Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas 2013 in Pictures

So here we are. As we say another good riddance to December and hello to another year, I'll share some of the pictures we took of Benjamin during his second Christmas. 
Cookies for Santa (husband's head cut off because it was blurry) & stocking stuffers!
 The video is a bit long, but the first 30 seconds are worth sharing... turn up the volume as it's difficult to hear otherwise.
Presents on Christmas morning... still doesn't really get it.

New headphones that look like Daniel Tiger, strawberry milk straws and excited about the cookie his CA grandparents sent (that he ate for breakfast!).

This boy is becoming quite the champ with drinking from a cup. Smoothies to wash down the cookie & a smoothie mustache.
Here's to hoping January brings us a little sister for Benjamin to grow up with.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Christkindlmarkt Chicago

The weekend before Christmas, we hopped on a train from our suburb and headed to Downtown Chicago for the Marshall Field's/Macy's windows and Christkindlmarkt. Since we lived in Europe all through the winter, we visited Christmas markets in many different countries. It's such a fun experience and there is always something fun to eat. We went with good friends who also have a boy about Benjamin's age.

I knew the highlight for Benjamin would be the train ride. He loves transportation and recently began liking trains more. He refers to them as "choo-choo" and even does the train horn with his arm. We had been talking it up and when we finally got on the train, he was excited.

Ready for the ride! On the train with his buddy, Aaron.


Windows at Macy's. Surprisingly, Benjamin loved them!
Photo in front of the Walnut Room tree at Macy's where we plan to have lunch when Benjamin is a bit older - Headed to the Christmas market about a block from Macy's

$7 pretzel, almost entirely for the photo (but also so I could eat 75% of it with delicious German mustard)
Fam photo, the dads drinking some Gluhwein and all the delicious food we bought (sausage, soups, pretzels...)
 It was great fun and we hope to make it a tradition. I know a certain little boy who will be more than fine with another choo-choo ride in his future.

*On the pregnancy front: I'll update more once I speak to my OB tomorrow about a new condition I might have that may put me at even more risk... like I needed that. I've been stressed about it for the last week and still have 4 weeks to go until we meet our daughter. Hate to be negative, but I have to be realistic... just hope she comes home with us alive and healthy. Until then, holding my breathe. Post to follow. Still living the "if" and not the "when" train with this. I hate pregnancy.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Four DIY Project Recaps

I've been a DIY machine lately! I wouldn't consider it nesting considering the need/nature of the projects, but I guess there might be a little in there... what I do when I am too fearful to bring pink into the house just yet. With Benjamin, I called them distraction projects, and I suppose they're back for the final 5 weeks of this pregnancy.

First up:
LEGO Table

I had been planning to make one of these for Benjamin for ages. We decided that we'd gift him with more Duplo and a LEGO table (in addition to other things) for Christmas.

Materials:
- Black IKEA Lack table for $10
- 1 piece of contact paper or equivalent for road stripes $1
- 1 XL gray baseplate for LEGO $15 on Amazon
- Duck double-sided tape (leftover from another project)
                                                                                 
 = $26

1. Assemble table (piece of cake).
2. Measure and cut strips of contact paper for corner and side road pieces (optional: I loved this idea though!) This would be best done on a di-cut or fancy Silhouette machine that I don't have and don't want.
3. Measure and tape down baseplate to the exact center (used double-sided tape because I was warned other epoxies and glues don't work or ruin baseplates by expanding inside the LEGO holes. Double-sided tape seemed like a safer option.
4. Starting with corner contact paper pieces, measure and evenly space apart road strips.

Total time: 30 minutes

Second Project:
Homemade Laundry Detergent

I noticed that our very last bottle of my stockpiled All Free & Clear detergent had only about a month left of washes to the bottle. Instead of waiting until the laundry piled up once the bottle was empty, I decided to jump ahead and get the next stage of detergent ready. I'd been meaning to make some for years now, but I literally had so much laundry detergent thanks to a crazy sale on Seventh Generation and All that I needed to go through the product first before making. I accumulated all the ingredients over time and just needed to get the ball rolling.
With a little help from my friend Renel and the many internet recipes I found, I came up with this recipe, assuming it's not a science because most vary slightly and add/subtract an ingredient or two.

- 1 box Borax
- 1 box Washing Soda
- 1 bar grated Fels Naptha Soap
- 1 bar grated Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap, Lavender Scent
- 3 cups Tide Stain Booster (oxygenated cleaner just like OxiClean-- but I had this on hand and figured I'd use it instead).
- Grater (you can use your food processor, but I bought a very serious grater at a thrift store for about a buck and it grated the soaps super fine!)

I didn't add in any additional smelling crystals/agents because we do like to keep our laundry free & clear due to skin allergies we deal with... but the Tide Stain Booster does add some scent, as does the natural castile soap. Hoping these won't affect us, as they are used in small amounts.

And all I needed was a cute scoop and container! My friend Liz picked up this cute Anchor Hocking glass cookie jar at Walmart when she was there last for under $10. I cannot remember the total cost for the above ingredients as I bought them at random over the course of a year or so, but I can estimate the cost to be about $10 worth of product for 1.5 gallons of detergent. At just 1 1/2 tablespoons each load, that is going to last us a very long time!

Total time: 15 minutes (10 minutes alone to grate the bars of soap and 5 for mixing of ingredients)

Third Project:
Art Frame Display for Benjamin's Room

This is the project I'm most proud of. When I had friends over for a tea party some Saturdays ago, they requested a look at Benjamin's big boy room. We had two walls with hangings already, but the other two walls were bare. One wall was taken care of in minutes by the suggestion of my friend Alli who has a knack for design. But the other wall... they all collaborated at once and suggested I make it a wall to display his art. I loved the idea, but wanted it to be a space we could change out often and easily. I did some Pinterest researching for something along those lines and came up with this idea. I needed 3 cabinet doors of identical size...and cheap. I struggled finding these. I searched Craigslist, Freecycle, Bookoo and everywhere I could think! I even considered using actual picture frames, but even those are not super cheap or sturdy enough for my vision.

I found that cabinet art display idea during naptime on Saturday and as soon as Benjamin woke up, we set out to our local Habitat for Humanity Restore. We were totally disappointed by the stock and prices. It was expensive and they didn't have anything suitable to make this project happen on the cheap.

But I couldn't get this idea out of my mind. I HAD to have those cabinet doors! I discovered another Habitat for Humanity Restore 13 miles away and was about to grab my keys. Until I realized they were only open three days a week, for a total of 24 hours! I waited patiently until Thursday and then we were off. I am so glad we went, because I not only found what I was looking for, but had such a variety that I had trouble deciding! The cabinet doors were $2.50/ea. and I was even able to purchase two drawer fronts (for my 4th project) for $1/ea, two brand new and full-sized bathroom rugs that were an "internet sample" still with tags, a small pint sample can of gray paint for $.50 from Benjamin Moore, and various Velcro pieces and anchor brackets for quarters each. My total was $20! I even considered buying two end tables that I loved, but we really don't need more end tables... but so tempting.
Sweatshirt Gray Benjamin Moore paint sample for only two quarters. Awesome.

No natural light with curtains closed, but we love it! Benjamin proudly looks up and says "B" at the art piece on the right that is hard to see in these photos.

The wall on the right is the "grown up" wall my friend Alli helped design. The double frame had old pictures in it that we needed to replace. We thought a picture of Big Ben & a quote by Ben Franklin were fun additions to the room. For a grand total of $2.36 prints shipped to my door, it completed the wall (to go with his Tootsie Roll Chicago stock & personalized Bears poster).
Materials:
- 3 cabinet pieces $7.50
- Flat white paint & paint rollers (owned already)...would've used spray paint, but I didn't have any.
- Gray paint sample $.50
- 3 magnetic clips (had in teacher supplies)
- Screwdriver + three small screws
- Hanging materials about $7--ultra secured these to the wall so we spent a bit more

= about $15

Fourth Project:
Chalkboard Frames

I just might be envisioning my kiddos heading off to school and just how cute that will be. When I was picking up the cabinets to be used in the art frame display, I saw a few smaller drawer fronts that were only $1 each. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to make two signs (you know, because I'm hoping to have two kids in school at the same time eventually) for the kiddos to hold on the first and last days of school. I already had the chalkboard paint from a basement chalkboard wall I've envisioned but since aborted mission because we're too lazy and just don't use the space enough to really enjoy that feature.
They're not perfect, but they do the job for the right price. :)
Instead, how about a couple cute frames for just a few bucks of material cost?

Materials:
- 2 cabinet/drawer fronts $2
- White satin spray paint (owned already)
- Chalkboard paint bought ages ago and used a very small amount of the $10 can
- Paintbrush for Chalkboard paint (owned already)

= $2

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Fourth Tearful Christmas

You'd think having a 22-month old during Christmas would do the trick to rid me of the grief that plagues me every single holiday... and really everyday. But it hasn't. For the most part, I spent the time leading up to Christmas busy researching, purchasing, wrapping, shipping, etc. I spent time in the post office and directing most of my energy to the toddler running about me. I actually enjoyed buying gifts for people this year because each one was well thought and something I knew they would like. I've been well distracted and for that, I'm grateful. On days where we're not off to the children's museum, playhouse or storytime and distractions are at a minimum, I struggle the most. Today is one of those days.

I didn't do the decorating this year. I sat at my computer while my amazing husband worked around me to make our home look festive. I didn't participate. I haven't participated since the day before Andrew died. I want Benjamin to have a childhood filled with wonder and excitement, but I just have a hard time getting in the spirit around this time of year. His birthday was just 20 days ago. Another one passes on and another one we're left in longing for what should be.

I laid awake from 2:30-5:00 this morning with pregnancy insomnia, battling the fear I have of Andrew and Benjamin's little sister not making it out alive. I thought about how it was already Christmas morning and what that means to most families. I just don't feel the magic. Benjamin still doesn't understand Christmas or Santa or the decorations. All he understands is that the Advent house has a treat for him everyday. He wasn't very interested in opening presents.

I'm tired of being pregnant and fearful. I've done so well up until this week and now it's finally hitting me that we have less than 5 weeks to go until my induction and we're uncertain if we'll be bringing this baby home in a carseat or in something much, much smaller. I have some new complications that are plaguing me and having me rethink Andrew's death and if what I'm experiencing now is what may have also contributed to his demise.

I desperately want a normal birth experience and to bring a baby home without the worry. I fear that our induction date is too late that we'll end up with another stillborn baby. I fear that an earlier induction date will send us back to the NICU. I fear Benjamin may never realize what it's like to have a living sibling. I fear so much.

This is our fourth Christmas in this house. In Illinois. And it has never, ever felt right because our first one was robbed of all the magic by losing him. I sat in our formal living room alone after all the gifts and festivities this morning and just cried. I wished for the tree to be gone. I'm ready for December to end. With so many things to be thankful for, I'm sobbing because I miss what should be so, so much.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Benjamin's First Real Snow Exploration

Last weekend was the first time we've accumulated enough snow to really do much with. It Saturday morning and we had nothing better to do than go outside and enjoy 30-degree weather with big white flakes coming down.

For the first time ever, we suited Benjamin up in a snow bib, puffy winter jacket, snow boots, mittens and a hat and let him loose in our yard as Ray shoveled the driveway. He just loved it! He spent the majority of the time eating snow and trying to say the word snow which is apparently a tricky word in his vocabulary. But man did he try. He has been in the snow before and even been sledding (during his 1st b-day weekend!), but this was really the first time he personally explored and took a sled down the hill by himself!

We took our sled-like thing we bought at Costco (during the worst winter of our lives) and headed to the park across the street to do some sledding. Benjamin loved being pulled across the snow and loved sledding even more. We even took a visit to the actual park and pushed him on the swing a bit before heading back home for hot cocoa.
Loved every minute. Didn't want to go in after 1.5 hours, but we did! Bribed with "deets" (treats). Also the first time he's successfully worn mittens or gloves EVER.
mmmmm.
Duplicate videos from Instagram, but larger here.
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Crib to Bed Transitioning Has Begun.

As I type this, my boy is sound asleep and going on two hours for his nap in his big boy bed. Had to come back to this post later that night because he woke up before I finished. That would be naptime day 4. See below.

We are so, so proud of him for being so brave. He will only be 22 months on Monday and he is making huge strides in all areas. Language is off the hook (and fascinating!). He's starting to recognize individual letters in words even! He's no savant and only uses two-word phrases infrequently, but it's incredible what he's capable of saying. He has new words everyday and many are words I had no idea he would even know.

On Saturday after Benjamin's usual nap, he woke up and wanted to spend some time in his big boy bedroom. We weren't pushing the issue much, but we do try to spend time in that room often enough that it's a normal room in the house he frequents and plays. We planned to transition just after the holidays, but that day he seemed quite interested in his bedroom and new bed. Ray asked him if he wanted to sleep in his big boy bed that night and he shook his head proudly and said yeah like he was certain. He was asked many more times that day and when it came time for bed, we tried things out. We also had a little help from enthusiastic grandparents always talking about his new bedroom and bed on Skype, sending a cool new truck lamp for his new room, having lots of his toys and nursery items moved into the room, etc. I felt it would be fun to document the first few days since there were so many comments on my post about crib > bed transition. Since we're in the thick of things now, I figured it would be interesting enough for people to read (or not?). If anything, I like the documentation for us.
Waking from his final crib nap. December 14, 2013

Night 1, 12/14: Tense and anxious with heavy breathing. He never once tried to get out of the bed or into Ray's arms, but he did need some hugs and hand-holds for about 20 minutes before he was calm enough to fall asleep. He held Benjamin's hands for a bit and then let go so he could slowly transition away. Then Benjamin moved his leg so it was touching him. Precious. Ray then kissed him goodnight as usual and left the room. He slept from for 9.25 hours. Not the most epic night of sleep, but not bad for a new room and bed!
Hugs from Dad during night one. Was super brave and didn't try to get out of his bed... but just needed extra cuddles for bravery.
Naptime 1, 12/15: I walked upstairs as usual at his 1 p.m. naptime and put him in bed like normal. No fighting. Slept 2+ hours. Woke happy.

Night 2, 12/15: Ray put him down as usual and laid on the floor near him for about 15 minutes before leaving. He mostly just wants to touch you and be comforted. Slept 10 hours with no wakeups or escapes.
Wakey wakey baby! Chatting away and waiting for us to come get him.
Naptime 2, 12/16: Not as easy of a transition. He started to hit once he realized we were headed upstairs for nap (which he occasionally does before being put in the crib, too) and wanted to be in my arms and not put down. So much hitting and finally I resigned to the crib. After he was not interested in going to sleep in there either, I went in and noticed he needed another diaper change. THREE poops in one hour, people. I think he was nervous... at least for the third one... because let's just say the consistency was not like the other two. I placed him in his big boy bed after diaper change and he still wanted me there. I hung out for about 10 minutes until he was calm; kissed him and left. Slept 2+ hours.

Night 3, 12/16: Dad hung out for about 10 minutes and left once he realized Benjamin was snoring. We try not to leave after he falls asleep so he knows it's an independent task to put yourself to sleep, but he must have been quite tired.
 
Naptime 3, 12/17: No issue. Went right down. Slept 3 hours.

Before bedtime, Ray went upstairs with Benjamin and some tools and they took apart the crib in the nursery together. Since Benjamin has been in his new room, he hasn't once requested to be in his crib and spends very little time playing in there... despite it being open and available. We decided that since he had been doing so well, it made the most sense to go all-in and commit to the big boy room and bed. If we stopped now, could we start again in a few weeks? And why if he seems to be fine with the transition? So the crib came down. At first he was apprehensive, but mostly because he wanted to jump in there and Ray took it away. I stripped the mattress of the sheet and stuck it on the floor so he can jump whenever he wants, but without the crib itself. It doesn't resemble a crib and is not in the same spot. Seemed to do the trick and he doesn't care it's in the closet away from his sight. Crib will return after a (hopefully) safe arrival of little sister. But by then, the association will not be that she is taking his crib, but that it went away and returned for her this time. Don't want him to feel like she's taking his things and his parents...
 
Night 4, 12/17: Ray spent about 10 minutes with him before leaving the room. He wanted to touch Ray's face a lot and just reach over every once in awhile. Once he was reassured, comfortable and calm, he received kisses and rolled around until he fell asleep. Slept 10 hours. When he woke up, he chatted to himself happily for 15 minutes before I went in and got him.
 
Naptime 4, 12/18: Had no problem being put down. Slept 2 hours, woke immediately, got out of his bed and came downstairs (after saying "Hi" quite loudly at the top of the stairs before making his descent). I watched the whole thing on camera and took a screen shot. Boy was that nuts! Considering next steps... mostly concerned about safety issue if he were to try and get downstairs during dark hours. We don't want him falling. Might be reversing the locks on his bedroom door or installing a baby gate at the top of the stairs. Those are generally more of a hazard for adults, so I'm leaning toward reversing door locks.

Yep, I know you're watching me.
We went back upstairs after he came down and ran into my arms (quite proudly) to turn off the air purifier we use as white noise in his bedroom. When up there, he wanted to jump on his former crib mattress-- and required I do the same. Try not breaking the springs on that bad boy and jumping at all at 8-months pregnant. These toddlers can be very demanding with their stern points and commands to "sit" or "jump". I tell ya.

Night 5, 12/18: No issues. Ray went in and put him down and he was calm. Left after a few minutes and Benjamin didn't need the reassurance. That's tonight. Let's see if we have a baby at our bedside in the wee hours of the morning...

Overall, we're really pleased with how things are going and surprised they are going so well (which means potty training will be an utter nightmare and failure). Hopefully I'm not jinxing us, but luckily, Benjamin has always liked his sleep. I was talking with my mom after naptime today and telling her about Benjamin sleeping in his big boy bed so well. He smiled and said yeah quite loudly. When asked this evening if he was excited to sleep in his big boy bed again tonight, he once again said yeah enthusiastically. Never once has he met that question with anything but positive words and actions.

I noticed a few things about the whole process: naps are generally easier because he can still see a bit of light in the room from daylight outside. Nights are harder to transition because he can't see as much and knows this is the long sleep.

And if that doesn't work, we have a backup plan (other than just making it work). We bought him a personalized Daniel Tiger pillowcase for his new bed. We're keeping that baby in our back pocket just in case. And if you want to order one from the PBS website, be informed that it's quite Kmart quality... but whatever. The kid is 22 months. What does he care about thread count?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Grown-Up Tea Party

A few of my local friends just celebrated birthdays and it gave me the idea to throw a little girls get-together to celebrate. Nothing major, just a little tea party with friends to catch up and have a break from the kiddos. Very casual. The husband took the kiddo to the children's museum and we were in business.

I hosted, but one of my friends contributed many of her fancier pieces for the décor and display of food. While I have a lot of practical and modern kitchen touches, I don't have the tea party-esque type of crystal and fanciness. With some of my items and some of hers, I think it came together nicely.

Don't be fooled. All those leftover Danish cookies were in my belly within a week. Hello pregnancy weight gain.

Drinks: lemonade, French sparkling lemonade, tea from all over the world, k-cup coffee assortments, water with lemon and cucumber. Food: cream cheese/dill/cucumber & PBJ finger sandwiches & cookies: chocolate chip dunkers, Danish cookies, Pfeffernusse (TJ's has the best EVER), Candy Cane Jo-Jos

Some of the lovely tea party pieces and 7 of us 8 (me being photographer).
Really easy to put together and so nice to have time to relax and drink coffee with friends, add in some of that delicious Girl Scout cookie creamer & eat cookies until Claire gained a solid pound in one day. Oh, and me too.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Mayhem

  • I woke up (without an alarm clock) at 5:15 a.m. to get to my local Safeway chain store (Dominick's) because they just marked all grocery items to 50% off. Diapers were 50% off last week and I missed it, so I was definitely not missing this one. I may have loaded up the equivalent of 3 full carts and spent over $400. Liquor goes on sale next Friday. Watch out, people. I'm only pregnant until the end of January and then game-on. I have a list of favorite wines and craft beers we'll be adding to our somewhat embarrassing collection we already have going thanks to a certain wine club my mom signed us up for. Totally awesome, but the UPS guy is starting to question if I have a drinking problem. And to be 8-months pregnant with these deliveries? Yeah. Nobody call child services. Thanks.
  • I have been happily adding to our Christmas card pile which I stick in Andrew's stocking in our formal living room. I make sure to put some of my favorite faces toward the front so I can stare at them. Cards that mention Andrew in this season also get front status.
  • Speaking of my loved boy, we went to that remembrance ceremony on Tuesday. We both left saying how much we love that tradition to honor our boy every year with a room full of people who are honoring their children/grandchildren as well. There's just something to be said for attending a ceremony where every person in there knows the heartbreak of losing a child. But Andrew's brother... oh my. Benjamin, on the other hand, was the cutest and most silly boy on the planet that evening. He was playing "peek(-a-bo)" with people behind us, laughing, jumping, saying clap and then doing so over and over and over again. Not the time or place, but he is just reminding us how much of a light he is in our lives. What is nice about this ceremony is that there are families with other kids but also missing kids. When I was pregnant with Benjamin and we attended out first one, I just remember not being jealous but longingly hoping we'd be bringing back our own baby to remember our firstborn in the coming years. The woman behind us had a boy around 6 months and told me that her son's name that she was there to remember is also Andrew. And the people in front of us were remembering their son Hayes, just like my friend Molly. The only tough spot is seeing the visibly, newly broken individuals and families that attended. I know those shoes.
  • It's my amazing husband's birthday today and although I was planning to make him brownies for his birthday, I scored a $1.50 pumpkin pie (also a favorite of his) that we're having instead.
  • We met him at work and headed to lunch, but we're staying in to eat some of the food I bought this morning in the mayhem. I'm so sad that store is closing. I remember moving into our house quite excited that my favorite grocery store chain was not only in the Chicago 'burbs, but just over a mile from my house. And now they are no more. Sad day.
  • I'm really excited about the Christmas gifts we purchased for people this year. I even bought something for my husband! We're not much for gifting one another because we prefer experiences and to choose our own things... but this year I think I hit the jackpot. Somehow, Benjamin made out like a bandit, too. I wasn't intending on spending much on the little guy, but it's so hard to let things go when I find things I know he'll love.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Andrew's 2013 Ornament

Tonight is the annual remembrance ceremony for babies gone too soon in our local area. Each year we go and hang Andrew's ornament for the year and they speak his name. It hangs on the tree that is then displayed at the hospital I delivered my boys and will deliver their little sister in the new year. I only wish his ornament would still be hung when I'm checked in for a hopefully happy and uneventful induction. The dates will be too far apart, so that won't happen. But what a lovely thought.

We weren't able to attend last year, though we did attend another ceremony in his honor. But this year, I'm happy we're back to the tradition of remembering our firstborn with hundreds (yep) of other families also missing their babies who passed on too soon. It's a very different remembrance ceremony. We'll see parents, siblings, grandparents, and all kinds of other supporters who either lost their own baby or love a family who did. It's really quite special... and totally heartbreaking. But if there is one single place I feel totally at home each year, it's in a room full of these other people. Especially during the holiday season.

This year, I couldn't decide what I wanted to do for Andrew's ornament. Many of my babyloss friends had an ornament exchange/secret Santa, but I was too late for the signup. Next year, I hope to be a part and use that special ornament as his 2014 addition. This year, I chose to get very brave and follow in the footsteps of one of my friends by creating an ornament of his things. I was originally going to add things in a clear bulb ornament that reminded me of him, but I really wanted something more. I was anxious about it, but I made the decision to spend naptime on his birthday last Thursday cutting the clothes he wore and a special outfit we bought that I just had sitting in the closet for the last three years waiting for him. It just never did feel right dressing Benjamin in that outfit. It was very much chosen with Andrew in mind and so special to us. Surprisingly, cutting the only clothes he ever wore was not as terrible as I imagined. I think it was because I wanted to make it so beautiful and worthy of displaying in his honor that I allowed myself to carry through. Also, my friend brought up a great point that while the pieces of clothing would remain whole and in a box, they would only be infrequently seen when I opened the box. This way, I can see pieces of him for an entire month displayed on our tree during the month of his birth.

He wore everything in this photo except that beautiful sweater outfit we picked out just for him. Not to share with siblings or to hang in a closet for three years. The blue ribbon on the right came from one of my baby showers. All of the items on the left were worn or touched by him. Baptismal gown (with ribbons & angel cut off that I used in ornament to tie swatches of clothing in a roll, hat, hospital blanket, blue outfit that says "Thank Heaven for Little Boys"-- breaks my heart, pants and booties). I did not choose any of those outfits and assume that all but the blanket are specifically for babies who die. I'll never ask. I don't think it matters that I know.
The card is in his box of things but thought I'd include his cute footprint. The pom from the hat above, swatch from his blanket with the ring they had him holding in many of our NILMDTS photos (symbolism?), the blue outfit with an airplane, a piece of the baptismal gown with an angel that was attached to it... all wrapped in either ribbon from my baby shower or the ribbon off the baptismal gown.
I stuck the piece of the beautiful sweater outfit in the ornament before photographing. I couldn't get it out... so pretend it's in that last picture. :)
I wrapped a piece of the blue ribbon around the top of the ornament and attached the little angel bead and "A" they had with the little gold ring from the hospital. I am assuming this was a gift from another babyloss mom or sweet citizen.
Finally, I added an "a" from the letters I used to create a sign above his crib that spelled out his name. The capital letters were gone, but I used the lowercase "a" and attached it to the cardstock paper I also used in the frame above his crib along with smaller confetti-like pieces for the bottom of the ornament (not visible).
I won't be bringing this ornament tonight, but the ornament we had made on Etsy last year that we could not bring to the ceremony. I just can't bring this one. I fear something happening to it and never receiving it back. The ornaments are returned at the ceremony the following year. However, this one is currently being displayed on our tree and will be forevermore.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Aunt Samantha Comes to Town

For Thanksgiving, Benjamin's Aunt Samantha came to visit. That made for one very happy little boy. We celebrated a little differently and had a Mexican feast. Since there were three adults and only one toddler, I was actually able to get in the kitchen and cook! A rare treat these days.

On the menu for Thanksgiving: steak and veggie enchiladas with a homemade tomatillo enchilada sauce, sweet corn cakes, yellow rice, homemade guacamole and Trader Joe's Karat Cake for dessert (don't waste your time. Chocolate ganache cake will far exceed your expectations... this barely meets them).
Aunt Samantha came bearing gifts from Benjamin's Maryland grandparents! Among them was a very cool tractor nightlight that Benjamin refers to as a truck because he hasn't nailed down the word tractor quite yet. He loves it. You can gauge how much he loves something by the number of times he says it in a row. The count was off the charts. We went shopping, ate lots, went out to a delicious lunch and Skyped with Benjamin's grandparents.
We even went to see Santa! Our local Bass Pro Shop was having Santa and friends at their store and boy was that awesome! I totally recommend it. Free carousel, crafts, trains, mini exhibits and of course, Santa and company! We love that store anyway because of how huge it is and the big fish tank in the middle, but seeing the Easter Bunny earlier in the year and now Santa (but more important to Benjamin were Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman... as he literally followed them everywhere they went) have definitely added to the cool factor of the store.
Santa didn't phase him at all. My kid is quite cool having complete strangers hold him. Sigh...
B loves his Aunt Samantha so much that when she was reading one afternoon, he grabbed the iPad (that he was playing on in the kitchen) and walked to the formal living room where she was laying. He crawled up on the couch and just sat with her to be close. So sweet. Aunt Samantha even went with us to a gymnastics class. And as if he didn't love her enough... she left a special "deet" for him on the bed after she left. It took him no more than 20 minutes to find that deet and inhale it. Really fun weekend!
And that mullet in the last photo? It's gone. Dad cut it this weekend.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

On The Night You Were Born...

...The moon smiled with such wonder
That the stars peeked in to see you
And the night wind whispered,
"Life will never be the same."
 
He was born at 9:04 p.m. Tonight, at 9:04, I was taking a hot shower. I wasn't laying in a hospital bed vomiting, shaking and welcoming my son into the world silently like I did three years ago. It was much more pleasant this evening. The smell of his candle (apparently discontinued, of course)--dubbed as such because it was given to me during my pregnancy with him and has a very babylike smell-- permeated the air. 
 
Today wasn't nearly as kind. Before noon, I'd sobbed at least a handful of times. Ray and I chatted about how it's crazy that even three years later, it's horrible how raw your grief can still feel at times. It might be just a day, but it's the anniversary of the worst day of our lives.
 
Of course we still miss him. Of course we wonder what our lives would be like with an intelligent three-year-old roaming our house. Of course we wonder what he would be eating for lunch and what his favorite toy would be. But the sad truth and reality is that we never knew and will never know a single answer.
 
We went about our day and I took Benjamin to storytime between sobfests. Surprinsingly, I held it together at 2-3 year old storytime. We had a drive-thru lunch because that's all I could muster. Naptime arrived and I made Andrew's 2013 ornament out of pieces of clothing he had worn. I thought that would do me in, but really, I was okay with it. I was mostly composed because I wanted to make something worthy of displaying in his honor. I look forward to hanging his four ornaments on the tree this year. Christmas trees, while beautiful and innocent in nature, still mock me. Never will we have a tree in the same place we did on that cold December morning we arrived back home with empty arms and a bag of mementos. The tree has a whole new room and will never be purchased before his birthday.
 
In between cutting pieces of the only clothing he had ever worn, I read countless texts messages and emails from some incredibly thoughtful people who still remember he lived and existed. I was honored and completely humbled by people who remembered. It's really one day a year that I fully experience the impact my lifeless son had on so many people.
 
I took Benjamin to the playhouse down the street after naptime and we went to dinner at one of our favorite local, kid-friendly burger places that has toys and books for kids to play with. We know Andrew would've liked that place. Benjamin sure does. We arrived back home to the fanciest of Whole Foods cupcakes I purchased yesterday and Benjamin attempted to burn himself while I blew out the candles. My three-year-old would've been elated to do so himself, I'm sure.
 
A traditional evening of books, toys and all things Benjamin and off to bath and bed for Andrew's little brother. The fourth December 5th we've experienced without our firstborn son alive. And the numbers keep adding.
 
Because there has never been anyone like you... ever in the world.
For never before in story or rhyme
{not even once upon a time}
Has the world ever known a you, my friend,
And it never will... not ever again.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Puerto Rico Getaway

In the summer, Ray booked a work flight to Seattle. That's one of my favorite cities and located in one of my most favorite states in the U.S. I was totally jealous, but the thought of a very short visit and dealing with two long flights with Benjamin just didn't appeal to me at the time. I also think I was still feeling icky and exhausted from pregnancy that it was just not happening.

But man did I want to go. If we had local relatives, I'd have been on that plane in a heartbeat. When he arrived home, we declared a trip needed to be planned because it's rare we don't have something travel-related on the books. That night, we booked flights. I had been researching flights to Puerto Rico and round trip they were coming up under $300. You read that correctly. They climbed above $300, but not by much when we booked our tickets. They were to be our last flights with Benjamin during my pregnancy with Claire. It's really discouraged for me to travel much at this point with all my pregnancy issues, so this was it. And in case you're curious, Benjamin was a perfect gem on the 4-hour flight there (thank you iTunes downloads of Daniel Tiger, raisins and M&Ms!) but received an F for the 4.5 hour return flight. Such a bad baby. Though he did learn how to say sorry after hitting so much on that flight. Silver lining? Ugh.

While we love traveling with the wee one, we're excited to travel back someday (we never say that!) to drive through the island and hike through the rainforests-- you know, without a needy toddler and big ol' belly that inhibited us from really getting into things this go around. If you've ever traveled with us (sorry parents!), you'd know we're not the type to just sit around. We are always go-go-go because we want to see everything. Perhaps that wasn't the best method to travel through Europe with our family, but we really wanted to share as much as possible. A little zany, but the husband and I are good together.

We did see the city, a rainforest and even did an island hop with the locals. Here's our trip in days:

Thursday arrival: We grabbed a taxi to our hotel. We checked-in and headed out to the beach and dinner immediately. We didn't really intend to go to the beach, but to walk near it and maybe touch the water. Except, that didn't happen. Once B got sight of that water, there was no turning back.


Clothing had to be removed because it was soaked after our toddler decided he had no inhibitions.

Consulted Yelp for a walking distance local food joint and found Bebo's. We had Mofongo-- meat/veggies topped on mashed yucca and covered in sauce. Good and super heavy.

Friday: Our hotel room was insanely small and if both Ray and Benjamin put out their hands, they could be touching from their beds. Needless to say, sleep wasn't optimal. But... it's travel and we already assume that possibility. But what we don't assume is our son waking up with a fever (101.8) for the first time ever at 3:30 in the morning. And staying up. But, like we always do, we treated the baby who was in good spirits after some liquids and meds and carried on about our day. We decided to head to Old San Juan because we thought that day would be the safest to avoid the big crowds from cruise ships. We were right. Other than the humidity and heat being so intense, it was a nice day of exploring. We explored two parts of the fort (located about a mile from one another), had lunch in the middle of a big quad area where B was able to roam, and took the city bus from our hotel with the locals for $.75-- costing us a grand total of about $3 for transportation as opposed to a $20 cab each way. Not to mention having to schlep the carseat through the city with steep inclines and cobblestone streets. The bus proved to be a fantastic decision because Benjamin was thrilled to be on one and repeated bus over and over again with sheer joy on his face. You'd have thought we gave him a pony. When we arrived back at our hotel after a long stroller nap, we headed out again to the beach (this time with proper clothing) and for a dip in the pool before grabbing dinner.

Castillo de San Cristóbal
Empanadas for lunch in the open square near the fort. Bought from another locals joint. Bus ride back and more water fun.
Saturday: This day started off interesting. We decided to rent a car because we wanted to get to this port area and it would've been so much more expensive to do so by taxi. Ray took a morning jog to the rental car agency and unfortunately, they were sold out for some big event. The morning consisted of some local park time and in the afternoon, we took a taxi to the airport where we finally rented a car. We then did some exploring and traveled to the El Yunque Rainforest. We brought B's carseat and this was the first (and last for awhile) time he had ever been forward-facing. It was just easier because we forgot the floor strap/latch which makes the carseat rear-facing safe. He was in the center seat and saw everything... including the chips in the front seat of which he requested every 2 minutes.

Unfortunately, we arrived at the rainforest just a couple hours before closing (though free for Veteran's Day weekend!), so we didn't get to experience all we could've if the sun remained high longer. But really, this pregnant lady and her toddler were not making any major hikes this go-around... so it was fitting. We walked around the visitor's center and drove to see a waterfall. We drove a bit more to see if we could get a glimpse of the other waterfall, but were told it was a 30-minute hike. It had just rained, so the ground was slippery and there was just no way we could make it with the sun setting. It was a beautiful drive, but definitely didn't meet our full quota of rainforest credit. We'll just have to go back. :)

Park right on the beach.
El Yunque Rainforest walking...
Sunday:
This was our big adventure day. We read on Trip Advisor that there are a few accessible islands just off the coast of Puerto Rico. And of course we wanted to check that out! These islands are heavily visited by the locals and since it was a Sunday, we knew we had to get there early and be diligent. We visited Culebra as it was well documented by past tourists and the beach sounded great!

All of the information we read said we needed to be there at 7 a.m. (our hotel was an hour away by car... which means we got up at 4 a.m. Chicago time!) to be in line for ticket sales. The ferry sells out and if you're not in line, you may have driven an hour to get there for nothing as there are limited ferry boats. What's awesome is that the ferry was something cheap like $2.25/adult for an hour ride over. It was just a matter of getting there. And so we did. We were there, in line by 7 a.m. When I asked a police officer if I was in the correct line (with at least 100 people already in front of me), he told me that once the ticket booth opens, I would have priority because I am pregnant. Thank you, Claire! Belly for the win! We knew we were safe even 100 deep in line, but it was sure nice not to stand in the hot sun with our toddler waiting to buy tickets.

And then, when we got into the waiting area building, we even had a special seating area and didn't have to wait in the line to board the boat-- either direction! Serious score on the belly bump. While we waited, we had some local fried pastries for breakfast and then endured the boat ride that had me feeling a bit woozy in the end. Benjamin was not in happy spirits either, so we're assuming he was feeling a little seasick.

Once off the boat, we grabbed a taxi and were off to Flamingo Beach for the day. It was beautiful and we had a great time. It was definitely the highlight of the trip and also the only place Benjamin ate an actual meal other than raisins, peanut butter spoons and granola bars. He had a sandwich and tangerine sitting on the beach and a beach nap to complete the day. It was full of sand castle making and ocean enjoying. I even had a chance to write down Andrew's name... since we don't live near the beach anymore, it's always something I try to do while we're on vacation. The boat ride back was SO much better, quicker, and the boat was crazy-nice! Trip Advisor also tipped us off that we needed to run back to the parking lot and get in line to pay for our parking ticket, as some people had to wait over an hour to pay their $5! We were the first ones there and had no issue. Great day.
Line we were able to skip out on due to the belly - happy Benjamin on a boat - Dad drinking a local beer - Benjamin drinking some 7-Up... cured that seasickness right away. Of course.

Ferry boat - Andrew - pina colada helado while waiting for the ferry back - sand castles with Dad
Monday - Final Day: We spent this day packing, walking and relaxing. We headed back to the park we spent some time at before, walked the beach, and checked out this great deli/bakery I found on Yelp. Even the President has eaten there! It did not disappoint.
Cute beach boy - playing at the beach park - eating more helado (tried all three: passion fruit, pina colada, coconut-- coconut was the best) - Mallorca sweet bread roll - breakfast at Kasalta was carb heaven - independent toddler on a (Hertz) bus back to the airport for our flight from hell
Video was taken at a splash pad next to our hotel. B managed to find an elevator nearby and required I come assist him in pressing the buttons. He managed these steps up and down because they were so shallow.

We enjoyed this trip thoroughly and totally recommend it for a quick (and cheap) getaway. Even with a toddler who was way less-than-pleasant on that last flight, it was worth it.

Some things that surprised us about Puerto Rico:
  • They're on Atlantic time! That's two hours ahead of Chicago.
  • Lots of police in high tourist areas. It makes you feel both safe and skeptical.
  • While not a foreign country (yay, no customs!), they did have an agricultural check for all of our luggage before we were allowed to go through security.
  • The humidity, even in November is out of sight!
  • Prices are on-par with mainland. It was really no different price-wise than traveling in the U.S. In fact, our hotel was really inexpensive!
Tips:
  • Rent a car. They're quite cheap compared to taking taxis everywhere and you can find self-park at most hotels or hotels near yours.
  • If you don't rent a car, figure out local transportation because it is cheap!
  • Buy helado from street vendors-- it's the same company for each vendor and it's quite clean.
  • Hit up the local grocery store (we had one across the street from our hotel) for quick deli meals and basics. We even hit one up for some local candy to bring back. We always visit the local stores on trips to save a little cash on water/snacks and also to taste some local fare we may not have mainland.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Madeline Mae

I recently wrote about the name we chose for our newest baby, Claire Mae, and how we chose to name her after my great granny, Madeline Mae.

My family said goodbye to Madeline Mae yesterday after a series of unfortunate events that finally led to her passing. At a very spunky 98-years old, she lived a full and wonderful life. To that, we are so very grateful.

While death will always make me sad because I won't personally get to see her face or hear her beautiful voice or infectious laugh again, I am so grateful we had so many years with her. Her life couldn't have been more full and the years she was granted were far longer than many. And yet, we're still sad for ourselves because we miss the person she was and the spirit she brought.

I'm not kidding about that laugh. It was almost a nervous laugh. She'd laugh at just about everything and gave the tightest hugs you've ever experienced-- even at such an old age. The joy that she displayed in her life was one you wanted to witness. Before my great-grandpa passed away, they would visit nursing homes together and spend time with those friends who needed the love.

Just about a week ago, my mom and uncle went up to Northern California to visit her and say their goodbyes, knowing that her time might be coming soon. They brought her donuts. She was so thrilled, she stuffed an entire donut hole in her mouth-- on a woman who never hit 5-feet tall, you can imagine her petite frame. She went all-in. With life and with donuts.

I am honored to name my daughter after such a lovely woman and undoubtedly one of my favorite relatives. I wrote her a card telling her about our daughter and her namesake. She likely never received this card due to some unfortunate circumstances, but I'm thankful my mom was able to travel there and tell her in person that our daughter will always carry a part of her. For 28 weeks, there were five generations of women alive in our family. While I won't be traveling to her funeral this far along with a large belly and a rambunctious toddler, I do remember all that she is and was to us.
When talking with my husband last night, we both had a moment in talking about Andrew. This tends to happen when we hear of someone else passing away, especially someone dear to our hearts. It makes us think of where they are... and where he is. My husband said he hoped she was hanging out with our boy. I hope she was holding him and loving him like I crave to be doing myself. But knowing the woman she was, there isn't a doubt in my mind that she is doing that. In fact, there's no one else I'd rather he be with right now than her.

A bittersweet passing, but just knowing she might be up there with a second calling of caring for my boy puts me in tears. He needs your hugs, Granny.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Final Trimester

Well, this is it. I've entered the final trimester of pregnancy that I'll endure. It both terrifies me and thrills me that we've come this far with two babies after losing our first little love. That's a lot of weeks to cross your fingers and hope for the best.

A few things have been purchased for this baby, but none of which are uniquely hers. We bought another seat protector for our car and a crib sheet. We've been making arrangements that will hopefully become reality if we do have a daughter to bring home with us, but nothing is finalized to the point of certainty. I can just as easily use that crib sheet for Benjamin or chuck it. I even sucked it up yesterday and purchased the second seat for our stroller because I saw a deal that I didn't want to pass up. I sure hope that doesn't end up as a Craigslist ad instead.

The only other two things we'll definitely be purchasing are an air purifier for the nursery (since Benjamin will be using his in the big boy room) and a letter "C" to go in the nursery.

If she comes home with us in February, I'll be changing out the mobile in the nursery (we created after B came home alive) to pink birds and buying her some of her very own Aden & Anais blankets in a girly pattern. B is far too fond of his set to bother sharing.

As for pregnancy this go around... it's different. In general, the carrying part feels different. I can't even describe it. And then there's the part about my day job being different. I guess this is how it would've felt (minus the stress) if Andrew were alive and toddling around during my pregnancy with Benjamin. It's my first time parenting a toddler while gestating another. Let's just say that I'm not cut out to be a Duggar. This bending over, schlepping a toddler, dealing with tantrums business is hard work when there's a baby-a-cookin'.

Not just the physical demands, but the baby itself. She is not nearly as active as my two boys, which is maybe a good thing if she finally makes it home with us, but not so lovely during a high-risk pregnancy. As I have now reached my third trimester, the kick counts have begun, appointments are increasing, ultrasounds start weekly at 32w and NSTs begin at 34 weeks. It's all starting to become real.

Before now, I've lived in surprisingly calm territory using ignorance and busyness to distract. But now we're dealing with knowing that the baby would be alive when born. Yes, with complications and NICU time and all of that, but alive. These next 10+ weeks are going to c-r-a-w-l.

And quite possibly the greatest difference is dealing with my currently alive and well and high-maintenance toddler. He knows something is up and he's none-to-happy about the changes. He's been ultra clingy and mom-obsessed for the last couple weeks (a huge shift from not saying my name at all and choosing Daddy every time. Sort of love it and sort of hate it). Going upstairs for bath with Dad and without mom is equivalent to me abandoning him. At least that's what his shrieks and cries are telling me. It's heartbreaking. If I ask him where the baby is, he touches my belly. But really, he's never been around an infant so I have no idea if he even knows a baby from a bumble bee. Something tells me the transition to two living (gah) is not going to be a walk in the park. Not that anything ever has been. But just thinking that I might get to keep two of my babies would be worth the sleepless nights and endless tantrums.

We press on. Keep hopeful.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Maryland Grandparents Visit Chicago

Benjamin has seen so much grandparent love this past month. Lucky boy! Good thing, because when he opens the family photo album I made him of all the people who love him, he always stops at the pages with both his grandmas and does a little whiney grunt like where are they? It's adorably pathetic and totally sad. Benjamin wishes his grandparents were closer, too.

But, he is quite a lucky boy to see them as frequently as he does! Benjamin's Maryland grandparents were here for a long weekend and we not only got another date night without the bambino (praise JESUS and thank you Thai restaurant for some of the best Thai we've ever had!), but Benjamin got lots of quality time pulling his grandparents wherever he wanted all weekend long. Kid heaven.

We visited Fermilab out in Batavia, IL and an awesome pumpkin patch where we pet lots of animals, ate lots of delicious fried delicacies like cider and pumpkin donuts and funnel cake, went for B's third hayride on a "kuck" which is really a tractor (he loves them) and picked pumpkins that we later carved and made pumpkin seeds from. We also suited Benjamin up in his scarecrow costume for the first (of three) times for our church's trunk'n'treat and pumpkin drop where Benjamin (and his grandpa) scored some treats and checked out some cool decorated trunks.

At Abbey Farms. This child loves petting zoos and anything he can hang from.
At Fermilab and back at home carving pumpkins. His face says it all-- he was not sticking his hand in the gooey pumpkin and happily directed us to put the contents in a bowl. This kiddo is not a fan of getting his hands covered in anything.
More photos from the Farm. They had old Radio Flyers and Benjamin enjoyed being toted around in them.
A mix of park pictures and the trunk'n'treat. More hanging from things-- these ziplines are a serious favorite.
Our adorable scarecrow, his grandparents, and our friend's daughter in that last photo. She's part of a train that her brother chose and designed.
And here are photos of the seeds we made (soy sauce/olive oil & butter/cinnamon/sugar) and the pumpkins Benjamin's grandpa and dad carved out for him! He also discovered the treats Mom pulled out for the trick-or-treaters when he woke from his nap on Halloween and promptly figured a way to get himself one of those "deets" and repeated the word for HOURS. He was sad when the trick-or-treaters knocked on the door and then promptly left. He loves people and doesn't like it when people go "bye-bye".
...and with that... Halloween is complete. Now what to do with those two rotting pumpkins on our doorstep...