Thursday, May 31, 2012


Hello, my parents have no idea what my name will be, especially if I am a boy.  I am due to arrive sometime around December 16.  My mom always said she would never have a Christmas baby, but I am going to get the last laugh.  This picture of me was taken about a week ago, so I'm sure I look even better now.  My head probably looks even less like an alien now.  I am happy to make my appearance on this blog and I look forward to being photographed for you again, at a future date.  With regards, Koons Kid #4

The Visit

Life is more fun with family to share it with!  We enjoyed having my family visit from California.

Memorial Day was complete with homemade decorations designed and implemented by Meredith.

Sophia is at such a cute age.  She is speaking whole sentences now, pontificating on every subject that occurs to her, and we love it!

Reading time with grandparents!

On the final day of their visit, we took my family to our favorite doughnut place on Main Street.
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Lemonade Day

This year we decided to participate in Lemonade Day, a nationwide program to teach business skills to kids.  I knew I would need other adult help, and it would be more fun to have friends alongside us, so I asked a few neighbors to join in the fun!  The kickoff event involved workshops for the kids on topics like marketing, developing a recipe, giving a sales pitch, making a business profitable, etc.  

Our kids were on the young end to be participating in this project.  My main objective was to get Meredith to learn basic things like profit margin and to also understand that it takes a lot of work to run a successful business. 

Meredith had asked me about doing a lemonade stand a lot of times so I knew this would be something she would really enjoy and take ownership of.  There were worksheets for the kids to fill out.  She spent hours reading the workbook on her own and filling out the answers in her own words.  One of the first pages asked why the child wants to start a business.  She said, "To make me and other people happy."  Later the workbook asked what she would do with her earnings.  She read it wrong and thought it said "earrings" so she wrote: "Wear them."  Ha!

After hours of preparation the kids open their lemonade stand. Their business was called "Lightning Lemonade" -- "Zap your thirst!" 

One of our main contributions was making giant sugar cookies.  Here is Clara, just one of the little siblings eager to help!

When business was slow, the kids stood by the curb to drum up more customers!

To be honest, this year the stand was barely profitable.  But I do think the kids learned some lessons and they got a good introduction to running a business.  Hopefully each year we can do better and learn more!  I definitely would like the kids to participate again.  I think it would be wonderful if they could learn to be entrepreneurs and create jobs for themselves and others.  

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Friday, May 25, 2012


Tell me if this has ever happened to you.  You are sitting on the couch reading Little Critter books to your children when you suddenly hear water gushing in your basement.  At first you are in denial and then you rush downstairs to see that, yes, it really is true.  All of this comes at a very bad time.  Your husband is still in bed recovering from a difficult surgery.  You are exhausted.  You are not sure whether you should sit down and cry or tell your children to get on their bathing suits and have some fun.  

We got four buckets to catch the water.  The kids thought it was great.  I called the plumber.  He came within the hour and told us it was a problem with the dishwasher, not the plumbing.  His rationale didn't make sense.  Since there was no way that Kevin could get on his hands and knees to investigate, Father-in-Law came to the rescue.  He found that a paintbrush had gotten caught in the trap underneath the sink and was causing water to back up and and flood the dishwasher and leak through to the basement.

Note: Do not ever call plumber "Rick" again.

May 2012 will go down in infamy.  If a rough surgery and plumbing issues weren't enough, we also got sued.  The day I got served summons, my first thought was: "How appropriate.  This is already the worst week of my life.  Why not get sued, too?  Awesome."

Fortunately, my husband spends all day, every day, defending lawsuits.  He said, "Do not worry."  Also, fortunately, our auto insurance company hired a really awesome trial attorney to defend us.  Our attorney was incredulous at how little property damage there was as a result of the auto accident that prompted the lawsuit ($185), and how much medical damages the plaintiffs are alleging ($475,000).

Life is never dull.

Recently I decided the two older girls needed new electric toothbrushes. As soon as I saw the packs of toothbrushes, I knew there would be a problem.  No, actually, there would be a near-war.  There was only one girly-colored toothbrush in each pack.  Do the toothbrush manufacturers really think that all families have one boy and one girl?  What about the two-girl families?  I bought the packet that had one pink toothbrush and one green toothbrush, and I braced myself for a battle when I got home.

I put the toothbrushes in a paper bag and told the girls that they had to close their eyes and pick a toothbrush from the bag.  "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit," as Clara's teacher Mrs. Hicks would say.

Despite the prepping and the speeches I gave them about being content with whatever color they got, World War III did in fact nearly break out.  Thankfully Kevin was home to help with the aftermath.

These little things really matter when you are four and six years old.

My parents and two younger siblings are in town and it has been wonderful to have them here.  We have enjoyed the visit and the extra sets of hands to help!  I have even slept in a few mornings.  Yay!

In the midst of this crazy time, we also had another distraction.  We participated in Lemonade Day, which is a program to teach business skills to kids. We had a lemonade stand last weekend and it was fun.  Although, since the kids participating were all under the age of eight, it was a lot of work for the moms too.

I plan to write another post about this sometime soon.  It really was a great learning experience for Meredith.

Our major contribution to the lemonade stand was making all the cookies.  I had some of the kids come over to our house to help make the dough.  Two of the kids were four and the other two were six and seven.  The four-year-olds started playing "sandbox" with the flour at one point.  They each wanted to have a turn cracking eggs into the bowl.  Sophia, age 2, was also along for the fun.  She kept trying to lick the sugar off the counter and begging to help with every step.  We tripled the recipe, twice.  So, we ended up with 58 giant sugar cookies.  I think I deserve a medal for having survived this experience.

Sometimes I think I do everything the hard way!

Did I say that May 2012 will go down in infamy?  There is another reason. I have been very fatigued and nauseated with morning sickness this entire month.  Yes, we are expecting #4.  Someday I will be very happy about this fact.  Right now I am still trying to survive!

Midnight in Peking

Midnight in Peking is set in eerie, superstitious 1937 Peking.  In the opening pages, as Japanese forces are prepared to invade the city, the body of an Englishwoman is discovered, brutally murdered.  It didn't take long for me to get hooked and want to know more.  This true-life book was a page turner, with lots of plot twists and surprising discoveries along the way.

After the body of 20-year-old Pamela Werner is discovered, we learn that there are conflicting authorities involved.  Both the Chinese police and the English police, who have jurisdiction over the foreign quarter of the city, will be conducting investigations.  The foreign investigator, DCI Dennis, tries to piece together what happened on the night Pamela was murdered but comes across numerous roadblocks and is told that he may not conduct a search of the foreign quarter of Peking.  He is also told he may not have further contact with key people, including Pamela's father.

There are numerous complicated and suspicious characters involved.  It is clear that there is some kind of coverup going on.  But why?  And by whom?

As war gets closer and the political backdrop in China changes, DCI Dennis is forced to drop the investigation and Pamela's case is closed and considered to be unresolved.

After the official investigation is concluded, Pamela's father, desperate to find her killer, begins his own private investigation into her murder.  She was his only child and he is determined to spend every last cent of his fortune, if necessary, to bring her killer(s) to justice.  His private investigators follow obvious trails that had not been explored by the police.  They uncover inconsistencies and lies that help piece together what actually happened on the night of Pamela's murder.

The author, Paul French, reconstructs the events of what really happened to Pamela, based on her father's private investigation.  More than 70 years after her death, the truth finally is finally revealed. Pamela's case finally gets the closing argument it never had.   

The author also goes on to detail what happened to the other main characters in the book.  Each of their stories is interesting, especially in light of the time period they lived in.

One of the things I enjoyed most about Midnight in Peking was learning more about the history of that era in China.  I could put myself in the shoes of the foreigners who lived there and relive their experiences.  U.S. dollars stretched far in 1937 Peking and many foreigners lived opulent lifestyles.  In the end, those who did not flee occupied China were sent to Japanese internment camps in Southern China to endure hardships there.

This book was truly fascinating.  I would recommend it.  Pamela's body is now buried deep under modern Beijing.  But her tragic story of injustice will not be forgotten, thanks to Midnight in Peking.

Here is a link to an interview with author Paul French, who walks viewers through some of the places mentioned in the book. 

Caveat: there are some gruesome details about the mutilated body of the victim, if you are sensitive about those kinds of things.

Note: I was given a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a review.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Butterfly Wonder

Some of you may remember we ordered caterpillars two years ago, to watch their amazing metamorphosis in our own home.  It is totally worth doing.  The girls were enthralled and loved the anticipation of it all.

When the caterpillars first arrive, they are teeny tiny.

After a week or so, the caterpillars are HUGE.

Soon, they crawl up to the top of their container to prepare for their next phase.  You can see that the first chrysalis has already formed on the right side.

After all the cocoons are complete, we take the paper off the lid of the container and pin it to the side of a mesh cage. Here, the butterflies have all hatched.  An exciting day!  (The red stuff is meconium, not blood.)

We drop sugar water on oranges to feed them every day.

The girls wanted to wait until their Aunt Melissa came from California to release the butterflies.  Apparently, they only live for two weeks.  So, they had to spend half their lives in a stuffy cage, instead of being wild and free outside.  Poor things. Here the girls are, ready to release the butterflies. 

Here you go, little creatures. Enjoy the rest of your short life out in the wild blue yonder!

What is this?  One little butterfly refuses to take flight.  When we look closer, he is a crippled little fellow.  One of his wings has either broken off or it did not fully develop.  I didn't have the heart to set him in the bushes because he surely would have become instant dinner for a nearby bird.  So, we put him back in the cage so he can live out the rest of his life in the comfort of our climate-controlled kitchen, being fed sugar water every day, by my hand.  It's probably not a bad life.  It's better than being bird food, surely.

We will definitely do this again sometime.  We love it.  Next time I think I will make the kids keep a chart, where they write down new developments they notice each day.  Except for the chrysalis phase, which is pretty boring, it's so fun to see the changes every day! 
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In a Week

Exactly a week ago, Kevin was snugly tucked away at a surgery center to spend the night recovering from his ACL repair operation.  At that point we were still very naive concerning what would transpire during his journey toward recovery.  It has been a very bumpy road.

This has probably been the most difficult week of my life: watching Kevin suffer, and trying to keep up with his care while juggling everything else.  I still have not had a solid night of sleep in over a week.  But there have been blessings in the midst of this too.  I will get to that later.

It didn't help that minutes before Kevin was supposed to be discharged on Saturday morning, he blacked out on a stairwell while doing physical therapy.  I was sitting in his room reading a book and waiting for him to finish doing a lap on crutches with his physical therapist.  Suddenly the therapist, a nice guy named Kyle, rushed into the room looking frazzled and holding Kevin's crutches. I found Kevin in another room on a bed, as white as a sheet.

Over the next few days there were issues with immense pain and also bleeding that refused to stop.  The doctor ordered Kevin to stop all physical therapy and stay off his constant-motion machine until the bleeding was under control.  Kevin was very frustrated by this setback.

On Sunday night, Kevin started having a severe reaction to the vicodin he was taking.  He was nauseated and dizzy and had a tingling sensation all over his body.  He started panicking and hyperventilating.  I called his surgeon at 1 a.m. to get advice and see about changing his pain meds.  He ordered us to go to the ER.  Since Kevin could not move his knee without severe pain at this point (lowering his leg to the floor from the bed was excrutiating), I called an ambulance to come get him.  A neighbor stayed with our kids, who were sleeping, until Kevin's mom could come.

It seemed like 30 firemen suddenly descended upon our house.  Things must have been really slow at the Zionsville Fire Department that night and they were looking for some more excitement or something. But, seriously, they were all wonderful.  It was determined that putting Kevin in the stair-chair was out of the question because his leg needed to be stabilized.  So they secured him tightly to a stretcher and carried him down our L-shaped stairway and through the front door.  I followed the ambulance to the hospital.

They changed Kevin's meds for subsequent use but, while he was in the ER, gave him something eight times stronger than morphine (I forget the name) for some temporary relief so he could sleep.  It took the edge off the pain but even that did not completely take the pain away.  That is how badly he was in pain.  (During the ACL reconstruction, they took a ligament from his leg, including two bone plugs, to become his "new" ACL.  Then they drilled two more holes in his leg bones to fasten the new ligament.)

We finally left the ER at around 5 a.m.  Kevin moaned in pain with every bump in the road.  He asked me to take him home before picking up his new medicine at the 24-hour CVS.  I didn't answer him because I knew there was no way I would ever make it back out if I didn't get his pain meds right then.  I have never been that tired before in my whole life.

Midway through Tuesday morning, Kevin mentioned that he thought he had turned a corner in his pain management and that he was going to be okay.  Will there be life after ACL surgery? Apparently there might be!

Later that day, I could see in his eyes that things were better.  He has steadily gotten better every day since that Hell Night at the ER.

In the midst of all this, we have been blessed.  I am reminded that I shouldn't take my normal, pain-free life for granted.  Nor should I take for granted the fact that I normally get more than four consecutive hours of sleep each night.  I had to make a Target run on Monday and I felt like a zombie, walking around with no makeup and bags under my eyes, randomly sticking stuff in my cart, hoping it was the right stuff, but I couldn't be completely sure.  Of course, in that condition of sheer exhaustion, feeling like an ugly, haggard loser, I happened to notice all the cute, put-together women who were out shopping in their heels and perfect makeup.  Talk about depressing!  At that point I thought I might not ever be normal ever again.

But the biggest way we have been blessed is through the people who have reached out to us to help us and show their moral support.  Major kudos go to Kevin's mom, who has helped us in so many little and big ways, but especially in helping take care of the kids when I needed to give everything to taking care of Kevin.

We have also been amazed by our physical therapist Mark.  He was an acquaintance before this whole ordeal and he has become a friend.  When Kevin was at his lowest point, he came to our HOUSE each night after work to check on him and offer encouragement and help.  We could not believe he did this for us.  Mark was extremely kind to us.  We will not forget that.  Ever.

The surgeon, Dr. Klootwyk, was also amazing.  He came to the ER at 3:30 in the morning on Monday because "I couldn't sleep anyway and thought I would check on you."  He truly seemed to care, in addition to being an excellent physician. 

Kevin is now able to use crutches to get outside for a bit and he navigated the stairs twice today.  He is relatively pain free.  We are very blessed.  We made it through this awful week.  No doubt there are more trying times ahead.  But, for now, this hurdle has been surmounted.  God's grace is sufficient.  We are grateful.  We are blessed.

I'm off to bed.
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Thursday, May 03, 2012

Tiger Mothers 

Today, while planting annuals, up to my elbows in dirt (which I find a very cathartic activity), I finished reading Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother via audio book, read by the author. I enjoy when books are read by the author because I think they take on their truest intonation.

In the past several months I have found myself casually mentioning the phrase "tiger mother" and even describing some people as being such. In fact, some people may think I am a tiger mother of sorts. I know my husband probably thinks I am a tiger mother. Since I have been using this phrase I figured I had better read the book so I know what I am talking about.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is about the clash of Chinese and Western cultures, particularly as it manifests itself in parenting styles. It is one of the more interesting books that I have ever read. I found myself completely absorbed in what the author was saying.

I think that somewhere, way back in my family line, I must have some Chinese blood in me. Although what the author described was completely obsessive and totally nuts at times, at the end of the book, I respected her. She wanted what was best for her children. She cared deeply about their future and wanted to equip them with tools to make them accomplished, successful, and confident. Who can fault her for that?

One thing that impressed me was the humility and authenticity of the author. She didn't gloss over things and she was brutally honest, even when the scenarios she described were utterly unflattering to herself. I think it takes a lot of steel nerves and courage to write about yourself like that.

The author was an insane lady at times, trying desperately to instill Chinese values in her children, forcing them to practice their instruments for hours even when on vacation. She constantly fought against the encroachment of Western values into their lives, although, ironically, she married a Westerner and she chose to live in a Western society.

She often had painful shouting matches with her second-born daughter, while forcing her to practice her violin. She noted that strict Western parents might make their kids practice for 30 minutes or an hour at the most but, to the Chinese, the first hour is the easy part.

While I think that the author was rather extreme and I can't imagine having the same arguments with my kids, and hope it would never come to me threatening to burn their stuffed animals if they didn't practice violin--a real example cited in the book--I think there are good points that the author, Amy Chua, highlights. While I want my children to have beautiful memories of their childhood and lots of unstructured time, and can't imagine forcing them to practice an instrument for several hours every day while on vacation, I could clearly see that Chua simply wanted her children to excel and to reach their potential. You can't completely fault her for that. In fact, I think that those traits are highly admirable, when proper balance is given consideration.

Chua points out that Western parents lavish their children with compliments for accomplishing the most mediocre tasks. Western parents encourage their children to pursue their passions. But where does that lead? Often it leads to 10-hours a day on Facebook.

Chinese parents want to give their children skills to be successful and help them learn to be disciplined and excel at their work so that they can feel accomplished for legitimate reasons.

At the end of the book, the author describes a breaking-point for her, which I won't spoil in this review. Also, at the end, both of her daughters, including the rebellious second-born, mentioned that they were grateful their mother had forced them to practice their instruments and spend two-hours each day learning Mandarin and drilling their other subjects. They were confident and accomplished young adults that any parent would be proud of.

Interestingly, the Chinese have a much higher level of respect for their parents and feel a duty to take care of them when they are old. Westerners, by contrast, often resent and criticize their parents.

Maybe the Chinese have some wisdom here. Even more so, maybe there is truth to be discovered in balancing the wisdom of both cultures.

This book gave me a lot to think about.