Tuesday, December 16, 2008

University of Notre Dame

The time has come for that all important next career step. Lajuana has dreaded this moment since I graduated knowing I wanted to go on and get my MBA. But she has been fully supportive in my application process (which has been over a year now) and now starting the program; she's the best! Many of you know me as one who plans well in advance, uses strategy, and is very thoughtful in my decisions. With that said I researched and checked out tons of programs and types or formats of programs; full-time, part-time, and executive. I ended up choosing the executive MBA format, which is set up for little bit older professionals, a condensed program length, cohort style (you all start at the same time and take the same classes at the same time), and classes set up not as often as part-time. I ended up narrowing down my choice and applying to the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame. The subsequent interview and visit made me realize that Notre Dame is where I wanted to go. It was an interesting process, praying to know what university to apply too and having the answer include Notre Dame and then later praying to know if I should attend since I was accepted. The overwhelming answer was yes, I think there are several reasons as I look back now why that could be but I'm just so glad prayers are answered.

I have a friend in my Ward that got his Masters degree there and said its "where every good Mormon goes". He is a funny guy. The University of Notre Dame MBA program is ranked 20th in the nation and is highly respected especially here in Chicago. As I looked more into the program it felt like a good choice. Interesting stat, 5% of the MBA students at Notre Dame are LDS. Here is how my program works; every other full Friday and Saturday are spent in downtown Chicago campus (they own the entire Santa Fe building), several one week immersion weeks on the Notre Dame campus (about 100 miles from home), and one international week (I think we are going to China). Last week was orientation on the main campus. We had introductions, a campus tour, social events, math and accounting reviews, and got together with our team. The director selects teams that consist of very different backgrounds; I'm on a team of 5 that will stay together through the whole program. On Friday night Lajuana drove up, leaving our kids at our good friends house, for a dinner at the press boxes at the football stadium (not sure if you know but ND is kind of known for its football). It was a fun dinner talking with other couples that are in program. The next day Lajuana and I went to class :) We had this great presentation and interaction on personalities. It was very fun. The overall all experience was amazing! As the first person in my family to graduate college and now the first to go to grad school I feel very fortunate to be involved in such a great program. Is it going to be hard? It will be amazingly hard for me as well as for Lajuana and the kids. Will it be worth it? I have complete faith it will be.

As a side note, attending Notre Dame opens up conversations with lots of people. At orientation I was able to talk to several people about my faith and their faiths; a Jewish person, Protestants, Catholics, and non-practicing people. The environment there enables open discussion of religion, business, and goals. It is neat and I look forward to taking in the whole experience.

-- John

The Dome

Inside the Dome

The football stadium. Seats 80,000! The current University undergrad count is 8,000 and grad count is 3,000. Often the stadium is packed and another 100,000 tail-gating in the parking lot. As a student I get two tickets in the student section, so heck yea I'm planning on going!

You can't tell from this picture but the business building is super nice inside. The undergrad business program ranks 3rd in the country.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The derby

When I was growing up I was never involved in the scouting program. So I never had the chance to master the art of the Pinewood Derby. Now that I have kids I don’t want them to miss out on this fun chance to learn cool things and to build and race a Pinewood Derby car. This is Garrett’s second year, meaning my second chance at making a car that can do decently.

As any good Dad would do, I researched the physics and dynamics of the race. What aspects of the car could I improvise and create better. My conclusion was that the friction of 4 wheels was the major cause of drag to the car. To fix it was to remove a wheel. I looked online for this common solution and found many people saying to raise one of the wheels so it doesn’t touch the track but none saying to remove the entire wheel. So my engineering mind went to work to figure out a cool solution. The problem though is that I’m not a mechanical engineer so I never studied in depth dynamics. So my limited exposure would have to do to conceive, design, and build a 3 wheeled car!

I presented Garrett with two options for the pinewood derby, 1) build a regular car and improve on what we learned last year or 2) build an experimental 3-wheeled car that may go faster or may just fly off the track! Without a moments pause Garrett said very excitedly “let’s do the 3-wheeled one!”

I actually did some calculations in my design to try and alter the center of gravity and position the weights to not only keep the car on three wheels but to have the weights positioned to improve the performance and hopefully speed down the track. The finished car was balanced and tested in our home. The result of the testing was that it went straight. The true test came when we went to the derby!

Let me just say that there are some serious Dad’s out there with real intent on winning. Garrett and I had a goal to win but our winning would come if the car stayed on the track and did decent. Plus I must add that even though I did the design work I let Garrett do cut, sand, and paint the car. I tried to get him involved with the whole process to make it his car. I must say that the cars at this derby seemed to be professionally manufactured by Dads intent on breaking land speed records. I mention that just because we had different goals with the race. When we submitted the car for weighing the leader said “I can tell whose Dad is an engineer!” It was kind of funny and Garrett looked at me and said he knows you’re an engineer!

The night of the race, the true test. Garrett was in the second group to race. I was so nervous. I must say running a 3-wheeled car down a track and having your son look at you in hopes we did it right is some pressure. I held my breath as it went down the track! It went smoothly down with no problems…3rd place. Four heats in total before the semifinals and the car made it in 3rd place each time and then 2nd a couple times. Success! The car stayed on the track and did very decently and I count it a win for us. We had a great time through the process and look forward to next year and who knows what kind of crazy ideas we come up with.

-- John

Thursday, November 20, 2008

School money blues

I am so annoyed at the school. Does this happen to anyone else? Do they send home notes that say "We're making you a special present. Please send $6, and don't ask your child about it, it's a secret!" Now, I don't mind special secret presents. But I DO mind if you make me fork over money for it. I would be just as happy with something a LOT cheaper (i.e. in the school's budget). Especially when I just paid $12 for Garrett's field trip and $4 for Hannah's, and $6 for the social studies magazine subscription, and $6 each for them to join the lunchtime book club (book NOT included) and on and on and on. Now, I was a teacher, and I know how difficult it is to make choices for your students with a limited budget. But hello people! That's what a budget is for! If your budget can't afford it, think of something else to do rather than pass on the cost to the parents. I know a lot of teachers use their own money for school supplies and rewards, etc. but I also know that is NOT the case here. They solicit parent donations of toys, treats, stickers, etc. for rewards, and they solicit us whenever they need more school supplies, and solicit us to buy more books for their classroom.

**SIDE NOTE: We also have to pay a REGISTRATION FEE to the school district every year for our public school! It's $80 per child. I'm not going to go into details right now, but rest assured I fought that all the way to the Illinois Board of Education who told me if I don't pay, then (though they can't refuse to educate my child) the school district can take me to small claims court or put it into a collections agencey. When I asked what the money is used for the answer I got was "Why, to educate your child!" Um, what is our $10,000/year taxes used for then?**SIDE NOTE ENDED

I'm not a big gift giver either (not one of my love languages--I'm a quality time and acts of service woman). I tried ignoring the note, thinking to myself "I'm not paying for a present for myself that I don't agree with on principle." I even ignored the second reminder note with the due date (a week earlier) circled in red. AND the third note with the cost highlighted and the now 2-week-past deadline underlined TWICE. I toyed with continuing my passive-agressive stance and refusing to pay. But my sweet 6 year old, who had spent the weekend in the hospital, her I couldn't ignore when she said, "Mom, we're the LAST ones who haven't turned in our money. Should I just get it out of my piggy bank? Do I have $6 in there?" Then I felt bad. Though I shouldn't have to pay for a gift I didn't ask for, SHE shouldn't have to pay the school for it either. And they definitely should not be making her feel bad because she's the only one who hasn't paid.

I sent in my check today. It better be special.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The bad mom syndrome

I know most of us parents often feel like we're not doing the best job we can, and there even some moments when we feel we're doing a very bad job. I had one of those moments last weekend.

On Saturday evening, we all noticed that Hannah seemed to be dragging a little and we were thinking she was probably coming down with yet another cold/cough. By bedtime, she was coughing and wheezing and didn't look too good. I sent her off to bed thinking she would probably be better by morning. She was very excited to be involved in the children's program at church on Sunday. She had memorized her part, she was brave and ready to talk into the microphone. She woke up around 2 am coughing pretty badly again, but I went in to give her some water and sit with her for a minute, and she was instantly asleep again. But she was even wheezing in her sleep. Well, it can't be that bad if she can sleep, right?

She woke up again less than an hour later still struggling to breathe. I started using all my tricks. Steamy bathroom, rocking in the rocking chair (yes she is pretty big for this, but it's a good way to keep her upright, and yes my legs did fall asleep), she was still having problems, so I even tried the instant croup fix which worked on her as a baby, and on Garrett as a 5 yr. old--I took her outside to the cold night air. Nothing worked. Finally, I held her in my lap as I searched the internet for what might be the problem. She fell asleep again, so I laid her on the couch and I laid next to her. She continued to wheeze in her sleep, but again, she WAS asleep. So again, I thought, it can't be that bad. She wasn't running a fever. So I dozed next to her. She was pretty restless.

At about 6:30 am, I woke up John and made him take my place while I went back to bed to get a little sleep. When I came down about an hour later, she still looked horrible, and she was awake. The first thing she said to me was "I guess I can't be in the program" with such a sad wheezy little voice. So I called our doctor's on call service, hoping to bring her in around 8 or 9 because I knew they had clinic hours on Sundays. The doctor didn't even call me back until 9:30. He asked me two or three questions and then said to take her to the ER. I said, "Shouldn't I just take her to the clinic?" And he said "She needs immediate treatment to help her breathe." So I left the boys with Denise to get ready for church, I picked up John who was already at church for leadership meetings, and we took Hannah to the ER. She fell asleep again.

We didn't have to wait AT ALL at the ER. They took us immediately back and the first thing they did was check her oxygen saturation, and it was 87. If any of you don't know about sats, that is VERY BAD. When I saw that, I just started crying like crazy, hiding my face from Hannah. I can't believe I let her go ALL NIGHT like this. I should have brought her in 10 hours earlier! I collected myself pretty quickly (I like to think), and helped them get a nebulizer mask with oxygen on her. There were a million doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and I don't know who else, that came in and listened to her lungs and all of them exclaimed at how bad she sounded. The doctor said it was an extremely severe asthma attack. The nebulizer had albuterol, and then they gave her an oral liquid prednisolone. She wasn't really responding. They said if the couldn't get her a little more stable, they would have to admit her to the ICU. Then she threw up the prednisolone. So they decided to put in an IV, give her the prednisolone through there, and admit her to the ICU. She looked horrible. And scared, and didn't know what was going on.

We finally went to the ICU around 1 pm. She had been on the continuous nebulizer the whole time (except while traveling to the ICU). She looked a little better, but she had so many things sticking out of her. . .the oxygen meter on a finger, the IV in her arm, the blood pressure cuff on the other arm, the mask on her face, and three wires to her chest that measured her heart rate and respiration rate. I wish I had taken a picture, but obviously that was the last thing on my mind. By this time, she was pretty stable, but still obviously needed the continuous treatment. She had that until 6 pm. Eight hours! And then they gave her a ten minute treatment every hour until about midnight. In between, they had her on the oxygen going into her nose, which she HATED. She kept taking it out while I wasn't looking. I hate it too--I always try to refuse oxygen while I'm birthing but they always slip it on while I'm busy. Finally, I asked the nurses to keep it off and see how her oxygen was. They said, "I'm sure she'll need it while she's sleeping." But she didn't, hooray!

On Sunday evening, a bunch of Hannah's friends from church came to visit her, and they even brought presents that would help distract her. She wasn't really ready for reading or coloring, but she was feeling well enough to talk a little and listen to them tell about how the program went, and how they missed her. She had perked up a lot while they were there. After they left, I tried to settle her in to sleep. However, the meds they were giving her made her jittery and sweaty and not sleepy at all. We watched one more movie, then she finally fell asleep. Of course someone was constantly coming in to listen to her breathing, or to give her a treatment, or talk to me about her progress. This was at the rate of about two people per hour until about 1 am, when they changed her status from ICU to "floor status" which meant they could check her less often. So the rate slowed to one person per hour. Obviously, we got little sleep. Hannah is a very light sleeper anyway, so this was pretty horrible. Every time she was awakened, she would ask me questions and was being all chatty. When she finally would get back to sleep, 20 minutes later she was awakened again. Oh what a night! She woke up for good after her 5 am treatment. She was excited to look at her new books and coloring pages.

John took Monday off from work, saw Garrett off to school, took Kevin over to a friend's, then came to the hospital. I went home to sleep. The doctors said Hannah could probably come home that night. They had changed her treatments to every two hours, then to every three hours, then four. They took off all her monitors except the oxygen. They FINALLY took out the IV. Then they said she could come home. I was very nervous that they were handing over her care to me. I don't know anything about asthma, or her medications. But they taught me how to give her an inhaler, and said I didn't need a nebulizer at this point, and maybe this was just an isolated incident and she won't have any more asthma attacks. We can hope.

Anyway, we're home now and Hannah's gone to school. She seems fine, except she still coughs off and on. They said coughing is good though, it gets the phlegm out. Here is a picture of her on Monday morning. She looks great, doesn't she? Of course they had to tape the iv pretty forcefully so she wouldn't keep knocking it out.

If any of you have advice, I would love to hear it. I know I'm not a bad Mom, so don't worry about telling me that. We all just feel like that sometimes.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Kevin's story

I thought since Kevin's birthday is coming up, I would write about his birth. Since he is the most recent of my babies, it is probably the one I remember most clearly too. Of course, my memory ain't what she used to be.

As background, Garrett's birth was planned out naturally, but interventions snowballed into me having an epidural and the doctor using forceps and doing a 4th degree episiotomy. With Hannah, we were moving (actually John had already moved but came home for a week to be there for the birth and then pack up our house), so she was induced, I had an epidural, and again, 4th degree epi.

Finally, with Kevin, I armed myself with a lot of knowledge, research, and anecdotes. With the help of supportive friends, I was ready for my dream birth. He was due Oct. 27th, and I was sure I would be early, though I never had been before. Of course Halloween came and went, with no cute little infant to put in the pumpkin costume I bought for him. I pigged out on the kids' Halloween candy. Finally, over a week past the due date, he decided to make his appearance. I was lying down because I was going to go to a doctor's appointment and I was a little stressed out because I knew he wanted to induce (or at least do tests that would make them think they had to induce). When I got out of bed, I felt a little trickle, and knew my water had broken. I noticed there was a little meconium, but didn't get worried. I told the kids (Garrett was almost 6 and Hannah 3 1/2) the basics--they had been following along in the month by month magazine and knew all about the amniotic bag of waters. Luckily, I had planned to pick up John from school and take him and the kids with me to the Dr. so I could have some moral support. I went to get him, and the first thing the kids said is "DAD, DAD, Mom's leaking!" I still wasn't really having contractions.

So we all went to the Dr. but they said to just go to the hospital. We took our kids to John's brother's house. It was about 3:30 on a Friday afternoon. I tried to talk John into taking me somewhere to eat, but he was too nervous. And to tell the truth, I wasn't really hungry. I just wanted to postpone going to the hospital as long as possible. I couldn't think of anywhere I really wanted to go, so we ended up just going to the hospital. And I was a little nervous as well, since I'd never had my water break before, and I didn't like the color of the fluid coming out.

When we checked in, the first thing I had to do was refuse iv fluids. And it wasn't the last time I had to say no thanks. The next thing I had to do was refuse pitocin. I got hooked up to the monitors and they saw not many contractions (about 10 min apart--I could have told them that), and the baby was tolerating them well. They let me off the monitors around 5 pm and that was when my doula Becky came. I walked around a little, used a birthing ball, and generally tried to get the labor going. It didn't really work. At my first exam, I was at a 3, and around 7 pm I was still a 3, and he hadn't really moved down either. They hooked me up to the monitors again and noted some decellerations in his heartbeat. The meconium looked darker and thicker at this point. They went over a few options, and I finally decided on a tube to flush clean fluids around the baby, minimizing his chances of aspirating a concentrated amount of meconium. This, of course, meant that I would have to stay in bed. It also meant that it would slow down the contractions even more. The Dr. promised me that he would let me try it naturally for as long as it was safe for me and the baby. Around 9 pm, he came in again and said he had been watching my monitors and the baby's heartbeat was slowing down way too much. While he was talking to me, I had another contraction, and the heartbeat slowed down under 80. The Dr. said, "Two more like that and we're rushing you to and emergency c-section." I started sobbing, and his heartrate kicked up quickly. I agreed to have pitocin to see if I could at least get him out vaginally before they sliced me open. I made the Dr. and nurses PROMISE to start me on the very lowest dose, and to turn it off once I got to a 5 (with my other two kids I went from 5 to 10 in less than an hour).

So they started the pitocin. And BAM! It really kicked me into high gear. Becky did some pressure points on my feet and I could feel the baby moving down. And it HURT! I made them check me at about 10:00 and I was at a 5/6. They turned it off, but boy, it did not feel like it. The contractions were on top of each other, barely letting up at all. I asked Becky and John both to check and make sure the pit was off, because I couldn't believe it. Toward the end, I think if I could have caught my breath enough to talk, or had any coherent thought, I would have asked for an epidural. Maybe. The baby's heart rate continued at a semi-acceptable rate, though the decellerations were lower than they would have liked. At about 11 pm, as one contraction ebbed, I suddenly felt very nauseous. "I feel sick," I gasped. John patted me on my shoulder, thinking to himself (probably): "Of course she feels sick, she's about to have a baby." At my words, however, Becky sprang away from the bed, found a bedpan, and practically tossed it to John right as I heaved in his general direction. I threw up for the next few minutes, and let me tell you, it is NOT FUN to throw up while you are having contractions. Nothing is fun when your in the last stage of labor, I guess, but throwing up just makes it that much worse. Meanwhile, Becky was positively crowing: "You're going to have the baby soon!" And I groggily remembered that heaving is a sign of transition. She called the nurse in.

Sure enough, a few minutes later I was curled up in as tight a fetal position as I could be with my big belly, moaning with some major pressure. They checked me and I was 10, ready to push. I had been lying on my left side, as that seemed to be the best for the baby's heart rate. I pushed on my side once, but the heart rate was dipping super low again, and they were serious about getting him out FAST! So up I sat, pushed a few times without holding my breath. They kept telling me to hold my breath, but in my perfect birthing plan I didn't want coached pushing, and I wanted to push on my side without holding my breath, so that the baby would move down a little more slowly and I wouldn't need an episiotomy. Becky knew all this, and knew all my concerns about interventions. During a break after my 3rd or 4th push, the dr. said "Push again between contractions." I said "I can't" and he snipped me a tiny episiotomy (it didn't even need to be stitched later) I felt it, but it was only a tiny pinch. Then I heard Becky's voice quietly say: "Lajuana, the next one you have to hold your breath and really push him out. NOW." I learned later that his heart rate was dipping in the 30's for the pushes and everyone was really freaking out. I had no idea, because I was really in the zone. Anyway, after Becky said that (I trusted her more than the nurses who didn't know me), the next push I held my breath, really put my all into it, and out he popped!

They took Kevin and sucked him out real good to make sure he wouldn't aspirate the meconium. He looked good, though. The Dr. showed me the placenta and we saw that the umbilical cord that attached to the placenta was really thin. He said he'd never seen anything like it. But he didn't seem too malnourished; he was 8 pounds, 1 ounce. Of course, he was very late and I was expecting him to be over nine pounds. Garrett was 8 lb. 11 oz. Anyway, the pediatric nurses came later and took him to the NICU because his blood sugar was extremely low and they were afraid he would have seizures.
He stayed in the NICU for a few days, and I stayed with him. He was HORRIBLE at nursing, sometimes taking over 30 minutes to latch on. But it's not like I had anything else to do in the hospital, so why not spend all day trying to get him to nurse? Later when we brought him home, it was a little more frustrating, but never really bothered me that much. Just time consuming. By the time he was 2 months, he was pretty normal.

Anyway, the main thing I noticed about having a non-medicated birth (besides the pain) was the recovery time. I swear I felt absolutely fabulous the second Kevin came out. I remember when the nurse brought me some ibuprofen shortly after the birth, I asked "What is this for?" and she said, "You'll be feeling pain soon, this will head it off." I said, "I'm feeling fantastic. If I'm hurting later I'll ask for it." But I never needed it. When the adrenaline/hormonal high wore off, I was still feeling great. I felt back to my normal self (better than my overdue pregnant self) by the morning, except for the heavy bleeding. Which is good because I spent a lot of time in a not-so-comfy chair in the NICU.

So I still have a dream of a perfect birth. I don't know if it will happen or not, since I'm gettin' up there in years, and we're not sure if we'll have any more children. Here are some pictures of my baby at 2 months, 3 months, and 8 months.

And here's one from just today, my big three-year-old:

Monday, September 29, 2008

Birthday Boy

Just gotta say how fantastic my dear husband is. He is an old man now, but still finds time to play games and throw the kids around a little. We celebrated during the weekend, and though I went to bed without doing the dishes, he did them before he went to work this morning! Now that is an amazing man. He is absolutely tireless in his home improvement, always working on projects to make our home even more beautiful and elegant than it was before. He loves his family and loves mine as well, he has such a big heart. He puts up with me and all my quirks and habits--what more could I ask for? Here are some great photos of my Johnny, as a baby, boy, engaged man, and loving father.

Monday, September 8, 2008

10 Great Years

What an amazing life, better than I could have ever imagined! After looking at different places, even our bed and breakfast honeymoon location in Maine and the beaches of Mexico, we decided on a more local and historic place to celebrate our historic anniversary. We left our kids with Lajuana's sister and spent all day Friday and Saturday in Nauvoo! It was a nice 4 hour drive from our house. We did miss an important turn on our way there and we ended up going across this neat bridge to the Iowa town of Burlington. I'm including a picture we took that will appeal to my engineering buddies who love bridges and regular people who will notice the cheap gas prices (we are still near $3.90 or higher in Chicago).

We ended up turning back, after we filled up...you don't think we're crazy to not take advantage of the "low" price, and made it no problems to Nauvoo. This was my first time and Lajuana had been but not since she was a teenager.

We drove though the center of the town and then around the area before stopping to eat. Now I'm not a picky eater, pretty much anything vegetarian will do. We also never really carry cash because...well we live in the modern era. Both things happen to make things challenging. We stopped at this one place and it was OK but not really anything. Then we went to another place with nice signs. We settled there cause they took checks, thankfully Lajuana brought her book. Let's say I ended up with grilled cheese (with American cheese...which really isn't even cheese) and some decent french fries. Lajuana ended up with a basic salad with chicken harder than the 150 year bricks holding the building up! Not to be snobby but our dinning experience was less than enjoyable. But we didn't go there for the food we went for the Temple!

I've been working on my genealogy and we were able to take my family names to the Temple that afternoon. What a great way to spend your anniversary! That night we walked around and found a great place to eat and they take credit cards, its called the Nauvoo Mercantile. So we ate and then took some more pictures. People were so friendly. People would come up and talk to us and we'd share in the excitement of being in Nauvoo. We meet a couple that had been married and were going to be sealed the next day and they were just glowing with excitement. Just about everyone we talked to asked us if we had been to Nauvoo before and if we were converts, which I am 13 years now and Lajuana's family goes back to the early years and includes family that lived in Nauvoo. The funny thing is almost everyone we talked to were also converts.

We stayed at a lovely B&B called the Ellis Sanders Home. It was fantastic and we'd highly recommend it if you come as a couple, not really a kid friendly place. The home was built in 1844 and their parlor was often used to host informal church meetings with records showing Brigham Young and others that came to the home. Ellis Sanders was also great friends with Heber C. Kimball. So it was neat to hang out in such a historic home.

Our cute bedroom with a sign welcoming us and congratulating us on 10 years.

Breakfast was later than we are used to, 9am, and none of the historic homes opened until 9am. So we took a drive and checked out some cool things. One interesting thing was a tunnel. I took some pictures of it and we enjoyed it but there were not any signs telling us about it. It wasn't until later when we went to the brick yard and they told us the story of how Joseph Smith directed people to build a canal and a tunnel to drain the swamp lands and that the tunnel we saw and took a picture of was the one built to drain the city. Pretty neat I think!

We also went to the bank of the Mississippi River which is right near the tunnel. The lilly pads and birds were so cool. Not to mention a huge spider that I almost walked right into, the thing was about three inches long. Any guesses on what kind it is? Was my life in danger?

We then went back to the B&B and had a wonderful! It was the best food in all of Nauvoo I am sure of it! We eat breakfast with another couple that stayed in the B&B and they were celebrating their 4 year anniversary. We enjoyed their company and we all went to the Temple after the great food. I must say the Nauvoo Temple inside is just amazing, peaceful, and touches of history. We had a fantastic time. Afterwards we went to the brickyard, the smith shop, and tons of historic homes. I won't bore you more with our trip. One funny thing is that on our way out of town we decided not to eat dinner there but went to that town we accidentally went to on our way there in Iowa and had a fantastic dinner right on the river, a place called the Drake.

Overall this was one of the most unique anniversaries we've had. We've gone to B&B's and love them, we've left our kids before, but we've never gone to a historic town like this with the entire focus of our vacation to be spent in the Temple. It was perfect and amazing, a great way to celebrate 10 years!


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pictures of the family

Our happy bunch of kids. It's been a while since we had a photo session, so I took the chance and the light from the sun coming in our family room to take some pictures. The sad part is that I had 200 speed film in the camera and didn't realize it, so some of the pictures got over exposed. Yes I'm still in the age of film, our digital camera is good for general pictures but for portaits I like film. But anyway I think overall the pictures came out nice and hopefully give you some insight into Garrett, Hannah, and Kevin. --- John

Hannah, Kevin, Garrett




Monday, August 18, 2008

My thoughts about Dad

Let me first say that my Mom is doing well, getting stronger. Every other day, she walks on the treadmill for 15 minutes, and has been bugging me to call her doctor to see when she can go back to her water aerobics class! She has always been very fit and active. She is taking steroids to reduce the swelling in her brain from the tumor, and that wreaks havoc with her diabetes and her sleeping patterns. In a few weeks, she will be off the steroids, and at the end of September will have another MRI to find out if the tumor has shrunk and to see if there are any more popping up yet.

I have had a pretty hard time with my Dad. He has really declined in the last few years, but most noticibly in the last four months. He has been staying in a home since my Mom had her treatment. We bring him home for most of the day, about 9 or 10 am until 6 or 7 pm. Here's our conversation the first time I went to pick him up:
Dad: Well there's my little girl!
Me: I might be your youngest girl, but I'm the tallest girl in our family! (That's how I usually answer when he calls me little or youngest)
Dad: Well now, I didn't know that. (Confused and looking at the nurse): I haven't seen her in years and years!
I just kind of laughed it off and didn't contradict him.
Dad: What grade are you in now?
Me: I'm all done with school now. I'm a Spanish teacher (trying to keep it simple).
Dad: Really? A teacher?
Me: Yes, Dad, just like you were.
Dad: Like I was?
Me: You were a professor for 35 years.
Dad: I was?

When we came out to see them in April, my Dad gave me a bunch of Spanish magazines that he had been saving for me. He used to pick them up everywhere he went and save them in the garage. He knew I had started my Master's degree, and kept asking me when I would be done. So now, four months later, he doesn't remember that I'm an adult, that I finished college, started my master's, that I was teaching Spanish, or that even he himself was a professor. It was shocking.

It's strange, though, what functions do remain. He is able to read from the scriptures out loud every evening. He followed along in the hymn book singing quite well. He can do almost everything himself: put on his seat belt, brush his teeth, eat, dress. But you have to tell him every little step. Here is a typical meal:

Dad: Can I eat now?
Mom: Go ahead, but eat your corn first because the chicken is hot.
Dad: (picking up his fork) Do I use this?
Mom: Use your fingers (it was corn on the cob).
Dad: (Taking a bite) There's no stuff on this.
Mom: Put butter and salt on it.
Dad: Butter?
Mom: Here (pointing)
Dad: (Putting his corn down and picking up his fork)I better see what this is (poking at the chicken)
Mom: That's your chicken and it's too hot so don't eat it for a few minutes. Eat your corn.
Dad: My corn?

You see the pattern. Spoken words have little or no meaning for him. He repeats everything because he doesn't know what we're talking about. We have to point to things. But how do you point to "professor" or "sick"? He's actually quite amusing to listen to, but it gets frustrating at times. He often says things like "I wish I had never been born" or "When do I get to die?" or "I will be dead by next week." Which, naturally, is a little depressing.

The nurses in the home and most other people treat him like he is a child. Like a child with bad hearing. It bothers me, it makes me want to tell them all about his past. I want to put a sign on him that says "TREAT ME WITH RESPECT." They don't know that he ran away from an abusive home when he was 16, rode the rails and hitch hiked across the country, enlisted in the army, attended several prestigious universities while working, served an honorable mission in Argentina, taught Kindergarten in California, received his Masters and PhD while a young father, had ten children, was a tenured professor, managed money to raise ten children and then put every single one through college, served another mission with my mom, etc. That's not even the tip of the iceberg.

I take Dad out for a few hours every day so my Mom can rest. On one of our outings, I asked him to tell me how he met Mom. He couldn't remember. Many people with Alzheimer's can remember things from their childhood or past. I asked him a few different questions, even led him down the path a little way to see if he would remember. But he didn't. That was a little sad. He has better moments, but I would say that about 90% of the time he is as I described above.

I keep telling myself that we're doing the best we can for him, and all we can do is help him be happy for the next few years of his life. And if that means driving him by the church 5 times a day to show him that no one is there right now, well then, let's do it. It doesn't bother me. And I'm enjoying my time with him while there are no other demands on my attention (kids). He's pretty fun to be with.

Does anyone have any experience with Alzheimer's or dementia? I would love to hear some stories and/or advice.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I love the beach (for my kids)!

I've decided that there are three types of beach goers: the kind that don't like it at all and just sit in a chair and try to keep sand out of everything; the kind that love it, swim in the ocean, build sand castles, and don't mind the sand in everything, including their swimsuit; and those that fall somewhere in between who like to go mostly for their children's sake. I fall into the last category--I don't LOVE going to the ocean, but I love seeing my kids have fun there. I like swimming and bobbing in the waves, but I don't love the jellyfish or stepping on crabs or shells. I like the relaxing feeling of sitting on the beach and knowing my kids are having fun with little entertainment from me. I love food at the beach, even though it gets a little sandy. It's fun to pop pretzels and grapes into my kids' mouths because their hands are too sandy to touch them. I like forgetting about the usual routines of meals and naps because we are having too much fun to leave the beach and return to that humdrum existence.

This vacation was a real break for me. I decided before I left that I would just take it easy, and make it a really fun vacation that the kids would remember. No stress, no yelling, and suspension of all but the most basic rules of good behavior. No time crunch, just let things come as they may. It turned out to be the most fun I've had in a long time. The only thing I missed was John and Denise, but to tell the truth (sorry my dear) I don't think it would have been so relaxing with John, or with Denise. We would have ended up arguing about somewhere to eat, or where to stop for gas, or I would have been more stressed about keeping things clean or that I wasn't doing enough with the kids, or upset that John was taking long naps while I "did all the work." Or upset that Denise was spoiling the kids or they were sassing her, or she didn't do things the way I normally would.

As it was, we had a great time. The kids played nicely with their cousins that were there (only two girls aged 10 and 14). The highlight for me was our bike ride. We thought it would be a good way to keep the kids busy for the morning, a challenging but not impossible ride to the ice cream store. We thought it might be about 2 miles but we clocked it later at 3.7 miles. As you can imagine, it was very hot and humid. Hannah has only been about a mile at a time on her little bike, so it was a real marathon to her. The ice cream store was closed when we got there, and Garrett instantly dissolved into frustrated tears that mixed with his perspiration. Luckily, a lady at the gift shop suggested the gas station and we went (walked!) there and let everyone pick out an ice cream bar or popsicle. It was a long ride home, but we made it. Hannah was so exhausted by the end (7.4 miles!!) that she forgot to use her brakes when she came down the steep driveway and ran right into the woods, scaring me (and herself) half to death. She wasn't hurt at all, not even a scratch. I had told all the kids that whoever didn't complain on the ride home would get a popsicle. And whoever said nice things about the ride would get their popsicle BEFORE LUNCH! I totally cracked up when they were trying to find good things to say: "That shade on the other side of the street looks nice." "I love these bumps in the path, they make it more fun." "This is a good day to go to the beach and swim in the water." I was really proud of all the kids (though Kevin just rode in the trailer) but especially Hannah pedalling 10 times what we all were on our big bikes. She is a strong little girl! I thought they would all be exhausted when we got back, but within 20 minutes in the air conditioning, they were jumping around just as hyper as ever. Kevin is the only one who was tired enought that when he sat down for a few minutes, he dropped off to sleep! And he didn't even have to pedal!

The kids were amazingly good in the van on the way down, and believe it or not, they were even better on the way home and I drove the WHOLE WAY IN ONE DAY! Yes, 16 hours of driving and caring for my 3 children all accomplished with patience and skill by yours truly. I was so, SO happy to get home and see John and see the remodeled family room. We don't have any pictures of that though, because our camera totally freaked out the last day at the beach and it is getting repaired. Thank goodness we got the 4 year warranty. Here are some beach and bike ride pictures, then I'll give you an update about our moms:

John's Mom is now able to put slight pressure on her foot, so now she doesn't have to hop with a walker, she can walk a little bit. She still can't drive of course, and her car is totalled, so she is still dependant on others to take her where she needs to go.

My mom has regained a little of her fine motor skills, and can read and comprehend a little better now. She has always been a quick healer and doctors are always amazed at how she bounces back after everything. She had planned on taking my Dad on a cruise in October, but she definitely would not be able to take Dad. She still wants to go, though. I am leaving on Thursday to stay with her until the following Saturday. I'm excited to go and spend time with her. My sister says I'll have to give her insulin shots because she can't do it herself. That is making me a little nauseous to think of, but I guess I gotta do what I gotta do. My Dad is getting a little better about staying at the home, now that he has his routines. But he is still really lost and doesn't understand what's going on. I'm just hoping he will still recognize me as his daughter, because I can't bear the thought of completely losing him mentally. He usually remembers Allyson is his daughter, but every day says "It's nice to see you! It's been a long time!" and he never remembers her name, even though she's been there two weeks.

Please continue to pray for us. I really feel the prayers helping me. Did someone pray that my kids would be good and that I would stay sane on the long road trip by myself? It worked!