Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."
Luke 2:10-11

Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy 3rd Birthday, Liesl!

Liesl, just 7 days old

Everything's been different
All the day long
Lovely things have happened
Nothing has gone wrong.

Nobody has scolded me
Everyone has smiled
Isn't it delicious
To be a birthday child?
- Rose Fyleman

And now she's 3! My big girl.

Julie and Tyler were the only non-family "guests" at the party
Cousin Zach reading to Liesl, Tyler, and Papa Culver

Ava checking out Sissy's loot!

The cake I made and decorated

Watching the ever-important gift opening

Sharing cake with Aunt Tammy

Cousin Zach liked the cake too!

Playing rough-and-tumble with her cousins
(Cousin Alex, 11, is the owner of the hand coming out of the blanket....)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Liesl's 1st Violin Recital

Liesl's first recital was Sunday, December 14th. Oh, my. It was an event to remember. Everything was fun, exciting, encouraging, uplifting.

Liesl went up to the stage and, for her performance, gave the audience a tutorial on the parts of the violin and bow. She did splendidly. For two weeks, we have been practicing the process of doing a performance: Carrying her violin safely in rest position, walking onto the stage, projecting her voice so that the entire audience would hear her, taking a bow, walk off. Oh boy, did all that practice pay off! At first she was too quiet ("quiet" is something that Liesl is not generally known for), but after a gentle reminder to speak loud enough for the audience to hear her, Liesl belted out the names of the violin parts with such vim and vigor that the audience could not help but laugh along with her. Her teacher said she is a natural performer. (I wonder if I can take a little credit for that. I was performing in at least 3 plays while I was pregnant with her, and in each of those plays, the musician was, surprise surprise, a violinist. She really had no choice!)

Liesl is, according to our teacher, her youngest student to have ever come up on stage, and, without hesitation, give a spirited and accurate rendition of the parts of the violin and bow. As a token of this milestone, she received her first violin pin, which, after her performance, she insisted that I pin on the lapel of her dress. She is as proud of that pin as anything, and Mommy couldn't be prouder of her if she had brought home the Olympic gold.

During the rest of the recital, she got to color and play in quietly while other students performed, though we did bring her back into the performance hall occasionally to see a few students that she knew--as well as her teacher--performing on stage. Afterwards, there was a wonderful, kid-friendly reception, in which we got to socialize with other students and their parents. Liesl enjoyed running around and playing with new friends, and since she was the littlest kid (with the littlest violin), she had a lot of Miss Sharon's more seasoned students coming up and talking to her.

What made this 1st recital even more special was that it happened during a master class. Our teacher's friend and musical colleague, John Haspel Gilbert, visited the studio and gave us a private performance of Bach's Partita #3 in E Major. (It was my first time seeing a violin soloist perform in person--it was amazing. I had tears in my eyes at the end of the 2nd movement.) Liesl was not old enough to participate in the master class rehearsal this year, but there are rumblings that he will be back next year. At that point, both Liesl and Mommy will be performing!

Tom took a video of Liesl performing, but since it was done with our video camera and not my point-and-shoot, it will take some time before I can figure out how to post it online. I will post it as soon as I have time to figure it out. (That could take years.) We have viewed it often. It is tremendously cute.

Liesl's next performance will be on January 18, where she will play pizzicato and quarter notes on all 4 strings. (As a new violin student myself, I can tell you: This is not as simple as it sounds! The violin is a tough instrument to learn, there's a huge amount of control involved.)

Soccer mom? Not me. I'm a violin mom!

Liesl with our teacher, Miss Sharon, and Maria, another student

Liesl with Mr. Gilbert. See how she's proudly displaying her violin pin?

Running off some energy before her performance...with her violin safely in rest position.

Some of Miss Sharon's other students performing with her and Mr. Gilbert. These young children amazed me with the things they can do with such sophisticated music, and at such young ages.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Not Me" Monday

Oh, what a week we've had! I could not believe the sheer amount of activity I was trying to cram into one week. Liesl had her first violin recital yesterday--Sunday--and it was the most amazing event. I will post more about that in a few days. The recital weekend also happened to be a master class weekend, where a special guest was performing with many of the students and co-teaching with our violin teacher. In addition to preparing for Liesl's recital, I wound up coordinating refreshment donations for a huge funeral on Saturday. And throughout the week of violin practices, baking, and phone calls/emailing about this funeral, there were 3 nice Ukrainian guys pounding the living daylights (literally) out of our roof. Yup, this was the week that the roof HAD to be replaced, to the tune of $7100. EEEK! And while I might usually impose upon the good nature of my loving parents to come and help out with this kind of chaos, they had the good sense to disappear to Hawaii for 11 days. Smart parents! Genius! Why didn't I think of that???

So, here I am, another honest (mostly), imperfect mother, fessing up:

Having offered, willingly, to bake for the funeral, violin recital, and private concert, I did not sample my goodies on a regular basis, to be sure several times during the baking process that my food was fit for human consumption. And if I had, it did not taste good at all. It was lousy, I tell you.

My house, as a result of all of these activities, is definitely not a mess. I mean, I had so much time to clean and pick up, right?

We did not eat takeout 3 times last week. Nope, not us!

I did not stick the leftover icing from a cake I baked in my freezer. I mean, that would be stupid. Better to throw it away to avoid temptation, right?

I did not skip my Weight Watchers meeting on Saturday. Why would I? I was only surrounded by vast amounts of DELICIOUS chocolate and sugar all weekend.

I did not feed my children popcorn, cheese, and fruit for lunch today. And before "lunch," I did not plop them down in front of a Signing Time! video, lay on the floor next to them, cover my head with a pillow, and wish they would just go away for an hour. Nope, not me!

I did not allow our Christmas tree to stand naked, undecorated, for 7 days before insisting that Tom and I adorn it with lights.

On my way to my violin lesson last Wednesday--one of the few times in my week that I get to have uninterrupted "me" time, I did not forget all of my music, turn around, run like a madwoman back to the house to get it, and wind up 10 minutes late for my lesson anyway. (That would be idiotic!)

While these nice roofers beat the living daylights out of my roof, for 3 days, one of them did not keep pounding his hammer to the tune of "Shave and a Haircut" for about 1.5 hours. And when my future sister-in-law suggested that he may take requests, I did not stick my head out the door and ask for a little Vivaldi to spice things up. (And he did not look at me like I had three heads. If he had, it might have had something to do with the fact that he spoke absolutely no English...but then again, it might not have. Who knows?)

After three solid days of listening to the pounding on the roof--and in my head--I did not hand the children off to Tom the instant he walked into the door on Thursday and practically run to my car to get away from the house--without uttering a word.

Lastly, I am not sitting here on my freaking computer instead of getting my can into bed and getting some sleep!

'Night night.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Not Me", Tuesday

A little late, here.

I did not go to a Mom's club craft playgroup yesterday with my two kids, turn them loose, completely ignore them, and then sit down on the floor in the midst of the other moms and kids and cry for about 2 minutes. I did not make jokes about spiking the kids' snacks and drinks with vodka (I spelled it out, at least; instead of shouting "VODKA!", I asked for the "V-O-D-K-A" in front of all the other little cherubs. Unfortunately, some of them are homeschooled and rather adept at spelling.)

I did not make these vodka jokes in front of a guest who is (was?) considering joining our Mom's club, but who now may avoid us because she fears we are a band of screaming alcoholics.* I did not realize about 43 seconds too late that Ava was eating glue out of a plastic container with a Popsicle stick, like it was a spoon or something. (Hey, at least she's practicing her eating and fine motor skills....)

And when we were warned a day ahead of the playgroup that there would be permanent markers at this craft and to dress our children accordingly, I did not intentionally dress Liesl in her University of Illinois garb, thinking that it just may accidentally get covered with markers and have to be thrown out. (Oh, I am going to be in so much trouble for that one....)

I did not eat three pieces of pie on Thanksgiving Day. And when I went to Weight Watchers on Saturday morning, weighed in, and realized I had gained a pound, I did not act surprised.

When I had about 90 pounds of laundry to do this afternoon, I did not casually step over all of it, ignore it, and build a fort for my kids to play in. And when Liesl asked me to join her in the fort, I did not crawl inside and pretend to go camping and have picnics for 40 minutes. Finally, when my husband arrived home, I did not place the back of my hand my hand dramatically on my forehead, drop to a fake faint on the couch, and exclaim in Southern Belle fashion about what a rough day I had, therefor trying to make an excuse for the 90 pounds of laundry overtaking our family room and my lack of dinner preparations.

Have a good (and honest) week, everyone.

* All joking aside, I did have a nice chat with this prospective member after my vodka monologue. I'm about 97.2% sure she knows I was joking, and I am 100% sure that she did or has felt the same way as I did that Monday morning. I know that many of my FAMC friends read this blog, so rest assured: If she's scared of joining the FAMC after our Picasso Playgroup on Monday, it's not (only) my fault.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Tiny Virtuosa

This post is a mommy brag. Let's just get that straight from the start. :-)

Liesl had her 2nd official violin lesson today. I simply cannot believe how my 4 months of lessons (and daily practice) have influenced her with the violin. With our teacher's guidance, I did a lot of conscious work with her over those 4 months--I taught her the parts of the violin, we talked about how to take care of the violin and bow, and we talked about the music and exercises I was practicing. She also listened to Suzuki CD's every day for several hours, and together we watched clips of violinists on YouTube several times a week. (She loves videos of small children playing the violin!) But still--in these 4 short months, she has picked up so many things about music that I never thought to tell her about, never had the "time" to talk about, or, frankly, didn't really know myself. I am amazed at how quickly small children learn--both what we teach, and what they observe on their own.

After Liesl's 1st lesson last week (there is one picture below of that, but I was too busy enjoying the lesson and taking notes to take a lot of pictures), I received a very excited email from our teacher, Sharon. She and I have been discussing Liesl's first lesson for a while. We had assumed that Liesl would start with a 15-minute lesson for a few months, but decided that her 1st lesson would be 30 minutes so that Mommy and Miss Sharon had enough time to talk and take notes during the instruction. Liesl pretty much blew both of us away by staying attentive and engaged for the entire 30 minutes--so much so, that Miss Sharon wanted to continue with 30-minute lessons. She also said we should speed up our plans to get a "real" instrument in Liesl's hands ASAP. (The pictures of Liesl "playing" violin that you may have seen on this blog are with a toy violin. Miss Sharon suggested late in the summer that we buy it so Liesl can get a little hands-on training without damaging an expensive instrument.) But after Liesl's amazing 1st lesson last week, Sharon and I moved heaven and earth to get her first "real" violin this week. And we found one--a blemished Hoffman Etude outfit, with a bow and case--all in the 1/16 size. It is the most adorable thing I have ever seen in my life! (Ok, well, next to my kids, of course.) It is tiny, people. Absolutely amazing that this thing can produce the sounds of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

So today was Liesl's 2nd lesson, and again, she blew us both away. She is progressing so quickly through the beginning skills that Miss Sharon wants her to perform in the December recital class. My little girl is so enthusiastic about playing her very own violin. Sharon says that this is largely due to watching me practice daily, and watching her Daddy and I play together--we often do that on the weekends with the girls running around at our feet.

I am so very, very thankful that we found Sharon. She's a very patient, dedicated teacher with high warmth and very high demands on her students (myself included! I don't get away with not practicing just because I'm old and I don't keep a sticker chart!) She has a facinating resume and history with the violin. She has taught many small children and knows how to deal with them better than I do. She has been such a blessing on our lives for the short time we have known her.

Musical education is so important to little kids! I knew this when Liesl was a baby, but I hadn't yet figured out how to put it into practice (if you'll excuse the pun.) It's never too early--or too late--to start.
Demonstrating the standing rest position--protecting the violin

Showing off her perfect bow grip.
It took me 6 weeks to perfect my bow grip. It took her 6 minutes.

Playing for Miss Sharon in her studio

This was the only picture I took of Liesl's 1st lesson last week. I wish I had taken more, but I was busy taking notes and grinning my fool head off.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am thankful for:

My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ
My wonderful husband
My beautiful, healthy daughters
The fact that my husband still has a job
Our home--be it humble and outgrown, it is still ours
Plenty of food to eat
Our good health
Our freedom and our country

Too often I find myself grumbling about the things I don't have, or the things I don't have time to do. Sometimes (not often enough), I get a reminder of how truly blessed I am, and I feel ashamed that I take for granted many of the blessings we have. Sometimes the girls drive me absolutely crazy--when they won't behave, when they are staging a coup (they are incredibly difficult one moment, but sweet and cuddly and adorable the next, but they take turns, so the house is never truly peaceful), when they both throw food all over the floor, when they deliberately get on each other's nerves (yes, Ava has developed that skill as fun fun), and when I feel like I spend far more time doling out consequences than praise and encouragement. But one day a few weeks ago I finally got the right idea: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. They were being impossible, so I told myself, to heck with the laundry, dishes, and housework: I am going to sit down and play with my kids. And I did, and they loved it, and guess what? So did I. And I am so thankful that my husband is understanding and patient when he occasionally (ok, a little more often than "occasionally") comes home to a messy house, but a happy wife and kids. (I believe we even ate grilled cheese sandwhiches and tomato soup for dinner that night, and he didn't grumble a bit.) So yes, there are many, many blessings amidst the frustrations and exhaustion of my everyday life.

We are having Thanksgiving with my sister, her family, and my parents. It will be the first time that all four cousins are together on a holiday. It will be the first time I have seen my nephews on Thanksgiving for many years, as they just moved back from Texas this year. My sister is cooking most of the meal, but I am taking homemade rolls and pies. It promises to be a fun feast!

I hope you all have a wonderful and hearty Thanksgiving Day.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho...I have nowhere to go

My interpreting job assignment ended last week. It was a fairly good gig, I knew it was going to end when it did, but it was very lucrative while it lasted. Still, it is so nice not to have to work tonight! I don't have to fret about dinner for Tom and the girls, worry about dealing with the breastpump (I consider pumping to be akin to legal slavery), or fight the rush-hour traffic. And it is so nice to go to bed at a decent hour. a few weeks, it will not be so nice to not get a paycheck.

Rats. There's always a trade-off, isn't there?

Hopefully I will get another gig after the New Year so I can keep paying for violin lessons and instruments. Tom's salary covers everything we need (and a fair amount of what we don't), but music lessons are not cheap. I have to admit, is very nice to get out of the house for a few hours, just one day a week, and talk to adults who want to discuss more than just poopie diapers and runny noses. My dressy work clothes get a chance to resurface. And then, when I get back to my kids the next morning...I feel sort of refreshed, like I've touched my adult life just briefly. So now we can get back down to the business of making pine cone turkeys and reading the Belly Button Book. (And, of course, discussing poopie diapers.)

So here's hoping for another good job assignment in a month or two, even if it does wear me out a bit.

(In case you're wondering what the guy up in the corner is doing, he's signing "Complaining" in ASL. What...who, me? Complain? Nah....)

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Not Me" Monday

It's "Not Me Monday" time. For details on what this is all about, please click the picture at the left. I have noticed a lot of blogs are often very sunny, cheerful, the children are always clean and perfectly-behaved, life is a wonder, nothing ever goes wrong.

Mine is not one of those blogs. I'm going for honesty, folks. Do I love my children? Oh yeah. Am I eternally grateful to be able to stay home with them instead of leaving them in daycare? Definitely. Is my husband fantastic? Of course he is. (He does have fabulous taste in women, doesn't he???) Am I lucky and blessed to be saved, because I have accepted Jesus as my Savior? Absolutely. But is my life sunny and happy and cheerful every day, with my children being perfect little cherubs with their shiny halos, birdies chirping around the house, while flowers bloom out of my butt and sunshine radiates out of every other orifice of my body?

No. Oh, HELL, no. (Sorry, Will Smith, I guess I owe you for stealing your line.)

Which is why I was very happy to find MckMama's blog. She has a hilarious sense of humor and she is HONEST. Unlike a lot of "mommy blogs" I have seen, she tells it like it is. Her children are not portrayed as perfect little geniuses; her life is not portrayed as perfectly productive, fun, and trouble-free; and she is honest about her feelings for her kids (one of which is, of course, a lot of love, but still...a lot of mommies on blogs lie to the dickens about the fact that their kids never seem to drive them nuts. Liars, all of them!) So I have decided to join her. Look for my "Not Me Monday!" posts every Monday. That is, on the Mondays I get my act together to post.

So here goes:

I did not stuff about 1.5 cups of almond buttercream frosting in my mouth this weekend when I made a birthday cake for my friend's son.
I did not complain to her about having to make the cake, therefor causing me to stuff the frosting in my mouth. I most certainly did not offer to make the cake in the first place, so it's her fault, right?

I did not cut myself an extra huge slice of said cake at said birthday boy's party. And I did not make sure that I had part of a frosting clown on my slice, guaranteeing me even more frosting. And when Liesl decided not to finish her cake, I did not scrape the frosting off of her leavings, eat it, and then discard the rest of her cake.

I did not complain to my husband the next morning about my fat behind. And when he mildly brought up the cake and the amount of frosting that seemed to disappear while I was making it, I did not rudely tell him to shove it or I would stick the remaining frosting up HIS behind. Oh yeah, and when he forgot to take the leftovers of the frosting to work with him this morning to share with his buddies on graham crackers, I did not intentionally "forget" to remind him to take it with him.

And when I went out running* this morning, passed the bus stop, and a pre-teen kid in my neighborhood snickered at my cold weather running outfit (grey sweatpants over pink long underwear, grey sweatshirt, bright pink mittens and a dorky headband covering my ears), I did not flip him the bird. **

This afternoon, when my two darling cherubs were asleep for a total of 1.5 hours, I did not ignore all of my housework and desk tasks by vegging on the couch for the entire time. I most certainly did not shove a huge bowlful of brown rice and drink 3 diet sodas while sitting on the couch, and I did not call that "lunch." And of course I did not watch the episode of "Top Chef: New York" that I taped last week. (And they did not kick Jill off for her ostrich egg quiche, especially after Ariane made that disgusting lemon dessert thing. And I did not swear at the TV as a result of that elimination.)

Lastly, I did not wear my fuzzy bedroom slippers all day, I did not eat 2 Weight Watchers ice cream bars in a row, and I did not pretend not to hear Liesl hit her head this evening while I practiced playing violin, just so I could finish Variation D of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

Now it is 9:00 p.m. I will not hit the freezer for another ice cream bar before bed.

'Night 'night.

* I really did run this morning. Honest!
** If I did flip that kid the bird, which, of course, we all know I did not do, I was wearing mittens so nobody could actually SEE the bird. Except, of course, God.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Inverse Indoctrination: Take 2

Since there was brainwashing going on behind my back with Liesl and her collegiate affiliation, I decided to get into Ava's head before those two family members (who still remain nameless) got to her first.

So, I give you the sequel to the original Inverse Indoctrination.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Oh, the Weather Outside is Frightful...

Just LOOK at what happened at our house this evening! We pulled out all of our cold weather outdoor gear and suited up. Others may complain about the snow, but I don't really have to drive in it, so I love it. (Although dealing with THREE sets of hats, boots, mittens and coats will be quite a challenge during weekday snow jaunts while Daddy is at work....)

My Funny Bunny is now a Snow Bunny!

Daddy taught her how to make snowballs (Thanks a LOT, Daddy....)

Fun in the snow

First snowperson of the season (ok, snowman, we really aren't that politically correct)

Towards the end of our outdoor romp, the snow started coming down hard and fast. It was so lovely. Unfortunately it wrecks havoc with the flash on my inexpensive little point-and-shoot camera.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Happy Anniversary!

On November 13th, Tom and I celebrated 9 fast, fun-filled, tearful, difficult, joyful, excruciating, teeth-clenching, loving, amazing years of marriage. What amazing hurdles we have overcome. What fun we have had over these years. How many truly difficult and heart-wrenching tests we have passed in our marriage, with flying (if not slightly faded) colors.

Yesterday, our little family of four went to Red Robin to celebrate the "real" date together (Tom and I chose the most kid-friendly restaurant we could think of without having the sounds of Skee-ball or video games overpowering us.) It was such fun, the food arrived hot and quickly (miracle #1), and the girls were amazingly well-behaved (miracle #2). This morning, Grammie and Papa came to take the girls to their house for an overnight visit. Tonight, we went out to dinner without children for the first time in over a year. As much as we adore our sweet little girls, we both enjoyed a meal in a restaurant without food being thrown on the floor; without earnest but lengthy discussions about the color of the crayons that the restaurant offered; without ear-piercing, spine-decalcifying shrieking; and without a certain preschooler standing on her seat, peering into the booth next to ours, picking cooties out of some unsuspecting stranger's hair. No rushing through a meal to get out of the restaurant before the kids exploded! Conversation about anything we wanted, without mild admonitions about picking noses or saying "poopie" at the dinner table! No retrieving books, toys, or crayons out from under the table! An entire 30 hours without kids! We hardly know what to do with ourselves. (Well, I'm sure we will think of something....) ;-)

Happy Anniversary to my wonderful, kind, supportive, smart, funny, sweet, loving husband. Although we have had many difficulties in the past, and although I am sure we will face many more in the future; I do love the life we have built together. You have been wonderful to me these last 9 years of marriage. I have learned so much from you. I am so proud of how we have grown together, and you are an amazing and loving Daddy to our two little blessings.

I love you very, very much.