Friday, April 25, 2008


Today, sadly, I attended another funeral service. This time, again, though I did not know the deceased, his daughter has become like family to me and Jack. Mid week, Jack's teacher, Michelle, learned of the sudden passing of her father. I know it has been an especially difficult situation, and there are many emotions she is having to face.

In all of this however, what I am most impressed with is Michelle's ability to be strong, for herself, for her daughter Lexi who is just in 1st grade, for her grandmother who lost a son at just 47 years old.

There is something about Michelle that has always struck me as special. From first meeting her last September when she was a new teacher at Odyssey and Jack was one of her first "kids", I can say it is a rare thing to be around someone that truly shows compassion and care for children as she does. And as much love and sweetness as she showers the kids in her care all day long, I have absolutely no doubt she doubles that for her own children at the end of what can only be a very long day among 1 & 2 year olds. Lexi and Cain are two of the most polite, well mannered, sweet children I have had the pleasure to meet.

So, my heart and prayers this week go out to Michelle, Lexi and Cain, and also for the man in her life - Jonathan, who seems to also have found how special she is. Jack has been blessed to be in Michelle's care since last September, the longest relationship he's had with anyone on a daily basis other than me and Cory. With us living away from home and family, it's people like Michelle that make us feel like Birmingham is truly our home and that we do have our own "family" here!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

So Hard to Choose!

Have to brag on the sis and her family now. Lots going on with the Mork's, Josh gets the coveted transfer back to the midwest, they sold their house in NJ in 8 days, found an incredible house back in Racine and will be back near Mimi and YaYa in a short month or so.

While attending a festival at her friend Melissa's synagogue (her husband is the rabbi), Clare entered a few raffles just for the heck of it to support the effort and won a photo shoot with an NYC photographer. What a treat - or is it???? Now she has to choose which pics she wants to buy and I don't envy her that. They all turned out awesome!

Check out the slideshow here:

Good luck Clare & Josh on this one!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Famous Baby Duke!

We got a great compliment recently! The company that created Duke's birth announcement, Purple Stork, asked to use Duke's for their website! You can view it at the following link, just scroll down to the date of April 13th to see him:

If any of you are looking to create an announcement, holiday cards, graduation announcements, or even birthday invitations that are unique and very creative, check out their website.

I discovered them two years ago when searching for a place to order Jack's announcement and found them to be reasonably priced while still offering a professional service. I took the pictures, uploaded them and their creative team did all the cropping, red eye removal and choosing of which pics they thought would look best based on the design I chose. They let me view as many proofs and make as many changes as I wanted and the best part - they were lightning fast! I received incredible service and felt like I was working with a friend rather than a mystery website or photo card shop.

Most of you probably received both of my kid's actual announcements, (and if you didn't and would like one, I still have a few extras ;-), and I can't tell you how many compliments I received on them.

And the personal touch was really special. When I went back to them for Duke's announcements, they remembered (or at least their staff was attentive enough to check!) that I had used them for Jack's announcement and as special suprise, when I received Duke's announcements in the mail, they had created a photo keychain for me with Duke's announcement on one side and Jack's on the other!

It was a refreshing change to have a company be so personal!

If you do find a reason to become a customer, use the coupon code of PURPLE18 and you'll get $10 off any order over $100 (expires June 1, 2008)

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Tribute

Today I attended the funeral for Brooke Paracca Isbell (see yesterday's blog for more info). I can't even describe the grief that filled the room for this young wife and mother of two, she was just 31 years old. Although we all agree she lives on, it still will take time for those that loved her to truly move on and understand this life cut short. And through all of this, her mother, my friend Penny, has still not been told of her death as everyone agrees that due to Penny's delicate condition, she would probably not survive the news. On a dark day, however there was good news - Penny spoke for the first time today since being put on life support two weeks ago. On Wednesday, March 26th they didn't believe she'd make it through the night but she continues to prove the doctors wrong.

I wanted to share with everyone the poem that was included at the service. It gave me solace during a service that was more difficult than any I have ever attended, and in this case I had never even met Brooke, her husband Anthony or her boys, Bailey (10) and Peyton (3). It speaks to the strength of this family.

To Those I Love
When I am gone, just release me,
Let me go - so I can move into my afterglow.
You mustn't tie me down with your tears;
let's be happy that we had so many years.
I gave you my love, you can only guess how much
you gave me in happiness.
I thank you for the love you each have shown,
but now it's time I traveled on alone.
So grieve for me a while, if grieve you must,
then let your grief be comforted with trust.
It's only for a while that we must part,
so bless the memories within your heart.
And then, when you must come this way alone,
I'll greet you with a smile and a "Welcome Home."
(Author Unknown)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Shout to American Idol!

I'm not a die hard American Idol fan. It's a rare thing for me to get both kids to bed and things organized for the next day before 8pm and so I usually miss most of the show, but I do catch it when I can. Last night I tuned in and caught the last hour of the Idol Gives Back show. It was pretty interesting, seeing all the places they plan to honor with gifts, all related to poverty stricken areas. But the last performance of the show gave me a whole new respect for AI and if I knew who made the call to have this season's contestants perform it, I would give him/her a medal. Imagine my shock and suprise as Ryan Seacrest announced they would be singing "Shout to the Lord"! I nearly fell out of my chair that on network television in a prime spot, on a prime show, that a praise & worship song would be featured! It was both amazing and wonderful and much, much overdue! Maybe there is hope for America yet!

On a side note, for those of you that find it in your heart to pray for others in need, I have two families I'd like you to put on your prayer lists for the weeks to come.

First, Penny Paracca, a fellow board member of mine from Birmingham's Children's Hospital Auxiliary has been fighting an unknown illness since October last year. She has been in and out of the hospital, has endured multiple surgeries, fought high blood pressure problems and is now on full dialysis. They aren't certain of the source of each problem or the diagnosis for her. Two weeks ago, she was rushed, unconcious to the emergency room and spent a week on life support before they could wean her off. Her husband, Bill, is the most faithful person I have ever encountered. Throughout this entire process he has continued to believe and profess that Penny will be cured and his positive demeanor and faith is an inspiration. This week however, even worse news. In what seems to be a tragic accident, Penny & Bill's daughter Brooke was found dead in her garage on Monday morning. At this time, they believe she may have slipped and hit her head, fatally. Brooke and her husband have two young boys, 10 & 3. So for this family that has endured so much in the last 6 months, and just had this laid upon them, please say a prayer for their continued faith and healing.

Second, my dear college friend Kerry Curtis wrote tonite to share that she is at her father's bedside in northern WI as he is undergoing chemotherapy for bone cancer. Kerry herself has been dealing with an auto immune problem for nearly a year which had them believing for some time that she was facing cancer. Thankfully that does not seem to be the case for her, although I am sure she is still dealing with other issues due to her diagnosis. Now she has to be strong at her father's side as he fights for his life. Please pray for her strength during this difficult time.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Living in Alabama, Always Exciting!

One thing I learned quickly once we'd settled here is that weather is a major part of your life when you live in Alabama. Major thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail, hurricanes, even snow storms, halt life as you know it and turn all the TV stations to 24 hour weather reporting centers. The entire city will shut down; schools let out early, start late, or don't open at all that day, offices close on the threat of "inclement" weather, the grocery stores are overrun with people buying milk and bread (for bread sandwiches I guess); honestly we've witnessed it, and it's quite unbelievable.

Now, I shouldn't make too much fun, because in the 10+ years we have lived here, there have been legitimate major storms. I remember several years ago during one spring, we had two tornadoes in the span of four weeks that hit less than 5 miles east and west of our office. And of course, if we do have any snow, it's usually following a period of rain, that quickly turns to ice with snow on top of it. And with 80% of the population of this state pining to be a NASCAR driver taking turn 4 at Talladega Super Speedway, trust me, you don't want to be on the roads. We also had our share of hurricanes in 2004-05; between Ivan, Dennis and Katrina we got plenty of wind and rain (and in turn spent plenty on a generator for hurricanes to come). The strange thing about hurricanes though, it's a sit and wait situation. You hear about it for days before it approaches and then just sit around, waiting to see what happens, just bizarre! But the rain, the rain, it's the most amazing thing. I had never witnessed storms that produced so much hard rain as the typical spring thunderstorm in Alabama. All day rain is not that common here, but the 30 minute downpour that produces 1" or more of rain is almost a weekly occurance as spring turns to summer and the afternoon heat balloons to 90+ degrees.

This past Friday was one of the first storm days of our season. We had heard it could get nasty in the afternoon, so around 12:30pm, it was announced the Jefferson and Shelby County Schools would all be closing early at 1:30. This meant most daycares would also close, and although mine usually stays open as the director feels it is their duty to be open as much as possible for the working parents, much of the staff has kids in school, so if we decide to close early at work, I always head on over to pick up the kids, as I did on Friday at about 1:45. But as can happen, the storms gathered earlier and stronger than anticipated, and while I was on my way, the tornado sirens began shrilling. I made it to Odyssey only to find all the staff and kids hunkered down in the center hallways and the admin staff frantically trying to reach all the parents to let them know they would in fact close as soon as the parents could safely retrieve their children.

I wasn't particularly panicked, the sirens were for Jefferson County and the warning could be for any part of the county, however as more parents arrived they reported we were in fact near the area that the storms were cited for producing funnel clouds, right on the edge of Jefferson and Shelby County's (we live in Shelby). Again, I remained calm, I was in a safe place and with my kids, so if anything happened, at least I had them with me. One small problem, I had been trying to reach Cory since about 12:30 to no avail, not on his cell, not at home and as time passed the more often I had visions of him oblivious to the weather warnings working outside or in the garage when suddenly a funnel cloud descends upon our property and turns his tractor or 4 Wheeler on top of him. I even hear from Dad, all the way in WI, who was checking out the weather online and saw our storm forecast. I ask him to try Cory's cell thinking maybe it's a problem with local towers communicating, but no luck, he can't reach him either.

Finally, the weather lets up for a bit, another big band is headed our way, but enough time for me to get both kids in the car and down the road to get home to see if we still had a Daddy to take care of us. By now it's 3:15 and still, no call back, just voice mail. I call the neighbor at work to see if he's talked with Cory, I call one of the guys at the office to see if he's heard anything...not a peep. On my way, about 2 miles from the house, I pass two sherrif vehicles on the road, with a tow truck pulling a pickup out of a pine tree, obviously a casualty of a nasty band of weather that hit at some point early that afternoon. My visions become more of a reality, and I start to consider what to do if I find him pinned under the Massey Ferguson, unconsious. I mean, the entire city has been crazy since noon when the schools announced it would be bad enough they would close, and even Odyssey, which never closes, was calling parents to get their kids!

As we pull onto the gravel drive leading to the house, I hold my breath and scan the hillside for a glimpse of the red and black of the tractor, upended, nothing...until we get to the edge of the paved drive, and there at the corner of the house, sits the tractor - upright. As we pull into the garage, Cory calmly walks up to us, wondering how he miscalculated the time - thinking we were home at our usual 5:45 (it was 3:30), not quite ready to help gather the kids and get in the house to help with dinner/bath/bed. As much as I wanted to smack him upside the head, I couldn't blame him. It was strangely calm outside, it didn't even look like it was storming anywhere near our place. Of course, I still managed to get a few words in about his not having a phone nearby while he was doing whatever he was doing that afternoon - telling him about all the craziness at the daycare, the sirens, all the stories I'd heard from all the parents coming into the daycare which he responded with a shrug and look as if it was all a bunch of worry for nothing. I teetered between angry and grateful as I got Jack settled in with his crayons and started feeding Duke while Daddy finished up whatever he was working on in the office figuring that was the end of our crazy day.

And I was almost right, until 20 minutes later when James Spann (Birmingham's most famous weatherman) announced the sighting of a "hook echo" moving east from Calera/Alabaster along the north edge of Columbiana toward Westover, or in our world - right toward our house! For those of you not familiar with James Spann's "hook echo" let's just say, time for the tornado shelter. And just as I'm running to the garage to yell for Cory, he's running in the house looking for flashlights and water. We gather up the kids, the dogs, water, flashlights and a box of goldfish crackers (it's also snack time) and spend the next 20 minutes sitting in the 8x8 room that is our safe place listening to the weather radio and wondering if we will be Dorothy and Toto anytime soon.

But, as you are reading this post, you know that we survived, the "hook echo" did not produce an actual tornado and after about 20 minutes we went back into the house and started dinner/bath/bed just like any normal Friday night. That is, any normal Friday night that might be in Alabama!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Hooray for the Teachers at Odyssey!

As most of you know, I work full time, so Jack and Duke are enrolled at a day school called Odyssey Early School. Jack absolutely loves it, stomps his feet at our back door in the morning as soon as we tell him it's time to leave for school. Duke of course is a bit young to know the difference, but he loves "Aunt Kay" who cares for him and was a favorite of big brother Jack last year. I can't say enough about how wonderful our experience has been at Odyssey and how special the teachers have made my kids feel.

So this year, when the annual school fundraiser for Camp Smile A Mile (a summer camp for toddlers to teens facing a diagnosis of cancer) came around I figured we would do a small donation toward the "egg hunt"...basically for a $5 donation, you "buy" an egg for the kids to hunt. I wasn't going to ask family and friends to contribute, I mean come on...Jack's only 19 mos. and I'm not starting to ask for money for school stuff already!

Well that changed when I found out the teachers in each room would be creating an art project on a 24x36 canvas based on a children's book. These would be auctioned with the proceeds going to Camp SAM. Duke's teachers, Christi, Kay and Janelle, came up with a lovely and painstakingly accurage reproduction of "Brown Bear Brown Bear" and included the footprints of each child in the room. It is one of Jack's favorites, especially PURPLE CAT!, DUCK-DUCK-DUCK! and Goldfish, which thanks to Grandma Ruth now sends him running to the pantry signing his ASL sign for eat (but it is cute so don't worry Grandma!) So of course, I had to place a big on their piece.

Then I see the amazing painting that Kelly and Michelle, Jack's teachers, created. It was based on a book that we do not yet have, but that Kay and Christi had mentioned to me last year when Jack was having trouble with me leaving in the mornings, "The Kissing Hand", by Audry Penn. It's the story of Chester Raccoon who wants to stay home with his mommy and the fears he has of going to school. To help ease his fears she shares a family secret to give him the reassurance of her love anytime his world feels a little scary. Kelly and Michelle did an amazing job on their piece, they used the kids' hands for the tree leaves and it even matches Jack's room decor with the fallish colors. But the real clincher was the quote they included,
"mommy loves you,
mommy loves you,
and that very kiss will
jump to your face and fill
you with toasty
warm thoughts."

Needless to say, I won both of my bids. So we have new wall art for the kid's rooms and you are safe from any future fundraiser requests this year, we've done our part for 2008!