Happy 1st Birthday, Julia Faith!

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Dear Julia,

What a wondrous year this has been! I wonder if I could have guessed, when I held your skinny, wrinkly, alien-like newborn body, what a lovely little girl you would become in only 365 days. You were so teeny tiny, and so very fragile, that all I wanted to do was hold you all day long. And I think I’d still love to hold you all day long…if you didn’t want to crawl all over the place exploring and discovering anything you can get your hands on!

We had a great day celebrating your birthday…well, after you endured a torturous two hours in the nursery while Mommy went to Bible Study. But then we got to go see Daddy at work…and his coworkers planned a little surprise party for you with lots and lots of presents! Daddy also got you a special ball, which you chased up and down the cubicle halls. You even whispered “Ball!” when you unwrapped it from the packaging. You are surely the office mascot.

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After that, we got to go see your first friend, Miss Casey, along with her mom, Ms. Eileen. They had presents for you, too! You loved tearing around their house on your hands and knees and seeing their fluffy dogs. When you opened the box that had a pretty pair of white sandals, you signed “please” until we put them on your feet!

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To make a good day even better, we went to Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop’s house because they finally arrived home after their trip to Africa! Boy, were they excited to see you! You had grown even in the three weeks since they had seen you last – they loved catching a glimpse of those two nice front top teeth that are really showing now. It is so cute how you show off your pearly whites when you wrinkle up your nose and laugh!

Besides words like “mama” and “ball,” you also like to say “uh-oh” whenever you drop something, and you will often say “Dadada” when your Daddy walks into the room. Recently, when we visited your Grammy and Grandad, you learned to say “Pretty!” when admiring Grammy’s earrings. And sometimes,  you just ramble off nonsense words that no one understands but you. You think it’s very funny when I start imitating your syllables, though! You are so fun to watch and interact with, and Daddy loves taking photos and videos of you in all your silliness. He recently made a little montage here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUOYCt5vAQA&list=UUaZum2Oz89iBOQCIBIKnvWA

We’re working on getting you to eat table foods, but now that you’ve learned how to sign “please” and “more” and “all done,” you’ve realized that sometimes you have the power to be picky. So, Mommy has had to save your cheese and blueberries and crackers for only after you’ve had a good serving of peas or green beans. Fortunately, you still love Mommy’s milk (your other favorite word to sign), so I know you’re getting plenty of nutrition each day! It amazes me what a good little communicator you are, and I’m still in awe of the fact that only a year ago, your sounds were limited to a few little bird-like squeaks and cries.

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Daddy and I love spending time with you, Julia! We take you with us everywhere, and follow you around the house like your biggest fan club! Your favorite place to explore is going up the stairs, but until you learn how to come down safely, we’re going to keep that staircase gate securely locked. 😉 We’re proud of how fast you get around, and how much you love pushing your little walker, too, but we are glad that you’re in no hurry to take your first steps. You are a cautious little girl, just like your parents, and we love you just the way you are! Even when we had an early birthday party for you last week, you were very quiet and observant of all the commotion and the kids running around. You were especially cautious about the cupcake we put on your tray, since you had never eaten one before! But that’s okay. You are so cute when you are concerned.

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I am proud of all the physical milestones you have crossed this first year, Julia, but I am even more proud of how I see Jesus working in your heart. You are learning to stop what you are doing and turn around when Mommy says, “No, not for Julia,” and I am so thankful to see the beginnings of an obedient heart! These past few weeks when we visited your cousins, it was SO COOL to see you get along with other kids your age. You even learned how to share with your cousin Luke, and that made me so excited! (You also tried to tackle him once or twice when he had a toy you really wanted. Maybe we need to work on gentleness.) I pray that these little seeds of God’s Spirit working in your life will grow and grow every year as you learn about who God is and who He made you to be.

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Today was a happy day, little girl, but it also made me a little sad. Like every mother who has seen her tiny infant turn into a toddler before her very eyes, I can’t believe that I don’t really have a baby anymore. Every stage keeps getting better, though, and I love you more and more every month! May the Lord continue to bless your little life and work in your little heart this year, and in all of the years to come!

Love,

Mommy

P.S. I think we really wore you out with all the partying today!

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The Chairs That Kept Coming Back

Flashback to 1978. My paternal great-grandfather was a retired Methodist pastor. He and my great-grandmother lived in a little old house in New Jersey, where my mom and dad would come visit from time while they were still dating. Whenever my mom and dad came over, Great Grandpa would pull out from the closet two small, folding rocking chairs for their guests. They would sit and rock and talk and sit and rock and talk. These two chairs were solid wood rockers, with upholstered seats and backs, and a bit of carving at the top. They were low enough to the ground that the two recent college graduates had the awkward sensation of their knees being propped up a little higher than was comfortable. But spending time with grandparents is important, and it was a small price to pay. Great-Grandpa was always full of stories and wisdom, and Great-Grandma could sing any hymn on the spot – all the verses, word for word.

Fast-forward to April, 1979. My parents were married in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where they would both be working for IBM. Great Grandpa and Great Grandma Wilson came to the ceremony, proudly delivering their wedding gift – a new set of identical folding rocking chairs.

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It’s too bad my mom wasn’t the biggest fan of those chairs.

But they took their dutiful place in the closet, ready to be taken out and used if company ever came and wanted to sit and rock and talk.

Twelve years and two kids later, my parents were getting ready to move from the Hudson Valley to South Florida. In the process of cleaning out the house, they held a large garage sale. The two rocking chairs did not make the packing list, so out to the driveway they went. They were purchased by an older couple from our church, affectionately known as “Papa” and “Mama” Tatsche.

Great-Grandpa’s uncomfortable rocking chairs had been conveniently done away with, or so we all thought.

It wasn’t too many years later that Papa and Mama Tatsche also moved to Florida. Our family drove over to Naples to visit them in their new apartment, and had a wonderful time catching up with them. My sister and I were in grade school by now, and were as enthralled by the chance to be in a new place as we were by the jar of candy that sat on the coffee table. As we were about to leave, Papa Tatsche caught us in the foyer and said, “You know, we live in a smaller apartment now, and we need to get rid of some of our belongings. However, I just can’t bear to part with those chairs we had bought from you all. We’ve decided that you should have them – you can store them away and give one to each of your girls as a wedding present one day.”

I’m sure my mom must have inwardly groaned as she cheerfully and thankfully loaded the rocking chairs into the van for the journey home. My sister and I were pretty indifferent to the situation…if anything, it just seemed weird that someone would give us back the chairs that we hadn’t wanted in the first place.  Those ridiculous, uncomfortable chairs just kept coming back! How could my mom get rid of them now?

So, the infamous chairs that kept coming back were dutifully stored in our guest room closet for two more decades and two more cross-country moves, waiting for my mom to find an appropriate, dignified way of disposing of them.

Fast forward to this summer. Mom and Dad had re-modeled their bathroom and put in a brand new walk-in closet. In the process of moving into their new space, they took the opportunity to sort through the contents all of the closets in the house, which they had lived in for almost fifteen years by now.

The time had come for the dreaded chairs to make their final departure from my parents’ thirty-four year marriage. So, into the Goodwill pile they went.

And there they sat.

And sat.

Because nobody could quite conveniently bring themselves to drop those ancient chairs off at the thrift store.

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Change of Scene: At about this time, my little eleven-month-old was going through an anti-crib phase, where she was suddenly refusing to nap in her crib. She would sleep there fine at night, but during the day, it was a different story. Even if I nursed her to sleep and softly crept up the stairs, as soon as I crossed the threshold of her room, Julia would wake, arch her back, and loudly protest any attempt to put her in the crib. She would rather stand in there, gripping the rails, and yelling her little vocal chords ragged for an hour, than actually lying down and sleeping in her crib! I tried everything. In the end, the only thing that started to have some success was to actually nurse her in her room, wrapped in her blanket, with the sound machine and fan on full blast. That way, I just had to tiptoe a few steps before gently placing my tightly-wrapped bundle in the crib, and although she usually opened her eyes, she was comfortable enough to fall back asleep on her own. (Babywise mamas: Don’t hate. These are desperate times.)

Anyway, all that to say, there was not a chair in the nursery for me to sit in during this process of getting Julia to fall asleep. And since, in my mind, this was just a temporary solution to fix a temporary problem, I didn’t want to exactly go out and buy a piece of furniture. What could I use to rock my baby to sleep, besides the awful step-stool I was currently using to sit upon every day?

And that’s when I remembered the infamous chairs that kept coming back!

By this time, one of them was in complete disrepair, but the other was holding together just well enough to make it through this last mission. It has been sitting humbly in the nursery corner for a week now, where I go several times a day with Julia to sit and rock and hold and sit and rock and pray. Until she drifts off to sleep soundly enough that I can put her in the crib without a catastrophic reaction.

And since I’m only five feet, two-and-five-eighths inches tall, it’s okay that the seat is so low to the ground. I need my knees a little propped up anyway, to hold my little bundle without killing my arms. And it’s okay that the upholstery is sagging in the bottom, because it’s a reminder to be thankful that I’m not sitting there on a stepstool.

And it’s also a reminder that this is a temporary arrangement. Julia will not hate her crib forever. She won’t wake up in the middle of the night forever. She won’t be teething forever. She won’t have to be nursed to sleep forever. This too, shall pass. And then, it will really be the end of the line for Great-Grandpa’s rocking chair.

But just as it will be with much reluctance that I say good-bye to that old chair, as uncomfortable as it was, it will also be with some sadness that I move past even the difficult stages of Julia’s life. Because as uncomfortable as it is at the moment, I have to remember that one day I will look upon those nap time nursing sessions with great fondness and nostalgia.

In the meantime, I think Julia’s Great-Great-Grandpa would be proud.

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The Little Personality that Lives in my House

I get such a kick out of this girl.

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Julia turned 8 months on Saturday, and wow is she developing her own little personality!

I love watching her eyes and mouth open SO wide as she reaches…and rolls…and reaches…and army crawls… and reaches…until she finally grabs a hold of that tantalizing tag on the rug.

I love the enthusiasm with which she grabs my hair and pulls my cheek to her mouth when I say, “KISSES!!!!”

I love how she instantly starts bouncing her left heel on the table as soon as I put her in the Bumbo seat. Every time.

I love that little bottom lip that pops out when some strange adult is holding her and she sees her mommy take a step away.

I love how she sees me coming to pick her up and smiles so big that her pacifier falls out.

I love the random syllables she uses to talk to her toys.

I love the squinty-eyed, closed-lip giddy grin she puts on in the morning when she’s sitting in her pjs on the rug waiting for me to get dressed and spots me in the mirror.

I love how excited she is to grab her soft lovey bunny in her crib when I put her there for a nap.

I love how she bites her bottom lip as she bangs away on her little piano. As if she’s concentrating so hard to get those scales just right.

I love the little squeal of glee when I put her in the swing and say, “One…Two…Three…GO!!!”

I love the surprised little shout when, from her swing, she spots her Daddy in the distance, jogging another lap around the playground.

I love that little pursed-lip raised-eyebrows look she gives me from down in her stroller when we’re headed home after our evening walk that says, “This is nice, being outside and all, but will I be getting my bath when we get home? Just checking.”

I love the deep belly-laughs we shared tonight when she suddenly figured out what “splash” means and how to do it. Oh goodness, I haven’t laughed so much in ages! And I’ve never heard her giggle that hard, either!

I love how she goes from a squirmy wet bundle of giggles after bathtime, to the most peaceful, limp, precious sleeping face. I can’t resist kissing those cheeks one last time before surrendering her to the crib.

I love the person that little Julia Faith is becoming.

8 Ways to Turn Your Infant Into a (Musical) Genius

I’m turning up my music nerd side today, big time.

You’ve been warned.

Participation in music makes people smarter. I’m not just saying this- they’ve proven it! Babies love music for a reason – it stimulates their brains. The earlier you can get your child learning and experiencing music, the easier it will be for them to develop more advanced musical skills in the future, and the smarter they will be. This is why scores and scores of people sign themselves up for mommy and me music classes like Musikgarten and Kindermusic almost straight out of the womb! These classes are fantastic and I love them. But, they can be cost-prohibitive. I want to give you a few ideas that will help your baby develop her musical intelligence without costing you a cent.

Disclaimer: Despite the title of this blog post, I am making no guarantees that by following some magic 8-step plan, your baby will be the next Mozart. I am, however, a professional musician, trained music educator, and new mom, who has been trying all sorts of music-related activities with my 7-month-old based on what I know about music and how it affects the brain! Probably, after I have more kids and they’re all grown up and I actually see what works and what’s pointless, I’ll read this blog entry and say, “What was I thinking?” But until then, I will wallow in my ignorance and spew out a whole slew of ideas that may or may not actually be effective. And of course, if you have done some things with your little one that you have found to be fun, post it in the comments section! This list is by no means exhaustive.

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First things first – let me explain WHY music makes people smarter. Studies like this one have shown, time and time again, how playing and making music creates new kinds of connections in the brain that other activities can’t create. For example, you’ve probably heard of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The left brain is our verbal center, where we use logic, reason, and math. The right brain is our creative and artistic center, where we get our intuition. The two hemispheres are connected by a group of neurons called the corpus callosum. Although many day-to-day tasks in life mostly require the use of only one hemisphere at a time, you need a well-developed corpus callosum in order to do things like solve big problems, make decisions based on varied information, and anything else that might use both sides of your brain simultaneously. To use both sides at once, you need a well-developed corpus callosum so that the two hemispheres can communicate. As you might guess, making music is an activity that develops is set of neurons. In fact, research like this has shown that the corpus callosum is far more developed in musicians than in non-musicians. So, that’s one way that music makes a person smarter!

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If the neurological evidence wasn’t enough to convince you that your child should learn music, the practical evidence will surely win you over. People who participate in music as a child end up with bigger salaries as adults, regardless of their career choice. I’m not even kidding – here’s proof. They do better in school (partly because they’re smarter, as we’ve already discussed), are more likely to attend graduate school, gain all sorts of communication and collaboration skills, and end up making more money!

So, are you sold yet? Now, this post is mainly geared toward parents of babies, since I am one. Obviously, my little girl has a long road ahead of her before she is able to even begin to play an instrument, read notes, understand music theory, and all of those wonderful things I can’t wait to teach her. But even though she’s only a half of a year old, I can start getting her ready to understand music right now. Just like you wouldn’t send a kid to 2nd grade without knowing the alphabet and expect her to be reading chapter books by October, you can’t expect a grade-schooler to be able to learn music notation in 2 weeks of music class without having had any previous structured musical experience.

Readiness. It’s what makes the world go around.

(At least according to my music ed professors in college. If you went to school with me, you know EXACTLY who I mean. 🙂

Music has two aspects: the rhythm side and the tonal side. In laymen’s terms, rhythm has to do with the beat and the pulse in the music, and the way the notes are timed in the big structure of things. Tonality has to do with the pitches, and how they relate to the center (key) as they make up the melody and the harmony and the accompaniment and all that stuff. In making your child ready to understand music, you have to treat rhythm and tonality separately. So, I’ve separated my activity ideas into those two categories – rhythm and tonality.

The good news is that people learn music the exact same way that they learn language. Babies start off learning a language by repeating back the little patterns they hear – “Ba ba ba” and “gooo gooo goo” etc. Soon, they start recognizing words (like their own name) and associating some of these syllables with actual meaning. For example, we’ve just gotten to the point where little Julia has started saying “Ma ma ma” when she is hungry. It is years later in the process when a child learns the symbols associated with the words they already know (letters and written words.) In the same way, learning music doesn’t start with learning the written notes on the staff – that “symbolic association” skill should come very last. Learning music starts as simply as hearing and feeling rhythmic and tonal patterns, and then (maybe) repeating them back. This might be as far as you can really get with a 7-month-old, but it’s vitally important in their musical development! So let’s face it. Julia is not ready to compose a symphony. BUT, here are some little things I can do with her to develop her corpus callosum and get her ready for the big stage one day:

A. RHYTHM

1. Keep a Steady Beat – This is the most important thing. Ever. Now (before age 1) is your window of opportunity to help your child learn to internalize a steady beat. They have to FEEL this beat, not just hear it. So, whenever there is music playing, bounce, tap, or move your baby to the beat. I’m not talking about the rhythm of the words, but the BEAT – the steady pulse that keeps going through the whole song. Put them on your lap or between your legs, and let the bouncing begin! I’m not kidding when I tell you that I started teaching Julia how to keep a steady beat before she was even born. When there was loud music that I knew she would hear in the womb (and my hands weren’t busy conducting or playing the piano), I would often tap my belly to the beat so that she would feel that dependable pulse upon which all rhythmic meters are based. Steady beat is that important, I tell you.

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2. Move, move, move! Music is supposed to move us – literally. Our bodies help our brains focus and make sense of what we hear. When we use our whole bodies, it is easier to “feel” the beat and the form of a song. So, dance with your baby! Move their arms and legs in time with the music!

3. Focus on the Form. As you are moving to the beat, think about the different parts of the song to which you’re listening. Is there a repeated phrase or melody? If so, do the same thing with your little one every time you get to that section. For example, if you’re bouncing along to the beat of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” wave her little hands in the air every time you get to “E-I-E-I-O.” Doing the same thing with her arms when she hears the same thing with her ears will help your child pick up on repeated patterns.

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4. Stick with classical and folk (children’s) music. I love pop songs, but most melodies written in the last 30 years have syncopated rhythms, so the accents in the words often don’t fall on the main beats. This can make it confusing for a child who is trying to feel a steady beat for the first time.

B. TONALITY

5. Match pitch – When your baby makes those super-cute natural vocalizations, try to find where she’s “singing” with your own voice! You may find yourself singing pretty high, but that’s okay – those tiny vocal chords make high pitches a lot easier than our grown-up ones do. When you’ve found the notes that your baby is making, try singing something up there. Even if it’s just a little “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” your baby will start discriminating between pitches, and be encouraged to keep making singing noises. This is how how all famous singers got their start, right? Your little one will start hearing the difference between high sounds and low sounds, and will begin picking up on some of those tonal patterns – the “words” that will eventually make up her tonal vocabulary.

6. Experiment with timbre. Everything makes a sound. Ever notice how babies are fascinated by anything that makes noise? That’s because their little ears are learning how to listen! Listening skills are vital to music and to life in general. As a parent, you can help your baby listen critically by letting her experience slight variations in sounds (we call this “timbre”). Give her a plastic bowl to tap with her hands, and show her how the sound changes ever so subtly when she hits another part of the bowl. Take the same toy and let her tap it against various objects around her – most likely, she’ll be fascinated. And by all means, let your kid bang on that piano! There’s no better way for her to experience tonality and timbre hands-on as she bangs up and down the keyboard. Go ahead and use words like “high” and “low,” “loud” and “soft” when you are talking to your baby through these activities.

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7. Sing to your baby! Do I even need to say this? It doesn’t matter if you are a professional opera singer or a self-proclaimed tone deaf…SING!!! All the time!!! First of all, the more you sing, the better YOU’LL get at singing. But more importantly, your baby needs you, the most important person in her life, to model the tonal and rhythmic patterns that make up the world of music. You talk to your baby so that she learns language, right? Well, you have to sing to your baby for her to learn music! Sing your favorite songs. Sing your mom’s favorite songs. Sing that commercial jingle that’s stuck in your head. Sing made-up songs. And you may find yourself singing the same things at certain points in your routine, and that’s good. Long before Julia could recognize the sentence “Let’s change your diaper,” she recognized the little song I sang every time we were at the changing table. Music can help your baby make sense of her world.

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8. Listen to repetitious music. Okay, maybe you’ll end up wishing to do something cruel and unusual to whatever sick person decided to put those ninety-nine bottles of pop on the wall. But by listening to music that has catchy, repetitious melodic elements, your baby will easily start picking up on the tonal patterns that make up western music. They learn the meaning of words by hearing them in all sorts of different sentences, right? Later, when those musical patterns show up in piano lessons or music class at school, your child will recognize them quickly because she will have been listening to them all her life! She’ll be READY. And it’s all about readiness, remember.

That’s all for now, folks, so let the commenting begin! I’m sure you have some more ideas about how to develop your baby’s brain through music. So if you’ve tried something, and it was fun, leave a comment! I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The kind of guy a girl wants

This happened twice today:

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If that doesn’t make you fall in love all over again with a man, I don’t know what will. Take note, young men: This is the kind of father you want to become. Take note, young ladies: This is the kind of husband you want to marry.

You don’t need a guy who buys you lots of diamonds.

You don’t need a guy who is a superstar athlete.

You don’t need a guy who makes everyone laugh.

You don’t need a guy who is a PhD.

You don’t need a guy who plays the guitar like John Mayer.

You don’t need a guy who runs his own corporation.

You don’t need a guy who can bench press 300 pounds.

You don’t need a guy who went to culinary school.

Those things are nice, and I have found lots of benefits to being married to the smartest and best-looking man ever, but what you really want is a guy who looks like this when you walk in the room:

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That’s what I’m talkin’bout.

“No.”

My little bitty girl is 6 months old today! We celebrated by going to my old school, attending chapel, and seeing my old students. And then, to make her half birthday even more special, I made my mom’s chicken and dumplings.

chicken dumplingsNot that Julia would get to eat any of it.

But this is the ultimate in comfort food for me! There’s nothing like a soft biscuit to sop up all of the juicy wonderfulness from the chicken, celery, and carrots on your plate. Julia must have gotten the memo, because she was EXCEEDINGLY interested in the pot that I was stirring on the stove.

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I mean, come on, wouldn’t you want to touch that shiny pot? I’m sure the savory smell was driving her nuts, in addition to the fact that she was sitting on her mom’s hip SO close to the action! She kept reaching her hand out, and I kept saying, “No!” It’s hot!” She even got to the point where she was leeeeaaaning as far as I would let her, trying to get her hand on that saucepan.

This is the quintessential sermon illustration on God’s sovereignty and wisdom vs. man’s worldly desires. Just like a mother will not allow a child to touch a hot stove (even if they really want to!), in the same way, God will not allow us to have something that will hurt us.

Even if we really want it.

Even if we’re PRAYING for it.

He loves us enough that He’d rather see us struggle with frustration and disappointment than give us something that would not be for our ultimate good and His glory.

I used to ask my 7th graders, “Does God always answer prayer?” The goody-goodies would say, “Yes.” The ones who really thought about the question and the fact that they prayed in vain for a porsche would say, “No.” The truth is that God DOES always answer prayer…but “no” is a valid answer!

So is “wait.” So is, “Yes, and I’ll give you even more than you asked!”

Now, I just need to remember this when I’m dealing with the disappointments that come every day. I know that everything that happens is orchestrated for my good, even if it’s not what I want! When I’m frustrated because things don’t happen quickly enough, easily enough, or inexpensively enough, I must keep in mind that the character qualities that the Lord is using these situations to build far outweigh the inconveniences I’m experiencing. God is just protecting me from the hot stove.

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To the Beach!

A couple of weeks ago, we took Julia to the beach for the first time.

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Despite growing up a bike ride’s distance from the ocean, I don’t get out to the beach too much these days. I think I’d forgotten how much I love the salty air and wide-open expanse of God’s creation.

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I was never a fan of the actual water, though, and Julia seemed to take after her mom in that regard.

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She was like, “Mom, this is COLD!”

We went with my parents, which brought back memories of evening walks on the beach during the summer. The setting sun makes the sand look golden, the tourists have gone in for supper, and the crashing tide imposes its will upon the shoreline.

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Of course, this being such a momentous occasion, Dad brought his ginormous video camera, and both my mom and husband had their DSLRs. So, it was a very well-documented event.

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In fact, my Dad put together a little montage of our outing! Hope you enjoy it!