Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Family Visit & Changes on the Home Front

First, I must mention how incredible the weather has been here in the suburbs for the last few days. It's been breezy and between the 60's-70's! It's sure nice since most days are over 80 and close to 90 degrees, with humidity. It has felt exactly like what I'm used to in Southern California.

Moving along... we were so happy to have Ray's parents and grandparents visit last weekend. Ray's parents are now on summer vacation (though my MIL still has work but is lucky enough to choose which days!) and more available to come out and visit. They brought along Gramie and Papa for the visit to explore Chicago (though they've all been before) and see our home. When they arrived on Friday, I had lunch waiting for everyone. We had the champagne glasses cued up with white grape juice and sat down to eat. At this point, no one had any idea we were about to break some serious baby news! They were just assuming we were being sweet and toasting their visit.

Ray gives the toast and says something along these lines... "We're so happy to have you all our here to visit and that Gramie and Papa were able to come ... and that Brandy is pregnant!"

Oh, the faces. Between the tears and dropped jaws, I think we thoroughly surprised everyone.

Quick backtrack... when we told my parents via Skype just 2 days prior, we had similar reactions. I had been cleverly scheming how I would creatively tell them, so we sent my dad a package for Father's Day, full of goodies. At the bottom was a wrapped present for the both of them. My dad was so confident that he knew what it was until it was opened-- Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul with a post-it that announced they are soon to be grandparents! Inside the book were photos from our first ultrasound appointment. My mom asked me THREE times if I was pregnant. Three times!

Needless to say, we shocked everyone.

On Friday afternoon, I chatted with the ladies while Ray took Papa and his dad to his work to give them a tour. When they came back, we had dinner and hung out. They were all so tired from their early rise, the 1-hour time difference, and the flight. It was an early night.

Saturday was the downtown visit. Kay, my MIL, had booked tickets for us all to go on an Architectural tour through the waterways in Chicago. We drove down there quite early and I'm sure glad we did! The traffic wasn't forgiving and the Puerto Rican parade that was going on had the streets blocked. It was difficult navigating with two cars, but we managed to get there in time for lunch before our cruise! It was a 2-hour cruise around the waterways and we listened to a recent University of Chicago graduate of architecture discuss all things related to the building structures, their architects, etc. It was nice to be out on the water on such a nice and sunny day. Ray and I even walked down to Navy Pier to grab some amazing Garrett's Popcorn to share with the group. They also had muffins, cookies, and beverages for us on the boat cruise. Here's a photo I took on the cruise...

We finished the evening off with a nice dinner at a popular restaurant, Rosebud, in Naperville. Gramie and Papa treated us to dinner this night and the food was great! We had so many leftovers because they serve such huge portions.

On Sunday, we made our way to church in the morning and to the Morton Arboretum in Lisle. It was awesome! We had no idea that this place near the 88 freeway would be so nice. We walked through some of the park and were able to drive through the rest. There are hiking and biking trails as well as a fantastic children's area. We'll definitely become members and go more frequently when we have kids of walking age. During our drive through the park at the end, we felt as though we weren't even in the same state! It really felt like we were driving through a mini version of a national park. I highly recommend checking this place out some time... especially if you have kids or like hiking in this flat state. That evening we headed to a Father's Day dinner at the House of Emperor Chinese restaurant. My FIL, Steve, loves Chinese and we're also big fans. This place came highly recommended and we really enjoyed it.

Before they left... Gramie and Papa also had a special surprise for us. Because Ray has an Air Force military background, Gramie and Papa wanted to honor him by giving us a family heirloom that means a great deal to Gramie and Papa as well as Gramie's late mom, Big Ceil. As you can see below, there is a large photo of a man-- General A.W. Vanaman, Gramie's uncle. This (vase) was a gift given from their many military travels and is now a family treasure. This is a Cloisonné vase. Cloisonné is an ancient technique for decorating metalwork and often involves intensive skill and precision. Each coil is a tiny piece of wire inset and decorated on another metalwork. It really is striking. We're honored to have it.

We had a wonderful visit with Kay, Steve, Gramie, and Papa! We're so happy they came and we were able to celebrate so many great things with them. We'll see them again in August when we drive to Pennsylvania for the annual family reunion at Seven Springs.

On another note, the house work has been non-stop. Actually, that's not true. This week, it hasn't really been a big priority and as a result, we've had a wonderful time being a carefree (almost) married couple. On Friday evening, I went for a run and Ray played ultimate frisbee with a bunch of our friends... I joined later and was able to socialize with some of the girls we know from our small group. We went out to dinner that night (though the food at Pete & Johnny's was terrible) with all the friends who played frisbee. We spent this past Saturday at a pool party for a friend, Jessie, dinner with our friends Sandy & Chuck (tried a new-to-us deep dish place, Lou Malnati's), and went to see Date Night at the movies with our friends Derrick and Liz! Sunday was equally fun because we went to church, relaxed, and had a game night with our friends Jim & Kristi.

But, since there is some housework that has been done recently, I'll update y'all. This is actually pre-repair, but I have no photos from what it looks like now because I don't have a desire to sweep the deck for a photo! Ray scrubbed, by hand, the entire deck, replaced all of the rotten boards (which required him renting a truck from Menards himself, strapping the wood in, and returning the truck), and stained it with a paintbrush BY HAND! I helped a bit with the railings and it took a lot of time and effort. But hopefully the deck will last us a few more years! The dangerous boards are all gone and new ones have taken their place. Try to envision a more cherry wood color and that's what it looks like now!
Also, I don't believe I ever posted a photo of our finished dining room. The chairs are here and being used. We love the decisions we made on both the table and chairs. We're so happy we bought the chairs at Carson Pirie Scott for $85 each rather than at Crate & Barrel for $200 each!
The basement basically went from a finished (and gorgeous) basement to an unfinished basement with no carpet and lots of missing drywall in a matter of a week's time. We found water damage and all kinds of other things that just frustrate me to talk about, so I'll just leave it at that. Luckily, the rest of our house functions just fine despite the unfinished basement. It's nice to have enough space that we don't really need it. Though, eventually we will re-do the basement and get it all fixed and usable. That time is not right now.

Finally, here's a new addition to the front of our house... the flag! Just in time for the 4th of July, Kay, Steve, Gramie, and Papa left this behind for us as a gift. I think it looks perfect!
Okay, what a post... I'll probably post again tomorrow about the baby, but until then, I think this is enough reading material! :)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sure, why not?

As elusive as I can be about this whole pregnancy thing, I figured I'd at least add some information about this crazy (yet wonderful) journey. I don't know if I'll do this weekly, though I think it would be a nice reminder later on of the progress made each week. So, here it goes...

How far along?: 15w2d
How big is baby?: A naval orange or softball (about 4 inches, 1.75 ounces)
Maternity clothes?: Not yet... though my clothes are feeling a bit snug lately
Sleep?: Sleeping on my side just fine except for the occasional bathroom break
Best moment of the week?: Letting the news out to family and friends!
Movements?: Nope
Food Cravings?: Not really... though I love fruit! But, it's summer and I've always loved summer fruit.
Aversions?: Orange juice... but it can be tolerated now.
What I miss?: Margaritas, sushi (though I rarely ate it before pregnancy)
What I'm looking forward to?: The maternity pants I just ordered to arrive in the mail!
Anything else?: Not much. I've had an occasional back pain on my right side, but it's sporadic.

What's going on this week?: I wouldn't say a whole lot! I just finished grading for the MA course I taught and I am officially in summer mode. The weather has been insane... thunderstorms and tornado warnings were the excitement of yesterday. The bandage from my surgery has finally been removed for good and I must be cautious to cover it in the sun or it will turn, as my dermatologist said, porcelain white. Hm, no thanks on that one! We're having a date night tonight which usually means Chipotle and a Target trip. :) It's all about the little things, isn't it? I added a baby widget to the top of the blog and a poll on the gender at the right. We have about a month before we have our 20-week ultrasound where we find out the gender! As of now, we don't care what God will bless us with. We are just rooting for a healthy baby who likes to sleep a lot. Wishful thinking, perhaps. Though, the healthy wish is really sincere.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Word is Out!

We've been reading some literature lately (perhaps not the most intelligent, but somewhat entertaining at least)...
 Because BABY WILSON is on the way!

Here are photos from our 12-week ultrasound

Here are the "belly" shots that aren't much to see...
Two month mark here...
Three months here...

We're very excited for our little peanut. Due Mid-December 2010!!! At this point, baby is about 14.5 weeks along and is the size of a lemon.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Face of Cancer

I wondered, “Should I write about something so personal? Something so sensitive? Something that makes me admit to the world and all its people that I am imperfect and feel pain? Something that made me cry tears until I wailed and tears that hurt so much that they wouldn’t even come out?”
You see, I have this responsibility now. Not only do I view the Internet as a body of knowledge, but I feel it’s important to contribute to that body and share. I feel that talking about something so personal is just what someone else may need out there in the world. I find it imperative to be informative and stand from rooftops begging my friends, family, and complete strangers to take care of themselves.
Cancer comes in all forms. While mine is perhaps the most mild of cases, it was still enough to shock this 27-year-old.  I mean, I’m twenty-seven. That’s barely old enough to figure out my place in life. Even scarier, if it had been detected sooner, I would have been diagnosed with cancer at 24. Twenty-four is really young.
To think… when I met the love of my life, cancer was just starting to form. When I received my first diamonds during the best weekend of my life (and my students won the Sportsmanship award during our track meet I coached…outside), it was there. During our engagement, it was there. On the day I married my best friend, it was there. During our most amazing month of road-tripping across the US, it was there. And during our entire 6 months of Germany and traveling… it was there then too. It’s interesting how life can be so fulfilling and everything I had ever imagined without even knowing that I would find out some terrible news about that darn spot that appeared.
I grew up in California and distinctly remember thinking that being tan was all the rage from about the age of 12. I was made fun of in middle school for being so “pale” when many of my friends were Hispanic or Asian. They had it easy; their skin was already naturally toned. I remember baking myself in the backyard and laying on rooftop decks with friends as we poured Banana Boat oil (with a minor SPF of 3) all over ourselves to attain that golden look. I remember going to tanning salons, purchasing the expensive lotions, burning myself, itching intensely from the dryness, and peeling away sunburns as if that was a normal  thing to do. I was even orange at one point from tanning so much. Through my college years, tanning was still important to me. I laid on the beach for 8-10 hours at a time during warm summer days with no regard to what damage I could be causing the skin that never forgets.
Then, I had a wake up call last year. Someone very close to me underwent Mohs surgery to have two moles removed that could potentially turn cancerous. That year, I made an appointment to see my first dermatologist. He checked my entire body and explained that the dark, flat spots are especially the ones to watch. No problem, I thought. I walked out thinking I was safe and invincible, still. My cancer was there, visible, but still undetected.
In late May of this year, I set an appointment for my second Dermatology visit here in the Chicago area. I actually had full intentions of having a bump on my face removed. It was a flesh-colored bump, perfectly round, and had been there for about 3 years that I could remember. I asked her to remove it (just because I didn’t like it) and she was alarmed enough with my story to take a biopsy of the small bump. At this point, she had removed nearly all of what was seen by the naked eye. Just six days later, I received a phone call. I knew that was bad news. No one ever calls if everything is alright, I thought.
When I called back, I was told that the spot was actually called Basal Cell Carcinoma. It’s a very slow-moving form of skin cancer that often affects the neck and face. It usually occurs in older adults, though it’s not proven entirely because the younger generation is not as current about their dermatology visits. There are over 1 million cases reported every year and they’re generally not deadly. I was told that I needed to undergo Mohs surgery within the next couple weeks. They explained that the surgery would be done in their office and they would cut the cancer out in stages, until all of the cancer has been removed. After each stage, doctors would look under a microscope to see the exact areas in which the cancer was apparent. You can have 10 sessions in one day, or sometimes just one. Once the surgery is over (done entirely with topical anesthetic shots), they stitch the area or find a more suitable way to close the wound.
I had cancer. CANCER. There are cancers of all kinds, but being able to say, out loud, that I had cancer…excruciating. I felt diseased, infected, contagious. It feels like a violation and it doesn’t feel fair… but it’s not really fair to anyone. I guess I could say that I had {luckily}, the little "c" instead of a big "c".
I went in to have the surgery done on June 1, 2010. Being scared probably doesn’t even sum up how I was feeling on that chair. I have had surgery before, but nothing life threatening. I had elective eye surgery the year prior (June 2009), wisdom teeth removal like most adults, and about 10 teeth pulled as a child prior to braces. I’ve never broken a bone and I’ve never had stitches. I would classify all my surgeries as mild and normal until this point. So, the idea of having stitches scared me. The thought of having my skin cut scared me also.
But, when there are no options, you must follow the path of responsibility. My path meant having surgery to remove something hazardous from my body.
Currently, I’m in a state of recovery. The surgery was (honesty) more intense than I imagined. The actual bump was less than a centimeter in diameter, but the incision was at least 10-15 times wider and deeper than what was visible on my skin prior to June 1. I had about 12 stitches on my face and ¾ inch scar that will remind me of this experience. I don’t really care about the scar. I just care that I am safe from harm.
I am vowing to never tan my skin again, wear sunscreen like it’s a religion, invest in hats, sit in the shade, and be proactive with my health. Believe it or not, that last bit is the hardest of all. Sometimes I don’t want to know that there’s something wrong with me. It’s so much easier to live life without fear and angst than to live with knowing that something is wrong. But, God has given these doctors wisdom and skill.
I now feel that I am allergic to the sun—like I will melt if I am under the rays for more than a minute’s time. I know I’ll heal internally as well as externally, but it’s not something easily forgotten.
These photos are a documentary of my life from the past 5 years. Once I found out about the cancer, I dug into my photos to see if I could spot when the cancer started to appear. Here is what I found. Focus on directly next to my left eye. Click on the photo for an enlarged picture. Click once more to have it enlarged even further.
2005, nothing. Not even a dot. 
2006... it appears a discoloration and a tiny, itty-bitty bump is starting to form.
Who would've thought that while taking engagement photos, I was documenting the formation of something that would later cause me sadness?
2008 and full-blown spot. See it? Though small, the angle of this photo doesn't even require an expansion.
Wedding day. Yep. There, too. It's a reverse image through the mirror next to my left eye.
Traveling the world with a secret I knew nothing about!

I trust that you will take care of yourself as well. Have bodily exams done yearly at the dermatologist. Be informed. Be bold. Buy sunscreen. Being tan is not cool, it’s hazardous. Your skin never forgets, has a lasting memory, and our actions can affect us later.
I’ll end with what the doctor told me just after he completed my surgery: “The good news is that signs of skin damage can be reversed. Your skin doesn’t forget, but it can be treated if you make good decisions, get regular checkups, and take care of yourself.”
Sure, I found that what he meant was a $2,000 chemical peel on my face and being insane about sunscreen use for the rest of my life… but at least there is hope.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Many Hats of My Husband, Literally.

My husband has a problem. He likes hats a lot, but seems to have hat tragedies that somehow result in the loss of his beloved hat. Then, he moves on to another and before long... that one's a goner too!

Exhibit A: Circa 2006, pre-dating. I actually stole this photo from a friend's computer (thanks Jen!) because I had a crush on this guy. But, about the hat... I've never even (physically) seen the hat! It must've bit the dust before I came into the picture.
This would be our second date in May 2006. This Carhartt hat didn't stand a chance. We went to Magic Mountain (Six Flags, depending where you are in the country... everyone calls it a different name) and it was promptly lost on the log ride 5 months later.
Yet another hat that no longer can be found in our collection. It's December of 2006 and raining at the Manhattan Beach pier in Cali.
This was the best weekend of our lives (May 2007). I was sporting some new diamond earrings from my incredible boyfriend and he was sporting his "married" hat. He called it that because I purchased the hat and no single guy would ever wear it. Ha. This one took a disappearing act sometime later in the year. He hiked Mt. Whitney with it on and that is the last we've seen of it. It wins the award for longest lasting.
Ah, one of the many Pictage hats. Pictage is where he worked in LA after leaving the Air Force. Ironically, we're visiting the Air Force Academy in this photo during the summer of 2008. There were many of these hats and I believe my mom even lost one in Big Bear later that year as we flew across the water in their speed boat.
We stopped off at Bourbon Street in New Orleans after James & Carrie's wedding in Pensacola December of 2008. Here's a white Air Force hat that has been lucky enough to hang around, though it's probably because he doesn't really like white hats. It is rarely worn, hence has a longer staying power.
During Christmas of 2008, we both acquired new hats. This time, the L.L. Bean hat has lights. My mom thought it would come in handy. It actually has! This one is still with us because it's only usually worn on special occasions (aka: in the complete dark when a flashlight is unavailable).
During the summer of 2009, we visited Canada. Here we are in Jasper hanging out on a glacier. This hat is another "Life is Good" hat (just like the "married" hat) but this time it's blue with a fish on the front. Apparently the fish is more manly than a runner. We have no idea how it disappeared, but it's a goner.
Finally... this is the last hat we've purchased and seen disappear. We went to a soccer game in Germany during December of 2009. This hat didn't even leave Germany with us when we departed 3 months later. It was gone that fast. This one was left on an airplane and never to be seen again.
Now... I'm sure you all can sense my frustration and feelings of here we go again when I see my husband trying on new hats (as I did in the store just today!).  Perhaps we need that new Blackhawks hat? I may only allow for it if they actually win the Stanley Cup. :)

Does anyone have any solutions to the hat disappearing act we've been dealing with for years now?

{This entire post written with humor and sarcasm. Please don't be concerned that I'm really upset about hats. I just felt a picture documentary to be appropriate and... well... funny.}

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Chairs, Cheese, and Hotdogs

Random, right? Well, basically the way I update the blog is entirely based on what's inside my camera. Luckily, there are a few exciting things to share. Perhaps they're more exciting to us...

These are the chairs we chose for our table! We bought them and they're being delivered Friday... all 10.
I think those who are familiar with Kincaid's restaurant (I worked there all through college) will figure out what this is. If not... I'll tell you. I bought a shredded package of asiago cheese at the deli counter and spread it on a cookie sheet. I baked the cheese --alone-- for about 15-20 on 350 degrees until it was browned throughout. Kincaid's served a palm-sized piece on each caesar salad they served--and people raved about them.

But, that's not the best part of this experience. This is where it gets real.

The funny thing... this happened on a Friday night. Ray went to play ultimate frisbee at the park down the street (happens every Friday with a bunch of our friends) and was heading back to our house to come get me before heading to a friend's house for game night. Well, one of our friends came over to shower before we headed over for game night. The whole time I'm thinking how awful our house must smell to him! Being in a house for the first time, you smell new scents anyway. But, our house smells like CHEESE! I brought it up and apologized for the rank smell in our house. He told us that he thought we had CATS! I can't stand cats and would never personally want them in our house... but it's funny that the scent of cheese can be compared to the scent of cats. Ha. Regardless, the asiago crisps were delicious and we had them with our caesar salads the next night.
We experienced the glory of Portillo's. Of course, Ray is the only one to experience the Chicago dog, complete with little green peppers. I had a surprisingly good croissant sandwich with veggies and yummy fries. We also hear their chocolate cake is great. To be determined soon...
Bunnies, bunnies, everywhere! They're all over the map around here lately and on this day, they invaded our front yard. We normally see 1-2 in our backyard throughout the day, but on this day, they were quite daring.
Random. Look at the difference between cars and small trucks!? Yikes. As seen about 2 miles from our house.
Last week, I took a solo drive down south to Greenville College. I have been co-teaching a MA course in teaching (and technology) with a friend and colleague from my MA program at Pepperdine. I've been the virtual instructor teaching via Adobe Connect with video. This past week were their presentations. I made the 270-mile drive down south and experienced what is southern Illinois. I was about 25 miles from the center of St. Louis, Missouri before heading back north after the night of presentations. They were great. I really enjoyed the innovation that these students brought to teaching and it made me really appreciative of my opportunity to share my experiences and expertise in teaching with technology throughout the course. Here are a few sights to be seen on the trip down the I-55 south. 
Here's a massive thunderstorm I was driving into. Just as I drove into this mess, I saw incredible lightning, thunder, and the most intense downpour I've ever felt in my life. It was SO bad that nearly every car on the interstate pulled over and turned on their flashers-- on the interstate! I joined the crowd, pulled over, and then trekked on when I felt it was safe. 

Speaking of thunderstorms, I've never experienced thunderstorms like this in my life. At 2:30 a.m. (this morning), I woke up to thunder that was so intense our house shook as if there were an earthquake in progress. The lightning was non-stop and flashes of the brightest light were seen about every single second for 15 minutes straight. They're insane... and I'm not sure I'll ever get used to them!
Spotted! I was told these only existed in the west... I surely did not eat there, but I thought it was fun to see something I was so familiar with back home in California.

...and there's the update of our lives for the past week or so. Ray has been busy pulling up rotten boards from our deck that he plans to replace, power wash, and re-stain. I've been subbing a ton but since schools are finishing up for the year, all I have to look forward to is the grading of half of 204 projects just turned in for that MA course. I'll have a few things keeping me busy.

On a more personal note... I'm having surgery tomorrow on my skin. Use sunscreen, people! Any of your thoughts and prayers would be appreciated as I go under the knife. I'll be okay and I'm thankful for doctors and my own intuition when it comes to my body. Reality is that life can be hard... I'll update with progress and healing as it moves along! Last year around this time, I was undergoing elective Lasik surgery that ended up being one of the best decisions I've ever made! This year, same month, I'm experiencing something entirely different. Being thoughtful, but thankful.