Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Much-Anticipated Disney Post!

It's been a few months, but I still wanted to share about the incredibly wonderful Disney vacation Ross and I enjoyed in October.  I posted all the pictures on Facebook, but several of my friends and family just aren't into that.  So, I'm adding some of them here.  It's hard to capture in words and pictures how awesome it was, but I'll try!

Ross and I hadn't been on a bona-fide vacation since our honeymoon to Texas in 2010.  We'd had a few weekend getaways, but nothing that was really spectacular.  After having a few very emotional months (both my mother and his grandmother passed away in 2013) we really wanted to do something special for ourselves last year.  So, we planned to head to Disney during the week of Ross's birthday.  He'd been there before, but I never had.  As the date of our departure approached, I turned into one of those little kids in the commercials I grew up with.  "I CAN'T SLEEP!"  We took the advice of several friends and carefully planned out our meals in advance, but were willing to "play it by ear" for most everything else.  I just wanted to explore the Happiest Place on Earth!

The weather was beautiful.  Other than a few sprinkles that Tuesday morning, we experienced pleasantly hot temperatures, usually in the mid-eighties or above.  (What a shock when we came back home to 40 degrees and cloudy skies!)

Birthday boy!
From the moment we boarded the bus - er, Magical Express - to head to the park, I could hardly believe I was there.  It's true - the staff at Disney is wonderfully welcoming, kind, and friendly.  Nearly every employee acknowledged Ross's "birthday boy" pin and was sure to wish him a special day.  We stayed at the charmingly kitschy Pop Century Resort, which was decorated with cutouts and loads of memorabilia from the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's.  (We stayed in the 80's portion of the complex, like, totally.) 

Geek gathering grounds...

I'm the short one, in case you can't tell.
Our first stop was Hollywood Studios, where we saw the Muppets in 3-D, Ross created his own Star Wars-inspired droid, and I hopped on a speeder bike.  Thanks to my college friend Dave, who works pyrotechnics for the parks, we got front-row seating at the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular - and I ended up onstage as a volunteer!  That was very, very cool.  Ross's birthday meal was enjoyed at the supremely geeky Sci-Fi Diner, in which patrons are seated inside convertible cars facing a movie screen, drive-in style.  Clips from tacky, B-movies are shown, as well as advertisements from the 50's and 60's.  The meal was incredible.  I can say that about every scrap of food we ate in the parks!  Even the "fast food" was pretty special.  I ordered the salmon sandwich, which happened to be pretty much the size of my head, and Ross got a burger and the most delicious caramel apple pie milkshake I could ever imagine.  Plus dessert!  We were so full from that meal that we decided we'd probably be splitting our meals for the rest of the trip.  The meal plan is set up for you to do that, if you wish, and we figured it would be better to risk feeling a little hungry rather than being unable to move after eating!  (We certainly never went hungry, by the way!)

Nope. No Time Lords here...

Nothing like a man in a vest...
The next day, we headed to Epcot.  Ross achieved the rank of Junior Ranger when we visited Canada, and I fangirled all over myself when we saw that almost half of the gift shop in England consisted of Doctor Who merchandise.  We really enjoyed the street performers in France and Italy - mimes and musicians who were certainly more imaginative than what we Americans often assume!

LJS will never live up to this.

Reppin' the T.A.R.D.I.S.

Dave, Katie and their cute little girls!
When we had originally booked our reservations, we didn't realize that the International Food & Wine Festival was slated to occur when we were there.  I hadn't thought much of it, since Ross and I aren't big drinkers, but the more I read about it, the more interested I got.  Authentically-prepared traditional dishes from all over the world were being served in temporary booths, along with the regional foods offered in the permanent displays.  Over the course of the week, we tried fish 'n' chips and pale ale in a London pub, garlicky escargot and creamy-smooth caramel gelato in France, tempura and sushi in Japan, filet mignon with truffle sauce in Canada, kimchi dogs in Korea, mint tea and lamb shanks in Morocco, plus lots of other great food in the more traditionally American restaurants.  I would have to say that Epcot was my favorite place, since I love learning about history, other cultures, and - yep - ethnic foods.  We ended up there on three out of the five days we were in Disney!  The fireworks display on the lake, "Illuminations of Earth", was moving and very beautiful.  We ended up seeing that twice, as well; once on our own and once with Dave's lovely family.


She-Ra, eat your heart out.
On day three, we finally set off for the Magic Kingdom.  When you're surrounded by castles and fairy tale characters, it's easy to feel like a little kid, wanting nothing more than to put on your own crown and pretend to be a princess.  Which, as you can see in the picture, I did, of course.  Getting to meet one of my favorite princesses, Ariel, was a real treat.  We talked hair - what a surprise!  Something else that was very special, though, was that our newlywed friends Colleen and Adam, whose wedding we had to miss due to our vacation, were spending that day in Disney, and we were able to join them for lunch!  Talk about magical!  We decided on the relatively new "Be Our Guest" restaurant.  With its Beauty and the Beast themed d├ęcor and food, it was perfect for the French-speaking Colleen and myself.  And the boys?  They just wanted the roast beef sandwiches.  (Which, naturally, were fantastic.) 

He wears a fez now. 
Fezzes are cool.

Days for and five saw our return to Epcot, after a quick stop back at Hollywood Studios to ride the Toy Story arcade game (Ross kicked my butt when it came to high scores).  In Epcot, I was encouraged by the skywriting (see below) we saw over the park, though I know some people were probably irritated or offended.  I thought it was cool.  We finished our rounds at the Food & Wine Festival and met up with yet another old buddy - my former Starbucks co-worker, Jen! 

Unexpected and neat.  :-)

When we finally had to pack up our bags and say "bye-bye" to that famous mouse, I admit, I was ready to go home, but already thinking about returning to the park with our future children.  I was so impressed at how kid-friendly the park really is, with bathrooms on every corner, stroller "parking lots" and lots of kid-approved food that isn't all junk.  We'd like to come back when our kids are over three - which is great, because it will take us that long to save up again! 

So, not the next King of England. 
No biggie.   Still the king of my heart!
All in all, we had a real blast.  It was so much fun being there as a couple because our decisions were our own - not based on who had to potty, who was thirsty, and who wanted to see Princess Aurora RIGHT NOW.  We'll have that adventure a few years down the road.

In conclusion, here are my tips for folks who are considering a trip to Disney anytime soon. I'm certainly no travel guru, but I learned a few things that week!

1. Take advantage of the meal plan.  The portions are large; you can split meals with family.  If you're not hungry, you can "save" meals to eat later, or grab "to-go" food instead of eating at sit-down restaurants.  That being said, if there's a place you'd really like to try, book your dining reservation in advance!  We're talking like 3 months in advance. No joke; when we tried to make changes a few weeks before our trip, there were no reservations available in the entire park!

2. Wear comfortable shoes.  That seems like a no-brainer, but I brought shoes that I thought were comfortable, only to learn that they weren't really appropriate for 12 hours of walking in the hot sun.

3. Pick a time of year that the park will be less crowded.  According to our inside man, Dave, the park is practically devoid of life from the week after Thanksgiving until right before Christmas.  Our October visit was pretty nice, too.

4. Let the park employees take your picture!  Yes, it's expensive, but you don't have to buy any shots you don't like, plus your whole group actually gets to be in them, rather than taking awkward selfies in front of Cinderella's castle (trust me, they won't work very well).

Hulk SMASH the
5. Do stop at Downtown Disney - without the kids.  It's more of an adult-friendly shopping area.  But if the kids can drop them off at the gigantic Lego store that is there.  That's where Ross and I spent most of our time, since we're pretty much 30-something children anyway.  It's where I met my new boyfriend.  He's big and green.

6. Take advantage of Magic Bands (they serve as room keys, identification, tokens, and allow purchases to be made) and Fast Passes.  I can't stress this enough!  Ross and I joked that the seemingly limitless capabilities of the Magic Bands made them Disney's version of the Mark of the Beast, but they were extremely helpful in navigating the parks and allowed us to focus on fun, not where our key cards had been left, or where our credit cards were.  Fast Passes allow quick access to certain rides during certain times.  Consider getting the MyDisneyExperience app for your phone as well, which allows you to make and cancel reservations, gives to real-time wait times in all the parks, lets you know about special events, and allows you to book up to three Fast Passes per guest per day in advance.  It also serves as GPS when you're within the park.

6. There's no shame in dressing like your favorite character.  No matter how old you are!

Sometimes, vacation selfies are okay.

(Please note that all photographs published in this post are the sole property of the author.  You may share the link to the page but you may NOT REPOST any individual pictures without permission.  Thank you for your consideration.)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

This Is 17 Weeks

Today’s topic: pregnancy woes - and wows.

Other than the terrifying bleeding brought on by my subchorionic hematoma, I’ve had a fairly uneventful pregnancy.  Nausea during the first trimester was pretty minimal.  I never threw up, although there were a few smells that made me a little sick.  Shockingly, coffee was (and still is) one of them!  Ultimately this was probably a blessing since I’ve had to be pretty careful with my caffeine intake, but I never, ever thought there would be a day when a co-worker’s  innocent cup of Folger’s sitting next to me would cause me to heave and cast evil glances her way.  “Don’t worry,” my friend Jaime insists, “That java-love will return to you eventually.”  She would know – she’s working on kid number #4 right now; she’s due a few months before me and she’s pretty much a professional pregnant lady.

Like many women, I got the dreaded “baby bloat” within a few weeks of learning we were expecting.  Of course, that’s too soon for maternity clothes, so I turned to my heroic standby gear: tunics and leggings.  It doesn’t look like I’ll have to alter my personal style too much during the next five months, as many of my dresses and tops are either stretchy or flowy anyway.  I’ll sort of end up retro-gypsy-chic these next several weeks, I guess.  Whatevs.  I keep poking at my belly, waiting for it to fully “bloom”.  I’ve always had some extra weight on my tummy, so I’m anxious for it to turn into a “real” bump” that doesn’t go away when I suck it in.  (Chubby-ish mamas - you feel me, I know this.)

This past Monday was possibly my first experience of heartburn in my life.  I was on the late shift at work and enjoyed a great morning, writing and relaxing.  When I sat down in the office, there was suddenly a dull achy pain under my sternum.  I wondered if it was related to my asthma – I hadn’t had chest pain in years, but with a tiny human squirming around inside me, who knew what could change?  Then I thought – ah, probably gas.  (I won’t be discussing that topic in too much detail; I’m still mostly a lady and there’s no reason to expound on that.)  Finally I asked one of my co-workers what heartburn felt like and we figured out that’s what it was.  Thanks, little baby.  Ironically, it would have been my mom’s 59th birthday, and she told me that she had heartburn every single day she was pregnant with me.  Hmm…maybe a loving little reminder from her on that very special day?

I’m grateful that I have a lot of friends who have had kids already.  Not just because I know I’ll be getting loads of awesome hand-me-downs (thereby saving us tons of money), but also because they’ve gone through this.  They’ve given birth, they’ve been in recovery.  They’ve tried to breastfeed; some have failed, others succeeded.  Very few books I’ve encountered have been totally honest about this process.  Or, they are so blatantly honest that they’re vulgar and they make you wish you had never even had sex to begin with.  My friends have been a perfect balance between the two. What to Expect When You’re Expecting has been my go-to book but, actually, it doesn’t really impress me.  Especially in the area of my hematoma.  Medically, it happens to about 10% of women, but it’s never once mentioned in the 300+ pages.  Really?  I also decided to go cold turkey when it came to the internet and chat rooms this time around.  I never got a lot of reassurance from them; instead, reading about all the things that could possibly go wrong made me sicker.  Plus, let’s be honest.  I’ve lost three pregnancies.  I don’t want to play the comparison game, but there’s not a whole lot worse than that, relatively speaking.  I’m not trivializing stillbirth or any other type of terrible trauma – not by any means.  I’m just saying that, at 8 weeks, the worst thing I could imagine was losing the baby, and it happened.  So, yeah, I don’t do chatrooms.  I do have an app on my phone that tells me what fruit my baby is, and gives generic pregnancy tips, which is cool.  But that’s about it. 

We’re a sweet potato this week, if you were wondering.

Now, as for the gender – yes, we do plan to find out.  We’re scheduled for our anatomical sonogram in just over three weeks.  We have happily settled on a name for a little girl, but are still toying with boys’ names.  I will be honest, I’m 99% sure it’s a girl.  Motherly intuition tells me this, plus I admit I peeked at all the goofy old wives’ tales, and, surprisingly, every one of them has turned up “girl”.  Most of my friends think it’s a girl.  (A few, including Ross, are holding out for a boy.)  Of course we would be thrilled with a baby of either sex.  Regardless of gender, this child will be raised by lots of proud geeks.  Our first purchase for the child will very likely be the bib that reads, ‘These fools put my cape on backwards.’

Can’t wait.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Christmas Redeemed

Since I was a teenager, Christmas has been a difficult time for me.  My parents separated immediately after Christmas when I was 14 or 15.  Suddenly the holidays were split between Mom’s family and Dad’s.  Though my parents never “fought” over us, my sister and I were nevertheless shuttled between Bridgeville and Crafton, sometimes further, depending on who was in town that year. 
I lost my job at Starbucks a few days before Christmas is 2008.  My mom moved in the same week, and it was extremely difficult for both of us.
For many years, I cried at the sight of Christmas lights because they reminded me of the times before my parents separated – decorating the tree, listening to the Beach Boys’ Christmas album (which my dad later admitted he hated), and watching Mom make Christmas cookies (I wasn’t allowed to help, probably because I was so clumsy).  For years, I cried because I never had a date for Christmas.  I was lonely. Even as a fairly well-adjusted person, and a person with a strong faith, I had a hard time during the holidays.  I can see how someone who was struggling with depression or  a serious life change might have an even harder time.
The first Christmas I allowed myself to really enjoy was the one immediately before my wedding. Christmas 2009 saw my bridal shower, some weight loss, and a general sense of excitement and hope. I was going to be married two weeks later!  My first Christmas as a wife was rather disappointing, though, as Ross and I got our signals crossed about gift-giving and there was some miscommunication that I almost let ruin the whole day (fortunately we can laugh about it now).
The next two Christmases were marked by loss.  In August of 2011 and in May and September of 2012, we lost our babies – not to mention several friends of the family near the holidays, as well.  Christmas was hard.  Seeing images of that sweet little Baby in His mother’s arms, singing songs to the infant Savior, and passing by Nativity scenes showing the adoration of the Christ – it was all so very emotional.  Times like that, I was grateful for a small family.  I didn’t have dozens of cousins with babies of their own showing up at family parties.  Instead, I grew closer with my dad’s family – it’s just my Grandma, my aunt and uncle.  We live close together, and grieve together.
This year, we lost my mother in February and Ross’s grandmother in July – and then, a dear friend suffered a miscarriage just recently.  We admit, we’re getting to that age where people and things are beginning to pass away.  The knowledge that our friends have lost jobs, lost parents and grandparents and unborn babies, lost their faith…it doesn’t make things easier.  We’ve had a tough four years, Ross and I.  We can say, with all modesty, that we’re grateful we’ve stuck it out.  We know people have gotten divorced for far less than what we’ve gone through.  We are grateful to God, our church, and our family and friends who have been understanding and supportive through all of our trials.  They have helped us laugh, let us grieve, encouraged us to hope, and loved us faithfully.
This year, Christmas was different.
Christmas Eve marked the end of our first trimester.
Yes, we’re pregnant.  
And this baby is going to make it.
We found out on Halloween (what a treat, huh?), although I knew it about a week prior – in spite of a negative test. Since I’d switched OB-GYNs after my second miscarriage and received excellent, sympathetic and professional care with my third loss, I knew that I would be given a lot of attention this time around.  Earlier genetic testing and blood work had revealed that there was nothing “wrong” with either of us.  We prayed, waited, and wondered, and felt that it was best to try again this past fall.  My doc put me on progesterone even before we conceived, in order to help my body support a pregnancy.  It must have worked.  We’ve seen or heard the heartbeat four times now, and the baby is growing at a steady rate.  I’ve been praying over the baby regularly, and the verse that was quickened to me was John 10:10, “The enemy has come to steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come to that you may have life, and life abundant.”  These are the words of Jesus and have brought me great comfort.  Although we believe that our other children are in Heaven, they never got to experience the joy of getting to know Jesus – the journey of walking with Him, of turning from sin and choosing a life of love and hope.  This child will have that opportunity – not just for eternal life, like his or her siblings have already received, but for a fulfilling and joyful life with Christ on this earth.
Still, the “perfect pregnancy” I was hoping for, alas, is not a reality yet.  When I started to bleed around 7 weeks, I was rushed in for a ultrasound, but nothing was determined other than the baby was fine.  Two weeks later, I went back for a follow-up and we learned that I have a very common condition – a subchorionic hematoma.  That’s a super-fancy name for a bleed in the uterus.  It’s rarely a problem for the growing baby, but it can cause a lot of bleeding and inconvenient (ie., terrifying, especially for a woman who has lost three babies).  The problem with mine was that, at least at 9 weeks, it was the same size as the placental sac.  Fortunately, problems arise in only about 1% of pregnancies with hematoma.  In fact, a very recent study, done in October of 2013, revealed that the rate of miscarriage among women with hematoma was no higher than women without them, provided that a viable pregnancy had been established (ours has).  That was so encouraging, even though I bled nearly every day for almost six weeks.  Happily, a late December check-up revealed that the hematoma had dramatically shrunk in size and my bleeding had stopped.  Baby was growing! 
Please know that, although this is really thrilling and life-changing, it is so scary to share it with you.  Although I believe this is finally “it”, and we’ll get to hold this little one in our arms in this lifetime, there’s still a bit of doubt nibbling at me.  Why wouldn’t there be?  I have a strong faith and friends who encourage me, but what woman, after three losses, wouldn’t be terrified to tempt fate? I am fortunate that my friends – especially the older women at church – have spoken life over me, spoken God’s promises over me, and spoken words of hope and prophecy to me.  It helps so much to know that I’m not the only one who wants to meet this baby!  There are dozens of people praying daily, and for me, that is a great comfort and it gives me strength.  These aren’t people who are whimpering weakly before God, ‘Please let the baby live!’  These are people who understand their authority in Christ, and who boldly come before God and remind him of his promises – as he commanded.  People who have been speaking scriptures over me, who have confidence when I do not. 
I’m “going public” now, even though I am afraid, because I know that there are childless women who read my blog.  I know that there are women who still grieve over their losses who read it.  I know there are men who don’t know how to help their wives, sisters, and daughters, who are struggling to have children, who read it.  I want to encourage others.  I want to open up my heart and share my journey.  Those who know me well know that writing is healing for me. 
We specifically chose this day to reveal our big news because it would have been my mom’s 59th birthday.  We wanted to be able to remember today as a joyful day, when we got to share something special with our friends, rather than a day that “should have been”.  It’s the best way I can think of right now to honor her.
Thank you for coming on this journey with us.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Frozen (in Time)

Last week, Ross asked me to pick him up from work on his late night.  I had some time to kill before driving downtown, and I was feeling rather nostalgic, so I made the maybe-not-so-wise decision to drive past my old house in Crafton.  The house where I grew up.  I parked in the alley next to the house and looked into the streetlight-flooded backyard.  The fence that my mom repainted every third summer.   Three vehicles, including one well-worn utility truck, in the driveway.  The eagle-adorned mailbox still there on the porch.  The porch that saw decorations for every holiday of the year – Mom didn’t discriminate.  There wasn’t a lick of Irish blood in any of us, yet sparkly shamrocks and a cheerful green and white wreath still went up for St. Patrick’s Day.  One year, she made the ill-advised choice to put pink-and-blue Christmas lights up, just for a chance of pace, and the neighbors kept asking  if she was expecting another baby!  (She went back to traditional multi-colored lights after that.)
The house where, frustrated, I’d mouth nasty words and make mean faces at her behind her back, and somehow she knew and grounded me anyway.  Where she washed my sassy mouth out with cream-colored moisturizing Tone soap.  Where she cooked up breaded liver so delicious that you forgot you were eating an iron-packed organ.  Where she painstakingly stitched homemade Halloween costumes each year for my sister and me.  Where I coaxed our runt cat, Lucky, out of hiding in the backyard so that I could pet her, even though she was riddled with mange.  Where Mom let us carefully pick out Motown records she’d play on her huge, ancient, British-made hi-fi. Where I fell in love with that music.  Where as a toddler, I splashed, wearing my little red swimsuit, in a baby pool on the back porch.  Where I sat down, shocked and breathless, in the dining room after I learned that my paternal grandfather had finally succumbed to his emphysema.  Where our white cat, Sparky, blissfully sunned his ample belly in the driveway.  Where the peony bushes buckled under the weight of their own dessert plate-sized blooms.  Where Mom carefully put together delicious family meals, only to have her father wax poetic about all the restaurants he’d been to that utterly amazed him. 
Where my father told us he and my mom couldn’t be together anymore. 
Where my sister and I dressed our Barbies in elaborate costumes and didn’t play with them so much as stage them and demand that my mother take Polaroid photos of their tableaux.  Where I hid behind the porch swing so that I could eat the lemons out of my mother’s iced tea, despite her threats that it would ruin the enamel on my teeth.  Where we’d sing melodramatic showtunes at the top of our lungs, making sure all the parts in the quartets were covered, and we were almost never told to “keep it down.”  Where flatulence was a regular topic of discussion over dinner.  Where I told God I never wanted to get married or have children because I saw how sad my mom was.  Where our previously-abused calico cat, Callie, lay in wait just to scratch our ankles as we passed by.  Where, in spite of her terrible allergies, Mom never requested that the lilac bushes be cut down. Where Dad balanced precariously on scaffolding as he remodeled the house and the siding.  Where we realized I was allergic to walnuts after a terrifying episode of vomiting and dizziness during Sunday morning brunch.  Where we sat on the kitchen floor and watched after-school specials and cartoons, waiting for the (now indoor) cats to curl up in our laps. 
Where I first told my mom I hated her. 
Where I sobbed for hours over my wayward bangs, learning only later in life that such miraculous things as flat-irons existed.  Where I discovered a “hidden” wine cellar in the basement, filled with ancient books and rusty tools.  Where we dyed Easter eggs in briny-scented plastic cups, only to be disappointed that the colors were never as vivid as they were on the packaging.  Where we watched genuinely bad but entertaining Saturday morning cartoons that are still better than most of what kids watch today.  Where I endlessly discussed writing Indiana Jones and Star Wars fanfic with my best friend Christin, only to be reminded that we didn’t have call-waiting and I was going to have to get off the phone. Where I fought with my sister and was punished with the dreaded silent treatment from my mom.  Where we told her we’d accepted Jesus as out savior, and her reaction wasn’t what we’d expected.  Where I sang along with the radio, never dreaming of what Paula Abdul’s lyrics really meant.
I didn’t go there to mourn, really.  I just went to simply say good-bye.  Again.  But the tears were inevitable, rolling down my face under the cover of a dark alley, and I made her another promise.  Mom, I am going to be what you wanted me to be.  I don’t think you had dreams of be being rich or famous, but I know you wanted me to be happy, make others happy, and let myself express my opinions creatively. 
So I’m going to keep doing that.