Sunday, February 27, 2011

About a blog.

Jon says blogging about blogging is lame. So, welcome to my first lame post. All the other ones are brilliant. I know because my mom told me. I'll begin with a confession. My name is Amy and I'm addicted to my stats tab. I monitor the peaks and valleys of the overview page with increasing regularity. Well, since I'm walking by the computer, I might as well . . .Well, since I'll be waiting in line, I might as well . . . Well, since I haven't checked in the last ten minutes, I might as well . . .

Pageviews by countries delivers a similar rush as new countries are represented. France, you like me, you really like me! Or you stumbled on my post while researching egg salad and then told Germany about the crazy lady who writes on her eggs. Either way, I count you both as fans. I'll blame my stats addiction on getting to know my audience. Still haven't figured out who I know in Qatar, India, or Russia or really even how to entertain a Russian audience, but even if I don't know anyone in those countries, it's fun to see the world map covered in various shades of green.

Google Analytics can pinpoint reader location to the city. But I prefer a vaguer understanding of who reads what I write. I imagine all my readers as close personal friends who read my blog because I'd be offended (not really) if they didn't. That means you Georgia - the country, not the state. And kudos to my ex-pat friends who live in China and Finland. You light up my map.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Grab a tissue.

This week the editor of the daily GM newsletter asked permission to print a story that Jon had shared on the GM social network OverDrive. Jon said that would be alright and the story was in yesterday's edition with the accompanying photo as follows:

OverDrive Conversation: Corvette Convertible & Courage

Jon Johnston, designing engineer – rear closures, Global Engineering, shared a heart-warming story awhile ago on OverDrive about his Ambassador Program Corvette Convertible, which continues to get good traction as employees join the conversation.

“Several months ago I had a few days with an Ambassador Program Corvette Convertible. When it was parked in my driveway, all the kids in the neighborhood came by to sit in it and take pictures. One kid in the neighborhood did not come check it out. He had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor and had just started treatment. I asked his dad if the boy would enjoy a ride in the Corvette. He said that might help cheer him up.

“I put the top down, we put on our seatbelts, and we were off. I made sure to push the engine often to open up the 2-stage muffler so he could hear that V-8. I raced from every stop light, and didn't slow down for corners. I may have exceeded the posted speed limit when the road opened up. The boy loved it.

“Later I got this note from the dad: ‘Was having a real bummer of a week. Thanks to you, that all changed. He has not stopped talking about it. Thank you, thank you!!!’

“This month I heard the boy recovered from surgery and chemotherapy. The tumor is completely gone. He beat it! And I like to think the Corvette helped.”

Our neighbor's son has made a remarkable recovery. He has shown great courage for a soul so young, enduring months of tests, surgery and treatments. We are very proud of him, his lovely sister and devoted parents.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Wait

I spent a few moments at the window today, enjoying the view. The vivid blue sky and snow sparkling in the sunshine were beautiful memorials to the delightful side of winter. It is so easy to forget. Rabbit and squirrel tracks crisscrossed the backyard and icicles pierced the drifted snow on the deck. A cardinal in the neighbor's tree flitted about the bare branches, stopping briefly now and then to fluff his ruby feathers. Looking into the backyard I noticed the swing. It swayed slowly in the wind and a mound of snow covered the seat; it seemed to be patiently waiting for an anxious rider to brush away winter's dust and fly away.

The swing's wait echoes my own as I submissively look for signs of spring. Winter's heavy blanket, once a cozy cover, is starting to itch and I long to throw back the increasingly dismal shroud and dance in spring's embrace. But until I hear the robin's song, I will sit at the window, enjoy the view and wait.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Play that song one more time and I swear . . .

There's this song that our children's piano teacher teaches all her students. Hi Linda! It's awful. Children love it. It's called "The Little Indian Dance." "The Little Indian Dance" is catchy, full of staccato notes and repetitive. A magical combination for piano students ages 6 to 10 everywhere. Eventually it was forcibly relegated to Nate's 'never play again as long as my mother is living' repertoire. Yesterday, after a baptism at the church, the congregation was enjoying refreshments and the spirit of the event when the faint strains of "The Little Indian Dance" began to waft over the crowd. As the music quickly grew louder (matched only by the rising of my blood pressure) I turned, ready to strangle whatever child of mine was daring to play that song at church. Relief that it was not my child turned to worry for the piano playing child who was about to be collared by his equally aggravated mother. If you're going to play an annoying song at church at least make it a hymn. I think that's why my mother didn't kill me back when I was ten and I played "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" up and down the scales of the piano at break neck speed. Because you can't kill a kid who'll only plead that she was practicing "Lord Dismiss Us With Thy Blessings."

Tonight we all listened while Nate played Pachelbel's Canon in D over and over. And this time, no one tried to stop him.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Never just a wave goodbye

Nathan was three when I taught him the hand sign for 'I love you.' He was young enough to still have difficulty holding down his fingers, like small children frequently have when you ask how old they are, and it was sweet to watch his determined effort as he guided one hand with the other. Sometimes he couldn't remember which fingers to use to make the sign, awkwardly holding down too many fingers or not enough. Eventually he mastered the technique and it has been his signature goodbye to me ever since.

When he started middle school, I was a little worried he'd forfeit the habit for the sake of reputation. If other mothers are like me, they've just spent the morning getting everyone else ready, orchestrating an oftentimes miraculous dispatch of people who didn't even want to get out of bed, leaving little time to change out of pajamas, let alone brush hair or put on makeup. If you're 12, acknowledging the crazy lady who just dropped you off at the door of your school isn't very shrewd. "Her? No. She was just going my way."

This morning I tried to be sneaky and take his picture when he shot me the sign. Maybe it's because he's going to be a teenager soon, but I've felt a need to capture these moments that melt my heart. Of course I wasn't fast enough and this moment redo happened at my request. He gave me an "Aww, Mom" look and then didn't look at the camera, hoping my antics would just be over soon. I know there will be moments that come in these next few years that will have a similar poignancy for me. However there is something about life's transitions that conjure up nostalgia and the need to hold on, even briefly, to what is being left behind. So I'm glad he was a good sport and played along for my sake.

I love you too Nate.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

An Easy Sell

Girl Scout Cookies are "insert your favorite adjective here." I choose nutritious. They're not, that word just makes me feel better about eating them. Audrey has been a Daisy or Brownie Scout for the last three years. And each year we purchase the difference between her sell goal and her actual sell. This year we bought 12 boxes. That's right. 12. I blame myself really. We started hitting up neighbors and friends only 2 days before the orders were due, though no one seemed put out by it. She was selling Samoas after all. And Thin Mints. And Tagalongs. Mmm, Tagalongs.

Funny story about Tagalong cookies. For the longest time I thought they were called Tagalog, as in, 'People in the Philippines speak Tagalog and eat Tagalog cookies.' I think it was the Samoas that threw me. I guess I just thought the Girl Scouts had a thing for the South Pacific.

Even though she was able to sell quite a few this year, she was 12 short of reaching the sell goal set for each of the girls. So now my freezer has 8 boxes of Girl Scout cookies in it, you know, for long term storage. I gave away one box, there are two boxes in the pantry and a box of Tagalongs sitting right here, next to me. Mmm, Tagalongs.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Valentine Phantom

The Valentine Phantom has visited my house since I was a child and the Phantom's arrival early last week was much anticipated by my children. The heart shaped chocolate on the pillow of a previously unmade bed is always the give away. Each day the kids would find tasks that are usually part of their daily responsibilities had been completed. For example, their lunches for school were already made or their laundry neatly folded and put away. Everything the Phantom did was accompanied with a chocolate heart.

Maybe it doesn't seem fair that the Phantom only made the kid's beds. (We left our bed unmade just in case.) And I must admit it would have been nice to discover our laundry had been washed, folded and put away. But don't worry about us, 'cause we knew where the Valentine Phantom's chocolate heart stash was hidden. Oh. Yeah.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

To Jon, on his 37th birthday.

As the sun set on that frosty February day, members of the Johnston family huddled around the fire for warmth.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Detroit Love: The Redford Theatre

Detroit is not a pretty girl. Her face has taken one too many hits to the jawline and no amount of makeup will cover up her bruises. The dress she wears may have been the height of fashion once but now the sleeves are torn, the hem is ripped and the rich tapestry of the fabric is splattered with mud. She crouches low to avoid the punches, but most times doesn't have the strength to fight back the angry crowd or, sadly, her inner demons. Although bullied on all sides, still she sometimes rises and it is then we see the gems she wears around her neck.

I want to introduce you to the places of Detroit I love. I want to show you what you will not see in the news or read about online, and what they didn't have time to feature in a two minute commercial. People are afraid of her because they do not know her, I know I was. However, when you look into her proud eyes and speak kindly - she smiles, and the careworn boulevards that wrinkle her face like rays of sunshine, lead you to her soul.


Every city has a theater. The marquee's lettered face announcing the latest Broadway production or box office success. A place of show and imagination where actors dance about their stage in escape of themselves and for the delight of a captive audience. Detroit has her theaters too: the showy Fox, the gritty Fillmore, the intimate Gem. Her many suburbs claim big box multiplexes engaging those in search of more saccharine fare. But on the edge of town there is The Redford. And like a secret it sits silently, waiting to be discovered.

The richly colored Japanese motifs were covered up during World War II and the $4 dollar price for admission goes to a fund to help restore the theater to its original beauty. Volunteers staff the ticket booth and snack counter and they are friendly, inviting and always happy you came. The community effort to maintain and dignify a building like The Redford is refreshing in a city where many buildings of historical significance stand in ruin and decay. Tonight we went to see Roman Holiday, the 1953 classic movie starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

It made me 'so happy.'

When you go, arrive early because the Motor City Theater Organ Society does a performance before every show. It's fun to watch the organ slowly rise up from the theater floor, the hidden pipes joyously calling out the notes. The organists are all talented entertainers and when they are done the applause is genuine and loud. My favorite part is when the curtains open to reveal a massive United States flag, and, with the organ accompanying, the audience stands and sings The Star Spangled Banner.

Before the headliner, there is always a bonus feature. Tonight it was a Betty Boop cartoon, boop-oop-a-doop. Like Jessica Rabbit, Betty Boop's not bad, she's just drawn that way. In this case she was drawn naked through most of the show, but she was supposed to be a baby, so yeah, still awkward. Audrey Hepburn, in her movie debut, and Gregory Peck, always a ringer (see the movie), followed with a romp through Rome that totally makes up for the ending. Wait Joe Bradley, you're walking away too fast. She's going to follow you. I know it. Love first, duty second. Just. . . wait . . .

During the intermission we grabbed some Goobers and Milk Duds from concessions (Jon's a Goober, I'm a Dud). The chandeliers in the foyer are gorgeous.

When we take the kids to a show we usually sit up in the balcony with the other ruffians. Can you see the stars on the ceiling?

After the movie, Jon and I tried taking pictures but the lighting was all wrong. It could just be my camera (or camera operator), ok, it probably is, but a volunteer came over and asked if we would like him to raise the lights so maybe we could get a better shot. I love nice people.

Our black and white homage to the movie.

Where will you sit?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

No, not THAT pile.

My spices are in alphabetical order. I'm not bragging when I say that. Bragging about alphabetized spices would be weird. I tell you that so as you read the rest of this post, you'll have a basic understanding of who I really am. And then you won't judge me, because you'll be able to say to yourself, "Well, at least her spices are alphabetized."

Order is my happy place. If you are reading this and you are my mom or a former college roommate you may beg to differ. But in my early adult years I gained a fondness for, or perhaps an obsession for, all things organized. For fun I read books on organizing, and helped friends gain control of a closet or kitchen, I even taught a few classes on effective organization. But somewhere between kid one and kid three I lost control. And now instead of a place for everything and everything in its place, I work at just controlling the chaos.

Most days my couch is buried under a pile of laundry that needs to be folded, or worse, already folded and needs to be put away. The kitchen counter is often littered with piles: the recycling pile, the school work pile, the things that need to go to the basement pile, the dishes pile, the to do pile, the done pile, and my personal favorite - the 'Audrey's current art project' pile. Luckily, we have a lot of counter space. The stairs can be a navigational nightmare too. The bottom steps are a catch-all for kids shoes, and sometimes my shoes, and things like recently purchased bath products that I'm too lazy to walk ALL the way upstairs to put away. These hazards are usually avoided by staying far to the right or by taking one giant step over the first three stairs. Funny thing is, these methods work so well for us and I don't remember them ever being mentioned as a solution in any of the books I read.

Last night as we were getting ready for bed, Jon asked which pile was the dirty clothes. He's been wrong before and this time he wanted to get it right. Apparently the difference isn't clear between the clean and needs to be put away pile and the dirty and needs to be washed pile. But as he went to throw his clothes in the direction I pointed I hurriedly redirected, "No, not THAT pile, that pile is the clothes I'm going to wear tomorrow."

Remember, my spices are alphabetized.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

An EGGScellent idea.

Remember this scene from the musical "The Music Man?"

Professor Hill: All I need is an opening. You remember the pitch. What can I use? What's new around here?
Marcellus Washburn: The other day a farmer brought in an egg had 3 yolks in it. Was in the paper.
Professor Hill: Oo, That's exciting, all right.

Remember? It's right before the Professor sings "Ya Got Trouble." OK, maybe you don't remember. Eggs really aren't that entertaining. Sometimes my mom would buy eggs from a farmer down the road from us. They were fresh and brown and tasted better than the store bought ones. Because they were country eggs that hadn't been screened for uniformity and perfection, oftentimes there would be a few with double yolks. I even saw eggs with 3 yolks and, I have to admit, it was slightly exciting. Nothing to sing about obviously, but slightly exciting nonetheless.

Today Audrey wasn't feeling well. We stayed home from church and I helped her convalesce. No worries though, it was a relatively quick illness. Lasting from shortly before it was time to get ready for church, til just after Jon took the boys and left for church. While she colored and chatted happily about life, I cleaned out the fridge. I discovered that we had two cartons of eggs. In my panic that the world was going to come to an end with that storm a couple of days ago, I guess I made sure we would have plenty of eggs. Candles, no. Batteries, um, no. Eggs, you betcha. And not wanting to waste $1.19, I boiled a dozen. The kids like egg salad sandwiches and I like to peel things. It's a win win. Audrey asked if we were going to write on them and that's when I started taking pictures.

Here's Audrey with a dozen eggs boiled to perfection. See how sick she looks. I follow Betty Crocker's recipe. Cover eggs with salted water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for 18 minutes. Drain and cool. Someday I'm going to let them sit for 22 minutes just to see what happens.

So, with the premise that eggs really aren't all that exciting (with or without 3 yolks), I'm here to show you otherwise. It's a trick I learned from my mom and one that my kids enjoy today. In order to distinguish the hard boiled eggs from the not hard boiled eggs, my mom would make a mark on each egg. That eventually evolved into Eggsclamations. She would take a word beginning with 'ex' and replace the 'ex' with 'eggs.' Kids find this highly amusing. And honestly, I still find this highly amusing.

Eggstra special and Eggstra yummy.

Here's our final product. See, eggs can be exciting. Er, I mean, EGGSciting!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I love China food!

Two words. China. Fun. It's how we celebrate the Chinese New Year. No, we aren't Chinese, we just like to order takeout. And if more than a billion people in the world are having a party, then they won't mind 5 more. One year we played chinese checkers, another year the kids got red envelopes. Last year we watched Kung Fu Panda. We're really flexible with our celebrations. China Fun is the restaurant we order the fun food from. We all have our favorites. Audrey is all about the spicy Orange Chicken. Nate loves the steamed dumplings. Jon enjoys the Lo Mein and I like the Crab Ragoon. Eli likes the rice, and the soy sauce. Lots and lots of soy sauce.

Tonight we ordered our favorites and wished the other side of the world a very Happy New Year. The discussion of the evening was about the year of our births. This new year is the Year of the Rabbit. I was born in a Year of the Rabbit. Which, if I read the zodiac right, makes me adorable and fluffy. Jon and Nate are both Year of the Tiger. Eli wants to be a Tiger too but he is aptly cast in the role of Monkey. He wasn't very happy about that until we reminded him that Curious George is a monkey who can do things that we can't do and then he was cool with it. Audrey was appropriately born in The Year of the Horse which explains a lot.

Check out what Chinese Zodiac Animal you are here:

Eli summed up the evening when he stood up on his chair and shouted, "I LOVE CHINA FOOD!" And then immediately began calling dibs for leftovers tomorrow. Our evening came to a close with the all American fortune cookie. Jon's face pretty much sums up that experience:

Happy Chinese New Year!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow Day!

A lot could have been said about the Blizzard of 2011 in Detroit. But only if it had actually been a blizzard. Instead we got a respectable 6, maybe 7, inches of fresh new snow. No where near the projected 10-16 inches previously predicted. The threat of Snowmeggedon did however scare everyone into the grocery stores yesterday, clearing shelves of blizzard essentials like milk and bread and beer. The woman behind me in line had a cart full of Miller Light and Coke. "Have to be ready," she said. "Whatever gets you through," I said. I didn't realize how unprepared we were until today when discovering we didn't have any ice cream. How could I have been so careless? What if we had actually been snowed in for days? Note to self: Work on emergency preparedness skills.

Yesterday GM management told the Tech Center employees to play it safe and work from home today. There ended up being connectivity issues because of the numbers of people who tried logging on from home and Jon spent much of his day "working" on his snowblowing skills. I always enjoy having him home. The kids went to bed last night with their pajamas on inside out and backwards. A definite way to ensure the canceling of school. Some swear by the spoon under the pillow method but my kids prefer a more visual approach. Their tactic worked because the district called it before they were even asleep. I probably should have told them because I woke this morning at 6 am to Audrey and Nate celebrating their discovery that today would indeed be a snow day. Sometimes the best discoveries are those you make on your own.

Then they spent the majority of the day getting on each others nerves, so that was fun. However I was able to capture a few moments of sibling comradery. Most snow days you'll find my children outside, and (under the direction of Nate) engineering some sort of shelter. Today it was a tunnel. A very short tunnel, but a tunnel nonetheless.

I was a little afraid Audrey was about to take a shovel to the eye.


This is his "Hey Mom, I'm working here, and I don't have time to smile for the camera" face.

"I think we should test it. Eli you go first."

Still needs some work.

My girl.

She was waving her feet around. Turns out it was more of a flail because she was stuck. The sound of her screaming was muffled by the snow. "Oh, that wasn't laughing? Sorry Audrey."

Not stuck anymore, just still digging.

"I see you Mom!" "I see you Eli!"

I went back into the house shortly after and made cookies. They followed me in later when the tunnel collapsed during Nate's attempt at passage. Their disappointment was assuaged though when they discovered the aforementioned cookies. You want to know how fast a family of five goes through a couple dozen fresh out of the oven chocolate chip cookies on a snow day? In about as much time as it took you to read that question. We ended the day with our annual tradition of watching the movie "Groundhog's Day." If tomorrow I woke up and had to repeat today, I'd be cool with that.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Freezing my Fanny, I mean Franny

I should be careful when making New Year’s resolutions from the comfort of my couch. Everything always feels so doable there, so attainable, so, so, easy. Lose 10 pounds? Well, it was a piece of cake putting them on; it should be easy taking them off. (Actually it might have been a whole cake) Run a 25 minute 5K? Shoot, that’s only 10 minutes faster than what I’m running now. Run a half marathon? Sign. Me. Up. Never mind it’s 7.1 miles more than I’ve ever run before in my life.

That afternoon on the couch four weeks ago is how I ended up here in this winter wonderland:

Stony Creek Metro Park on a snowy frigid Saturday morning.

This is the view from where I usually run. See, it's different.

My favorite treadmill is the fourth one from the left in the front row. The air vent above it blows the perfect breeze on the back of my neck. The picture above however is taken from the second treadmill from the left because my treadmill was being used by a really sweaty guy. If I’m lucky my view includes a chapter of The Red Hat Society bobbing down the lazy river. They're the ladies who wear the flamboyant red and purple hats. Those gals are hilarious. If you're ever here, come find me, I’m the one who looks like she’s giving the treadmill a hug. Running on a treadmill isn’t the same as running in the wild though. So, every once in a while I sign up for a 5K. My fastest time in a race is 29:33. Unless you count that one time I sprained my ankle the week before a race and Sarah ran in my name. In that case “I” came in third in our age group. Oh calm down, I let her keep the medal and gave her the t-shirt.

The 5K I signed up for this time was called Freeze Your Franny.

It's a race organized by the Utica Community School District to promote a healthy lifestyle. An elementary student drew the lovely picture. And yes, I did ask and no one knew who or what a Franny is. But I froze it. Jon and Sarah froze their respective Franny’s because I signed them up too.

I wouldn't call the breeze that blew on the back of my neck that morning 'perfect' but there was definitely a breeze. You see I registered us on Tuesday. The meteorologists in the area told us on Wednesday about Saturday’s winter weather alert and the forecast for wind and snow. Sometimes I’m just lucky like that. But it is January in Michigan and the name of the race has the word freeze in it. So it was nice to get what we paid for. Later I learned Jon and Sarah had been fairly close throughout the run. It wasn't until Jon couldn't stand listening to the 'swish swish' sound of Sarah's pants that he pulled ahead out of ear shot. They finished with times of 28:40 and 28:50. “The faster you run the sooner you're done" became my mantra and I completed the race in 33:00 minutes. Actually it was 32:59 but I rounded up as penance. Hey, that means I'm only 8 minutes away from accomplishing one of my goals. Sweet.