28 June 2012

Chicago, Take 2

One of the nice things about visiting a big city and staying in a hotel without continental breakfast is the walk to every meal. Nothing works up an appetite and off the calories like a 15-minute each-way journey to the restaurant.

A view of the other side of the street on which our hotel is located. The tall building on the right is the John Hancock building.

It is also fun being on Eastern time in a Central time city: being up, showered, walked, and eating breakfast at a quarter to eight.

Matt and I sat on the bed and played cards until the time arrived for me to leave for the big apartment hunt. I found an apartment finding company that is free for the searcher and is paid by the apartment management company. You meet the agent at the office, go over the possible options, then the agent drives your around in his car to look at the properties. I had the diaper bag packed out with extra diapers, food, a sun hat, and a trail mix snack for me. I was wearing Abigail in the sling and carrying the car seat when I had my melt down. I was nervous about being robbed on the train, nervous about not being able to find a place, nervous about choosing a place that was too expensive in order to get the location I wanted. Over the course of the week, in the time following my having booked the tickets and hotel, two companies and a few individual appointments bailed on me, so my nervousness was heightened by the fact that this company was my last hope. In a truly chivalrous move, my husband decided to come with me. I was marred in guilt for making Matt skip studying after I promised to try my hardest to leave him be for several blocks before Matt made clear in no uncertain terms that he had made a choice to spend the day apartment hunting with me and it would all be okay.

So we took the train to the northern side of the city, didn't get robbed, and managed to keep Abigail from melting down besides the fact that we were traveling through the big city during nap time. After going over my requirements and preferences, the agent pulled up two listings. Two. In all of Chicago, two listings fulfilled our meager requests (price, 2 bedrooms, cat friendly, safe neighborhood - that's it). The agent drove us to the two listings, which were in one building. The two small units (1st and 3rd floor) were down tall, narrow hallways and had awkward floor plans. One was still occupied and had not been cleaned in quite a while. We climbed over piles of clothes and surveyed stacks of dirty dishes in the hot units with squeaky floors. The only thing the places had going for them was that they were in the neighborhood I wanted. The agent kept saying, "Isn't it great to have options!" and "These units are huge!" Options? Two units is having options? When I was searching for places online, I had found tons of places! So many places I was having trouble narrowing them down! As we made our way back to the main office, the agent explained the frustrating truth: Chicago is experience a huge, unexpected rise in demand for rental units. Un-rivaled in any other big city at this time and with no clear explanation, apartments are flying off the market at unbelievable rates. Apparently last Saturday, then rented out 112 units. In one day. Frustrated by the lack of success, the 100+ degree temperatures, and getting in and out of a parked car with a baby, I did a quick searching using Matt's cell phone and pulled up a unit I had seen on their website the previous night that met our criteria. I knew as soon as we walked in the door that I wanted the unit. The layout was great, the location was perfect, and the price was significantly below our limit. We scurried back to the main office for the third time, and as the agent returned from dropping off the keys, he gave us the bad news: in the time it took us to view the unit and drive back to the office, someone else had scooped it up.

The agent found two new listings while we were at the office and we rushed out. One of the units was a good second. We made it back to the office, returned the keys, and filled out the paperwork without any word as to another renter. It is possible that someone else got an application in before us, but we should find out tomorrow for sure.

At this point, it was about 3:30, neither of us having eaten since 7:45am (I forgot about my trail mix snack), and both of us dripping in sweat. We had numerous frustrating key problems, including the agent forgetting the keys once and us making another trip back to the office, the keys repeatedly not working during the first ten tries, and impossibly difficult lock boxes. I fed Abigail in the car between trips, and she caught maybe two ten minute naps all day. If we loose this unit, I have no idea what we are going to do. I spoke with the manager and she said right now is the perfect time to be looking for an early August move-in date, so if we do loose it, I think I will have to buy more train tickets, book another hotel, drop another couple hundred dollars, and come back to Chicago again next week. Oi. I have my fingers crossed and offer up prayers pretty much every hour.

We cooled off at a nearby sandwich shop and came back to the hotel for some much needed rest while it rained. This evening, we set off for Navy Pier, a touristy place about a mile from the hotel.

It was a wonderful end to the day, one with lots of exercise to work off our annoyance, lots of family time together, and that relaxed no-responsibility feeling that usually accompanies a trip for pleasure rather than business.

Somebody's starting to get a few curls:

Carrying Abigail can be very difficult, sometimes. You know how when kids fall asleep, they are pure dead weight? Well kids with Down syndrome have low muscle tone, so they tend to avoid using their muscles whenever possible, which means Abigail is almost all dead weight almost all the time. She hates using her abs in particular; we call her Little Baby No Abs, in fact. So this is how she looks, pretty much all the time:

Many-a days have my wrists and forearms hurt from carrying this kid long distances. This is another reason why I love having a sling handy.

Our train leaves the big city tomorrow just after 4pm. Matt plans on spending the day studying, particularly catching up after missing most of today, so Abigail and I will have the afternoon to ourselves. I'm not really sure what we're going to do or where we're going to go. But I'm sure we'll think of something : )  

27 June 2012

Happy Chicago, Everyone

OMG I'm in Chicago!

I had planned to travel with just Abigail and myself since Matt can't afford that much time off from studying, but late Sunday night, we realized that Matt could come to Chicago and just stay at the hotel and study while Abigail and I apartment hunt during the day. I have to say: I am really, really glad Matt came. It was a huge help having someone else to lug around the bags, break out the debit card at lunch, and haul the bell boy cart up and down the elevator so that I could take care of Abigail. Plus it is really nice being able to vent when I finally get a hold of this one apartment management company that I've been leaving messages with for nine days only to have them tell me that no one is available to show me property anytime during the next three days. Good luck, he tells me. Good thing I have a non-bailing Realtor with another company lined up to show me some properties tomorrow.

This is our first trip with a baby (not counting the move), and I had no idea how much stuff a baby requires on a daily basis until I started packing yesterday. For some reason I had been thinking that we wouldn't need much, but once I started rationing out baby food, diapers, wipes, a bowl, cup, spoon, bib, toys, sling, etc, I realized how insane my previous thought process was. In the end, we got it down to a large duffel, the diaper bag, Matt's backpack (for all his study materials), the car seat (for the taxi ride and the day we meet with the Realtor), and the Pack & Play. If Matt wasn't coming, I would have left the Pack & Play at home and just had Abigail sleep with me, but I'm glad we brought it otherwise I'd probably have to strap Abigail into the car seat just to keep her safe while I take a shower, go to the bathroom, etc.

Our room is a really nice one located right downtown. It is actually an apartment building that has a few rooms they rent out during certain months, and I scored an amazing deal on Priceline. It is a suite, so we have an L shaped room for the bedroom and living room, plus an off-shoot with an eat-in kitchen. The kitchen is just off a short hallway and features a tiny window, but it works out really well because it's pretty dark and since it is out of the way, the noise from the window a/c unit doesn't really reach; ie: it's the perfect place for a baby to sleep.

Anyway, we took the train into the city, which meant that I was free to feed, play with, and entertain Abigail. It was a pretty convenient trip and easier than driving; we're entertaining the idea of selling our car so we won't have to pay for parking in the city, so it was nice to see if we could handle taking the train back home for holidays.
 Sorry for the crap on the window. Hehe, kind of looks like a tornado coming through.

Part of the agreement for Matt to be able to come was my promise that I would try my hardest to give him quiet study time. As such, we sat across the aisle from each other so that I wouldn't be tempted to tap on his shoulder every time I thought of something interesting to say.

Since a few of my showings canceled on me (I tell everyone, "I'm coming into the city from out-of-state," but for some reason, they all think my schedule is flexible), we had nothing lined up for today, so Abigail and I hit up the Magnificent Mile, which is just a few blocks from our hotel, for some window shopping. It was pretty much just "OMG, we're in Chicago!" and "Can you believe we are going to be living here in a few weeks!" all afternoon.

Chicagoans are amazing at knowing exactly when the crosswalks are about to change. About two seconds before the "walk" sign flips on, they all step out into the street so that by the time they are formally allowed to walk, the traffic in the oncoming traffic lanes are clear. They must shave minutes off their commute time once all the blocks are added together. My legs and feet are already sore from striding along the city streets, walking to get to everything I need, wearing Abigail in a sling the entire time. I do like it so far, though. I like walking through the crowds, mass amounts of people, but no one knows who I am. They don't know I am from Florida or that my husband scored a job in this city. A loner in a sea of three million people. It is oddly enjoyable to walk in throngs of people for a mile, yet talk to no one.

Anyway, tomorrow will be a long day of looking at apartments. Although I would like to blog again tomorrow and will try, I can't promise anything. I forgot the data transfer cable to my camera at home, so it is a bit of a long process that involves SD cards, borrowing Matt's computer, and a USB key, combined with my own exhaustion from navigating a big city with a little baby... so we'll see how it goes. In the meantime, Happy Chicago, everyone!

25 June 2012

Live Like You're Dying, Stream of Consciousness Style

It was a long, straight road. Extending farther north than the eye could see. It was shortly before dusk, clear with just a few clouds. No deer, no rain, no natural reason. We were following behind a blue pick up truck for a few miles when suddenly, the truck careened into something and went flying up in the air and landed on its roof before skidding to a stop in the left lane. Matt was looking out the other window, but I saw the whole thing. I yelled for Matt to call 911, pulled my car over onto the wide shoulder, put on the four ways, and ran out to the pick up. There was broken glass everywhere. I ran over to the driver's side, got down on the ground and yelled to the driver. "Are you okay? Can you hear me? Is there a passenger in the truck?" No answer. Long blonde curls spilled out of the window onto the black top. I stood up and ran around to the passenger side. Her tire iron was laying in the middle of the road. Her visor clip cd holder was laying just outside of the upside down window of the truck, the smooth, sliver cds in shards. I knelt down, no passenger. By that point, other people were arriving on the scene. A farmer. An elderly couple. A man not much older than me in a big black truck, parked sideways in the middle of the road to stop traffic. The 11 minutes it took for the paramedics to get there felt like an eternity. Gawkers came from nearby houses, other cars with curious passengers. An idiotic teenager girl asking if the car would blow up from all the leaking fluids. I searched the horizon, desperate to see glowing, red lights. I looked back at the blue pick up truck, saw how little space there was between the crushed roof of the truck and the bottom of the door. No answer. Just blonde curls and the heavy bass of rap music, the radio still on even though the engine was dead. The ambulance arrived, then a few fire trucks, a few more buses, and some cops. My car was blocked in by flashing red lights, Abigail babbling and watching the show, Matt oscillating between seeing how things were going and keeping Abigail content. I stood behind the ambulance and watched as the firefighters propped the truck up on wooden blocks and used the jaws of life to pry the passenger door off. The driver was brought out, carried on a stretcher to the ambulance. As a police officer as taking my statement, a helicopter flew overhead and landed in the middle of the road. As we drove off, the nose of the chopper in my rearview mirror, I finally realized how pumped my adrenaline was. The entire time that I was standing there, staring at the crushed blue pick up, watching the flashing red lights reflected in the scattered pieces of broken glass, I was mad. Mad at her for making some stupid decision, be it drugs or alcohol, and going for a drive on such a nice, clear night that permanently altered the rest of her life. Mad at her for the "it can't happen to me" attitude that landed her upside down in the middle of the road on an average Friday evening. But as we drove home, my energy finally caught up with me. I was talking loudly, quickly. I told Matt what happened over again, even though he was there. I felt a weight from having been the only witness. I dreamed about it that night, remembering how the truck looked upside down, so impossibly high up in the air. I dreamed about how bright the blue of the truck looked, crushed in such a fearful way. And I realized I am scared. Scared to drive down the road again where the accident happened. Scared to drive by the place that girl's life permanently changed and see nothing in the concrete or in the grass to pay tribute to such a dramatic event.

I know more details than the newspaper articles, more details that what I wrote here. Details I told the cop, details I jotted down that night when they were easiest to recall, before they could be corrupted by time. The cop said the driver was in a stable condition after she was pulled from the truck, but I don't know how she is doing, and I don't know how to find out. I have to drive back down that road today, and I have been thinking a lot about the accident. I've been thinking about the fragility of life and how we feel so strong and confident, so meaningful. But in just a heartbeat, we could end. Blips on a radar screen, disappearing into weedy graves with eroding headstones, forgotten by the side of a busy road. And it reminds me that to live like today is your last day, doesn't mean I should spend all my money, visit the Eiffel tower and the Great Pyramids. It means I need to tell my husband I love him. Thank him for feeding Abigail. Even if it was his turn. Or I'm tired. Or just not in the mood. It means I need to go to confession. Stop putting it off and telling myself I'll wait until we get to Chicago to deepen my prayer life. If I died before I saw my husband again, what would be the last thing I ever said to him? What would Abigail have to remember me by? What mementos am I leaving her so that she'll know I loved her? If I died right now and stood before God, what would I tell him? Would I have something more substantial than good intentions?

I am challenging myself to three tasks today. I challenge you to come up with your own challenges or use the ones below.
1. I will thank Matt when he does something for me, even if it's something he normally does.
2. I will write Abigail a letter. One that she can open when she's 13 or graduates high school or just when she's mad at me, I don't know yet. But I will tell her how much I love her.
3. I will give God a solid 10 minutes. I will set the timer and give Him the full time. A time long enough that I will run out of things to say and need to just sit quietly.

And whether I die tonight, or next year, or in 50 years, at least I will have built or started building a good foundation. One that leaves a meaningful legacy.

22 June 2012

An Abigail Post

I know I have been saying for a while now that Abigail is "this close" to crawling, but it turns out she could get closer without actually crawling. She brings both of her knees up and to the side as if she were doing a spider plank but with her tummy on the ground. She keeps her arms bend and uses her elbows and forearms to pull herself forward. Every few scoots she pops her butt up in the air. Abigail is so very close and I think if her physical therapist was worth her salt, Abigail would already be crawling. (Thankfully we only have a few weeks left with this new MI pt). She is pretty fast with her spider crawl, I'll call it. I coax her into doing it by sitting across the room with Matt's smart phone and pulling up YouTube videos of cats meowing (it's worth watching through to the end the first time you see it).

In the meantime, she is pulling up to a kneeling position to reach things on shelves or peer at a kitty through the glass sliders or just because and is trying her hardest to pull up to a stand, succeeding every dozen-or-so tries. Her hair is getting pretty long and I even managed a micro-pony tail yesterday, with clips to hold the front fly-a-ways back. After countless attempts, I can finally get Abigail to eat chunks of banana, watermelon, and kiwi, although eggs and cheese are still impossible.

Up until a few weeks ago, Abigail has only found peek-a-boo amusing once. Apparently peek-a-boo is a big deal with the developmental world, because doctors and therapists always seem concerned when I respond with "no" to the question, "does she play peek-a-boo?" She gets that things exist even when she can't see them (the law of non-permanence), and will move a blanket that is obscuring her toy. I was babysitting my sister-in-law's kids a few weeks ago when my 5-year-old niece played peek-a-boo with Abigail. To my surprised, Abigail loved it! Smiles and claps all around. When she repeated the game a few weeks later, Abigail responded similarly. I guess I've been playing it wrong all this time.

Spending a few days at home has allowed me to focus on Abigail's nap schedule and I have discovered that when she naps properly, she is a perfect angel.

Alright, shall we break into photos? Yesterday I spent half of my power hour sitting by the lake with Matt and Abigail. The lighting lent to some excellent color.

 Matt and I decided that if we could only see in black and white and one other color, that other color would be green.

Above: Look at those eyes!

We also took a family photo, the last one being when Abigail was 10 weeks old.
And she still won't look at the camera.

20 June 2012


I plopped down on the couch (which is in Abigail's room) to begin downloading photos and organizing my thoughts for a blog post when Abigail, who woke up from her nap rather tired and irritable, decided that she'd had enough. She was playing on the floor, throwing her pacifier and whining in her yelling kind of way. I figured she just needed another nap, so I put away the computer, turned out the lights, wrapped her in a blanket, and sat down to rock her. But apparently Abigail wasn't interested in sleeping, because she just sat there in my arms with her little hand twisting the ends of my hair, making smiley eyes at me. And so we cuddled. And we rocked. For a good half an hour of just us staring into each other's eyes. I reminisced of the days when she was first born and I would rock her in the NICU. I wondered how long kids last before they stop wanting to cuddle with their parents. But mostly we just lived in the moment. A bit of here and now meditation that soothes the soul with the balm of feeling loved and wanted. And that was all she needed because now she is playing with her books on the floor and I am blogging.

A Michigan summer thunderstorm blew in over the weekend, bringing dark skies and torrential rains. We bundled up in flannel shirts and long jeans and tried to stay indoors as much as possible, enjoying the cozy indoors feeling while the storm raged outside.
When the skies cleared and the sun returned, it brought with it summer. Hot, hot, hot with a side of humidity and nothing but a deep, clear, pine tree lined lake to bring us relief. The perfect backdrop for some grilled corn on the cob and juicy, red strawberries.

We did venture out for Father's Day, despite the threatening weather. We headed over to Denny's for omelets with steak, stacks of pancakes, perfectly fried hash browns and a nice helping of I-don't-have-to-do-the-dishes. We attempted to coordinate Mass with the rainstorm, but it didn't work out very well and we headed out to a nearby nature center just as the rain was picking up. We waited out the worst of it in the shelter of an ice cream restaurant. I offered Abigail a few sips of my chocolate strawberry shake and she chugged it down like a warm bottle before bed. By the time the floods turned to sprinkles, we had the nature center to ourselves and enjoyed the full attention of some bobcats, foxes, hawks, owls, and eagles. There is something very arresting about meeting eyes with a big cat or powerful bird. Something that makes your very soul stop in its tracks and gives you a sense of humility. We ended the day with some pizza, beer, a Willy Wonka chocolate bar and some episodes of Matt's guilty pleasure: Family Guy.

I've been homemaking baby food ever since we arrived in Michigan, boiling apples and attempting to artfully blend mangos with strawberries. But on Monday, I decided to take it up a notch and make my own grains. It took me hours, a few scorched pans, about 10,000 tupperwares, and two sore feet, but after it was all done, I stood back and proudly surveyed my siege-sustaining quantity of baby food. It took Abigail a few rounds before she took to it (the girl isn't a big fan of fresh food - too much time eating jarred), but now we are rocking it out. I also have her eating (small) chunks of watermelon, banana, and kiwi, a big step for us in the far reaching goal of eating solids.

I have been thoroughly enjoying my new-found social life, but when I crashed last night at 9:30pm, I realized that I need to take a break before I burn out. So I declared today and tomorrow to be days of rest for us. No running around, no appointments. (well, except the unavoidable physical therapy appointments. Which are not going well.) Today we'll just relax and blog, but tomorrow we'll clean.

Abigail has a variety of toys that play the music, but not the words, to popular children's nursery rhymes. Since it has been a while since I've sung any nursery rhymes, I usually have no idea what songs we're listening to. I have to wait for people to come over and casually sing a line or two as Abigail bangs away. That is seriously how I found out that her piano plays "Baby Bumblebee" and her flower plays "Teddy Bear Picnic." There are still 2 of 5 songs on that piano I can't identify. Don't even get me started on the flower.

Abigail has a huge crush on our Host. Head-over-heels thinks everything he does is the funniest ever. The doorway to his office is right behind Abigail's highchair, so whenever I feed her while he's in there working, she continually glances over her shoulder between bites trying to catch his attention. Yesterday when he was making a phone call as I was feeding her, she refused to even turn back to me; instead I had to bring the spoon around her side and up to her mouth. So yesterday evening I asked if he would mind feeding her.
I don't think there are words to capture how stoked she was.

A few random endnotes:
-I still can't get the hang of cooking on a gas stove. I highly suggest you avoid my popcorn in the meantime.
-I'm going to Chicago one week from today. I promise lots of pictures.
-After I get back from Chicago, there are only 3.5 weeks until the bar exam.
-Everytime I say the words "bar exam," Matt gets the chills.
-Bar exam, Dear. Now get off the computer and back to studying.
-I'm craving fried food and chocolate for some reason.
-I need to get off the computer and feed my child.
-Abigail loves watching youtube videos of kittens meowing
-Her pigtails are sticking straight up in the air and she totally looks like a martian.

17 June 2012

Forming Good Habits

I am sorry that I have not posted in quite a few days. On two different occasions, I wanted to blog, but I didn't have any photos, so I decided to wait until I had taken some pictures first. Well, I still don't have any pictures, but I really need to make sure I stay on top of the updates.

So I've mentioned a few times about how I used to be a complete lone wolf, but have transformed into someone far more social after the fated dinner party where I realized that reaching out to others could really help me heal. Living with two other people has really helped me become less quiet and more vocal too because whereas I used to spend most evenings quietly crocheting or reading, now I spent them chatting. Both our Host and my husband are big theorizers/philosophers and a surprising number of our discussions revolve around "being in terms of being," and if you ask me what that means, I can tell you that part it of means you can justify keeping pineapple off pizza, although that is my favorite way to eat pizza.

Anyway, another thing we've been discussing is the use of habits to form discipline. It is probably pretty obvious by now that I'm obsessed with personal development, and discipline is one of four characteristics that I want to acquire. The other day in the car, it dawned on me that it is very possible that I have made improving my social life a habit. Getting out, chatting with people, making small talk, being able to tell a good story, asking interested follow-up questions. These are all things that used to be way out of my comfort zone and I always envied people who could "work a room" and thought that if it didn't come naturally, it wasn't going to happen for me. But the stars aligned, people kept inviting me out to nicely spaced play dates and get-togethers and having a kid finally gave me some stories to tell. The more exposure I got to the real world, the more comfortable I became with it. While I'm still a far cry from being able to "work a room," I think I've grown accustomed to being outside of my comfort zone through repetitive exposure. Kinda sounds like making a habit. Future habits I'd like to form include:
-Going to bed on time. So that I will be:
-Getting out of bed on time.
-Avoiding making junk food runs on a regular basis
-Exercising regularly after we move and I no longer have my workout buddy (our Hostess)

Other updates include today being Father's Day. We had plans, but impending thunderstorms are threatening the afternoon excursion and we don't have a plan b. Who knows. I am also looking forward to going to dinner with my three sister-in-laws on Monday. We are all pretty close and I am stoked to have a girls' night.

10 days until my trip to Chicago with Abigail to hunt for apartments.
5 weeks until Matt takes the bar exam
6 weeks until we move to Chicago
16 weeks until my birthday, because hey, why not?

12 June 2012

Randomness and Baby Smiles

-We had our first appointment at the University of Michigan CS Mott Children's Hospital since arriving in Michigan. I drove down the same long stretches of highway as I did last summer. It was a bittersweet moment that brought back a lot of memories. That is the exit I pulled off at when I was 9 months pregnant after the very first doctors' appointments in Michigan and cried. It was a long, 6-hour day full of echocardiograms and meetings with surgeons. Although the new hospital opened up in November, just three months after our stay, some things remained the same. Like the birth/triage entrance. Where we pulled in and I thought, "When I leave here, I'll have a baby." It was a bittersweet return, one that summoned memories I didn't expect to be so emotional. I think it was healing, though, to sort through those feelings and settle them to rest.

-Matt was getting distracted during the course of studying, so we rearranged our furniture in order to minimize distractions. It involved moving the couch into Abigail's room, where I spend most of the day anyway. We also erected a baby gate in the doorway of her room to keep her from wandering around the non-baby proof rooms.

-We were at UM to meet with a developmental psychologist. After the appointment, the psychologist mentioned to me that she thought Abigail was particularly high functioning both mentally and physically compared to other children with Down syndrome. We hear such things often, but when one hears them from a professional, they carry more weight. It was pretty encouraging and uplifting.

-Abigail loves bath time. One of Matt's wonderful aunts made Abigail this towel, large in size and super fluffy. Then she embroiders the name of her great nieces and nephews in the corner, adds some ribbon trim on the hood and poof - world's greatest towel.

-For some unknown reason, Abigail has decided not to take an afternoon nap. She sleeps from 8pm - 6:30am, then naps from 9am-10am. That's it. It's driving me crazy and she's exhausted all day, but nothing I do will convince her to nap. I have all my eggs in the "she's just teething" basket and pray it will all be over soon.

-My kitties are driving me crazy too. For the one below, it's a long story, but it involves a baby gate with cardboard woven between the bars in order to keep her downstairs, lots of scratching at 3am, and Matt and I ready to throw her out the window.

 -This one is jumping the gate and destroying things in the process.

-My happy news of the week is that my jeans are starting to fit a little loosely. This particular brand runs a little large, so I have not yet dropped down a size, but still get excited whenever I stand up and have to pull them up.

-The weather was perfect today, so Abigail and I went for a walk. (It was part of my feeble attempt to get her to fall asleep in the stroller. It failed.) The air smelled wonderful and the sun was shinning and I got some great shots.
Pass da camera, Mommy.

The setting

And finally, the shot. The shot I spent forever trying to get. A non-blurry smile...