Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas!

So we're a little late but we just wanted to wish everyone a very merry Christmas! Overall a pretty good day here - but really how bad can a day be when we all have matching pink bunny jammies? Well I should clarify that Jeff did not have pink bunny jammies.

Something strange happened to Brooke's hair the last two days - seriously I really did brush it before we took pictures (I busted out the conditioner last night so it's been a little better today). Isabel tried to help but still couldn't do a thing with it.

So a pretty quiet day at home for us this holiday. Brooke seemed to enjoy her idog - the jury is still out on whether or not it was the dog or just her favorite music making her happy. Since she really can't open presents or play with many toys we let the joy of her day be having the things she loves as much as she wants. So we pretty much listened to Ralph or watched Elmo the entire day. And ate lots of sweets. All of these things generally have a daily limit - but not on Christmas!

Isabel loves her Dora kitchen. She's been a very busy little chef - I love hearing her say "cook it" and making all her own little cooking noises. The fact that we have finally found a toy that kept her attention for more than five minutes was gift enough for mom and dad.

And the "girls" got mommy some very nice acrylic stamp sets for Christmas (even though they weren't supposed to get anything!). It really did mean so much to me that Jeff took the initiative to ask around to find out what I might like AND took Brooke shopping to get it for me. We promised no gifts this year (and even when we do it's usually the time honored tradition of asking what I want and getting exactly that) so it was a very nice surprise.
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Monday, December 17, 2007


Isabel didn't really get the chance to fully appreciate snow last year - I wasn't sure her delicate, closer-to-the-equator sensibilities were ready for it. After getting Brooke off to school today she was really in no mood to go inside so I figured what the heck and grabbed the camera. Who needs snowpants when you have sweatpants (at least she had boots on, right?). So I guess we'll make a trip to Target for some snowpants for the girls and maybe even a sled. Now we just need to figure out a way to convince Jeff that you really can have fun in the snow - he will not be easily swayed.
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Saturday, December 15, 2007


So I was really just curious if I could figure out how to get video clips on to the blog - pretty easy actually. Enjoy!
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Monday, December 10, 2007

A Little Christmas Preview

There's been lots of talk on the RettNet (our online link to other families touched by Rett Syndrome) about Christmas. Mostly about how difficult it can be since our girls don't typically find the same joys in the holiday as other kids their age. There have been some great discussions about helping them find their own kind of joy. One of my favorite quotes is from a dad named Scott:

"Maybe the girls are still pure to the real meaning of Christmas and have not been corrupted by the commercialization of it."

As soon as I read "pure to the real meaning of Christmas" it made me think of this picture (one of many I took in my annual "attempt-at-the-perfect-Christmas-card" photo shoot. Although it didn't end up the final winner, I think it embodies that quote perfectly.

Anyway - I've really wanted to start learning how to make my photos look a little more artsy fartsy (but I'm too cheap to buy the actions to do it for me). So here I am up way past midnight playing around with this wonderful shot - enjoy!

This is the original photo:

These have what I guess is referred to as a little color pop - I just added the dark edges on the second one:

These are supposed to look vintage (again with the dark edges on #2):

So I guess I'm pretty happy with the outcome.

The tutorials for the original effects I found on this blog:

The tuorials for the dark edge effect was from 2peas:

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

One Year Ago

One year ago yesterday was the first time I held you. It was such a happy day for Jeff and I, I'm sure a bittersweet day for your foster family and probably a pretty scary day for you. We've come a long way in a year but it's important to me that you always know where you started.

Some specific memories that still stick in my mind from that first day - the tears in your foster mom's and her daughter, Lillian's, eyes. I could only imagine how hard this was for them. They had arrived early so our agency representative wasn't there yet. It was amazing how much we could communicate without sharing the same language (although we did ask the very nice bellman that had taken us to our room to help translate a bit).

You were facinated with our watches.

You seemed fine with us, even after Yolonda and Lillian left, even after we went up to our room. But when we came back down to the lobby to finally meet with our agency rep - you became very upset. I think it was probably then that you realized the family you had known up until then may not be coming back.

The rest of the day was spent trying to console you. Even though I knew this grieving was something you needed to go through (and that in the end it was a good thing) it was still difficult.

You liked to look at yourself in the mirror so we would just walk around the hotel room looking in each of the three mirrors. You finally gave in and ate a little applesauce which also seemed to help.

I remember you falling asleep on my chest and when you woke up about an hour later looked up at me with your sleeply little eyes and as soon as you focused on my face - you burst into tears again. That was when dad had the great idea of turning on the TV - thinking that hearing spoken spanish might be calming to you. And indeed it was.

Things improved slowly each day and it's really only now that I look back and realize just how long it did take you adjust. And I know those adjustments and bumps will continue throughout your life - but your dad and I will always be there to help you through them.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Thanksgiving Do-Over

Since Brooke was sick with the flu on Thanksgiving today was officially dubbed "Do-Over Thanksgiving" - also known as great-grandma's birthday party. There was ham instead of turkey but the cute Thanksgiving outfits Grandma bought for everyone were just as cute. And I'm teaching Isabel early about the wonderful world of scrapbooking tools. She caught right on to my favorite - the Revolution. Just need to add a little paper and she'll be on board in no time!

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Friday, November 30, 2007


Do you see the thing under Isabel's left eyebrow that looks like an extra eyeball hiding up there? We will lovingly refer to that as "trauma d'jour". We had just come in from getting Brooke on the bus and she was fussing around with the kitchen chairs and tripped on one. And I saw in that slow motion vision that seems to come with motherhood when your child is about to do something that's really going to hurt but you are helpless to stop it - her nugget connect with the seat of the chair next to her. Crying ensued, cuddling followed and after a minute or so I tried the old "let mommy see". What mommy expected to see was maybe a little red mark or, heck, maybe nothing at all but I certainly did NOT expect that.
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Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Merry Christmas from the VanArnhem elves!!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Our Halloween Miracle

Here it is folks - that's right, Brooke SMILING on Halloween night! For those not in the know - Brooke historically hates Halloween (and I have the pictures of her crying every year to prove it). This year started out a little rough (thanks in part to Isabel's meltdown at the suggestion that we leave our neighbors dog, Bently, and continue on for more candy) but it was a fairly quick recovery, a short nap in her completely decked out ride and the remainder of the evening a happy little witchy-poo!

The Chicken's favorite portion of the night seemed to be handing out candy with grandma and great-grandma. She was in charge of the suckers.

Overall one of our most successful Halloweens to date!
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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

18 months

Just wanted to share a few recent pictures of Isabel. These were taken to celebrate reaching the 18 month milestone. And I'm happy to say that Portrait Innovations only got half as much money out of me as the one year mark.

First we have the traditional wicker chair/flower picture. Unfortunately, that was as cute as things got for this outfit. Someday I will learn to tell them to pass on the lame props.

Here is one taken in a dress we purchased while we were in Guatemala. I was trying to guess on the size - too bad we now have a sundress that fits perfectly in October. And rest assured I have already heard about the black background - nobody likes it and I'm the one that told them to use it. I will defend my decision by saying all of her one year pictures had a white background, I thought the dress would look good against black and the kid is cute, she'll look good no matter what color background is behind her.

Here's a sneak peek at this years Halloween costume -

And finally I just had to include this one. It is safe to assume she was saying "booger" at this moment and no I didn't purchase any of these -

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Our Friend Dakota

I'm sure everyone that reads this blog is used to hearing about (or living with) Rett Syndrome. But today I wanted to take a minute to introduce everyone to our friend Dakota and her family. Dakota is a classmate of Brooke's and is battling Tay-Sachs disease. Never heard of Tay-Sachs? I hadn't either until I heard about Dakota. So I wanted to pass along an email I received from her mom and dad with some information and links to the Cure Tay-Sachs Foundation website.

Please be sure to watch the video - it's very powerful. And for those of you that feel you have a vested interest in Brooke or Rett Syndrome and have committed your donations or fundraising efforts to that cause please think of this - medical research committed to finding a cure for one disorder has the potential to help many others. If you spend a little time on the website you might be surprised by some of the similarities shared by the two disorders. You never know how all of this will ultimately connect.

One thing I do understand is how important it is too make people aware of these "unheard of" disorders. Dakota's parents have done an amazing job getting the foundation off the ground and getting the word out. I'm so proud of this family - they really do inspire me to think of the difference just one mom, one dad and one sweet little girl can make in this world. I know I can take a lesson from that, I'm sure we all can.

Dear Friends,

As many of you know our beautiful little girl Dakota continues to battle Tay-Sachs disease. We have created a video to introduce the world to our very strong little girl. Dakota is now 8 years old and was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease just over two years ago. Tay-Sachs is a genetic disease that has no treatment or cure, and is ALWAYS fatal in children. Dakota risked her life nearly two years ago when she went through a very painful and complex cord blood transplant where all her blood was replaced with new blood, with the hope of eliminating the disease. The transplant may have helped, but the disease is still there. Dakota has been nicknamed the “Hope Child” by other Tay-Sachs parents because of her courageous battle to beat this horrible disease. But the clock is still ticking….

We have medical specialists all over the world that we are in constant communication with that have assured us that the cure is within reach! The challenge is the funding necessary to convert theory into clinical application. We have become involved with the Tay-Sachs Gene Therapy Consortium that has created an international team of experts dedicated to converting hopeful animal models into useful human clinical trials. We have no choice but to take matters into our own hands and raise the monies needed to potentially save the life of our daughter and her many terminally ill friends around the world. We need to find a cure for this disease so future generations of children like Dakota and families like ours don’t have to endure this agony.

With the help of our family and friends, we have started a fund raising campaign called “Dakota’s Dream,” designed to raise money for the Cure Tay-Sachs Foundation (which is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt foundation). We are declaring November “Dakota’s Dream” month, where corporations, schools and churches from all over are collecting money on our behalf. On Saturday, November 24 we are organizing children of all ages to collect money in their neighborhoods to support Dakota’s Dream. We hope to have 1,000 kids each collect $100 on this day. Hopefully we will surpass that number of kids helping other kids.

Please take 5 minutes of your valuable time to watch the DVD that was made to give you a small understanding of the magnitude of the situation. Yes, we need money. But more importantly we need to educate people about Tay-Sachs disease. After you view the video, please feel free to pass this e-mail along to anyone and everyone you know. The disease is found in every part of the world, among all races, religions and genders. This is one disease that we CAN and WILL find a cure for in the next few years - but only with your help.

Thank you for taking the time to listen. Please watch the video and visit our web site for further information about Tay-Sachs disease and how you can be a part of Dakota’s Dream on November 24, 2007. Thank you and God bless.

Link to Dakota’s Dream video:

Link to Cure Tay-Sachs Foundation web site:

Ken and Julie Bihn
Olmsted Falls, Ohio

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Hey it's only been two months!

Finally got around to loading the pictures from Brooke's first day of school. As you may or may not know, I wasn't actually there so Grandma took the honors. And she did a fabulous job - how darling does Brooke look in her cool shades and rockin' apple shirt! The pants were kind of a funny story though. I had forgotten to lay out the very specific first day clothes before I left so I called mom and just told her it was the apple shirt and there were denim capris that went with it. After I was back I was organizing Brooke's closet and realized the capris still had the tags on. We hadn't had the pictures developed yet (Grandma still has a film camera if you can believe it!) so I just assumed it was too warm for the pants and the executive decision was made to go with shorts. Cool. When I did pick up the pictures I was all "oh what pants are those?" - only to realize that Brooke was wearing a pair of Isabel's jeans. Yes, those are supposed to be full length pants on an 18-24 month old. I suppose this is proof that Brooke might just be a little too skinny!
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Wednesday, October 17, 2007


It seems a public apology, or maybe just a clarification, is in order. A few days ago I posted a list of Isabel's words she is saying. One of them was Connie (aka - World's Greatest Aunt). I mentioned how each time the phone rings Isabel says Connie which is funny because she rarely calls.

Maybe my choice of words could have been better but dear, sweet, wonderful, fabulous Aunt Connie seems to have taken some offense to the comment and has since called EVERY SINGLE DAY. Now I certainly don't mind a little daily chat with the WGA (remember that's Worlds Greatest Aunt) but I don't want her to feel that she has to call out of obligation.

Maybe what I should have said is that Connie doesn't really have reason to call all that often but we are thrilled every time we see her name on caller ID? Better? I guess we will find out tomorrow during the WGA calling hour.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A face only a mother could love, right? A little bit sticky but well worth the five minutes I was given to clean up after breakfast while Isabel ate yogurt with her fingers. No pleading "uppie", no grabbing dirty knives out of the dishwasher, no climbing onto the table, no trying to eat "leftovers" from the floor. Yep, definately worth a quick wipe down with a wet paper towel.
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Friday, October 12, 2007

How much does this kid love to swim? No school today so we went a little later which gave Brooke the chance to swim with her new little buddy, Kevin. She was quite smitten. There was some singing together and pushing a ball back and forth to one another (something Brooke has been doing really well in the pool lately - yay!). And in the end resulted in some serious tears when it was time to leave (or maybe it was because I didn't actually follow through on the idea of leaving Isabel behind in the play room).
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Monday, October 08, 2007

Snacks and Sisterly Love

So how cute are these two?! Isabel was sitting at the table having a few pretzel fish crackers and juice and Brooke decided she needed in on that action! It's pretty amazing to me on both sides really. The fact that more often than not if Isabel is eating at the table and Brooke is not, that Brooke knows she just needs to stand by and her sister will share. And the fact that Isabel totally shares with her - in a gentle, not jamming-20-crackers in-her-mouth-at-a-time kind of way.

We thought long and hard about whether adding to our family was the right thing to do. Would it be fair to Brooke, to a sibling, could we handle it? And although I will admit to a few "what the heck was I thinking" moments so far, overall it's been a good thing. There is definately something about watching another kid do it that gets Brooke more interested in things. I can't even tell you how many times I tried to get Brooke to sit and try to color with her little dot markers with me and every single time I felt like I was forcing it on her. Isabel wants to color and guess who's right there with her. And these little moments of being the helper are nice to see in Isabel. I'm sure there will be times Isabel is going to be tested having Brooke as a sister but I guess my hope is that in the end it's the acceptance, patience and compassion that she really takes away from it all.

So if fish crackers and juice are any indication - I think we're headed in the right direction!
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Friday, October 05, 2007

Chatty Cathy

I'm back again! And it was nice to see a comment from another Rett mom that I didn't even know read the blog!

In an effort to make the reporting of this blog fair and balanced, today will be all about Isabel. Specifically all the talking. You may have noticed that my daughters are about as opposite as opposite gets and so it only makes sense that non-verbal Brooke would be complimented by never-shuts-up Isabel. But believe me I'm not complaining. So as she reaches the 18 month mark here is a list of current words (if significantly different the "Isabel pronounciation" has been included):

Brooke (can be easily confused with book)
Book (see above)
Grandma (ama)
Connie (although she rarely calls - every time the phone rings it's Connie)
Julie (dewy)
Kitty Cat (kit cat)
Neigh Neigh (this would be horse - it's the only one that is referred to by it's sound rather than name)
Fish (fishy)
(she also makes all the appropriate animal sounds to go with each - well except the fish)
Banana (nana)
Yogurt (ogur)
Juice (all drinks are "juice" right now)
Hot dog (dot dog)
Cracker (kaker)
Applesauce (abus)
Potty (sometimes sounds like buddy)
Stinky (tinky)
Color (colur - comes out with this weird, almost French accent)
Diaper (diapur - same thing with the French accent)
Crayon (can)
Bus (there's a little lisp on the s)
No (this is the verbal answer to everything, if the answer is yes you get a head nod)
Spoon (poon)
Pumpkin (punken)
Flower (fower)
Broken (boke in)
Play (she's just starting to get the "L" in there - it's pretty funny looking)
Blanket (bankit)
Brush (sounds very much like bus)
Train (tane - and corresponding choo-choo)
Plane (pain)
Up (uppie)
Night night
Bottle (baba)
I don't know (I no-no)
All done
Shopping (dopping)
Purse (pursh)
Corn (orn - only in referrence to our cornstalk decoration outside)
Swing (hwing)
Pretties (dittys - this means jewelry)
Swimming (whimming)
Hi (as said to every person that walks by every place we go)
Bye (as in goodbye_
Bye Bye (as in we're going someplace)

And my new favorite:

Awesome (awthummmmb)

I'm sure I'm forgetting some (and I'm sure Mom will add them in her comment!)

The Golden Ticket

Okay so I haven't gotten around to making it pretty but at least I'm posting something!

One of my many struggles when thinking about all things Brooke is the struggle to find GOOD therapists. We have our one shining star, Miss Karen, who swims with Brooke every Friday. All others have fallen someplace between okay and bad. So I finally had the brilliant idea, if I do say so myself, of actually asking Karen if SHE had any good referrals. And she did. Glenna Greenwald, Speech Therapist Extraordinaire.

Now to be fair we haven't even seen Glenna Greenwald, STE yet but I have high hopes. Why the high hopes you ask? Because 1) Miss Karen, Swimming Instructor Extraordinaire recommended her and (this is big) 2) because when I Googled her name to find contact information, the first thing that came up was a newsletter article about her work with a little girl named Maya who has, drum roll please, RETT SYNDROME!! Just the thought of not having to start at Rett Ground Zero with another therapist sends shivers down my spine!

Glenna did call me yesterday and we chatted about Maya and the other THREE Rett girls she is currently working with. And from that ten minute conversation I feel pretty confident that this lady gets it and, most importantly, she is excited about working with Brooke. So hopes are high and now we just need the lovely Nadine to call and actually schedule us.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


This is our new home - because, well, it's free and we are, well, poor-ish so the $90 for Typepad was cut from the budget.

I'll work on getting things pretty and, what the heck, maybe actually post something now and then!