A Day in the Life: Summer 2017

5:50 AM: Happy shrieks in the baby monitor. Bea is up. Contemplate letting her talk just.a.little.longer and then realize she could wake up Gracie. Jump out of bed and rush to her room, shushing and pleading as I change her diaper to not wake up her sister.

Bottle, burp, zip Bea back up in her sleep suit, and back in to the crib.

Stumble back to bed. Shut my eyes. Husband’s alarm. Kick, snooze. Eight minutes later, alarm. Kick, snooze. Repeat.

7:30 AM: fall back to sleep

7:45 AM: “I have a giant poop!!!!!”

Find myself awake, halfway across the house, tripping over toys to get to Gracie’s room before said giant poop turns in to anything worse, which it has. Several times.

Trip over Thomas the Tank Engine. Curse Thomas the Tank Engine.

Find Gracie standing naked in her crib holding the offending diaper at arms’ length with a proud smile on her face.

“I made a GIANT poop! Stinky!”

“Do you have poop anywhere else?”, I ask with bated breath.

“No, just diaper. And my bottom. Poop is soooo big. You see poop, mommy?”

8:00 AM:

Poop disaster averted. Coffee poured, three sips. Offer Gracie cereal bar and cheese.

“Just cheese,” pauses, “AND fruit snack!” Grins at me as if she has discovered a way to get a sugary treat this early in the morning.

“No.”

“Just cheese.”

8:10 AM: Turn on the Today show, two sips of coffee.

8:11 AM: “Willaaaaaah!!!! [Willis]”

Willis runs through den carrying Toy of the Week with Gracie throwing Toy of Last Week at him. Put coffee down, break up sibling fight.

8:15 AM: Realize I’ve forgotten about Bea, go to her room to find her smiling and cooing. Feel guilty, but thankful that at least there’s one person under 3 in this house who is easy. Pray that her easy-going nature doesn’t mean extensive therapy for Second Child Issues in fifteen years.IMG_4319

8:20 AM: Walk in to the den to find Willis straddling couch and coffee table, drinking my coffee.

8:30 AM: Clean the kitchen counter. There are many things in life that I can’t control, but the cleanliness of my kitchen counter isn’t one of them. I get the kind of high that druggies seek after when I walk into the kitchen and see a clean countertop.

8:45 AM: Realize that I should probably get dressed. Walk in to closet, bypass the cute spandex leggings and athleisure wear, and put on a clean set of pajamas pants and oversized fraternity shirt. #Winning.

Depending on the day, we usually get out of the house in the mornings, because, sanity (and I do get dressed at that point). Monday, Tuesday, and Friday are usually play dates or trips to the pool; Wednesdays are my Wal-Mart/ morning sitter times and Thursdays are Bible study.

9:00 AM: We enter the Black Hole of Getting Readiness. The rough part about this particular black hole is that regardless of how early I get everyone ready to get out the door, we are always 30 minutes late. It’s as if the minute I verbally say “Ok, let’s go!” our home enters into this demonic time vortex where everyone screams and cries and poops and spits up. The amount of disaster is directly proportional to the amount of time I start the getting ready process.

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Sunday Morning Manicure

For example, this past Sunday, I had miraculously gotten the girls ready and we were going to leave ON TIME. For the first time all summer. And you know what happens?! My husband has to kill a 6 foot long rat snake in our driveway. By driving over it. And decapitating it with the machete he bought to go with his military ration kit (because, Trump).

I’ve taken to yelling “NOT TODAY, SATAN” as I throw my kids in the church nursery every Sunday.

9:30-11:45 AM: Morning outings, in which I mentally kick myself for even leaving the house and inflicting my children upon the kind people of my little town.

12 Noon: Lunch. Gracie gets a defrosted Uncrustable PB&J and Veggie Straws. I know full well that the price per ounce of the Uncrustables is more than just making my own PB&J, but they have the holy grail of toddler food: novelty. So she eats them. And the Veggie Straws? They have the word Veggie in the name so I don’t feel as guilty feeding them to her.

I eat at the kitchen counter because I don’t want to share my food. I turn into Smeagol from the Lord of the Rings when I eat.

12:00 PM-1:15 PM: PBS has Sesame Street and Dinosaur Train on, so I sit Gracie in front of the TV while I eat my food. If the stars align, I’m able to put Bea down for her afternoon nap around 12:45 and the little angel sleeps for about three hours, bless her heart.IMG_3862-1

1:15 PM: Nap time. This has happened every day of Gracie’s life, and yet she acts shocked and indignant when I inform her that it’s time to nap. Recently she’s been saying that she doesn’t want to nap “Because I love you,” as if her love for me would move me to tears and tell her she can do whatever she wants. Silly child, that only works on grandparents, and I’m the evil overlord known as your MOTHER.

The only time a toddler is indecisive is when they’re picking out a book to read at nap or bed time. I usually grab the closest one and start reading the abridged version, which thankfully Gracie has no clue I’m doing since she can’t read yet.

If I’ve been good that day, she’ll let me rock her for a few minutes, which is the most physical contact she’ll allow me for the day (she’s basically a cat). Like a captive trying to distract her captor from her impending doom, she’ll try her best to stall by recounting the morning’s activities and insulting me.

“You only read one story. Daddy reads three stories. I like Daddy’s stories”.

1:30-4 PM: Nap Time, aka Glorious Quiet, Time to Get “Me” Stuff Done, i.e. blogging, crafts, Bible study lesson, organization projects.

I usually pass out at 2 and wake up at 4 from a sleep so deep that it takes a few minutes to remember where I am and what my name is.

3:45 PM: I hear giggling and cooing; Bea is up.

4:00 PM: “TIME TO GET UP! TIME TO GET UP! GET GRACIE UP!” Gracie reverts to third person when we don’t respond to her calls, in case there is another toddler somewhere in the house that we’re trying to ignore.

4-5 PM: When the weather was nice (i.e. not 104 in the shade), we usually spent this time outside, trying to wear Gracie out. A walk, kicking the soccer ball, etc. Now, it’s usually the time I send my husband the flare gun, when-are-you-getting-home text.IMG_3998-1

5 PM: Start dinner. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to cook (or clean, or do anything productive) with young children around, here’s how simulate it: find a recipe in a language you don’t know. Stick one foot in a bear trap. Put on a straight-jacket. Light your hair on fire. Remove one limb per child.

If you drive by my house around this time, you’ll probably see raw chicken breasts thrown across the kitchen, because Gracie needs to use the potty whenever I’m handling raw meat, and salmonella on the kitchen counter is a lot easier to clean up than… well, you know.

5:45-6:15 PM: Eat dinner. Or, rather, adults eat dinner, toddler discusses dinner. Dinner conversations go something like this:IMG_4326

“Mommy a girl?”

“Yes”

“Daddy a boy?”

“Yes”

“Fork a boy or a girl?”

“Eat your pasta”

“I don’t wanna eat pasta!”

“Tough cookies, that’s your dinner. Eat it or go hungry”

“Cookies are a boy or a girl?”

6:15-7:00 PM: Clean kitchen. Run laundry, throw clean laundry on the bed to fold (I tell myself that it’ll make me fold it before I go to bed, but I end up just throwing the whole pile on the floor by the end of the night). Find half-eaten cheese stick on laundry counter from this morning.

7:30 PM: Bea gets bath in kitchen sink, bottle, and bed by 8 pm (the only positive side effect of months spent in the NICU is her ability to put herself to sleep, so she’s super easy at this stage).

7:38 PM: Gracie’s bath time (odd time but for some reason we always start at 7:38). Thankfully this is done by my husband so I tend to make myself scarce until it’s time to dry her off, brush her teeth, and put her pajamas on. Last time my husband was in charge of pajamas she wore a smocked corduroy bubble to bed in January of 2015.

Pass her back to the husband to begin her story time. Various acts required to leave her content, in her room, at night: no less than four stories; one about pigs and houses, one about goldilocks, one about a train, and one about Gracie. At least one cup of water must be consumed, another one left by the bed. Pinkie (blanket) and Sharptooth (T-Rex), and four Minnie’s (Big Minnie, Little Minnie, Pink Minnie, and Baby Minnie) must be within reaching distance. She uses them to enact Greek tragedies prior to falling asleep.

8:30 PM: My golden hour. I have a glass of wine, milk, hot cocoa, or all three. Watch something mind-numbing on TV while I stand next to my bed contemplating the pile of clean clothes; usually by the third commercial break I throw it all on the floor.

10:30 PM: On a good night, I’m usually dead to the world by now. On a bad night, I’ll be up for at least two more hours playing out various disasters for my family, home, and country. Usually kick my husband awake around midnight to ask him if he’s locked the back door. Check on both kids to see if they’re breathing. Think about the cookies in the pantry. Get up and check all three doors even though my husband says he’s locked them. Find the one door he’s left unlocked for the first time in six months and lose all trust in him (to lock the doors) for the next six months.

1:00 AM: Fall asleep

2:30 AM: Bea wakes up.

3:30 AM: Gracie wakes up, asks for story. I tell her no. She asks for a fruit snack.

4:30 AM: Fall asleep after deciding how many generators are needed for the house should another Katrina hit, and how to handle Bea when she gets bullied in school in ten years.

5:50 AM: Happy shrieks in the baby monitor. Bea is up.

The Bottle On My Bedside Table

Writing about my postpartum depression last summer was extremely freeing. If it’s one thing I’ve learned through this journey, it’s that being open about my struggles with motherhood, depression, and anxiety gives me power over them. When I stuff these issues down and try to hide them from the people I love, it’s in essence saying that my identity will be tainted by taking on a label of being depressed, etc. I am so much more than that.
So, it was with a clear head and a wonderful therapy session under my belt that I looked ahead to Bea’s birth with a goal: I would take emotional pulse-checks throughout the early days of her birth and I would be the self-actualized individual that would raise my hand and say, “Hi! I need help here!” I would be open to taking medication. I would be the first to admit that I needed something to help me get through the adjustment of a newborn and mothering two children.

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that will prevail – Psalm 19:21

As seen here and here, even my basic plans (like carrying Bea to term and bringing her home immediately) imploded. Through the time in Jackson- my own hospital stay and while Bea was in the NICU- I was taking my emotional pulse-checks and I was pretty darn proud of myself. Yes, it was a dark time, but I wasn’t depressed. I was able to sleep at night. I was able to eat well. I could talk about the situation without coming apart.

Friends, that’s called being in shock.

It was also God carrying me through a situation that I couldn’t even begin to understand and His grace covering and protecting me.

I moved back home. Gracie came home from Memphis. Bea was moved to the NICU at our home hospital. I was still doing well. I was so proud of myself.

Then my husband texted me one day. He said he spoke to our pediatrician, and Bea would be able to come home two weeks earlier than we had planned- she’d be home in four days!

Having a child in the NICU is hard, but it was also comforting to me in a (possibly) odd way: my child was sick, so thank goodness she’s in a hospital where she could get better. The NICU is a controlled environment where if something happens, a trained physician is just steps away.

But bringing that baby- that barely 5 lb tiny human- HOME? Ha! Gone are the nurses, the oxygen monitors, the special environment. Bringing Bea home to reality, where I had a rambunctious toddler, meals to make, and a house to clean. And two weeks early? I hadn’t even bought diapers or bottles for her.

Remember that pulse-check I was doing? I flatlined. And you know the thing about someone who’s pulse flatlines? They can’t tell someone that. They can’t go, “Hello! Excuse me! I don’t have a pulse! Can someone help me, please?”

Because I had been open about my past struggle with depression and anxiety, I had people looking for the signs of it happening again, even when I couldn’t see it myself. That’s the thing about depression- it sucks everything out of you, sometimes even the will to get help. This time around, I kept telling Mom that I just needed another nap and I’d feel better. I didn’t need to go to the doctor, I just needed a good night’s sleep.

But my husband and mother dug their heels in, and despite my anger at them, I made an appointment with my OBGYN. Sitting in the waiting room with my husband, I felt such a sense of defeat. I remember wanting to curl up in a ball in the chair and not look at anyone, let alone smile or make conversation with people. I had thought that I would be able to get through this without help. I didn’t want to be the Mom on Medication. Antidepressants scared me.

Let’s talk about those pills. I assumed that when someone was on an antidepressant, they were at the end of their emotional rope- they were just steps away from suicide. I assumed that these medications made you an emotional zombie; you no longer felt any major emotions and you just functioned at a basic, feelingless level. I assumed that I would lose my sense of self, my ability to cry with my friends, to laugh at my toddler’s antics.

Before writing my prescription, my doctor educated me thoroughly on what antidepressants really are (my Zoloft helps even out my levels of serotonin). We had talked about it extensively in my prenatal appointments but she went over it again… treating mental illness in a hypothetical situation is completely different than making  a plan of action while you’re in the throws of it.

The best analogy I’ve heard is that it’s like taking insulin when you’re a diabetic. There’s a chemical imbalance that keeps your body from functioning at its best, so you take something to even it out. When your body is unable to process glucose, you have a physical reaction- shakiness, dizziness, etc. Where the analogy breaks down is the stigma attached to mental illness. People talk openly about being diabetic. There’s no sense of shame about being one. It’s simply a medical condition that needs to be treated. But when there’s a chemical imbalance in the brain? We immediately have visions of asylums, straight jackets, and voices in someone’s head telling them to hurt others (or at least I did).

IMG_3644It took a week for the Zoloft to start working; just in time for Bea to come home. How to describe being on an antidepressant? I feel like me. I feel like me on the days I used to only have very infrequently- you know, those days where at the end of it you don’t cry in the shower. Where you see a problem for what it is- a problem, and not something that rocks your world, consumes your thoughts, and removes all the color from your life.

I still cry. I still lose it with Gracie (we’re potty training now, Lord help us). And I laugh, just more freely now. Before, I felt like I was walking through life on a tightrope, and just about anything could make me lose my balance. Now, I’m walking on a wooden beam. It’s still a balance, but it’s doable. And the hands of anxiety that used to grip my throat until I couldn’t breathe- they’re still there, but I’m able to reach up and pull them off my neck.

But now, I struggle with the misplaced guilt. I feel shame that I need a pill to help me do something that “most” mothers are able to do.

But you know the truth is? And what I have to tell myself day after day? That my identity is not based on what pills I have sitting on my bedside table. I am so much more than a person with a chemical imbalance (just like a diabetic would say they are so much more than a person who needs insulin!). And despite how inadequate I feel at just about everything, I am seen as perfect in God’s eyes. Because Christ took on all of my mental illness, fear, anxiety, and anger (sin and the effects of sin), took it to Hell with Him, and then left it there when He conquered death. So even though it’s hard to get through the chapters of my life that are still tainted with sin, I know how the story ends. Right now, it involves taking Zoloft. Not sure for how long, or how involved, this medication will be in my story, but it’s ok. Because in the end, everything in me will be made perfect. So it’s what Christ did (and is doing) in me that makes me who I am. And I’d much rather rest in that fact, than a 50 milligram pill I take every night.

 

 

 

Bea: Part 2

Click here for Bea: Part 1

These two posts are edited versions of my journal from the end of November until the middle of December.

 

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Friday, December 2nd, 2016

I started pumping Friday morning. The pump the hospital provides looks like something out of a steam-punk graphic novel. It weighed 75 pounds and had steel parts encased in a glass dome. It looked like it would suck the nail polish off my toes if I turned the dial too far! I was able to get a decent amount of colostrum immediately, but dried up on Saturday.

Bea’s white blood cell count was in the 40,000, which is really high for a newborn, although it doesn’t necessarily indicate anything bad. She was put on a CPAP machine, and started TPN.

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Bea on CPAP. I found the Minnie Mouse figure in the bottom of my purse. We gave it an alcohol bath so she’d have something from her sister in the NICU. Her diaper was a newborn size, folded down twice to fit.

Saturday

At our request, I was able to check out on Saturday. I just wasn’t able to rest in the hospital; between the nurses coming in and out of the room all the time (plus my “friend” in housekeeping, who barged in while I was pumping— she walked right past Asa who was blocking the door and said “Oh she won’t care, we’re friends”).

Asa and I had to drive all over town that afternoon in the rain to pick up parts for my pump, since I wasn’t able to get any of the new supplies beforehand. I pumped every three hours and I didn’t get a single drop of colostrum that day.

The nurse told me that all they needed was just a little amount and that they were just swabbing her cheeks with it, so they were fine with the amount I had pumped in the hospital.

Sunday

A new nurse was on that day. She told me that the doctors wanted to feed Bea but didn’t have any of my milk, so they were unable to feed my child due to my lack of milk (This was our first experience with how the plan of care is totally dependent on who the attending is at the time). She said that she knew I had other things going on in my life, but that I needed to prioritize and pump as much as possible. I wanted to slap the nurse. What else did she think I had been doing?! I had just been told the day before that the 1/2 mL I had given would be more than enough.

I was completely devastated. As I stood over Bea’s incubator, tears running down my face, I looked up to see the grandmother of another NICU baby motioning me over to her. She enveloped me in a hug and told me that it was going to be ok. Her daughter had had the exact same issue I was facing, but her supply came in 12 hours before, and she was now nursing her baby. My mother walked over and we all cried and hugged again; complete strangers, and yet bonded by the NICU.

Mom asked me what I was craving, which resulted in a trip to Smoothie King, the liquor store, and Krispy Kreme. I came home, drank two glasses of wine, ate a plate of pasta, and my milk came in that night. I went from producing 3 mL/session to 50 mL. I’ll never see Krispy Kreme donuts without thinking of Bea, now… I ate two dozen in about four days.

Monday (12/5)

Bea was taken off the CPAP machine and did great. They increased her feedings to 3mL/3 hours, and I got to hold her for the first time while she was still in the incubator. They were keeping the humidity high to keep her warm, so I had to wait until the humidity was at room level before I could hold her outside of the incubator. It seemed that the leads and wires attached to her doubled her weight; I had trouble weaving my fingers through all of them to hold her.

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The tube inside her mouth is an OG tube; the nurses would use a syringe to squirt small amounts of milk down it to feed her. The goal was to move to an NG tube (through the nose) once she was old enough to have a swallow reflex. Then, I would be able to attempt bottle feeding her and they could still get her milk through the NG tube.

Tuesday

She was still doing really well off of the CPAP. Looking around the room, it really made me appreciate just how well she was doing. She was four days old and was already breathing without a ventilator or CPAP, and she was tolerating feedings. Those seem to be the big milestones that can take a long time for babies to get to.

Wednesday

Asa came up to visit Bea; we had some concerns about the doctors putting in a PICC line. It’s much more invasive than a regular IV, and they needed access for the TPN. She had an umbilical line placed the day before, but it was going to dry up soon. We told the doctors that we gave our consent if she needed it, but that it was a point of concern. The attending called us that night to discuss a plan of action and why the PICC line was important, even though it could mean she was going to be susceptible to possible infection after it was placed.

My husband took me home to Brookhaven so that I could get my car and pack my own clothes, since I had been living in things that either he or my mom brought up from the house.

The reality of everything hit hard when we drove back into town. Since moving there, I had found a routine and everything had been so simple and uncomplicated. What had happened over the past ten days was so out of left field, and so unexpected, that I didn’t have a frame of reference for it until I came home and compared it to what things had been like before.

Thursday

I arrived mid afternoon to the NICU and Bea didn’t have any extra wires or tubes attached to her, which was odd since I assumed they had placed the PICC line the day before. Turns out that a new attending had rotated on that morning and the residents told her that we were concerned about getting the line placed. She ran the numbers and said that a PICC line really wasn’t necessary, since they were planning to decrease the TPN in a matter of days!

Bea’s feedings were up’d to 9mL and they continued to lower the humidity.

Friday

I got to the NICU right when they were rounding on Bea. Everything was continuing to look good. She was officially off the humidity. The attending asked if I wanted to hold her! My husband was coming into town for the weekend that night, so I told her that I wanted to wait until he was there. She still needed to get her umbilical line out, so they asked to wait until after 5 pm. We went after dinner. The nurse handed me Bea like she was a puppy- one hand cupped under her bottom, the other wrapped around her torso. She slept the whole time, and I wasn’t able to get to see her face because she was placed so far up on my chest, but it felt wonderful to hold her.

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Saturday

We met Maggie, Mike, and Gracie in Grenada at a burger place. When Gracie first saw me, she called out and started running towards me… and then face planted right at my feet. I hadn’t seen her since I left for the ER almost two weeks prior, and I didn’t know when we would all be under the same roof again.

It was wonderful to see her, although she told us to “go home” several times. It’s all rice cakes and manual labor at our house, apparently. I sobbed when we left her; she was too busy playing with the stuffed animal she had won on the claw machine.

I kept telling myself that she is too young to remember any of this, but it didn’t make being apart in the Christmas season any easier. I had been looking forward to this time of year with Gracie and being in our new hometown so it been hard to have all my expectations unmet.

Sunday

Bea was up to 24 mL/3 hours and officially off TPN. They still supplemented with some other concoction but they were also able to remove the IV they placed on her head, which meant I could hold her again. The nurses said that she was very alert earlier that day and they would walk by the incubator and she would just be looking around at everything. I’ve yet to see her really alert so I hoped I would catch her at the right time soon.

Monday 12/12

I walked into the NICU with my heart in my throat. It  was the tenth day- which meant that Bea was having her brain scan. It’s quite common for premature babies to have brain bleeds. There are four levels- one and two are usually fine; they resolve on their own and there isn’t any lasting damage because of the elasticity of the brain. A level three or four is worrisome; while sometimes they can resolve on their own, there is a higher chance of damage.

A dear family friend had sent us several blankets for Bea that were similar to the ones that Gracie sleeps with every night. We placed a bee-themed blanket on top of Bea’s isolet to give it more of a “homey” look in the NICU. Everything is so uniform and sterile that it helps to have something from the outside to remind you that there’s going to be more to your child’s life than being in the hospital.

The blanket also helps you spot where your child is- there are roughly 50 spots on each side of the NICU. So, on Monday, I walked to where her bed was and noticed about 50 feet away that the blanket was missing, and then got closer to find her bed completely empty. I was a basket case already, so I just stood there and started babbling to the closest nurse that I needed my child, that I couldn’t find her, where have they taken my child. I’ve always newly-empty hospital beds with death, so I was trying to fight off the completely illogical fear that something had happened. As the nurse went off to talk to the charge nurse, and I turned and spotted the black and yellow blanket across the room in a back corner. IMG_2943

I was able to calm myself down in time for the fellow to update me on the brain scan- everything came back normal. She said that if weren’t for Bea’s gestational age, they would move her up to the transitional nursery.

 

December 12th is the last entry in my journal. The stress of the situation and my lack of energy caught up with me, and I wasn’t able to sit in front of a computer without crying. So, I can’t remember the last four weeks in the NICU with as much detail as the first three. Thankfully, I have some pictures, so I’ll finish Bea’s time in the NICU with those.

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December 29th: Her NG tube was placed in and they were beginning to bottle feed her. Her hat was a preemie-size hat that said “My First Christmas”.

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January 2nd: This is the last picture I took of Bea at UMMC. She was in the transitional nursery and I was sending this to my husband to show the umbilical hernia. He quickly informed me that they are completely normal in preemies and that he would “keep an eye on it”. She still has it (it’s actually REALLY large now) but since her dad is the one we’d see to get it fixed, he just pokes at it once a week. If it doesn’t reduce on its own by the time she is 2 years old, she will need surgery.

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Bea arrived at our home hospital shortly after the new year. Often times she was the only baby in the nursery, which was a HUGE change from being one in 75 babies! Her bed was right by the observation window, so she had a constant stream of visitors checking on her throughout the day. This was taken while her daddy gave her a bottle for the first time… there was a crowd of about 6 people watching him (and documenting it for me while I was with Gracie!).

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January 12th, 2017: After 42 days in the NICU, Bea came home! And this picture of Gracie offering Bea an orange just about sums up our homecoming.

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Bea at one day old, and Bea at 15 weeks old. She weighs 3x her birth weight (9 lbs) and at almost four months, is FINALLY fitting into her newborn clothes. The doctors say she will more than likely be developmentally delayed until she is two years old, but there are no lasting effects of her early birth date! Praise the Lord.

Family Tradition (The Hank Williams Jr Version)

One of the greatest blessing and curse in my life is that Gracie has turned out to be just like her father.

It’s a wonderful blessing because I married him, therefore I generally like his personality and quirks. Having two in the house makes things lively and entertaining.

It’s a curse because neither the child, nor her father, need a lot of sleep; they’re extremely strong-willed, and never sit still. These characteristics have served her dad well, as he’s in a high energy job that requires strong decision making skills during the long hours on his feet.

These characteristics in a toddler? I would laugh but I’m too tired.

It’s part of raising kids. We don’t get to decide what traits are passed down and which ones skip a generation; it’s the biggest dice roll (or game of russian roulette, depending on how you look at it) we have as parents.

Unfortunately for me, I inherited one of the greatest negative traits that has plagued my father, and now me. It’s haunted me through high school, college, and now as a youngish adult.

In the summer after tenth grade, I checked out Alexander Dumas’ Ten Years Later, the fourth installment of his Musketeer series. We took a family vacation to Charlotte, North Carolina for the PCA’s General Assembly. Somewhere on that trip, I lost the book. I still don’t know where or how, but when the time came to turn it back in, I couldn’t find it.

It was checked out from the Alabaster library. Thankfully, we lived about the same distance from the Pelham and Helena libraries. Once the fee got above the allowable amount to continue checking out books, I moved to another library. When I had racked up fees at all three, I would pay the minimum, and the dance would begin again.

I think the person that coined the phrase “If looks could kill” was referring to a librarian. Now, I may just be projecting, but there were two in particular at the Alabaster location that truly wished me evil every time I walked by the circulation desk. No words were ever exchanged; silence is treasured in a library, obviously. But the glances shot at me with sniper-like precision (above their bifocals) found their mark every time.

Unless there was a particular title or movie that I desperately wanted, and I couldn’t get transferred (yes, I was sneaky and would request interlibrary transfers from two libraries 3 miles apart to avoid paying a fine at one), I avoided the Alabaster location as much as possible. When I finally graduated high school, I had over $30 in library fines at that location alone.

But it was going to be ok; I was moving on campus at Belhaven, and college is all about a clean slate, right? Getting to create a new persona, leave the baggage of high school behind, and all that.

What I failed to realize is that college libraries have a much greater hold on you than city libraries. There isn’t a huge negative consequence when you have fines at a local library, other than being banned from checking out books. It’s not like the librarians can put a warrant out for your arrest.

College libraries have a close working relationship with the registrar. So you’ve been keeping that AP Manual longer than you intended? We’ll just put a hold on your grades for the semester, they say.  But you need it over the break to double-check capitalization requirements for a feature piece, you say.

I found a way out of that one, too. Turns out that they’ll still send President’s and Dean’s list letters regardless of if your grades can be posted or not. Outside of spring semester sophomore year (thanks, Chem II), I was on one or the other, so as long as I got a letter, I was golden.

Thankfully, the library at Belhaven knew that most students didn’t have the money to pay the exorbitant fines at the end of the spring semester. Each April they would hold a canned food drive and for each can, $1 of your fine would be removed. My brain quickly calculated that if I bought the absolute cheapest cans, I’d get 50 cents to the dollar. Which is why the local food pantry received 10 cans of creamed corn that spring.

The summer before my senior year of college rolled around, and I was home for a few weeks before my summer internship started (which I got thanks in part to those features I wrote between school breaks, take that Belhaven Library). My family was packing up for a quick trip to Jackson, because my dad had finished his Doctorate of Ministry and we needed to attend his graduation ceremony.

The phone rang five minutes— I’m not making this up, I remember the timing exactly— before we were to get in the car for the trip. I remember my mother answering because the caller ID said it was Reformed Theological Seminary.

“Jeff”, she said. “It’s the RTS Library”.

Our trip was delayed by about two hours, once my dad got off the phone. Due to his outstanding library fines, the seminary would not be bestowing his diploma until he either returned the books, or paid the fines. We waited patiently while he scoured the house and the church office looking for the 9 missing books.

I got my dad’s nose, his sense of humor, and his inability to handle library material responsibly.

That’d be a good place to end, but unfortunately, what triggered me writing this post is something that has happened more recently.

It’s important to note that I had a peaceful time of life from 2009-2016; my parents gave me a Kindle in hopes of breaking the cycle. With the exception of some fees from late audio books from my 2010 admission travel season (thankfully another canned food drive at the Brandon Library saved me),  my love of books wasn’t hindered.

It had been so long, in fact, that I had checked out a book, that I had completely forgotten that I had this trait. That’s the thing about personality traits- they may remain dormant, but they’re always there, ready to rise up and strike at the worse times.

My driver’s license was changed quickly after the move to our new home, so I could register to vote. Gracie was beginning to enjoy books, and I had spent way too much money the past two months on Audible books to get me through the long car trips and unpacking. One Tuesday morning last month, I carried Gracie proudly into our new library and told her this was a magical place, full of learning and adventure. We walked out with Gracie screaming, as usual, but I had a shiny new library card.

The first audio book I checked out was returned with a disc missing. Or so I’ve been told. I swear, that disc was in the box when I turned it in. I’ve received two phone calls from very stern women asking me to “keep looking for it”. The only place I kept the book was in my car, and I’ve cleaned it out twice looking for that dang Carol Higgins Clark CD.

I did find the third disc of a John Grisham novel, though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our First Halloween

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016. The morning came too early and the sun was too bright.

I stumbled into the kitchen and poured myself a cup of coffee. Gracie was still asleep; I had about twenty minutes before she would start her “Momma! MOMma! MOMMA!” chant from her crib. I grabbed my bathrobe and walked to the front door, took a deep breath, and opened it.

It looked like a fraternity party had taken place the night before, if all the participants were under the age of eight. Candy wrappers were sprinkled all over the grass. A Doc McStuffins handbag was propped up against an oak tree. My front porch had glow sticks and leftover sweet tea next to the rocking chairs. If only we had an empty keg of Kool-Aid to complete the picture.

The scene was repeated in just about every yard on my street. The ones who kept their lights off and houses “empty” had relatively clean yards, but no one was immune to the leftovers of the biggest event of the year on our street: Trick or Treat.

Moving to a small town, and especially having renovated a house that had been vacant for so many years, it comes up in the conversation of what street we live on. While it’s a quiet neighborhood, the road in front of our house is used as a cut-through to get downtown, so most people have passed our house and observed the progress since we started in January.

“Y’all know about Halloween, right?” Most, if not 99% of the people would ask us, voices slightly lowered, with a concerned look on their faces. As if we would casually walk out our front door after 5 pm on October 31st, take one look around, and run screaming back into the house. Which is exactly what we would have done if we weren’t warned.

Which is why I, despite some well-founded fear and trepidation, began preparing for the trick-or-treaters in August. Each trip to Wal-Mart, I threw a bag of candy into the buggy. I thought this was brilliant, as it would spread the cost out over two months. I’d bring the bags home and immediately stick them on top shelf of the pantry- out of sight and out of mind, eleven feet above the ground.

… but I’m pregnant. So began my daily ritual of climbing on the shelves (like a ten year old) and grabbing a Three Musketeer… or two, or three. I discovered Gracie climbing on the shelves last month and realized that she really does copy everything I do.

After a month of that, I caught on, and started buying candy that I didn’t like. Perfect. I had four bags and I was planning to get another five or six, and we would be good to go. That’s like… 600 pieces. Surely that would last us.

Thankfully, my Bible study small group staged an intervention and helped me see that it would be foolhardy to turn our porch light on without at least 1,000 pieces of candy. One simply does not walk into a battlefield with a squirt gun. A fellow compatriot/neighbor suggested Dum Dums, as the price per unit is significantly lower, and the price of chocolate had shot up recently (Rosland Capital á la Fox News should take note; the people on our street keep an eye on chocolate prices, not gold or silver).

Three Prime days later, I received thirty pounds of Dum Dums in the mail.

Two days before Halloween, I was hit with the infamous Pregnancy Cold. I sent my husband to Walgreens to pick up the sugar-water strength medicine I’m allowed during this symbiotic existence. If my head had been clear, I never would have allowed him to go. You see, sending my husband to Walgreens is like going to an urgent care center with a head cold, on a Monday morning, during flu season. Sure, you’ll get what you need, but you’ll probably bring home something even worse, wishing you had just stayed home and suffered.

Case in point: Christmas 2012. I sent him to get creamer; he came home with my Christmas presents (FYI, this was our first Christmas as a married couple): a pair of Christmas-themed boxer shorts, and a box of Werther’s chocolate. Should of just drank my coffee black.

Halloween 2016: two strands of orange lights, and a light-up Mickey Mouse Jack o’ Lantern. He proceeded to wrap the lights around half of our porch (not the whole, just half) and plugged in the Jack o’ Lantern; our house looked like it had been possessed by a hungover Sigma Chi who decorated last minute for a Halloween mixer.

The weather wasn’t cooperating, either. I had gleefully planned our inaugural family img_2694costumes; Gracie was a T-Rex, and I had found adult-sized T Rex fleece onesies on Amazon. I even bought dinosaur feet slippers for us to wear, and face paint. Five o’clock on October 31st, it was 85 degrees outside. Was I going to walk up and down our street, still with a disgusting cold, in a fleece onesie, while pregnant? Shorts, t shirt, Gracie’s fairy wings, and some Urban Decay eyeshadow was my backup, and my husband wore scrubs. The slippers, ironically, are still en route from China, and although the onesies did make it in time, they are now relegated to Christmas morning pajamas. Sorry Hanna Andersson, maybe next year we’ll open gifts in matching fair isle PJ’s.

Our doorbell rang at 5:15.  Superman and Wonderwoman needed candy. They each received one Dum-Dum. I felt like a Regions Bank teller, but I knew that if we didn’t ration the candy, we’d be turning kids away before the sun set.

We moved the bowl of candy outside, grabbed glasses of sweet tea, and sat on the porch. My husband had moved his laptop outside, too, and hooked it up to stereo speakers, so we had a Pandora Halloween station playing.

Gracie is still too young to realize what candy is, so she ended up being a great helper. Her dad would hand her a piece of candy, and then she’d very intently drop it in the bag of whoever was standing closest to her. If I ever had any question on whether she was an extrovert, my uncertainty was put to rest. Between my husband teasing the kids, and Gracie’s laughter and jabbering to whoever would make eye contact with her, they more than made up for my cold-induced lack of conversation skills that night. We did have to become more efficient as the night went on, as the line from our front porch stretched down the sidewalk and across the front yard.

Our street, which is approximately a mile long, was lined with parked cars on either side. Trucks with hay bails in trailers drove up and down the street, dropping as many as twenty people off at a time. The only thing louder than the laughter, greetings, and my husband’s choice of music that evening were the train whistles on the tracks one street behind us.

We’ve lived here for two months, so long enough to recognize some faces and get to know some names, but not enough to know everyone that came to our front porch. While most people were still unfamiliar, it did make us feel a part of the community, especially some of my husband’s patients dropped by, friends from church, our electrician, and some of the nurses from the hospital.

The reason I didn’t recognize most people is because most of the kids that trick or treat on our street drive in from the country and the surrounding rural counties. So while we had the equivalent of a third of our town’s population walk up our sidewalk, most of them don’t live near us. They didn’t know we had just moved to town; for all they knew, we had lived there for years (ok, slightly stretch of imagination, given we still have construction cones in our front yard). What I’m trying to say is that it gave us a chance to show some hospitality, even while we’re still experiencing it as transplants. We were able to take part in a tradition that has made our street known throughout the state as the busiest on Halloween… because it’s our street now, our home.

Two hours and 1248 pieces of candy later, a group of three kids walked up. I ended the night with giving the last two pieces of candy out, and the third child the glow bracelet off my wrist. We made a hasty retreat before we were asked to give the pumpkins and lights away from the others walking up the sidewalk.

An hour later, after putting a screaming Gracie (she discovered M&M’s! Crap!) to bed, and after blowing my nose for the umpteenth time that day, I turned to my husband and said,

“I bet they have smoke machines on sale at Walgreens tomorrow. Wanna get one for next year?”

 

 

 

 

 

Reformation Day

It was early fall in Alabama. The leaves had quickly gone from green to brown (no golden orange for us Southerner’s) and my family was taking time out between football games on television to braid rope.

Dad was standing in the middle of the den, desperately trying to listen to Eli Gold and peek through the rust colored fabric Mom had draped over head, while Mom quickly cut a hole for his head before he missed another touchdown. She had come home the day before with the brown fabric- enough to make monk robes for the whole family. It was my job to braid belts out of the wiry rope that she had bought along with the material.

Reformation Day was coming, and we needed to be properly attired.martin-joke

For those of you not of the Reformed tradition, Reformation Day is October 31st. It’s the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the town church in Wittenberg in 1517. It’s commonly believed that his writings (in this case, regarding the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church) began a religious reform that is now known as the Protestant Reformation. It’s because of this that most protestant denominations exist.

Luther chose All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) to post his writings on the church door because it was a popular day for the common people to view relics in the church, and get brownie points towards eternal life.

I grew up the daughter of Presbyterian pastor and a history major. Add to that a healthy eleven year stint as a homeschooled student, I was raised not only to recite the Westminster Shorter Catechism (both versions), but to also know the history behind the various creeds, councils, and acts of reform in the history of the Christian church.

Reciting the decisions made in the Council of Trent made for an excellent party trick later in life, if I knew my audience.

I can’t quite remember when the tradition started for my home church, but sometime around fourth grade we began a Reformation Celebration on October 31st. It was our own bizarre-Presbyterian-style take on the Trunk-or-Treat/ Fall Festival event. I say “bizarre” because we were the only Presbyterian church of our size in the surrounding area and the general population didn’t really know or care about Luther, Knox, and the Anabaptists. It may also be because when people drove by the church, they saw families walk in dressed like Franciscan monks.

Not everyone dressed like they had taken their vows; we had a loose dress code but most luther-cakepeople stayed in the spirit of the event and dressed like great men and women of the church. After a few years of dressing like a nun or German peasant, I sweetly asked if I could dress as the beheaded Mary Queen of Scots. I was promptly denied, and had to settle for Anne Boleyn.

We had different Sunday school rooms redecorated to represent 1500’s Germany, Scotland, and the city of Geneva. My dad, if memory serves correct, was always Martin Luther. He transformed his office into a monastic cell and gave a short lesson on the significance of Luther’s work and how transformative a belief in sola fide, sola scriptura, and sola gloria can be to a person who thinks they earn their way to heaven.

As the years went on, the event grew bigger. One year, an obstacle course was built in the fellowship hall and we had to carry Bibles through it like the smugglers did to get the first English copy to England. Another year, the smuggling became more intense and we had several elders capture anyone carrying a Bible and put them in “jail” for 5-10 minutes. Usually candy was involved; the cliche fishing game was turned into a reference to Katharina Von Bora’s escape from a convent in herring barrels.wittenberg

Usually at the end of the night, we gathered in the sanctuary and anyone who wanted to explain who and why they dressed up we given the opportunity. We were able to spend about forty five minutes to an hour learning about different people who gave up their lives (or their tongues, fingers, feet— the Reformation was a truly brutal time of persecution) to show others the gospel that we took for granted on a daily basis. Each year, we tried to find new reformers that hadn’t been focused on the year before.

From the outside looking in, it really was an odd night. But it gave us, as a community, a chance to honor simple men and women who aren’t commonly known about in today’s culture.

At the heart of dressing up in a character’s clothes and makeup is the desire to emulate characteristics they possess. I dress up Gracie as a princess so that she knows she’s special, and that she can wear pretty dresses and a crown. Gracie wants to be SharpTooth from The Land Before Time this year… and while it’s the villain in the 15-part movie series, she likes to run around and roar at the dog and random people.

My parents, and others in my home church, took this concept and used it as a teaching tool for their children. As we were dressing like Luther or Boleyn, we learned about what made them stand out in history. It wasn’t because they were special by birth and wore a crown- Luther was poor as dirt and spent most of his life being hunted by his enemies. And while Anne Boleyn did wear crown, she used her power to help others in need. We learned early in life that it wasn’t what we wore or some magical powers that made us stand out in history- it was the small actions that can often cost us friends or social status.

And that’s why Gracie will be SharpTooth and Anne Askew this year.

 

 

 

 

When Motherhood is More Than Just Difficult

Here are three ways I wish I could begin this post:

  1. I was laying in a hammock with my Bible and journal, and a small inward voice spoke to me.
  2. I was at a women’s conference and responded tearfully to an altar call.
  3. I was reading a self-help book (not just one for Bible Study!) and a particular chapter convicted me.

Here’s what actually happened.

jane-the-virginI was binge-watching Jane the Virgin. Gracie and I had been living with my parents for about two weeks at that point, with at least a month to go before we joined my husband in our new hometown. Catching up on season 2 of the show was my get-away during the golden 90 minutes between my child and my bedtime.

In this particular episode, one of the secondary characters gave birth to twins. She didn’t bond with her girls and all she wanted to do was go back to work.

I thought, “Hey! It’s a character just like me!”

The show continued on and the character’s struggles mirrored what I had gone through with Gracie.

Towards the end of the episode, it was revealed that she had postpartum depression, and I was sobbing.


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As you’ve seen through most of my blog, residency has been very difficult. It’s difficult no matter what speciality or stage of life or level of involvement you have. I have tried (oh how I have truly tried) to find the humor in each stage, but sometimes it’s just. plain.hard.

The hardest situation we faced in residency was the birth of Gracie. I was working a job that I truly loved, albeit a long commute, and my husband’s schedule was insane. Our first year of marriage was nothing like we thought it would be (just like everyone else’s first year of marriage). We had planned to get pregnant during his last year of training; I would give birth right before we moved for his first “real” job, and he would be around more to help with the adjustment period of having a newborn.

Thirteen months following our wedding day, I found out I was pregnant. I had suffered from severe endometriosis that had gone undiagnosed for a decade prior to treatment, and we weren’t even sure I could get pregnant.

Well, I did, and we were scared. Mainly me- my husband was his usual brave self and said we could handle whatever got thrown at us. All I could focus on was that my freedom- and the precious little time I was going to have with my new husband- was going to be taken away.

By the time Gracie was born, God had provided a way for me to continue working; I had a wonderful woman who would take care of Gracie at her home, and my pay was allowing me to make a small profit at the end of each month.

My initial joy after having Gracie was not because I got to meet her. It was that I finally had my body back, I could eat sushi, and was able to sleep on my stomach again. I had been told that I would feel a surge of endorphins, be instantly connected with my child, and would prefer her company over anyone else’s.

All I remember going through my head when the nurse would bring Gracie in to be fed those first hours in the hospital was the thought, “You made this. It’s time to be an adult; take care of her or no one else will.”

Family came to visit me in the hospital and all I wanted to do was scream at them to go away, but desperately afraid they would leave me alone. I fought tooth and nail to mirror the joy everyone else felt, but inside I just felt emotionless and empty.

I assumed it was how I was wired. My career and passion revolved around working with teenagers, so it made sense to think I wasn’t a baby person. Everyone warned me that the first few weeks would be hard.

But those weeks turned into months. Sleeping when the baby slept- that wasn’t happening. I had an overwhelming sense of anxiety, and I couldn’t pin-point what was causing it. Sitting still just made things worse, so I was continually doing busy work around the house, which in turn exhausted me even more. Gracie was never a good sleeper at night, so I didn’t get any rest at night, either.

I mentioned my struggles to my OBGYN at my 1 month check up. He told me that they didn’t start treating PPD unless the symptoms lasted more than six weeks. Even though I wasn’t feeling any better at six weeks, the thought of trying to schedule an appointment around my work schedule, Gracie’s schedule, and time in the waiting room, nursing her at the office, and paying another co-pay gave me enough anxiety on top of what I was already feeling, that I told myself that I was getting better.

I learned to hide it really well. My husband and mom saw through it most of the time, though. I used humor to talk about my struggles without actually admitting how bad it was. I poured my energy and focus into helping my students. While the stress and exhaustion of my job probably exasperated the problem, it was also my saving grace in many ways. It allowed me to still feel a bit like my “old self”– I was good at my job, even though I felt like a failure at home.

I started seeing a light at around six months postpartum. Gracie began going to sleep around 8:30, which gave me time at night to regroup (even though I would  be up with her multiple times later). I also stopped breastfeeding. My hormones began to even out. I can pinpoint the exact time I started feeling more like myself— it was the first time I sat down to watch a television show after Gracie had gone to bed. The anxiety and depression didn’t go away suddenly, but it lessened and eventually faded.


 

The first six months after residency is similar to the time following a battle, I think. Once you realize you made it out alive, and your adrenaline wears off, you realize that some of the cuts and scrapes you accumulated are actually bullet wounds and deep gashes. When you’re in the middle of it, you don’t have the emotional luxury to have a deep wound. If you’re not dead, you keep going.

My second pregnancy has brought my experience back into the forefront of my mind. I am so very, very scared to go through it again. My mom always tells me that our emotions don’t dictate our reality. So I tell myself that my life circumstances are completely different from what they were the first time around.

Through a conversation with my new OBGYN, I’ve learned that my lack of sleep through the first six months (and beyond) were probably what intensified the PPD. She said that it’s extremely important for moms to get at least 4 consecutive hours of sleep every few days; I didn’t get that for… three months? Possibly longer? My husband is around more, so we are going to work on a plan that will allow me to recharge more often. I also talked with my OBGYN about treatment options, including medication.

I’m also getting counseling. My first appointment is in three weeks, and I’m hoping to have a joint session with my husband some time before the baby arrives in February. Knowing that he and I are a team- even though I’m the one physically feeding and taking care of the baby the majority of the time- helps so much. Now that we are out of residency, he’ll be able to be there for me emotionally and physically more so than the past.

Writing this has been a sort of therapy, too. The lack of sleep and craziness of that time in my life means that my memories are like fireflies in my mind. Taking the time to catch a few and put them in a bottle— this blog post— has given me more clarity as I look back. It’s taken about a month to write it, too. Sobbing hysterically while typing was not something I could do with workers in my house. I also had to take breaks to go hug and kiss Gracie, because I am overwhelmed with gratitude at how much I do love her, compared to where I was eighteen months ago.

Admitting openly that I had trouble bonding with Gracie is unnerving. It’s not something that is brought up in conversations, even when you talk with mom friends or when people ask how you’re doing. It’s ok to say it’s hard, that you’re exhausted , or that you miss your life before kids. To say you don’t particularly like your new bundle of joy (or six month old…) isn’t kosher.

But it’s what I felt, and it’s a sign of PPD. And if I had read something about it when I was in the middle of it, I wouldn’t have felt so alone or scared to talk about it. The fear of hearing “It’s what all mothers are going through, and you’re just weaker than most,” kept me quiet, while hearing “It’s a chemical imbalance, and it in no way reflects you as a mother” would have freed me in so many ways.

Chances are, this won’t directly affect most people who read my blog. It’s not as entertaining as pictures of our renovated house, that’s for sure! But postpartum depression is something that affects many, many women and still has a stigma around it, mainly because it’s not talked about enough. Through my experience the past few weeks, and talking about it more openly, I’ve learned that quite a few women I’m very close to experienced it themselves. So it’s something I’ll be talking about from now on. It’s a battle scar, and it’s part of my story.

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Renovation Update, Part 4

Short post with mainly pictures, since Gracie enjoys watching the action too much to take a decent nap these days. I have about 99 other things to do in the hour of childless peace I get today.

I’ve taught Gracie to say “excuse me” in an effort to help her learn to stay out of the workers’ way… although she’s taken it to mean a form of greeting, so she’s constantly running up to a painter or carpenter and saying “‘SCUE ME”. Between the workers and the “tradtor” we haven’t much need for the television.

I also have a painter looking through my window at me as I type; they’re taping the windows for the final coat on the trim.

Privacy is a luxury these days, but as an extrovert in a new town, it just gives me more people to talk to. I had a customer service issue this morning and two painters listened patiently to my rant since Husband was in surgery. Last week I had an extended conversation regarding the size of roaches with the plumber.

On to pictures. Taken Sunday, I’m excited to say there’s been some major landscaping progress since then. We have eight piles of sod, stacked taller than me, that are being laid today.

 

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The front is being finished up as I type, and we’re still debating a door color.

 

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Side yard, which has turned out much bigger than I thought it would. We’ll probably end up spending a lot of time in this space.

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Bay window contains kitchen table… single pane window is above the kitchen sink.

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Back door, window of my laundry room/office, and sun room.

 

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Back yard

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Future home of carport and guest quarters, phase 2

(Stack of bricks on far right: landscapers found even MORE bricks. Hoping to use them for part of the brick patio.)

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Dining room windows

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Closer shot of front porch, with potential door color. The porch will also get resealed in a dark grey.