Monday, August 31, 2009

Random Pictures (i.e. playing with my camera and hopefully learning how to use it.)

Jack falling asleep on Daddy's chest (with flash)

And without.

James - who snuck downstairs early one morning - we discovered him on the couch with his beloved "Georgie" reading (what else) Curious George books together. (without flash)

And with. (And unhappy about having his picture taken...)

Jack in his bouncy seat.

Any tips for better flash/non-flash picture taking is greatly welcomed - I have a Nikon D40 and NO idea how to use it to it's full potential.

Homework (Part 2)

One of Anna's tasks in the evenings is to work on Starfall. She loves it - although she is way ahead of the simple A,B,C's that her class is working on - and has moved ahead to the actual reading part.

The other night I snuck into the den and captured this picture of Anna while she was concentrating on the task at hand.

Of course, little me-too was intently watching along as well from the love-seat behind her.

I suspect his reading skills will develop rapidly as he's watching his sister learn.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

First Cereal!

Jack had his first taste of baby food tonight - rice cereal.
Before -

First taste -

The aftermath -

I'm not sure he liked it - and most of what he ate came back out of his mouth. He sort of looked at me like I was nuts for sticking the spoon in his mouth. Anna (the ever helpful big sister) kept telling me - "I don't think he likes that mommy."

Thanks kid - you didn't like it the first time we shoved a spoon in your mouth either....

Oh Jack - I can't wait to explore the wonderful world of food with you - there are so many exciting things to try - different tastes and textures - but one step at at time. For now, rice cereal - and in a week or so, we'll get crazy and venture into the world of Squash.

Mirror Mirror...

I'm in the thick of party planning... two major events approximately 24 hours apart. I'm starting to think I'm insane...

Let's see - for Anna's birthday bash - my awesome friend Logan came up with the most beautiful birthday invitations. I LOVE them!!! Seriously girl, you need to start a business, and all you readers out there need to have her custom design your invites! Aren't they pretty!

Her birthday cake is going to look like this:

...except it will say Anna instead of Addie Mac. This cake is from Vintage Bakery - I've been going to Vicky since Anna's very first birthday. I'm so lucky that there is a baker who will go beyond the flat sheet-cake grocery store variety. Once upon a time I took the Wilton cake decorating classes at Michaels. I enjoyed it - and made it through levels 1 and 2 - but by the time 3 came along I was knee-deep in wedding planning, and it sort of dropped. Kathy has inspired me through the cakes she makes for her kids' birthdays to re-think the series - perhaps fondant isn't as scary as I think it is...

In keeping with the whole 'poisoned apple' theme, I'm planning on making apple shaped sugar cookie cut-outs as part of the favors (per usual for our birthday bashes) but this time am venturing out on a limb to make cookie-pops. I'll keep you posted as to how that goes - the lady at the cake decorating store gave me some tips - I'd better do a test run before the big day though - my luck I'd end up with a huge mess... I'd like to serve/display them standing up in baskets - but am not sure what to hold the sticks up with. Jelly beans? I'm not sure if they will be dense enough to support 40 cookie pops...

The rest of the menu is typical kid food - apple slices (of course) with caramel dip, cheese puffs (per Anna's request), and then bottled water and juices. Because of the time of the party I don't need to worry about too much more - just enough to keep the kids happy (and hopefully not totally loaded up on sugar) during the performance.

For goody-bags, I've made a Snow White coloring book (using free clip-art on the web), have a box of 24 Crayola crayons (thank goodness for the back to school sales), a ring pop (think gems that the Seven Dwarves mined), and ... what else...

The dilemma becomes this - the party is from 10-12 - with the performance starting at 11. That gives us an entire hour to occupy upwards of 30 kids (because Anna wanted to invite her entire class, along with the usual close family friends.) I had considered doing a craft activity to keep little fingers busy - but we're limited (nothing too messy as we have to cart everything there and don't want to have to haul too much stuff.)

I'm thinking about the Melissa and Doug decorate your own princess mirror (for the girls - think magic mirror) and pirate chest (for the boys.) If I do that - then the craft will be the major item in the goody bag.

I had found them for a steal on the web - about a month ago when I first started planning. Now that website is completely sold out - and the cheapest I can find them are around $5-6 each. Not a huge price - but multiply that by the number of kids, add in the ticket cost per kid - and it's getting kind of expensive...

I need some other ideas of what to do....

Sunday, August 23, 2009


When Deonne and I were first married, we lived in a cute little three bedroom cottage in Heathwood. It was originally built back in the 40's and had a lot of the original charm - transom windows, hardwood floors, cool tile in the one original bathroom. It had been updated/added on to sometime in the 80's, so we had a master bath and den - a good amount of space for just the two of us.

The kitchen had recently been updated right before we purchased it - new cabinets, flooring, counters. There was a LOT of storage in that little kitchen, and I managed to prepare a lot of yummy meals there and entertain a lot of guests (one of our favorite things to do that we miss a lot now that we have children and can't seem to find the time to do so.)

One of the other major updates to that kitchen was a dishwasher. It wasn't a typical dishwasher though - it was an 'apartment' sized washer - meaning it was about 1/3 the size of the normal one we have now. I'm not sure how we managed - but between the two of us - we only ran it about once a week, and that was usually when glasses or coffee cups were running low.

I tell you this now as I laugh at myself - because we can't make it one day without running the dishwasher in our home. With two adults, two kids, and a baby - if we're off one day that means we've backed up the sink with dishes - as is the case right now. We didn't run it last night - so I've currently crammed it full with breakfast, lunch, and cookie making paraphernalia - and there is no room for dinner dishes.

Sigh. I guess it's paper plates tonight... thankfully it's not four-thousand degrees this evening, so we might just get a chance to eat outside - and hopefully not be made a meal of by our resident mosquitoes.

Four Months

* picture to come when I get a chance to download... *

Oh my sweet baby is hard to believe you are four months old. I can honestly say it feels like just yesterday that we brought you home from the hospital. I know time flies, but it is going so fast. You are our last baby, and I'm trying to hard to savor every inch of your baby-ness. I think if you had it your way, you'd be up and running around with your siblings ...

So let's see, what are you up to at four months old.... You hate to sit in your bouncy seat while we eat our family meals. You want to be held in some one's arms while we're eating - and want to be part of the action. I don't blame you - who would want to sit on the floor and watch when there is so much fun to participate in!

You are still breastfed - but supplemented with formula. Ever since your weight-gain scare, we've supplemented. So now I nurse you for about 10-15 minutes, then "top you off" with about three ounces of formula. When I'm away from you (at work) I'm pumping - but not enough to keep up with you, so your bottles are about 2 ounces breast milk and 3-4 ounces formula. Dr. Ted has given us the go-ahead to start rice cereal - I can't wait to see how you like your first taste of 'food'.

You seem to love your new class - every day that I pick you up your teachers are all smiles and give you glowing reports. You are such an easy and happy baby, easy for them to feed, put to bed for naps, and play with. You love watching the bigger babies that are crawling around - and I'm told you giggle and laugh at one big boy in particular. It tears my heart to pieces to leave you each day - and walking out the door in the morning is the hardest thing I have to do - and alternatively the sweetest part of my day is hurrying through the halls to your room to sweep you up, see your big sweet smile, and hug and kiss you until you try to squirm away from all of the attention.

You have the biggest and easiest smiles - and give them away with ease. You love watching your brother and sister and I can only imagine what it will be like when you are running around with them. (Daddy and I are in no hurry to encourage your walking...) :)

You sleep so well - it is so odd for me - since your brother and sister were horrible sleepers from day one. I appreciate your love of rest and the fact that you like to put yourself to sleep. I will admit though, that I do miss rocking you to sleep like I did Anna and James. You don't seem to like that, though, will arch your back and fuss, and when I finally give up and put you in your crib, you breathe a sigh of relief, wiggle a bit, and then crash out. I suppose that is what is making you such a good sleeper - your ability to put yourself back to sleep when you wake in the middle of the night.

At your four month check up you are 25 inches (60th percentile) and 13 pounds 14 ounces (30th percentile). You are bursting out of the seams of your size 1-2 diapers, and thankfully we're almost finished with the remainder of the giant super-size box I bought at Sams. You are wearing size 3-6 months clothes, and are getting the cutest little rolls on your arms and legs.

My sweet baby boy, you are growing so fast. I am loving seeing the little person you are becoming, even though I miss the infant you were just a heartbeat ago.

I love you my sweet Jack.

A Few Firsts

First #1
Last night our sweet baby Jack did the impossible - he slept through the night - and I don't mean slept for 6 hours - he actually slept for 10 hours!!! I woke up at 6:30 this morning to Deonne bringing him to me to nurse - and had to do a double take at the clock. Had he really just slept all the way through??? Yep, and that was the most interrupted stretch of sleep I've had in I don't know how long - unless of course you count the few interruptions James interjected...

First #2
His sweet slumber meant that we were all well rested this morning - and ready to face the day early on - so Deonne and I were both able to take showers lasting longer than 10 minutes, feed the kids, get them dressed, and yes... make it to church on time - with time to spare!!!

First #3
Anna received her "first communion" today at church. Being Episcopalian, we are at the liberty as parents to have our children receive communion when we feel they are ready - as opposed to the Catholic faith that I grew up in where you have to go what felt like years of catechism studies before you are 'eligible' to receive. We'd been talking to Anna about what communion is, what it means to receive, and more importantly, what it tastes like (dry cardboard crackers.) I was so frightened she'd take one taste and spit it out.

So today, she walked up to the front of the church with us, knelt down on the kneeler, and this time, instead of getting her usual blessing from the priest, cupped her little hands and with wide eyes told the priest 'this is my very first communion.' He smiled, gently placed the bread in her hands, covered her hands with his and said a small extra blessing, and then she ate it.

And thankfully, she didn't spit it out.

We'll work on the wine next week - maybe...

It was even more meaningful to Deonne and I - because the priest who married us, who celebrated the Eucharist with us at our wedding, was the priest who we received from today.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

In need of brunch ideas

All you chefs out there - I need some ideas for make-ahead dishes for Jack's baptismal brunch. I have a basic menu in mind - but am not sure if it's going to be enough (taking into account my phobia of having people over to my house and not having enough to eat.)

Here's the run-down:

We're inviting/expecting families that will total 24 adults and 17 kids (not including infants - and I'm calling big-kids adults for party-planning purposes.)

My basic plan right now is:

2 sausage and egg casseroles (make ahead the night before - each serves 12)
2 spinach and Gruyere cheese stratas (make ahead the night before - each serves 10)
fruit platter (sliced melon, berries, kiwi - and other fruit that looks good in the grocery store that day)
steamed asparagus wrapped in prosciutto (make ahead the night before)
purchased coffee cakes from Tiffany's bakery (2 each of cheese, apple, and almond - I think each should serve 6 - 8)
purchased petit fours (6 dozen - because they are tiny) iced half with baby blue crosses and half with Jack's initials

bloody mary's
mimosa's - and orange juice
assorted juice boxes (for the kids)
bottled water

I feel like I'm missing something - have thought about doing a baked french toast casserole - but not sure if that is too much? If I make it - I guess I'd need to make two (so there is enough for everyone to have some?)

And then there is the dilemma of what to serve guests as they are waiting for brunch to be ready. The service is at 9:00 am, and the invite says "brunch to follow." We'll be taking pictures as a family with godparents following the service - and thankfully a dear friend has volunteered to leave church and head home to put casseroles in ovens, unwrap foods, put ice out, etc..

I suspect, though, that people will start to gather before the food is ready. I can't have them standing around with nothing - but have no idea what an appropriate 'easy' appetizer is for a brunch?

I was thinking cheese straws - but what else?


Any thoughts, suggestions are greatly appreciated!

ps - keep in mind that the baptism/brunch are scheduled for the day after Anna's 5th birthday party - we didn't have a choice in scheduling - in the Episcopal church baptisms fall only on certain Sundays throughout the year. If we didn't have Jack baptized on Sept. 20 then we'd need to wait until January - and by then he'll have outgrown the family baptismal gown. It just happened to fall the same weekend as Anna's party (on the 19th because her birthday is the 21st). So it will be CRAZY in the Long house that weekend - but a lot of fun as well! Thankfully she wanted her party at the Marionette Theatre that will be showing Snow White - so he's happy to have her party there (and mommy is happy it will be out of the house so I'm not hosting two major events back-to-back.)

Monday, August 17, 2009


Anna was so excited when I picked her up today - running to tell me that we needed to be sure to check her backpack for her Homework. She didn't know what Homework was, but felt so important to be a big girl with Homework to complete, just like the big kids.

Apparently, Homework for a pre-K class consists of reading to your child for 15 minutes and recording the title and date you read to them (or they read to you) in a reading log. Not much of an assignment for a child who would read all day if you let her.

So, I turned the assignment into a writing practice as well - where Deonne and I helped her spell the title to the books, and she wrote them herself.

She couldn't have been more proud and can't wait until morning when she can show her teacher her accomplishment.

I remember those days - not the just learning to write days - but the days of looking forward to Homework. I suppose I was one of the few kids in school who actually enjoyed homework. I looked forward to it during the summer months when I had nothing new to learn (yeah, okay, so I probably was indeed a geek - but who cares.)

I remember the anticipation of back to school shopping with my mom - not for clothes - but for school supplies. As a little kid, the thrill of a new pencil box, new Crayola markers, scissors, and pens was enough to put me in a tailspin. And the year my mom bought me my first Trapper Keeper, shiny green and complete with the snap closure - I was over the moon. As a teen and young-adult in high school and college the blank empty pages of a brand new spiral notebook were exciting as could be - because I knew they would someday be filled with notes and assignments from the new classes I was embarking upon.

Do you know I still have ever single spiral notebook from high school and college (and graduate school)? I'm really not a pack-rat (that honor is reserved for Deonne whose bedroom at his parent's house looks exactly like it did the day he graduated from high school) but I did save the notebooks. It's fun now to look back and see my education evolve (including my handwriting) as I progressed from high school english classes where I studied To Kill A Mockingbird to graduate studies in environmental policy and law.

Back in middle and high school, I looked forward to study time with my mom. We'd sit (one on each end of the couch, sharing a blanket between us) and she'd drill me in all sorts of things from various bones and muscles for Mr. Potter's biology tests or the dates of important happenings in history for Mr. Woodward's AP history exams. They were some of my favorite times of my education - just learning - mom and I.

I wish so badly that I could share this time with Anna with my mom. She would delight knowing Anna is growing up to be a bookworm - just like me (and her as well.) I miss her so much - and feel her absence every day, but especially as we reach milestones with the kids.

I have a lot to say about that - about what happened to mom - her massive stroke following brain surgery in April '07 - and how I'm finally getting to the point where I feel I can share a lot of it - but that will be the topic of another post. Right now I have some more Homework to do with Anna.

First Day of School

Today was the first day of school for two out of the three Long children. Anna started the Pre-K program at the Children's Center - and couldn't have been more excited! She actually woke herself up this morning with no prompting from mom and dad - ecstatic to be starting Mr. Kevin's class.

She couldn't wait to put on her new PINK backpack and head to school!

It was also Jack's first day at school. Which was unbelievable hard for mommy. I know he's in a loving and safe environment - in the care of Ms. Rebecca - who is like a grandmother to Anna and James - but still, it's so hard to leave your little one and walk out the door.

I cried the whole way to work - but thankfully have been pretty busy this morning, unpacking my work things from home, sorting through piles of mail, organizing my desk so I'm starting with a clean slate, and making lists of what project to tackle first.

I've only cried once since I've been here (okay, maybe twice... or three times...) And now I'm off to call and check in on him (I can't believe I've held off this long!)

Oh, and in case you were wondering about James - he had his big transition to the 2's room back in May - so it wasn't a 'special' Monday for him. So no, he's not forgotten the forgotten second child ala Brady-bunch-Jan - he just didn't have a milestone to capture this morning.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Ugly

Two adults.
Two kids.
One baby.
Two cats.
One busy-with-work-Daddy.
One Mommy trying to keep the kids busy and working whenever a free moment presents itself.

What does this equal?

1o loads of laundry, three yucky bathrooms, mysterious dust bunnies (where do those things come from) throughout the downstairs, one smelly cat box, and cream colored carpet in desperate need of vacuuming.

No visitors please. :)

The Bad

If you happened to be at the Forest Drive Wal Mart this morning and witnessed a mom struggling with a screaming baby (strapped in a Baby Bjorn), a two year old (whining incessently and dragging his feet), a four-almost-five-year old (pouting and stomping her feet as hard as she could) while trying to put all three kids and a large Little Tykes picnic table into her Odyssey - that would be me.

The same mom who could probably be heard yelling at said kids as they piddled around and wouldn't get in their car - would also be me.

I tried - I knew I was tempting fate by taking all three to the dreaded Wal Mart - but our trip to Target to 'try on' bikes for Anna was a bust - the only bikes they had put together were the 'big kid' bikes - as in way too big for her little legs.

Let me back up - I didn't have an activity planned for today - because I thought Deonne would be home this morning so we could go to church as a family (even I'm not brave enough to take all three to church alone yet). Turns out he had to work today as well - and after about one hour of listening to the kids argue over play-doh and continually falling over the un-steady play table in the basement - I decided we needed to get out of the house.

With A's birthday rapidly approaching - we've been trying to come up with the 'one big gift' for her this year - the one thing that will stand out - like her wooden doll house from last year. We've been talking about getting her a bike - her first bike - but have no idea what size is appropriate for her little legs.

And, we've been talking about getting an appropriate play table for the basement - one that can be covered in paint, play-doh, crayons, markers, glue - you name it - and won't cause my neat-freak self to have heart failure.

So, I packed everyone up and we headed to Target. Where there were no bikes to try, nor were there any of the picnic table I was after.

In the car - out of the car - in the car - out of the car....

It wasn't close to lunchtime yet - so I thought okay, let's check out Wal Mart. In a nutshell - as soon as we walked in the door, James had to go potty. Finally find the potty (I rarely go to Wal Mart) - it's NASTY - but I don't have a choice but to let him go - trying to hold him over the potty with Jack in the Baby Bjorn and Anna wandering in and out of the stall staring at people.

After scrubbing as best as we can, finally find the kids bikes. Find one that fits Anna (the 16" size) but for some reason she has in her head that we're getting it. Today. And doesn't like one bit when I tell her (for the fourteenth time) that we're just LOOKING and not BUYING.

Finally find the picnic table - in the box (but on sale so woo hoo for that.) Can't figure out how to get it in the buggy with Jack strapped to me. After struggling and trying all sorts of angles (while trying to keep the kids from wandering off and away to explore all of the toys) a kind soul stops and helps me load it up.

Get to the register. Anna and James think it's a funny game to hold hands and go round-and-round and fall on the floor. I tell them stop. Do they listen? No - the game must be too much fun. Finally get up to pay. Can't find my debit card. Anywhere. So I write a check. Did you know all checks are processed electronically at Wal Mart? Where you have to stand there for what seems like ages and cough up all sorts of ID? I wanted to tell the cashier - I promise there is plenty of money in my account to cover the $50 I just wrote a check for - but I suppose I did look pretty sorry and sort of like a dead-beat mom - with three kids (Jack is screaming by now) all being loud - and disobedient.

Walk to the car. Kids going every which way. And it's hot.

Yeah, I've become that mom. The mom who screams at her kids in the Wal Mart parking lot...

The Good

The Good:

Our afternoon activity went really well yesterday - the kids LOVED decorating their bug cakes! I wasn't too sure how it would all play out - but braved opening every color of icing we had (I was too lazy to make it from scratch) and let the kids have at it. It was a little difficult for them to get the icing out (so mommy ended up squeezing it where instructed to) - and I think we ended up with more colored sanding sugar on the floor and the table then on the cakes - but the kids delighted in creating their own masterpieces.

Anna (who is eagerly learning new words and expanding her vocabulary) thought her bugs were "mysterious." I have no idea where she picked that one up - but she sure was sweet asking me 'Mommy, isn't my butterfly mysterious?'

James preferred to squeeze out his icing in big blobs - then 'sprinkle' them with sugar (read: dump as much sugar as he could get his little hands around all over the cake.)

Anna delicately placed her decorations in patterns around her bugs - including the sanding sugar which was ever so slightly sprinkled in these intricate patterns (the pictures don't do it justice.) It was a good activity - kept the kids busy - and although there was a good bit of clean-up - worth the effort for there pure delight in telling their Daddy which bugs they had made themselves.

Jack - well he thought the whole thing was pretty boring - but we did get a few smiles out of him towards the end.

Thanks Williams-Sonoma!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Confessions of A Tired Mom

I love my children.

I really do. I waited a long time to have them, and for a period of time (about a year) wondered if I would ever be blessed with the opportunity to raise a child (or children) of my own. Lots of needles and doctors and two miscarriages later, I find myself the mother of three beautiful, smart, intelligent, energetic children.

Who are also very tiring.

Deonne has been under a big deadline for work this week - working long, late hours and not coming home some nights until right before bedtime (or just thereafter.) He's working all weekend as well, long days from 8:30 in the morning until who knows when at night. And wouldn't you know it, the timing is impeccable, as the Children's Center was closed Thursday and Friday of this week as the teachers prepare for a new school year. All to mean that I've been single-parenting all three kids for the better part of this week (while still trying to keep up with my own work from home).

I don't know if it's the age the kids are at right now - or their high energy levels - or my disdain and unability to cope with the sweltering heat/humidity (resulting in no outside time and being cooped up all day) but I find it so difficult to keep them all happy and entertained.

It seems that as soon as I get one child involved in an activity, another needs something else, and inevitably that happens when I'm trying to nurse Jack. The whole bathroom issue is another story - suffice to say it's hard to ask an infant to stop eating so I can monitor what James is doing in the bathroom (if he's managed to make it all in the potty or if I need to clorox the bathroom yet again...)

I've tried to come up with fun things to do - partly for my own sanity - but also because I feel bad for the kids. They've not been able to have any vacation this summer (no time available for either Deonne or I to take from work with my extended maternity leave and bed-rest prior.) They need some sort of fun times away from school - and I've tried my best to provide that this week.

So far we've visited the zoo, taken rides on the carousel at the mall (indoors, folks and out of the heat), had movie night where they got to stay up late and watch the Tale of Despereaux, visited Ms. Yolanda and had their hair cut (and styled in Anna's case, including a manicure with God-awful sparkly purple nailpolish), painted pottery at the Mad Platter, had lunch out at McDonalds with friends - and that's just the past two days...

No wonder I'm tired.

So the confession part? As much as I love doing these things with my children, I find myself being short with them. I snap at them, tell them to hurry up, move along, get their head out of the clouds, stay with Mommy, obey the first time - I sound like the mother I told myself I'd never be. I hear my voice barking at them - and think 'is that really me?'

Unfortunately Deonne and I have managed to create two of the most hard-headed and hard-of-hearing small children. I don't ever remember yelling prior to having kids, or having to raise my voice to just be heard. Now it's second nature.

I admittedly get very stressed when I take all three out by myself. I'm so afraid one is going to run off in the wrong direction, or not get in the van when I tell them to and get squished by an oncoming car. I hate that it takes them sooooo long to buckle into their seat belts - as I'm sweating profusely for the 15 minute kid-in-and-out-of-the-van shuffle - because did I mention it's hot here?

I see other moms gently talking to their children, taking their hands, leading them places - and if their kids don't listen they gently remind them to pay attention - and for some reason - it works for them.

I've tried that with my crew - Lord knows I've tried - it just doesn't work.

I wish I was that mom. I wish I had more patience and understanding that for this age - it really does take 45 mintues to locate their shoes (even though they are right where they always are - in plain sight next to the basement/garage door) and put them on - because they have to finish what they're doing - be it magnet dolls or coloring - or driving in laps around the house in the cozy coupe.

If anyone reading this has any tips for how to shuffle three kids around (ages almost 5, 2 1/2, and 4 months) while keeping everyone happy without losing your mind - please share....

And keep your fingers crossed that the planned activity for this afternoon (decorating bug cakes that we made this morning) goes well and doesn't result in the entire kitchen being coated in various shades of icing.

Friday, August 14, 2009

It's Getting Hot In Here

There are many things I love about living in the South. It's a slower, more genteel pace of life than the super-caffeinated frenzy that can be the West coast. Men are gentlemen here - and still open door for ladies-and stand up when a lady gets up or down from the table. It is a more formal way of life, where people "dress" for church in suits, ties, dresses, and stockings and smocked dresses and jon jons are the norm for children's play dates.

We are in close proximity to family (Deonne's), have a low cost of living resulting in our owning a beautiful home we might not otherwise be able to afford, have good friends, and nice weather - in the winter.

There are a few things I absolutely HATE about living in the South. Number one on my list? The heat. And humidity. Together they make outdoor living a thing of the past for me from about mid-May (on a good year) until mid to late October. Seriously. It is melting hot. Thank God for air-conditioning - but the few times I actually have to be out in the heat (transporting kids to and from the car on asphalt parking lots - or like today when I braved taking all three kids to the zoo by myself - it is disturbingly hot.)

The thermometer may say it's only 88 degrees. I don't buy it. It feels more like 110 with the humidity.


Number two on my list? Palmetto Bugs - a fancy and pretty name for flying cockroach - but that is the topic of another post.

Right now I need to refresh my glass of ice-water - for the 10th time this afternoon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Remembering Daddy

A Letter to my Father

Dear Daddy,

I can't believe it's been four years since you've left us. On one hand it seems like it was just yesterday that we were with you, when I felt your warm big-daddy hug, smelled your Old Spice cologne, and saw your twinkling blue eyes. On the other hand, it feels like a lifetime ago - because so much has happened.

Anna has grown into such a strong-willed and determined little girl (I wonder where she gets that from?) She is such a joy, such a trier of my patience, and daily I think of you and mom and how you two ever managed to get past my back-talking tendencies and sassy behaviour. When I'm at my wits ends with her I look up to the sky and think 'okay Dad, I get it, enough already.'
She is such a sweetheart though, and so smart and artistic and - well, Daddy, she is growing up to be what I know would have been the apple of your eye.

She was in her first big ballet recital this past spring. She was amazing. Do you remember the card you sent me - the year you and mom separated and I went to spend the better part of the summer in Redwood City with Nonni? The card with the little ballerinas on it? I still have it (I saved it along with most all of the other cards and notes you sent me over the years) and recently came across it. It not only reminded me of myself and those tedious years I spent in ballet - but also of my daughter. It's a weird paradigm to be in - clearly remembering my days as a little dancer, while seeing my daughter take the same footsteps (no pun intended.)

You never got to meet James, but oh, how much fun you would have had with him. Of the three kids, he is the most musically inclined. If ever there is music playing near him (and sometimes when there is no music around at all) he will stop everything to dance and bee-bop and shake his little behind. He loves all kinds and types of music - and I can just see him not only playing a musical instrument as he grow up, but excelling at it. He has a mischievous little smile/smirk that tends to soften the hearts of those around him (mine included) when he knows he's in trouble. He's loud - of that you can be sure - and energetic - and we're working to try to figure out how to channel that.

He's also my little helper - wherever I am, he wants to help - even in the kitchen. This past Sunday he was the first helper to join me in the kitchen to bake a cake. He couldn't wait to push his chair up to the counter and get his little fingers into the mixing bowls (not only to taste the sweet treats but to stir and mix and blend.) I know you would have loved to be a part of that - and to have him 'help' you as you cooked those wonderful family meals.

Jack is our sweet baby - who is just starting to come into his own personality. He looks the most like you. I pulled out the old family albums the other day (the ones that go back from when Grandma Bernice was a little girl through your childhood.) It is surprising how much Jack favors you - especially when he smiles his wide, happy, easy smile. So far he has your eyes - clear and twinkling blue. I hope that they will stay blue - if for no other reason then it reminds me so much of you.

There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of you. I miss you so much. I want so badly to pick up the phone and talk to you - to share with you the crazy life I lead as a mother of three - to ask your advice on recipes or menu planning - to hear your wonderful laughter. I want to snuggle with you on the couch - to put my head on your shoulder, to feel your scratchy moustache when you kiss my cheek good-night, to feel that all out comfort of knowing that I really don't have to worry about anything - because Daddy is there to take care of it. I suppose that is one reason why losing you (a parent) is so difficult. It makes me have to be the grown-up, to be the parent myself.

You were a great man Dad. You had a strong work ethic, you loved to laugh, you had more friends than I can ever hope to have - the kind of friend that would do anything for you. That speaks volumes.

I hope you know your legacy lives on (and I for one have done my part to continue the Hein family lineage). I'm doing my best to remember you and honor you and make you as much a part of my children's lives as I possibly can.

I suppose there's not a whole lot else I can say, except I love you. And I miss you.


Butterfly Kisses to Heaven

Donald Lyle Hein

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Story

I've never written publically or shared much about my dad's death. With anyone. Well, except those who were immediately involved with it. It was just so painful - and so freaking traumatic that I had to tuck it away until I was ready to face it.

It's been four years since that awful week - and for some reason I feel compelled to write about it now. To take the journey back to that time in 2004/2005 when life as I knew it turned upside down.

Forgive me, faithful readers (all two of you) if this isn't a fun post to read. But it's something I need to get out - to purge somehow - and, to document for Anna - so she can someday see the impact she had on her grandfather and know how much he adored her.

So to begin, we really need to go back to the late fall of 2004. I think I had finally begun to adjust to my new and most important role as Anna’s mother, when my dad called me the week before Thanksgiving. Anna was not even two months old. I knew as soon as I answered the phone that something was terribly wrong. There were tears in his voice.

To make a really long story short, and to condense the battery of medical tests that occurred over the next two weeks, my daddy was diagnosed with optic melanoma (a cancerous tumor of the eye) and colon cancer. The diagnosis was not good, the cancer had spread to his liver, his lungs, and his kidney. He immediately began chemotherapy, and his doctor planned to attack it very aggressively.

I think I knew in my heart that this was the beginning of the end, but none of us wanted to allow ourselves to think that way. Nobody wanted to even go there – so to speak – down the path of ‘is this it?’ I kick myself now for not going home to Seattle to be with him for his last Christmas. How magical would that have been to have him spend his last Christmas holiday with my daughter as she celebrated her first Christmas?

We finally made a trip out to see him and my stepmom in February. We spent a long weekend, and he got to meet Anna. He was charmed by her smiles. She had him wrapped around her little finger within minutes of meeting him. It melted my heart.

How little did I know then – how could I have known, really – that it would be the last time I saw my father as he was. How could I have known that it would be the last time I’d feel his arms around me in that big-daddy hug? How could I have known that it was the last time I’d see his blue eyes, and see them twinkle and sparkle as we laughed and he held my daughter.

So we left, we had to – we had lives and jobs and friends and things to tend to back in South Carolina. I can ask myself now – what was so freaking important that we didn’t stay. Jobs? Are our jobs so important that we couldn’t leave them, to get new ones in Seattle? So that we could have spent as much time as possible with my dad? So that he could get to know Anna – to see her smile – to see her grow – so that she could get to know him?

This is the guilt that plagues me now.

So we fast forward through the summer. August came, and things began to progress rapidly for my father. I say progress, but decline is the better word. It started on the Friday before the 12th - what day was that?? - I guess the 5th?? I got a call from my stepmom that Dad was in the hospital again - this time for another blood clot in his leg. Things were okay at that point, I called my Dad Friday evening, told him I loved him, and that I would talk to him in the morning (because I always called him in the mornings and evenings when he was hospitalized.) How little did I know then that it would be the last time I talked to him - the last time I heard his voice...

We left right after I got off the phone for a dinner party with friends from church. How crazy it is to know now that as I was enjoying myself with friends - my dad was spending down his final cognitive moments...

Later that night he started having severe pains in his abdomen, a CAT scan revealed that he had air in his abdomen that wasn't supposed to be there, so they did emergency surgery to remove part of his bowel. When he came out of surgery, he was intubated, and in ICU. His poor body just couldn't survive the surgery - the massive doses of chemo that he had been on since November took their toll... anyway, fast foward through the weekend, when we all thought he would recover - just that he was in really bad shape.

My stepmom was an angel with calling me to give me updates, but I just couldn't stay away. She asked the surgeon and oncologist doctors who were working with him if I should make the trip out there - because no one wanted to believe that it would be so very horrible - and they finally suggested that I come.

So, Deonne and I found a last minute and insanely expensive ticket to come out with Anna the following Wednesday. My brother also traveled up over from Spokane and he picked me up from the airport. Mom met us as well - she took Deonne and Anna to a hotel near the hospital, and my brother took me to see Dad - and tried to prepare me for what I would see.

It was the most horrible thing I think I could imagine. Seeing my daddy hooked up to so many tubes, so many IVs, with the tube down his throat, was pitiful. I lost it as soon as I saw him. But, we all stayed with him, and spend most of Wed. there, and all of Thursday. Friday morning I woke up really early, and went ahead on to the hospital at 6am. It was so peaceful there, just Dad and I. We watched the sun come up together.

Later that morning, the surgeon came in, and went through some things with Dad - and he seemed to think that Dad was progressing along and making improvements... so we (my brother and I) started thinking things were great as could be expected, and that he would start to recover.

That afternoon his oncologist came in, and asked to see my stepmom, my brother, and I in a little conference room. I thought that we were getting a prognosis report - of when Dad would come off of the ventilator. Nothing could have prepared me for what I heard.

I'll never forget that little conference room - the cold gray carpet and walls, the hard chairs we sat on, the half-empty cups of coffee left on the table (presumably from last family that had been in there to receive news of their loved one). The institutional smell of the air conditioner.

The oncologist very kindly, and very sincerely explained to use that Dad was critically ill. Not only was the cancer not improving with all of the chemo, but with the blood clots he had recently, with the pnemonia that he had developed, and with the dead bowel, it was very very unlikely that he would recover. He explained that he couldn't be on the respirator for much longer with the tube down his throat, and in a few days they would need to do a trach. and he would breathe through a tube in his throat. He said that if, and it was a big if, he was able to recover from all of the ailments, he would not be a candidate for any further chemo - because he just couldn't tolerate it - and he would have three to six months left to live before the cancer killed him. He said that the quality of life would be horrible.

We had to make the heart wrenching decision, right then and there, for the doctors to remove the breathing tube and turn off all the machines. We had to decide that Friday August 12th was my Dad's day to die. It was horrible. I can't even begin to tell you how horrible it was. No one should ever be asked to make that decision on behalf of another - let alone your parent.

My brother, my big brother, fell apart. He cried like I'd not seen him cry before. Ever. My stepmom seemed to look relieved - she'd been living the nightmare for so long - I think having an end in sight (no matter the consequences) was a relief on some level.

I remember being quiet - unusually quiet - not talking - not crying - not breathing. I remember holding my breath and waiting for the nightmare to be over. To wake up, warm in my bed, and to have this whole ordeal be a sick figment of my imagination.

Sadly, that was not the case.

We talked - and I don't know which one of us finally said -okay - but the decision was made.

And just like that, the doctor left. Shortly after that the nurses removed all of the machines that were keeping him alive, and we waited for him to take his last breath.

I had originally told my stepmom that I would be with him to the end - but I couldn't take it. It was horrific listening to him gasp. She told me it was okay to leave and when I told her I felt bad about going, she told me she would stay to the end.

I kissed him on the head, told him I loved him loved him loved him, and walked out the door.

That was the last time I saw my dad.

My brother followed, and then left the hospital altogether. He couldn't take it.

I waited around outside the nurses station, and watched on the monitors for his heartbeat to slow, and then finally fade, and then stop. It was the longest and most horrible and yet strangely peaceful six hours of my life.

I remember sitting huddled in the corner of the ICU waiting room. I had found a ratty looking hospital blanket and was wrapped up in that. Staring at the wall. A very nice nurse came in and said "Kristen? You daddy just passed away."

And then it was over.

It was cold. I remember feeling chilled - even though I was told it was a warm (unually warm) August night in Seattle.

I called Deonne at the hotel to come and get me (he'd gone back to the hotel to help get Anna settled with my mom - there was no sense in him sitting around an ICU waiting room/nurses station waiting for my dad to die.) We returned to the hotel room, mom was there waiting for us - and she held me as I finally cried. I cried and sobbed like a baby.

They had a memorial service for him on the Monday following, then following his wishes, he was cremated. We traveled across the state to Eastern WA to the town where I grew up, to scatter his ashes, also per his request, at the confluence of the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

When the time finally came to return home, I was ready to go, but not ready to leave. I felt like I was leaving a part of myself behind. How was it right to leave my father’s home – to leave my stepmom – who would help her get through this? How would I get through it?

We returned home, and I felt like a zombie going through the motions. I had just been through the most emotional ordeal of my 31 years, and I had no idea of how to cope with it. I was plagued with guilt – I couldn’t get past the day of August 12. I couldn’t get past our decisions to turn off the life-support. I felt like I had somehow had a hand in my father’s death, that in some way I had helped kill him. I kept reliving that day, over and over in my mind, and kept asking myself ‘what if we’d waited one more day – what if he’d been able to recover – miracles happen every day, right?’

If it weren’t for Deonne and Anna, I don’t think I could have made it out of bed in the morning. There were many mornings when I just wanted to bury my head under my pillow, and just let the world pass me by. I think I could have been perfectly content doing just that – but I didn’t want my daughter to see me wallowing. I didn’t want her to have any memories of her mommy going off the deep end.

So on I went, and did what was required of me, as a mother, as a wife. We celebrated Anna’s first birthday just a month after his death with a big party. I look at the pictures and see me smiling as she eats her birthday cake, but I also see the vacant look in my eyes, and the dark circles under them. I know that behind the fa├žade, is a woman who wanted to scream and cry over the unfairness of it all – of the loss of life.

I wanted to know how I’d ever explain to Anna just how much her grandfather loved her, even though he only knew her for a short amount of time. I wanted to know how I’d ever share with her the lifetime of memories I had of my dad. I wanted her to experience my dad’s smile, his laugh, his love for life first hand, and not just through stories she’d hear.

We went through the holidays, again, going through the motions. Again I see the vacant look in my eyes when I look at pictures. I see the smiles, but I also know the pain.

And on we went, and day by day, the guilt started to go away. Somewhere along the way, I began to accept my dad’s death as inevitable, and was able to let go of the guilt that I somehow had killed him. I began to realize that really, we loved him so much, that we let him go.

I'm still plagued by his death - and I think a part of me will always be haunted by it. I'm still extremely saddened by the loss, especially now that I have three children - one who thinks she remembers him by the stories and pictures she's seen of her as a baby with dad - and two who never knew him at all.

I wish he could be here to play with his grandsons, to take them boating and fishing. To teach them all about music - to play piano - to love 'concerts, overtures, and encores' - to instill in them his love of good food and entertaining.

But he's not - and it's up to me to provide those things for them.

I miss you so much daddy.

I love you.

My Mischevious One

Need I say more?

Is it August already?

And so goes another month in the life of the Long Party of Five. I just don't know where time seems to go these days... oh yeah, working, keeping up with three little ones, trying to organize our house, sew some new outfits for the kids, plan Anna's 5th birthday bash, plan Jack's baptism, and sleep just a tad...

August has become a melancholy month for me - it is the month I said goodbye to my Daddy. It's funny how certain months, dates, times become so significant for me. Sometimes I wish I was able to just distance myself - so I could let the days come and go with no remembrance - but then I wouldn't be me.

I've always celebrated the milestones - good and bad - which is why birthdays, anniversaries, holidays are so important to me.

As we come closer and closer to the day my dad took his last breath, I'm finding myself becoming increasingly anxious. I don't know why - it's just a day, right?

I'm not sure how I want to spend it. Right now I'm thinking of getting a bunch of balloons, picking the kids up early from school, taking them to the park, talking about my dad - and then letting them send their balloons up to him in heaven.

Or I could just bury my head in the sand and wallow a bit - but that's not nearly as productive.

I think I'm more at peace this year than in previous ones - I feel more able to look back on the memories of his life with smiles rather than tears. I think I'm coming to accept his death - even though I still hate it happened so early - and way too soon. But to be perfectly honest, I'm still pretty sad and angry - especially since Jack arrived - one more grandson that my dad never got to meet.

At any rate, Wednesday is rapidly approaching...