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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Retiring Well

Not a lot of people work for the same company for 35 years.

Not a lot of people find a company to work for which uses their gifts, passions, and education to the fullest potential.

Not a lot of people experience success and recognition on a global scale during their career.

Not a lot of people change the world with their accomplishments and inventions.

Not a lot of people manage to be an amazing, involved, model father, husband, and volunteer, while also being a self-proclaimed “workaholic.”

But my Dad, Les Wilson, is one of those people. And today is the day of his retirement from IBM, 35 years to the day after he started in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where he wanted to work on defense projects to win the cold war. I’m in awe of my Dad, and I want to take a little time today to celebrate him! He is not a person who likes to toot his own horn, so I’m going to go ahead and toot it for him, if you don’t mind.

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Many frequenters of this blog are already familiar with my Dad in his volunteer capacities – as Director of Video at church or Technical Arts/Production Director at school. You know how much he loves working with middle and high schoolers to teach them how to use technology in a creative way to solve problems and make mundane events turn epic. You might have seen him at school late on a Saturday night, scaling 2-story-high scaffolding, adjusting stage lights so that they will be perfectly aimed and colored for a specific scene in the upcoming high school musical. Maybe you were touched by one of his short documentary films shown in church, telling a story of a missionary engineer who built pipelines to bring clean water to thousands of people in rural Haiti. You might have admired his dedication for coming in at 7:15am every Friday morning to teach 12-year-old boys how to properly wrap microphone cables and run a sound board. You may have heard in passing about an online training session he conducted for missionaries living in Moldova or India. You might have wondered how he managed to fly a kite or a guitar through the air on an indoor school stage.

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And, like me (his own daughter), you might have thought to yourself, “Does he actually have a day job, or does he volunteer full-time?”

The answer to that question is, “Yes.”

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One of the hallmarks of Dad’s career from my perspective is that he managed to keep his home life unpolluted by the worries and cares of his work life at IBM. Granted, the company moved us cross-country three times, and there were a few scattered weeks in the 90s when Dad was working so late that he’d still be at the office in the wee hours of the morning. But my memories of growing up center around a loving father who attended all of my school events, took us on vacations, was home at 6:15pm for dinner every night, and was involved in guiding and shepherding the hearts of his family. Even after I’d gone to college and became a teacher, Dad’s most time-consuming volunteer efforts were the school productions in which I was also involved. But through most of the years that Dad was a software architect, I was either too young or too distracted to understand his current IBM projects. His career was not often in the forefront of my mind.

But today, on the day of his retirement, Dad and I sat down and had a two-hour-long cup of coffee. For the first time in my life, I asked him to tell me the story of that part of his world which had been obscured from my consciousness for too long. And beginning in 1978, he walked me through it, patiently, lovingly, and enthusiastically.

He talked about the transition from text-only computers to graphics based systems that had “windows.” He told me about what a revolutionary achievement it was when his team managed to perform graphics processing on a small graphics card instead of taking away processing power from the CPU. Dad recounted the struggle of integrating things like sound and video into a computer that was structured with neither of those things built in. And how they figured out how to not only play videos on a PC, but build into an operating system the ability to digitally create and edit video. They had succeeded in being the first to add features that we now take for granted, but at the time, they made IBM the first ones to make them available on regular computers.

He also told me about the times when his teams had done the impossible, broken into unchartered territory, produced what Academia had thought only theoretical, only to find the industry wasn’t quite ready and there wasn’t enough business sense to bring the project to market. Very common, but still a disappointment.

My Dad sometimes found himself a little too far ahead of his time.

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In our two-hour heart-to-heart today, I learned a lot of things about my Dad that I never realized before. Not just about what he has accomplished in his career, but who he is as a person. Here are the three things that impacted me  most:

• Don’t think of “work/life” balance as a pendulum – as if you either are in “work mode” (and neglect your family) or “home mode” (and neglect your work). View it as two dials – have your work life cranked up to the max, and have your home life cranked up to the max. Sometimes you may have to dial back one to compensate for the other, and that’s okay, but try not to always do one at the expense of the other.

• Always pursue what is right with everything you have inside of you, regardless of the outcome. If you have the opportunity to create or innovate something world-rocking, DO IT full-throttle ahead. Even if the literal bits and bytes you produce don’t end up on the store shelves, you will at least be requiring the competition to race after you. This is what drives the world to be a better place.

• At the end of the day…at the end of a career…what lives on the longest is captured in the people you influenced. Relationships are everything.

My career (motherhood) is in a different category. I may not ever really have a definitive “retirement.” But I am really, really thankful for the opportunity to celebrate my Dad’s career today! I know that there are a lot of people who lack a positive father figure in their lives, and I do not take mine for granted. He is the man I look up to most in the world, who has shaped who I am by more than just giving me his DNA. If it were possible, my respect and adoration for my earthly father increased to a new level even this morning.

By writing this post, I wanted to process everything Dad’s career has inspired me to do and be, and encourage you to live life today in such a way that you will be proud of how you spent your working hours and your “home hours.” My dad can look back on the past 35 years with an immense amount of pride and satisfaction, and I hope I can one day do the same!

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P.S. If you are interested, you can read his memoirs of his career (written to an audience of fellow IBM-ers) here:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/x9y509srdvu38ap/N1jw7uy3uI

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.

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!

Cousins on the Couch

“Here I am, chilling with cousin Kate.”

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“Hey, what’s that cool thing she’s playing with?”

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“Maybe if I move my hand over just a leeeetle bit, she won’t mind.”

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“Ooooh! I’ve almost got it! I just want to touch that screen!”

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“Hey, how did that happen?”

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“Here’s my silly cousin Luke. He makes me laugh.”

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“I like it when Luke gives me big hugs!”

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“Okay so maybe this hug is too big.”

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Julia’s First Piano

Today we celebrated Christmas with my parents, since we’ll be out of town with Mr. Poole’s family for Christmas this year. It was so great – we did a “dinner by the bite” style meal with my grandparents, where everyone just brought an appetizer-style dish that they love, and we shared everything. It was an eclectic but delicious meal, including chicken soup, asparagus, olives, wings, hummus, and mini cheesecakes.

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One of my favorite moments of the night happened when Mom, who was my piano teacher for the first 16 years of my life, pulled out an old Christmas duet book that dated some time in the 90s. It still had her little red pencil markings, and the stickers of achievement at the top of each page, earned when I had mastered each song. My mom doesn’t play the piano much any more, so it was SUCH a treat to plunk out some Jingle Bells with her!

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And of course, we exchanged gifts. Somehow, my sister had managed to send gifts for us all the way from southeast Asia, and we had some little presents for each other. It’s funny, the things that I get excited about these days. Flushable diaper liners? Woo-hoo!! Bring it on!

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But then, my parents pulled out the big surprise – a mini piano for Julia!!!

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I’ve been playing the piano as long as I can remember.

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And baby pianos run deep in our family. Here is my mother with the mini piano she got from her parents when she was two and a half:

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I’m pretty sure I was waaaayyy more excited than Julia was about this little musical instrument! The keys were a little out of tune, but matched the notes on the real piano, and the black keys even worked! It wasn’t long before Julia and I were playing our first duet.

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The fun times with my little mini me have just begun!