Sunday, December 21, 2008

Our Christmas letter 2008

Dear family and friends,
We hope this letter finds you happy, healthy and warm in the glow of the Christmas season. I cannot believe I’m actually attempting a letter prior to the 25th of December. Trust me, it’s not because I have the time to use in this manner, but I do have the cards printed, so I guess I had to do something about it!
Let’s recap the year: We were enjoying our first winter on Campus View Drive when Lincoln, in mid-January, received about 8 inches on top of frozen ground overnight and our basement flooded with about 2 feet of water. Ryan luckily was NOT electrocuted when he went downstairs into the water, even though much of his guitar equipment was plugged in and pulling electricity at the time. Although our insurance didn’t cover the losses, we were fortunate to only really lose a Christmas tree, several Gracie books and toys and 15 or so sets of guitar strings and pedals. All, of course, have been replaced, but it was a mess for a while.
In July, Ryan was honored with the Charles Rowe Award from the Associated Press for his series on bridges (after the collapse last summer) and on the retirement system in Illinois. He, at that time, also had decided to pursue a management position in his field and left the AP after 7 ½ years. He moved about 100 feet in terms of office space, but now has increased job responsibilities and more say over how he covers the Statehouse as the Capitol Bureau Chief for the State Journal-Register. It’s already been a busy year, thanks to our Senator being elected President, and an even busier month, thanks to our Governor losing his mind and his freedom. While he’s trying to be home more, as the boss, he takes more pride, it seems, in what is put out there by the paper, so he works harder. He also does a weekly TV spot on WAND-TV News at 5 on Thursdays out of Decatur. I don’t think he likes being in “my” world, but he’s doing a great job! As far as I know, the Governor hasn’t asked for his resignation unlike many of the Tribune editors, so he shouldn’t be mentioned in the affidavit!
I began this school year (my 6th at LCHS and 11th overall) taking on Accelerated Sophomores and a new class called Media Communication. I am thrilled to use my journalism degree again, and my 20 seniors have added an online-only school newspaper on our school’s website ( and are learning the ins and outs of the news business. We also plan to begin doing live-to-DVD morning announcements, skits and advertising in the coming months for our school and post them online as well. Lots of changes on the school front – friends left, new classes, new superintendent & schedule, censorship of my book choices, etc, – but so far, so good.
Now, for the Gracie update. She is 3 ½ and started going to preschool this year. She is LOVING her school, teachers and friends. She is learning a lot of new things, and it is very exciting for her mom and dad to be able to ask her questions and get complete answers (although we have also started lying about things – blaming Chippy and Pepper for her messes). Her room got a makeover this summer to “Cinderelly” blue and she upgraded to a double bed full of pillows and loveys. She is VERY close to mastering this whole potty training business – FINALLY! She is very anxiously awaiting Santa this year, helped put up the new Christmas tree and is obsessed with all the Baby Jesuses she can find in any nativity scene. Her Christmas concert scheduled for this week was postponed, but I have loved hearing her sing Christmas carols and teaching me the sign language to “Silent Night.” How fun and sweet! Chipper is still being a great big brother. At four, he is very relaxed and settling in to our house and routines quite well. He, however, ruptured his ACL last week
and has to have surgery to repair it on Christmas Eve. We have amazing veterinarians who love Chippy very much. In fact, this will be his second surgery this year – he had to have kidney stones removed (avoid Ol’ Roy food as much as possible if you can) – but he came out like a trooper, so we know he’ll be back to his 80-lb. self in no time!
Pepper is the youngest of our furry brood and she topped 125-lbs of love at her last checkup. She and Chip are truly best friends and have a lot of fun in the snow together. Chip is still trying to play, even with his injury, but our Miss Pep gets bored when he just tries to play with his front paws! Our sneaky little girl has been pretty trapped since we expanded our fence this summer, but she did manage to get her extra largeness outside the fence by squeezing UNDERNEATH it! We are still astonished at how she did it, but one second she was on the same side as us and the next she was in our neighbor’s yard.
2008 has been a painting year – we painted Grace’s room, our dining room and our bedroom. I still have other projects in mind for our house, but Chip’s surgeries have tapped out some of those funds. We wouldn’t trade him for anything, though, so it’s all worth it.
Gracie also added two baby girl cousins since we last wrote, Abigail Keith was born before 2007 was over and is days away from her 1st birthday, and McKenzie Lyle Atwood (Julie & Kris’ third) was born in February. Should be an amazing Christmas with all her cousins!
We wish the best for you and your families always. God Bless You & Yours!
Ryan, Jennifer, Gracelyn, Chipper & Pepper Keith

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


So seeing Oprah herself at her own studio was amazing in and of itself. Then she had the audacity to up the ante with Il Divo singing "Amazing Grace," complete with a bag-piper piping and rising from a platform behind the 13-piece orchestra. Follow that with the fact that she intentionally filled her 400-spot audience with teachers, book clubbers and readers in general so she could share with us her latest find in gadgetry - the Kindle from Amazon. I have been debating about the purchase of such an item, and Ms. Oprah has ended such a debate. The Kindle is a form of electronic book that will truly be part of the book revolution. Authors can get published easier, I believe, through this medium and books will become cheaper. Textbooks can be put on this device and will be the future for all college students forced to buy texts at $400 per semester to only get a return of about $30 for the lot three months later.
She moved on to a cooking segment, but most of us were enthralled with the Kindle, the generosity, the luck to be selected for such a show, the joy of being in the presence of such a strong woman who has worked herself to death and shares so much of herself. I know some people are not Oprah fans, but I am, true and true. She truly (even if I disagree with her) has the right and privilege to say what she thinks. We do, and although I currently don't have the same amount of audience members, I know I have an influence. We all need to use it for good, and sometimes it won't, but for the most part, if it's got the right heart and mind behind it, it will be seen as good.
Oprah has been a gift to me throughout the years. Sure, I'm jealous of her money and her successes, but at times, I know she's jealous of me too, and that's the best gift! Kindles don't hurt though....

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Oprah bound

Few things lately have given me joy at work - I still love teaching, but the book issue, which hopefully will be done, hasn't been much joy, to say the least. In fact, at the latest board meeting, I heard that while I "might be good people," my moral compass was off because I chose a book for students to read - and that was from my pastor.
However, due to that issue, I have exchanged emails with a Harvard/Princeton educated and New York Times Best Selling author and am going to see OPRAH for a show about books and book clubs.
We learn lessons from all we do, and yes, we have to find the positive in a tough time. My positive is Oprah Winfrey right now. I'll give you an update when we return - the "Railer Readers" and I, that is! :)

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Friday, October 3, 2008

Dandelion Whine

While at preschool on Wednesday, some teachers rushed over to Grace, panicked. Her back was to them, she was hunched over and it appeared she was gagging, choking or vomiting. When they arrived to see her from the front, she was holding a dandelion and was continuously blowing its petals away.
The teacher asked if she was okay. "Yeah, I'm just blowing my dandylion."
"Are you making wishes?"
"What are you wishing for?"
"For my mom to come back."
"You know what? Your wish is going to come true," my hero Barb said. "She's going to come back and get you, just not right now. Your mommy always comes back."
"I know - after lunch, after nap, after snack," a melancholy 3-year-old responded.
At 3 or 34, our wishes are the same.
I know my mommy always comes back. I'm so grateful I still have my mommy. I love her so much; she's one of my best friends.
I'm also so grateful that although I know she wanted to be by my side day and night, she still believed so much in what she taught me to trust me to be on my own.
I moved across the country to follow my dream, and now that I'm a mom, I know how much that killed her to give her blessing, but she did.
She loved me and she let me go, like the petals on a dandelion - into the wind, to do what God had willed me to do.
I hope Gracie and I are like that too, love our time together and let each other go when we need to, and that I won't have to wish on a dandelion for that to be true.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lincoln Courier's opinion - it comes full 'circle'

Recently, “The Tenth Circle” – a book introduced to sophomore students at Lincoln Community High School – has caused quite a stir among parents, teachers and kids.

The issue revolves around sexually explicit material and foul language contained within the book.

Some things never change throughout history.

The idea of banning books was around before William Shakespeare and other great authors wrote them.

Some of those Shakespeare pieces taught in high school, surprisingly, contain quite a bit of sexual content and innuendo. The language is different, but the message and issues remain the same.

By looking into past literary content, another message has been consistent throughout the years: Teens dealing with sexual issues, peer pressure and pregnancy.

This idea isn’t new to this generation, or even the generation of our grandparents. As long as teenagers have hormones, it will continue to be an area of discussion.

Undoubtedly, many of the situations contained in this book have been spoken about among students in high school. Even if your children and their friends aren’t the ones speaking about it, they are overhearing these type of discussins in the classrooms, the locker rooms and the hallways.

Because of this, they will begin – at some point – to naturally develop thoughts and questions about these issues.

Banning a particular book isn’t going to take this subject away from these students. Sexual content isn’t just presented to teens in rated-R movies and pornographic novels. Most of this content can be seen on regular television or movies rated PG-13.

Denying that they have likely been exposed to much of the content found in “The Tenth Circle” may be a little na├»ve.

Another question has been asked: Is LCHS an appropriate venue to talk about these issues?

Yes. An even more important venue, though, would be the students’ homes.

Parents should be the first line of defense in guarding against ill thought out decisions by students. Guarding against what they see and hear isn’t impossible, but most of the time, it’s a losing battle.

Those hormonal thoughts are – through the grace of Mother Nature – already beginning to loom inside the minds of young high school students. Whether they act on these thoughts depends on having nurturing adults around them, who feel comfortable about discussing these topics with the students.

What should be monitored more than the content of a book is the teacher presenting this content. If the content is presented in an appropriate manner, and dealt with in an arena where adults are present and the students feel safe, it can only be considered healthy.

We highly doubt the subject matter was solely introduced through the book in question, the question is: Should we outlaw the content to prevent further exposure, or use the book to encourage students to speak about something already affecting their lives or the lives of their peers?

We feel if students are exposed to it, which they likely have been in other arenas, talking about it under an educator’s guidance is an appropriate step.

Providing an alternative reading, though, is also an important step. Some students determined they didn’t want to read “The Tenth Circle” because of its content. Teachers allowed these students to read the much more difficult “Dante’s Inferno” instead.

Unfortunately, because of an oversight, LCHS did not provide an alternative reading until students and parents were already upset about the content of “The Tenth Circle.” This is an error that can hopefully be avoided in the future.

Parents also asked educators to warn them in the future when students would be assigned readings with questionable content. This way, students can read the alternative text from the get-go.

We understand that some students may not be on that comfort level to talk about such matters, so providing another piece of literature gives them the opportunity to postpone speaking about the issue until they feel comfortable, or taking up the discussion in a venue where they feel more comfortable.

Talking about a subject presented through a piece of literature in English class is just as appropriate, if not more appropriate, than talking about it after reading the content from a textbook in Health class.

Literature can provide a good vehicle for a subject that addresses students on their level – a human level.

We support both the discussion of the book and providing an alternative to those students who don’t want to read the book. We cringe at the idea, however, of denying a piece of education to the group of students who are most in need of it.

=Editorial 9.24.08

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Proud to be an American

I'm proud today, not proud of myself or my family, but proud of my teenagers. I know their parents also claim them, but I will as well. My teenagers are more mature than I was 16 years ago, and yet people told me I was 15 going on 30. Teenagers have just dealt with more in our world than I had to deal with. But they get it. They know they were raised with the values and morals they were raised with. They know right from wrong. A book, any book, is not going to persuade them to do the wrong thing. It will, however, persuade them to think, to feel, to wonder, to ask questions, to educate themselves. Education is not the enemy; fear is.
I learned that fear is the enemy when I lived in New York City during 9-11. That was a very fearful time - fearful for physical safety, for people we knew, people we didn't, people that saved others, people that tried, for people who know people who didn't make it, for people who knew people who did. Never did I not get on the subway when a threat was made, did I cower in a corner when the alerts went up to Orange, and even Red. Fear is the enemy and it wouldn't take me. I had my faith, hope and trust, and I still do.
We have faith in many aspects of our lives. Faith that they will choose right by what they've learned; faith that we are doing the right things; faith in our God. We have hope. Hope that they will take all things considered when they make a choice. Hope that what we've given them is enough. Hope that they choose correctly. Trust.
Growing up is difficult, but letting go is harder.
A bird will never fly tethered to a limb.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Under siege

There are countless “worse” things in the world.
I have been through what I deem to be hell on Earth – losing my sister to a car accident, spending 30 days in the ICU under lights that don’t turn off or even down, sleeping on uncomfortable chairs which aren’t meant to be slept on, the entire time wondering, hoping, praying for her to live, to take her home and help her recover, to not have to go on living without her. Watching my mother grieve, and then grieving all over again when I gave birth and realized instantly what pain it could be to lose a child. I know what hell is. This isn’t it, but it isn’t heaven either. Heaven may in fact be a library.
Heaven is where she is now, and even Gracie knows that. She was looking at my favorite New York City picture last night – with me, Julie & Kristi in front of the Twin Towers with our hair blowing all over us in the wind on top of the Empire State Building. Now the Towers and Kristi are gone, but Gracie says, “That you, Mama?” “Yep, that’s me.” “That’s Aunt Julie,” she added. “Who that, Mama?” as she points to Kristi. “That’s your Aunt Kristi.” “Where is she, Mama? Oh, right, she’s in heaven.”
Heaven and Hell. Good versus Evil. Kids understand it. It’s scary for parents to know that kids understand it. I feel like I’m assumed to be evil – probably even called evil or thought evil in the minds of parents of the students I’m with every day. I will pray that there is a peaceful meeting and solution to end the criticism and doubt, to comfort those who need it. Unfortunately, we could have a major battle on our hands here – but it’s not like I haven’t been through worse before. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. You wouldn’t believe how strong I am now.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Barbie's kingdom comes

So Grace is addicted to any and every Barbie movie we can find. Her most recent choice has been Barbie: The Princess and the Pauper, which plot follows two Barbies, one born in a castle, one poor. Thus the title. Anyway, of course, the princess is kidnapped so the pauper goes to pretend she's the princess while the princess is found. The princess escapes captivity but has to convince everyone who she is. I left at this point (about 50 minutes in) to make dinner, leaving Grace to watch the rest on her own.
Within 5 minutes, she came to me in the kitchen, hands on hips, and informed me, "This is my kingdom."
I laughed. "Oh, no, little girl," I said. "You may be the princess, but mommy's the queen. This is MY kingdom."
What else will Barbie teach my little one? :)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Preschool doesn't teach them phrases, does it?

So the first day of Vacation Bible School this summer, Grace came home calling Ryan a "jerk" and saying everything was "Stupid" including my dad. Thanks VBS. We had the talk and her namecalling didn't last.
I know that phrases catch on, and so far, this has been my favorite one:
Last night while getting down from a chair, Grace got her foot stuck behind her, so I helped her get down, and she said, "Thank ya, my darlin'." Three times, she said it. I think we'll hope that one sticks rather than the other ones!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Another one bites the dust...

So today was day 12 at the preschool. We marked day 2 of not crying when mommy left and day 1 of going pee pee on the potty. AND she went twice. So exciting. She got the Ken doll that has been sitting on top of the bathroom shelf since Martin Luther King day...after I wiped the dust off, of course.

School starts...but there is loss

I love to teach, and I love what I teach - English. You can teach a lot of subjects hidden within the "literature" aspect - manners, respect, responsibility, consequences, choices, etc.
But this year is very different. I'm used to being the one who leaves, who starts new adventures and doesn't look back at the wake I've created. I know that leaving hurts, but being left behind hurts more. Now I know that more than ever.
I'm, by all means, so pleased that my still friends but former colleagues have some adventures in their lives to forgive me my pity party for one. It's lonely here. I'm trying not to dwell on it, but as I sit in my brand-new classroom...I am alone.
I chose this classroom because not only would it be brand-new and clean and sparkly and bigger, but it would also not be next door to someone who is no longer here. Ed has become a principal, and we still have weekly calls, but it's not the same as being able to dish on the latest reality shows during passing periods and on McCain's VP choice during lunch. Chelsea is much farther away, and I'm so proud of her and angry at her at the same time. How dare she leave me! Then I'm selfish and she's being extremely unselfish - doing her missionary work across the globe. I just miss them very much and will it to be back how it was. I think the replacements are great, but it is a hard adjustment, to say the least.
Two years better go by quickly and then we'll be back to normal, right? 23 months and counting...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Preschool - Week 2

So week 2 started pretty well. Miss Grace is still having a hard time letting go of Mommy. She skips, runs, jumps all the way to the door, then when we get inside (because she's there before 7:30) she has to go to a holding room, which has all ages of kids. She'd rather go to her classroom, so we throw Fit #1. Fit #2 is when mom attempts to leave. I wait until her teacher shows, but I'm not going to be able to do that forever, so we'll figure it out. I know that she's fine by the time I reach the car, but the image I'm left with isn't pretty.
Walked in yesterday (Day #9) to pick her up and was told, "Mom, we need to talk" by the teacher. She had been hitting and kicking, and was in time out twice. Well, Miss Grace then didn't get TV privileges and had other things taken away. I think she got the message. She was still pretty happy at bedtime, but while watching Barack's speech, her gag reflex kicked in - while she was sound asleep - and she woke up covered in puke. So she began to cry. I went in with her and she puked again. I stripped her and the bed and threw everything in the washer and re-clothed her and her bed, and she was back to sleep within 10 minutes or so. I think she was most upset that she couldn't go back to bed right away. She woke up this morning quite happy and slept the rest of the night without coughing, so I guess the Baby Vicks does really work!
School started with students for me. So far, so good. I'm getting used to my schedule, but not getting used to Chelsea and Ed being elsewhere. That will take more time, I'm afraid. 5 years of habit is hard to break.
Ryan's job is going well, but he's working longer hours since he's the boss. He's got the same work ethic I do when you're in charge of something - get it done right and how you want it. That stuff takes time. We just miss him, that's all. Darn him for being gifted in writing. Write that novel and you can stay home! :)
Today was a better day for Miss Grace - no hitting, no kicking, and she said, "Mom, are you proud of me?" I didn't tell her that I'm proud of her all the time, but of course I'm most proud when she's a nice girl....which she was today. A three-day weekend and then we start all over again!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Gracie's new house

On a recent Wal-Mart trip, we went looking for something to go over the "crop circles" in our backyard created by ours and Gracie's pools. We were thinking swing set or something like that. All choices were gone on swing sets. It's too late in the year, but for hot-blooded people like Ryan and Grace, the best time to play outside is the fall - breezy, cooler temps and shade. Anyway, we found a bouncy house on clearance. It's little and will probably work in the basement during the "off" seasons, but right now, it's her new best friend. See videos on youtube below; I can't get them to post.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Random Conversation

When you're a parent of one, it's often fun to listen in on conversations when no one thinks you're listening. Grace does the bulk of her "imaginary" conversation with her "friends" (polly pocket dolls from Happy Meals and her Disney Princess dolls - who seem to fight too much and end up in time out an awful lot). Anyway, last night in the tub, I overheard two girls (Freda and Freeda - don't know why, those where the names she picked) who asked each other if they wanted to get married. My ears perked up, and I listened a bit more as they agreed, hugged, and continued to swim with Gracer. I asked her if her girls were married, and she said yes. I asked if they were going to lived together, and she was a little perplexed. Then I asked what she thought married meant. She said (without a moment of hesitation), "Married had a little lamb." Life is good.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Day 5

Was a short day because Miss Grace had such a diaper blowout that it was deemed "not contained" and if you have one of those, you have to go home. So I was called at 10:30ish to go pick her up from the school. She was happy otherwise, but wearing different clothes. So far, she's just enjoyed being home, had DaDonald's chicken nuggets and fries and played with her Sleeping Beauty, Belle and Cinderella dolls. Pretty good day, but I didn't get much done without her in school. Oh well. She's only young once. Hopefully she doesn't come down with the flu. That wouldn't be good! To next week!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gracie's 1st week

Gracie started preschool this week. We've gradually gotten to sleep a bit earlier and up a bit earlier every day, and we've also gotten to the school a bit earlier every morning, so we're doing well.

Day 1 - Gracie had a good first day. She didn't cry when I left, but she did have one breakdown when the teachers wanted her to sit down at the table. She threw a fit and then calmed down and sat at the table. It happens a lot when you're three. She didn't go on the potty for them, refusing to even sit down. We'll work on that one. We left early to make it to the health department for a TB screening (no shot, just a questionnaire) and a lead test. She had to get the finger prick, so after that, I caved and let her have some treats at Walgreens. She picked out a soft Sleeping Beauty doll that went with her to school on Day 2.

Day 2 - Gracie's day was pretty good. She LOVES to be outside. In fact, when I went to pick her up, there she was on the playground, saw me, and kept playing with the rocks. I was able to chat with her teacher a bit that day since she was playing. She did sit on the potty for the teachers but no results. Baby steps, I have to remind myself. She got good marks for her vocabulary being so strong, and although she did collapse when I went to leave, she recovered pretty quickly. No big problems today. Just 3-year-old fun.

Day 3 - Gracie refused to eat today - she's getting picky at what she eats. She'd love to eat chicken nuggets, fries and milk for every meal. She also threw a fit when I left, refusing this time to even go in the classroom, and trying finally to run after me as I tried to scoot out. She offered another fit when they tried to reduce the lunch tables from 3 to 2 because they had a smaller group of kids on Day 3. She had sat in the same seat for the first 2 days, so I assume she thought it was assigned and didn't want to move. That was during lunch, which might explain why she didn't eat. When playing outside though, she did get in a bit of trouble for putting rocks in her mouth. The playground has a small pebble/rock flooring, like a large sandbox. Grace loves it, but apparently was trying to eat the rocks. When we got in the car, I asked her why she did that. She said, "Open." I later got out of her that she thought there was something in the rocks and she was putting them in her mouth to open them. I asked her what she thought was in there, and she said, "Chocolate." My kid.

Day 4 - When I dropped her off, she did great - playing with a puzzle and I just slipped out. When I returned to pick her up, she was doing a puzzle at the table. Since she loves puzzles, I thought that was fine. Then I was informed that she was sitting there as punishment because she was making faces at the snack table for snack time. The teacher informed me that she was just being like her neighbor who started it all, but since both of them refused to stop making faces and giggling, they couldn't play with the other toys in the room as punishment and had to do puzzles quietly at the table. Doesn't sound like too much of a punishment to me. I laughed later. She ate better today and sat for the teachers on the potty, but no results yet. She did tell me tonight that she needed to poop and by the time we got to the potty, she was done. I told her if she went on the potty (pee or poop) on Day 5 for the teachers, she could get a Barbie out of its perch in the bathroom - where it's been as a bribe since May. We'll see how things go.

Monday, August 11, 2008

We are online!

So the Ryan, Jennifer, Gracie, Chipper, Pepper Keith blog is up and running. It's just a little bit overdue and I thought I had started one before, but since I never kept up with it, I'll try harder now. School starts for Grace is one week - preschool at a daycare, and Dad is home for vacation this week so we're still visiting inlaws. Just wanted to get this up and running so I can add the links to friends' blogs to keep updated. Love you all!