A Wonderous Voyage 

When my family and I embarked on a seven day cruise to Alaska on the Disney Wonder I was prepared for a truly magical experience. But after a challenging flight where I had to physically restrain my two year old during take off ( in fear that we would get kicked off the plane) I was beginning to have my doubts about the trip. She didn’t improve as we made our way through the ship’s boarding procedure, refusing to have anyone but mommy console her and I ended up carrying her every step of the way. Sadly, our trip was quickly losing its magic.

Once on the ship we encountered crowded elevators and a mass of people making their way up to deck nine for the castaway party. Through all of the chaos a mother and her daughter caught my attention. They were positively glowing and I don’t know if I was attracted to them because of their fashionable nautical wardrobe or the fact that as mother and daughter they looked so happy to simply be together. I admired their special bound and hope my daughter and I have a relationship like theirs when she grows into a young adult.

We made our way up to deck nine with only minutes to spare before showtime. There were people everywhere and even more people looking down on us from deck ten! As we frantically looked for a place to stand, a Disney cast member took down the rope blocking a gazebo and ushered us inside, giving us the perfect spot to see the show! My daughter shimmered with excitement as Mickey Mouse and friends filled the stage with animated enthusiasm. We danced along to the spirited party music and Chip the Chipmunk captured her heart by blowing a kiss her way!

After the characters and dancers left the stage I turned around. To my surprise, there was the mother/daughter pair who had caught my eye outside the elevators on our frenzied dash to the show! I continued to feel drawn to them and wrangled between approaching them and keeping to myself. Although I questioned my decision, something inside of me pushed away any decisiveness and I made my way over to them. I quickly explained that I usually don’t approach random strangers but wanted to complement them on their stylish cruise attire. They in turn complemented my family and I on our matching cruise t-shirts, adding that they enjoyed watching my little princess dance. I told them we were on the cruise to celebrate my parents’ 49th wedding anniversary (visiting our 49th state for 49 years of marriage.) Through teary eyes they told me they were cruising together in memory of their beloved husband/father who passed on a year ago after a tremendous fight with cancer. I am not an overly emotional person but tears welled in my eyes as I immediately embraced them and said, “Your husband/father is here on the cruise with you. I don’t know how to explain it but I just feel his presence.” I assured them I wasn’t claiming to be a medium or a psychic or anything like that. It was just something I felt that I couldn’t completely articulate.

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Tracee and Brooklyn pose for a picture with me and my mini me!
We continued our conversation and I discovered twenty-year old Brooklyn, wise beyond her hers, was an only child and a college student interested in pursing the health profession. Tracee (with two Es) was a proud Momma who beamed with pride when she described the dedicated care Brooklyn showed her father during his heart wrenching struggle.

After meeting Tracee and Brooklyn I completely changed my attitude about the trip. I no longer worried about everything going smoothly. Suddenly my daughter’s toddler meltdowns and the fact that we wouldn’t be able to do and see everything seemed insignificant. (our big dog sledding on a glacier experience was cancelled due to weather) Instead, my focus shifted to spending quality time together (with the added bonus of having the majestic views of Alaska as our backdrop). As Carly, our delightful cruise director stated, “Now is the time to disconnect with the outside world and reconnect with your family.” So that is exactly what I did and I will never forget the memory of seeing my brave little girl grin from ear to ear as she danced with Minnie Mouse or the quality time my dad and I spent sipping hot cocoa on our private verandah after the rest of our family went to bed. As we passed seals riding on ice bergs, viewed amazing waterfalls flowing down mountainsides and stood in awe gazing at the Mendenhall Glacier, we were creating magical memories. Delightful memories that I will no longer take for granted. 1572-12152152-Tracy Arm-26947_GPR.jpg

Although I saw Tracee and Brooklyn several times throughout our Alaskan adventure we never exchanged email addresses and I left the ship knowing I would never see them again. However, I will never forget them and will treasure the moment we shared and the lessons they taught me on that wonderous day. They reminded me to focus on the little miracles in life. As I further reflect on my encounter with Tracee and Brooklyn I realize the Holy Spririt was at work in me that day. God used me to speak to Tracee and Brooklyn and I was open to listening to Him. I am reminded that God is always with us and He can speak to us at anytime, even on a crowded cruise ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!

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Stickers, Stickers, Everywhere!

When I was in the 5th grade I had a beloved sticker collection. Each newly acquired sticker was kept in tact and pristinely placed into a giant photo album where it was safely kept under the shiny plastic to be admired over and over again. I never used any of my stickers (like actually stuck them on anything) and the bigger, puffier and shinier the sticker; the more it was valued. Unicorns and rainbows were hot commodities along with the amazing sheets of scratch and sniff stickers found at the local teacher aid store. Gift shops and drug stores would sell individual designer stickers by Lisa Frank, Suzy’s Zoo (my favorite) and Sandra Boyton. I would save my money so I could buy these special stickers for my collection. It was a big event to go to the mall to buy new stickers. What a thrill to tear the newly found sticker off of the roll and then find the perfect spot for it in my book! 

Designer stickers from the 1980s.
Pictures of my sticker collection.
Other coveted stickers in my collection included Garfield, Pac Man and Snoopy. My friends and I would trade stickers on the playground during recess and get together to admire our collections after school. I belonged to the Lisa Frank fan club where I was matched with a sticker pen pal. We wrote letters to each other and even traded stickers through the mail! I was the shining example of a ten-year old sticker addict! 

Fast forward thirty-five years and I am a forty something with a two-year old little girl who is obsessed with stickers! But unlike her mommy, Lillian gets a thrill from eagerly ripping the stickers off of the sheet and sticking them onto everything! Every time I see her do this my ten-year old self (who never dared to use any of  her stickers) cries out with a silent Aggghhh!!!  She puts stickers on her clothes, on her beloved stuffed Sweetie Pie, and all over her toys.  So there are stickers everywhere! Stickers are stuck to our hardwood floors, in the carpet and one night I even found a sticker in my hair! 

Lillian likes to share her stickers with the people she loves; never expecting anything in return. Visitors leave our house adorned with stickers. I have shown up to multiple rehearsals with a sticker clad shirt and daddy went to work one day only to discover at lunch that he had spent the entire morning sporting a Minnie Mouse sticker on his tie! 

And she doesn’t discriminate when it comes to stickers. As long as they are sticky she is in love! In fact anything adhesive is viewed as a sticker. Last week we went to our local post office to mail a package. While there I picked up a sheet of stamps. Not even thinking I let Lillian pick them out. She got the biggest grin on her face when the nice lady behind the counter handed her a new sheet of “stickers.” She began to rip the expensive stickers off of the sheet while I frantically explained these were special stickers, called stamps, that are used to mail things to people. To my relief, she willingly traded her new sheet of “stickers” for some Goldfish crackers and I celebrated the fact that I successfully prevented a $9.80 mistake from happening!

Lillian loves stickers!

A huge smile appears on her face when the cashier at Target, or one of the grocery stores we frequent, gives her a sticker as we pass through the check out. The little girl in me gets excited when we go to Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s has the best stickers! They give each tiny shopper an entire roll of stickers and the stickers are often seasonal and witty, so there is something to be enjoyed on multiple levels. For Thanksgiving they gave out scratch and sniff stickers (for free) and the little 80’s girl who used to save her money to buy stickers could barely contain her excitement! Back in the day the stickers Trader Joe’s gives out would have been a coveted addition to my growing sticker collection! 
The fun stickers from Trader Joe’s!
My old sticker collection is a childhood treasure I am excited to pass down to Lillian. I plan to wait a few years before I give her my cherished possession. Although I would enjoy seeing the excitement on her sweet little face, I would find absolutely no joy in peeling my beloved collection off of our hardwood floors! 

Negotiating the Terrible Twos

Life with a two year old is truly unpredictable. I never know what the day has in store for us! Will my little one wake up and willingly get ready for the day ahead or will she delay the start by challenging every aspect of our morning routine? I have to be prepared for either because I never know which little girl will greet me each day. Will she be a Beauty or The Beast?

I often feel like I am negotiating every aspect of the day. “Would you like to wear the Minnie Mouse shirt or the shirt with the pup on it… would you like apples or yogurt for snack… do you want to drink out of your St. Louis Cardinal cup or your Kentucky Wildcat cup?” I wish it was always that easy, giving the little princess two choices and she picks one and we happily move along. Sometimes she doesn’t like either choice of clothing and she will run around the house in her diaper. I try to negotaiate and plead with her to get dressed until I become frustrated and both of us end up in tears as we find we are once again late for our appointment. I will never judge a parent whose child is seen in public wearing snow boots in May or a pajama top with her leggings or mix matched clothes of any kind. Some days the victory comes in getting the child clothed! Once she requested toast with butter and cinnamon sugar for snack. This request was easy to fulfill and I even had her help me spread the butter and sprinkle the cinnamon. But then I cut the toast into strips instead of little squares and she refused to eat; throwing the bowl of sweet crispness on the floor. I will never scorn a parent who gives her child a Pop Tart for breakfast because sometimes getting the little person to eat anything is a true accomplishment! And one day sweet Lillian requested to drink milk from a cup that was in the dishwasher, ready to be cleaned, and when I tried to explain this she threw a tantrum because that was the only cup she wanted to drink from that day! 

Although I have read the worst thing to do is to give in to her demands, out of pure desperation I have resorted to negotiation and pure bribery. The incident occurred in the garage on a sunny Tuesday morning in May. Feeling accomplished after passing the first hurdle of getting her dressed, she suddenly stalled when we got to the car by refusing to get buckled into her car seat. She arched her back, kicked her legs and cried, “No Mommy, no!” Blood curdling screams accompanied by crocodile tears rang out of our garage. I’m surprised the lady taking a lesurly morning walk nearby didn’t call the police out of fear. I tried everything, “We can go to the park if you let mommy buckle you in… Girls who get buckled in their seats get a new Minnie Mouse toy.. Please sweet Jesus help me get this little person into the car seat! And after all of the drama and the sweat and the tears (from both of us) we never ended up leaving the house that day. 


I know this is “just a phase” and that at two years of age children are testing their independence and navigating all of life’s demands. When I mentioned these episodes  to the “library girls” I was comforted to know they were experiencing the same behaviors with their little ones. I read a few articles online and my “mommy mentor” gave me some helpful advice. Her best suggestion, “Did you try turning her car seat around to forward facing from rear facing?” When Lillian was told she was going to ride in the car like a “big girl” I am happy to report there hasn’t been another car seat fiasco!

We had two rough weeks where she challenged everything but then my little Beauty started to show her sweet face once again. She still experiences tantrums now and then but I am better prepared for them. Although her tantrums are as unpredictable as a summer storm and often reach a grand crescendo; they are short bursts that swell in sound and after ringing loudly, slowly return to a normal volume. One day our house will be filled with silence and I know I will yearn for her musical performances, the ones that frustrated me and grated on my last nerve but until then I have invested in a set of high quality earplugs! Several people have told me that once you master one stage in your child’s growth and development they move on to the next. I am preparing myself because I have already been warned about the “threeanger” and their unpredictable personalities!

Grandma Gerry

During my first two years of college I worked for the YMCA as a before and after school childcare worker. I was assigned to be Geraldine Zollner’s assistant at Washington School. At the time Washington School was a kindergarten center. I dreamed of being a kindergarten teacher when I grew up so it was the perfect placement. 

Little did I know what a positive impact Gerry Zollner would have on my life. Through her youngest daughter I was recently reminded how much Gerry enjoyed working with me. I began working with Gerry the same month her youngest child left for college. Although I could never replace Kristie, for two years I was a surrogate daughter helping Gerry acclimate to having an empty nest after successfully raising seven children. We saw each other every weekday morning at 7 am sharp and again each afternoon from the time the school bell rang until the last parent picked up their little one at 6 pm. Gerry was there for me as I navigated my first years of college and supported me as I juggled my studies with a part time job.  

Although she never knew it I often referred to Gerry as “Grandma Gerry.” It was the perfect name because she was a mother to seven children, a grandmother to fourteen and a great grandmother to two. And over the years she was a grandma to all of the children under her care at Washington School. She banadaged their scraped knees, gave reassuring hugs and comforted little ones who missed their mommies. I remember the words of motivation she shared with me before I headed off to take an exam or give an important presentation. Grandma Gerry was filled with smiles most of the time but she did have “the look.” And everyone knew when she gave you “the look” you needed to shape up or you were going to be in trouble. 

Grandma Gerry always had a stash of saltine and graham crackers that she handed out to ease tummy aches and tears. Our “latchkey kiddos” occasionally felt anxious when their parents were late picking them up but with love and compassion and a few crackers, Grandma Gerry successfully turned frowns into smiles. I was a happy recipient of her crackers and caring on several occasions. 

I will never forget the extra time and effort Gerry put into her job, especially during the Christmas season. The first year we worked together she helped the kids make a gingerbread schoolhouse that she entered in Belleville’s famed gingerbread contest. After weeks of constructing and decorating our masterpiece, we were thrilled to win a ribbon! At the time the YMCA sponsored an annual YMCA Latchkey Christmas Program where the children and their caregivers prepared songs to sing on stage. The first year I helped the kids learn the song “We Are Santa’s Elves” and the second year we performed “Suzy Snowflake.” Gerry went the extra mile and supervised the construction of sets and costumes for both performances, spending hours outside of work to make sure everything was perfect. 

Sometimes people come into your life for a short time leaving you with lessons that will stay with you for a lifetime. Grandma Gerry taught me that it’s the little things that we do for each other that really make an impact. That extra hug, a reassuring smile or a package of saltine crackers shows others that someone cares. 

Although Gerry and I hadn’t seen each other for close to twenty years we continued to exchange Christmas cards and recently found each other on Facebook. I wish this story ended with a happy “face to face” reunion as Grandma Gerry expressed interest in meeting my little Lillian Clare.  Sadly, Grandma Gerry passed on last week and the reunion never happened. I find comfort knowing there is another beautiful angel in heaven watching over all of us and I will never forget Grandma Gerry and her devotion to her job, her love of children and her special stash of saltine crackers.

The Pacifier 

I never wanted my daughter to have a pacifier. After my daughter’s birth I specifically told the nurses I didn’t want my baby to have a pacifier, so they honored my wish and put a card in her bassinet that said NO PACIFIER. Everything was going as planned until she came back from a visit to the nursery with a bright green pacifier in her cute little mouth!

IMG_2189It would have been easy to mention something to the nurses and to stick to my original “no pacifier plan” but my daughter was born with something to say. She has no volume control and when she cries everyone hears her! In fact, I bet everyone in the entire hospital heard her cries! When her pediatrician, Dr. Hartman, examined her at a mere day old, she couldn’t hear her heartbeat because her crying was so loud. Dr. Hartman asked, “Do you have a pacifier for her?” The doctor continued, “She sure has a healthy set of lungs!” I’m thinking she may be a future opera singer or a Broadway Baby who can belt out a tune without a microphone. Or maybe she’ll be a cheerleader who can easily be heard by the fans in the stands. So against my original plan, my baby left the hospital addicted to her paci. The brand they use at the hospital are called Soothies. Probably a marketing ploy to make parents feel better about giving their little ones a pacifier. And that is the brand she has preferred from newborn to infant and into toddler-hood.

I have to admit the paci was a lifesaver during those first months. Like it’s name implies, it soothed my little girl while she slept and was irreplaceable when we sleep trained her at a year old. Lillian became obsessed with her pacifier. She never left home without it and always had it in her mouth when she went to bed. It soothed her during stressful situations like long road trips, airline flights and meeting new people. It brought security when she met her idol, Mickey Mouse and comforted her when she was separated from mommy. I even recall her saying on several occasions, “I love my paci!” I knew weening her off of her beloved paci would be a challenging task.

Lillian with her pacifier at Disneyland.

After our trip to Disneyland, where she relied on her paci more than I would have preferred, I decided to begin the weening process. Since Lillian is an auditory learner who comprehends everything she hears, I began to talk about a “paci free world.” She had a tendency to bite through her pacifiers so I told her when this happened she would have to throw the paci away. She would walk around the house saying, “Mamma throw my paci away.” She had two pink pacifiers left and then she bit through one and to my surprise willingly threw that one away. I also began talking about replacing the pacifier with a tank full of goldfish. She loves the small aquarium at the library so I was hoping the thought of having a tank of her own would be the motivation she needed to let go of the last paci. So for weeks I talked about this proposition. I could tell she was processing the scenario because on several occasions Lillian inquired, “I would still have my Sweetie Pie and blanket?”
Sometimes things happen when you least expect them. After a fun filled day exploring Purina Farms, my family and I returned to the car to find that Lillian’s last pacifier was missing. In a panic I searched the car high and low and was unable to locate it. So my dad said, “The pups at Purina Farms must have taken your paci.” Lillian was distraught and clearly missed her paci but since it was really lost there was nothing that could be done. She had a difficult time falling asleep that first night but since she still had her Sweetie Pie and her blanket she successfully soothed herself to sleep. So just like that she was weened. With her wild imagination and problem solving skills she comments regularly, “Sweetie Pie will fly and get my paci.” But as each day passes she mentions it less and less. 

Carefully selecting fish after giving up her pacifier.

I am proud of my little girl and never imagined that entering a “no paci world” would go so smoothly. Now it is time to tackle another toddler right of passage, potty training. 

The Sweetest Surprise 

My daughter has a stuffed Beanie Baby pup named Sweetie Pie. Although she has a menagerie of stuffed friends, since receiving Sweetie Pie the two are inseparable. Lillian mothers Sweetie Pie by pretending to feed and bath her and always makes sure her beloved pup has plenty of toys to play with. Lillian sleeps with Sweetie Pie and she never leaves home without her. Sweetie Pie traveled to California and Kentucky with us and even rode on a few rides at Disneyland!

A few weeks ago, during a normal shopping trip to Sam’s Club, my daughter decided to bring Sweetie Pie into the store instead of leaving her in the car like usual. While walking past the bakery, my daughter asked, “Where is Sweetie Pie?” I looked in the cart but she wasn’t there. We retraced our steps but were unable to find the missing dog! My daughter’s face turned from optimism to sheer worry. Knowing how my daughter adores her stuffed toy I said an extra prayer as we made our way to the customer service counter to see if someone had found Sweetie Pie and turned her in. Unfortunately no one had and the look of disappointment on my daughter’s face will forever be etched in my mind.

I told my daughter I would call the store later in the day to see if Sweetie Pie had been found. At the same time I prepared her for the possibility that Sweetie Pie was gone and wasn’t coming back. On the verge of tears, we loaded up the car and headed for home. Although only two, my daughter absorbs everything she hears. During our drive home she was unusually quiet. When I peeked at her through the rear view mirror she appeared to be in deep thought, contemplating my every word. The silence was broken when my backseat passenger declared “I have another pup at home, “Jingle Pup.”

She tried to carry on with her day but like anyone who has lost something they cherish and love; it was clear Sweetie Pie was on her mind. Every so often she would say, “Where is Sweetie Pie’s house?” or accidentally call out “Sweetie Pie” when she meant to say “Jingle Pup.” I was proud of my little girl for making the best out of a disappointing situation. 

Another call to Sam’s Club ended with the reality that Sweetie Pie was lost, lost forever. Lillian appeared to be moving on but for some reason I felt unsettled. Was I missing Sweetie Pie more than she was? Maybe my motherly instinct had kicked in and I simply wanted to “fix” the lost dog scenario for my baby girl.? 

Since there are more than 2,000 different kinds of Ty Beanie Babies in the world finding another Sweetie Pie would be a challenge. Then I remembered my friend Shirley Hogan. Shirley is a retired general music teacher who used to play clarinet with me in the Northwinds Concert Band. During a recent visit to Ms. Shirley’s house, we discovered she had a collection of Beanie Babies that she used in her music classroom. The students loved discovering the Beanie Babies’ birth dates, often finding one that matched their special day. Each stuffed animal comes with a poem that Ms. Shirley creatively turned into a song that her students enjoyed singing. I debated about making the call to Ms. Shirley because I don’t want Lillian to grow up thinking that mommy and daddy can fix every lemon that life throws her way. We won’t be able to make everything right no matter how hard we try. My determination and problem solving won out and  I made the call.

A few hours later the doorbell rang. We were surprised to find Ms. Shirley at our door! She was carefully carrying a red paper bag and after inviting her inside she gave Miss Lillian the mystery package to open. Lillian’s face lit up and a huge smile emerged on her little round face when she discovered her beloved Sweetie Pie inside. She took the stuffed dog in her arms and gently pressed it to her face in a loving embrace! Thanks to Ms. Shirley and her remarkable act of kindness, girl and pup have been happily reunited. It was the sweetest gift our Miss Lillian has ever received. 

Lillian discovers Sweetie Pie!
Mommy, Lillian, Sweetie Pie and Ms. Shirley

Life has returned to normal in the Talley household. Being careful not to cause any hard feelings, Lillian gave Jingle Pup to her daddy and Sweetie Pie has gone back to being her favorite lovie. Sweetie Pie still goes everywhere with us but Lillian always makes sure Sweetie Pie stays in the car. It looks like my little toddler learned a few lessons after all. 

The Happiest Place

When I accepted an assignment to train teachers in California I got the brilliant idea of taking little Lillian with me. So I invitied my parents to tag along. My husband even flew in for a few days. 

Since our little Lillian is obsessed with all things Minnie Mouse we decided to extend our California trip with a two day visit to Disneyland.


During our California adventure we were in constant communication with Ken’s parents regarding the condition of Grandma Talley. Her health was deteriating after a debilitating bout of pneumonia. Early in the morning, hours before our first day at Disneyland, we got a call that Grandma Talley had passed on. Although we were filled with sadness, we also gave thanks for her 97 years of life. She experienced a lot in her 97 years, including multiple visits to various theme parks. One of my favorite photos of her was taken at Six-Flags Over Mid America when she was in St. Louis visiting my husband and his family. The fun filled memories of a day of pure joy were clearly captured in the photos shared with me years later. 

Grandma Talley with her husband Fraudie riding the carousel at Six Flags.
Grandma Talley riding a roller coaster at Six Flags with her grandchildren.

So my husband and I began our Disneyland trip attempting to capture some of the joy we remember from our childhoods. But I would be lying if I said our entire trip was magical. It wasn’t. There was no magic in changing diapers in a warm, crowded bathroom. And there was a little less magic as the day wore on and we became tired and overheated, our feet aching from walking from one side of the park to the other. But weeks later as I reflect on our trip I barely remember any of the unpleasantries. For the good times overshadow any of the inconviences we experienced. Instead, we are left with happy memories of an excited two year old meeting Mickey Mouse for the very first time. And we are reminded of the bright eyed toddler who was mesmerized by thousands of glowing lights in the electrical light parade. We remember how exciting it was for Nana to ride Dumbo with her daughter and her granddaughter, bringing back memories of when she rode on Dumbo with her own mother a few years after Disneyland opened. Our memories are filled with the face of a little girl smiling from ear to ear as she twirled with her Pops on the tea cups and squealed with delight as she rode the carousel with her Daddy. Our little princess had so much fun she didn’t want the magic to end. After riding on the carousel she held up one finger and asked her Daddy in the sweetest voice, “One more time.”

Lillian meets Mickey Mouse at Disneyland.
A day after we came home from Disneyland we packed the mini van and traveled to Magnolia, Kentucky for Grandma Talley’s funeral. As we drove, my husband and I reflected on all of the wonderful memories we had with grandma. We reminisced the entire drive and my husband shared wonderful stories of summers spent on the farm. I had more recent memories of Grandma Talley smiling at our little Lillian, her namesake, for the first time. We both commented on how weird it felt being in Disneyland and then just days later traveling to Kentucky to say goodbye to Grandma Talley. Although we all secretly wished we could be with Grandma Talley “One more time,”we gave thanks for her blessed life and the time we had together. 

My family and I may have spent two days at the happiest place on Earth but Grandma Talley is now in an even happier place. A place that is better than a million Disneylands put together! A place where there is no pain, no suffering and no hurt. She is in heaven where she was reunited with family and friends. While we spent two days at Disneyland, the happiest place on Earth, I feel comforted to know that grandma will have eternal happiness with her Lord and Savior in heaven.