Anna June's school let out for Christmas break on Friday, December 18.
On the evening of Saturday, December 19, a horrible accident near Birmingham killed three people and injured the other two passengers. Among the dead were two 8-year-old boys, Cardell Coachman and Jakobe Johnson. Jakobe attended Anna June's school and was in Mrs. Martin's Third Grade Class.
Anna June did not know Jakobe but we do know several children in that class. Even so, breaking the news to her was an unreal experience. A couple of days before, this Lego-loving little boy had been enjoying pajama day, just like AJ. Then, suddenly, he was gone.
Our PTA board organized a candlelight vigil at the school. Many of our community, including students, teachers, parents, family, friends, Birmingham Board of Education members and the superintendent came to support each other through this devastating news.
It was the first time I'd ever been to a candlelight vigil. AJ and Ben decided to stay home, so I, as one of the PTA volunteers, bought some lighters and met our president at the school, who borrowed the candles from the church where she works.
I hope I never have to go to another one, especially another one for a child. It was devastating. I made my way through the crowd, lighting candles and encouraging people to share their light with each other. It was raining, and the wind under the carport where we had all gathered made it difficult to get the candles to hold the flames. I had to re-light a lot. I had to maneuver my way into holding the lighter just right and my hands just so the wind wouldn't completely negate my effort. Soloists sang "Jesus Loves Me" and "Jesus Loves the Little Children." A pastor prayed. The superintendent, principal and teacher spoke.
The accident was caused by a drunk driver, who is now in jail and charged with the three murders. The man's blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit.
It has been more than a month since the funeral. There are photos of Jakobe up at the school's front door. It touches me every day I drive up to the school or walk in that way. What a tragedy.
We've all been wanting to "DO SOMETHING!" because of this completely avoidable, nonsensical, awful loss of life. First of all, the teachers immediately got together and sent the family gift cards, money, and food. Then, the PTA headed up a school-wide effort to collect money for the family, and I believe we raised enough to pay for the remaining funeral expenses. It was clearly the saddest thing I could hope to do as a treasurer. This was on one of the envelopes:
The text is from John 11:33 and 35, when Jesus is mourning the death of his friend, Lazarus. It moved me so.
For myself, I can only say that the thing that I am doing is to stop joking about alcohol. I am online constantly, and there are so many hilarious jokes involving drinking. I previously jokingly sent a funny meme to the PTA officers that said we could raise a lot more money if the "Box Tops for Education" program extended to wine labels. But for me, the time has come to stop glorifying drinking. I am not likely to stop drinking, but I can stop making it seem like beer, wine, and other things that literally numb you are to be honored. It won't change our culture, but this loss has changed me. I have started thinking about families who have been victims of crashes such as these, and even those in recovery who are trying to do better. If I re-post that joke about opening a store called Forever 39 that sells wine and yoga pants, what am I telling our kids? Especially the one that looks over my shoulder?
Regardless, I hope that each of these children at Avondale, all of Jakobe's friends, becomes like those candles - struggling against the wind in such darkness, but overcoming the night with the help of the flames from those around them. May God have mercy.
This weekend we packed more in than usual, even for us. Here's what we did:
Friday - AJ's school and Ben's work let out early, and I worked the afternoon from home as we had the threat of inclement weather. It was snowing, but the ground was too warm in our area for it to stick at all. There were many other areas near us with much more snow, but we just missed out. We had dinner from a bag: salad and chicken. We watched The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. I totally fell asleep. AJ tells me she liked it.
Saturday - Swim lesson! Ben observed while I walked on the track. AJ did all kinds of strokes: breast stroke, back stroke, freestyle, and more. She was exhausted afterwards. We had lunch at Chick-fil-A because we had gotten a sample of their new Superfoods Salad (it's a kale and broccolini salad) and Ben really wanted more. Then we went home to get ready for AJ's play date with Lily. This was their last play date before Lily moves away this week. AJ will miss her B.F.F.
Saturday evening - dinner was baked fish with this copycat Potlatch seasoning, peas, and "roasted red potatoes with garlic." I should have known better when there was no verifiable recipe, just some text in the comment of a photo on Pinterest, but our potatoes did not roast, even though I gave them longer than it said to. Maybe ours were bigger. Either way, that one went in the "don't do again" pile.
Then we went to meet up with Drew and Granddaddy and went to the UAB Men's Basketball game. It was fantastic, and UAB extended their longest winning streak in school history by beating the University of North Texas 78-57. UAB was favored to win, but was losing at the beginning of the game, making it more exciting than you would have thought.
Of course we all cheered at appropriate times during the game, but we all screamed the loudest when the announcer said, "Rusty's Bar-B-Q is a proud sponsor of Blazer Athletics." There are 3 other big BBQ restaurants who sponsor the Blazers, one of which now has a location on campus. It's hard to compete, but it wasn't hard to find us (and our friends 2 sections over) when we were clapping and screaming because of an advertisement.
Sunday - lots of running around, including an extended trip to the mall to exchange something at Macy's, get my rings cleaned and inspected at Kay Jewelers and drop off some old glasses at Lens Crafters. Then, we went over to Samford University's Leslie Stephen Wright Center for the Performing Arts to see Opera Birmingham perform La Traviata by Verdi. Yes, we took AJ. Yes, I knew a little about the story but the company manager assured me that it was "PG" and that AJ would be alright. We knew some people in the show and I thought it would be fun for AJ to see our friends on stage. The story and the performance were fine, but I think she objected to its length: Three acts (and two intermissions) totaling just under 3 hours. Near the end, Ben was muttering, "Just die already!" We agreed that Violetta had remarkable lung capacity for someone allegedly dying of tuberculosis. And Verdi must not have known how contagious it is.
A real, actual review of the performance (the Friday night show, not the Sunday matinee) is found here.
Who else would take their kid to both an NCAA basketball game and an opera in the same weekend? Asked if she liked either one, AJ said no and then went on to describe the two events as "six hours I will never get back." I told her I'd likely ask again to bring her to a ball game next year, but I would leave the opera alone. If she wants to go again when she's older, she can ask.
We took AJ over to my parents' house, where we all had dinner and AJ stayed a while to play with Wesley, who was spending the night. Ben and I took advantage of the time to have what may have been our first date night of the year, which was spent at home watching SNL clips and doing a few chores. Still counts, though!
This next weekend is shaping up to be busy, as well, but not quite as busy. We'll see.
Last Monday, Anna June's school was closed for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Back at school, there was an opportunity to do some projects and worksheets associated with the day, including this biography timeline. The students cut out facts and then placed them chronologically on the timeline. I don't know if the teacher told her to do it or not, but AJ diligently added in the comma to every date, making it correct.
I just found a list containing a blog post I meant to write but evidently did not.
More than a year ago, we went camping. You can read about it here.
Around that time, I polled my friends on Facebook to ask what all we should bring with us. As a novice, I was sure that I would forget important stuff. I was right, but their ideas were interesting, at least. Evidently, I have lots of friends who are veteran campers. Here are their ideas, in three categories.
Foam pads/air mattresses (ground is hard)
Fan (it gets hot in AL)
ground cover under tent
Poles and rain fly for tent
Fleece socks (or at least a pair of dry socks)
Eating and drinking utensils
Backup toilet paper
Popcorn and wok
Chocolate (duh - they didn't have to suggest this)
Solar Charger for phone
This year's school Christmas program was during the day, so no one from our family could attend besides me. Each grade performed one song.
Second grade performed "Gloria" although it was not a traditional holiday song I've heard before (although the words were familiar). And, no, it was not Van Morrison's "G-L-O-R-I-A" although that would have been interesting, too.
Anna June is standing in the back row towards our left, wearing a red dress.
Without further ado, here's everything you would have seen of the second grade's performance, without the awkward transitions between classes and the long presentation. You're welcome.
When I turned 37, I made a list of 37 goals for myself for the year. I started updating on my progress here.
Before I get to goals 16-37, I do have one update since I drafted that last post:
Goal 8 - AJ's passport came in the mail! We're all clear to travel. Now we can decide when and where, and for how long for the first trip.
16. Remember that the sooner it gets done, the sooner you can have fun. I struggle with this every single day. When I don't want to do something that is not fun, I don't do it. But that makes me have less time to do the fun things that I actually want to do. So I'm trying to focus on eliminating the filler and getting down to the things I intentionally want to do. It's so hard.
17. Be diligent about weekly grocery shopping and daily dishes/laundry. I think I have been better about this but I wasn't tracking it, so I don't know for sure. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I do plan and shop, but it doesn't always work out.
18. Blog more than last year – but blog less while physically at work. This was a failure on all counts. While I've obviously been working, work is the place where I get things done. Home is the place where I collapse and am unproductive. And I still got over 100 posts up in 2015, but it was my worst year since 2008, when I started mid-year. This year, partly, I will blame my freelance gigs but also because AJ can read now and doesn't really like that I have a blog about her.
19. Go to bed on time and get up on time. I am getting better at this one, because Ben has to be at work at 6:00 AM now. If we are not in bed by 9:00, that 5:00 AM alarm does no good. Now if AJ can just get to bed on time...
20. Do not wait until the last minute to plan activities for AJ’s spring and summer breaks.- Finally, something in the win column. For Spring Break, AJ attended UAB Rec Center camp. She was there most of the summer, as well, but skipped on some key weeks like Camp Mom, Art Camp, and VBS. We are still trying to figure out our schedules for Spring and Summer Breaks, but we will try to register sooner than later as soon as we know. Now that she's old enough, we've floated the idea of a sleep-away camp for a week, but she quickly shot us down. She is not ready to be away from us yet.
21. Less Facebook and more actual face time with real live people. This was probably not a good goal, as it is not very measurable. Facebook remains an important channel of communication for our PTA, so I am on it a lot. However, I also show up for a lot of things. I've enjoyed many dinners and lunches (and even meetings and projects) with friends this year, almost none of them have ended up on Facebook. I think I can put the phone down when I need to. Mostly.
22. Get to 50 wins on Words with Friends. Done. I did this fairly early in the year so I could focus on other things. I have not played a game since ending the ones in progress when I got to 50. It seemed like an unattainable milestone at the time but I eventually did it.
23. Attend my 20th high school reunion. Done. I had a great time. A really great time. (Photo via Shelley Gentle's Facebook post)
24. Be the best PTA treasurer-elect/treasurer I can be, but identify a replacement. This one is harder than I thought it would be. At present, the bylaws call for a 2-year stint at Treasurer. It sort of make sense, as the year is halfway over and I would not say that I know what I am doing yet. Also, no one wants this job. I have found someone who may be willing to do it, but her child will age out of the school before her youngest is old enough during the second of her two years if I go two years (and the bylaws are not changed). In other words, I need another year to recruit anyway. Or maybe I will burn out in a stellar fashion and resign, leaving everyone to their own devices. But I personally have worked too hard to let it go, so we'll just see.
25. Bring my lunch to work at least once per week. Make Meatless Mondays a reality. I forgot this was a goal, but I would say that on average, at least, I have brought my lunch once per week and on average, we've had a meatless meal per week. Sometimes fewer, sometimes more, but I think it averages out.
26. Run a 5K in May – the Color Run – with AJ. Like I mentioned, I didn't accomplish any of my fitness goals. We ran a few times. We did a 2 mile run-walk in October, so I will give myself partial credit (2/3.1). But mostly running is not fitting in my life right now and I have to be OK with that.
27. Keep my lunch breaks to an hour and be on time for work more often. Maybe I have done better than I thought, because my employee evaluation was outstanding this year. So, if I come a few minutes later and leave a few minutes later, it balances out. If I spend a really great lunch with a friend for more than an hour one day but eat in two bites at my keyboard the next, it balances out. Balance. Balance. Balance.
28. Visit both of my grandparents at least once per month. This goal breaks my heart. My grandmother passed away in February, and I, naturally, wish I had spent more time with her. I did see her often, though, and I am glad she got to really know Anna June, even if it was because she broke her leg. I still have my Granddaddy, though, and I still see him when I can. Once a month is probably not enough but it's a good benchmark to keep in mind, I guess.
29. Stop piling junk on the kitchen table and island. If it is not food, it doesn’t belong there. The struggle is real. Every day, I think this is the day I will tackle this, and if I had some kind of willpower, it would happen. Sometimes it does, and then it is back in a mess the next day. It's a showcase of my good intentions - projects started but not finished, paperwork done but not filed. Sigh.
30. Use the fitness watch I have and track steps/calories.Well, the one I had was terrible, so Ben got me a Fitbit Flex. It was great, but I wanted a Fitbit Charge HR (it can track how many flights of stairs! Heartbeat! Automatically detect sleep!) so he got me one of those, too. In between I tried the Microsoft Band and it's neat, too. With these trackers, data on my steps is automatically uploaded for me to track and I don't have to do anything. The less I have to do, the better. Tracking has been enlightening, for sure.
31. Use the Xbox or fitness videos we have more often. I really love the Zumba Rush game we have. Until I got sick, I was using it almost daily in the early mornings. I think I finally found the solution to the "I don't have time for fitness" whining - do it after Ben leaves but before AJ wakes up. If I can breathe well enough tomorrow morning, I'm getting back on that grind, so to speak.
32. Write and mail thank you notes promptly. I give myself a C+ on this one. I still firmly believe in the power of a handwritten thank you note anytime someone who does not live in your home gives you something or does something for you.
33. Stop leaving the house with wet hair. "Better to arrive late than to arrive ugly." I definitely did a lot better on this one, but I didn't track it. I would guess a B on that.
These last ones are not measurable either - what was I thinking?
34. Take better care of my car. I did take it in for regular maintenance and a recall part. So win.
35. Take better care of our house. We had some major things done this year, like landscaping and plumbing work. It's still a mess, though.
36. Take better care of our family. We are still alive. Win.
37. Take better care of myself. While physically, I may or may not have done much different. I think tracking my activity and periodically, my food intake, gave me some wake up calls. I am happy to report I have been to all of my preventive appointments this year, well, for the doctors who remind me that I am supposed to come in. I have definitely been taking better care of my mental health. Sometimes self-care means taking a nap. I will continue to make hard choices and do hard things so that I can be in better shape to do all the things I have yet to do.
Usually, I try to plan for a week's worth of dinners when I go to the grocery store, knowing that we will likely have dinner out on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. And possibly any other week days when I am too tired or when there's an after work activity.
Which is a lot.
Lately, we've not been feeling warmly towards the fast-food and fast-casual dining establishments in our area.
Last week, for example, when I picked up AJ, I told her what I had planned to cook for dinner, using my carefully designed menu that would use up leftovers while making something new. I felt terrible from my lingering cold, and really didn't want to cook, even as minimally as I had planned. She said, "Aw, I was hoping to go to Bojangles." So we picked up Ben and went, knowing as we headed out that he does not like the place. The service is spotty, the drink selection is terrible, and the food is not that great. AJ chose some sort of all-carb vegetarian fare and I ordered the same thing I ordered every time I went out to eat when I was a child: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans. I thought it was great - comfort food in the highest, with a biscuit to boot. None of us was impressed, although I think AJ was glad she got what she wanted. So we're putting Bojangles on the no-go list for a while.
Then, at some point, we went to Zaxby's. They had mailed us coupons, and I planned to use them. Of course, when we got there, what we had to buy to use the coupon was more expensive than what we normally buy, but, still not feeling well, I would not be deterred. The cashier confused me. AJ complained the whole time and barely ate. The place was piping in contemporary Christian music like it would fool us into thinking it was Chick-fil-A. So, this is also on the no-go list, or at least the do not go with Anna June list.
I am always up for adventure, and, when it was my turn to pick, I wanted to try the new Shark's Fish and Chicken in our neighborhood. It's a chain, which is not new, but I had never been. I realized it would be soul food, but I happen to like soul food, so we went, over loud complaints. Everyone was behaved well while there, but Ben did not get what he expected when he asked for his chicken fingers to be dipped in buffalo sauce. When he asked for sauce on the side, he got hot sauce. He went back and asked again, to get the real buffalo sauce. What I ordered was fine, but since they hated it, we will not be going back (or at least I will not be going back with them).
Evidently, we're systematically eliminating all of the places in the neighborhood that serve fried boneless chicken breasts that are not Chick-fil-A.
Honeybaked Ham is usually one of our favorites, and since we had to go to Home Depot, I suggested it for lunch yesterday. This was not a great plan, as it turns out. First of all, there was one employee. Just one. He had to take calls, take lunch orders, take the money, and fix the food. I guess it should have been OK - they're not typically overrun with business. But this guy, although he was polite, did not get an A+ from us. We ordered a "kid's meal with a ham sandwich," which is not on the menu. Often, employees will ring this up at a lower price, and the child can choose either chips or a cookie, in addition to a drink. Instead, we were charged for (and given) a full-price ham sandwich and a full-price drink. And AJ wanted only meat and lettuce, but got the works. To her credit, she ate it all, but this is back on the no-go list. This is how bored she was waiting for the one guy to make her sandwich.
Also recently, we ventured out of the neighborhood to Chili's, as Ben had a gift card there (thanks, Grandpa!). We like Chili's in general, but the ones in our area seem to be pretty bad. Once, we waited forever at the Fultondale one, where we went after some kind of car repair in the area, I believe. At the one in Trussville, which was already the worst in our opinion because of the food poisoning incident many years ago, we waited so long we complained. I decided we would try the Homewood location, as I remember it having been OK many years ago. It's not anymore. The wait for food was long (although it gave us the opportunity to practice spelling words with AJ), the staff member seemed to pass by our table every few minutes only to ignore us and our empty glasses completely, and our bottomless chips and salsa were, in fact, not bottomless if they don't get refilled. Chili's is on the no-go list now, too, since we've ruled out all three in the area.
I'm not saying all chains are bad. I'm not saying all places to eat in our neighborhood are terrible. I'm not saying that we're entitled to excellent food for a low price with fast service at every single place in town (in fact, at most places, you can only get 2 of those 3 - it is dang near impossible to be fast, cheap, AND good.)
I am saying that we've had a run of bad luck lately, and will be trying to eat at home more.
Here are some of our very recent adventures in eating at home!
First, on Saturday, Ben asked if I could make some Ro-Tel dip for us to eat while we watched the Packers game. I fell asleep at halftime, but here's how to make the dip: it is 2 ingredients. The photo shows the author using Velveeta's "queso blanco" but I use regular Velveeta. Either way, not real food but really good.
We had also decided that Ro-Tel dip did not qualify as dinner, so AJ and I made Greek Flatbreads in our new toaster oven. It's the first "idea" in this article about 5 things to make in your toaster oven. AJ brushed the olive oil on the pita and assembled the ingredients on top like a pizza. She liked it, and it even included vegetables, so I consider it a keeper.
Another success from this weekend: Crock Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup. For me, we had to do this on a weekend because it cooks for 5 hours, and on weekdays, we're gone way longer. Drawbacks - when I was shredding the chicken Ben said it smelled like dog food, because evidently his grandmother used to boil chicken specifically for dogs. To me, it just smelled like boiled chicken. He had two helpings, and AJ took some in her new thermos to school for lunch today. Winning all around.
Yesterday, on the holiday, AJ and I tried to make this chicken, green beans, and potatoes dish. It went great and tasted pretty good except for one thing: I had made my own Italian Seasoning for an earlier recipe. I looked up how much is in a packet, and tried to use the exact amount to make it equivalent (I even weighed it)! But it was way, way too much seasoning. Evidently, those packets use something as filler to weigh it down. That's another reason not to use seasoning packets in general, but next time I'm following random people on the internet to eat what they eat, I should probably just invest in being correct by doing what they say.
One other recent near miss has been these sloppy joes. I thought they were fine, but no one else would eat them. Good thing there were other alternatives available. I froze the rest...I will have some good lunches in the future.
And with all of that, I am hungry and off to lunch.
Remember my nauseatingly ambitious list of 37 things I was going to do while I was 37?
Yeah, me too. Like, every day.
But since I am not bringing guilt along for the ride in 2016, I thought I would report on how I actually did on some of them.
Let me go ahead and confess - I didn't really do any of the fitness ones.
1. Lose enough weight to fit into regular clothes. This goal was echoed when I joined Stitch Fix, as they only go up to a size 14, when I am still a 16. I went for my annual gynecological exam (hey, this may seem like TMI, but if you are a female over age 18, you need to be having them, too!) and I had lost 2 whole pounds since the same time last year. It wasn't a gain so I call that winning.
2. Finish watching the series Parenthood. As I reported here, we did this, but it was actually after my 38th birthday. Still winning.
3. Go to the gym at least once per week. I did not do this. As soon as AJ gets done with her swim lessons, I will cancel my membership. Right now, it does benefit me as I can work out while she swims and we get a discount. But once she completes level 5, whether it is this session or this summer, I will cancel. I just can't seem to fit going to the gym into my life right now. Not a true win, but at least I have made a money-saving decision.
4. Stop dwelling on the loss of UAB football – it is not my personal fault. I think I did a pretty good job of letting this go, as crushed as I was. Plus, this summer, our president announced that football would return. But not until 2017. It was a compromise, and fans did not get the best end of this deal. Currently, plans for a stadium are being made, but if it is not on our campus or in close walking distance, this is another compromise we should not have to make. PS - I may not have made employee of the month if anyone reads my blog.
5. Keep Family Game Night and Family Movie Night as regularly as church and weekly trips to Rusty’s. I wish I had done better at this one. Not exactly winning here. We did watch a lot of movies and play a lot of games. The truth is that we are all exhausted and staying up, even to play, is hard. Will try to be better this year.
6. Find replacements for my leadership positions with the Benevolent Fund, & Alpha Phi Alumnae. This is definitely a win, although it took me longer than it should have to get things in place. A new Awareness Committee Co-Chair was found for the Benevolent Fund, and I ended my council membership on June 30, as planned. I also identified a new person as the communications chair for the Alpha Phi Alumnae group. It took me quite a while to turn things over to her, but I consider this item completed.
7. Develop a family budget, having a set amount to give to charity. We didn't do this, but it is still a win because we worked on some of our charitable/church donations. My online retail therapy has gotten out of hand lately, as I am buying things I just want to have (hello, Vera Bradley sunglasses holder) so we should probably spend some time working on this. Again with the fatigue as an excuse, but our bills are paid thanks to my very responsible person and we do give where we feel we can.
8. Get new passports so we can travel out of the country if we get around to it. ALMOST done! Again, this was done after my birthday, but we had made significant progress before then. Ben and I have received our renewed passports, and AJ's is in process. Watch out world, here we come!
9. Purchase and learn to ride a bicycle – will need to get a bike rack, too. This, as the other fitness goals, was not done. But AJ has made progress on learning to ride, getting her training wheels off this year, so I will need to learn soon to keep up with her.
10. Read at least one book per month. I wish I could say I had done this! But I have read a few, and even enjoyed myself in the process. I can't remember everything I have read, but likely the last two books I completed were Let's Pretend this Never Happenedand Furiously Happy, both by Jenny Lawson (a.k.a. The Bloggess). Both books contain funny stories about serious things. The first contains my favorite blog post of all time by anyone in the universe (sorry, language is not safe for work) and when I read it again in the book I laughed as if I had not read it before. In Furiously Happy, there's a story about a possum that I was laughing so hard at that AJ made me read it to her - I read her the edited version. It was still funny.
11. Make plans and follow through with date night, even if we have to *gasp* hire a babysitter. Just like with the game nights and movie nights, date nights were even more elusive, due to the crazy nature of our schedules and being tired all the time. We did a lot of "not quite date nights" at home after AJ was in bed, watching TV together.
12. Give up soda for good. Didn't happen, but I have been soda-free for 15 days, since the new year began. I am not counting sparkling water. And yes, I realize what soda actually is. Baby steps.
13. Give meditation and prayer more of a chance. I did maybe a little better on this one. Still much room for improvement.
14. Get allergies under control, with shots or drops, even if it means finding a new ENT. After a period of sulking and stewing, I finally contacted my ENT and said I was ready to get the allergy shots, once per week, for about a year. (I mentioned them here.) Then, it will be once per month for another couple of years, if I remember correctly. The drops sounded attractive but expensive; my insurance covers the shots 100%. I give up part of my lunch hour each Tuesday, and they give me 20 minutes of sitting in a room in my tank top reading Twitter, making sure I don't have an allergic reaction. I still have issues with these folks, but I've made the commitment and I want to see it through. If I stop, I'll have to start all over again building up my tolerance for mold. I can't believe I actually have shots every week, but I figure that now that I've had a kid, I have done lots of other physical things I didn't believe I could do before. That's my excuse for bravery.
15. Get a raise or a promotion. Raise accomplished! I didn't find out until this week (January) but my performance evaluation was outstanding and I was named Employee of the Month, so I guess I'm doing what they need me to be doing. Maybe I will retire in 12 years, after I have been here for 25.
That's it for now - there's more to this post but I need to break it in two or it will be too long, even for me. Until next time...
The teacher who served as spelling bee coordinator last year has retired, and things this year were less organized. Third through fifth grade competed last week, as the winner of that bee goes on to district competition. At first, we thought first and second grade would compete together (we were even given the first grade list on one side of the handout and the second grade list on the other side). It seems that at the last minute, first grade decided to wait another week, leaving it down to only second grade for today. Each of the 5 second grade classes sent two representatives, after having classroom bees to determine the top spellers.
The kids lined up, and went in front of the judges to speak. In this configuration, the judges were in front of the parents, so we got to see the children's faces. This was good, as there was no microphone. I did see the potential for cheating but everyone was on his or her best behavior.
All of the students in second grade came to the library to be the audience, which was a distraction, but the kids seemed to do well regardless. There was no broadcasting this year.
There was a practice round (and actually, a demonstration with the first two competitors before that, which AJ took part in, spelling the word "happy"). She was serious-faced, but not scared. She was ready.
Before Christmas break, we had the lists of 150 words. By the time January 15 rolled around, she knew them all.
Sometime over the break, I posted to our PTA Facebook group that kids may need to be studying their spelling bee words over the holidays. Some moms responded with "what words?" so I uploaded the list - I wanted the competition to be fair, even though not every kid is as responsible as Anna June when it comes to bringing things home. There were no explanatory notes sent with the words, and I was hoping a teacher would shed some light on when the event would take place and what the details were. Somewhere in that thread, I posted the following thoughts:
The spelling bee, while I absolutely love it and revere it as an
honored academic tradition, has nothing to do with being "smart." It is
about memorization and recall, as well as being able to perform
under pressure. Practice and preparation are the keys to success. It's a
lot to ask! Some of us rock at spelling, which I do believe is still
very important in this world as a key to communication (see how we are
communicating right now through written words?) but it is totally hard
to spell a specific word on demand in front of an audience. So,
practice, practice, practice, y'all! It may pay off!
So see, I tried to raise the confidence level of the other kids while subtly putting them on notice that AJ would be practicing hard.
Last year after Christmas 2014, I decided that Christmas 2015 would be the year that we would get a live Christmas tree.
I still stand by my statement that I will not be getting a tree from a tree farm. That's way too much effort. Even driving across town to Whole Foods was going to be too much. Instead, one Saturday morning, we borrowed my dad's pick-up truck and went to the absolute closest lot and got a tree. Just borrowing the truck was an ordeal that required a three-way vehicle switch between my mom, my dad, and us.
But I wanted AJ to have the experience of smelling her very own tree indoors. And our fake tree was so awful that we threw it away last year and I didn't want to pay full price for a new fake tree, for some reason.
Ben figured out how to work Dad's 17-year-old truck (with only 300,000 miles!) - it's kind of tricky. On the way to the tree lot, we stopped at the thrift store, where we located a fantastic vintage tree stand, better than the one I had discarded years ago because we were "never going to have a live tree again."
Then, we got our tree. Our options were limited at this lot: all trees were Fraser Firs. We picked one that looked OK and met our height requirement: short. In the bay window area in the front of our house, there's an overhang that's only 6.5 feet, as opposed to our 8 foot ceilings in the entire rest of the house. But that's fine - it's where the tree goes. When we were looking at the house to buy it in 2003, I said, "That is where the tree goes." I have been uncertain about placement of everything else in the house except that.
We had some beautiful new LED lights we bought on sale after Christmas last year in anticipation of this new venture, so we were all set. We hung the lights and decorated the tree, laying the beautiful burgundy and gold tree skirt. All was calm, all was bright. I remembered to water the tree most days until the 24th.
Then, we were tired. We got sick. We didn't want Christmas to end. I knew I wouldn't be turning the lights on the tree again after the 25th, so I decided watering the tree was no longer a priority. The LED lights burn so much cooler than old-fashioned lights, but I still couldn't shake that our tree, dry and lit, may be a fire hazard. So we sat with the dark tree until last weekend, when Ben was finally well enough to get the boxes down from the attic and we could tackle un-decorating the house.
In advance, thinking about the dry needles about to drop all over my house was not exciting. To make me feel better, I remembered it's much easier to sweep them off the laminate than it is to vacuum them out of the carpet. I pictured having to sweep the front steps, too, and it was pretty cold outside. I told Ben he could take it and throw it off the porch, to keep from having to drag it all the way down the hill. After all, this was the first, and probably only time that we'd have a live tree (we kept the stand, "just in case").
While AJ and I were industriously removing the ornaments, he wondered aloud, "Why don't we just throw it out the window instead?" Our wonderful (relatively new) windows are wide and open big. He eyeballed it, and decided that yes, this would be the easiest and most memorable solution. In a couple of seconds, before I could even get the camera, the window was open and the tree was gone.
The hardest part was digging it out of the flower bed, but after that, it rolled pretty easily down the yard to the street. The city claims to recycle old Christmas trees the first couple of weeks of January. If they come pick it up in the next few days, we'll be golden. There was no way I was borrowing the truck again to haul it to a tree recycling place - this we'd have to sacrifice for convenience.
So there's another Christmas memory for Anna June: the year her dad threw the tree out the window.
We bought a new, artificial tree from Walmart for $9.00 after Christmas. If it turns out to be terrible, maybe we'll toss that one out the window next year.
In UAB's School of Medicine, the Department of Medicine is the largest department, with around 1,000 staff and 400 faculty members.
In December, I was chosen as "one in a thousand" as the Department's Employee of the Month.
The Department Administrator and crew showed up in my office near the beginning of the month. It was kind of a big deal. (Photo credit Ted Clark)
What's even a bigger deal is that there was a reception in my honor, where I was supposed to accept the award. It was like the Oscars around here.
They knew that December 18 was my birthday, but they asked even as they surprised me if that would be a good day to have the reception, as Christmas would interfere with their normal EOM celebration schedule.
Of course, I said it was OK.
Though Mom and Dad have to work at the auction on Fridays and would have to miss my amazing birthday party, they were at least able to come to this event. (Photo credit Will Porter)
It gave me the opportunity to thank people for helping me do what I do. And to get dressed up on a Friday. (Photo credit Will Porter)
After several people said nice things about me, I got to give my speech. Ever since, co-workers have been stopping me to tell me what a great (and funny) speech it was. Evidently, because I'm so dang professional around here they had no idea that I'm actually hilarious, or at least, what passes as such to medical researchers. I deviated from the script a bit, as I saw fit in the moment. No one videotaped it, so I am sharing what is surely my writing triumph for 2015. It's all about me, so I know the subject well. I edited and edited it, but it was still too long. Sue me. It was my day. (Photo credit Will Porter, although he would probably not like to claim credit for this one.) Pictured, left to right: Jason Daniel, MBA, Executive Administrator, Department of Medicine; Laura Gallitz, Department Employee of the Month for December; Mona Fouad, MD, Director, Division of Preventive Medicine; Seth Landefeld, MD, Chair, Department of Medicine; Karan Singh, PhD, Director, Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Shared Facility
I am so overwhelmed by your kind words. Ever since Jason,
Megann, and Ted showed up with Will, Anitra and Stephanie earlier this month I
have been absolutely inundated with kind words and congratulatory remarks. Most
people don’t even get this much fuss over them when they retire. When I was
little, my grandmother wanted me to be Miss Alabama, and this is probably as
close as I will ever get.
Thanks to everyone for being here. The fact that you’re
still at the office this late on the last Friday before Christmas makes me feel
really honored. Also, around here many of us wear jeans on Friday, so if you
dressed up for this occasion, please know that I noticed and I feel very
special. Also, today is my birthday, so I’d like to thank the Department of
Medicine for coming up with this perfectly legitimate way to sponsor a birthday
party for me.
Sometimes, people ask me what I do for a living and I don’t
know what to say. Often, I say I’m a secretary, which some people find an
outdated term. But if you know anything about secretaries, you know they do
everything that needs to be done, and I think that is how I like to think of
myself. I do support five research faculty members in our division, whose work
is in statistics, primarily in work trying to prevent cancer and cardiovascular
disease. Sometimes, statisticians and epidemiologists help come up with the big
statistics that end up in popular rhetoric, like “1 in 8 women will develop
breast cancer in their lifetimes,” and, more encouragingly, “Humans need an
average of 8 hugs per day for emotional well-being.” By the way, I’m not sure if
you can store those up so I’m going to need a hug from everyone in here just in
When people ask me how I “use” my English degree working for
statisticians, I jokingly say I perform “English-to-English translation.” On a
daily basis, I proofread things for my faculty, who happen to hail from China,
India, South Korea, and Texas, which is almost like a foreign country.
First of all, I want to thank my husband, who is always
quick to help out when I need to stay a few minutes late to finish up one more
thing or keep AJ when I need to come to work when she is out of school. Behind
the scenes, he has been very supportive of my career and I appreciate that I am
married to a person who enjoys takeout so much.
Second, I’d like to thank my daughter, Anna June. She is not
only brilliant but she is also extremely well-behaved. She will hurry up if I
remind her I’m going to be late for work, and she does not pout when Mom has to
do something at the office. She kind of likes hanging out up here on special
occasions and I hope that I’m modeling for her that women can be and do any
kind of thing that they want, even if that happens to include working AND
having a kids. UAB has been extremely supportive of my most important role as a
parent, and I cannot thank you all enough.
Next, I would like to thank my parents. They make so much of
what I do possible, from entertaining Anna June to having paid for my
education! I learned so much watching my mom’s professional career in nutrition
balanced with her home life – I would never be brave enough to raise 4 kids,
but she did it well and made it look easy. My dad gave me every example of how
to be successful – I watched him as he finished college and went to law school,
starting and growing his career, later running his own firm. At the time I
didn’t appreciate it, but he did the best thing he ever could for me, which was
letting me spend summers with him at his office. There, I learned exactly what
an effective assistant was supposed to do: everything. I washed coffee
cups and answered phones; I learned how to transcribe dictation and how to get
lunch for an office full of people. I learned to say, “He’s in a meeting,”
instead of “he’s in the bathroom.” When people compliment me on my
professionalism, I can only thank my dad because I’ve been doing this since I
I also need to thank Stephanie Carroll. She’s my supervisor
and just a really nice person to know. She knows I am not perfect and she works
with that. I have always been so thankful that she is looking out for me.
I want to thank our business office, run by Anitra Baylor.
Anitra has also been the recipient of this award and deservedly so. She has an
amazing ability to see the big picture AND get the little things right. She is
also just a really good person – she is here with us on her off day! Anitra’s
staff always helps me with whatever I need, so anything I’ve ordered or paid or
gotten approved in the past 8 years is because of their hard work. They are
some of the kindest and most helpful individuals I have ever worked with.
I also want to thank Dr. Fouad for leading our Division and
Dr. Landefeld for leading the Department. You both give your employees space to
be creative but enough direction for the ship to steer forward. I am lucky to
work for both of you, who are absolute international superstars.
I also want to thank the Department, including Dr.
Landefeld, and the nominating committee. I appreciate your taking time out of
your schedule to do this each month. I can tell you for a fact that this
program has improved morale around the Department. Everyone wants to know that
their work is valued.
I’d like to take a minute to thank my faculty, but if I name
each of them, we will be here all day. Just kidding! First and foremost, thanks
to Dr. Singh. I have a strong feeling that he orchestrated the nomination
letter writing campaign to get me selected for this award. When the email went
out about this award, a couple of his friends saw his picture and congratulated
him on being Employee of the Month. Dr. Singh pointed out that the last line of
the announcement email said, “A reception will be held in his honor.” Maybe
they should have let me proofread it!
Dr. Bae, Dr. Chen, Dr. Jackson, and Dr. Kim are the four
most laid back guys in this whole division. They are so unassuming, so
understanding, and so kind. I really hope that we’re together for a long time.
I also need to thank the people who used to be my faculty.
Dr. Desmond, Dr. Oster, and Dr. Li have all been with me for more than a decade.
I am proud to know them as people, and I am glad that even though I don’t
support them directly, we are still close and get to see each other often.
I was lucky enough to work for Dr. Dutton and Dr. Pisu, even
for a relatively short amount of time.
They are both such excellent researchers
and writers. I am glad to count them among my “exes” with whom I can still be
And I saved a whole special thank you for Dr. James Shikany.
This guy is the hardest working person I know. His attention to detail is
unparalleled. I was fortunate enough to work for him for five years and they
were some of the most rewarding, personally and professionally.As he advanced in his career and he took on
more responsibilities, his workload became too great for me to handle in
addition to the other five gentlemen I assist, so I had to make the very
difficult decision to call for help, stressing that I had not yet figured out
how to clone myself. We are also still friends and work together closely, but
now he has another assistant. The other day Will asked me if I missed Dr.
Shikany and I said “Yes” before he had even finished asking the question, which
was a little embarrassing.
I’d like to thank the rest of the support staff, including
Nicole Howard, who has also won this award before. These ladies are always good
to teach me new things, to back me up when I can’t be here, and to walk with me
to get cookies when I need them.
Now is the part where I could say a whole lot about each
person in this room. You are all part of my outstanding team, whether or not
you work in this division. I could not do what I do without you doing what you do.
My contributions are a very small part of UAB’s important research on
preventing disease and suffering in the world. I am so pleased to be a part of
this group. I have so much respect for your intelligence, your work, your
talents, your integrity, and your character. I will add that despite working
for VIPs, I have never once been talked down to or disrespected because I was a
secretary instead of a PhD. I have always been treated kindly and with respect,
and in fact, my opinion and experience have been sought-after. I know that does
not happen everywhere, but I am glad it does here. I am also grateful for my
parking space and my office with a window.
Finally, I am not usually in front of a group this big
unless I’m asking for money. So I will take the opportunity to do it quickly.
We are all very blessed to be here, employed and appreciated. One way to show
your gratitude is by giving back to the community, and the best way for UAB
employees to do this is to contribute to the Benevolent Fund. Your contribution,
added to my contribution, and the contribution of others seems to magically
multiply – I know it is just addition but when you can see the work that the
Benevolent Fund does for over 120 agencies right here in the Birmingham area,
it does seem like magic. Gifts are tax deductible and you can give any time at uab.edu/benfund.
I think that’s what I’d like from you as a birthday gift.
I want to again thank you all for coming. I hope that you
and your families will enjoy a safe and happy holiday season. Go Blazers!
You may have heard me say it before. I love birthdays. Mostly, I love that every one gets a day. If you manage to live longer, you get more of them, but your birthday is YOUR day. Everyone you love should celebrate you and the fact that just because you exist, the world is better.
(A stunning arrangement created and delivered in person by my friend Laura A.for my birthday and a card from my division. Polka dots! A pink rose! Perfect!)
That being said, having a December birthday is sometimes kind of hard on the schedule. I've gotten like 8 posts out of this Christmas, and I'm not even telling the whole story. It's a crazy, busy, fun, wonderful time.
(This is clearly the most sacrilegious thing I have ever purchased, and it was the card I bought for Ben, last year. Card by American Greetings.)
Sometimes, though, having a birthday in December works out great. People are in a festive mood and a birthday party sounds like it will add to the fun. A December birthday even works its way into the holiday classic, "Sleigh Ride" ("There's a birthday party at the home of Farmer Gray/It'll be the perfect ending to the perfect day.")
While I'm quite sure that no one has ever pulled up in a sleigh to my parties, there have been some epic ones anyway. Like when I was turning 13 and invited the whole entire 8th grade to my joint birthday party with my friend Heather. Then there was the time when I was 16 and had a nice sit-down dinner (lasagna), when I was allowed to have birthday parties again, after my 13-year-old "friends" partially destroyed my dad's stamp collection. When I was 17, we had everyone over for BBQ. At 19, I borrowed the AFWC Headquarters and had a tea party: my big gifts were Beanie Babies, which were all the rage at the time, but I was very broke and I sold them to collectors.When I turned 21, I went to some bars in Buckhead, but most of my friends had left Atlanta and it was actually kind of a quiet night. On my 30th birthday, we hired a local rock band and my parents (who were pretty excited about becoming grandparents soon and may have lost their minds) had an open house at the antique shop/coffee shop next door with tons of food and tons of people. The next year we had a "31 flavors" party where everyone brought ice cream, and mostly played with the baby.
Ben, however, also has a December birthday. He prefers to keep things on the less-epic side. We went to dinner at the Shrimp Basket, which is a chain but is pretty good and close to home. Now that he's on the early shift, he has to be in bed very early so we don't go out much, especially on week nights. It was a real treat; it reminds me of being at the beach. We got him a Virtual Reality "Viewmaster" which can take you all kinds of places. We also got Season 3 of Hannibal on Blu-Ray, since it was released that day. Finally, we got the big gift: a larger monitor for the office at home. I didn't quite get the one he wanted, but the one he got in exchange is really pretty and is now mounted on the wall, giving a little more space.
My birthday party was also low-key, but it took a lot more planning. We found out that Star Wars: The Force Awakens would be released on December 18, which is my birthday. I started thinking that was a sign that my birthday party needed to be at the movie theater. First of all, many of my friends would be there already, and I didn't want them to have to choose between me and the most anticipated film of our generation. Plus, the original, very first Star Wars movie (A New Hope) was released in 1977, the year I was born. That was the last movie that my parents saw in a theater for thirteen years, as they had 4 kids in quick succession and also got cable and a VCR. Finally, we had recently seen all 6 Star Wars films in preparation for this release, so we were looking forward to it, also.
(We've gone a little Star Wars crazy. Here's a puzzle that Granny sent and AJ and Ben did.)
The Edge theater near our house is unlike other theaters in our area in that it does not have a party room, per se. They do just set up tables and let you have parties, though. So we invited some friends and got a cake from Publix.
We grabbed random paper plates, forks and napkins from our stash on our way out the door. We had a couple of rolls of quarters to let the kids play video games while we visited before the show.
(AJ playing Guitar Hero with Avery and Guthrie)
(Archie and Christina are also UAB fans as well as Star Wars fans. Their matching outfits were fantastic.)
(This photo of Meg and Marc highlights the no-frills decor in the theater lobby.)
The movie was as good as we had hoped. We had more fun than we anticipated.
And Ruth Kennedy composed this fantastic image.
As for gifts, well, I asked for "no gifts" from my friends, but Ben got me an amazing gift: a heated mattress pad with dual controls. It was already on our bed when I got home, and I thought that my gift was just that Ben had changed the sheets. We love it. It has come in handy now that the weather is cold and we are not feeling our best. It is even better when one of us is freezing and the other is sweating.
There were also flowers that Ben hand-delivered to my office. This photo was taken several days later. They were even more beautiful prior to this.
Overall, I am pleased with our celebrations of being 37 and 38. It's going to be a good year. May The Force be with us all.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating. The fact that AJ has no cavities is not a judgment on character, hers or mine. There are a lot of factors that come in to play: brushing, flossing, nutrition, tooth spacing and growth, and genetics. There are some of these things at which we could do a better job.
But it still feels like great news that merits sharing. AJ went to the dentist this morning and got a very good report. Honestly, it was good to get a "no cavities," first thing this Monday morning.
She also got another blond self-adhesive mustache from the prize machine. Hopefully this is not the best thing that happens all week, but even so, it is pretty good.
I'm on a blogging streak, so since I didn't have any posts already scheduled I thought I would get in some bullet points of our day before another day happens and I forget all the good stuff.
- Anna June started a 5-week session of swim lessons on Saturday mornings. She's in "Swim School Level 4" now. Evidently, they've re-categorized the levels since the last time I was paying attention. Her instructor said she did very well but AJ said it was very hard and didn't think she did well at all. They are working on flip turns.
- I walked laps at the gym while AJ swam. I got more than 10,000 steps today. That used to be my goal every day, but I just figured out that UAB Wellness has a daily goal of 7,500 steps per day, which I still don't meet every time, but it's much more do-able. I get points when I hit it each day. No money, just points that don't really mean anything. But someone is keeping track other than my heart, so that kind of makes it fun.
- AJ had her friend Dorothy over to play this afternoon. It's so crazy that these girls were just tiny 4-year-olds the other day and now, AJ will confidently walk up to Dorothy's door to ring the doorbell to get her. "You don't have to get out of the car, Mom," she told me. AJ had called Dorothy last Saturday to plan the play date. They're suddenly so grown. They played with dolls, but they also played Disneyland on Xbox Kinect and Pieface with whipped cream. It was wonderful to hear happy giggles.
- Because we were home, we made the dinner we were not home to make last night, but better. We had baked chicken cutlets (with Italian Seasoning and the rosemary/oregano olive oil), twice baked potatoes, snow peas, and Sister Schubert's Dinner Rolls. AJ was glad to help me fix dinner. I allowed her to brush the tops of the rolls with butter, and, for some reason, she was really excited about this new skill/responsibility. She had "always wanted" to do this. I let her melt the butter in the microwave and brush it on with the plastic pastry brush. She was delighted. She had actually been really excited for dinner for some reason tonight. She even made a menu and put on an apron. I think she brought her cash register into the kitchen to kind of play restaurant, but I nixed that because I made her put away a bunch of her other stuff that was still lingering in the kitchen instead of starting a new thing. Later, she gave the dinner a "C -" Her review was that the chicken was not flavorful enough (possibly true), the snow peas were over-seasoned (possibly also true, except she selected snow peas on the basis of "I've never tried snow peas" so I think she just doesn't like them, and the potatoes were "disgusting." At least she was excited on the front end, so I'll take it.
By the way, though AJ said the spelling bee would be on the 6th, it wasn't. After sorting out some communication, it seems that the 3-5 grade competed on the 8th. Those winners will compete at the district level. The 1-2 grade competition will be on Friday the 15th. Winners have not yet been determined from AJ's classroom, but if I understand correctly, 2 representatives will be sent. Please cross your fingers that somehow the word "special" does not make its way on to some alternative list.
-The adults are recovering from colds. Ben took a half a sick day this week, and I also took one. Sore throat with various aches, followed by congestion and drainage. His is a full-on chest cough, which we are keeping an eye on. We're resting and drinking a lot of fluids. I've been hitting the herbal tea each day. AJ has decided she kind of likes mint tea, especially since Lily gave her some not that long ago. "It tastes like flowers in my mouth," AJ said, which is kind of what it is. I'm going to try to finish our giant vat of Hawaiian Punch tomorrow. It's a legit goal.
-Speaking of goals, Ben and I finished watching the series Parenthood tonight. I was going to say we finished Parenthood, but that's not true. :) It was such a good show, featuring Peter Krause, one of Ben's all-time favorites (Six Feet Under, Sports Night) and Lauren Graham, one of my favorites (Gilmore Girls, obviously). The big achievement here is that we watched all 6 seasons together. This is more difficult than it sounds. Lots of other things have taken up our attention over the past year or so since we started watching, including actual parenting. Plus, the show was a drama, and, well, it was a lot like real life in a lot of ways. Nearly every episode had me reaching for the Kleenex, and it wasn't something I could watch a ton of episodes in a row. The show is about 4 grown siblings, living in the same town and trying to navigate life with their parents, children, and each other. At first, I thought, hey, this is kind of like our family, except with better hair. They even started some businesses (oops - spoiler alert) during the course of the show to make it even more like us. But of course like any good show there was something of each character in each of us. PS I'm probably most like Julia but without all the ambition.
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