Monday, December 17, 2007


We have a couple sleeping bags that recently made their way out of the closet in Joseph's room exciting his curiosity. Eric pulled this one out of its stuff sack for Joseph to check out and Joseph immediately named it the "take a nap bag." He loves this sleeping bag and snuggles into it every naptime. He usually tries to persuade me to cinch the face opening so tight that he can't see, but I'm a little nervous about letting his sleep like that for two hours . . .

The naptime ritual is further embellished in that he recently decided he needs some animal friends to nap with him. We have an entire doll cradle full of stuffed animals that the kids heretofore never touched, so I'm glad for the sudden interest. Every naptime I ask Joseph who he wants to sleep with and he always replies, "Ostrich. Pony. Panda Bear." If he isn't tired, which is the case more and more often as he gets older, he still has to have a "rest time" and I hear him on his bed with these three animals making up stories, quoting from stories he's read, and just generally having a good time. Joseph is a kid who needs his down time even when he isn't sleepy.

I love going into Joseph's room after nap when he has slept, though. As soon as I hear talking I open his door and he immediately starts chattering away about his dream (I assume). A couple of days ago I got this:

"Mommy I was just talking to Jesus. I was telling him about a bulldozer. Because I don't have a bulldozer but I need a bulldozer. It should be a red bulldozer."

Got that, Jesus?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Broken Camera

I haven't been blogging because our camera has started producing pictures like this:
That's supposed to be a white candle. Ditto on the walls. We already asked someone for a new camera for Christmas, so don't all run out and buy us one! Until then, I do have a few from the archives that never made it to the blog . . .

Now that Margaret is walking I've put her to work around the house. It's so nice to be able to put my feet up after dinner and let someone else clean up.

Just kidding. Maybe someday. We were just talking last night, though, about gifts we should give the kids. I had a few ideas for Margaret but I was really coming up empty on Joseph. Eric said, "Well, what does he do all day?" He plays with books. Really. Part of the reason, I know, is that he can't get to toys that easily on his own. But even when he's in his wheelchair or mobile stander he pretty much follows me around and wants to do whatever I'm doing. Same with Margaret. I just cleaned out the two bottom cupboards of my kitchen and removed all the cleaning supplies (which were already non-toxic, by the way) and breakable objects and filled them with all my pots, pans, bowls and tupperware. She'll sit and play for quite awhile. Her favorite toy this week has been a can of tomato paste. Yesterday I was cleaning a closet and gave her five cans of tomato paste and a box. She was happy for 45 minutes. I've said it once, I'll say it again. Kids don't need toys.

Friday, November 23, 2007

In which we are not (quite) scammed

I offer this post both as an entertaining story and a service: don't let this happen to you!

Our family was downtown this afternoon. We had a quiet morning, went to noon Mass and then all went to a Starbucks en route to the main library. Eric needed some caffeine to get going on studying and I needed some food to deal with children's book hunting. Downtown was pretty festive today: no one was working but the many department stores were mobbed and everyone was in good holiday cheer.

As we sat enjoying our food and drink, a respectable-looking middle-aged man came in and asked the cashier for change. The cashier said they'd been super-busy and didn't have any change to spare. The man headed back out but as he passed by our table he hurriedly and distractedly tossed four five-dollar bills in front of Eric and asked, "You got a twenty for four fives?" Eric pulled out his wallet and I looked, curious, because neither of us usually has any cash on hand. The man asked me almost frantically for directions to New York Avenue which I obliged as Eric handed over the one twenty dollar bill I'd seen in his wallet. The man called something over to another customer and then looked down at his hand and showed Eric a one dollar bill, saying "You only gave me a single." Eric was bewildered. He'd already pocketed the four fives so he opened his wallet again. There was no twenty in there this time and he was just about to give the man his four fives back when I was struck with unusual boldness and said, "No. He gave you a twenty." There'd been a twenty in the wallet a minute before and if it wasn't there now, the man must have it. He pulled the twenty out from under his arm and said, "Yeah, but I wanted twenty ones. You don't have em?" He gave us the twenty and took back his one and fives and disappeared quickly out the door.

Pretty slick. In hindsight this all sounds like one of those chain e-mails you read, thinking, "How could someone be so stupid?" But it all happened so quickly that we didn't even realize we'd been almost scammed until the man was out of sight. First, why would anyone want a twenty for four fives? And why did he drop them all on the table before Eric had even reached for his wallet? Second, why does a pedestrian in Chinatown need directions to New York Avenue (obviously weird to anyone from DC)? Third, he picked a man eating with his two children and distracted the wife with conversation keeping us off balance through the entire transaction. The man changed tactics so quickly at the end that we were left thinking we'd been confused--but only for a minute. We talked to the Starbucks employee who said the man had had a lot of cash and we called the cops but I bet that guy made a killing in Chinatown today.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Margaret loves to help cook . . .

Well, Family, you were all very much missed this year. We haven't made it to any home for Thanksgiving since we got married. The last time we made the trip back to DC it took us fifteen hours and we haven't been too anxious to try it again. Once we added in kids and college students holiday travel really became impossible. We thought about coming this year, at the last minute, but it just really wasn't possible. But we really wanted to be in New England this year and everyone was very missed.

So, in lieu of an actual visit, I thought I'd share a bit of our Thanksgiving meal with you. We started the day with Mass at our parish and then attempted a visit to the National Gallery. A favorite artist of ours has an exhibit right now and we went to the Gallery last year. The kids weren't really up for it this time, so I played with them in the lobby while Eric browsed the exhibit for a bit. We stopped for Starbucks for some festive treats and then came home for naps.

Eric and I love to cook together, though we rarely do it. Today we started dinner prep at 4:00 and ate just after 7:00. Not too bad considering that we were trying several new recipes including the main dish: Rabbit. We'd never had rabbit before but a turkey is too much for the four of us and we wanted to eat something authentic and seasonal. Rabbits are easy to come by around here--Eric just set up a couple snares on the Mall and . . .

Fixing the bunny sauce.

Just kidding! We got the rabbit at the wholesale market up the street. It was really good and, actually, tasted pretty much exactly like turkey. We also had oyster dressing, real cranberry sauce, brussels sprouts and roasted root veggies. I didn't make pie but my dad left some chocolate here a few days ago, so I think we'll eat that as soon as the kids are asleep!

Joseph waiting anxiously to eat the "bunny."

All in all it was a wonderful feast and wonderful day. Our family certainly has much to be thankful for this year. Eric is trying his darndest to get a job closer to home so we can all see each other next year, but it's a lot of luck.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Friday, November 9, 2007

You didn't miss anything!

I posted a few weeks ago that Margaret had started walking but our camera wasn't working. I was so sad that the blog would have no record of her first steps. But, then, Margaret didn't take any more steps. Here and there she'd toddle a few steps to get from one piece of furniture to the next but mostly she refused to really learn to walk.

We go to Daily Mass a few days a week at the Basilica at CUA. Margaret is almost always too noisy to stay in the church so we hang out in the hall where there are stairs and ramps and wide open spaces. Margaret mostly climbs up and down and up and down. The last couple of days she's insisted on my taking her hand so she can walk around. Today she forgot and let go and took about twenty steps towards me (while I held my hands just inches from hers). This afternoon at home I coaxed her into crossing the room a few times. Then Margaret was hanging onto my legs while I was busy peeling potatoes. I felt her let go and looked over my shoulder to see her toddling across the kitchen. That was the first time she'd ever walked without me begging her to do it, so I think it's official now. She's pretty much toddling all over the place and I got a minute of it on video. Hopefully our slow connection will upload it before I go to bed tonight!

Update: Well, now it's the next night and I still can't get this very cute video to upload. If our computer situation improves in the next few days, I will post it!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The climber . . .

. . . has reached new heights.

Advice? The high chair is now sitting on top of the table.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Baby Signs

There's a big trend among parents these days to teach sign language to infants. I got interested in this idea when Joseph was a baby and we made a few attempts here and there during his first year. He learned his first sign (ceiling fan) just before his first birthday. He learned "more" Thanksgiving Day. By New Year's he was learning signs about as fast as we could teach them. By the time he began talking the next summer he knew about eighty signs.

Some people worry that teaching sign language to babies harms their verbal ability. There is no real evidence for this as long as the parents speak to their kids as well (not a problem at our house). Most researchers agree that learning signs strengthens a child's overall linguistic ability. Joseph's verbal ability continues to impress many people we meet. It's hard to believe this is the same kid who was recommended for speech therapy at ten months of age (we declined the therapy).

Our success teaching Joseph to sign has made me an enthusiastic advocate of this mode of infant communication. It's a lot of fun and reduces frustration all around. It was amazing to sign with Joseph. He was always watching the world around him and always thinking. He would notice tiny things we'd missed and sign to us. Sometimes we had to look really hard but we always found that he was communicating real things. This has continued to hold true with Joseph's verbal communication. He always has a reason for saying what he's saying even if that reason isn't immediately apparent to his busy, scatter-brained parents.

We've started signing with Margaret. In some ways she's picking it up even faster than Joseph did but sometimes we wonder if she gets it. Sign language acquisition works the same way as verbal language acquisition. Signs are often imprecise or will all look the same for awhile. Margaret does a pretty clear "more" (food is such a good incentive!). She also has lots of opportunity for "doggie" as we have a pair of frequent barkers next door. The ability to sign "doggie" has completely eased her fear of the dogs. The same thing happened with Joseph when we taught him the sign for "siren". Margaret claps when we say "good job" and she usually manages "all done" when she doesn't want more to eat. She will sometimes do a loose approximation of the "nurse" sign.

This week I tried to branch out a little. We'd tried to teach her "hat" before (tapping the top of your head). She just hit herself in the face. We were reading a book about a zoo and I showed her "lion" (running hands through hair): she hit herself in the face. I tried "giraffe" (open hand along neck): she hit herself in the face. I tried "hot" (blowing) when the oven was on: she hit herself in the face. I guess we have a little work to do on subtlety.

I had an interesting insight into her personality when I tried to teach her "book" (opening palms in the shape of a book). I showed her and she immediately saw that I was trying to show her a sign and she tried to do it. She couldn't do it, so I took her hands in mine and did the motion for her. She tried to do it herself and couldn't. She made a frustrated sound and held her hands out to me so that I would do it for her again. Joseph probably would have just made up his own sign if he couldn't do the one we showed him. Margaret is a perfectionist. If she sees how book should be and can't do it, she won't sign book at all.

After all that . . . Margaret loves the camera so much that I can never capture her on film. As soon as she sees the camera she stops whatever cute thing she was doing and runs for the camera. Instead of illustrating this post with pictures of her signing I've shown her new favorite skill: climbing. We left the room before church Sunday and found that she'd climbed into the stroller all by herself. She was quite pleased and this activity kept her very busy and quiet during Mass later in the morning.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Happy Birthday, Joseph!

One week late but we all had a great time celebrating Joseph's birthday last weekend. Joseph has known his birthday is "October 27th" for several months. He put in his request for chocolate cake in August. His therapist asked him last Friday where the chocolate cake would come from (wondering if I was going to make it or buy it) and Joseph answered, very solemnly, "From Heaven."

I don't know if the cake was quite that good, but Joseph was pleased. Our favorite coffee shop in the neighborhood loves Joseph and told us to stop by on his birthday. They put a candle in a huge chocolate muffin for him, so he got cake for breakfast, too!

Grandma Marga decided just a few weeks ago to come to town for the festivities. She helped put together a birthday feast of lamb and stuffed squash and we had a couple other friends over to help us eat it. Joseph got lots of books and is loving all of them.

Grandma too pity on Joseph, Son of the Craftless Mother, and carved a jack-o-lantern with him. I was very impressed. "Jack" kept us company at the dinner table for a few nights.

The kids continue to get along and mutually enjoy each other's toys. Margaret, in fact, was much more excited about Joseph's birthday than for her own.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Family Vacation

Someone recently suggested to Eric that he needed to take a vacation. Probably good advice. He's been working hard this fall and with the move and everything this last summer there wasn't as much time to get away as usual. We'd been meaning to visit our friend, Fr. Mike. Since we didn't actually get any pictures of him this week, here is one from Margaret's baptism to jog your memory.

We got to know Fr. Mike well when he was in seminary at CUA and was assigned to our parish for two years. He's just recently been made a pastor of not one but four parishes in Portsmouth, Virginia. Portsmouth is in the same part of the state as Norfolk, and Virginia Beach. Fr. Mike was an incredible host and took a lot of time out of his busy schedule to entertain us. Here is Joseph enjoying his morning coffee while watching the boats from our hotel window:

Rotten photographer that I am, I didn't manage to take any pictures of any of the really cool boats we saw. Our room was overlooking the Elizabeth River which separates Portsmouth and Norfolk. It's a working harbor full of sailboats, Navy and Coastguard boats, ferries, and all kinds of other stuff. We saw some BIG boats. The first day we woke to a cruise ship coming in to harbor (from Bermuda) and watched it turn around and leave that evening. The ferry landing was just below our window and we rode it over to Norfolk one day for lunch and Joseph and Eric just rode it round trip one night after dark while I got Margaret to sleep. It was only one dollar a ride--pretty cheap entertainment for a three-year-old!

We had beautiful weather and enjoyed walking around historic Portsmouth but we also drove over to Virginia Beach one day. We thought we'd dabble our fingers in the water and go for a nice walk. But the water was still wonderfully warm thanks to the hot weather we've had. It was over eighty degrees outside so Joseph and Eric went for a swim! Joseph was scared of ocean waves back in June but he couldn't get enough this time. He laughed like crazy every time a wave crashed over his head. Eric took him out and held him in deep water and then brought him back on shore for a rest. He warmed up for a minute and then took off crawling down the beach again. He crawled head first into the water and went in deeper with every wave. He got knocked flat on his back once and still loved it. He was pretty sad to leave. We took our little beach bum for a walk on the boardwalk.

We had so much fun that we thought we'd go back Wednesday before leaving town. Unfortunately it began raining just as we left Portsmouth. We took the scenic (and very slow) route home using the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Our photography skills really can't do justice to this incredible bridge. It is eighteen miles long and you can only barely see land on either side when you get to the middle.

It goes under water twice so that big boats can get through. The bay is to one side and the Atlantic Ocean to the other. It was pretty awesome. There were folks fishing off the pier at the rest stop and one guy let Joseph reel in his bait. He talked about it all the way home.

Our little trip was a very relaxing few days.

Our internet has been down more than up for several weeks so blogging has really suffered. We're working on a fix and I hope to post a bit more this week!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Walking Fashionista

Margaret is really into fashion. She adores her shoes and carries them around with her everywhere. She empties the entire dresser looking for something to wear. She can turn anything into a snazzy shawl: shirts, pants, tights, diapers. Just now she pulled out Joseph's hooded cardigan and wanted to put it on. The sweater is a little too big for Joseph, so you can imagine how it looked on Margaret. I grabbed the camera to take a picture for the blog and found that the batteries are dead even though I JUST charged them. Maybe it's time for new batteries.

Then, as if she knew I wouldn't be able to capture the moment on film, Margaret started walking! She's been SO CLOSE for the last couple weeks. She took one real step on her birthday and she's done two or three pivot steps here and there--usually when she gets a book in each hand and wants to get from the bookcase to the futon with them. But today she took several real steps. I think the secret was the too-big cardigan. Since her hands were covered up, I could hold her but she couldn't hold me. I got her started walking and let go and she came the rest of the way. We did it several times and then called for Daddy. Of course she refused to walk for him. As soon as he left I pulled her back to her feet and she took several more excursions without any help at all getting started.

But I can't prove it. The camera is dead. We'll try to get that fixed, but, for now, somebody else believe me!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Don't blame DC!

This one is for all of you out-of-towners who gripe about DC roads when you visit . . .

I submit the following idea for your consideration: You don't hate DC. You hate Virginia.

Today I had yet another dazzling encounter with what I've come to call the "Northern Virginia Traffic Vortex." It's always a bit different, but it's always awful. Let me tell you about this morning.

We were headed to a new handicapped-accessible park in McLean, Virginia. I used to live very close to this park. I looked up the driving directions before heading out but there were, like, four turns including getting on I-395, so I really wasn't worried about the trip. Famous last words.

My first fatal error was forgetting that there is no sign to mark the ramp to get on the G-W Parkway headed north. In the abstract, I know there is no sign, but I don't use this road very often, and even more seldom do I get on this road, headed north, from I-395, that I didn't really remember it in the moment. I saw the huge sign for G-W Parkway S and realized that I was already too late. No problem, I thought, I'll just get off a couple exits up where I'll be in familiar territory and take a different route to the Parkway.

Heading up Washington Blvd. I thought to take Rt. 50. At the last minute I remembered that I wanted Rt. 50 headed back into town (the opposite direction of where I normally go). I panicked and jumped off the freeway one exit too early. It was the Ft. Myer exit. Of course there was a big event at Ft. Myer. We waited 20 minutes in the "Show Picture ID" line and another 10 minutes in the "Vehicle Inspection" line before they let me make a u-turn.

We tooled around some generic suburban neighborhood for awhile before I found a route back to Rt. 50. But guess what! There still isn't a way to get on the Parkway headed north. South we went. All the way to the airport. At least the airport had nice signs. Before long we were finally, finally headed north.

We exited in McLean (this is all in Virginia, remember) and I see the sign for my road "Next Right." Whoa! No! The next right is the CIA. That was a close call.

I forgot my camera, but I hope to take pictures another time and post soon about the really fun park. Joseph had such a great time, as did Margaret who is so close to walking.

Getting home, I thought, should be easy. Getting home is always easier. In the past I've gotten tripped up headed home from the Parkway. I always seem to run into a guy with a really big gun. I figured I'd just misread the signs in the past. This time I was really, really careful. I double-checked all the signs and arrows directing me to I-395 North. Guess where I ended up? My friend with the gun at the Pentagon. There is a sort of frontage road that does continue to point in the direction of 395. I dutifully followed it but it definitely doesn't go to 395. I don't know who made all those signs. I got dumped onto Memorial Bridge. Fine! I was thinking of taking Memorial Bridge, anyway.

At no time after crossing the bridge or before getting on the freeway in the morning did I have trouble. Washington, DC, is not all that confusing. Sure, you might end up on an avenue, but just go one block and you're back on the grid. I'm never lost in town. So next time you visit, don't blame DC!

Since this is a blog about the kids, here's a cute picture. I hope to get up lots of birthday-related pictures, soon. I need to find our battery charger and get the camera going, again.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Big boy!

We got this really snazzy high chair for Joseph a couple of years ago because we figured he needed good, longterm support with a footrest and everything. This chair is sort of infinitely adjustable and holds up to 150 pounds. Joseph used it a long time while he was still in the highchair and tray stage. It used to have a sort of infant guard around the torso that the tray attached to. It was a pain to get Joseph's legs in and out of the foot holes and, much to my dismay, the infant guard didn't fit under the edge of the table. I tried taking the infant guard off but he just didn't have the bodily awareness and balance to sit in that chair without some extra support around him. So the only way for Joseph to continue to use the chair would have been with a tray and that seemed inappropriate. He's really ready to be up at the table with us, and so he has been. When Margaret got big enough for a highchair we put her in Joseph's and moved Joseph to the plastic booster seat.

But it's always bugged me that Joseph didn't have a footrest. It's really not good for his legs to just dangling. Also, the booster seat with tray is a better highchair and I was always putting Margaret in it. And now Margaret is wanting to be more at the table than a highchair allows. We've been talking to Joseph's PT about getting him a different seat that meets our needs.

Today I was cleaning and pushed the wooden chair (which had been adjusted for Margaret) up to the table and was surprised to see it slide under the table, even with the infant guard on it. I guess in this new apartment the floors are just enough uneven that there is a little wiggle room. As soon as Joseph woke up from his nap I brought him out to readjust the chair for him. I noticed that he seemed a lot more secure in it and, on a whim, I took off the infant guard. He didn't flinch. I moved the seat around a bit and the movement didn't throw off his balance at all. I'm so proud of him. He's really growing and learning. And now he has the kind of supportive chair he needs, and it pull right up to the table. Margaret has happily moved to the booster seat.

These little things make me so happy.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Under my desk

Is a big basket I use for an "inbox". I toss things in there that need attention and every so often I go through the basket and deal with all the stuff. It usually looks something like this:

Right on top you can see superglue and a box of buttons--not great play things for a little girl. I've recently tossed a quilt into the basket. It's in there because I need to attach loops to it and hang it on the wall, but it also covers up all the other stuff so that Margaret can't get at it.

I've been trying all afternoon to get this little girl to take a nap. She's obviously exhausted but just won't settle down. After my third attempt, I brought her back out here and sat down to write some e-mail. A few minutes later I looked under my desk to see what mischief Margaret was up to and found this:

She tucked in her foot the rest of the way and snuggled down very nicely. I'm pretty sure she would have fallen asleep in there, but I was afraid to let her. I took her to the bedroom thinking, "Surely she's tired now!" Nope. She's still up, causing trouble.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A Gift-giving PSA

I know that not everyone who reads this blog buys gifts for our children, but everyone who buys gifts for our children reads this blog, so bear with me as I offer a brief note for the consideration of the latter group.

Birthdays are looming--Margaret's first one, Joseph's third. I don't want to be too presumptuous but, if the past two years are any indication, many gifts will be arriving at our door over the next few months. We love receiving gifts, and so do our kids and we have been truly blessed at the generosity and thoughtfulness of all the gift-givers in our lives. We often think of the giver whenever Joseph plays with a toy or asks for a book. I do not at all want to sound ungrateful.

But . . . you may have picked up on the fact that space is a bit at a premium in our lives right now. Those of you who have visited, back me up here. We love our apartment and, honestly, we will probably always live in houses or apartments that seem "too small" to many people. We like small. Space limitations do require, however, that one be choosy when considering possessions. Please keep this in mind as you are selecting gifts this year. Books are easy to store. A giant ride-on toy--not so much.

You may be thinking, "The Johnston kids have a bazillion books. They can't possibly want more." In answer to this, I say that we have far less than a bazillion books and if you read aloud to our kids as much as we do, the collection would seem tiny indeed. Joseph would pretty much always rather read a book than play with a toy. We read him stacks of books a day. Once we've gotten through "Curious George and the Dump Truck" eighteen times in one week, we are definitely ready for something new. More books is at least as much a gift for the parents in this family as the kids.

Many of you know, also, that we intend to homeschool. We have extensively researched various approaches to curriculum and study and we know that literature will be a large part of our "schooling" as a family. We hope to be blessed with several more children and we'd like them all to grow up with a rich home library.

Each of the kids has an Amazon wishlist for those of you who would like suggestions. We got lots of duplicate books for Christmas last year, so this seemed like a good way for people who want to give books to see what we don't already have! Click here for Margaret and here for Joseph. We'll update these for Christmas as well. (My ever-improving tech skills also allowed me to put buttons for these in the sidebar of the blog.)

Those of you who like to buy the kids clothes, Joseph is wearing 3T and Margaret is wearing 12-18 months. If you want more specific clothing requests, please e-mail us.

If you really, really want to get toys, please bear in mind that we have limited space and that the kids still share everything (so a toy for one is a toy for both). We definitely prefer toys on the creative end of the spectrum rather than something requiring batteries. Do not worry about our kids being deprived of fun. They both get wildly excited for anything stored in the kitchen and, really, Joseph loves, loves, loves books.

Thanks for your understanding and, again, thank you for all your generosity.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Virtual Tour

Okay, everyone. I hope I didn't crash anyone's computer with all these pictures, but Eric insists that many of you are eagerly awaiting a virtual tour of our apartment. I'd been waiting for all the finishing touches (and for it to be clean enough for photos). But, finally, I decided to just go for it. I mopped the main room the other night and snapped some pictures. I really should learn to use our camera if I'm going to have a blog--the pictures are oddly blurry in some places--but I think you'll get the general idea.

So--right off the hallway at the door is the main room: living/dining/kitchen all in one. The living room is one end:

Very cozy, but we like having a small sitting area. It's much nicer for conversation. The windows are really nice, though we have had to adjust to all the noise from the street. Here's another view:

Continuing along that wall to the hall doorway looks like this:

In real life our books aren't that blurry. That's our stroller folded up on the side. It's pretty big when folded out, but it's not too hard to just collapse it each time we bring it in. The kids sometimes lie there and spin the wheel that is up off the ground. That closet there is the pantry closet. We've stacked almost every square inch of it!

The family computer/my work area is next to the sitting area:

Thanks for the printer, GI Grandpa! It's working great. Eric and I both use the computer, but he also has his laptop in the back. We wanted this one out in the main room so that we could watch movies if we wanted. The kids occasionally will play and let me blog--but usually I have to wait for them to fall asleep. Continuing around that corner towards the kitchen:

The wooden filing cabinet was a great yard sale find, providing some much needed storage space. The hutch houses our regular dishes and silverware, which is actually really nice. We usually have a wheelchair or walker parked on each side of the room--things aren't always this neat!

The dining table:

We're trying to figure out some way to lend interest to this wall without overwhelming the room--but no ideas, yet. Having the table in the kitchen area really adds to my counter space. Also, now the kids can play at the table while I make dinner. They don't usually want to, but it's a nice idea.

The kitchen is my favorite part of the apartment:

The countertops are granite, which is a really fantastic counter material. I really, really love it. Stainless steel, on the other hand, is just for looks. It has no functional value, and is pretty hard to keep clean. I don't think I'd pay for that look in the future. I love the gas range, though.

Even though the kitchen is really tiny, it is very well designed. I like this little corner a lot:

I can stand there and chop, mix, work on the stove and wash dishes without really moving. And, since the room is totally open, I get natural light from the living room windows. Such an improvement over the old place!

Joseph's bedroom is the first one off the hallway:

In this picture you can see the edge of Joseph's wheelchair, plus the hand-powered trike and the mobile stander. The walker is missing from the pictures (I took photos on different days). Things get crowded with all this equipment! The window looks out to a very narrow space between the two buildings. An old, reclusive woman lives across the way and we never see lights or life from those windows. Odd, but I think we have a good amount of privacy.

Joseph loves his little bed. His room is usually cooler than the main room, so we often play and read stories in here. I'm going to make him a quilt sometime soon. But he hates having blankets on at night (even in winter), so it isn't too pressing.

I took a picture of the closet in Joseph's room because it is representative of the closets in all the rooms:

Our room is the next one down the hallway. Our movers were skeptical, but we just fit the bed in there:

We have just enough room to get the closet open on one side:

And just enough room to open the dresser on the other side:

The bathroom is next off the hallway:

Huge toilet. Tiny tub. Wierd.

There is no linen closet, but the apartment came with a perfect-sized shelf unit:

At the end of the hallway is the study/laundry room/place to put the stuff that doesn't fit anywhere else. It's never very neat, so I didn't even try to improve it:

The closet has a washer and dryer and lots of storage. We keep the freezer back here. Our very dilapidated pink chair has a sheet thrown over it and Eric often sits there in the window to do some work. The desk is also back here:

The back patio is off this room and now has a very little grill and a salvaged park bench (Eric found it on the side of the road and dragged it home).

I think we're finally settled in and really enjoying this place. The neighborhood is growing and changing so fast and it is really exciting to see it.

So, those of you who haven't or won't see this place in person, I hope this satisfies some curiosity. Happy Labor Day!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Walker

Speaking here about both the piece of the equipment and the boy!

Joseph has had a really rough week with therapy. I was even considering changing his schedule to only one day a week because he was having such a hard time--lots of crying, and refusing to do anything Shannon asked him to do.

But, then, he asked to go in his walker today and he's suddenly making real progress around the room. He doesn't walk as fast as a typical two-year-old, but he can go about as fast as Margaret. I think his newfound speed is really encouraging. The walker has become a useful tool, now, not just something we use for therapy.

I'm hoping that the walker can become more typical for him to use around the apartment. Since our space is so small, it might become manageable, and things are more accessible to him, for the most part. School kids, for example, often use a walker around the classroom but a wheelchair to change classes.

The wheelchair is definitely a big hit when we're out and about. We've bring it to church every day, now, and we've also used it at the grocery store, the library, and on the Metro. The independence is so good for Joseph socially--and a lot easier on me!

Shannon has worked with him on a lot of different "gait styles". He's sort of shuffling along here but he sometimes takes more traditional "steps" and sometimes hops with both feet off the ground at the same time. This method is getting him going fast, though, so I think he likes it. He was on a mail truck kick when we took this video, so he starts talking about that at th end--sort of a non sequiter. I couldn't get another good video tonight, and thought you'd all appreciate this up us as soon as we had it.

And, at the rate Margaret is going, maybe I'll have another video to upload before too long!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Potty training!

At the risk of my son one day needing therapy because of this blog post, I'm going to dive into this, because it's a topic that lots of people wonder about, and few people have the courage to ask about.

Most people know that spinal cord injuries affect a body from the bottom up. If you hurt your spine down low, you lose feeling in your feet. If you break your neck, you become a quadripalegic. But actually, the first thing to go when the spinal cord is injured is bowel and bladder function. All kids with spina bifida have bowel and bladder problems to varying degrees even if they have no other physical problems. In fact, we've been told that the greatest threat to Joseph's long-term health is kidney failure, if his bladder doesn't get emptied like it should (and we thought the tube in his brain was a concern!). Bowel management is highly individualized and varies greatly. I won't go into that here. Bladder management is often very simple, however, and we began that adventure yesterday.

We all took a trip to the urologist's office to learn a procedure called "Intermittent Catheterization." A catheter is a very thin, very flexible tube inserted through the urethra into the bladder so that the bladder can be completely emptied. Eric and I were both pretty anxious about learning how to do this and we were concerned about effectively prepping Joseph. We told him, "Tomorrow we're going to the doctor and they'll show you how to pee like Daddy." He ate it up and was excited all morning.

The visit was all-around wonderfully positive. Inserting a catheter is about as easy as can be. Eric and I both learned in less than five minutes. Joseph thought it was great to be able to pee like a big boy. This is a major leap forward in quality of life for the whole family. Previously, Joseph was in diapers and would leak urine very unpredictably. We would never know if he was about to drench a diaper and his pants and whatever he was sitting on. It was pretty stressful for all of us. Now, every three hours, we "cath" him, empty the bladder, and he's dry in between. That's the goal, anyway. The nurse told us to give it a couple weeks to make sure he can stay completely dry in between cathing. Some kids need to cath more often and some kids do need medication to help them stay dry.

But, Joseph is really loving this and we're helping him to participate in the process as much as possible. Most intelligent kids can learn to cath independently. Our doctor has patients as young as four who are completely independent. And, consider yourself warned, if you are someone who ever takes care of Joseph for more than a couple hours, you will need to learn to catheterize. It is not gross and it is not difficult and it is very important that Joseph not get the message that there is anything to be grossed out about. It's very simple and there is nothing very "medical" about it--it's not even sterile!

So, obviously I don't have a picture for this post! Here's a cute one of Margaret enjoying some incredibly crumbly cookies I made yesterday.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Joseph's imagination

Joseph's imagination has really taken off. All day long he is pretending. He loves to be read to and all the time we're not reading to him, he is acting out the last book he heard. This morning he spent a good deal of time being "Sal." First he took off his socks and shoes, then he dug some clams, then he found a baby clam and threw it back in. Then he found a big clam and asked me to break it open for him. Sometimes "Sal" also offers me an ice cream cone or requests clam chowder for lunch. Anyone know what book we've been reading, lately?

The picture above is from a slightly less-well-known book, "Lentil" by Robert McCloskey. That book features a boy (Lentil) who plays the harmonica. Fortunately, Joseph owns a harmonica, so pretending to be Lentil isn't too much of a stretch. This morning, he decided to act out scene involving a whole marching band. The yogurt container is his "tuba hat," but I guess he couldn't find a boy big enough to serve as a tuba, so he settled, instead, on being a piccolo player.

Then there's Margaret who, today, is teething and very sad. Lately, though, she's been a bundle of giggles and fun. Quite a change from her former serious self. She has really gotten into peek-a-boo. When I'm reading on the couch she stands below me and peeks around one side of my book. Then she runs around my knees to the other side of the book and peeks around that edge. This goes one for quite awhile. Joseph has only just barely stopped thinking peek-a-boo is funny, and I think the fun has been resurrected by Margaret. I had trouble getting a good picture because the camera distracted them from their game, but Margaret was playing peek-a-boo with Joseph around his highchair yesterday. They were both shrieking with laughter and having a great time. Fun kids.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

No one even tried!

I thought Robyn would at least take a stab in the dark in the hopes of getting some cookies in the mail. I thought Amy might remember that we were planning to look at some family baby pictures over the weekend. Oh well.

All three pictures are of "Grandma Carol" my mother's mother. We were pretty floored at the likeness. We've looked at so many baby pictures trying to find Margaret. For the first few days of her life she bore a startling resemblance to Eric's mom, but that faded quickly. Who knows how Margaret will develop, but Grandma Carol still looks pretty good, so I'm optimistic!

The verdict on Joseph, by the way, is that he strongly favors the Johnston line.

Pictures from our week in New England to come soon!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

She wasn't switched at birth!

We've had a running joke for awhile: Margaret must have been switched at birth because she doesn't look like anyone in the family. This joke breaks down when we recall that Margaret was born at home and, as far as we know, the midwife didn't have any other babies in those big bags of hers.
We've done a bit of photo research on this trip to New England and we think we've found a likeness!

There will be a prize for anyone who correctly guesses which ancestor of Margaret's is pictured here. Enter your guess by Wednesday. You are not elibigle to win if you were with me when I scanned these pictures.