Home Reno- Part 1

I am cognizant of the fact that any “problems” in my home are very subjective, and first-world problems in the grande scheme of things. We have a roof over our heads, soft beds, a spacious refrigerator, plenty of closet space, and…drumroll…a walk-in pantry! Everyone knows that my favorite room of the house. I can buy food in bulk, less expensive, and store things semi-neatly. The big garbage can stays tucked away in there and we can stockpile waters and gatorades for sports seasons without taking up the entire kitchen.

 

Our recent foray into home improvement projects was brought about because I started to feel better. We have not been able to have overnight guests for a LONG time, for fun. I mean, my parents stayed, nannies, family members etc. have camped out and made do on a mattress in a room tucked away in the basement. I was ready to have a real guest room! Have you ever read or heard about that book, “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie?” Well, my projects went a little something like that. If Amy tears up carpeting in here, she’s going to want to keep ripping it up in the next room. If Amy paints this trim, then she HAS to paint the wall next to it. You getting the picture?? It just spread, and spread. And I couldn’t be happier!!!

Part one- let’s start small.  We have a full bathroom in the basement. It is small, and has no windows. It was painted a darker teal color, with larger builder brown tile from the early 2000s. Nothing awful, but if felt dark, small and not particularly welcoming. I knew I loved LIGHT colors, because it was a small space. We needed to go with a light/pale color palette, and keep an eye on the budget. I wanted something that was up-to-date as far as style, but not something that would look dated in a few years because it’s “trendy” now. Classic, airy, clean. I gotta admit- it was fun! I found all of the raw materials and had them delivered (or went on a wild goose chase to track them down! long story for another day). Then, I found a wonderful contractor whose attention to detail was exceptional. He was the best home professional James and I have ever met. After several interviews, we decided to go with Royal Woodworks for the areas that we needed help.

I’ve liked pale gray since way before it was cool. It’s the color of my bedroom that I picked before we moved here- when the “dream house” was just a dream. I know Benjamin Moore colors the best, and they have been used throughout the rest of the house. I went with Gray Owl for the downstairs guest bath in the basement, because I knew it wouldn’t clash with the trim and molding- BM White Dove, and it was a beautiful neutral gray that wouldn’t pull blue, purple, or green. I really wanted Carrera marble floors, and I was able to find pretty, hexagonal sheets for a deal online! They came by the square foot, and I got the 3″ hexagons. We used white unsanded grout from Home Depot.  For the tile behind the tub, I wanted to get rid of the dark brown, large builder grade tiles and use something lighter. Subway tile is trendy, which I was a little hesitant to use, but I just love it! It’s been around for forever, and it is easy to clean, which is a huge plus. It was exactly the “look” I wanted, so hopefully it’ll stay classic for a while! I got Daltile from Home Depot, Rittenhouse Square tiles 3 x 6, in Arctic White. I went with DeLorean gray grout for the tub area- not super dark gray, and not white. It gives the larger area some definition and breaks up the solid white. Instead of bullnose tile on the ends, we went with Schluter. It’s hard to describe- like a piece of metal used as an edge of the tile. It gives it a clean, modern look. I chose brass as the finish for the hardware, as well as the schluter.

Naturally, whatever is in style is going to cost 10 times as much as it should. That’s the problem I ran into when looking for timeless, brass fixtures for the tub and shower. Yikes! The stores caught on that design magazines were touting brass, so they decided a little price gauging was in order. That’s nothing a little internet stalking can’t fix! I searched hi and low, and I think I was pretty successful in finding something very pretty, functional and stylish without being ridiculously expensive! The brass shower parts are very similar to this. The one at Home Depot isn’t the exact model that we got, but it’s close.

Finding a vanity proved to be the most difficult. Gosh, they are expensive! Spending money on a beautiful piece of furniture, maybe an heirloom, isn’t a bad way to invest money but not in a bathroom! At least, that’s not where I want to spend my money. Kitchen table that will seat us for every holiday dinner until I die? Yes. Bathroom washstand? Eh, not so much. I really wanted something quality, pretty and not a fortune. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I finally found one! It is solid wood, the color I REALLY wanted (navy!!!), soft close drawers, Carrera marble top, and perfect size sink. I found a brass faucet to fit in it- and I am thrilled with the result!  I didn’t want the bathroom to be all white, and pale gray. The navy was an early choice as the one piece of deep color in there. It doesn’t go out of style, it camouflages spills and is really durable.

I replaced the mirror in there with a flea market find that I stumbled on. It’s a circular mirror with a painted brass frame, that was leaning against a warehouse baking the in late summer GA heat. They practically gave it to me- score! Then, the light fixture was a triumph I found online– a little bit industrial, a little bit old school traditional, and the perfect look for the new bathroom.  To keep things simple, I ordered a set of towel bars from Pottery Barn, because they were a) on sale b) very pretty and c) all matched!  We picked up some new guest towels with monograms- I feel like such a grown up now- from Land’s End. They are sturdy, and got great reviews for lasting wear and tear.

All of the essentials are installed and working! Now, I’d like to keep looking for a couple of small pictures to go on the walls, maybe another small mirror. I got extra toiletries and washclothes for guests, and a new trashcan. We have company coming to stay every weekend until November. I can’t change the fact that they guests will have to dodge legos and nerf bullets. They might have to microwave their coffee 17 times like I do, and they will probably get bombarded early in the morning in bed, by little people! However, the bathroom is amazing, and we are ready to have guests enjoy it.

Birth Story- Eli the Wildman

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Eli the Wildman turns 4 this weekend. His birth story, if I had to rank them, would be my favorite. It’s not my fave because he was the easiest, or fastest. Oh no. He was my biggest, by over a pound, and he got stuck! I don’t know- it was just memorable from start to finish. I found out I was expecting him when James and I were on our first getaway in 10 years, in St. Thomas. We were about the board the plane and I felt sick to my stomach. I wasn’t even 4 weeks pregnant at the time. Yeah. The morning sickness started at 3.5 weeks with Eli! I had hyperemesis gravidarum with him, and it is impossible to adequately describe what that feels like. If you’ve been through it, you get it. It’s a 24/7 experience- and nothing helps. I had a 2-week reprieve and it felt like a miracle to me. We went to Savannah in the summer of 2014 and I got to enjoy my family and the coast. Upon returning home, the 24/7 sickness returned. There wasn’t one day that I didn’t throw up for the rest of the pregnancy. I remember praying and worrying that he would be small and sickly, because I couldn’t eat well or hold down vitamins. By the end, I was consuming maybe 500 calories a day? And that consisted of sipping Gatorade and half of a banana. My legs and arms were thin, but oh boy, did my belly grow!
I was the biggest I had ever been during a pregnancy, and the weight kept climbing on the scale. It defied science or reason- I ate less and less and got bigger and bigger. Oh Eli, you were Superman from the get-go! He kicked harder than any of the other babies, and I thought of him as a fighter. I was suffering, but he was fighting to thrive. I was sitting in church on Palm Sunday that year, and they read the Passion Gospel. The priest got to the part about when Jesus was crying out from the cross, and the bystanders thought he was calling out to Elijah. It hit me then- that was his name. Elijah the prophet was a tough guy! He was brave and a fighter. My Eli picked his name that day, and it stuck.

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The labor and delivery of my fourth child lasted 30 minutes, start to finish. It was kind of like being struck by lightening- it was so powerful and fast! I planned early on with Eli to have a natural childbirth, because if it went quickly I didn’t want to even think about anesthesia or worry about getting it in time. I figured it was just best to count on not having time, and plan accordingly! A week before he was born, I got sick of our carpet upstairs in the kids’ bedrooms, so sick of it that it just HAD to get torn up RIGHT THEN. We HAD to have wood floors because the carpet was FILTHY. In fairness, it did have stains on it from a really bad bout with a stomach bug. I had scrubbed on my hands and knees one too many times and at 9 months pregnant, those brown, shag carpets were toast.
The flooring was finished at 6 pm on a Friday, and Monday morning a cleaning crew came to vacuum all of the dust and debris left behind. We went to Classical Conversations and I brought my big yoga ball to sit on. I don’t actually use it for yoga, it served as a comfortable place to sit during the pregnancies. I’m sure I freaked out a few people that morning! My lower back ached, and I had a gut feeling he was coming that day. I calmly left the kids at CC and drove myself to the ob/gyn’s office. I spoke to a midwife and explained that I was feeling achey, and I thought he was coming that day. Bless that woman’s heart, she believed me and said “Ok Amy, come to the hospital when you are ready. We will admit you and let you have a room to stay in until he comes. There’s no rush.” I went back to my kids’ homeschool group and told them I was having the baby later- there were some cheers, and hugs and I left amid smiles and excitement.
I called James from the car on the way home with the kids, and told him that Eli was coming later that day. I think he said something along the lines of “Oh man, that’s not convenient, I just fixed the work schedule.” In my pregnancy/labor hormone blur I didn’t react well to that, and the rest of the conversation sounded like an exercise in how to NOT communicate with your spouse. When we cleared things up and he understood I wasn’t being induced, I didn’t pick Monday just to thwart his work schedule rotation and that we had a baby boy who wanted to meet us SOON, I was able to take a few deep breaths and spend a few hours with the kids at home. I wasn’t in labor- at all. It was just a feeling, all day. My mom was up here staying with us, and when James got home from work, the excitement was palpable. The kids were jumping around, knowing that something big was happening, but not quite understanding how much life was about to change.

james good
James and I went to the hospital like old pros. He had a trash bag full of my favorite pillows, and I carried a paper grocery bag with supplies for a post-birth meal that we had picked up at Publix. No kidding- we showed up with fried chicken for James. We must have looked like the Beverly Hillbillies to the nurses. I walked up to labor and delivery, and was shown to my room very calmly. We brought our groceries and pillows and linens, and made ourselves at home! I wasn’t having any contractions-none. The nurse came in to introduce herself and we chatted about how the midwife agreed to admit me for the evening, so I could get some sleep. The midwife had said she agreed that Eli would be along later that evening. The midwife came in as we were getting acquainted and said that they needed the room since the floor was filling up. I had to get Pitocin or have my water broken. Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen with a drug-free birth! Yikes, they are hard enough already without heaping more fuel onto the fire. I declined, but the midwife was insistent. She needed me to have that baby, asap. Well, I can be insistent too when the occasion calls for it. I told her I would be discharged before I would let anyone touch me. I was so sure that he was coming that night, I was willing to drive across the street and wait at the hotel.
I don’t think that anyone had ever said that before- or since. It sounded like a lot of work for everyone- paperwork, which I know people hate! I wasn’t going to give an inch. Childbirth is tough and I didn’t want anyone messing with me. My babies come fast, and when he decided it was the right time, he’d be there in a timely manner. There was no way I’d labor for 12 hours and I knew that. It was just a little tough to convince everyone else of my certainty! Usually I’m not that inflexible- must have been a little bit of Eli’s personality shining through. I wanted my little guy to choose when he got there- I had my heart set on that, and James was in total agreement. The nurse saw that I got a little upset, when I found out that I was on the “clock.” If I didn’t have progress by 10pm, I would be discharged. It was 9:30pm. The nurse suggested that I go for a short walk, and she would check on me later.
Sweet James held down the fort, with our chicken, fresh fruit, tunes, and pillows! Baha. I went for a walk around L&D. I walked to the window of the nursery where you can see the babies. I prayed. I blocked everything else out, and I spoke from the heart. I told God that I had said that I was ready before, but that I knew I hadn’t been. NOW, in that moment, I was ready. I said “Please Lord, I’m ready now. You can send him.” I walked right back to the room, and sat down on my big, bouncy yoga ball. I rested my head on my chest and felt the first contraction. That was it. The midwife came to kick me out, and James held up his hand to silence the incomers. It was 9:45pm. He told them the contractions were 2-3 minutes apart. I made it under the gun, by 15 minutes. Eli was born around 11pm, I think? You know it all gets blurry there at the end! He came before midnight, on October 6th, just like I said he would. I think I could write 10,000 words on each child’s birth. Eli’s is especially bright in my memory, I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I was so prayerful and aware of time that evening? Each minute seems like a freeze frame in my mind when I think back. The moment he was born, the entire room yelled “WHOA!!!!!” in unison. Then I heard, “how big was your biggest baby?!” I told them, and the midwife said “HE’S GOING TO BE THE BIGGEST!!!”. Oh my gosh. I lost track of reality and time after he made an entrance. At that point, I made eye contact with someone in scrubs and demanded pain medication, asap. Laughing as I remember that. Natural birth, medicated recovery!

eli neborn
I felt like I had given birth to a baby elephant. I vaguely heard James screaming excitedly “Amy…learned about this in med school…Mighty Mouse…muscles…protein…disorder…he’s got huge biceps…”. Ok, it’s all really blurry after the meds were delivered! Eli was my biggest baby, by over a pound. He was 9 lbs 7 oz, and he was a week early. His head was in the 99%, and the hardest part of delivery was the fact that he was short! Plenty of babies are heavy, but he was heavy and only like 18.5 inches? At most? So he was a giant ball of muscle with fluffy blonde hair. Oh Eli. He was an exquisitely beautiful newborn, because he looked like a round 3 month old boy. He didn’t end up having that Mighty Mouse disorder thing, but they did run a couple of extra tests. I had been SO sick, so thin, and he was a He-man mini-beast. He looked like a wee body builder.
That night, there aren’t any pictures of me after I delivered my behemoth of a son. There are pictures of him! I was exhausted, and happy. And I have never felt that connected to my body, God and another human being before. I have prayed thousands and thousands of hours over my life, and that is the only time that I could sense an answer immediately. My timing actually matched God’s timing! Realistically, I’m running late or too early for some request or guidance. That night, October 6, 2014, I was 100% certain that my prayer would be answered at the moment that I asked. Eli and I were ready to meet each other, and never once did James flinch when I told him of my certainty. That night, he knew too. Eli- it had to be you, wonderful, beautiful you!

Life Hacks

The other day I was thinking about how helpful it could be to share the everyday shortcuts that I use. I’m all ears to hear about what other people do to make their household run smoothly. My “hacks” aren’t just for moms, or women for that matter. Anyone can benefit from the laundry idea! I’m sure there are more things that I do that are considered a shortcut- but these stood out to me as hacks that I use on a daily basis.

We have a large family, and keeping up with laundry was a pain. Getting behind was never a problem for us, because I’m a stickler for cleaning often! However, I was on the lookout for ways to make it easier. Enter the Daily Laundry Hamper- it gets filled and emptied EVERY day. Everyone in the family (ok, usually kids but sometimes James and I will use it as well) takes off their dirty clothes at the end of the day and tosses them in the hamper. We keep it in the laundry room right in front of the machines. I am usually the one who empties the hamper into the machine. After they have been dried, we fold them, and put each person’s on a step. They get carried up to the bedrooms when each person goes to bed. That’s it! Daily laundry, all mixed together, done once a day rather than doing each person separately once or twice a week. For us, this works!

t-3 Our family hamper for daily laundry.

The bane of our existence as parents is socks. My husband and I hate asking “where are your socks?” ninety-two times a day. Each child has 2 feet, and yet I always find one sock at a time- always. How do you take off one sock at a time? EVERY time? and they are usually thrown in two opposite corners of the house. It seems to me that this would like way more effort than putting the socks together in the same place, you know? They multiply- like fungi- on every surface of our home and yard!! haha. My husband reached a breaking point where he had HAD IT with the socks getting lost, and being all over the house. His solution was to get a zippered laundry bag off of Amazon.

This purchase was life changing for us! When everyone disrobes and takes off their dirty clothes, they put the socks in the hamper as well. After clothes are washed, the socks do NOT go to bedrooms or closets; they stay in the laundry room. When people are getting dressed, they go to the sock bag and grab a pair when they are downstairs and about to walk out the door. This was supposed to completely solve the sock problem- it did not. However, it is a vast improvement! Do the socks always match? No. Are they the wrong size, i.e. a big sock for a preschooler, sometimes. The kids are responsible for putting their socks into the hamper, and then dumping them back into the sock bag- clean. Somehow, a magical sock troll eats one from time to time so we wind up with an odd number. So, all of my kids share socks. No one has their own drawer or bucket in their room, because it was a waste of time (to me) to track down each person’s socks, keep them clean and together, and in separate closets. We share! A lot easier. Proviso- Lana has a few of her own that I keep in my room. She also wears some out of the laundry room grab bag!

 

After socks, the second worst part of our day consisted of the great shoe hunt. Oftentimes, the shoes outsmarted us and remained unseen, neatly tucked away under the dining room table, behind a chair in the basement, or beside the toilet in the powder room. It used to drive me nuts when my husband and kids would take their shoes off right inside the front door when we lived up north. The house was small, and the front door opened right into the living room. I was always carrying them to the tiny mudroom off of the backdoor. This way, we had more room and we weren’t tripping on the every time we opened the door. I understand how their way is easier- the shoes come off of your feet, and you don’t track dirt or germs around the house. They are right where you need them as you are leaving the house. When we chose the house we live in now, one of my favorite features were the shoe cubbies! The “lockers” reminded me of something I would have spotted on Pinterest. We have 4, and I wish we had more! I love the lockers.  If you are able to build some, or are looking to buy a house- I highly recommend these! They have been a game changer for us. It’s easier to be organized, keep the floors clean, and find the shoes when you are getting ready to leave.  I also bought straw baskets from IKEA to keep random sports paraphernalia in, and cold weather gear: baseball hats, baseball gloves, scarves, hats, mittens, and umbrellas.

 

Several years ago, I developed a femoral hernia that caused very sharp pain when I walked up and down stairs. During the pregnancies especially, I tried to avoid any activity that could make the pain worse. It was really tough for me to run upstairs and grab clothes for the kids. If they spilled something, or needed pajamas- I would have to have help. Now they are a lot more independent and my hernia got fixed (lol) but we still get pressed for time. It took me a few years to figure this out, but boy am I glad I did! The next life hack that helps our days run smoothly is having a place for clothes in the kitchen! That sounds a little odd. It started out as something to help me, because walking, in general, was difficult. Now, it’s a time saver and a way to help the kids be more independent. They can pick out their own pajamas by the age of 3, help put laundry away by the age of 3, and change clothes without a big hassle. We keep a lot of underwear, t-shirts, play-out-side-get-muddy shorts, and pajamas in a little storage area in our kitchen.

 

On the rare occasion that we forgot to make lunches the night before, we found ourselves running around like chickens with our heads cut off, throwing anything we could find into a lunch box. The kids wouldn’t have a thermos or anything to drink and forget about a napkin! Preparing lunches ahead of time is a MUST for us. We shop in bulk for healthy, quick snacks that the kids can use to make their own lunch, and my husband and I set up an assembly line to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches en masse, ahead of time. We stock the freezer with the pb&j, and for nut-free places, I keep pigs in a blanket in the freezer too.  Keeping the freezer well stocked helps with making lunches ahead really easy and uncomplicated. However you choose to make meals, I am a firm believer in doing it the night before- not the morning of an event!

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I cannot get going in the morning without coffee. Have you seem those memes about people who can’t walk/walk/make any decisions before they’ve had their coffee? That’s me. I used to tease my husband about using a French press, because I thought it looked a little fussy and high maintenance. Then…I tried it a few times. I made my own cold brew and I changed forever! I am obsessed with cold brew. And chocolate. The two things are a marriage of my favorite substances on Earth- coffee and chocolate. Cheesecake is a close third. I pre-make my coffee ahead of time so that in the morning, all I have to do is pour and go- no brewing. My tastes may change in the cooler weather, but I have been drinking iced coffee for a while now and that’s my favorite. I use a creamer with cacao in it, coconut oil, and a super food blend with a lot of vitamins. It’s not from a direct sales company- just something that I read about, and ordered online here.  If you are a stickler for eating clean, it fits the bill. If you want more superfoods with dense nutritional value, this is a winner. It tastes ah-mazing!

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My husband keeps track of a google calendar that integrates which shift he’s working at the hospital, with sports practices and games, with my doctor appointments, with everyday life commitments. I have that icon on my phone so that I can see when he’s working at any time. Personally, I still need to have something in front of me- a tangible calendar. I use Erin Condren’s life planners, because once you’ve tried it, nothing else will do!  She says that you are 42% more likely to reach your goals if you write them down! I’m kinda nerdy when it comes to organization, so I get a wide variety of colored pens to write in my calendar. Each planner is highly customizable. I am able to do meal planning, write down every practice for sports, long term goals, well-visits for the kids 9 months out, and a whole lot of other things! I have stickers to mark birthdays and special events also. A great day planner is invaluable. I keep it in the kitchen- where I can see it when I’m cooking, drinking coffee, unpacking/packing the kids’ bookbags, and watching the news in the evenings.

 

Before I leave the house I put on a little make-up. Like a LITTLE little. I have to take my kids to preschool in the mornings, sports events and church on the weekends. For weekends, doing something social or going on a date with James, I’ll spruce myself up even more. Since most of my social contact revolves around the kids at school or sports, I don’t need to look like I’m competing in Miss America. I would, however, like to cover up under eye circles, brighten my complexion (I can get pretty pale when not in the sun), and put some color on my lips. I look healthier and feel more confident when I make a small effort to look pulled together. My go-to for all of the above is Maskcara. It’s quick, doesn’t look heavy and product can be used for multiple purposes. For instance, I take the cream blush and it looks great and lasts as lipstick, I can use the illuminator on my eyes as well, to brighten them up! The contour color gives my face more dimension and cheekbones more definition! I am known for having very round cheeks- which is really cute when you are 5 years old, a little less so when you are 37.

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Each one of these hacks helps make my life easier. I can go from one activity to the next with less stress, more planning, more intention, and saving money. We don’t lose as many socks and shoes, I buy fewer groceries when I can meal plan and stick to it, I only use a little bit of make-up and I love it, I don’t brew more coffee than I can drink before it tastes stale or bitter, and my children can more self-sufficient because I’ve given them the tools to do things at their level. The laundry, the bookbags, purses, socks- everything is easier to keep up with, keep organized and I don’t feel overwhelmed as often. Of course life gets to me and I feel like I’m drowning from time to time! Doesn’t everyone know that feeling? Coming up with hacks definitely helps me feel more put together.

August 31- A Day to Celebrate Life

Today is the 2 year anniversary of my hernia surgery. I had been suffering from a right, femoral hernia for about two years and I kept thinking the pain would go away. The summer before my surgery, the pain got so bad that I had to use my grandmother’s old walkers to get around. I was READY to have the surgery. It was supposed to be no big deal, laparoscopic, the surgeon had done “hundreds of them.” Overall, my health was good, I was young, it was an uncomplicated procedure done by an experienced physician. I really didn’t think that much could go wrong. If anything, I figured a problem with anesthesia could be the only complication. As it happens, the anesthesia went very well. However, the moment I opened my eyes in the recovery room, I knew that something was wrong.

surgery Me, right before they wheeled me back 8-31-2016
Unfortunately, the searing, burning pain and the shocks of what felt like lightening through my core, are very much imprinted in my memory. I asked the nurse immediately to please call my doctor, something was WRONG. Hazily, I saw her make the phone call, shake her head, and hang up. She returned to my bedside and said that the doc wouldn’t be coming. I should take my Percocet and motrin and go home.

It’s a LONG ordeal to describe, so I’ll hit the highlights. I had urgent follow-up appointments, ct scans, drainage of a hematoma that they thought might be causing a problem (it wasn’t), in and out of the ER, admitted to the hospital multiple times, more procedures, work ups, etc. My surgeon said that my insurance wouldn’t cover anything in terms of a revision for at least 6 months. He couldn’t fix anything that went wrong, for half a year. He told me to go find my own pain specialist until the 6 month mark. That was it. I was curled in a ball, in the bed all day every day. Intermittent fever, couldn’t walk without crutches because of the pain, sit in a chair, go to the bathroom, or sleep. I knew I couldn’t make it 6 months.

Finally, I called the surgeon’s office and explained that something HAD to happen, he had to see me, DO something- I couldn’t live like that. They called me back and oh so benevolently, admitted me to the hospital- without decent orders for over the weekend. I lay in the bed, in a ball, shaking from pain. I had a fever. One young nurse cried and left the room- she wouldn’t take care of me any more because she couldn’t hold it together. An older male nurse came and stood by my side- I was in a haze, but at some point he stormed out saying “this just isn’t right!”. There was nothing that they could do to alleviate my pain- my physician was gone for the weekend and hadn’t left instructions for adequate care. They weren’t able to get an IV in, because I was so dehydrated from being denied water for so long. James was working, and I retreated into a bubble, mentally. I prayed over and over, nothing intelligible, just begging for mercy. Then, I heard voices- a song.

“Thank you for being a frieeeend!! Travel down the road and back again…”

Golden Girls

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Click the link to hear the song! You’re welcome.

My dear, wonderful friends from high school completely shocked me and all came to the hospital (one lived in New York, one in Miami, one in Atlanta) for a surprise visit. They were singing the theme song from the Golden Girls as they entered the room. My angels had arrived! They went to bat for me and very long story short-they got a wheelchair and busted me out of there like it was Alcatraz! One of them drove me to the hospital where James was on call and I was admitted there for the weekend, with the intention of getting a direct transfer to Emory on Monday. They took great care of me, and it took until Tuesday, but I made it up to Emory. I sat in a triage room for 13 hours. THIRTEEN. That’s not an exaggeration. My mom came up to meet me there, and I remember the immense relief we both felt when they finally got me to my room, at 4am.

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Me, in the wheelchair right after we got outside the hospital. I managed a real smile. Hard not to when surrounded by so much love. They were my answered prayer that day!

My prayers were answered when my dear, loyal friends came and helped me. I prayed that there would be no complications getting me admitted, and although it took FOREVER, I will never forget the feeling of relief when I fell asleep that first night. I was scared, but I felt like I was in the right place. Surely, they could fix me.

The rest of the story is to be continued… Sometimes, people have the privilege of hearing God answer their prayers in the moment and other times, it’s only evident what was happening in hindsight. Still in others, it doesn’t make sense at all on this side of Heaven. I can honestly say that all three have applied to me throughout this journey.

Today also happens to be the Feast of St. Aidan! August 31st was a day worth celebrating in our home, for the past decade. St. Aidan is the patron saint of firefighters, and my oldest son’s name means “fiery one.” It could not describe him more perfectly. St. Aidan was an Irish monk and missionary, who spread Christianity to all of northern England in the 7th century. He travelled without ceasing during his lifetime, spreading the Gospel to everyone from the upper classes, to children and slaves.

aidan  Recent pic of Aidan

We like to acknowledge and honor each one of the children’s saints- whether from their first name, middle, or birthday. It’s so sweet how each of them feels a kinship with these special souls throughout history, who loved our Lord. We tell stories about St. Rose of Lima, and St. Matthew the Apostle. Not gonna lie- St. Nicholas day might be everyone’s favorite because we do the traditional gifts, which include the all-important chocolate!!!

Earlier in the week, Aidan asked me what we were going to do for “our” special day. August 31 will always be significant to me. Best way I can think to describe it is, it’s a second birthday. The new “me” was born that day. My life changed, drastically, and I will never be the same. I’ve told friends and strangers alike that I feel like George Bailey, in It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ve been given a second chance to live my life- that seemed ordinary before, but now, everything is in Technicolor. EVERYTHING is brighter, sweeter, a privilege. I was driving to the grocery store with the kids in the car, and I had a migraine the other day. I thought “oh, I wish it would go away, I want to feel fine.” Then it hit me- I’m driving a car! Taking care of my own children with no help! Going to the grocery store to buy food to cook! I didn’t do ANY of those things for well over a year. Over. A. Year. I’m lucky enough to grocery shop with a migraine! All of a sudden, my mood lifted and I started to sing along with the radio with true joy.

 

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A picture of my high school friends in April 2018, Savannah girls!

My “bad” day was what I had only dreamed about a year ago. What a blessing a grocery trip can be. Cleaning up a spilled sippy cup isn’t a burden because my legs used to be so weak I couldn’t squat and then stand back up. I couldn’t hold my daughter in the bathtub, couldn’t rock her to sleep. Now, if she pops up at 2am, I relish the chance to hold her close and rock away. Yes, August 31 is a big day for us. My oldest son’s namesake, and my second birthday. It IS a wonderful life!

Meal time + a Recipe

I know that meal time can be a challenge for families- nowadays, so many people have food allergies and intolerances, as well as the usual picky eating that is common to children. We are incredibly blessed to not have to struggle with food allergies in our home. As for picky eating- I’d say I “lucked out” in that department as well, but it really isn’t luck, it’s our approach as parents to food.

My first child loved food so much, it was actually a hindrance to our lives. I tried to take him to story time at the library once- only once! Another mom opened a cheese snack for her child, across the room from us. That was it. He saw it and started yelling. No one could eat in his presence unless he had food as well. Restaurants? Oh dear- awful. Any time a waiter walked by with food for someone else, he took it personally. Needless to say, we didn’t go to restaurants for a couple of years. Aidan ate anything- still does.

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Right after he ate a LOT of blue icing at a bday party, 2011

Second child came along, and low and behold- was very similar! She wasn’t picky, and we would serve her a wide variety of foods. I made their baby food, and we introduced different spices and textures when they were teeny. I know that this isn’t really common- to have two “good” eaters, who will try Thai food, sushi, veggies, etc. and not complain. My third child wasn’t quite as voracious an eater as the other two! He actually turned down some dishes but for the most part, he wasn’t overly picky.

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Pic of baby #2, bless her heart, those cheeks! She wasn’t hungry, EVER.

During my health struggles, I was bedridden and I couldn’t cook a meal for over a year. I don’t think I made a meal for almost 18 months. Wow. We were the recipients of so much love and charity- it was hard to accept, but it was completely necessary. In hindsight, I can see how much this helped our family in ways I didn’t realize at the time. Food isn’t just something yummy or social, it’s necessary for life itself. I think most people in first world countries, who don’t know what true HUNGER is, take it for granted, just a little bit. We have the privilege of being picky and choosing what we feel like eating. What an incredible thing. I’d have to guess, that a majority of the world’s population doesn’t have the luxury of being very picky. They know what real hunger feels like, and they view food as a precious commodity necessary for life.

As a family, we learned that you don’t have to love every food put in front of you, but you do need to be grateful for it. People from our church, homeschool community, friends, neighbors, and family all took the time, money and effort to help provide for us. What an amazing blessing- THAT is what I want my kids to remember at the dinner table. The full plate in front of them is a blessing. I am not going to get in a fight at the table about them not wanting to eat a certain vegetable on any given day. Fine, not a big deal. I am not advocating this philosophy for everyone, and I know that some children can’t stand certain textures or flavors. Maybe the parents fix two or three different meals to appease people. I will never judge how anyone else chooses to make things run smoothly in their home- I’m not in your shoes!

Here, we don’t fix two meals. There’s one thing that’s served for everyone. Sometimes, everyone likes it, but usually, they don’t! There are some common dishes that I really don’t like- I won’t mention them, because they are served all of the time by my friends! I will smile, say “thank you” and really mean it, and then I will take a bite. I don’t feel like arguing over food with my family on a daily basis here. Gratitude is a huge part of the meal- are we really grateful for what is in front of us? Do we realize what a blessing it is, to know where our next meal is coming from?

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Eli helping in the kitchen. This kid will leave a biscuit behind, and just eat the meat! Doesn’t take after his mom, who loves carbs:)

I can’t force my kids to like certain foods, and I don’t try. I don’t need for them to like everything! I hope and pray that they are thankful for food, and that we are all mindful of how much disparity there is in the world. Be grateful, say the blessing and mean it, and if you don’t like a certain food- that’s ok! It’s really not worth arguing over.

I have a few recipes that everyone loves, that I will share. It’s rare to find something that EVERYONE will like, equally. Our all-time favorite is called “sludge.” I’m not joking! It looks like sludge, I mean, it really is the ugliest meal ever. However, once you get past that, it tastes amazing!

Oh- one little thing: I am not the greatest person at following a recipe exactly. I’m more the “a dash of this” and “handful of that,” pour liquid in until it “looks ok.” I’ll write down exact quantities, but feel free to alter things!

  • Sludge- aka Sausage and Lentil Slow Cooker Supper
    Two pounds of fresh sausage (like Jimmy Dean, in a roll)
    1 cup brown rice
    1 cup lentils
    Italian spices
    6-ish cups of beef broth
    1 ½ cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
    White wine optional- splash, for taste

Brown the sausage and drain the grease. Put the sausage in the slow cooker. Pour the lentils and rice in. I start with 4 cups of broth. Add the Italian seasoning. Turn the cooker on “low heat” for 8 hours. I check back in a couple of hours and add more liquid as needed. About 30 minutes before you want to eat, add the cheese and stir. If there’s too much liquid at the end, leave the top off of the slow cooker. Not enough, add more! Stir occasionally.

You can serve with bread, salad, raw veggies, fruit- whatever you like. It’s a one-pot/bowl meal, and clean up is easy. It looks like brown goo when it’s done, but it smells amazing! Enjoy😊

My Middle Child

I have had 6 pregnancies and 6 children. This one was the easiest- well, the only easy one and it was a foreshadowing of things to come. My third child, Matthew came into the world on my parent’s wedding anniversary, a couple of days before Thanksgiving. It was cold, and we lived in the Philadelphia area. I remember waking up on Thanksgiving morning, my first one back home with him, and experiencing a feeling of such complete happiness and joy, I’m not sure I could ever top that!  Matthew is our third child and second boy, and he has broken the mold. His personality, temperament, and attitude are unique and special, only to him. He has traits that I wish I had, and I hope to be more like him when I grow up!

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First day of school this year, I was able to drive and take him by myself (a big deal for me!) 2018, 1st grade

He was my smallest baby at 6 lb 14 oz, and he was born the earliest as well, at 37 weeks. As a baby, he never cried. He would make a noise when he was hungry or tired, but he didn’t fuss. I didn’t know that was possible! He sat rear-facing in his car seat for three giant road trips, two down the east coast, and one halfway across the country. He didn’t cry once. When he cried for three days, after we moved to Detroit for a year, I actually called the hospital! Ha- I’m sure they thought I was crazy for calling to see if we could come in because he was yelling. Before we loaded the car to go, I noticed a rash had popped up on his hands. He had hand-foot-and-mouth disease- and that was the only time he really fussed as a baby!

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Aidan and Rose holding him, his first day home.

In a house full of loud personalities, he’s the quiet one. He’s not shy, he’s just not loud. He doesn’t demand attention- ever. He taught himself to ride a bike on his first try, and he swam across the pool by himself, without anyone teaching him. He can play with a pinecone or a paper cup for hours and be completely entertained. If I could describe his personality in one word, it would be “content.” I think that a lot of adults have to strive for contentment. Being at peace in one’s surroundings isn’t a natural tendency- at least, in my 37 years of observation. Matthew is totally at peace, wherever he is. He’s not always hoping for the next best thing, asking about what’s for dinner at the breakfast table (like every other person in this house!) or coveting every toy that other children have around him.
On Mother’s Day this year, they made me cards and we had a lovely day. That evening at dinner, I thanked the children for a wonderful Mother’s Day and he looked shocked. “TODAY is Mother’s Day?!” It hadn’t registered all day! Another time, he asked when my husband was getting home from work- James was sitting next to him at the dinner table! He has a wonderful ability to block out noise and distractions and totally focus on something. I will call his name for 10 minutes, not hear a peep, and find out that he is 3 feet from me, under some pillows, concentrating on a bug crawling.
Matthew gets along with everyone. He was in kindergarten this year, and during one of his class parties, his teacher told me that he was very smart- he liked to call out the answer to all of her questions. I was pretty shocked, embarrassing for me, because I didn’t realize he could read. He never brought me books, or read out loud like the other children. When I read to him, he sits quietly. He knew the words all along, he just didn’t mention that to me.
My oldest son, Aidan, is a sports nut and he forced Matthew to be his baseball/dodgeball/golf/tennis/football/soccer/any-ball game buddy. Matthew did t-ball for the first time last year since he had learned to love it from playing so much at home. His team lost like 35-0, and after the game he came up to me and asked sweetly if they had won. He truly didn’t care either way- he just loved the game itself. He isn’t competitive in the sense that he likes to “beat” other people in anything. He really enjoys playing games, sports, tag, etc. but just for the sake of the game, for fun. He is a good sport about losing, which is something that we didn’t have to teach him- it just came naturally. See, again, he has traits that I envy! His contentment with life is so beautiful to me.

matt u ice craem
On a date with mom and dad, before school started. This 40lb kid ate the entire $10 milkshake! He didn’t get my metabolism.

I love predicting where I think the kids will end up in 20 years. James and I talk about that, and I joke around with the kids as well. Matthew- my prediction is that he will either be like Matthew McConaughy’s character in Dazed and Confused “all right, all right, all right”, or he will be a hermit/monk who takes a vow of silence and lives in a cave with no earthly possessions, and he’s the happiest person that we know. Either way, his laid back nature will continue and he will always be every sibling’s best friend. I wish I could write down every Matthew story that I know, and preserve them forever. He’s hilarious, gentle, non-conforming, peaceful, his laughter sounds like bells ringing, and his faith runs deep. His name means “gift from God” and it is perfect for him. Thank you sweet Matthew, for being so resilient when I was lacking as a mother, and for being so forgiving. You are a gem my dear.

Fixed the Computer!

 

 

I’ve had so many stories, thoughts and experiences that I wanted to share, but our laptop was on the fritz. I’ve tried to get the kids to be more tech savvy and losing Google Chrome was the result of them having more computer time! I have no idea where it went, or why it doesn’t work anymore. I’ll figure that out later! I wrote something a while back, in the midst of a season of change. I’m still in that season. I feel like, for two years, I’ve been redefining who I am and what my role is every single day. I’m trying to find my footing so to speak, and it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be. Trials change you. You can’t walk through fire without getting burned, and I did. Badly. But the wounds healed slllooooowly. Veeeeeery slowly. The change was imperceptible from day to day. The only time I realized it was when I looked back. Where was I a few months ago? Where am I now? It wasn’t a giant boom, I didn’t wake up one day and shout “I’m healed!” What a cool story that would have been, right? No, it was gradual, and it’s still happening. I’m a work in progress.

This is what I wrote back in May:

IMG_1091      A lot has happened around here over the last few months! I keep telling myself I will write when I feel better and have the spare time. I’ve been putting off making phone calls to make vacation plans for the summer, and procrastinating about seeing a doctor whom I like a great deal- but I want to feel even better when he sees me again. Sometimes I have a very good reason for putting off plans or items on a to-do list, but frequently it’s an overall attitude of “when my life is perfect, then I will do it!” (whatever “it” is). I think that part of that mindset stems from fear- fear that has been so deeply imbedded in my soul for so long, it’s hard to break free from it completely. I always hold back some- will I get too tired? Will I make pain worse? Will I commit to something and then disappoint loved ones? The past two years have been traumatic for me, and I can’t deny that they have left an indelible mark in my mind. How will I choose to use this experience? These memories?
The past few months have been a leap of faith for me, and a process of letting go of fear even more. I had been on nerve pain medication (Lyrica or Neurontin) as well as pain medication (fentanyl, oxycodone, etc.) for a year and a half. I tried over half a dozen other medications as well, and suffered through every awful side effect that came in tiny print, in the little booklet from the pharmacist. My body lost all muscle, appetite, I lost a third of my body weight, and my hair thinned a lot. I always knew that the medications were temporary, and I was very hard on myself for taking anything for pain. I carried a lot of guilt over that. My dear friend Kathleen told me at the beginning, “Amy, you can worry about pain, or medication. Pick one, not both.” So, I picked pain and took the meds that my kind, conservative pain management doctor said would help.
The timeline to come off of everything was all my idea. Once we FINALLY found the right combo of interventional procedures like nerve blocks and injections, I was SO ready to be done with the meds that had allowed me to have some sanity in the midst of great pain. I cannot put into words just how awful that part has been! Fentanyl withdrawal is a special kind of torture. That was last year. The past three months I stopped the last of the nerve pain meds and oral pain medication. I even stopped motrin, because of nausea all of the time. I still had chronic pain every day when I stopped taking meds, so I think of it as a leap of faith- faith that everything would be ok, and I would be strong enough to handle life with some pain. After the first two months passed, my nervous system calmed down a lot. There’s a long, technical explanation for that, that I understand, but I won’t explain fully, since it might bore everyone!
I finally have an appetite! I would literally lie in my bed, curled in a ball, and think of all of the foods that I would eat one day, when the nausea was gone. Krispy Kreme topped the list- every time! I did research, James did, my parents did- everyone was so supportive about this next phase of trying to get my overall health back. Not gonna lie- it’s been brutal. B-R-U-T-A-L. I read that the hardest part of stopping any substance that the body is used to, is the mental battle. People use the substance as a crutch of some sort. I know how blessed I am to say that I never had that battle. At all. I have experienced every physical symptom of tolerance and withdrawal, but zero mental symptoms. I give God 100% of the credit there. Everyone has struggles in life, and I don’t think that I am better than anyone who did have to struggle with addiction.
While I am SO glad that this particular struggle is behind me, I am grateful to have gone through it. Yes, I actually said that. I have a deeper understanding of people who have addictions, and who are afraid to live their lives without a crutch. I am less judgmental- I never realized that I was before! Oh, my heart goes out to people who have to suffer through the physical symptoms that I did, AND fight a mental battle as well. If I could wrap my arms around someone suffering right now, I would do it. One of my favorite docs told me that I didn’t have the cravings or miss the meds because I didn’t let them become part of my identity. They, along with many, many interventional procedures, were a means to an end and not who I am.
Every day, I have some symptom- something that reminds me that I’m not perfectly well. Like the thorn in Paul’s side, it’s always there. I put off doing a lot of things for the past few months, because at first, I was dealing with withdrawal and increased pain while my nerves adjusted. Then, I felt weak because I hadn’t eaten well or exercised for years. Yep, that would sideline just about anyone. Daily, I started to obsess over small improvements and mark my existence and my success by how my body felt or looked. I realized last week (yeah, it took me that long!) that I had made physical well-being an “idol” in my life. I don’t think that wanting to feel healthy and strong is bad, not at all. However, obsessing over it and thinking that life will “begin” when everything is perfect- that is wrong. I failed to appreciate the progress I had made, because I was always looking on the horizon for something better. Anything can become an idol, and frequently, it’s something that appears to be good and just. Who doesn’t want to feel good? Ok, another question- who has perfect health? Hmm… Silence.
No one has perfect health, and I’m not sure why I kept thinking that it was an attainable goal. These mortal bodies are just that- fallible, fragile, and will not last forever. If I set my sights on things above, our Lord’s steadfast love, and I search for contentment in my soul, then anything that comes my way in life won’t knock me down. Like a strong wave crashing onto the beach- did you ever walk out into the surf at the beach as a child, and let the waves hit you? Sometimes they can knock you down, but usually, if you know just when to jump, they break and you are still standing. When you are lying in bed at night, after a day at the beach, sometimes you still have the sensation of waves hitting you…but you are snug in bed, and not being rocked by the ocean anymore. The waves have left their mark.

 

 


I looked at James the other day and told him I was just going to embrace whatever came my way- good or bad, but I didn’t want to wait anymore to enjoy things. I can lie beside little Lana and admire her profile and her little dimpled cheeks, even if I’m dizzy or tired. I can laugh, hard, even if I’m sore. You’ve heard the phrase “progress over perfection”? I lost sight of that. I am incredibly grateful for the progress that I have made. I will focus on that, and I’m not going to wait to celebrate anything.

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First swim meet of the 2018 season, on my 37th birthday. I was able to attend the whole thing!