Friday, December 31, 2010

It's been a long December...

...and there's reason to believe
maybe this year will be better than the last
I can't remember all the times I tried to tell myself
to hold on to these moments as they pass
-Counting Crows, "A Long December"

2010, where do I begin to describe thee? I really can't decide whether it's been the worst year of my life ... or the best. Maybe both are possible at the same time.

This year started off with the horrible news that my mom's cancer had spread to her brain, her liver, her lymph nodes - everywhere. She began aggressive treatments, some of which are working on some of the tumors. It is amazing what modern medicine can do. And yet her tumors are still spreading and she is still fighting this horrible, ugly, awful disease. Cute pink breast cancer awareness ribbons are everywhere, and still it continues to affect the lives of millions. I'm so proud of how she has handled herself in the face of devastating news. I've learned so much from her, and her positive spirit continues to be an inspiration to me (and to lots of you as well!).

Building castles in the sand with her #1 grandson

My worry and anxiety shifted to joy when Luke McLean Foster entered our lives on February 22, 2010. He turned our quiet little threesome into the Foster Fab Four, and brightened our lives in ways I couldn't have predicted or imagined. He was such an easy baby, and the months at home with him during my maternity leave were among the best of my life. I always knew I wanted at least 2 kids, but it's far better than I expected. As cheesy as it is, it really does my heart good to see them giggle at each other. And giggle at each other's farts. They are still boys, after all.

Luke, in the days when his crazy hair was only mildly crazy

And then life's roller coaster threw me for a big loop in June when we learned that Jay would have another open heart surgery. Those months of preparing for the worst and deciding where to go for surgery and desperately trying to keep him healthy ... I don't want to go there again, even just by writing it out. I don't want to rehash it all in my mind.

Then there were the horrible dark days in Philadelphia when we nearly lost him. I still have flashbacks as I fall asleep, seeing the nurses doing CPR on him. If I allow myself to think about it, I can hear the beeps of the monitor and the sound of the ventilator as if they are right beside me. I still dwell on what could have been. Even now, months later, it's still raw and painful to let my mind drift back to those days.

I witnessed a miracle as my little boy recovered beyond all expectations. I saw him go from complete life support to running and jumping and talking and laughing and playing. How can I even begin to describe that? I experienced love and support from those around me that went beyond what words can describe. People (yes you!) showed compassion for us through care packages and food, through visits, through cards and letters and emails, through incredible gifts of generosity. I can't thank you enough for supporting us in our dark days and celebrating our miracle with us.

Rockin' his guitar on Christmas morning

In spite of the awful things 2010 brought, at this moment, I have everything my heart desires. Today, my mom's feeling good enough to ring in the new year at the beach with her childhood best friend. The Foster Fab Four saw the acorn & fireworks (the early acorn, of course!) in downtown Raleigh, then came home to drink hot chocolate in our PJ's. Life is good.

I've learned to appreciate the little moments. I've questioned and re-thought everything I thought I knew - about God and God's role in this world, about life, about relationships with my family and friends. It's been a horrible year, and yet it's been filled with incredible blessings. But for 2011, I'll take a year that's a bit less intense. 'K? Thanks.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Baby you can drive my car...

...Yes I'm gonna be a star
Baby you can drive my car
-The Beatles, "Drive My Car

Today's agenda? Car shopping.

I finally said goodbye to my beloved Honda CR-V after the unpleasant crunch it received on I-40. When the damage was all said and done, it was totaled. So sad - I really loved that car. There's no question in my mind that I would have had an easier time saying goodbye to one of my pets than I had letting go of my baby! I certainly spent more time in it than I spend with Bonnie & Clyde. It's a good thing I wasn't here to see them tow it away because there would have been tears. And really, who cries over a vehicle?! Oh shut up. I know I'm a total sentimental crybaby.

Before we headed out shopping, I had narrowed it down to 6 vehicles - Honda CR-V, Pilot, and Odyssey. Toyota RAV-4, Highlander, and Sienna. Small SUV, bigger SUV, and minivan from the only 2 car makers I'm seriously willing to buy. As much as I loved the small SUV, there are certainly times that I wished for a bit more room - in particular, the times I want to carry someone else along with the Foster Foursome. But there are also a lot of times I've wanted room in the back for the stroller AND groceries.

And then there's the possibility of kid #3. If kid #3 moves from nebulous future possibility to real-life person requiring a car seat, then bigger car is no longer an option. No, we aren't having a kid for another couple of years, if at all. But IF we're going to want a van eventually, perhaps now is the time.

We started at the Toyota dealership where the salesman told me in no uncertain terms that I didn't need a van and I should test drive the RAV-4. Ummm, okay. Grumble. (Can you tell that I so DO NOT want to be car shopping?! I want my old car back and don't want to have to make such a big decision!) So I drove the RAV-4, and didn't like it any better than I did when I drove it 3 years ago. One model down, 5 to go. He wouldn't show us a van and didn't have time to help us drive a Highlander (he told us to come back on Monday) so another decision was made - I won't be buying a car there.

We headed down to the Honda dealership, and the whole experience was totally different. The salesguy actually listened to what I wanted, and first spent some time talking to me (ME! Not Derek!) about what I want. He helped me realize that the Pilot's current body style is much bigger and more truck-like than I would want. (One more down - 4 to go!) Then he showed me the Odyssey minivan ... cue the harp music. I loved it.

I wanted to hate it, but I absolutely loved it. Backup camera? Maybe I can finally learn to parallel park. Onboard computer that lets you upload your pictures via USB port? Yes please. "Cool box" to store sippy cups of milk? Cooled by the A/C? I am in love. Room for 3500 songs stored in the system's hard drive? Even Derek is in love!

But then, I got online to look at reviews. They all start out something like this (from Car & Driver's review):
  • They may be as fashionable as those old-timey, full-body swimsuits, but there’s no denying that minivans are the most sensible vehicles...
Sensible? Unfashionable? Ugh. Do I really want to pay ~$12K more for a sensible, not-so-cute car just because I sometimes need to drag someone else along? Do I want to pay $12K for a cool box? I could get a pretty snazzy cooler that's charged via cigarette lighter AND a super sweet ipod for that much money. I've managed to make it more than a decade without a backup camera - why do I suddenly want one now? But that push-button door opener is just about the greatest thing EVER invented! What does sensible really mean, anyway?

I'm so conflicted. I don't want to have to decide and I don't want a new car payment ... I just want my old, pre-wreck CRV. Boo.

Friday, December 3, 2010

I fell in to a burning ring of fire...

...I went down, down, down
and the flames went higher
-Johnny Cash, "Ring of Fire"

So, Luke has a horrible cold - double ear infection, day #3 of a high fever, and more snot rivers than I've ever seen on a kid. We've seen some pretty pitiful kid sicknesses, what with all the rounds of pneumonia we've seen. But this is right up there with the most pitiful.

Derek pulled out the humidifier this morning and for some reason it kinda freaked Jay out. He kept asking "Will it be loud?" and he was clearly pretty concerned about it. We said it will help Luke feel better, reassured him that it would be quiet, and didn't really think much more of it.

Then about an hour later, Jay asked me, "Why does that thing help Luke feel better?" Given that we'd attempted 17 different "that things" to help Luke feel better (and that's just what we tried between the hours of 4 a.m. and 7 a.m.!), I didn't know whether he was referring to the snot-sucker, the Tylenol, the cool washcloths, Vicks Vapo-rub, the antibiotics or what.

Me: What do you mean?

Jay: That thing. The thing that shoots fire out. Why it makes Luke feel better?

Me: Uh .... I'm not sure what you're talking about, sweetie. (At this point, I'm really confused where he's going with this.)

Jay: That thing! The one Daddy put in his room!

Me: Oh, the humidifier! It doesn't shoot fire, honey. It puts a little mist of water in the air. It's not smoke coming out. It's just water.

Jay: Then why is it called a humidi-fire?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November came and went... a summer that I spent
with a no-name girl that walked in jelly shoes
-The Avett Brothers, "Denouncing November Blue"
(This is one of Jay's current fave songs, known as the Jelly Shoe song)

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving, Day #30. I'm thankful that November is over!

Back to my regularly scheduled (once a week-ish) blogging. Back to my whiny, un-thankful self. Just kidding. I'll try to stay positive for y'all. But if I feel the urge to complain, I just might.

I'd love to pontificate on what the 30 days of Thanksgiving has done for me. The momentous change in my outlook that I've had from approaching life with more gratitude. It *is*true that by forcing myself to think about all that I'm thankful for, I have spent more time counting my blessings. For that, I am certainly glad I participated in the exercise as I do think it's made me a happier person. But I think it will be nice to blog about a few other things, too!

Monday, November 29, 2010

You are the sunshine of my life...

...That's why I'll always be around
You are the apple of my eye
Forever you'll stay in my heart
-Stevie Wonder, "You Are the Sunshine of My Life"

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving, Day #29 - I am thankful for the sunshine that these adorable boys have brought me. In spite of the struggles and challenges that come with being a parent, my little guys bring me an incredible amount of laughter and joy.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

And you come crash...

...into me baby
-Dave Matthews Band, "Crash"

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving, Day #28 (the unintended reason for gratitude) - I'm thankful we're all okay.

To all you folks traveling west on I-40 just past I-95 this evening, we are the reason for the traffic jam. Well, not really us - more the guy behind us who didn't see traffic slowing down and crashed into the back of us. Going somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 mph.

I'm beyond thankful that the boys were not with us and were riding 30 minutes behind with LaLa and Popper. I'm thankful that everyone walked away from the crash. I'm thankful that our car was drivable and we made it home. I'm thankful we're not seriously injured, though my shoulder is really aching where I was flung forward. I'm thankful that "we're both pretty sore and shaken" is the worst of it. I'm thankful for seatbelts. I'm thankful the airbags didn't deploy. I'm thankful Derek's head hit the top of the roof just above the windshield, not the glass.

I ain't gonna lie - I am not thankful we were in a wreck. It sucks. Dealing with insurance sucks and driving a rental car is gonna suck and getting estimates and repairs and all the rest is gonna suck. I'm afraid the damage is pretty bad - the whole back of the car is about an inch wider than it used to be. The front seats don't move anymore. The steering wheel is in a different spot (not sure if it just moved because it's adjustable, or if that's something more serious). And it's in need of alignment, big time. Grumble, grumble.

But most of all, I'm thankful that the boys weren't in the backseat.

That's the other crumpled car back behind us on the median...

Here's ours...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Take my hand...

...take my whole life too
For I can't help
Falling in love with you
-Elvis Presley, "I Can't Help Falling in Love"

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving, Day #27 - My husband.

When I think of the blessings in my life, Derek is consistently at the top of the list. Y'all can write me off as a hopeless romantic, but I can't imagine a more perfect match for me. I know there's no one I'd rather be with in a hospital waiting room. No one I'd rather take a walk with on the beach. No one I'd rather talk to at the end of a hard day. No one I'd rather celebrate my life's milestones with. He's not perfect, but he's perfect for me.

I can't understand why he puts up with some of my less-than-perfect qualities, but he seems to love me anyway. Actually, he doesn't just love me in spite of my faults, he loves me completely - including my faults.

I've come to love him even more since we became parents. He's a great dad, feeding the baby a bottle in one arm, making pancakes for breakfast with the other hand. He's far better at managing the chaos of the fix dinner/eat/playtime/bedtime routine far better than I do. He does the grocery shopping, for goodness' sake! He tells the boys funny stories and makes me smile every day.

But what I love and admire most is the way that he manages to stay calm and collected through everything. He has an amazing ability to take my anxieties & peel them away from me when the wheels fall off the wagon. He's calming and reassuring and never lets the little things get to him. That's why he's perfect for me, and I'm incredibly thankful to have him walking beside me.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Now thank we all our God...

...with hearts and hands and voices
Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices
Who from our mothers' arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today
-Now Thank We All Our God, traditional hymn

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving, Day #24-26 - My parents.

I hate that I've missed not one but two days on the thirty days of Thanksgiving. That's particularly bad when one of those was, well, Thanksgiving Day. But the truth is that blogging daily had begun to feel like a burden, something that was taking away precious time from my family. As hard as it is to believe (!!!), I usually put a fair amount of thought and time into writing. So I decided to take a break from merely talking about what I'm thankful for -- and actually spend that time enjoying the blessings I have. But I'm back at it today!

Part of the problem is that I've come down to the last few days, and I still haven't properly expressed thanks for the most important people in my life. My friend, Sush, at First Do No Harm, regularly uses her blog to talk about those she loves, dedicating posts to individual family members on their birthdays or anniversaries. That's a lot of pressure! The idea of summing up a person in a few words (or even a few pages!) is incredibly intimidating to me. I think that's why the idea of writing obituaries seems so hard. So, I'm not going to attempt to cover every reason I appreciate some of these special folks. I'm going to dive in, share some thoughts of gratitude, and not feel such pressure to write the perfect post.

I'll start with my Mom and Dad, the first people on this earth to love me and to teach me what it means to know love. So many who try to describe the love and care of God use parental imagery, and I connect well with that. I get it because my parents love me unconditionally. They give me guidance and help me find my way, but they've given me space to make my own choices as well.

But I'm not just thankful for the love they've shown me - I'm thankful that they have taught me by example what a good marriage looks like. I appreciate the material things they have given me to make my life easier. I am thankful that I've grown into an adult relationship where I genuinely view them as friends. I appreciate the parenting lessons they have shared in recent years. I'm glad I have my perfect shopping buddy in my mom. I'm grateful that my dad taught me an appreciation for good music and cheeseburgers in paradise. I am thankful they've instilled their super-corny, goofy-dorky sense of humor. ("Put ... the candle ... back." - Can you name the movie?!)

They've made me who I am, and I am thankful that I have them in my life. Love you guys!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I see a red door and I want it painted black...

...No colors anymore I want to turn them black
-Rolling Stone, Paint it Black

Thirty days of Thanksgiving, Day #23 (only a few hours late!) - Black Friday sales.

Ahh, shopping. One of my favorite hobbies. Searching out a bargain & discovering the good deals is like a little adrenaline rush for me. And planning out my shopping adventures is almost as much fun. So, to whoever leaked the Black Friday ads, I thank you.

(No, I will NOT be out at 4 a.m. on Black Friday! That's not fun shopping - that's cold and miserable. But I do hope that I can finish up my Christmas shopping over the course of the weekend...)

Monday, November 22, 2010

You can go the distance...

...we'll find out
in the long run
in the long run
-The Eagles, The Long Run

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving, Day #22. I'm thankful that I was able to nurse Luke exclusively for 9 months.

This post is *exactly* the reason I've been doing the Thirty Days of Thanksgiving. Had I not been thinking thankfully, I would have made this a whiny, woe-is-me, I-have-to-feed-my-kid-formula kind of post. But I am turning it around to say how grateful I am to have made it a full 9 months.

You see, with Jay, I had more milk than I knew what to do with. He never got the hang of nursing, so I pumped exclusively and had a huge supply. The land of milk and honey? I was livin' it. Bought an extra freezer to store it all in. Lost close to 100 oz in a freezer incident, and it didn't even bother me. He never nursed, but he got nothing but my milk for more than a year.

With Luke, it's been just the opposite. He figured out the nursing routine the very first time I held him. Breastfeeding has been an easy and wonderful thing. But it's been much more challenging to have enough pumped milk to feed him when we're apart. Stress this summer and fall didn't help my supply either, and my freezer stash slowly but surely dwindled away.

The last straw was last week when I spent a night away from him. There simply wasn't enough for that time apart, so he switched to formula. And I have been able to spend a little less time with the pump. Initially, I was pretty bummed about it. I felt guilty for not being able to give him the perfect baby food. I felt even more guilty because I managed to do it for Jay and couldn't for Luke. (Those poor second kids!) If only I'd pumped a little more early on to build up a freezer stash. If only I'd pumped more often while I sat in the ICU. If only I'd worked a little harder at it...

But the truth is that making it this far is a huge accomplishment, and I am proud of what I've been able to do. Nine months is a long time. I'm still nursing him in the mornings and at night, and I'm grateful for the fact that I can do something for him that no one else can. But I'm also grateful that I can spend a little less time with my dear friend Medela.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I like to eat, eat, eat...

...apples and bananas!

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving Day #21 - I'm thankful that we discovered the Produce Box.

Tonight's dinner (for 7 grownups and two hungry babies!) was courtesy of The Produce Box. Green beans & corn. Roasted potatoes. Sweet Potato bread. Yum. Delivered to my house, all summer and most of this fall. We've tried some awesome new produce that I never would have attempted otherwise, and made some delicious new recipes. (Of course, we also ended up with beets. Anyone know what to do with beets?!)

The best part is you can opt in or out on a weekly basis. Going on vacation? Just cancel it for that week. Stuck in Philadelphia for 6 weeks? Cancel it repeatedly. But best of all, I feel like by eating locally I'm supporting our local economy and reducing our impact on the environment by reducing the distance our food travels to us. The fact that we're making healthier choices and learning to cook new stuff is a great bonus.

I'm so thankful for the fact that we have food on our table and have been able to teach our children healthy eating habits.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

We're the red & white from State...

and we know we are the best
hands behind our backs we can take on all the rest
come over the hill Caroline
Devils & Deacs stand in line
We're the red & the white from NC State

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving # 20 - My beloved Wolfpack.

I'm grateful that I made the decision to attend NC State, in spite of the fact that it was too close to home, too familiar, and my mom worked there (and still does!). I've grown up a Wolfpack fan, and I'm proud to say that I've been a lifelong State fan through good times and bad. And I am just stoked over our football win today - fantastic game for both teams.

But more than loving NC State Athletics, I love what NC State is. I love the bricks. I love the bell tower. I love our agricultural roots. I love that we have cows with a hole in their sides(fistulated steers). I love the way high-tech, modern buildings sit beside historic, traditional halls. I love State people. I'm grateful that I became one of them when I moved into Sullivan Hall 15 years ago, and I'm grateful my job allows me to continue to be part of the Pack.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The heat is on...

...on the street
the heat is --- on
-Glenn Frey, "The Heat is On"

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving, Day #19 - Heat. Electricity. Running water.

So many of our modern conveniences are things we take for granted. But when you think about people in Haiti fighting cholera, homeless men standing on a street corner in our city, miners living underground for weeks on end ... you'd best remember the basics and appreciate what a gift it is to have these blessings.

I got a little chilly this afternoon, and turned up the heat in my house. It was freezing when I got into my car yesterday morning, so I turned on my seat heater. (I and am SERIOUSLY thankful for those!) Such simple things, I did them without thinking. Yet they are an extravagance for many people around the world.

Tonight as I shut down my computer and turn out the lights, I am thankful for the electricity that allows me to work past dark. As I brush my teeth, I'm thankful for clean running water. As I crawl under the covers and drift off, I'm thankful those quilts aren't my sole source of heat.

My cup runneth over.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

So fly me...

--Drivin' N Cryin', "Fly Me Courageous"

30 days of Thanksgiving #18--Jay is no longer scared to get his blood drawn.

Since Jen's passed out on the couch with an empty bottle of wine in her hand, I'm posting for her tonight. Jay is still getting blood drawn every 1-2 weeks to monitor his coumadin dose, and today it was my turn to take him to the lab. It has been several weeks since I had taken him, and at that time it was quite an ordeal--lots of crying and a good bit of wrestling too. At the time, that was an improvement because if you remember when we were in the hospital, he would get so upset over blood draws that he often lost his breakfast.

But today, he was excited to go. All the people there (all 3 of them) know him by name, and they are so happy to see him. Guess they get tired of just sticking old people. He sat patiently in the lobby until it was his turn, and then Tim the phlebotomist came to get him. Jay happily walked back to the chair, sat down on my lap, and held out his arm. No screaming, no crying, no wrestling. He did let out a big sigh when it was over, but otherwise, you couldn't even tell he was worried in the least.

So we're thankful that Jay has gotten used to getting his blood drawn. Now if we can just get him to start chewing up his coumadin...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Who needs sleep?

W ell, you're never gonna get it
Who needs sleep?
Tell me what's that for
-Barenaked Ladies, "Who Needs Sleep"

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving, Day #17 - Sleep. Blissful, peaceful restful sleep.

I am grateful for a night of uninterrupted sleep. No snoring over the baby monitor. No little feet coming into our room at 5 a.m. Big soft fluffy pillows. A whole bed to myself. Dark curtains that block the early morning sun. A warm, clean-smelling duvet.

I stayed at a hotel last night. Hampton Inn, I love you. As much as I missed my boys (all 3 of them!), I must admit that a restful night helped to ease the loneliness.

Come along and ride...

on a fantastic voyage
slide slide, slippity-slide
-Coolio, Fantastic Voyage

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving, Day #16 (only a day late!). Yesterday, I was thankful for road trips.

I must preface this with the reminder that I hate road trips. Okay, I don't hate road trips. I'd put a pen in my eye before joining my hubby on his different-baseball-stadium-every-day-for-a-summer dream trip, but I don't hate them. I just don't love long trips.

I am thankful, however, for the opportunity that car trips provide to talk. Yesterday, I took a road trip with a girl that I liked a lot but I didn't know that well. Something about being stuck together in a car for 3 hours opens up conversations and gives you a chance to really talk. We found that we had a lot in common beyond the mutual friend we were going to see. Another 3 hour trip today (listening to the 90's channel on XMRadio - thus the song lyric inspiration!), and she's a friend.

Mom and I used to enjoy trips to swim meets for that same reason. It was probably the only way she could my pre-teen self to slow down and talk to her. Derek and I have enjoyed many an hour talking politics & religion - issues that sometimes get pushed to the back burner when we're busy talking about who's gonna take the kids to school tomorrow.

So, anybody wanna drive me somewhere?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cuz' the Rocky Mountain way... better than the way we had
-Joe Walsh, Rocky Mountain Way

Thirty days of Thanksgiving - Day # 15. I'm thankful that I had the opportunity to live in a different part of the country, if only for a year.

We spent the 2004-05 school year living in beautiful Ft. Collins, Colorado. I hear it's snowing in Denver today - I must admit that I don't miss snow in November! But it was a fantastic place to spend a year, and truly wasn't nearly as snowy as I expected. We saw some of the most gorgeous scenery in the world. And they don't brag about their 300 days of sunshine per year for nothin'! It really is a dream come true for those who love the outdoors.

I met some awesome people, some of which I still consider dear friends. While I dragged my dear hubby kicking and screaming back to the east coast after only one year, I will always be glad I got to see a different slice of the world.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

But get a cellular phone...

...and then you won't have to worry!
-Collin Raye, "That's My Story"

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving - Day #14: Today I'm thankful for my cell phone.

It keeps me connected with friends who are far away. It allows me to check email anytime I feel so inclined. It can be a guitar which provides endless entertainment to little fingers who get lucky enough to hold it. It let me call a friend during Sunday School (which felt like a big ol' No-No this morning, but was for a legit reason - really). It takes pictures when I don't have a camera nearby. It gets me to friends' houses when I can't remember the address. It helped me find a costume shop yesterday. It keeps phone numbers handy. It's red, it's cute, and it's become a significant part of my daily routine. That's an understatement. Really, I'd be lost without it.

Okay, I gotta admit, thankfulness for my cell phone seems a little weak. To be honest, I'm not feeling all that thankful today. I still haven't written my "big ones" posts about those closest to me - and I promise that you'll get appreciation for the hubs, the kids, the folks. But I'm not feeling like writing those right now, so today it's just a little shout-out to a piece of technology that makes my life easier.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Oh! I just died in your arms tonight...

it must have been something you said
I just died in your arms tonight
-Cutting Crew, (I Just) Died in Your Arms

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving - Day #13 Today I am thankful to have such a great group of friends on my Journey.

Our Sunday School class, known as the Journey Class, is an awesome group of people. Tonight's social activity will certainly be one for the record books - we hosted a Murder Mystery Dinner. The theme was an 80's class reunion, where guests at the party were members of the class and we were all trying to figure out what happened to "David," a classmate who'd been murdered 2 days before the reunion.

Before the party, we were emailed our character assignments. Derek and I were "Lenny" and "Linda," the social outcasts in high school who'd gone on to become rockstars. Derek/Lenny is the lead singer in our band and Linda/I am the drummer. We went to the reunion to rub our fame in the faces of those who were so mean to us in high school.

(Please note the accessories for both of us - my genuine 80's vintage slap bracelet, Lenny's necklaces, the drumsticks in the top of my boot , the Wii guitar... we went all out!)

What fun!! Everyone really got into character and it was quite an evening of intrigue. There was even another murder during the event. All in all, it was a great time and I'm thankful for friends who are willing to plan such a unique activity. And I'm grateful that they won't kick Derek out of church tomorrow for showing up with a skull and crossbones tattoo on his neck.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tell her about it...

...tell her everything you feel
give her every reason to accept
that you're for real
-Billy Joel, Tell Her About It

Thirty days of Thanksgiving, Day #12 - Today I'm thankful for the blogging community and the e-friends I've made.

Blogging is a fascinating phenomenon to me. People (me included!) use these spaces to share a great deal of personal information to complete strangers. I have gained so much from my fellow bloggers - everything from yummy recipes to how much laundry 6 kids generate to how to survive the waiting room to what it feels like to lose a child. I am thankful for the advice and support my blog friends have shared. I'm thankful for the genuine honesty people share in this public forum.

While I'm at it, I'm thankful for blogging friends who turn into real friends. Tonight, Joye and I enjoyed a great ladies night at a grown up restaurant, complete with wine and desserts. Our conversation flowed smoothly from the worst days of our lives and our worst fears for our children's hearts to laughing about funny similarities we discovered we had in common. Fun times!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

O, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave...

...o're the land of the free
and the home of the brave
-The Star-Spangled Banner, Frances Scott Key

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving, Day #11 - On this Veteran's Day, I am thankful to the men and women who have defended our freedom and work toward peace across the globe.

To the members of our armed services, thank you for the sacrifices you make each day in doing extraordinarily difficult jobs.

To the veterans who have served in times of war and in times of peace, thank you for your leadership and for the countless contributions you have made to our nation.

To the families of our servicemen and women, thank you for the all too often underappreciated sacrifices you have made.

I'm grateful to the many public servants who have made the US such a wonderful place to live.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

You've got a friend in me...

You've got a friend in me
When the road looks rough ahead
And you're miles and miles
from your nice warm bed
just remember what your old pal said
Boy, you've got a friend in me
-Randy Newman, You've got a friend in me (from Toy Story)

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving, Day #10 - Yesterday, old friends. Today I'm thankful for new friends.

When you get past college age, it can be kinda tough to make new friends. But I've been very blessed to have several new friendships develop recently.

For starters, there are quite a number of my blog followers that I've never met in person. But you've left kind comments and sent positive thoughts our way, and I am beyond grateful. It's a pretty amazing world when you can know so much about people, recognize them by their pictures, follow along in their lives and never actually see them in person.

But beyond those exclusively online connections, I've also developed some stronger in-person friendships lately, and I'm really grateful for it. Last weekend we spent some time with the family of one of Jay's bestest buds. We're already planning for them to be college roommates - at NC State, of course! (Bestest Bud's folks might not agree with that particular educational choice, but we've got 16 years or so to work that out.) We enjoyed a fantastic evening at their house, and the boys could hardly contain their excitement at spending time together. There was NOT ONE cross word, no unwillingness to share toys, no typical toddler wrestling matches. They enjoy a fabulous friendship, and I see lots more time together in our future.

Then, I had lunch yesterday with a colleague who has grown into a dear friend during Jay's illness and recovery. She and I weren't particularly close - more the "Hey, how was your weekend?" kind of co-workers. But when she found out about what we were going through, she started sending me messages of encouragement. Praying for my lil' heart warrior. Praying for me to stay strong. Not a week went by when I didn't get an uplifting message from her, and those messages were like tiny rays of light in a very dark tunnel. It was great to share lunch with her, talking about our kids and pets and laughing.

And Friday, I'm super duper excited about girls' night out with a fellow heart mama. This girl knows what I've been through in a way that few other people can fathom. She's caring and funny and a fantastic blog-writer. I found her through her blog, and e-stalked her for a while. We've only met in person twice, but we understand each other in a pretty unique way through having read each other's blogs for a while. A glass of wine, some chocolate, and some girl talk is just what the doctor ordered for us.

There's always more room in the circle of friends, and I'm thankful to watch mine grow.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends

Mmmm, I get high with a little help from my friends
Mmmm, gonna try with a little help from my friends

What would you think if I sang out of tune
would you stand up and walk out on me
lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song
and I'll try not to sing out of key
-The Beatles, With a Little Help from my Friends

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving, Day #9 - I am thankful for old friends.

In the past few weeks, I've been lucky enough to reconnect with several folks that were close to me at earlier points in my life. A dear college friend came by while she was in town to show her beau some Wolfpack Football (Happy birthday, KLH!). A Colorado colleague that I greatly admire met me for lunch on her swing through the Raleigh area. A random email gave me a chance to talk with my high school sweetheart.

All three are people I've gone years without seeing. We all know that friendships grow and change, and that is okay. We lose touch with people who were at one point integral pieces of our day to day lives. But it's wonderful to see them again. To see where their paths have taken them. To see that they're still the same people even as our appearances change. In all three cases, the conversation flowed easily and I was reminded why I liked them so much.

Facebook and social networking have fundamentally changed the way old friends keep up with one another. I'm aware of old friends' life changes - I see when they have babies, get married, move to new places. But even better than just knowing what they're up to, it's pretty cool to talk to old friends face to face.

Monday, November 8, 2010

It won't be like this for long... day soon that little girl is gonna be
all grown up and gone
yeah this phase is gonna fly by
so he's tryin' to hold on
'cause it won't be like this for long
-Darius Rucker, "It Won't Be Like This for Long"

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving, Day #8. I am thankful that the long sleepless nights don't really last that long. Even more, I'm glad that the memory of how hard those nights can be lasts even less.

It's teething time! Poor little Luke is getting his first tooth, and it has turned our sweet, smiley, good-sleeping boy into Captain Crankypants. Last night, I think he was awake more than he was asleep. And while Derek and I have certainly learned to function on less sleep than we think we need, morning came awfully early and awfully dark at 5:15 a.m. when the house had only been quiet for a couple of hours. We were taking turns sleeping, of course.

But in the spirit of "This too shall pass," I keep telling myself that it does get better. I don't remember Jay being up all night teething, though I know he was on more than one occasion. The pain of childbirth eventually fades (though the crazy moms who say you forget the instant you hold your child are lying!). The utter exhaustion of those first few weeks and months becomes hazy. The amount of work it takes to care for a baby slips to the recesses of our collective memory.

We remember instead the good moments. The adorable little grins. Our hysterical laughter when we've been sprinkled during yet another diaper change. The warm snuggles. The way their little hands hold your finger.

Those things are what I choose to remember. And I'm thankful that memories work that way.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I'm hot, sticky sweet...

...from my head to my feet, yeah
-Def Leppard, Pour Some Sugar on Me

Ahhh, sugar. Thirty Days of Thanksgiving, Day # 7 - Today I'm thankful that Krispy Kreme is between my house and church.

It was a Sunday morning habit when I was younger (KK was between my folks' house and my growin' up church, too!). Given my dad's sweet tooth, it didn't take much begging from me & my little bro to convince them to stop on the way home. While Derek and I don't make it quite the habit that my parents did, it's still a Sunday indulgence that I allow myself now and again.

This morning, Luke enjoyed his first taste of the Hot & Now sign. Like you'd expect, he was all over it, quite literally. Or it was all over him. Sticky sugar in the hair, the clothes, the hands. Mmmm, goodness.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Beach baby, beach baby...

..Give me your hand
Give me something that I can remember
Just like before we can walk on the shore in the moonlight
Beach baby, beach baby there on the sand
From July til the end of September
-Beach Baby, The First Class

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving, Day #6 - I am grateful to live close to the beach.

Growing up, my favorite vacation memories are from our annual trips to Holden Beach. In college, Derek and I would go to the early service at church then hit the road for a day trip. Recently, our extended family has created a new Thanksgiving tradition and we've spent the long weekend there. Even if it's cold, there's just something about watching the waves that is incredibly relaxing. Because it's a south-facing beach, it's one of the few places on the east coast where you can see the sunset over the ocean. A few years ago my parents bought a house there, and now beach trips are our default weekend getaway. When we need a mini vacation, relaxation is only a couple of hours down I-40.

Some of my favorite beach pics:

Luke, July 2010

Jay, October 2008

Friday, November 5, 2010

Here we've only got one rule...

...never ever let it cool
keep it cooking in the pot
then you've got
hot choc-o-lat
-Hot Chocolate, The Polar Express movie

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving, Day #5
Today, I'm thankful for hot chocolate on a cold night. I'm sitting on my couch, curled up in my PJ pants, enjoying a hot cuppa decaf coffee mixed with hot chocolate mix. It's no Starbucks mocha, but it's just as good to me.

We all need a little quiet time to ourselves, and tonite I've got it. Time to recharge my batteries. Derek's at a dinner for work, the boys are snug in their beds, and I'm curled up under an afghan on the couch with my warm mini-mocha. Life is good.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I've read a lot of books...

...Wrote a few songs
Looked at my life where it's goin, where it's gone
I've seen the world through a bus windshield, but nothing compares
To the way that I see it,
to the way that I see it,
to the way that I see it when I sit in that old blue chair
-Old Blue Chair, Kenny Chesney

Thirty days of Thanksgiving, Day #4 - I am thankful for my rocking chair, aka the "magic chair."

First, I must give credit to my dear friend Bethany, my volunteer photog friend who snapped this shot less than 24 hours before Luke was born. Heck, I was in labor with Jay longer than that! But I love this picture and the way the light streams in through the window onto my belly. It's like Luke has his own special ray of sunshine.

This chair (purchased from the wonderful folks at Beanie + Cecil baby) is the perfect baby rocking chair. I've spent hours snuggled into the corner - feeding Luke, reading books to Jay, escaping the chaos of the rest of the house. It's my comfort zone, literally and figuratively.

Thanks, mom, for the best baby gift I could have possibly received.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Oh ye'll take the high road...

...and I'll take the low road
And I'll get to Scotland afore ye
But me and my true love
will never meet again
on the bonnie bonnie banks
of Loch Lomond
-Loch Lomond, Scottish folk song

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving Day #3 - I am thankful for the once-in-a-lifetime trip my family took to Scotland a few years ago. It was before the word "cancer" entered our vocabulary. It was before kids, so traveling required no diapers, no bottles, no pack & play, no extra changes of clothes *just in case*. That trip provided me with some of the most fun moments of my life, and I love reliving it through pictures. (We seriously took somewhere in the neighborhood of 2000 pictures. Here are a few of my faves.

Doesn't that image of the lone bagpiper just scream "Scotland!!" to you?! It looks like a postcard, but it's the real deal. Dude stands on the side of a mountain and plays the bagpipe all day. Every day. The lake behind him (let's call it a loch, we are in Scotland after all) is supposed to be the shape of the country.

That's my folks. Yes, my mom appears to be drinking a beer. I'm sure she just picked up someone else's for the photo op. Not pictured is the coronation chicken that she ate nearly every time it was on the menu. Yum!

Some of the folks in my dad's extended family have done some pretty extensive genealogy research. While the McLean name sounds (and is!) Scottish, they've actually traced back through the Shaw side to - you guessed it - Torquil and Annie Shaw. And a blog name was born, back before I even knew what blogging was.

A big part of our trip was visiting the Isle of Jura where Torquil & Annie were from. Let me tell you, it's not exactly a hot tourist destination - I think the person at the whisky distillery there said that fewer than 100 people live on the island. But it was one of the most beautiful places that we went, and if you're willing to take the long ferry ride, I'd highly encourage it.

Boy, we really appeared to enjoy the pub scene, huh? Actually, we didn't go to that many, but we certainly did like this one. Please note this picture has four pint glasses. Three people. Who's double fisting it?! And how in the world did my hair ever grow that long?

This is our friend, Hamish. Hamish the long horn, long hair cow. I'd have brought him back home if Derek would have let me. Something about mad cow disease and getting fired from his job if he brought mad cow back to the vet school ... whatever. I am in love with Hamish and someday I'll go back to visit him. Or get a pet who looks like him.

And this is the five of us at Dalmunzie, which will forever go down as the best lodging that we have ever enjoyed in all of our travels. The rooms were awesome, food at the inn was delicious, and they had a golf course. The guy let us borrow his own personal clubs so we could play. (By play, I mean the boys played golf while mom and I chased balls for them.) It was such a fun and relaxing day after constant sightseeing. We were able to completely experience the Scottish countryside and hanging out together.

I am so thankful for the chance I had to experience a different culture. I am thankful that my parents instilled in us an appreciation for learning about new places. But most of all, I'm thankful for the fact that we genuinely had fun together as a family.

'Cause we believed in our candidate...

... but even more it's the one we hate
I needed someone I could shake
On election day
-My Dear Country, Norah Jones

(Gotta give credit for my song lyric inspiration to my colleague KD ... I didn't know the song, but I do love me some Norah Jones. This song is apparently on the one Norah Jones album I don't already own. Perhaps I should own it as well!)

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving Day #2 - On this election day, I am thankful for the right to vote.

I am thankful for the brave women who came before me, insisting that women deserve a voice in the decision-making for our nation. I am thankful for those who protect that freedom. I am thankful for a President who is intelligent and is working diligently to improve an economic situation that is ugly and without simple solutions. I am thankful for health insurance reform that means my insurance company can't drop me solely because of a claim that has now passed the $1 million mark (No, I am not stretching. Yowza. Six figures for pharmacy charges alone.). I am thankful that people who disagree with me have the right to voice that opinion, though I am not allowing my blog to become a place for political debate, thankyouverymuch. I am thankful that I can show my children how democracy works by taking them along as I fulfill my civic duty.

But mostly, I am thankful that I have the right to voice my opinions through my actions at the polls today.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Up in the mornin' and out to school...

...the teacher was teaching the golden rule
American History and practical math
You studyin' hard and hoping to pass
-School Day, Chuck Berry

As you might imagine, as one who enjoys writing this blog, I am also an avid blog reader. A couple of blogs that I like are doing Thirty Days of Thanksgiving - posting about something they are thankful for each day in November. Every day?! Can I really do that? I know it's a lot of blogging, but heck, I was posting twice a day for several weeks, so it shouldn't be too hard. (Famous last words!) Some posts may be pretty brief, but I'll try to at least come up with a song and a brief paragraph to share something that I'm grateful for or something that makes me happy.

A number of people have commented that they don't know how I kept going through some of the really tough days we faced, how I managed to keep a positive outlook. Let me assure you that I didn't. Some days, I want to be a total grump. Some moments, I allow myself to be a total grump. But it's generally not a fun place to be, wallowing in self-pity. So I don't. I force myself (and sometimes it takes some serious forcing!) to think about the good things in my life, the million and one ways that I am so blessed. I think this Thirty Days thing is going to be good for my spirits, and maybe it will help you to think about some of the things you have to be thankful for, too.

So, to start things off --today I'm thankful that my kids are both so happy to go to school.

Today was Jay's first day at school on his own, and my first day at work. To quote the song lyric inspiration, we're "up in the morning" all right. The morning routine with 2 kids can be a little (ummmm, yeah) chaotic. Wild & woolly on a good day. Out of control chaos on others. But this morning went incredibly smoothly, thanks to some serious prep work the night before.

I was a little worried that Jay would be unhappy being left in his class, but he was completely content for us to leave him. He asked "You going to your class, Mommy?" I said, "Well kinda. I'm going to work." "Okay, go there." I guess there's no need to drag out the inevitable. I gave him a hug and a kiss and left, and there were no tears.

Similarly, Luke is all smiles when we leave him in his class just two doors down from Jay's. He loves the snuggles he gets from his teachers, and hasn't shown the least bit of separation anxiety. I'm grateful for good teachers who care about young kids, and I'm grateful for kids that enjoy the structure and routine of a daycare center environment. But most of all, I'm glad for a morning drop-off routine that is (at least for today!) tear-free.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cause this is thriller...

Thriller night.
--"Thriller," Michael Jackson

It's late and we're ready for bed, so this will be short. All you really want is pictures of Jay and Luke in their costumes anyway, so here you go--Bob the Builder and the Rockstar.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fire Truck, Fire Truck...

...I wanna ride on a Fire Truck!
Fire Truck, Fire Truck
I wanna ride on a Fire Truck
-Fire Truck, Ivan Ulz

Okay friends, I must admit that I had never heard this song before today. What? You haven't heard it either? Well, please take a listen.

Jay is so ready to be back at school. Because his INR has been too high since we got back to Raleigh, his cardiologist was uncomfortable with him being in a daycare setting. High INR means his blood takes too long to clot, so he's at much higher risk of bleeding from minor cuts and (more importantly) higher risk of head injury.

As much fun as he's been having with me, he loves kids his own age and loves the endless stream of song and dance that is a daycare setting. So we spend some time each morning hanging out in his new class. We drop off Luke with his buddies in the infant class, then head down the hall to see what kind of musical entertainment we'll find in the two's class. And almost every day, we find some two year olds with some funky dance moves.

Today, the twos were all sitting in a circle and singing when we arrived. Fantastic! Just in time for the music party. The teachers were taking requests, and the first was for "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Jay's fave song up first?! Seriously - Jay is gonna LOVE this class! He even got in a request for "Down By The Station" between his friends' requests for the "ABC" song and "Baby Bumblebee."

Then, Grace wanted to sing a solo. While I was unfamiliar with her musical selection, I must say that she sang with great enthusiasm. Her performance was cheered by much clapping all around. And, of course, when one toddler gets a solo, they ALL want a solo. The teachers were happy to oblige, though I'm not sure whether it was encouraging the kids' confidence in front of a group, or just the chance to rest their weary voices. Either way...

The next solo was a little boy who sang the fire truck song above. (If you didn't listen earlier, you really must now!) Having never heard the song, I thought it was pretty cute, but the teachers gave each other a knowing look that I can only assume meant something like "Oh Brother. Here we go again." When he finished, the teacher asked, "Who wants to sing a DIFFERENT song?!"

There were many willing volunteers, each promising to sing something else. But when their moment in the spotlight came, every single one of them opted to sing "Fire Truck." Yes, each and every kid. Each of the ELEVEN renditions of "Fire Truck" was belted out with increasing gusto, and some of them even included jumping up and down. By about version 7, I was absolutely cracking up.

Then, this afternoon, Uncle John came by the center to provide some musical accompaniment for the fall festival. He sang a song or two, then opened it up to requests. Big mistake, Uncle John. Of course, having had "Fire Truck" stuck in their heads since the morning, you can imagine what the twos class wanted to hear.

When I tell you it was like a baby rave, I am not at all kidding. There were kids of all sizes jumping up and down in a big mass, crowding around Uncle John, screaming at the top of their lungs. "Fire Truck! Fire Truck! I want to ride on a FIRE TRUCK!!!!!!" All we needed was some crowd surfing, and it would have been quite the dance club scene. Just don't let Jay do any crowd surfing. You know, blood thinners and head injuries and all...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Come on baby, light my fire...

...come on baby, light my fire
try to set the night on fire
-The Doors, Light My Fire

Ahhhh, fall. I love the trees as they start to change colors. I love the crispness in the air (though I must admit that NC has seen precious little of that this year during our record-setting heat wave). I love the outdoors in the fall, and one of my fave ways to enjoy the great outdoors is camping. So last weekend, the whole McFoster clan headed out to test out the new camper that my folks just got. Jay has nicknamed this vehicle "Camp the Camper." You can't just call it "Camp," mind you. It's Camp the Camper. "I want to go in Camp the Camper!"

Now, I must admit, camping in an RV is not my idea of camping. I'm no primitive backwoods backpacking girl ... if there's no potty with actual toilet paper within walking distance, it's not really my thing. But I had imagined a camper as a glorified hotel room without the benefit of someone to change your sheets. I mean, it's not camping in my mind unless you're sleeping on the ground. But I decided to be open minded about it and give it a shot, with the plan for me and Derek to stay in our trusty, well-loved tent. My mom so kindly named it "Ren Tin Tent." (C'mon, you had to chuckle at that!)

We got a bit of a late start, but frankly, that's just how I was raised. We're chronically late. So even though we were only headed about 30 miles from Raleigh, it was after dark when we got there. Derek and I got the tent set up before it got completely dark, and we managed to aim our headlights at the site for dad to back Camp the Camper into its space.

As soon as we got it parked, Jay began begging "Let's go camping!" We're like, "This is it, kiddo. This IS camping." Clearly, that answer was unsatisfactory. He kept asking "No, let's go camping in Camp the Camper!" Eventually, we realized that he'd imagined camping to mean riding around in the camper. Poor kid. Not gonna happen with a pull-behind trailer. And unless we really get into this business, we're not buying an RV that you can drive.

But once he realized that his vision of camping needed to line up with ours, he got into it. He ate a few roasted marshmallows, and got sticky goo all over every inch of his hair. He slept in his clothes. He wore said clothes again the next day. He cooked sausage and grits with his Uncle Matt. He double fisted said sausage, eating two patties at once (one in each hand!). He dug in the dirt. He went fishing with Popper. He took a nap in the tent. He went on a little hike with his daddy. He ate a lot of junk food, including a SlimJim. (Derek says it's just not camping without them.) He learned the finer points of building a campfire as Popper and Uncle Matt debated proper wood-stacking technique. (Answer - both the teepee method and the log cabin method work pretty well as long as you have 4 firestarters underneath!) He had a fantastic time in the woods and didn't play with a single toy. He invented his own from sticks and rocks and his imagination.

Laid back Luke approached the whole camping business the same way he approaches everything else ... with a smile. We plopped him on a sleeping bag on the ground and he scooted around, gnawing on anything he could reach. He was as happy as could be as long as we kept him well-fed. And let me assure you that, even though Luke and I refused to attempt the SlimJims, we were all quite well-fed.

I must say that this trip made me miss my Appie & Papa more than usual. They loved to camp, and all of my childhood camping trips were with them. When the firewood we bought was seriously green, my dad commented "Papa would have said, 'That firewood had squirrels livin' in it yesterday!'" It made me laugh, hearing in my mind exactly how Papa would have said it. I trust that he was helping us out, watching us from above and making sure our green wood burned enough to roast our marshmallows.

All in all, I could not have asked for a more perfect weekend with my family. In the end, it's not whether you sleep in a tent or in a bed, it's who is there to roast the marshmallows with you.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A fair is a veritable...

...smorgasbord, orgasbord, orgasbord
after the crowds have ceased
Each night when the lights go out
it can be found
on the ground
all around
Oh what a ratly feast!

(I'm not going to identify the song ... but I'll give a prize for the first person to comment with the correct source AND singer of this fave song from my childhood! No cheating ... Google knows everything but I want to know who really remembers!)

Ahh, the fair. I love the fair - the sound of kids squealing, the smell of fried food, the people watching, the exhibits with giant vegetables, the animals, the demonstrations of super absorbent towels - I love it all. Well, I don't love the rides, but there's more than plenty to do at the fair while keeping one's feet firmly planted on the ground.

Last night we loaded up the boys and headed out to see what the state fair has to offer for 2010. I was a little worried about how we'd haul them both around, but it worked out better than I could have dreamed. Luke was (as usual!) more than happy to ride on Derek's chest in the Ergo, and Jay was surprisingly content to view the knees of the other fairgoers from stroller-level. I'm not sure how we'd do it if we decide to have another little one ... I think going to the fair will be quite a challenge when the kids outnumber us.

As you might expect, we ate from one end of the fairgrounds to the other. We considered letting Jay test out the one pound hot dog that was featured in the N&O this year, but we weren't sure his heart could take it. We weren't so concerned about the artery-clogging nature of the pounder, but were quite worried that he'd be so excited about the prospect of eating the world's largest dog that he might go into cardiac arrest. Instead, he chowed down on some roasted corn (probably the only quasi-healthy option in the whole place) and a steak sandwich from the NC Cattleman's booth.

And Luke, whose enormous appetite probably would have allowed him to finish off the much-discussed Krispy Kreme bacon cheeseburger, instead stuck to baby food. But he thoroughly enjoyed his first taste of french fry! None of us were brave enough to taste the KK burger - or more accurately, none of us were willing to spend hours working off the 4000 calories that thing contains.

Even though we do the exact same things every single year, we had a blast. We weighed ourselves at the Department of Weights & Measures, wishing my dear Uncle D was there to crack jokes as we stepped onto the cattle scale. (Jay is up to 33 pounds - back up to his pre-surgery weight!) We examined the tractor display and the antique highway patrol cars. We oooohed and ahhhhhed over the giant pumpkins. We started teaching the boys the difference in a polled hereford and a charolais. (Can ya tell the family vet took us through the animal expo building?!) We sampled peanuts, BBQ sauce, Cheerwine, and hush puppies from the Goodness Grows in NC tent. Even in our non-food pursuits, we were surrounded by food.

But the highlight of the night was when we bought our apple cider and headed over to check out the blacksmith shop. Even Luke woke up from his nap to check out the hammering. Fire + big tools = one seriously happy toddler. I need to get a video of him describing how the man "turns that great big ol' handle and fire goes up that tube-y." Adorable.

All in all, a great time at the fair. But now - can you identify the song lyric inspiration?

Monday, October 18, 2010

When we've been there ten thousand years...

...bright shining as the sun
we've no less days
to sing God's praise
than when we'd first begun
-Amazing Grace

There are certain moments in life that freeze into your mind. Those that capture a feeling that will last forever. I had one of those moments yesterday, and it was so beautiful to me that I want to capture it in words, too.

Yesterday afternoon was our church's annual fall festival. It's not a fancy event. We gather at Optimist Farm, take a hayride (or four) around the field and through the woods, bob for apples, eat some hot dogs. The big boys usually play football, and the kids play cornhole or ladder golf. But mostly we wander around and visit with friends, enjoying the weather and watching young'uns play. It's fall at its best for me.

But after dinner is when it really gets good. There's a bonfire (small and controlled in a fire pit, thank you!) and marshmallow roasting. Well, since it's mostly kids, there's more marshmallow igniting than marshmallow roasting, but they seem to enjoy them blackened. Then the singin' starts.

We have some awesomely talented musicians at FBC. Our choir's anthem on Sunday morning absolutely took my breath away. The music is traditional, reverent, beautiful - exactly what I want to hear on a Sunday morning. But the campfire singin' is good ol' fashioned hymns like your grandma sang in her little white clapboard Baptist church in the country. Pow'r in the Blood. I'll Fly Away. Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. Throw in a few requests by the kids - Jesus Loves the Little Children, Deep and Wide (thank you Sweet T - great suggestion!), She'll be Comin' Around the Mountain - and you have quite the sing along.

The accompaniment to this singin' is quite a collection - a couple of guitars, an upright bass, an accordion (seriously!), a few tambourines for the kids who're willing to join in, a washboard. In spite of the fact that I can't carry a tune in a bucket, I enthusiastically sang along because seriously, I just can't resist "I'll Fly Away."

But the mental image I'm tucking into my mind is when we sang Amazing Grace. Derek had Luke snuggled close on his chest in the baby carrier, fast asleep. I'm singing to my little off-key heart's content. We're standing beside friends, surrounded by the church family that helped to carry us through our dark days. And Jay is in the center of it all, grinning and dancing his crazy toddler moves (he definitely got his Daddy's rhythm-or lack thereof). He was absolutely full of life, enjoying himself as totally and completely as he ever has. Beautiful moment, full of amazing grace. I shed a little tear of joy. I am so grateful for the blessings in my life.

Friday, October 15, 2010

It's magic... know
never believe it's not so
it's magic, you know
never believe it's not so
-Pilot, "Magic"

You've been waiting for it - a sappy-free post. (Whew, finally!) This post is all about our littlest magician who, although unable to pick up a cheerio and get it to his mouth, is able to completely undress himself.

One day at school, his teachers commented on his magician skills - they told me that he managed to take his diaper halfway off WHILE STILL WEARING his pants! I'm thinking, "Sure. Y'all just didn't get the diaper closed well. Ha ha - funny anyway." But after last night, I'm starting to wonder if they were onto something.

As you may remember, our dear sweet easygoing Luke-o can be a little devil in the middle of the night. He lures us into a false sense of security, going to bed without a peep and sleeping through the night for nearly a week. Then all of a sudden - WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! - the 2 a.m. intruder arrives. We'd been due a middle of the night screamfest; he's been sleeping through the night all week.

When the screaming started last night, I went in to find that his diaper had overflowed. This actually can be a good sign - it sometimes means that the crying stops quickly with a clean diaper and dry jammies. I put him into two piece PJ's since that is what was on the top of the drawer.

Unfortunately, clean clothes did nothing to settle the crying so I resorted to holding and rocking. The screams just got louder. So, I put him down (still screaming). With a kiss kiss on the head, I left the room, hoping that a little time would settle him down. When the screams hadn't quieted 10 mins later, I went back to check on him. One leg was completely out of his pants! Ummm, okay, they were a little big. But it's not like I put him in my pants! I re-dressed him, being sure that the pajama bottoms were pulled halfway to his armpits. (C'mon - It's not like anyone is going to see this mini-grandpa look in the middle of the night.) That seemed to make him happier, so another kiss on the head and I left again.

Ten more minutes later, the wailing had gotten even louder, so I went back to check on him again. The boy had gotten his pants completely off. They were laying beside his head. He had undone one side of his diaper, and the other side was hanging by a thread (which really does nothing to help prevent nighttime accidents). One sock was hanging from his big toe; the other was nowhere to be found. And best of all, he had pulled one arm completely out of his shirt and had the neckhole up over one ear. I truly think that if I'd let him wrestle around for another 5 minutes, I'd have found him completely nekkid. I really wish I'd had my wits about me to take a picture, but at 3 a.m., I just wasn't thinking that far ahead. I was too busy laughing.

What did I do? You guessed it. I dug out some one piece footed PJ's, and he fell asleep in 3 minutes. So, Ms. S and Ms. R - I no longer doubt your story. I think our lil' magician really did remove his diaper at school while still wearing his pants. And tonight, I'm going to stick to the one piece jammies.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

So tonight I'll ask

the stars above
How did I ever win your love?
What did I do?
What did I say?
To turn your angel eyes my way?
-Jeff Healey Band, Angel Eyes

Happy Anniversary a day late to my wonderful hubby. (Hey! Gimme a break on the tardiness! I spent the day with him, not writing blog posts!) I tried very hard to post a picture of us on our wedding day, but as you may note by the lack of visuals, I failed. See, we got married back in the dark ages before digital photography was the norm. I think our photographer took digital pics, but we sure didn't get the images. I tried scanning some of the snapshots we printed with no success.

Nine years ago, I promised to love you "in sickness and in health." I never really thought through those words before now. It never occurred to me that "in sickness" might not mean "I'll love you even if you become sick." It means so much more.

So, thank you honey, for being the one I take this journey through life with. Thanks for making me laugh. Thanks for keeping me grounded and calm. Thanks for being such a caring and gentle father to our boys. Thanks for overlooking my atrocious housekeeping skills. Thanks for holding my hand on the tough days. Thanks for being mine. I am one lucky girl.

Monday, October 11, 2010

With a little love and luck... will get by
With a little love and luck
You'll take the sky
-Jimmy Buffett, Love and Luck

This post is inspired by one of my "chosen sisters," one of my girls who came to visit during the darkest days in Philadelphia. (Sidenote - Isn't it nice to know that if life doesn't give you sisters, you can pick them?! I get the benefits of adult sisterhood without the tweenage catfights over who messed up my mascara...) She sent me a message of encouragement to say that she was, yet again, praying for me, for my mom. To say that this gal has known hard times and loss doesn't even begin to cover it. I had known her for several years before I learned just how much she had been through. A long trip and a few tear-filled stories gave me a new respect for her and for her ability to smile through the pain. I can borrow a page from her book because she is a mountain of strength.

But what she said in her message was about changing our perspective on luck. An outsider might look at my story - nearly losing my child after open heart surgery, then immediately watching my mom fight a recurrence of breast cancer - and think that the stars sure are aligned wrong for my family. It might seem that we're pretty unlucky.

Her perspective was that we are lucky beyond words. Yes, what we went through was traumatic. But we're here. We're home. We have two beautiful boys who are happy and healthy (or well on their way to good health). But more than that, my extended family is closer than ever. We were blessed to spend six weeks together in Philly, and the boys were lucky to be able to develop that kind of special bond with their grandparents. We were blessed to spend that time with our parents. We spent six weeks holding hands and being thankful for the life of our children, grateful for each heartbeat. That closeness came not just in spite of the hard times, but because of them. We're closer as a family BECAUSE of what we have been through and continue to go through. And that strength will carry us through the coming days.

I would love to say that God simply gives us strength to get through the challenges. But it's not that simple. God puts people in our paths, people like my dear friend, whose stream of prayers and love make the difference.

Don't get me wrong - I still want it to go away. I want to wake up tomorrow and learn that after just one treatment, mom's tumors are gone. Poof! But just in case the magic genie in the infusion pump doesn't work that way, I know I can rely on the love of family and friends to pull me through. And every day, I thank God for that.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I've got sunshine...

On a cloudy day
When it's cold outside
I've got the month of May
-The Temptations, My Girl

Yes, the weather in NC is sunny, but it's a cloudy day for my family today. Many of you know that my mom, aka LaLa, has been battling a recurrence of breast cancer. You're certainly welcome to learn more about her story on her CaringBridge page. LaLa got some pretty cruddy news yesterday - the tumors are continuing to spread in spite of every kind of chemo that's been thrown her way. She's now going to have to start another round of the hair-losing, nausea-inducing, hard-core-fatigue kind of chemo.

I'll be honest - my first thought was, "You're f'ing kidding me! Haven't we been through enough?!" (Sorry to all my God-fearing, profanity-avoiding, polite friends. The F word really was the first thing that came to mind. At least I didn't say it out loud in front of my children.) I really just wanted to crawl in a hole until this whole nightmare is over. I'm getting just a wee bit tired of hearing crappy news every time someone I love goes to the doctor.

But, then we went over to my folks' house, and I saw the way that my mom is handling the news. Grace is really the only word I can use to describe it. Grace under pressure, strength when the going gets beyond tough. She gave the boys big hugs, tried to trick Luke into crawling, showed Jay their new camper, gushed over how delicious the dinner we brought was ... she went right on living. She started planning the camping trip we're going to take this fall.

I could almost hear her saying, "Chemo? Cancer? You're not going to interrupt my life. Slow me down? Maybe. But while I'm moving slow, that's just more time to smell the roses."

It's so obvious to me (okay, to the whole planet) that she absolutely adores the boys. They bring me untold joy, but apparently grandchildren bring a level of joy that I have not yet experienced. She chooses to find joy on even the most difficult of days. She actively seeks out things that make her happy, and often that involves my babes. She jokes about her inability to peel the rose-colored glasses off her face, but I gotta say ... something she's doing really works.

Mom, it is an inspiration to me to see the way you face challenges. You have shown me to face cloudy days with a smile, to create your own sunshine in the midst of the rain. For that, I am eternally grateful. Even if I'm not as good at it as you are. I love you!

Now - you wanna go wig shopping?

Monday, October 4, 2010

I'm a survivor...

I'm gonna make it
I'm a survivor
I will survive
-Destiny's Child, Survivor

Thanks, y'all for letting me vent a little on my last post. I'm sorry for complaining about the little things, when I have so many blessings to be thankful for. I may need the occasional reminder that doing the dishes is, in fact, a blessing. It means I have eyes to see, arms to move, legs I can stand on, food on my table, and well-fed children. It's just remembering to see it that way.

I guess the root of my frustration is a bit of PTSD mixed with a healthy dose of survivor's guilt. You know, the way plane crash survivors think, "Why me? What am I supposed to do with my life that was so important? Why was I was spared?"

I spent weeks in the hospital thinking, "Why me? Why do I have to watch my child suffer when so many friends think a sick kid means an ear infection?" I also spent quite a bit of time whining, "Why Jay? Why does he have to endure so much pain when his friends are off hanging from the monkey bars and laughing?"

Now, I'm struggling with the flip side of that coin -- Why me? Why do I have the miracle baby? Why did I come home with two healthy children when so many who are reading this blog right now have lost a child? What are the expectations that come with this awesome second chance?

One of the blogs that I read from another heart mom, Team Ewan, lost baby Ewan today. They had to make the agonizing decision to take him off ECMO. Reading her words, I cried. I know how close we were to that. I can't imagine that kind of pain. There have been hundreds, no thousands of people praying for Ewan. There were that many praying for Jay. Where is God in all of this?

I know that these "why me" questions are questions that have no answers. This is one of those times when my limited understanding of God and God's role in this world leaves me confused. And occasionally frustrated. The conclusions I keep coming to are not satisfying and leave me with more questions than answers. And I promise you that I'm not asking you to give me simple answers to something that theologians have struggled with for ages.

So, I am trying to stop asking. To trust that I'll understand more someday. To enjoy this day - and each tiny moment within this day. To laugh at the joy a two year old finds in eating a sausage biscuit. (Actually, just the sausage - I ate the biscuit.) To marvel at how a 7 month old can spread food across the high chair tray, down the wall, and onto the floor. To savor that evening walk with my family and truly appreciate each step together. Because, whatever God's role in the workings of the world, I know that these are blessings to be savored.