Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Over the summer I was reading a book that contained a single line from a poem, and I found the line so compelling that I researched the poem and found it in its entirety. During the week of Thanksgiving, the poem resonates particularly beautifully. You know, this world isn't easy, and it seems altogether frightening that we can look around and see others not faring as well as we would like. It is a reminder to me, as it should be, that the life I have been given is precious and beautiful; it deserves my thankfulness each day, which I often forget to offer. Invariably I will look back upon the days of my life in wistfulness and know how good I have had it: that I have had the love of two parents, a brother, and a sister who have always cared so deeply about me; that I have met a man who is my partner in all things, and makes me feel happy and secure every day; that I have been given the precious opportunity to give life to little boys, who have blessed me with a purpose that I could have never comprehended before their arrivals; that I have in-laws who have embraced me as an extension of my husband and treated me as one of their own; that I have the support, love, and laughter of many great friends; that I have a body that functions as it is supposed to; and that my family and I have the means to obtain not only what we need, but also so much of what we desire. May I always remember to be thankful along the way, and not wait until the end to look back at how beautiful life really is.

The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA
Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Getting Things Done

Well, we wanted a third child, and it turns out that he will be making his grand arrival right smack-dab in the middle of the holiday season. This isn't a complaint, because I simply love the idea of having a Christmas baby (just wait till you see the newborn pics I have planned!). But, I must admit that the idea of a Christmas-time baby loses its appeal if we're talking about my normal fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants holiday schedule with the added chaos of a newborn baby, a hospital stay, a recovery after pushing a child out my body, and a strain on the sleep schedule. Seeing as how the last four items on this checklist are unavoidable, I figured I may as well fix the first. My solution for this was to adjust my typical approach to the holiday season and just get things done early.

I'm happy to report that our family holiday photo shoot was completed in October, the Christmas cards were ordered, and they are waiting in a ready state to be sent out.

My Christmas shopping is 90% (at least!) done, and boxes are arriving every day holding gifts for our loved ones. The boys love ripping into them to see what we bought everyone. Gift tags are ordered and waiting for presents to be wrapped, outdoor Christmas lights are up, newborn clothes have been brought down from the attic and been sorted and washed, bumpers have been taken off the crib, flu shots and DTAP boosters have been received, breast pump tubes have been replaced with new ones, and an eye appointment has been made so that I can order some new glasses for all of those middle-of-the-night awakenings (my old pair is ten-plus years old).

Van's waiting dresser

To add to the glory of our preparation, this guy is now potty-trained, averaging less than one accident per day. 
Pee-pee accidents are once a week or less (including waking up dry on overnights and naps!), and shoo-shoos are still hit-or-miss, but I can't complain. Plus, he has transitioned well to public potties. Only a parent could be so proud! 

Things we still have to do, which I am listing more for my benefit than for yours: bring the car seat down and get it washed up, pack a hospital bag--although the packing list is already devised, move the crib mattress up and get sheets on it, and wash a few other necessary items such as Moses basket sheets and the covers for the baby recliner and swing. I should probably organize a few frozen meals, and then I can finally get to focusing on the order of the house. Although it isn't filthy around here, things have gotten cluttered as I have slowed down and put more energy into knocking out the Christmas stuff rather than keeping things tidy. Eh, we all have to let some things go. 

My ultimate goal for the last half of the Christmas season is to spend my time with my four--count 'em, FOUR--guys enjoying the holiday season as a family. I want to be mostly at home drinking hot beverages, watching Christmas shows (and football), baking, and snuggling, all with the occasional jaunt out for Christmas-light looking and time spent with extended family and friends. I want visitors to know that they will be welcomed, and I want us all to bask in the beauty of the lights of our awesome Christmas tree. I know this is a lot for a girl to ask for, but for my part I've been working hard to make what is under my control successful. An update on the pregnancy, for those interested in the details: I'm 36-1/2 weeks, and the doctor thinks Van will be here in under two weeks. At my appointment on Monday I was dilated to a 2 and was 70% effaced. I think it will be closer to three weeks myself, but will be shocked if baby Van has not arrived by December 9th. To all my friends and readers, enjoy this last week before Thanksgiving! Embrace your loved ones and, at the risk of sounding like Ana Gasteyer's impression of Martha Stewart (topless, at that!), enjoy your upcoming holiday season. "I really treasure it." 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Picture-Perfect Love

In a previous post about how I stumbled into motherhood after reading an unexpectedly inspiring novel, I mentioned that I was in the process of gathering a collection of pictures of mothers with their children. The project is finally finished! All but one of these mothers are friends of mine, and I chose each picture because at the time that I first saw it I felt a lump of love rise in my throat. In each of the images, the love from mother to child is so obvious. In some photos, the emotion is awe; in some it is peace, and in some it is pure joy. In some of the photos, mothers and/or babies are now in Heaven, but the beauty of the love lives on in the pictures. I have had so much fun collecting these photos, and I want to thank each mommy for being such an amazing person and also for giving me permission to share these images in my blog. This project, I must say, really ramped up in its intensity after my friend Holly Hooper-Stover (whose talent I have previously extolled in this post) snapped a photo of my boys and me a few weeks ago that instantly became my favorite image of myself as a mother, surrounded by my three boys (one in utero, in case you're confused when counting). Holly, I will always treasure this picture. Thank you. Readers, please enjoy!

George (left), Silas (right), Van Owen, and me

 Heidi and Wes
(FYI: I previously claimed in this post about self-image that Heidi is the most beautiful person I have ever seen and that Angelina Jolie has nothing on her. Wouldn't you agree?)

Sommer and our hero Owen

Megan and Case, who both lost their lives in the tornado of May 20, 2013. The peace and love on her face is rivaled only by that on his. This picture still makes me cry.

Kristen and precious Aiden

Angie meeting Jelina, her "sweet petite," for the first time

 Tabitha in her usual outdoorsy-exploratory-mode with boys Caedmon and Noah

 Lindsey and Jameson--pure love. =)

Heidi and Max- a joyous moment!

Chanda meeting her daughter Dacie

Laurie in action with son Miles, dressed as a lamb for Halloween. I don't consider my friend Laurie to be much of an emotionally-mushy person, and I believe that this picture perfectly illustrates her motherly love in action.
Melissa snuggling with baby Ruby

Mandy hugging her son Will. Her smile is among the loveliest I have ever encountered in person.

Cyndi and her long-awaited beauty Sera

 Even though there is background chaos in this picture, I love this one of my mom and me at my doctoral graduation. Isn't my mom (pictured right) so beautiful? If ever I doubted her pride in me, I need only to look at this picture. The love in her eyes is evident. Many of us learn to be great moms because we ourselves were nurtured by terrific moms; my mom has been my shining example.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Little Owen: Flying High

 I sometimes look at this photo in wonder. Here, my best friend Sommer is 32 weeks pregnant with Owen (which is a wonder in and of itself given that she is about the same size that I typically am when I'm eight weeks pregnant). We were enjoying a long visit out to Massachusetts and Maine in the summer of 2011, and times never seemed happier. Ellie and Silas had just turned a year old, Som was expecting Owen, and I was ten weeks pregnant with George. I marvel with a sad heart at what shortly awaited us all. When I think of Owen's life as a whole, I sometimes find myself coming back to Adele's line from "Someone Like You," in which she writes, "Who would have known how bittersweet this would taste?" We never saw it coming. How could we have?--and yet, I feel foolish for never having seen it coming.

Nearly two years after Sommer and Pete received the devastating news of Owen's terminal brain disease, our little guy earned his angel wings last Wednesday morning. I had traveled to Massachusetts and was present for his passing, which was peaceful in the very end but difficult in the days and hours leading up to it. Owen entered Heaven a week ago, and I apologize for not providing the update on this blog more quickly. I know that many of my friends here ask about Owen and were emotionally invested in his life. Until today, however, my ability to put two intelligible words about Owen together on paper was a ridiculous expectation. The week spent in Massachusetts, as well as the past week spent recovering from his loss, has been very intense and at times I have been wholly consumed with either caring for Owen, supporting my closest friends, and then returning home to my own family and figuring out how to continue on with life.

My time in Massachusetts was, as I previously said, intense. In many ways it was the worst of times, but also at the same time it was a week of extremely deep fulfillment and bonding; when looked at from the latter perspective, my time spent in Amesbury with my friends wasn't all bad. I got to meet new people that I never would have encountered, and as we all shared a common goal of serving Owen and making him comfortable, I believe we forged some emotional bonds that may never be broken. I will never forget nurses like Robin, Bronwyn, and Amanda, and I will always be glad for my strengthened friendships with Sommer, Pete, and Sommer's parents Marylou and Tony. Time with Ellie is always entertaining and lovely as well. We cried on each other's shoulders, soothed Owen through some rough times, and reminded each other that something better awaited this little boy who never knew life as you and I do. We stroked his head and told him that if he would just let go, he could run and play in the leaves like little boys should. He could taste pizza for the first time, eat ice cream to his heart's content, and be free of physical ailments. Finally, he listened to us, decided he was ready, and entered the next realm. As Marylou has pointed out, in some ways death doesn't seem so forbidding for us anymore knowing that our O-Ster is waiting on the other side. That little boy, his parents, and his sister have endured hardships that no one should have to face, and I hope and pray for better times ahead for all four of them.

I saw a commercial the other day that immediately brought Owen to mind for me. If you'd like, please take the one minute to watch it. The beautiful message speaks to me about how choosing to love is a risk, but nearly all of us choose to take that risk because of the promised reward that comes with loving another person. Just because we love and lose doesn't mean that we stop loving, and I think that Owen has been a beautiful example of love that goes on and on, even after his presence is no longer here. His memorial service was estimated to include 500 people present, and that doesn't even count people who attended in spirit but could not be physically present. Owen has changed us for the better, and unlike with most of us, his angel wings were completely deserved.

I will love and miss Owen forever. I will always remember the red of his hair, the blue of his eyes, the sweet smell of his head in the final week I knew him, and those final hours of peace before he took his leave for a better place. I will always be fulfilled by the last time I got to hold him so tightly to my chest, with the full knowledge that he was in a better place, and his sweet head tucked tightly under my chin and his little bottom just resting on my own baby in my belly, a baby to be named after him. To an ornery turkey and beautiful, crafty soul: we're sorry it wasn't better for you here, but we can't wait to know you eternally in a place so much better than this life.  I will always love these pictures of you:

 For those of you interested, Sommer's blog can be found here.  She has an obituary in her most recent post with information about Owen and where to send donations, if you feel so inclined.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever

I know that everyone seems to claim this, but I truly have found the recipe for the very best chocolate chip cookies in the world. I have not invented this recipe myself, although I have tweaked it as needed for our family and even created a dairy-free version that kicked every craving I ever had. Just look and see:

These cookies are giant in size, but they don't overbake because they are scooped on to parchment paper and baked at only 325 degrees. Allow me to share the recipe, originated by America's Test Kitchen, and the changes that I have made to "Big and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies!"

Listed to make about 20 cookies (my output is usually about 16, but I also usually eat some batter)
Listed prep time: 5 minutes. (It's easy but not THAT easy. Prep time for me is usually about 10 minutes.)

3-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (I always use kosher)
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted ****
1-1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 (additional) large egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (I have always omitted this because I'm allergic to vanilla.)
12-ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips ****

****For a dairy-free version of this recipe, omit the butter and use butter-flavored Crisco instead. Butter-flavored Crisco actually is dairy-free. Also, make certain that you use GHIRADELLI Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips. They truly are dairy-free and are the only good dairy-free ones that I ever tasted.

1. Put your oven racks in upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together and set aside.

3. Beat the melted butter (or Crisco!) and both sugars in a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed until combined, one or two minutes. Then add in the eggs, additional egg yolks, and vanilla if you're using it and beat for about 30 more seconds. Scrape down the bowl if needed.

4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly mix in the flour/baking soda/salt mixture about 30 seconds. To add the chocolate chips, I always disengage the bowl from the mixer and hand-stir them in. Remember, Ghiradelli semi-sweet!

5. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and use a 1/4-cup scoop (seriously, buy one--they make it so easy), or otherwise put in 1/4-cup size balls, onto the sheets. Only put six cookies on a sheet because they really are big! Bake until the edges are golden but centers are soft and puffy, which for me is 17-18 minutes. Halfway through baking time, switch and rotate the pans.

6. Let the cookies cool on their sheets for ten minutes, and then transfer them to a wire rack like the one pictured above to keep cooling. Or, just eat them. If you can eat more than one and a half at a time, I salute you and call you my sweet-toothed superior!

Enjoy, my friends! And please don't sue me, America's Test Kitchen.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


 Kids are fun every step of the way, but once they get to talking and you can hear the articulation of the thoughts inside their little heads, it seems to reach a whole new level of hilarity. We are learning that we reap what we have sown with Silas; the words and phrases that we often use get thrown back in our faces, and I love it. For instance, I jokingly call family members and friends "you fool" when they have done something silly. It sounds really awful and abusive when I type it, but I say it for instance when BJ tickles me or my dad makes a hilarious joke, and I say, "Oh stop it, you fool" while laughing. (Heidi W., this is not to be confused with times when I am seriously angry during a doubles tennis match and bellow out to my inept partner, "BJ!!!! YOU FOOOOOOLLLLL!!!!") So, anyhow, back to Silas. The other day we were in the hotel and he was cuddled up under the covers in the king-sized bed watching PBS Kids. I grabbed his special blanket off the floor that he loves to sleep with (he calls all blankets "ninnies" by the way) and laid it across him. He looked up at me with an edgy smile and said, "I already have a ninny on, you fool!"

Later that same day, Silas and George were having a ball jumping on the hotel bed. Silas suddenly shouted out of the blue, "Georgie, you're freakin' me out!"

A few weeks ago he was on the potty and asked me if I needed to make a shoo-shoo too. I replied that I did not. He shrugged his shoulders and said nonchalantly, "Eh. That's okay. You don't have to. It doesn't really matter."

On Monday he came to me with a teary, woeful voice: "Mommy, I just stepped on a construction vehicle and it hurted my foot. You need to clean up some of these toys around here so I can walk." In fact, he seems to think of himself as somewhat of a rule-setter in the house, despite our better efforts. This morning he announced to BJ that they could leave for Grammy's house only after his Wild Kratt's episode was finished. BJ was amused and didn't quibble much because he knew the show would finish before it would be time to leave anyway. As the closing credits rolled, Silas turned from the TV and magnanimously announced, "Okay, my show is done. We can go to Grammy's house now!" 

Like any three-year-old, he's still learning correct placement and meaning of words. He calls necklaces "sweaters," says that he likes to "recognize" root beer, and loves to complete tasks "all by my own." He regularly walks outside and loudly proclaims, "It's such a lovely day!" He has started to make random statements to strangers ("Grammy buys EVERYTHING at garage sales!" and "I just earned dessert!" to unsuspecting passersby), and he is also beginning to quote the movies that he watches, generally without any understanding of what he is actually saying. For example, in "Stuart Little 2," Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie are turning out the light to go to bed, and Geena asks Hugh, "Did you have many crushes when you were younger?" And he replies to her sweetly, "I'm still having one." One night Silas and I were lying in his bed reading a book and he smiled at me so beautifully, got close to my face, put his hand on my cheek, and stated, "I'm still having one." He gave no context, but I knew exactly what he was referencing. =)

Oh, that silly kid. Pardon my stories; I have to record these things somewhere or I'll lose them in my black-hole of a brain. This blog has essentially become my baby book. Have a good day, friends!

He was pretending to be a falcon with a broken wing in this picture!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Cereal-Stealing, In Sequence

It's an established fact around our house that George will steal your food if you aren't guarding it adequately, and this is never truer than in the case of a bowl of cereal. He incessantly opens the pantry door and barks out "Gack!" (meaning "Snack!") and often it is cereal for which he has a hankering. I took the above picture in June. Below, please enjoy a sequence of George stealing my cereal today as I watched. He must have envisioned himself as being stealthy, despite my obvious spectator-ship and picture-taking. 

"I'm just going to sneak right on up here and see what's in this bowl. Oh yes! There are a few bites of Rice Krispies left, plus some sweet cereal milk!"


"What's that you say? No, I'm totally not caught in the act!"

"Wait a second! You set me up! And you have a camera!"

 "Oh wait, you have a camera... okay, here's my best schmoozy smile, mama!"

Friday, September 13, 2013

Ten Years In, We Know Our Priorities

Seriously, what is up with Cialis ads? The two-tub thing has always puzzled me! Why two tubs in an outdoor picturesque setting? How did the tubs get there? Why is sitting in a bath tub better than sitting in a nice adirondack chair next to your lover? And why the heck are there two tubs in the first place? This reminds me of old movies and TV shows where married couples slept in twin beds separated by a nightstand. I can honestly say that seeing these shows as a child was far more question-provoking for me than if the couple had just been sleeping in one big bed. How are these people supposed to accomplish the goal intended by Cialis when they aren't even in the same tub?

But that is neither here nor there.

The point of this post is that the other night BJ and I were watching the Dallas-New York Sunday Night Football game and a Cialis commercial came on that we couldn't help commenting on. Undoubtedly, these commercials raise eyebrows all over the countryside, but this one seemed particularly ridiculous. In the commercial, which sadly I cannot find online to link to for the life of me, a couple is sitting on a couch watching a football game (presumably it's a football game) and the couple begins cheering. The female in particular seems excited about the team's good play (which is consistent with our household since football is my baby), and as she is celebrating her husband STOPS WATCHING THE GAME (who in the hell does that??) and begins watching his wife with adoration. He clearly wants to make a move. Cut then to the Cialis "if you have any heart conditions blah blah blah" part and scene focuses on another couple. As it comes back to our favorite couple a second time, this time the lady has just brought out a tray of party snacks and game foods and sets it on the coffee table. Her partner looks delighted, as should any person who appreciates a good eat, and then she begins looking longingly at him and kisses him. Still in the middle of the game! WHO STOPS WATCHING THE GAME??

Ten years into marriage, this is how BJ and I respond after watching said commercial:

Me: (turning to BJ and pointing an accusing finger) Whenever we're sitting here watching an OSU football game on TV, don't even THINK about making a move on me. Especially during an important play.
BJ: (with the same accusing glance back) Yeah, and don't even think about putting moves on me if you've just brought me a tray of delicious dinner.

Yup, ten years into marriage, but we have our priorities straight!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Our Storm Shelter!

Purchasing a storm shelter has always been a point of debate between BJ and me. He knew when he married me that he was marrying a girl from Moore, and girls from Moore know all about tornadoes. I'm no stranger to hiding in closets and crowding into neighbors' cellars during tornado warnings, and this occurred throughout my life. Then when I was 18, a large part of the city was destroyed by an F5 (the first one) with 320mph wind speeds, and I was crowded into a cellar with 26 other people while it went a mile and a half north of us; we could hear it and feel it even from that distance though. So, all this to say, when BJ married me, he knew he was marrying a girl who needed a 'fraidy-hole in order to feel secure. Somehow we made it ten years without me forcing the issue enough to tip the scale for a purchase, although to BJ's credit, four of those years were spent in Minnesota where you really don't need a cellar (plus we had a basement) and another was spent in a rent house in Tulsa. We have now been homeowners in Moore for five years. In that five years' time, our metro has seen two tornadoes (one of them 500 feet just to our north) in which you can do everything you're supposed to be doing but still die if you're not below ground. People in their closets died. Mothers named Catherine Hamil and Laurinda Vargyas who were in their tubs laying on top of their children on May 24, 2011 and May 20, 2013, respectively, each had two of their children sucked out from under them and killed. I have no fear greater than this--that I won't be able to save my children from a tornado. For weeks after May 20th this year I had nonstop nightmares about tornadoes, nearly all of which centered around my kids. Knowing that these women did all the right things and still couldn't save their children led me to the undeniable realization that I had to have a place to go, HERE in our home.

On May 21st of this year, as we struggled with guards to try to get into our cordoned-off neighborhood, we walked through devastation like I've only seen in 1999 (and I'm talking both real and TV, although I should definitely include 9/11 as well). We made our way through twisted remnants of cars, snapped poles, tiny bits of debris, and God knows what else, and I remarked to BJ,
"You know what this means, don't you?"
I could have meant a million things by that, but of course he knew exactly what I was talking about.
"Yeah," he agreed reluctantly. "We're getting a storm shelter."
"Yes. Immediately." I replied.

So I got us on the list 12 days later, and today it was installed!

The guys from Smart Shelter said they would be here between 7:00 and 8:00AM, but they rang our doorbell ready to go at 6:40, as we were all still lying in bed. And then the fun began!

Digging the hole with Silas' favorite truck, an excavator!

There is our shelter before it's in the ground. Hard to believe that in an identical model in our next-door neighbors' garage, we were able to fit in eight adults, five children, and a collie on May 31st this year. It's amazing the size of hole you can squeeze into when you're scared for your life.

Watching the installation was the entertainment of our morning! We even ate our waffles and bananas outside on these chairs so that we could view the progress.

There goes the shelter into the hole!

Voila! The boys can't wait to get in it tonight and try it out.

We bought our shelter on sale and feel that we got a great deal! The guys worked hard and were out of here by 8:45 this morning. Thanks Smart Shelter! And thanks to BJ, for not giving me any kind of hard time about money that I believe is well-spent. He doesn't think we'll ever technically need the shelter, and hopefully he is right. But with the $2895 we just spent, he has bought his wife peace of mind forever. I will no longer fear tornado season because it can't hurt me or my family anymore.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Soul Searching

Several months ago, a friend of mine commented to me that he thinks I am one of the "most intense people" that he knows. My friend is always kind and gentle, and I think he meant this as a compliment; nonetheless, I was taken aback by his observation and felt mildly slapped in the face. Me, intense? I mentioned to BJ that my friend said this, and BJ basically immediately responded that he thinks my friend's observation is spot-on and he wholeheartedly agrees. My feelings were so hurt, but I wasn't sure why. I had never thought of myself as an intense or exhausting person, but if my partner in life, who knows me better than anyone and sees me everyday, could completely agree with this statement about me, then I knew it must be true. Self-examination was in order. I set out to explore examples of this "intensity," how it plays out in my life specifically, and why I reacted negatively to the comment.

My soul-searching intersected with Adele of course, as do many roads in my emotional and daily life. George is still obsessed with her voice and even her face, and my Adele Live DVD calms even his worst tantrums. The moment he sees her face, he goes into a trance like a man in love. It's hilarious, but that's not where I was actually going with this. We play a lot of Adele in the car since we are a family of Adele fans, and I began hearing with new ears the song "Don't You Remember." One line in particular states, "I know I have a fickle heart and a bitterness, and a wandering eye, and a heaviness in my head." That last part is what really stands out to me: a heaviness in my head. Since Adele is not actually a personal acquaintance of mine (shocking, I know), I have no access to pick her brain on what exactly she meant when she wrote this line. The line really resonates with me though because I see within me a personality characteristic of getting easily emotionally involved in circumstances, which oftentimes gets me in trouble. Most of the time I feel joy and utter contentment with my life, but there are times when things aren't going so well and I find myself consumed with grief---sometimes grief that doesn't even really feel like my own except that I have made it so. A heaviness in my head. BJ has been witness to this tendency in me since we first met, and over the years I have become wise to it as well. I find myself having to safeguard myself against it these days.

A perfect example of the heaviness in my head is the last nearly-two years of my life. Granted, during these two years I have been pregnant with two different babies and nursed one for a solid year. In short, my life hasn't been hormonally normal in four years. I'm about to give birth to my third child and my oldest one will still be only 3-1/2 years old when I do, so I'm no stranger to ups and downs these past few years. But that aside, I can see where my personal tendencies have not helped to buffer me against the downs in life that have occurred. The news of my best friend's baby Owen and his terminal brain disease rocked our world. BJ and I were visibly depressed for over a month, often tearful and despondent, but surely that is normal under the circumstances. Months went by, my own George was born, fatigue set in, and I found myself daily in tears while simultaneously feeling joyful and giddy about my own little family. As is usual, I talked with Sommer (Owen's mommy) every day, and I began feeling some relief as I knew that she was going to be okay. I found Adele's music during this time and I started listening to it almost every day and feeling relief as I did. Here, I thought, is a woman who also clearly feels heartache just like me, so I am understood by another. I could sing it out like she does, and I was learning that I was going to be alright. I wasn't quite emotionally back on my feet before my friend Laurie told me about her friend's son Aiden, who was tragically ill with whooping cough and was fighting an uphill battle. And here is where the heaviness in my head comes into play: I could have been there for Laurie but never allowed myself to get emotionally involved with Aiden. I didn't know Aiden or his family, and I didn't have to follow their "50 for Aiden" Facebook page with progress and updates, but I did. I chose to love a boy and fell in love deeply with him. He passed away three and a half weeks after I first learned of his situation, and my grief at his passing was every bit as deep as the grief of my grandparents' deaths---a child I had never met. I couldn't shake his loss, and a couple of close friends expressed their concern about my well-being in that first week, taking me under their wings, feeding me and my boys dinner because BJ was out of town, and just being there for me when I couldn't stop crying. I cried for almost a year. As I began pulling myself out of it and was finally feeling better, the May 20 tornado missed our house by 600 feet, devastated our community, killed more babies, and made fresh loss all around. This set me back a couple more months, but I can say today that the daily tears are gone and I am out of the tunnel.

Owen and Aiden will always be wholly entrenched in my soul because of the depth of their impacts on me as a person. The closure on my grief with Aiden comes because of several wonderful reasons: I have become friends with his mom Kristen, which was tangible reassurance for me that God works with peace in our lives. Secondly, my involvement with breast milk donation began because of Aiden, and that has become a passion of mine that has helped to benefit others and give me a purpose in Aiden's name. Also, I found and purchased a look-alike of Aiden's delicious little star blanket as a present from me to my next baby, little Van, so that Aiden can physically continue to be part of us and can help spread positive blessings to his little buddy Van. Having these positives in my life is inexpressibly important to me. Though these positives have come at the price of pain, I view it as a pain that has been well worth it because it has led to deeper, intense (there's that word again) relationships with others, the re-prioritizing of what is important in my life, a search into my own blessings, a proving of my own resilience, and a journey to the dark and back that has made me a more self-aware and loving person. I'm smart enough to realize that some of the grief I attributed to Aiden is really for Owen. Owen is still living, but the reality of what his life holds for him is painful to think about. He is a wonderful gift most especially to his family, but also to those of us who love him and want what is best for him. Van's middle name will be Owen, again a tangible connection to his buddy that illustrates that we are all in this together, just as with Aiden's blanket.

I do not intend for this to sound like a poor-me post. I am keenly aware that other people have suffered unimaginable losses in each of these circumstances, losses that far trump my own and produce grief beyond my capability of understanding. I have shared these stories as potential examples of the "intensity" that my friend mentioned---and my own characteristic of allowing my head to get 'heavy' during complex circumstances that are emotionally-charged but removed enough from me that I don't have to get involved. Sometimes I don't get involved. You know, hardhearted as it sounds, I barely looked at the news for a week when the Newtown school shooting happened in December because I knew for sure that I didn't have the emotional resources left to deal with anything like it. Numerous friends and family who knew my vulnerability at that time called me on that day to see how I was handling the news, and I had to admit to them that I had heard it happened but didn't want too many details because I just can't right now, I just can't. Thankfully, they seemed to understand. Perhaps that is proof of "intensity" in me...that a news story could potentially send someone over the edge and her friends know it and call her and check on her...even though she isn't remotely involved in the situation 2,000 miles away and has no greater claim to its grief than any other random Oklahoman who didn't know any of those people. It's also perhaps a testament to the awesomeness of my friends. =)

So after all of these months of soul-searching, do I agree that I am intense? Yes, I suppose so. Do I like it about myself? Yes. Yes, in fact, I do now. I think it helps me to organize my life with appropriate priorities and feel ups and downs that enrich me as a person and teach me new ways of being. I have to be careful though, I know, and keep myself from getting wrapped up in too much because I don't know how to get out of it once I'm in. As long as I know this about myself and can depend on my family and friends to keep an eye out for me, I can fuel intensity and make it a blessing rather than a curse. All of our personality characteristics reside on a continuum from good to bad; although growth is always a process, I encourage each of us to examine our own personal traits and use them for the mobilization of good in our lives. Enough about me though! Check out this picture of Owen, on the right in the green, at his second birthday party. He's so obviously surrounded by love, and I am so proud that he has reached his second birthday--previously thought to be unattainable. His stubbornness shows through every day. =)

 The black-eyed Susans that we planted last year in honor of Owen are thriving! A special flower for a special little guy!

Lovely Aiden

Thursday, August 29, 2013

New York, Neeew Yooooorrrrk!

A giant shout-out goes out to Grammy, Pop, Nana, and Papa, who graciously kept our children from early Friday morning to Monday evening so that BJ and I could celebrate our ten-year anniversary on a child-free vacation to New York City! Although I missed my kiddos every bit as much as I thought I would, I felt myself able to kick back and enjoy quite a bit more than I imagined. I think I have forgotten over the past three and a half years what it feels like to run an errand by myself, have time to peruse a menu at a restaurant, and come home exhausted at the end of a day without having to wrangle two toddlers into bed before I can jump in headfirst myself. Luckily for me, Baby Van did accompany me to New York in utero, so I still got the comforting sense of being a mommy at all times and also got the reassurance of little kicks to my bladder.

Our great friends Sommer and Pete met us in New York after missing two flights en route from Boston, only one of which was their own stinking fault. I could tell we were really on vacation when even Sommer seemed to roll with the punches; upon discovering they had missed their flight because they were busy computer-ing away at a nearby gate, she responded with, "Eh. At least I don't have kids with me." And so it went with every setback along the way of the trip, such as closed subway stops, temporarily misplaced ID's, and the sound of a mouse (I contend it was a rat) awakening us at 1:45AM eating his way through a paper sack on our bedroom floor, hopelessly trying to get inside a glass jar of peanut butter. Overall, everything felt easy and all went spectacularly well. We had an extremely good time. Highlights for me included touching the Flatiron Building (which was on my life's bucket list!), seeing Vermeer's "Girl Interrupted at Her Music" at the Frick Collection on the Upper East Side (tip: go on Sunday from 11-1 for the Pay What You Wish rate!), delicious dinners of pad thai, Spanish tapas, and French baked seafood, a three-hour walking pizza tour that hit three of the greatest (and oldest!) pizzerias in the United States, and meandering through the hustle and bustle of New York. BJ also planned us a visit to an eccentric speakeasy-type bar called The Raines Law Room, and my-oh-my, did we get a kick out of that place! It was completely unmarked on a residential street, and when we rang the doorbell we were greeted at last by a puzzled-looking fellow with an ill-fitting suit, crazy hairdo, and face resembling the lead singer of Fun. We asked if the four of us could get in and he quickly shut the door in our faces after telling us to "hang on." By then Sommer was already loving this place. He re-emerged a full two minutes later to tell us that he could maybe have a spot for us in an hour and a half. An hour and a half! Amused, we gave him our phone number and decided to walk around Lower Manhattan to burn off dinner anyway. Ten minutes later we got the call from an anonymous number that Raines was ready for the likes of us. After being escorted through a tunnel-like entrance and through a curtain (it's a marvel that we didn't turn around on the way in), we found ourselves in a long, narrow, dimly-lit room configured into numerous little seating areas with plush furniture. At Raines you summon your server by pulling a little chain that lights up and you can pass the time with cheesy popcorn, good conversation, and extremely erotic wallpaper with ideas for group activities, if you're into that kind of thing. It was all hilarious. Drinks were about 15 bucks apiece, but they were delish, and the bartender did a great job of concocting a virgin drink based on my choice of strawberries. It was a wonderful evening spent with wonderful friends, and even the subway ride home was hilariously not-to-be-forgotten.

My last trip to New York was exactly three months before the World Trade Center attacks, and on that trip I found New Yorkers to be generally disagreeable. I prepared myself for the same on this trip and was pleasantly surprised to find New Yorkers now so amiable! Absolutely everyone we encountered was pleasant, and many of them were hilarious. Happy tenth anniversary, BJ! We couldn't have celebrated it better!

My bestie and me riding the subway

BJ in front of the building that housed the first pizzeria in the United States. It is completely unmarked, but our guide Scott was in the know. The brick oven was later moved to its current location at Lombardi's, established in 1905.

BJ was quite studious throughout the tour. I hope this results in good homemade pizza.

The Freedom Tower is near completion!

The tiny thing way in the background is the Statue of Liberty.

Knocking an item off the bucket list by touching the Flatiron Building!

The Flatiron Building

The pull-chain at Raines and the accompanying kinky wallpaper

Walking through Central Park on our way to the Frick to see the Vermeer, another item on my bucket list!

We always sit this way. It's very normal.