Friday, January 29, 2016

"Better Than Before": summarizing and learning from the book: Pt. 1

I'm a big fan of Gretchen Rubin. I've read most of her books and have utilized them to create happiness in my life. Lately, I've noticed that I have a deep desire to great habits--not so much goals, although I do enjoy making and keeping goals. But really, deep down, I want to make habits that last a lifetime and lead to big changes over my lifetime. I bought the book sometime ago, but had a hard time reading it. I have learned that with certain types of info, I need to listen first and then read later. I almost all the way through the audio version and have had a lot of thoughts and realizations. I am now re-reading the book and working my way through the exercises.  (note, this series is not intended to ever replace the book--it is just a way for me to work through it so I can implement habits in my life. I recommend if you are serious about changing your habits, you should buy the book.)

In the note to the reader in the book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, the author, Gretchen Rubin states, "Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life...If we change our habits, we change our lives...But we each must cultivate the habits that work for us."

This really struck me because it is absolutely true. I have observed that my children do better when we have routine and schedules. We are healthier, happier, and nicer to one another when we have good habits.

Rubin suggests that you identify habits you would like to develop before you start with the book, so here is my list:

1) Exercise daily so I have energy and strength to get through my days. Also, I want to build muscle mass as I head into my 40's so that the latter half of my life is productive. This habit will also help me continue to sustain good health with my lupus.

2) Improve eating habits--especially reducing or eliminating consumption of sugar. This will also help me as I deal with lupus.

3) Implement a daily scripture study habit so that I will develop spiritual strength, great fortitude and faith, and be more in tune with the Spirit. I am also anxious to learn and grow in my gospel knowledge.

4) Develop a cleaning routine in my house that is sustainable so I don't spend all my time cleaning. I want to have a clean, orderly home. I am happier and function better when my home is orderly and clean. It doesn't have to be spotless, but functional.

5) Create daily. I find great joy in being creative in writing, music, and scrapbooking. It gives me a lift and I am a nicer person to be around. I often don't take the time I need to be creative. Or I am too tired to be creative.

6) Read daily from the classics. There are so many books I have wanted to read, but I often read fluff. I want to be inspired by powerful works that push me to think.


Friday, January 15, 2016

July 2015 Review

Oh July, how much I love you! I love the sun, the trees, and the magic of being outside to enjoy the fresh air. We have such beautiful property surrounding our home, that I continually feel joy and pleasure looking out my window and being outside. One of my favorite things is how we finally utilized our deck adequately. We have a nice shade with a good table underneath. We ate outside often for lunch and dinner--despite complaints from the peanut gallery.

Scout Camp

Brent,Walter, Trent,  and Josef attended camp in western New York the first week of July. I won't write much about it because they were all rather reticent about their experience other than enthusiastic comments about having fun. Walter was the Senior Patrol leader and kept extremely busy keeping the boys in the troop on track and on schedule. He acted like a true leader and I was proud of him.

Walter Gets a Job

Walter's hard work and diligence garnered recognition at the scout camp. He was approached by the staff and offered a position as a Counselor-in-training at the camp. Because he was underage (not quite 16), he worked on a stipend-which was extremely small. The experience was beneficial. Brent and I both agreed that it was a good opportunity for him. The week after scout camp, he worked hard at home to read 10 academic articles and reported on them in preparation for his Science Research class. Then we packed him up and he went off to camp. He worked most of the summer, working from Sunday evening to Saturday morning. We'd pick him up on Saturday morning and bring him home. After church on Sunday, he would return to the camp. In preparation for the experience, he got his first smartphone so he could contact us in an emergency. He did well at his job, working hard and diligently. They offered him a counselor position next summer. I don't think he'll take it because he has other obligations this summer.

Mama and Batch #2 Home Alone

The three younger children and I stayed home. I tried to make our time as engaging and fun as possible. We went to the beach, played outside, watched Inside Out at the Hyde Park Drive-in.

Independence Day

The boys returned home from camp on July 4th. They were quite exhausted. Both Walter and Trent collapsed on the couches and slept. I was anxious to do something fun that evening and convinced the rest of the family to go to the West Point 4th of July Celebration. The event was really fun with great music, the MoTab choir, and incredible fireworks.

Swimming Lessons

Brooke and Jonathan took swimming lessons this year. Brooke put her whole heart and soul into her lessons and really progressed. She has gone from a fearful, agitated swimmer, to a confident fish. Jonathan advanced a level, but spent half of the class fearful and cold. Finally the instructors coaxed him to really try. When he stopped worrying about being cold, he did really great.

Trent Turns 14

Trent had his birthday at the beginning of the month. He's a funny, quirky kid with a definite sense of what he wants. Sometimes he drives me crazy, but I am also extremely proud of him.

Driving to Wyoming

We had planned to go to Wyoming over the summer but had a tough time pinning down an exact date. Then Brent got really, really ridiculously sick. He got into a patch of poison ivy and had a horrific allergic reaction to it. His entire body was covered with a terrible rash that totally wore him out. Then he got hand, foot, and mouth disease. It was awful. We debated forever on whether or not we should go. We finally decided to go because the University of Wyoming asked him to present some work to them.

Driving across the country is a tough endeavor. We try to do it as fast as possible to maximize time with our family. The kids are good travelers, understanding that complaining is unproductive and unhelpful. 

University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyoming

I went to UW once when I was in Junior High. This was my first time on the campus, which didn't exactly impress me. While Brent presented some work he has done for a group of professors in the Science Department, I took the kids around the campus.

They have a small dinosaur museum that interested us. When my boys were little and we lived in Sweden, they had a movie called The Story of Big Al, about an almost intact allosaurus skeleton that was found in Wyoming. Using the findings of the paleontologists who studied the skeleton, they reconstructed Big Al's life. A replica of the skeleton is on the display at this tiny dinosaur museum on campus.

Baby Jack

My sister gave birth to our her fourth baby, a boy, the day we drove to Wyoming. Because Brent had been so sick, I ran to the hospital to see her. Otherwise the rest of us were going to stay out of the way so as not to get the kids or baby sick.

I was so happy to see my sister, but she had a really rough delivery. I also got to see my Mom and Dad. I can't even say how much I miss them on a daily basis. Getting to hug them and talk to them in person filled me with so much joy.

A Week With the Wacasers

Spending time with Brent's parents was a big treat. They are wonderful people who happen to have the most amazing son in the world. We enjoyed spending time around our hometown. The kids have favorite places to visit and it is important that we hit them all!

Josef's Birthday

Josef turned 12 at the end of the month. We had a wonderful celebrating his special day. We had a birthday party at the Wacaser's house. My parents came too because Trent and Josef were both going to be ordained to different offices of the priesthood.

My dad ordained Josef to be a Deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood. Brent ordained Trent to the office of Teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood. Kent talked briefly about how the Priesthood is an important vehicle to offer service. It was a really special experience.


The Story of a Miscarriage

I haven't thought about this story in a long time until I came across an ultrasound picture yesterday. I debated what to do about the picture. Part of me wanted to toss it, but another part urged me to hold onto it. I put it back in the box not knowing what to do with it. This morning while working on my Swedish practice, the thought came to me that I needed to write about this. In an effort to expand my creativity and my creative life, I recently committed to following the impulses and writing in the moment. For better or worse, here it is.

Five years ago, near the end of 2010, I was pregnant with a tiny little peanut. Life was full and happy with me. I had five healthy children. My husband's career was going well and we were preparing for an eventual move to Saudi Arabia. I had energy and strength and felt better than I had in years. Brent and I were constantly in delight at the new life I carried inside of me. Jonathan was still pretty young-barely a year old. I was delighted that he would have another sibling so soon, knowing how nice it is to have another playmate.

I felt really good. My lupus was under control and my thyroid was being managed carefully by my doctor. My husband was frequently gone, working in Saudi Arabia. His schedule was often tenuous. I never knew when he would call me and tell me had to leave the next day to work in Saudi Arabia. But I was there at home, a stable and steady presence in our home. We were good all around. The kids had finally settled into their school and were thriving. Brooke was in preschool and was finally potty-trained. She was happy and energetic. Jonathan was home with me and was seriously the most fun ever.

During the first trimester, after months of holding onto our precious secret, we told our children about the new sibling they would have that coming summer. They were delighted and Brooke began praying for a sister.

I started making appointments with all the necessary doctors. I lined up a visit with my ob/gyn and scheduled my appointment with endocrinologist. My first visit with my ob/gyn went great. He performed an ultrasound and we rejoiced at the tiny blob we saw on the screen. He gave me the necessary referral to the perinatologist and I went on my way. A couple days later, I called the perinatologist to set up my first appointment. They have a really busy office so it took some doing but I finally had an appointment. Two days later, the receptionist called me back and said she had made a mistake. She rescheduled my appointment for several weeks earlier so I would be seen during the first trimester.

When my appointment arrived, Brent was once again in Saudi Arabia. My friend was scheduled to pick up Brooke from preschool. Jonathan and I drove to the hospital. Because the office had squeezed my appointment in, we had to wait for several hours. I wasn't concerned though and spent the time reading. Jonathan played and was content. When my turn finally came, I got ready for the ultrasound. The technician squeezed the warmed jelly onto my belly and began to run the monitor over my swelling belly.

As she rubbed the monitor around, she got very quiet. Unable to find the thrumming beat of a heartbeat, she finally stopped and said she needed to get the doctor. I sat there, halfway in shock, not sure I really understood what was going on. The doctor quickly came into the room and pulled me into a deep, sympathetic hug. She explained that they were unable to find a heartbeat, meaning that our little tiny life had ended. I had no idea of what to say or to feel. I sat there with my 14-month old son--grateful for his presence but feeling totally bewildered.

I left the room and walked to my car, knowing I had several calls to make. First and foremost was wondering how I could reach my husband. Because of the time difference getting a hold of him during the day was difficult. We managed to talk in the early morning and late at night. I also had to make arrangements for help just in case he couldn't manage to get home in time to help. I also called my ob/gyn to get guidance on the next steps.

Making calls was difficult. It was really hard not to break down in tears while I explained what had happened and what I needed. People didn't know I was pregnant, so to have to explain my pregnancy and then subsequent loss was hard. I called my mom, my visiting teacher, and my doctor. My doctor scheduled a dnc at the hospital for the next Tuesday and told me what to do if I miscarried before the procedure.

These calls made, I finally arrived at my friend's house to pick up my daughter. I started crying as I walked into her house. She hugged me tightly as I blubbered. Brooke was happy to see me but confused at my tears. We drove home and I started calling Brent on skype. Fortunately, I was able to get him rather quickly. It broke my heart having to tell him the news over that medium. I asked him to come home right away. He started making arrangements.

That evening, I gathered our children around and explained what had happened. They were so sad. It was a genuine loss to them. I spent time composing emails to teachers to explain what was happening if the kids started acting out.

Life went on the next couple of days. I tried to get things cleaned and organized at home. I worked on laundry. Brent managed to get a flight home--many friends at work offered rides and help to him. He arrived home early on Saturday morning. I was so grateful to have his secure presence. Together, we spent the day working on laundry and spending time with the kids.

That evening I woke up to a popping feeling. Blood started to flow and I barely made it to the bathroom in time. The contractions started and I lost the fetus rather quickly. I could barely look at it, because I felt so sad. What I did see was a perfectly little formed tiny body that fit in the palm of one hand. The next four hours were rather horrible. I bled and contracted painfully for several hours. Brent coached me through the whole experience, comforting me, easing my pain as bed as he could. Finally, things slowed down and I was able to sleep.

We slept right through church, something we have never done. We simply had no energy to do anything else.

The next day I saw the doctor and he said I looked pretty bad. He did another ultrasound and said I still need to go to the hospital. I had lost a lot of blood and still had a lot of tissue remaining in my uterus. He told me it would take a long time to feel better because of the blood loss. He recommended a blood transfusion following the procedure at the hospital.

He had requested that we keep some tissue or bits from the fetus so they could send it to the lab for testing. We had a tiny jar with our little baby in it. Later, the results were inconclusive. My lupus definitely did not cause the miscarriage. Looking back, I regret doing that. I wish we had kept the little body and had a little burial to remember the life inside of me. It hurt me thinking of scalpels cutting into that tiny body.

On Tuesday, I went to the hospital to get my uterus cleaned out. I was grateful for the nurses. More than one nurse came into my little cubicle, squeezed my hand and expressed their sorrow for what had happened. It was seriously the kindest thing to hear their expressions of sympathy for me. They put me under and did the procedure. I spent the rest of the day in bed, getting two blood transfusions. I read Stephanie Plum books to keep my spirits up. It was just the medicine I needed to lighten the sadness I felt. Getting the blood transfusions helped tremendously. I felt so much better. I had energy, strength, and felt warm! That evening I returned home to my family. I spent the rest of the week resting and regaining my strength.

I could see so many miracles in the experience. I know it is strange to say that, but they happened, making me feel that God was very much with me during the experience. The first is that my ultrasound appointment was moved up several weeks. Without that knowledge I wouldn't have had time to get my husband home to help me. Secondly, my husband got home in time to help. I bled so much that there is absolutely no way I could have managed without him. I still shudder imagining what would have happened if my children had found me in the bathroom unconscious in a puddle of blood on the floor. I'm not exaggerating when I say that is what would have happened. I had lost enough blood that I almost passed out multiple times. Thirdly, I am grateful for the miracle of having friends who jumped to our rescue. Finally, I was blessed to get a blood transfusion.

A lot of people want to find a reason or meaning for things that happened. In this case, I never felt that urge. It just happened. I don't think it happened for any particular reason. In the time following the miscarriage, Brent was gone for most of the following year going back and forth to Saudi Arabia. We didn't try for another baby that next year because we had no idea when we would actually make our move. I knew, because of my health conditions, that it would be extremely unwise to give birth in Saudi Arabia. (That and my parents would have been really angry at me for having a baby there.) We spent a glorious 18 months in Saudi Arabia. At the end of our time there, we become pregnant. I almost lost our little Winter baby during that first trimester. Fortunately, both of us managed to hold on, and she was born at the end of January the following year.

I spent the entirety of my pregnancy with Winter trembling in fear that I would lose her. I worked very hard to not be anxious, but that always hovered in the back of my mind. I also felt anxious the first year of her life.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened in that other pregnancy had survived. I would have had a much older child than Winter. But then I can't remember dates anymore and I don't want to dwell on it. I don't think of the experience very often unless prompted. While sad, I don't feel heartbroken over the loss. Everything is OK. And it was OK from the time it happened. I was cared for and watched over by Heavenly Father, family, and friends. I have six amazing, healthy, fun kids.

This experience strongly impacted my marriage. My husband was deeply compassionate and sensitive to me. Together we weathered the miscarriage. I had absolute trust that he would protect and help me as my body contracted over and over again, expelling blood and tissue. He cared for me tenderly and sweetly. We were able to express our sadness together. But we were also able to move forward together. I feel like it was one of those refiner's fire moments where you start to really grow and be refined together. In the years since, I have reflected on those moments in the bathroom as I labored and he cared for me. Even though it was an awful moment, his tender ministering to me was deeply sacred. When I think about my husband's character, or our marriage, one of the strongest images that comes to my mind is of him helping me as we labored and lost that evening.

Having experienced my miscarriage has helped me feel more empathy to friends who lose a baby. I also learned to recognize God's hand in helping weather a storm. Mostly I feel blessed for the life I do have--for its richness and depth.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

August 2015 Review

August was an intense month. I spent the bulk of the month with my nieces and nephews. Our family enjoyed some adventures in the west. I drove across the country from Wyoming to New York by myself with five of the six kids, which was nerve-wracking for me.

A Family Baptism

Brent's nephew, Toby, was baptized in Montana Brent and Walter's last day out west. Toby's baptism was really great. I played the piano for the service. Toby's older brother baptized him. It was nice to be together with Brent's family. He has great parents and really nice siblings. Even though we don't get to see them often, it is always a treat to spend time with them. The boys (all sizes) got into a huge nerf gun fight.

Later that day, we Brent and Walter to the airport. They both needed to get back to their jobs. I hate saying goodbye to Brent. I have a hard time being away from him. He mopes terribly and is sad the whole time I am away. Neither of us sleep well at all.

Also, the day before Brooke had thrown a small toy at me and it clocked me right in the chin. I had the worst bruise on my chin.

Caring for My Sister and Her Family

My parents flew to Kentucky to help my sister, Nicole, following her c-section delivery of Baby V. My sister, Lori, had a really tough delivery with baby Jack. Her husband was trying to get their family settled in a new town for his new job as a teacher. She was on strict orders to rest to recuperate from the very tough delivery. So I was on duty with 8 kids. My personal parenting/babysitting philosophy is to keep kids busy and active to prevent fighting and to keep my sanity. While my parents were gone, I took the kids to the park, to the Buffalo Bill Cody Dam, miniature golfing, to the drive-in in Powell, to a library picnic, and other fun activities. It worked and I kept the kids very busy and out of the way so my sister could rest.

Brooke Turns 9!

Brooke turned 9 in August. The meal she requested for her special birthday dinner was macaroni and cheese. She also loved her special cake. 

Grandpa's Horses

A big favorite when we visit Grandpa is riding horses and experiencing country life. My dad's horses are getting pretty old. He just can't bear to get rid of them. So they lead lives of comfort and hardly get ridden, which is as it should be for an old horse. While my folks were gone, Trent and Josef took care of the horses every morning and night,

Extended Family

I got to spend time with Aunt Betty and Uncle Joe. Aunt Betty is my Grandpa's sister. She is our family historian and has a treasure trove of stories and pictures. She is also one of my favorite people. She and Uncle Joe hired me for my first job when I was 14, cleaning hotel rooms at their small hotel and RV park. I was slow, but thorough and they liked that.

My Uncle Bud and cousin Jay drove from Rawlins to spend a couple of hours with me. I haven't seen my Uncle Bud in years. He is 92 years old and still manages to be peppy and active. During Bud's visit, I found out that he served in WWII in the army corp of Engineers. He landed on Omaha beach and marched across Europe, including a stop in Poland at Auschvitz. Even with his service, he just wanted to be home with his family and live in peace. My cousin Jay has been fighting cancer. He was also in the military. It was nice to see both of them.

I was also lucky to attend a reunion for the Melvin Christler family. Melvin was my Grandpa's brother. I met relatives I had never met before. I had a great time visiting with family and making new friends. One fun thing is that my cousin Sterling married an acquaintance from my high school. We had so much fun catching up. I also got to spend time with two of my Aunt Betty's children: Don and Dorie.

Yellowstone and Macks Inn

Fortunately, my visit west corresponded with my beloved friend, Laurel's bi-annual pilgrimage to Idaho. I brought Trent, Josef, Jonathan, Seth, and Winter. Brooke wanted to stay home with her cousin, Hallie. The park was beautiful. I love seeing the herds of buffalo.

After we got through the park, we stopped West Yellowstone for hot dogs and candy. The kids went crazy at the candy shop and I ended up dropping a wad of cash on a few pieces of candy.

We met the Dougall clan at the Earthquake Visitor Center. Seeing my friend and her family just made my day.

We drove back to her family cabin at Mack's Inn. We spent the afternoon floating down the river and catching up.

The Long Drive Home to New York

After a few more precious days with my parents, in-laws, sister, and nieces and nephews, I drove home with the five kids. It was hard. The kids were great, but driving long distances has never been my forte and I get sleepy. We hit some really awful weather across Illinois--so bad that I couldn't see the road at all.

We went through Kentucky to see my sister, Nicole, and her new baby. That was absolutely wonderful.

Romantic Getaway

We finally made it home and it was so nice! I love sleeping in my own bed. I love being with my husband at home. Brent arranged a wonderful getaway so we could reconnect. He found a gorgeous old hotel near the botanical gardens in New Jersey.

Summer's Last Hurrah

I squeezed in every bit of fun by going to the lake and ocean almost everyday.

Man, this might count as the post with the most pictures ever. What can I say? August was packed!