Our miracle RAINBOW BABY BOY arrived 8/2018

1st IVF = BFN
2nd IVF = Baby A, born May 2015
3rd IVF = Miscarriage at 14 weeks
4th IVF = BFN
After we paid for 5th IVF, positive pregnancy without IVF!

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.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Arizona & Oregon - November, 2022

November is one of my favorite months, second only to December. December goes by so fast, try as we might to savor it, but November starts and builds the anticipation of the Christmas season. For this reason, November seems to last a little longer. I love our tradition of going to Williams, Arizona, over Veteran's Day weekend for the Polar Express because it really kicks off the season. It "feels" like Christmas there. It's colder, some light snow is often on the ground, and everything is decorated. And I feel connected to Mom when we're there because the first time I visited Williams was with her in 2007, after my first year as a counselor.  Hubby planned to go with us but ended up being sick, so I made the 6-7 hour drive alone with the kids. We met up with two teachers from my school and their families.

This was our third year on the Polar Express, but this year, we upped the magic by adding in the North Pole Experience. The NPX was exponentially more amazing and if you go there, you have to do it! You can read about it in greater detail here, but it is an immersive 90-minute experience at the North Pole. First, everyone boards a shuttle bus to the North Pole. The bus windows are blacked out, but the screens and audio let you know that you're actually entering a magical portal. How else could you get transported to the real North Pole so quickly? In a group of about 25, children and their parents move from room to room for different activities and adventures. We visited Santa's workshop, filled with historical toys, Mrs. Claus' bakery, and an elf classroom, and wrote out a letter to Santa. The children were able to hand deliver their letter to Santa and spend a few moments with him. Cha asked for a "Hopacopter that flies, with a remote control," and Aut asked for "An American Girl doll and American Girl Doll room." 

Before heading home, we visited Bearizona again. Bearizona is a drive-through wilderness zoo and experience that the kids love. It's so thrilling to be in your car and have Artic Wolves roaming just a few feet away. You also drive through areas with bears, bison, deer, and mountain goats. At the end of the drive-through part is an actual zoo to get out and explore. 

On the way home, we made an impromptu stop at Calico Ghosttown, a place I went to as a child, and my father visited when he was Aut's age with his grandmother (Eileen, my great-grandmother). We arrived at dusk without too much time to explore but left with plans to return. Aut is fascinated by "olden days" stuff and has a lot of questions about who lived there and where they went.

As we pulled out of the parking lot just after sunset, one of the most heartfelt conversations I've ever had with Aut happened organically. If you know me, you know that my Mom was my best friend and that she is always on my mind. I want my children to know her, and so I do bring her up from time to time, but not nearly as often as I think of her, which is every hour of every day. In the 8 years since her death, the thoughts have thankfully lessened in the severity of their sadness, but still, even the happy memories of her leave me wistfully wishing that she was here. I do not want to burden the children with these thoughts and hide this aspect from them. When I do speak of her, I keep it positive and light. "Mommy, are the people who lived here still alive?" she asked. "No, babe, they're not." Why not was her follow-up question, and when I explained that it had been too long, no one can live that long she said, "That's sad. I don't want to die, and I don't want you to, either." I responded with, "Neither do I, baby girl. But that's because we have so much living to do! We have a lot left on this earth before we're ready for Heaven." Not to be deterred, she said, "Well, I wish it wasn't true." 

I thought this was a good time for the ol' glass-half-full optimism/pessimism analogy. Aut, it's like this: If I fill up a glass exactly halfway, is it half full, or is it half empty? "Ummm, it's half empty," she said after some thought. "If that's how you view it! But look, you can focus on the positive and say it's half full! That's what my Mommy did. Even when she knew she didn't have much time left, she didn't feel sad or sorry for herself because she looked at all she did have; she looked at the glass half full."

"Oh, Mommy, I wish she was still here," she said. Tears welling up in my eyes, I said, "Me too, baby girl; she would have loved this trip. She should be here...and I wish that she was here too. She loved children, and she wanted to hold you so bad. Would you like to say a little prayer to her?" as we prayed, I kept my eyes on the road so she wouldn't notice. After the prayer, there was a pause, and then she said, "You know, Mommy...I feel like when we talk about someone and when we pray about them, it's like they're here with us." Out of the mouths of babes. Such heartfelt and amazing words from our sweet 7-year-old.

We returned home and back into the swing of things, with the Christmas decorations slowly making their way into the house. We attended a play at South Coast Repertory and then went to Maggiano's. The girls had such a great time that an impromptu sleepover was scheduled on the spot for that very night. We also worked in a visit with Auntie Andrea, my best friend since 6th grade. 

Then, it was time to unpack and then re-pack, as we geared up to head to Oregon for Thanksgiving. I love going to Oregon for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I get to escape the seemingly endless list of tasks to do at home. Downtime while there truly is downtime because I don't have a pile of clothes to fold in the next room. I was able to get back to crocheting a blanket that I hadn't worked on in months, read and run and workout almost every day. While there, I averaged just over 6 miles a day, half of which were running. The kids loved having time with their cousins, and they all played together more than ever before. So much so that one morning, when I came downstairs to get coffee, Aut greeted me but when right back to playing with MC. It wasn't that long ago that she didn't want me to ever be out of her site. The passage of time is more apparent with our trips to Oregon because they only happen a few times a year, so it's like fast-forwarding and jumping ahead. When you remember certain milestones from Oregon, you have less to sift through and so the leaps in growth are larger. For example, when we were there in summer, I don't think her foot could quite reach the pedals of the Gator. Yet on this visit, she was able to drive it all on her own!

Baking with Grandma

Grandma's "Heaven on earth."

Until next time, Oregon...

Monday, November 21, 2022

October, 2022

We kicked off the month at the pumpkin patch, where Aut had an activity with her Girl Scout troop and I took photos of their cousin. This month we continued Cha's soccer practice and games, had the jog-a-thon at the kids' school, and survived Red Ribbon week, which required a different dress-up each day. I  make notes and set reminders but my I alway have a niggling fear of sending her not dressed in the theme or worse yet, in the wrong theme. 

Not many things in life are quite as cute as their awkward poses.

Uncle Glennie also took us all to the zoo, which we had not visited since before Covid. The kids had a blast with him and it was nice to have a fun activity to do together, but we missed Dad. His mobility remains limited and we are hopeful that an upcoming surgery will help.

We had our first rain of the season and began preparing for our largest Halloween party yet, with 150 people! Our theme this year was Disney Villain's. I made a scare-chuterie board (below) using prosciutto wrapped around string cheese (fingers) and goat's cheese (hand). It was our first party post-pool and we weren't sure that we would have room for everyone.to free up some space, we put the taco cart out front and that helped the flow.

New this year, we had a 360 photobooth which everyone seemed to love, as they were able to have the videos air-dropped to them right then. And, fun for me- I received a link of all the videos to download!

Halloween night
Treats in the Streets

Monday, October 31, 2022

London Calling - September, 2022

I was 23 and finishing up at my 4-year university; living on my own for the first time. A professor in one of my classes spoke about being a vegetarian, and I decided that this cause was for me. A life-long animal lover, this appealed to me. However, since the professor was teaching a psychology course and not a nutritional course, I interpreted being a vegetarian as eating a ton of carbs combined with a lot of cheese. Cheese enchiladas and pizza became a regular staple. This caused me to gain weight, and suddenly, being a vegetarian was less important to me. But I still wanted to help fight the cause. And so I subscribed to an old-school publication (the kind that comes in the mail) called ActionLine. Each month, a color magazine arrived detailing awful animal atrocities that were taking place across the united states, including pictures of things such as factory farming, animal testing for cosmetics, animals killed for their fur, etc. 

I started to dread the monthly magazine, yet would sit down and read it cover to cover, tears filling my eyes as I diligently wrote my letters to whomever they instructed me to so that they would stop. I felt powerless because, well...I was powerless. I was only one person; what could I really do about it?

So one day, I called up my Dad and asked him what I should do, what I could do. I wanted to change what was happening, to help all the animals in different situations. His answer was something I had not considered and brilliantly simple: "STOP READING IT." 

"What?! But then it's happening, and I'm not doing anything about it!" came my retort.

"Yes, but it's ruining your day. It's ruining your life. Do what you can, when you can, but stop subjecting yourself to this."

And so I did. With my Dad's advice, I threw the publication right in the trash and never looked back. It was so freeing. It doesn't mean that I no longer care about animals. I have done what I can throughout my life to make a positive difference in the lives of animals, and will always continue to do so. From finding baby Isis near death in the bush at a strip mall to fostering dogs, I help where I can, when I can. But the work is positive and rewarding, unlike looking at all those photos, which is a special kind of torture. I think this may be where the saying ignorance is bliss came from. I felt hopeless writing letters to the heads of corporations that would never be read. Instead, helping animals in a very real way does not ruin my day and does not, in turn, affect those around me. 

Fast forward to now. I won't waste my time (and your time) detailing all of the political issues getting me fired up lately (think: protecting our children), but this month, I decided to unfollow every political account on social media. I just stood up, threw the 2022 equivalent of that magazine, ActionLine, in the trash, and started fasting from negativity. Just like I felt so many years ago, I was instantly lighter and happier. We are in control of our happiness, not the political climate or whatever else gets us fired up.

My friend AnnMarie gave me the idea and the nudge when she shared this podcast/sermon with me: Silence Your Negative Thoughts | Peace of Mind: Part 5

I started listening to it on my lunch run. At first, I thought that it was super basic and a review of my undergraduate psychology degree. But then, it started bringing in scripture and the idea of fasting from negativity. The idea that our thoughts influence our actions and life is simple. But this caused me to reflect and ask myself: If it's such a simple concept, why am I not doing it? I'll be sailing through my day, having a great one, and then learn about some ridiculous mandate or law that I can't control, and suddenly, I'm all fired up and certain that while there may be hope for some children, there certainly is not any hope for all children. 

And so, I unfollowed every single political account and had a very pleasant rest of the month, living in a Harry Potter-like snow globe, traveling to London, and reconnecting with my Mom's family across the pond. I delved into some great fiction, started reading the gospels, and loved the heck out of my kids and husband, feeling more present with them instead of ruminating on something beyond my control. Disconnecting from anything political really helped each day feel lighter and more care-free. It doesn't mean that I won't help and be involved when and where I can, similar to fostering dogs, but it is a topic that I am too passionate about. My mood gets hijacked when I'm not expecting it and alters the course of my day in a negative way.

Christ the King Catholic Church in Reading, England. On the same steps where the childrens' grandparents and great-grandparents were married.

London was amazing. It brought me so much closer to my Mom's side of the family, many of whom I met for the very first time. It was such a meaningful trip because the children and I were honored to be in Aunt Anna's wedding. Aut was the flower girl, Cha was the Page Boy, and I was her Matron of Honor. My father and brother went as well, and each did a reading. It was held in the very same church that my parent's were married in, as well as my grandparents. Growing up, I always knew of my Mom's family (5 siblings) in England, but the cost of travel kept us apart. This trip not only re-connected me to them, but helped me realize that I mean much more to them than I ever imagined.

It was our first international trip without Daddy. We almost didn't go because I was worried about all the ways it could end up a disaster! I thought of going by myself, but couldn't bare the thought of being apart from them for that long, nor depriving them of the family connection. Generally speaking, our children are really well-behaved. But when we do see behavior in them, it is almost always when they are tired. And when they're tired and exhibit behavior, Daddy is usually the only one that they will listen to. I'm a big softie, and they know it... even when I try to act tough. I have been known to give in when I shouldn't, inadvertently reinforcing their behavior. And when do I lose my patience? When I'm tired too, of course. All this added up to a myriad of scenarios in my head, all of which were disastrous. But what was I not expecting? For it all to go off without a hitch and for them both to be exemplary.


But then again, if me bragging about my kids triggered you, you probably wouldn't be here in the first place. We all know that I do more than my fair share of that! Like most moms, I am naturally inclined to think our two tiny humans are amazing. I like to think that they are so well-behaved because my husband and I make such a good team and balance, with me pouring a ton of love and attention into them and with him being a firm shaper of behavior (who also loves the heck out of them). Still, they far surpassed any expectations I had of them.

We landed at Heathrow on Thursday late morning. We had departed Orange County late afternoon and were not flying business class. While the children managed to sleep on my lap for about 4 hours, I did not sleep a wink. We took a train to the Reading station, and then a cab to the DeVer Wokefield Estate and were blown away! Like the children's behavior, it far exceeded anything I pictured. Truly, I felt like we were staying at Downton Abbey (which was filmed about 30 minutes away). The scope and scale of the place was grandiose, and the kids had such a fun time exploring! So did I. There was a slight chill in the air, but the weather was beautiful, with billowy white clouds. 

A mansion house hotel near Reading

There has been an estate at Wokefield since the first house was built in the 1560s for the wealthy Plowden family.  Set in 250 acres of Berkshire parkland, its history is etched in the different architectural features that greet you throughout.

Originally, I was thinking we would nap but we pushed through and it was the best decision. We were all asleep by 8pm, London time, and slept until our alarm went off at 8:30 the next morning. Aut did wake up briefly in the night but went back to sleep. We could have kept sleeping, but didn't want to miss the amazing, free breakfast with a thousand choices! This first night really helped us adjust well to the time change. Our secret? Three milligrams of melatonin.

We had a nice, relaxing day on Friday, swimming and napping. Then, we took a cab into Reading to Christ the King Catholic church for the evening wedding rehearsal. We were finally able to embrace Anna, and see my cousin Carl whom I hadn't seen since he was about 7, and met the groom, Ashley. Then, we entered the church. Stepping through the doors of Christ the King brought with it an actual feeling which I struggle to put into words. A feeling of connection to the past; of closeness and connection to family. In 2015, we met Anna on those very steps, while I was pregnant with Aut. Knowing that this was the same aisle that my parents walked down in 1969 and her parents before her gave me a sense of belonging. My Mom attended the church's attached Catholic school and played in that school yard. Her home was within walking distance, and her first job, at Gillette, was just around the corner. Upon entering, I was so excited to meet my Mom's sister Julie for the first time, and her brothers, Michael and Johnny. 

Being there was all a bit overwhelming and indescribably meaningful. But what do you say to your aunts and uncles when nearly a lifetime has gone by? I started with what I wanted to know the most: "Tell me about Mom! What do you remember?" They were all very young when she married and moved to America but I was surprised to learn from Julie that "Oh, Paula used to tease us, and she would give me a wedgie!" After exchanging a few pleasantries, the Irish Priest arrived (all the way from Galway!) and it was time to start the rehearsal. 

I learned that children and I were to be seated in the front row. Because it was a Catholic Mass, it also meant that there would be a lot of up and down, and it would last quite awhile. I quickly realized at the rehearsal on Friday night that they were going to be fully on display. And, they would both need to walk town the aisle, all eyes on them. What if the morning came and Charles decided not to? Like that one time he was tired and new to soccer practice and flat-out refused to participate or even get on the field?! Unlike with his swimming lessons, I could not hand him off to the instructor in the pool. There was no way to "make" him stay on the field, only consequences after the fact, as there would be no way to "make" him walk down the aisle. Oh boy, I thought. I mean, the children and I being in the wedding was sort of the whole point of the trip!!

The morning came after another night of great sleep, and we stepped across the hall to help Aunt Anna get ready. This trip really helped me realize how important we are to Aunt Anna, and her to us. As mentioned previously, I was hesitant to take them and worried about their behavior without Dad there. But she gently urged me to and I will forever remain thankful that she did. They connected with her so much, as did I. As we were getting ready to go to DeVere, it was decided that the kids would ride with her in the wedding car, which they were so excited to do!
The beautiful Bride, Aunt Anna!

I rode with the photographer and we encountered so much traffic that we were almost late!! The kids were already in position, ready to walk down the aisle, which they did perfectly! They were so good throughout the entire wedding mass that I promised them they could play back at the estate, and that Aut could finally get out of her "itchy dress."
Anna and Ash spared no expense! The nicest wedding I've been to.

The kids made an appearance at the pre-dinner reception and were very impressed. They loved all of the touches, like the display of the drinks in the shape of a heart and loved the live, Irish band: 

We headed up to the room for a bit, and no sooner had I changed Aut out of her dress and let her relax in bed than there was a knock at the door. It was my brother, who was there to deliver the news that the children were being summoned for photos. This is where I thought she might start complaining, but nope! They remained as good as gold! We had a fun time taking pictures (which I cannot wait to see!) before heading to the dinner reception. I was surprised to learn that 1) There were no other children present and 2) We were seated at the head table. Still, the kids were truly wonderful! Anna was thoughtful to have brought them multiple toys to play with, and had placed a lot of yummy candy at our place setting. Again, I was so touched by our placement there. My Uncle Johnny gave a speech, mentioning us which was so touching: 

My Mom's cousin Alan and his wife were also there, whom I had not seen since our wedding. The food was delicious and the reception was so much fun! Uncle Glennie was kind enough to take the kids swimming so that I could visit. While he was gone with the kids, I was sitting watching everyone dance. Then, a friend of the bride crossed the room with a huge smile and her arm outstretched. She pulled me onto the dance floor. I'm definitely a bit self-conscious when it comes to dancing and may not have made the leap without her prompting. I'm so glad I did! When Glen came back, we danced and had the best time. 

Mom's brother Michael is very much an introvert (like me!) and Julie didn't stay too late. But Johnny really opened up about his life and the ups and the downs and how one of his biggest regrets is not coming over to America to see us. It meant so much to me. Whether or not he comes over is not the point. The meaningful part is that he wants to. Like Mom, he fought for the underdog. Instead of in Johnny's case, I mean it quite literally. He told me this colorful, engaging tale of being out at a pub and a group of drunk men were making fun of a disabled man. What did Johnny do? He put on his "geek" classes, acted like he was hunched over, and asked them if they wanted to fight him outside. Unfortunately for them, they laughingly took him up on the offer and he cleaned house. Fought 4-5 of them. Little did they know, he was a professional boxer for years. Have to say, I do love vigilante justice and swift karma and found this quite endearing. "We have to get you to America!" I said. He was so much fun, and I know he would hit it off with my husband.

I did not just connect to my family abroad, but connected to my own brother, whom I see on a regular basis! I had so much fun dancing with him, which I have not done since my own wedding nearly a decade earlier. Anna and Ash paid attention to every detail, and we were so surprised that a ton more delicious food was brought out around midnight! Pizzas, beef kabobs and all sorts of yummy snacks. Glen and I stayed out until about 1am, but there were people dancing until about 4am!   

L-R: My Uncle Johnny, Glen, Me and Cousin Carl


The next morning we had breakfast and said our goodbyes. It was tough to leave everyone, but I am hopeful that they will come stay with us. It would be so fun to take them all around California. After our stay at the DeVeers Estate, we took a cab to the Reading station, the underground, and then another cab to our hotel in London, near Buckingham Palace and the Victoria station. We took the underground with Dad and Glen, but were staying in different areas of London, so we parted ways. The children and I checked into the hotel and walked to Buckingham Palace. I had booked us a tour, but that was cancelled due to the Queen's death and funeral just a few days prior.

Buckingham Palace

The next morning, we took the underground, over-ground and then a charter bus to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter studios, where all of the movies were filmed. The children and I are just beginning to get into the movies but we had an amazing time. The technology has progressed so much in the 10+ years since I've visited even Universal Studios. Our favorite part was going into the goblin bank which was quite impressive, only to turn the corner and find the same bank, being destroyed by a large, realistic, fire-breathing dragon! "This is pretend, Mommy?" Cha stated, trying to double-check and also reassure himself. We had our butter beer and butter beer ice cream and spent so much time there that I realized we would not make it back in time for our boat ride down the Thames. We were still planning to do the hop on, hop off bus but by the time I found the stop, they had stopped taking new riders! Another opportunity for the children to have a meltdown, but they took it in stride. Kids - if your reading this in the future, know that I will always be thankful that you were so good for Mommy on this trip!

The next morning we flew home. Dad had thankfully found us business class seats and we really enjoyed it. London left us wanting more, and I hope to return in the next few years. Now that I have an international trip with them under my belt, I have zero qualms about taking them anywhere! Will future trips always be this problem-free? No, but at least I know that they won't be an utter disaster, either. All it took was a little bribery, combined with the threat of Daddy bagging up their room!

This month I also took Aut to her first concert, Kidz Bop, met the legendary Keith Morrison and went apple picking in Oak Glen with the Clarks. We continued to enjoy the pool and the warm weather.

It was a beautiful fall evening in Orange County...or was it?