Monday, April 30, 2012

For My Mom - Happy Birthday!

Tomorrow is my Mom’s birthday.  She’s amazing.  I love and respect her more than any other women I have met or heard of.  And while we usually give small gifts to her or gift cards or flowers, this year I thought I’d put in writing some of my top ten memories, moments and favorite things about her.  Or at least try.

10:  We always stand and sit the same.  And always say the exact same thing at the exact same time.  Then we realize that we’re standing or sitting or saying the same thing so we switch how we are standing/sitting and realize that we are then in the same position.  Or stop talking mid-sentence at the same time.  And then look at each other and burst out laughing.  This happens a few times every time we’re together and we always end up laughing.

9:  Daily walks and talks.  She’s always up for going for walks.  All through high school, one of the things I most looked forward to was getting home so that we could do our daily walk.  We had a long version and short version.  And we always chatted about things going on.  Mostly I rambled on about high school things and now wonder how she ever endured hearing non-stop high school drama.  We also talked about sad moments and hurtful moments.  And then there was the day when we were still a ways from home and had on white t-shirts.  And it started to rain.  Hard.  And we had no umbrella and all we could do was laugh.  Now it’s a fun walk with Riley and Julia and they love going on them just like we do.  Hoping to continue the walks with them as they grow.

Still today, my mom and I rarely go a day without having a conversation on the phone.  We even email during work hours or facebook messages.  But we almost always have a phone conversation.  Usually about work or the girls, but it’s one of my favorite times every day.  Always peaceful.  And always reassuring.

8:  Humor.  I love my mom’s humor.  She is sarcastic, wity and brilliant.  She writes amazing.  And has great lines to say – even if she doesn’t necessarily think of them when talking to someone.  But she has great comebacks later J  We’ve had so many moments of hilarious laughter.  Like when my brother Jim answered the phone and called for my mom to talk to the telemarketer while imitating the man’s voice on the phone.  My mom held the phone in her hand and was laughing so incredibly hard that she never answered it and ended up just hanging up.  And we all died laughing.

7:  Music has always been a part of our family.  My grandparents were concert pianists who toured Europe and worked as the head of the music department at Connecticut College.  My mom was a music teacher, pianist and worship leader.  She never pushed me to take piano lessons, but did encourage me.  And I’m sure she was glad when I started back at it when I was in high school.  I love that our family has a rich history of music and that music continues to be so important in our lives.  It’s a great legacy.

6:  My mom instilled a love for travel in me at a young age.  Going to London with my grandparents and my mom allowed me to fall in love with places beyond where I lived and fostered a love of meeting new people and learning about other cultures.  We’ve traveled many places as a family and our next journey will be on a cruise to Bermuda for my brother’s wedding.  I always loved having special time with her on vacations.  There are several memories I have from our trip to London:

-       Going to a restaurant and ordering a salad with carrots.  Only to be served an entire plate piled high with carrots.
-       Seeing the ballet “Sleeping Beauty” at the Royal Opera House.  It was truly magical.  And then I got a new ballet bag and some ballet items that I still have today.
-       Watching “All About Eve” in our hotel room.  Why I remember this, I have no idea.  It seemed to be a very odd movie.
-       Going to a toy store and picking out a porcelain doll.  The doll now rests in Julia’s room on her shelf.  I remember the doll was laying face down in the case and when they lifted her up, she was so beautiful.

I love that she traveled when she could and always encouraged seeing the world.  Going to Italy with a crazy and sub-par group of singers was one of my favorites of all time. The stories were so funny. 

And then there are the family vacations:  Idaho, Disney World, Connecticut, Tennessee, Crystal Mountain Ski Resort.  Spending lots of time with family and long car rides.  And arguing over who gets to sit in the “middle middle” of the backseat.  Or who will be the owners of stores in the mall while my mom is saying “We’re not going to ever own the mall!!”  And we continue to fight over who would own the toy store.

5:  Always accepting me for who I am.  Fun loving elementary kid, nerdy tween, prude high schooler, searching college student, lost 20 year old, confident 30 year old and new mom – she’s loved me through every stage.  And always having the right thing to say at the right time. 

My mom always let me know that she was always on my side even when I wasn’t right.  Like when I painted my closet white with an outdoor brush.  She just thought it was great I wanted to paint my closet.  Or when I ripped up all of the carpeting in my room because I wanted to see the hardwood floors underneath.  Or when I started to rip off the wallpaper and eagle outlet covers WHILE the movers were moving our things into the house.  “Great job, Jess!  Can’t wait to put up new wallpaper!”

Or when I had my best friend Jessica call home to say that we had gotten stopped by a very long train and that was why I had missed my curfew.  True story – we had gotten stopped by the train.  But I still missed curfew and they were still mad.  But I at least knew my mom believed me.  Dad, I think you believe me now.  It’s really true.  Ask Wells.

4:  Teaching me that life gets better with age.  As my mom ages, she gets more beautiful and comfortable in her own skin.  She told me several years ago that her 20’s were hard, that her 30’s were better, that she liked her 40’s and that she has really loved her 50’s.  She doesn’t feel like she has to impress anyone and she likes who she is.  I love that.  Now, she didn’t say it proudly or as though she thinks she’s better than anyone else.  But she said it as someone who has realized she has worth and that she is deserving of loving and taking care of herself just because she is herself.  She makes me really look forward to my 50’s and beyond. 

I love when she says she wants to be feisty to the end.  I want to be just like her.

3:  One of my favorite phone calls was when my mom called to say “So I pulled a Jessica today.”  Then I found out that somehow she was sweeping and the broom hit the ground weird, flew up and hit her eye.  And she had a black eye.  We had a good laugh about that one.

I love that my mom finds my quirks funny.  And that she has shown me that life is just so much better when you can laugh at yourself.

Like when you leave yourself a voice message when you were trying to create a new voice mailbox message for others to hear or when you try to pump up a car tire with a bike pump in the driveway.  (Thank you Dad for helping me realize that wasn’t a good idea)  Life really is so much better when you realize life is not as serious as we make it out to be sometimes.

2:  My mom always has a way of looking at my life and my brothers’ lives with total optimism that we can do anything we set our minds to.  And then encouraging us to do whatever we think is best for us. 

“College in Tennessee?  Going to Israel?  Ok!”

“You’re engaged to a guy from South Africa and we haven’t ever met him?  How romantic!”

“You want to go sky diving.  Yikes – I’d never do that, but good for you!”

“What guy in Texas?  I think that’s wonderful.  You should move down there and go for it!”

“A girl in Rhode Island?  Can’t wait to meet her – she sounds wonderful!”

“You want to move to Atlanta for a job change?  Again – good for you and go for it if that’s what you choose!  Or if you stay here, we’d love that too!  But do what you think is best.”

She always told me that I am never trapped in life.  That even when things feel out of my control (I mean life is really out of my control and in God’s hands, but sometimes you feel out of control) and you feel as though life won’t ever get better, that you always have choices.  You have the choice to choose better things and make changes even when they are hard.   That taking risks keeps you from feeling trapped and that you always have options in life.  And sometimes the change that comes or the disappointing news is really just God putting you on a different path…

From getting my dream job offer rescinded due to hard economic times to having a fiancĂ© dump me on Christmas Day in South Africa while I’m away from everyone I know to watching all my friends get married before I did to going through difficult career moves to navigating life itself, my mom was always there to reassure me that good things were on the horizon and that I had choices.  I was never stuck.  I could do anything.

1: Now that I’m a mom, I get to have the chance to love two little girls in a way no one else ever will.  And I get to see all the things my mom sees in me.  As well as getting to see her be their Grandma and watch her spoil our girls in ways only she can.  I love that she loves our family so much and that she still pours into my life and helps me to be the best mom/daughter/person I can be.  I love that every day I’m more appreciative of all she did for me as I was growing up.  I love that she lives so close.  And that she is still and will always be the most amazing mom.  Ever.  And now she gets to be the most amazing Grandma.  Ever.  Just ask Riley and Julia.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Birthday Pictures

On our way!!

Figuring out the surprise tea party location!

Sitting down with her doll (doll for tea anyway)

Yummy appetizers!!

This is heavy!!

"This is my happy scream, Mom"

More surprises!

Testing it out...

Looking good, Daddy!

Explaining flavors

Loving on Poppi and Grammy

Beaming while we sing
"Happy Birthday"

Happy Birthday to
our beautiful and amazing
little girl

More Birthday Fun!

We drove home from the mall.  My parents, Jeremy's parents, and her cousin Tripp came over to play.  Tripp was awesome!!!  He was quite calm and played so nicely!  It was so nice to have them over!

Julia fell asleep right when we got home so she slept through most of the party.  Riley opened a few more presents - some Pinkalicious and Fancy Nancy books from Madi, a set of two suitcases from all the Grandparents for the cruise this summer, and a velvet dress from Jim - looks somewhat Renaissance like and is gorgeous!

Then my mom took Riley upstairs so my dad could get her last three items into the house.  He put them in the hallway so we could close the door and let her be very surprised!

Madi went upstairs to let them know they could come down.  Then she covered Riley's eyes and led her into the office.  She opened the door and took her hand off Riley's eyes... Riley said she couldn't believe it!

There was a new bike, new helmet and new scooter!  She was SO excited!!!

Madi went out back to get her bike.  Riley put on shoes and we all went out to watch her ride.  She did fabulous on the scooter.  Much easier for her than the bike at first.  She tipped over on the bike - despite training wheels - and was embarrassed and upset.  She went inside and pouted.

But then later in the day, she got back out there and rode her bike really well!  Was quite impressed with Tripp's skills at bike riding!  She and Tripp took turns riding each one and shared very nicely.  Julia woke up and was able to have help riding and doing the scooter.  Loved it!

We all sang 'Happy Birthday' to Riley.  She was beaming and very happy.  Jeremy picked up Nothing Bundtinis as well as some Sprinkles Cupcakes.  He cut them in halves and fourths and we all had a mixture of the different flavors.  So amazing tasting!!

Ordered pizza for dinner.  Was an incredible birthday party and Riley had such a fabulous day.

First American Girl Doll!!

We've been anticipating today for several weeks.  Riley turns five on Wednesday!!  We wanted to do a really fun birthday party, but without spending $$$$$$.  Near impossible to do when you live in Dallas, when your child has tons of friends she loves, and when the price to just sign up for birthday parties in the area require $100 deposits.  We looked at several options and finally decided to do something that would create a special day all day long as well as give her time with her favorite people - her family.  Or at least, we're her favorite people most of the time :)

Riley enjoys reading the story "Tea For Ruby."  It's about a girl who receives a letter inviting her to have tea with the Queen and asking her to bring her best manners.  Two weeks ago, my mom sent her an invitation to have tea with the Queen.  She addressed it to Madi and Riley.  The girls got dressed up and my mom and I wore dresses and sandals.

Riley woke me up this morning with "Mom, wake up!  It's my birthday and we have a tea party to go to! I'm not really five today, but I'm going to pretend to be five today anyway.  But I know I'm still four, but I'll pretend to be five."

This morning I took the girls to church while Jeremy spent time finishing a major project at work.  He's been working on it every Saturday for the last five weeks and needed to go in for a little while today.  Riley came out of her class at church to tell me that everyone had sung 'Happy Birthday' to her and that so far, it was her favorite part of her day.  She said that she felt happy when everyone sang to her.  Riley changed into her bright pink cocktail dress.  With sparkly pink shoes - of course!

She was very excited and called herself "birthday girl" all day long.  She kept talking about how happy the birthday girl was and really wanted Julia to understand that it was her birthday.  Julia sang "Happy Birthday" to her several times.  Very cute!!

We stopped by my parents' house and picked up my mom.  As we started to drive to the surprise tea party celebration, we'd ask Riley if she had any guesses as to where we were going.  She guessed that we were going to Buca first and then said she had no idea.

She didn't recognize the drive to the Galleria and I got off an exit early to take a little more time since traffic was so light.

We walked around the mall for a little while and then went outside to walk to the American Girl Store.  Jeremy met us there and picked up Julia so that she could get her nap and so we could do the girls' tea party.  Riley and Madi started to walk ahead of us a little bit to see the store.  I told Riley we were going to the store with red on the outside.  Then my mom asked her if she knew where we were going.

Once Riley was able to see what was in the windows, she burst out with "American Girl!!  I'm getting an American Girl Doll!!!!  Really???? Ohhhh!  American Girl!!!"  And started to jump and then Madi and Riley ran to the entrance.  They were both excited.

We made reservations for the four of us to eat at their bistro upstairs.  We looked around for a minute or so downstairs before going up.  The bistro is decorated very girly and cute - lots of pink and flowers.  They let you choose a doll to eat with and it comes with a highchair that attaches to the table.  The girls both chose dolls to eat with.

Riley looked around the room and said to me "Wow - there are a lot of people eating lunch with their Queens!"

It was quite overwhelming.  And quite the experience.  Each meal costs $15 per person.  It comes with an appetizer and a main course.  Wasn't sure what to expect out of the food and had low hopes as I figured it was more about the name of the store than it was about good food.  I was wrong!!

My spinach artichoke dip with pita was delicious!!  And my panko chicken on greens was delicious!  Madi was even able to order salmon!!!  As well as chicken noodle soup that she said was the best she's every had.  And she loved every bite of it as well.  Riley had a hot dog/hamburger combo with fresh fruit and yogurt appetizer.  My mom had the same appetizer I did and then had chicken strips.  We were all very satisfied with the food!  Though Riley couldn't wait to go figure out which doll she wanted to buy.

During the meal, Riley and I walked around the small area by the doll salon to see the clothes and dolls that they had upstairs.  When everyone was done eating, I stayed behind to pay for the meal while all of them went to look some more.

We went downstairs to look at their large selection of dolls.  Riley didn't seem too interested in very many of them.  Jeremy and I had talked about how we had no doubt that she would find the doll she wanted and say 'that one!' and be totally content with her choice.  Sure enough - that's what she did.  She got to the McKenna Doll and said "I want this one."  We looked at a few others to be sure, but she knew that was the one she wanted.

She had also looked through the catalog the last few months and knew which dog she wanted.  So she found that dog and my mom got it for her.  We got her a book of paper dolls (she loves paper dolls!!!!) and my mom bought a pj outfit for her doll that also had slippers with it.

We went and paid for the items.  Riley was thrilled with her purchase and said thank you many times.  She said "I like my doll because she is mine and I wanted her."  She never asked for more and never asked for a second one.  She never regretted getting the one she chose and was fully convinced in her mind that she chose correctly.  Love that!

She said that it was a great birthday... but it was only the beginning!

Saturday, April 28, 2012


This morning Madi, Riley and I went to church at 8am to help a group called Numana.  They provide food and water for the starving in Africa.  Our church had them bring a team to help lead us in packaging food.  When told what we were doing, Riley goes "I'm so excited to help!"

We signed in and then got beautiful head covers to wear.  :)  I mean, hair nets :)

We were told to stand in a line and they waited for a minute until there were fourteen of us.  Then we went into the sanctuary.  There were many, many tables set up in factory lines.  We were sent to Table 1.  Everyone was given a certain job by the person in charge of our table.  It went like this:

Gather bag, scoop beans, scoop rice, scoop soy, add vitamin, weigh bag, set in container, seal bag, press items in bag flat and stack two high over 18 rectangles, package 36 bags into box and seal box - then yell and hoot and holler and cheer once box was ready to send!

The kids had to be on the end where we were pressing the bags flat and stacking them high.  Madi wasn't too happy about this at first and wanted to scoop the food.  She didn't want to press them or stack them.  I told her that every job was important and that no matter where they needed us, we were there to help get this food to the people who needed it.  Everything we did today was meaningful and purposeful and important.  She didn't complain after that for the rest of our time.

Madi got really into it after a few bags.  She was smiling and enjoying herself.  It was a little bit hard for Riley to press the tough soy down and the beans, but she did really well.  Madi got to help seal the bags for a while and then helped press the bags down and organize them on the chart on the table.

Riley got tired after an hour.  I gave her a granola bar to eat against the wall where I could see her (couldn't eat at the table).  She drew for a long time and then played with her stuffed animal puppy.  Then helped me seal some bags.  Thought she did a fantastic job!  

Each bag feeds six people.  Totally amazing because it is about the serving size Jeremy and I would eat just the two of us for dinner.  The goal was to serve 600,000 people and create 100,000 bags.  They had scheduled for it to take 4 hours, but they said we finished in record time in only 2 hours.

Ready to start!!

Organizing bags

Getting ready to flatten her bag

Small bag feeds six people for one meal

Kids were able to draw and write messages on the boxes

Madi is sealing the bag while the lady holding it is stretching
(so glad she can't see this picture - she wouldn't like me very much
for posting it -hahahha)

One of Riley's drawings on the box

The entire time we were packaging, there was worship music playing, someone explaining what exactly the meals do, talking about starvation in Africa and how Numana plays a part in helping.  There was a gong that was hit after we reached every 10,000 bags.  Sometimes we reached it by 20,000 bags so quickly that they just skipped some.

About halfway through, Madi said "I want to do this again next year!  I feel so good helping."  I told her we'd try to do it again if they had it and that she absolutely should feel good about helping - she was doing an awesome job!

At the end, I bought two tshirts.  She's really excited to be able to wear to school on Monday and share about her experience.  We talked tonight about what an awesome thing it was that we were able to use our time and do simple tasks that will help so many people.  Was a really great way to look outside ourselves.  And such a fun day!!