Thursday, October 24, 2013

What a week!

     Okay, okay.  So maybe I failed at the posting every day thing.  At least I posted more than I have for the last year, right?
     This week has been kind of crazy.  We had Louise's birthday party on Saturday (actual birthday on Sunday) at a park here in Evanston and it was freezing!  We figured we'd be safe to have it outside because we had been to that park days before and it was beautiful.  How wrong we were.  It was still fun for Louise to play with some of her friends from the ward, though.  Then we had cupcakes, opened gifts, went home and, after much deliberation, decided to open the rest of her presents.  She was kind of thrown off and grumpy all day, not used to having so much attention on her, so we decided we didn't really want to stretch it out into two days like we originally planned.  She's had a blast with her toys.  As I think I may have mentioned before, we got her a play kitchen for her main gift, her Nana (Justin's mom) got her a bunch of food, and my parents gave her some pots and pans and utensils to go with it.  My sister gave her Finding Nemo, possibly her favorite movie (and possibly the only one she's seen...).  She was so excited when she opened it, she just giggled. :)  And we got her a Tinkerbell doll and a wooden/magnetic paper doll.  We put her kitchen on the other side of the breakfast bar, so it's been so fun to see her play with the kitchen while we're in our kitchen.
     On Monday Justin had a phone call with the head of admissions at the University of Utah medical school.  We had been tossing around the idea of moving home for Justin to complete his premed classes, but we thought that for him to have the best chance of getting in to the UofU, the Northwestern name would be a big deal.  Bigger than Dixie, anyway.  Turns out it doesn't really matter all that much where you complete the courses, just that you do.  The man Justin talked to said the experiences and what you learn from them matter a lot more than big names and things, and that there's an independent program in southern Utah affiliated with SUU and DSU to help potential med students get needed and beneficial experiences that has a really great reputation and acceptance rate into medical school.  We wondered if it was all a little too good to be true, so we called our parents and talked it over, hoping that if there was a flaw in the plan, somebody would see it.  They couldn't come up with anything, either.  Needless to say, we're pretty stoked.  Chicago's great and all, but Dixie, here we come (now that we've decided to make more of an effort to be happy here...)!  In May...
     Then Monday night/Tuesday morning at 2 I was awakened by the sound of the fire alarm.  I waited for a minute, waiting for Justin to do something, then realized he was still asleep.  I woke him up and we got up.  In my house growing up, the alarms all went off when the batteries died, so my first instinct was to turn the dang things off before they woke up the neighbors and we got fined or something.  When that didn't work we decided we had better throw on some clothes and go get Louise, who miraculously hadn't woken up.  While I was getting her Justin poked his head out the door to see if he could see anything or anyone.  One of our neighbors saw him and ran into our apartment panicking about how he was trying to get out.  Poor guy.  I think he has anxiety problems as it is.  Anyway, we grabbed a disoriented Louise and all of us booked it down 7 flights of stairs in our pajamas and bare feet to join the rest of our complex in the courtyard.  Thanks to adrenaline I had no trouble at all with SPD pain running down the stairs (later that day I could barely walk, though).  We ended up going into the lobby of one of the other buildings to wait since it was so cold.  Most of the others at least had the sense to grab coats and shoes.  I guess we figured that since we were on the top floor and had already taken more time than we should have, we'd better just get a move on.  Nobody really had any idea what was going on.  Somebody said they had seen smoke on the 5th floor.  We only ended up being out there for about 45 minutes before they firemen told us we could go back in.  No fire.  On our way into the elevator, we passed some policemen interrogating a man from the 5th floor with no shoes on, and when we got up to our floor we saw his flip flops in the hall and a broken alcohol glass with blood on the wall.  A policewoman assured us all was well, so we went in to our apartment and locked the door, feeling our tightly wrapped security blanket fall off a little bit.  We got Louise back to sleep with surprisingly little trouble, then went to bed.  It took us a little (okay, a lot) longer to get back to sleep.  Justin kept playing different home invasion scenarios in his mind and I kept thinking about the fact that I'd FINALLY met some of our neighbors (side note: out of everyone that lives in this building, 7 floors with 8-10 apartments on each, there are only 3 other children.  4 total).  After we finally drifted off we were awakened again by the fire alarm at 6.  We were a little quicker this time, and actually got shoes, but as we were going to get Louise they turned off.  Again, miraculously, she didn't wake up.  Later that morning we found out that the man had been drunk and vandalized the building with the fire extinguishers on a few floors and had been arrested.  I'm still not sure what he was doing on our floor, though.  Crazy night.
     As I said, I could barely walk when we finally got up that morning, the pain was so excruciating, so Justin stayed home from his internship to help.  We were still super excited about the idea of moving home, so we were talking about it a lot that day and at some point it occurred to me that maybe I could go to cosmetology school while we were there.  I've always wanted to be a beautician.  I looked into it a little and made some calls.  After talking to all 4 cosmetology schools in St. George I pretty much settled on one.   It has a part time program that lasts two years, but the schedule would be such that I could be home with my girls all day, then go to class in the evening when Justin is home studying anyway, only missing about an hour of Louise and Cora's waking time 4 days a week.  After hearing that, I kind of decided I couldn't do it, but Justin said that he would support me 100%.  He said that it would be a really good example to our kids for a number of reasons.  So I started thinking more and more about it.  I cried at the thought of missing bedtime a few days a week.  I've only missed 2 bedtimes in Louise's entire life.  But, although it will be hard - extremely hard some days - and I'm sure sometimes I won't want to go, I really think this is the time to do it.  I think it will be very worth it.  It's always been my dream, and I won't really have another chance for 13 years.  This way, I can work out of my home to help us through medical school and I'll be one step closer to becoming an image consultant, if that's what I choose.  After making the tentative decision, I got super excited.  Elated, even.  It's almost all I can think about now.  Well, that and getting to meet little Cora Dixie in 2 months. :)  It feels so right and so perfect.  I think it may be one of the reasons we're being able to move home.  Too bad I have to wait 7 months to start.
     Then Wednesday we had Louise's 2 year check up.  It went well.  Louise is doing wonderfully developmentally and physically.  As far as percentages go, she's in the 92% for weight and off the charts for height. :)  Like father, like daughter.
     Like I said, it's been a crazy week.    

Friday, October 18, 2013

Committing Marriage-Part 2 of 2

I shared last time, in nearly its entirety, ways in which I've been able to show and share my commitment to Claire through unity in our daily activities. It isn't anything that's going to win me any awards in the public view, but I certainly feel better about myself and about our marriage on those days when we are able to give a hard pull and pull together. I'm reminded of the analogy given by Elder Boyd K. Packer, a superb educator and an Apostle of The Lord Jesus Christ, of a team of oxen. They're not the most glamorous animal to be compared to, it is true. Yet, the principle that they teach is one so simple, and yet so vital and appropriate that I can't help but draw upon it.  There are competitions in more rural parts of this country, where teams of oxen are pitted in contests of strength, given the challenge to successfully move increasingly weighted sleds a predetermined distance.  Elder Packer, describing this event, tells of the impressive strength and sheer enormity of some of these teams. Being somewhere along the scale between a cow and a bison, it seems easy to understand his wonder. He makes clear, however, that the most successful teams are not always the biggest and most obviously strongest specimens. Instead, the deciding factor between victory and defeat has to do with the unity of the animals as a team, often referred to simply as a yoke of oxen. The yoke is the large wooden harness, often carved from a single beam and custom-fitted to each individual animal. Unity is exhibited in the ability of the oxen to pull together simultaneously, as well as equal in strength. There is no room for either superstars or freeloaders in this arrangement. Because the yoke is a single piece for both, if both animals fail to push in balance of timing and strength, the late or shirking animal is thrown to its knees, bringing the other with it. 

I'm reminded of a random chick-flick where the protagonist makes the mistake of comparing his beloved to his horse's flanks or something similar, giving deep hurt and offense to his intended, in spite of his good intent and adoration. I hope that Claire will forgive me, for comparing the both of us to oxen. I must say, at this point, that Claire is my perfect match, perfectly completing my yoke. She matches me, pull for pull, in everything I do. In the past several months, I've been trying much harder to step into my role as the Priesthood holder in our home, trying to initiate family prayers, scripture study, home evenings, and all the rest of the things that we, as members of the Chirch of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, have been counseled to do in order to strengthen our family.  She supports me and sustains me through each initiation and decision. Our family has been so richly blessed because she is supportive of what I am trying to do.  

To a much more visible degree, Claire supports and lends her strength and labor to my goals as a provider and a professional.  I've decided, in the past two-and-a-half years, that I want to become a pediatrician. More than that, I want to become a triple-boarded pediatrician, meaning that I'll be board certified in Pediatrics, General Psychiatry, and Adolescent and Child Psychiatry.  It gets worse. I've also recently decided that I'm very interested in a combined MD/PhD program. Are you impressed with Claire's patience and dedication yet?  If not, let me break down what that means for us, in terms of time investment. 

I have another year yet until I complete my Masters degree here at Erikson. In that time, I need to also take a course each in College Algebra and General Biology. These prerequisites will enable me to get into the certificate program, ideally a year-long program, that will give me the necessary background in the hard sciences to perform well on the MCAT and apply to medical school.  Medical school is typically a four-year experience, but an MD/PhD program doubles that, adding four years of doctoral study in Neuroscience between Medical years 2 & 3. Eight years of medical study later, I'll be ready to move on to my residency. For General Pediatrics, this represents a three-year commitment to hands-on practice and learning; with the Triple-Board program I've got my eye on, it represents five.  15 years from now, I'll ideally be ready to practice. The only upside to all this is that, in the MD/PhD program, all tuition is waived and they provide a small living stipend, which means minimal student loan debt. A very thin silver lining to this immense and totally elective thunderhead brewing over our family's collective head. 

My point in detailing these plans is this: if Claire had any slightly different attitude about our marriage, our role as a team, and what that means for us in living our daily lives, this would not even be something I would have remotely ever considered.  There have been numerous conversations where I've wanted to look figuratively behind me at the load I've elected to move and say, "It's too big, I can't move it, and were both going to die trying for my foolishness."  It's been these same times that Claire takes opportunity to calmly and serenely whisper encouragement and reassurance to my troubled dumb-ox mind.  It's been due to her attitude of, "We CAN do this. It will take both of us, and it will certainly be no walk in the park, but together, we can move this load, and we can be the better for it."  My only consolation in undertaking this load is to know that there will come a day that we successfully reach the end-goal, and we will most definitely be the stronger for it. At that point, our sled will be empty again, and Claire can load it with whatever it is that she wishes at that point, and the process can begin again. 

My last words of this post will be this:  marriage is about commitment and unity. In purpose, in desire, in faith and in tenacity, we must be united. I thank The Lord that I have been blessed with such an incredible woman who is so committed to me, to our family, and to her testimony of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have been already and will continue to be richly blessed, because we share such unified opinion and intent in our marriage. We will give a long pull, a strong pull, and we will pull together. This is our marriage. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Day (in a loose, Biblical sense) 9: Committing Marriage- Part 1 of 2

I find it gruesomely fascinating to consider the popular view of marriage portrayed in movies and the lives of celebrities today. There is often meticulous attention paid to the details of what should happen when the marriage fails. There is little to nothing said about the details of ensuring that it doesn't fail. For some reason, the former perspective is regarded as being more practical or realistic than the latter. This post is to offer my humble perspective on this matter, in the form of my personal experience. 

I believe there are some who may have formed an unrealistic picture of my wife and what she chooses to accomplish in the course of a day, based on my previous posts. However, lest any come to resent her for seeming to accomplish more than is possible to the everyday woman, she is the first to confess her own imperfections and shortcomings. I must, however, preface my following words by saying first that I discussed the possible content of this post with Claire, and she supported it entirely. That being said, let me make clear a point that may not have been explicit in the previous posts. The experiences and examples that I gave of Claire are what she chooses to spend the majority of her time doing. They were not the accidental outcome of a random intersection of a mother-daughter dyad. Those practices and characteristics are conscious choices. As with all choices, there are consequences; in economics, they call it opportunity cost. It is the value of your forgone next-best-choice. For us, this has meant that meals are sometimes later than intended, dishes often pile up, and our house looks happily lived in. I'll be quick to say that this is not a criticism, nor is it a suggestion. It is, first and foremost, an opportunity. Not for Claire to become a better multi-tasker. Not for her to improve her prowess and acclaim as a mother by doing more in less time. No, this opportunity belongs to me. 

Reality is not what was portrayed in the 50's: there is no mother who cleans house in heels and pearls, laying out robe, pipe, paper, and slippers for her returning husband. (I wouldn't mind a pipe; I think they exude class and credibility. Mine would have to be custom, though. Maybe outfitted to blow bubbles...)  Claire is no exception. She is an exceptional mother.  In my opinion, the best I've ever seen. This does mean that there are some things which she does not have time to do in the course of her day. Enter me. I have my own apron. Not the flimsy, once-a-year "kiss the cook" variety for the annual outside barbecue where testosterone runs rampant. No, mine is sturdy, thick material, and is very familiar with much use. On days when Claire hasn't been able to fit in all that she wanted to, we dig in together to make things happen. It drives our little girl a bit crazy, to have us both working to clean up the house; she's very particular about her messes. I've seen her return an unused potty chair to the same spot on the floor repeatedly.  However, I think it is good for her to see both of her parents working together to accomplish a goal they both find desirable. We both enjoy a clean house. And it takes both of us, oftentimes, to keep it so. 

My point here is not to point out what a superb husband I am. Anyone who knows me knows the real truth to that, and those who don't, I assure you, I'm as flawed as they come. The point I wish to make is that setting and then achieving worthwhile goals for either or both parents is a joint venture. There is no way nor wisdom to go it alone in an institution initiated with the intent to have two become one.  I wonder if this isn't why marriages today so often fail. Marriage isn't a strategic pooling of assets to gain financial or social advantage. It's an expression of commitment to a person and an ideal. It means that, as couples take the time to counsel together and come to a decision on what is important to both of them, it becomes a joint goal and responsibility to assist the other person in achieving their goal. It's been said that we come to love those we serve. What better way to increase in love for someone than by helping them achieve their greatest potential and dream? 

It is ironic that, at this point, I must leave the telling of the other half of the story, the story of my better half's service to me, for tomorrow. Stay tuned; it makes my measly efforts look as significant as taking the lid off a pen. 

End of part 1.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Day 8 (sort of)

So much for "every day for a month," eh?  Oops.  Oh well.  I'm not going to give in to the OCD side of me that says to quit since I've already blown it.  I'm going to just carry on and pretend it never happened. :)
Justin made me sit down while he does the dishes this evening, and when I argued that he's just as tired as I am he said that's not true because he's not making life.  I thought it was usually the wife using that excuse?  He really is the most thoughtful, kind man I've ever encountered.
We were talking about how active Louise is last night and marveling over how easy she is.  Seems like an oxymoron, doesn't it?  Justin mentioned that by todays classification system, she would be deemed a difficult child because she's so incredibly active.  Always bouncing from one thing to the next, never sitting still for anything except books.  She's definitely a challenge to keep up with and keep occupied, but really is the easiest baby.  There's another oxymoron for you.  I wouldn't change a thing.  "Intense children grow up to be intense adults."  I've never known a more polite 2 year-old, and she's been saying please and thank you unprompted since she was 18 months.  Now she even says sorry when she bumps something or drops something on you or thinks she's hurt or inconvenienced you in any way.  She's pretty good at listening, not always minding, but what 2 year-old is?  She goes to sleep every night at 6:30 or 7 and sleeps solidly until 8 or 8:30 in the morning, and still takes a solid 2 to 2.5 hour nap every afternoon.  She's the happiest child.  She LOVES to dance, thanks to those good Nuckles genes.  I adore how uninhibited she is. :)  In nursery she never gets upset or offended when another kid pushes her or takes her toys, just stares at them in confusion.  She's so friendly to everyone she encounters and frequently says 'I love you' to people in the store.  At the library the other day there was a mother reading a book to her daughter on her lap and Louise just trotted over and plopped on her lap, too.  We're just so grateful for her and the joy that she is in our lives, and grateful that we've been entrusted to be her parents.  We're so excited to see what new dynamic little Cora brings to our family. :)  That's enough for tonight.  Time for some Doctor Who.
Louise with the random lady at the library.

She found some goggles and wouldn't let them out of her sight for a couple days.

This is one of her recent favorite dance moves. :)

Hard at play.

She asked me to take this picture. :)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Day 7: The Art of Being a Mother- Part 2 of 2

Selfless: I've never seen an example in selflessness to compare with the mother of my children.  She is so incredibly capable and wonderful; she would excel at anything that she decided to set her mind to.  In almost any other pursuit that she could have chosen, there would be accolades and honors, praises and promotions to accompany and recognize her hard work and sacrifice.  Instead, she's chosen to work full-time in a setting that many today openly ridicule and belittle.  Rather than take a position outside the home, she has elected to raise our children herself, all day, every day.  There's no paid time off, a sick day is just that: a day where she's sick.  Incentive programs consist of hugs, kisses, and sticky fingers reciprocating her handholding.  Benefits are few and far between, and pay... let's face it: the ledger is nearly always in the red.  From a purely pragmatic standpoint, it's a nightmare: it makes no sense.  And yet, I've never been so happy and content as when I get to watch and participate in this endeavor in action.  My wife has expressed to me numerous times just how grateful and selfish she feels, getting to stay home with our children.  Each time, I think how incredibly grateful I am, that she feels that way.  There is nowhere else she would rather be.  I can see it in every decision she makes through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year, as Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are, 1963) put it.  She chooses motherhood.  It's so incredibly evident, as I look for it.  It's not as if she is a social recluse who has no friends, seeking social fulfillment in her children.  On the contrary, she makes great effort in ensuring that she has friends, takes time for herself, and keeps doing other things that she enjoys.  I think she knows that by doing these things, she refreshes her outlook, renews her dedication, and rejuvenates her passion for being a mother.  I can see it in the last look she always gives us as she closes the door as she heads out; her eyes say that she's taking time for herself, but she lives her life for her children.  I'm certainly a beneficiary.  I'm the luckiest man alive.  

Playful:  A child's work is play.  No matter the context, the time, or even the species, the young utilize play as the primary method of learning who and what they'll become as they grow up.  I'm infinitely grateful for my wife: she takes her role seriously enough that she plays with our children.  It's certainly the longer and more difficult road.  Anyone who has experience with children knows that it's so incredibly easy to turn on a television set, a video game, or a smartphone, and get hours of quiet, nearly-uninterrupted time to oneself.  It takes so much more effort to encourage and fully engage young children in play than merely providing them with a set of toys.  Young children are passionate little beings; they feel everything so fully and so completely.  To fully engage them in play often requires meeting them at an affective or emotional level.  This means that, for as long as my wife wants to really hold our toddler's interest, she acts as a reflector, mirroring our daughter's emotions and thereby her experience. Claire does it in such a way that our girl recognizes it as reflective of her own experience, yet it is different enough or "marked" enough that she realizes that Claire is not literally simultaneously sharing in her experience.  Imagine the comfort this affords, and also the anxiety and concern it also avoids.  To learn, through repeated and early experience, that your mother is capable of understanding minutely what you feel as you live life.  Simultaneously, to know that she is not consumed, upset, or even thrown off by the difficulties of your life; it's a precious gift, and one that every child deserves to receive.  A brief verbal description paints a vivid picture: my toddler is heaving around a bucket that's nearly as deep as she is tall.  She has an obsession with carrying anything that has a handle draped neatly over the crook of her elbow as a purse.  She also like to fill this receptacle, no matter its size, to capacity.  This leads to trouble more often than not.  This time can be no different.  She struts into the living room, the oversized bucket swinging wildly and empty, at this point, on her arm as she twirls and dips in a shaky yet exuberant dance.  "And you're dan-cing!"  You can hear the smile and the joy in my wife's voice, just as you can see it in the toddler's dance.  The grin and the loving eyes from my toddler tell Claire that she's painted an accurate picture.  A few moments later, the dance has ended, and the toddler is in the kitchen, emptying the measuring cup drawer into the bucket.  Unfortunately, the bucket is too large, and the contents too heavy for the toddler to lift when completely full.  She grunts and complains for a moment or two before stamping angrily and dissolving into cries and tears.  There's no mistaking the frustration and defeat in that little, passionate body.  "Is it just too heavy?"  There's still a smile in the voice, but it's different somehow, communicating a sense of sadness and commiserating, rather than the ecstasy and enjoyment that were evident earlier.  Claire strikes a delicate balance.  Too little emotional involvement tells the child that her experience is irrelevant and unimportant.  Too much tells her that it is shared and experienced identically by everyone and everything around her, and is therefore to be feared and avoided.  I am so grateful for the fact that my wife chooses to be playful.  

Trusting:  Last of all, my wife is trusting.  It is not always so, but I try to make myself available and present with my family as often as I possibly can.  It may seem laughable, but, on the far side of a Master's degree in Child Development, and a certificate in Infant Parent Mental Health, I have yet to feel like I am Claire's equal in my capacity as a parent.  In spite of my awkwardness, my bumbling, and my inability, Claire chooses to trust me.  She trusts me as a father, and as a parent.  She takes the time to share with me her ideas, thoughts, and impressions, then takes equal time to listen to my own.  She sees and treats me as an equal in our cooperative role as parents.  When she decides to go out, she doesn't ask me to babysit: she expects me to parent.  I've been fortunate enough to be blessed with a wife and mother of my children who trusts me enough to include me in not only the decisions to be made, but the acts and service to be rendered as a full-time parent of young children.  

I'm so incredibly blessed.  I could not have asked for a better woman, or a better mother for my children.  She may not act like every woman thinks a successful woman in the 2010's acts, but she's everything I've ever wanted or wished for in a woman.  I'm privileged to know her, better for loving her, and blessed to be married to her.  

End of Part 2

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Day 6: The Art of Being a Mother- Part 1 of 2

There's something to be said for the iPhone.  For all my protest and raving against it, I have no choice but to admit that never before, in the history of humankind, has it been so simple to capture the magic of a single precious moment.  Unfortunately, the camera has to be pointed at you in order for this to take place.  Historically, and some would argue anciently, this was accomplished by asking a random stranger to take a photo of you and yours, so that you might be a recognized participant in the moment, rather than merely the ghostly suggestion and absent presence of the mysterious photographer.  No more is this the case: the "selfie", for good or for ill, is apparently here to stay.  But what about those among us who choose not to engage in the now commonplace practice?  Does this mean that there are whole worlds of interactions, moments, and experiences that are left unshared by the rest of the world?  Can this really be the case?  It is, and I, for one, feel that it's exactly the way things should be.

My only misgiving is that, the above being true, I have little by way of visual evidence to lend credence to the following words.  This is not an apology.  There would be very little to see, in any case.  What I'm about to share is not the sort of thing that makes headlines and garners great attention.  In fact, quite the opposite, I believe it's all too easy to shrug off and leave, forgotten, lying in some corner of our consciousness.  The point to which I wish to speak is the art of being a mother.

Being a man, myself, I have no experience, no qualifications, no credentials that give me authority to say with conviction what others should or should not do in fulfilling this most catalytic role.  What I offer instead are observations, brief summaries of thousands of hours of watching and studying one single mother, throughout a thousand points of time and interaction, developing in skill and ability.  I wish to share, in words, a few moments that have not been captured by camera, but only by my own eyes.  Reflecting now, I realize that, having done the capturing myself, rather than capturing the moments on camera, in capturing I have become captivated; acting as captor, I have become the captive, and this not unwilling.

Patience: It seems to me that all mothers must, of necessity, be saints.  Like Job, my wife is dealt trials and tribulations that are awesome and terrible in their scope.  First, she is married to me.  Lest this be misconstrued, let me explain: she has had to endure the constant waffling, crest to trough, in-again out-again, back-and-forth method of "decision-making" that makes up my life.  She has done so with a steadiness of faith, conviction, and all-around cheerfulness that has been the tiller and sails to my little boat of dreams.  It's a wonder she hasn't been seasick.  Though, maybe we don't call it seasickness; maybe we call it morning sickness.  Goodness knows there's been enough of that.  Still, she endures it without complaint, asking merely for some company and mild assistance, throughout it all.  Twice now, and, by her own admission, more times in the future, she has and will continue to endure it with patience I could only ever hope to have.  Also, if you know nothing else about toddlers, know only this: repetition is learning, messes are productivity, and stubbornness is growth.  A mother must have patience.

Tenacity:  If I learn no other lesson from my wife, I will have learned this: the answer to the question never asked is most certainly "No".  A mother is an advocate, from the first moment of birth.  A wise man once said that with the birth of a child, comes also the birth of a mother.  From that first wonderful cry, the child stands or falls on the ability of her mother to meet her needs.  Nowhere have I seen such passionate pursuance of necessity and nicety as in the meeting of a child's needs, real or imagined, by a mother.  My Claire is nothing if not tenacious.  In Chicago, the popular opinion is that children, from the earliest time possible, should be in preschool programs.  In almost every interaction with mothers, professionals, or peers, she is constantly bombarded and beleaguered as to when and where she'll be enrolling our daughter.  Claire's desire has always been to stay home and be with our children herself; she's expressed that she would feel jealous of any other person who got to be with and care for our children day in and day out.  She never thought that this decision was one that she would find herself fighting for.  And yet, she's waded into the fray unwaveringly, never swaying in her decision or her conviction.  She is nothing if not tenacious.

Repair:  Life is not always rainbows and butterflies: conflict is real and normative.  However, being a mother requires the skillful navigation both into and out of troubled waters.  Setting limits with an almost-two-year-old can be exhausting, difficult, and not without casualties, for reasons mentioned above.  I've watched my wife set limits with our daughter that were met with bouts of literal kicking and screaming.  Through this, Claire manages to remain calm and firm; see both of the previous traits.  When the tantrum is over, however, I have never seen Claire fail to take the opportunity to reach out in love and care for our little girl, and that little girl equally reaches out in love and appreciation for the constancy that is in her mother's capacity to love her, no matter how she acts.  It is through the experience of conflict and disorganization that we rise to higher levels of complexity and organization.  In relationships, this directly applies to love.  The more my daughter sees her mother stay available and adoring no matter how terrible her own experience of anger or frustration, the deeper she will come to love Claire for her constancy.  This does not happen on its own.  I have watched time and time again as Claire creates the opportunity for repair to take place.  It's her responsibility to create, not to coerce: the ultimate decision must be our daughter's.  Rupture in relationships is a certainty.  So too, should repair be.  Let us not forget that after rain, come the rainbows, and after the cocoon, which seems wholly devoid of life, come the butterflies.

End of Part 1

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Day 5

This is a sight we happen upon quite regularly in our home.  Almost daily, Louise will disappear into her room for about 5 minutes before we notice that she's being awfully quiet.  We peek in and she's either sprawled on the floor looking at books or sitting in her window with books all around, just perusing the pages.  I absolutely adore it.  She'll sit there for 15 to 20 minutes alone with her books.  If she notices us peeking she'll gesture for us to come sit by her and she'll hand us our own book, not to read to her, but to read to ourselves while she reads. :)  I love it.
Notice the ever-present blankie and binkie.  Her "neenees."


Monday, September 23, 2013

Day 4: Bam.

     Well, I've done it 4 days in a row, even if they were pointless, disjointed posts.  I've got to hurry and get this one out of the way because last night I fell asleep in my clothes on top of my covers at like 8:45 because I was so tired, and tonight feels a lot like that.  Justin and I haven't gotten our Doctor Who in about 4 days, so I need to make sure I leave enough time for at least an episode. :)
     Today I had a doctors appointment (what is the proper way to say that? Doctor appointment?).  It's my 2nd ever for this pregnancy (long story, stupid Illinois insurance), and I was kind of looking forward to it for two reasons: 1. I like to know everything is going ok, especially since I waited so long to go to the doctor in the first place and 2. because I was really looking forward to some help with this pain.  I was utterly disappointed.  I made the mistake of bringing Justin and Louise with me because Justin couldn't come last time and wanted to hear the heartbeat and I thought Louise would enjoy hearing it, too and getting to see the doctors and play in the waiting area with the other kids and stuff.  Well, she would have, but by the time we got to see anyone we had been there for 2 hours and she was done.  Poor thing.  I don't understand it, but they have a "No food or drink" sign in the waiting area.  How can they expect pregnant ladies and children to wait for 2 hours without anything to eat or drink? I ignored the sign after the first hour.  Then when we finally got back to see the midwife (I decided to go with a midwife because I had heard that you would get more personal care than with a doctor.  Maybe in Utah) she and the student midwife asked some questions about my history and if I had an epidural with my last birth.  I told them yes, and that I was planning on it again.  They asked some more questions and I mentioned that I have a really high pain tolerance and the contractions before I went to the hospital never actually hurt, they were just really close together, so we went.  They clarified that I had a really high pain tolerance, but still had an epidural.  When I said yes, they exchanged looks and mutters, obviously judging me.  Then I brought up that I'm 99% sure I have SPD she didn't even check or ask questions or say anything compassionate or anything, just typed on her computer and gave me a referral to physical therapy.  She said they'd figure it out there.  Then she left to get some papers on hospital tours and the student measured my stomach and listened to the heartbeat.  While we waited for the midwife, the student, in an effort Louise kept showing her her instruments and lotion, then snatching it away when she reached for it, leaving a confused and frustrated 2 year-old.  The midwife came back, asked what the numbers were and that was that.  We were done.  Two hours of waiting for a 5 minute appointment.  They didn't even mention the baby, or really even the fact that I'm pregnant.  They simply couldn't have cared less.  With Louise, regardless of if I saw Dr. Lunt, the other doctor, or the midwife, they would always tell me what was going on with the baby developmentally, what I might expect that month, ask about my well being and family, they really cared, or at least pretended to.
     There's my rant for the day. :)  I feel better now.      

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Day 3:

     Whew!  Three days in a row!  This is going to be difficult for me, I can tell already.  I just can't think of anything to say.
     Sundays are hard with kids, there's no two ways 'bout it.  There's no convenient time for a nap, they have to be quiet and still for a whole hour in the same room, you get home from church late, which puts dinner late and their whole routine is thrown off.  Today for some reason, it was particularly hard for Louise.  She's grown particularly fond of her friend Riley's mom, Callie, and when she came to take Riley home from nursery Louise had a full on melt down.  Not the mad, stubborn kind, but the heart broken, gut wrenching kind.  I've never seen her fall apart quite like that.  It was adorable in a very sad way.  I guess we need to have more play dates. :)      

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Day 2: My incredible find

     Today I'm feeling especially grateful for Justin.  You know how you just have those days every once in a while?  You know the're grateful for them and you love them all the time, but some days, for no particular reason, you just feel overwhelmed by how much you love them?  Well, today is one of those days.  :)
     Even the prospect of trying to write about him is overwhelming because there's just so much.  I don't know where to begin.  I'll try anyway.  Maybe I'll talk about just today.
     This was the only day all week where he didn't have to get up early for something, but he still got up at 7 and did his morning scripture study, and then when Louise woke up around 8 he went in and got her, being careful not to wake me up through all of this.  Of course, since I'm pregnant and uncomfortable, I was awake anyway, but I was just so grateful.  Then when Louise ran in to greet me and I needed to get up he came in and carefully swung my legs out of bed for me. :)  This sounds fairly odd, I'm sure, but for the last few weeks I've been struggling increasingly with SPD (symphysis pubis dysfunction), which means it's excruciatingly painful to move in any way that my hips aren't perfectly aligned, getting in and out of bed being one of those.  Then we (mostly he, I was just there for moral support) made french toast while he held 23 month-old Louise in the Ergo because she needed a little extra cuddling this morning and we had breakfast as a family.  Today was a day where we didn't really have any pressing plans until the evening, so we kind of just played around all day.  I love days like this because I feel like it's so much easier to be a good parent when you're not in a hurry and you don't have to be anywhere.  You have time to actually let your child stop and smell the roses and perhaps even investigate a few along the way.  I feel like Louise learns so much and makes so many connections when she is left to explore in her own way.  We played in the covers of our bed for a while, read some books, played with Louise's kitchen, then Louise took a nap.
     During her nap Justin and I read from a book called Einstein Never Used Flashcards (a fantastic book that I highly recommend to all parents) and had a great discussion about how we're doing with our parenting.  One thing I've come to realize and feel so blessed for in the last few months is just how much of a hand Heavenly Father had in our courtship and marriage.  Justin and I didn't really talk about anything important before we got married.  We just kind of knew we liked each other a lot, then knew we were supposed to get married.  We never discussed where we wanted to live after we grew up, what kind of parents we wanted to be, when we wanted to be parents, how we wanted to raise our family, how we wanted to live financially, nothing.  I realize now how lucky I am to have found him.  He's truly one in a million.  There's no way I could have been even remotely this happy with anyone else.  We agree on everything important, without even having to discuss it first.  The main thing I'm grateful for is our parenting.  Our style isn't exactly typical, in fact, I would venture to say it's fairly uncommon, especially in a big city like this one.  I won't get into the specifics now, I'll just say we're pretty modern in an old-school way when it comes to a lot of developmental things (keep in mind, he is getting his masters degree in child development from the top child development school in the country.  We're bound to learn some things along the way).  Besides all of that, I'm just so grateful for the kind of father he is.  We're truly equal partners.  He's masculine, but not macho.  He's not afraid to be a goof ball and play with his daughter.  He's tender, sensitive, and emotional with her, even in public.  He leaves Louise and I with no doubt in our minds that we are his #1 priority.  I feel so bad every day because I know how much he longs to be able to stay home with us, yet he goes to work and school anyway so that I can be home with our child.  He loves being a father and playing with Louise as much as I love being a mother.  Louise adores him.
     I'm just so grateful for everything Justin does for us.  He's truly my best friend, and I love him more every day.  Living here alone in Chicago, we've really had to learn to depend and rely on each other, which is a beautiful thing.  I'm so blessed to have found him.  This post can't do him justice, but it's an attempt.  He's the most wonderful man I've ever known, much like my own father.      


Friday, September 20, 2013

Accepting the Challenge

     Justin's cousin mentioned on Instagram that this time last year she took on the challenge of writing a blog post every day for a month, even if it was just a sentence or two.  She said she was really grateful that she did it because of all the special moments of her sons life she had recorded and she's doing it again this year, so I decided to do the same thing.  Our blog has really been suffering as we've become more and more busy with an active toddler, school, work, moving, traveling, pregnancy, and everything else that comes up in every day life.  Here goes:
     By way of a quick bit of catch up...we moved and couldn't be happier about it, we're having a girl in December, we went home to Utah for a month, Louise's vocabulary has exploded in the last few weeks, and Justin is doing extremely well with school and everything.  More on all of that later.
     Firstly, our move.  We moved at the end of April, and are 100x happier with our apartment than we were with our last.  Especially with me being pregnant.  Being sick in a clean apartment is so much more pleasant than a dirty one and having an elevator is magnificent.  I'm so grateful to have laundry units in our apartment, and I have a feeling I'll be even more grateful once the baby comes and we have even more washing. :)  I'm so happy at the prospect of parking in a garage and not having to shovel the car out of the snow when it comes time to have the baby or when I'm trying to corral a toddler and carry a newborn.  Also, our utility bills have been astronomically lower.  That being said, for the first several months here we didn't do a whole lot of decorating or even finish the unpacking completely.  I think we were resisting the idea of being here for so long when we so ardently wanted to be in So. Utah with our families.  We finally decided that for our own sanity we needed to go home, so we booked our flights and Louise and I flew out, joined by Justin two weeks later.  That trip was just plain good for our souls.  We felt like the city was choking us and the wide open spaces were just what we needed for a quick pick-me-up.  We resolved while there to make a more concerted effort to be happy here in Chicago.  To make our house feel more like home, or at least a home away from home, and to make more of an effort to make friends.  Over the first few weeks when we got back we finished unpacking, hung all of our pictures, bought and hung some curtains, moved our bed to a place where I could actually make the bed, hung a lamp and some mirrors, hung a copy of The Family: A Proclamation to the World, and framed and hung our crowning purchase: a gorgeous print of the St. George temple.  We decided that we needed our home to feel more spiritual and to be surrounded by heavenly things, so we wanted to invest in a beautiful piece that would bring a nice spirit into our home for years to come.  My brother's friend Phill Monson posted a picture he took of the temple during monsoon season on Facebook a few months ago that we loved and bought.
     To make a long story longer, we feel much more at home in our home.  It also helps that I've been feeling a little better and have been able to keep up with the housework more.  Life is good.  Really good. :)

This picture portrays the emotions we felt at finally being home much better than any words I could say. :)

This is the picture by Phill Monson.  So gorgeous.  We love it.

This is the only picture from the ultrasound that actually resembles a baby.  Sort of, anyway.  I think she's sucking her thumb.  It's a girl. :)  Cora Dixie.

Louise Facetiming with Grandma and Grandpa and giving them "bites."

My new curtains.

Our picture wall.  Ignore the one that still says Merry Christmas.

Louise and her bestie Riley reading.

Louise is a little obsessed with shoes, regardless of size or fit.

25 weeks.  Sorry about the look of concentration, those belly shots are hard!

Doesn't she just look elated?  This is what we got her for her October. :)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Art of Appreciation

I always found it slightly humorous that if your group is large enough at a sit-down restaurant, they tack on a fee and call it "gratuity".  It's funny because I always think of the word gratitude, and it's just... funny.  "We know you're grateful 'cause we're awesome.  We'll just add it to your bill."  Slightly humorous, like I said.  (No idea if they're actually related.  Some of you English buffs [geeks is offensive], get on it.)

Anyway, this is going to be a little bit of me, "gratuitating".  (Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls!)  You'll find that Claire hasn't asked for any of this, I'm just kind of tacking it on, all unexpected and rude like. She can write an obnoxious review of my disservices later on "YelpTwitFace" thing later, if she wants.

I'm blessed with the most amazing family ever.  I don't even know where to begin on Claire.  As the Doctor to my Rose, the Jane to my Tarzan, and the Gandalf to my Bilbo... she expands my whole universe.  (Admit it: you thought I was taking that a different direction.)  She does things intuitively that are so brilliant, I'm just constantly in awe of her.  She's such a fantastic mother.  In my spare time, I'm trying to read big, dry books with titles like "Affect Regulation, Mentalization, and the Development of Self", and "The Neurobehavioral and Social-Emotional Development of Infants and Children".  This is heavy stuff; it's all very abstract and complex.  When I take something that I think I'm finally beginning to crack the code of and try explaining it to Claire, she listens politely and then just says, "Well, yeah.  That just makes sense."  That's really why I'm getting all of this education; I'm just trying to catch up.  "Wait for me, sweetheart!  I'll get it.  Give me ten years or so; I'm working on it."

She is the best mother I've ever had the pleasure of watching interact with her child.  She is so incredibly patient with Louise.  I've chosen a field where one of their mantra's is "All behavior is meaningful".  Claire lives it.  She just understands what Louise is trying to achieve, what she's trying to tell us with her actions.  It's awesome; Claire is so good at reflecting back to Louise what she's feeling that one of Louise's favorite words right now is simply, "Yeah."  Most of the time, Claire will reflect or wonder something about what Louise wants, and Louise will say, "yeah", and then grin, laugh, and dance because she's so excited that Claire "got it".  It's an absolute pleasure to watch; doing so is one of the simplest, greatest pleasures I am afforded in life.

Since being out here, just north of the heart of Chicago, I've really come to appreciate something else about Claire.  Child care out here almost seems mandatory.  Everybody I know does it, endorses, and pushes others to do it.  It's crazy; a very different world from the one that I grew up in.  In the midst of all this, and in a place where it's a virtual full-time job keeping a busy twenty-month-old little girl happily occupied all day, Claire does it and loves it.  She's incredible; I've had her, numerous times, tell me how bad she feels for me, because I don't get to stay home and be with Louise all day.  What sort of awesomeness is that?  I, for one, can't wait to get home when I get off of work, with that kind of attitude and positivity waiting for me!  She's the absolute best.

And then there's Louise.  I just don't know where this kid came from.  At twenty months old, she has a sense of comedic timing that would put the Three Stooges to shame!  Her latest and greatest is that, when I do something that she's not particularly fond of, yet not legitimately mad about, she'll pucker her lips, narrow her eyes to slits, and knit her eyebrows together in a scowl that would make the old guy on "UP" jealous.  Then, without skipping a beat, she'll just smile and laugh, as if she had just made the greatest joke ever.  I love this kid.  These days, she's also all about filling Mom's and Dad's shoes: literally.  She'll slide her feet into any empty pair that's lying about, as well as putting on a variety of hats, and putting anything with a handle in the crook of her elbow like a purse.  When we catch her unawares or startle her, her response lately is to laugh rapidly and drop flat to the ground, smiling.  She's also our resident social butterfly; every time we put her in the stroller for a walk, it's a constant, "Hi", with a wave, to every person who walks within view.  That's right, I said within view, not within earshot.  Sound waves don't matter a bit to this girl.

Finally, I'm really appreciating at this point the little one who is as of yet "To be determined".  It'll either be Cora Dixie or Eugene Kenneth, when we find out here in a few weeks.  We'll keep you posted.  Until then,

Hang Loose.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Yay for moving!/Louise update

     We're moving to another apartment in Evanston at the end of April and we can hardly wait.  It will be such a relief.  The new place has central heating and air (a huge plus!) so we'll pay a fraction of what we pay for utilities now, but we'll actually be comfortable, it has a washer and dryer in the unit, so no more trips down 3 flights of slippery stairs with laundry and a toddler to the coin operated laundry in the basement, it has a parking garage so we'll have a guaranteed space (no more parking blocks away), it's smaller which will also make it warmer in the winter, and best of all...IT'S CLEAN!  I'm so excited. :)
     We're just subletting the apartment we're in now, so we never really were planning on staying here for a long time, but after seeing it and living in it for 8 months we're definitely ready to move on.  This next apartment will be much more permanent.  We'll possibly be here in Chicago for at least 8 years.  Since this is a fairly permanent move for us (we'll be there longer than we've been anywhere else), I'm finally going to get to decorate.  I've got Louise's room all figured out, but I have no ideas for anything else.  For her room I'm going to paint all 4 walls aqua blue (so if our next child is a boy it will be ok), with a coral stencil over the top of one.  I'm going to paint her crib white or grey, find a dresser/changing table on Craigslist and paint it white or grey, find a storage cube organizer thing and paint it white, and all of the linens and accents will be coral.  I got some coral damask curtain from the '70s and some old aqua and coral floral fabric from my mom that I'm going to use.  I'll attach the inspiration pictures:

Except instead of the picture wall I want to do something like this:
This is the stencil I would do in coral:

Now for the fun stuff. :)
Louise is almost 17 months old.  She has the funnest big personality.  I originally wrote little, but her personality is anything but little. :)  
She has this sassy little walk where she pokes her adorable little tummy out and struts like she owns the place, which I guess she pretty much does.  
She babbles incessantly and looks at you expectantly like you should know exactly what she said and have an appropriate response.  
If you're doing anything besides giving her your undivided attention she will grab your hand (she's very particular about grabbing different fingers at different times and will adjust until she gets the finger she wants) and pull you up from your seat, across the room, until you're standing in front of the big mirror.  Then she'll proceed to grin and make funny faces at you in the mirror.  Or she'll stare at you and tilt her head like "what in the world could possibly be more important than entertaining this cute face?"  We love it. :)  
If you're in the kitchen or somewhere facing away from her and she wants your attention she'll pull and shove on your pants and legs hard until you're facing her, then she'll grab your hand and go to the mirror.  Or twirl.  Or reach up to be lifted.  
She is so expressive and such a good communicator.  We almost always know exactly what she wants.  
She LOVES dancing (totally a Nuckles thing) and dances no matter what kind of music is playing (and that chick has moves!).  
She can sign a few things, but she's learning to say words very quickly.  One of the first words she said was "ready?"  
She loves all fruits and vegetables and would eat only them for every meal if I'd let her.  
She absolutely loves to be outside, which is unfortunate since it's so cold and snowy out right now.  She always grabs the keys and stands by the front door looking at us expectantly.  
She is SO social.  When we go on walks we let her decide where we go and she just toddles around following and talking to dogs and people who cross our path (we never get far, but we walk a lot).  She yells "HI!!!" and waves at people and especially dogs from blocks away.
She's very into giving kisses (not on demand, however) and even says a dramatic "mmoowaaaaa" with each one.  She likes to give hugs, too, but then she doesn't want to seem overly affectionate, so she gives a loving shove afterward to ward off any rumors (see video below). 
She likes to stand in the windowsill and watch the passersby.  She gets really excited and laughs when dogs go by.  Every time daddy leaves she stands there and waves and blows kisses until he's out of sight.  Then she waves and blows kisses to everyone else. :)
She's very sensitive about when she thinks she has hurt other people's feelings or when she thinks she's being made fun of. 
She has 3 distinct cries: 
     (1) her "complain" cry, which isn't really a cry, just a...well, complaint. 
     (2) her "mad/offended" cry, which has furrowed eyebrows. 
     (3) her "embarrased/hurt feelings" cry.  This is the one that comes with the pouty lip.
She hates diaper changes.  Hates them.  I'm hoping this will improve when we get an actual changing table.    
She still takes 2 solid 2 hour naps every day.  I was afraid a few weeks ago that she was transitioning to 1, but it turned out she was just getting 2 molars in, poor thing.  It didn't even occur to me that it could be teeth, because she's never had trouble before.
Her hair is finally starting to fill in, it's just white blond so you still can't see it. :)  I love her sweet curls.
I've had a really hard time getting pictures of her lately because one, the camera on my iPod, which I normally use doesn't work very well anymore and I can't ever find our real camera and the charger for it at the same time, and two, she LOVES all things technology and if she sees it, she must have it.
She inherited her father's love of being in small spaces and seizes any opportunity she sees.  



Thursday, January 3, 2013

Cutie Patootie!

We had a wonderful Christmas.  Louise was thoroughly spoiled between her aunt, cousins, and grandparents. :)  Books, crayons (she LOVES them), hand puppets, dolls, and sweet little hand-knitted mittens and hat from her Nana.  Justin and I got her some warm pajamas.  I was spoiled too, for that matter.  Justin and I have been justifying buying things that we really need as "it's for Christmas" for a few months now.  :)  First we got two chairs off of Craigslist in October, so we can now comfortably sit 4 people instead of just two on the love seat (the home teachers were glad).  Then we got our winter gear: coats, gloves, boots, and hats from an awesome thrift store and Sierra Trading Post so we can live here during the winter.  Then in November we got an ErgoBaby carrier, that has totally changed our lives.  Well, maybe not quite that drastic, but it has made life SO much easier.  Louise is at the stage where she wants to be independent, but doesn't like the prospect very much, so she would walk right in front of me and hold her adorably chubby little arms out, begging me to hold her all day, making it nearly impossible to get anything done (how can I refuse that?).  With the Ergo I can very comfortably carry her any of the 3 ways and she is quite content to snuggle with me and watch what I'm doing.  We love how cozy and snuggly it is.  We say often how we wish we would have gotten an Ergo in the first place instead of the cheap carrier we got that was uncomfortable for all involved.  We also got the infant insert with the Ergo, so we can use this from birth to age 2 (or 45 lbs.).  We seriously use it several times every day.  Best purchase ever.  Then we got a pot rack to hang on the wall since we don't have much cupboard space and had been keeping our pots and pans in a box on the floor for months.  That was also a wonderful purchase.  So all of this was supposed to be our Christmas, but Justin spoiled me and got me a new blouse and pair of nice jeans.  My old "nice" jeans had 2 huge rips in the crotch that I had tried to patch and repair unsuccessfully, so I really needed a new pair.  I LOVE my new pair.  They finally got here today.  It's my first pair of skinny jeans and I feel so good in them.  Justin's Christmas was a little boring-I felt bad.  He got a collection of Grimm's fairy tales, and about 25 books that he'll need for school this semester.  He promised me he was excited about it.

After we opened presents it started to snow, so we went out (in our winter gear!) and played in the fresh snow.  Louise didn't know what to think. :)  We went to the little park next to our house and she just stood there for about 2 minutes.  She'd never seen snow before!  Justin and I would walk around and tell her to come play with us, but she just stood there.  Finally we took her hands and pulled her a few steps which seemed to convince her it was ok and she was off!  We've gone out several times since then and she really loves it, but her boots are faux suede (not winter boots) and are always soaked when we finish, so I'm afraid she freezes.  We need to find her some real winter boots and snow pants (surprisingly hard to come by here).

I've been getting really crafty lately, which is entirely out of character for me.  I made 2 valances for Louise's room, a quiet book, a Christmas card book, a maxi dress without a pattern, made some old high water jeans into cute skinny jeans, made some cinnamon chips since they don't sell them in stores here and attempted some cinnamon chip bread like Great Harvest's (you just can't compete with Great Harvest), some cute lace boot sock things...I don't remember what else.  Here are some pictures of a few of them.


I gave a talk in church last Sunday.  It was kind of scary.  I used to talk all the time, but I realized that it has been almost 3 years since I talked last.  It went well.

I think that's about it.  Louise and I have thoroughly enjoyed having Justin home and all to ourselves the last couple of weeks, but it's back to the grinding stone on Monday.  He's already started on the readings.


This girl loves her food. :)

I'm so excited to go home next week and see my family and friends, while at the same time really not wanting to leave Justin.  The longest we've ever been apart is 5 days for his Napa trip.  I'm worried about Louise not understanding what's going on since we'll be gone for 2 weeks.  Oh well.  Thank heaven for FaceTime, eh?