Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Dear Michaela, Jenna, and Alec,

One of the main reasons I write this blog is to not only chronicle your growing up years and our family life, but also to allow me the piece of mind that you will always have a clear sense of who I am, what I believe, and of course, that you all know how utterly in love I am with all of you and how you all truly are the center of my being and the loves of my life.

Something happened last week that is so remarkable, so incredibly well-timed, there is just no other explanation for it except to say that it was God Himself reaching down from Heaven and directly touching our lives.  I want to document it here so that you can always and forever be able to look back at this and say that your mom witnessed a miracle, and that all that stuff she brought you to Sunday School and church to learn about is, in fact, quite true.

I was driving around doing errands on Tuesday of last week while Alec was in preschool.  As I approached a stoplight, it hit me that this week was American Education Week, the week of school that parents are invited in to see their kids in the classroom and eyeball the teacher in action.  I had done nothing to prepare for this.  Not one thing.  I was pretty sure that it was today and tomorrow, but had to look that up; I had to check to see if Gammie could watch Alec for me while I went; I had to forgo Bible Study and email the teacher that I wasn't coming; I had to call Alec's speech therapist and rearrange her therapy time; I had to contact Jenna's teacher and see when her class was accepting visitors for American Education Week and make sure they didn't overlap; and most of all, I had to check with Michaela that it was still okay for me to come into her classes.

So, after finding out that all of that was juggle-able and that Michaela did, in fact, want me to go, I set the plan into place. I would go in at about 9:45 and stay until 1:45pm, when I had to leave to get Alec and meet his therapist at our house.

I went in, attended two classes, and saw Michaela's Girl Scout troop leader, Dana, who I've known since our daughters were 2.  She was there for the day and because our girls have lunch together, we would be together in the "Parent Break Room" during lunch.  (The school didn't want us parents gumming up the works in the cafeteria.)  I was excited that I'd have a few minutes to chat with her.

When lunch time came around, I kissed Michaela and sent her off to the cafeteria and went in search of my Parent Break Room.  As I walked in, I didn't see Dana yet but I saw my friend Mandy, whose son went to preschool with Michaela and whom I don't get to see much- except in Walmart, where I seem to run into all my mom friends- but keep up regularly with on Facebook.  She was sitting in the desk behind me, so I turned and started chatting with her. 

We were very pleasantly talking about a whole range of topics- staying home vs. going to work, living with Middle School aged kids, volunteering at school, etc, etc... just very general, fun Mom chit-chat.  It happened that Mandy knows my mom because my mom watched Michaela for me when I worked part time after having Michaela and Mandy and my mom got to know each other from picking up the kids at preschool.

"How's your mom?" Mandy asked.
"Oh, good, she's good.  I don't know if you know this, but my dad has cancer, so she's pretty focused on that right now."
The usual "Oh I'm sorry to hear that" ensued, and I briefly said that he is getting chemo and actually is having a CT scan today to check on the progress of the treatment.

"What kind of cancer does he have?" she asked.

 "Oh, it's this really rare cancer that started in his appendix and now is in his abdomen.  He has tumors and the tumors excrete a mucus that is building up in his belly and makes him really uncomfortable."

"His appendix? I've never heard of that."
"Yeah it's really, really rare... there's only about 1000 cases a year that are diagnosed worldwide."

At that moment, another mom who is sitting behind Mandy and to her right leans forward and says to us, "I don't mean to interrupt, but did you say appendix cancer?"

"Yes, I did," I answered.

"Because I had appendix cancer three years ago.  I had the same thing.  I had the surgery... is your dad having the surgery? Where is he being treated?"

"He's seeing a doctor right at St. Peter's Hospital... he gets chemo every two weeks."

And then a flood of information came out of this stranger: information about a doctor in MA who is a oncological surgeon who specializes in this exact type of cancer, information about her surgery, about the recovery, about how rare it is.

Mandy rushed to get me some paper and I scrounged through my purse to find a pen to write all the info down.

"My heart is beating like a drum!" she said.  "I don't mean to listen to your conversation, but I couldn't believe it when you said he has appendix cancer!  Getting the diagnosis is like getting struck by lightening..."

And that was exactly our experience with PopPop... virtually symptomless except for a loss of appetite and some fatigue and a feeling of fullness in his belly.

Later this angel sent to us gave me her name, her phone number, her email address, and the name of a research foundation dedicated to finding treatment and cure for this type of cancer, which is called PMP, and their very helpful website.

I thanked her profusely and marvelled at the chance that we were placed in the exact same room on the exact same day.

And as all this was happening, PopPop was getting a CT scan done of his abdomen to see where things were at compared to when this all started in July.  And when he returned on Friday, the information given to me was even more important, as the CT results showed that the tumors were still there- not growing, but not being destroyed either.  His doctor recommended that the chemo be stopped.  There was nothing else his doctor could do.  While this was a relief to PopPop- the last round of chemo had made him impossibly fatigued and the strange side effect from one of the meds, extreme cold sensitivity, was getting more and more troublesome- it removed a key method of fighting the cancer from our arsenal. 

If God had not intervened at that moment, we would have been adrift.  And hopeless.

But instead, we have the name of a doctor who specializes in this.  Gammie and PopPop looked her up online and she looks excellent  They called her and have an appointment to see her in a few weeks.  They have sent all of his medical paperwork to her for her to review and see if he is a candidate for this surgery.

We have hope that he will get more time with us.

And this is what makes this even MORE amazing.  I had been struggling the last few weeks, searching for God in all of this mess.  Not understanding why this would be His plan.  Not feeling His hand in this.  And all of my anxiety and anger and pain was being sent to one vertebrae in my back and getting me all balled up.  I was in real pain, seeing a chiropractor and getting some relief, but felt that there was more emotional work to be done to help.  I started going to a Restorative Yoga class, all about gentle deep breathing and clearing your mind and really focusing on long, well-supported poses.  Turns out this yoga class makes a wonderful time to pray.  So I did.  I started praying for God to bless me, open me- both open my back and open my heart- and to touch me with the Holy Spirit.  Just give me some sign that You are there and help me to relax and give it all up to You.

This was the prayer I prayed, and the next day was the day I went into the Middle School and met this person.

Michaela, Jenna and Alec, do you realize all the pieces that had to fall into place for this chain of events to occur?  This moment in time was years in the making, and had dozens of moving parts that had to align juuuuuuust right for me and this woman to meet and exchange information.  But do you know what I KNOW it was? It was God.  It was the Holy Spirit blessing this whole nightmare and moving us forward.

This story will be even better and more amazing if PopPop does turn out to be a candidate for the surgery and has it and is healed.  But for now, just this is enough. 

Enough for me to see God's face smiling at us and His hands guiding us. 

Remember, the Holy Spirit told me on the day of PopPop's first oncology appointment that "it's all going to be okay."  I have since realized that what that meant was not neccesarily that PopPop was going to be okay.  Whatever happens, it may not be the outcome we desire, but will be okay.

God is with us.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Halloween Baking Night.

We had a Halloween Baking Night a few days before the actual holiday, spurred on by my daughters and their friend Isabel helping me unpack all the Fall/Harvest/ Halloween decorations (trust me- there are BINS FULL), finding every cookie cutter, sprinkle set, cake pan and paper cupcake liner I own and asking me, "Can we DO SOMETHING with all of this??" 
"Uhhh, sure... we can have a baking party," I answered.  And a new tradition was born.

 We had some successes and some failures, but all were lots of fun.

I think the girls loved doing their own decorating.

We even tried our hand at chocolate pumpkin shaped pops.  Fun, easy and delish.

We were about halfway through, covered in sprinkles and frosting and hearing the beeping timer going off on my oven and jockeying items around in my fridge to find room to cool the chocolate pops when Isabel declared: "We're going to do this EXACT SAME THING for Thanksgiving!!"

And we are.  This afternoon.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Birthdays, birthdays, birthdays.

September/October/November brings a 1-2-3 punch of Alec's, Michaela's and Dan's birthdays and we celebrate them all with gusto. Michaela had a big gift this year: she finally, after years of being denied her RIGHT to text, FINALLY got her iPhone. And she loves it. We got the whole thing set up for her and then hid it under our family room recliner. Dan called her phone from his phone and we called her into the room saying that we were hearing a noise that we couldn't identify. After telling us with not a small amount of condescension that it was clearly one of our phones, we told her no, it wasn't, look, we said, here are our phones, why don't you go back behind the recliner and see what it is... and then it dawned on her what was going on. And she was thrilled.

 And this angle of the top of her head is pretty much all I've seen of her since that day.

Unlike the craziness of last year's neverending birthday celebration (I think I sang Happy Birthday to her like, nine times) this year's was more efficient and just as fun.  We had cake and a special dinner on her actual birthday, and paid her $75 to not have a kid party.  She was thrilled and so were we.  A few weeks later we had a family party for her and Alec and celebrated both of our special kids.
Aunt Tammie did her usual magic and created two beautiful cakes.

Alec really loved opening presents this year.

Dan's birthday is November 10th, and we don't usually make too big a deal over it, except that this was a big one: Dan turned 40.  He was exceedingly gracious about it and weathered my good natured teasing well, though a day or two before the actual day, he gently reminded me that my own 40th birthday will be here before I know it, and those who live in fairly sensitive glass houses should maybe not throw teasing stones.

He had a great birthday and got a new road bike, biking gear and some new workout clothes as gifts from us.  Dan started biking over the summer and has gone almost every Saturday or Sunday morning for 15-17 mile bike rides.  He has his sights on a 48 mile ride on Whiteface Mountain that he and a friend are planning to do next spring.  He also has been running 5 mornings a week and is running in his first 5K on Thanksgiving morning.  He has lost about 45 pounds this year and is in better shape than when I met him 17 years ago.  I am super proud of all he's accomplished!  He is in a great stage in his life and said that turning 40 doesn't bother him at all.

(I'm kind of a one-trick-pony with the FunFetti cakes, aren't I?)
We celebrated his actual birthday by going out to dinner with his brothers and their wives to an awesome steakhouse while Dan's dad was gracious enough to watch all six of our kids.  We had a blast.  The next day we had a small get together with some of our friends at our house.  Very fun.  And we didn't even set the smoke detectors off with all the candles!! Hahahaha!

We are blessed to celebrate these milestones as a family, with lots of love and laughs.  God is good to us.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


By far the biggest triumph of this Halloween was that it happened at all: two days before The Big Day, a giant hurricane stormed up the East Coast and was predicted to make landfall in NJ, which, while far enough away from us to avoid a full-out panic, is personally a little too close for my comfort for a hurricane to hit.  So we spent the weekend before battening down the hatches, getting extra food, water, batteries, and cash just in case Hurricane Sandy did indeed disrupt our lives.  Well, I am happy to say that we were completely spared and didn't even lose power, and the only casualty we had was a gust of wind knocking over our fairly substantial grill just like a bully on a playground.  Poor thing landed face down on our deck.  But I picked it up, brushed it off, and told it I would speak to that wind and make sure it didn't happen again.

My biggest job the weekend before Halloween by far was to prep my girls that the holiday may not happen- that we may be without power, it could still be raining, and every other scenario I could think of.  And, in true kid fashion, Michaela and Jenna's biggest concern about the whole Approaching Hurricane was this: what about the candy, MOM? WHAT ABOUT THE CANDY?  Because if we don't go trick or treating, how will we get any??  And I assured them that upstairs in my closet, safely stashed, was multiple bags of every kind of candy they enjoy, and if we didn't go trick or treating then I would just GIVE THEM MINE.

I have never seen Michaela so gripped by the Weather Channel as she was the few days leading up to Halloween.

Let me also add this tidbit to my post about Halloween: it was worth every minute I have spent raising my son, the pain of childbirth, the hours of therapy and meltdowns, every sleepless night and every moment of worry I have endured about him to see the look on his face when I explained to him what Halloween was all about.  And basically I just touched on the dressing up/ going to the neighbors/ ringing the doorbell/ getting candy routine.  He was, quite literally, gobsmacked.  It was adorable.

Thankfully, before the Hurricane Sandy came, the girls attended several parties and got to wear their costumes: both had huge parties at their schools, our neighborhood had a picnic and Jenna had a party to go to. So even before Halloween we had a few dry runs of the costumes.  Michaela chose to be a '50's waitress/carhop, which I was thrilled did not in any way resemble a slutty goth vampire-ette, and Jenna was Little Red Riding Hood.  The mean/practical mother I am did not buy a costume for my sensory-sensitive son but his grandma took pity on him and bought him a Thomas the Tank Engine costume that was perfect: it just slipped over his head, had no arm holes, and was topped off by a jaunty little cap.

Anyone who knows me and my girls knows that we see Halloween merely as a chance to do hair and makeup, so we took full advantage of that. And here they are last night, in full get-up:

This was them on the previous Friday night, when they were attending their school parties.  Both the elementary school and Middle school put on fantastic parties with DJs, haunted houses (which are amazing), games, food, crafts and activities.  Jenna wore her costume but Michaela was a bit apprehensive of how her carhop outfit would go over so we whipped up a black cat costume for her the week before.  I sewed her a nice furry stuffed tail onto a wide elastic waistband and then also made a deep furry pocket on the waistband to hold her phone.  Because surely you can't imagine for a moment that she would go to the Halloween party without her phone!  Heavens!

(Sorry, Alec, for posting this horrid picture of you.)

Here was Jenna on Halloween day, all orange-and-blacked out.  She's just adorable.

 Our candy was ready...

 ... and the pumpkins were carved.

And here was the collection aparati for trick or treating: gone are my three matching personalized pumpkin bags.  I really love those bags.  Alec used his (in the middle), Jenna brought hers but brought a pillow case just in case she needed more room for her candy (on the left) and Michaela wants nothing to do with her lovingly picked out Pottery Barn Kids personalized pumpkin bag (on the right).  Just a pillow case for her and her LOOT. Times they are a'changin'.
Whether Alec was going to go trick or treating was a game time decision for him... I asked him a few times during the day if he was going to go and he was pretty quiet and evasive with his answers.  Non-committal.  But when the time came, he did put his costume on and went out with Daddy and Jenna.  And Dan kept texting me with pictures and eventually called me, saying he was witnessing one of the cutest things he's ever seen.  Alec would consult with Jenna about which house to go to next, who was going to ring the doorbell, and they would march up together and get their candy.  For our shy sensory boy, this was HUGE.  He came home thrilled with his loot and he and Jenna promptly spread it all out on the floor and organized it.

Michaela did the same when she returned home 45 minutes later than her sister and brother, and immediately counted out how much her haul was: 192 pieces!

It was a successful night for all.  I had the girls wash off all that hairspray and makeup and get into bed.  Michaela immediately got up because her science teacher, whom I know personally and is a lovely, kind, fun human being, decided to tell really scary horror stories in class on Wednesday, and then told them (according to Michaela) that some of the stories were REAL.

Awesome!  Sure wish she was there at 10:30pm on Halloween night when Michaela got up for the third time and told us she couldn't sleep! Because my day wasn't long and busy enough!

Anyway.  It really was lots of fun.  Here are a few more cute pics from the day:

Sugared- up cutie pie.

Because I love that hair.  And fight with it every day.
 Alec: "Take my pith-ure! My pun-kin ith on my HEAD!"

I swear to you that Michaela came up with this pose all by herself.  Scary.  And she really does have a mole there on her face, but we "enhanced" it a little bit.  She was adorable.

So we survived it all: the parties, the hair, the sensory overload, the candy, the makeup, the trick or treating, the costumes, and the Hurricane.  God is good to us.