Thursday, February 28, 2008

How Can This Be???

Our Hannah has been captured by the whole American Girl thing! She has read a few of the books and really enjoys learning a little history from the perspective of the young girls in the stories, girls just like her. She has been poring over the three catalogs we have received since January, and has decided that, for her birthday in April, she would like her first American Girl doll, Julie. Julie is about 9 or 10 years old, living in San Francisco with her artist mother and airline pilot father in 1974.

Wait a minute... I turned 11 in 1974...

Does this make me a "historical girl"????

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

We had some portraits taken of Abbie in her Nutcracker costume. Whaddya think - is she ready for show biz? (Is show biz ready for Abbie?)

What a Treat!

My dear mom is cleaning out her basement in anticipation of a move. That's 40+ years of "treasures, mementos and useful stuff", folks! I have a good idea of what a challenge it is for her as I have inherited her "saving" gene - that is, that inherent part of my personality that saves everything because it is either sentimental or might have some use someday. It's not pretty (just come and take a peek at my basement, if you don't believe me).

Anyway, she has unearthed all the books I read as a child, and kindly sent them on to me. I received four of the six boxes in the mail today, and it was like Christmas around here! There were picture books for Abbie, "I Can Read" books for Rachel (she tore through most of them this evening while waiting for dinner), and young biographies and fairy tale treasuries for Hannah. There are a few science-y ones that Hannah's excited about, too. And my copy of The Secret Garden, which I look forward to reading aloud to them, maybe this summer. Most of these books I haven't seen in years - no, decades! And you know how they say that scents and fragrances have a unique way of triggering memories, no matter how far back? I think the same could be said for illustrations in children's books as well. Just looking at some of those pictures instantly brought me back to my little bedroom with the tulip wallpaper and the purple quilted bedspread. I just love reliving my childhood through my girls!

Thank you, Nana, for taking the time to send your girls these books. They (and I) are thrilled!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Chenzhou Beauties

Jasmine, Isabella, Rachel and Katie

This week, Rachel and her girlfriends from Chenzhou, Hunan had their annual photo taken. They're all 5 1/2 now, and so beautiful!

I also couldn't pass up having a few shots taken of my girls!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Because We All Love "Free"!

Here are a couple of great links I want to share with you!

Freebies 4 Mom is exactly that - lots of free stuff to send for! Today's entry is for free perfume samples (I haven't bought a new perfume since my wedding!).

Money Saving Mom shares links for free stuff, as well as lots of printable coupons, and information on how to navigate the CVS shopper's program, as well as the programs of many other stores.

Because I'm tired of just getting bills in the mailbox!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Go, Swim Girl!

Our Rachel just loves the water - she says she's a little fish! Last summer we were at a hotel pool and she just jumped into the deep end over and over (she was wearing a vest, of course). She would plunge to the bottom of the pool and then bob up to the surface, laughing and splashing and thoroughly enjoying herself!

Yesterday, Rachel moved up to level 4 in her swimming lessons! We're so proud of her! She was doing really well and progressing rapidly, but then stalled out in level 3 because she suddenly developed some fears in the water. But she persevered, and yesterday she mastered the kicking she needed to be able to do to be promoted to the next level.

Abbie and I are totally obnoxious when we're watching Rachel swim! We yell and cheer and shout, "Go, Swim Girl!" We're the only ones that do that at the lessons. But Rachel loves it.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Catching Up and Random Thoughts...

Guess what, everyone? I finally have hi-speed internet! Yippeeeee! I must admit that the main reason I don't update this blog very often is because it has been so unbearably slow with dial-up. I am hoping to do much better with updates now! Of course, I don't think hi-speed internet will help me much with my sink full of dirty dishes, the piles of dirty laundry in the laundry room, the chaos of toys in the living room, or taking the girls to school and various activities. My problem is just as much with time (or the lack thereof) as it is with the internet. We shall see...

The holidays were just lovely, but once again, much too hectic and stressful. I tried to eliminate just about everything that was really unnecessary while still trying to maintain the necessities and some traditions (Abbie's Nutcracker performances, church children's program, visiting Santa, Hannah's China Group party, etc.). My goal this year is to start planning for gifts over the summer, whether homemade or bought. It feels a little ridiculous to be shopping for Christmas in July, but I'll appreciate having done it come December.

One of my Christmas gifts to Al was a pair of tickets to hear the Chicago Symphony. We went just a few days before Christmas, so my mom was in town and was able to stay with the girls. We heard the new principal oboist perform the Mozart Oboe Concerto, and he was magnificent! Before the concert, we heard a very interesting lecture by a professor of musicology and oboist at Wheaton College. (I find myself becoming just as interested in oboe music as violin these days - how 'bout that!) Not being one to get "out and about" much, I had nothing to wear! I went to Talbot's Outlet and got an entire adorable outfit - black wool flannel gauchos, a plum velveteen jacket and matching plush velvet turtleneck - all for less than $50! (I used birthday money my mom gave me last August - see, I really don't get out that much!) All in all, it was a lovely, grownup evening, and Al and I really enjoyed "connecting" with our musical interests again (which is, essentially, what brought us together in the first place!).

Somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Rachel's reading really took off! She has always loved books, since she was a baby. She would sit on the floor with a huge basket full of board books and "read" through all of them. As a toddler, she would follow Al and me around the house, holding up a book to us and begging us, "Peeeese reeeead!" She would quickly memorize text and then "read" the books aloud to us. Around Thanksgiving break, something clicked in her mind, and she just took off, starting with Bob Books and progressing from there. She's now reading Curious George books, Little Bear books, and just about anything else I bring home for her. I go to the library at least once a week and bring her a huge stack of books, and she's done with them in just a few days! Sometimes she'll read something over my shoulder, and I'll think, "Where on earth did she learn that word?"

Hannah has been enjoying gymnastics so much this year. She just started in level one in September, and last week was promoted to level two. Which is very exciting. But which also means we have to switch her from a Tuesday class at 4:00 for one hour to a Monday class at 4:30 for an hour and a half. I am catching a glimpse of how challenging all this "activity" stuff is going to be with four girls, each doing their own thing, while trying to fit in relatively healthy dinners together as a family and, oh yeah, homework and a good night's sleep!

In December, Abbie danced in two performances of The Nutcracker presented by her ballet school. She was a "bon-bon", one of the little ones who runs out from under Mother Goose's skirt in Act 2. And what an adorable little bon-bon she was! She seemed to enjoy herself, though it did make for a very tiring weekend for us all. But in January, she decided that she'd had enough of ballet and didn't want to go back. When I asked her if there was something else she'd like to try (gymnastics, swimming, music), she said no, she didn't want to do anything. And that was the end of that. Right now, I think she'd just rather stay home with Mama and play. And you know what? That's perfectly OK with me!

I did discover the George Forman grills and asked for one for Christmas (Al was kind enough to present me with one). My goal is to have a repertoire of quick but healthy meals that can be whipped up on those busy evenings. So far, I've made a few different types of panini, and they've turned out great. I'm looking forward to trying grilled chicken and shrimp, too.

Another lovely appliance I received from my dear husband is a Kitchen Aid standing mixer! I just love to bake (maybe that's why I like that basketball player in "High School Musical"!), but there's only so much one can accomplish with a hand mixer. The day before the Christmas party we hosted for Hannah's China group, I burned out yet another hand mixer on some cookie dough (and when I say burned out, I mean it - a bang, a flash of fire and lots of smoke - that poor mixer didn't stand a chance against my devil's food cookies!). So Al surprised me with a lovely mixer that stands in a place of honor on my kitchen counter, ever ready to help me whip up yet another tasty treat! And believe me, I'm enjoying it so much!

If you're wondering how the girls' room looks these days, it's doing very well! There are two huge laundry baskets full of clean clothes that I need to fold and put away today, a few stuffed animals that need to go back to their "homes", and some books that need to be reshelved, but in general, the room still looks great! I got the girls each a new "treasure box" - those decorative cardboard photo boxes (I got them at Michael's). My girls have a tendency to collect little things - rocks, postcards, tiny toys, bits and scraps of whatever - and I'm constantly telling them to put them away or I'll throw them out. They had shoe boxes up until now, but the photo boxes are a nice uniform size, and bigger than their old boxes (without taking up much space). They stack neatly under the skirted table between the twin beds. Also, Al (yes, Al) came home with a really pretty quilt for Rachel's new bed, and I liked it so much that I sent him right out again to get another one for Hannah's bed. So now they have matching quilts. And (bargain alert) I picked up two sets of Eddie Bauer twin flannel sheets for the big girls at Linens and Things. They were on clearance for $10 per set, and then I used a $5 coupon, making them $7.50 a set! We don't use top sheets on the girls' beds (makes it much easier for them to make their beds), so I took one of the top sheets and tucked it around Abbie's toddler mattress. So they all have warm, cozy sheets this winter!

What a winter it's been! Snow on and off throughout January, and bitter cold (it was -13 one night at 9:00 when I was coming home from shopping!). School was canceled two Fridays ago because some kids had vandalized the school buses (try explaining that to the girls - "But Mama, why would anyone do something like that?"), and last Friday school was canceled because of snow. While I love snow days and having my girls home with me for the day, I'm growing weary of all this winter...

Hey, I've taken up a new hobby - knitting! My friend Lisa (you know, the canner) took up knitting last year and has enjoyed making some beautiful things. I always thought it would be so difficult, but I learned a few stitches over Christmas with my mom, and I'm doing pretty well! So far, I'm just practicing with making some dishcloths - I haven't decided what my first "big" project will be yet. But I've found a new obsession, poring over the knitting books and magazines and the bookstores and the library, not to mention the web sites full of free patterns! Oh, the possibilities!

A few days after New Year's, we took the girls to see a Ralph's World concert at College of DuPage. If you're not familiar with Ralph Covert, check him out. His music videos appear on Playhouse Disney during the day. Very creative, very clever, and very good quality. I always say, just because it's music for children doesn't mean it doesn't have to be good (I say that about children's books, too). The COD auditorium seats only 800, and they had a space cleared out in front of the stage (a mini mosh pit, he called it!) where the children could dance and sing and get up close. Ralph put on a great show, and also took time both before and after the concert to come out and sign CDs and pose for photos. The girls had a wonderful time, and we finished off the afternoon with hamburgers and ice cream at Red Robin! Even Al and I had a great time!

And then for something completely different... Hannah and I met some of her China girlfriends and their moms to see Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus' "Best of Both Worlds" 3-D concert movie. I have to say, it was pretty good! Miley puts on a great show, and I like most of her songs (I prefer her "Hannah" songs about being the best you can be and getting the most out of life over her "Miley" songs which tend to lean more towards boys and dating - my Hannah's a little young for all that just yet). We moms were impressed that her style of dress and her moves were appropriate for our girls to see. After the movie, we all had lunch together at the mall's food court, and then I took Hannah to the CD store to get the "other Hannah's" latest CD to bring home and share with her sisters. (Rachel and Abbie were more than a little disappointed that this was a "big girls" day out, and Rachel was particularly miffed that Hannah got a HM tee shirt - gotta get to WalMart this week and pick up two more in littler sizes!)

I know there are plenty of things I'm forgetting, but I'll get caught up eventually! February is going to be plenty busy with Rachel's 5th Gotcha Day, Abbie's 4th birthday, Chinese New Year and Valentine's Day. There's Easter and a little Spring Break vacation we're planning in March. Then April brings us Hannah's 8th Gotcha Day, her 9th birthday (I see American Girl in our future!), the Daddy Daughter Dance at school (Al has two dates this year!), and then Rachel's 6th birthday follows during the first week of May. Then school gets out. Then summer activities - VBS, China camp, swimming lessons, a vacation to New England again... But I'm getting ahead of myself, aren't I?