February 1, 2016

2016 Reading Challenge

I'm a reader. I love to read, especially when I find a good series or an author who's a cut above the rest. However, since having children, the amount of books that I've completed has severely diminished each year as we added more little people to the fold.

2015 was perhaps the worst year in that I can only recall finishing one book...and it was terrible. It was nearly added to the "started-but-not-finished" pile but I forced myself to read it. The Magicians was one of eight books I took on my cruise back in March, (hey, a girl has to have options) and after false-starting two other novels, I was moderately interested in this one.

Since drudging through The Magicians - which, by the way, has two sequels that have no hope of ever being on my reading list radar - my success rate in finishing a book plummeted. I started several books but the majority went by the wayside after the first couple of chapters.

So here is my 2016 resolution, if you will.       

READ!

I found a challenge online that I think can get me back on track as it is realistic and not impossible. I'm even printing copies and placing them on the fridge and in my office. Then on top of the visual reminders, I've decided to dedicate nap time to reading. We're finally on a schedule where all three of my kiddos take a nap all together so lately all I do is crash in front of the TV while enjoying my lunch in quiet with a good show. Since the husband and I typically do the same thing in the evenings, I know I can relax with a good book in the middle of the day just the same.

So here's my challenge and hopefully I'll remember to update as I go along. As for a start date, I'll start just as soon as I finish the final season of Revenge on Netflix. :)


December 13, 2015

A Holiday List: Six Things I Want My Kids to Love About Christmas

We're 12 days away from Christmas and my excitement in spending our first holiday season in our new home is bursting at the seams! The draw to fully decorate and prep for Christmas is tempting and I've managed to do the responsible thing and sell off items that we won't be using any longer in order to indulge in a few new decorations! (We still have two mortgages until our old house sells - one more month to go!) I even made my own lighted garland with burlap and material scraps on clearance from Hobby Lobby. (Thank you, Pinterest)
Honestly, it's been enjoyable finding time to be a little crafty and slowly give our home the warmth and joy that I always felt as a kid.

Christmas is one of the times I miss my mom the most. When I begin thinking of all the things that I want my kids to love about the Christmas season, nearly all of them had to do with traditions my mom had with us. Our kids are still little so they won't care so much about some of these and maybe they never will. I only hope that when they become adults they can look back and remember the constant things about the holidays and our traditions, whether new or passed on, and have that feeling of home at Christmas time.

1. The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)

I love this song! It's corny, I know. It's my ring tone every December. Something about trying to sing the lyrics in your best chipmunk voice as a kid and exaggerating the word "hula-hoop" made this the best song to turn the volume up to in the car. (You know, back in the day when we only had radio and cassette players.) Alvin and the Chipmunks has actually made the cut when it comes to re-made classic cartoons and Noah is starting to become a fan. So there's a chance I can rope him into my fantasy world of sharing a love for this song with one of my kids. If you've never heard it then here you go: The Chipmunk Song.



2. Christmas Ornaments

For as a long as I can remember, one of my favorite parts of Christmas was helping my mom decorate the tree. We had a hodge podge tree growing up with ornaments from all walks of life. Whether it was the paper plate angel with my picture used for a tree topper (embarrassingly put up well into my 20s), or the little soldier and snowman wooden pull-string ornaments, or the felt ornaments that belonged to my mom when she was young; it was annual walk down memory lane. Eventually we will inherit some of those ornaments but until then, I'm busy making sure that our little family has our own set of ornaments each with its own special story or memory. I tried this year to get the boys to help me "look" at our ornaments as I pulled each one gingerly out and told them about each one. Yeah...they weren't interested. I can only hope for the future.

3. The Nutcracker

Technically, this is meant specifically for Charlotte but if the boys ever have an interest in seeing the ballet with me, then they are more than welcome! I don't care how much their dad roles his eyes. For those who didn't know me as a child, I grew up taking dance like most little girls. Once I stopped taking classes (around 15 years old), all that dance knowledge turned into musical theatre, winter guard, etc. throughout high school and college. As a part of that love for dance and fine arts, it was our tradition to see The Nutcracker every year. The majority of the time it was my mom and I. I don't remember when we started the tradition but we went every year up until 2012 - the Christmas before her last. Maybe it started the year Bass Hall opened downtown because I don't recall seeing it anywhere else.

Bass Hall is magical - even for an adult. The ballet is definitely not for everyone (kudos to my best friend for toughing it out that one year) but there is something about combining the awe of Bass Hall and the tradition, beauty and music of The Nutcracker that makes my holiday season complete. I look forward to the day that I can take Charlotte if only for her to experience it just once.

4. Caroling and Christmas Pageants

I realize this section has two points but I'll categorize them as "church Christmas activities". First off, I love Christmas caroling. At least I "loved" it. We haven't been in a long time due to kids and whatnot but growing up and caroling with our church was such always such a fun tradition. Bundling up and walking the neighborhood with a small group and your designated person who could play the guitar (whether they really could or not) was one of my favorite nights of the month of December. If there was one way to "spread Christmas cheer" this truly felt like we accomplished our goal. On the flip side, while I enjoy caroling, I do not enjoy being "caroled" too. If there's any hint of carolers in the neighborhood you might find me turning off all the lights or refusing to answer the door. Standing at your doorway gawking at a group of people singing to you while they gawk back - awkward! How's that for an oxymoron?!

Then there are Christmas pageants which are a staple! I had my turn playing an angel or a shepherd many times (never Mary though because I was a bleach blonde kid). Our church growing up even went further than the typical pageant and put on Christmas musicals such as  "Christmas from Scratch" or "Wise Guys and Starry Skies" (shout out to all my 80s and 90s church kids!). Perhaps it's my personality that I have always enjoyed doing any sort of theatre, but I hope my kids get the opportunity just once to don a rustic cloak and shepherd's staff or an angel's wings or walk in as one of the three wise men. Getting their picture would make it all worth it! Just don't ask me to sew...

5. Vánočka

Pronounced van-otch-ka, we grew up knowing it as "Christmas bread". A traditional Czech recipe,   vánočka is a sweet bread that is braided and usually contains almonds and raisins. My great-grandmother came to America from Czechoslovakia and the recipe has continued to be passed down through our families. This is perhaps one of the biggest memories connected to my mom and the holidays that I have. One weekend before Christmas, mom would spend the entire time baking several loafs of bread. Some we would keep at the house and the rest she gifted out to other family members and close friends. Only twice did I sit and learn to make it and even now I'm fighting off the regret I feel for not having done it more.

The Christmas before she died, I decided I wanted to find my own baking tradition since she was already making vánočka. So I did homemade cinnamon rolls. I thought I wouldn't have to worry about missing her Christmas bread anytime soon. So now in our second holiday season without my mom I'm ready to make it myself, for my family. If all these other traditions fail, I want Christmas bread, vánočka, to be the one to survive and continue.

6. The Story of Jesus

You see it every year on social media, and I'm speaking mainly of other Christians, folks bickering about facts and details surrounding the birth of Christ and how it wasn't really in December and are Christmas trees pagan and blah blah blah. Calm down, people. It's cliche for me to say "Jesus is the reason for the season" but the truth is, I want my kids to know and love the story of the birth of Jesus and no matter what scholars and self-titled scholars say, we can still celebrate at Christmas time. Honestly, we can celebrate any time we darn well please. :)

I bought our first little nativity set this year and have enjoyed playing with the little figurines and talking with the boys about the story of baby Jesus. I still remember being in kindergarten and our entire class memorizing Luke 2; each kid had their own portion that they would speak. Having recited and read the same passage year after year, the words never grow stale. There's a reason the lyrics of one of my favorite Christmas songs say, "O Holy night". Reading them now to my kids is a tradition I hope they carry and remember for the rest of their lives.

October 5, 2015

Patriarch

I have a small close nit group of four friends. In the past three years, in what seems like a cruel uncanny circumstance, three of the four of us have each lost a parent: two fathers and one mother. All were too young to have left this world. 

My dear friend who is experiencing the most recent loss of her father gave me something to contemplate during one of our many conversations. She said that she can't help but feel how we are finally becoming the next generation. We are the adults now. We are now who we remember our parents to be when we had been children. I understood what she meant but I didn't actually feel the same until today.

I saw my grandfather this morning for what may possibly be the last time. Longevity is a gift in my family and at 87 years old he has lived a full and blessed life. He and my grandmother have been married 65 years with two daughters (my mom and my aunt), four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren as living proof of a lifetime of love and God's blessings.

There is so much I can say about my grandpa - my Papa - that it would take thousands upon thousands of pages to share what all he accomplished in his lifetime. He has always been one of the smartest men I've known and his faithfulness and diligence to his family and his walk with the Lord is one of the greatest examples I've had in my life. But after all the awards, accolades and accomplishments he will be known for in the world, the one thing that will always stand out to me is how much he loved his family.

Today, just before I planned to say my goodbyes, I watched as my grandmother was brought into the room where my grandfather lay. At 89, my grandmother has had her share of health problems to where it has been somewhat surprising that she will outlive her husband. She may have trouble remembering who her children and grandchildren are but I don't believe she could ever forget her Joe.

I watched as the at-home nurse brought her into to the room and placed her hand on his. Her sweetheart. The way she looked at him was with the innocence of a child; so much love transferring between them by just the touch of their hands and the way she gazed on him. I don't think I realized until then how much my grandfather treasured her. He cared for her until he couldn't physically do it himself and I imagine he held on as long as he did because he needed to know she would be looked after.

"I really love you," she said. There were other words overheard but to see what love looks like and sounds like after 65 years was sobering. Was she remembering back to when they were young and married? Back to when they welcomed their first daughter, my mom, or their second daughter, my aunt who was also present in the room? Back to when they saw their first grandbaby or celebrated the birth of their first great-grandchild? A lifetime of memories surrounding us...I can only hope to accomplish what they have. They made it look easy.

It was here that I realized what my best friend had been saying all along. Whereas many of my friends have already said goodbye to their grandparents, this season of my life is just now beginning. Suddenly my dad, my aunt and uncle, my in laws, etc. are the oldest generation and the time to keep and establish our family is now.

I will greatly miss my grandfather. We have so much to be thankful for because of him; a patriarch if there ever was one. His diligence to Christ has blessed our families for generations to come more than I can possibly say or imagine. Speaking as just one of his grandchildren, I know we all hope to continue to make him proud.



June 11, 2015

The Decline of Brain Activity

As most moms in my group of friends say, I'm "in the trenches". A 3- and 2-year-old to chase after while caring for my infant daughter all takes a beating in more ways than one.

To name a few:
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of downtime
- Messy house
- Fewer showers
- An avalanche of laundry
- Mom brain

I was well prepared for the technical aspects of motherhood after years of clocking hours babysitting and working in daycare. I even managed to experience many other aspects that most women don't even think of just by observing the realities of my closest friends who were all done having babies by the time we started.

I can get over all the things I listed above, except for "mom brain". To be precise, mom brain in regards to stimulating my intellectual side by reading, writing and blogging. 

I miss it!

Have I tried reading? Yes. Although I cannot remember the last book I was able to finish.
Have I tried blogging? Only once in a while when the mood strikes.
Have I tried writing? Not a chance.

I have a great circle of friends and family all who enjoy reading and it grinds my gears that I can't keep up! So many books, so little time.

So there's no great point to this particular blog post, no memory to preserve or lesson to be learned. I'll just continue adding to my reading wish list, missing out on writing assignments and inspired blog posts in hopes that one day my brain will get off the endless hamster wheel it's on. 

In the meantime, any good books that I should check out in five years time?

Signed,
- Mom Without A Brain

May 22, 2015

Five Minutes

The baby is awake. She took a lengthy three-hour nap, which is beginning to become a rare occurrence. I run the tap water in the kitchen waiting for it to heat up so I can make a fast bottle. I forgot to pre-warm six ounces of filtered water in anticipation of her waking. I should really use filtered water more often. 

Thankfully she's well-rested and cooing and talking happily as she waits but obviously she's going to be hungry. The water isn't warming fast enough.

My two-year-old comes screaming toward me like he's having bamboo shoots shoved up his fingernails and cowers between my legs. His big brother, three, follows closely yelling the same repetitive nonsense that always sets the house in a rampage. He knows how to torment his brother so well at such a young age.

The water finally warms and I can make the bottle. I try to measure out the three scoops of formula without losing count because the noise volume in the kitchen has reached epic proportions. Even counting to three is a challenge since I have mom brain. I'm also attempting to pour the formula without missing the mouth of the bottle due to the barrage of bumping and shaking from my youngest son who now sounds like he's dying. 

Screw on the top, shake and I'm ready go. Wait. I need a bib and burp cloth since we're now playing upstairs as part of our "rotate the house to not get bored" campaign. 

I finally turn and in one firm word - STOP - my oldest quits yelling. I switch my gaze to the spider monkey locked on my legs so I can briefly comfort him but also reprimand him for the dramatics.

The baby is still jabbering over the monitor.

I head for the stairs and get two steps up when my firstborn tosses his trucks into the large box we emptied early this morning. Thank God for free shipping on baby formula!

"I'm taking this box upstairs," he announces. 

I back pedal the two steps and poke my head around the corner. "That's Mommy's box and it's staying down here." There, that was easy. Turning to go back upstairs toward the baby, I hear, "Mom! I have to go potty!"

Freeze. Sigh. 

"Ok, go potty and let me know if you need help." 

He doesn't put up his usual fight to get me to come with him. As he heads for the bathroom, my littlest son heads for the box of trucks. 

Oldest son stops his potty train of thought when he sees his brother and "Nooooo!! He's getting my trucks!"

Still with bottle in hand, "Your trucks are still yours AFTER you go potty. Go!" Pause for a moment...what was I doing? 

Then I hear the baby who is now no longer content. 

"Don't touch your brother's trucks," I command my youngest as I head for the stairwell once more." He smirks at me as only a stubborn, mischievous two-year-old can. Oh, I'll give you a reason to wipe that look off your face. Crazy turkey. My middle child.

"Mom!!!!!"

Argh! What now? I only made it four steps that time.

"There's pee out the front!"

Now the baby is crying. Poor thing is so hungry!

Pass the littlest boy and give him the "I'm warning you" point with my finger. Frustratingly I set the bottle, bib and burp cloth down and peek in on my kid who won't move from the toilet because there's pee and it could get on him. I do a rudimentary job of cleaning just to get him out of there. I'll remember to come back and sanitize. I will!

Crap. Where did I put the bottle? 

I find it quickly, which is lucky, and run upstairs followed by the two boys. Shutting the door behind me, and probably in their face, I get to my sweet baby whose whimpering turns to smiles when she sees me.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

"Please stop banging on the door"

Thump. Thump. Thump.

"Stop banging on the door!"

The trucks have reappeared as ramming rods on my bedroom door. Does the noise ever stop! I stumble/trip over them, making my way to the big boys room and their rocker.

Baby girl proceeds to only eat one ounce and not a drop more. So much for being hungry.

March 27, 2015

(no title)

"The only person I really wanted to talk to about Augustus Waters' death was Augustus Waters."
- John Green

I read The Fault in Our Stars not long after my mom passed away. If you know the story, whether from the novel or film, it's centered on characters living with and  dealing with loss from cancer. (Spoiler alert: I just spoiled the ending. Sorry.) 

You might ask why I put myself through those emotions so soon again but honestly, I couldn't tell you. It's not like the rawness of losing my mom had ceased. However, what I discovered was that this book somehow broke through all the jumbled thoughts and emotions that were in my head and put them in words I hadn't been able to express.

I've always been good with words when it comes to writing. Speaking on a whim or from the heart has never been my strong point. With writing you can express your thoughts but also go back to edit them to where they're cohesive and make sense and the words convey what you really want to say. I almost never know what to say in person. 

So when I read this book, I suddenly had an explanation for a lot of my own personal feelings regarding my mom's death. 

Now, go back to the top of this post and reread that quote.

There were a couple of other quotes but this one was the most self-revealing. My mom was gone. I couldn't call her, I couldn't text her. My family and friends were there but the only person that I immediately thought to talk to about my mom dying was...my mom. That desire to text or the brief excitement hearing about something she would love to know about; it's still there. 

This whole week has been a countdown to today. Each day memories resurface of where I was and what was happening at this time last year. Some memories are still painful to revisit, like the picture of my brother and I just sitting with my mom watching her favorite TV shows with her late at night in the hospital. That was two days before she died. Our mom and her two children; just like we had always been no matter how much we had grown. Then I think of how we spilled her lemonade we had brought her from Sonic - one of the only sweet things she could stand to drink during chemo. The floor was still sticky two days later.

Today, at just before 2:30pm, I will remember watching her go. I know other people were in the room but I had this tunnel vision that only focused in on her. I remember holding her hand and not wanting to let go.

I can't believe a year has gone by. Every time I see a picture of my mom, it feels like another lifetime. Of the few things we've brought home that were hers, eventually her scent has faded or the idea of holding onto some things seems less important. The void left by her leaving can be ominous and heartbreaking one day and unrealized the next.

I don't have any regrets but I do have my wishes:

- I wish we had taken that last mother/daughter cruise. I thought my children wouldn't survive a few days without me so we delayed. Now, I encourage all my friends who are moms or daughters to take that cruise! Do something! I would give anything to be in that place, that moment with her again.

- I wish I had spent less time stressing and venting when she came to visit. We talked about everything under the sun but as a SAHM with little adult interaction, I have a habit of getting all my gripes out to the people I most trust. She was my listener and confidante and always allowed me to get things off my chest.

- I wish she could have met Charlotte. The latter half of this year has been a whirlwind of up and down emotions. From the excitement of us welcoming Baby #3 and finding out that it's a girl, to the realization that my mom didn't get to share with me the joy of finally having a girl. Yes, I know you that you can say that she was rejoicing from Heaven, but it is not the same. Charlotte is the only grandchild who will not have a photo with her Grandma. I grieve for my daughter to have missed out on knowing my mom and for me to be able to share with her the experience of having a daughter. There will be years of traditions ahead of us that I had always hoped to share if I ever had a daughter, all traditions carried on by my mom that now only two generations will continue instead of three.

There are good days and bad days still, but now mostly good days. And I don't want to write about how my mom is "in a better place" or how we know that she is in Heaven, which she is. I just want to be real and the reality is that I miss my mom. I didn't know how we would survive this first year with all the holidays and birthdays and whatnot, but we did. And we will the next year and the next.

I love you, Mom. I miss you more than I can ever express. Thank you for raising me to be the woman I am today. I hope I make you proud.








February 28, 2015

A Heart Session

The moment I found out that Charlotte was a girl, I knew that I wanted to be completely cliche and have some professional newborn pictures done.

You only live once!

Even before coming a mom, I have always enjoyed taking pictures for myself. When the kids started coming along, the amount of storage space on my camera and my computer began to fill up quickly. I love being able to get that perfect shot of my kids. I don't know a whole lot of photog jargon or tips and tricks, but I know how to take photos that I love. Therefore, prior to Charlotte joining the family, the husband wasn't exactly keen on my paying for professional pics of the boys when he felt that my own photos in and of themselves were actually good. (What he said. Not just patting myself on the back.)

However, having a girl changed that and I was determined to have them done right!

I called a friend of mine whom I have known since she was months old. She herself was adopted as a baby from Korea and we have kept in touch for many many years. She'll be pleased to know that even though I was technically shopping around for a photographer, I was 99% sure that I would use her regardless of price. I love being able to provide business to my friends as a client but on the plus side, I was already happy with the work she's done on newborn sessions.

As we began discussing options, I was excited to let her in on the secret about the adoption (since we weren't announcing on social media yet). That's when she began to tell me about Red Thread Sessions. As a member of their site, she would be able to donate her session to us because it was an adoption! A free professional session - heck yes!

Red Thread Sessions is specifically for adoptive families. Photographers can join to donate their time in order to capture a moment in an adoptive family's journey to creating their forever family whether it's at placement, at the airport or the final court date. As an adoptive mom, the idea of this organization just blesses my heart! Most adoptive families have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars in order to adopt and become parents. So to have a team of people that recognize the gift that adoption is and to want to donate their time and effort to capture the beginnings or growth of a new family at little to no cost is beyond amazing. Adoptive parents don't even need to be familiar with a specific photographer. They can search the site and find one locally that is available!

Obviously, any purchases we wanted to make after the fact would still be out of pocket but by then we were just over the moon with the results that we had to purchase the rights to everything on top of a photo package.

Miss Charlotte was barely three weeks old when we visited the studio and even big brothers Noah and Aaron came along for the ride. If we were going to do professional pics, we might as well try to get them in as well! The one photo I want to share below is special to me because it is what we will be sending to our birth mom. At Charlotte's placement, I had a gift for our birth mom that was one part of a set of necklaces.

Our birth mom's necklace is a circle with a heart cut out of it...
which is what makes Charlotte's necklace: the heart.