Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Life Goes On

So, as much as so many of my thoughts and prayers are still with my extended family in the midwest, life at home has had to go on.  I have two kids and a husband who are depending on me to function on a daily basis, and while I often feel like I'm still not running on all cylinders, I have to try to be as present as possible.  As I mentioned in my last post, sometimes it feels almost decadent to be able to live so far away and go on with life without the constant reminders of what happened.  My thoughts jump back numerous times every day as it is, so I can only imagine the difficulties my aunt, uncle, cousin, and Kristi's fiance must be dealing with.  My heart continues to break for them.

But back on the home front, we've had to get back on track.  Jacob's sports have started, and the countdown to the end of the school year is on.  His lacrosse and baseball practices have been overlapping each other, but thanks to some crappy weather it has been less of an issue than it could have been.  After watching Jacob hobble through lacrosse practice last week, I wasn't sure he was really up to lacrosse this spring, but Craig (who was even more concerned than I) had the Knighthawks trainer take a look at him, and all is well.  He gave us some exercises that will strengthen the leg and increase his flexibility after so many months of immobility, so hopefully we'll start seeing some progress.  His first game is Saturday.  I haven't seen him in action at baseball yet, but that should be easier.  So far he really just wants to pitch.  Apparently the games this year are marathons because of the kid pitchers, which will be trying.  Jacob hasn't been thrilled about playing, but we've told him he needs to give baseball one more year now that it's "real" baseball (without some of the weird-but-helpful little league rules we've had until now).  Luckily we have many of the same players and generally pleasant parents we've had the past few years, so if this is it, it's a good way to go out.  But we've got sports going on three days a week right now (with lots of overlap--so it could be worse), which I swore we'd never do again.  But since we missed out on lacrosse over the winter, we didn't really have a choice.  Sigh.

Of course, with a sports schedule like that, I have been having a heck of a time finding time to get my body back in shape.  I've really let it go these last few months.  It's been hard to find time for the gym between our counseling sessions, Craig's travel schedule, my never-ending errand to-do list, and general guilt about Craig not having time to work out, or him having to pick up both kids, or me serving yet another late dinner.  It's just felt so much harder lately.  And my weight has suffered.  It went scary-high (for me) for a bit but has been hovering in a not-awful-but-too-high point for a while now.  I'd like to lose at least five pounds but ideally closer to eight (or ten!) to fit better in my jeans and not feel like such a slug.  I'm not tall so it's more significant than it sounds.  We've been trying to figure out this elliptical thing for a while now and we're sort of stuck.  The one we were planning on buying and the next model up have been really close in price lately.  The upgrade seemed a bit odd when we used it at the store, but I think that it was broken.  Obviously I don't like that it could do that.  And has some better features and it has an easy assembly system so we wouldn't have to pay for assembly.  But if it's only delivered we're going to have to figure out how to get a 200-pound machine down to our basement from the front porch.  And considering we haven't been able to get a 100+ lb. awkward tube television out of our living room for over a year, I am concerned about the elliptical.  So we just haven't done anything about it.

Of course, I finally registered for the Chase Corporate Challenge today, which means that I need to get my butt in shape unless I want to have a heart attack on the course in another month.  I ran a full three miles for the first time in ages on my trip, and I was really struggling by the end.  And the Corporate Challenge is another half mile beyond that.  Adrenaline helps, but I don't want to rely on it.  So I really need to carve out time to train.  I would do it during my lunch, but I sweat like a pig for at least an hour after I finish, and there's no shower at work anyway, so it would be pretty gross.  It's just hard to take the time when I know Craig hasn't had a chance to work out lately either.  Maybe this gives me an important short-term reason to do it anyway (i.e., be selfish), but it's hard.  I just keep thinking about how I wonder every year, somewhere around mile three, why I tortured myself by running the race again.  The last half mile in particular kills me every time.  But then I finish and the sense of accomplishment is so euphoric.  When my daily life is full of never-ending home tasks, an endless supply of work tasks, and the often-thankless job of raising kids, it's nice to have something that I can actually complete successfully and that gives me some degree of satisfaction.  So I guess that's why I do it, even though my time gets worse every year.

Craig's last two regular season games are this weekend, one home and one away.  Most likely the Knighthawks will miss the playoffs.  It's a shame, but I feel like this year it might be for the best.  The lacrosse season goes so long now with a couple extra regular season games and a slew of playoff games that if you're not going to win it all, you might as well be done early.  He has the possibility to do some extra work next weekend if he's not working his normal job, and while Mother's Day isn't ideal, he can make a pretty decent amount of money for the time so it's worth the sacrifice.  But needless to say we're all looking forward to a lower key summer.  Despite his absence, we'll be going to Buffalo Sunday for a double dip of religious observances.  We were already going for our nephew's First Communion, and then we found out my cousin's son's confirmation is Sunday, too.  Long day, but it'll be nice to see both families.

I guess the only person I haven't talked about is Carter.  He is chugging along, his usual unstoppable self.  He is beyond cute.  He has such a funny little mind and he's getting very creative.  He loves his superheroes and cars and is constantly combining all of his toys to play in different ways.  He will load his superheroes into his MegaBloks bus, or will use his drill as a freeze ray before using it to "fix" his little ride-on car.  One moment he's Spider-man, the next he's Batman, and the next he's saying matter-of-factly, "No, I'm Carter!"  He says cute things, he has a good sense of humor, and he's usually fun to hang out with.  He's also a little obsessed with his TV shows, which we're working on when we have the energy to distract him.  We rarely had that issue with Jacob as he played through shows for years, but Carter is spellbound.  Not good, but we're trying to wean him a bit.  Of course, even though he's usually awesome, he's still three, so we have moments where he is totally irrational, but he can usually be reasoned with and he's affectionate and sweet.  He loves to give hugs and sometimes plants a kiss right on your cheek out of nowhere.  He's finally happy to be dropped off at daycare (right when I was ready to switch him--ugh), but he's thrilled to see me at the end of the day, too.  He's my little buddy who tells me every day that he's my best friend and I'm his (and he says the same to Craig, but that's ok--I'll share!).  He is such a polar opposite from Jacob that it's unbelievable.  Jacob wants zero affection from me and definitely has an attitude regarding anything having to do with me.  We keep trying to call him out on that attitude, but it's almost like he thinks we're making it up that what he's saying is disrespectful.  Seriously?!  We're still waiting to hear back from the next round of behavioral specialists.  It'll hopefully be within the next week or so.  We'll most likely end up on a waiting list, but one step at a time.  In the meantime we've got a bunch of events to finish off the school year, which is ending early--on Jacob's birthday, no less--because we didn't use any snow days.  We've got a concert, a moving-up ceremony, a picnic, and I'm sure a couple more things, too.  I can't believe he's almost done with second grade and his current school.  We're still discussing if we'd want to switch him to private school since he's changing schools anyway.  But he doesn't like the school we'd switch him to, and obviously we'd have to take on the burden of tuition.  That's tougher for the next two years while Carter is still in daycare, but significantly easier once Carter is in school.  However, I had this realization today that the high school Craig wants to send Jacob to starts at sixth grade, which means that if we sent both boys there eventually, we'd be paying double tuition for two years (Carter in 6th and 7th, Jacob in 11th and 12th), and that is seriously scary.  My stomach flopped when that thought crossed my mind.  I think they're at more than a state school tuition right now, so doubling that (even with a sibling discount) is intimidating.  The jury is still out on how Carter will be as a student, but I'd said years ago that we'd have to see how Jacob was as a student before considering private high school.  I think it's pretty clear already that he could use the discipline, and before I realized they'd overlap, it seemed doable.  Now...well, let's just hope one of us gets a huge raise or we find the perfect house in a better district at some point in the next few years!

I got my first review at my job today (in paper for right now) and everything was positive!  It's been quite a year but I'm thankful to be there.  I had my first major event that I'd planned last night, and it went well.  I had some helpful guidance along the way, and a little help because of the timing of my trip, but I did a lot of the planning and it went well!  There were a lot of pieces, but they all came together.  Of course, when I got back to my desk I read an email from the University updating us on the Norovirus outbreak on campus and giving guidelines for end-of-year parties just like ours, in order to minimize the risk of transmission...and we didn't do any of those.  Oops.  A couple hours earlier and we could have planned a little better, but that's life, I guess.  So now we're all holding our breath as we wait for the incubation period to pass.  At least the food was awesome :)

Ok, I think I've spewed enough randomness today, but at least I got a brain dump out of the way to offset my lack of posts lately!  More soon...

Sunday, April 24, 2016

News & Notes, Back Seat Edition

I had a lot of time to ponder life from the back seat of my parents' car.  We had about 24 hours of travel time total, and when you're no longer on the hook for directions, keeping someone awake, or attending to the needs of everyone else in the car, it's definitely an odd experience.  In some ways it's a little strange to be a full-blown adult and yet still be the "kid" in the group.  At least when my kids are around I have some level of authority and credibility, but all bets are off when you're alone and revert back in the kid role!  But it was fine...better, in fact, since I had full ability to pack and eat my own snacks and relish the fact that I didn't have to do any of those things above.  I certainly have more appreciation for watching the world go by than I used to!

One of the good things I learned from this trip was that if I take Dramamine, which I have never taken before, I can actually read in the car.  I don't have any trouble with carsickness in general, and obviously I'm fine with amusement park rides and the like, but for some reason, looking at a book or even a phone in the car makes me foggy headed and slightly nauseous.  It's always been that way.  Thankfully, I've always been able to read on planes, so I don't know what makes cars different.  But for this trip, since I had a book to read, I bought a low-drowsiness version of Dramamine and figured it would be a good test.  I ended up not using it on the way out since we had plenty to talk about in the car and I didn't need another diversion.  But it worked like a charm on the way back, as I guess we were all talked out!  I did short bits of reading--a chapter or two--and felt fine.  In comparison, without the Dramamine, I got icky just looking at the Jelly Belly flavor menu in the car for a few minutes after our stop there!  Good to know for the future! 

As I said, on the drive out I was plenty occupied by conversations with my parents.  The family time from this trip--both immediate and extended--was really important to me.  Obviously I felt it was necessary to be there as a support system for my aunt and uncle and other extended family, but I also savored the opportunity to hang out with my parents without the constant interruption I'm used to with my kids around.  And once my brother arrived on Saturday, the throwback feel was upped a notch since it was just the four of us--no spouses, no kids--and that is rare, indeed.  I also spent time with extended family I rarely see, as well as my uncle's family who I haven't seen since I was very little!  But it was nice to get that bonding time, and I appreciated the opportunity despite the reason for it.

On Sunday night before we headed back to the hotel, we looked through my aunt and uncle's photo albums.  I've seen many of the events in their albums from my parents' photographic perspective, but it was interesting to see their photos.  Many were from their early marriage, when my aunt was super young, and lots of pictures from when my cousin Keith was a baby and they still lived around the corner from us.  Seeing my aunt as a young mom--far younger than I am now--and seeing the evolution, particularly with this most recent, horrible parental chapter, was very poignant to me, for some reason.  As much as we parents worry about our kids and often think the worst, realistically we never truly expect to lose our kids.  The woman in those pictures could never imagine the future that awaited her, and thank God for that.  I think of that often--that as much as we worry, it's better that we don't know our future because we'd sit around worrying about it arriving instead of enjoying the time we have.  Perhaps we don't always enjoy it to the fullest because of the worries we do have even without that knowledge, and we'd probably savor it more if we knew that joy was limited, but whenever I look at a happy picture before a specific sad event, I wonder how the joy of that event would have been changed by that future knowledge.  Deep, I know.  Anyway, there was such a contrast between the new mom in the pictures and seasoned, heartbroken mom that I spent the weekend watching, and it makes you more aware of your role as a mom.  It definitely makes you want to savor the good times and not hate the bad times so much.

My uncle's eulogy was moving, and it definitely hit home.  He spoke of nights when my cousin would call out and need reassurance after a bad dream, and he would assure her that everything would be okay.  It obviously made me think about my many nights--particularly recently--where I have been woken up by my kids and I groan as I get out of bed to attend to them.  We've had many nights like that with Jacob, as he was a horrible sleeper during teething and even now has gone through phases of bad dreams.  Lately Carter has been the major culprit as a result of potty training.  Since he's still in a crib (yes, the bedroom furniture situation is still a mess, and I haven't figured out how to get a reasonably priced mattress to my house), he can't get up to pee on his own.  And even if he could, usually he still needs a little help in the bathroom.  So, for now, until his bladder expands to hold on all night, I will be a bit short on sleep again.  And of course the speech was a good reminder to savor those moments, no matter how challenging, because this is all so fleeting.  I can't say that it's easy to do in the middle of them--trust me, I've still done my fair share of yelling and ranting this week--but I try.

One of the things that has stood out to me since her death is how normal life seems almost decadent.  It feels like we're so fortunate to be able to do mundane, everyday stuff.  We're here, we're alive, and we're not having a constant wave of grief hitting us.  The same can't be said for members of my family, and my heart breaks for them.  We're here, a 10+ hour drive away, and can still mostly go through our normal lives.  With a little more sadness, yes, but it doesn't constantly envelop us like it did last weekend. 

The other night my cousin Keith posted on YouTube the photo montage he made that played on repeat at the funeral home.  It's 24 minutes of pictures of Kristi, mostly from the digital camera/social media era.  The younger ages were pretty well covered by photo collages on easels.  But those digital pictures gave such a vivid picture of the beautiful, loved young woman that Kristi was.  It showed picture after picture of her gorgeous, vibrant smile, surrounded by friends and family, and living her short life to the fullest.  I had seen those pictures many times over at the funeral home, but when he posted it, I watched the first few minutes again.  I even got Jacob to admit she was pretty (hehe), and I tried to get him to understand why I want him to have a better relationship with Carter, courtesy of the many sibling pictures.  But I still found myself in this horrible state of disbelief that she's really gone.  You can't look at her without everything screaming "ALIVE!"  See for yourself...

Doesn't seem possible, does it?  We're just not used to young people having their lives cut short, so the juxtaposition of these pictures with death seems so wrong.  Of course, then Prince died this week and that whole "too young, so much potential" theme cropped up again.  Certainly it's on a different plane than what we went through, but the theme felt all too familiar.  I still feel like I'm going through life in a bit of a fog.  Not quite the thick fog I had going on the week after she passed, but there is this constant underlying sadness where my thoughts always drift back to my family and what they're probably going through at that very moment. 

I know I had many more thoughts while sitting in that back seat, and since, but I can't think of them right now.  I'm up way past my bedtime after another Knighthawks game (one of our few this season).  It looks like it'll be a short spring for them.  Always sad to not win in the playoffs, but if it means we get Craig back sooner, that's not a bad option, either.  One more week, and then we'll see.  I had a busy day of trying to check long-overdue stuff around the house (that I've been neglecting for two weeks in the fog), so hopefully we'll be back to some regularly scheduled programming here soon.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Saying Goodbye

Last week I scrambled like crazy to find someone to take care of Carter while Craig worked on Saturday, all so I could hitch a ride to Wisconsin with my parents for my cousin's funeral.  I haven't been to Wisconsin since I was almost 13, so I guess you could say I was overdue.  This certainly wasn't the way I wanted to go, but I was very thankful that Craig's family was able to take Carter for the day.  That meant Craig had to do a lot of driving over an already busy weekend, but again, I couldn't imagine being anywhere else. 

I had to leave Thursday night.  However, before I left town I had to go to the first "Moms' Night Out" gathering at my church.  I've been going to the same church for 15 years.  It is a rather large church and it's easy to get lost in the crowd.  When I first started there, my odd work schedule didn't jive with Bible study night.  Craig's schedule has never been conducive to getting involved, and kids complicated matters further.  As a result, I've never gotten involved with anything.  But this moms group sounded like a possibility...and I wanted to be there from the beginning, so I made sure to go to the first one.  And you know, I liked it.  We talked, we snacked, we watched a video, and we talked some more.  My goal is to find a long-term friend and be reminded of how fun churchy stuff can be...and to ultimately get my spiritual life back in a great place.  It was just a beginning, but I'm so glad I got up the guts to do it.  But then I had to run home, get the kids in bed, and take off.  It was a late night, but it was an even earlier morning.

We left just after 5am, just me and my parents in the car.  Yes, it felt a little funny.  But it was fun and felt like a bit of an adventure.  And it was nice to be in the backseat where the pressure was off!  The drive actually wasn't too bad from back there.  We made a few stops for food and bathroom breaks, and we even ran into my uncle, my cousin, and her wife and son, who left at the same time we did.  We stopped at a Steak and Shake in South Bend, IN, since my parents had never been there.  We got a glimpse of Notre Dame, did a geocache to add Indiana to my parents' list of states, and headed toward the brutal traffic outside Chicago.  It was a harrowing ride (Speed limit?  What's that?), but eventually we made it across the border to Kenosha.  This sign was right near our a place called The Brat Stop...for bratwurst, of course, not cranky children.
Yup, definitely Wisconsin...
We spent the evening with my aunt, uncle, cousin, and various family from both sides.  It was a very emotional evening, but there were some moments that brought out the smiles.  We ate, drank, laughed, cried...and eventually headed back to the hotel. 

We had a free morning on Saturday before the first viewing, so my parents wanted to add to their geocache totals a bit more.  We did a few just across the border in Illinois, and while they were taking care of one, I happened to catch this bird on a wire.  I guess this bird is pretty common, but I don't know that I've ever seen one...
The wings were so striking...and the sky was perfectly blue!
One of the geocaches back in Wisconsin appeared to be outside a jelly bean factory, and it turned out to be a Jelly Belly location!  It wasn't actually a factory, but more of a warehouse that fulfilled internet orders.  We found a cache nearby, then headed into the store to buy souvenirs (mostly for the kids, but...), but we ended up just catching a tour.  The tour involved sitting in a train that drove around the perimeter of the warehouse and treated us to videos of jelly bean production and history.  It was cheesy, but it was fun!

After stocking up on candy, we headed back to get ready for our first trip to the funeral home.  I don't know that anything could have prepared me for that.  She didn't look like herself in the casket, which was strange.  It just made everything even more strange and surreal than it already was.  We looked at hundreds of pictures of this beautiful, smiling girl, and it was so hard to believe she's gone, that all of those adventures won't be added to.  It was so sad.  My brother arrived part of the way through, and it was good to see him.  I had some nice conversations with some of my uncle's family that I hadn't seen in many years (or ever), but my eyes always went back to that casket and back to those pictures.  Still completely unbelievable.

When Craig's Nana passed away, her flowers were so beautiful and I snapped pictures of a few of them.  It was a beautiful way to memorialize her.  I decided to do the same here.  This arrangement was one of the more unique, and the colors were so bright and beautiful.

This lily was as big as my hand...

After the viewing, Kristi's friends held a bubble vigil down by the lake.  We blew bubbles and sent them up to the heavens for her.  It was beautiful to watch.

My cousin Kathy's son Erik, Kristi's dad, my mom's brother, Kristi's mom, my mom, and my cousin Kathy's wife Kim
We had another evening of food and drinks at my aunt and uncle's before heading back for another night in the hotel.  Believe it or not, it wasn't too bad staying with my parents.  Again, a bit like a weird throwback, but it was fine.  Sunday morning my mom went to church and I opted to run a 5K on the treadmill in the hotel gym.  We headed over to the funeral home at noon and did another couple hours of visitation.  This time we seemed to stay in our smaller family groups as people came through, and the funeral service followed.

As you would expect, the funeral was very difficult.  So many tears.  So.  Many.  My uncle did an amazing job of eulogizing his daughter, and between that and the moving music, it was a very emotional time.  We went to a luncheon put on by my uncle's theater group, and then it was back to my aunt and uncle's for one more evening together.  We looked at old photo albums, which brought back so many memories and made everything even more surreal.  How can that little girl be gone?  We said our goodbyes rather early so we could prepare for another early morning and long day in the car.

We went through Chicago since it was early, and we had just enough daylight to enjoy it.  It's hard to take pictures in dim light while moving at 60+ mph, but I did.

As the sun rose over Lake Michigan, it did the strangest thing.  It reflected perfectly off the water, creating a bight column of light.  It was stunning.

The drive home was long, but we added one more state to the geocache list in Ohio and gave my dad a chance to eat a Primanti Bros. sandwich in Erie.  And once we got back to my parents' house, I still had another hour and a half to go!  But I was happy to make it and give my kids hugs.  Of course, as I did I realized Carter was hot and discovered a fever that lasted into today, but at least I'm home.  Carter and Jacob are both coughing and congested, and Carter's seems pretty bad.  Coughing through the night, a stubborn fever, and a constant runny nose.  Poor kid.  It makes it hard to get back into the groove, that's for sure.  And tonight was a rough night in general, including the realization that Jacob needs some sort of rehab (they told us he wouldn't, but watching him limping through lacrosse practice makes us think otherwise).  I am a little disappointed in myself, because I should have tons of patience after my absence and tons of perspective after such a tragedy, but tonight was pretty depressing.  Let's hope tomorrow is a better day.

I figure I might have more thoughts on all of this soon, but I wanted to get the trip out before it all became a blur.  I'm so thankful for the opportunity, though.  I just couldn't have been anywhere else.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


So, before the horrible news we had to end the weekend, we actually had a pretty good couple days. It was actually just Carter and me, as Craig and Jacob spent the weekend in Buffalo.  The Knighthawks played there Saturday night, so they went up Friday night and came back Sunday after our nephew's hockey game.  Jacob got to be a ball boy on Saturday, and was reasonably cooperative up in the press box during the game as Craig did his broadcast. 

In the meantime, Carter and I were hanging out at home.  I made a bunch of plans for Saturday, and once you add in church, naps, meals, some of his shows, and some toys, and we had a pretty full weekend.  He was mostly cooperative, so that was helpful.  Saturday morning we went to the library.  I was originally planning on going to our town's library, but when I found out that Republican presidential candidate John Kasich was speaking at the town hall across the parking lot, I opted to switch to the library in the town south of us.  It's a smaller kids section, but there are lots of toys, too.  And Carter was definitely more into the toys than the book selection, but I managed to pick three for him, one for Jacob ("Where the Sidewalk Ends", by Shel Silverstein, one of my all-time favorites and the book that made me love poetry around his age), and one for myself ("Instant Mom" by Nia Vardalos, the star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding).  I let him play for quite a while before we had to get home and eat before naptime.  He didn't sleep long, partly because my attempt to reorganize toys ended up being a bit louder in his room than I expected.  But that worked out fine because I had a fun evening planned for us and it allowed us to get started on it sooner.

We went to the craft store first, as I had a couple Pinterest ideas that I wanted to explore for upgrading my spring decor.  Carter wanted to walk instead of riding in the cart, but I got the cart anyway since I didn't want to carry everything.  I told him that if he didn't stay with me, he'd have to ride.  Well, all was fine until we got to a section with foam soccer balls, and he couldn't help himself but grab one and kick it around a bit.  Then we went down an aisle with a foam sword and he desperately wanted that.  And he was so insistent, and unable to listen as a result, that I had to put him in the cart.  And he spent the next 15-20 minutes yelling at me in the cart about how he wanted to get down. I feel like if I have improved at anything in motherhood over the last eight years, it's remaining calm when your kid has a meltdown...particularly in public.  I remained calm, simply telling him that when he stopped yelling at me and showed me he could listen, he could get down and walk.  Eventually he started calming down, but then he'd get mad all over again, so he ended up in the cart for most of the trip.  But I did have success buying some craft items, so that was good.  Hopefully I will finish my project and post a picture of the finished piece soon!

After that, it was dinner time, so we drove across the mall parking lot to the McDonald's, as I had promised to take him there.  Jacob no longer wants to eat there--he insists it gives him a stomach ache, and now that breakfast is all day, the sausage patties contaminate the griddle anyway--so it's reserved for Carter-only meals.  When we got there, there were a dozen high school kids sitting around and taking up at least half of the dining area.  It was tough to find a spot that would work for us to sit next to each other, and the whole time we had kids just hanging around.  Luckily I didn't hear much bad language from them (the two unrelated girls down the way, though...ugh), but it just felt awkward.  After we ate, it was back to the mall.  I had a little shopping to do, and then I had promised Carter he could play in the play area there.  I normally stay far away from those things, but because the weather has been so cold and crappy for so long, I thought he deserved a chance to run and climb and play. 

And that's precisely when I remembered why we never do that stuff.  There's a 42" height limit in the play area, but there were kids at least as tall as Jacob in there (and he's about 51" now, I think).  It wasn't like they were just helping their younger siblings.  They were running around like maniacs, climbing the structures, jumping on them, sitting on the slide and blocking it, starting up the stairs then reversing course with no regard for the tiny kids behind them.  It was awful.  And then you add in the usual behavior by perfectly "legal" kids--pushing, running, etc.--and it was very hard to just sit by and watch.  I was doing my best to not hover, but it wasn't easy.  I was convinced we'd be leaving there with a broken arm or something. 

But Carter had a blast.  He particularly liked climbing up this structure and sitting at the top of it.  Luckily kids could still get by him to go down the slide, but he just liked sitting up there and pretending to drive!  I did have to stop him from pushing other kids down, though, which I think he picked up from other kids doing it to him. 
He's right in the middle, navy blue shirt with white sleeves

He also loved running down the "river" on the carpet that you can see in blue just in front of the bulldozer.  He'd even cross it at a "bridge" printed on the floor.  A couple times he ran to the other end of the area to climb into a boat or go down the lighthouse slide.  I had a hard time getting a good picture from my non-hovering spot, but you can see him as the blur here...

It took a bit to convince him it was time to leave, but it was getting late.  We got some treats from Tim Hortons to go, and we each had a part of our treat when we got home, then saved the rest for breakfast.  On Sunday we went to church, and while he gave me the usual resistance for going into Sunday School, he was fine by the time I got back.  He always is.  We got him a haircut after church, came home for lunch, and then he took a good, long nap.  During the nap I started my craft project, and that first part went surprisingly well.  Craig and Jacob got home shortly after he woke up, and we had a nice, uneventful dinner.  And it was after that that everything took its sad turn. 

Just today we figured out how to rearrange life a bit so I can go to the funeral.  I'll be riding there with my parents.  The big sticking point was Saturday, as Craig has to work all day and long into the evening.  Jacob can be with him through that time, but Carter is just not ready for that yet!  Luckily, Craig's family is going to keep him for the day. It's going to involve a lot of driving for Craig, but I appreciate that he's willing to do that so I can have this time with my family.  It's a lot of travel for only a couple days--and a very sad couple days at that--but family is just too important and I would forever regret not getting this chance to say goodbye and support those left behind.

I'll try to end this on a happy note, with a couple springy pictures of the gorgeous tulips my co-worker gave me for my one year anniversary at work last week.  Aren't they gorgeous?

I am definitely a lucky girl to be where I am.  That's true for work and otherwise.  Very blessed, indeed.

Monday, April 11, 2016


Last night my younger cousin passed away.  Her name is Kristi, and this is on my mom's side of the family.  She was only 28, and the cause is still unknown.  She'd had some mystery health issues a couple months ago, but those seemed to be managed.  It's not known if they contributed to what happened yesterday, but I think at this point it has to be a strong consideration.  Still, it was sudden and shocking and completely heartbreaking.

My aunt posted on Facebook yesterday evening that Kristi was in the hospital and she was in rough shape.  By that point they were making plans to fly from their home near Milwaukee out to San Diego, where she has lived with her fiance for a year or two.  The next post an hour later said that they didn't think she was going to make it, and by the time I called my mom to see if she had heard anything, she had already passed.  It was that fast.  It started with her passing out yesterday morning.  She was left in a coma and her heart stopped.  They simply couldn't stabilize her.  Something clearly caused her body to shut down, and hopefully the experts can determine what it was to give the family some closure.

But in the meantime, everyone is heartbroken.  She was a beautiful girl, creative and full of life.  She was engaged.  The distance was hard for my aunt when Kristi moved to California, but even just a glance at her Facebook page makes it apparent that Kristi was never far from her mind.  It's full of passages about loving her daughter, and many other shared links were of things she thought Kristi would like to see.  There were many mother-daughter photos, many from their trips to their favorite spot, Mexico.  Their bond was unmistakable.

I have no idea how my aunt, among so many others, will get through this.  A huge piece of her heart has been ripped away, and I can't even fathom how one recovers from something like that.  As a mother it is one of my biggest fears, if not the biggest, and I've only had 3-7 years to bond with my boys.  I can't imagine what it's like to have so many years behind, and yet so many exciting ones still ahead, and for it all to disappear in a moment.  My heart is absolutely broken for my aunt, more than anyone.

She also leaves behind an adoring father, a brother, and a fiance, all of whom are also clearly devastated.  Her brother has had his own set of very difficult circumstances.  He had some personal and legal issues about a decade ago that put an incredible amount of stress on the family, and I'm sure they thought that was as bad as it could get.  He has since gotten himself back on track and built a very respectable life for himself.  I imagine this tragedy will test every last bit of his strength to maintain the life he has built, but I hope for his sake that he remains strong for himself, his fiancee and her daughter, and in honor of his sister's memory.

As for me, I am just profoundly sad today.  Much of it is knowing the pain my family is in, and part of it is the loss of someone so young with so much life ahead.  But another part of it is for what never was.  While I wish I could give you dozens of examples of how amazing she was, I honestly can't because I didn't actually know her that well.  See, this part of the family moved to the Midwest about 30 years ago, before Kristi was born and when her brother was quite young.  He was actually the first younger cousin I remember as a baby.  My aunt babysat me, I believe one morning a week during the summer when my mom golfed, and I clearly remember his nursery and getting my first glimpse of baby life--diapers, baby toys, etc.  My uncle was transferred a couple years later and after that we usually saw them once a year when they came in for our family reunion.  They stayed across the street at my grandma's, so we got to see them quite a bit during that visit.  My family made one trip out there just after Christmas probably a year or two after they moved, and I went there once without my parents when I was 12.  My older cousin Kathy and I rode with them to their house in their (awesome) van as they ended their week in town, and then the two of us came back home with my Uncle Ron (her dad) and her brother Ron, who made the drive in a separate car.  What a week that was--pool time, Six Flags Great America, shopping, cousin time, and my first taste of parent-free "freedom"!

But as everyone got older, I think the trips became fewer or maybe I just wasn't always around for them.  By that time I felt like we didn't have as much in common anyway (trust me--just different worlds), so the conversations were fewer.  But things were better when they were in town for our grandma's funeral more than 4-1/2 years ago, and then I got to sit with Kristi and her fiance at my cousin Kathy's wedding a year later and we had a great time. 
Kristi trying on some glow stick glasses, with her fiancé Ben looking on...

But even from just that fun evening, I can tell you she was a beautiful, sweet, fun girl. And I know from reading others' posts that she was all of that and so much more.  She was a good friend.  She had so much life to live.  And for some reason none of us understand, that life has ended far too early.

As I said to my cousin Kathy via Facebook last night, cousin love runs deep.  Even if you're not physically or emotionally close, there is a connection there that is undeniable.  And I feel like as I've gotten older, those connections have more meaning.  It's amazing to have time together with my cousins on my dad's side, as we all grew up together and those connections have so much history.  Despite different paths into adulthood, we all have this common bond that is hard to describe but is very real.  My mom's side of the family is a bit different because we all grew up in different areas with a wide range of ages and experiences.  But the love is there regardless and I'm so incredibly sad that I won't have the chance to enjoy more adult cousinhood with Kristi at weddings or reunions or, heck, even funerals.  That opportunity is simply no longer there.  At the very least I hope this serves as a reminder to strengthen the relationships that remain, but it's an awfully large price to pay for that realization.

So, for now, we wait.  We pray, we wait for answers, and we pray some more.  I'd like to make the trip for whatever remembrance is planned, but obviously with kids, work, Craig's schedule, and expenses, there's a lot to consider and coordinate.  It's a very long drive and a surprisingly expensive flight, but if I can make it work, I want to.  Never is family more important than at times like these.  All we can do from afar is be supportive and pray for peace, but the opportunity to be an actual shoulder to cry on is priceless.  I really hope it works out.  But for now the sadness is hard to shake.  This tragedy leaves an unfillable hole in the family.  I pray everyone can find a way to move forward while keeping the good memories close to their hearts. 

Rest in peace, Kristi.  You will be missed.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A Couple

Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, Craig and I had eight whole ours to ourselves.  No kids, just us.  It was lovely.  It may not have been on a far away beach, or even frolicking in lovely spring weather (grrrr), but it was time together.  For us, extended time like that is rare.  Between the kids, work, and limited babysitting options, it's just not easy.  So yesterday we made the time.  It may have been a day full of hum-drum, normal activities for a couple married people, but it was important, for so many reasons.

We started out our day by getting our taxes done.  Luckily, our accountants are long-time friends so getting our taxes done is considerably less annoying than it would be under normal circumstances.  And it was made even better by news of a nice little refund!  Well, federal was only a buck (!) but state was better!  After that, we went out to lunch.  We went to a regular sit-down place we haven't been to in ages because of Jacob's diet.  Normally when we go out, we have to eat somewhere that can accommodate Jacob and is relatively speedy so we can get in and out before the kids melt down.  Today we picked what we wanted and it was nice to just eat and talk.  No refereeing, no convincing someone to sit down and finish eating, no rushing.  It was refreshing.

After lunch we did our long-awaited elliptical shopping.  We're convinced we need a convenient home-based option to get in shape, and that machine is our choice.  We found one we liked, but we still have a little research to do.  The one we really want is out of stock.  There's another option that's slightly more, so I'm just trying to find the most economical way to buy it.  But at least we found one.  It's not the one that lets you run through Hawaii on a screen, but it'll do ;-)

After shopping, we went to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.  We saw the original the night we got engaged, so it's always been near and dear to our hearts.  When I heard there was a sequel coming, I was counting down the months!  I decided that since it's normally tough to get out and see a movie without the kids, perhaps it would be best to integrate it into our date day.  It turns out that it was quite appropriate, actually.

To back up for a minute...the other day I came across a blog post that really hit home.  In fact, I may have teared up a bit as I got to the end.  You can read it here, but it's called "A Letter to My Husband in this Weird Phase of Marriage: Let's See it Through".  It's a letter from a wife to a husband that is basically about the same phase we're in, one where we're too tired to communicate properly by the end of of the day, where we're touched out and talked out and retreat to our chairs and electronic devices once the kids are in bed.  She assures him that while it's not ideal, her love has never wavered.  Ultimately, once the kids stop overwhelming every aspect of home life, she still wants him to be the one to walk through life with her.  I definitely feel like that's us a lot of days.  The long-term risk, of course, is that you lose sight of that eternal connection and forget why you got together in the first place.  Then, by the time your kids are older, you have nothing in common and no reason to hang out with this person.  We definitely don't want to end up there, so I think it's important to keep that cautionary tale in mind and do what we can along the way to prevent getting to that point.  In the meantime, it's good to acknowledge that any silence or apparent disconnect is not a reflection of your love for your partner.  It's important to know that the love is still there, to have an understanding that this season of marriage is temporary, and to both be on board with seeing it through.  It's not always easy because you can long for more of a connection or feel like you're not being "seen".  For a while I think I was pretty panicked about us being this way, but I've come to realize it's pretty normal and we just need to make an effort to focus on us whenever the chance arises.  The little moments help.  It may not be every day, but we need to make the effort whenever time or energy allows.

So how does this relate back to our date day and the movie?  Well, obviously the date day was an effort to reconnect and clear some "housekeeping" items off our to do list, which can only make us happier as a couple.  Even the movie choice itself was emblematic of trying to get back to our romantic roots.  But it turned out that the movie was more relevant than we thought.  It picks up with Toula and Ian (the couple married in the wedding referenced by the first movie's title, in case you've never seen it...and if that's the case, SEE IT!) as parents of a senior in high school.  Believe it or not, that's actually an accurate time progression from where the original movie left off, with their little girl going off to school.  Time flies!  And for the first bit of the movie, it becomes apparent that Toula and Ian may have gotten a little too comfortable in their marriage.  Toula's looking a bit like her old self from the beginning of the first movie (plain and a bit haggard, if we're being honest), and while there isn't exactly visible unhappiness in their marriage, it's clear some of the passion has faded and their daughter has become the main focus.  But thankfully, as the movie goes on you see them making an effort to find themselves again, in particular when they realize their daughter going off to college could leave a void they're not prepared for.  I really appreciated all of the little moments where they were able to reconnect, and appreciated even more that they showed it wasn't always a smooth process.  I think it's just a good reminder that every marriage goes through phases, and that doesn't have to be a bad thing.  Change doesn't have to break you as long as you both stay on the same page.  Which all gets back to that blog post...that if you both understand that the lull is purely a survival technique and not some fatal flaw in your relationship, you should be fine.  It's when one person gets the idea that the other is no longer committed that the problems crop up. 

There was a quote in the movie that I need to keep in the back of my mind.  It was something to the effect of: "Before you were a mother, you were a girlfriend."  When I think about how I've changed in the last eight years--physical changes, emotional growth, priority shifts--I barely recognize myself.  While I certainly hope that Craig will love me through it all regardless, I need to remember that the "girlfriend" is still buried deep inside me somewhere and it's not a bad idea to look for her once in a while.  Craig deserves some glimpses of the less stressed, more carefree me that he married.  Again, it won't be every day, but when I can summon the energy to try, I think it's worth it.

Yesterday was great.  The movie, the lunch, the shopping, the time together...all of it was wonderful.  Nothing life-altering, but a nice change of pace and a nice reminder of why we need to do things like that.  We love our kids so much and they are central to our entire world, but it never hurts to remember where we started.  All of that inspired us to go on the journey we're living today, so a little taste of the past can only make us appreciate our present even more.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

One Year

Tomorrow marks my one year anniversary at my job.  In some ways it feels like I've been there a long time, and in others I can't believe a full year has passed.  I have learned so much, and in many ways I am very settled.  But there is still so much I need to learn! 

My job is definitely a slow progression.  There are so many layers of what we do, and you have to gradually build upon each layer to fully understand it all.  Each school unit has its own set of data and its own preferences for how that data is used.  They're all separate but sometimes need to be combined for larger initiatives, and when that happens you need to be cognizant of hierarchies and other complications that may arise with such a large batch of data.  Beyond the data end of it, which is still my main specialty, there is the marketing end of it.  That is one area where I'm still learning a lot.  Lately I've done more letter writing, crafting appeals for a few different units.  I love writing, but it is challenging to write in a different style than I'm used to.  Still, my boss has been very pleased with my work.  I feel that this job is a great fit, a surprising combination of my last couple jobs and a great fit for my strengths.  But I'm still learning new things practically every day. 

The end goal is for me to completely take over a few units--to control their marketing plan as it pertains to their fundraising appeals, to report on their success quarterly, and to give them direction for the upcoming year.  But like I said, there are a lot of layers to learn, and until I've dug through them all, it's hard to manage an entire unit.  But I will get there.  Slowly but surely I'm picking up more things, and so far I've done a good job of earning their trust with each additional project.  My closest co-worker is quite a bit older than me, and she's a master of everything as she's been doing it for years and has seen a little bit of everything.  She is extremely stressed out--for good reason--and my presence was supposed to help with that.  Apparently it has, but the pressure has mounted nonetheless in different ways.  I try to encourage her to see what else she can give me that will lighten her load a bit, but I can tell it's hard for her to give up control of projects she has handled for years.  I know how it feels.  I was in that position a bit at my last job when we added another "me" to the department and I had to start pushing off some of my usual tasks so I could take on some new ones.  The breadth of my knowledge and my accuracy in those tasks directly impacted the ease of my job, and giving up control was very, very hard.  So I certainly understand her hesitation.  When you give things up, you lose that omniscient feeling, and it ultimately impacts your confidence in making decisions.  We've taken a lot of baby steps over the past year, but we're getting there.  I could still use more work a lot of the time, but for now I appreciate the ability to take my time and learn.  I have time and patience for tasks that my busier department mates don't, so that's a good thing for the team. 

Overall I hear how happy they are to have me and how happy they are with my work, so one year in all is well.  Today we got the training for our annual review, and while the process itself is always tedious, I feel confident that the feedback will be overwhelmingly positive since that is all I've really heard for the last year of weekly meetings.  And hopefully there will be a little raise in it for me, so that will be nice, too.

Every time I have lunch with my former co-workers, my old job seems farther and farther away.  The work that I was so passionate about and spent so much time doing is just a memory now.  Sometimes it's hard to believe it's been 15 months since I last worked through one of those reports or played with a million-row spreadsheet.  But mentally I feel so far removed from that company, and with each lunch I feel more fortunate to be where I am now.  It's nice that those problems are no longer mine, but I hate that my old boss is still there and stuck in a really awful spot.  That was one of my biggest concerns when I left, and it remains my one regret. 

It's amazing to think that my extended time off is more than a year ago now.  I definitely feel like that time was life-changing.  I miss it like crazy, of course, as it was such a unique experience to be home with Carter and to have time to take care of my home and family like I've always wished I could.  I'm thankful enough for my job that I can deal, but I will probably always miss it.  A little part of me will always dream of that freedom.  But maybe now that we're past the time of year I've been off work (first for maternity leave, and then for unemployment), maybe my mind won't float there as much.  Still, every time Carter talks about how much he wants to stay home with me, I feel a little sad I can't do more for him.

The first few months of this job seemed to take forever because I was waiting to feel comfortable.  It turned out that the second half of the year flew by once I stopped counting the months so closely, and now here we are at a full year.  It doesn't seem like 366 days ago that I sat through my orientation, or 365 days ago that I first walked into that office and saw the lovely flowers my boss left on my desk.  But here we are.  I am certainly in a much better position than I was a year and a half ago.  While I hoped at the time that my dismissal would be a blessing in disguise, there's always that bit of fear that things won't go as planned.  Fortunately, this situation went better than I could have imagined, and I'm so grateful to be where I am.  Happy Anniversary to me!

Monday, April 4, 2016

News & Notes, Winter Returns Edition

After a month of spring-ish weather, we got a few inches of snow today.  Normally snow in early April is annoying but not unheard of.  This year it's hard to be mad since we had very little snow this year, but it still stunk because we felt like that was over.  It's going to be cold for another week or two, which stinks, particularly since the daffodils were just starting to come out and the trees are bursting at the seams to sprout their leaves.  Hopefully spring will be back soon enough.  We had a close call in the car this morning, as I was stopped to turn into daycare and someone apparently wasn't paying attention and almost rear ended us.  They swerved at the last second, but it was very scary seeing that car coming in my rear view mirror full speed.  I was even more upset after because Carter definitely would have taken the brunt of it in the backseat.  So scary.  I felt fortunate that God had better plans for us today.

We were coming off a good weekend.  Craig was off, so we had a chance to hang out as a family.  There was a lot of father-son video game playing, as the big boys are trying to beat Lego Indiana Jones 2 on Wii.  We went out to dinner on Saturday, and had some frozen yogurt (thanks to Jacob's certificate from school) last night.  The weather was crappy and cold, so it prevented us from really getting out and having fun, but overall it was a decent weekend.  I realized I neglected to mention Jacob's week off from school last week.  He went to the afterschool program for the week, but Craig kept him out Wednesday and took him up to Canada for practice.  Then they had a father-son day Friday and went to see Zootopia.  I feel bad I didn't have more time to spend with him, as he was not thrilled to have to go for his week off, but I think it was good for him.  Personally, I am looking forward to Thursday, as Craig and I are taking off for a date day--taxes, lunch, movie, and elliptical shopping.  Exciting, no?

Tonight we had our last night of family counseling.  Over the past few weeks I started to feel like we were running out of options.  They were giving suggestions, but they either weren't a great fit, or they were the same stuff as we've already been trying.  It was becoming more apparent that everything comes back to Jacob's stubbornness.  It's not that we can't improve as parents or that Carter doesn't cause issues himself, but at the end of the day it's Jacob's dislike of Carter, Jacob's inability to listen, Jacob's overactive behavior...and ultimately if we can help him manage those issues, a lot of the other problems resolve themselves.  He needs more specific coping mechanisms than this group could give him.  This counseling is more about the family unit as a whole, and I truly feel that Jacob needs more guidance than the rest of us.  I'm not trying to blame him, per se, but his stubbornness is a big stumbling block for improving the atmosphere in our home.  We've gotten a lot of validation that we're doing things right, and Carter is still young so there's only so much we can control there.  But if Jacob can see more clearly how his attitude is holding us back, I think we could make progress. 

We've tried the private therapist thing before, but I really think we have to be intentional about finding a better fit for him.  Perhaps a guy who can relate to him about sports and games, rather than a woman that reminds him of another mom or teacher figure.  He's been evaluated by the specialist at one hospital, but now we want to get a second opinion--two years later--from the other hospital in town.  Apparently there's a long waiting list, but we'll just need to get on it.  I think another evaluation for ADHD isn't a bad idea, and I'd just like to see if we can get some better direction in general.

Even though we didn't feel like we made a lot of clear progress through the district's counseling, I do think it was a good exercise for us.  It was good to get us all in a room together.  It was good to talk through our issues.  It helped us feel like we weren't crazy and that we were at least trying some of the right things.  We have a few possible solutions that we can check off as ineffective.  But mostly I feel like it helped me mentally hone in on our biggest issues.  I worry that Jacob has a physical reaction to Carter getting near him...or me, for that matter.  I worry that he still insists he hates him and always will.  I worry that he can't control his impulses to constantly move and constantly draw attention.  I worry that he sees no reason that we should be authorities in his life.  If he can be taught to manage these issues and understand that they're not okay for living functionally within society.  So, tomorrow I will make a call, and then we wait. 

I'll leave you with one little moment from tonight.  It had been so cold and snowy all day, but when I came out of work, the sun was trying to come out.  When I got up to counseling, the sun was bright and it took the edge off the subfreezing temperatures.  The walk into the building was almost pleasant.  The thought that came into my head was, "With the sun, you can get through anything."  Of course, I meant that the sun makes any sort of intolerable weather a lot more tolerable--it warms the air, brightens the mood, and melts the snow, even when it's cold.  But the second the thought ran through my head, I realized the double entendre.  "With the Son, you can get through anything."  Indeed, when you bring Jesus into the picture, life becomes much more manageable, too.  Pretty profound, eh?  Oh, and speaking of which...yesterday I signed up for my first church activity ever.  I've been going to the same church for over 15 years, but I've never really felt drawn to a specific activity.  Yes, I felt like I should go to a Bible study, but with my work schedule when I was in sports, and Craig's schedule, and the just never worked out.  But yesterday they announced a mom's night out group, which meets at 7pm every other Thursday.  That's a pretty good night for us (my workout night, but that's why we're getting the elliptical, right?), I'll be home before bedtime, and it's a group specifically for moms of young kids.  I feel like I need to get in from the beginning so I don't miss out on early connections, so I really need to push myself to go.  I've been going to the same church for too long without any meaningful connections, without a large circle of people to say hi to on Sunday mornings.  You might think that's a sign of a bad fit, but the church offers great stuff for kids and for people that make the effort to connect, and I think it's a good place to be in the long run.  And this just seemed like my chance.  So I signed up, and we'll see how it goes.  Pray I actually get up the guts to do it.  I need this chance to reconnect to my faith like I did in college, where fellowship is the starting point for reminding me why faith can be so powerful. 

So...lots to think about these days...and hopefully big things ahead.