Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Perfect Gift

Our good friends, the DeGruccios, claim to not celebrate Christmas - at least not in the current tradition of Santa Claus and consumerism galore. They call it their "no-gifts policy." We took them at their word and didn't buy them gifts last year. They, in turn, gave us some some great ones, including gifts of service (watching Junie for me while I was knitting like a fiend the day before flying home for Christmas), some reusable cloth bags that we utilize daily, and a regifted toy for Junie which has saved us on many a long car ride.

I completely sympathize with their attempts to avoid: A) going overboard on gifts that you can't afford; B) buying shoddily made items because you can't afford the well-made ones, but still want to give something; and C) the irony of managing to focus on gift-giving so much, and becoming so overstressed in your search for the perfect gift, that you make life miserable for yourself and your family. Kennan DeGruccio's favorite response when encountering a garish Christmas practice is "Happy birthday, Baby Jesus!"

Last year we observed them in some of their attempts to make Christmas a meaningful experience - full of, as we like to toss the phrase about, the "true meaning of Christmas." One was a "Super Service Saturday": a whole day spent offering whatever service they could - raking leaves, washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms, etc. - to numerous families. Another was to give only gifts of service to each other for Christmas. Some of the services involved doing things that family members had requested but had fallen by the wayside due to lack of time: organizing a spouse's overflowing book collection; completing a collage of the youngest child's pictures to place next to collages that had been made for the older children during a less hectic era; arranging a celestial scene out of glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling of another child's room. The children's gifts of service were even simpler but perhaps more meaningful - probably along the lines of spending time with younger siblings playing what they wanted to play.

My attempts to avoid consumerism last year ended in me making practically every present I gave to others. It felt pretty good, but is something I think I can only manage every few years or so. Certainly not this year, as I spent 9 months pregnant (4 of those in a state of constant nausea). So I resorted to buying gifts. I tried to get well-made, thoughtful gifts that I could afford, but was only mildly successful in this department. Even worse, I was a dismal failure at avoiding scenario C as described above (one of Cody's Christmas gifts to me was a book entitled "Calming Your Anxious Mind"). It appears that even though I want to avoid making Christmas into a farce, I will almost certainly be unsuccessful unless I make a plan as to how to actively avoid this. This is my goal for next year. I should probably start planning now.

The one gift I managed to make this year was a Sock Monkey hat for Cody, which doubles as a ski mask when the brim is pulled down. This really was a labor of love as my dear husband has been braving the freezing weather so far this winter on his bike.

Despite my shortcomings this Christmas season, I did take pleasure in the lack of Santa Claus in Junie's vocabulary. On one shopping trip, a woman asked Junie if she was excited for Santa Claus. Junie's response was simply, "No." Surprised, the woman lamely said, "Oh, so you haven't been a good little boy, then?" A ridiculous response on two counts. After a moment's thought Junie followed up with, "Excited baby sisser." Translation: I'm excited I'm going to have a baby sister! Upon further reflection, some of her comments during this Christmas season indicate that she may have been expecting baby sister to be born on Christmas day. This could be due to a confusion between my pregnancy and the story of Jesus' birth. Or maybe that really was the best gift she could think of receiving on Christmas day.

Unfortunately, her gifts ended up being much less meaningful than that, and too numerous for my taste. I felt somewhat sickened after we spent all morning opening gifts and she still had gifts under the tree the next day that she hadn't gotten to. Granted she is at the gratifying stage of actually playing with and exploring gifts as she opens them, as opposed to quickly opening gifts, tossing each aside, then asking "is that all?" But still, I think she would have been happy with one or two gifts. She seemed to enjoy most the small things she found in her stocking.

Some of my favorite gifts received this year include the fact that Cody loves his Sock Monkey hat (Cody claims this is ridiculous and is not a gift, but I beg to differ). Another was watching my daughter dance to her favorite song with her favorite blanket (the boy in the video is Travis, the child I take care of on a full time basis.)

This Christmas, Cody decided to call the DeGruccio's "no-gifts policy" bluff. Much to my dismay he went shopping at the dollar store - the only place that makes my stomach turn more than Walmart. It's hard to describe the suffocating feeling I experienced upon entering Walmart after spending 18 months in Chile serving a mission. While in Chile, I saw people living the simplest of lives. I realized how few things I needed in order to not only survive, but live quite a full life. When I see everything available to us, most of which is cleverly marketed as necessity, I want to flee as quickly as possible. I feel especially disturbed when contemplating the ramifications (of the environmental and human rights variety) of the shoddily made goods available at Walmart, all for rock bottom prices. But I digress. Cody returned with some random gifts for Junie: a hippo flashlight; a jiggly rubber bracelet; a package of little red plastic firefighters chock-full of BPAs or whatever the most recent plastics scare is; etc. For the DeGruccios he purchased 4 mugs and two really weird religious themed "cards", one with a milk chocolate cross, the other with double crisp "chocolate-flavored" hands clasped in prayer. The weirdest thing about these gifts? The DeGruccios loved them.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Walking in a 22 below winter wonderland

It's true. According to, right now it feels like -22 F with the wind chill. Negative. Twenty. Two. Degrees.

Merry Christmas everyone!

PS That isn't hairspray, my hair is frozen.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

What Children Want

This holiday season is particularly significant to our young family as we finally have a child old enough to get excited about it. In many situations I find it hard, as a parent, to muster enough excitement for both a child and myself.

A little over two years ago, I suddenly went from having practically no interaction with people shorter than 5 feet to becoming almost the sole source of entertainment for Junie - when Cody isn't around, that is. I've had to guess what it is that children find interesting, exciting and meaningful. Of course the most logical way to do this would be to tap into memories of my own childhood, but for some reason I'm quite inept in this department. Mostly what I come with up is probably an adult's perception of what a child "should" find entertaining. Cody, however, is brilliant at it. Sometimes when he is able to connect with Junie in a particularly perfect way, I've asked him how he knew that was what she would enjoy. His answer is inevitably "That was something I liked as a kid" or, if he was able to change the pace of a hard moment with Junie, "I remember being bored that way as a child."

I envy this ability, and I suspect Cody is quite proud of it. One of my favorite Cody quotes from last year is, "Somehow I just knew Junie would love playing with that potato!" A potato? You've got to be kidding me. You expect me, as a rational adult who busies herself with paying bills, cooking dinner and cleaning the house, to suddenly think of giving a particularly bored Junie a potato (not a play potato, mind you, but an actual, edible potato) to play with?

How does Cody's mind work? When I attempt such absurdities, I fall flat on my face. I've even tried copying the things Cody shows Junie, but somehow she knows that he remembers finding those things interesting. I, on the other hand, am apparently transparently adult to the core. When Junie looks at a bug with Cody, she's enthralled. I, however, feel like I'm trying to lead a fully hydrated horse to water and make it drink. "Look Junie! It's a bug! It's so... neat. It's doing all kinds of fun bug things. Look at the bug, Junie. Look..." That is me trailing off as she shows no interest in the bug and moves off to look at a far more interesting rock. But why a rock, Junie? I've steeled myself against having to look closely at a yucky bug that I would most likely have squished with a shoe had I found it in our house. Has all my steeling been for nothing? I can at least imagine that bugs might be interesting to a two year old, but a boring old rock?

As I was downloading and perusing our recent photos and video clips of Junie in preparation for this post, Cody asked, "Why are you always the one taking the videos?" My somewhat self-righteous response was, "I guess because I think to do it." But upon further thought, it may be that the times Junie is having the most fun (and thus is the most enticing to camera-wielding adults) is when she's interacting with Cody.

Take a simple walk through the fall leaves:

Or sidestepping along a ledge:

But Cody isn't the only one that I see relating well to my daughter while I flounder in my attempts to be a "fun mom." The week of Thanksgiving, we braved an 11 hour drive to D.C. to visit Cody's brother Jesse, his wife Sarah and their new baby Julian.

Juniper, by the way, did splendidly during the trip. Much to our delight she seems to have suddenly developed the ability to self-entertain for long stretches in the car. But back to my story... Sarah's Aunt Bibiana graciously let us stay in her house. It was a beautiful home only a five minute walk from the Capitol. Bibiana, however, has no children. Mothers with small children may be able to imagine the number of near-heart attacks I had during our four day stay as I stalked Junie's every move, trying to keep her from touching the incredibly interesting, incredibly fragile things that filled her house. Junie quickly learned a new word while there: breakable.

Luckily there was a school playground just across the street, to which we fled with regularity.

We also made sure to ride the metro, something Junie has been remembering fondly since our trip this summer to visit Jesse and Sarah. For an hour and a half of entertainment, it was the best $2.70 we ever spent.

We did, however, have a great time visiting with Sarah and Jesse, and getting to know our new little nephew, Julian. Junie instantly adored Julian - the only trick was to keep her from literally smothering him with her love.

Jesse and Sarah were great hosts. Despite her sleep deprived state as a new mother, Sarah coordinated, and we all prepared, an impressive Thanksgiving feast.

The last day of our visit, we began playing a board game while Junie was napping. This was also the day Bibiana returned from her Thanksgiving vacation. Around the time she got home, Junie woke up and was instantly enamored with all the plastic board game pieces that we had spent the last hour and a half carefully placing on the board in our individual attempts to emerge as champion of "Ticket to Ride." My heart rate rapidly rose as I desperately tried to concentrate on the game while keeping Junie not only away from everything in the house (doubly stressful since Bibiana was now present) but away from the game board which we had stupidly set up on a low coffee table, extremely accessible to Junie. I unsuccessfully tried to keep her at bay with spare cards and pieces set safely away from where the action was. She saw right through my feeble attempts and would have none of it. About at the end of my rope, I watched as Sarah began helping an instantly pacified Junie set up spare trains on the game board. Not be outdone by my sister-in-law with only 6 weeks experience as a mom, I lamely tried to jump in: "Hey Junie! Where do you want to put this train? No, no, not over there. No... wait! Arghh!" this last exclamation being yelped as she destroyed the entire railway system of southwest Europe. My only helpful contribution at this point was to remember it was snack time and safely restrain her in her high chair where she couldn't wreak further havoc.

And so, as Christmas approaches, I see a chance to redeem myself in a way. Here is an intrinsically fun time of year, right? It's basically a given that Junie will enjoy making Christmas cookies, listening to Christmas songs, looking at Christmas lights, playing in the snow, etc. And so yesterday I eagerly embraced my new role as a fun Christmas-time mom by planning and executing our day of setting up and decorating the Christmas tree.

Yes, it went well enough. But then today Cody goes and does a simple thing like suggest to Junie that they make popcorn together...

What can I say? Cody has a special talent for interacting with kids. At least our kid. And I'm lucky he does.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Anything interesting happen in the last half year?


Junie wore a new dress to church.

Junie amazed even herself by hanging from the monkey bars without support.


Two whirlwind girls were captured during a brief pause in fall leaf frolicking.


Junie and Jennie played on some haystacks.


Andy and his creation prepared for their first night of trick-or-treating together. The soup won an award for best dressed 0-2 year old.


Pregnant Liza Minnelli joined them at a bonfire later that night.


Junie helped Jennie grind tomatoes into sauce.


Junie was stunned by the sudden presentation of a chocolate raspberry birthday cake at her party.


Junie and Jennie enjoyed one of the last warm rain showers for the year.


Junie decides to start earning her keep.


Grandma cuddles, a rare treat.

Daddy's done, sorta. Or actually, not at all.

Our camera broke just after graduation, thus the gap.

Upcoming: more words!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Life as a Psychologist's Daughter

After Cody began studying psychology he occasionally made comments about how great it would be to have identical twins - imagine all the psychological experiments you could conduct! Fortunately for Junie, she came solo. Although there was some talk of pretty odd name choices in the name of psychology/in order to toughen her up (A Boy Named Sue by Johnny Cash was used as anecdotal evidence), Cody hasn't followed through with his prenatal schemes. In fact, once she was born, he was content to rear her based on his fatherly instinct, while I agonized over what was, empirically speaking, the best way to raise her into a well-adjusted, obedient, brilliant little kid.

Cody couldn't, however, suppress his psychologist/researcher side forever, and the other day I caught him letting it out, full force. Check out the following video. Hopefully there won't be any permanent psychological ramifications...

She has shown some disturbing exhibitionist tendencies lately... should we be concerned?

I suppose some might question the healthiness of our boundaries...

And then there are the psychological experiments Junie seems to be conducting on us. What child in their right mind would walk in circles when there is an entire group of highly entertaining ducks right next to them??

But in all seriousness, why does Junie's eventual success in life seem to hinge upon every single parenting decision we make? (Letting her shower with Cody, aside...) Why do parents inflict that type of torture on themselves? I wholeheartedly agree that providing a safe and loving environment for your children will likely positively affect how well-adjusted and happy they eventually are, but there are many different ways that loving environment can be achieved. And I am convinced at this point that letting your child chew on rocks on the playground will not make or break them as a contributing member of society. I am still, however, struggling to come to terms with the notion that allowing Junie that extra sippy cup of juice will not doom her to eventual obesity and a mouth full of rotten teeth. The fact that I am even questioning these minutiae at this point gives me hope for our next child. But I also have to admit that Junie will probably always suffer from my own psychological issues with being a parent as she moves through uncharted territory for me as a mother. But to the next kid I say, enjoy those rocks!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Hard up for entertainment

Keeping Juniper occupied is more than just a pastime, it is the pastime. Juniper is getting old enough to want to always explore, interact, engage--but environmental limitations like short legs, limited coordination, and (mostly) this endless winter do put a damper on her adventures. When last summer ended, Juniper was still only crawling. Now that she's walking and climbing, she feels her birthright to play outside, and asks to go out all the time. She lacks a working knowledge of and, by extension, the knowledge that the temperature is still in the negative double digits at times. Outside exploration is limited.

Enter Mom and Dad. We're often amazed both at what does and does not interest her. Interest her: Walking. Not interest her: Being carried, even when it's well below freezing outside and Dad really wants to go in. Interest her: Books. Not interest her: The same books (when in church). Interest her: crackers in a box. Not interest her: nearly identical homemade crackers. Interest her: Washing the dishes. Interest her: Blowing a piece of fuzz. Interest her: a ten minute long video of an orchestra performing Rossini's William Tell Overture. Interest her: Touching the on/off light on the computer. Interest her: A screwdriver. Interest her: A battery. Interest her: A pen. Not interest her: Going to bed.

Junie with a feather (look closely), Dad's hand (lower right) and Mom (not pictured). She will watch us blow a feather around for ten or fifteen minutes at a time.
Our second worst enemy (after winter) is diaper rash. See if you can figure out what this jovial young lady is wearing before continuing.

Jennie created a diaper contraption that would both save Junie from diaper rash and save our carpets from Junie. It consists of two diapers, a handful of safety pins, a pair of suspenders, and a small piece of yarn.

Moms and Dads need wintertime entertainment too.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Junie has recently discovered belly buttons. She says "hee hee" when she pokes her little finger into one (Cody taught her that one). This also brings to mind a new concept she has just learned which is "off" and "on". She uses it in conventional ways, such as the light or some other electrical appliance being on or off, as well as taking clothing off or putting it on. In terms of belly buttons, when I have let her have a peek at my belly button and the novelty has worn off, she says "off" as she is pulling my shirt down back over it. Interesting the way a baby's logic works.

After years of wishing I knew how to play the violin I have finally begun taking violin lessons. My teacher tells me all the time how quickly I am catching on - after 2 lessons, I get to start actually playing. Although I'd like to feel flattered, I must remind myself that the rest of her starting students are two or three years old. I'm kind of glad I didn't try starting at a young age - I don't think I would've had the patience to make it past the months of simply holding the violin, holding the bow and making sure my feet were in the right position. Cody was mocking me as he took this picture of me just standing there, holding the violin under my chin... "oh, you're 'practicing' the violin, are you?"

This basket in Junie's room is becoming a favorite spot for her in the rare moments that she actually prefers to be alone.

A new favorite mommy-Junie activity. She has now added the words "bubbles" and "dishes" to her vocabulary. The other night I made the mistake of inviting her to wash dishes a little too close to her bedtime. When Cody took her to get ready for bed before I was done, she cried nonstop for the next 10 minutes, wailing "dishes! dishes!" over and over.

We had an impromptu visit this week from Jeremy Fraley (a childhood friend of Cody's) and his family en route from Boston back to San Diego.

Junie has a collection of mini-board books that highlight each letter of the alphabet. She adores these and sometimes will ask us to read each book, one right after the other, without tiring of it. She has surprised us recently by being able to recognize and say about 15 letters. She has maybe 5 to 10 that she always gets right, and some that are hit or miss. Her first letter that she recognized and said with regularity was "F". She now amazes us by spotting and saying letters on signs, our shirts, food packaging, etc. Perhaps this is normal, but each jump in development for her seems almost miraculous to us. The following video is of her saying a letter and also shows off how many pictures/symbols she recognizes and for which she often has words or signs. It's also funny to note how words that sound similar to others have become permanently fixed in her mind as the similar sounding word. For example, in the "I" book, there is a picture of an iron. Every time Junie sees this picture she makes the sound of a police siren - get it? Iron vs. Siren. In the video that follows, she sees the number 8 and makes the sign for "eat". This also goes for visuals: she regularly confuses W with M and C with G. Can you tell I like to talk about all Junie is learning?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Junie and Cody were sick this week with a nasty flu bug. At least they could keep each other company while they recuperated. They looked so pitiful! The funniest thing about this picture was that when I laid Junie on the couch, she seemed to be oblivious of Cody's presence until he moved a few minutes later.

Today the sun was actually out making it look deceptively warm. But after having Junie cooped up in the house all week with the flu, I decided to brave the cold that was sure to greet us outside. Here she is getting bundled up in preparation.

Junie gloried in being outside. Despite being well-bundled, she still managed to climb all over the playground equipment. When I finally decided it was time to go in, she cried the whole way. As I mentioned before, we can't wait for warm weather!

Back inside, I discovered her feet were little icicles, so I wrapped her in an electric blanket and gave her a bottle of warm milk. Babies may be good at letting us know when they need some things essential to their survival (food, water, sleep) but it appears that Junie would rather freeze than come inside.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Compare these two images, taken within days of each other. Both in December, one in freezing Indiana and the other in sunny southern California. Junie's good mood captured in the pictures lasted a lot longer in the latter.

Junie and Aunt Annie

Happy baby in your face

Junie relished time spent with the "big kids" at the Rands' house.

Christmas (and bubble wrap) come but once a year!

Cooking with Dad.

When Cody offers to cook dinner he lets Junie join in the fun (and gives Mom a double vacation!)

Keeping warm with Dad

Junie braves the cold weather and insists on walking from the car to the apartment in order to capture a few more moments outside. On the rare occasions she lets us carry her to and from the car, she repeats "cold! cold!" over and over as she leans toward the snow - she doesn't let up until we lean down to let her nestle her fingers into it for a moment. We can't wait for spring!

We couldn't resist posting this video of Junie saying her newest word.