Tidbits and Piper at 4 months

Piper is growing up! Here is a shot of her from yesterday, a few days after turning 4 months old. Her hair has gotten a lot longer and a lot lighter...and some days I tame it with a hair clip, other days it decides to lay flat itself. She's a lot of fun when she is awake...quite content, smiley, chatty. Her eyes are usually wide, and like Rowan when she was a baby, it's hard to even catch her blinking. She giggles, she follows her sister's movement wherever she goes, she grabs for things. She's rolled over front to back and sort of back to front (with the assistance of a bit of an incline on the front lawn!)

We're back to a newborn schedule when it comes to sleep. What gives? She had a few weeks there of 8 and even some 10 hour stretches. The last 2 weeks...it's been up at 1:00, 3:00, 5:30, argghh. Last night I had to change her diaper because she was so wet at 3:30, and she thought that was a nice time to be awake for awhile...until after 5:00! Hopefully the sleep will even out, then this whole baby thing will be a breeze!

A few funny Rowan stories:
A few days ago Rowan was tearing up paper into little pieces and throwing them in the air. She says to me, joyfully, "look at my party-fetti, mom!" I could hardly bear to correct her.

Rowan has been really into rhyming things the last half year or so. She fully understands what rhyming entails, and really enjoys rhyming just about anything. She also gets that some rhymes are real words, and that sometimes it is fun to make up words that rhyme. So the other day I was getting the girls ready to go, and the car seats were in the truck...but I was taking the mini-van. I asked if Joe would stay with the girls so I could go and switch the car seats.

Rowan, in a sing-song, sort of sassy (coincidentally) voice, says "she's gonna switch, bitch." Now of course, being seasoned parents, we knew not to react. We knew that in her mind, it was a made-up word. Meant nothing. Wouldn't be repeated again.

Joe and I made eye-contact sidelong. Our eyes widened. Maybe our lips turned up ever so slightly. But we didn't say a thing. Ignored it. I was pretty sure she didn't even look at us after saying it.

Apparently, you can't get much passed a 4 year old. She repeated herself, "gonna switch, bitch"....and watched more closely for our response. I suppose there is a possibility that she has heard this word somewhere, and was testing it out....but I quite doubt it. I really think it was a random rhyme...and that she just very perceptibly picked up on the non-verbal information that told her it was a different kind of word. She repeated it a handful more times, we continued to ignore it with increasing success.

So much for seasoned parents.

I should have learned my lesson about a year ago when Rowan randomly put up her middle-finger. For some reason I decided (obviously hadn't thought about it much) to tell her that she shouldn't do that, that it meant something bad. I kept it vague, but she kept imploring.."but mommy, WHAT does it mean?" I never told her exactly, just told her several versions of it's not kind, it's not nice, it is very mean. Oh yeah, and don't do it.

She did it...to her grandparents, when they asked her what signs she remembered from when she was a baby. To her unsuspecting aunt. We finally had to threaten a time-out if she did it again, and that took care of it.

Speaking of rhyming, this is a story from a few months ago. She loves doing that naming song, "Rowan bowan, bo-bowan, banana.." and does it quite well with any name. She and my dad were talking about a card he had received with a bunch of different names for God on it...Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, etc. So he was explaining to Rowan that God has many names. Rowan's eyes lit up, and she contributed her names for God with gusto: "God, God, bo-bod, banana-fanana fo-fod, me my mo-mod, Gooo---oood!"

Here's a parting shot of my lovely ladies. I'll have some more pictures up for Flickr soon.


Allerton Avenue

I haven't written much yet about the new street that we're living on, Allerton Ave. It's a short street...makes a T into both Hall and Adams, so there are a total of only a little more than 30 houses on our street. Many of the houses were built in the 1920s and 1930s...and they are all really different from each other. There are sidewalks, a slight hill, and lots of big, beautiful trees.

And kids. Lots of kids. I don't know the official count, but just in my head I can think of 18 kids(not including ours) under the age of 10.

The first time our realtor showed me the house (Joe wasn't here yet), he told me that Allerton had a reputation for being a cool street. That the neighbors hung out together, had barbecues, happy hour, that kind of thing. I thought he was just trying to sell me a house, but then a few weeks later when Joe came with me to check it out...we hung around and talked to a neighbor across the street to get her impressions of the neighborhood.

We thought for a minute that our realtor had paid this woman to gush about Allerton. He didn't. We bought the house...for lots of reasons; including the people who live around it.

I hesitate to even write some of this stuff, because I know it sounds too good to be true. And we are still in the "honeymoon" period of being excited about our house. Eventually we may find out some really dark, annoying things about our neighbors :) That being said, here are a few of the cool things about Allerton:

-the kids play out in front of the houses. Seems like when a few kids head outside, they all do. Rowan frequently checks the front window to see who's outside playing...and sometimes the kids even knock to see if she's home. Rowan hasn't felt confident enough yet to go play without Joe or me accompanying her...but eventually she will. When she does, she will have no end to her playmate options...including a 4 year old girl across the street and a 5 year old girl next door to that.

-the parents often hang out front, too. Partly to supervise the children, surely. But I suspect that a fair amount of it is the joy of adults in community, too.

-the neighbors get together for indoor play-dates when the weather is bad. They invited us to one before we moved in...moms, coffee, kids playing.

-Phil, the neighbor across the street and next door, has a pool. He doesn't have kids...but apparently opens his pool up to anyone on the street, at any time. We're looking forward to swimming there in a few months when the weather is warm enough!

-Curt and his wife live down the street 4 or 5 houses. They are in their 50s or 60s probably. Our first introduction to Curt was when he was dressed as a monster handing out candy on his front porch on Halloween. Joe officially met him one winter day after Curt had snow blown our driveway...and also the sidewalks up and down the whole street. We had a lot of snow this winter...and we never once shoveled our front sidewalk. Curt did.

-Curt also grows a vegetable garden on the side of his house...mostly for the benefit of the kids. He dries some of the beans every year, gives the seeds to the kids to start little plants at their houses...then the kids all plant them in his garden in the spring. Seriously.

-About 10 families on the street participate in a CSA (community supported agriculture) together. So they take turns driving out to the farm each week to pick up the bushels of veggies to bring back to the street. We, of course, are participating this summer!

-there is a neighborhood celebration for almost every holiday. We were invited to the Halloween one before we even lived here. Pizza, beer, trick-or-treating. On St. Patricks Day, right after we moved in, there was "happy hour" out front across the street...one neighbor provided beer, others brought green treats. Yesterday there was a big Easter Egg Hunt at a neighbor's house (and we spontaneously did the egg-dying party, but more on that later). On 4th of July another neighbor has a brunch after the HollyHock Parade (word has it that Allerton Ave is doing a float for that parade this year).

-people loan and borrow stuff. So the Cebulskis are a big benefit to the street. We do own a concrete mixer and drum floor sander, after all. A neighbor across the street has been re-doing his bathroom, and he has been over lots of time to borrow a tool, ask Joe something, etc. Joe loves it. As long as people return things in a timely manner :) Yesterday Joe had to jack up his truck to check out the brakes...and he used a neighbor's flat driveway to do it (ours is a bit of a hill). Another neighbor, who is a mechanic, provided lots of help along the way.

-there is a park about 2 blocks away...and a new Christian school is being built on the same property.

-there is a library about a block and a half away. We walked there Friday to see a puppeteer.

-Rowan's pre-school is less than a mile away. We walked the other day when it was nice.

-from what we can tell, most of the families are planning on being here long-term. One near-by neighbor even recently remodeled their kitchen, even though it makes the home exceed the value they could re-sell it for, simply because they don't want to move.

-FROG soccer. Not sure what FROG stands for (Friends of Gary, I think?). It's an informal gathering of neighbors (drawing from a larger area than just Allerton) that meet at a near-by park every Monday evening for 6 weeks after Spring Break. A very ambitious woman organizes it all...but it's basically a laid-back, low pressure way for kids to get acquainted with basic soccer skills. It's free, you don't have to sign up...just show up. They divide kids by age, do stations of simple soccer drills, have a scrimmage, then a snack. It's perfect for a kid like Rowan, who insists that she doesn't want to learn how to play any sports, to have a low-pressure way to be exposed. She spent most of the first session hanging back, observing, kicking the ball around with her dad a bit. Maybe by the end she'll join in! But the whole thing is just a great example of a community coming together, serving each other, having fun together, all on their own!

Okay, I'll stop gushing. We just feel so blessed to be on this street!

There are a few photos of the neighborhood, mixed in with other random photos, if you follow the link here to Flickr.

There are also some photos up of Easter and the egg-dying, which I'll blog about eventually, posted to a set here.


No Hugging

Photo and Blog post are unrelated. The photo is just because I realized that I don't have many pictures of ME with Piper, since I am usually the photo-taker. And she's getting so big. So fast.

But the story is about Rowan. Well, two stories, actually.

My mom took Rowan and her cousins to a movie yesterday. When she picked Rowan up, my mom asked Rowan how she was doing and asked her what was going on in her life. Rowan replied "Oh, Grandma, I just have so much fun stuff in my life!" Isn't that cute?

And here is the other story. Rowan has always had this thing about me and Joe hugging. If she ever sees us hug, she comes right over and puts herself between us. Not joining in, mind you, but physically trying to push us apart. Is this normal? We figure that it's some sort of Oedipus thing where it's a bit of competition (for Joe's affections, for mine, too)...but it never fails. We hug, she's there at our feet, wedging herself in the middle.

Tonight when I was putting Rowan to bed, I sang her a song and told her that we had sung that song at our wedding. She got the ceremony confused with the reception, I guess, because then she wondered what dance daddy and I did at our wedding. I know she was thinking of Jenny and Mark's wedding, and their funky dance, and I'm sorry Rowan...but daddy and I will NEVER be that smooth on a dance floor! But I told her that we did have a big party, and a dance, and then asked if she wanted to see how daddy and I danced at our wedding. She giggled. Of course she did. So I got Joe, whispered to him that we had to at least TRY to be as cool as Jen and Mark, and we did a little personal dance party for Rowan while she laid in bed, muffling her smiles.

When we finished dancing, naturally, we hugged. We could feel her dilemma. She had clearly enjoyed our performance, liked seeing our affection and enjoyment of each other, right there in her own bedroom. But the hug was over the line. She got out of bed, came between us. Pushed us apart. We always try to keep hugging when she does this, and we all end up laughing while she puts forth great effort in her pushing...so at the very least, it's good for some comic relief.

We had always heard about this phenomenon where newborn babies can sense when their parents are about to/are having sex...that they can actually sense (smell?) the hormonal change in the air, and since it is in THEIR best interest to not have a sibling on the way too quickly, their reaction is to wake up and cry in hopes of thwarting the amorous behavior (we, along with many other couples we have told this theory, seem to have anecdotal evidence that supports such a theory). Anyways...maybe Rowan's attempts to break up our hugs are along those same lines. As if she is sub-consciously saying: No more babies. We are enough.

We'll see about that :)


Our second home

Okay, this is going to be a long one.

After the funeral in Illinois, we continued driving south to spend a few days visiting friends in Jonesboro. We lived in Jonesboro from the fall of 1999 to the fall of 2007...eight full years. We never realized how much of a home Jonesboro was to us...until we went back after being gone for a year and a half.

It definitely took a few years for us to find our groove in Jonesboro...but once we did, we really built an amazing community of friends there. Friends that really functioned more like family to us. We had a built-in community of athletes, including coach Earl Bell and his parents, who everyone calls Grandma and Grandpa Bell (grandpa Bell holds the world record for his age group (88) in the pole vault). Several of those athletes are still our dearest friends. But many of those athletes have moved away, retired like Joe has, gone on to other things.

In addition to pole vaulters, we were also fortunate to have a whole other community of friends in Jonesboro...friendships created through work, random connections, and a cool little house-church called New Thing.

So Saturday night we rolled in and went straight to the Wilkies. Jason and Julie were some of our first friends in Jonesboro. We knew them before kids...now they have Duncan, 6, Quinton, 4, and Lillian, 2. Julie was my OB-GYN during my pregnancy with Rowan and delivered her (and sustained me) after a hard, long labor. We ate dinner with the Wilkies, talked and played, then put all the kids to bed and talked and talked some more. We spent the night at their house, Jason made us waffles in the morning, and we just hung around until lunch-time. These are the kind of friends that it's easy to slip back into a comfortable routine with...going deep right away. They know us intimately...and love us anyways!

Then we headed across town to our friends Amy and Lon's new house. They used to live in a house across from us on Nettleton...but recently moved. Lon and Joe coached together at ASU. Elijah is their 2 year old son...we were especially excited to see him because the last time we saw him, he wasn't quite a year old..and he has changed SO much! Eli was born with a cleft palette (which has been fixed) and many digestive issues which are probably all related to each other. He has had a tube going directly into his intestines (by-passing the stomach) since he was a baby...and it's always been uncertain whether he'd tolerate any solid foods through his mouth. During the last few months he has begun to eat solids (and not throw up!) and we just celebrated with Amy as we got to watch Eli eat! Amy is an unbelievably patient, loving mother to Eli. I marvel at her. Amy and I (and the kids) also got to go to the nature center together the next day...and play at the park a bit. The weather was beautiful the whole time we were in Jonesboro--what a treat to have 60 degree + days and sun!

Sunday afternoon I got to meet up with an old friend, Saraya, for an hour at the mall. Saraya was one of my after-school kids back in '99 when we first got to AR...so I have known her since she was probably 8 or 9. She's just finishing up her first year at ASU and is a great girl.

Sunday evening we had dinner with James (and Dana joined us a bit late!) and their daughter, Saraya, who is 5 (and yes, I think I'm the only person who knows TWO Sarayas!). Saraya was born in February almost exactly a year before Rowan...and those two have been friends since Rowan's birth. Mostly on account of Saraya's sweet, kind, super-compassionate spirit, honestly. The girl is just too good to be true! And Rowan adores her. It was so much fun to see them re-connect, laugh, chase each other, and just disappear into their own little world together.

James and Dana were literally our first friends other than pole vaulters in Jonesboro. And after only a few months of knowing each other, they invited us to come live with them for awhile (long story--we needed an interim place to stay in a hurry, they offered, we said sure!)....which turned into 6 months...which turned into a really fast, meaningful way to forge a friendship! Before we had kids, we would get together every Thursday night, take turns cooking dinner, watch Survivor, and then play a very competitive game of Settlers of Catan.

Phew. And this was only Day 2! Sunday night we slept over at the Matthews...and remained there as our home base for the rest of the trip. We met Dave and Rebecca through the Wilkies. Dave eventually became our pediatrician, and I eventually worked for Rebecca at PACES, then she became my lactation consultant after Rowan was born...and through all and in all of this, they have been dear friends to us. We have also gotten to know their grown children: Micah, Ben, and Meghan...and we'll be photographing Meghan's wedding this June. The Matthews have loved us like family, looked out for us, cared for us, fed us, called us, asked us good questions, thought often of our needs, laughed with us, and always answer the phone when we call for advice or an opinion. The Matthews actually used to live in Stockton...so we had the bonus of visiting with them when we were out in CA a few times! It was nice to be based at the Matthews...while we were running around most days, we knew that a calm, good conversation would await us at their home after the girls were asleep. My only regret was not taking hardly any pictures of our time at the Matthews...it felt too much like home, I guess, and I just relaxed from photo-taking duties! Oh well, I'll have more photos of their family than I will know what to do with after June 20!

On Monday I visited at my old work, PACES, for awhile. It was so good to see Qubilah, Danae, and some new employees. We went to the nature center with Amy and Eli while Joe hunted for oil (got 3/4 of the tank full...it got us all the way back to MI!) Then we showed up out at Bell Athletics to see Earl and whoever else was around.

Monday afternoon/dinner/evening we spent with the Reeves family. Dan and Veronica were also some early Jonesboro friends. Dan led that cool little house church called New Thing. They have three daughters who are each unbelievably beautiful and unique from each other. Camryn is 11, Carson is 8, and Callie is 3. Rowan, of course, had a fabulous time getting reacquainted with them and exploring their fun girly toys! And we could talk to Dan and Veronica for days on end, literally. We would not run out of things to talk about. They are real, faithful, warm, spiritually deep.

Tuesday we explored town a bit, stopped by some places we loved, stopped in on a few old friends. Dana and I visited for awhile and took the girls out for ice cream. My friend Beth came over and we took a long walk on a sunny, 68 degree day. I hired Beth to work for me at an after-school program I was running when she was a senior in high school and have loved her ever since. Now she is a k/1 teacher and is a gentle, loyal spirit.

Tuesday night the Matthews fed us. They are adventurous cooks and we enjoyed a yummy paella. Then we headed over to our old house to retrieve a few things we had left in the garage attic. Eric and Kristie are the couple that bought our house...and we didn't know them when they bought it, but they are also friends with the Reeves. They were gracious enough to help Joe load his things....and let me and the girls visit inside for awhile. It was a lot of fun to see the old house! How many memories we have there...our first home...Joe did so many projects there...we brought Rowan home there...we really really loved that house. Eric and Kristie have great taste and the changes they made I totally approve of. Mostly they just re-painted some things that definitely needed it! I'm really glad we got to go through the house.

So we were planning on leaving on Wednesday...but decided that we hadn't seen everyone we wanted to see, and stayed another day! Wednesday we surprised Grandma and Grandpa Bell...salt of the earth people who play a big role in holding together the community of pole vaulters that come to be coached by their son, Earl. Then we went back out to the building because our friend Daniel was back in town and we wanted to see him. So we played and watched vaulting for awhile. That felt familiar!

Joe went to practice at ASU and got to see a lot of athletes that he coached. Then we went over to our friends Jay and Jenny Little's house for burgers...and they were nice enough to let anyone else stop over to see us again...so we saw the Wilkies, Hewitts, Reeves, and Beth all again. Watched our crew of kids play. Got caught up on each others' lives. Good conversations all around.

We ended Wednesday night with what was supposed to be a quick stop at Chris and Polly Harrell's house. We got to know Chris and Polly during our last few years in Jonesboro. They have 2 boys...Jake and Isaac...who were very sweet to Rowan! We had a great time talking to Chris and Polly...stayed later than we had intended...and had a lingering good-bye in the driveway as we each continued to think of things to talk about!

We left Jonesboro on Thursday morning with heavy hearts. When we lived in Jonesboro, we always thought of Michigan as "home" and would look forward to our visits there.
Now we are living in Michigan, and while Michigan will always be home to us...we realized that now we will look forward to our visits to Jonesboro in much the same way. We have a second home. So much for visiting exotic locales when we have vacation time (one of my arguments for us to move to MI :))....it will be hard not to seriously consider a trip to Jonesboro on a regular basis!

We are abundantly blessed by the relationships in our lives...across the country!

By the way--the girls did GREAT on the trip. Piper was amazing in the car....she slept a lot and didn't do too much crying. Rowan is a trooper and found things to keep herself busy in the car...and LOVED all the visiting we did in Jonesboro. I told Joe that having Rowan at 4 and Piper at 3 months on a long trip was infinitely easier than Rowan by herself at 3 months!

To see a bunch more photos of our time and friends in Jonesboro, click here.


Celebrating Grandpa Thomas

Joe's maternal grandfather, Millard Thomas, passed away two weeks ago today at the age of 96.

Grandma and Grandpa Thomas would have been married 75 years this summer. SEVENTY-FIVE YEARS, can you believe it?

Grandpa has had a series of falls and set-backs in his health over the last few years...and this last year has been particularly hard as he's been living in a nursing home. Grandma faithfully visited him for the better part of every day...but it was a difficult experience for both of them.

We were fortunate to get to travel with all four of us down to Farmer City, Illinois (yes, that's right...Farmer City!), where Joe's mom grew up and where much of her family still lives, to be with family and attend the funeral.

While we are sad about grandpa's death because we will miss him...in many ways this was merciful, and it seemed like the whole family was able to celebrate grandpa's life with joy and thanksgiving.

It was a good couple of days. The funeral was beautiful. Joe read a list of memories that the grandchildren had compiled, plus said a few words about sorrow and joy. Joe's mom read a beautiful piece that she had written about grandpa's hands over the years (he had the biggest, most wrinkled hands, worn from farming and 96 years of life!) We also got to reconnect with many cousins, aunts and uncles, and other friends and family...lots of hugs, talks, and memories of grandpa.

Joe and I will be married 10 years this summer...and we dated for 4 before that...so Grandma and Grandpa Thomas have been like grandparents to me, too, for over a decade. I have thought often these weeks about how big and wide families can be...how they can just open right up and make room for another, how a parent or grandparent can make you feel like their own, even when you're already an adult. Grandpa Thomas loved me, I know it surely, and I loved him right back. We already miss you, Grandpa!

A few more photos from our days in Farmer City are posted here.