Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Letter to my Unborn Son


Hey there buddy boy, less than a week before your arrival! We are so very excited to meet you, and kiss you, and hold you. The best part of this past year was finding out you were joining this family, but it has also been a difficult one; our lives flipped upside down and inside out. A roller coaster ride to say the least. We moved into a new home, in a new town. We opened the doors to our first restaurant, and we said goodbye to too many loved ones. Many highs and lows and through it all, your birth has been the light at the end of the tunnel, the joy we all desperately need, and the reminder to cherish the good life brings. At times it felt this moment would never arrive, and yet here we are just days away now. Truly amazing. You are joining a crazy but fun and loving crew, and I know you are the piece we never knew was missing. You are a gift and are loved unconditionally. 

There are a few things you need to know and a few things I hope for you before you climb aboard this crazy train.

We are cuddlers. There is nothing better than climbing in the big bed and snuggling up with some netflix. When it was just the twins, they easily took a side and everything was right in the world. When Sydney joined the pack I was nervous how we would continue to cuddle together, and feared someone would be left out. But we just adjusted. Making room and fitting together like puzzle pieces. As you grow in my belly, your bump has created the perfect pillow that your three siblings now fight over and giggle every time you kick them. The prime, and most coveted, cuddle spot. I was worried for nothing. And now even though I'm not sure how, I am certain that we will adjust again and everyone will find a way to snuggle in. I hope you are ready to join in; it's kinda unacceptable not to.

Daddy works a lot, but this is all for you and your siblings. He loves this family with all his heart. He is working hard to build his dream and give you everything - including more family time. It is temporary. I promise you will see him a lot because you will grow up in our restaurants and no doubt will be in the moby wrap soon while your daddy and I work. It will be what you know, what is familiar, and what is comfortable. I hope that these memories stay with you and help define your work ethic, sense of responsibility, and love for good food.

Your big brother, has been (im)patiently waiting for your arrival since Sydney tipped the scales in the girl/boy ratio of our family. He has been waiting so long for a roommate, someone to dress alike with, but mostly someone to beat up.  I will make him wait until you are bigger, but know that this comes from a loving place to rough house and from years of making him be gentle with his sisters. I hope that your desire to play with him matches his desire to wrestle, tackle and throw balls at you. I hope you are the best of friends and that your competitiveness is driven by your desire to push each other farther and not from bitterness or resentment.

We like to travel. For now, a few hour road trip to visit family or on the road for days to the beach in Florida. Your siblings are all road warriors and I promise you we'll do everything we know to make the driving a great part of the trip. I hope you also share their disposition and find the fun in traveling. It won't stop us from road tripping if you don't, but it will make it a lot less enjoyable.

You have a lot of family that loves you, but don't get to see you often. Your dad and I have followed our dreams to make the best life we can for you all, but that required us to move away from our hometowns. I know they may feel like strangers at first but they are not. And as you get older you will begin to remember them and miss them and look forward to our next visits together. I hope that you will open your heart anyways and let them hug and kiss and hold you close.

Bedtime is at a reasonable time around here. We started sleep training when the twins were 6 weeks old and Sydney fell right in line, and it worked. Don't be the exception to the rule, please! Mama and daddy need their quiet time too and that comes with a standard of early to bed. I promise I am a better mommy with my downtime, and you will feel better well rested. I will never understand how parents deal with kids at 9,10,11 o'clock at night and I really don't ever want to find out. I hope you value sleep and naps as much as the rest of us.

I will cry the day you are born for many reasons. The first being the miracle of you, a gift given to us and I love you. Another because there were times through this pregnancy I wasn't sure how I would make it to this moment, just that I had to and shutting the door to this chapter is a welcomed relief. Life can now move forward. And though there are so many hearts and arms ready to greet you and love you, the one who would hug you the hardest is missing. The loss of my mama, your Mimi, will be overwhelming and writing this through the tears just makes it more glaringly obvious how hard it will be without her there. But mostly, my beautiful boy, I will cry because you free me to be happy, to love fully heartedly, to live for one moment and get lost in it. I will cherish your birth day and savor every second.

As you grow your first few years of life I wish many things for you. I hope you are not as shy as Veronica but not as fearless as Sydney. I hope you are as energetic as Franklin but not as rigid in his desire to control everyone and everything.  I hope you love to learn and have a curiosity that runs rampant. That you enjoy being alone and playing on your own at moments. I hope you are funny and sweet. I hope you love to laugh and play Ring Around the Rosie with your siblings -  going so fast I have to bite my lip in nervousness and then laugh as I watch you all fall in a heap of giggles. I hope that your tiny hand always finds mine and easily snugs into the perfect moment of pure trust and love. I hope you always run to the door to greet daddy and that he will forever be your hero, because he is all of ours. I hope you are sensitive enough to play princess tea parties with the girls but tough enough to take what your big brother is ready to dish out. And love them all for it, because at the end of the day we all love each other and love being together. Through the fights, and whining, and even the tears; a silly comment can bring a smile to everyone's face.

None of this really matters, though, except one thing. I hope the most that you are healthy and thrive in this world. The rest we will figure out and adjust. Soon life will be flipped upside down again, but this time no matter what you bring to the table, it is all for the better. You have already made me a better, stronger, and happier mama than I could ever be without you. I can't wait to meet you, baby boy.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Homemade Dairy Free "Nutella"

Nutella has been a favorite of mine ever since I first tasted its deliciousness in a crepe with strawberries from a street truck in Paris. I was 16 and I was hooked. If I was stuck on an island and I could bring a life time supply of one meal, this would be it. It was always a treat though never a routine part of my life.

My son is a very picky eater. He is a visual eater too so if an apple is cut the wrong way he won't touch it, and forget about trying new things. Sitting next to Veronica - a tiny bird of a person who eats twice her weight and trys anything given to her; Franklin refused sandwiches, pizza, chicken, everything... Most was in opposition to his sister I'm sure or some power struggle that still rears it's ugly head. It made making meals a chore to say the least. He ultimately gets bored of the few items he eats and then refuses to eat at all. And then we start the process over of finding a few things he will rotate. Around this time, I started seeing commercials 'for a "healthy breakfast" serve Nutella on whole wheat with a glass of milk and fresh cut fruit'. Sounds delicious, right? And being one of my favorites, I was rejuvenated to introduce a new item, fully expecting him to refuse it. Except this time guess what, he loved it! And for a while I felt really good about this, even letting him eat them 2x a day sometimes. 

Then my journey into dissecting labels and exploring nutrition began and made me really look at the ingredients listed in the most common items. Nutella's first ingredient? Sugar, never a good sign. At the time I was also beginning to cut out sugar in his diet all together. He has a Jekyll and Hyde relationship with this sweet poison and if you saw the change in him after eating something sugary you'd understand my overwhelming need to help him. 

So I was horrified to find this as the first ingredient in his favorite all time meal. According to the AHA the recommended daily allowance of added sugar (that is sugar added into things not naturally occurring) is 4 teaspoons for ages 4 to 8, for women 6 teaspoons, and men at 9 teaspoons. One serving of Nutella (2 Tablespoons) has 21 grams of sugar!!! That is nearly 5 teaspoons of sugar per serving. No wonder he was a wild man! More than the recommended amount for an entire day, then add in everything else eaten and you are well on your way to some major issues. I felt completely fooled and pretty angry about it. I learned my lesson and I try hard to not take anything at face value when it comes to claims of "clean labels" and healthy options.

The sugar amount alone is enough to make me never buy it again, but then factor in GMO's (sugar beets and soy lecithin) and how your body processes this poison; I'd get frustrated every time I see that horrible commercial promoting Nutella as a healthy option for your family. Not to mention the ethical issues surrounding palm oil and the damage that is being caused to our rain forests and Orangutans. That's another discussion... But I digress...

So begun my mission to make my own that my son would still eat. I made several attempts, all of which he turned his nose up to. Then I started making progress. Having him help me add ingredients in and taste testing helped him get excited about the process. And soon, although I wasn't happy with the consistency, the flavor was right and it worked for him. It still has taken me nearly 2 years to perfect the recipe, tweeking the amounts each time I make it to get it just right. It is also dairy free!!

Today is that day! I made it 3 times, the consistency was way off and although my kids will eat it - as the flavor was spot on (and they were so sweet waiting so patiently as I scraped the first two batches). I just wasn't happy with the texture or oiliness of it. It was hard to spread on bread and I want it to look like Nutella so that anyone wanting to try this has every chance of converting their little ones over. I was determined, a little voice playing out in my head, telling me I was doing it wrong, try again...

So how does it compare nutritionally? This recipe is 55 calories less per serving, 2.5g less in fat, 10mg less sodium, and here's the big one - 17g LESS sugar! Same great taste with only a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar per serving. There's a bit more protein too per serving! At 2.5 grams it's not a ton but proteins are a struggle at times in this house as well so every little bit counts.

Here is the final recipe that he loves, begs, and chants for. Nutella and sliced apple on whole wheat? Yes, please!! Seconds?! You got it buddy!


Homemade Nutella

1 1/2 Cups Roasted Hazelnuts (skins off)
1/2 cup almonds
1 Tablespoon coconut oil (heat to liquefy)
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 tbls dark chocolate powder
1/4 cup Maple Syrup
1/4 teaspoon sea salt


There are a few tricks... 

If you buy the hazelnuts raw then you will need to roast them first. Roast the hazelnuts at 350' for 10 minutes. Immediately pour into a towel and rub the skins off. Let them cool completely in the towel. If you start mixing before the hazelnuts have cooled the paste will break and you will not get the creamy texture that is notoriously smooth like Nutella. If you leave the skins on it will make the spread bitter tasting. 

I use a Vitamix (seriously the best and most used appliance in my kitchen), but I would think a food processor would work too. I grind the hazelnuts and almonds first to a powder. Almonds are naturally an oily nut so it helps with that smoothness quality. 

I have to give a nod to my mama who taught me that layering ingredients is the best way to keep the consistency you desire. I added the coconut milk and salt first and this created a very liquified mixture. Also it's cold so it keeps the temp down (as the vitamix spins at such a high speed it quickly heats up whatever contents it holds). Add in the remaining ingredients (this will thicken it up) and blend using the tumbler to get the mix moving.  You don't want to over mix it! 

One bag of roasted unsalted hazelnuts from Trader Joes makes 3 batches of homemade delicious Nutella! This amount will last a couple weeks in the refrigerator. It makes lunch time and snacks very easy and it also makes a great dip for apples, bananas, strawberries, etc.

I started this journey 2 years ago and It has been a process, but one that I feel is worth it. Not only do I want better quality ingredients in the food I serve my family, but sugar intake has been at the forefront of my desire to find a better way. What other store bought items does your family rely on but the ingredients make you cringe? I need a new project! 

Oh, and if you are lucky enough to live in Cleveland you don't have to make it yourself... It will soon be on the menu at River Dog Cafe!! (www.riverdogcafe.com)


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

2 Months - 2 Years

Two months since you left and two years since your diagnosis flipped our lives upside down. I haven't felt ready to write anything meaningful since my last letter to you.  I don't want this blog to be depression town, but the truth is this is where I'm at in my life and if I can't be honest here then I should stop writing it all together. Hopefully this journal will serve in my own healing as well as others who have walked this path without the words to pull them thru. 

I'm not ready to stop writing to you. It's been our main form of real conversation, at least on my end, the last two years and I'm just not ready to stop writing to you and start writing about you. 

I usually know it's time to put it on virtual paper when my thoughts turn mildly obsessive. When I can't get them to go away, writing is the only way to put them to rest. The moments of the last two years on repeat when I am left alone with my thoughts. Tears that I keep hidden and pushed down overflowing when I allow myself to let the thoughts play out. It's your anniversary today. You and dad should be on another adventure. You deserved to enjoy the life you sacrificed all those years for and I am so angry it was taken from you. The sadness I feel is overwhelming the most on days that mean something.

I still remember talking to you that weekend two years ago. You and dad were in Nashville celebrating your anniversary and we had just gotten home from a wedding in New York. The flower girl dress you made was stunning and Melanie, the bride, was so happy with your beautiful artistry. Veronica hardly left her side that day, as they were both dressed as princesses.  I remember you were quiet during that phone call, but that wasn't so out of the ordinary. I often went on and on as you listened to my stories. I told you how cute the twins were walking down the aisle together and how brave they were. Show stoppers with the entire church oohhing and aahhing over them. They were such troopers taking photos and sitting on the bus all day. How cute Frankie was falling asleep in his tux on my pregnant belly as we rode the bus around; the last to be dropped off. I remember hearing about the grand ole opry but don't know how much you struggled to tell me about it.  Dad said over the weekend you were dropping the ends of sentences and by the end of it were struggling to get five words strung together. How did I not notice that?! Was it because I just went on and on filling the silence I was so aware of for all the wrong reasons? But then you always tried to protect me. Maybe I chalked it up to the tension that was recently between us. That summer I struggled to stand as a wife and mother first and daughter second. That was hard for you to accept or to agree with my choices at times. It was as if subconsciously you knew our time was limited and you were hanging on so incredibly tight I could barely breathe.

By Tuesday you were down to yes and no communications and dad knew he couldn't keep it from us any longer. An MRI showed a mass in your brain, and you were being admitted for more tests. Christian and I of course googled it and your symptoms searching for an answer. We all knew it was bad but could never comprehend just how bad in that moment. We saw worst case and thought that won't be it. By Friday you were having brain surgery and we were all there waiting, hoping for any answer other than what we feared the most. Sitting there in the family room with the surgeon, dad, Michele, and Ted; time stopped. All I heard were words flashing, searing into my brain. Cancer. Stage 4. Aggressive. 3-6 months at your best, no one survives more than 15 months. We were left alone with that and we all hung on to each other for dear life. To this day it is the only time we have all grieved and cried together. I know that would make you sad, that the closest we have all been through this was in that moment. 

Soon after, you came to Cleveland for a second opinion, dad fully expecting to hear the same information, appease me and head home to let the next few months happen. But what we heard gave us all hope. Hope for more time, better quality of life, a battle to focus on. We shaved your head without shedding a tear, warrior mode. Sydney born days before treatment began, snuggle buddies those first few months of her life while you went thru treatment. Watching you go thru radiation and ring that bell at the end of it was priceless. You had this look in your eyes that day as if you could conquer the world. Fearless, proud, and so hopeful for a future. A future we were told to not bother fighting for. But you did fight. A great Christmas followed at home with your whole family together. You were so happy that day.

Then the first seizure hit. Scary doesn't begin to describe it, I thought we would lose you right there in the midst of half boxed up decorations, the tree still sparkling. The twins in bed thankfully, we were able to shield them somewhat from what was happening. Them waking to see the firemen in and out of the house, Christian and I sucking in the fear to smile and reassure them the dr.'s were going to take good care of their Mimi. A surgical infection showed it's ugly face a few weeks later and a second surgery was needed. You fought back yet again. Spending months in a rehab hospital, fighting for hours everyday in physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Syd and I would come to support you and watch you working tirelessly. One of your goals to hold her again, the next thing I feared that would be taken from you. You not only held her again but you walked out of that hospital! Truly amazing my mama. Walking laps in my home and lifting hand weights to build strength, by Sydney's baptism you were strong enough to travel to the church, stand for a picture with your whole family and smile for pictures holding Syd! Mind you this was now 7 months after diagnosis, long past that 3-6 at your best. Trials came and went, new drugs were used, but the seizures kept coming every few months and each time took a little more of your mobility, your strength, your communication with it. You made it a year after your diagnosis, then Sydney's 1st birthday, another thanksgiving and Christmas. We are so lucky to have had so much time with you. To see you fight like a warrior and never, ever give up. It's a testament to how you lived your life and no matter how crappy I feel you are an inspiration to just get through it with a smile on my face. The trials fell away and you were left with the last chemo option. The one you would've been given immediately following your first surgery over a year and half before had you stayed in Lansing for treatment. We knew the fight was ending, the options gone, but still you had quality, you were holding strong. The wound on your leg stopped treatment all together and we all knew that there was no coming back from it. We tried to heal it but it was just too big and this god awful cancer was just too aggressive. What we were able to keep at bay, was now unleashed and it was only a matter of time. Still you lived life smiling, hugging, watching your grandchildren and loving every moment, or faking some of it for us. Sydney now climbing in your bed to give you kisses, Veronica cuddling with you on your 60th birthday watching Annie, Frankie playing Mario kart relentlessly yelling "Mimi watch!"and feeling my belly as this baby grew inside it. You saw and lived in our new home, listened with love and happiness as we told you about finally following our dream of opening a restaurant; even if you were never strong enough to see it for yourself. There are little things sprinkled throughout the place that are reminders of you and your unconditional support to chase our dreams.

All of it gave us purpose, a way to forget the sadness, focus on your daily needs rather than realize how much life had dramatically shifted. How much you, and by consequence all of us, lost in a matter of days, two years ago. 

In the days following your death I felt marked, like a Scarlett letter cast across my chest for the world to see. Not one of shame, but of pity for being motherless. I hated it so much that every time someone extended their condolences I wanted to scream. I watched as others cried at your funeral thinking this doesn't change you why are you crying?! But that was the anger. I was blown away by the amount of people who came to pay their respects to you. Such a social wallflower I bet you never thought they would show up in the hundreds to honor you. You deserved that.

My birthday came shortly after and it was the day the sadness really set into reality. Normally you are the first to call and the realization that phone call would never come again made the day almost unbearable. I tried to put a smile on for my family's sake, but I fear I didn't do a very good job. The day the twins rode the bus to kindergarten for the first time I balled my eyes out. I'm not that sentimental, typically I may get a little emotional but I had been counting down the days to this moment. You were the first one I wanted to send a picture to, and because I couldn't, I couldn't hold back the tears. My social etiquette seems out of whack too and I can barely focus on conversations. I'm sure people wonder where I go mid conversation and I struggle to retain any information or recover from trailing off.  I swear all these great people I am meeting in my city and neighborhood must think I'm such a flake. Most days the tears lie just below the surface, threatening to escape at any random thought of you. Good friends ask how I'm doing, how's my dad and I wanna scream again. How do you think I am? I wish they would stop asking. I know it's out of love and concern but what am I supposed to say? The truth? Neither of us has the time for that. I hope that one day I will reach a point where the tears stop streaming at every random thought but right now I am no where near that. And as my due date approaches I am more and more aware of the sadness I will feel that day. Because as excited as I am to hold this tiny miracle growing inside me, I also know you will not be there to hold him. It's not right, it's not fair and I wanna scream just thinking about it. 

Two months, two years. Another path ripped to the left. Another day that should be lived a different way, in celebration and not tears.  I will be ok, I will find a way to let the happiness win. In the meantime I will get better at faking it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Surviving Kindergarten Orientation with Twins

First of all congratulations on surviving twins all the way to kindergarten! This in itself should be celebrated. Most likely your school will encourage you to separate them at this point. I separated mine in preschool and although it was hard at first, they quickly adjusted and thrived in their new independence and we all enjoyed the separation. It made reuniting that much sweeter and the rest of the day go smoother. My daughter Veronica can be shy around new kids and would often just go see Frankie in his room. Soon though she stopped having to do that and they would wave hello as their paths crossed. They are capable of more than we realize.

So we just left kindergarten orientation and I honestly feel like I got run over with a Mack truck. There is no precedence or direction for handling twins and 2 classrooms. So here is a list of things that would have made this huge milestone go a little smoother...

1. Go early and don't apologize or feel awkward for being the first one in the room. I was there sitting in the parking lot waiting when I should have been first in line.

2. Introduce yourself to each teacher and set their book bags and supplies in their chair. If their neighbors are there, great; say hi, introduce them, and move on. It is so chaotic they will not be forming some magical bond and meeting their BFF at this moment. You have shit to do.

3. Go sign up for conferences first and any volunteer choices you want to make. Yes I'm talking months away but if they offer this option be the first in line so that you can coordinate the times for each. Give yourself a 15 minute window in case one teacher is running late or you run over. I dropped the boat big time on this and am kicking myself because I will now have to find a sitter for 2 different days and times. Brutal

4. Pick a room. I suggest going to the twin who may be struggling a bit more with this new chapter or the one who is more shy. For us, it's my son Frankie. Any time there is change or something new, he clams up. Buries his head in my side and makes me want to start weeping right there. As soon as I can get him to try whatever new thing is happening, he is off and doing great. Utilize the counselors. They are gentle and sweet and can convince them to leave your side and take that tour with the rest of the kids. He came back 20 minutes later smiling and almost skipping. Realize you may be their crutch and that's ok but there are trained professionals ready to help ease the bandaid off. Use them.

5. You are going to get the same information basically from both teachers so you are really not missing anything by sticking to one room. I tried bouncing back and forth and almost missed the administration speeches about pick up/drop off procedures, who to contact with questions during the day, and information on speech therapy offered to all kindergarteners. The stuff I actually needed to hear.

6. If your school requires you to bring in supplies and offers a box through the PTA, don't do it. It's great to support the PTA but the last thing you want to be doing in the midst of the madness is labeling 2 sets of school supplies. Come prepared with EVERYTHING (that is reasonable) labeled. Then it's a matter of distributing those supplies as a last item on your check list. Other parents will be scrambling around and will make you feel anxious that you should be doing the same thing, but don't fall into it. You've got 2 little people that need your attention and care in this insane and overwhelming introduction to school. Make sure they are calm and see that you are calm through the chaos. 

7. If they are still nervous, take a minute after everyone has left and reintroduce them to their teachers. Reaffirm they can see each other if they need to. This may very well be the first time they are separated for a long period of time and at the very least they have always had each other in any new situation. Don't be afraid to request special care be taken into consideration when it comes to this, because they are special. If being able to see each other in the beginning helps grow their confidence; then the teacher should be in full support of that. Most teachers have dealt with twins and understand this, so to ease your own mind, have the talk.

8. Now go get ice cream and celebrate your success. And even though you've been counting down the days when they would be off to school (you know you have -- probably since the first days home from the hospital), if you shed a tear or two it's ok. They are your babies after all.

Now wish me luck that I can get them on the bus tomorrow without making too much of a spectacle of ourselves.

Are there any other tips you seasoned mothers can offer that I'm missing?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Letter To My Mama

This post is for you, my mama. You would always encourage me to write. I'd have the most vivid, complex dreams when I was little that I would tell you about over breakfast and you would say "you need to be writing these down Jennifer." You gave me a journal when I danced in France at 16, another when I spent the summer abroad. I would start writing every time with this fascination that I would fill the pages with extraordinary tales. I had the stories I just could never commit to taking the time to write them down. I even started "a year in the life of a bride" journal I was going to give you on my wedding day of my thoughts and stories of the year I got married. After a few entries I never picked it up again. Too frustrated with myself to ever even tell you about it. That's why I love this blog. It doesn't have to be some epic novel or filled journal pages. It's just one thought, one day to focus on.

It's been a month since you travelled home and left mine. I miss seeing you every day but know that you are where you need to be now. I've watched you climb a mountain these last two years, and I've climbed right along with you; each of us knowing you would never reach the top. I have finally learned the lesson you have shown me my entire life. There was no false hope here. We knew forever was not an option, just some hope for more time and that's all that mattered. You've been climbing the mountain before you were born, though. Whenever you've been faced with the choice to rest or climb, you've always chosen to climb. You fought like a warrior throughout your entire life, struggled against adversity, sacrificed for those you love, found refuge in your many talents and artistry; until this retched disease won out. Turn around and see the view from where you are, you've climbed so high it must be a beautiful sight. Now rest my mama, there is no more choice. I hope you have peace knowing that.

Yesterday I cleaned the house, preparing for this trip. I could feel you in everything I did. Wanting the laundry done, the house pristine for Christian who will have a hard time while we are gone, folding sheets for a houseguest who will arrive while I'm away. Wanting him to feel comfortable and not wonder where the towels were without me there to show him. It's something I would have never thought of before. Maybe I was selfish or had too much going on. Maybe it took becoming a mother for me realize the value in that, or maybe it was losing my homing beacon, the one person who probably would have annoyed me pre sickness with reminding me of something I clearly wouldn't have thought of. In any case, there you were.

I made banana bread for you, not knowing if you would be able to eat it, would recognize it, or me for that matter. I am so thankful we took the time to teach me your secrets before the tumor stole it from us. It has taken me almost two years to perfect it. I'm not saying it's the best, but it tastes like home, like you. And for the rest of my life I will feel you every time I make it and will taste home with every bite. The love in how you layer the ingredients, it does make a difference! Veronica at a friends house and Frankie with his buddy playing so well together and jumping in to help stir in the ingredients. Did I ever help make it? Was I too busy? Not interested? Do I not remember being there in the kitchen with you? My memory is of the morning waking up to fresh banana bread and fighting over the end piece with my sister. You coming in and turning the loaf around and cutting the other end off. So simple yet beyond our thoughts. I can remember nothing of the process. After they've cooled, I wrap them first in plastic and then foil. Bringing the two ends over the loaf and folding down neatly just like you. I wonder why you do it that way. I can guess it keeps it fresher, but how did you know that? Is it something you learned in your grandfathers bakery? Trial and error? Or just for presentation sake?

I tried to prepare myself for the possibility of you being asleep for my visit, you sleep so much now, or not knowing who I am. Thankfully, you woke for moments. You saw me and I saw you. Your nails needed some tlc so I pampered you a little with a mani/pedi. Growing up you would never spend money on such a luxury for yourself. That never stopped you from having pretty toes. Week after week I would watch you pamper yourself and make your hands and feet beautiful. As the years went on, you found some value in spending money on such a luxury service and some of my favorite times with you were at a nail salon. At first only for special occasions, and then later as girls trips bonding with your daughters and granddaughters. I'm glad to have helped keep your toes and fingers beautiful these last two years. This one, probably being your last. I'm struggling with knowing this and still moving forward. When life is literally changing in this moment and I am helpless to stop it. 

You tried to say I love you today, such a struggle now but our test over the past two years. Every morning I'd wait for you to say I love you first. If you could say it, I knew you were having a good day. Some days I needed to say it first and you'd repeat it and others even that was a struggle. Today I told you not to say it. "I know how you feel, I know you love me." You looked relieved I let you off the hook. And sad. I'm sad too mama. Sad this disease has stolen so much, has been relentless and so cruel. Sad there is no more time. Scared to be motherless. I feel you, I do. And I will for as long as I am given. I will teach Frankie, Veronica, Sydney, and our baby boy how to make Mimi's Bread and if I am lucky it will bring me close to them when I am far away, as it brings you instantly flooding in.

I hope there is a moment dad can read this to you where some may penetrate. I know you would cry if you could. We are both such emotional wrecks, cry baby's you and me. I've spent most of my life fighting for my dreams just like you. What I finally see, is that it's most definitely not about reaching the top but how you climb the mountain. That my mama, is your legacy and the greatest lesson I have learned from you. You know you are loved. I only hope you also know how very special you are.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Stop before you word vomit all over yourself

I am currently pregnant with, duhn duhn duhn.... number four. And it was completely unplanned. 

Take a moment to inhale deeply and shake your head. Gasp if you need to. Go ahead Judgy McJudgers I get it, or at least I used to.

We have 5 year old boy/girl twins and an 18 month old. After finally being settled in our new town I was ready to join the multiples group I had heard so many great things about. I went to my first meeting the other day and there was another first timer there as well. She is pregnant with triplets. I smiled and said "how wonderful" but on the inside I instantly took pity on her. Twins were not easy; yes they are a blessing, but it is a crash course in parenting and it is insane caring for two infants. I could cry thinking about having to do it again let alone triplets! But as a mother of multiples I've learned that the new mom deserves for me to keep my big mouth shut. I don't offer unsolicited advice, tell battle stories, or show my inner feelings on the subject. I know what it feels like. People come out of the woodwork to tell you horrible stories related to multiples and it is damaging and completely unhealthy for the mother to be. But I digress. So we are at this meeting and they introduce us. She was up first -- announcing her triplet blessing. Coos and awes radiate around the room. It is a very special thing, but it's also partly out of nostalgia and partly because that's all we wanted to hear when it was us, so in turn that's what we do. Then she introduces me and my stats -- b/g twins are 5, another little girl who's 18 months and am pregnant with my fourth. A unified inhale and gasp of horror echo through the room. Having four kids is somehow such a crazy and feared endeavor that these mothers who are trained to smile and coo at the mention of three newborns can't fathom the idea or pull it together to smile at a woman who is only having one even if it is her fourth?!

Right then my attitude shifted. No longer did I feel sorry for myself or wonder how we are going to handle it. I put my armor on and am gearing up for battle. Against all the judgers out there ready to offer their condolences, save it. This mama is ready and is very excited.

Here is my story and how I came to look at number four as my fourth miracle. And be excited for him.

I spent some of my twenties panicked I would never have kids and the rest of the time rebelling against the disease that could take my chances away. I was diagnosed with Endometriosis at 15 and told I probably would never have children; certainly not on my own and never after 30. Talk about shaping your perception of life and your trajectory forward. I moved to NYC at 18 and pursued a career as a dancer. Although artists give so much of themselves to the stage, the audience and their art; dancing at its very core is a very selfish profession -- hours of training, rehearsals, dropping life for an audition, dropping jobs for a gig. Sacrifices are numerous but in the moment worth it because all I had to think about was myself. I was happy being an aunt and one day, if I could accept an alternative it would maybe be -- I'd get lucky with IVF once, if not I would adopt -- that was my plan and it was on the back burner.

I LOVE to travel and do so at every chance I get. In 2004 I was in South Africa with a kindred spirit traveling her country and immersing myself in the culture that was so exotic and at times dangerous and a world that was so incredibly different than my own. I awoke early here and would sit and watch the sun rise over the cascading hills and it hit me all at once. It was time to move on. For many reasons it was time for me to explore who I was without dance in it. Six months later I had left New York and was moving to Chicago. City girl at heart, Chicago was closer to my family and where I knew the next chapter of my life would begin. From there my life really turned into a whirl wind. Over the next few years I fell in love, married, and started fertility treatments. After rounds of failed attempts, we finally found success in IVF and our beautiful twins were born healthy and strong; my first two miracles.

Motherhood was a hard transition for me. I stopped working and became a stay at home mom. For a strong independent feminist this was not an easy role for me to embrace. There was a lot of soul searching, questioning of my past decisions, and resentment to come to terms with. Having the twins first, I now see as a blessing, I didn't know any different. It throws you into a new parenting level immediately that is different than the joys and trials of first time parents of a singleton or even parents with two children at different but close ages. There's really no explaining the difficulties that parents of multiples face. 

When the twins were about three I had worked out a lot of my personal sahm issues and was really embracing being there, teaching them, living life with these two amazing kids. And although every new phase brings new challenges with them, there are also things that get easier. About this time we started talking about having another baby. We felt our family was incomplete and wanted the experience of one. And although the common jokes with twins, especially boy/girl twins, is; one stop shop - 2 for the price of 1 - only one pregnancy how perfect - instant family just add water; we weren't done. I wanted to be pregnant. We wanted one more to love. So we started out trying the fun way; never imagining it would work and planned on seeing a fertility specialist a few months down the road. I was 33, way past my dooms day cut off given to me at 15. No getting our hopes up, no stress about it. If it was meant to be it would be. Deep down I can admit I would have been devastated, but at the time I was so focused on not thinking worst case that I didn't let it surface, ever. Well, our miracle child was conceived that first month! We couldn't believe it had really happened; I still have it pinch myself sometimes. It was so different caring for one infant; kind of easy after two. She is our love child and she is an amazing little girl filled with humor and personality. People will hate me for saying it but everything is so much easier with only one baby. I mean seriously easy. I could cuddle her without rushing to feed another one so that they were on the same schedule, sleep training went smoothly dealing with one as opposed to syncing two babies, getting dressed and out of the house, the list goes on -- for a while. I still got a lot of comments about why I would add another when I got my boy and girl, but I would shrug it off, smile and say how could life be complete without this one in the world? That would usually shut them up.

I embraced her pregnancy and the changes to my body, relished in it. Knowing that my life, my body would be mine again one day soon. I saw the light and knew that I was moving steadily and perfectly towards it. Took stock of the last times I felt her kick, the last time I swaddled her, and last time I nursed her. She was my baby and unlike the twins where I was rushing to the next milestone praying life would get easier, with her I enjoyed it fully in the moment; thinking strongly it could be my last and perfectly at peace with that.

I was 7 months pregnant with her when my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. Sydney was my saving grace. I would never have been strong enough to handle the sudden diagnosis and course change for all our lives, the loss of so much of my mother in an instant, and her fight ahead against a losing battle. Had it not been for that pregnancy I'm not sure how I would have handled it all. The old me would been self destructive and fallen to the dramatics of it. But I was different. I was a mother not only to two little ones but one I was growing from scratch. I had to be calm. Had to keep it together not only for the baby, the twins, my dad, my siblings, my incredible husband who held me up; but for my mother who needed us to be strong, needed us to fight for her as she would for us. The timing of my miracle child couldn't have been better, and as if by plan my husband and I were now living in Cleveland with one of the top brain cancer departments in the country. Sydney was born two days before my mom started radiation and having such a joyous arrival in the midst of devastation gave us all a reason to smile and a much needed distraction. They were cuddle buddies from day one. Syd a newborn sleeping most of the time and my mom resting from treatment, one of the best gifts I could ever imagine coming into our lives. It was incredibly healing and therapeutic; exactly what we all needed.

Since then my husband went to culinary school, left a lucrative and somewhat stable (for the moment) career to pursue a passion and dream of owning his own restaurant. After years of hard work, he has done it! To see the open sign light up, our name illuminating at night, and customers raving about the food fills my heart with so much joy it feels like it will burst at any second. We are in the crucial first year and so much is riding on this we are sick with anxiety at most moments of the day and night, but so excited to finally have arrived at this moment. 

Although we hadn't shut the door on #4 it was certainly not in our plans during quite possibly the most stressful year of our lives. Starting a small business, 3 kids under 5 and watching my mother fight a losing battle in my home. Plus I was starting to get a piece of my former self back and that felt good amidst the chaos.

I love book work, I know, a little weird but there is something about spreadsheets and organization that just make sense to me. Running the books for the restaurant has given me a new sense of worth and excitement. Finally we as family are at a point where I can enjoy something for myself a little bit where every second is not devoted to someone else's needs. For anyone who has put their own needs on the back burner for others, getting a little bit back of your former self is an incredible feeling.  It's also been a labor of love but one that has taken more time, energy, and focus than I could ever have imagined. 

My belly was finally starting to flatten a bit to where I at least didn't look pregnant enough for people to ignorantly ask when I was due. I had started training for a 5k and found an amazing yoga class and teacher. I had wheel and crow back in my practice and I wanted that headstand back. I'd love to say I embraced my post twin/baby body but I can't. I haven't recognized myself in years, I hate looking pregnant when I'm not (you can't hide it with fashionable distractions) and I have never been more consumed with the way I look. When you spend 29 years of your life one way and then dramatically change; well it's a difficult adjustment.  And just like that, here we go again, another two years before I am even close to where I was pre-pregnancy. That is a daunting number. I never planned on being pregnant and nursing for most of the last six years let alone another two. At times it feels like I'm stuck in the mud; everyone else moving forward. I watch as they get farther away. 

Telling my mom the news was wonderful. She lit up like I haven't seen in a long time. I catch her once in a while staring at my belly and I wonder what she's feeling. Is she happy, angry, sad? A conversation we will never get to have. Randomly, she will reach out and hold her hand on my belly and smile. I love that. I love that I can bring her any joy at this moment in her life on any level. The woman lives for her family and nothing makes her happier than her grandchildren. But the anger and sadness over what this disease has already stolen from her is overwhelming and the tears fall uncontrollably when I allow myself the thought; knowing that she most likely will never hold this one.

I worry that he/she will be ok because I'm not sure I can handle more loss right now. I worry this pregnancy won't go smoothly. So many depend on me right now and deserve me at my best, but I'm not my best when I'm pregnant. I struggle to move, my hips are in constant pain, and I fight through the fatigue. Is it really fair to those around me who need me too? If I fall what will happen to them? It torments me. Can we financially afford this? Then there's the fact that this little beautiful being growing inside me is dependent on me every second of every day no matter my stress level, sadness or anger, or anxiety from the overwhelming amount placed on my plate right now. He/she deserves my best too. More often than not I feel like I am failing everyone.

I wonder how far the stick will bend before it breaks. A friend, after having her first baby, once asked me how I did it with twins. My honest answer was 5 minutes at a time. And it was true, sometimes looking at the whole day was too much, so what needed to be done in the next five minutes was as far as I could look. It's how I survived the first nine months caring for newborn twins. I'm down to 30 seconds at a time at this point. The big picture is just too much to process.

Then I feel this little person flutter around and I can't help but be in love already. I imagine life with him in our family and all the reasons this is not the perfect timing melt away. But maybe the timing is perfect. Maybe I needed him to be strong in the face of loss; for myself, and for my kids who have become accustomed to having Mimi and Papa around all the time, for my husband who has gone so far out of his comfort zone in opening his home at the same time as jumping head first into his own business. I cannot fall apart now. This fourth miracle is here exactly when it was his time to be. It's time I say enough guilt for feeling anything but joy, enough of the guilt for adding to the world population crisis, enough guilt for not planning this. Why is this miracle something to shudder at when his life, regardless of his placement in the family lineage, is just as amazing as any other one is? My doctor first asked, unplanned? Uh, yea was my answer. But accepted? she added. Absolutely Doc, more than accepted -- embraced. 


All these reasons to judge and you see I've already done it to myself. Next time you hear news that doesn't align with your beliefs, or path in life, or desires; try to push it down, smile and say 'how wonderful.' Because your "honest" opinion, and inability to see a life worth celebrating in its own right; is not wanted, necessary, or healthy. And despite the many reasons to gasp in horror and say, "Four, You are so brave!” there are just as many reasons to rejoice. So choose joy.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Endometriosis

When I think about how long I have endured the pain, emotional struggle, fear, and mental fatigue of chronic pain I can hardly believe I am still encountering narrow minded physicians. After 20+ years living with endometriosis, I can safely say I am an expert on MY experience. I know what works and what doesn't, I know what it feels like because it's always the same. I find it so disheartening that I am still defending this disease and my journey to trained professionals, some of which "specialize" in Endometriosis.

I consider myself a success story. I am blessed with 3 children, the pain while chronic and severe at times does not land me in the hospital on a morphine drip every time I have a period. I have gone long stints without any pain. I can push through the pain and am highly functional. But please don't mistake my ability to keep moving with not being in extreme pain at times. I learned that life keeps moving regardless of the pain and if I wanted to be a part of it, push it down and keep moving. I had the support of my parents who fought for answers and found me amazing doctors that have listened to my story without comparison or judgement; but with empathy and compassion. 

Why at 35 years old, within one of the best hospital systems in the country, can I not find a doctor that gets it? The response I would get 20 years ago before I found my team at MSU was that of disbelief in the "real" pain. I've been told countless times through the years (as I have moved often and had to go on the hunt again and again for decent doctors) that it was "all in my head", "just suck it up", and even  "it can't be that bad". Haven't we progressed with understanding of such a disease by now? Apparently not. 

This is probably going to be a bit too much information for some of you, but if it helps one woman out there or inspires one parent to listen a little closer to their daughter's complaints than it is worth sharing something so deeply personal.

 It started again a few months ago, the same thumb press to the lower spine, lasting a couple days; last month the pain lasting about a week. This month it's been 13 days and counting. It feels more like a wooden rod pressed firmly on my spine now, my ovaries feel as if someone is squeezing them right to the edge of popping, my hips feel as though someone is ripping them from the sockets, and the whole length of my back is stiff and tight and sore. The worst right now are my hips, this is how they felt when I was nine months pregnant, horrible. It's subsiding, finally, but if it follows the pattern in the near future I will be in pain every day whether I have a period or not. Never have I been told, until today, that I didn't "appear" to really be that affected by it and the fact that I have long periods of relief from such a debilitating disease that he's "not even sure I have endometriosis, and would like to see my records." This is the first thing said to me, in his office, prior to any exam. He then went on to compare me to countless patients that are in "real" pain, describing mine as "discomfort". He stated if this even was endo; that painful cases have to have surgery every 2 years and since I've gone far beyond that, well I was not on the same level as them. Never mind that over the last 7 years, I went through infertility treatments, 2 pregnancies and breastfeeding all of which can suppress the disease much like the birth control. This all was irrelevant to him. And he wonders why the tears began to fall. I have been dealing with this type of ignorant, judgmental patient care far too many times and I know I can't be alone. It is time to share my story. 

At 14 I started having pain in my lower back. It started out feeling like a thumb pressing into a spot right above my tailbone. It was uncomfortable and really never went away. Over time the thumb pressing escalated to the feeling of a knife stuck in my lower back. Intense sheering pain, every day. I remember being a sophomore in Senior Robinson's Spanish class and standing in the back of the room because it was too painful to sit. At first we didn't connect it to my period because I didn't have "typical" symptoms. Cramping was minimal and really my only symptom was severe chronic lower back pain.My parents fought for answers. I saw orthopedic surgeons, countless other specialists, MRI's, x-rays, at one point I remember missing an entire week of school because of 9 different doctor appointments. I was offered cortisone shots and told that I could have a stress fracture in my spine and might have to stop dancing, what?!!?! I was devasted at the thought. Finally, a radiologist noticed a large mass on my ovary and brought this to the attention of my OB-GYN. She recommended laporoscopic surgery immediately and I was told I could wake up with a tiny scar under my belly button or an 8" incision across my midsection. If it was cancer they would take it all out. I remember not even computing what that really meant at 15, and only caring that the pain stopped and I didn't have to stop dancing. I'm sure my parents were freaking out, but they remained steadfast and strong. My poor dad over the years has become desensitized to anything squeamish in relation to "period talk" and he is still one of the first people I turn to on the subject. Thankfully I awoke to 3 tiny incisions and my girl parts in tact. I had a collapsed cyst on one ovary and what that tech thought was a large mass was in actuality both ovaries overlapping. Woot! No cancer! What they did find was Endometriosis and a lot of it. On the back of my bladder, my ovaries covered in scar tissue and more. No wonder it felt like a knife was in my back, the spots were literally compressing my nerves at the base of my spine.  It was a relief to know that the pain was gone and that I could continue on pursuing my dream. I was told it could come back and that my chances of having children were slim to none. If I wanted to try, my best shot was before I was 30 and only by IVF.  I went on continuous birth control and suppressed my period, having it every 6-8 weeks. The surgery cleaned me up and I put this chapter of my life behind me. I had no real comprehension of the struggle that lay ahead of me. I dealt with the possibility of not having children as a child, pushed it down and kept moving forward. 

I woke up in my apartment in NYC at the age of 20, and tears immediately streamed down my face. My parents were at a sewing convention in Chicago and I had them paged (this was before everyone had cell phones -- wow that makes me sound old). The pain was back. I hadn't felt it in years, yet I knew in a second what it was. We found a doctor in NYC through my roommate and got an appointment. My "system" of delaying my period wasn't working any more and the pain was becoming chronic. I would curl in a ball when I wasn't dancing or in class, lay on my heating pad, and dose myself with Vicodin. Afterwards I would not touch the stuff again. I learned at an early age the seriousness of prescription drug abuse and I was determined to not let that happen to me. As this was not a solution, she wanted me to try this revolutionary medicine that was supposed to work without surgery. She prescribed Depot Lupron that had to be administered as a shot. What it did was put me, at 20 years old, through an intense and immediate state of menopause, hot flashes and all. My mom would send me "going through menopause together" cards to keep some humor to the situation, but it was a dark period in my life. I had extreme weight loss, which doesn't sound bad except I was already very thin from dancing 8-10 hours a day so I looked emaciated. I was depressed and the hot flashes would be so intense my dance director would comment as we were standing at the barre. She advised me not to share what was going on with my fellow dancers, as she didn't think they would understand what I was going through. Worst advise ever. Not only did I feel completely alone, crazy mood swings, far away from my family and support system; but my erratic behavior and extreme weight loss caused many to speculate and I had to fight rumors and whispers of drug use as the cause. The only good thing about the experience was that the pain was gone for 6 months. I even took a shot overseas while I was studying abroad and found a doctor to administer the final dose. A month to the day later I got my period and it was worse than before. It affected my ability to dance, and thus my ability to function in college. That was September 1999, and my parents called up my doctor at MSU and without hesitation set me up for another laparoscopy. I had a break in January and so I pushed through til then, not wanting to interrupt my semester.

Over the years, I began to feel I was damaged goods. That I may never find a partner to stand by my side and go through so much; with the possibility of being childless. I accepted that adoption may be my only chance at being a mother and often fantasized of adopting a child in my (late) 30's, dancing on Broadway, no man needed. I became reckless and put a wall up sky high. I didn't let anyone in, and when I started caring for someone a switch would go off and I would destroy whatever relationship I built.

Surgery Number 2 was a success and seeing as the protocol of continuous birth control worked before, we did the same. If I needed medication he trusted me and gave me what I needed, over the phone. Even being so far away from my doctor I knew I had his respect, kindness, and empathy. I was 27 when the pain became too much to function normally again. I had just started dating my now husband when I was scheduled for a 3rd surgery. He came with me even though we had only been dating a few months; he sat in with my parents after surgery to hear what they found. The doctor showed him pictures of my ovaries and the endo spots. I was knocked out at the time otherwise I would have spared him that. When that didn't scare him off, I knew he was a keeper. He took it in stride and stood by me through the recovery and every moment since.

Once we were serious about our future and starting a family I knew I needed to find a doctor in Chicago who could guide me into fertility treatments even though we were not ready yet. When I moved to Chicago from New York I went through several of the type I described above before I found my next great doctor. My first appointment with him lasted over 2 hours. He wanted to hear it all, from the beginning to fully understand my journey through this disease. Such a change from what I had become accustomed to and without another thought I knew he was our guy. I was getting close to my ticking time bomb of 30 given to me at 15 and I didn't realize until then how much I wanted a child of my own. My fertility trials will have to be another post but needless to say he was there for me much like my doctors in Michigan. It was such a relief to know that I had an ally once again.

At 29 we went through several bouts of fertility treatments before we rested on IVF. Much to our delight we were pregnant, with twins! I will never forget that moment of running into our garage and leaping into Christian's arms. One of the happiest moments of my life. Since then we were blessed with another beautiful girl and I have had minimal pain. I am so lucky. I know so many women that have not had the success of pain management that is crucial with this disease or been able to have children because of it. If it hadn't been for my parents tenacity to find answers, or the doctors I was lucky enough to find; who gave me care without judgement, treatment without condescension, and support with compassion; I know my story would be very different.

At 35, my pain is back. So in response I began looking for another doctor that could guide me in Cleveland and help me get to 40 without a total hysterectomy or at the very least help me transition into that realm if necessary, I did not find that in this guy. Many doctors don't want us, as endo patients require time and care, other doctors have blinders on. As frustrating as it is to come across people like this, I know that for as many of these types that exist, there are many that understand the struggle. I will keep searching for my next great physician.

My take away is this, not much has changed in the last 20 years. You know your child, if something's not right; fight until you get answers. Trust their feelings and please be their advocate. And for the women out there who have been told the things I have been and worse, I'm sorry. The emotional, mental, and physical demands of this disease are difficult enough without an arrogant, judgmental, condescending doctor perpetuating a close-minded belief. Keep searching for the diamond in the rough... they are out there and you need an ally.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Thank You My Mama!

As a newer mom and with 3 kids under the age of 5, I am constantly bombarded with thoughts of my mother and things that often don't get clarity until you experience them yourselves. A list of a few thank you's to you, my mama.

1. Thank you for always believing in me. I see first hand how not having supportive parents can damage a person. I have always believed if I work hard, I can do or be anything I want. Even through my bitter phase and rediscovering my passions; the hope that when I did decide on the next career move I could do it was always there because of you. Now that I have a goal I don't hesitate to believe in our vision. That is because of you and dad. Realities are there and the risk may be great but that never stopped you from believing in me and it won't stop me from believing in my family, their talent, and dreams.

2. Thank you for the 3 day rule, no more than 3 days between phone calls. When I left at 18 to go live my dream in NYC you created this rule. How hard this must have been for you. When I inevitably got caught up in my life and forgot to call, it must have been torture to wait 3 days before calling and saying "Hey! Did you forget our rule?!?!!?" You must have not only missed me but I'm sure there was a level of I need to know you are ok in that big bad city. How you must have worried constantly for my safety. I am also thankful because it kept me grounded and connected to you and even with the distance we remained close. Our friendship built a foundation for the adult version of me to be even closer to you. And thank you for listening to the endless drama of a young person, with interest and clarity. I also always loved when the three of us would chat, like it was second nature to be on the phone with 2 other people, but it always flowed so easily. I miss those conversations but am thankful you are still on the other end listening.

3. I remember one time (I'm sure there were more but not many) that you let your frustration show. I was about 7 or 8 years old and we were up at Camp Grayling visiting dad and Ted at boot camp. On a potty break, I insisted on going in the tiny stall with you. You called me obnoxious, and I remember being taken aback by it. Mainly because you never said things like this to me and at the time I remember feeling ashamed that I did something wrong. In the next moment though we went about the trip and never spoke of it again. You also were the same mom before you said it as afterwards. What it taught me is that your love is unconditional. That you can be frustrated or annoyed and a minute later back to happy. Moods will change, but love never will. There must be some karma to it because I don't think I've used the restroom alone in 4 years, and it can be frustrating. I get it, I'm sorry :) I don't know how you kept your cool so much of the time, thank you.

4. If I've never said so before thank you for making me a priority in your life and showing me what kind of mother I want to be.

5. Thank you for committing to being  my chauffeur all those years and following my dance studio as it bounced around sometimes driving 45 minutes each way. You showed me that dedication is worth the sacrifices it takes to accomplish a dream.

6. Thank you for making me balance your check book. It used to be so upsetting to me because I knew full force what my dancing career was costing you. But it also made me grateful and realize what it took to pursue a passion. I know you didn't do it to make me feel bad, you did it to teach me about money, how to manage it and the value of a budget. I got it and still love doing the books.

7. Thank you for making me clothes and dresses and costumes. I always felt like a princess in your pieces and so incredibly lucky to have such a talented mother. Thank you for all the beautiful things you have made my children. I feel your love in the things you have made and I know that they do too.

8. Thank you for dancing in the Nutcracker with me. I loved being on stage with you and backstage and rehearsals. Some of my favorite childhood memories you were apart of. Plus a shout out to dad for never missing a performance. I think he set the record for number of volunteer ushering hours he put in :)

9. Thank you for being strong enough to let me get in that cab at 18 in NYC and drive away from you and dad for the first time. I looked back through the rear window and saw you in dad's arms. It must have been one of the hardest moments of your life and as excited as I was to start my adventure in the big apple, part of me never wanted to leave you side. I was strong enough to go because you were strong enough to let me.

10. Thank you crying every time you left New York or I left Michigan. It reminded me that I was out there for a purpose. You and dad were my backbone and my strength; to stay as grounded and as focused as I could be. I also learned that strength and tears are not so far apart. You can be strong and still show sadness. I also never doubted how much I was loved.

11. Thank you for carrying me for over 10 months and raising me. You still worry about us first, putting yourself last every time.

12. You cared about nutrition, and sugar intake, and healthy habits before they were trendy. I just wished I would have embraced it more when I was younger.

13. Thank you for never giving me the answers, but gently pointing out all the paths in front of me. Always allowing me to determine the correct road to take. You are my beacon of light and I am a stronger woman because you are my mother.

14. Thank you for not losing your mind hearing Mama!!! 15 times before I would find you in the house every time I needed something; big or small, or just needed to know where you were. As a mama myself now I see how incredibly irritating that is and I scream in my head (and sometimes not in my head) to make it stop.I am not as good as you, but I hope to be someday. 

15. Thank you for showing me what strength really is. You have fought this disease as a warrior and I will forever be in awe of you. 

16. You wake every day and struggle to accomplish daily tasks that so many take for granted. No matter what is taken from you, you face it head on and as scary as it is you are still protecting all of us before worrying about yourself.  You are a caregiver by nature and it is a beautiful part of you.Through it all, you have remained positive and determined to fight. It must be strange to be the one who needs the care, but it's ok. It's our turn. And it's ok to focus on you now, and do what's right for you. We will support and rally around you like you have done for each of us time and again. You are not alone.

17. You are never short of a smile, a wink, a kiss, a hug, and an I love you everyday. It truly is enough. I feel all of your love in those tiny expressions. 

18. I am so blessed to be your daughter and have such an amazing role model that I continue to learn from everyday. You are never far from my thoughts, I am constantly asking myself What Would My Mama Do? And I have a feeling I will be asking myself that for a long time to come. Somehow even in a thought you can ground me and guide me in the right direction. 

I love you My Mama. Thank you for all this and so much more I don't have words for.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Today Was a Good Day and GF Banana Ginger Breakfast Brownies

Well the weekend really, was good. It started with my favorite yoga class Saturday morning, that is more like a therapy workout session than just a typical hour at the gym. I joked with a friend before, that "it's therapy but without words", and although this most certainly was a drunken epiphany, I was also speaking the truth. I walked in feeling stressed, stiff, and my mind a bit frazzled. Somehow that hour I can spend on just me completely changes how I see the world. My strength startles me and I am becoming more aware than ever of my poses and openness in them. My husband brought the kids to Kid's Kove (ah-mazing) about a half hour into class and then we met in the hot tub at the rec center. Our Saturday mini date has become a highlight of my week and I love that we are making time just for the two of us. Later in the day we were back at the pool but for a friend's (Yay!! We have friends in Ohio!!!) birthday party, while daddy and Syd (our 15 month old) got some special time together. My son, Frankie, is a bit timid in the water. If his feet can touch he's generally ok but he's hesitant to try anything new. His twin, Veronica, LOVES the water but feeds off of Frankie's timidness. I don't know if it's a twin thing, but these two seem to totally mirror each others emotions. So it was nice that their friends were already hopping thru the lazy river and shouting "come on!!!" to them. They jumped in and were off!! Let me tell you how wonderful it was to not have to get my swim suit on and have two babies clenching and climbing on me; which has been the case when I am on my own with them at the pool, NOT fun. Whining instead of jumping, splashing, and laughing like the other kids their age were doing; all the while their lucky mothers sat on the side of the pool cheering them on. Oh how I longed to be that mom. After 4 and half years and some much needed friends, Hooray!, the moment has arrived!! And nothing felt sweeter and made my heart jump for joy more than watching them take that leap and have fun, on their own!! Hallelujah! 



Came home to a cozy fire crackling, and played board games and laughed with these two awesome kids. I love my family. So much. Spoke to my parents and shared an unexpected and comical moment with my mama and went to bed with a smile on my face. Sunday came along and I made a new soup that turned out delicious; chicken sausage, kale, and lentil soup ~ so so yummy! I also finally found some coconut flour that was reasonably priced to try out a few new recipes. I found this recipe, but I tweaked it a bit. Even my pickiest eater was scarfing these! Definitely a new morning staple around here, especially school days.

Gluten Free Banana Ginger Breakfast Brownies

Ingredients:

  • 2 large or 3 small very ripe bananas
  • 1 cup coconut flour
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil, liquefied
  • 1/3 cup 100% real maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup Enjoy Life Mini Chips (dairy, nut & soy free plus non gmo certified)
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. Molasses
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

Instructions:

  • Preheat the oven to 335 degrees. Line a 9x11 baking dish with parchment paper.
  • In a VitaMix or food processor, blend together everything except the baking soda and vinegar. Blend until smooth. Add the baking soda and vinegar, blend quickly and pour into the prepared dish.
  • Bake for about 35-45 minutes - until a toothpick comes out clean.

A lot of times, my adventures in new recipes ends in disaster, but every once in a while I get on a roll and it feels great. Got our green drink made for the week and peanut butter. Then my husband did the most amazing thing. He took the kids and went. I was able to focus on getting the office in order and start the ever daunting task of gathering information for taxes. Not fun but so much faster and easier without hearing the word mama every five seconds. We then tested a new recipe for shrimp tacos and homemade fresh tomatillo salsa that I am craving now just thinking about it. All the while enjoying a Moscow Mule in our new copper cups.

This could be the best weekend I have had in a LONG time. And I just don't want to forget it. The next time I am frustrated and my patience level is at zero, maybe rereading this will remind myself that this too shall pass and a great moment is just around the corner. I think the start of this new year has brought an essence of peace to my soul that I didn't realize was lacking. I have honestly never lived in the moment as I am now and embracing the joy that I am so blessed to be surrounded by.

I will leave you now with my favorite overheard Twinning Conversation of the night.

Franklin: "Say Leaf Cup Ron"
Veronica: (whispering) "leaf cup"
Franklin: Louder
Veronica: (in normal voice) "Leaf Cup"
Franklin: LOUDER
Veronica: (screaming) "LEAF CUP"
Franklin: "Awe, that's my girl."