Because the important moments in life just don’t fit in a status update! I started this blog when I was training for my first ½ Ironman, (70.3 miles) to record what I hoped would be growth and progress but ended up being a huge learning experience. Although fitness is one of the key ingredients to a happy life, it certainly isn't the only ingredient. My blog has evolved to document growth, progress and setbacks in other areas too. From my surprise proposal in Rome and wedding in the fall of 2013, to Mom's devastating stage IV cancer diagnosis and death 2 weeks after I found out I was pregnant. Who knows what shape it will take, but thanks for being along for the ride.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

My Baby {Autumn} Shower

We've taken to calling her baby Autumn instead of just Autumn. Do other parents do this when they're expecting, or is baby Autumn just that catchy? Whatever the case, others have picked up on it, and I received a lot of presents addressed to baby Autumn. Even the cake!

It was the perfect, warm day for an outdoor shower. Stephanie, Andrea, Ann-Marie and Delia lead busy lives but found time to throw me the perfect shower. It was held at the Secret Garden, reserved by Tamara who lives at Villa Sienna in Irvine.

I debated on whether or not I should bring Trevi, and am so glad I did. I have a feeling Autumn will be an animal and dog lover, and when she looks back at photos of this event she will realize Trevi has always been a special part of our lives. If Trevi lives to be 14, Autumn will have her until she's in 6th grade, so she is going to be a big part of her life as well.

I had my hair done before the shower at The Dry Bar in Fashion Island. Trevi was a doll and either sat on my lap or watched the whole time. 

I made it to the shower just before 2, when people started arriving. It was wonderful to see everyone and catch up. People came from all different directions and distances. Stephanie drove from Rancho Mirage, Liz and Linda came from LA and my Mom's friends from Yucaipa. I had about a hour to visit with everyone before we started the games.

Ann-Marie, me, Delia, Stephanie, Andrea
The first was a name game and the second was using ribbon to guess the circumference of my tummy, but my favorite was the last one. Andrea had everyone write a letter to Autumn, to be opened on her 16th birthday. I don't know if I can wait that long! I'm going to have to see if I can talk Drea into a sneak preview on her 1st birthday.

Some people enjoy watching presents being opened, but others find it boring and I wanted to have the time to visit. I decided to open the presents at home so I would have more time to spend with everyone.

I was surprised that some people who weren't able to make the shower sent gifts (Kay and Sayeed, Stacy, Billie) and even more surprised that gifts have continued to arrive by mail (Debbie and Charles, Tina, Rhonda) or be brought to work (Gloria, Deirdre, a student). 

One of the most special gifts that we received was my baby blanket that Mom made, repaired by Krista's Mom. The stitching was old and the front and back were separating. She added new batting, and sewed it back up. It's pink, blue and yellow because Mom wanted to wait and find out what she was having. I have a picture of me on it that I need to find so that I can take one of Autumn.

I feel really prepared for Autumn's arrival now! Well, I will once everything is organized and put away. It must be this nesting thing that they talk about, because I am usually not a super organized person, yet I woke up early the next morning and couldn't go back to bed. I was excitedly thinking of everything I received and what I needed to do to get it organized. It's still all on the kitchen table.

This weekend, our plan is to finish installing the closet organizer which is much more work than anticipated, wash and organize her clothes by sizes (I bought special baby detergent) and put away the infant and 0-3 month ones in her dresser for easy access, and hang up the other sizes. I'm 35 weeks tomorrow!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Third Trimester

My 2nd trimester came and went without me really feeling very pregnant. Now that I'm in my 33rd week with just 6 or 7 weeks to go, I finally feel like she's there ... and love it, side-effects and all. Just like that quote Don't complain about growing older, it is a privilege denied to many, I am way too grateful to even be pregnant to complain. I know many women have been unsuccessful in their fertility treatments, or given up the hopes of carrying a baby to term. They would give anything to only be able to sleep on their left side or to not fit into any of their shoes.

Now that my disclaimer is out of the way, here's a list of symptoms I swear I'm not complaining about. 
  • I have carpel tunnel syndrome at night. All of the joints in my fingers and wrists hurt so bad that it is hard for me to adjust blankets or the pillow, let alone use them to push myself out of bed. 
  • Since I can't use my hands to push myself out of bed and I can't really sit up anymore, I often wake up in the middle of the night, trapped in my human-sized Snoogle pillow. Staying there and going back to sleep isn't an option, so I half roll, half fall, out of bed.
  • Going back to sleep when I wake up in the middle of the night isn't an option because I have to use the restroom a lot. And by a lot I mean at least 5 times during the night. My record is eight.
  • I have to use the restroom a lot because I have borderline gestational diabetes. Now testing my blood 4 times a day, I am always under the target number, unless I have a bowl of ice cream or yogurt before bed.
  • Because of the gestational diabetes and the habit of having a bowl of ice cream before bed, I've gained a lot of weight already: 50 pounds!
  • The extra weight, coupled with fluid retention, is causing pain in my hips and knees when I walk sometimes. The effect is a well-pronounced penguin waddle if I have been sitting for awhile. Even co-workers have begun to notice and comment on this, which one day caused me to laugh harder than I had in months. That's when I noticed that my belly jiggles when I laugh.
  • My right hand randomly goes numb while at my desk, driving and especially during the night. Sometimes, it remains numb even when I change position.
  • My shoes - none of them fit me! Even my "comfortable" heels, or flats, will not fit on my feet. I have been relegated to wearing running shoes to work, even when I'm dressed nice or wearing a skirt.
  • Running shoes! How I miss using those! Whenever I see someone running now, I'm a bit envious and can't wait to get out there. Even though I have never really liked running, I sure did do a lot of it.
  • I get out of breath so easily, and wistfully recall when I used to be able to go on a long run, and carry on a conversation. Now, I'm easily out of breath from simple tasks like walking up stairs.
  • Lastly, heartburn. I keep a container of Tums by the bed just in case.
One symptom I don't have just yet that I'm very thankful for: stretch marks. There's still time for them to make their appearance, but I'm hopeful that they won't.

So what am I enjoying? I love how obviously pregnant I now am, and comments and questions from strangers; when are you due? Is it a boy or a girl? Is this your first? I love how much more real her arrival feels. Resting my hands on my tummy in meetings is one of my favorite things to do. It's so convenient! I love feeling and now even seeing her move. I love looking at, and documenting, my bump and seeing it grow every week. I love that the nursery is coming along, and that we finished painting it this past Sunday. Her dresser has been moved in, and Nathan is working on installing the closet organizer. I go in there every day, look around, and imagine her in it. 

Everything is progressing well! A few weeks ago when my doctor asked about kick counts, I told him that sometimes she doesn't move for 4-5 hours. He told me that he was placing me on twice a week fetal monitoring which made me nervous. Luckily, I called them and they were able to get me in right away. My husband and I walked across the street to Hoag and were reassured within the hour that everything was fine. They had to startle her with a buzzer to wake her up and get movement. When they did, her heart rate jumped from 155 to 195. Now, I look forward to going and feel like I get to visit her when I do.

I had an appointment yesterday and as of now, we are undecided on csection or natural birth. My doctor was a bit frank with me and said that if she's over 8 pounds, things don't really go back to normal. I have a feeling she will be close, if not over, the 10 pound mark. I was 9.7, my brother was 9.8 and my husband's siblings were all over 10. My husband was only 6, but has a twin who was 4. Knowing this, I am definitely leaning more toward having a cesarean, but it will only be covered by my insurance if medically necessary. We will see how big she gets in the coming weeks, because if she is over 9 it may be deemed medically necessary. She could gain as much as 1/2 pound per week. At this last appointment I lost a pound - for the first time since being pregnant - but gained 1cm. My next appointment is in two weeks, and then we start going weekly. 

I'm really looking forward to my shower in two days. It's almost time for Autumn, and I could not be more excited!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Calls to Heaven

It's been almost six months without Mom and the loss I feel in her absence is not any less than it was in the beginning. If anything, there seems to be a greater void now than there was in those first few critical days, weeks and months because it's been longer since I've seen her. Having a previous interest in grief counseling (read some of my work here), I know that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, just as there is no time limit to the grief. I dismiss E.K. Ross' individualistic idea of working through stages with the goal of "getting over it" or "moving on" with a life separate from the one person who has always been the closest to me. Why on earth would I do that? Instead, I seek anything that helps me feel close to Mom and keeps her a part of my daily life. I talk about her, and I like it when people ask me about her.

One of the many things I miss is our phone calls. I spoke to Mom every day of my adult life, often twice a day. I always looked forward to calling her, even when I had nothing to say, because she was always so sweet and so happy. I never called and found her stressed out or upset. Certainly she must have been at times, but she never let on. She was never down or in a bad mood, and never nagged or told me what to do. Heck, she never even gave me advice, unless I asked. She just listened, laughed and asked me about my life. So since her death, I sometimes speak out-loud to her while I'm driving, as if I'm making a call and she's on the other line.

When I called her the other day, I felt like I had nothing to say for the first time. A little embarrassed, I apologized to her, and explained that because she now probably sees and knows everything that's going on in my life, maybe even before it happens, I didn't have much to update her on.

So I just listened. Don't worry, I don't actually hear her voice (though I wish I did) but rather, just imagine what she would say. I realized that a lot of our conversations were just about the mundane details of life, yet they held so much meaning to me. Why is that? What is it that I miss so darn much about those calls? What could I learn and apply to my life right now that she taught me?

With tears starting to trickle down my face, I realized what I missed: her positivity. Mom never burdened me with with her worries, fears or complaints. She never had ulterior motives with her questions and she never spent a second being judgmental or questioning my plan or ideas, no matter how crazy some of them must have seemed at the time. She supported and encouraged me. She asked me things about my life with a genuine interest and curiosity, because she cared, loved me unconditionally and wanted to know what was going on in my world. With Mom, I could always completely be myself and be loved and accepted. I never had to try and act a certain way. I always hung up the phone with a smile on my face, and a full heart.

About to become a Mom myself, I started to think and wonder how I could be more like this; more like my Mom. I want to have the type of relationship with Autumn that Mom and I had. I want her to look forward to calling me when she's older too, and not just call me out of a sense of obligation. So how do I cultivate this now? The answer was simple and apparent: I start being that way with everyone in my life, also like Mom did. Mom was one tough cookie, the toughest person I have ever met, but she did it in the softest, sweetest way imaginable. Like her Mom and her Mom before her, she endured so much but did it with a heaping serving of grace, and with a smile.

When my Dad would come home from work, she never vented or burdened him with her troubles or worries, even when I know that times were difficult. This is not to say she didn't have real conversations and discussions with him, but there was probably a time and place for it, away from us kids and not first thing after he walked through the door. The first thing she always did when my Dad, brother or myself came home was pleasantly welcome us, give us a snack, and ask about our day...1950's style. Now that's how I want to be. For Nathan, and for Autumn.

My thoughts drifted to other areas of life, areas people usually complain or worry about. "Talking" to Mom reminded me that none of those things are really worth getting upset about either. Really, who cares about money? Yet it is the number one thing couples fight about. While growing up, we lived on just my Dad's income, and there were short periods of time when he was out of work. I remember having a yard sale so we could order pizza, eating military MREs, and I remember that big block of government cheese. Did Mom complain? Nope, never. So now, though Nathan and I may be "broke" for a week or two following large purchases or a vacation, I have to keep it in perspective and remember that it's really not that bad. It's only money, and we're not going to go hungry or be out on the street. Heck, we're not even going to loose our cable. Why waste time and energy worrying? Mom didn't. She knew life was too short for that.

Most importantly, this call to Mom also helped me remember that everything is going to be fine with me being prepared - or not, gasp! - for baby Autumn. Having just completed my baby registry, I was beginning to worry about what I was going to do if we could not afford to get everything on there; everything we "needed." But after my call to Mom, I remembered looking at my baby book, which I found in the garage in early March, where Mom recorded everything she was given when I was born. It was a fraction of the stuff I'm hoping for. Heck, most of what I registered for didn't even exist back then. I seemed to survive just fine without a pack-n-play, fancy ergonomic carrier or a diaper genie to individually seal each diaper.

Here's what Mom received when I was born.
All of my registry items are great, but I have to remember that Mom has already shown and given me all I really need for when baby Autumn arrives: Her positive outlook, toughness wrapped in sweetness, grace, a smile even when it's tough or I'm tired, a whole lot of patience and love, love, love. Everything else is really, when it comes down to it, unnecessary, isn't it? Who cares if you have the fanciest nursery on the block and every baby comforting machine on the market if you're stressed out and complaining to your husband all the time?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

What's in a Name, Part 2: Our Autumn

We have chosen a name for our baby girl! This posting was written by my husband Nathan, who explains how we went about choosing the perfect name for this little girl that we both already love so much. 
A major part of planning for a family includes selecting names for the next generation.  Choosing names can be a difficult decision that brings disagreement between the parents, and can bring or deny the child of many opportunities.  Often times Megan and I were tempted with more obscure names, or names that reiterate family lines.  I often told Megan that she could choose the girl's name and the boy's name would be left to me.  People who know me know that I am a sucker for tradition, and any boy that may have been would only have one of three first names: James, Charles, or Earl.  Megan only protested slightly to this arrangement, and the point was moot since we discovered we were going to be having a baby girl after two rounds of IVF. 

Once Megan and I found out that we were going to have a baby girl, we started in earnest to find a girl's name.  Megan and I approached this process differently. Megan had been exploring girls names for a while and had a favorite.  I took a different path I listened and reviewed a few name books and rejected some names immediately based off previous experience with the name; as a teacher there are a few non starters. As a more traditional person, trendy, popular names gain little favor with me.  Names that cleared these first two hurdles were put into my slow cooker (brain) and left for awhile until they were brought to a simmer.  While in my slow cooker, names would go into the first process of just being there.  That is, did they, over time, begin to stand out from the other countless names offered from books, friends, and school rosters.  

Once a name had been simmering for a while, I would usually have a few other names to think about at the same time.  I would continue to analyze the name, looking for negatives and positives, and how such a name could affect my future daughter.  Through this process, a few names made it to the end, and one name edged out what was to be my runner up, Josephine. 

I fell in love with the name Autumn.   Let's start with the negative, it maybe too obscure, and its definition means born in Autumn, which my Autumn will not be.  The definition originally kicked the name out of the list of possible names, but over time the name kept coming back to me.  Over time, the name Autumn came to mean much more to me than born in Autumn.

On my nightly walks, I kept thinking about Autumn. I began to think about the season of Autumn.  Once my thoughts began to focus on the name Autumn, I dismissed the first concern that some of my friends had pointed out; the Autumn was too new-age.  Perhaps Autumn is not popular, but I suggest that it is anything but new age, and it certainly isn't trendy.

The term of Autumn is more innate and tied to the basic nature of man than most any other name I can think of.  Autumn is a season, but it is also much more. When I explained my meaning behind the name Autumn, Megan, who originally liked the name, fell in love with it even more.

During human history, man has been tied to the seasons.  In Winter, the masses would huddle together, struggling to survive in the cold harsh conditions, relying mostly on their stores of food.  In Spring, life begins to renew and you work to plant your crop for the future.  In Summer, you tend to your crop and perhaps towards the end of summer, you can start the harvest.  And, in Autumn, as the heat subsides, yet Winter has not arrived, the harvest continues and comes to an end. Autumn is the time you have worked all year for; a time when you sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Autumn On the Hudson River-1860-Jasper Francis Cropsey

Autumn is a time of plenty. The seed that was sown months ago, and tended to for the majority of the year has come to reward the owner many times over.  This is my Autumn.

My  Autumn is my reward.  My reward for the years I worked, the years I went to school, the years I looked for my Mrs. Swanek,  and the for all the years and all the efforts that were given by my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. to me and to the future generations.  Everyone who has gone before me in my family worked hard for her, my wife and I struggled to meet her, and there was a time in the Winter when my wife and I were unsure that we would ever see our Autumn.  My wife and I continued to work hard through the winter, tended to the crop in the Spring, and in a few months, our Autumn will arrive.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Kismet: London, not Venice

Sometimes, the best laid plans go to waste. And sometimes, those plans are derailed for reasons unknown to us at the moment, with better ones waiting to be revealed.

We were relaxing in the American Airlines Admiral's club at the Chicago, O'Hare airport when our names we called over the paging system. Nathan disappeared for awhile, while I continued crocheting, ready to board our business class seats to Madrid within the hour, and then continue on to Venice, Italy, a place we had been dreaming about for months. 

After about 10 minutes, Nathan came back and silently walked up to me, looking really upset. All he said was "Umm, you need to follow me." As we walked to the counter, I knew it was bad news. We're probably not sitting together, I naively thought. Or at the very worst, maybe we're flying coach. As we approached the counter, he let them do the talking.
I'm really sorry, but you will need to return home. You cannot enter Italy because your passport expires in March. It needs to be valid for a full 90 days after your expected return date.
I was too in shock to be upset. Valid 3 months after we return?! That makes no sense. I stood there, bewildered, and said But we can't go home. Is there a manager I can speak to? Well, he was the manager and there was nothing that could be done: It was a rule of the entire European Union, not the airline. So I did what any pregnant woman about to be denied a babymoon would do. I started crying. The silent type of cry that produces lots of tears and really lets people know you're serious.

We couldn't do an emergency renewal because it was a Saturday, and Monday was a holiday. If we had been sent out of the lounge and left to fend for ourselves, not only would we have not been able to go anywhere else (last minute tickets are always outrageous!) but we could have lost all of our miles being used and had to pay for the return, because the trip had technically already started. But the staff of American Airlines, specifically Doug Dean, Cheryl Krajnovic, Tami and Isolina Conception were amazing. Isolina even brought me some of her almonds while she helped us on the customer service call. 

The entire European Union was out, but within an hour, we had our choice of a few destinations, including Australia. All I could think about was the 85 degree weather there and my suitcase loaded down with cold-weather clothes. Buying new clothing can be fun, but not when I have to shop maternity and they would only fit me for a few more months. The only upside to going to Australia would have been the fact that Nathan offered to turn all of his jeans into cut-off short shorts, and rock them like no one's business.

London, England? Well, it had the same weather as Venice, and was not officially in the EU, so we could enter. Even though we had each been there before, separately, it seemed to be the best of our limited options. They held the aircraft at the gates waiting for us and when they drove us to the gate, we boarded immediately. 

In the lounge at Heathrow, Nathan booked a great hotel in the Covent garden area that was actually reasonable, while I bought tickets to see War Horse at the New London Theater. We made our way to the hotel, slept and freshened up and then found a great local pub, Shakespeare's Head, a place that we would end up at 7 more times over the next 8 days because the food was good and we could get two meals for under 20 pounds. McDonald's was almost as expensive there.

On the off-chance she was free, I called my Mum's sister and left a voicemail letting her know that we unexpectedly ended up in London, and asking if she had time to get together, to possibly see where Mom grew up. My Mom lost touch with most of her family over the years since she left after getting married at 19. I had only met her sister once, when she came to America when I was 12. We had only spoken on the phone twice, once after Mom was diagnosed, and once after she died. I wasn't even sure she still lived near London.

A few days went by. Nathan and I had an amazing time exploring the city on foot, with minimal use of the Underground until I was too tired and needed it. We walked past the London Eye, over to Big Ben and Houses of Parliament, to Westminster Abbey and through Hyde Park. To Buckingham Palace and back. We explored the British Museum, had dessert every night, went to the Tower of London, Harrod's and on a Jack the Ripper walking tour. Through all of this, we enjoyed the time just to ourselves, something we haven't had in over seven months.

Outside Westminster Abbey on Ash Wednesday
Nathan said that after his first trip over 10 years ago, he never needed to see London again. But on this trip, he saw the city in a different light and can now see himself returning. We talked about bringing our daughter back, and found some souvenirs for her: a musical Peter Rabbit, My First Paddington Bear, Paddington Visits the Palace book, a baby carriage ornament from Buckingham Palace and two bodysuits from Westminster Abbey; one with the Union Jack, and one with a crown.

We had just booked our weekend plans, The Changeling, a 17th century play all by candlelight, at The Globe and a tour of Windsor Castle when she called. My Aunt was free to give us a tour of where Mom grew up! And she could do it the one last free day we had. That night, I went to bed a bit nervous and excited. I was worried it would be too sad or emotional, and mostly just wished Mom was coming along with us. And with the help of my imagination, it felt like she was. I imagined her by my side, with her arm around my waist and mine around hers, as we so often did those last few months when the brain tumor robbed her of her balance.

Wearing the cross that holds some of her remains, we took the tube to Paddindton Station and from there, caught a train into Reading. The train ride only took 30 minutes, and I realized that Mom always saying she grew up "30 minutes outside of London" was indeed accurate. 

We arrived at the station and after sitting out front for a few minutes, my phone rang and it was my uncle Mark! I had not seen him since I was two when he came to visit my Mom with my grandmother Lilly. That was the first and last time I met her, and she brought me a gollywog. Turning around, there he was, all grown up, walking with Anna. Some hugs and introductions to Nathan, and we were on our way.

The day could not have been more perfect. I was hoping to just see one house Mom lived in, but they planned so much more. First up: visiting the grave of my grandmother Lilly, and my great-grandmother, Mary. 

Mary mangan
Died Feb 15 1965 aged 66

Lilly sheehan
Nov 2 1993 aged 65
While our baby's first name has changed a few times, all along we have been planning to give her the middle name Mary because that was my Mom's middle name and also his aunt's name. I didn't realize that my Mom's middle name was Mary after her grandmother until I stood here, at her grave. Anna and Mark left us alone there for awhile, and I prayed for them and to them, thanking them for raising such a wonderful, beautiful, loving and kind person.
Mary Mangan with my Mom, Paula Mary DeWitt (Mangan)
Next up: the very first place Mom lived when her Mum and grandmother emigrated from Ireland with her in tow,areound a year old. I had no idea that the three of them lived in one bedroom. Not "rented a one-bedroom" but actually lived in just the bedroom. We aren't sure which room it was, but it is one of these rooms, in an old Victorian on Castle Hill. It would be just around a year until they could afford something better.
1st house (actually a room)

I imagine the stigma they faced, just two women and a child. I know at least one person who judges that now, let alone back in the early 1950's. What strong women they were to up and leave like that, seeking work and a better life for little Paula.

The next place we saw was where they moved after they saved up enough to get out of the one room, and then where they were living when my grandmother met her husband, Johnny Sheehan, also an emigrant from Ireland. 

2nd house
3rd house

Finally, a few streets over, the house where they all lived at and raised their five other children, Johnny, Michael, Julie, Anna and Mark. This last house is where Mom was living when my father was courting her.

4th and final house

Street view

As you can tell from the street view, all the houses look the same. But I remember Mom saying my grandma painted her door red, and was talked to by the housing council who did not appreciate the originality.

Already, it was an amazing day, but what they had in store for us next was incredible. Down the street and to the left is Christ the King Catholic Church at 408 Northumberland Avenue, Reading RG2 8NR. This was where my Mom and Dad were married on August 9, 1969 but also, as I learned that day, where my Grandmother and Grandfather were married. For years, I knew my Mom's and Dad's wedding picture, with them standing in a doorway. But i had never seen her parent's wedding photo, also in the same spot. My Aunt Anna had an 8x10 of this photo to give me, and it made our visit there all the more meaningful. The church was even open that Friday afternoon because they were setting up for a concert, and we were able to walk down the aisle, imagining the excitement nervousness Mom and Dad felt when they were doing the same.
Lastly, we were off to visit my grandfather. This was to be my very first time meeting him. I knew it would be hard. Eight months earlier, he suffered a stroke while walking to meet his Irish friends at a pub and had lost his ability to speak. Anna and Mark entered the room first, and told him someone special was here to see him, Paula's daughter, Megan from America. I entered the room and after he saw me, he began weeping. You have to remember that is a strong Irish man who never spoke about his feelings and was probably never caught crying his whole adult life and now here he was, breaking down. He held onto my hand tightly and alternated between trying to communicate and crying. Tears fell as I thanked him for being such a good father to my Mom. Asked if I looked like her, he nodded and griped my hand tightly. We told him our daughter's name and when asked if he liked it, he nodded and tried to say yes. When I asked if I could take this photo with him, he reached his hand up to make sure he smoothed his hair down and nodded yes.

Meeting my grandfather, Johnny Sheehan, for the first time. Born in Castleisland, Ireland in 1932.
Looking into his blue eyes made me keenly aware of how quickly time passes. How I wished I had visited him just one year prior, when he could have had a pint and a laugh over his stories, like he did with my Mom in this photo below so many years earlier. But still, here I was with him and for that I will always be grateful. If you have family in far away places, go visit them now. These memories and photos are something that cannot be bought. The tendency to be practical or frugal can sadly win out, and once they're gone, you can't change your mind. 
L-R: Bartender, Alan Bride, my Grandfather Johnny Sheehan, my Mom Paula DeWitt (Mangan)
Leaving was tough, because its not like I could say see you again soon or, ever. We left his room and all sat down in the common area of the nursing home. Night had fallen, and my heart was full with everything that had transpired that day. But there was one final surprise left in store for me. Anna brought photo albums, and told me that I could take any of the pictures I wanted. I paused when I saw a wedding photo of my Mom and Dad that I had never seen.

Another book was filled with baby photos of me, that my Mom sent to her Mum. But one gem stood out, and tears began flowing as I held it. This photo of my Mom holding me at three days old melts my heart, and is something I will always treasure. The love and care that she wraps me in with her arms is almost tangible, and when I look at it, I can feel it. I hope to take a similar one of our daughter, and hang them both in the nursery.

In all, it was a much more meaningful trip than Venice ever could have been. More than one person has told me that it was meant to be and I believe them. A few years ago, I laughed at the old adage everything happens for a reason. But situations like this trip make me think there is something to that. None of this would have been possible without the help of those American Airlines staff and I wish they could know just how much their help means to us both, for all the years to come, and one day, to our daughter.

Mom, making a wish

Mom, with her cats
At 18 months, with my gollywog that my grandma brought me

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Babymoon Booked!

This "relaxing or romantic vacation taken by parents-to-be before their baby is born" was likely invented by a group of smart, scheming women who liked to vacation. It didn't really exist 10 years ago, yet is something husbands can end up feeling guilty for not giving their wife, much like the newly invented "push present."

Planning to take full advantage, I started planting ideas for a babymoon in my husband's head early, before we were even pregnant. I knew it would be an easy sell since he loves to travel, and we try to take an international trip every February anyway.

Venice is known for being one of the most romantic cities in the world. It is also know for being one of the most expensive. That's why its best to travel off season, like we did when we visited Rome. Our district has a week off every February, which is the perfect opportunity to take advantage of places like this. We fly out on Valentine's Day. Sure, it will be a little chilly, but we won't be fighting the crowds, and what other place could look as beautiful in the gloomy mists of a winter fog? With all of the walking we'll be doing, I actually prefer cooler weather, and Venice has a high of 50 right now.

I'm just starting to explore things to do, but already have a few things on our must-do list. We will be catching the tail end of the Venice Carnival, which started back in the 11th century and was very popular until outlawed by the King of Austria in 1797, and picked back up after a long absence in 1979. During the Carnival (Carnevale) f
rom January 31 - February 17, 2015, Venice will slough off the winter gloom and burst into life. This most magical of cities fills with a mass of masked party-goers - posing and preening, dancing and philandering, in a slightly surreal re-invention of a great tradition of the city. (Think Eyes Wide Shut.)

What's any historic city without a good Murder and Mystery Tour? Those of you who know me well, know I only watch one channel: Investigation Discovery so this is right up my (dark) alley. Discover an entirely different Venice as we make our way through a labyrinth of narrow alleyways, where shadows linger and footsteps echo. Imagine a dark silent Venice with no lighting, eerie and spooky.

Learn about the public executions in St. Marks square, the inhumane mental asylums situated on the lagoon islands. Anecdotes of the courtesans, casinos and brothels and of course Casanova and 'the last kissing spot'.

There's a story of the mysterious footprints, headless body and the head seen floating in a canal, the assassins alleyway and the murdered women dressed in white! Secret courtyards and architectural gems hidden in the silent alleys, such as the impressive spiral staircase. Finally the story of the ill-fated Theatre, La Fenice and mystery of the last fire...

I'm also excited about where we're staying: the Hilton Molino Stucky on Giudecca Island, facing the Grand Canal. Once a flourishing flourmill, it is now internationally recognized as one of Italy’s iconic pieces of industrial architecture. 

Hilton Molino Stucky Venice - Exterior
Our hotel
But forget about the architecture, I'm more interested in the spa! The 6,500 square foot spa is billed as the largest wellness center in Venice, and I can't wait to get a treatment or two there. It also has 7 restaurants and bars, including a panoramic rooftop bar that promises sweeping of the skyline. The hotel also offers a complimentary shuttle boat over to the 9th century St. Mark's Square and nearby Doge's Palace

Other than that, the rest of our itinerary will be open. Nathan made all of the (first class!) travel arrangements, and said it's up to me to plan what we do while we're there. I like to have things on my must see list, but not in any particular order or day. Having too full of an itinerary is stressful.

I definitely want to see the Peggy Guggenheim collection, attend Mass at St. Mark's Basilica, and explore two of the famous islands of the Venetian Lagoon - Murano and Burano. Burano has all the colorful buildings and is known for its intricate lace (I can't wait to find something for Autumn there) and Murano is known for their precious glass. Lastly, I hope we can catch a show at the Teatro San Gallo close to our hotel.

But mostly, I want to walk down narrow alley-ways holding hands, not knowing where we're going, while getting about as lost as you can on an island.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Wait, it's a Boy!? Becoming Foster Parents

Before our baby girl arrives at the end of May, we're having a boy! A teenage boy.

As I was about to leave work on Tuesday, I received a call that a student I had been working with was placed at an emergency youth shelter, Orangewood. I can't discuss any of the circumstances surrounding why he was placed there not just because of confidentiality, but because it is his story. None of us would like our stories shared, and there is always misinformation and another side to things. Suffice to say, he was now in "the system" and would be looking at at least two months there (usually closer to eight or nine) before hopefully being placed with a foster family. 

That is, unless someone who was related to him or knew him stepped forward. I already knew that he had no one. I thought of how he had attended school every day the prior week, a first for the entire school year, and how he was just starting to smile and feel connected. I spoke to our campus police officer who has been instrumental in helping get him clothing, shoes and school supplies, and he said he was searching his mind for someone who could take him in. He said he would take him himself, except that he has four boys, and I knew he meant it. Everyone likes this kid. Right away, I wanted to say "We'll take him!" but knew I needed to talk to Nathan, who would probably tell me it wasn't good timing.

Without hesitation or even a whole lot of information, my husband was all for it said we should help. We were being called to do so. I was surprised by his response, but I probably shouldn't have been. On one of our first dates, he told me he believes service to others is his main purpose in life. He said that although he has never met this boy, he trusts my judgement. This means a lot to me, especially in light of the fact that I routinely loose my cell phone inside my own house and just the other day put the ice cream away in the fridge, overnight. We decided to move forward.

The first step was to speak to his social worker and give her all of the information needed on both of us to complete a criminal background check. She also asked the student if he would want to live with us, and his answer was yes. On Wednesday night, we spoke to him and set up our our first visit for the following day.

The fact that we are flying to Italy on Valentine's Day presented a problem because we can't very well leave him unattended for 10 days while we ride gondolas and eat lasagna. At first, the social worker said that we would just wait until the end of February, when we return. But that didn't seem right, and I searched for someone willing to take him while we were gone. I was amazed to find out that one of his teachers was willing to take him for the entire time we are gone. The social worker was in support, and they are moving forward with that background check as well.

Every day, Nathan and I have been talking about this and giving it careful consideration. Can we really commit to having him stay with us for six months to a year, possibly more? What if behavior problems arise? What will it be like with a newborn? With our backgrounds and experiences I feel that we are fairly well equipped to handle whatever is thrown our way. I told my husband that I love him more for being so open to doing this, and he said he is so happy he found someone who is willing to take this on. Being 5 months pregnant, it may not be the best timing, but its as good a time as any. We don't choose when we're called to serve, and the timing for something like this is probably never perfect.

We had our first meeting with him Thursday night and it could not have gone any better. He hit it off with my husband, talking about video games and baseball. We tried to get to know him, asking what his favorite things to eat are and what he likes to do. All three of us were a bit nervous. He smiled a lot, very shyly, while looking down. He seemed excited. When we asked him if he had any questions, he wanted to know what time he would need to go to bed, and if he could drink soda. If he was allowed to drink soda, how many could he have in a week? Rather than having set answers, we told him that we would all talk and figure out what was best with his input.

Toward the end of our visit, I told him that we are just here to help, and that he didn't choose to be in this situation and that it wasn't fair, or his fault. His response astounded me so much that I had to ask him to repeat himself. He said "Better me than someone else." We ended the visit on a positive note and told him we would be back to see him on Saturday.

This time, we were able to take him out of Orangewood for two hours. We walked around the Block at Orange and had lunch at TGI Fridays, a place he had never been. Again, it went really well and I think we can both now see ourselves in this role.

Our home visit is scheduled for next Wednesday, where they will open every drawer and peer into every cabinet. It's supposed to last two hours. They will also be asking us some pretty interesting questions I assume, because she already front-loaded us and told me not to be offended, "They're just questions we ask everybody."

The clothes that were given to him a few weeks ago did not make it with him to Orangewood, so we are in the process of contacting some people who may be able to help. While there eventually will be some funding that comes with him for clothing and food, it does not kick in for 6-8 weeks and his birthday is less than two weeks away. My friend Delia asked her friend Dave who has already made contact with some people at Hurley, Oakley and Vans.

We are both so excited about the possibility of making a difference, even a small one, in this young man's life. So many people care about him - more than he knows - and their caring and concern motivated us to take this leap. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

14 Days of Love - DIY with Printables

((This repost is from The Dating Divas who reposted from Six Sisters Stuff.))

I'm excited to do this for Nathan! Last year, I did a scavenger hunt for him on Valentine's Day. You can view that posting here. I like that this is for two weeks leading up to Valentine's Day, so it helps build the excitement while taking a little pressure off of the gift. I plan to leave these by the coffee pot or in his car in the morning, since I leave before he does. Or, around the house if it's something he won't be taking to work (like the sparkling cider). The printables are found here. I've made my shopping list, and have started picking up a few items each time I go to the store.

One or two of these could be used instead of the whole 14. You could also use some of them for children, friends or co-workers. "You are the apple of my eye" is great for a child, and "You are soda-mazing" could be given to just about anyone.

You are the “apple” of my eye!
You could also use apple juice, candy apple rings or actual apples.

“Honey, comb” you’re hair, because we’ve got a date tonight!
If you’re not into cereal you could just use a regular comb.

You are one “hot tamale!”
You could also use Red Hots or any other cinnamon candy.

I’m “nuts” about you!
You could use any type of nuts, a Nutrageous candy bar, or Nutter Butter cookies.

I wouldn’t “chews” anyone but you!
You could also use Starburst fruit chews, Charleston Chews, or Chewy granola bars.

I think you are “soda” amazing!
You could also use Soda Candies or Soda Crackers.

We were “mint” to be together!
You could also use York Peppermint Patties, Butter Mints, or a mint flavored dessert.

We make a great “combo!”
These were my husband’s favorite growing up so I just had to use them!  They are found right by the checkout.
You could also use a combination flavored pizza or PB and J combo jars.

Thanks for “stick”ing by my side!
We lose chapstick as soon as we get it around here so this works well for us.
You could also use Chic-O-Sticks, Orange or Raspberry Sticks or super glue (or anything else sticky for that matter).

I’m “bananas” for you!
You could also use real bananas or banana flavored candy.

You have o”fish”ally stolen my heart!
You could also use gold fish crackers.

I would be so “mix”ed up without you!
You could use any flavor of Chex Mix, trail mix or other snack mix.

Life would be un”bear”able without you!
You could also use a honey bear or Klondike Bars with the bear on the front (just be sure to keep them in the freezer). :)

You make my heart “bubble” over!
You could use any type of carbonated beverage, Bubble Tape, or Bubble Yum.

Print your 14 day tags here!

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