Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Music

Christmas tree ornaments
Originally uploaded by TopTechWriter.US.
Like any office, we listen to Christmas music during the holidays. When I'm not in control, we tend to listen to a local radio station that switches to holiday music in November, and I have a theory that the employees all go on vacation for eight weeks and simply repeat the same playlist with no adjustments year to year. Since I listen for about eight hours a day, I believe I am a reliable source on this.

It's the third year of hearing this song, and in addition to having odd lyrics, it still strikes me as trying to cram everything into one song. I hereby present the lyrics of "Santa Claus and Popcorn" by Merle Haggard:
Santa Claus and popcorn jingle bells and reindeer horns
Christmas trees and mistletoe Jesus loves me this I know

Carols singing Silent Night Crosby dreams of Christmas white
We celebrate cause the King was born with Santa Claus and popcorn

Children dancing round the tree sleighbells ringing merrily
Snowballs flying through the air happiness is everywhere

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What's in a Name?

Some of you may be unaware that Faith is not my first name, but I have gone by it for much of my life. I'm quick to use my given name on legal documents, here referred to as H--- for anonymity's sake, and I've started doing so over the phone at work. "Faith" doesn't come across the wires very well. I can't tell you the number of times I've given my name, only to have them follow up with, "Stace?" And I repeat it again and again, finally saying, "Faith. Like hope and charity." When I offer my given name, though, it comes across clearly, and all I have to fear is a possible misspelling.

I called a business yesterday, seeking clarification on an invoice we had received. They took down my name and number. I received no response, so today I followed up. The manager was on the phone, so they took down my name and number again. I mentioned this was a follow-up from yesterday's message, and I gave my name as H---, before realizing that I was pretty sure I had given Faith yesterday.

An hour or two passes when my phone rings. I automatically answered it with, "This is Faith," only to hear the individual ask for H---. I am not above correcting them with, "Oh, that's technically me, but I also go by Faith." However, I was not inclined to do so today. Instead, I asked him to hold, tried to get the laugh out of my voice, and answered as H---, making a slight effort to have my voice at its normal tone, not on the high pitch it had ended on in my chipper "This is Faith" answer.

I think I fooled him.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Tagged: Seven Things

Dr. Liz has tagged me, so I'm supposed to share seven things about myself.

1. I love to create. I love examining individual parts and seeing potential in them. This experience isn't restricted to knitting. When I was younger, I wrote incessantly, and I still have a thing for a good notebook or slim journal. Growing up, I was in 4-H where I dabbled in woodworking. Some of my projects are in my home, including a bookcase and a kitchen cart. I have fits and starts when I use my sewing machine to make quilts and small items. As a teacher, I had a sick enjoyment of creating handouts (or improving existing, non-aesthetically pleasing ones) -- laying things out on a page, formatting it beautifully, even color-coding certain handouts. Totally lost on the students. When we moved to Indiana, my mom gave me many of her stamps, so I even have seasons where I make my own cards. Seeing things transform to something greater is so rewarding. It's not always pretty, but I like it more because it challenged me and I succeeded. It's gratifying to have someone ask, "Where did you buy that (bookcase, pair of socks, etc.)," when I made it. Even with employment I enjoy, I think if I could stay at home and dabble in making things all day long, I would be quite satisfied. I'm not sure where this will take me, but I wouldn't be surprised if sometime in the future I tackle spinning my own yarn, or even programming if I were quite ambitious.

2. I love classic books much more than contemporary ones. I think it's the character development and the tangents that get me. The unabridged Les Miserables really tested me on both counts (about one hundred pages written on why Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo), but it still emerged as one of my favorites. Dickens, Austen, Dostoevsky, Wharton, Gaskell, and Twain are also favorites.

3. I love technology. For some reason, I get excited about digital cameras, Mac computers, and iPods (I don't care about fancy televisions, though). Throw on DVR or the latest technological development, and I'm euphoric. Come on -- pausing live television? A slick, slim cellphone? Priceless. And this may be my public admission that I am now the proud owner of an iPod Touch. Don't even get me started on the wonderful applications and games for that -- thanks to Stanza, I have the text of 30 books. And there's still plenty of room for the traditional mp3 fare of countless songs, podcasts, and audiobooks to keep me entertained, all on one slim piece of amazing (you know it has to be great if I'm delving into the ungrammatical).

4. I used to memorize things: Shakespeare soliloquies, poems, and passages of the Bible. I've grown rusty, though, and haven't tackled anything in years.

5. I was a nanny for one week. I'm not one to leave jobs unless I'm moving, but many things that had been stipulated as my duties over the phone were increased by the time I arrived, and I worried what would happen in six months' time if they were already taking advantage of me.

6. Right now in my life, I typically don't like to cook. I think this has to do with always feeling so rushed (and hungry) when I get home in the evenings. I like it when I have time to prepare something on a weekend, but I would be one of those people who would happily pop a pill containing all my calories and nutrition. Or graze on small things all day long. Or have a personal chef. Maybe this means I need to be one of those people who prepares and freezes all their meals for the week. And I do enjoy the fall and winter for allowing me to make the most of my crockpot since the prep work is done before I get hungry.

7. When I was younger, I saw a television special about toys coming to life when the children left the room. I was convinced this was true, to the point that I rotated my stuffed animals in bed so they wouldn't feel like there was preferential treatment -- sure, I had favorites, but I wasn't prepared to hurt the feelings of the others. (It's frightening to see that my tendencies to please others and avoid confrontation extended to my toys.)

So there you have it. I now tag Eric, Rachel, and Rebecca.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Comfort and Some Knitting

One of my colleagues had given me a book her daughter recommended, Comfort: A Journey Through Grief by Ann Hood.

You may recognize Hood as the author of several knitting novels; those novels were shaped by her life. This memoir shared her experience of losing her five-year-old daughter suddenly. With prior losses, like the death of her father, writing had helped her grieve. But she found that she couldn't think, couldn't make sense of letters and words, after Grace died. A friend recommended she learn to do something else with her hands, knowing in time writing and reading would return to her. So Hood learned to knit and the act of working each stitch individually, concentrating just enough on the process, allowed her to retreat when life became too overwhelming.

Reading the dust jacket had me somewhat skeptical. I was worried it would boil down to, "Knitting saved my life." And as much as I enjoy knitting, I knew that theme would leave me empty. I enjoy having it around me and in my hands, but fiber is not redemptive. The book, however, gave the proper amount of credit to knitting. Her memoir was a good outlet for me. Reading about her daughter's sudden death let me relive our own loss. So each day I read a little and cried when I needed.

Regarding knitting, I will say that there are times when I'm tired of feeling emotions, so I pick up some project to allow myself to be mindless and only focus on the pattern. Hood talks of retreating to her needles and being so fearful of being without a project that she stocked up on yarn (to obsessive levels) so as not to be put in such a position. It's not the only time I knit, since I did find enjoyment in it before, but I do like the escape. It gives my fidgeting hands something to do and can calm my racing brain.

I know I'll still share here about how we are coping, but I'll also try to touch on lighter things as I feel them. However, I know the majority of people consistently reading are family and friends, and will thus grant me the grace to dwell on it when I need to.

Keeping up with the knitting vein, I'll quickly share some projects I've accomplished in the last couple months.

First, Heather received a pair of socks for her birthday, a small gratitude for her presence by my side during everything. Everyone has been gracious and sympathetic, but it meant a lot to have had my older sister with me. And were it not for her, we would have far fewer photos of Katherine. When the doctor called me down, Heather thought enough to grab my camera and document our precious minutes with her.

I also made a winter hat to match a scarf completed early this summer:

I had decided that 2008 was going to be the "Year of the Sweater," and I faithfully began in February. My enthusiasm waned with the spring temperatures and my pregnancy. After all, would the cardigan even fit me come fall and winter as temperatures dropped? So it began hibernating until a friend reminded me, as I spoke of 2009 being the "Year of Lace" and also the "Year of a Felted Project," that I still hadn't met 2008's aim. So out it came, and a couple weeks later, it was finished.

Here's a photo of it completely buttoned:

And one with it partially buttoned:

It's made from Paton's Classic Merino Wool, so I can vouch for the toastiness of it, a welcome trait this week. And blocking may be my new (inanimate) best friend. I love how it transformed the sweater, and I'm happily thinking of tackling other sweaters. In my ideal world, sometime this winter I would be snowed in for a week or two with plenty of coffee, food, and yarn.

I joined in a knit-along with some local friends to make Elizabeth Zimmermann's Baby Surprise Jacket, a rite of passage that every knitter should experience. It is knit in one piece and looks like a sloppy blanket until you fold it just so and sew the two final seams. I have yet to attach buttons, but I have a couple of ideas for the delightful insect or flower buttons that could finish it off.

Perhaps it's strange, given my recent experiences, to see me knitting baby clothes or understand how I can distance myself from thinking of babies as I make such a project. It helps that this one was made without any expectations. The white sweater I was working on during my pregnancy has been since put aside. I will return to it, but right now, the memories are too raw.

I associate certain memories and sounds with familiar actions. For instance, when I work outside, I remember what I was last listening to on my iPod when I previously raked the lawn or weeded the garden, or as I drive a familiar stretch of road I will recall a conversation or an interesting NPR story that occurred in that same area. Many hours of anticipation went into that little cabled duffle coat, so I just need some space before I return, knowing they will all flood back. I'm just not ready right now.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Life Now

If I go back to where my last post left off, a couple things have taken place. We held two memorial services: one in Indiana and one in Iowa. We were sometimes surprised at those who showed up, which leads me to again remind myself that it is when times turn for the worse when certain acquaintances step up and invest in you like never expected. That has been one of the blessings during this time.

While I could tell many stories about such surprises and am making an effort to write them down, I'll limit it to one here. First, a brief background. In my office, our Fed Ex driver arrives in the last few minutes of the day to collect packages. Some days he rushes in and out with a rushed word since his schedule is tight, other days he has five minutes to spare with us. Immediately before the Indiana memorial service began, he came up to us to express his condolences, begged off that he couldn't stay, and left. I don't think he even spoke with us for one full minute, but it meant much that he took the time to find out the details and slip in briefly, even though he had a conflict.

Both services were special. In Indiana, the pastor who conducted it had been by us through our whole time in the hospital and had wept and prayed with us when Katherine died. In Iowa, the pastor was one we know from college. We met with him beforehand to finalize details, and he shared how he was fixated on our story as he read Eric's account, and even knowing the ending, he starting from the beginning and it consumed his thoughts for that day. He thought he was collected, but during the slideshow, he became so overcome to the point of being unable to share his original message, instead shortening his words as tears streamed down.

For about a month after Katherine died, every day's mail brought cards, some even from strangers. We both found them cathartic to read and some made me quite emotional, especially when people entrusted us with their own stories of loss, some within the last year, others from decades ago.

I returned to work at the beginning of October. The first week and a half were probably the hardest as people streamed in to welcome me back and express condolences or turned silent and awkward when they were surprised to see me and didn't know what to say. It's not as constant now, but initially it wasn't a matter of whether or not I cried at work, it was how many times in any given day. There were some people who didn't know what had gone on, evidenced by the student who said, "Have you been on a long vacation?" And at least one who knew only the first part of the story and asked, "How's your little one?"

I think I can say Eric and I are doing okay through this. We know the pain won't go away, we still miss our daughter fiercely, but we have been leaning on each other and loved ones around us.

My workplace donated a memorial brick in Katherine's honor at the Angel of Hope Memorial Garden, a memorial for parents who have lost children. It was installed last week and we were invited to be present and even lay the brick. That afternoon was draining for us, but it was also good to cry. We know we need to face our emotions in order to heal, but when that becomes too overwhelming, we both cope by distracting ourselves with thinking of anything but what happened.

When my brother died, I remember a conversation with someone I consider a mentor. Years earlier, she had experienced the sudden deaths of several family members and as she was processing this, someone accused her of not properly grieving. She insisted to me in my own grief that never was anyone to guilt me about not grieving the right way, as there is no right or wrong way to grieve. I can be outwardly demonstrative or a bottler of my emotions, and provided that it's not destructive, no one has grounds to fault me. Some days I can take joy in small pleasures, other times I'm noticeably quiet or sad. I admit that it can be hard to see other pregnant women or young children, even while I seem calm. I don't censure myself for the emotions I'm experiencing, since I know how intensely I wished I could have changed the outcome. I don't lay blame on myself or others, because it doesn't seem that this could have been avoided. So I take each day as it comes.

Being the former English major and teacher, I think in literary references, so I wasn't surprised when I recalled a passage from a book I read earlier this summer. In Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton, the father solemnly walks down the street, and the author writes the following:
He wondered if any in all the hurrying crowd crowd had come from such a house of mourning. He thought they all looked joyous, and he was angry with them. But he could not, you cannot, read the lot of those who daily pass you by in the street. How do you know the wild romances of their lives; the trials, the temptations they are even now enduring, resisting, sinking under? You may be elbowed one instant by the girl desperate in her abandonment, laughing in mad merriment with her outward gesture, while her soul is longing for the rest of the dead, and bringing itself to think of the cold flowing river as the only mercy of God remaining to her here. You may pass the criminal, meditating crimes at which you will to-morrow shudder with horror as you read them. You may push against one, humble and unnoticed, the last upon earth, who in heaven will for ever be in the immediate light of God's countenance. Errands of mercy--errands of sin--did you ever think where all the thousands of people you daily meet are bound?

I guess I'll end with that. I sometimes people-watch and wonder what their lives are like and what they're facing, and this also serves as a good reminder to try to keep myself from making judgments or assumptions about those I know.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Baby Story, Part 3: Continued Hospitalization and Saying Goodbye

This has been slow in coming, and I underestimated how long it would be going into it, so this is a long and rambling post. You may need to pace yourselves.


In the weeks previous, I had been slowly getting over a persistent cold and was left with a cough. While it had been a dry cough for several days, it suddenly turned into a more raspy, wet cough in the hospital. This raised concerns of the possibility of pneumonia, so they were frequently listening to my lungs, which were still sounding good.

Throughout several nights, I was monitored with an oximeter, a small instrument clipped to my finger that measured the level of oxygen in my blood and my pulse. The first one I was on only beeped an alarm if I dropped below 94 percent oxygen in my blood. I think I was initially placed on this since there was a concern of possible sleep apnea. If the beep sounded, I was to cough and take deep breaths to increase my oxygen level. Unfortunately, I regularly dropped below 94 percent, so I felt that every time I drifted into a heavy sleep, I was immediately brought out of it due to the incessant beeping.

When I was switched to the Post Partum wing, the oximeter I was on was different in that it kept a steady beep with my pulse and then only increased in intensity if I dropped below 88 percent. Eric and my sister Heather would take turns staying with me through night, and I pitied all of us for the constant noise that kept us from a restful sleep. I think there were only three nights where I wore the device, but I was happy for it to go.

After Katherine was born, a lactation consultant came to speak with me. One of the best things they told me I could do for Katherine was provide milk for her, or 'liquid gold' as one person called it. They explained it may take some time to come in since I was only 24 weeks along, but we began the preparations, and while it was slow going, it was more than enough for her at the time. They started her with 1 ml every three hours, and by the end, they had increased it to 3 ml/feeding since she was doing so well.

My hospital routine consisted of a restless night with frequent blood-pressure checks and medications followed by a day of steady naps and television and wheelchair visits to see our little girl in the NICU. My eyesight wouldn't allow me to read or knit, so I depended on friends and family to entertain me or the occasional movie.

While I was still too weak and needed to be taken in a wheelchair down to the neonatal intensive care unit, Eric would fill the time in between my visits with updates, telling me about the little toy skunk the nurses placed in the incubator with her, and what he called her 'sunglasses' she wore while under a UV light.

On two consecutive mornings, even though I wasn't feeling myself, I took the opportunity to visit Katherine and later admitted that I needed to listen to my body, as they ended quickly when I became sick (I think I traced it to taking my morning medications on an empty stomach, although with my blurry vision I had to be careful to close my eyes to keep from getting dizzy while I was wheeled down the bright hallway). Fortunately, afternoon or evening visits fared better.

Each day, even though the doctors would only admit to being cautiously optimistic, we grew more and more hopeful. We were told the first 2-3 days were important, and when those passed, we looked ahead to future milestones. From Eric's updates:
It's 9 AM Saturday. Katherine is nearly two days old; given her condition, she is far from out of the woods, but the neonatalogist tells me that he is 'cautiously optimistic.' Her lungs haven't been inflating in the way that they were hoping for (which is not surprising, given her age), so they've switched her to a different ventilating machine. The old machine gave her 40-50 'deep' breaths a minute, making her breathing more natural, but since her lungs aren't fully inflating, that method wasn't getting enough oxygen into her bloodstream. So they have now put her on a machine that gives her up to 900 tiny breaths per minute; apparently this allows her lungs to get enough oxygen even if they don't fully inflate. When I checked on her this morning, they had just gotten the first readout of her blood-gas levels after hooking her up to the new machine, and the O2/CO2 levels in her blood were much more encouraging than they were last night.
And two days later:
Monday morning is here, and Katherine is still doing well. She has a very long way to go, but her first four days have been a promising start. She is drinking milk now (though only about 8 mL/day) and seems to be digesting it well. Her biggest problem remains her lungs; it appears that it will be a while (weeks, perhaps), before she is ready to breathe normal atmosphere on her own. This is basically what her doctors had expected all along, though they were hoping that her lungs might have been slightly more developed by now.

Also, today she will have a head ultrasound to discover the state of her skull and brain; there have been no signs so far that anything is wrong, but babies as premature as Katherine sometimes develop bleeding in the brain. If the ultrasound returns good news, then it seems like our little girl might be out of the darkest part of the woods for a while.

Faith's condition is also improving. She is able to walk around a little, occasionally sits in the glider or on the couch in her hospital room, and has made the trip by wheelchair to the NICU to see Katherine at least five or six times now. Her blood pressure has still been bouncing around a little; if it is relatively stable today, she may get discharged from the hospital this evening. Her eyesight is still a long way from normal, but she tells me that her vision in her right eye is much better than it has been for a while.

Beginning Monday, August 25th, doctors began discussing my pending discharge. It was dependent on my blood pressure being stable and my platelets steady or increasing. My blood pressure stayed high, and the doctors had me on three different medications, trying to rein it in. Even with those three, the results weren't encouraging. And my platelets had been dropping without explanation. So each day they would check my blood and delay my release for another day. I felt that I could heal more comfortably at home, so each delay discouraged me more. By Wednesday, I was nearly in tears, beginning to wonder if I would ever get home and wondering if something serious was wrong.

As it was, Wednesday started as normal. Eric made his regular morning trip to the hospital to see me and Katherine, then sent out the following update:
Faith is still in the hospital. Every six hours or so, the doctors tell her that they'll probably let her go after the next blood test, but every time the blood test comes back with negative results. (For those of you with medical backgrounds, we're told that her platelet count is low, and they keep expecting that it will bounce back any day. I really have no idea what that means.) The latest news is that she might get to go home tomorrow, but we'll see what happens.

Katherine is still doing well and keeps doing a little better every day. They've increased her feedings twice in the last two days; she is now taking 3 mL of milk eight times a day, which is six times what she was eating just four days ago. She should really start putting on some weight soon, given the amount of calories they're giving her.

We still have not received the official report from Monday's ultrasound on her head; they have to send the pictures in to some lab to be read, and that lab is apparently backed up right now. But the doctor who performed the ultrasound said that she didn't see anything that concerned her while she was taking the pictures, so that's promising news for the time being.

Also, they did an EKG on Katherine's heart yesterday. I'm probably butchering the explanation here, but my understanding is that there is a blood vessel between the heart and lungs that is wide open in the womb, but that is supposed to constrict after birth. It's not uncommon for that vessel to stay open in premmies, and, indeed, Katherine's was wide open. They are currently giving her medication which is supposed to cause that vessel to constrict.

I paid Katherine a visit early Wednesday as well. The doctor encouraged me to touch our daughter in the incubator, although she reiterated that while it was yet too early for me to hold her, before we knew it we would be changing her tiny diapers.

Eric called around 11:30, asking how I felt if he stayed on campus until his afternoon class, then spending the evening with me. I understood this schedule had been grueling on him, making an average of three trips to the hospital every day as well as attending classes. My sister was with me, so I told him we were fine.

Maybe ten minutes passed before the doctor entered my room to inform me that Katherine's heart rate was dropping and she was giving up. I called Eric before Heather and I headed to the NICU.

Nurses were surrounding her incubator, giving her chest compressions and pumping breaths. I was still holding out hope, thinking maybe everything would stabilize, but I realized the truth when they asked me to sit down so they could hand Katherine to me. Eric realized it when the chaplain joined us and offered to baptize her.

Together Eric and I held our little daughter for the first time as she was baptized and we said goodbye. I don't think I want to detail that time now -- suffice it to say we were brokenhearted to lose our daughter when she had just joined us.

What I wanted most after losing Katherine was to go home and mourn in peace. Unfortunately, the test results kept me in the hospital. My doctor was sympathetic to our sorrow, but he said I was one sick person and he couldn't discharge me until they figured out what was wrong.

It didn't help matters that not everyone noticed the photo of the white rose on our door, the sign to doctors of our loss. The morning after Katherine died, the resident entered my room as usual. He had looked at my numbers and said, "Yesterday afternoon wasn't very good on your blood pressure, was it?"

"No, but it was a hard day for us," I replied.

"Why do you think that was?" he responded.

And incredulously, I said, "Because our daughter died." He admitted he was unaware of that development, apologized, and left our room.

Finally they ran some extensive tests on my bloodwork and diagnosed me with HELLP Syndrome; Wikipedia calls it "a life-threatening obstetric complication usually considered to be a variant of pre-eclampsia". In my case, since I was already receiving treatment for preeclampsia, nothing more needed to be done since my platelets didn't drop to the point where I needed a blood transfusion to stave off any spontaneous bleeding, whether internal or external. One doctor was able to increase one of my medications to finally control my blood pressure, and within twelve hours, my vision began improving and my platelets began to increase. Two days after our daughter died and maybe 18 hours after the HELLP diagnosis, I was finally released from the hospital.

It has been a hard few weeks since everything happened. My eyesight has cleared up and I have returned to work. Our departments have embraced us during this time, providing meals the last few weeks and being sensitive to any help we might need. We held two memorial services, one in Indiana and one in Iowa. And life is resuming a routine, but there are still triggers that set us off and we know the pain is going to stick with us.

Once in a while, I get responses that I wouldn't recommend using in similar circumstances. The "You're young; you can have other children" observation is not welcome (said by someone I only know by sight at church when I began crying during a child dedication). We're aware that it is possible we will have other children, although this is made more dangerous due to the raised risk in future pregnancies now that I've had HELLP Syndrome. We wanted to keep this one and another child, whether biological or adopted, will not replace her.

A mother of two asked, "Do you miss her?" Of course we do. We didn't have weeks or years with her, but she was our daughter and we had been anticipating this event for a long time. Even friends who miscarried or had a stillborn have shared of their great pain.

While I've written much here, there is still plenty more I could have added. But as far as an account of what we experienced, here it is.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Baby Story, Part 2: Delivery

Soon after Eric relayed the news to our family, he had a voicemail from his parents -- if we wanted to get ahold of them, we should try the cell phone. It was no mystery to us that they were on their way to Indiana. My older sister would fly in that night as well.

I don't remember if Eric had called them or whether they had arrived unawares (I suspect the former), but the couple in charge of the high-school group at church where we volunteer showed up. The neonatalogist had stopped by again, this time to spin the positives of a 24-week-old baby; the day before had been more gloom. As he prepared to head to surgery and await the arrival of our child, he asked if he could pray with us, so the five of us had a short prayer.

I was prepped for surgery and taken to the operating room.

The anesthesiologist was prepared to give me my spinal. Apparently it was difficult for him to find the exact center of my spine where he needed to inject, so for each of the four shots, he would press the needle tip to my back and ask, "Do you think this is in the middle, left, or right?" Only if I answered middle would he proceed with the injection. I must have done okay, since I was appropriately numb for surgery, although the last one was so incredibly painful. I don't think it came to tears, but there was much grimacing taking place.

Eric was then brought into the room, and the surgery began. We knew this was a tenuous time. She was so small at this stage, the brink of viability. The doctor had said depending on our daughter's condition, they may have to rush her to the NICU, so we shouldn't be concerned if we didn't get to see her. Also, with the likelihood that she would need assistance breathing, he also informed us that we may not hear a cry because of the obstruction, so we shouldn't be concerned.

Our little daughter was born at nineteen ounces and 11 3/4 inches long at 10:06 AM. The sound of her newborn cries was one of the most welcoming sounds I've ever heard, and I promptly dissolved into tears. For me, even as I had begun showing and feeling little slight movements, there was much that still felt surreal and none of this was supposed to happen until December, so the frail sounds of our daughter, while proving that she had some developed lungs, also reinforced the fact that life would now be different since we were suddenly parents, an event we had been anticipating.

Apgar scores were 6 for the one-minute check and 8 for the five-minute one. Eric had the camera ready and spent his time taking pictures of our little girl and watching over me. I had to laugh when on one of his returns, he caught a glimpse of the other side of the sheet as they were stitching me up, and only with some deep breaths was he able to regain composure.

Our daughter was doing well enough that when it was time to head to the NICU, they took the time to wheel her next to me and pause for a couple minutes. She was so tiny but entirely whole. I was even amazed to see some black hair already on her tiny head. There was no extra flesh on her, as that was to have come in the remaining weeks, but every little bit of her was perfect.

We didn't have a girl's name selected yet, but as I wheeled to surgery, in my mind I knew we would have to name our little girl Grace, although I hadn't yet shared my decision with Eric yet; after her birth, Eric himself would volunteer that same name. We would later learn that more than one relative was thinking of and praying for our daughter, even before she was formally named, as Baby Grace. We felt we really had no option -- when a baby is given a chance at life at only 24 weeks and at such a tiny size, every minute we had with her was due to the grace of God.

One of the nurses shared with me that the surgery was done at the right time; our daughter had expelled meconium in the womb, which meant she was beginning to show signs of stress. With everything that would happen later, this was a consolation to remember. Had the surgery been delayed, the outcome could have been more sobering, and although I certainly wouldn't have wished for her to come so early, I needn't spend energy blaming a doctor for rushing me to surgery unnecessarily or prematurely, as it was done at the proper time.

Over the next few days, doctors and nurses alike encouraged us by repeatedly stating we had one leg up because we had a girl; apparently girls in the NICU fare better than boys. I had no idea what to expect or when to be optimistic. I didn't have the heart to ask the size of the smallest baby in the NICU in recent history (or the outcome), but Eric's parents did ask the first part, and the answer was nine ounces. At 24 weeks, she was at the cusp of viability, so we tried not to think too far ahead and take each day as it arrived.

I think I'll include some of Eric's updates from time to time, since my memory is faulty due to the painkillers I was on and just the monotony of the days following, so his timeline can help ground these posts. Any indented text on these posts can be credited to him:

We've been out of the operating room for about an hour. Faith is doing very well; her blood pressure started dropping (plummeting, really) during surgery and is now about down to normal. Her pulse has also stabilized, and the nurses think that her swelling is starting to go down as well. The only symptom that hasn't gone away yet is her blurred vision; she's still not seeing clearly out of her left eye. The nurses hope that will recede shortly.

As far as our daughter, she entered the world at 10:06, weighing all of 19 ounces. We haven't been able to see her since she left the OR--they're doing a number of procedures on her in the premature baby ward--but I've been told that she is doing very well. It'll be a long road with lots of hills and valleys before she'll be able to leave the hospital, but it appears that the start of that journey has been promising. Right now all we can do is hope and pray that she continues to grow and mature as she should, and that she doesn't fall prey to infection, heart problems, brain problems, or any of the dozens of things that could overcome her this early.

Her name is still forthcoming; we thought we would have a few more weeks to settle on a girl's name.

I was taken back to my room as Eric checked out the NICU, and they placed me on magnesium for 24 hours. This was due to my preeclampsia and to ward off any potential seizures, which is what could happen if my condition worsened to eclampsia.

Unfortunately, this would compound my vision problems, as it caused blurriness in my right eye as well (side effect). I had already been infrequent with wearing my glasses, and this made them useless. My right eye had about half that was blurry, and my left evolved during my time in the hospital. At one point, without my glasses I could see clearly from the middle of my left eye (TV from across the room, for instance), and on the peripheral, it was all blurry, like trying to see in a pool with water swirling across.

Next post: Continued Hospitalization and Saying Goodbye

Monday, September 15, 2008

Baby Story, Part 1: Admittance to Hospital

A lot has happened since I last posted. While I suspect those who read this blog are aware of the changes, I thought I'd use it as catharsis and document the recent events. Since I'm wordy, it may take several installments.

Since I last wrote, Eric and I took a trip to Iowa to visit our families. On Sunday, August 17, Eric's family hosted a baby shower for me. I had been experiencing some swelling in my feet and ankles, and while I had been monitoring the situation, I wasn't too concerned since it seemed to coincide with the humidity, and as the temperatures dropped, the swelling receded. On Monday, however, for our drive back, I did my best to walk at every opportunity.

Tuesday morning, I noticed swelling in my face. I prepared for work, waiting for Eric to say something about it (I'd once warned him about such swelling, to alert me to it if I suddenly swelled up). On our way to work, he still hadn't said anything, so I asked him if my face looked swollen to him. He responded with, "That's it! I knew something was different, but my first thought was that you had put makeup on this morning, so I didn't want to say anything." Eric is adverse to makeup as a general rule, so he thought he'd keep his mouth shut if his hormonal wife needed to put on some for returning to work.

As soon as I arrived at work, I called my doctor's office and explained the situation. It took them two hours to contact the doctor on call and get back to me, but then they asked me to come in. I left my work computer on, hoping I would soon be back at my station, and Eric and I went to the office.

My blood pressure was normal, and the diastolic number was even lower than normal. However, there was protein found in my urine sample, I had started having some white spots in my left eye, and the swelling was a concern as well, so I was going to be in the hospital overnight for observation. Furthermore, since my appointment two weeks earlier, my weight had increased something like sixteen pounds, and I certainly hadn't been eating any more than normal to explain the sudden gain, mostly from water retention. As Eric drove, I called my boss to explain the situation.

At the hospital, I was making a list of what Eric could bring me for the overnight, including my laptop to monitor work email and stay involved in life in general and thank-you cards for the baby shower gifts.

I was to undergo a 24-hour urine collection and have another ultrasound. I felt silly being taken down to the ultrasound in a wheelchair, but I assumed it was regulation. This third abdominal ultrasound did reveal that we would be having a girl. At one point, the blood flow to our daughter was constricted, but later upon a more thorough monitoring, it had regulated, so the assumption was made that she had been laying on the umbilical cord.

Once I arrived at the hospital, my blood pressure soared. I wrote most of it off to nerves, as I felt uneasy being admitted so early. I suspected it would go down once I would be able to get to sleep and my mind stopped racing. I composed a couple messages to work, explaining where I had been in my preparations for the upcoming new-student orientation.

I told Eric there was no need to spend the night with me that first night, as I figured it would be pretty straightforward and uneventful and the chair available to him looked anything but comfortable. I was put on blood pressure medication, and before bed I was given a dose of Ambien. I was told it wouldn't be enough to make me fall asleep, but once out, it would help me have a deep sleep.

Ambien has been known to have some interesting side effects on a small population taking it. Apparently I am one of that number. When I awoke needing to go to the bathroom, I was quite disoriented and it took much internal coaching to remember where to go. I threw up three times, and each time I was so foggy as to how to react. I was able to find my remote for calling the nurses, and I had to stare at it repeatedly before I could decide on the proper button to push (for those of you unfamiliar with them, there are two buttons for turning on lights and another, with the picture of a nurse, for contacting the nurses' station).

Then when the nurses would come and help me get cleaned up, they asked me to stand up and walk to the bathroom. And then, when I seemed unable to respond, they helped me up and said, "Okay, now walk straight." When I would react by walking elsewhere, they came back with, "Here, we'll just push you in the right direction." Once in the bathroom, I knew I needed to wash my hands and somewhere I would find water and soap. I really had to be shown how to do everything. In my mind, I could hear what was being said, or think about what action I wanted to take, but it took such a long time for me to communicate to my hands or legs ("Now I need to dry my hands. Somewhere I should find a towel hanging up. Where is it? What do I do when I find it? I should pick it up. Hands, do you see that towel hanging up right in front of you? You do? Now pick it up. ..go ahead...pick it up, already. Okay, now dry your hands. You know, wipe each hand on the towel until the moisture is gone. Hmm, let's try this again.").

Eric saw me at breakfast the next morning, where I was still groggy. I would try to wipe my mouth after eating, and would promptly drop my napkin directly into my plate of biscuits and gravy, which I was still working on. After repeated bemused suggestions ("No, Faith, don't put the napkin in your food" and the like), he finally took over and fed me.

Several nights after, I would be asked if I wanted Ambien (the first night I wasn't given the option to refuse). I declined every time, explaining that it had made me loopy. The first nurse I told responded with, "That was YOU?! Not that we're gossiping, but it was such an unusual reaction! You only had 5 mg, and we normally give 10 mg without batting an eye!"

So now it was Wednesday, August 20. My blood pressure had lowered, but my left eye had gone from having spots I could blink away to a more constant blurriness. I had some visitors throughout the day -- the knitting crew stopped by, as well as a professor from work who had gone through a similar situation a year earlier with her pregnancy. She was hospitalized the first time at 24 weeks, and finally the third hospitalization around 32 weeks resulted in an early delivery to a healthy baby girl. She brought some resources and answered all of our questions. In my mind, this was what was in store for us, and I figured after everything was regulated, I would be sent home for a time to wait things out.

We were being told our baby would be premature, it was just a matter of how premature she would be. In preparation, a doctor who specialized in high-risk pregnancies ran another, more sensitive ultrasound this day, and we met with a doctor in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU); he explained what having a baby at 24 weeks would be like. Admittedly I thought this was premature, as I still thought everything would hold off.

I was given another steroid shot to hasten fetal development. Eric read in a preemie book that each shot can be the equivalent of one gestational week of development, and they had given me my first the day before.

After the professor left Wednesday night, my blood pressure was elevated again. I wondered if it was a temporary rise, due to the discussion we had been having, but I did ask Eric to stay with me overnight. Given my first night of confusion, I was pretty tired and slept through most of the night even with the interruptions for medication, but Eric said there were a couple blood-pressure readings that were elevated to a frightening level (one was something like 200 over 140).

Early Thursday, August 21, around 5 AM, I was pretty hungry. I am naturally more of a grazer, and my unfinished meal from the night before at 7 PM seemed far removed. The nurses found me a bowl of cereal since the kitchen wasn't open for room service yet. I had most of it. This morning they also checked my weight again. It had increased around 8 pounds since 48 hours earlier. I saw pictures of myself from this day, and I don't look at all healthy. My face, and presumably the rest of me, was quite swollen.

Around 7:30 AM, my doctor came in to let me know it was time to deliver given the status of my early-onset pre-eclampsia. The results from my urine monitoring had something like 8 grams of protein (a normal level is something like 150 mg/day), and I wasn't expelling as I ought to have been (see: insensible weight gain). He was explaining the surgery I was about to have and the incision. The anesthesiologist also met with me, and here the consumption of cereal was revealed. I wasn't going to have a sedative for the surgery because of it, but I would still have the spinal.

Eric called his parents as well as my dad. My dad had returned from the Czech Republic the night before. He hadn't yet read the email Eric sent to him letting him know of my hospitalization, and due to his jet lag, he was disoriented on the phone. Eric, after relaying his name, even had to tell him who he was ("your son-in-law"). He soon came to when Eric brought him up to date.

Next post: Delivery.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Abdominal Ultrasound #2

My due date is four months from today. Hard to believe we're over halfway there.

I have been fighting a cold this week, and there were three nights in a row of miserable sleep. Night 1: Miserable sore throat. Night 2: Miserable runny nose. Night 3: Miserable cough. I checked with my doctor to see what I could take to relieve some of my symptoms, so when I went in Thursday for my monthly appointment, it had been after two miserable nights of sleep and a day on Sudafed.

My blood pressure was a little elevated, possibly explained away by the medicine, but I am going back in a couple weeks to verify that it is due to that instead of due to the pregnancy. That, combined with my uterus measuring slightly small for my dates, found me back in the doctor's office Friday for another ultrasound.

The technician scoffed at the doctor's concern, as my baby was measuring just fine, within three days of the due date; as she said, "He's trying to measure your uterus with a tape measure from outside your body, and he's worried you're off a couple centimeters?" But we did get another chance to see our little one, now at about 15 ounces.

At one point I caused Eric and the technician to explode in laughter at my expense. She had been measuring the baby's heart, head, and other areas, when I heard her say, "And here's the finger." As it was measuring several centimeters, I suddenly said, "Oh my gosh, that finger's HUGE!"

Eric corrected, "Honey, she said FEMUR." Um, yeah. I'm glad I can say that my child does not have ET's hands. I'd like to add my ears have been plugged, and it was probably distorted coming through the fog that is my head cold.

We wondered if we could find out the sex, and while our tech tried, our baby would have none of it. Her thoughts were that a child modest for two ultrasounds is likely to be a girl -- apparently boys have trouble keeping it to themselves. Although at one point, the hand was between the legs, and that made her question her assessment ("unless she's holding the umbilical cord and it happened to go down there"). So she said, with less than sixty percent confidence, a girl. I'm wondering if I should tempt fate and knit a girly sweater or a sun dress once I finish with my gender-neutral sweater.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Boy or Girl?

Yesterday was the day for our ultrasound. It was pretty amazing to see the beating heart with its chambers, and the brain, spinal cord, and the tiny fingers and toes of our child. Our little one is about nine ounces right now, and apparently everything is within one day of my due date, however reliable that is.

I'm just getting to the point where I'm feeling little flutters from our baby and my belly is extending, but since I've felt so well throughout my pregnancy, it's still somewhat surreal. It's hard to believe that I'm basically halfway through, so seeing the pictures is helping reinforce what's happening inside me.

When it came time to try to determine the sex, the technician ran into some trouble. Our little one, while squirming around inside me throughout, kept the legs together when we were trying to figure out whether we had a boy or girl inside. All the jiggling and jostling to get baby to be more cooperative was for naught. So finally our technician thought, if she had to guess, she would say girl, but she wasn't confident enough to put it in our report based on a side angle that was indeterminate. That said, we are moving forward thinking it's possible, and will likely refer to our child as 'she' unless we're proven otherwise. We figure if we're proven wrong we won't scar our child too much by referring to the baby with the wrong pronoun for a few months.

As Eric the philosopher concluded, we departed the ultrasound with "absence of evidence, not evidence of absence."

Monday, July 14, 2008

I'm Still Around, Just Not Apparently Blogging

Life has kept us busy. Eric's taking a medieval Latin class that keeps him more than occupied, and my ceramics class continues apace. While we're enjoying our respective pursuits, I think I speak for both of us when I say we're looking forward for our classes to end at the end of the month. They've certainly made my summer fly by, and I anticipate having the choice to decide what to do with my evenings again.

For our fifth anniversary last weekend, we went to Chicago. We filled our day with Taste of Chicago (good idea to give constant food to the pregnant lady) and the Field Museum.

At last week's doctor appointment, I was told I could schedule my ultrasound anytime before my next appointment in early August, so naturally I chose the earliest time, which is this Wednesday morning at 8:30 AM. We're really hoping to learn the sex, and Eric's hoping we will be told it's a boy since that would get us off the hook for baby names. If we have a son, we're set. Girl names, however, continue to stump us.

Physically, even though my weight is basically unchanged at this stage, I've noticed my belly is really starting to pop out. Yesterday Eric and I helped chaperone a day at the beach with the high-school students in our church's youth group. I wore a light maternity shirt and maternity shorts that a friend had given me, and they really emphasized the belly. Primarily due to my clothing, I had my first "spotted in the wild" experience. I was standing at the end of a long line for the restrooms, and someone checked the male restroom for occupancy, claiming, "It would be a shame to make a pregnant lady stand in line if she didn't have to." So I appear to have crossed the threshold of "maybe she's just put on weight" to "she's carrying a child," enough that a stranger had no qualms making the comment.

I'll try to not be such a stranger online. I should have a quick update after Wednesday's ultrasound, and as further baby updates come up, I will do my best to blog -- the odds are better after this month is done.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Family, Class, and Socks

It's been a busy few weeks.

Last weekend, two of my sisters and my maternal grandmother decided to surprise me for a visit. It was kept from me until they had some car trouble in Chicago. Their stories in what it took to arrive here were pretty amusing. I personally enjoyed Heather and Charity playing Cranium Jr. in the tow truck on their way here, much to the amusement of the driver ("Can you spell 'watermelon' backwards without writing it down?", "Act out 'slow motion.'"). The time went too quickly, but I was so glad to have them here. We were able to have some good food together, as well as Guitar Hero face-offs and while I was at work, the others took a tour of the Chocolate Factory.

Then this past week my ceramics class began. I'm taking it through the university. My schedule consists of work during the day, heading home long enough for a short nap and a quick meal, then going to class for a couple hours. It's nearly bedtime when I arrive home. In spite of the busy week, I'm enjoying it and am looking forward to my finished projects. We're working on coil vases right now, to be followed by a few weeks on the wheel.

In baby news, everything's still progressing as expected. I tend to tire more easily, and I can see the physical changes, but to the regular person, I haven't started showing. While visiting the friends in Minnesota a year ago, Kristy casually mentioned that her shoe size changed because of pregnancy. When I was shocked, she scoffed, "Oh, come on, Faith. Everything grows."

In my naivete, I thought I would be spared this until the third trimester. Come to learn that summer temperatures can exacerbate the swelling, however. So imagine my surprise a week ago when, looking for shoes to wear, I half-heartedly considered a pair of simple dress shoes I purchased a couple years ago that have always been a little too roomy for my taste. I needed to be reminded of how loose they were, and when I slipped them on, they were plenty snug and fit perfectly. That was a blow to my pride. While I realize I can't escape inevitable swelling or shoe-size changes, I was pleased this immediate swelling dissipated as the temperatures eased.

In the knitting sphere, Friday night I went to hear the Yarn Harlot in Oak Lawn, Illinois with Sandy. We left South Bend around 4:30 and returned home just before midnight. In between, we had some knitting as we heard her speak, then she signed her new book.

Since she often has a gallery of people showing off their first socks (in the above photo, we are holding her in-progress sock), I dug out my sock of shame, surprised I haven't yet unraveled it, and I brought it along. It was what taught me about the importance of gauge. To give you an idea, it would only work for me if I had a cast on my foot. Eric actually slipped it on, though, and other than being roomy in the ankle, it turned out that it fit him pretty well as a house sock. If you need to see my failure, scroll down here and look for one of the thumbnails. In my defense, I learned about starting with appropriate sock yarn and fastidiously checked my gauge for future attempts.

Finally, yesterday I went to Kayleigh's wedding.

I've only known her for a couple months, but I've had some fun conversations with her during our weekly knitting group and I was glad I got to share in their special day. It was a lovely wedding and they were both so cute (I can't say they're the cutest couple, since Eric and I sewed that up almost five years ago, but I can see I need to watch this competition).

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The News Is Out...

Eric and I are expecting a baby around December 9th!

Our immediate families have known nearly as long as we have, and some friends have known for a few weeks, but just Tuesday I shared it with my office colleagues, and yesterday, after trying to nail down my elusive boss several times, I was finally able to catch him at 4:55 PM. Now I can widely share via the Internet.

With my first trimester essentially over, I have felt especially blessed. I have seen many friends and some family members go through pregnancy, and most of them had a rough beginning three months. I have had some olfactory responses that can send me running, but not on a regular, predictable basis, maybe once a week. In fact, the worst part was the week I had a touch of the flu. It's no fun to be sick to begin with, and when you add a pregnancy to the mix, not eating makes me pretty miserable. I have been more tired, however, and my after-work power naps have gone from 10-15 minutes to around 30 minutes in duration.

My sister Hope, mother of three, finds this a sad state of injustice, but it appears I lucked out with my mother's genes; it sounds like her pregnancies were similar. No wonder she went through five!

One amusing story. Eric's professor was holding a class reunion about two weeks after the
end of the semester (I think he took a page from my dad's book, who on his Czech English-teaching trips, holds reunions with the students about two days after classes finish).

Anyway, this professor enjoys his alcohol. When we arrived at his home, he asked, "What can I get you to drink? Beer? White or red wine? Pimm's?"

After some pushing, I admitted that I was pregnant, and he backed down. As he scrounged up some Sprite, he admitted his first response was, "Well, then, what the hell are you going to drink?"

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Washington, D.C. in Five Days

Eric and I decided to take a vacation, just the two of us, to Washington, D.C. We realized it had been years since we had taken such a trip, and felt that it was overdue. Since we've made that decision, we're desperately trying to make up for lost time and make the most of our location -- in addition to D.C., we took last week's trip to Chicago and have another one planned for July.

We returned late in the evening yesterday. Since you are not a captive audience, I'll spare those of you who don't want the full details and photos and sum up our trip here: we walked way too many hours every day, I have never been through so many metal detectors, and we crammed a lot of the traditional sights into our itinerary. In short, we enjoyed ourselves.

Here's a whirlwind recap.

Day 1 - Thursday
Wake up around 4:30 AM, head to the airport. I brought size 13 metal knitting needles through security to work on a scarf with nary a second glance (I've taken small sock needles through before, but these are as thick as my thumb).

After a layover, which contained a nice breakfast in the Detroit airport, we took a train and then a taxi to our hotel, located near the Capitol.

Walk to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing for our tour. I wasn't allowed to take any photos during the tour, but here's a fun photo of a $500,000,000 certificate from way back.

Explore the National Mall for several hours, take many pictures and walking breaks. Gain a couple blisters. My favorite memorial is the one dedicated to FDR. They had four sprawling 'rooms,' one for each of his terms. I apologize for the difficulty in reading the quotation; the sun didn't cooperate.

Eat dinner at the hotel restaurant around 9 PM. Way overpriced for negligible quality.

Day 2 - Friday
Take a tour of the Capitol. Stand in a security line for about 40 minutes with all the schoolchildren in town. That set us back and limited some browsing later. This photo is of the 'whispering room,' where Congress originally met. The acoustics are such that in certain spots, you can be on opposite sides of the room from a small, whispering gathering, and it is as if there is a microphone projecting those words to you. We had a small demonstration and I admit it was impressive.

Head to the Library of Congress, take another tour. Drool over the glass display containing Jefferson's library collection (alas, no photos allowed). Wish that architects took as much pride in building details as they did then, although I realize it all comes down to money.

Go to the Supreme Court for yet another tour. Learn the Court will be in session on Monday, and decide to nix the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum so that we can come back.

Head to a yarn shop (Stitch DC), spend money on yarn and a book. They forgot to include one of my small items in my bag, and when I called for them to credit my account when we returned home, they offered to mail the product to me instead, citing how this is cheaper financially for them, as the credit-card fees are high. I don't mind in the least, as this means I still get my purchase.

Meet some friends from college for a nice dinner. It was a great chance to catch up since we haven't seen each other in three years (since their wedding).

Day 3 - Saturday
The Holocaust Museum took four hours to explore. It was sobering, as we were prepared for. In one transition room, they have the sides of the floor covered several deep of shoes that had been taken from the victims. In others, collections of scissors and utensils collected. One bright spot was Denmark, whose citizens united to save 90 percent of their Jews, and of the 500 who were taken, only 51 died. Refreshing to see a positive mark, when so many other countries feared helping Jews and instead let them perish. We could have easily spent more time there. Our main reason for finally leaving, however, was the desire for food (it was after 2 PM).

We traveled to Chinatown and ate at a little Chinese place. Then it was time to check out the National Portrait Gallery. We browsed the main floor, but I was mostly interested in the presidential portraits, so I made a beeline for that section. Eric especially appreciated the political cartoons that were at the end of the gallery, and I caught a few of those.

Finally, we took in the National Archives; after all, we thought it would be good to see the documents that shaped our nation. It's amazing to see how faded they are; in particular, the Declaration of Independence was nearly illegible. Pictures may follow for this and later days once I transfer them to my computer.

Day 4 - Sunday
By Saturday, I was beginning to lag -- there was only so much walking I could be expected to do, and apparently being out for up to 12 hours is too much. We decided to cut out the Natural History Museum.

Instead, we filled our day with a trip to the Zoo and the National Cathedral.

The animals at the zoo were smart, and were out in the early morning, but we had less luck later in the day as the sun beat down.

At the National Cathedral, we caught -- you guessed it -- another tour. In case you were curious, they have a moon rock in one of their stained-glass windows. And more chapels than you can count.

Day 5 - Monday
We stood in line to hear the Supreme Court in session; they were handing down decisions, and we were able to watch them for the half hour they were in court. Chief Justice Roberts introduced Justices Alito, Thomas, and Scalia as they passed on the decisions. Then a few lawyers were admitted to the Supreme Court Bar, and the session was over.

After a great lunch at a small local deli, we checked out of our hotel and began our trip home. Our cat, even though we had friends checking in on her, was so delighted to see us return.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Shedd Aquarium

Life and work have been pretty quiet lately. I had a bout with the flu a couple weeks back, not something I've had to deal with for a while, and not something I want to tangle with again anytime soon. I had been good and gotten my flu shot, but apparently I was one of the many who succumbed to the poorly chosen strain.

The weather here is slowly turning warm, but it looks like it will be short lived. At least it was beautiful for the long weekend.

Saturday Eric and I decided to take advantage of our close proximity to Chicago and venture there for a day. As a rule, we're not spontaneous, and we grew up used to having few options for heading to a large city, so we don't take advantage of Chicago's nearness quite as we should.

We took the train there and wandered around downtown, walking through a couple parks and taking the customary photos of the Bean.

Our primary destination, though, was the Shedd Aquarium. We chose this since it seemed most different from our scheduled stops during our upcoming Washington, D.C. trip.

We wandered for hours, enjoying our first visit there. It sprawls and there's plenty to take in.

While we were viewing the penguins, it was feeding time. Two handlers emerged, one to feed each penguin individually, the other to write down how many fish each penguin ate. I enjoyed how they all lined up for their turn. Just before this shot, though, the third from the end emerged from the water and budged in line. His peers nipped and hollered at him, to no avail.

I was amused by this gecko; naturally, he cannot read the sign he's concealing, as he's certainly not following its instructions and apparently cannot mimic white text on a blue background.

His peers fared a little better. Example one...

And example two, this one on the back of the sign post:

The day was long, but we both enjoyed it. I think we're planning another Chicago trip for our fifth wedding anniversary this summer.

And what's a post without including a cat update.

Here's Augustine's favorite way of spending beautiful days...

...staring down rabbits and anything else that crosses her path. She is so glad winter is past and we're more lenient with her on the screened-in porch.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

I Have the Best Sisters

I really must apologize to those of you who have sisters and yet you are not a sibling to me, because my sisters truly are the best.

They're all three thoughtful, creative, and unique. We have a blast when we spend time together, although distance hampers the frequency of these gatherings.

And for one example that tickles me still, my youngest sister had a dream about me the other day. You really ought to read it here. Isn't she so cute? I am so flattered that in her dreams about me, she is so proud to call me a sibling.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

(More on) A Wedding and Some Sewing

Several weeks back Heather and Chad safely returned from their honeymoon, and today I received a package of souvenirs from them, so I'm going to eek out another story or two on that front.

We were only in Iowa for three nights, the first two of which I spent with Heather while Eric stayed with Chad. At the reception Eric informed me that he could no longer allow me to
spend two consecutive nights away. During the second night, he had two separate dreams where I was kidnapped and held for ransom. He would awake suddenly, only to find the bed empty.

Also, my first-grade niece, while making a card for Heather's bridal shower a couple months ago, also made me a card, to be delivered when I arrived for the wedding. She's beginning to write on a regular basis now, but I don't always have a lot of her creations, so I was tickled to get a card from her. The envelope consisted of scrap paper taped together, and she had fashioned a haphazard bow out of the strips left over from the old paper used for dot-matrix printers.

When I opened the envelope, I saw half a heart covered in glitter.

The message was visible when you opened the heart completely. I've included a picture of it for you.

If you can't read the message, it says, "To Faith and Eric have a happy wedding from Kaitlyn."

When I asked her if she thought I was the one getting married, she said, "Sort of." I loved her card since it's cute and misguided, so it's now preserved in a frame with glass for the backing so both sides of it can be viewed.

The last few months I've been in a creating mood. In addition to my regular knitting jaunts, my sewing machine has been getting a workout. For Heather and Chad's wedding, I made them a lap quilt (seen above). For my two sisters with April birthdays, I made a couple bags. I forgot to take a picture of Charity's reversible bag before sending it off, but here is Hope's. This pattern I found here.

Meanwhile, I made a couple bags for myself; I couldn't resist making the identical one of the above (although I confessed to Hope that I learned how to add several pockets to mine even though the pattern had none). I have gotten many compliments on it, passing on the link to half a dozen co-workers. My favorite story so far was while buying stamps in the post office. The postal employee effused, "Show me the bag you made with the fabric from Hancocks!" She had quite the eye.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

April Fools Day at the Office

I was discussing some office April Fools pranks during lunch Monday and I mentioned how it was a shame we couldn't all tell the incoming chair we were all pregnant, given that the other three are past a certain age. There was mock offense taken at that, but that put the seed in our heads.

First, important back story: other than me, the other three ladies in the office are in their fifties or early sixties, our Director of Graduate Studies is taking over as Chair on July 1, and our fearless office administrator "L" played a role in him accepting the offer of chair, since she is crucial to running this place.

I should add that our outgoing chair, when he heard the idea, practically insisted we had to follow through.

So Tuesday morning, while the incoming chair was lecturing, L prepared an email stating that even though she originally wasn't planning on retiring for a few more years, her son was suddenly moving to Panama, and as soon as she could sell her house, she would be joining him and his family. She apologized for the suddenness of this, but she vowed to do all she could during the transition. [While this seems unbelievable to most of you, they go annually to Mexico on mission trips, and he recently spent a couple weeks in Panama, so this isn't outrageous.]

Then the other two ladies wrote retirement emails, also effective July 1. K was in search of warmer climes in the Southwest, and D said even though the incoming chair would have been great to work for, it was time for her to depart.

Since I was too young to retire, I stuck with the initial idea and wrote the following:
I realize you haven't yet officially taken over as chair, but I feel it is appropriate to let you know that I am pregnant and around September I will need to go on maternity leave. Eric and I have always felt strongly about me staying home when we have children, so I regret to say that my time here will come to a close with the arrival of the baby.


We impatiently waited until he was done teaching, sure he'd read his email soon after. He read D's retirement one first, and even responded, citing her great service to the department and how he would be sorry to have her go, but thanked her for the notice and wished her luck. Then he read L's and was having trouble breathing. But once he read the remaining two, he realized he'd been had. He promptly called our office, hysterical about falling for the prank but warning us that our resignation letters were now on file.

His lab warns us to be careful for the retaliation that is soon to follow, though. I doubt he'll wait until next year to strike, but we're all pleased at how well it had worked and can't wait to see him try to best us.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

René Descartes

René Descartes
Originally uploaded by x4690237.
Yesterday was Descartes' birthday, so I wonder if the following is true:

"We forgot; therefore he wasn't."

Friday, March 21, 2008


Last night Eric and I attended the Tenebrae service at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart (tenebrae means 'darkness in Latin). The first time I had heard of Tenebrae was last year soon after Easter. My chiropractor had attended one and filled me in, and I was intrigued and made a point to go this year.

I had heard the basilica was filled to capacity last year, so we went half an hour early and eventually found a couple of the last free seats. With so many people in one place, it was slightly disconcerting to have the pervading silence until the service began.

The service is solemn, consisting of Psalms and Lamentations and excerpts in Latin. Candles were regularly extinguished until there was only one, the Christ candle, remaining lit. Then all house lights went out.

The candle is carried out, leaving complete darkness, and everyone begins pounding on the pews to represent the earthquake after Christ's death. After some time of this, the candle reappears, and everyone departs in silence.

I found the symbolism welcoming, because however much I would like to think otherwise, I'm not very good about taking time to be reflective and this made me be so. There were two scenes that I especially enjoyed. First, the two cantors were singing from Lamentations, and their voices would join for the mournful plea, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return to the Lord, your God." Second, the ache caused by the departing candle, and how its appearance erased the despondency.

Monday, March 10, 2008

SKP 2008 #1: Jacobean

My life has been relatively routine -- I work, I knit, I help with the high-school youth group, I visit with friends. Since I continue to be a negligent blogger, I feel like I need to put in a plug for any remaining readers to check out Bloglines or Google Reader, either of which is a central source to input numerous blog addresses or website feeds, and it keeps an update of changes. I have found Google Reader to be a convenient place to follow blogs, even letting some pile up if I don't have time to read them, and then I don't forget about the blogs of friends who only update twice a year or so (I tease, Eric, I tease).

One friend brought my attention to SKP 2008 (Sock Knitters Pentathlon 2008), a knitter's challenge in honor of the Beijing Olympics this summer. The goal: every two months, a pattern is posted. Complete it in the alloted time, and you remain in the running for prizes distributed at the conclusion of the contest, one year later. The first pattern was posted March 1. There are some serious knitters out there, at least one who finished her pair of socks before I awoke last Saturday morning, so I'm not holding my breath for actual prizes of yarn. In fact, if I don't like one of the future patterns, I wouldn't bother going through the time and yarn to knit it (unless I thought I knew of someone who would enjoy a pair), and skipping a pattern would remove me from the competition.

My personal goal, however, is to beat Carly. It looks like I did accomplish that with the first pair; it didn't hurt that she was sick much of last week either, even sick enough not to knit.

This is my personal best, as I began the first sock on Saturday, March 1, and completed the pair on Thursday, March 6. It doesn't hurt that we now have an informal knitting guild at work, with several of my coworkers knitting through the lunch hour with me. In fact, all four of us in the main office went to a yarn shop over lunch a couple weeks back, with the sole purpose of buying sock yarn on sale. I can only say that it's a spreading virus.

I also have recollections of my mom never liking idle hands, so even to this day I feel more comfortable when I can have something occupying my fingers when there's little else for them to do. Knitting is perfect for this, books almost so. Books fall short when watching a movie or talking with friends, since you cannot do both simultaneously. Knitting is the perfect complement, since my fingers usually know what to do, leaving my brain free for other pursuits.

Furthermore, Elizabeth Zimmermann doesn't help matters. After having several of her books on my wish list for many months, I now find myself the proud new owner of two of them. If you click the above link, you will find tributes written about her after her death. People loved her far beyond her contribution to the knitting world, and as I flip through her books, I get a great sense of her personality. I can read her columns for the sake of reading, whereas other tutorials or patterns are clear enough to follow but void of any personality.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Heather's Wedding

It's Thursday night and I'm just now sitting down to share some stories and a picture from my older sister's wedding; I'm still recovering from sleep, so my evenings have been filled with less demanding activities.

I restrained my camera usage, since I never knew when I'd need to run off to be in pictures and I presumed with the four photographers (long story) and numerous others, I'd have my fill when all was developed or uploaded. One great uncle and several Facebook friends have already done this, so my destitution is lessened. I'm not sure how I got through the rehearsal and the reception with nary a picture of my nieces and nephew, though.

We drove to Iowa Thursday and returned late Sunday, so the trip was quick. The bride didn't want to do much sleeping -- she's a detail-oriented artist and had some final details to finish up.

I'll include some of my favorite stories from the weekend.

During the rehearsal, we were prompting our nieces, who served as flower girls, on the proper conduct. The six-year-old asked, "Do we get to pick up the flowers when we walk back?"

The two of them agreed to hold hands down the aisle after the ceremony concluded, and did well, but when the younger tried to take the older's hand during the ceremony, the older sister pulled away wildly, leading to some pinching and the three-year-old slipping off her shoes repeatedly. They were short enough I think you'd have to be in the front couple rows to see, but I've noticed in some of the shots my head is turned down.

Heather ate chocolate (intentionally) for the first time in ten years at her bachelorette party, which was followed up by the four sisters trying to share a king-sized bed. We did okay, but I'm not sure anyone slept well. And when Hope left due to being too warm and probably cramped, Charity hogged the gained space until I grumbled out a request to move over. She is unflappable when she sleeps, so I had to forcibly 'encourage' her to turn over to spare me from slipping off the bed. Ah, memories!

The sisters, sans bride, had our hair done at SPA, an academy for beauticians in training. I saw one guy and assumed, with my luck, he was my stylist, and I was right. Pardon my stereotypes, but he sported the spiked-mohawk, fake-tan, makeup-faced, painted-nails look. I admit I was slightly taken aback, but since I wasn't the bride, I thought it didn't matter too much how I ended up. I think the final results met my expectations, so all was not lost.

The ceremony and reception were beautiful, and even though this is the third wedding I've been to that used Cindy Morgan's "Make Us One" as the processional, I still love it (the two later weddings stole it from the first because it is that good, and when I finally learned the name of it Thursday night, it was quickly purchased through iTunes for my continued auditory pleasure).

I'm still sleepy, and ought to head to bed soon, even though I've not done justice to this weekend.

In short, it was a chance to catch up with both immediate and extended family, and indulge in one perk of not being the bride nor the groom -- I could stop and talk with someone for twenty minutes with nary an interruption. Several family friends were there as well, and since I didn't get to see them at Christmas, there was much updating all around.

It was a special wedding: Heather was stunning, and Chad has felt like family for at least a couple years now, so we're quite glad it's official. As someone else noted, he's not only my brother-in-law, he's a brother in law (patent, that is) -- eerie, isn't it.

(P.S. Chad, I hear a kleptomaniac made off with your open bag of Munchies, and it's possible Andrea broke a glass of yours -- fortunately you'll never miss either with Heather overhauling your bachelor pad.)