Photos by Erin Bell.
Ella always rides the bus home after school, except on Fridays. On Fridays I pick her up so we can drive straight to violin lessons.
On its face, last Friday was no different. And yet underneath the surface, everything had changed.
As I walked into the entryway of the school to wait for the dismissal bell, I noticed the police officer standing just inside the doors. A few moments later, a young boy entered the school with his mother and cheerfully asked the officer what he was doing there. As he asked his innocent question, all of the parents anxiously waiting for the school day to end tried to hide the tears welling up in their eyes. The police officer slowly kneeled down, looked the little boy right in the eyes, and brightly told him "I'm here to give you stickers!"
Because what else could he possibly say?
It's hard to find words when in reality, there are none.
As the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary School unfolded last week, the proximity of it all struck especially close to home for me. Newtown is 45 minutes away. And as details and names slowly began to be released, I learned just how small the degrees of separation were between myself and the Newtown tragedy. A family who lost a daughter is a member of our church stake. The vice-principal at Ella's school lives in Newtown, and one of his closest friends will never see his child again. One of Matt's co-workers is also a Newtown resident and knew several of the victims. And the list goes on...
But as I have attempted to process the events of last week - through shock, tears, and disbelief - I have come to the realization that the reason we are all mourning so deeply for the lost lives of those children, teachers, and school administrators, is because there is really no degree of separation at all in a situation like this. The tears I shed were not because Newtown looks so very much like my own small Connecticut town. They weren't because I knew someone who knew someone.
The tears were because when I send Ella off to school each morning, I see in her those children at Sandy Hook. All of us, no matter where we live, kiss our kids on the head each morning and watch them run off with their backpacks bouncing up and down, and we never question whether they will come back to us in the afternoon.
Until, all of a sudden one Friday in December, we do.
As we observe a moment of silence here in Connecticut and across the country this morning, as the church bells ring out 26 times for each life lost in Sandy Hook Elementary School last week, there truly are no words I can offer. All I know is that the degree of separation between us all at this moment feels very small indeed.
So remember that election we had (doesn't it seem like a million years ago now)? These pictures are from that week and the following week.
November 6th was Election Day, but I was so excited for it that it sort of felt a little bit like Christmas. I love politics. I hate the divisiveness and the negativity that inevitably tends to dominate the political landscape (and try really hard to steer clear of it), but I am passionate about many of the issues... and probably listen to and read far more political commentary than is considered healthy.
I had many discussions with the girls about the political process leading up to Election Day, and we read a lot of books on the subject. My favorite was Grace for President, which I especially recommend for those with daughters. Be warned that I did cry at the end. After all that talk, I promised Ella and Claire they could stay up later than usual to watch some of the results come in.
Of course, electoral map coloring pages were involved and the girls were really into it. Every time a projected winner was announced it was a mad dash to color in the correct state and write the number of electoral votes in the appropriate column. Unfortunately they only got to finish a small percentage of the map before heading to bed (one of the downfalls of living in the Eastern time zone).
This was also the week things started getting back to normal after Hurricane Sandy. School was back in session, but on a delayed start Monday and Tuesday, which meant that Ella got to attend ballet class with Lucy. Ella was not terribly excited at the prospect, and was planning to just sit on the sidelines with a book, but she just couldn't help herself...
Town trick-or-treating had originally been rescheduled for the Wednesday after Sandy (Nov 7th), but due to another impending storm - this time a snow-bearing Nor'easter - it was canceled for a second time. Many neighborhoods took matters into their own hands and scheduled their own trick-or-treating for alternate dates. Our preferred trick-or-treating neighborhood (around the corner from us) had their festivities on Tuesday night, so we headed out into the freezing cold on Election Night to collect treats.
Claire and Lucy gave up after only a few houses and stayed bundled up in the double stroller. Claire declared, "I am DONE. I have enough candy." Thank goodness for Ella's Halloween spirit (she would never allow such words to leave her lips). She literally sprinted from house to house without so much as a coat on, warmed solely by the thought of all that sugar piling up in her bag. The only time Lucy and Claire braved the cold was when Ella found a house that was giving out full-sized packs of Swedish Fish (smart girls).
We did end up getting some snow on Wednesday night. It wasn't enough to cancel school on Thursday (which was quite a relief after already having had an entire week prior off for Sandy), but it was enough for a decent snowman. Claire and I built this guy together after she got home from school on Thursday.
Ella helped put on the finishing touches after she got off the bus.
A few other random photos:
Visiting day at Claire's preschool. I love getting a glimpse of how she spends her days.
"Chocolate toast" (Nutella + toast) face.
I can't believe it's been a year since I became a part of the very first Project Life Creative Team, but alas, my time is up and it's time to pass the torch on to the 2013 team, which will be announced on Becky's blog next week. I have had a lot of fun this year working with Becky and her team, and I will really miss interacting with them on a regular basis. In my last "official" act as a creative team member, here are a couple of recent layouts from the end of September/early October.
Week 39 (September 23 - September 29):
Week 40 (September 30 - October 6):
Although I have a little bit of catching up to do for 2012, I am already thinking about my plans for 2013. I am considering doing an all digital Project Life album next year and finally tackling baby books for all three of my girls with the new Project Life Baby Editions that should be available on Amazon THIS WEEK. I may not post my layouts quite as often, but rest assured I will still be busy over here documenting life. And in all sincerity, thank you for letting me share my Project Life pages with you during this past year.
His and hers hurricane prep: In anticipation of Sandy's arrival Matt stocked up on non-perishables like beef jerky, while my main concern was making sure every device in the house was fully charged.
This was hurricane week. We spent Sunday making last minute storm preparations, Monday at home waiting for the worst of the storm to hit, and Tuesday and beyond dealing with the aftermath and storm clean up. School was canceled for the entire week, and we were actually one of the only towns in the area that was able to open up schools the following Monday.
When your four-year-old starts drawing pictures of a person in the middle of a hurricane, it's probably a sign that you're watching a bit too much news coverage. Cute and a little disturbing all at the same time.
In all honesty though, the storm did cause some anxiety for the kids, especially Ella. Our town periodically made "Code Red" telephone calls to residents to update us on the storm, which I would put on speakerphone so both Matt and I could hear. I didn't think anything of it until I started noticing that Ella would cover her ears whenever we got one of those calls.
The girls had a sleepover in the living room on Monday night because we didn't want them sleeping upstairs near the windows or in the potential path of falling trees.
We thought it was inevitable that our power would go out for an extended period of time, considering we lost power for two days during Tropical Storm Irene last year and Sandy was a much stronger storm. At the height of the storm the winds were quite frightening, and as the evening wore on our lights did flicker off and on several times. Each time we thought the power was out for good, but then it would come right back on again.
The lights were still on, but Lucy was out for the night.
We were amazed to wake up on Tuesday morning with power, even more so after we checked online and saw that 92% of our town had no power. Then when we started seeing pictures of the devastation throughout the tri-state area, we honestly felt a little silly for escaping the storm unscathed. We were extremely grateful of course, but it honestly felt a bit ridiculous that so many people lost everything and yet we didn't even have to deal with the inconvenience of a cold shower.
I will say that I am always really impressed with the way our town comes together in circumstances like these (sadly, since March 2010 this is the fourth instance of widespread and extended power outages and tree damage, although this was by far the worst). Our library was amazing, staying open late for device charging, offering movie marathons for the kids, and even organizing a potluck so those without power could enjoy a warm meal. Our YMCA opened up to the public for hot showers, and everybody who was lucky enough to have power was looking for a way to help those without it.
We were happy that Matt's sister and family let us feel useful by providing them with dinner, baths and showers, and cousins to entertain their kids while they were out of power for several days. We just wished we could have done more for Matt's brother and family down in New Jersey who were without power for thirteen days.
Although the coastal areas of our town experienced significant flooding, downed trees were the cause of most of the damage in our area. Enormous root beds like these from trees just toppling over were an extremely common sight all over.
For me the most surprising - and frightening - effect of Hurricane Sandy was the shortage of gas. Things were especially bad in harder hit areas of New York and New Jersey, but the shortage eventually reached us up here in Connecticut as well. Matt and I even saw New York City taxi cabs that had made the 45 minute drive here just to fill up. By the end of the week all the gas stations in town were out of gas. It definitely made me think hard about how much we rely on gas, and how quickly things dissolve into mayhem when there isn't enough to go around.
With the kids out of school for the week and trick-or-treating canceled (it honestly didn't even feel like Halloween on October 31st), I had to find creative ways to keep the kids entertained. Heading to Target and letting them each pick out a costume from the 70% off clearance rack seemed like as good an idea as any. Ella chose a pirate, Lucy picked a fairy, and that's Claire above all decked out as a Southern belle.
In all seriousness however, we ended this week extremely grateful for the very basics: our home, heat, hot water, electricity, and most importantly our safety during the storm.
This was the week where I tried to cram in all the Halloween I could before October 31st, because I had the sneaking suspicion that a storm named Sandy might just cancel trick-or-treating for us this year (by the way, my suspicion turned out to be spot on).
On Friday I took Lucy to the town Halloween parade to trick-or-treat (see previous Halloween parades here: 2007, 2008, 2009). She was stubborn and preferred sitting in the stroller to collecting candy at the local shops. Sound anything like a recent pumpkin patch outing? The parade always ends at a park where the magician "Amazing Andy" performs. I think I have his whole routine memorized at this point, but it still manages to be pretty funny. It took a little while for Lucy to warm up, but eventually she sat down and seemed entertained by the show.
Having her best buddy (and cousin) Will there helped.
On Saturday, everyone put on their costumes for a trunk-or-treat in the church parking lot, and I took that opportunity to take pictures. Year after year, pictures of the girls in their costumes end up being some of my very favorites:
I had very little input on what everyone chose to dress up as for Halloween this year. Ella knew from the start that she wanted to be a Yankee player:
Claire was adamant about being Tinker Bell, even though I don't think she has ever seen Peter Pan and has only watched this Tinker Bell movie once or twice:
I couldn't find an actual Tinker Bell costume that I liked, but Claire approved of this Tinker Bell-inspired fairy outfit that I put together... except for the shoes. I thought she could just wear her silver ballet flats but was informed that no, Tinker Bell wears "green shoes with white balls on top." Sure enough, when I Googled Tinker Bell, there she was wearing green shoes with white pom poms. So I ended up having to buy the official Disney light-up Tinker Bell shoes, which Claire wore nonstop around the house for weeks even though I accidentally bought them a size too small.
I was originally planning to have Lucy wear the bee costume Ella wore when she was two years old, but when I tried it on Lucy a few weeks before Halloween it was clear that she wanted nothing to do with it no matter how hard I tried talking it up. She loves dressing up like a "prin-sense" so I found this witch costume at Target and told her she was going to be a "princess witch." She loved it. The best part about this costume was when you asked her if she was a good witch or a bad witch. She always answered definitively: "a BAD witch!"
And now, an illustration of what you can accomplish when you waste an entire evening in Photoshop:
I don't normally do stuff like this in Photoshop, but this photo was practically begging for it. Here's a before and after to give you a better idea of the work I had to do:
Aside from all the Halloween activities, Matt also spent Saturday cleaning out the gutters in preparation for Sandy...
Before the holidays hit in full force (I can't believe Thanksgiving is already next week... missing a whole week of school/life because of Hurricane Sandy has thrown me completely off!), how about a couple of Project Life layouts leftover from the summer? I thought I would use these pictures to point out a few products and techniques I have found myself using a lot lately in addition to the core Project Life products.
First up, Week 30 from the end of July:
I really love the banners that Ali Edwards creates for various seasons and holidays. The "Hello Beach" banner above comes from her Beach Outline set. You can also find sets for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
On the photo above, I used Cathy Zielske's technique of screening back text over a photo (see video tutorial here). Ever since she posted this tutorial back at the beginning of the summer, I have been using this technique a lot.
Here is Week 33 from the middle of August:
I used these State Love journaling cards for the second half of our trip to Oregon, and I really love how they stand out on the page. My only complaint is that when you open the files in Photoshop, the heart isn't on a separate layer so it takes a few extra steps if you want to move it so that it's over a specific city. It is doable without too much effort though, and there is actually a tutorial here that shows you how.
And of course, one of my all time favorite products... Cathy Zielske's Tiny Templates. I mention them a lot, but I'm pretty sure I use them at least once in every Project Life layout I do!
A quiet week. Just a few pictures and even fewer words.
It's looking a lot like fall.
Most nights after the girls go to bed, I will hear the faint sound of rustling pages and when I go to inspect I will see this at the top of the stairs. I purchased Ella a reading light so she could read in bed, but for some reason she prefers to sit on the hardwood floor in the hall outside her doorway. I always tell her not to stay up too late, but I secretly love it when she does this.
Bagel love. A bagel with cream cheese is pretty much all Ella and Claire will eat for lunch, so Lucy and I are always stocking up at Costco.
On Columbus Day, the kids had the day off school so I convinced Matt to take the day off work as well so we could all do something fun together. We headed into New York to try something new: walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. How Matt and I lived in Manhattan for two years and have now been back in the Northeast for almost six years and yet we have never done this before, I have no idea. It definitely goes on my list of top things to do in the city. It's easy, offers amazing views of the city, and it's free (which makes it even better than my recommendation to ride an MTA bus around Manhattan for a cheap tour of the city).
Not only was this my first time walking across the bridge, but it was also my first time in Brooklyn (I know, I am a disgrace to all who claim to love New York), so once we crossed over we had to hit the hot spots. First was the famous Grimaldi's for pizza...
... followed by dessert at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory.
Notice Lucy above, standing at arms length from Ella because she was insistent that Ella *not* put her arm around her. I say it all the time but it's a good thing Lucy is so adorable because she's a little stinker, that one.
There was a lot of this...
... and a little of this too.
After running around the Fulton Ferry Pier and enjoying the views of Manhattan for a bit, we opted to walk back across the bridge rather than take a subway or ferry. That's a whole lot of walking without any complaints from my kids (although Lucy and Claire did take turns in the stroller). I think they really are part New Yorkers at heart.
We had wanted to take a ride on Jane's Carousel while we were in Brooklyn, but we ran out of time and patience (see above photo). It was a bit alarming to see the carousel surrounded by water at the height of Hurricane Sandy (as I am writing this our area is just starting to recover from the storm... more on that in a future post), but it sounds like it will be up and running again sometime in the near future. And when it is, we'll definitely be back!
P.S. A tip for Brooklyn Bridge pedestrians. Don't cross that thick white line over into the bike lane because those cyclists will run you over. It's a difficult thing to explain to a very opinionated and obstinate two-year-old. We're just glad everybody made it to the other side in one piece.
A couple of everyday shots from the week:
Claire and her cardboard violin. She worked so hard this week in the hopes of finally getting to open up her real violin, which arrived at our house this week. Trust me, you have never seen a little girl quite so excited for her next violin lesson.
New signs hanging up on Ella and Claire's bedroom door. The top one was created by Claire and requires you to tell her how you are feeling (the choices are sad, mad, and silly) before you can enter. The bottom one created by Ella forbids anybody except friends from entering. Thankfully, she appears to count her family members as friends.
On Saturday we went to the pumpkin patch with the Shontz cousins.
Ella and Claire had a blast picking out pumpkins and then trying to push that wheelbarrow full of pumpkins back towards the car.
Lucy, on the other hand, preferred to relax with cousin Lily in the double stroller.
She was none too pleased when we made her get out to take a family photo. Just a little bit of real life to end the week. Apparently it's not always easy being two.
Signs of fall.
Adorable two-year-old mispronunciation of the week: "apple spider" (instead of apple cider).
Love notes from Claire, left for Matt on his nightstand. Claire is constantly at work making little drawings and notes to give away. She usually makes them in multiples of five; one for each member of the family. Her favorite things to draw are rainbows, flowers, houses, people, and she also loves writing our names.
As soon as the temperatures start dropping, I start making soup. My kids love chicken tortilla soup, mostly because of the toppings they get to add themselves. I made it for dinner for the first time this season, and as Ella crushed her tortilla chips into her bowl she exclaimed, "This is why I love being in this family, because we do fun stuff like this." It may be a sign that she needs to get out more, but I really love her enthusiasm for simple pleasures.
Claire expects fruit snacks every day when Lucy and I pick her up from school (heaven help me if there's ever a day I forget). Lucy always holds on to them and patiently waits to open hers until Claire gets in the car.
"Mom, I want you to put swirls in my hair."
Pajamas on a Saturday morning.
Harriman State Park, NY
Ella and her walking stick. "Are we hiking or hunting?" she asked, a true sign that we don't do a lot of hiking... or hunting for that matter.