Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fresh from the Oven

One of my favorite memories from my childhood is spending time with my grandparents without my brother. Emma and Finn have been spending the week with my parents and we have been meeting at Lamb's farm near Libertyville to exchange kids and luggage. We took in a game of mini golf before Finn headed off with my mom and Emma came home with me...

One of my favorite things about Emma is how she loves simple things. Her world is filled with the glitter of performing, at times on a grand scale. During Nutcracker season she actually has a wig master and a dresser. I watch her to make sure these things don't go to her head and I am reassured when she decides the perfect afternoon entails baking sugar cookies for the workmen, her friends, and family. I worked as her sous chef, cleaning up around her, making sure she didn't mix up baking powder and baking soda, and teaching her how to cut tablespoons from a stick of butter.

While Emma continued to work on her cookies our door bell rang. Trusting that she had things well in hand I answered the door only to discover something else fresh from the oven, my friend's one week old son. I threw a baby shower for her simply because she wanted this baby so badly and the road to finally having him was long and emotional. Never have I seen a woman so elated and fulfilled as I watched her cradle this peaceful dreamy creature; they are a delicious balance of want and need.

By the time I finished cooing over the baby I came back to a kitchen filled with sweet smells and one perfect plate of sugar cookies. I didn't need to eat one, but I sure did want to and I must say they are simply delicious; they rival my grandma's. The workman and her friends agree and we are surely going to take a plate to my mom when we pick up Finn.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Leif and I found ourselves alone in our house for the first time in a very very long time. Emma was enjoying Grandma and Papa in Wisconsin and Finn went to a sleepover with two of his best friends. We fired up the grill, cooked some gorgeous steaks and enjoyed a glass of wine together. Even though the backyard is still filled with lumber and tools we were able to take in all the progress we have made on our back porch project and looked forward to a quiet evening...just the two of us.

Our evening was derailed when our contractor stopped by to check on our satisfaction with the work to date, a giddy Emma called to discuss her shopping spree with Grandma, and two kittens who have been hanging around our house for the past couple of days returned for an evening meal and some affection. Before we knew it we had uneaten steaks, two abandoned glasses of wine, a new understanding of pergolas, an earful from our daughter, and a plan to rescue some needy kittens. Ces't la Vie!

To be clear, I hate cats. In fact our cat wandered up our front steps one night and (much to my horror) laid on me; after I tried taking her to various shelters it became clear her chances of being adopted were slim. I figured she had made a bold move to change her life and we decided to keep her. We have never regretted that decision and neither has the cat despite the fact Emma named her after the naughty boy in her kindergarten class. We have seen countless stray cats and kittens since rescuing Jordan, but have never been inclined to reach out to any of them....that is until the the orange Tabby cats showed up.

The first night I made them as comfortable as possible and snapped a picture of them. They spent the night on our porch and disappeared by morning, but I knew they needed a home. I emailed the photo to my friend Steph, because I knew in my gut they were her family's cats. The next night they showed up again and I called Steph over to take a look at them. After seeing the roly poly duo she challenged me; if I could get them into a crate she would take them to the vet in the morning. Just call me the street cat trapper...

The next morning I swaggered over to Steph's house with those two crated kittens and swapped them for my son who had been sleeping over. Later in the day I learned the three month old homeless brothers had found their home with Steph, her husband, and their three kids.

Sometimes ditching a steak dinner is necessary...I am certain Whiskey and Valentine would agree.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Night Out Minus One

Emma headed off to spend a couple of days with Grandma and Papa in Lake Geneva and Leif and I had a chance to take our Finn Man out on the town. After enjoying a bento box at Sushi House we headed across the street to The Lake, Oak Park's art deco movie theater. Finn wanted to see WallE and we did. We loved spending time with Finn, but the movie was lack luster at best. Tomorrow he and I will spend the entire day together...just the two of us.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

New, Different, Unexpected

We headed back to the Academy of Movement and Music this evening to take in a second set of Momenta performances. Emma danced beautifully yet again and I was struck by the value of this experience beyond learning to dance.
Most all of the pieces performed were created by students. The student choreographers had no voice in selecting the dancers for their pieces, the ability level of the dancers, or even the number of people they were given. Each one of them had to learn to teach in seven weeks and each dancer had to learn to respect their peers in a new way. The entire workshop embraces welcoming the new, different and unexpected. Obviously it works; the evening was more than entertaining. Emma left with a treasured collection of thank you notes and flowers from her choreographers, and she simply didn't want it to come to an end.

Some things have to come to an end and in the next moment new experiences are on the horizon...Emma's Momenta relationships will go beyond the dance studio when she starts middle school in the fall. Four different elementary schools will converge and this is the young group of dancers who will become new classmates and walking partners. Three days per week this fit posse, armed with cell phones, will make their way to the Academy to study dance together and learn unexpected lessons far beyond perfecting adagio and allegro...they will learn with each passing year their world will become bigger, richer, and more challenging.
They will learn with grace.

Friday, July 25, 2008

RSVP to the Dance

My brother was a soccer player and I was a mother came to refer to her life as "shin guards and leotards." I have certainly followed in her footsteps.

Today Finn finished his week long Coerver soccer clinic and is achieving the "soccer excellence" the program promises. They worked on intense moves like the Rivelino VanBasten, Double Cruyff, and Fake Zico among others. At the end of the session Finn came out with a medal.

I asked him why he received it and he said,
"Geez Mom, I can't even believe it, but I am the RSVP of the camp."

Clearly he meant MVP, but he is, after all, the victim of being a party planner's son.

Later in the day we had the privilege of taking in the performances hosted by the Academy of Movement and Music. Emma Grace has embraced her name taking her place on the stage with an energy and beauty of expression we have yet to see from her before.

Our girl is talented and reveled in the opportunity to perform the works of several young choreographers. When your world if filled with Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, and Mozart it has to be amazing to perform to music by Feist, Snow Patrol, and Rob Thomas....

Alone on the stage in a fading spot light she completed a series of serious modern movements as Dido's layered music dissolved to nothing...and I sighed....proud.

The MVP has RSVP'd to the dance again tomorrow evening.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

It's A Small World...

There are about four million miles of road in the United States....

The world is a really big place and things like google maps make the vastness of it all seem a little more manageable. Pick a point on the map, select "street view" and you can take a glimpse into any neighborhood you want. A voyeur's vacation! Pretty unbelievable...even more unbelievable was my neighbor calling to say he found me on Google maps.
I was a little perplexed at first as I found what is clearly me walking to pick up the kids from school. I could even scroll on the page and I would approach, cross the street, and fade into the distance...and yes kids, I now have actual proof that I always look both ways before I cross an alley.
Like a needle in a haystack those Google people found my little pinpoint on the I missed the car with all the video equipment passing by totally escapes me.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Master of the Minivan

Our mini-van tells a story. I am proud the vehicle has been covered with Obama signs and delivered the kids and me safely to Indiana to campaign for our boy Barack...I treasure the fact it's shattered back window decorated with a bobble headed buffalo provided a fitting end to a wild west road trip... the dent on the side always reminds me of the dinner where Emma and Finn sold me down the river for hitting the lamp post in our alley...

This week I am just a chauffeur. I am in the car every two hours from 8:30am-5:30pm shuttling people from soccer to ballet, from doctor's appointments to community meetings. I have one ear tuned into NPR to make sure I am up on my current events and have my other ear tuned into the conversations between my passengers...Emma admitting to her confusion over her need for nude tights even though she has nude legs and Finn throwing off his stinky shin guards, shoving half a sandwich down his throat all the while lamenting that the bossy Academy girls clearly have a crush on him. Today I learned that under certain conditions Fizz-Its yougurt will explode...
These car days are strange; they go by quickly and I never really feel like I've gone anywhere, but if I stand back and think about it, I know with each little trip I am just adding to the miles of memories I have already put on our trusty suburban ride.

Gotta Fly!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Real Family Vacation

At long last the Elsmo Four have once again enjoyed a real family vacation. Leif's business school commitments prevented him from joining us over the past two years. His presence was missed in the moment and his return to Door County was a reason for our family to celebrate!

The kids and I had wonderful times when we vacationed just the three of us, but having Leif there again served as a gentle reminder that we are the Elsmo Four for a reason. The kids have done a massive amount growing since Leif was last in our little cottage near the bay and we were able to take advantage of many new activities this year...

  • Taking in performance by our old favorite, Willy Porter, at an outdoor amphitheater in Egg Harbor set the tone for an amazing week. Sharing live music with Emma and Finn has been memorable all summer and Willy's performance didn't disappoint any of us! His CD , Available Light, became the soundtrack for our wonderful week!
  • Last time Leif was with us Finn was just six and things like biking were not an option yet. Not so this year...taking Emma up on her suggestion our crew managed to bike nearly eleven miles through the trails Peninsula State Park in under an hour and half. Particular props go to eight year old Finn for doing it on a single speed bike.
  • Our devotion to mini-golfing at the Red Putter continued and Leif and I were only one and two strokes off qualifying for the pro-tournament respectively...same story every year! Many hours were spent frolicking in the water and with Leif there I was actually able to read an entire book!
  • We also fit in our annual hike on Eagle trail, climbed to the top of the tower with a terrified Leif, took in a show at the the American Folklore Theater, and enjoyed pretty sunsets and ice cream in the evenings.
  • Leif and I drank wine and chatted and generally relaxed in a way we had not been able to for too long.

    For me, the best souvenirs of our vacation are my photos featuring Leif and the kids together. Images like these have been missing from our family photo albums for far too long and it is high time we had them...well, him...back.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Imagine my surprise when I opened the paper today! Right there on page five I found my little soccer star featured in an ad for the soccer club he plays for. I love that Finn takes the game so seriously and was delighted the OPRF Strikers thought his image was suitable for encouraging others to try-out! I love his "game face!"

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

It all came crashing down....

Leif and I have been anxious to start ripping off the back porch of our bungalow...

We knew it was in bad shape but we had no idea it would come down in less than four hours.

Best not walk out the back door for a while....

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

In Good Hands

After seven months of battling insurance companies and miscommunication between doctors and hospitals, Finn finally had his first OT appointment today. It was a major victory as he was first evaluated in January and his further success in school clearly depends on receiving treatment for core strength issues that directly impact his ability to hold a pencil...the body is an amazing thing.

When Finn and I headed out the door to the session I was literally thinking about all the "crap" I had gone through to get this appointment in the books when a bird decided to crap right on me. I guess that is supposed to signify good luck unpleasant as it was...

The road to this first session was long and was made easier by Ms. C, an employee of Rush, who works on the academic side of the hospital. She is one of those magical employees who is willing to help anyone she comes into contact with. She helped me tremendously and managed to connect the dots to get Finn the appointments he needed even though it was way outside the parameters of her job description. I even went so far as to send a glowing email about her to her supervisor and remain grateful for her ability to add grace and kindness to a bureaucratic medical system.

As I was watching Finn sit on a T-stool while picking up and rearranging magnets during his session today there was a confident knock at the door. None other than the magical Ms. C entered and introduced herself to me. She looked exactly as I had pictured her; full of life. She gave me a huge hug, introduced herself to Finn, and wanted me to know that she deeply cared that we had come to the end of the long road we were months was too long.
It was clear after a few moments of chatting that she never even knew that I sent the complimentary email to her boss, but had stopped by out of the purest caring for my son. Even better, the therapist had invited her to stop by and meet us in person because she knew these issues would not have been resolved with out her selflessness.

It is easy to get caught up in the negativity of life, but then a bird takes a crap and the world reveals itself as a friendly and loving place filled with strangers who take a vested interest in who you are, the people you fight for, and the path you are on. Merde.

Monday, July 7, 2008


I found myself in the Claire's boutique today tasked by my daughter to pick out an appropriately cool gift for one of her closest friends. I naturally gravitated to the colorful journals and the clinking bracelet sets, but I was there with strict instructions to buy a "funky hat and fingerless gloves".

I stared at the wall of Madonna gloves circa "Like a Virgin" and wondered how an eleven year old gets it in her head to want lacy fingerless gloves. I touched every pair and decided ultimately to purchase a set of black and white stripped "arm warmers" or sleeves without a shirt attached. The mother in me could justify the purchase out of concern for the temperature of the poor girl's forearms and my daughter was still giving a cool gift. I threw in a funky enough black painters hat covered with peace symbols, a pair of guitar shaped earrings, and (of course) a set of noisy red bracelets to off set all the black.

I laid out the rather motley gift before my daughter and she squealed with delight and exclaimed, "Oh, thank you Mom, she is gonna LOVE this!" I paused for a moment and considered my daughter. I tipped my head and asked, "Emma, would you like to wear things like this?" She simply giggled and said, "No way, Mom, but my friend is gonna love it."

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Putting the fun back in family!

Family game night...what a fantastic idea. Leif and I are thrilled our kids are finally old enough to play Monopoly and tonight we did just that. Fun exchanges of money, the benefits of passing go, and the simple education about the value of a dollar...nothing could be better.

Well it could have been better. Leif, a recent graduate of a prestigious business school, is typically all about helping others and aiding those who are less fortunate, but tonight uncharacteristically turned himself into a merciless slum lord. He snatched up all the cheap properties and proceeded with a rapid gentrification that left our young son penniless and devastated. Best to stick with UNO from here on out.
Family betcha!!

Who are the Elsmo Four?

The Elsmo family consists of thirty-seven year old Leif, thirty-three year old Melissa, eleven year old Emma Grace, eight year old Finn, an old big dog, a new little dog, and a cat that wandered into our house one day about six years ago .

Leif and Mel have spent the better part of the last decade in a state of shock and wonder...and have decided to start chronicling their journey through life...

I thought starting would be the hard part, but then we played monopoly...
Our family portrait was taken by our friend.
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