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I sat at our kitchen table this morning having a quiet breakfast with Bear, and I noticed leaves falling from the trees outside.  On the way to the store, I saw that some of the trees had begun their annual change from green to orange and yellow.  Fall is officially here!

My intended one-month blog vacation somehow grew into two.  In early August, my husband was given a two-week vacation from work, and I worked extra hours at my job to make up for taking so much time off.  We spent a few days in West Virginia visiting family and then traveled to Bermuda for our first real family vacation (and probably the last for a long while)!

Bear was exceptionally cranky for the first few days in Bermuda.  When we were at the pool, she would cry that she wanted to go to the beach.  When we were at the beach, she would cry that she wanted to go to the pool.  Several times, she asked to go home.  After a few days, she began complaining about her feet and a sore mouth.   I eventually realized that she probably had another version of hand-foot-and-mouth disease, despite the fact that she it last year as well.

Once she recovered, she was much more interested in swimming.  We developed a routine of spending our days in the sun at the pool and at the beach.  She learned to build sand castles (or Rapunzel towers, as she preferred), and she took over the resort game room so she could use the pool balls and Chinese checker marbles to pretend that she was making muffins.

We chose the small resort where we stayed based on their assurances that they could accommodate Bear’s food allergies.  The resort is owned and run by a family and their communication seemed much more genuine than the form responses I received from other hotels and resorts on the island.  When we arrived, we met with the chef and discussed various foods that Bear could have.  At first, he seemed very confident that there was no soy in anything that he prepared.  I explained that everything – from pastry to hamburger buns to broths to dressings – had soy in it, unless it was made from scratch and without soy-containing ingredients.  After a quick trip to the kitchen, he returned to agree that most of his supplies did have soy, but he said that they would make homemade meals for Bear.

We had great luck with food the entire week we were there.  We ate at the resort for every meal, and Bear did well.  She enjoyed having sorbet after dinner every evening.  On the last day that we were there, we decided to have lunch at the resort before leaving for the airport.  We had the server re-heat Bear’s leftovers from dinner, and we handed off her sippy cup to be filled with milk.  Once Bear got her food, she took a few bites and a sip or two of milk, and then she pushed back her food and refused to eat anything else.  She kept dipping her finger in ketchup on her plate and coughing every time she put it into her mouth.  Then, her face turned bright red, and she started crying.

We quickly gave her some Benadryl and tried to figure out what was causing her problems.  She had eaten all of the food the night before without issue.  She began crying hysterically for more medicine and while I was trying to console her, she began vomiting.  At this point, we knew that this was serious.  I unscrewed her sippy cup and smelled a sweet smell inside.  I handed it to my husband, and he confirmed that it contained soy milk.

We quickly left the restaurant and went into the lobby to change Bear’s clothes and so I could call Bear’s allergist.  At this point, I started crying because I realized that what we had tried so hard to prevent had actually happened.  The nurse at the allergist’s office told us to give her more Benadryl, and we did, but within a few minutes, Bear was throwing it up too (on the nice rug in the lobby).  Once we got her clothes off, we discovered a rash quickly moving down her body.   Her face was dark red, and when she wasn’t vomiting, she was leaning her head on one of our shoulders.  She looked awful.

I called back the allergist’s office, and they convinced me that since the Benadryl hadn’t stopped the reaction and since it was continuing to progress and in light of the anaphylaxis that she suffered a year ago from soy milk, that we needed to give her the Epi Pen.

I could hardly speak at this point, because I was so upset.  The nurse thought that my reluctance meant that I didn’t know how to use it.  I knew how to use, but I just didn’t want to!  The idea of jabbing a large needle into my daughter’s leg was a horrible one to me!

My husband held our poor little girl in his arms, and pulled off the top of the pen and put it up against her leg.  It snapped, and we counted to ten.  Bear screamed.  I pulled it back out of her leg, and held her tight while she cried while my husband told the hotel staff that we needed to go to the hospital (a requirement after an Epi injection).

They brought around this old hotel van (I’m sure because Bear had been throwing up on their nice rugs) and we climbed inside.  In hindsight, we should have called an ambulance, but we had been there long enough to know that it takes forever to get anywhere on that island, and the hotel staff thought that they could get us to the hospital more quickly.  We rolled around in the back of this van while an assistant manager did his best to quickly navigate the congested Bermudian roads.

Bear became very quiet and limp and would not keep her eyes open.  For a terrifying 25 minutes, we screamed at her to stay awake.  She seemed to rally by the time we reached the hospital, and after going through the slow registration process and having a nurse check Bear’s vitals, a very nice nurse informed a doctor that we were supposed to be on a plane in about two hours.  She listened to Bear’s lungs and thought that they sounded clear, and she ordered some steroids and more Benadryl for Bear.  Contrary to the normal procedure in the U.S., where Bear would have been admitted and watched for several hours, she told us that if anything seemed amiss with Bear that we should not get on the plane and she let us leave with more Benadryl to take with us.

Amazingly, we arrived at the airport a little more than an hour before our flight.  They allowed us to go through customs, and Bear seemed tired but OK by the time we boarded.  Once we exited the plane in Atlanta, I noticed that her rash seemed to be returning, so we gave her more Benadryl.  It quickly went away, and by the time we boarded our flight home, Bear was exhausted from the day’s events and the massive amount of Benadryl she had consumed.  When we got her home, she literally ran to her bed and threw the top half of her body onto it as though she were trying to hug her mattress.  I felt the same way!  I wanted to kiss our front door, but I was too tired.

The next day, Bear seemed mostly recovered.  She had a continuing cough and really disgusting, loose stools, but otherwise, she seemed well.  She now refuses to drink milk of any kind, however.  She requested it out of habit for several days after the event, and after a sip or two, she would push the cup away and tell me that it was “spicy.”

The experience really reaffirmed to us that all of the efforts that we have made over the past year to control her food were worthwhile.  I had almost convinced myself that her allergy must have disappeared.  Clearly it has not.  I also have no desire to travel anywhere again in the near future.  Home is a wonderful, safe place, and we’ll happily stay right here!

You aren’t going to hear from me for awhile.  August looks to be a very busy month with several trips and lots of extended working hours to make up for the time that I will be away, so that I can take a long maternity leave without guilt.

Lately, my days have been filled with reading up on potty training, searching for baby names, renewed pregnancy exhaustion, and in general, getting very little else accomplished.  My mind just has not been focused on reality.  I realized yesterday, after scheduling two different appointments at times when I had conflicts, that I need some real organization in my life.

So, while Bear sat in the front of the cart crying about the Shrek Band-aids that she had seen a few aisles back and that she desperately wanted, I searched for the perfect wall calendar for my kitchen.  I finally settled on two dry-erase calendars with notes sections and a small pocket organizer for my purse.

In the past, I have attempted various other organizational methods.  My mind loves the thought of order and organization.  My life, however, does not seem to lend itself to such, and I seem to lack the patience and follow-through to actually stick with any one method of staying organized.

But, I’ll try again.  I felt so good nailing the calendars to the back of my basement door, which opens to the kitchen and is always open.  Then, I began gleefully adding appointments and dates to my calendars.  When my husband came home from work last night, he didn’t even acknowledge my new system.  However, later in the evening, under his birth date, he wrote:  Gifts: (1) dinosaur (live), (2) winning lottery ticket, and (3) desert island for said dinosaur.  I’m glad to see that he is participating!

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

For weeks now, Bear has been telling friends and strangers alike that she is getting a baby sister.  It started with a text from daycare.  Bear is getting a baby sister?  At the time, they didn’t know that I was pregnant.  To the cashier at the grocery store, I’m getting a baby sister.  To the entire music class, I’m getting a baby sister.

Each time, person who Bear has shared the news with will look at me and say, Oh, you’re having a girl?  I should just nod, but instead, I feel compelled to explain that maybe we are or maybe we aren’t.  It seems that Bear’s baby sister is a manifestation of wishful thinking.

We’ve been wondering how we might explain to Bear that there is no baby sister, if in fact, we are having a boy.  Lately, we’ve been reminding her that we don’t yet know if she’s getting a baby sister or a baby brother.  Today, on the way to the doctor’s office, after cautiously correcting her, Bear yelled at me from the backseat, NO!  Baby Sister!

Maybe Bear knew something that we didn’t, because she is getting a baby sister!

We are so excited!  I have always wanted a sister – especially now as an adult without my mom – I would love to have the bond with another female.  I am so happy that my daughter will get that opportunity!

I experienced a rare burst of energy and inspiration to clean my house this morning.  Despite regular vacuuming and sweeping, our floors have been feeling very gritty lately thanks to summer and bare feet, and I decided that I could stand it no longer.  After our walk this morning, I cleared everything off of every rug in my house (i.e., three) and ran the vacuum.  The dog hid and Bear yelled Quiet! through the entire cleaning.  Then, I pulled out the product of one of my grandmother’s holiday QVC shopping sprees – a steam cleaner.

I may not have read the long-lost product manual well enough, or maybe I just don’t know how these things work, but I have a hard time understanding how piping steam into my carpets makes them clean.   Therefore, I have used the thing all of one time in the three years that I have had it.  However, our dog has recently returned to his nasty habit of pooping in the living room and peeing in the dining room while we are at work, and something had to be done (aside from using bottles of enzyme cleaner every work day, which we do, and shipping doggie of to boot camp, which we may yet do).  So, after another good spraying down of the two rugs with enzyme cleaner, I covered both of them with baking soda thinking that maybe this would help the steam actually do something.  Then, I gave both a solid steam cleaning and then used more enzyme cleaner assuming that the hot steam probably killed all of the enzymes that eat doggie by-products.

The dog watched woefully from the hallway throughout this endeavor, no doubt planning his next deposit when he is fortunate enough to be left alone.  Bear too was less than impressed.  Instead, while I cleaned, she unloaded every toy from her toy chest in the family room and dumped each into a huge pile on my newly “cleaned” floor.

I then tackled our bedroom and stripped the bed while Bear gleefully made another pile of toys next to my pile of blankets and pillows.  Since it was then time for lunch, I somehow convinced Bear (O.K., bribed her with PBS) to pick up the toys in the bedroom and to follow me to the kitchen where I further bribed her with milk while I made lunch.

After lunch, Bear actually seemed tired by our simultaneous cleaning/toy explosion affair, so she willingly went to her crib while I sat down and tackled the remaining piles of toys that I had not convinced (or successfully bribed) Bear to pick up.  Fortunately, I managed to box up about half of them to spend some quiet time in the basement for a few weeks.  The living areas of my house look pretty good.  Until Bear wakes up.

I’m afraid that the kitchen and the bathrooms will have to wait until later.  My energy and inspiration have faded.  Now, I need a nap too.

I was brushing my teeth when my phone rang this morning.  My husband was calling so I picked it up with my toothbrush still buzzing in my mouth.  I mumbled a hello and listened.  Nothing.  I turned off my toothbrush and set it on the sink and listened again.  Honey?  Are you there?  This time I could hear a churning, mechanical noise in the background.

I listened for another minute, but my husband was clearly not on the other end.  What was that sound?  I couldn’t imagine where he would be that I would hear this chuggy, gluggy noise.  It almost sounded like the washing machine.  Actually, it sounded just like the washing machine that I had started a few minutes earlier when I put a load of Bear’s diapers into the wash.  And, my husband had carried the diapers to the basement for me the night before!

I threw down the phone and ran to the basement.  Opening the door of the washer, I peered inside.  Diapers submerged in dirty-diapery water stopped churning, but I could not see my husband’s phone floating anywhere near the surface.  Instead of reaching into the murky water, I decided to try calling my husband and before resorting to drastic measures.

I called his cell phone first.  It rang and then went to voicemail.  I called his work number next.  Nothing.  Drastic measures it would be.

I drained the water but before the washer could spin them dry, I reached inside and began pulling out wet, dirty diaper by wet, dirty diaper.   After visually inspecting each one while touching it as little as possible and finding no phone, I shut the washer lid.  The washer jumped into action but instead of spinning the diapers, it began sucking at a waterless washing tub and then began jerking and jumping about.  Cringing, I shut it off again.  I decided to start a new wash – and added plenty of soap – and hoped that the washer worked properly.  If my husband’s phone was somewhere inside, it was a lost cause.

My husband called me a few hours later from work.  Were you trying to get a hold of me?  I asked him if he had his phone.  Yeah, I’m holding onto it right here.  Why?  Um, no reason.

Bear is getting old enough that we’re starting to think about potty training.  Some days, I could care less about the subject.  I don’t mind changing diapers.  I don’t even mind washing her cloth diapers.  But others – like today – make me think that Bear needs to get potty trained and quick!

Bear is no longer content to wear a wet or dirty diaper.  So, as soon as she goes to the bathroom, and usually before I can catch her, she takes off her pants and her diaper.  In the world of wet diapers, this isn’t a big deal.  However, when I find my toddler running through the house with a dirty behind that has touched many things in the few minutes since it left the safety of the diaper, the story changes.  And then, once I have cleaned Bear and diapered her again, she and I go on a diaper hunt to find the discarded dirty diaper that (if we’re lucky) still contains whatever was left in it.

It’s days like these that make me think that Bear needs to be potty trained.  Diapers don’t do anyone any good if they don’t stay on!  And, Bear’s are cloth, so they aren’t that easy to remove.  She has to undo snaps to get the things off.  Not to mention, she is interested in the potty thanks to her potty-trained friends at daycare.  She wants to go.

This said, we will be traveling in August, and this upcoming trip has me questioning whether now is a good time to start.  Once we return and Bear gets readjusted to life at home, we’ll be looking at early September before I can really jump us both into potty training, which is also just a few short months before the next baby comes along.  This has me hoping that Bear will catch on quickly and not regress once she sees a little baby wearing her diapers.  Not to mention, I just don’t know if I can last that long with a little bare-bottomed toddler running through my house!

What is new in your life?  I have been asked this question by various family members multiple times in the past few days of my life, and depending on who is asking, my answer changes.

My first response is usually “nothing.”

Then, depending on how well I know the person, I’ll follow up with:  Well, have you heard our big news?  Particularly since I seem to be the only one in the family with good news.

After answering questions about due dates and whether or not Bear wants a brother or a sister, we usually talk about my grandmother.  She has about a week left at the rehabilitation facility and then we hope that she will be well enough to move back to the assisted living facility where she was living before she broke her hip and had the strokes.  When I have spoken to her, she sounds upbeat, and my dad says that you cannot tell by looking at her that she has had a stroke.  She thinks that rehabilitation has also helped her wrist, which she broke after her back surgery last year.  The physical therapists are not working on her wrist, despite that it has not regained much mobility, but in some way, the physical act of walking with her new walker is requiring her to use her wrist more, and she says that this is a good thing.  I say, find rainbows wherever you can.

Conversation also often turns to my brother who recently moved home to help my father manage the family farm.  After his short marriage ended and learning that his ex-wife had quickly moved on to someone else, my brother re-evaluated what he wanted out of life and moved home.  His first harvest since returning has just now ended, and although I don’t frequently talk with my brother about his feelings, he seems happy enough.  Either this, or he is trying to convince everyone of this by posting humorous picture after humorous picture of harvest on Facebook.  My family seems to want confirmation of his happiness from me, so I always tell them what they want to hear.  I hope that what I say is true.

So far, it seems that very few of my extended family know about the divorce that I wrote about in my last post, and I am glad.  It seems too new and feelings are still too raw to talk about it in general conversation.  I spoke with the person in the middle of it today, and she still is in shock.  Because the divorce is uncontested, it is on the fast-track to finalization, and in a few short weeks, her marriage will be no more.  She told me this morning about how educational it has been to learn about her own finances and how good she feels about the idea of selling her house and starting over.  I am not certain that she completely believes it, but again, if she can find the rainbow in this, then we will all cling to it.

I thought about how I just want my family to happy as I took my morning walk today.  As I walked, I surveyed the damage of a strong storm from the night before.  Large tree limbs – almost as big as small trees – blocked one street near my house.  In other places, I could see the charred, blackened wood where lightening had forcefully removed entire sections of trees.  Small limbs and debris covered the streets everywhere that I walked.

As we returned from lunch this afternoon, someone had already chopped up the tree limbs blocking the street and had stacked them neatly in someone’s lawn waiting for the city to pick them up.  Electricians were working on the street lights outside of our neighborhood to make them functional again.  Somehow, the debris that had covered everything this morning was already gone as though someone had run a vacuum sweeper down our street.  I suspect that by tomorrow morning the only evidence of the storm will be the burn marks and bare spots on trees from the lightning strikes.

I hope that sometime in the near future, when someone asks about my family, that my answer will look like those trees.  Although the storm has come and left its mark, quickly enough, one cannot tell at first glance that anything was once wrong.

Some things should be sacred. I would like to believe that at some point a marriage has lasted long enough that one partner should be free from the fear that the other would suddenly end it.

After my mother died, a family member became like a mother to me. We always had a special relationship, but it became even more so after my mother was gone. And now, my heart is breaking with hers at the news that her husband of 35 years has suddenly decided that he does not want to be married any longer. Her heartbreak is compounded by the fact that he has chosen to pursue a relationship with someone who came between them 22 years earlier. Wounds that she thought were healed have been ripped open anew.

I am also grieving with her children. Although I have never suffered through a divorce, I know full well the sadness that comes from having your family ripped apart. I understand the death of the dream of happy future gatherings with both your parents and your children. I comprehend the pain of knowing that your life will never be as it was only a few moments before.

Once again, I am asking myself, even though I know, what can I say? Words seem so insincere, even though they are far from it. There is nothing that I can say to rectify this wrong. There is little that I can do beyond just being. I can let my family know that I am grieving with them. I can listen when they want to talk. I can be with them when they are ready for company. And someday, when they are ready to hear it, I can tell them that it is possible to accept a new reality – even one that you don’t want – and move forward.

I love summer for so many reasons.  But, in-season, local vegetables and fruit top my list.

Two years ago, we joined a CSA.  In fact, we got our first share on the day that Bear was born.  Once I got home from the hospital, at my request, my mother-in-law made me a salad from local lettuce and homegrown asparagus that, along with cheese and an olive oil vinaigrette, tasted better to me than anything I could have imagined.  My body was spent from a long labor and probably depleted of nutrients thanks to a hungry Bear, and I began craving fresh vegetables.  I nearly ate nothing else for several days, and my mother-in-law became worried that I was not getting enough calories to make milk, so she began boiling eggs and roasting chickens.

Admittedly, I am less inspired by grocery store vegetables.  Even the vegetables and fruit at Whole Foods, although better than that at our local grocery store, can hold nothing to the bounty that comes in our share every week.

Today, a little over a month into the season, we received a carton of tiny strawberries, four ripe tomatoes, a bunch of green onions, two good-sized zucchini, a carton of snap peas, and a large bag of green beans and new potatoes.  Over the past month, we have been living off of a variety of kale that looks nothing like any I’ve ever seen in a store, various herbs, Swiss chard, onions, bags of lettuce, rhubarb, strawberries, and eggs and more eggs.  We had so many eggs at the beginning of the season that I ran out of ways to cook eggs.

This year, our friendly farmer, Betty, includes a recipe list with our weekly share in case we need some direction in cooking our goodies.  I love that her recipes read like those in my mom’s old cookbooks.  The finished products remind me of casseroles and salads that my grandmother used to make for church potlucks.  A lot of them include little quips, such as “put a little flour on your nose so they will think that you slaved in the kitchen” and “did you know that there has been a scientific discovery that tomatoes are good for the skin?  I’m going to eat two a day.”

Lately, Thursday evenings have become CSA dinner night at our house featuring mostly vegetables, which has been just fine by me due to the extreme heat and a slight, pregnancy aversion to meat.  Last Thursday, I made baked, stuffed tomatoes, tabouli, and a pasta salad with broccoli.  Today, my dear husband pulled steak out of the freezer to defrost.  I got the point.  Even so, he still is going to get a snap pea salad and green beans and potatoes with his meat tonight.

My dad called a few days ago while I was getting Bear ready for bed. My husband answered the phone and brought it to me as I struggled to force kicking legs into pajama bottoms. I tried to listen to my dad as I worked on Bear, but the reception was not clear and Bear was not compliant. I could tell that Dad’s voice had an edge of concern that he was attempting to hide. I had heard this tone before, and it had only brought bad news to me.

I left Bear with my husband so I could focus on my dad’s message. He had gone to visit my grandmother at the hospital where she was recovering from a broken hip, and when he arrived, he could tell that something was not right. Grandma could tell it too.

He didn’t offer much in terms of details, but he said that he was following the ambulance carrying my grandmother as it raced her to a larger city hospital about an hour away.

Five years ago, he called me in this same manner to tell me that they were rushing my mother to this same hospital after she began coughing up blood and having heart problems related to what we later learned was a systematic strep infection. At the time, he told me that the trip to the city was precautionary. I think that was trying to convince himself that this was true.

Fortunately, unlike with my mother, my father’s concern turned out to be justified but resolvable. My grandmother is doing as well as can be expected. She had two small strokes that were likely related to the fact that doctors had decreased the amount of blood-thinning medication she was taking due to her recent hip surgery. I have not yet been able to talk with her, but I have been assured that she is quickly returning to her stubborn, spit-fire self.

I worry, however, that the events of the past several years are beginning to break my grandmother’s resolve to keep fighting. Four and half years ago, my grandfather died. He and my grandmother nearly had been life-long loves, and for the last five years of his life, she was his primary caregiver as he struggled through the throes of dementia that robbed him of his memory and eventually his life. Before he became sick, she waited on his every need and desire, as was characteristic of many women of her generation.

After he was gone, Grandma didn’t seem to know what to do with herself. She struggled to find an identity independent of him. Even as she told my father that he needed to stop grieving my mother and move on – a sentiment that, as much as I love my grandmother, didn’t surprise me since she had never warmed to my mother’s independent personality – she could not do the same for herself. I once pointed out this discrepancy to her, as she shared her thoughts that my dad should leave my mother’s memory behind, but she could not – or would not – see the parallel.

We are all human. My mother was human. I am human. Certainly, my grandmother is human. And, as her granddaughter, I love her for who she is, and sometimes, in spite of herself.

A year and a half ago, my grandmother began experiencing severe back pain. Doctors told her that her only hope of recovery was to undergo a painful spine surgery. She had the surgery in April of 2010 and then spent the rest of the summer with an open wound. Several days before she was slated to go home, she fell in the middle of the night and broke her arm. This injury required more weeks in the hospital.

When she finally moved back to the small, farming community where I grew up, my father convinced her to move into an assisted living facility. Although reluctant to give up her perceived independence, she agreed and after several months, she seemed to revert back to her old self.

A few weeks ago, I traveled with Bear to my hometown, and my grandmother seemed sharp and healthy. She still struggled with mobility, but otherwise, she seemed well. The day after we left, she decided to sweep her own floor and broke her hip with the twisting motion required by the sweeper.

And now, strokes. My grandmother is clearly human, and her body is frail. Each illness and injury seems to lead to another. I hope and pray that she can pull herself out of this down-spiral and right herself to recovery.