30 March 2014

Unsolicited Advice

I suspect I've been thinking about my tongue because we're studying James in-depth in my Bible study right now, and we're working on chapter 3.

Chapter 3 is all about how powerful the human tongue is, able to ruin our lives and cause destruction in the world around us. The study guide directed us to read Proverbs 17:28 as well, which states, "Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent." It reminded me of another quote by Abraham Lincoln: "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt." This sentiment flows nicely to a quote by a philosopher (Epictetus): "We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak."

In sum: Talk less, listen more.

Now, as people who know me in person can attest, I'm a pretty quiet girl. I don't say much in groups of people, and I'm not very chatty even one-on-one. For this reason, I've long considered myself to be "a good listener," but I recently engaged in a conversation that left me wondering how true that is.

I'll keep the details vague to protect identities, but I was recently being given a bunch of unsolicited advice about a topic near and dear to me. Because it's so important, I've done a lot of research on it, so I knew that the unsolicited advice was wrong. But as I tried to convince the advisors that I knew what I was doing, I realized I wasn't being heard. I think the talkers were assuming they knew what I was saying and therefore not really listening to the specifics of my position. It was wildly frustrating. But as I reflected on the conversation later that night, I realized that the advice being given could actually be damaging to a listener who didn't have the knowledge that I had. If I didn't done so much work already, what they said - even though they had the most loving of intentions - could have really made my experience more difficult and painful.

It made me wonder: how many times have I spouted off advice and caused damage to a person? How many times have I considered myself an expert on interpreting literature or reading body language or having a miscarriage or teaching a toddler to walk? Just spouted off advice to someone like I've studied this stuff for years, when the truth is I only have one experience?

The truth is that I'm not an expert in anything! They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to have mastered something. That means it'd take 5 years of doing something 40 hours/week every single week. If I practiced something two hours per day every single day (even on Christmas and my birthday), it'd take me 13.7 years to become a master in it. So I've been crocheting for 19 years. To get in all 10,000 hours, I need to have spent 10 hours/week crocheting - every. single. week since I was 8-years-old. So I've been crocheting for 19 years and I'm not even a master in that.

I have no professional opinions because I haven't had a lifetime to spend studying anything! Since that encounter, I've been mulling over the "talk less, listen more" principle.

For example, it really only applies to unsolicited advice. If I ask at a girls' night, "How and when did you convince your kid to give up a pacifier?" I'm obviously asking for a bunch of non-professional, personal-experience advice. But what about blogs? If I go off on here about feeding picky toddlers, is it really unsolicited? Theoretically, someone will hop online and do a search for "how to feed picky toddlers," hopefully finding my blog; they are asking for non-professional, personal-experience advice.

And what about sharing stories versus giving advice? Is it all about intention? Let's say we're all sitting around talking about how we get our kids to sleep. Someone shares an experience about how she used the cry-it-out method. Well I personally think the cry-it-out method is bad, so let's say I share my experience about how I got Abigail to sleep through the night without tears. It doesn't seem on its surface to be unsolicited advice, but if I only shared my experience in hopes of swaying the other mom, does that change the actuality of the story/advice?

What about the "well I know someone" comments? One on hand, anecdotal evidence is notoriously unreliable. But on the other hand, knowing that someone else out there in this big world - even just the cousin of a friend of a friend - can really help us feel less alone. But then again, talk about the risks of it turning into the telephone game...so many details get lost, even when we think we know the whole story, just because we weren't there. So while some instances of, "this one girl I know tried that restaurant and loved it" can soothe us, other instances of, "I know someone who circumcised her son and it went horribly wrong," are at the very least worthless and potentially even damaging.

And lastly, how much responsibility is on the listener, even if the advice is unsolicited? We as listeners should remember that no matter who is speaking, unless they have been doing it for 10,000 hours, they are probably just telling you what worked for them. Maybe it will work for you to use red delicious apples for your applesauce. Maybe not. But no matter how objective I make my opinion sound, red delicious apples are not inherently the best apples for applesauce.

Should we strive not to give unsolicited advice? Or is it enough to couch things with, "Well, I personally found helpful..." or even "Rumor has it [that restaurant is terrible]?" Then again, if I'm at the coffee shop and overhear some woman talking to her friend about her great pedicure and her friend replies with, "Well I personally like the salon over on 5th," doesn't it rather beg the question, "Who the *#&$ cares what your favorite salon is? She's telling you about her great experience, not asking for recommendations."

It seems to me to be a really damn complicated topic. After all, using our personal experiences to shape our world view is how we as humans navigate life. We couldn't possibly expect to get through each day if we sough the advice of professionals and did extensive research on each decision we need to make. And talking about our lives is how we as humans make friends. We couldn't possibly expect to build a strong social network around us if we kept all of our experiences to ourselves for fear of not being expert enough to talk.

But at the same time, we need to talk less and listen more because, as God says, our tongues are "a restless evil and full of deadly poison."

Ugh, this is still a topic I'm mulling over in my head. If you have similar mullings, feel free to share them - in an experience-sharing kind of way, of course ; )


28 March 2014

Soaking up the Right Now

March for us has been one of those crazy-busy months. Matt and I keep looking forward to next week, when things will be slower, but next week keeps arriving with a whole host of appointments, errands, and tasks. It's getting to the point where even fun things like play dates are starting to feel more like obligations and less like relaxing afternoons off.

Each evening when I review the next day's events, trying to figure out who's going to have the car and what time we need to be ready to leave in the morning, I can feel the panic start to rise. Sometimes throughout the day when we're behind schedule or something new pops up, I can feel the panic start to rise. When I get nausea/vomiting the one evening I was suppose to go grocery shopping and I have to rearrange my schedule, I can feel the panic rising. The planner, organizer, hater of-last-minute-changes in me can feel my heart racing and my adrenaline coursing. But I keep telling myself to fight off the feelings of obligation, the panic, the hatred of the busy schedule. Very soon will come a day when I will long for the simplicity of life with "just" a toddler. When I am carrying a carseat in one hand and holding Abigail's in the other as we venture across the parking lot, I will wish for right now when I can juggle Abigail and a load of groceries or a stack of books at the library or a dish for a potluck play date.

So I take a deep breath and try to enjoy this week. Even if next week should be slower, more restful. Time goes by quickly enough without wishing it would hurry up.

It got a lot easier to appreciate the extra errands this week when I walk out of Kroger with a receipt that said, "You saved $72 percent!" I got $100 in groceries for $28. That was worth the time it took out of that afternoon, to be certain. I'm one month into this couponing lifestyle and loving the mega rewards. I'm honestly bringing home more food every month and taking less money out of my purse. This week I got two Campbell's slow cooker sauces for free. I got Teddy Grahams at $.79/box. I got two large bags of a name-brand rice for $.49/bag. That's all stuff I would never normally buy. Sale-shopping Jacqueline would see Teddy Grahams on sale at 2/$5 and would walk right by them to buy store brand crackers (sometimes their animal-shaped graham crackers, sometimes their sea creature-shaped cheddar crackers) for $1.50/box. Slow cooker sauces? I wouldn't have even considered it; I would have just made my own or picked a dish that didn't require a special sauce.

I feel like I'm being a good steward(ess?) of the resources God is giving us. I could spend an entire post talking just about that topic, but maybe we'll save it for another day. Instead I'll end this coupon-love with two additional bonuses I've found:

1. We can [finally] afford to donate things to the grocery collection at church without pulling the money from our standard tithe. When I can get a few packages of free disposable razors or shampoo for $.84 or canned diced tomatoes for $.29, I just pay for it out of my food and household budgets. I consider it tithing my stockpile.

2. Constantly getting different brands of crackers and cereal/granola bars for less than $1/box is giving Abigail a ton of exposure to new foods. (Remember, with food chaining, it's not about getting her eating healthy at first, it's about getting her eating period). I can't believe how many flavors she'll eat now! Plus she's much less hesitant to try new foods.

* * * * *

Matt and I toured the local hospital's maternity ward this week; I had heard really good things about it, but I was refusing to get my hopes up until I could confirm them for myself. Goodness = confirmed, me = really excited. Each room has a large shower that can fit a birthing ball (one of those big yoga/exercise/stability balls), the nurses encourage laboring mothers to walk the halls, the beds are made up of moveable pieces and have attachable features that would enable me to push in a kneeling or squatting position, and all the nurses have a minimum of 20 hours of breastfeeding training (in addition to four special lactation consultants). Even in the event of a C-section, the hospital tries very hard to encourage skin-to-skin contact immediately following birth. At one point I asked the tour guide, "So if we're able to walk and move around, does that mean all the heart monitors and stuff are wireless?"
She looked at me a bit surprised: "We don't leave the monitors on all the time if everything is fine."

Can I get an Alleluia?

I had a not-very-VBAC-friendly doctor tell me early on that I would be spending the entire labor on my back hooked up to about a million devices if I attempted a VBAC.

Almost everything that came out of the tour guide's mouth felt like a direct response to a fear or concern I had. I'm so excited to give birth to this baby.

This tour was such a massive contrast to the last one we took. Matt and I were the only ones on that tour. We spent a lot of time in the NICU. We didn't talk about alternative methods to pain control. She made a point of taking us to the ORs where I could be and where Abigail would be if she needed immediate heart surgery.

But on Tuesday, we left Abigail with a babysitter and showed up to a big group of people. For the first time since March 2011 (when began the Baby Heart Saga), I was in a hospital and had a clean slate. No one knew. Matt and I were just this normal pregnant couple like everyone else. Hell, we could have even been first timers - I'm only in my 20s! People smiling as they shuffled past us in the hallway, happy for the group of soon-to-be parents. No trips to the NICU. Just a quick, "the OR is through these doors." Lots of time spent talking about skin-to-skin and breastfeeding. Even time spent talking about how to order food after the baby is born. So normal, so mundane. So very appreciated.

I'm ready to pack my bag now! The birth healing class I attended in February talked about how the smallest thing could bring back panic-inducing flashbacks of my traumatic birth, the more extreme cases becoming full-blown PTSD, and talked about some techniques to help deal. After working so hard on healing and doing so much reading/studying about labor and birth, I'm so incredibly excited about labor and delivery and bringing this little girl home. I have a mental list I'm holding myself back from packing right now:

-Special swaddling blankets so the baby will feel like mine and not the hospital's (especially in case she does end up in the NICU)
-A flame-less wax warmer (à la Scentsy) with a special scent I picked out just for this occasion - dragon fruit - no special meaning with the fragrance, it just smells good (something that will go right no matter what else falls apart)
-My yoga ball in case the hospital's supply is being used and a back massager (alternative ways to relieve pain since I'm determined not to have an epidural)
-A few blankets from home (so I will have a few comforting things around me when pain gets intense)

I could spend an entire post just talking about all the preparations I've done and how excited I am! Perhaps I'll save that topic for a day closer to my due date. In the meantime, I'm going to try to relax and enjoy this time I have right now: with one little girl in my arms and another still growing inside.

24 March 2014

Four Updates on Exciting Topics

Update #1: Being Pregnant

I hate third trimester morning sickness. I didn't have it with Abigail, thankfully. But this time around...the big difference is that while I had first trimester nausea all the time, there wasn't much vomiting. But this trimester? The nausea comes in bouts and almost always involves a ton of violent vomiting. It comes on so suddenly too, I never know if it's safe to leave the house because I'm not sure when It will strike. I'll hit 32 weeks tomorrow, I'm miserable, and I am so very glad I forget how much I hate being pregnant after I give birth.

The good news is that I have continued to gain a healthy amount of weight. After the 55-60 lbs I put on with Abigail - which took me two years to take off - I'm making it a priority to stick within my doctor's guidelines. I'm at 23 pounds so far with only 8 more weeks to go.

Update #2: The Baptismal Gown

The crochet work is done. I promise that I'll take nice photos once it's completed, but in the meantime, here's some shots from this morning:



I need to buy and add buttons, sew a slip (which should be an afternoon project), and add ribbon.

And writing this all out, it just occurred to me: Should I make a bonnet? Booties? Should the baby wear the dress during the reception? Oh geeze. Thoughts, anyone?

Now that I've completed the pattern, I do have to say, it was terribly written. It's riddled with errors and the recommended quantity of yarn was way off. The pattern is for a 2-4 month old and I'm looking to baptize a less-than-one-month-old, so I only did 70% of the skirt, which saved me just enough yarn to finish the project. The yarn is hard to find in craft stores and I had to order it online, so if I did make the full dress, or if I make a bonnet and booties to match, I'll have to buy more online. Shipping on this yarn costs as much as the yarn itself, which doubles a majority of my costs.

Update #3: Sheep and Company
It's been a dream of mine for a while to open up my own Etsy shoppe and I'm super glad I finally did in January of 2013. I don't regret it one bit - actually, I wish I'd done it when we were still in law school. But it turns out there isn't a huge market for $10-$14 custom-made knitted hats out there, so after having my fill of fun, I've decided to close up shop and move on to new projects. I have a particular revenue goal in mind that I want to hit before I formally close, so my shop will likely remain open until I reach it. I'm super close, and I've decided to seriously mark down stuff in the hopes of hitting it soon. Markdowns include my crochet fruit, which was originally listed for $20 and is now $12:



Also, I can turn either the watermelon or pineapple sets into magnets at no additional charge. It is important to note that once fruit because magnetized, it is no longer meant as a toy for young children, but instead becomes a decoration.


Secondly, I'm looking to offload this hand-crocheted baby blanket:


Originally $75, now only $35.

Lastly, I'm totally willing to make deals. So if you're all, "Yes, I would like to buy all three of my children new winter hats, plus pick up two sets of crochet fruit, and only pay you $30," make an offer. Likely I'll come back with "You pay shipping and it's a done deal."

Update #4: The Manuscript


This past weekend I finished going through and making revisions based on the critiques of the very generous peer-reviewers who kindly went through my book, and I did another on-screen read-through myself.

While things were being edited, I did some research on the publication process and determined a course of action. I have a few small leads for publishers that don't require agents, but a vast majority of publishers won't even look at my manuscript unless it is being represented by an agent. So it looks like I will need to find one; lucky for me they don't charge the author until a contract has been signed with a publisher.

Below is my to-do list, with the steps in brackets being my updated tasks.

To-do list (deadline: before the baby comes in mid-May):
-Edit the third and final section of the manuscript.
-Make Matt read through it all and discuss changes.
-Find a few friends to read through it and share their perspectives. More editing.
-[Review a two-page section with a few people in a group setting to determine if it needs a bit more work]
-[Print and] read through a final time [Matt too] to make sure it's as good as it's going to get.
-Research how publishing works.
-[Go through my bookshelf, go to the bookstore, and browse online to generate a list of publishers who are big in the memoir/Ds genre. Research them to determine submission requirements].
-[Contact everyone I've ever met or heard of who has an arm in the publishing world].
-Either find an agent, start submitting, or both.

Random Happening

The other day I got out of the shower to discover this:


My child sneak-reading the Catechism in the corner. (Full disclosure: I initially discovered her with the Catechism, but by the time I'd grabbed my camera, she'd moved on to a different book).

She's sneak-reading it because the books were stacked up on the table in a place I thought she couldn't reach, so she knew they were "Mommy's books" and wasn't supposed to be reading them. She's usually really gentle with books for a two-year-old, but just like you can't tame a wild animal, you can't guarantee a two-year-old won't randomly rip a page out of the Catechism. Or a library book.

Anyway, I love that I have a kid who sneak-reads in corners. Of all the bad things she could be doing, she's reading a book. And not just any book, a book that lays out the official teachings of our religious beliefs.

21 March 2014

World Down Syndrome Day 2014

Two years and ten months ago, I sat in the NICU and stared into two little blue eyes that would change the course of my life in a way I couldn’t possibly understand. And over the course of those two years and ten months, not one person has ever asked me what I thought.


Plenty of people, from family to complete strangers, have showered me with their own thoughts on Down syndrome and what they think it means for my daughter. And even though no one is asking me now, I’m going to share anyway. Because today, my friends, is March 21: World Down Syndrome Day – the day I break out the pompoms and soapbox.

So what do I think of Down syndrome? I think lots of things at lots of different times, but everything is best surmised by talking about the two things I think Down syndrome isn’t.

Spoiler alert: the first one is kind of obvious. Down syndrome is not a curse. My daughter is not a burden, her life is not constant suffering, I don’t get depressed when I think about my future, and when I look into her blue almond-shaped eyes on World Down Syndrome Day 2014, I think the same thing any mama thinks when she look into her own child’s eyes: I would do anything for you.

The second thing Down syndrome doesn’t mean is the more controversial one. Because in my world, what I think of my child and what I want for her can be controversial.

Down syndrome is not a blessing. Abigail is a special-miracle-blessing-from-God in the same way that all children are special-miracle-blessings-from-God: because she is made in His image and likeness. She is not always loving, happy, and naïve because she is not a puppy dog. She loves babies because she is a girl. She doesn’t hug strangers because she doesn’t like new people to get too close to her. So when the loving, well-intentioned elderly woman at church comes up to Abigail and gives her a kiss and says, “You’re such a special little girl,” I cringe. Because that sweet woman is not seeing my daughter. She’s seeing an extra chromosome. And that hurts my mama-heart.


So what do I think of Down syndrome? I think it’s neither a curse nor a blessing. It’s a genetic abnormality; a fluke that happened at conception. Down syndrome affects Abigail’s health in a negative way and it presents struggles in her development. And that’s about all I think of it. Abigail is still Abigail. She loves books and kitties and sparkly shirts. She hates vegetables, having to hold someone’s hand in the grocery store, and running out of pudding cups. And much to her daddy’s dismay, she’d rather listen to Taylor Swift than Garth Brooks.

There are lots of things I hope for with regard to Abigail’s future that most parents probably don’t think about. I hope she never needs open-heart surgery again. I hope we avoid the increased chances of leukemia. I hope she never comes home from school and asks me what the r-word means because she heard some kid use it as a slang word. But at the end of the day, when I’m old and gray, I don’t hope she’s just happy. I hope she finds her purpose in life. I hope she hears God’s calling. And I hope she fulfills it.



20 March 2014

#TBT

A nice little Throw Back Thursday to transition us to tomorrow...



17 March 2014

Contradictions

Abigail keeps signing/saying, "All done," but when I move to put the crackers away, she gets mad. So I pull another out, give it to her, she eats it. And as I reach for another, and she says, "All done." On one hand: What the heck? On the other, THAT'S EXACTLY HOW I FEEL!

I feel like a total contradiction. I'm excited to give birth and meet this baby, but I don't feel emotionally connected the way most of my friends describe themselves being with their unborn child. I'm bored, but I still have laundry, vacuuming, and some couponing stuff to do plus Abigail would totally not mind if I got down on the floor to play with her. I'm dying to get out of the house, but not really looking forward to Bible study tomorrow. I'm hungry, but the only foods that sound good right now are blueberry muffins, pumpkin muffins, and chocolate (which I gave up for Lent). I'd love some time to myself, but if someone showed up at my door and said, "Here's $100 and a free babysitter for as long as you need her," I don't even know what I'd do. I'm too restless to sit in a coffeeshop and read, I'm too pregnant to hit the gym, it's too cold to go for a walk. Not even wandering the aisles of Target sounds like fun, my friends. That's what kind of a weird mood I'm in right now. Greeted with the prospect of spring-printed towels, flower-scented candles, and a new bottle of nail polish, all I can think is This apartment is way too small to store seasonal towels. And I'm not much of a clothing/shoes/purse shopper anyway - being 31 weeks pregnant is totally not when I think trying on clothes and heels sounds like a fun time. I don't want to wander a bookstore because it will only remind me of how many books I already own that I haven't yet read, and I don't want to buy Abigail new toys because bending over to pick up the toys she currently has is already enough work for me.

But Abigail and I are sitting here in this little apartment going stir-crazy. And Abigail has got a bad case of the giggles. And I have no idea what I'd even want to do given free money and use of a car.

If I lived in Chicago, I'd probably still be in this same predicament because it would still be cold there. But if I lived in Florida, I'd totally be at the beach right now. Beaches are free and very distracting for kids. And it isn't cold at the beach. And it's way easier to brush off sand than mud.

Ahhhh, beach, I miss you!


Well, that is honestly all the excitement I can drum up for this post, so I'm going to reference an article that has inspired some dreams for summer plans: Family Adventure Without Travel, written by a huge role model of mine.

And lastly, to sign off, here are some random pictures from late that I haven't managed to make work in another post.






14 March 2014

Cause I love planning things

I read somewhere that experiences make better memories than things. That bit of wisdom has always stuck with me. So Matt and I try to do something on our anniversary and we try to make it something we've never done before. On our very first anniversary, we took a super long bike ride and got lost in some hilly terrain surrounded by quaint, ivy-covered, brick cottages. We then stayed at the hotel where we had our reception (we did not stay there the night we got married, so they gave us the room for our 1st anniversary), got drinks at the in-house bar/club, and stayed up late watching a movie on Pay-per-view, some things we'd never done before, very Breakfast At Tiffany's style. One year we went kayaking (how I discovered I love kayaking), one year we went indoor rock climbing. I have a terrible memory, but I can remember what we did during all of the anniversaries when we had experiences. But one year, the year I was pregnant with Abigail, we did the classic dinner-and-a-movie thing. And I don't really remember it. If I hadn't written it down in a special notebook I have for such things, I would not have remembered it was even dinner and a movie.

Now don't get me wrong, dinner and a movie can be a lot of fun, but for us? That's something we do on a date night when it's cold outside. That's something we can re-create at home with RedBox when we're being cheap. That's not anniversary special. When we're old and gray, I don't want to start conversations with, "Hey, remember that one movie we saw?" I'd rather it be, "Hey remember that one time we went kayaking and a dolphin swam up next to our kayak?" (Yes, that really happened on our second anniversary).

But my goodness, planning an anniversary on a budget, when it's still going to be cold outside, for a time when I'll be 36 weeks pregnant is challenging. Talk about limiting our options. I need something that involves mostly sitting, but not constant sitting as I'll need to get up and stretch my legs often. I need something where I can make quick trips to the bathroom on short notice. We do have some money for our big 0-6, but we'll need to be careful with it. And lastly, I wouldn't mind if it kind of doubled as a babymoon, as it will probably be our last date for a while.

So yeah. Even though our anniversary isn't until late April, I've been mulling over ideas in my head for the last month or so because I was pretty sure it was going to have to be dinner and a movie again. After the occasional chat with other girls, Google searches for "date night ideas," and perusals of Groupon.com, I was considering it pretty hopeless.

Until I found The Answer.

The Answer that perfectly fit all of our criteria: an experience, something we'd never done before, something with a good mix of sitting/standing, something inexpensive, something babymoon-esque.

When I first mentioned it to Matt, I said it half-jokingly. Until he realized, "Babe - that's The Answer!" It took about 1.4 seconds for it to sink in. Yes! Yes, it is! It's The Answer.

A road trip.

Now I know what you're thinking: You've driven from Florida to Michigan half a dozen times, how the *#%& can you say you've never been on a road trip?!

Let me explain. When we drive across the country-side, we load up the car, we eat fast food, and we drive on freeways. The only times we stop are when we eat or pee. There is not much scenery. We've never been on a take-the-backroads, stop-at-cool-looking-places, make-a-new-playlist road trip.

It's perfect! Lots of sitting with lots of stops for leg-stretching at cool-looking places. Lots of time in the car to have conversations and lots of time exploring various haunts to have experiences. And talk about inexpensive - we can pack a lunch to eat picnic-style, load up on snacks from the dollar store ($10 at a dollar store goes a long way in snack world), and use our camera to get souvenirs. So we'll just be springing for gas, dinner somewhere local, and an ice cream or coffee stop.

We'll be headed to a town on Lake Michigan that would be a 1.5 hour trip if we were driving straight through. But we'll take the side-streets. Enjoy the ride there. Then we'll cruise up-and-down the coast, eat dinner somewhere on the water, and take the freeway home.

There is only one caveat, and it's kind of a big one: Abigail. Abigail has never been without either Matt or I for more than about five hours. I've got super separation anxiety thinking about leaving her for an entire day. Then when I think about leaving her for an entire day in April and at least an entire day again in May? Ugh. It's a good thing I've still got five weeks to figure out the babysitter situation, because I'm going to need at least two of those to pretend like I don't have to deal with separation and instead focus on what songs make the best driving songs.

So back to something positive: my one mission while on this trip. We need to find something at least partially made of iron to hang from the rearview mirror. Since Matt and I share a car, we both have to agree on the "decorations" that go in said car. And the traditional sixth anniversary gift is iron. Right now we got nothing hanging from our rearview mirror. I can't think of a better way to commemorate this trip.

12 March 2014

Snowy Excuses

When I opened the blinds this morning, I was greeted with this vista:


Yesterday it was in the 40s, the bushes were uncovered, and I could see brown mud mixed with crushed, green grass blades.

But I had literally just finished reading James 1:2: "Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials." So I figured, why not put practice what I read? So the silver lining of 4 inches of snow (4 more expected today) after several days of not having to zip up my coat when I go outside?

An excuse to cancel plans.

It's amazing how much taking on a new project - even one that only takes a few extra hours per week - can really take it's toll on a young family. I could feel myself hitting my limit, so I carefully selected two projects (couponing and some volunteer design work for a group at church) and let the rest go. And to be honest, if that design work wasn't about to wrap up in the next few weeks, I'd be about done with it too. And the couponing, well, I just saved 46% at Kroger yesterday, so it's definitely sticking around. I have a few of my own projects I want to work on in these next two months - the baptismal gown is almost done, the memoir-edits are coming along well, the girls' party is still a go, and I still have work to do to get Abigail's room ready for a roommate.

So this snow was a good excuse to do some canceling and rescheduling and catch up on laundry and Chica time. Abigail is a total mommy's girl and she can feel me pulling away: the busier I get, the clingier she gets. I gotta get in as many mommy-Chica moments as I can while she's still the baby.

Over the weekend, I got a little taste of outdoor family time and I am definitely planning to schedule the next two months around such occasions. Until March 31st, the local zoo in Lansing, Michigan has half price admission and isn't charging for parking. So we went to the zoo.



While I hope this snow doesn't stick around long enough to give us cabin fever again, I'm totally using it as my excuse today to hang out in my pajamas, put six plastic necklaces on at one time with Abigail, and do a prenatal yoga DVD. Cheers to lazy days restorative days.


10 March 2014

Healing, Baby Clothes Edition

I don't know about you, but lately I feel like I all do is talk about healing. I'm sorry if this topic is getting boring, but I'm super stoked to be getting as much of my shit together as possible before God hands me a new little life to raise. So anyway, this latest "me working through my past emotions" comes to us courtesy of Abigail's baby clothes.

I picked up a bunch of baby stuff from my parents' basement and have been digging, sorting, tossing, donating. It turns out that I have 52 short-sleeved, newborn sized onesies that are not associated with an outfit. Suffice to say, I could have twin girls and not need any baby clothes for a good, long while.


So anyway, I was going through the newborn clothes. Abigail switched to 3-month sized clothing around 4 months old and it was perfectly timed to our move to Florida. And as I was sorting through these itty bitty newborn clothes, it struck me: Abigail only wore this onesie during the darkest period of my life.

In those early days, I took a lot of solace in shopping. As much as we were trying not to accumulate a lot of possessions so we wouldn't have to ship them back to Florida, I absolutely loved getting out to Carter's and buying cute, girly clothing. The baby aisles of Babys R Us, Carter's, Target were the only places where my life was normal. Where no one knew my baby was different. Where no one asked about heart surgery or told me stories about people with Down syndrome. And when I would get Abigail dressed in the morning, it was a chance to do something totally normal. Picking out a pink striped romper and guiding her tiny arms through the sleeves didn't make me think about her feeding issues, or her constant exhaustion, or our upcoming appointment to the cardiologist.

Her coming home outfit next to my phone for size comparison. 

So we got the "all clear" to travel back to Florida, I packed these clothes in a box in September 2011 and didn't look at them again until March 2014. Pulling them back out was so very bittersweet. Seeing the onesies I made Abigail; both a creative outlet and a passive attempt to get people to see my daughter, not a diagnosis.


Her tiny little designer hospital gowns that a friend made us. A way to make her ours in the regulation of the hospital's sterile world.


Digging my fingers into the sore wounds - wounds I hadn't really known existed - hurt, but it helped too. Like stretching muscles sore from a new workout: it hurts, but it also feels good. And when I stuck the label on the tote and stacked it in the closet, those wounds felt more healed.

I am excited for this baby to wear those pink striped rompers and purple fleece socks. I don't want to burn the clothes and start over, but neither do I want to replace my early memories of Abigail. I want to make new memories to go alongside the old ones. The summer my daughter was born was the darkest time of my entire life, but it was still a part of my entire life. A part that broke me down, tore me up, and left me space to build again, but stronger and wiser.

There are lots of ways I could have gotten here, but life handed me open-the-heart surgery. And with every tiny-toothed smile and lopped-sided piggy tail hug, we get forget a little bit more about the pain and remember a little bit more about the baby oil smells and cute wrinkly feet.


07 March 2014

Oh, it's a scary food! I'm afraid.

*Title of post compliments of Emperor's New Groove

In January, I blogged a bit about my child's absurdly picky eating and talked about a book I'd picked up that I was hoping would help a bit. Here's an update.

So the book is called Food Chaining, and I warn you, it is not for the faint of heart. It's a "proven 6 step plan" to get kids eating normally, but only the 6th step reflects the title. The first five steps all relate to meeting with medical experts and therapists to rule out any physical reason for a rejection of food. Having been through the process already, I can easily see how it could take a good six months to get to the sixth step and begin food chaining.

But it's definitely logical. It doesn't make any sense to food chain your child to eat mashed potatoes if the reason they aren't currently eating them is because they lack the ability to properly rotate food in their mouths.

However, we've already been through all five of those steps. We already meet regularly with speech and occupational therapists. I know that Abigail's mouth muscles are doing what is expected of them, that her tongue movement with regard to food is right on, and we are addressing her sensory issues. We met monthly with a nutritionist in Chicago to evaluate her diet. We visited the gastroenterologist and had workups done to determine the state of Abigail's digestive system. We've got her on meds to control the vomiting and stomach irritation. Fun stuff.

So we got to sally forth into step number six. Food chaining. The basics are as follows: very slowly, introduce your child to new foods that are so similar to the foods they like, you'll have a hard time telling the difference. Keep new food introductions low-key and don't force anything. Focus on getting the child to eat new foods before you worry about getting them to eat healthy food.

So here's an example of a food chain:
If you child eat's McDonald's french fries, next offer:
-fries from other fast food restaurants
-store-bought frozen fries
-the tops of tater tots or hashbrowns
-fried potatoes, steak fries or potato wedges
-baked potato
-baked potato with toppings
-mashed potatoes with toppings
-Shepherd’s pie – starting with primarily mashed potatoes and slowly changing the potato/meat ratio.

And there you go, after months (years?) of work, up to 50 exposures per new food item, and a few dozen steps backwards, BAM you have a child eating meat pie. Easy, right?

Oh goodness gracious.

The good news is that as I was going through the book, I again realized how well off we are. Abigail doesn't eat a lot of foods, but she eats a lot of different types of food, so we have significantly more food chains to play with.

So far in the world of food chaining, I've gotten her to eat:
-12 noodles of (homemade) mac n' cheese with small bits of broccoli in it, which is the most she's ever eaten of mac n' cheese or broccoli! And the best news is that she ate it without complaint! Happily even. She probably would have eaten more, but I really wanted to end on a positive note, so once all 12 noodles were gone, I took away her plate and offered her a safe food.
-cheddar and sour cream kettle cooked potato chips
-A new flavor of Cheerios (this was a softball, but I'll still take it)
-1/4 of a brown sugar cinnamon pop tart
-1/4 of this blueberry biscuit she should love, but is being difficult about


With my new couponing skills, I scored this box for $.95 and thought it would be a home run. Abigail loves blueberries, crackers, sweets, and things she can eat by herself. What is not to like about these? Matt and I tried them and find them addictingly delicious. But you see, the a large part of the problem is that they are new and different and therefore scary. Part of me wants to shout, "just get over it, kid!" But the other part of me recognizes that I would rather starve than eat something scary, like bugs. I think it's accurate to say I'd probably starve to death before I'd eat bugs.

So anyway, before we can even begin to taste the food, we need to give Abigail positive experiences with its mere presence. I only expose her to it every few days and I act like I'm handing her nothing different than her water bottle. I hold the box and let her open it and pull out a new package. I let her carry it around the apartment, squishing the wrapper to hear the noise it makes and smelling it through the package. We open it together and I let her pull one out by herself (at this point, she's in her high chair, which she doesn't usually fight because she's in a good mood about her independent play with the new food). If it's a good day, she will nibble on the cracker while I eat or prepare my breakfast, but about 1/4 of the way in, she realizes what is going on and chucks the biscuit across the room. If it's a bad day, we go straight to chucking. I don't get mad or say anything critical. I just pick up the biscuit and offer Abigail a plastic bag to put it in. As she loves in-and-out play, she happily says "bye bye" to the new food and puts it in the ziplock bag. When I put it back in the cupboard and close the door, she smiles and says, "all done."

And that, my friends, is a huge victory. She got in the high chair without complaint, she touched the new food, sometimes she didn't throw it until after she'd tasted it, and we ended on a positive note. Oh yeah, and there were no tears or heat banging.

So we're over here making slow, painfully slow, progress in the world of food. Made even more painful by her recent phasing out of grilled cheese (there goes a major food chaining food), but at least we're taking steps forward somewhere. And actually, I found a yogurt Abigail loves. It's the really healthy Yoplait Light brand, you know, the one full of aspartame? Yeah, she's head-over-heels for it. I just have to keep reminding myself, "At least she is eating something she once thought was scary."

05 March 2014

A Day of Thinkin'

Today, as you probably already know, is Ash Wednesday, the official opening day of Lent. Matt is giving up coffee (I'm expecting him to come home from work with caffeine withdrawl headaches these next few days), and I'm giving up chocolate (most of my pregnancy cravings revolve around chocolate, so this should be a tough one for me). Since I'm pregnant, I can use my "Get Out Of Fasting Free" card today, but I'm still trying to eat "solemnly," by which I mean, no beverages other than water and no junk food (even the chocolate-free kind).

Today, as you probably didn't know, is also r-word awareness day.


To put it briefly, my daughter is retarded. According to the actual definition of the word. So when we use the word "retarded" to describe a lame movie or an awkward dance move or a bad presidential candidate, we are saying that the most notable characteristics of the intellectually challenged is that they are lame, stupid, awkward, and worthless. Abigail is none of these things. Retarded is not a cool slang word, it's a cruel hate word.

We are respectful of our black neighbors, Jewish grocers, Hispanic bakers, and homosexual baristas, but my special needs child?

Spread the word to end the word.

You can read past articles I've written on the topic at In A Perfect World and a blog post from Down Syndrome Awareness Week in 2012.

May you have a Lent just painful enough to make your Easter awesome.

01 March 2014

Blessed

I can't believe it was just a few weeks ago that I was feeling so overwhelmed with all these frustrating things going on in life. I definitely identified a weak prayer life as a possible culprit for feeling like things were slipping out of my control. Matt and I relied very heavily on God to see us through law school and our year in Chicago. I mean, we freakin' moved to Florida in 2009 without so much as a place to live! We had our stuff in our car and 384 cubic feet of space on a semi truck to our name. (We stayed in a hotel for a few days while we looked for places to stay and signed a lease). But anyway, I always had this mindset that once we graduated and got a job and got back to Michigan, things would settle down. We'd become a typical American family. We'd buy a house, a second car, new furniture. I envisioned all of our problems ending once we got that real job and stopped moving. But when we got here, things didn't magically sort themselves out. And I started to realize slowly but sure that I had unconsciously stopped relying on God. He got us through, I said my thanks, and I moved on, I realized. So I implemented a family Rosary in the evenings and added a few morning prayers to the beginning of our day. And suddenly life felt easier.

After six months of searching, a carpool situation magically fell into our laps. Combined with a compromise on the pain-in-the-ass bus system, I now can have the car a guaranteed two days a week, plus any other day I need it without much notice without having to drive Matt to work in the mornings. And this situation can easily be kept up once the baby comes.

I took a birth healing class that has helped me work through so many of my fears and has me feeling really excited about the whole experience for the first time...ever.

I started seeing a chiropractor and after four sessions, I am now completely pain free. I wasn't experiencing excruciating pain, but it was a constant nagging thing that left me feeling very drained by the end of the day. Back, pelvis, side, all the usual pregnancy + carrying a toddler pain. But anyway, I also found out that my chiro has a masseuse on staff, which means I can get prenatal massages for the cost of a $20 copay.

Lastly, that couponing class I talked about earlier is really paying off! I went out this morning to do my full-on grocery shopping (I go once every two weeks; the trip I mentioned in the last blog post was strictly a coupon + sale trip, I only got things that matched up and didn't pay more than $1 for any one item). Anyway, I really did save 50% off my bill this morning! I am so excited about it! Having that extra money each month is really going to reduce some press points for us and let us have a few more luxuries (I have my eye on a zoo pass this summer) without making us reduce our debt payments to the minimums.

I am feeling so thankful and so very blessed. I am in such a good place right now and I am making sure to offer up nightly prayers of thanksgiving for all the blessings. I know life won't always be this smooth and sometimes I will pray and God will say, "no," but it sure is nice to catch a break now and again, to feel God offer a basket of blessings.