annabel

I’ve wanted to write this post for weeks now, but every time I try to sit down at the “big computer,” I decide to sleep instead. And also it is really hard to type with one hand.

A Birth Story

On May 8, we went to a regularly scheduled OB appointment and discovered that the baby was transverse – lying across the uterus instead of in the preferred “head down” position.  The fact that I had a lot of fluid and a misshapen uterus (thanks to a myomectomy and a twin pregnancy) made it very easy for the baby to swim into whatever position she preferred.  Dr. G had already performed a “version” (changing the baby’s position) in the office at 37 weeks, but the baby happily shifted by the next day. Knowing that the baby moved so quickly, Dr. S suggested that once we achieved 39 weeks gestation, we should schedule another version followed immediately by an induction.  In the meantime, we were advised that I should try hard NOT to go into labor and that if I did go into labor, or my water broke, we should go straight to the hospital due to risk of umbilical cord prolapse.

Thus began my maternity leave.

The first available date for the version and induction was Wednesday, May 14 with Dr. G.  We were signed up for a 7:30 a.m. time slot.

In between the appointment and the induction, I managed to injure my neck, causing me considerable pain and insomnia.  The day before the induction, we visited our friendly neighborhood chiropractor who attempted to mitigate the pain and gave Frank some suggestions for assisting me with pain management during labor and delivery.

We both woke up bright and early on Wednesday morning, ready to meet our third child.  It was an absolutely beautiful morning and a perfect drive to the hospital. I was so happy to walk into Labor and Delivery, instead of being wheeled into L&D in complete terror (as was what happened with the twins). We were set up in our room, I changed and was put on monitors … and then the fun started.

 

Ready to go to the hospital!

Ready to go to the hospital!

Dr. G is sort of a legend in our area.  My mom actually went to his practice many years ago in hopes that he would deliver her third child, my brother Andy, but unfortunately she went into labor on a day that he wasn’t on duty.  He is an older gentleman, with a sweet and kind demeanor.  His old-school training made him more likely to try things like a version, something that only one of his colleagues would also attempt (Dr. S). He was optimistic that he could shift the baby’s position, but he was also realistic.  He’d seen enough versions that should’ve been easy that failed, and other versions that should’ve failed, work. Within minutes of locating the baby on the ultrasound, he began the process of shifting her position.  We watched in awe as her little shape moved into a perfect head-down position.

Once it was confirmed that her head was in the best position possible, Dr. G broke my water and began pitocin.

Hanging out, inducing and stuff...

Hanging out, inducing and stuff…

Everything was pretty uneventful after that.  Frank and I watched a movie, texted, played games, and just sat around waiting to meet our baby. Frank left for breakfast and lunch breaks, and finally by about 2 p.m. we decided to get the epidural.  At that point I was dilated to 2 cm and everything was looking good.

At 5 p.m. Dr. G was leaving for the day and he wanted to see how things were going with me before handing me off to Dr. S.  I was dilated to 3 cm and everything looked fine. After he left, though, my nurse and I both noticed a deceleration with the baby’s heart rate on the next contraction.  I bit my lip nervously as I waited for the heart rate to return to normal.

A few more contractions came and went without decelerations.  The nurses changed shifts and the new nurse wanted to check my cervix.  While she checked, a worried look crossed her face.

“Did the doctor mention anything about feeling facial features when he checked last?” she asked.  I shook my head.

I’m not a doctor, but I knew enough to know that you shouldn’t feel a baby’s facial features during a cervical check. Crap, I thought.

The next contraction, as though the baby knew, involved another heart rate deceleration.  I furrowed my brow. Frank was now pacing next to my hospital bed.  The nurse called the hospitalist (the doctor on duty for the hospital).  The hospitalist arrived quickly.

“Yes, I feel a forehead… and eyes.  What does the OB want you to do?” the hospitalist asked the nurse.

“Turn her on her side and stop the pitocin and call the OB in,” said the nurse, reaching to turn off the pitocin as she said it. The hospitalist nodded. Within 30 minutes, my OB was in the room.

Dr. S was a very professional and still very kind doctor.  She is one of those doctors that instills a sense of authority while still being very compassionate at the same time.  She spent a long time assessing the situation.  During her check, she attempted to move the baby’s chin down in order to shift her head into a better position.  She attempted to push the baby’s head back into the uterus.  Neither effort worked – the baby was fully engaged.  Dr. S could tell that the baby’s head was becoming swollen from the pressure from the contractions.

Dr. S looked at me with sad eyes and I knew before she even said it.  “We have to do a C-Section. I can’t move the baby’s head.  There is a risk that if the baby is allowed to be born this way, she might break her neck,” explained Dr. S.

My heart dropped. My poor baby.  All I could think of was this poor, sweet baby trying to be born into this world and being stuck and injured.  Frank and I took a few minutes to talk and to pray.  I knew I had to do the C-Section, but even though I had tried to mentally prepare for that before we were induced – I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.

I’ve done a lot of difficult things. Not climbing mountains or anything, but I’d had surgery before, been through challenging seasons of my life and so on. I’d created ways to mentally push through those difficult situations by outlining steps in my head.  Just get through this, this and this. Once you do those three things, you will be done.  But being awake for a major surgery? I knew what the steps were and I just couldn’t see my way through. I actually thought, so then they will put your organs back in… sweet heavens to Betsy… my organs will be on the outside… on.the.outside.  I couldn’t see my way through it. I started to panic.

And then I remembered that the last time I had a similar surgery to a C-Section (a myomectomy), I had been horrifically sick.  I threw up for hours by myself in my hospital room after surgery.  I remembered texting Frank and telling him how sick I was. Frank had asked if he should come back to the hospital. For what reason?  I remember thinking.  To watch me puke up jello into a kidney shaped blue bowl while I try not to hurt my already aching stomach muscles?  It was the kind of lonely misery that would not be improved by a spectator.

At the memory of my myomectomy recovery, I became scared of puking on one side of the operating curtain, while my actual stomach was exposed on the other side.  I couldn’t handle it.

I will say, my doctors were amazing.  Upon hearing of my nausea/vomiting fears, they took every step possible to reduce any chance that I would become violently ill while delivering my baby.  Not once during the C-Section did I even think of vomiting.  I was grateful.

Once I signed off on the paperwork for the C-Section, I was prepped and wheeled into the same operating room in which I delivered the twins.  I was moved from the L&D bed onto the narrow operating table.  The anesthesiologist began the spinal through the same port as my epidural and the final work to bring our baby into this world began.

Frank joined me by the head of the table, but he watched the entire surgery, not missing a moment of our baby’s delivery.  The thing about a C-Section is that while you do not feel pain, you feel your insides being moved around.  It’s a totally surreal situation – knowing that on the other side of a thin piece of blue fabric, your insides are on the outside.

But, oh heavens, at the first gurgling cries of sweet Annabel – it was all worth it. At 7:18 pm on May 14, 2014 she made her way into this world.

"Seriously you guys, what took you so long??"

“Seriously you guys, what took you so long??”

 

“It’s a girl! And she’s a big baby!” announced Frank and the doctor, laughing.

They brought a screaming, healthy baby Annie around the curtain so I could see her for the first time.  Frank laughed, “Boy is she angry!” The swelling in her forehead gave her a particularly angry scowl.

They cleaned up Annie and weighed her – 9lbs 3oz and 21 inches long – and brought her over for a more formal introduction.

"Hey, Mom, wassup?"

“Hey, Mom, wassup?”

Frank, Annie and me.

Frank, Annie and me. All of our best angles.

Annie and Frank hung out in the nursery waiting for me to get cleaned up and after two hours of recovery, we were all reunited.

"Mmm... Pain Management rocks!"

“Mmm… Pain Management rocks!”

Annie and I snuggled while Frank tried to forge for food (a nearly impossible task).  In between coos, I hit the button for pain medication every ten minutes. I’ll tell you what, C-Sections are no joke and I am grateful for the excellent pain management (the PC way to say “large quantities of pain killers”) that I was offered at the hospital.

The twins were excited to meet their new sister.  Poor Carrigan, confused and concerned by the logistics of birthing, immediately asked if Annie was going “back in.” We assured her that Annie was here to stay.

Party of 5!

Party of 5!

Annie and I hung out in the hospital for four days and were discharged, happily, on May 18.

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset

Frank and his girls!

Frank and his girls!

"Let's rock and roll mom and dad!"

“Let’s rock and roll mom and dad!”

Sisters

Sisters

About the Name

Annie’s first trimester was more exciting than we had hoped.  Early on, we were very concerned about some bleeding issues that went on for nearly four weeks.  During that time of worry, I felt peace at church and felt that her middle name would be Ruth.  We knew we wanted an “A” first name, and it was between Abigail and Annabel.  I’ve always loved Annabel and it’s literary history.  We both loved that the name could be shortened to Anna, Ann, Annie, etc.  Annabel is actually a variation on the Scottish name Amabel, meaning loving.  And she definitely is a little lovebug!

Two weeks old, poolside

Two weeks old, poolside

Eight weeks old

Eight weeks old

three things: sociology 101

Frank and I were lying in bed, writing a grocery list and figuring out what needed to be accomplished an afternoon last weekend when he squinted at my (mostly) dark brown hair.  The following conversation was documented on my Facebook page:

Frank: man. You’re going gray.

Me: I know.

Frank: I mean really. Wow. Like remember when I used to count them? Only God can count them now.

Ladies and gentlemen: he’s a keeper.

For the record, our whole conversation made me laugh. I am aging.  Every passing day and passing year is testament to that fact.  Frank, not immune to the effects of time, is also aware of the effects of time’s passage on his own person. Our faces are looser, our bodies are definitely outside of our prime.  We are tired from running after two jobs, two kids (soon to be three! whoa!) and life.

But the laugh lines and smile lines are also taking hold, happily, etching their places at the corners of our eyes and creating parenthesis around our grins.

Life is good.  Even when it hasn’t been, we’ve laughed together and been each other’s best friends.

People who know us, know what I write here is true.

I posted our funny exchange dryly on my Facebook page, smirking while I hit “post.” Before the first responses came back, I was chuckling to myself about my funny husband.

And then… Then I learned three things about people in a small microcosm of social media. To be certain, I am not naive – I have witnessed some of these behaviors in other spaces and places, but it hit a nerve watching the responses unfold in response to an every-day humorous exchange between Frank and me.

Thing one: Domestic Violence Is Not OK.

A friend flippantly commented that I should “slap” Frank for his remark.

For some reason, this seems to be a thing among women: it is OK to make threats about striking men – or even actually hitting a man.

That is ugly to me.  I cringe on the inside.

How can we, as women, say it is NOT OK to hit women, but at the same time say that it IS OK to hit men? While we complain about double standards I think it might be time to examine the double standards that women also use.

I also played through the response as though it was a man telling another man to slap his wife.  Certainly there would be absolute outrage about a comment like that.  But the thought of me hitting my husband was met with silence.

Of course, you could go down a rabbit hole with this one, but that is for smarter people than me. Suffice to say, I do not advocate for any violence against humans. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you and all that.

 

Thing two: Small Rudder, Big Ship.

I am reminded of the childhood playground mantra, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!”

That horse crap mantra never worked. We are humans and at the essence of who we are is that we relate to other people. Words are part of that relationship and words can hurt, deeply.

In the Book of James in the Bible, there is a passage that refers to the tongue as a small rudder that steers a large ship.

That is truth.

When one of the responses called my sweet, funny husband an “ass” and demanded that he get a raise so I can pamper myself monthly, it hurt me and it irritated him.

Something to know about our marriage: we refuse to call each other names. I give Frank the most credit for maintaining this level of decorum in our arguments.  If you know Frank, you know that he is a professional, first and foremost.  He is professional in all facets of his life, even in our marriage.  This doesn’t mean he isn’t wrong at times or that he doesn’t make mistakes or that he hasn’t said things he’s later regretted.  But he does not scream to dominate an argument, he does not resort to name calling to distract from the true issue at hand and he keeps his language generally clean.

So to see those words written out and directed at my husband – my much better half, to be honest – left a bitter taste in my mouth.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve heard or witnessed such behavior from people, sadly. I’ve seen it live and in person. No matter the context, it is always off-putting and upsetting.

Those small words steer a large ship indeed.

 

Thing three: Humor.

Of course, throughout the responses were appropriate responses from people who know us best. One of my friends jokingly commiserated. A few cajoled Frank about his lack of gray hair due to his absolute lack of hair. One said that our humor was the sign that we were the best of friends.

One of the first times that Frank and I went out together, I remember thinking, “I have never laughed with anyone else like this – ever!” Our chemistry has always been punctuated by jokes and games and funny things we do to make the other smile. It is our way. (I documented a few of our quirky “I love you’s” a while ago)

In fairness, I did not include a smiley face or emoticon or other emotional clues to indicate that our conversation was funny.  I simply assumed that others would firstly, know us well enough to know that it was meant as a humorous exchange, and secondly, that even if others did not know us well enough, that they would assume that I would not post a conversation like that out of anger, hurt or some other negative emotion.

Perhaps the conversation may have been sort of a Rorschach test, revealing more about the people responding than it did about the people having the conversation. I don’t know.

I deleted the conversation in its entirety from my Facebook page because it brought out some negativity that I personally didn’t enjoy and, well, it’s my Facebook page and I’ll do what I want to.

Emily, out.

year in review

In short:

It was winter & it was cold.

The girls turned two.

We bought a house and sold a condo and moved.

Everyone knows that the actual moving part is the worst part of any home purchase.

It was appropriately terrible, especially with my ear infection that WOULD NOT GO AWAY. But has. So we are all good now.

We frolicked at the park any time it was over 30 degrees and under 120 degrees.

We laughed, we cried, I cut my hair, we took some selfies, we laughed some more and then we found out we were pregnant with #3.

This was not a surprise.

We planned it.

But still.  THREE KIDS. OMG.

What were we thinking??

And now, the year in pictures.  Beginning January:

2013 01 Haircut Carrie 2

Carrie’s First Haircut

2013 01 Haircut Ellie

Ellie’s First Haircut

2013 02 2nd Birthday

Twins turn Two.

2013 02 Birthdays

Grandma Sandy, Julia, Elliana and Carrigan all celebrated birthdays together. (and took a lovely picture with Luke and Joshua)

2013 02 Carrie Bling

Carrie loves her pretties! (aka bracelets and jewels and sparkly things!)

2013 02 Carrie Cool

Carrie is also VERY busy, babe. So, like, leave a message or whatever.

2013 02 Ellie Cool Glasses

Shades and a binky NEVER go out of style.

2013 02 Selfies Carrie

Carrie’s February Selfie. So now.

2013 02 Selfies Mom and Ellie

Ellie and Mommy selfie together.

2013 03 Easter Egg Hunt Ellie

Ellie hunts the elusive Easter Egg.

2013 03 Easter Egg HuntCarrie

Carrie has concern for the elusive Easter egg. Where is it? What is in it? These are big questions.

2013 03 Easter

Easter brunch with Frank’s parents. Delish!

2013 03 Frank and girls

A trip to Water Tower Place in Chicago.

2013 03 Hockey

Hawks Game!

2013 03 Mom and girls

Story time with Mom in March

2013 03 Night out

A much-needed night out in March to see The Book of Mormon.

2013 03 Snow

Boo! Snow in March!

2013 04 Carrie Pig tails

A warm day in April means a trip to the park – and pigtails for Carrie!

2013 04 Carrie Selfie

A mommy and Carrie selfie in April

2013 04 Carrie

A trip to a bakery in Lincoln Park. Yum!

2013 04 Ellie

Ellie scoping out Lincoln Park. Future Blue Demon??

2013 04 Horsey ellie

Cowgirl Ellie takes the reins…

2013 04 Horsey

Cowgirl Carrie is on the move!

2013 04 Picnic small

An outdoor snack in April. Loving the warm weather!

2013 04 Selfie Carrie Hat

Carrie stylin’ a new hat from Grandma Sandy.

2013 05 Carrie Pancake

Carrie can’t believe the WHOLE pancake is for her!

2013 05 Carrie

Early morning Carrie is the best!

2013 05 Ellie Asleep

Ellie tuckered out on a car ride home…

2013 05 Flowers 2

Enjoying the “snow” of flower petals in May.

2013 05 House

We bought a house!

2013 05 K Fam

Just the four of us… for now!

2013 05 Park Carrie

Carrie loves the park!

2013 05 Park Ellie

Ellie also loves the park.

2013 05 Picnic

“Dahling, isn’t picnicking just the bees’ knees?”

2013 05 Tea Party Ellie

A tea party between Ellie and Michael. He’s such a good sport!

2013 05 Twins Beds Carrie

Carrie in a toddler bed!

2013 05 Twins Beds Ellie

Ellie in a toddler bed!

2013 05 Twins Wishing Frank Happy Birthday

The twins wishing Daddy a happy 33rd birthday!

2013 06 Carrie Ride

Do we have a future motorcycle chick??

2013 06 Ellie Ride

Ellie enjoyed her bike as well!

2013 06 Furniture

Improvising with furniture during the move. Camp chairs are so in right now!

2013 06 George

Saying goodbye to our trusty Honda Accord, George in June.

2013 06 Girls Room

Lounging in their new room.

2013 06 Hanging with Kelsey

Carrie and her buddy Kelsey chilling.

2013 06 Hockey

One game to the Stanley Cup!

2013 06 Lunch

We love lunching outside!

2013 06 Packing

Packing is never dull when you are packing with twins two year olds!

2013 06 Park

I love the PARK!!

2013 06 Rain Carrie

Mommy and Carrie watching the rain!

2013 06 Rain Ellie

Ellie catching the rain!

2013 06 Train Twins

Riding the train at the July Jaycee carnival in Hoffman Estates!

2013 07 Carrie at the beach

Carrie playing on the beach, with appropriate jewels, of course!

2013 07 Ellie eating brekkie

A healthy breakfast is the best way to start the day!

2013 07 Getting Ready in the morning

Getting ready for work with Mom!

2013 07 Hanging with my sibs

Sibling night … PUT THE PHONES AWAY! That is all.

2013 07 Post Bath Discussions

The girls deep in discussions post bath in July.

2013 07 Riding the bus to church

The girls love to ride the bus to church. Church is also one of their favorite places to go – they ask to go all week long!

2013 07 Summer Concerts

Ellie and Mom taking in a very hot summer concert together – so much fun!

2013 08 Beach Time

The girls loved their beach time in August!

2013 08 Beach

Carrie particularly loved the pier and looking at the fish.

2013 08 Cousins visiting

Cousins Luke and Julia came to visit in August. They had so much fun!

2013 08 Ellie visiting Caycay

Ellie visited Auntie Cay-cay and raided her amazing costume jewelry collection.

2013 08 Emilys Haircut

I chopped my hair!

2013 08 First Day of Playschool

The first day of Playschool for the twins!

2013 08 First Day with Mom

The girls couldn’t wait to go inside!

2013 08 Mommy Potty Training

The first day of potty training. It was harder on Mom (and Dad) than it was on the girls.

2013 08 Park Carrie

Carrie cruising at the park in August.

2013 08 Potty Training

Potty training bootcamp.

2013 08 Trikes with Carrie

Carrie giving her trike a tune-up in August.

2013 08 Trikes with Ellie

Ellie in August.

2013 08 Visiting Caycay

Carrie also raided Auntie Cay-cay’s jewelry. So glamorous!

2013 08 WI State Fair Ellie

Going to the Wisconsin State Fair was exhausting…

2013 08 WI State Fair

… and delicious!

2013 09 Fire Trucks

Ellie and Carrie explored their first fire truck!

2013 09 Prego

Holy positive pregnancy test, batman! It was a September to remember!

2013 09 Tea Party

Tea Partiers.

2013 10 FLying

Does someone have a future in aviation? Perhaps!

2013 10 Selfies Ellie

Mom and Ellie Selfies in October.

2013 10 Selfies

Mom and Carrie Selfie in October.

2013 10 Sports Carrie

Carrie enjoyed her first sports camp. Bend it like Beckham!

2013 10 Sports

Ellie is ready to take on the entire team. Solo. With one hand tied behind her back. Game on, girlfriend!

2013 11 Carrie in the Pantry

Carrie loves the pantry in the new house nearly as much as I do.

2013 11 Pool Carrie

Carrie is a future pool shark in the making.

2013 11 Pool Ellie

Important life skillz.

2013 11 Thanksgiving

The twins ready to celebrate Thanksgiving with Grandma Sandy and Grandpa K.

2013 11 Vegas

Frank and I enjoyed a lovely visit to Vegas in November. So much fun!

2013 12 Christmas Twins 2

Twin love at Christmas.

2013 12 Christmas Twins

Say Cheese! Say Merry Christmas!

2013 12 Christmas Twins 3

Santa came!

2013 12 Drawing Carrie

Carrie, our little lefty.

2013 12 Drawing

Ellie drawing.

2013 12 Hawks

Frank and I at a Hawks game. With that guy. Yo.

So, there you have it: 2013 in pictures.

It was a good year.

The forecast for 2014 calls for less sleep, lots of new baby snuggles and big sister hugs.

What a ride.

contextual learning

***DISCLAIMER: THIS IS A PG-13 POST.  PLEASE READ WITH CAUTION. PLEASE DO NOT READ IF YOU ARE NOW OR EVER HAVE BEEN A PASTOR OF OURS (HI BILL). OR IF YOU ARE MY MOTHER-IN-LAW. INSTEAD, READ THIS.***

As an observational-type learner, I tend to glean information and learn from day-to-day interactions.  This has generally been a fine way to learn, with only a few missteFps along the way.

At the age of four, I remember my dad talking about someone getting fired at work.  In my four-year-old brain, I imagined a horrifying scene of someone being actually set on fire.  I felt awful for my dad’s former coworker and his family. I couldn’t believe how casually my dad spoke of something so absolutely terrifying!

At 22, I entered the work-world.  While most of my coworkers enjoyed straight-swearing with a few creative twists or flourishes, there were a few that modified their language so that the words were almost swear words, but not quite.

I remember one of my bosses referring to a particularly messed-up client situation as a “cluster.” Cluster seemed appropriate. So I began to use the word freely to describe other situations that also seemed to have characteristics of a cluster.

“What a cluster!” I would lament at the grocery store, waiting in a long line behind someone paying for $400 of groceries with a check.

“Isn’t that a cluster?” I would comment to strangers about a particularly frustrating Packer’s game.

I was even freely using this new word at church. Cluster this, cluster that. Until, of course, Frank alerted me to the fact that cluster, in the context I was using the word, was usually a part of a longer word combination.  And that second word was the f-bomb.

Whoopsies!

Considering my long history of contextual and observational learning, you would think that Frank would have been smarter about his word choice for describing the period of time from December 26 through December 30. You would think he would at least thoroughly explain his word choice to avoid me using the word casually in conversations.

You would think all of that and be totally and completely wrong.

The conversation with Frank went something like this:

“Yeah, this time of the year is kind of a bummer. It’s the taint of the year,” said Frank, nonchalantly.

“Taint? Why?” I asked, curious to know more about this new word.

“Yeah.  You know, tain’t Christmas, tain’t New Year’s. Taint.”

“OH!”

Armed with this amazing new word that perfectly described in-between situations, I casually texted a friend of mine and asked if she wanted to get together during the taint  of the year.

I was so proud.

She was a little… surprised. Seeing that she was unfamiliar with this swanky terminology perfect for describing this in-between time of year, I explained it to her the same way Frank explained it to me.

There was a long pause in her response to me. “Sure, yeah, we can hang out.”

Later that same day, I told Frank that I would be getting together with my friend in the Taint of the Year. He raised his rather large eyebrows.

“You didn’t actually USE the word taint, did you?” he asked carefully.

“Well, yeah, sure, that’s what this time of the year is, right?” I was confused. And I was starting to become a little concerned as well.

He started to laugh. I was really concerned. He laughed harder.

When he finally wiped the tears from his eyes and pulled himself together, Frank explained that the taint is a somewhat common slang term used to describe a specific region of anatomy.  (Google it if you must…  I dare you.  Do it at work.  Use image search.)

I was horrified. I started wondering if I had used this word in any work emails.  Like, “Hey, I’ll be working during the taint of the year, so email me with whatever you need…” or something like that.  But I was afraid to search Outlook to see if I had, in fact, used that word.

So. There you go.

Happy Taint of the Year to You and Yours.

viva las vegas

Also titled: What I learned About Myself in Vegas. And What I learned About Vegas in Vegas.

Subtitled: Don’t Eat at Sketchy Buffets

>>First: I am a diva.

While I grew up with a family that tent camped and pop-up camped our way around the country, I found that my heart is really in the penthouse, luxury suites or other similarly outfitted high-end hotel rooms.

I had an inkling about my diva ways on a few previous trips with Frank.

***Trip One: The Econo-Lodge somewhere between Chicago and Atlanta.

Scene: Hotel room had been freshened up with a coat of paint. This same coat of paint was applied without consideration to everything in the room: door frames, moldings, walls, vanities and ceiling, making the experience of being in the room akin to being a stick figure drawn on a piece of paper.  The bedspread was from circa 1974 and, likely, that was also the last time it was washed.  I pointed to something on the floor that looked like a blood stain and decided that I didn’t want to ask “Is that a blood stain?” out loud.  Sometimes, you just don’t want to know the answer.

Experience: Horrific.  Even though Frank had stayed at some pretty nast-tay hotel rooms in his time with a regional airline, this one was pretty epic.  He dreamt the entire night of bugs coming out of his eyes, ears and mouth.  Yes, this one got to him.  Needless to say, we did not inquire about a continental breakfast as we ran out of the hotel bright and early in the morning.

Famous Last Words: “Babe, can you believe I got this room for only $35 a night?”  Yes, sweetheart, I can.

 

***Trip Two: A Hotel with a Guitar Shaped Pool in Nashville.

Scene: Similar to the Econo-Lodge, the mosaic of stains on the carpet and the very dated bedspread were not the welcome you would hope for anywhere. Especially disconcerting were the eight missing ceiling tiles over the shower, revealing the hotel’s plumbing and the sound of our neighbor brushing his teeth.  It’s like having someone else in your room… without having someone else in your room.

Experience: Thank goodness we only stayed there for one night.  I was barely able to zip my suitcase as I ran for the door in the morning.

Famous Last Words: “But babe, it has a guitar-shaped pool!”

It’s important to have those two hotel experiences as a backdrop for this trip.  My sweet, thrifty Bohemian husband loves himself a good deal.  So when he said he was booking a hotel for the trip to Las Vegas, I carefully asked, “So, uh, you didn’t get any… deals for the room, did you?”

Knowing the hotel experiences he’s put me through in the past, Frank enthusiastically said, “NO! No deals.”  I knew then that this would be a good trip.

When we walked into the hotel room at Vdara in City Center, I was not disappointed. A suite, this room had a full kitchen, a family room, a bedroom and a very large bathroom.  Frank, the connoisseur of mid-range hotel rooms was dually impressed and quite pleased with himself.

AH, Vdara!

AH, Vdara!

This refrigerator is bigger than our refrigerator at home!!

This refrigerator is bigger than our refrigerator at home!!

The view of the Bellagio Fountains at night from our room.

The view of the Bellagio Fountains at night from our room.

Daytime view of the fountains and the strip.

Daytime view of the fountains and the strip.

In addition to a gorgeous room, we had a gorgeous view of the Bellagio fountains, the new Ferris Wheel and the strip.  I couldn’t have asked for anything better!

>>Second: When Vegas is Good, it is SO GOOD.

Upon arriving at the hotel, marveling at its splendor and checking out the free cable, Frank announced that we had reservations at swanky Sage in the Aria Hotel.  I had read a few reviews of the restaurant online before we traveled and heard good things.  I was excited!

The ambiance of the restaurant is lovely. Intimate and private, we were seated at a table tucked in the corner of the restaurant.  And the lighting was great: my skin looked awesome. Boom.

The waiter took our drink order – a mocktail for me and the real deal for Frank – and hurried off to leave us with our menus. After much discussion and deliberation, we decided on creamy chestnut soup for starters.  Frank had the Braised Veal Cheeks and I ordered the Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin.  Because you know – bacon makes everything better. (full fall menu for Sage)

After we ordered, the most magical thing happened: a wonderful young man arrived at our table with a tray of bread.

“Tonight I have for you a bacon roll and a French baguette,” he said, showing us the still-warm bread in his tray. “May I suggest that you take one of each?” Yes, yes you can suggest that. And yes, I will take both pleaseandthankyou.

The warm rolls were served with whipped butter and sea salt. The bacon roll was the perfect ratio of buttery, fluffy bread and savory, salty bacon.  I should’ve asked for two of each.  I am pregnant, you know.

After eating the bacon roll, I was concerned that I couldn’t love the baguette nearly as much. But much like you always love your second child as much as your first, I couldn’t imagine my life without the baguette. The French would’ve been proud.

Then there was the spoon.

Our waiter brought out two soup bowls and nestled inside was a spoon containing the perfect bite of … something. I will never know fully what it was that I ate at that moment – except that the flavor explosions went on forever. Fresh, vibrant, colorful – it was as though I had never truly eaten before. There was also a unicorn in the restaurant and it was also magnificent.

After the spoon came the bowl of creamy chestnut soup. Featuring some sort of pork happiness, currants and mushrooms and topped with the most lusciously creamy soup, every bite was an adventure in and of itself.

I think Frank was also at this same dinner with me.  I can’t be too sure at this point.

Our main course came out with not as much fanfare as it deserved. Beautifully presented, the portions were very un-American. But the flavor? The flavor and texture was big and bold and very, very American. That bacon wrapped pork loin was likely the most delicious piece of meat I have ever eaten. Ever. Amen.

Frank claims that his veal cheeks were the most delicious and tender pieces of meat he’s ever enjoyed, but at this point in the dinner I’m still not sure he was there. I only had eyes for the pork.

When the waiter came back and inquired about whether we wanted dessert, we sheepishly said no. There was simply no way we possibly left room for dessert and we felt we would do the dessert a grave injustice if we attempted to eat more.

While we were waiting for the check, the waiter brought out two warm shot glasses with a hot white chocolate and peppermint drink. If you could drink happiness, that’s what it tasted like.

We left the restaurant content and sad. Content because of a fantastic meal. Sad because we knew that we were unlikely to find another meal in Vegas that would match Sage’s greatness that night. We just didn’t know how right we were.

>>Third: Not all Buffets are Created Equal

When Frank and I were first dating, we took in our fair share of buffets.  We enjoyed the Stadium Club buffet at the United Center, the Easter buffet at the McDonald’s Lodge, a birthday buffet for Frank’s mom at the Drake in Oak Brook.  These are all pretty classy buffets.

I sensed that my dear husband was not acquainted with anything other than the occasional Chinese Buffet and the lovely, fancy buffets that he enjoyed growing up.

Several times while we were dating, Frank mentioned wanting to go to Old Country Buffet (OCB).  I couldn’t understand – I had been to several similar buffets growing up and never really enjoyed them for anything more than their soft serve ice cream with sprinkles.  I’m a simple girl, really.

After hearing him talk about the magic that must be the OCB several times, I gave in and we went to an OCB.  Frank’s excitement was palpable as we walked up to the door – and I watched that excitement drain from his being as we checked into the restaurant and surveyed its offerings.

Fruit flies, overcooked chicken, fake mashed potatoes, limp looking vegetables… the scene was food devastation. Frank filled up a plate, refusing to acknowledge the food horrors in front of him.

He sat at the table and tenuously began eating the food on his plate.  He ate the nearly entire plate of lukewarm, tragic food – a noble skill that probably later saved him from giving me honest feedback on quite a few dishes I served to him during our courtship and early marriage (not to worry, I pretty much stopped cooking…). Then, he gave the buffet a sidelong glance, shook his head in the general direction of the food massacre, and said, “You know, this really isn’t as good as I hoped it would be.”

That sad disappointment still lingers on Frank’s face when we pass an OCB to this day. You can practically hear the strains of “What Might Have Been” faintly playing in the background as we cruise by.  “We can’t go back again… there’s no use giving in… and there’s no way to know, what might have been.” Godspeed, OCB. Godspeed.

I wasn’t thinking about OCB when we booked tickets to see Million Dollar Quartet at Harrah’s Casino.  Vegas buffets are legendary – I didn’t think you could go wrong.

Oh… But you can go wrong. So wrong.

Harrah’s Casino in Las Vegas more closely resembles several football fields of bad man cave poker tables gone wrong than a Las Vegas Casino.  The casino feels like swimming through stale beer and a haze of old cigar smoke.  It feels like time marched on and trampled the casino underfoot.

As we approached the buffet entrance, I was haunted by this nagging voice in my head that said, “EMILY! It’s the OCB! Don’t do it!”

I ignored that voice. The buffet was free. It was included with our show tickets.

“Free is good!” I reasoned with the voice. “FREE IS GOOD!”

As we presented our tickets to the cashier, I cheerfully inquired, “So what is your favorite thing at the buffet?” Her response, while also cheery, should’ve served as a warning, “Oh, I say just start with the dessert sweetie!”

I should’ve heeded her warning.

As we waited to be let into the buffet, the greeter handed Frank and I oversized utensils.  I realized they were going to take pictures of us with these utensils. It had the ominous feeling of a “before” photo in the making. I held the fork, he held the spoon.  For the first picture, we smiled.  For the second picture, the greeter encouraged us to pretend to hit each other with our utensils.

If that isn’t foreshadowing, I don’t know what is.

We walked the buffet, trying to figure out what looked delicious and determine our strategy for best navigating this buffet. I quickly found that nothing looked good.  After a few sad perusals, I was happy to see some Mexican food at one end, so I went over to sample that.  I figured, how can you mess up Mexican food?

You can.

After lifting the lids off of several pots, I decided to just have three corn tortillas, some cheese and a small smattering of a meat product.  I added mashed potatoes and some over-dried turkey to my plate and called that dinner.

As always, Frank returned from the buffet with a full plate. I nibbled the tortillas, dumping the questionable meat on the plate. I ate the mashed potatoes.  I couldn’t bring myself to approach the turkey.

I decided to take the cashier’s advice and hit up the dessert area, hoping for better results.  I had a small cupcake and cookie.

Meanwhile, Frank cleared most of his plate. “I mean, it’s not great,” he said, pushing his mostly empty plate away.

The punchline to this joke of a buffet?  Frank slept soundly while I sat on the floor of the bathroom in our hotel room puking. Frank 1. Emily -2.

>>Fourth: In Vegas Old is Old.

In sweet, quaint midwestern towns, old becomes quaint.  Grandmas in sweater sets and polyester pants are cute, even when they are stealing cookies at the buffet.  Grandpas wearing plaid pants and faded sport coats are sweet, even when they make strange remarks and wink at you.  I expected in Vegas that the older parts of the strip would be quaint in much the same way.  I hoped that it would feel like the ghosts of Sinatra or Bob Hope or other famous old dudes might still be hanging around, throwing dice at the Craps tables.  Alas, that was not the case.

In Vegas, Grandmas don cocktail dresses and Naturalizers and it’s not a good scene.

We went to the old school Tropicana Hotel to see the Laugh Factory. The first thing to know about casinos in Vegas is that they allow smoking.  The second thing to know is that the newer casinos have much more effective air filtration systems. The older hotels smell and feel like the inside of an old bowling shoe: smokey, musty with a faint hint of Lysol.

If the ghosts of Sinatra or Hope or anyone else were hanging around in old Vegas casinos, I was not about to find out. I am a diva, after all, and I preferred the shiny new Vdara/Aria/Mandarin to the old strip.

>>Fifth: Sometimes Smaller is Better

Before the debacle at Harrah’s, Frank and I went on a mission to find a place to have delicious cocktails and appetizers prior to dinner.  Frank was pretty insistent on getting over to the Mandarin Oriental.

And this is why:

The view of the strip from the Mandarin Oriental.

The view of the strip from the Mandarin Oriental.

We enjoyed this front-row view to the twinkly lights of Vegas from a plush couch while sipping our drinks (tea for me, a cocktail for Frank) and noshing on calamari.  It was truly a highlight for both of us.

***

I didn’t love Vegas before we left on our trip.  I’m not a Vegas girl.  When presented with an opportunity to go on a trip, I suggested Vegas because I knew they had wonderful restaurants, a few good shows and I was hopeful we would find a hotel with a decent bed. With twins and work and being pregnant, sleep is a precious commodity!

I still don’t love Vegas after our trip.  But I did love spending time with Frank, eating great food, seeing entertaining shows, and wandering through overpriced designer stores and marveling at $5,000 red high heeled shoes. At that price range, the stores are more like museums displaying fine art than actual retail establishments, as far as I am concerned.

I spoke to a few local Vegasians. I asked them what they liked about their town. Universally, they loved the food and entertainment. Our cab driver from Sweden raved about the seafood at the buffets. But they all cautioned about gambling in a way that suggested that they knew people personally who had fallen into the gambling black hole, never to return again.

When I asked if they had ever been to Chicago, most of them had not.  “It’s cold there.”

Oh, how you’re missing out.

“Las Vegas is the only town in the world whose skyline is made up neither of buildings, like New York, nor of trees, like Wilbraham, Massachusetts, but signs.”
– Tom Wolfe

It’s good to be home.

updates with parenthood

I loved the 1989 movie Parenthood. I would categorize it as a movie that I loved when it came out (I was nine) and love even more now that I’m a parent – especially since I get the jokes (which, side note, OMG – why was I allowed to watch this movie when I was 9??). In the theme of the movie, here are updates on the recent happenings in the K Family… in no particular order.

On family…

Justin(3 year old son): Who’s that?

Gil (Dad): It’s my kid brother, Larry, your uncle. Don’t give him any money.

Justin: I won’t.

My youngest sister Sarah turned 21 on September 27.  I remember when she was born calculating how old I would be when she hit important milestones in her life. I figured out that I would be 32 when she was 21.  I remember thinking two things, first: “WOW… I’ll be old!” and second: “I won’t be relevant any more! How could I be 32 and cool?”

Oh, dear, sweet, young Emily.  You are as relevant and as cool at 32 as you were at 21. That’s not saying much, but it’s OK. Have a cocktail, toast your sister and color your roots.  I mean seriously, is that fairy dust or sparkly grays?

 

On marriage…

[Gil has been complaining about his complicated life; Grandma wanders into the room]

Grandma: You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.

Gil: Oh?

Grandma: Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!

Gil: What a great story. (sarcasm)

Grandma: I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.

… A few moments later…

Karen: I happen to LIKE the roller coaster, okay? As far as I’m concerned, your grandmother is brilliant.

Gil: Yeah if she’s so brilliant why is she sitting in our NEIGHBOR’S CAR?

We live on a roller coaster.  Frank is home, Frank is gone.  Some of the hills and loops are familiar – kids to sitter, kids to doctor, kids home, go to work, leave lunch on the counter at home.  Some of the twists are new – new projects, opportunities, moving homes, and so on.

I love our roller coaster.  I love that there is an element of juggling involved in our lives and I love when everything goes smoothly.

Our roller coaster makes me appreciate quiet Saturday nights like this one, where I can spend some time writing.

I used to think I was a merry-go-round kinda girl at my core. Until there was Frank; Frank makes the ride worth it and taught me how to love the roller coaster.  After ten years of marriage on September 19, I’d pick the roller coaster every time. T M, A.

 

On parenting… 

Frank (Dad): You know, when you were two years old, we thought you had polio. Did you know that?

Gil (Son): Yeah, Mom said… something about it a couple of years ago.

Frank: Yeah, well, for a week we didn’t know. I hated you for that.

[Gil looks surprised and hurt]

Frank: I did. I hated having to care, having to go through the pain, the hurt, the suffering. It’s not for me.

One of the hardest parts of parenting is not what you have to do for your children – it’s learning to accept what you can’t do for your children. We do our best to set a good framework, provide rules and boundaries – but every now and then something crops up and they are the only ones who can handle it.

We are rapidly hitting these moments – potty training, going to play school (Pre-pre-school, essentially), and generally redirecting them when they are misbehaving.  Parenting is an art and a science and a test in parental patience, will-power and self-discipline.

But it is so worth it.  The girls make jokes now – with each other and with us.  The play together so nicely much of the time and I am surprised by the few times they need a parent to step in and break up a disagreement.

Ellie is a gentle soul with alpha baby tendencies.  She does not like stern reprimands and apologizes almost to the point of fault.  She will certainly stand up to her sister and has mastered the screeching scream as a method to scare Carrigan away from a beloved stuffed animal or toy. I wasn’t feeling well the other day and Ellie was persistent in her questioning, “Mom, are you OK? Do you need medicine? Do you need to see the doc-tor?” She asked these questions with her curly red head cocked to one side and her eyebrows raised in serious concern.

Carrie is hilarious and gregarious.  We were getting ice cream – her favorite treat – and she walked into the ice cream store like she owned it.  She said hello to everyone, investigated the toppings and ice cream selections, requesting sprinkles like an old pro. And that’s the way she is – she walks into a room and says, “Hello friends! How’s it going?” with a big, confident smile on her face.  She has started striking poses with one hand on her hip – which is incredibly funny! She has a sensitive side that is tough to navigate; she will throw up a wall if she wants to ignore your request and is genuinely sorry when she’s done wrong.

 

on life…

Frank: Gil, you have a good memory. Uh, was it yours or Helen’s or Susan’s wedding I got drunk at?

Gil: It was all three, Dad. Congratulations.

Frank: Well, which one did I punch the band leader?

Gil: That was mine. We have photos. I’m having them blown up for the commitment hearings.

And in conclusion…

I am constantly re-learning the meaning of family.  It’s a lesson that evolves and morphs and changes, but the result is always the same for me: family is both the people I was born stuck with and the people I choose to be stuck with. Family is always worth the time and the fight and the energy.

Christmas in pictures… with a score card

Anyone who tells you they aren’t keeping track of who is winning in this game of parenting is a liar.

I’m keeping track.  And based on the results of this Christmas season, I don’t think I’m playing for the winning team.

The game? Parenting.  The goal? To raise your children.  The obstacle? They will try to raise you.  Every time a parent is able to maintain peace and present a unified front, parents get a point.  Every time a child successfully demolishes that facade? Point to the child.

For Christmas, we are scoring a few key areas:

  1. The Christmas Card Picture (2 possible points for execution and final product)
  2. The Christmas Outing (3 possible points for execution, most remaining Christmas Spirit and photographic evidence)
  3. Christmas Presents (2 possible points for sustained delight and photographic evidence)
  4. Official Christmas Festivities (1 point for attending church, 1 point for ensemble’s attire, 2 points for general outcome, 3 points for photographic evidence)

Total Possible Points: 15

Winner must win by at least two points.

Let the scoring commence.

The Christmas Card Picture: Twins 2 points

Shot 20

Shot 1

Shot 1

Shot 15

Shot 450

Shot 450

It took three separate photo shoots on three separate days, relocated furniture, bribes and a counseling session for mom and dad, but we finally captured this shot:

 

"Who, us? Difficult to photograph? No!"

“Who, us? Difficult to photograph? No!”

The thing is, I would’ve split the points evenly since we did get a cute shot, but the reason the girls look so angelic is because they are looking at us saying, “Mom, we live in a world that has sanity, and that sanity has to be destroyed by babies with attitude. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Dad? We have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for your sanity, and you curse your interrupted sleep. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what we know. That the toilet, while alluring to us in so many ways, probably distracted us from coloring on your walls. And our existence, while occasionally cute and snuggly to you, ends sanity. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want to be insane, you need to be insane. We use words like poopoos, uh oh, binkies. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent dismantling your sanity. You use them as a punchline. We have neither the time nor the inclination to explain ourselves to parents who cuddle and snuggle under the blankie of the very crazy joy that we provide, and then question the manner in which we provide it. We would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, we suggest you pick up a binkie, and stand a post. Either way, we don’t give a hoot what Christmas pictures you think you are entitled to.”  Not kidding.  Even with angelic faces, the soundtrack playing behind their innocent eyes was definitely Col. Jessup.

 

The Christmas Outing: Twins 2 Points, Parents 1 Point

First of all, kudos to Frank because he scored us our one point.  Frank went into the Christmas outing with an expectation of insanity.  His expectations were met and therefore, his Christmas Outing experience did not damage his overall sense of Christmas Joy.  The remaining points were awarded to the twins.

Between packed aisles, mobs of people at 9 a.m. and the veritable cornucopia of crap that comes with twin toddlers (diaper bags, coats, hats, binkies, bottles, snacks, etc, etc, etc), maneuvering through the store formerly called Marshall Fields was a hot, sweaty challenge.  Santa was on floor five.  Walnut Room, floor seven.  Christmas Tree viewing? Floor eight.  Elevators were cramped with 10 people and a double tandem stroller.  We eventually ditched the stroller and introduced the twins to the escalators, which they enjoyed.

The folks at the store formerly called Marshall Fields packed us all into a table with about four inches between us and our neighboring table. Which is fine if it’s not a brunch buffet and everyone doesn’t need to get up to get their brunch.  But guess what?? It’s a BUFFET!  Squee!

All in all, my siblings and my dad helped maintain the general Christmas spirit and even the twins were happy to scarf down “cake” (muffins… which, really, let’s be honest? Breakfast cake.)

Unfortunately, what you are about to see is the best picture from the three that we took.  And therefore, proof that the twins did win two points, fair and square:

Say "WHAT?? Where??"

Say “WHAT?? Where??”

Christmas Presents: Parents 1 point, Twins 1 point

The proof is in the video. I’m gonna go ahead and give myself credit for the amazing kitchen set that I put together.

But then, the nod goes to the twin to the all-out hysteria when Ms. Ellie did not get 100% dominance over the shopping cart they received as a gift from Aunt Cathy.  That hysteria can be glimpsed at the end of this video.  I stopped filming when it went to crazy-town levels.

 

Christmas Festivities: Parents 3 points, Twins 4 points

First, we got a “gimme” point because we did go to church.  And it was relatively uneventful and we even went to Chipotle for a traditional Christmas burrito bol.  I think Jesus would’ve approved.

I also gave us a “gimme” point because we were all dressed for Christmas Day.  We were even dressed in somewhat coordinating outfits.  Point.

I’m also going to say that we split the difference on the general Christmas experience.  While the girls certainly gave us a run for our money, we retaliated with an appearance by the big guy in a red suit.

Ellie: "Hey, someone is at the door!"

Ellie: “Hey, someone is at the door!”

 

Ellie: "Um, OMG! RUN!!"

Ellie: “Um, OMG! RUN!!”

You can even see that Ellie’s cousin Josh is a little horrified as well.  Score!

Emily: "Hey Frank, capture the Christmas magic! Quick!"

Emily: “Hey Frank, capture the Christmas magic! Quick!”

Frank and the twins playing on Christmas Day.

Frank and the twins playing on Christmas Day.

They look so sweet and innocent playing the organ, but this mama knows better...

They look so sweet and innocent playing the organ, but this mama knows better…

Me? Plot to take over the world? Never!

Me? Plot to take over the world? Never!

Final score?  Twins 10, Parents 5.