Thursday, October 30, 2008

My New Tattoos

They're not permanent, but they will last quite a while! My moms' group had a Moms Night Out last night, and we hired a mendhi artist to give us henna tattoos. I got one on my right hand and one on my neck. Here's what they looked like before they dried, before the stain set into my skin.
Then here's what the one on my hand looks like today. Yes, you can tell I smeared it a bit after it was applied last night.

It was really cool getting the tattoos. One woman got a lacy style around her wrist. One woman got a large paisley-style design on the back of her neck. And Beth got a design on the top of her left foot. The artist said they should last anywhere up to 2-3 weeks, depending on how much you wash the skin.

I am fascinated by these mendhi designs now. I am dying to buy a henna kit and try it on myself. I found one online here (I'd add the extra powder too), and I think maybe I'll put it on my Christmas wish list.

What do you think of my new tattoos?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Katie's Room

On Sunday afternoon, Katie played in her room during Jackson's naptime. That gave Dan and I time to clean the house without the kids bouncing off the walls.

That evening, I went up to Katie's room and saw that she had made a new sign for her door. It says: "No goweng in my room. Katie's room. My mom can. My dad can." So I called Dan and he came to see the sign. And then I had to take a picture of it. It makes me chuckle that she has completed the ages-old ritual of making her room off limits to certain people. Of course I had to explain to her that her sign means Jackson is left out. We talked about how that would make her feel if he did that, and later on she added him to the list of people allowed in her room.

What a cutie!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Answered Prayer

Last night as I was falling asleep, I was steeling myself for today. I knew the anniversary of my brother's death might be difficult, and I prayed that God would find some way to talk to me today. I just wanted some small token reminder that He is there and I'm not alone.

I got more than just a small token.

We've been visiting a new church, and I can almost swear to you that the entire service was planned just for me. First of all, the sermon series is about Nehemiah. Seriously?! Who even reads that part of the Bible? Well, let me just say: the sermons have been engaging, dynamic and inspiring. I knew from last week that today's sermon was going to mention gossip, so I didn't expect it to apply much to my situation (the anniversary). But, oh man.

From the very first chord of the first song, I felt like God was talking to me. The song was "Everything Glorious" by The David Crowder Band. It's one of a few songs that has been on heavy rotation in my iPod these days. The lyrics say, "You [God] make everything glorious. So what does that make me?" It inspires me to feel glorious, no matter how achy or crappy I might feel on any given day. So that first song was uplifting, and I was happy that one of my favorite songs was being played.

But it didn't stop there. Oh no. The next song was "Everlasting God" by Brenton Brown. Y'all. God is good. He answered my prayer. Let me explain.

When my brother was first diagnosed with cancer, I visited him in North Carolina. Mom was visiting him too. One night he was in bed feeling like Hell from the chemo, and Mom went in to read the Bible to him. She asked me to come in too, and I laid on the bed while she read. Then she passed the Bible to me, and told me to read the passage they had been reading every night. It was Isaiah 40:28-31, "Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."

This verse was read at church today, during the song "Everlasting God." The song is mostly that verse set to music. The lyrics say, "You are the everlasting God. You do not faint. You won't grow weary. You're the defender of the weak. You comfort those in need. You lift us up on wings like eagles." I felt like God (and my brother) was speaking directly to me through that song. And, yes, it was already another one of those five songs on heavy rotation in my iPod. (Maybe the band has been spying on me lately?)

Then the third song sealed the deal for me. It was "Never Let Go" by Matt Redman. The lyrics say, "You never let go, through the calm and through the storm. Oh, no, you never let go in every high and every low. Oh, no, you never let go. Lord, you never let go of me." God hasn't forgotten me. Not today, not ever. He's holding me, carrying me. Through the past month of my diagnosis, through the past six months of feeling crappy, through the hard times of raising children and dealing with the ups and downs of life. And today, a day of sorrow.

Then the sermon touched on gossip, but that was barely a mention. It was so much more than that. The pastor talked about grief and completing a task from God, despite pain and turmoil. Then he quoted Nehemiah 8:10: "This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." Did you hear that? Read it again. I'll wait.

This day, October 26, hasn't been a day of much joy for me since 1996. But today, I was reminded that it is still sacred to God, as much as it's been sacred to me (and maybe even more so). It's hallowed and holy because it's the day my brother went home. Home. That is a joy, isn't it? Remember the end of the movie The Color Purple, when Celie runs to her sister through the golden field? Remember the joy of their reunion? I imagine God welcomed Jackson home with open arms, with a smile of joy. "The joy of the Lord is your strength." Right?

If you know me in daily life (not just from my blog), you know I'm not one to go about preaching the Gospel on a regular basis. But when a day like today happens, and God speaks to me in a concrete and tangible way, I'd be remiss not to tell the world about it. To quote from the movie again, "I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don't notice it." I think God wants me to notice the purple, and wants me to tell you about it.

An answered prayer. It's as simple as that.

P.S. All three of those songs I mentioned are in the playlist on the sidebar of my blog. Go listen to them and be inspired!

Twelve Years

video
Twelve years ago today, the world changed forever. Maybe yours didn't, but mine did. My brother Jackson died. Not to be too dramatic, but so did the Old Elizabeth. That day marked a line in the sand. Everything prior to 10/26/96 was "before." Everything since has been "after." It's a day that has forever changed the way I view my world. You just have no idea. No idea! If you were lucky enough to know him, you do have an idea. If you didn't know him, consider yourself shortchanged.

I put together a video of his life to share with you. In doing so, my chest actually ached again at seeing his smile and invincibility. It stuns me how much he looks like my own son in certain photos. And then, at the same moment, my breath catches and I pray to God (beg) to never take one of my children from me. Twelve years have eased the ache a bit and dulled some of the memories. It's amazing how much I forgot, and how much it still shocks me that he's gone.

Twelve years. Years. Enough time for an entirely new lifetime - a New Elizabeth - to be conceived and birthed. And yet not enough time for me to stop missing him.

Friday, October 24, 2008

What I've Been Doing

  • Feeling better. That's the good news! I'm not back to 100% yet, but I am feeling much improved and I'm hoping this lupus flare up is on the downswing. My aches are less intense and less frequent, and I've even been able to cut back on my ibuprofen. I'm still trying to figure how much I can cut back, because a few times I've tried to do without and ended up paying for it.
  • Yelling "Get DOWN!" lots as Jackson is climbing on top of the toy trunk and also from the couch onto the counter. But I've also been having a good two days with him. He's getting pretty darn cute, and is learning to smile as a way to (try to) get out of trouble. He was wearing these adorable overalls yesterday, and was irresistably cute. He's even started giving kisses. Mmmmm!
  • Praying a lot about: my bloggy friends Gretchen, Janera and Hillary. Also praying for my neighbor who had a stroke. And praying for the future of my Parents Day Out program, plus some other prayer requests.
  • Partying. We had a Halloween party with my mom's club on Tuesday. And I'm helping plan Katie's classroom party.
  • Trying to stay warm. The cold weather is wreaking havoc on my fingers and toes already, causing the Raynaud's Syndrome to get more active. My left middle finger split open today. I wasn't expecting that to start happening for a little while longer. Ouch.
  • Soaking in the love that my friends have lavished on me lately. Michelle went through bins of clothes specifically to find pants that might fit Katie. I got to have a good two-hour lunch with Lynna on Wednesday AND she is letting me put some stuff in her garage sale tomorrow, without making me be there to do the sale with her. Charity sent me a book in the mail. Susan called to tell me some good news. Sheryl watched Katie so I could make a quick run to the post office. Beth calls me almost every night just to touch base. And then so many of you have been visiting my blog, leaving me comments and compliments. When the world saps my energy, I find that my friends help to refuel. Thanks, y'all.
  • Doing some fall cleaning. I cleaned out the kids' closets and changed the seasons, then cleaned my closet too. I moved all the pool bags and toys to the basement, and brought out the mittens and hats for winter. I even cleaned the refrigerator, microwave AND washed some curtains. What has gotten in to me? The good news is I won't have to do that again until next decade. Ha, ha.
  • Trying to plan Christmas gifts. I am getting nervous about what we can afford, but it's making me get creative. I have lots of ideas that I'm hoping aren't too cheesy. These ideas are swimming through my head at odd times all day, kind of driving me crazy. That's the way my brain works. They'll keep driving me crazy until I just hunker down and make the darn presents.
  • Typing Bylaws for my mom's group. At least I didn't have to make them up. I just had to type what was handed down to me but, unfortunately, wasn't in electronic form yet.
  • Trying yoga. Dan suggested it as a way to help with my aches. He said he'd do it with me at night after the kids are in bed, but I thought I'd try it Wednesday morning when it was too cold for our morning walk. Jackson and I were in the playroom in the basement, and I will never make that mistake again. Yoga is not an activity I can do when Jackson is around. He thought I was a jungle gym and had great fun bouncing on my tummy while I tried to do pelvic lifts. Ugh. I'll go back to using my elliptical machine, which is much safer.
  • Counting marbles. Beth gave me a great idea to start a marble jar for Katie. I've been getting frustrated with her backtalking, white lies, inability to listen and huffing at me. So I got marbles and a little jar. She is catching on to the idea, and the last 30 hours (since we started it) have been markedly better. So far, she's earned five marbles for good behavior and has only had one taken away. When the jar is full, she gets a new Color Wonder book and some paintbrushes. I'm glad it's becoming a win-win situation.
  • Making another Katie Kay Tee. I made a new onesie last night. I was honored to make this for Hillary, who is a relative of my brother-in-law, Wally. The onesie turned out very cute, and I'm pleased with it. Go read the story about Anna Kathryn, the little girl who will wear it. And keep Hillary in your prayers today. She's weighing heavily on my mind because it's the "angel-versary" of her daughter's accident and death. Little Natalie was only 14 months old.
  • Scanning photos. I spent about an hour of today's naptime scanning photos for something I'm putting together in memory of my brother. You'll have to check back on Sunday to see it. I've enjoyed reliving my memories, even as painful as they still are.
  • Lacking sleep. Katie has had awful night terrors the last three nights. On Tuesday night I found her wandering upstairs holding a pair of my pants from the laundry hamper, crying and mumbling about a banana. The other two nights she's stayed in her bed, but wakes crying and screaming and isn't easily soothed. I have my in-laws to thank for this. Night terrors are hereditary. Dan has them occasionally too (although he doesn't cry and scream). His brother had them and his dad does weird sleep things too. Let's hope Katie is the end of the line and Jackson doesn't get them. He's been sleeping poorly this week too. There's no rest for the weary in our house!

Thanks for reading my ramblings. I hope everyone has a good weekend. We are going to be busy with my Weight Watchers weigh-in, a visit to the pumpkin patch, church and Trunk or Treat. I'll post again on Sunday.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Reunion Photos

I just did a dumb thing. I went to my high school website alumni website to look at photos from my brother's 20 year high school reunion. He wasn't there, of course. But all his friends were, and I am in tears looking at them and wishing Jackson could have been there. Ugh. Why did I do that to myself?

I look at his friends, and see how they've aged. I wonder, yet again, how he would look now too. He should've been there. Dammit.

Bean Boozled

I found these "Bean Boozled" Jelly Belly jellybeans at the grocery store today. The box has many beans of various colors, but the catch is they don't all taste the same. Some are good flavors and some are downright NASTY. I bought two boxes at $1.19 each, and thought they'd be fun to try with Katie.
After dinner, I opened a box and we sorted the beans by color. Then we took the plunge and tried some of them. The first ones we tried turned out NOT to be pear. Guess what flavor they were instead? Booger. Oh, dude! Not quite sure that that's supposed to taste like, but it was disgusting all the same.

Katie decided to try the black ones next. They were either black licorice or skunk. She said they were skunk. Personally, I don't know how you could tell a difference. Katie tried a blue one and got toothpaste flavor instead of blueberry. Not too bad, I guess. We tried the white ones and I got coconut while Katie got the baby wipes flavor. Egads! The straw(s) that broke the proverbial camel's back were the ones that were either buttered popcorn or rotten egg. Yep... we got the eggs. Katie actually gagged on this one, so I figured it was time to stop. The remaining ones were too gross to even consider: vomit/peach, ear wax/mocha latte, or moldy cheese/caramel corn.
We put the rest back in the box, and maybe she can get Daddy to try it with her another time. Count me out! It was fun, but oh so yucky!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Our Story, Part VIII

(Go here for Part VII.) Y'all thought I forgot about Our Story, didn't you? Even though it's been a hectic last month, there's still lots to tell. So here we go!

Fast forward to the end of 1993. My parents had split up in mid-1993, and it was a rough year emotionally for me. But Dan stuck by me throughout all the turmoil. That doesn’t mean I didn’t try to mess things up by breaking up with him or playing games with him (testing his love for me). I did lots of that silly stuff. Thank God that Dan was forgiving enough and willing to put up with all of it.

The start of 1994 was when our relationship deepened. I look back through our notebook and our photos, and it was a time of gooey romanticism, date parties, and studying together. That summer was spent apart while I interned at a TV station in Atlanta. The end of 1994 was Dan’s last semester in college, and he graduated right before Christmas. Christmas break was a roller coaster: my first niece was born, and I met Maureen (my future stepmother).

1995 was even crazier. Dan had moved two hours away to Kansas City for his first job, and I was still in school. I was incredibly lovesick for him, and missed him so deeply. I was juggling my last year of school and a job, and we spent every weekend traveling back and forth visiting each other. Our phone bills were pretty big, and the distance tested our relationship because we had to put a lot of work into communicating in new ways.

That May, my parents’ divorce was final. Dad got engaged to Maureen, and the wedding was planned for July 1. It was going to be a very small wedding, with only relatives invited. Dad said I wasn’t allowed to bring Dan with me unless we were engaged by their wedding day. So when it came time to make my airline reservations, I asked Dan if he was going with me. (How’s that for putting him on the spot? I already knew we were going to be getting engaged at some point, but not when.) He said that he would be going with me, so I knew an engagement was pending.

In May, I also “graduated” from college (that means I walked through the ceremony, but I still had summer school to finish before I was done). Dad and Dan saw me walk across the stage to accept my diploma, then had to hustle to catch Dad’s flight before the ceremony was over. On the way to the airport, Dan asked Dad for my hand in marriage. I knew Dan was planning to ask (I told him there’s no way I’d marry him if he didn’t ask Dad first), and was so excited when he returned from the airport that night and told me he had asked – and that Dad had given his blessing. Then I sat back (or tried to) and waited (or tried to).

I knew Dan was going to propose during one of our weekend visits. And since there weren’t very many weekends left before July 1, I spent every weekend waiting for some romantic proposal to catch me off guard.

Find out what happens (C’mon, as if you don’t already know!) in Part IX of Our Story.

Student of the Week

Last Friday, Katie was selected as Student of the Week in her classroom. She walked off the bus all nonchalant, with the special blue ribbon pinned to her chest. I saw it and started running to her, screaming how excited I was for her. She broke into a run and jumped into my arms, and listened to me say, "I am so proud of you!" over and over. She was so happy!

I think every kid in Katie's class will eventually be named Student of the Week, but it's still a special honor for them all. They get to be second in line every day that week (behind the line leader), they get a special certificate and the blue ribbon and they get to pick a treat from a treat bucket. Best of all, the Student of the Week completes an "all about me" poster at home and brings it back to class, where it's displayed all week in the classroom.

Katie finished her poster on Friday night. I helped her by printing the photos, but she wrote and colored everything else herself. She was so proud of herself, and has worn her ribbon to school yesterday and today. I'm so proud of her too!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Can You Say...

I've been meaning to post this video of Jackson. I love that when I ask him to say "Jackson," he just pats himself - as if no words are necessary!
video

Friday, October 17, 2008

Corralling the Jumping Bean

Tuesday morning, I had enough. Our morning routine is to take a walk after Katie gets on the bus, then Jackson plays in the bathroom while I shower and get ready for the day. Our master bathroom has a separate tub and shower. It is completely babyproofed, down to latches on the cabinet, toilet lid locks, and GFI covers on top of the outlets. (Not just those little plug covers; these cover the entire thing.) The one thing that is not Jackson-proofed is the tub itself.

My sweet little baby used to sit nicely in the dry tub, playing with toys and babbling to me while I showered. Then he grew and learned how to climb out. He's been doing that for at least a month. Now he's taken to standing on the side of the tub, walking around it and sitting on the windowsill. Dear God. Y'all have no idea what this does to my blood pressure. I start my shower, glassed in and unable to jump out quickly to get Jackson out of dangerous situations. Usually I sternly and firmly say (okay, yell), "Sit down" and he will. In fact, he started to this past Tuesday. But as he was sitting, he lost his balance and fell into the tub. He hit his head and started screaming. I jumped out of the shower, grabbed a towel and jumped into the bath tub.

BAM! I was wet, y'all. Which means my feet slipped and my butt slammed into the bottom of the tub faster than I could even catch myself, with my right leg still sticking out of the tub. Ouch! Now I'm in pain, Jackson's screaming, I'm cold and wet, Jackson's bleeding somewhere in his mouth, so I just wrapped him in the towel and hugged him. He finally settled down and I finished my shower. But I was fired up (and in pain), and determined to find a way to corral the monkey.

So Wednesday morning, I dragged the Pack & Play into the bathroom (thank God we have a big bathroom) and attempted to assemble it while Jackson tried to climb the tub again. I already had a huge bruise on my right leg from Tuesday's graceful fall, and ended up getting another bruise just trying to assemble the freaking Pack & Play. (My arm strength isn't so great in the morning because of lupus.) But I got it assembled and put Jackson inside of it. He wasn't happy about that, but at least I could shower knowing he was safe.

This morning, Jackson sat in the Pack & Play and played nicely while I showered. The morning rush is much much better now. Thank God! I took some photos of him in his "prison," and he looked so cute. Please ignore the overall untidyness of the rest of the bathroom in the background! I never said I was a stellar housekeeper. My talents lie elsewhere. (At least that's the excuse I keep telling myself!)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Happy Birthday, Sister!

Happy birthday to my sister Mary! I hope you're having a great day today. I love you!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Raynaud's Syndrome

It's happening to me, which is not unexpected. Lupus patients sometimes get Raynaud's Syndrome as a secondary complication. Dad had it, so that's why I recognized it immediately when it happened to me the first time last week. I'm just amazed at how quickly it happened. All of a sudden I'm diagnosed with lupus and it's like my body took that as permission to go a little haywire.

The Raynaud's has happened about three more times now, and it's really quite weird. Whichever fingers are affected (it's been different every time so far) lose all feeling, and turn completely white. And it happens in almost an instant. Then when the fingers finally warm up again, they hurt with the "pins and needles" feeling. And they turn spotty blue before the pink finally comes back. It's kind of weirdly fascinating to watch it happen. The good news is that (from what I can tell online), mine is a mild case so far.

I am not looking forward to winter. My fingers already had a tendency to crack and split open in the past, and I'm sure it's going to be worse this winter. I am looking at some portable electric blankets to buy, and also some heated gloves. Hopefully I can minimize the outbreaks as much as possible.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Happy Birthday to My Brother

38 years old. That's how old my brother Jackson would have been today. 38?! It's hard to imagine the 26-year-old I knew as a 38-year-old now.

What would he look like? Would his hair be graying at the temples? Would he even have any hair left? How many wrinkles would he have? How many kids? (The two are directly proportional.) What job would he have now? Where would he live? What sort of music would he like?

I've got an idea. I'm going to do a little creative writing and invent the details of what my brother's life would have been like for the last 12 years. Indulge me, okay y'all? I imagine he would have beaten his cancer, and maybe stayed in the Army a few more years. I know he wanted to go back and teach at West Point, so let's pretend he did that for about four years. Then he and Bonnie would have been ready to have kids, and she would have wanted to move back to Kentucky where her family lives. So I'm gonna say he got out the military altogether and became a civilian. They had two kids, both adopted because of the cancer treatments: a boy named either Josh or Gabe and a girl named Elizabeth. (I hope y'all are still indulging me!) The kids would be six and three now. Jackson would have very little hair on his head, but what he has left would still be pretty dark. (The grays won't show up until he's in his mid-forties.) We'd talk on the phone about once every ten days or so. He'd be the owner of a small civil engineering firm, and he'd still like country music like Kenny Chesney, mixed in with some classic rock. I bet he'd like Kidd Rock, and I'd be able to harrass him about that. (I don't like Kidd Rock!) Jackson and Bonnie would live in a house out in the country, kind of like where she lives now. There would be enough room for my family and my sister's family to stay with them every other Christmas, which we would alternately dread and anticipate every time - dread because of the chaos of all the kids, and anticipate because of the time we'd get to spend together now that Mom and Dad are gone and us three siblings would be the only ones left. We'd spend holidays eating Dad's wild rice and Mom's sweet potato casserole and Bonnie's family dishes, and tell stories about how I killed Jackson's mice (accidentally) and how Jackson pushed me out of the treehouse and how Mary made the worst spaghetti when Mom and Dad were out of town. We'd commiserate about raising kids and toddler tantrums.

Ah... that was fun to dream and pretend. Sad, but fun. I hope he's having a good birthday, enjoying himself and his perpetually-young 26-year-old body. I miss him.

Fairy Houses

We have a new obsession. We read about making fairy houses in the October issue of Family Fun. This is, hands down, my very favorite magazine! (Go here for directions on how to make one yourself.)

On Friday I suggested to Katie and our neighbor Sammi that we should make a fairy house. Once I explained it to them and discussed what sort of things you could use to build a house and put inside it, they were off and running with ideas. I had to explain to them that you can only use items you find on the ground, and you can't pull things off trees. Fairies can tell what smells more like the ground instead of a tree, and they won't use a house that's been made of things pulled off their trees. So the girls set to work building a little hut for the fairies. Here's what they built.
You can see they found someone's trash floating down the street, and used a dryer sheet to support the roof leaf shingles (recycling at its finest). I also took a photo of the girls by their architectural masterpiece.
When Katie woke Saturday morning, she immediately started asking if she could go check the fairy house to see if any fairies stayed in it overnight. (You can tell if a fairy stayed in it because things will be out of place or the berries might have been eaten.) We finally checked it that afternoon, and everything was still in place. Bummer! So Katie set about making a new fairy house, and Sammi joined her again later. This time they used shovels to dig holes in the ground. I'm not sure why, but it made sense to them.

Today, Katie is outside supervising Dan's lawn mowing and also building yet another fairy house. I'm thrilled that her imagination is growing with this new obsession!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Go Tigers!

Tonight is the Mizzou vs. Oklahoma State game. Dan's excited to watch it, so I surprised him by getting Katie ready for the game too:
Doesn't she look fearsome?! I found this tutorial to show me how to do it. It was very easy!

Dan has always wanted to learn how to make balloon animals, and I really enjoy face painting. In fact, #29 on My Bucket List is "go to clown college." Not sure if I'll ever get to do that or not, but I think Dan and I could become clowns in our retirement. He could be a balloon sculptor and I could paint faces. At the very least, we'll be able to entertain the grandkids!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Good Writing

I found another example of Good Writing. Last night, I finished The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. It's an odd tale, and I can't even explain it to you without writing a really long post and giving away some of the story. Just suffice it to say it's tied together beautifully at the end. I heard about it in the September 28 issue of Parade magazine. There was a blurb on author Nicholas Sparks. He named this as one of five novels that moved him most. The other four are: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Safon, Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill, City of Thieves by David Benioff, and Gates of Fire by Stephen Pressfield. Not sure I'll read all of them (although Gretchen might like Heart-Shaped Box because the review says, "The rarest of novels-a fresh and original horror story that's frightening, not gory."), but Shadow of the Wind has been on my list for a while.

Anyhoo, here are my favorite quotes from The Book of Lost Things:
“Rules and routines are good, but they must give you satisfaction… Find routines that allow you to feel secure when they are done. You told me you have a new brother: look to him each morning. Look to your father, and your stepmother. Tend to the flowers in the garden, or in the pots upon the windowsill. Seek others who are weaker than you are, and try to give them comfort where you can. Let these be your routines, and the rules that govern your life.”

"We are not meant to know the time or the nature of our deaths (for all of us secretly hope that we may be immortal). Those who were given that knowledge found that they could not sleep or eat or enjoy any of the pleasures life had to offer them, so tormented were they by what they had seen. Their lives became a kind of living death, devoid of joy, and all that was left to them was fear and sadness, so that when at last the end came they were almost grateful for it."

And my favorite: "...for a lifetime was but a moment in that place, and each man dreams his own heaven."

Great Advice

My friend Joe sent me an email yesterday, encouraging me in my lupus fight. He also let me know some of the details of his life, and he's been going through a very hard time. His parents are ill, he's been ill, and his kids have been under the weather too. There's lots more to the story, of course, but I don't want to broadcast his entire private life to the public. Suffice it to say it's been a rough month for him.

But Joe ended his email with something that truly inspired me. I had to share it with you. These are his words:
"What a beautiful life we all are given! Sure, it's got some hurdles every now and then, but in the end, all rain does is make the flowers grow higher and prettier. I hope I get to share some of your flowers with you, and maybe spend some time playing in the puddles with you while it's pouring."

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dentists & Donuts

I expected today to be one of those days when I hate my job. It turned out to be fantastic!

I was dreading Katie's dentist visit. We have never had a good one, and the stress of the last two literally took about three years off my life expectancy. Our history at the dentist has involved tears, screams, anguish, and forehead-tapping (thanks to an awful dentist that we have since left). Today was Katie's checkup. I scheduled it for a day when Jackson was at Parents' Day Out, and planned ahead to have my own cleaning first. I figured if she saw me do it, she wouldn't be afraid. Of course that meant I had to keep my own fears inside and be the big adult. Ugh!

My cleaning went just fine. Thank God I didn't have cavities, because there is no way I could pretend to be a model patient if I was getting drilled. Katie watched my cleaning from a hygenist's stool and kept Denise (my hygenist) busy talking the whole time. She asked all kinds of questions about what Denise was doing and why, and asked why I have black in my teeth (fillings). When the dentist came in at the end, Katie was allowed to sit on my chest and look into my mouth while the dentist did the once-over. I wish I had a photo of that!

Katie's cleaning was awesome. She met Nancy (her hygenist) and bounced on back to the x-ray room. I thought sitting in the chair would be enough to start the tears (the chair has been an issue in the past), but there wasn't even a tremor of fear. She got her teeth x-rayed and Nancy allowed her to go back into the darkroom with her to develop the film. We moved on to the cleaning. Katie let Nancy polish her teeth with raspberry-flavored paste, and held the suction tube herself. She didn't like the gritty paste in her mouth (I always hate that stuff, so I don't blame her), but otherwise did fine. Nancy flossed her teeth then the dentist came to check her. He scraped some tartar off, and I saw her physically cringe and flinch a few times. I was expecting a protest, but then watched her literally take a breath and relax herself while the dentist finished. I was amazed. The last part was fluoride application, which was the worst part of all. Katie didn't like the sticky feel on her teeth, but only whined about it - no tears or screams. She picked out a pink balloon and two stickers, and we were done. I actually had tears in my eyes because I was so grateful that the visit went well. I was so proud of Katie! She kept telling me "I'm so brave!" and repeated it to strangers at different stores throughout the rest of the day.

We went straight from the dentist to McDonald's, even though it wasn't even 11am yet. But she wanted to eat and get the sticky fluoride feel off her teeth, and I told her she could pick anywhere she wanted to eat because she did so well at the dentist.

Later in the day, she got her big treat. I promised her a donut if she behaved at the dentist, so I took her to the local donut shop and let her pick one to eat. (She loves the donut shop, thanks to Daddy's influence.) Here's my brave, sweet, chocolately girl eating her just reward.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Gifts from a Five-Year-Old

Oh, the things a little five-year-old girl finds precious...

I'm typing on my blog while Jackson naps and Katie is in her room for quiet time. She comes down the stairs, and says, "Mommy! Look what I made for Jackson?" Can you see it in the picture and tell what it is?

She hands me a rock with a piece of tape on it. (She's been having a tape fest lately, thanks to this suggestion from Mad About Plaid Girl.) The tape is holding a tiny little drawing onto the rock. Apparently the drawing is of Jackson. She made the rock into a Jackson rock. I told her it was very nice. She said, "Yours is on your bedside table." I told her thank you for making me a rock too, and hugged her. She was so pleased with herself, and said, "I'm full of surprises!"

So, of course, we had to take photos of the rock so I could post the story on my blog. One day, she won't see treasures in an everyday old rock. So for now, I'm going to celebrate and cherish that part of my girl that still sees joy in the ordinary-ness of rocks.

Fun with the Kids

Some days, I hate my job. It's hard and it's a lot of work to be responsible for the well-being, manners, education, and civilization of my two children. Some days, I don't think I'm cut out to be a stay-at-home mom. But then I have days like yesterday and today. At dinner last night, I told Dan about our fun day and I could see his eyes change. I imagined he was thinking in his head, "I wish I could do fun things like that with the kids every day!" I realize how lucky I am to be home with my babies, and enjoy the cool stuff with them.

Yesterday, Jackson went to Parents' Day Out and Katie and I had an adventure. We went to the City Museum, which was closed. But the World Aquarium inside the museum was opened just for our mom's group. It doesn't look like much in this photo, does it? But, oh! It was fun! The kids got to touch animals like turtles, sharks, stingrays and rabbits. They saw a tarantula, an armadillo, otters, fish and snakes - including a two-headed snake. I touched the stingray too, and it was such a cool thing. There was a small stingray that kept swimming to the side of the tank and then gliding up the wall to the top of the water, almost like he was trying to climb up to us. He kept fluttering there, letting everyone touch him.

The aquarium also has these fish that are so unusual, called Doctor Fish. They have been trained to nibble dead skin off people. Some of us stuck our fingers in the fish tank, and they came to nibble. Can you see them in the photo? It was the weirdest feeling! Seriously. Weird. The kids crawled in a tunnel through the shark tank, and some moms joined them. We also got to play in the City Museum's Toddler Town before our visit ended.

After the World Aquarium, we grabbed lunch and went to eat it at Kiener Plaza. After eating, the kids enjoyed dipping their hands in the fountains and running amok while all the business professionals on their lunch breaks watched. We're such fun lunchtime entertainment! Here's a photo of me and Katie at Kiener Plaza.

Beth and I took some photos of Ryan and Katie at the top of Kiener Plaza, with the St. Louis Courthouse and Arch in the background. This is the spot that almost every St. Louis couple gets photos on their wedding day. We were trying to show Ryan how to dip Katie back like all the other wedding photos we've seen. Who knows? Maybe one day Katie will marry Ryan, and we can recreate this photo again. But it isn't likely to happen; Katie and Ryan already treat each other like an old married couple and bicker over every petty little thing. They'll probably be sick of each other when it comes time for marriage. Ha, ha!

Today was also a lot of fun. A local skating rink opened up for our mom's group, and the kids got to ride their scooters and bikes all over the rink. Some of the kids used their roller skates for a bit, but riding a bike or scooter indoors was too exciting and they spent most of their time doing that. The parents chased after the little ones and also danced to some of the songs on the sound system, like C'mon and Ride It (The Train), the Cha Cha Slide, the Macarena, and Hakuna Matata. We had lunch back at Beth and Sean's house, and the kids went wild playing with all the toys in the basement. Even better? It's a rainy day outside, and we are enjoying every minute of it with fun things like the skating rink and playing at a friend's house.

This week, I like my job. Think I can ask for a raise?

Managing

Have I mentioned lately how lucky, lucky, lucky I am? I guess it doesn't have much to do with luck, though. I am truly blessed, and oh-so-grateful for all the love I have in my life.

Let me explain why I feel this way. Last week after my three-day pity party, I woke up Thursday morning and decided to have a PMA (Dad's acronym for Positive Mental Attitude) and just move on to the good in my life. I realized there were some family and friends who didn't know about my lupus diagnosis, so I sent an email out inviting them to read my blog and find out the latest. I can't tell you what a wonderful reaction I got from so many people - professions of faith in my character and strength, encouragement for fighting lupus, and even a few compliments on my blog and my writing abilities. (You have no idea how much that made me glow!) In responding to lots of the comments and emails I got, I decided to make a separate folder on my computer and save some of those emails in a central location. Now when I have another hard day, I can read back over the words and gain strength from them. Thank you, everyone, for making my heart sing.

This week is a new beginning, and a break from last week's shock and despair. I'm back, y'all. I'm learning how to just live with the aches that come with lupus (which I've been learning anyway the last 3 months while symptoms set in). I'm adjusting to what I can and can't do. I'm learning how to manage things. I now know that I have to exercise every morning, to help loosen up my joints. I have realized that I can't skip ibuprofen at lunch time without paying the price in the afternoon (although it's still hard to remember). I'm trying to accept help more often (like letting Beth and Sean watch Katie last week or letting them feed us lunch), and I'm saying yes to the things that I know will inspire and uplift me (church with Jen on Saturday, even when I wanted to stay home and make s'mores). Dan has helped me by giving me all my medicines before he leaves for work in the morning. This has been awesome. He leaves so early and gives me the meds and water, and then I get to go back to sleep and doze while I wait for the meds - ibuprofen, specifically - to take effect. Dan has also helped me undress at night (get your minds out of the gutter!) because the range of motion in my arms and shoulders limits my movements, especially at bedtime. I'm adapting to this new way of life, and can't wait for the Plaquenil to kick in so I don't feel the pain anymore. Think how great that's going to be!

Katie has been a great help the last few days, too. This is her third and last week of cycle break before she returns to school on Monday. My favorite part of cycle break has been sleeping in each morning. She climbs in bed with me and we snuggle. She prays for me each morning, and we stretch and gently wake each other up. She also watches me (try to) clench and unclench my hands as I attempt to get rid of the morning achiness. This morning, she told me to wiggle my hands and "shake that lupus out." She's been helpful with Jackson, too. When he wakes, she goes into his room and reads to him while I slowly ease myself out of bed and get my workout clothes on. She helps me during the day, entertaining him while I make lunches and helping clean up toys. Of course, it could have something to do with my bribes of brownies after dinner. But I'll take what I can get!

So, I'm making progress this week already. Thanks for everyone's prayers and support. I can already feel it working, and I thank God for it.

I'm going to leave you with a quote that my friend Susan emailed me, and one I'm going to post on my bathroom mirror: "Remind yourself that you are not the general manager of the universe." I love that one! May it help me slow down and lessen the stress in my life.

Oh, one more thing! I have to share these two amazing photos I took of Katie last Friday. Have you ever seen a more beautiful child in your life? The one of her hanging with the sun behind her captures her spirit so well - she is glowing, and is full of light.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Lupus Walk

My team, Steele Butterflies, completed the Lupus Walk this morning (including an unexpected half mile). It was a good time, and nice to have Dan, Katie, Jackson, John (my father-in-law), and especially Catrina and Lizzie there with me. After the walk, we sat in the park and enjoyed the cool weather, and had a light lunch. It was so peaceful and uplifting.



Thank you also to those of you who donated to our team. We raised a total of $365 in ten days. Wow! Thank you, thank you, thank you to our donors. I know every dollar was given because of your love for me, or someone you know with Lupus.

As the weekend comes to a close, I'm feeling much better mentally. I'm ready to tackle Lupus head-on, and I've had time to let the shock wear off and let the fighter in me come out. A recurring theme kept popping up over and over this past week - during research I've done, conversations I've had, TV shows I've watched, and even last night's sermon at church: I have to slow down and reduce stress in my life. I'm not quite sure how that is going to manifest itself, but I know that I'm going to have to make a shift in priorities. I heard a quote this week: "You were not 'in the moment,' you were trying to get 'to' the moment." That's how I've been living my life: so busy busy busy and running from one task to the next. I need to slow down, be in the moment more, and learn what is necessary and what is just fluff. In yesterday's sermon, the pastor said Nehemiah knew "when to push and when to push pause."

During a song at church last night, one of the lyrics was "You are healing me." I needed to hear that! God is taking care of me, loving me, lifting me up on eagle's wings, and speaking to me through the people He's placed in my life.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Update

I don't know what else to title this post, because it's going to be filled with a hodge podge of stuff. Forgive me as I just ramble and give you some bullet points. It's the best I can do right now.
  • First, let me start with gratitude. Thank you to those of you who have called me, met me for coffee, donated to my Lupus Walk team, posted comments, prayed for me, watched my kids, and just let me crumble the past few days. I am loved, and you have shown me that the last three days. Thank you.
  • How am I feeling? Stunned. Shocked. Pissed. Achy. Overwhelmed. Alone. In turmoil. In denial. On edge. Lost. Scared. In a fog. Thankful. Inspired. Irritable. Weak. Empty. Unsure. Ugh. I'm tired of talking about it, and then I'm frustrated that I'm not talking about it. I'm contradictory right now, not making much sense. I'm worried. What if I pass it on to my kids, like my parents passed it to me? What if I brought this on myself with negative thinking? I keep telling myself to stop being a baby. I feel like I'm spinning my wheels. At least I'm not waiting for the other shoe to drop anymore. (A little gallows humor there.)
  • I still have lots to learn about Lupus. One of the best resources I've found is the "About Lupus" section of the Lupus Foundation website. I know y'all have lots of questions about it too, so go read it. (That way I won't have to explain it over and over... when it's something I barely understand myself!) I'm also looking forward to the Lupus Walk on Sunday, and getting to meet others with Lupus. I'm hoping to get some direction and help. I feel like an idiot about the whole thing, like I don't know anything. There's so much to learn, and so many questions for my doctor. (Am I even seeing the right doctor anyway?)
  • I'm praying. Lots. Asking God to help me feel Him. Asking Him to just hold me. Just hold me. I know He's bigger than this. I'm begging my parents to show themselves to me in some way, and help me feel their presence. You have no idea how many times I've wanted to call them the last three days. I did get to talk to my stepmother, and she helped me answer some questions, which was good. And she was pissed off for me, which was even better. (I've not heard her cuss like that in a LONG time.) But... if I could just hear Mom or Dad's voices. Oh. Let's move on from this topic, before I dissolve again.
  • It could be worse. Yes, I keep saying that to myself. Especially when I heard the news on Monday (the same day of my diagnosis) that a friend/neighbor had a stroke last week. He's my age! Lupus is not so bad when I think of the other diagnoses out there. But, ugh. Is it wrong of me to not want anything? I talked to a woman at the Lupus Foundation about the walk on Sunday, and mentioned that I was just diagnosed. She said, "Oh, isn't it a relief? To know what's been going on and have a diagnosis finally?" Sort of, in a way, I guess it's a relief... but not like she meant. It's a relief to have a plan and medicine I can take, but it's also devastating because I saw my parents fight Lupus. I KNOW what it does. I think I'd rather be blissfully ignorant.
  • And here's the contradictory part of me again: I'm lucky that my parents had Lupus. My diagnosis came much quicker than it does for other people. I've heard of people (like Mom) who spent years feeling like this before they finally got a diagnosis. I've only spent four months feeling like this. Lucky, lucky, lucky. Now if this darn medicine would just kick in and start working!

I think I'll stop there. I could keep going about all my worries and fears, but I'm going to get up from the computer, take my ibuprofen, and go focus on something else. Besides, Jackson is crying in his crib and I can't focus anymore anyway.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

Here's a link to the Face Transformer. Warning: it may take a while to transform your photo. Good luck!
Wordless Wednesday

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