Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Let's talk about my kids some more! Part Two: Kendall

Many many many blog posts ago (I have lost track of how long, my days are measured in Dora the Explorer episodes) I wrote a blog post dedicated to my firstborn child, my Banana. Since then, I've kind of forgotten about the other two...not the other two kids, but the other two blog posts about the other two kids. I figured it was no big deal, that eventually no one would remember anyway.


In recent weeks, more than one friend has asked when I'm going to finish up the whole blogging about each specific child thing. So while the Chunk eats goldfish crackers in Daddy's recliner (sorry honey) I figured I'd start drafting a missive that is centered solely around the cutest preschooler in the world, my Kbear.

Kbear was yet another surprise baby. Her sister was just nine months old when I found out that I was pregnant again. We told my parents the news after first stuffing them full of a fabulous Easter dinner, mostly because when people have a belly full of from-scratch scalloped potatoes, they are less likely to chase your husband with a crowbar when you tell them that he has knocked up their daughter for the second time in less than three years.

But honestly, we shouldn't have worried. They were completely delighted. My mother-in-law was completely delighted. Our friends just thought we were nuts. And while I was hanging over the toilet in the midst of morning sickness hell while Banana howled from her pack-and-play, I swore that I would never have sex again.

But when Kbear arrived, she was just about perfect, even down to the little "stork bites" she had on her back and tummy. He had the softest curly blond hair you'd ever seen. She was born at exactly two o'clock in the morning in the midst of an incredible raging midwest thunderstorm. Someday I'll tell you the whole story, but Skippy barely made it to the hospital in time, just as my water broke all over my poor labor nurse. It was a quick labor. It was my only natural labor, mostly because she just came way too quickly. I myself am a big fan of hospital drugs, but it wasn't to be.

Kbear arrived fast, and she's been on the go ever since. She is a ball of green eyed curly haired spitfire that just never stops.

My big concern for K is that we do everything we can to avoid "middle child syndrome." I'm a big believer in birth order characteristics. We do lots of things to make her feel like she's a cool cat. I tell her all the time that she is special because she is the only one in our family who gets to be both a big sister and a little sister. She is friendly, percocious, and smart as a whip. She is constantly pushing Banana away and trying to follow right behind her all at the same time. She will knock Chunk over in her rush to answer the door only to turn right around to cuddle with him on the couch for as long as he'll stand it.

If Banana is my generous and empathetic child, K is my hell-on-wheels kid. There is a saying that "Well behaved women rarely make history." If that's true, then someday my K will be legendary. But when all is said and done and hurricane Kbear finally decides to rest in calm waters, there was never a sweeter, more loving, warm and cuddly kid on the planet. She is bright, funny, kind, and makes friends wherever we go.

Banana is always going to be my "big girl" - that's what happens to the first kid. They will always seem bigger and more grown up than they really are. You have to watch it and constantly remind yourself that they are NOT the little adult you sometimes imagine. But K....K will always be my baby girl. This past fall she turned five and I swear it was like someone flipped a light on - I just can't believe how big she is getting.

In fact, I thought about it early this morning when Kbear and I made a mad dash to Fred Meyer before pre-school because she is today's designated "snack helper." Last night she told me she wanted to bring muffins. She ALWAYS wants to bring muffins. But Mommy was tired. Mommy had been on the go all day. And Mommy did not want to make muffins. I had hoped that when she woke up this morning, she would be content to grab two boxes of 100 calorie packs to trot off with, but no such luck.

So there we were in Fred Meyer at 7:40 this morning, buying muffins. Because honestly, I don't tell my kids no when it's something little like that - yeah the muffins cost four thousand times more than they would have if I had made them and yeah, her buddies probably won't even eat them, but I've learned that if you expect K to listen to "no" when it really matters, like "we don't try to open car doors when we're going down the freeway" then you need to pick your battles VERY carefully. And the battle of blueberry muffins was not one I was willing to wage.

Anyway, the muffins aren't the point. The point is that when we arrived at preschool, I received my monthly newsletter from K's teacher. Amongst notes about the upcoming Valentine's Day party and book orders is an invoice for the upcoming month of three days a week/three hours a day bliss. So as usual, while I am walking back to my van I am tallying up the coming month's bills and matching them up to paydays and thinking that it's awesome that we only have four more months of preschool to pay for and God, I will be SO glad when I don't have to shell out that extra eighty five dollars a month.....

I mean, won't I?


All of a sudden I'm feeling kind of sick to my stomach.

Only four more months of preschool before it's time for summer. And only one more summer before it's time to send my K off to big kid school. She will be in Kindergarten in the fall. ALL DAY KINDERGARTEN. That means that from six fifteen in the morning until three fifteen in the afternoon, my girls will both be off learning and playing and having fun while Chunk and I hang at home. That means that my little monster that eats three packets of oatmeal while she watches Seasame Street will be gone all day. My thrift store girlfriend. My curly headed grocery store companion who never fails to remind me to buy cereal. She won't be all mine any more.

My little girl will be a big girl. And what on earth will I do then?

So I'm starting to make a list of activities for us to do this summer. Another big trip isn't in the cards this year, but damn it, we're going to have fun. I am feeling very quietly frantic about my little girl growing up, but I know that I'm going to do everything that I can to enjoy it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Lucky number seven!

So in case you missed last year's soap opera in print, "The Story of Us" chronicles the ups and downs of the early "Skippy and Amy Days" and can be found beginning here:

Other than that, it's been another wonderful year of watching our children grow, conquering new challenges, and loving each other more and more!

Happy Anniversary Sweetie! I love you, and I am proud of you and our kids are the light of my life! Here's to us!

Monday, January 5, 2009

The quest to feed the family....

Now before all of you who have raised teenagers start in on me, let me just say this up front:

I know that it will only get worse as they grow.

Feeding a family on a budget is HARD. I really try to walk a fine line between all-local-all-organic-grown-by-hippies-food...and Burger King. My kids DO eat hot dogs, and I don't feel guilty about it. However, I make a pretty serious effort to also make plenty of meals that are healthy and well rounded, with plenty of fresh fruits and veggies. We almost always have a nice sit-down Sunday dinner, and we have lots of fun making big breakfasts on the weekends. Sugary cereal is a fairly big treat - Kbear once told my girlfriend Laura that "My Mom buys cereal that tastes like NOTHING!" but I do hand out the occasional Nutragrain bar on the way out the door to school.

So yeah, I'm far from perfect. I'm like a cross between Rachel Ray and Ronald McDonald most of the time.

Now shopping for a family of five and making food stretch can be a serious challenge. Skippy and I looked at our bank account recently and realized that we were "thirty dollaring ourselves to death" by running to the store fourteen times a week for just a few things here and there. There was no plan. If we wanted to grill, I went and bought steaks. If we wanted soup, I went and bought all the ingredients. No chicken? No problem - I went to the store! And half of the time, I'd come home and realize that I had the fixings for half a dozen meals already at my disposal.

It was ridiculous.

Thus began my quest to pare down my grocery habit. It started with a cash budget - now every Sunday I go to the ATM and withdraw my cash for the week (a fixed amount that Skippy and I agreed on) and then I treat myself to a fancy coffee and I pick up a few Sunday papers.

Then I go home, drink my coffee, make my list, and cut coupons. I try to plan the week around things that I already have in the kitchen, and things that are sale through the store fliers and the list that I get off of The Grocery Game. ( - use me as a referral if you ever give it a shot) I have managed to accumulate quite a stockpile of kitchen staples and we have a chest freezer that is slowly filling up with meat when I can find good quality on sale.

So I make my list. And then I shop.

We've been doing this for about six months now. Of course there are exceptions to the budget - holiday dinners, birthday parties, etc but for the most part, we stick to the rules.

This last Sunday I scored big time and had my best coupon bonanza yet. I was doing the happy dance in the damn check out line and even the cashier gave me a high five.

In fact, I'm so excited, I'm going to tell you what I bought and what I spent.


1 six pack of Mott's All Natural Applesauce cups (had a coupon)

1 four pack of Dole diced pears for Banana's lunch (had a coupon)

2 bags of Tostitos Scoops to feed Skippy's salsa habit (had a coupon)

2 boxes of Quaker Simple Harvest Oatmeal (had coupons)

2 boxes of Captain Crunch - this is a BIG treat (had coupons)

2 boxes of Quaker Maple and Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal (had coupons)

4 boxes of Special K Red Berries for me (had coupons, thank you Laura!)

1 bag of Chewy Chips Ahoy for lunches (had a coupon)

5 cans of Campbell's Tomato Soup (had a coupon)

5 cans of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup (had a coupon)

1 bottle of Triaminic Children's medicine (free with soup, plus had a coupon)

One bag of Ore Ida French Fries (on sale)

2 gallons of 1% milk (on sale)

1 container of cottage cheese (on sale)

1 loaf of whole wheat white bread (on sale)

1 Package of all beef hot dogs (on sale)

1 Pot Roast (on sale)

1 Small package of chicken breasts (on sale)

2 pounds of bananas

and 2 and 1/2 pounds of organic gala apples

Now keep in mind that this stuff will be added to things I have already at home that were also bought on sale - it's not like we're all eating nothing but tomato soup all week - when you combine my purchases with things I already have, we'll have at least one soup and grilled cheese night, one leftover night, one meatless night, and at least four other "good" dinners.

So before any type of savings (club card, coupons, promotions, etc) my total would have come to one hundred and twelve dollars and eighteen cents.

After my Safeway card, my coupons, and two in-store promotions, I spent thirty eight dollars and and ninety five cents.

I flippin' rock. Some healthy stuff, some treats. And not a box of Hamburger Helper to be seen!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

My Dad died of cancer, and I didn't even get a lousy t-shirt

On January fourth four years ago, I was driving my old paint chipped Chevy Blazer down Interstate 88 to meet my Mom at the hospital. She had called me earlier that morning, frantic with worry over my Dad. Shortly after we hung up, I got on the road and began the forty mile trip to be with my family and my father was taken back to cancer care via ambulance. He had been fighting esophageal cancer since his diagnosis just six months earlier.

By some stroke of luck, my mother-in-law was in town - she had arranged an extended layover on her way home from my sister-in-law's family during New Year's so that Skippy and I could have a rare date night. Blessedly, I was able to leave my girls with her. Banana was two. Kbear had just turned one a few weeks earlier.

I called Skippy at work while I drove under a steel gray sky. I remember that I was shaking, with cold or with worry I don't know. I told him that things were pretty bad, worse then they had been when I had frantically rushed to the hospital just three days earlier. I told him to stay at work, that I would call when I had news.

While I drove, I thought about my Dad. The strong, tan, outspoken man that I loved, respected, and sometimes even feared was almost unrecognizable now. Chemotherapy, a subsequent allergic reaction, and various infections had sapped his strength in addition to the cancer he was trying to ward off. We had almost lost him in ICU shortly before the holidays, and our reprieve had been too brief.

I parked in the now-familiar lot on the back side of the hospital with an entrance to the cancer ward. I can remember turning off my radio, leaning my head against the steering wheel, and taking deep breath after deep breath. I wasn't sure what to expect, but experience over the last six months had taught me that it wouldn't be good.

The first thing I saw when the double glass doors slid open was my husband. He was standing near the front desk, talking to my sister. The husband I had told to stay at work. The husband who had beat me to the hospital, being closer to it than I had been. The husband who had been through this before with his own father. He was determined to be there for me. He loved my Dad too.

My mom looked tired. She was always tired then, but this time...she looked defeated. Assorted extended family joined us as the hours ticked by. We kept vigil. We laughed at old fishing stories, we went to eat in shifts, we held hands, and we supported each other while my Dad slipped further and further away from us.

No matter how long I am granted a life on this earth, I will never forget when the doctor came to confirm our worst fears. There was no hope. Dad was beyond the help of modern medicine. All they could do was make him comfortable, make him pain free, and allow him to slip away in peace, surrounded by his wife and children.

It didn't sink in right away, that there was absolutely no hope left. That my Dad was going to die. That we had to say good-bye. It was mid-afternoon on January fourth, and the doctors said that Dad probably wouldn't last the night.

Shortly after that unhappy revelation, our extended family filed out for a while, leaving my mother, my siblings, myself and my husband alone with my Dad. We held his hands and talked to him. I don't know for sure if he heard me, but I absolutely have to believe that he did or I might go crazy on some awful emotional level. I know that he knew how much we loved him. We tried to tell him that it was okay to let go, that we would be okay. It was the last thing we wanted, and the only thing we could say. My Mom told him that when he "got there," if he could please send her a sign and let her know, it would mean everything to her.

Later in the evening a priest from Mom and Dad's church came and administered last rites.

That night I sat alone in the dark and deserted lobby of cancer care and stared outside.

That night it snowed.

A thick blanket of white slowly and methodically covered our cars as they sat waiting in the parking lot. It was the first major storm of the season. That night, my entire universe revolved around the cancer ward. My world seemed to be holding it's breath. I felt like the storm was heralding a massive seemed to be sweeping my father out of my life.

In the morning, Dad was still alive. He was deep in a coma. My mother had not left his side, not to eat or drink, and not to sleep. My father had been a fearsome man during the pain of his cancer, and not easy to live with or care for, but she was determined to stay at his side with him until this life finally let him go. Nothing anyone said could move her.

I knew how she felt. After several hours of watching the snow fall, I parked myself firmly at Dad's side at dawn with my family and my husband. I can remember telling Skippy, "I don't want to miss him." When the last breath left his body, I needed to be there. To stop long enough to sleep or eat or even use the bathroom put me at risk to miss what was sure to be one of the most awful moments of my life, and I didn't dare leave the room.

As time went on, the pauses between my father's breaths would get longer. Sometimes we would all pause in our quiet conversations, waiting to see if he would take another one. To watch a life let go of a body is one of the most excruciating experiences I have ever been through - to pray and hope and cry and love and to wait some more....It is beyond humbling.

And on January fifth, sometime around noon - I don't remember anymore if it was a few minutes before or a few minutes after - my father let out a breath...and didn't take another.

One of our cancer care nurses (an angel on Earth) came quietly into the room, stethoscope in hand. She gently pushed past my family and listened to my father's chest. She listened again. The seconds ticked by. And she shook her head ever so slightly at my Mom.

There would be no more breaths. My father was gone.

In that moment, my entire world narrowed around that one inconceivable thought. In that moment, I felt myself pressed hard against Skippy's chest, as if he hoped he could some way shield me from what had just happened. In that moment, I understood what it was to grieve. A god-awful heart-wrenching "nononononono" came tearing out of me.

We had waited together for over 30 hours for this moment, and yet I couldn't believe it had finally found us.

I don't know how long we stood there, arms wrapped around each other, my aunts and cousins and mother and brother and sister and husband. I don't know when we pulled out of those first few awful shocking moments. I remember someone saying that my grandparents had arrived. I remember going out with my Aunt to tell them our awful news. I came back into the room and as my Mom moved towards the door to see to my Dad's parents, Skippy's hand gripped my arm and ever so quietly he said, "Ame, the window."

A pine tree stood just outside my Dad's hospital room. A big bushy snow covered pine tree, it's green boughs brilliant against their backdrop of white. And nestled in the branches, was the biggest fattest cardinal I had ever seen.

You have to understand some of the back story. Growing up, Mom always told us that seeing a cardinal was good luck. She had a fondness for them and as a result of her little home-grown-fable, we all liked the vibrant red birds. Being the state bird of Illinois, they were spotted often in our area, but nevertheless, to see one the morning after a raging snowstorm, inches from my Dad's hospital window, sitting calmly in the branches of a tree and watching us sad humans inside was a bit unusual. I rushed out to grab my Mom from the lobby - there was no way I could let her miss seeing it with her own eyes.

I shouldn't have worried about it. That dang bird sat there for close to a half hour - or more. We all saw him - he didn't fly away when we stepped closer to the glass. He just hung out, surveying the scene in the tiny room that had been a place of such sorrow.

And then in an instant, although no one saw him fly away, he was gone. But we all felt that seeing one of my Mom's favorite birds, her self-appointed feathered good luck charm, in the horrible moments following my father's death and in such unlikely conditions could really only mean one thing.

Dad was letting her know. He was letting her know that he had "gotten there" just fine.


Needless to say, in the months following Dad's death, we became a little bit fanatical about cardinals. You know how old ladies sometimes become "crazy cat ladies?" We've kind of become "crazy cardinal people." It's gotten better but whenever I see anything from a Christmas card to a dishtowel that has that bright red bird on it, I can't help but think of him.

It has been four years since my Dad died. We have all gone through tremendous changes on many levels, emotionally, spiritually, and physically, but parts of him will always be with us. It never really truly goes away.

This is the first Christmas that it didn't hurt quite so much. And the fact that it didn't hurt as much, hurt.

I think of him often. I still ask him for advice. And even though I have traded the cardinals of Illinois for the blue jays of Oregon, I know that he hears me.

Someday, I won't feel the need to talk about him around January fifth. I won't have to project my sorrow on my blog. Someday I'll be able to just look at the sky and say, "Dad, wherever you're fishing today, I hope the beer is cold and that you catch a whopper."

I'm not there yet. I still have a need to tell my stories, to share my father, to somehow make him REAL to people.

I talk to my girls about him often. My husband teases me when I say something that is straight out of Dad's mouth. My mom cautions me to live my life more, and to worry less - he hated that I was a worrier like him. I have let go of the bad stuff. Dad wasn't perfect. I say it every time. Sometimes when people die, we tend to put them up on a pedestal of clouds and forget that they ever had a sharp word for us. I haven't forgotten the bad stuff, I've just chosen to let only the good live in my heart. Death in and of itself is too much, too hard, and too sad to hang onto all the bad stuff.

So instead I'll just say this:

I love you Dad.

Wherever you are fishing today, I hope the beer is cold.

I hope you catch a whopper.