Monday, June 28, 2010

In Brief

It's summer, and while I could say that the slow internet at the in-laws' house is why I've not blogged, it's really just that we're having fun away from the computer. But in the interest of journaling our lives for our children, and in the interest of the printed copy of the past year's posts that I'll be working on over the next few weeks, here's a list of what's been happening with our little group of four-and-a-dog:

Berit's enrolled in Highland Dance and Yoga on Tuesdays, both completely wearing her out but also bringing much fun and joy. We've signed up for nature walks with the conservancy on Wednesdays and following those there are concerts in the park for kids, so we pack a lunch and the girls dance and wiggle and we all celebrate living in bright, happy Petoskey during the summer.

Berit starts violin lessons next month, for 15 minutes at a time. They're on Saturdays and while I'm really happy she wants to learn violin, I'm most excited for the enforced family time they'll bring. We only see Trevor for minutes each day lately, and on Saturdays we'll all go to town together, have a lesson and then picnic in the park. Maybe we'll check on the progress of the house, browse the shops and stop for an ice cream. In the past I'd make plans like this and they wouldn't work out for one reason or another, or only part of the time, but these plans don't worry me because it's summer and Petoskey is covered in sprinkles and fairy dust in the summer, so even if the plans aren't perfect our Saturdays will still be fabulous.

Small jobs for Trevor lately. No new builds in the longest time, but lots of regular work that keeps him busy and keeps me home with the girls. Fingers are crossed for a new build soon! I continue to work with Wayne County's Start Early, Finish Strong newsletter, Traverse Magazine and the occasional Country Lines article, all of which keep me writing. Also have a few projects I like to play with when I have time. In my head I'm working on two little books, one for each of the girls, that will tell the story of their births. Berit, and in copycat fashion (always) Marta, are fascinated by their birth stories. So before I get any further from those days, I'm going to write the stories in kid language, with a bit of fantasy and fun thrown in to dissuade any of those ... technical questions.

Ah, the house. Oh, the house. How we long for the house. The demo is complete and we now have a new walkway from the kitchen to the library. The kitchen, originally a maid's kitchen, was completely separated from the living space of the house, and had only the back stair up to the second floor, the back door to outside and the heavy, swinging door into the dining room for exits. Absolutely no way to see or even hear the kids while cooking or cleaning. So Trevor put a lovely walkway in to make another path through the house, and during the finishing phase he'll use the large space on either side to create built-in cabinetry and shelving. I can't tell you how I'm looking forward to filling those spaces with treasures! Teapots? Cookbooks? The family china that has recently been handed down? When I think about it my body actually feels full of exclamation points.

We are moving more slowly on the house than we (ahem, *we*) had anticipated. Hoping to be in by fall. PRAYING to be in by fall. In the meantime we're still living with Trevor's parents, who are continuously gracious in sharing their home with us. I know they must get frustrated -- of course, we don't do things the same way, and we are loud and constantly there, and there are all of those things that come with living together when you had been so used to living apart -- and I get frustrated, too. But every morning the girls wake up and are thrilled to go downstairs to their grandparents, who in turn make hot breakfasts and give lots of hugs and offer to take them on walks, and Trevor and I know that this is the best possible place for our family. They will always have -- if not exactly remember -- the summer they lived with Mimi and Grandpa, and I truly believe it will be special to them forever.

And by the way, every other day or so I walk into the laundry room because I haven't had time to switch my clothes from the washer to the dryer, and I'll find my laundry clean and folded. And when I can't quite get to the dishes after a meal, I'll come down later and see that they're magically washed (and not even in the dishwasher, because I never put the kids' stuff in there and my mother-in-law knows this and takes the time to hand-wash them for us). And when Trevor works late and it's time for baths, I have extra hands and I never have to ask for help. Ever.

Trevor loves summer more than anyone. He loves to play more than any grown-up I know. He wants to skate, to swim and bike, to hike with his kids. And yet we are blessed, blessed to have work that keeps him busy all day and all evening. He goes from one job to a meeting to a chamber event, down to the playhouse that Erwin, his dad, is building in stunning and adorable ways. Trevor is never idle. And when he has 20 minutes he spends every last one doing puzzles, dancing and reading with the girls.

I am writing. I'm adventuring. I'm playing and cleaning up. I am living on Walloon Lake with my girls for the summer, in a house filled with fun and love and music. I'm trying not to get in the way, to be a living part of a family house that I'm not really suited for. I think I'm catching on. I'm getting my braces off next month. I've signed up for a half-marathon and am running slowly but consistently, most recently doing a five-miler that turned out to actually be six, and I felt great the whole time. I'm carrying the rear portion of the dog, who threw out his back (again) and is cheerfully dragging himself around. I'm realizing that I'm still mourning the loss of both of my grandparents, who both died very recently, even though I thought I was tougher than this. I'm constantly grieving for my mother's loss of both her parents and at the same time am avoiding talking about it with her, not purposely. I'm happy and one second from tears practically all the time, because the girls are so fun, so exciting, so big and so little.

Insert big sigh here. We are technically 10 to 12 months away from bringing home a baby. However, two children were very close to meeting our requested status (healthy babies, with exceptions for unknowns like smoking during pregnancy) and we considered adopting them. We read their full files -- something we'd never done before -- and learned things about them like what their rooms looked like, what made them happy and sad, how they were comforted and what their deliveries were like. It was terrible to say no. But we don't have a home yet. We can't yet. We can't expect our biological children and the new baby to adapt to this situation, and to that situation. It's just not right, yet.

The playhouse excitement continues. Erwin has spent every hour of every dry day for weeks crafting the cutest little cottage you ever did see, and we are all hoping to sell lots of tickets and really start something. We are frustrated because both times we were scheduled to show the house during kids' concerts in the park, it rained and we couldn't. So the house hasn't moved from the polebarn, and we've only sold a handful of tickets with it there. Erwin would love help from Trevor, who would love to help but is so busy with work that he is barely there, and you can imagine how this makes both guys feel. I think they had hoped to bond over this project in their father-son/buddy-buddy way. Anyway, the end result is still fantastic, and this first time out continues to be a learning experience for us all. We're hoping that the parades will really help get the buzz going. We're trying to be realistic that this year will be the one that teaches us how to make the build successful in years to come. But to be truthful, we all want so much to make an impact NOW. Slow and steady, needs to be our mantra. It's really a dream house, and a dream project. Everything about it is just plain great.

Did I leave anything out? I can't think. On to work, to the for-pay stuff, with hopefully enough time afterward to work on some fun stuff. It's summer. Everything is fun stuff.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Growing up, my sister and I were constantly volunteering (or being volunteered) for one charity or another. We tied bows around nut jars for cancer benefit prizes when we were very small. We passed out programs, took tickets, poured drinks and stood in booths. We babysat, delivered food and changed sheets in hospitals. There is no time in my memory when we weren't volunteering, and when my brother was born, he joined in with the rest of us.

It was important to my mom. It just now occurs to me that I've never asked her why it was important to her then, when we were little. Growing up, her family was relatively poor, but not so much that they received help from others. That wasn't it. Her father, my grandfather, sat on our board of education and actively worked in many political campaigns -- maybe that was the catalyst for her. Or my grandmother, who cooked for the priests.

Anyway, even when she was a single mother and worked two jobs, we volunteered as a family. Nine years ago, when I drove into Petoskey for the second time in my life, knowing I had a job and would be living here, I wondered where I would start my volunteer work. At the hospital, which was second nature to me? Downtown? At Crooked Tree, or the Women's Resource Center? And then work began, and I was at a desk or chasing stories or at night meetings seven days a week, and I never found my place.

Over the years Trevor and I have dabbled in organizations and have tried to do our best to support our local farmers, artists and businesses. Our girls sponsor a child in Bolivia, who they write to now and again and who we talk about and pray for. But our family has never done anything truly intense for the less fortunate in our community and in our world.

A few months ago I was sitting on the couch with my mom, talking about how I needed to do something to get started volunteering again. We don't have much treasure, and truth-be-told we don't have much time. But we are 32-year-old parents of two healthy children, and we have careers we enjoy with work to do every day. We are blessed, so incredibly blessed. But we were not working for others.

So my mom and I hatched a plan, on that couch, and today it's become reality. Doublestein Builders, Inc., my husband's business, has built a beautiful playhouse (props to Erwin, my father-in-law and recently retired partner in the business, who actually built the entire house, and to Cathy, my mother-in-law, who helped paint). The playhouse is the first in a bi-annual playhouse build, taking place each summer and fall. All year long we'll sell raffle tickets for the house, and at the end of summer and fall we'll choose a winner that we'll announce at a local celebration and on our website. The winner will take home a beautiful playhouse for their children or grandchildren, or for their local park or church, and all of the proceeds from ticket sales will go into the Doublestein Family Fund at the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation. The money from this fund will be used entirely to benefit children's charities.

We're really excited about this project, and finally feel like we're giving back in a hands-on way. If you live nearby, look for us at local events all summer and fall, and in the parades. If you live far away, check our website for updates on the houses we build, and send us suggestions for styles and colors.

And of course, if you'd like to buy a ticket, we're happy to help. :)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Graduation, Round One

Everyone, or more specifically, all the mommyblogs I read that chronicle school-age children, is posting about their child's school graduation, from preschool on up. They post first day/last day photos, cap-and-gown montages, lists of things their kids have learned in the past year.

It only just occurred to me, after reading yet another blog about preschool graduation, that I might be leaving my own family out a little on this theme. Like, when all of our kids sit down in their social media classes in the flying-car-future, and the teacher says, "OK, pull up the blog your mom wrote when you graduated from preschool," Berit will sink down in her chair and pretend to have laryngitis. Or carpal tunnel. Or whatever she needs to get out of communicating the way they will in the future.

Thing is, while she technically wore a cap and walked over a little bridge, Berit didn't graduate. She's been in preschool for two school years now, but because her birthday is in February she won't go to kindergarten. We simply put her in preschool the very second she was eligible, which was at age 3 years and one second. She always wanted to go to school. She was born for organized play, and she never, ever had a second thought about not going. She walked into the classroom on her first day, all of just barely 3, and didn't bother to check if her parents were staying or not.

Likewise, when it came time to leave this preschool for the last time -- because she's going to a new preschool this fall -- there was no hesitation. Just, Peace, I'm going to the place where there's a My Little Pony castle.

When she walked the bridge on graduation night, she was first. Very delicately she stepped to the top of the arc and waited, hat sitting neatly on her head, while her teacher told us that Berit's favorite part of preschool was dressing up and that she learned how to walk in a line. I think. It's hard to remember. Marta was screaming the whole time, trying to free herself from my grasp, because "IT'S MY TURN TO GO ON THE BRIDGE!" I'd post pictures but since we've moved in with the in-laws we have no clue where any connective cords are. So, someday. Probably.

Berit has changed in the past year. I'm sure a large percent is due to preschool, the social learning, the reading and projects and playtime. I know preschool is responsible for her learning to write her name, recognize most letters and numbers, and for helping her deal in her own way, in her own time, with the messes made by projects (and learn to accept them, and find fun in them). This last part is the most valuable to me, as I didn't know how I'd work with that a year ago.

She's made sincere friendships, gone on field trips that I'd never have considered, played in the dirt, rolled down hills and took 389 turns on the swings. At least.

Preschool made her brain ready for the day about one month ago, when she suddenly, in a single moment, understood the alphabet and its uses, and started reading. Not whole chapter books or anything, but she figured out how words work and how to sound them out. She's recognizing words at first sight now, and spelling things constantly, and everywhere we go she asks how to spell whatever we're doing, looking at, listening to.

A secondary benefit to this is that Marta is also fascinated by words now, and asks to spell everything and wants to learn to read.

And speaking of Marta, since starting preschool two years ago, Berit has recognized that she has a little sister and has fallen completely in love with Marta, taking care of her like Berit is 12 and Marta is a newborn. It's heartwrenching and lovely and sweet.

Berit's teacher, the wonderful Mrs. Beck, who I wish could be Berit's teacher every year from now on, has told me time and again that "Berit notices the beauty in things that no one else does." Since starting preschool, Berit has commented on the loveliness of words, phrases, leaves, shadows, configurations... It's her thing, I guess. It's something I never taught her. What a gift, to always see beauty.

Since starting preschool, Berit's developed more energy, more spunk, more giddiness. She's gotten super skinny, then pudgy again, then somewhere in the middle.

I think that, at the end of this next year of preschool, I'll be better at pinpointing exactly what she's learned at school alone. But the past two years have been plain old growth for Berit, and while she's not suddenly doing fractions, she is turning into a kindergartner, day by day. Without preschool, I don't think she'd be jumping this high, taking her calculated risks with dirt and energy, loving others so openly or enjoying learning opportunities so readily.

So this is the summer, I think, before things really change from "I have two little girls" to "I have two girls." Before Berit is in school, even if it is another year of preschool, for real and for the next two decades. Before she finds friends who will come to play by themselves and not with a parent, before she can sleep without bed rails, before she loses teeth.

I'm not sad about this, like so many of these blogs I've read. Maybe I'm missing that particular part of my heart or brain. With Berit, I'm always just pleased that she can do the next thing. I think it has something to do with her personality - I recently told a friend, who wished me a happy birthday and wondered if I hated going up another year, that I've always felt like I was in my thirties, even when I was a kid. I think Berit's the same way. Not that she doesn't enjoy kid things. But she's not sorry to leave them behind, because she's got work to do on this next challenge. She's got to take her time, study it, figure it out, test it slowly, do it well a time or two, then move on.

It's my own challenge, then, to remember to mark those milestones, and not get caught up in moving on as smoothly as she does. Before I know it, she's going to be in high school, wondering what the heck I was doing blogging about books and Marta's going on the potty, when she was searching for beauty and climbing obstacles, so silently and slowly as to barely make a ripple in the water.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Things They Say

M: Daddy, you can't go to work! You're Mommy's friend!

B: I don't want to be a mommy. I don't want the doctor to cut me open to take the baby out.
Me: Um, you don't have to be cut open.
B: So, how can the baby get out, then?
Me: The doctor takes the baby out.
B: How?
Me: The mommy pushes, and the doctor gets the baby out.
B: Where does the baby come out, then?
Me: Hm?
B: Where? Like, on the mommy's body? Where. Does. The. Baby. Come. Out??
Me: So sorry, gotta get these zoo tickets. Let's talk about this later.

In bed, in the same room, at my sister's house:
M: BERIT! I love you.
B: I love you too, Marta.
M: And I love YOU!
B: And I love YOU!
M: You're my best friend.
B: I know, you're my best friend, too.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Berit Just Fell Off A Chair. I Only Have A Minute.


That's the buzz word here; the reason we're in and out; the reason I haven't blogged or managed to even post a status update on FB every single day, can you imagine?

We left the Lake House just under two weeks ago, in yet another move that left me wondering why we have so many THINGS and who in the world needs so many toys/clothes/coats/barrettes?

We moved in with Trevor's parents, who are kindly hosting us while we remodel the Division St. house. There's little to no internet connection or cell phone coverage here, so I've not blogged or been online much at all.

We're grateful of course to be here, and I have helpful, kind in-laws. But even in my own house I'm a loner, so living in someone else's has made me antsy and of course I have a constant upset stomach because that's how I work out my stress. Deep breathing, bah. 

So when guests came to stay for a long weekend at my in-laws' we decided to head downstate to my sister's house in Holland. Oh! We love being there. My kids can't understand why we have to leave at all. But it's still more suitcases and sharing rooms and down at 9:30 and up at 6:30 and even the zoo and parks and fabulous shopping and eating gets too expensive at some point (rather quickly, when you've got a home remodel going on), so we're back in Petoskey. Just in time for concerts in the park, the farmers market and our summer activities. Berit's enrolled in highland dance and yoga and we're hoping Kindermusik starts for Marta. We're looking forward to organized nature walks and swimming and playdates and school parks that are open to us all day long. 

So these days I'm pulling Marta off of life-threatening positions in someone else's home, constantly trying to keep things clean (OMG) and not get in the way. We're out, we're in, and I'm very rarely here. It's a blip in our lives, one I hope will be strong and positive and the road to somewhere important. 

If I had two brain cells to combine I'd write about Marta's CONSTANTCONSTANTCONSTANT jabbering and bruises head to toe, Berit's wondering exactly how babies get out of bellies and in this particular moment, Marta is climbing up my body, trying to tickle me, banging her chin over and over on the table, is telling me she needs a treat and that she loves me. All at the same time. Nope, not exaggerating. 

Soon I'll post pictures of our recent adventures and tell you about the things the girls say when they're sharing a room at my sister's house and are supposed to be sleeping. But right now Marta's running away, intent on getting into the pantry and climbing to the top of the shelves. So off I go, on another flighty adventure where I'm using less brain power and more adrenaline and all my energy is in saving a 2-year-old from major disaster and cleaning up in her wake.