” as Peter puts it. Looking back through old blog posts, I was reminded of the time when Elizabeth tried to grab the remote control, but only succeeded in knocking it down. Peter thought this was funny and said, “Baby, you have 0 DEX!” I thought that was funny, and said, “But her CHR is pretty high!” Yes, we are nerds. (Peter thinks that baby’s DEX might be up to 5 by now).

In May, Elizabeth became much more aware of her surroundings, which meant that I could no longer make her nurse and sleep wherever we happened to be at the time. I had my first Mother’s day, and sadly missed the Primary children singing because I was trying to get Elizabeth to nurse in the Mother’s lounge. I also had my birthday that month, and threw myself a little party.

By June, Elizabeth was sitting unsupported, and Peter had his first Father’s day (Peter says: I don’t remember anything about that day). June was a hard month with two funerals and two family reunions, only one of which was planned. On top of all that business, Peter’s company laid off 40% of their staff including him (Peter says: I need a new job).

In July, Elizabeth started pulling herself up on things, and trying to learn to crawl. We started talking evening walks as a family (Peter says: Walks are nice and I recommend them to everybody). On these walks, Elizabeth keeps her eyes peeled for one of the many stray cats that live in our neighborhood. She gets terribly excited when she sees one, while they either pretend to be indifferent or run away as fast as they can. (Peter says: I have discovered that it’s best to approach them from an oblique angle so that you’re not headed straight for them with the stroller, but sort of ease your way close enough to them for Elizabeth to reach out and grab at.) (Peter also says: At the end of July I started working at a temporary job and I’m still working there.)

In August, we watched the Olympics and were suitably impressed when Elizabeth took up the sport of crawling. She also managed to cut two teeth with a lot of angst. (Peter says: I went to Worldcon and saw my friends from Utah and was on some big panels.)

In September, Elizabeth and I took a trip to Ohio and Elizabeth met Great Grandma Fawnie for the first time. She had tons of new experiences, and enjoyed herself thoroughly, except when she was sad because it’s hard to eat and sleep in new places when you’re as curious as she is. (Peter says: And I was lonely.)

In October, I made several costumes including cute Pumpkin hats for Elizabeth and some of her cousins and friends. I also made elf and fairy costumes so that our family could coordinate at the Ward Halloween party. (Peter says: And we carved pumpkins—even the one that didn’t want to be carved.) I finally got the landscaping of our house sort of finished, with a brick path, beds of gravel, flowers, and a vegetable garden.

In November, Elizabeth got really interested in books. She will sit and ask for Mama to read her one after another after another (Peter says: after another after another). She also took her first few unsupported steps (Peter says: Wasn’t that in December? No? Wow...time flies). I spent a lot of time and energy making tutus to sell at a craft fair. I kind of went overboard and though I’ve sold enough to make back most of my investment in supplies, I still have LOTS of pretty tutus that need to be sold. At the end of November, Elizabeth got a stomach virus and threw up for days. When I took her to the doctor to see if she was dehydrated, they said, “Your baby is fine, but you, my dear, are not.” They called one of my friends to take the baby, and forced me to lie down while they pumped four liters of fluid into me. (Peter says: That sounds like a lot!)

Now it’s December. We’ve got the Christmas tree up, and lights strung outside. Elizabeth is fascinated by all the decorations—especially the jingle bell wreath on the front door and the Fisher Price Nativity set. (Peter says: Elizabeth and I are sick again with colds.)

Well that’s the major news from this year. In the days when there aren’t big events, Karen keeps busy playing with Elizabeth, doing the housework, visiting Grandma Stay, and socializing with the other mothers from the Enrichment park group. Peter keeps busy by going to work, listening to audiobooks on his commute, posting enigmatic—almost spoilerific comments on the Timewaster’s Guide forums, freelance editing, and not paying attention to TV commercials. Elizabeth keeps busy by being cute, working hard at learning how her toys and everything else in world works, sharing germs with her friend at church and the park, and generally being the apple of her parents’ eyes.

Karen says: Well, should we say anything else? Peter says: We Love Everybody! Elizabeth says: Bwaa baa baa!

Love Karen, Peter, and Elizabeth Ahlstrom

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Huron Carol by Jean de Brébeuf

The Huron Carol

’Twas in the moon of wintertime,
When all the birds had fled,
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim,
And wondering hunters heard the hymn:
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.

Within a lodge of broken bark
The tender babe was found,
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
Enwrapped His beauty round;
But as the hunter braves drew nigh,
The angel song rang loud and high:
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.

The earliest moon of wintertime
Is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory on
The helpless Infant there.
The chiefs from far before Him knelt
With gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.

O children of the forest free,
O sons of Manitou,
The holy Child of earth and Heav’n
Is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant Boy,
Who brings you beauty, peace and joy.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.
--Jean de Brébeuf translated by Jesse Edgar Middleton

I knew that this Christmas carol was the earliest "American" carol, having been written in what is now Canada in the 1600's. What I didn't know before looking it up was that the English words above were written in the 1920's and have little to do with the original text besides describing the Christmas story. The modern English version puts the setting in something like Hiawatha's Indian village with braves and birch bark, whereas the original was the author's sincere attempt to explain the Biblical account of Christ's birth and its spiritual significance. If you want to see a more faithful, if less poetic translation, click here.

Stacking Cups and Sorting Cube

As you saw in the last post with videos, Elizabeth has been working hard at learning how to Put Things Into Other Things. She's especially interested in the stacking cups and the sorting shapes cube and will spend vast stretches of time working on fitting her toys together. One day, I was getting kind of bored with watching her do that, so I showed her how the cups can stack up and make a tower. This was incredibly exciting to Elizabeth, who started making happy exclaiming noises as if to say, "Wow! That's so cool! How come I've never seen anything that amazing before?!" She was quickly frustrated, however, by the fact that every time she tried to pick up the tower, it simply fell over. While she was angrily trying to pick up the pieces and make them all go back together, only in her lap this time, she picked up the littlest yellow cup.

If you look at the pictures, you will see that the littlest cup doesn't really belong with this set. It's hexagonal rather than round, and a slightly different color, and though you can stuff it into the green cup, it sort of goes halfway and sticks there. Up 'till now, Elizabeth has been treating the green and yellow cups as a unit to be stuffed into other cups. When I was building the tower though, I pulled the yellow one out, and put it on top of the green. When Elizabeth knocked the tower down, she was able to pick up the yellow cup and really look at it.

I could see on her face that she could tell that something was different about this cup. I could almost hear the song, "One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others," playing in the background. She looked at it, twisted it, tasted it, then crawled over to the sorting shapes cube, and shoved it in one of the holes! Yes, that's right. She figured that it looked a lot more like the sorting shapes than the stacking cups (which it does, it's even about the right size), she decided it ought to be with the other sorting shapes, she found the cube, and managed to get it into one of the holes on her first try (which she can't always do with the sorting shapes themselves because they have a tighter fit). I think this is an amazing leap of logic for a baby who's not yet a year old, and I'm terribly proud of her.

Christmas Ornaments

Elizabeth thinks, and rightly so, that the Christmas tree is awe inspiringly pretty and sparkly and wonderful. She has learned the sign for Light (her third after Hi and Book), and uses it for both lights, and other pretty things that she wants to have -- both of which refer to the Christmas Tree. She also makes the sign at the Jingle Bell wreath on the front door that she loves to jingle each time we go in or out, the dining room chandelier, and the little doll in the Strawberry Shortcake music box.

Still, no matter how much she wants the tree and the things on it, she is very careful when she reaches out to touch it. For instance, many times, she'll just tap the ornament with her fingers and watch it swing. When she does grab, if the hook or string catches, and it's not easy to get off, she'll try a different one rather than just pulling harder.

Her favorite ornament, the one she goes for first, and most often, is the Golden Snitch, which is actually a pencil sharpener, but which always looked like it belonged on a Christmas tree to me. She also likes the various jingle bell ornaments, and the candy-tin ornaments that she can pull apart and fit back together again (both of which are visible in the bhoto below).

Yesterday, while playing with the biggest jingle bell, she tried to put it back on the tree. She seemed disappointed when it slid through the branches and fell on the floor, and pleased when I picked it up and hung it correctly. We played that game a few more times, then she picked up another ornament that was on the floor, this time a gold snowflake. She managed to get this one to stay on the tree by laying it flat on a couple of branches, but again seemed disappointed. It took me a moment to see that she didn't like the way it sat still on the branch instead of hanging up by the string so it could sway and twirl. She was very happy when I hung it, and the other ornaments she handed me, the right way. Not only is my baby clever, she has an eye for aesthetics.


Her cleverness at making connections doesn't always pay off in ways that make me cheerfully applaud her and give her what she wants. We were at the grocery store, and she got very agitated when we went down the aisle with the Nesquik in it. She REALLY wanted to reach out and touch the big canisters of Nesquik, and when I let her do it, she REALLY wanted me to open one up. I was confused, and wasn't about to start opening containers for her in the grocery store, so I put it back on the shelf and started to move away. Something in the sound of her distressed cries finally rang a bell in my memory, and I realized that it was the same noise she makes when the bath water is going down the drain, and all her bath toys are being put a big Nesquik canister with holes drilled in the bottom! The poor thing, cold, tired, hungry, and sick of being dragged here, there, and everywhere by Mama, thought that she was going to get her bath toys, and maybe even a warm bath. Instead, Mama put it back on the shelf and went to look at soup. :(


This picture from October shows the cute little bluebird shoes I made for Elizabeth. Because it was so cold today (Yes, I know, you'd all love to get a nice warm day in the high 50's and low 60's but everything is relative), I thought Elizabeth ought to have a sweater and shoes for our weekly visit to the park. I put on the pink sweater Mom knitted (the one with flower buttons and embellishments), and the bluebird shoes. Elizabeth has worn those shoes before without any problem, but today, she just freaked out. She didn't want them on her feet. When I got them on and tried to stand her up, she wouldn't let her feet touch the ground, she was just one unhappy girl. I was pretty sure she'd get over it if I distracted her, so I tried showing her the big teddy bear that always makes her smile. She would have none of it, and shoved the bear away.

Then she started pulling on the sweater, trying to get it off. I'd seen her do this move a few times before when she was hot, so I obliged by taking off the sweater. She looked at me as if to say, "OK. You do understand the concept of take-it-off so now, get rid of these shoes!" and she started yanking on the shoes again. She worked so hard at communicating that I didn't have the heart to make her leave them on, so I took them off. Once that was taken care of, she let me put the sweater back on (it was never a problem in the first place) and even let me choose a different pair of shoes, which she wore without complaint for several hours. This may have been the first battle over what she's willing to wear, but with a little girl as strong willed as this one, it certainly won't be the last.

Well that's all for today. Next time, I'll post our Christmas letter and photo since the ones I sent through the mail should have started arriving by now.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Friendly Beasts by Robert Davis

The Friendly Beasts

Jesus, our Brother, strong and good,
Was humbly born in a stable rude,
And the friendly beasts around Him stood,
Jesus, our Brother, strong and good.

“I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
“I carried His mother uphill and down,
I carried His mother to Bethlehem town;
I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown.

“I,” said the cow, all white and red,
“I gave Him my manger for His bed,
I gave Him hay to pillow His head;
I,” said the cow, all white and red.

“I,” said the sheep with curly horn,
“I gave Him my wool for His blanket warm,
He wore my coat on Christmas morn;
I,” said the sheep with curly horn.

“I,” said the dove, from the rafters high,
“I cooed Him to sleep that He should not cry,
We cooed Him to sleep, my mate and I;
I,” said the dove, from the rafters high.

Thus all the beasts, by some good spell,
In the stable dark were glad to tell
Of the gifts they gave Emmanuel,
The gifts they gave Emmanuel.
--Traditional translated by Robert Davis

Though I enjoy Christmas Carols, and especially old traditional ones, I wasn't really aware of this carol until I got a book based on it at a library booksale (the picture above is from that book). I was reading the book to Elizabeth this Christmas, and thought I'd share it with the rest of you. If you don't know the tune, I've embedded a youtube video below.

There's an old legend that says that animals can speak at Midnight on Christmas Eve -- which is what they mean by the "good spell" in the last verse. I think what I like best about this song is the way the first and fourth lines of each verse are the same, and the second and third are just slight variations. It makes the carol very easy to memorize and/or sing along with if you don't know the words yet. My only real problem with it is that unless they sheared the sheep that night, it probably wasn't his personal wool that kept the baby warm.

I just wanted to share with the world how proud I am of my daughter this week. Not only is she contnuing to take a few tentative steps, proving that the first step last week wasn't a fluke, but she is figuring out how toys work right and left.

First, here's a quick video of a few steps.

Kathey Ahlstrom sent Elizabeth a Fisher Price Nativity set for Christmas, and I decided to open it early and let her play with it.

Elizabeth thinks it's the coolest thing in the world right now, and it's often enough to distract her from the very tempting Christmas tree.

The sweater she's wearing is one that Marcelle made for her. Isn't it cute? And it's big enough that she can still wear it now that it's finally getting cool here.

The two blue wisemen are her favorite characters. It was while playing with one of them that she made her first big breakthrough this week.

One of the activities she hadn't quite mastered on her big house toy was the waterspout. You can see it in the walking video -- it's the long purple tube on the side. The idea is to take a ball and put it in the hole at the top, then let it drop to the bottom where it flips a switch, counts how many you've put down, and sings a song. Elizabeth has been playing with the balls, but hasn't been interested in putting them down the waterspout. Well one night, she was playing with the wisemen, and wandered over to the house where she shoved him down head first, he fell down the tube, flipped the switch, and was very pleased when he made it play the song. She picked him up and repeated the process a few more times, looking over at me each time to make sure I saw what she did and was appropriately impressed. Since then she has figured out that the balls get stuck less often, so she's been using them. Once, she casually shoved a few balls in over her shoulder while looking at the TV instead of the waterspout.

As you can see from the Nativity videos, one of her favorite things to do with toys is smash them together to see how they interact. Sometimes they make a nice noise, and other times they kind of interlock, and often, they just sort of slide past each other making her drop them before picking them up and trying again in a slightly different configuration. She will keep this up for quite a long time, working very hard at whatever it is she thinks she's doing. This week, her hard work paid off with the stacking cups.

Until now, she has only been able to take the cups apart, and knock down the towers I make, but this week she worked out a method of putting one cup inside another! She still experiments with putting big cups inside small ones, and seeing if they'll work upside down or sideways as well as right-side up, but more and more often, she can take any two cups and get one inside the other. It was really cool to watch the concept finally click together in her head on Wednesday or Thursday evening. I even woke Peter up to make sure he got to see (he was sick, and resting).

Since then, I've been showing her how the sorting shapes work. She's more interested in fitting them together in her hands than putting them into the box, but she does understand what I'm asking her to do, and occasionally she'll give it a try to humor me, and sometimes, she even gets the shapes to go into the right holes. She really is a clever clever child.

She may have picked up a new baby sign -- Light -- since I put up the Christmas decorations, but it may jus tbe what her hands do when she sees something pretty that she wants. I don't know. Maybe we can reinforce the Light connection, and go from there.

Well, Elizabeth seems to NEED me right now, so I'll sign off.

Friday, December 5, 2008

How Firm a Foundation by Robert Keen

How Firm a Foundation

How firm a foundation, ye Saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
Who unto the Savior, who unto the Savior,
Who unto the Savior for refuge have fled?

In ev’ry condition—in sickness, in health,
In poverty’s vale or abounding in wealth,
At home or abroad, on the land or the sea—
As thy days may demand, as thy days may demand,
As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be.

Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, upheld by my righteous,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not thee o’erflow,
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee, and sanctify to thee,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, thy dross to consume,
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

E’en down to old age, all my people shall prove
My sov’reign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And then, when gray hair shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs shall they still, like lambs shall they still,
Like lambs shall they still in my bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, I’ll never, no never,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!
--Robert Keen

One of Heather's friends, Lindsay Kale Hilty has been writing a series of articles on mental health issues She is looking for ideas to put in a Bible Study book for those suffering from depression. I wrote her an email, and as these things so often do, it turned into something appropriate to post on my blog. So here it is!

One of my favorites is a scene from the story of Mary and Elisabeth in Luke Chapter 1:

41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
54 He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

Elisabeth's name means "God will build you a house" or translated another way, "God will give you sons and daughters (a household)." Elisabeth knew that part of the covenant God made with Abraham, and through him, the whole house of Israel was that he would give them the promised land, and children as numberless as the sands of the sea.

Gen. 26: 4
And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;

Elizabeth's very name reminded her that God promised her children. Yet for so many years, she was barren. All the same, when she heard the news, she believed (it was her husband who needed a sign).

In verse 45, she says (paraphrased), "God keeps his promises to those who believe." Then Mary expands on the idea saying, "he has truly blessed me, and with this baby, he will bless the whole world. He's fulfilling his covenant with Abraham that through his seed, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed."

During the years when my life seemed so hard, and I didn't have the things I wanted, the things that God had promised me -- a loving faithful husband, children to raise and teach about Him, and the health I need to be able to accomplish His plans for me -- I read this section and said to myself, "God keeps his promises. God will build you a house. It may not be on the schedule you hope for, but Blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. It will happen one day." And it did -- I have a loving husband and a beautiful daughter -- named Elizabeth.

And it's not just the promise of a family that he'll keep. There are SOOOO many others. One of my favorite hymns lists several that I have clung to in moments of despair (see poem above). Each of the promises in it come from the scriptures. For instance:

Isa. 41: 10
Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

Much of my Bible study while depressed consists of looking for these promises in scripture, and reaffirming to myself that they will indeed be fulfilled -- maybe not on my time table, but they'll happen nonetheless.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Baby Steps by Bobbi Duffy

Baby Steps

Yesterday I stepped out of my
Comfort zone
I went to the city fair
All alone
I smiled as I made
My way
Down the street
As if to say
Here I am world
I’m alive
I’ve decided
I want to thrive
I want to be part
Of the world again
And this is the beginning
Of my campaign
To set my body
And spirit free
To take what life has
To offer me
To get out of the rut
I was in
And this is how
I choose to begin
One thing that
I have learned
It doesn’t matter
If my smile
is returned
My smiling is
Its own reward
Because I do it
Of my own accord
And that makes it
A grace to my soul
And that, after all
Is the ultimate goal
So I’ll continue to take a step
Forward each day
Because that is
The only way
That I can
Build a life anew
By slowly changing
My point of view
--Bobbi Duffy

Well, after that last post, it's time for some happy baby Elizabeth news.

The first thing I've been noticing lately is the way she plays with toys. I first noticed this behavior when she was playing with the Fisher Price stacking rings. first she pulls all the rings off the spindle (she has the dexterity to put them back on, but has no interest in doing it). Next she picks up one donut shaped ring and holds it joyfully over her head like a trophy and does a little happy bounce. Then she spots another ring and tries to pick it up too. Sometimes she'll pick it up in her other hand, knock the two together and enjoy the sound they make. Usually, though, she'll try to pick them both up in the same hand. To do this, she puts one down on top of the other and pushes down hard, trying to stretch her fingers around both. She can sometimes manage to get them both if she's using the small red and orange rings, but most of the time one slips off of the other, causing her to lose her balance, and tip over. Undeterred, she'll get back up on her hands and knees and try again over and over and over.

Once I figured out what she was doing with the stacking rings, I saw that she did the same thing with most of her other toys with varying degrees of success. She can get both of her favorite rattles (the one from the exersaucer, and the Johnson and Johnson one with six blue balls that go into a red and white striped tube) into one hand. She can also sometimes get two ping pong balls or Fisher Price Little People. I don't know why it's so important to her, but she spends a lot of time working on it.

Another thing she spends a lot of time on is books. Every day, sometimes two or three times a day, she'll want to sit and read book after book. It starts when we sit down in the rocker to nurse. She spots the bookshelf and starts making "MMMMMMM mmmm" or "Uhhhhhh uhhhhhh" noises that mean "I want that!" I say, "Do you want a book?" and she smiles and looks at the bookcase some more. Then I try to get her to sign "book" to me so that she'll eventually realize that there are better ways of communicating than "Mmmmmmm mmmmmmmm" and a longing gaze. I'll make the sign for book (hands together like you're praying, then open them up like a book), which gets her really excited, then I'll push her hands together. By this time, she understands what I want her to do, and she will open her hands like a book, then laugh with glee because she knows what comes next -- the actual book!

She has definite views on which books are interesting, and which aren't. She will have nothing to do with Sandra Boynton's drawings, and actively pushes them away. Photos of babies are the best, but she also loves her Little Gorilla book. She also has favorite pictures in the books. For instance, in Little Gorilla, she always stops and looks in fascinated awe at the picture of the lion, and she looks surprised and happy when we see that Little Gorilla was BIG! Finally, she gives a happy chirp and bounce on the Happy Birthday page. But nothing beats her very favorite picture from the Baby Signs for Bedtime book. On the Love page, there's a photo of a toddler hugging a baby, and Elizabeth's whole face lights up every time she sees it. She pats the babies and smiles, and sometimes she'll even turn to the previous page, and then back to this one so she can see it again.

Here's a video of me reading her Happy Baby Colors and Little Gorilla

Once we're done with a book, I put it back on the shelf, and she reaches with her whole body for another one. We go through the process of getting her to sign "book" again, and she gives a laugh of nervous relief because Mama reaches for another book. Generally it'll take six or seven books to satisfy her.

Today, I was feeling quite ill, and had to put her down after only about four books, and she wanted more. She started to walk towards the bookcase with one hand on the arm of the rocker, and the other on the side of the crib. When she got to the end of the crib, she was about two steps away from the bookcase. She reached out with the hand that was holding onto the rocker, and could almost get there, but not quite. So then she let go with both hands and took the last step unsupported before grabbing onto the bookcase! I'll admit, that I had imagined her first step being from my arms to her Daddy's, where she'd get a shower of kisses rather than a weak, "Good Job!" from a Mama who hardly has the energy to sit up, but it does make me happy that it was books that motivated her to venture into the unknown. And Peter and I will have plenty of time to practice walking and showering her with kisses.

For your viewing pleasure, here are some fun pictures I took of Elizabeth and her friends wearing the tutus I've been making. Her friend Anna stalwartly refuses to have anything to do with tutus, but other girls in our park group are not so anti-ruffles and were more than happy to play dress up. In fact, they had so much fun that one of the boys came over and said that he wanted to wear the red one because, "It's the Boy tutu."

And now, here's one more funny story because we all need a laugh sometimes. While I was working on one of the tutus at the park, a little girl, about 3 years old, came to watch me. She wanted to try it on when I was done with it, but I got interrupted when Elizabeth fell off the stroller she was trying to climb and needed some comfort. She was also tired and hungry, so I decided to try nursing her. The little girl seemed confused as Elizabeth latched on the first time, and craned her neck to get a better look. This distracted Elizabeth, who let go for a second, then went back to nursing. The little girl looked up at me and said, "Oh! I see! She's suckin' on your boob!"

Well, that's all for now. If any of you want to buy tutus for the little girls (or boys) in your life, they make great Christmas presents that can be worn all year long. Drop me a line, and I'll give you a special blog reader's discount.

PS I've got more tutu photos, photos of Elizabeth in November, and Youtube videos up too!

Lines Composed in a Wood on a Windy Day by Anne Bronte

Lines Composed in a Wood on a Windy Day

My soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
And carried aloft on the wings of the breeze;
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.

The long withered grass in the sunshine is glancing,
The bare trees are tossing their branches on high;
The dead leaves beneath them are merrily dancing,
The white clouds are scudding across the blue sky

I wish I could see how the ocean is lashing
The foam of its billows to whirlwinds of spray;
I wish I could see how its proud waves are dashing,
And hear the wild roar of their thunder to-day!
--Anne Bronte

The sky here is overcast. They say it might rain. I sure wish it would. The world needs to be washed after those fires. Of course, rain after fire brings the danger of landslides, and lightning could start more fires. When it rains, it pours, they say -- but waiting for the rain is the worst.

Heather called me the other day, and our conversation started something like this:
  • H: I haven't heard from you in a while, so I thought I'd call and see how things are going.
  • K: Sorry I haven't written in a while, it's been a crazy couple of weeks.
  • H: Yeah, well you said that when you hadn't written, that's when we should start so worry, so...
  • K: I guess that's true.

It's been nearly a month since I've written anything, and my anxiety level has just kept going up since that last post.

First there was the election. With all the work and worry that went into the Prop 8 campaign, I was excited for election night because at least then it would be over -- but then it wasn't. The news just kept coming and getting worse and worse. Now it looks like it'll be at least March before we get another ruling from the supreme court, and even if it comes out in our favor, that will just spark another round of protests.

Then there's Peter's job. It was Tokyopop's implosion and the layoffs in June that really started this current bout of anxiety attacks. Five months of not knowing what the future will bring, especially with daily news of the rest of the economy going into self destruct, has really taken a toll. Peter has been sending out resumes, and doing his best to network to find a job, but even when a company president personally requested his resume, there has been zero response -- not even a 'we got your resume but we're not interested right now.' Well, last week he finally got a response! Penguin's Children's division, Price Stern Sloan needs a Senior Production Editor, and they want one fast. Peter spoke with them Tuesday, took their copyediting test and returned it by Wednesday, then had a phone interview on Friday morning that lasted nearly an hour. They asked him how soon he could start, and whether he really needed to give a full two weeks notice to his temp job.

He has just about all the specific skills they're looking for, and I think he has a really good chance for this job. I think that if he got this job it would be a really good thing for his career and our family. At the same time, if he gets this job, it means he'd have to go to NYC to start right away, and I would be left behind to pack up everything we own and say goodbye to all my good friends here, and hope that we can sell the mobile home, and leave Grandma Stay knowing I'll probably never see her again. But if he doesn't get the job, then he's still stuck with a horrible commute to a job he doesn't enjoy, that has no benefits, and no obligation to give him any notice at all if they decide they don't want him anymore.

I don't know which option is worse, or when they'll call to tell us one way or the other (though they did promise to call), and all I can do is just wait and pray that Heavenly Father knows what He's got planned for us and will make everything turn out for the best.

Meanwhile, one of my friends talked me into making tutus to sell at craft boutiques, and I've gone kind of crazy throwing myself into this project. I hope I'll be able to make back what I've spent on supplies. I've made more than 50 tutus now, and since this is one thing that I have any control over, my brain has latched onto it, and for several nights, I couldn't sleep at all for all the cute ideas for embellishments and accessories that came flooding in. Peter asked me one day, "are you sure this isn't a manic project?" and I had to answer, "No, I'm not at all sure." The first boutique is on Dec 6th -- the same day as the ward Christmas party that I'm supposed to help set up for -- and the weekend that Peter has decided to go to Salt Lake for our niece Hazel's baby blessing (that's his sister Barbie's baby, for those of you that hadn't heard) which means that he can't watch Elizabeth that day.

WARNING: This paragraph may contain TMI for some people. Feel free to skip. Stress does bad things to my digestive tract. I've had something bordering on diarrhea for about a month now, and every day it gets harder to put food in knowing that it's going to feel so bad coming back out. I'm also getting less and less nutrition from the food I eat, and I'm pushing my body harder and harder to burn off the nervous energy (I've been laying more bricks and replanting the gardens). All of that means that I'm losing weight, and since all of the baby fat is gone, my muscles are getting weaker too. I've caught a cold, and it just keeps getting worse. It's harder and harder to get out of bed to take care of Elizabeth at night, and it's nearly impossible to make myself prepare any food at all.

I went to my therapist on Saturday -- we'd had several weeks break, and when she saw me and read my state of mind questionnaire, she said, "I think that you have been too anxious for too long. You need to think about getting back on medication." I agree with her -- my brain is not working the way it should, and I've made some irrational decisions, but it still feels like defeat, and I worry about what even the "safe" drugs will do to Elizabeth -- though I don't think I'm ready to wean her either.

Peter's birthday is this week, and I'm worried that he'll feel let down by a very low key celebration like I did in May, but I didn't plan far enough ahead to get any friends to come over, and most of them will be going out of town for Thanksgiving anyway.

Elizabeth is getting better and better at getting into things, and doesn't sweetly stay put like she did before she could crawl. I had to take a break from writing just now to stop her from gnawing the paint a plaster off the windowsill and pulling the tall lamp down on her head. Right now, she's crying softly to herself in her crib. She's been fed and read to, and now I'm hoping she'll go to sleep, but if the rest of the week is any guide, I have about a 50/50 chance.

Well, there you go. A thoroughly depressing post. I have some happy news too, but I think I'll make two posts today instead of one long one.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Children Learn What They Live by Dorothy Law Nolte Ph.D.

Children Learn What They Live

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
--Dorothy Law Nolte Ph.D.

I first remember reading this quote (I'm not sure the author quite meant it as a poem) on the attic stairs in our white house in Michigan. Rationally, I'm not certain that it was actually there -- it's more likely that I saw it on a poster in some classroom I was in -- but I do remember thinking about it there. It's odd that I have such a sense of place with this poem, and not with so many others. If it was in Michigan, that means I was less than ten years old. It really made an impression on me for some reason. I really believe that the world our children grow up in makes a difference in how they grow up, which is why this election and the Prop 8 campaign have been so important to me.

With all the election stuff, it's been a few weeks since I wrote about what Elizabeth is doing. After a particularly bad hour or two spent arguing in somebody's comment thread, I was physically ill for a hours, and have been getting flashes of intrusive thoughts accompanied by nausea for days, so I've declared that subject off limits for discussion (though I'm still willing to do things like hang fliers on doorknobs and call to remind supporters to vote). At any rate, that gives me permission to blog about the baby, so here we go.

She has been ahead of schedule (according to What to Expect in the First Year) on all of her gross motor skills, but she has only been on schedule or even slightly behind on communication, and that had me slightly worried (only very slightly, since I know that there is a wide range of normal, and she's been working so hard at locomotion). For example, she hasn't seemed to pay any attention at all to the baby signs I've been using, which some babies start at eight months, and she hasn't been imitating sounds or gestures like sticking out a tongue. When we went to the doctor for her nine month checkup, and she couldn't do some of the things the doctor asked about, like clapping her hands or feeding herself with a spoon, I realized, too, that I simply haven't been practicing some things with her.

It made me really happy therefore to see her start waving hello to people and things this month. I've been waving her hand when strangers or friends come to smile at her (and get a winning smile in return most times), and now she doesn't wait for me to do it for her. She waves at all sorts of other things too -- her reflection in the mirror, the kitties we see on our walks, and even the chorister at church (who she thought was just waving at her).

She has also started saying Mama. She realized that this sound is one that Mama really likes, and she's using it more and more often. At this point, I don't think she uses the word to label me specifically so much as, "Oh look, there's something I really really want!" She uses it when I walk in or out of a room and she wants to be picked up, but she also uses it when she sees something cool like my hair clips or phone, and they're out of reach. That said, I can deal with being the really cool thing that she wants most often.

One extremely cute thing that I have unfortunately not been able to catch on camera is Elizabeth's little trill. She's discovered a way of making a little trilling gurgling noise, and has added it to her vocal repertoire as an accentuating noise when she's very happy, very upset, or very tired. It's the same sort of sound as you get when you rrrrroll yourrrr Rrrrrr's for a long time, but it's made in the back of her throat rather than with the tip of her tongue.

She seems very focused on sound lately. She has two toy xylophone pianos that she hasn't been very interested in playing herself, but liked to hear me play. When putting her toys away the other day, I put the tiger piano on the upper shelf to keep her from dumping out the box of hats behind it when she pulls up on the shelf to stand. The next time she did it, the piano was at the perfect level to bang on while standing. She tried it, and was very impressed with herself. She'd hit a key, hear the note, smile, and look expectantly at me. I showered on praise appropriately, and she did it over and over, thrilled with having figured it out.

One of her favorite noise games is to take a ball from the big house toy and knock it against something to make a noise. She tries it on walls, boxes, bookcases, a ball in her other hand, etc. One of the cutest things she does is to knock it on the side of the bowl on her play table like she's cracking an egg. Then she'll put the ball in the bowl and roll it with her fingers to make another noise until it pops out of the bowl and goes rolling across the floor. Then she'll go find it and try again.

She's also gotten more elaborate in her play with the Strawberry Shortcake Jewelry Music Box. At first, she just liked to watch me open it to make the music play and the little figure dance. Then she learned to open it herself when I shut it again. Now, she takes full control, opening and shutting -- seeing just how far it has to go to make the music stop and start. She also imitates what I say for the game: "Ooooh! There's the pretty girl dancing. Isn't she pretty?" She can't say any of the words but Ooooh! but she gets the pitch and tone of voice just right. Finally, rather than just taking the valentines and little doll out to try to eat them, now she turns them over in her hands, looks at them very carefully, then puts them back in the box!

It's only been in the last week or so that she has begin to figure out how to put things in to other things. She's really good at taking things out -- she takes the Fisher Price little people out of their bus, she takes the plastic shapes out of the sorting cube, she takes the rings off the stacking toy, and she takes the Valentines out of the music box. This week, though, she has started putting stuff back in -- so far it's just the puts the balls in the bowl and the valentines back into the music box, but she's so pleased with these accomplishments, that I'm sure further generalizations are on the way.

One old thing I haven't blogged about is her fondness for photos. All of her favorite books have photos rather than drawings, and most of them are about babies. The Baby Signs board books are really great, but she has one about colors, and another about dogs that really fascinate her far more than drawings do. Of course her favorite photos are of herself. I put one of the Queen Elizabeth pictures on my computer desktop, and whenever I close a program and show that background, she starts making happy noises. She loves to look at the Picasa slide show, and will watch as many videos of herself as I choose to show her -- even protesting when one stops and another doesn't start quickly enough. It's not just the movement, she is only selectively interested in YouTube videos for example, I think she really likes watching herself. When she's tired, sad or groggy just before or after a nap, it also calms her down to look at the month by month photo collage on her wall, and the charcoal portrait I had done of myself when I was in Leningrad.

While this book doesn't have photos, it's one of her favorites. I think she has realized that reading a book is a kind of game with rules that she's starting to figure out. She will sit very still while I read most books, and help me turn the pages. Sometimes she picks up a book and tries to open it herself, and is very pleased when I notice and read it to her. She has also figured out how to open the little hiding panels that are in some board books, and likes this added interactive part.

On the walking front, she is a positive expert now at pulling up, standing unsupported so that she can have both hands free for toys, and walking along edges. I've only ever seen her take one little step, and that was just to fix her balance while standing (10-20-08 if anybody's keeping track). I sometimes hold her hands and we walk together a long way, like from my bedroom down the hall to the office. We got her a Step Start Walk N Ride toy and she's figured out how to walk behind it as she pushes it ahead of her. It's a little tricky -- the first couple of times she pushed it forward too quickly and fell on her face (though she just got right back up and tried again, so it must not have hurt too much).

Peter was surprised at the way she often kneels and sits on her heels rather than sitting with her feet in front of her. I'm not sure if that's unusual, or if most babies do it, but it certainly seems to work well for her. In the last day or two she's begun to use this position to do a happy bounce when she's particularly pleased with herself. For instance yesterday at church, she got her friend Ari's rattle, and held it triumphantly above her head like a trophy and bounce bounce bounced so hard that she tipped over backwards and bumped her head (she was a little wired from lack of naps with the time change). I'm a little worried about her habit of taking Ari's toys. Elizabeth is three months older, and big for her age, and she simply knocks Ari down, and steals whatever it is that she has. I've resigned myself to the fact that the two of them share so much spit from sucking on each other's toys that they're destined to have all the same germs and colds , but I don't want Elizabeth to learn that she can get what she wants by bullying other kids.

Finally, I wanted to talk about what Elizabeth does while eating, since Heather reminded me by writing on her blog all about what Anna does. Elizabeth has always been pretty good at communicating hungry, though specific "words" have come and gone. There was rooting when I touched her mouth, a specific pitiful little cough, an urgent MMMMMMMMmmmm MMMmmmmmm with a pleading look, and a relieved nervous laugh as I open my shirt. She's often very patient while I'm doing something else, but at the first sign of a shift in activity, she'll demand to be fed right now.

She will feed herself cereal puffs and other bite sized bits I put in front of her, but she prefers to have me put things in her mouth for her and will often lean forward and slurp something out of my hand rather than taking it in her own (now that I've noticed this, I've been careful to make her do it herself most of the time). She absolutely refuses to hold her own bottle unless she's laying down though. She has noticed that when Mama holds it, stuff comes out, and when she holds it all the juice sits at the bottom and she gets nothing out. Rather than learn to tilt the bottle up, she has decided that the best course of action is to get her hands as far away from it as possible and cry till Mama holds it for her. The only time I give her bottles is in the car when she's too tired hungry and cranky to just watch the world go by, and at church, and neither place is appropriate for a power struggle over the issue, so I've just been giving in (I know I need to take the time to teach her at home, but it's hard to take the time to feed myself real food, let alone get out bottles and baby food and make a big mess when nursing is so much easier).

Speaking of nursing, she's getting much more willing to at least start nursing in places other than her bedroom. Of course, she gets distracted and will nurse only in fits and starts if at all, but it's better than it was before. When in her bedroom, she sits on my lap and watches impatiently while I get all those pesky layers of cloth out of the way, then leans forward, grabs a hunk of breast in her fist, and latches on without even waiting to get into a comfortable position. She is remarkably good at holding tight while I shift her to her side, position her feet, and grab a blanket or toy for her to hold while she nurses. Heather says Anna will rub a blanket between her fingers, but that's not Elizabeth's way. The only thing she likes to rub is a pinch of my skin. She does like to have a blanket, but she just grabs a handfull of it and pushes and pulls the cloth around while she eats. If she was holding a particularly fascinating toy while waiting, she'll keep hold of it and hold it in front of her face to keep looking at it while nursing. I think that, like me, she can focus on a mindless task better if she's doing something else with her hands and eyes. Sometimes, she gets so interested in whatever it is that she's playing with that she'll stop eating and put the other thing in her mouth for a moment to try it out, but then she'll realize that it's not nearly as nice as what she had in there before and go back to nursing.

When she's done, she's very clear about it. She'll physically push me away and sit herself up. If she's tired at this point, she'll lean even farther forward and grab onto her crib like she's trying to climb in. In these lucky moments, I'll put her in bed, give her one blanket to hold and snuggle with, cover her up with another, pop her favorite pacifier in her mouth (MAM brand), and pull one of the music box stuffed animals attached to the rail. Then I'll turn on the fan for some white noise so that my puttering around the house won't wake her, turn out the light (I have blackout curtains on the windows so it's nice and dark in there) and close the door. If I'm really lucky, she won't even make a peep as she drifts off to dreamland.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Pea Princess by Colleen Mills

The Pea Princess

She arches like a bowed branch of willow,
Quivering from stem to leaf.
With each flex of the wrists,
Roll of a shoulder,
Gentle realignment of the ribs,
The lump burrows deeper.

Now beneath the breast plate,
Now between hipbone and pelvis,
Now knotted at the base of the neck,
Clicking between the knobs of the spinal column
Where the vertebrae, like the panels of a washboard, find the lump,
As it rickets over the thinly sheathed bones with each shift in motion.

Whether between knucklebones or toe bones,
Nestled in the many small joints and junctures of the body,
It journeys like a pebble smoothed over in a sea of feathers,
Pressing against the inside of the knee cap,
Working its way up the thigh,
Wandering the flesh land of the belly.

Each night the same rotation
As she arches, curves, twines her body about the bedposts,
Weaved like a tight shoe lace between the pillars of the bed,
Spiraling between the sheets
Trying to find the one place
Such a lump will fit beneath her frame.

With each stretch,
Each extension or contortion of a limb,
The minutest of lumps,
Buried beneath bedding twenty upon twenty layers high,
Burrows still deeper, pressing into the skin of thinly padded skeletal extensions
As it grates to a final rest against the gentle hollow above the collarbone.

Like the smoothed sand in the mouth of an oyster,
The tenderest of peas seeks shelter
In only the softest concaves of flesh,
Where the pea, like the pearl,
Proves perfection
By defining the flaw.
--Colleen Mills

For your trick-or-treating pleasure: BLOG CANDY!!!

I have a piece of scrapbook paper that I bought before Elizabeth was born that has babies in pea pods on it. I've wanted to make her a pea pod bunting for months. Now that she's outgrowing even the biggest of the fleece sleepers Mom made her, I thought I ought to finally get it done before she's walking and refuses to wear it.

Well, I made one, and took her picture in it, and she is indeed telling me she's not gonna let me put it on her again. I was short on fabric, so it's a little small, and her legs get cramped. So Now I'm offering it to any of my blog readers with a baby smaller than mine. Halloween's over, but it's cute enough to wear anytime, even just for one photo. Leave me a comment if you'd like it, and if more than one person wants it, I'll hold a drawing or something.

Isn't Elizabeth cute in it? And her little doll too. I had enough scraps of slightly different colors to make a copy for the doll (I'm keeping that one, sorry. It's a good way to have the memory of Elizabeth's without taking up closet space with an outfit she won't wear -- and besides, how likely is it that you'd have a doll the same size? Also, I bought the doll at a thrift store, and she doesn't have any other clothes.)

I was trying to take cute pictures, but Elizabeth wasn't happy to be in the outfit -- it was about 80 degrees, and 80% humidity. I got some OK shots like the ones above, but nothing really great. Then our grumpy chain smoking neighbor started talking to her -- saying, "Hi Elizabeth! What a cute girl you are!" That kind of attention has earned almost everyone she's ever met -- from friends and relatives to strangers at the grocery store -- a heart melting smile, and it worked again. I got the two shots you see below, which I think are some of the best of the bunch.

Here are the jack-o'-lanterns we carved Monday night for Family Home Evening. I really like the glowing effect in these photos (though some of it might be motion blur). The one on the left, Peter's pumpkin, was the one that grew in our garden this year. The vine died about a month ago, and we brought the pumpkin inside. I've been tapping on the rind pretty regularly, looking for soft spots, but it survived remarkably well. I carved the other two for myself and Elizabeth. The middle one is sort of sorry looking, but you have to understand that while most pumpkins have a paper thin rind on top of and inch or so of flesh, this pumpkin had a tough tough rind about a centimeter thick. It was like the gourds they use to make maracas out of -- almost like wood. I seriously got out of breath sawing just a few crooked triangles into it.

Here's Elizabeth looking at the pumpkins. Notice that she's eating the smile from the middle pumpkin. She actually ate the whole thing (not including the rind).

Here's some shots of little pumpkin head with the pumpkins in the daylight. Five days later in our warm moist California weather, the pumpkins are already looking saggy and gross inside, but Elizabeth doesn't mind. They're just three more interesting things in a world of interesting things.

We had a ward Trunk-or-treat party this evening. I thought I'd make our trunk go along with our costume theme (more on that below), so I made a kind of pixie hollow with flowers, autumn leaves, and lots of dolls dressed as elves and fairies.

I'm especially pleased with the little boy doll I made to match Peter's outfit with a leaf vest and acorn cap.

After last Halloween, I went to the after sales (a great way to pick up inexpensive costume pieces) and found a baby fairy costume. I have been trying to get a fairy costume together for myself for years, so I thought this would be a great excuse to finally do it. I made a few modifications to the baby costume to make it match mine -- I added the pink flower tutu over their white glittery one, and replaced the weird silver stuff that was approximating lacing with actual laced up ribbons. Here are a few shots of Elizabeth looking like a cute baby flower fairy. I think she looks almost worthy of Cecily Mary Barker, don't you?

Here, she's about to eat a stick.

And now Mama took the stick away, poor baby.

Here's my costume. I made the tutu this year, but the rest was stuff I already had that just needed a little tweaking. The corset is one I had made a few years ago for a flower fairy costume I never finished for an event I didn't end up going to. It could use about twice as many grommets, and about an inch more over the shoulders, but, eh, what can you do? The shirt is the silk one Mom made for my wedding dress. The headband is reworked from the one Mom made for Lesli's wedding (though the only photos I have of the event has Lesli wearing different flowers in her hair). The pants are the ones I got for my Princess Amidala in white costume. The two pairs of wings and the wand came from the dollar store.

Here is our whole family. Aren't we cute?

Peter was very kind to agree to wear the costume I made for him. A lot of my friend's husbands won't consider wearing any costume at all. I reused the vest from the Legolas costume I made for the Lord of the Rings themed Halloween at Driver Alliant (by the way, does anybody have a copy of the photo I sent out from that? I seem to have lost several digital photos from that year somewhere along the way). I needed to put in gussets under the arms and down the middle of the back to make it big enough for Peter since it had been made for a petite girl. I also added a lot of fun beads to the corners, including some large leaf-shaped glass ones I got from Wal-mart. They make a fun clinking sound as they knock against each other, and Elizabeth really wants to eat them. I had considered making leaves out of some scraps of green fabric left over from the quilt I made for Peter this year, but when I saw some leaf garlands at the Dollar Store, I figured my time was worth a lot more than $2, so I bought them and used them on his shirt and the trunk. I crocheted an acorn cap for Peter using pretty much the same pattern as the ones Miriam and I made for my nephews last October. A pair of my brown stretch maternity pants just fit Peter and finished off the outfit nicely.

While Peter was holding Elizabeth on his shoulders, they put on some music, and she was so excited by Shake Shake Shake Senora that she just had to shake and bounce herself.