Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Watching the Clock, Wasting the Minutes, Merely Existing

From as far back as I can remember, I've always been anxious to press forward in life. There was always something to achieve, attain, graduate, seek, create, reach, {insert ambitious verb here}.

 I have an older brother who always reached milestones (logically) before I did. As a child, I was put into kindergarten early because my mom saw how much I desperately wanted to be at school like my older brother.

In high school, I counted the days until receiving my driver's license, graduating, and heading off to college.

In college, I wanted to just be done and start real life already. I really wish I could go give that girl a talking-to about now. I wanted to be done working my way through college (I waited tables) so I could get a real job and be like real people who had weekends free.

When I was teaching full time, I awaited Spring Break (ironically, schools in IL are out this week) so I'd be able to relax and do what I wanted.

After meeting my {future} husband and becoming engaged, I wanted to hurry on with life and just finally be married so we could start real life.

As we lived in Europe for 6 months, I wanted time to hurry up so we could finally settle down, buy a house, and plan out the rest of our lives. {I enjoyed Europe and the traveling aspect, but often during times we weren't traveling, felt like I was missing out on life back in the States. So silly in hindsight. I am SO thankful for that experience.}

When we moved to Illinois, I became pregnant. This was, to my knowledge, the only time in my life I didn't press forward and hope for the minutes to pass by faster. Nearing the end of my pregnancy, I did get anxiety like most women do; anxious to finally meet our new baby... but I was content with how life was going. It was going the way I wanted it to-- the way I always planned it to be. Other than being anxious to start motherhood, I didn't look too much further.

Now, I find myself counting the minutes again. Counting the minutes until I'm pregnant again. Until we finally hold our second baby in our hands. Until the workday ends so I can spend time with my husband. Until our next trip/vacation. Until my new shoes are delivered (trivial, but true). Until we are further down the grief road and can find room to breathe and answer questions with ease and without tears.

I feel like I'm wasting time. We only have one life on earth to live and although I've not been dealt all the cards I expected or wanted, I know that I need to embrace life. It's so much easier to do when you can see hope ahead or signs of recovery. Praying each day that my soul will be calmed in this state of limbo I find myself existing in at the moment.

Side note: of course as I was Googling images of "watching the clock" I found an image that I liked. I clicked on it. The irony: It was from some woman's baby blog ranting about how her son still wasn't born yet and she was tired of being pregnant. Why of course. {Sigh}

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What We Be Shootin' With

I've been meaning to answer a quick (haha. just wait until you see how long this post is. quick. please) question addressed to me after our Bahamas cruise. We have two cameras-- one is super cheap, and one is more expensive which we consider to be our "nice" camera.

The cheapie was purchased in February 2010, I can remember quite vividly. Our Canon Powershot S5 IS just bit the dust while I was touring the house we now own. Lens Error. It would not longer retract. We were in the U.S. at the time for our quick house selection and would be returning to Europe for another month. In that month, we would be visiting Switzerland and Hamburg and wanted to have a camera for the rest of our European living experience. With very little time to spare and no time to research prior to purchasing a nice new camera, we opted for the cheapest one we could find at Best Buy right before they closed. We've had that camera, that $75 including-tax camera, for over a year now. It has almost outlasted that stupid Canon Powershot S5 IS that cost 6 times the amount.

Our "nice" camera {for two people who do not claim to be photographers} is the Nikon D3100. We also bought another lens so we can take fancier shots from far away... along with some other gadgets I'm not cool enough to understand. Anyway, we bought it for Andrew in November. We wanted to be able to take cute baby pictures. Needless to say, it's collecting dust in the fancy bag we bought for it.

So back to the purpose of this post. When we went to the Bahamas, I snapped some photos. I have about 1 hour of training under my belt via the video our Nikon came with. Other than that, I'm an absolute novice. My husband used to work for a dot-com in LA (between Air Force and his current position here in IL) that specialized in running all the editing/sales/distribution for professional photographers. There were some super talented folks there and one in particular who shot our entire wedding... so we know some talented folks, but we are not among them in skill.

I'm pretty good at going off on tangents. We went to the Bahamas. I snapped photos. Here are a few again for your viewing pleasure.

These are my favorites among the group since I was attempting to use (except the last one-- husband gets credit) my 1-hour video training to take them. Now because I found it super interesting myself... which camera did I use?

Our cheapie:

Or our "nice" camera?

Well friends... it was the...

CHEAPIE! It just goes to show that in many circumstances (though super cool lenses with night capabilities, etc. definitely trumps...), it's the photographer and not the camera that is taking crappy photos. Something I personally learned myself. It made me a little proud that so many commented on the picture quality from my, no joke, $75 camera. Hooray! Imagine all the possibilities with a fancy-schmancy camera!

And an aside for the family since this whole blog was started for them to keep track of our lives anyway...  <3
Mom, Sister, Kay... to the (top) right ---> is an email signup if you want an email when I post. I know I used to send you an email every time I would, but since my recent posts have been more somber than exciting, I felt strange sending them to you personally. It felt like, "Hey, guess what... I'm sad and crying. Wanna read about it?" But since I added the subscribe line, you can just put your email in if you want updates. Or not. I don't have record if you sign up for that... no big deal.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Window Shopping & Weekend Adventures

I'm not much of a shopper-- probably because I hate wasting money. As a whole, my husband and I value experiences over things, so shopping isn't something we spend the majority of our money on; unless you count food purchases as shopping, in which case the majority of our credit card bill is shopping for that. But just because I don't shop that often doesn't mean I don't like nice things and appreciate fashion. I usually just window shop for them or wait for a crazy-good deal at the Gap. With that said, yesterday morning I decided to do a little shopping online. I wanted some new casual tennis shoes to replace my usual Jack Purcell shoes. I needed something new for spring/fall when Uggs are too warm and flip flops are too cool. Here's what I came up with:
...and for $50 total, I am now awaiting their arrival at my doorstep. It's all that time spent in Europe that has me wanting Euro-inspired tennis shoes. I'm kicking myself for not buying them there since the variety is so much better. I use ShopAtHome for just about every purchase online. I will be getting 12% back from that purchase (around $6) just for buying through their link. They're like Ebates, but I think they have higher cash-back percentages.

Something I've also wanted since moving to colder climates (plural = Germany/Illinois) are boots. Like a nice pair of boots and not Uggs-- though I have two pair and love them dearly. I wanted something a little more fashionable that could be worn with just about anything. I never feel quite right wearing Uggs out to a nice restaurant. While I don't own a pair yet since I feel a boot purchase is similar to jeans shopping (oh, the dread!), I think something like these might suit my fancy...

...and my first {out of the ordinary} shopping post wouldn't be fitting unless I posted a thing or two from my very favorite clothing store on the planet, Anthropologie. I think this dress is simple and just my style. I love the two-tone yellow/gray pairing.
...completely absurd and out of my price range, but lovely all the same is this amazing hobo purse. Now someone just tell me what normal human being would purchase this $600 purse and not feel like wrapping it in a protective coating before taking it out in public. Set it down on the floor, gasp!
So there you have it. I'm also in the market for a new purse-- one that is black, crushed leather (not shiny), reasonably priced (under $100) and maybe a tad smaller than that Anthro purse above. Anyone have a purse they love that's worth sharing? It needs to last me a long time. I hate spending money on purses for some reason... so sturdy and trusty preferred.

As for the weekend... we Ray accomplished quite a bit in the family room, and we spent some quality time with friends. On Saturday morning I went to my zumba class. I love the instructor on Saturdays, but hate the studio the class is held in. There are far too many people in such a small space and I wish there was more room to branch out. Normally it's held in the gym, but not on weekends.

Ray began scraping the popcorn from the ceiling in our family room and was doing very well... until... he reached the 3rd (of 4) sections. The previous owners attempted to scrape the popcorn but gave up. It wouldn't matter, except they decided to paint over the area they attempted to scrape. It would have been better off had they just left it be. Scraping popcorn + extra paint = impossible! We have a goal to complete the final bits of scraping/sanding the ceiling before starting the wallpaper. Though, we peeled a bit very quickly and it came off like a breeze! The paper is a grainy texture just like our office was-- and that was the least difficult of 4 rooms we've already stripped. I'm probably speaking too soon, but we're thrilled that our last wallpaper room could be relatively easy on that end! Now to finish the dang ceiling...

Last night we had dinner with 3 other couples at a local Indian restaurant. With the help of, we paid $20/couple for all-you-can-eat dinner buffet! The Allens, Fergusons, and Nelsons joined us for a good time of spicy food and conversation. {Why do all of our last names end in n? Weird, right?} The Nelsons are new to the crew and we wanted to welcome them in. My friend Alli should be credited for setting up the fun shindig and we all really enjoyed ourselves. Nevermind the text message I got from her this morning about only having one bathroom at their house after a night full of Indian cuisine. Hahaha. For the record, it doesn't affect me that way, thank goodness.

At one point in the dinner, the Nelsons asked what I did for a job. I didn't really know what to say, honestly. We were out at dinner with two couples that we're quite close with and this new couple, but I didn't feel it was the time nor place to drop the bomb of sadness on two unsuspecting individuals. They are new to the group, I didn't want them feeling sad/awkward, and I didn't think that a couple of less than 6 months into their marriage needed to hear the harsh reality of life/death quite yet. I guess I also wanted them to keep experiencing new marital bliss like we had for 2.5 years prior to Andrew's death.

So I answered with a simple "nothing" and then went on to explain that I was a teacher but am now a sub for the time being. She asked if I am seeking full-time employment and I told her I was not. How can I avoid sounding entitled/boring/lame/lazy without fully divulging all the heartbreak and reasoning? I could have said that we're hoping to become pregnant soon, but then I'd probably have to deal with the whole, how exciting, first time parent comments... when I know becoming pregnant again will provide hope but will be anything but exciting. It will be downright terrifying if I'm being honest.

Regardless, we carried on with the dinner without letting the whole sad cat out of the bag. If they choose to hang with our crew much longer, they'll be sure to learn the sadness. But part of me wanted them to get to know Brandy and Ray without sadness-- for them to see the carefree, fun-loving couple we used to be and still cling to.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

It's ON Like Donkey Kong

I don't get the saying, but whatever.

Continuing on with the our baby-is-supposed-to-be-here-but-he's-not Distraction projects #'s 2 &3. Popcorn ceiling scrape and wallpaper removal of the family room. This is going to be one classy space once the entire 70's decade is removed.

Sometimes I just want to go back in time (okay, I want that a lot) and just ask the former owners what on earth they were thinking...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Good, Better, Best. Never Let it Rest. 'Til Your Good is Better and Your Better is Best.

I'm an avid bloggie. Is that a word? No? I'm still using it. I read lots of blogs because they're like books that change everyday. And let's face it, people are fascinated by people watching and in my case, people reading.

But there's nothing more sure to scare the crap outta me than clicking on a blog, getting wrapped up in the first few sentences... then BAM, music! It gets me every time. I wouldn't care so much, but it's the delay that tricks me. You'd think I'd learn to mute the speaker on my laptop (and I do), but I have a husband who likes to watch CNN videos (cool factor is off the charts, I know) and leaves the speaker on.

Continuing with the tangents, I thought I'd update on the last week of our lives here at the abode. Just so y'all know we're still survivin'.

Last weekend, my incredible husband planned a surprise trip for us. We went to see Sugarland! And Mom, yes, they did perform "Little Miss" as one of their songs-- which I love.

It's alright, it's alright, it's alright,
Yeah, sometimes you gotta lose 'til you win (ain't that the truth!)
It's alright, it's alright, it's alright,
And it'll be alright again

I've never been in a smaller stadium in my life. No joke, the local Boy Scout troop was selling concessions. It was held in Bloomington/Normal, IL. We headed out of suburbia around 3pm-ish and drove on down to Hicksville to then eat a terrible dinner at Taco Johns. Ever eaten there? Don't. The concert though, was great! Casey James from last season's American Idol was there opening the show and Little Big Town followed before Sugarland came on stage. I saw a pregnant woman as we were leaving (of course, I have like preg-dar) and became a little sad we didn't still have our peanut cooking. Andrew was kicking away during two concerts last summer-- Bon Jovi (ultimate fave) and Brooks & Dunn. More concerts, no kiddo.

The next day, we headed up to a state park we'd been meaning to explore, Starved Rock. If you've never been to Illinois, let me take a moment to paint this mental picture for you. No mountains. Pretty much no scenery. Flatland. We're hikers, so land exploration leaves little to be desired. We thought the park was underwhelming, but we still plan to return. They claim to be the most beautiful place in all of Illinois. Oh boy. Given that there are only 13.3 total trail miles, we are vowing to complete all 13.3 of them. Since we're used to big hikes (like Mt. Whitney & Half Dome), doing the entire park in one day wouldn't be much of an issue-- but since we're here for the long haul, no hurry. We'd like to see it during the fall when the leaves are changing-- because if there's one thing that is impressive, it's the seasonal colors. We walked a bit and hiked through some canyons. Before leaving, we had lunch at their lodge and it was quite rustic and enjoyable.

Yesterday, I picked up our friend Jen from the airport and was able to spend the evening/morning with her. We went to Zumba together and had a late dinner at Giordano's. We had to order the Italian beef sandwich and deep dish pizza for her to try since they are Chicago staples. This morning we hit up the outlets and I dropped her off at a hotel where she will be attending meetings and trainings for the next couple days. Jen's one of those friends that no matter what is going on with you, she keeps it real. She isn't there to sugar coat or fluff things up. You can say whatever you want and fear not being judged by her. She's an amazing planner, totally fun-loving, spontaneous, and a great person all around. We have a connection to her as a couple because she played a pretty big role in us getting together.

I heard a stupid conversation that ensued at J.Crew today between and pregnant woman and the cashier (I seriously can't go anywhere), but I won't get into that. I'm just going to publish this and be thankful that I've had some good days lately spent with good people.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I've Got Friends in Low Places...

...where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases my blues away... and I'll be okay...

This whole blogging world is funny. I've come in contact with people who blog near and far that I have so much in common with. It doesn't surprise me much since most people who blog like myself are a. women, and b. Type-A. Since we won't ever shut-up, it's logical that we'll divulge enough of our guts that we'll find something in common with one another. But I didn't think I'd find people who lived in my hometown growing up or the city I met my husband just a few miles down the road... and someone who lives about 5 miles from me in the 'burbs!

I have recently received some emails from blog friends that I've never met. Some thank me for writing about my innermost thoughts (though some are omitted still as I feel my thoughts aren't always world-wide appropriate) and how they also either know what I am facing or just wanted to thank me for being so open that they might understand my brain better. The BLM brain is something pretty funky and messed up, but something I have no choice but to embrace.

I have a few friends I've become pen pals with, but one in particular. I've met a pretty awesome Canadian chick that has become a pretty regular pen pal. She lost her little man, Jack, in early January. We're the same age and have a pretty similar spunk. We don't filter our emails. They're loaded with TMI and it causes our husbands to give us funny looks. Andrew and Jack have probably enough spunk from their mothers that they've found one another in heaven and are causing all kinds of baby chaos.

I just can't help but think that people who aren't even conceived yet may eventually go down this same road. Little girls not even to puberty. Women who are currently pregnant. Women who give birth today to their lifeless babes. It's no-doubt an isolating world to live in amongst the expectations of society to produce perfect little ones; one boy, one girl, and the whole white picket fence {and the irony is that my parents have one boy man, one girl woman, and that actual white picket fence}. Does that skip a generation? Who knows.

As I write, though, I'm really letting out an incredible blast of emotions that well up inside of me all day. To me, reading and writing is my therapy. I like to think of it as a self-led grief therapy group available to me at any time of day/night. It's not a scheduled event that occurs for one hour, once a month. It's when I need it most. It's crucial that I am able to release by writing and see how others are living lives despite their grief. When Andrew died, so many of these strong women were behind their computers, writing. I'm so thankful they did, because it encourages me everyday. And for those women who have yet to experience this terrible feeling of loss, the writing is there for them, too.

I can't imagine a life of baby loss grief without the world-wide-web. I know I'd still be writing unpublished, but I wouldn't be connecting with such great women in the blogosphere who inspire me daily. It's baffling to think about how women handled losing their babies without that release 30 years ago. They were suppressed and hushed. Their babies were not to be spoken about, let alone written about for all the world to read. Maybe we're finally breaking through and celebrating their lives right here as we blog. <3

My friend posted this on her blog and I LOVED it. Had to re-post as an ending thought.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I Have a Dream...

Actually, I had one last night. It involved something that looked a bit like this:

Cupcake. With. Sprinkles.

Don't you just want to stuff your face into that chocolate heaven? Not all cupcakes are delicious, but the one above, I imagine, is some serious yumness.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Still in Utter Disbelief

You'd think that I'd absolutely assume the reality that my son died by now. But you want to know what? About half of my days, I still take a moment to live through the reality that my son really is dead. He's not still growing. He's not on a vacation from us (Yeah, like I'd ever let that happen anyway. He doesn't even get that now!).

He. is. not. coming. back. I will never know why and that IS our reality. It's absolutely horrible. Like the worst horrible ever. Until the day I die, I will forever be a mom on earth missing her son in a deep way.

I still cannot fathom, during some moments, that he really, really is gone.

Something silly (and shameful) that often pops into my brain is the ignorance I once held about mothers of stillborn children. I don't know if I really ever thought it through, but I'm sure if you would have asked me prior to Andrew's birth how stillbirths occur, I would have probably, embarrassingly, told you that they were often due to the mother's negligence. For thousands of years, babies have been born to parents who weren't taking extra precautions to take prenatal vitamins, stay away from secondhand smoke, etc. I guess because so many children are born to parents who are abusive while having a child in utero (i.e. drugs) and by God's grace (Why them?) are spared, I couldn't imagine babies being born dead with no known cause to women who were cautious and nurturing. Sure, there's a cause. We just don't know it and never will. Neither will my friends who are parents of children taken by SIDS, or miscarriages.

I would apologize for the outrageous amount of DB posts lately, but it's my reality for the rest of my life. How do you think I feel being that person who actually lives in these shoes and doesn't just read a sad post and carry on with my day? That was me before Andrew. I read them, too, and felt sorry. I cried at some. I thanked God I wasn't in their shoes. It's a whole different ballgame now.

Switching gears a bit...

I read this news article about a little boy who said that during a surgery, he slipped away to heaven. He sat on Jesus' lap, and met a sister in heaven he didn't know he had. It turns out that his mother had miscarried before he was born and that child was in heaven. He "came back" and told his family about his encounters and the sister he met that he never knew existed.

Listen. I don't necessarily believe that to be complete truth, nor am I in a place to reject it. But wouldn't that be lovely for us BLMs if it were true? This idea this boy revealed that our deceased babies are in heaven enjoying themselves, growing, and experiencing no hurt? Wouldn't that be just a wonderful release for us who are missing them so terribly? If Andrew were actually the age he is meant to be (15w2d) and not always 38w5d gestation? Wouldn't it be wonderful that although we must endure such incredible heartache and sadness for the rest of our lives, that our babies are living a peaceful life in heaven? I do believe Andrew lives in heaven with his creator, but I'm just not sure about the child visiting heaven, seeing things we aren't sure will be, and then coming back to share with us on earth.

Another gear change...

I wanted to really title this post "Still in Utter Disbelief & How Much I HATE the Teacher's Lounge", but I figured keeping it short would be best--though it appears I've written a novel thus far.

As a kid, the teacher's lounge is a mortal abyss where no student has ever gone before. To some teachers, it's the land of gossip and nagging about the principal and the latest textbook adoption. It's the place that has far too many caloric treats that just ask to be glued to your thighs. And to some of us, it's the wretched place we have to store our lunches.

I was sitting in the TL today as I often do with a book in hand (to avoid the lame chit-chat). One woman starts talking about OB/GYN malpractice and how of all cases against doctors, this field of medicine has the highest rate of claims. I knew that. I have a nurse friend (also a BLM) who deals with these cases as her daily job. It's just not something I liked hearing in the teacher's lounge with so much opinion attached.

One woman mentions that Rhode Island's OB/GYN system is unionized. First of all, don't even get me started on unions. Being a teacher and force-ably made to join a defunct union that just breeds carelessness, mediocrity, and laziness, I do not support them. Anyway, the teacher (being a union member herself) defended this as to say that, "If things go south in the delivery room, parents get all crazy and file claims"-- she even went on to say that her friend (the delivery nurse) has had to deal with 2 claims because of this. Had to? Oh. I. hate.

I hated this conversation for so many reasons. I think bullet points are necessary:
  • I don't feel sorry for a nurse having to review a claim because someone possibly lost their child. It's a human life for goodness sakes. Having to take some time to review malpractice when you have better things to do? Two claims in her whole career thus far? That's hardly worth complaining about.
  • I was in the room. Every teacher at this school knows I lost my baby quite recently (though IMO, it wouldn't matter if I lost him 50 years ago). While I'd prefer as much normalcy as possible, I don't enjoy hearing conversations about things going south in the delivery room like it's as casual as the weather. Going south is an understatement. Again with that whole human life thing. Perhaps it's easy to say for those who haven't lost a child, but a whole lot more happened in that delivery room than things just going south.
  • I don't like reliving the delivery room scene. Okay, I relive it just about daily-- but that's not the point. I didn't need a reminder of my sadness.
  • Doctors know that malpractice occurs. They are trained to ensure that they will honestly care for the public to the best of their ability. If they are not doing so, the public who pays heavily for this service (um, have you seen how much it costs to be administered a simple Tylenol in the hospital?!) is entitled to have their case reviewed. Negligent doctors need not be taking care of the public. Nor poor teachers instructing our youth... you get the picture.
  • While malpractice occurs and I don't feel that is a concern in our case (reason we did not file a malpractice claim), I don't like how close-to-home this whole topic was. We're educated in our rights, but we're not doctors. Could something have alerted doctors before Andrew passed away? Maybe, but we don't think so. Can we change the fact that Andrew died? Nope. 
... stepping down off the soap-box right now ...

Before finishing this post, I read a recent message from a friend.

But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They have no worries in a year of drought and never fail!!! Jeremiah 17:7-8

I don't know about no worries and never failing, God, but I trust. On my knees, crying uncontrollably, but I trust.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Chocolate Cake Nightmares

So you all know that I gave up chocolate (and all sweets) until June 1st. It's been 21 days.

Not for lent. Not really for losing weight. Mostly because I wanted to see if I could do it. I like challenges. I read a blog of a woman who tried this challenge because she felt sugar gave her headaches and wanted to see if omitting sweets from her diet would curb the issue. I thought about how I've never given myself an eating challenge before. I've never really dieted, either. Lucky for me, my parents have some pretty great genes that don't require drastic measures to keep things on the lower end of the scale. It doesn't mean I'm toned, though, so don't go thinking I have some crazy Baywatch body. By a smaller body, I meant just about everything is smaller, even if I wish the ratio wasn't always so even. I also thought this challenge would be good timing because I needed to control something (yes, a flaw), and I didn't want to resort to being an emotional eater. It gave me something to plan, fix, design, control.

Don't get me wrong... I have changed my eating habits in the past, but haven't really forced myself to give anything up before cold turkey (except being pregnant and willfully denying harmful things like Diet Coke-- which was hard, very hard). When I was in college, I remember eating super healthy. I'd workout 1-2 hours a day, eat cottage cheese, a slice of toast, and broccoli for lunch. I had a great body, but my genetics paired with my young age also had a little something to do with things.

But now here we are. Age 28. I'm 21 days in and I am seriously having issues. I don't have issues during the day, but at night, I actually dream have nightmares about chocolate cake and other sweets! Like 3-4 dreams now, no joke. I dream that I broke the challenge and to me, breaking any commitment is a sign of cowardice. I am not a quitter. I'm stubborn as can be (thank goodness, otherwise losing Andrew would have sent me into celibacy) and refuse a life of passiveness and defeat. So this chocolate cake in my subconscious needs to get the heck out!

During the day, however, I'm great. Let me paint the picture of our kitchen pantry for you all (you hoped for a photo? Not. a. chance!):
top rack: oatmeal, dried cherries, cereals, Cheezits (shh), granola bars
2nd rack: boxed meals, pasta, other meal items
3rd rack: canned goods, soups
bottom rack: junk food, sweets, candy, chocolate {basically my husband's nemesis}

I open the pantry for a snack and this is what happens in my brain:
1. Eyes immediately focus on bottom rack. Scans junk food for something enticing.
2. Says, "Crap, I'm doing that stupid challenge."
3. Eyes go back to the top. I find the Cheezits. Grab the Cheezits. Open the Cheezits. Pour some in a bowl (you know, junk food portion control. hahaha).
4. Eat.

The only thing that makes this picture better than say, a year ago, is that I'm not pairing it with a Diet Coke and a piece of chocolate (you know, the salty/sweet combo). And the only thing that makes this picture better than 21 days ago is that I'm not pairing it with that piece of chocolate. Cheezits, solo.

And you know what? Even though I didn't solely take on this challenge to lose baby weight, I did have a few LBs to lose. Particularly in the thigh and buttocks regions. Those babies are slimming down and it's a good thing. Does it make me feel any better about having lost Andrew? Not even a portion of a percent. I thought it would, but it didn't. Does it make me feel pretty dang good about fitting into that pair of holey jeans I promised my husband I'd leave in New Zealand on our honeymoon {but obviously never did} 32 months ago? Abso-freaking-lutely.

Hopefully my subconscious will take on that chocolate cake demon in my dreams. What do you think would be a good weapon? Bikini?

Speaking of bikini... I was flipping channels and saw a quote from Kim Kardashian pop up on one of those Hollywood gossip shows. Aside from my complete confusion as to why these girls are rich from doing nothing, I had to post her pearl of wisdom related to eating right. I can't quote it perfectly, but something like, "Whenever I think about eating bad (using correct grammar would be too much for her IMO), I think, bikini, bikini, bikini!"

What a gem she is. And what priorities she has in life. Makes a momma proud, doesn't it?

Friday, March 18, 2011

So Why Aren't You a REAL Teacher?

Some of my favorite questions arise is typical conversations with outsiders. You know, people who aren't in the DB club.

Today I was subbing 6th grade and was out for recess duty with another substitute. The usual conversation starts and typically covers our various moving situations (CA to Germany to IL) and why I am a substitute rather than a real teacher. Sometimes I feel like talking about my firstborn baby dying, and sometimes I don't feel like going down that road and seeing the horrific faces and sad comments that ensue. Today was among the latter.

I mentioned our moving situation and how I would not be seeking full time employment in my field of expertise at this time because we are looking to start a family. Well, we already did, but that didn't work out as we planned, so we're back to square one. Usually the person also has children and wants to insert an unassuming, usually unoffensive comment once I mention the whole family planning reason as to why I'm a qualified teacher with years of experience, but choosing to be without a full-time job.

Here was today's little ditty. It's my favorite of the comments. If only they knew...

"Well, you can have my two kids whenever you want to try things out!"

Ah, yes. If only you knew, Mrs. happy-go-lucky-mom-who-obviously-isn't-in-the-DB-club. (Or at least to give her credit, hasn't renewed her membership recently.) I'd love to have my own kiddos, thanks. I don't need your help nor do I need "practice" on what it's like to be a mom. I'm pretty sure I'll figure that all out when it comes to me... if I'm ever so lucky.

Not that she was really offering her kids to me, but it's a sensitive topic.

For those who aren't friends with me outside of the blogosphere and don't know my crazy, clean-freak, Type-A, hate mornings self... a little more info. for you all.

I received my BA in Journalism, my teaching credential for K-9, and my MA degree in Educational Tech. I taught 4th and 5th grades in California before we packed up and moved to Germany for 6 months. There, I didn't teach, obviously. We arrived in IL just 2 weeks before I found myself pregnant with Andrew. Since we are blessed that my husband's job is enough to sustain us, we decided this would be a perfect time to start a family since I did not have a job to start/quit and all our ducks were in a row. Love the visual.


Since I was just trying to pass time until our baby was born, I decided to earn a little extra cash substitute teaching. I also taught a MA course for teachers in technology, my area of expertise. I had full intentions of staying home with our son once he was born, so short-term was fitting. Well, you all know what happened next. Since Andrew died, I didn't want a job, I wanted my baby! I could get a full time job now, but I also could get pregnant {and feel it's irresponsible to accept a job when my full intentions are to quit it...and my heart is just not in it right now}. Once I become pregnant and give birth to future Wilson babies, I will be staying home. I missed everything with Andrew. It's simply not an option for me since we are blessed with the financial means for me to stay home. Some day again I'd love to go back to teaching, but not until my children are in school full time. I don't want to miss a thing. Life is just too precious. It's a whole lot more important to me than having a lot of money. Life is all about love and experiences. I always knew this was true, but I am even more of a believer having lost that chubby-cheeked baby boy.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

1 year, 100 days

Exactly one year ago today, we were a family of 2 flying from Germany to the United States, hoping to become a family of 3 very soon.

We left our little town of Neuenrade, Germany (where we'd lived for 6 months) for Frankfurt, weighed our completely maxed-out baggage and got excited about owning our first home in a matter of 3 days.
I drank my last alcoholic beverage, a margarita no less, in hopes to become pregnant within the following weeks. It worked! I was pregnant within 2 weeks of stepping foot back on US soil.

We prepared to sign closing papers for our home on March 18, 2010 in the western suburbs of Chicago, Illinois.

We were so excited. We traveled the world, bought a home, had a new city and state to explore, and became pregnant all in a matter of 2 weeks time.

And 100 days ago...

Doctors gave us news that our baby boy had passed without any known reason.

We experienced love and heartbreak all in one day.

We became parents to a gorgeous baby boy.

We said goodbye to our first child.

We went from a family of 3 back down to a family of 2.

So much hope and so much heartbreak all wrapped into one year. We went from having a seamless life filled with hope and happiness to what we're still trying to work through from the loss of our precious baby. Take nothing for granted.

What I wouldn't give to be this excited, hopeful, carefree pregnant mama again...
We have the same hopes we had just one year ago today, though looking through entirely different lenses. 1 year, 100 days and our lives are forever changed. In some ways this last year has gone by at a crawling rate, and in some ways I feel like we aged an additional 10 years in 365 days.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What Watching The Bachelor Teaches Me

Does anyone but me still watch this ridiculous show? I've watched it from the beginning, had a lull in the middle, and have been back for a few seasons again. Why, oh why do I continue watching?

My Assumptions: Everyone likes a train wreck and everyone likes to believe in love.

Regardless, I've learned a few things over the years and hours upon hours of wasted time:

1. I am so thankful for my husband. So many people are still searching and I know how it feels to want that person in your life to love you unconditionally.

2.  It allows me to get out of my life for a little while. The stresses, the frustrations, the sadness. Two hours of my day go by without thinking about them.

3. It makes me laugh. Do I believe in it? Not a chance! I'm a spoiler-reader and don't believe this show to be that realistic, but it's still entertaining nonetheless. I don't like serious shows--so no cop or hospital dramas for me.

We don't watch all that much TV in the Wilson house, but our favorites (well, my husband won't watch The Bachelor) include: The Amazing Race, The Big Bang Theory, Wipeout (if I'm feeling particularly childish), and Lie to Me. We used to be big fans of The Office but have been inconsistent with watching. We've also watched an episode of the new reality show with Bobby Flay, The Next Great Restaurant (for the business aspect and love for food), but others just come and go.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Perfect Soul

I knew today was going to be interesting. I often sub at a middle school (like today) and knew that there was a pregnant woman there nearing the end of her pregnancy. It was the last day before Mrs. G's maternity leave officially begins. I already knew this. I'm pretty keen on knowing what is going on around me, especially since everything seems to be babyloaded lately. Ultra baby.

Sure enough, I walk into the teacher's lounge and Mrs. G is surrounded by lots of food and the staff as she is being showered before motherhood officially begins. I grimaced at the thought I had to visit the teacher's lounge today at all since my food had to be microwaved. I avoided it yesterday by making a PBJ. Yes, I specifically planned not having to enter the teacher's lounge so I might avoid the baby talk. I checked to see which lunch slot I would have, knowing she had 8th grade lunch. Phew, earlier. The rest of the day carried on fine.

During 8th period, I headed to the empty teacher's lounge to read since it was a free period for me. Another teacher walks in and asks me how I am doing. She was always really sweet during my pregnancy. She reminds me a little of myself; type A and brutally honest. She apologized to me and said she knows because she had a stillborn daughter born 35 years ago. She also told me that she went on to have two more children. I was frustrated. Of the two schools I sub at most often, I met two women who had stillborn babies. It angered me. Then, she looked me in the eye {...which is super impressive. It seems no one does that anymore} and said something very important. At least I think it is important:

It doesn't get better, but it does get easier.

I'm glad she acknowledged that it will never be better, or okay, that my son died. Never. But I am also glad she followed it with a statement of hope. You know when you're on a road and know that the only way to the good part is through the bad part first? That's what living in my shoes feels like. I know there will be times ahead where I am genuinely happy. I'm still on the beginning of that road, though, and it's so hard to see what's ahead through the fog.

She asked me if we were able to see him once he was delivered. I told her we were and that we even took photos with him (still no photos from NILMDTS, though I did email and receive a response). We held him. We spent time with him. We could have kept him as long as we wanted since he was our child, after all. Thirty-five years ago, that wasn't reality. You could not see your deceased child-- they would not let you. While I knew this also to be true, I still cannot imagine that. I can't imagine health professionals in hospitals denying me the right to see my son, dead or alive. It's not their child or decision to make, in my opinion. She told me that she really wanted to see her daughter and it still angers her that she was not allowed that right. Frankly, before I became a mother to a dead baby, I would've thought it to be disgusting that anyone would want to hold or, gasp, kiss a deceased person. I thought having ashes in your house was creepy. I'm ashamed of thinking such thoughts. How naive. How ignorant.

She then went on to tell me a story of woman she met while fresh from her tragedy. That woman also had a stillborn baby (more common then of course).  She told her a story that I'll probably mess up in writing/interpreting. I was half giving myself a pep-talk to prevent myself from crying as she was speaking. I heard parts of the story. The woman explained to her that sometimes babies are born perfect souls, like our babies. They never lived life on earth and just needed their souls to be born perfect into the arms of God. We were chosen to be mothers to perfect souls.

While I don't accept that as proof or explanation for Andrew's death, it does give me a small portion of peace in knowing he was born a perfect soul. He was born pure and lives on with God and all the other babies and deceased loved ones we've lost here on earth. She told me hearing that helped her tremendously. She was okay with being the bearer of a perfect soul as it takes a special person for such a job. Perhaps it's just what someone says to provide an answer in the midst of confusion, but it sounded wonderful, despite my scientific doubt that Andrew's death was strictly so I could give back to God a perfect soul. But either way, he was a perfect soul no matter why he passed and I have to accept that.

{...pausing for a moment as I watch two robins playing on our front yard. It's in the 50's, smells like spring, and I can barely contain myself...}

I walked into subbing 9th period feeling a little better until 3 girls shouted over the loudspeaker an announcement of congratulations to Mrs. G and her baby girl. Phew. Dodged a bullet there. I'm sure glad it's a girl. Why? I guess just knowing I never had a girl makes me feel better. My jealously is far greater when facing those who have newborn boys. It's the life I envisioned having... but I didn't envision pink and bows. Silly, I know. But again, it's my ridiculous logic.

Once the bell rang, I headed to a house of a woman who also gave birth to a stillborn baby a couple years ago. I have been reading her blog for sometime now (in tears far before I even conceived Andrew) and she has since adopted one boy from Africa and they are currently in the process of adopting a second boy. She and her husband will be flying to retrieve {what word is appropriate when talking about human life?!} their second child very soon. Since infants in Africa are not given the proper nutrition or formula, she asked if anyone would be willing to donate formula. She wanted to bring the maximum luggage allowance and provide formula as a gift to those children. I read this and felt that I immediately had something to give. You see, when you sign up for a baby gift registry, your information is sold to the masses. Similac and Enfamil sent me at least 6-8 cans of powdered formula with hopes to hook me as a formula feeder. When Andrew died, I threw out all the cans that landed in my mailbox-- all except 2 cans and a few smaller samples. When I read that she needed formula donations, liquid gold she called it, I entered the nursery and rummaged through the bags of stuff we quickly unloaded all of the baby contents of our kitchen cabinet into once we showed up back home empty-handed. (Holy run-on sentence! I don't care... my thoughts are winded sometimes) I managed to scrape up those two cans. I dropped those off today and met her adorable son, Tommy.

As I was driving home, I began to weep, yet again. She allowed me to borrow two books that she read when first dealing with the loss of her daughter, Leah. Holding on to Hope, and The One Year Book of Hope, both by Nancy Guthrie. While thankful, I was taken over emotionally by this. My thought process went as follows:

Really, a year? I have to grieve my baby for a year? No wait... a lifetime.
Someone wrote a book of hope for grief because they had experience with it, sadly.
She read these because she lost a daughter, also to stillbirth.
I saw two women in one day that lost babies also to stillbirth. That's not acceptable. 

A song came on the radio-- something about a newborn and how time flies as babies grow-- so I turned the channel, obviously. Channel 3: a Christian channel. And then Praise You In This Storm by Casting Crowns came on.

So, weepily, I did.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Love and Fear

Thinking about how much I love my husband makes me cry sometimes. I've said it before, but I don't really cry happy tears... so this is a huge deal. I didn't cry on our wedding day, but I have cried so many times about the joyful love I have for him since losing our son. I never had a chance to cry happy tears at the birth of my son, because he wasn't born into life. Losing our son has made this love I have for my husband even deeper. I think it's all attributed to a few things: physically seeing the most gorgeous baby that was both of us, knowing and realizing love is truly all that matters in this world, and the fear that love brings {more on this below}.

He sent me a love letter yesterday (he's on a business trip) and it's one I never want to forget. It was sent at such a poignant time. He wrote it shortly after we hung up from a phone call with one another where I was crying. Nothing new there... but I digress. I love him for the strength that he bears. At the risk of embarrassing him, I have to post it. This is our life and I want to remember the broken times, but also those critical pieces and moments that get us through it. Love definitely gets me through.

You are absolutely the love of my life. Every day of my life is now a dream
come true... years in the making.

I know we are in a terrible terrible valley right now, but God is good...
and we will get through it.

I am here with you every step and prepared to do anything you think will
help us go forward.

I miss you tons, and can't wait to be back in your arms.

He's gorgeous. His looks, but his integrity, heart, vulnerability, support... he is so much more than the man I married and thought I loved with my entire heart. I did, but that love has changed and it's so incredibly rich now. I think this is another Andrew lesson learned. He is teaching us how to love one another so much deeper.

Now onto the fear.

Ever since losing our baby, I fear losing my husband. I know it's irrational, but much of the thoughts I'll have for the rest of my life will be that way. I can't control that and I don't want to. Our circumstances are our own and they mold us. My stupid, irrational thoughts are still mine and I won't deny or bury them. I fear losing my husband on an airplane as he travels for these business trips and those letters (like above) being all I have left of him. I want to throw nothing away until I know he is safe and sound with me at home. I always had these fears, but now that I know tragedies really can hit my once invincible self, the fears are more advanced.

We joke about Andrew's future siblings being so beyond smothered by us. We want to take nothing for granted and want to make sure they are safe and infinitely loved. We knew we'd love our kids and be pretty great parents, but they have no idea what crazies we've become because of losing our firstborn.

I was rummaging through whatever photos I could find on my desktop and found this gem. Look at those gorgeous eyes. I bet my son had those same beautiful eyes. I'll never know, but I bet they were perfect. I do know that he had ultra-fair skin and super blond hair with long, blond eyelashes, just like my husband. <3

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fishy Business

While it's starting to feel like spring around these parts (funny how temps in the 40's excite me), it's feeling much warmer in my hometown. It makes me want to be back... but not only for the weather. Today there was a story about millions of fish washing up in the Redondo Beach, California harbor. I also worked at a restaurant on the pier for five years prior to my teaching career.

It's not often that stories come out of my hometown, so this excited me as it made national news! I sure wish I could ride my ol' beach cruiser, wear short sleeves, and cruise on down to the harbor today. Ray and I used to go for nightly runs at King Harbor as it was less than a mile from our first beach bungalow as a married couple. I'd love to just go back in time when life was a bit simpler, more carefree as it was when we were first married and living there. A time when our baby wasn't dead and we saw the world through those rose-colored glasses. Every post manages to have a piece of negativity, doesn't it? Fail.

Anyway, back to those fish. It turns out they were (probably) trying to escape red tide and became stuck in shallow waters lacking the oxygen they needed to survive. Some stories here and here.
Those are fish, people!!!

Also seen on the news this evening... the HCG diet. That makes me sick. Don't ask me why, but it rubs me the wrong way.

Desperate Dependence

Every morning I wake up to a devotional email. I signed up to receive these to convict me and force me into spending a little time with God everyday. I'm sure by now you've figured out that I've been pretty distant lately. Losing your child can cause you to break down in the greatest of ways and paralyze you. I knew I needed to be forced and I'm willing to admit that as truth. I knew that if they appeared in my email, I couldn't delete them without reading first. I'm not fooling anyone by saying I'm strong, trust God's "plan" (and for the record, if you tell me it was God's plan, I may never speak to you again because I don't believe that and find it hurtful you'd say my son died because the God of love willed that to happen), and am carrying on with empowerment and fortitude. Not happening quite that way.

These emails are hit-or-miss. I received one last week I couldn't delete fast enough. I got about 3 sentences in when the woman talks of her baby son Andrew waking her up in the middle of the night. Pretty sharp dagger to the heart. I wanted to throw my computer on the ground when I read that. Not the kind of hope I was looking for in signing up for a daily devotional.

But today's email was empowering. It was about a man who lost both limbs but went on to live a passionate life, have a family, and work as an advocate for the deaf and handicapped.

"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." 1 Peter 5:7

There have been plenty of days I question(ed) that love. In our master bathroom, I used a post-it note to stick another verse to the mirror. This had been placed during my pregnancy before all of our hopes were shattered.

"I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength" Philippians 4:13

Maybe that was a foreshadowing of what was yet to come... because I'd say pregnancy was a wonderful thing that required little strength to carry me through.

I would say that I'm doing all these things out of necessity to carry on, but I've lost a lot of vigor when my child was given and taken away.

Still desperate. Still dependent. Still broken. Still shattered. Still frustrated. Still angry. Still distant. Still waking up in a haze every morning wondering when a new hope will come.

But I do still believe there is hope out there. It just hasn't landed on our doorstep yet.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Soup. It's What's for Dinner

I decided to make chicken tortilla soup last night for dinner. In case you're wondering, it was 30 degrees and snowing yesterday in this great state of Illinois. {...and in my head I'm begging God to fast-forward to SPRING.} We had friends over and I enjoyed cooking for all of us. We needed the distraction and our friends know all too well what it's like to have a date to remember our babies by, but no babies to hold. I guess we have that in common. Not something we wished were the case, of course. I digress... I've attempted tortilla soup only one time prior, so this was attempt #2. It was just as delicious as the first! Here are the ingredients:
For 4-6 servings, I used the following:
  • 3 cans diced tomatoes with green chilis (or cilantro-lime, or even fire roasted. All would be delish. You can also use a can of green chilis with fresh tomatoes if you happen to have those on hand instead.)
  • 1 1/2 packets of taco seasoning (or... if you're not a fan of all the sodium, use chili powder, cumin, ground garlic, and cayenne pepper. There are recipes out there, but I'm too lazy and shamelessly love salt. It's my vice, actually. Try this one if you're cutting it out or aren't lazy like me.)
  • 8 cups chicken or vegetable broth (I used bouillon, whatever you've got-- but remember it also has sodium)
  • Veggies for the filling. I used 2 small diced zucchini, 1 can sweet corn, 1 diced onion, 1 yellow pepper, and 2 diced serrano peppers for a little kick.
  • Shredded chicken (I used a rotisserie chicken from the market. Already cooked, only needed shredding)
  • Toppings: diced avocado pieces, cilantro, lime wedge (squeezed), crushed tortilla chips (not pictured)
Directions are pretty simple. Dice all veggies (except avocado, lime, cilantro since they're toppers) and throw them in a pot to saute for a few minutes. Add canned tomatoes and saute for a few more minutes. Add broth, taco seasoning, and chicken. Allow to simmer and heat. It's doesn't need to be heated forever like chili because you are targeting more of a broth than a stew consistency.

It didn't photograph well, but here's the finished product (minus the avocado slices) because we ate them all! 
It was my first time using serrano peppers, so I was excited. I've recently experimented with poblano peppers in spicy cornbread muffins and thought they were delicious. Serrano peppers are different, though. They are higher than jalapenos on the Scoville scale. I added two (about 1/2 pepper for each serving) and it was just right for those of us who like a little kick.

Now I just need to figure out what to do with the rest of those peppers in my fridge! When I went to purchase them, they only sold them by the package! I bought the smallest package and still had about 10 peppers! My friend Liz (she's married to "Gourmet Husband", as we call him. He likes to cook and has quite the knack for it) recommended making classy pepper poppers using them.

Serrano peppers, seeded, halved, stuffed with goat cheese and topped with cilantro. They would probably be fantastic roasted on the BBQ and then stuffed and finished in the oven. I haven't tried it yet, but it sounds perfect. I'm not a goat cheese fan, but I love cooking new things, so I'd be willing to give it a shot!

And since I just typed the abbreviation BBQ and thought perhaps BBQ sauce would be delicious with Serranos! Serranos on a burger? The sky's the limit!

And finally... in case you're wondering how this vegetarian eats these meaty dishes, it's simple. I cook without adding meat, take a portion out, and then add the meat in for the rest of the meal to be complete. Of course that also means we have leftovers now and it's only to be eaten by my carnivore husband.

Well, he's not complaining.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Letters to Andrew {1}

My mom recommended I write a letter to Andrew a few months ago and it hasn't felt right... until now. It's March 5th. Today, under "normal" circumstances, I'd have a baby boy that just turned 3 months old. I don't know how many letters I'll write, but I numbered this one just in case.

Dear Baby Andrew,

Today is full of sadness for me. First, it's the 3-month anniversary of your birth, which means we've gone 3 whole months without you in our lives. Second, it's Saturday. You know how I feel about Saturdays since they are family days-- it's not the same without having you here. We're a family of 3 minus 1. Finding the energy to enjoy today is already a battle. The weather is cold. Snow is flurrying outside. It's days like this when I wish we were living in Cali at the beach again.

I wonder what you are like right now. Will you always be the 7lb.6oz. baby I birthed? Are you growing up in heaven just like all the other babies that are born and still here on earth? I truly don't know what a 3-month old would be like since you are the only baby we've ever conceived. I haven't read the milestones for 3-month old babies because it's too painful to know what we're missing as we cannot watch you grow.

Another thing I think about a lot is that you won't ever get to experience meeting your amazing dad. He is so supportive and the most loving person I've ever met. I bet you would have been just like him. You really looked like him when you were born. I was amazed at how much you looked like both of us. Your dad is so mild-mannered and was so proud to be your father.

So here we are, carrying on in life without you. It's as painful as it was when we found out you went to heaven. Someday we hope to make you a big brother. Our family will never be entirely complete without you here, though. Know that I love you with my entire heart and think of you every single day.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bermuda, BAHAMAS, Come on Pretty Mama...

Here's my attempt at being positive for the week. Photos and commentary from our cruise this past weekend below.

But before I carry on with smiles and giggles, I first have to state a couple annoyances.
1. I just had to pay Google $5 to buy storage for this "free" resource. And even more annoying, I'll never reach 20 GB in one year, but it expires on 3/2/12. So every year from here on out, I pay the man. I know $5 is no big deal, but seriously... nothing in life is ever free.

2. I'm so tired of seeing things on facebook about babies. I finally deleted 1/3 of my friends list yesterday and may continue. Don't be offended if I unfriended you. I just can't handle the daily reminder of what I'm missing that all you moms out there have been so blessed with. It kills me to see those photos. I'm sorry if you don't understand but my shoes are really unpleasant to be in. A lot more unpleasant than someone unfriending you on facebook. You can get over it and then go hug your babies, I can't.

Also, I have to be honest and say that during our first day on the cruise, we were playing a game of table tennis and I commented that this was a pretty crappy consolation prize we've been given {the cruise v. being at home with our newborn son}. I thought to title this post "Consolation Prize" but figured I could think of something more positive since it was mostly a nice experience in and of itself. The only reason we booked a cruise in the first place, though, was because when we returned home from the hospital empty-handed on 12/8/10, we had to figure out what to do with our plane tickets we had booked for California (scheduled for early March). We were planning to have a post-birth baby shower to bring Andrew to my hometown in California and show him off to all our friends and family. So much for that. We re-booked our flights (thanks Southwest for no penalties!) to Florida instead to get away. If Andrew were here, this cruise wouldn't have been happening and I wouldn't have wanted to go anywhere that would mean leaving my son behind!

So, here's the re-cap of our consolation prize cruise. We did try and make the most of it. It felt really nice to be out of Chicago and the freezing temperatures to experience 80-degrees every single day!

Leaving Miami beach...
Here's the Majesty of the Seas, Royal Caribbean boat we took. We're in Nassau, Bahamas as we took this photo and the cruise ship is behind us. I think we counted 5 or 6 cruise ships in the Bahamas on the day we were there. Do the math. That's a whole lotta peeps. The day before we arrived the Disney Cruise ship was there. The day after we left, the newest, largest cruise ship was scheduled to arrive in port.
They trap you (just like all tourist islands) in this building that force you through all their shops and you get haggled on your way out the door. I paused here to take a photo with this cool thing.
In the land of the Caribbean, Cuban cigars are legal. Well, they're legal everywhere except America, actually.
We took a ferry boat ($6) over to Paradise Island where the Atlantis hotel is located. We had full intentions of buying passes to go down their lazy river because the Wilsons love lazy rivers. We walked through this crazy Vegas-like hotel and waited in a line that seemed like forever for them to tell us it would cost $120 per person to use any part of their facility for the day. Yeah right! $240 for a lazy river ride? We were not having any of that, so we decided to follow what the ferry Bahamian guy told us to do-- walk to the right of the hotel onto the beach. It's public. They can't kick you off. Then proceed to walk toward the Atlantis hotel and no one will stop you. So, we did. We paid nothing to walk around the Atlantis resort and could very well have used any and all of their facilities without paying. Before you comment about our dishonesty (and let's be honest, they are ripping people off!!!), I'd like to say we didn't use a single facility-- not even a bathroom! We didn't get in the water and didn't go on the lazy river. We just walked around for about 30 minutes to check out why on earth anyone would ever pay $120/person to go down their waterslides! I snapped some photos of what you see below...

One waterslide takes you through a clear tunnel. Sharks surround you in the water. It's pretty cool and we were able to see it from the underground access.
This is the waterslide. There are two ways-- one without an inner tube and one with a tube.
 View of Atlantis
 Here's the hotel from the Atlantis resort grounds. I snapped this shot before we left.
From the cruise ship, we looked down on the island of Nassau (capital of the Bahamas). Romantic, huh? Yeah, not so much. If you look closely, you'll see that a large portion of buildings on the left of the yellow tower were completely demolished by a fire. The cause of the fire (just 2 weeks before we arrived) was said to be a faulty telephone electrical box.
My husband drinking a local brew, the Kalik. It's legal to walk the streets with alcohol in the Bahamas as long as it's in one of those super classy paper bags.
 We attempted to go into this bar, but it was so packed and just smelled of sweaty people and drunkenness. Yuck.
 Sunset on our second night at sea.
If you know us well, you know we're not really the formal, dressy type. We're casual and like it that way. Maybe it's the beach culture I grew up in, but I would rather throw on a pair of jeans and a tank top any day than wear heals and fancy dresses. Rather then pack too much luggage we'd just have to check and schlep everywhere, we packed light, hence our unformal attire on "formal" night. I at least get credit for a. wearing a skirt, and b. painting my toenails in the winter months! Here's a photo in the ship's lobby.
This one's for Tommy Ferguson. Two words: Poker Face.
{Tommy and his wife Alli went on the same cruise ship just two months prior to our trip. We intended to replicate some of their photos. Tommy had many poker face photos. We only managed to take one}
 A tree with paper-like bark. I can't remember the name...
 It's blurry, but can you spot the large, striped iguana tail? I'm so bummed I didn't get a real photo of him. He was huge!
 We went on a nature trail walk on the island of Coco Cay-- our second (and final) stop in the Bahamas before returning back to Florida. It was really nice and very few people chose to do any walking. Most people just headed straight to lay out on the beach. We, being the active folks that we are, chose to walk the trail to find two infamous chairs our friends Alli & Tommy were telling us about on this walk. Here's Elliot exaggerating about being tired at the end of the trail. Halfway through our trail walk, I stopped off at the restroom. I walked in to be scared half-to-death by a CAT sitting on the toilet and drinking the toilet water. Yummy.
Our cruise ship in the background. This was at the very end of our nature walk on Coco Cay.

Our cruise ship and the sister cruise ship (Monarch of the Seas) in the background.
 The two chairs we found at the end of our nature trail walk. We weren't sure if these were the two chairs our friends told us about, but we took advantage anyway! There wasn't a soul anywhere around!
These stacks were found all around-- someone was obviously a little artsy that came before us. But being honest, MANY people had been there before us. This island is basically Royal Caribbean's privately leased island in the Bahamas. It's real name is actually Little Stirrup Cay. But that doesn't sound so romantic or island-like, so it was re-named by a cruise company and now Royal Caribbean calls it home to one of their Caribbean stops. Adjacent to it is Great Stirrup Cay that is owned by Norwegian cruise lines-- that was their second stop. We could see their boat. Our island had little significance, but theirs has a ton of history!
Just relaxing on our private ocean-front property... for an hour or so. I look ghostlike here and I'm not ashamed. Ever since my skin cancer incident, the shade of white skin seems much more appealing to me. I <3 sunscreen.
Trying to replicate a photo my friend Alli took on her cruise here. She was standing on the edge of a rock and her husband shot a photo from the background.
Starfish sighting #1!
Hanging out with a starfish and some live coral in the gorgeous water.
Starfish sighting #2!
Starfish sighting #3! See my linea negra? A little piece of Andrew still with me. I both hate it and love it. I sort of never want it to go away, but some days I hate it because it's a painful reminder, too.
 Here birdie, birdie. Wait, nevermind. Don't come near me, thanks.
Doing a little kayaking in the Caribbean water. It cost $15 for 30 minutes. We thought that was a rockin' deal compared to the $120/per person at Atlantis! They also ran by the honor system on time. Gotta love the Bahamian people!
Heading back to shore.
We found this cozy little spot to hang out away from the sun but still enjoying the views. We were peacefully sitting when a couple walked up to have their picture taken in front of the water. They started talking with the couple who took their picture and wouldn't leave! I don't know what it is about the need people have to meet friends on their cruise vacations, but I'm not signing up for that.
Our priorities were clearly different. :)
Our ship had a rock wall. Cool, except they were open exactly 7 whole hours (sporadically) of the 68 hours we spent on the ship. If you're doing the math, that's just over 10% of the time. Boo. I did have a chance to try it once, though. Being that high and only seeing water in the horizon made the experience a lot different than climbing at a rock gym.
The only dinner (food) photo I took. This one is to show that my husband managed to eat two whole desserts that night. I certainly can't speak... I had an ice cream every single day and I don't think there was a day that went by we didn't eat pizza (you know, just because it's there) after we had dinner already!
When we stepped off the boat, it was 8 a.m. Our flight was not scheduled to depart back to Chicago until 8 p.m. What to do with 12 hours of time in southern Florida? Rent a car and drive down to the bottom of the state, of course! We wanted to check out the Everglades National Park (since we love national parks!) and we were only about 50 miles away. Once we arrived, we explored two spots before heading back north to Ft. Lauderdale. Here is some of the wildlife we saw:
Vultures were everywhere! When we drove into the parking lot of a nature trail, we saw cars with plastic bags attached to their windshield wipers and other places. Why? Because they eat car parts! Here's a photo + article if you're interested.
We counted about 42 alligators and I'm sure that is a modest count considering we only had access to nature trails and there was lots of brush around.
 Up close and personal with my happy husband. :)
We have tons of photos of really interesting birds, but I'll spare you the whole album.
We drove further south to the very bottom of Everglades National Park and stopped at the water. ENP actually extends to hundreds of "keys" (islands), but we stayed ashore. We were attempting to find salt water crocodiles and came across a pelican.
And here's the crocodile!
There couldn't possibly be any place more appropriate (other than on a key itself) to enjoy Florida Key Lime Pie! I looove key lime pie when done right (which is almost never... must be key lime juice from Florida for it to be worthy of my praise!). Just past the pink visitor's center is water... and in that water are the keys. If we wanted to, we could've taken a boat out to one. There are so many of those little islands everywhere. I just had no idea until we were given a map! We saw about 10 just by looking out from the end of the water. The closest one was easily less than a mile offshore. I stared at the Keys eating Key Lime Pie! It was seriously delicious. Good timing, too. February 28th was my dessert/sugar cutoff!
After the Everglades, we headed up early because we feared lots of traffic. With the extra time before heading to the airport, we checked out a beach at Lauderdale-by-the-sea. We were walking along the beach and noticed hundreds of these washed up all along the shores. Portuguese Man-of-War everywhere! These little guys are super dangerous and can sting humans pretty badly. Needless to say, that's why we saw very few people in the water. They are not jellyfish, I learned, but a siphonophore. They "travel" (though they can't move and are only moved by currents and wind) in groups of 1,000+, so it wasn't weird to see hundreds onshore at the same time.

...speaking of Beach Boys songs, did you know Kokomo {the name of the Beach Boy's song I referenced in the title of this post} is actually a fictional island? There is such a thing as Kokomo, Indiana, but no such island. Sandals later went on to use the name at one of their all-inclusive resorts.

The March 1 no sugar, no alcohol, no soda cutoff  has officially begun! I'm on day 3 and doing very well!

And finally... since this was my first cruise ever, here's my take on them:
  • It's the middle-class way of overindulgence and luxury. For a good deal, you can have anything you want and have it all catered to you. 
  • It's too lazy for me! I like to explore, walk around, and go on hikes. Laying out by a pool, gambling, and eating non-stop isn't really my thing. 
  • I thought the food was outrageous-- too much and mostly mediocre. Quality lacks when food is cooked in large quantities. Surely that didn't stop (us) me from eating my weight every night. What is it about free food and all-inclusive deals that make people want to stuff themselves silly? It's only one meal, after all. You're still going to need breakfast no matter how much you eat for dinner. On our normal travel vacations, we often lose track of our mealtimes because we're so busy exploring (and exercising, what's that?) to notice that the clock struck 12 and the free lunch buffet is open.
  • It was a cheap way to get-away, but I'm not sure I'd like to go on any more Caribbean cruises-- possibly with friends, but never just the two of us again. I'd consider Europe (Mediterranean) & possibly Alaska.
  • I disliked being on a boat with all those people day in and day out. I felt trapped with them. And I was!
  • My final piece of criticism is this: I stepped off a boat to the Bahamas. I explored. I stepped back on the boat for lunch (you know, because it's free and huge!). I stepped back off the boat to explore some more. Then back on. It was like I couldn't leave little America behind! For goodness sakes, there was a Johnny Rockets on our ship! I mean, we honestly can't live without that "luxury" for a few days? I didn't like that I wasn't immersed is what I'm trying to say. I like to be immersed and forced to experience culture. But then again I also realize that the Bahamas are just a little over 100 miles off the coast of the United States-- they get all their food and much of their culture from us. So this example may not entirely apply, but the point was made.
I think I'm more of a plan, fly, hotel kind of girl myself. The kind of hotel that isn't moving. I'm not ruling them out forever, but I wasn't overly excited. I was excited for the weather and to get away with my amazing husband, though. And was it worth it for the experience, absolutely! We already tentatively planned a future winter-getaway to fly into Miami/Ft. Lauderdale and drive down to Key West. That's the same exposure to great weather and island living but road-trip style! :)