30 August 2013

Up North. And How I Way Overpack.

My husband has this memory of when he was in high school and his youth group went to World Youth Day in Canada. It was just a few days-long trip, but this girl he knew needed TWO of those super-sized hockey duffle bags to fit everything. Whenever we go somewhere and I way overpack (which is pretty much everytime we go somewhere), I cry out in desperation: "I'm such an overpacker, but I don't know what else to pare down!" He responds, "you aren't an overpacker until you need a hockey bag for a weekend." But I usually think to myself, "wouldn't it be more convenient if I just had one large bag instead of four medium ones?"

We're going tent camping this weekend. Since we have a two-year-old, we're only on Tent Camping Beginner Level 1, which entails camping in the front yard of his parents' up north cabin. This way, if things go terribly wrong, we can just scurry inside the cabin and pretend nothing happened. Which we might need to do. Because there's bears and coyotes and stuff up north.

We haven't tent camped in a few years. And I suspect that I like the idea of tent camping more than I like actually tent camping. I guess we're about to find out.

And I think I overpacked.

But we're tent camping, ya know? And the ground is hard. So I'm thinking we layer up: foam mats, two unzipped sleeping bags on top of each other, us, piles o' blankets. And I do mean piles. Cause it's going to get cold at night and you never know when an extra blanket or two might help out. Plus, we've got three people, and we need to have enough blankets for everyone.

I mean, three a piece isn't too many, is it? It's a good thing I'm a blanket addict and have a bazillion blankets. Cause I think a half a bazillion is a good number of blankets to take when you're sleeping on the ground. I even gave away about half of my blankets when we moved to Florida four years ago, but this is how many I still have -

Not to mention the blankets on beds, the down comforter packed up until winter, and the box of boy blankets I bought before I knew Abigail was a girl baby. Acknowledgement is the first step in recovery, right? Anyway, back to camping.

So I tried to be very judicious when I was packing. Only one extra outfit for Abigail (in case of a blow out), no extra socks and shirts for me, only one book, the minimum amount of makeup I can get away with, no blow dryer, no extra sweat shirts. Then after I had everything packed and stacked by the door, I started to get annoyed at how much crap we have, so I went back through our bags again to clear out as much as I could. But seriously, I can't find anything else to pare down! We need warm clothes for morning and evening, t-shirts for the afternoon, respectable pajamas (since we'll be around other people), church clothes and shoes for Sunday morning, swim suits because the cabin is on a lake, Abigail's life jacket because they have a boat but no toddler-sized jackets. So now I have 13 bags. Ugh!

We'll leave today after Matt gets off work to go up north, which, for those of you non-Michiganders is not the upper peninsula. You see, this is the lingo those in my circle use:

If we didn't have to stop for Chica, it'd take us a little over 4 hours to get to the cabin from Matt's job in Lansing (where the "n" in "down state" is). I'm desperately hoping to get up in enough time to set up the tent before total darkness sets in. Cause nothing says, "free fast food in aisle nine!" to a bear like two people stumbling around in the darkness with nine blankets and a flashlight.

I'm not a fun person to be with on a road trip because I get severe motion sickness if I do anything other than look out a window. I can drive, but I can't sit in the backseat and occupy the car-weary baby for very long. I can't read, crochet, or even look at a map for too long. And I have to pee ever half hour. Seriously, pregnant or not, my bladder is way too tiny for extended car trips. My husband is the exact opposite. He never gets car sick, rarely has to stop and use the bathroom, and can handle being the driver for an entire day.

I'm pretty sure the kitties are going to be stoked for some alone time. They're a little play dated out.

Ugh! Now I'm off to pack all this stuff in the car (while Abigail naps). Wish me luck! And wish my husband luck. Cause he's the one stuck in the car with my micro-bladder for the better part of the evening.

26 August 2013


One day short of two weeks. It might be a record.

I'm one of those introverted loner types who'd rather sit home and read a book than hang out at a party. My social skills leave something to be desired. Especially my conversational skills. So it's not hard for me to move as often as we do, uprooting ourselves and settling in an area where we don't know anyone. That isn't to say it's easy for me, but I know my experience is significantly less difficult than most people's. I'm even rather prideful of my ability to get around without a strong social circle - it's like my defense mechanism's defense mechanism. I'd rather keep people out so I don't get hurt - see my wall? Hey look, I built a wall - I must be super strong! Brilliant, I know.

So when we moved back to Michigan at the beginning of this month, I walked around with my chest puffed up: I don't need to be back near family. I can handle it.

But damn, is it nice.

1. Gobs of free babysitting. Almost all of his and my immediate family are within 35 minutes of our apartment, plus a few close friends with whom I'd totally trust Abigail.

2. Communities share things. The other day my sister-in-law asked if I needed any clothes for Abigail. I do. She has three totes worth in Abigail's size. We're getting free-range, organic chicken and duck eggs from my other sister-in-law for the same price as standard grocery store eggs. My mom is letting me use her canner so I can go in with someone for a bushel of peaches from an orchard. (We're talking $.50-.70/pound for locally grown peaches). I'm even looking into going dutch for a booth at a crafting fair so I can hawk my wares.

3. Advice from people I trust. Everything from town festivities that are worth their entrance fee to good ice cream parlors to tent camping with a two-year-old to potty training. (Maybe. Someday. I hope.)

4. And the best, most cheesiest one for last: Feeling loved. I'm scoring invites to bridal and baby showers. My nieces are fighting over who gets to sit next to me at the table. The priest who married us still recognizes me. People want us to go with them to zoos and bunny auctions. It feels satisfying leaving a get together after you've had a serious heart-to-heart with someone over something difficult in your life. Or after you've excitedly whisper-chatted over how cute so-and-so's new boyfriend is.

These aren't city vs. country things, they aren't Michigan vs. Chicago vs. Florida things. They're home vs. out-of-state things. And even though I thought I was a total bad ass for never needing anyone, I realized that it's pretty heart-over-filling when you love someone and they love you back. Maybe more fulfilling than knowing I have the strength to do without.

Okay, now that that's out of my system, look! A mid-western tree:

Date night consisting of kayaking + dinner + movie + coffee. Cause my parents don't mind babysitting Abigail late into the night.

We're gonna do it. We really are. For first time since...that time.

I did it! I unpacked my china! And TB! If you're reading this TB, I thought of you while I was doing it : )

Howell Nature Center, if you live nearby. I totally recommend it.

She walks. All the time now. In fact, she rarely ever scoots. Except when we're outside. 'Cause nothing says Let's drag our knees across the ground! like concrete.

13 August 2013


Note: Personal post coming up. Maybe too personal for some. Maybe too personal for me. Maybe I'll end up deleting this post in a day or two. Oy. You've been warned.

Abigail's first-ever photoshoot.

I had mad baby fever back in March. I had no idea, but we were actually pregnant at the time. When we found out, I was super stoked. When we lost the baby, I was super crushed. We did, in the end, name the baby, but we've chosen not to tell anyone. We're not ready to tell anyone just yet.

I'm aching to have another baby. We're not pregnant, unfortunately, but that isn't to say we aren't trying. Part of me is scared to have a typically developing child. I don't know what I'd do - without doctors visits, developing at normal speed. I'm good at the medical stuff. What would I do with normal? I'm also scared that something will happen medically with Abigail when I'm preoccupied with a baby. How could I live at the hospital with her if she were diagnosed with leukemia if I had a three-month-old? Ugh.

Since we've moved back, Abigail has been hanging out a bit with younger kids (even a newborn) and I'm completely amazed at how great she's been. I didn't think she'd really notice or care about a baby, but she was really great. She was hanging out with a 10-month-old recently, and I couldn't believe how much she doted on him. She followed him around, gave him toys, even spontaneously hugged him a few times...I didn't even know she understood the concept of hugging!

First few days home. So incredibly tiny!

Remembering the miscarriage still hurts, although not nearly as much as it did when it was fresh. I don't dwell on it every. single. day. like I used to, but I still think about the baby who isn't in my arms often. I know I have two kids even if no one else does.

But I do have serious baby fever again. We even have girl and boy names all picked out. Ugh, I want it all - the big, uncomfortable belly, the nervousness of checking into the hospital, the sleepless nights! I wanna do the snuggly newborn thing again, the "new mom glow" when the days and nights blend together in one tired, chaotic mess all wrapped up in the most intense, powerful love on earth.

Oy. Yes, wanting to be pregnant. Not pregnant. Hurting.

But still loving every most minutes with her.

Don't worry - phone dead and pen lacking ink. 

I wanna do it all over again. I want more of these.

08 August 2013


Today is Abigail's second heart-versary! Two years ago today, she had open heart surgery to repair 4 out of 5 congenital heart defects.

This road started when I was merely twenty weeks pregnant. You can read the abbreviated story here. It was a long road full of specialists, hospitals, and even a misdiagnosis, but as we stand here today, other than a small Gortex patch, the cardiologists say her heart acts just like any other heart they'd expect in any other two-year-old. There is only a 5-10% chance she'll ever need another heart surgery and her beloved cardiologist thinks we're on the lower end of that scale.

Abigail was only 2.5 months old. She was 8.5 lbs, a mere 2lbs 3oz heavier than she was at birth.

Today, I seldom even think about the heart troubles we once had. Her scar is easy to overlook - just a mark on her soft, white skin - no more noteworthy than a birthmark or a freckle. It is not scary anymore, it just is.

The long, white line is the incision scar. The small dot to her right/our left is from the chest drainage tube. If someone asked me what the hardest part of heart surgery was, I'd say the at-home recovery process was the most difficult for me. I remember it being overwhelming and cite it as the worst few weeks of my life, but to be honest, I don't remember it much anymore. It's like labor pain. Time passes and God lets you forget. When I think back to heart surgery, usually the first thing I remember are the kick-ass awesome nurses. The other main thing is how awesome it was to live in the hospital for week - I honestly didn't go outside from the moment we step foot through the doors on August 8th until we were discharged on August 12th. My world stopped for one week as we lived in a complete world inside of a building as the days and nights blended together - it was such a blessing to never have to leave.

Click to see photo larger.

It has been worth living through every painful day that Down syndrome brings to experience the 100 blissful ones that Abigail gives us.


* * * * *

If you're interested in the real-time posts, you can find them below. As you're reading them, please remember that the writer was a new, first-time mother who was dealing with post-partum depression, healing from a recent emergency c-section, learning what it meant to have a child with Down syndrome, and watching her baby going through a very serious surgery. There are typos, emotional rants, and more seriously, I hadn't yet learned the loving and sensitive ways to talk about Down syndrome.


05 August 2013

The Iconic Midwestern County Fair

One of the fun things about this move is the catching up. It's been days of back-to-back grill-outs, board games, heart-to-hearts over junior mints and iced tea, and listening to my eight nieces and nephews (eight under eight) recount camping and tooth-losing stories. But Friday night, I tell you, Friday night, my sister-in-law called me up and invited us to go with them to a bunny auction the following afternoon. Yes, a bunny auction. If you're anything like me, you're thinking to yourself, "Who in their right $*(&(@#* mind would auction a bunny?" But if you're like my husband, you hear "bunny auction" and think:

The fair is about 2 minutes away from our new apartment, this particular sister-in-law lives a mere 8 minutes away, and I'm super close to her and all three of my sisters-in-law. Her and her family have the whole "lots o' acreage in the country, surrounded by corn, duck raisin', chicken raisin'" thing going and the two oldest girls had earned the privilege of bunnies. Cue the bunny auction. Where you buy auctioned bunnies. Hop hop.

Now as much as I love the city, people in the country are wwwaaayyy more pleasant to be around at a big event. Way more. Like, I took the stroller (Something I would never do in the city. I almost always wore Abigail in the city), and people didn't mind. They apologized if them bumped me, some made their kids wait until we passed, and others let their kids run up to Abigail and say "hi" because they all think she's a baby and, as a general rule, everyone in the country loves babies.

Abigail signing "bird" at the birds. Just to make sure we're all clear about who's who.

In addition to bunnies, they also auction birds, goats, cows, and had pens full of sheep, pigs, and horses, some for show, probably others for auction. They have competitions and winners proudly display ribbons and trophies on their shirts and on pens.

A vast majority of the animals are raised by kids, and the auction was entirely youth-oriented. It was amazing to me to watch these kids, probably ranging in age from 8-16, carrying around ducks and rabbits, their shirts tucked in, work boots on their feet, the girls with long, modestly braided hair. They looked so responsible and mature. So very different from the teenagers we saw on the L trains in Chicago, trendy clothes with strategically placed lacy cutouts, dyed hair, earbuds buried deep in ears, and eyes locked on an iPod with a personalized protective case. Very different lifestyles.

These guys are meat bunnies. You buy these bunnies at an auction and eat them. Auctioned bunny meat.
Hop hop.

The auction yielded my nieces no bunnies (they have hope for some from a nearby family farm), but then we proceeded to Iconic Country Fair, Part II: The Rides

There was a lot of awe and amazement and my husband re-living his childhood alongside elephant ear stands and sunburnt kids begging for more ride tickets. There may or may not have been a demolition derby during which cars may or may not have caught fire unexpectedly. And if such an event did occur, I would probably have heard about it from my dramatic niece after my sister-in-law and I would have retreated with the youngest back home for bedtime and girl-time while the guys took the older three out to watch junked cars crash into one another. Such things may or may not have occurred. But if they did occur, it would surely only happen in the country.

01 August 2013

I Live Here Now

Hello from Michigan, my friends. We arrived safely on Friday, unpacked by Sunday, and got Internet on Tuesday. Even though all the boxes were unpacked by Sunday, the place wasn't really organized, plus we picked up a few boxes we'd been storing at my parents' house since last summer, so we've spent the last few days organizing the apartment. Matt has discovered the ability to list books on Amazon.com, so we're making a few dollars and clearing out at least a few dozen books. I have lots to say, but I'll try to keep things down to 10 "quick takes."

1. Moving Day - Chicago
The guys who loaded up the truck in Chicago were incredibly amazing. Two friendly, polite guys arrived on time and worked fast (it took them three hours to carry everything down a flight of stairs, make two u-turns, carry the stuff 1/2 of a city block, and pack it on a truck). They did an amazing job loading up the truck and nothing broke during the drive. I did tear up doing a final walk-through of our apartment and when I caught the final sight of the skyline in my rearview mirror as we left town. Even though we'll visit, I'm sure, it'll never be the same.

2. Moving Day - Michigan
The drive was incredibly smooth. Abigail, the kitties, and I arrived at our new place around 7:10, about 10 minutes before Matt and the Uhaul. 10 people we know and didn't have to pay met us at the apartment and had the truck unloaded in less than an hour. Within another hour, all furniture was in place, put back together, the bed and the crib were made up, and people were eating pizza. We got to bed, completely exhausted, around midnight or so, but I couldn't fall asleep, so around 1am, I got up and unpacked some more boxes.

3. Michigan
We live in a small suburb just outside of Lansing. Although it's only about 15 minutes away, the lifestyle is very not urban. There are about 6 radio stations that our car can find in our parking lot - three of them are country and two of them are Christian. Every third car in the grocery store parking lot is a pick up truck. Housewives go grocery shopping in sweat pants and 65% men go in something camo. And, I swear, a few of the people at the store the other day were strung out on something totally not-legal. We're a world away from Chicago. This place is very similar to the one I lived in during the second half of high school, which is where Matt spent his entire life. I spent about 3.5 years in a rural environment total, and the last stint was in 2007, before I got married. I don't really like it here. I'd rather live in the city and vacation in the country.

4. The Apartment - Living room
I don't really like our apartment. Would you like a tour? Don't mind the boxes and leftover mess, and I didn't shoot anything in the kitchen/dining room because that's where most of the mess is.

The living room:

You can use the kitty as a reference point as she didn't move during the photoshoot. It's much, much smaller than our previous apartment, though it does have an extra bathroom and a laundry room. We are finally on the main floor and I love being able to load up Abigail in the stroller in the apartment and just walk out the door. We overlook the parking lot as it was quite a bit cheaper and we're all about saving money by living here. Also, we don't have a balcony/patio or anything, as that was more expensive as well. FYI, facing the parking lot sucks because it means the parking lot faces you. It is amazing to me how many people will just walk by and blatantly stare in the window. I'm going to have to look into getting some sheer curtains for privacy.

We did have to spring for a 4th bookshelf. We dumped a fair number of our magazines and left all our kid chapter books at my parents house (for when Abigail is old enough to read them), otherwise we'd need a 5th. If we could utilize the bottom shelves, it would relive some pressure, but putting Abigail's toys on them means we don't have to have an additional piece of furniture in the living room to store them (IE a toy chest or some such deal). Our living room is pretty small, but it feels very cozy. In Chicago, it was easy to just rope off entire rooms to prevent Abigail from reaching them, but not so much here. So we're trying to find ways to baby proof items in a room instead. Bungee cords on bookshelves are pretty effective. It's probably cut her destruction rate by 85%.

5. The Apartment - Abigail's room

The second bedroom is smaller than I remember it being in the model we toured, but I think it will be big enough for two kids if we're ever blessed with a second baby. Although hard wood floors were prettier and easier to clean, it is nice having carpet in the bedrooms. I think Abigail is a big fan too, although she's pretty miffed that her grocery cart doesn't roll very easily on the longer carpet. Abigail gleefully scoots around from her room to the living room to the kitchen and also down the hallway all day. I think she's trying to reconcile that all our stuff is here but our house is different. For the first few days, she was so occupied by this conundrum (and the unregulated access to the bookshelves) that I almost forgot I had a kid!

6. The Apartment - My room

Yes, we still use upside-down milk crates as nightstands. We have a master suite and it is my favorite thing about this place behind the laundry closet room. It's luxuriously huge. Both bathrooms, in fact, are gigantic. So gigantic that if I ever get a china cabinet to display my perpetually packed china, I'm going to have to put it in the bathroom because they sucked out every square foot of space they could from the living/dining room and put it in the bathrooms. All three of us plus the two kitties could easily sit in one and play monopoly in the event of a tornado. We also have a walk-in closet. The closet is as big as the bathroom. The closet and the bathroom together are probably as big as Abigail's room. It's almost embarrassingly huge. 

I don't have photos because these aren't very clean yet, all thanks to the big downfall of the gigantic closet: it's pretty much the only one. Abigail's room has a standard-sized closet and there is a small front closet in the hallway (go figure), but that's it. So I honestly have Christmas decorations and sleeping bags stuffed in the master closet. 

7. The Apartment - Overall
I don't really like it here. I don't like the rural area, I don't like the apartment, I don't like how quiet it is out here, I don't like the way there is never natural light in the kitchen/dining room, I don't like how we have to use the car to go anywhere, I don't like that there is no cell service. But because we're stuck here (for at least a year, hopefully two), I'm trying to focus on what I do like. We never hear our neighbors, we live practically across the street from a Mejier, which is pretty much the greatest grocery store ever invented (and it's open 24 hours, which is really handy when you discover at 11pm that you bought the wrong size bungee cords), we live on the ground floor, no one in this complex has probably ever been robbed, we live close to 1,000 free babysitters, we have a master suite, and we have a damn laundry room.

8. The Apartment - The laundry room
I gleefully do laundry at all hours of the day and night in whatever clothing I happen to be wearing at the time and without putting on shoes. And if I'm busy when the cycle ends, I just let the clothes sit in the machine. I'm pretty excited about it.

9. My Mother
I'm pretty sure my mom won the lottery while we were in Chicago and is determined to spend the entire jackpot on her only grandchild.

A belated birthday present, which was planned to be belated so that we wouldn't have to move it from Chicago to Michigan.

This was a "just because" present. There isn't an hour of the day that I don't trip on a ball now.

I actually bought her these. On a shopping spree. With my mom. The same week we got to town. I'm re-living my childhood through Abigail with that My Little Pony.

But I tease. My mom's love language is gifts and she's been looking forward to doing a little splurging on Abigail since we announced back in November that he got a job in Michigan. Abigail's been enjoying the attention. And the toys. 

10. Tonight
My incredibly thoughtful husband is giving me the most amazing two-part gift starting tonight. He booked me a one-hour massage at a spa. I don't think I was supposed to find out about it, but when we sat down with our planners to compare schedules, I saw my name in his planner " 6:45 - Jacqueline's time." Appointments after 4pm get a free glass of wine. Part two is on Tuesday, but I don't know what it entails. I'm pretty stoked. This is just what I needed after another stressful move.

11. Bonus Quick-take
This is a screen shot of the available wireless networks in our complex. Somewhere in one of these identical, nondescript buildings is a person I must meet.