A Very Merry Christmas

Joy has FILLED this house!  The magic and wonder of Christmas has been tangible in our children.  They have enjoyed giving AND receiving.  We have sung Christmas carols, worshiped, feasted, celebrated & surprised.

In an attempt to share way more pictures than feasible, I've created two collages.  These will give you a better feel for some of our highlights:

From left:  Our tree (and cat); the girls in their new "I love Santa" pjs on Christmas Eve at Llamas house; their stockings; reading the Polar Express, an Orris tradition before sharing gifts on Christmas Eve; Heidi sound asleep while Santa visits (she always kicks off her covers!); our beautiful girls in their Christmas dresses before church (the girls picked out their own dress this year...hence no official family photo...I couldn't pull together bright red and hot pink); Hazel deep asleep (love how she always gets sweaty hair!)

*you may notice the girls Christmas pillowcases.  That was my little holiday craft this year :)

From left top row:   Promptly reading Heidi's new "Pete the Cat" book; Hazel pulling the stellar wrapping off their new vanity; immediately playing beauty shop; spending most of the morning with their magical princess vanity

From left middle row:  Heidi snuggling with her Pete the Cat doll after opening gifts; Hazel testing the lollipop that is EXACTLY like the one she cut out and glued to her wish list for Santa; Hazel coloring her jumbo princess book; Heidi & Llama using glitter glue on her jumbo Hello Kitty book

From left bottom row:  Jake made me a "ruler" so I can keep track of the girls' growth, Jake reliving his childhood on his new "old school" Sega; the girls setting up their new tree house/ doll house.

PHEW, what a Christmas, eh?  We are surely counting our blessings this holiday season!

Merry Christmas to all!,
the Kosker Quartet


Holiday preparation

This had been a blissful weekend.  Friday evening the girls had an event at the church, so Jake and I had a free evening which we spent sharing good conversation over a yummy restaurant dinner (compliments of an early Christmas gift from a beloved elf).  Saturday was my mom's birthday so I spent the afternoon making lemon bars...from scratch..., artisan bread and lasagna.  God decided to send copious amounts of snow for her birthday, so instead of guests, we enjoyed a quiet yummy evening together and topped it off attempting to make a gingerbread house (we dearly dearly missed my artistic sister during that fiasco).

Today, I'm refocusing in finding my joy.  Over dinner, I finally admitted to my husband that the year of my dad's illness and now the roller coaster of grief has changed me.  Unfortunately one of the ways I've changed is that I've lost my joy, my humor.  That is the opposite of my dad's legacy.  Granted, my sweet girls bring me lots of joy, but the ability to be funny has escaped me.

Not so coincidentally, today's scripture and hymns focused a lot on the gifts that are soon to arrive in the form of Christ's birth.  The gift of joy is one of those gifts.  What epic timing!  What good news!  Please join me in praying that this gift will return to me.

This afternoon I am contininuing my preparations for this great day.  I've just finished making the dough for gingerbread cookies (dad's favorite) and now I'm going to join Hazel as she works on her enormous fruit loops garland and watches The Polar Express (a Grandpa Junko classic) for the very first time.  I hope he's smiling every time she whispers "wow".

Excuse the unedited photo.  In an effort to realign my life, I'm allowing myself to write less and use the convenience of my school iPad for these short posts.



Turkey prep

While the rest of American society is in the kitchen, preparing for their Thanksgiving feast, Hazel and I are elbow deep in my annual tradition of making napkin rings.

I suppose some years we recycle previous works of art, but in general, this is a tiny task that I enjoy.  A way of honoring everyone that's sitting around the table...

This year, simple card stock turkeys covered in paint by an industrious four year old (who is doing a great job creating brown out of red, yellow and blue.


All Saints Day

Today in church we celebrated All Saints Day.  It's a day where we remember those from our congregation who now dwell with the Lord.  A dear friend texted me on Friday to let me know that she was thinking of my dad and laughing at how he'd react to being called a saint.  He would've LOVED tooting his own horn with that title :)

Hearing his name today was so surreal.  They can't possibly be referring to my strong father who supported our families and church.  He filled his days with so much service, I still can't comprehend how we and all those who counted on him will adjust to life without.  At times, I'm certain that I'll look and his arm will be resting on the pew behind my mother; he'll be pointing a finger at Hazel in attempt to silently control her behavior but really adoring everything she does; his strong bass voice will belt from behind me in the choir.

Nary a day goes by where someone doesn't ask me how my mom is doing or how I am doing.  It's a question asked out of love and concern and it's an impossible question.  When asked about my mom, I comment "as expected".  She's a woman in love with one man since she was a teenager.  She spent a year at his bedside joining him in his fight to live.  She watched him die without the benefit of knowing that he was dying, so she was still blindsided by a sudden death.

When people are asking about me, it's so much harder to answer.  "Well, I'm ok.".  Happiness has a new element to it and it is lacking, it has lost it's purity.  Everything is overshadowed by the loss of my father.  I wonder if I'll feel as happy as I once did?  Is this how everyone feels when they've experienced great trauma and loss?  Is it permanent?

This loss has made me so much more aware of the preciousness of life.  I reflect upon those whose families have been torn apart by war and corruption.  I reflect upon those who never knew a parent's love.  I reflect upon how blessed I have been in life.

This morning my mom challenged me to think of life in Heaven with the same understanding of God's time that we apply to other areas of our faith.  Linear time is an earthly time, God does not live within time's constraints.  Often I feel certain that my father is with me, I feel his presence.  I have no idea what life after death is like, so I take comfort from thinking that my dad is watching us and guiding us.  However, my mom pointed out to me that Heaven is perfect and it is impossible that my dad would be experiencing perfect peace while knowing how much pain and sadness he left behind.  So, perhaps in God's time we are already saints together.  Right now Jesus is being born, Jesus is being crucified, my grandchild is being born, we are reuniting in Heaven...

It's a hard concept to contemplate, but a fascinating one...

"we feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.  Alleluia!  (from hymn:  For All the Saints by William How)


Happy Halloween (mwahahahaha)!

While we've never been tempted to cover our house in fake cobwebs (oh, because it's covered in real ones), we do LOVE dressing up in this house!  Kudos for all the anti-Halloween people for their upstanding values, but well... we LOVE a little bit of fright, a little bit of imagination and a little bit of tricks and A LOT of treats!

We've had so many Halloween events already, and it's not even technically Halloween yet!  Still on the agenda is carving pumpkins, a preschool Halloween party and a second grown-up Halloween party.

First up:  PUMPKIN PATCH with baby Ian (my cousin Kathe's 4-week old son) who is living next door for the month!

Then  Jake and I won SCARIEST COSTUME AWARD at a friend's huge Halloween Bash!  We went dressed as "Day of the Dead".

NEXT UP:  KID COSTUMES!  This is my favorite part!  The girls are at the ripe age where just dressing up and prancing around the house brings them oodles of joy (me too).  I lucked out this year because Hazel wanted to be a PINK UNICORN (everything these days must be either pink or a unicorn, but BOTH whenever possible)...and last Spring, before both of these obsessions, I saw a PINK UNICORN at a consignment shop and picked it up on a whim.  Lucky lucky me!

For the trick-or-treating event at the mall (bottom right pic), Hazel simply wore a pink dress while "riding" her unicorn.  For the church trunk-or-treat/ Halloween Party, her rainbow dress from Etsy had arrived!  So, if you can't tell (humph!), she is a rainbow girl flying through the sky on her pink unicorn.  I sewed batting onto blue pants and a headband and well, that was a TOTAL FAIL!  The cotton was EVERYWHERE and completely falling off by the time she got into the car....hence the ghetto white tape. Oh my.  Luckily, I get another shot at this costume this week... THIRD TIME's THE CHARM... I hope!

Now, I'm TOTALLY PROUD of Heidi's costume!  A few weeks ago, she became obsessed with the Care Bear Movie from the 80s which is available on Netflix.  I had NO good ideas for her and was going to slap her into one of Hazel's old costumes... until one night, while watching Care Bears for the umpteenth time, I thought "I bet that's any easy costume to make".  Truer words have never been thought (I'm not known for profound thoughts, clearly.)  A quick Pinterest search yielded a ton of inspiration and off I went!  I'll be posting a tutorial at www.thrivinglife.co soon :)  

Heidi picked Love-A-Lot bear and we are all THRILLED with the result!  Her favorite part is the tail which she LOVES to shake.  My favorite part is the ears...and that FACE!  I'm hoping this "costume" will hold up well in the wash and she'll get a lot more use out of this comfy sweat suit.
Bummer, you can't see that there is a heart on her bum like a real Care Bear.  Well, now you know.

JAKE's FAVORITE PART of this holiday has long been a dream of his...  He LOVES entertaining kids and dreaming on the large scale.  Our friends who throw the adult party mentioned above offered Jake free reign of their treasure trove of Halloween decorations (They seriously cover about every surface in their house...it's incredible and SPOOKY!).  So, before the church Trunk-or-Treat, Jake outfitted my parent's camper into a mobile haunted house/ Roadkill Cafe/ Hell's Kitchen.  We're talking black lights, fog machine, creepy dolls, bloody body parts, cauldrons, candles...THE WORKS!

This picture doesn't do the final result justice (had to use a flash), but it gives you a glimpse as to why Jake is now the most popular guy in town (seriously, he was immediately invited to a friend's daughter's 13th birthday party... which he was more than happy to "attend"):

We have the kids enter the camper and sit at the table where there are two covered serving trays.  They hesitantly look under the first one and find a bloody foot.  Then they look under the second one...AND SCREAM when Jake either smiles gently (with the younger kids) or growls.  AWESOMENESS, eh?

What's your favorite part of Halloween?



Oh my, where have I been?  This has been a great season for my wild-wish-we-were-more-idle family!

*in my dream world, I'll be following this highlight reel up with more detailed posts, but just in case...here they are:

  1. Hazel started Preschool (she looves it!)
  2. Jake and the girls threw me a SURPRISE PARTY (complete with balloon shooting range & kids balloon prize activity).

  3. Hazel started dance class (ballet, jazz & tap.  I get to watch each week through the two-way mirror... I THINK they may be learning "Thriller"...sweet!) 
  4. Heidi gets 2 mornings a week when she's the only kid with her babysitter.  She LOVES her "Tina days".  We are so lucky to have found a woman who babysits her niece and lovingly opens her homes to the H's.
    HEY, I'd like to see you snap a non-goofy shot of these two!  Oi Vey!
  5. We went hiking with my cousins, Stephen, Betsy and baby SETH!  Note to self, any trail named "Hell's Hollow" should really be avoided, especially with 3 young ones!  
    Spending time with my cousins is one of the best things about living in PA...however it's so easy to not schedule outings!  Granted, we all kinda wish we hadn't scheduled THIS outing, but still the time together (and bruises) were worth it!)
  6. Jake and I got to spend a weekend at the Mother Earth News Fair with dear our dear friends from Life Under A Blue Roof.  We learned a lot, ate a lot, enjoyed camping in the rain, and grew our Thrive businesses!
  7. My sister made a very last minute decision and within 24 hours, flew from Germany to PA!
  8. On Oct. 3rd, my dad's birthday, my mom treated Marianne and I to an amazing trip to NYC!  It was so wonderful just being the three of us, exploring midtown Manhattan and the highlight...watching Newsies on Broadway.  Newsies was the soundtrack to dozens of Orris family vacations and the perfect way to celebrate our dad.  

and one more for the road... *sigh*  (just kidding, this kind of behavior just makes me love them MORE!)


fast & furious

Royal greetings one and all!  (bonus points on my invisible point system if you can identify where that greeting originates)

I am two weeks into life as a full-time school counselor.  I'm conflicted because I AM LOVING MY JOB!  I always knew I liked my job... but I am LOVING it!  I'm busy and harried and exhausted, but I'm happy.  My husband once said (when he got to work in my building for a few months) that it's impossible to have a bad day when surrounded by young kids.  Truer words have never been spoken.

While my mind spins with ideas and projects at 1000 miles an hour, I'm surrounded by the love of kids.  I see their excited/nervous/proud faces every morning.  I see how they've grown in a year.  I watch their amazing teachers leading them through lessons I've never imagined a young one capable of.  It's truly the most awe inspiring place.

I'm conflicted because I have SO MUCH that I want to do in the few short hours after work, after the kids are in bed... and more often than not, there is NO time between the kids going down and when I fall into bed with a book in an attempt to quiet my mind and plug into dream land.

In the meantime, I also have my Thrive Life business that I absolutely LOVE (guilty of overusing the word, but it's so true)!  While I'm lucky to have a stable (ie health benefits) career that gives me the freedom to be creative while I'm helping kids, I am also SO excited about my future possibilities because of what Thrive brings to my life.  So yeah, work things are really really good for me right now.  Impossibly busy, but good.

In other news, our house is in computer limbo.  My pictures are all on one computer that also has a nasty virus and the tech guys swear is not worth saving.  My brother-in-law, Josh, has left us a fabulous desktop that has become Jake's better half as he works his way towards a career that will get him back into the elementary schools (see above for reasons why).  I'm working on my dear-ole-dad's laptop and half expect him to call me at any minute and warn me not to change ANY settings or download ANY files because I always muck it up for him.  You can also find me engrossed in my Kindle Fire OR my new (school issued) iPad.  One (or more) of everything in this house currently!

So, no pictures today and fewer posts for the foreseeable future.  But rest assured we're here & we're online, just email or facebook us to connect :)

In the meantime, I continue to share green living, nutritious living & DIY projects at Lazy Green Mama.  Look for me over there... or in bed (wait, don't look in my bed...that would be creepy...).


An American Father

The other day Jake heard a song on the radio, one of the two times a year he listens to country, and he was thrilled to discover a thoughtful song about parenting.  It was spot on.  Until that is he really listened to the chorus and learned it was about a soldier.  That ticked him off.  So, we're rewriting the lyrics to Toby Keith's song:
I'm just trying to be a father,
Raise a daughter and a son,
Be a lover to their mother,
Everything to everyone.
Up and at 'em bright and early,
I'm all business in my suit,
Yeah, I'm dressed for success from my head down to my shoes,
I don't do it for money, there's still bills that I can't pay,
I don't do it for the glory, I just do it anyway,
Providing for our future's my responsibility,
Yeah I'm real good under pressure, being all that I can be,
And I can't call in sick on Mondays when the weekends been too strong,
I just work straight through the holidays,
And sometimes all night long.
You can bet that I stand ready when the wolf growls at the door,
Hey, I'm solid, hey I'm steady, hey I'm true down to the core,
And I will always do my duty, no matter what the price,
I've counted up the cost, I know the sacrifice,
Oh, and I don't want to die for you,
But if dying's asked of me,
I'll bear that title honor,
'Cause I’m a father, yeah that’s me.
I'm an American father, an American father,
Beside my brothers and my sisters I will proudly take a stand,
When my family is in jeopardy I will always do what's right,
I'm out here on the front lines, so sleep in peace tonight.
American father, I'm an American,
An American,
An American father
if a picture is worth a thousand words... I see "I love you"
When Jake told me about this song revelation, I immediately said... "I want to blog about that".  I probably say that sentence at least 4 times a week and, well, since I haven't blogged in a month... we all know that rarely happens!

This morning Hazel said, "Mama, your daddy died and Llama's (Grandma) daddy died.  Why didn't my daddy die?".  Ugh.  That pretty well sums up the hardest year of my life.  Fortunately, Hazel's daddy, my husband, isn't really really old or really really sick.  He is however shouldering some heavy responsibilities these days as well as looking for a new job.  This is a difficult time for us, prayers are still requested!

Many of you have complemented me on how I am handling my grief.  That blows me away as I didn't realize I was grieving publicly or notably.  But I appreciate the sentiments and recognition for what I'm grappling with.  As a counselor, my grief over losing my dad and the trauma of his illness has been eye opening.  Grief is so much harder, sneakier and meaner than I ever realized.  It blows me away that something as normal as death is so hard for the living.  And this is part of the reason I've been MIA on my blog.  This blog has always been a journal for me and just sitting down to type opens the reservoir of pain and sadness that I try so hard to keep at bay.

Here's a great pic my mom recently sent me... my dad holding Heidi just hours (probably 3 or 4) after she was born :)  That's a look of pure contentment on his proud face!

On a lighter note, August has been a really nice month for us!  Nearly every day we've done something FUN!  Visits to area parks, pools, Presque Isle State Park (the beach), a weekend with many  beloved Kosker relatives at Idlewild Amusment Park, and more.  All of the pictures in the collage above were taken in August.  It's a testament to how well the above (adapted) song fits Jake...I didn't take any of those pictures with this post in mind... they were just on the camera card when I uploaded my pics today!  What a guy :)


A FOURtaste of what's to come

Oh Hazel.  At 4, you are silly, passionate, interested & interesting, shy, thoughtful, compassionate and beautiful.

You've learned how to cross your eyes and take joy in sabotaging mama's photo shoots.

You LOVE your family!  At nap times and bed times, you fling your arm over my neck and say "I love mommy daddy Heidi!".  You ADORE your friends, especially the older girls from church and your cousin Annie.  You know that it's sad that Junko is gone, but mostly, you're happy that he is in heaven and remind me that it would be happy to live with God and that you'll see him again someday.

When you're frustrated or embarrassed, you SPRINT!  I'm talking, turn on your heels and RUN.  Usually out of the house.  We give you your space to calm down, but sometimes you're hard to find!  Once we didn't find you for about 30 minutes and when we finally found you, you were sound asleep in the garden shelter.

You are really excited about growing older.  We love to tease each other about it.  I vow to only feed you junk food so you stop growing- You insist I feed you HEALTHY food (brilliant Mama move, eh?)- I tell you that you'll always be my baby- you remind me that you are 4!

In fact, you've prepacked your preschool backpack about 6 times.  You are VERY ready, even if you've only taken a brief interest in learning letters and how to hold a pencil.  All in good time :)

When you grow up, you want to be a singer and a doctor.  You plan to marry Daddy and let Mama babysit your babies (and Heidi will play with them, 'cause it seems you don't think Heidi will age).

You bring joy to everyone around you and I love you more than I ever realized was possible.

Oh...the places you'll go...


Summer Staycation

While the word "staycation" is a bit dorky, I also kind of love it.  I suppose some of you are thinking there's a direct relationship there... I snub my nose at you ;)

This July, nearly EVERY DAY we have done something fun!  Most days that involves pool crashing (we have a circuit of friends with pools who we visit), visiting playgrounds, and exploring our local area.  It's awesome!

The girls are finally old enough to be more active and while nap time is still a priority, we are LOVING the freedom to jump into the car each morning and set out on new adventures.

Yes, this travel bug mama dreams of grander vacations someday, but for now, I'm content with our "big" trips to Cook Forest State Park, Presque Isle State Park and all the local friends and parks we can fit in!

I have quite a back log of pictures and stories to share, but here are a few gems from a recent trip to Cook Forest.  We're so lucky that our Aunt & Uncle are such great hosts, and share their kayaks :)

What's your favorite "staycation" destination?


weekend round-up

Hello neighbor!

Ok, that's totally cheesy, but a few weeks ago my kids attended a fabulous vacation Bible school and they now sing the theme song constantly:  "Be a neighbor, be friendly!".  In addition, we took a fun (& brief!) road trip this weekend and on the way, we visited with X the Owl (from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood).  Wanna see  him/her/it?

Hey, when we find a semi-hollow tree, we simply CAN'T resist shoving our kids inside... especially when the tree has a naturally occurring platform under the hole!  This tree was found on the North Country Trail in Butler.  

My husband LOVES road trips with random, unplanned stops & adventures.  I LOVE schedules, itineraries and tend to hurry from place to place.  After I get over the impatience of stopping at a random stop, worrying that we're trespassing & worrying about being late (according to my own schedule), I DO enjoy these little side trips... especially when I get to shove my kids in trees!

Heidi tends to take after me and as you can clearly see, wasn't as thrilled with this side trip as we thought she should be :)

On this particular trip, we briefly visited Lutherlyn, attempted to see the girls' favorite horse (who was far off in the pasture and caused much disappointment), enjoyed a camp dinner, and then spent the evening with our friends from Life Under A Blue Roof.

In the early morning hourse, we tiptoed out of their house and headed to a 5K which raised funds for a friend battling leukemia.  As you know, this is a cause I am passionate about.  I beg of you to click on the Be the Match link in my sidebar and sign up to be a donor.  Lymphoma & Leukemia are not discerning in who they attack, but for some, the disease is curable...but only with the right donor.  Follow Allie's journey here:  www.livestrongarmstrong.com.

Super dad ran this 5k in under 25-minutes, pushing the kids and starting at the end of the pack.  He is such a natural runner!  I don't think he's gone for a run since our last leukemia society fundraiser in October.  What a freak ;)  

Running next to him is Allie's father-in-law and husband.  I admire that family so much. I snapped this pic during the pre-race announcements.  Hundreds of friends & strangers bowed their heads, united in prayers for healing and of thanksgiving for the Armstrong family.  Never have I witnessed so many people united in prayer, outside of a church-sponsored occasion.  Despite the incredible hardships this family has faced, their faith guides them and inspires others.   If faith was tangible, I feel like I could chips tiny sections from them and spread those tiny chips to others and immediately the world would be brighter, more full of love & acceptance, radiating peace & happiness.  

Next our weekend travels took us a little farther down the road where I got to connect with a few of my closest friends from college...actually I just realized that I was a bridesmaid in every one of their weddings!

One of these friends, I hadn't seen SINCE my wedding, and yet they quickly organized a little reunion once I let them know I'd be near their neck of the woods.  It blows me away the strength of these friendships.  I'm not a phone talker, I'm not a letter writer, but in the moments that matter...they are there.  They were the driving force behind the apple orchard that my husband is preparing to plant in memory of my father.  I love them!

The Stutzman family even joined us at the 5k!  I just wish it had been a longer course 'cause we had SO much to talk about :)

Nato (my roomie), Kelly, Jen & I (who simply must learn to stop stooping when standing next to vertically challenged friends).  


Finding Joy

Hello dear friends,

I think of you often and have much to share.  As expected, most of my days are filled with "How can he be gone?" thoughts.  My father always had a larger than life presence, so I imagine I'll be struggling with his loss for quite awhile.  My friend, Karlene, shared this quote with me from one of my favorite authors:

"You will someday lose someone you can't live without and your heart will be badly broken. The bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved, But this is also the good news, They will live forever in your broken heart, that doesn't quite seal back up. And you come through it. Its like having a broken leg that never heals properly-that still hurts when it gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp." Anne Lamont

(This reminds me, I must tell you, I did not write the previous quote about a ship... It was from an unknown source and I should have known better than to post it without the disclaimer that it was not my own :)

In other news, there is a lot of joy happening too.  The prolonged visit with my sister is therapeutic and awesome.  I love having her just a short path away.  I fall deeper in love with my niece everyday...she's just as awesome as I thought she would be.

In case you don't believe that the Orris/Krumich/Kasch/Kosker families can find joy amidst such sorrow... here is some proof:

featured in these photos:  Hazel & Heidi Kosker, my niece- Annaliese Kasch, Annie's dog- Butch Cassidy, my 2nd cousin -Izzy and my mom- super Grandma.

P.S.  I never realized how much the simple, heart-felt gestures mean when someone is grieving.  The sympathy cards, meals, gifts, emails, texts, posts, etc are so truly appreciated.  Thank you!


Stages of Grief

DABDA.  As a Psychology major, the order of those stages are permanently etched into my memory.  Denial- Anger- Bargaining- Depression- Acceptance.

I realized that though I've lost loved ones before, I've never been in the clutches of grief before.  While I realize I'm floating perilously close to depression, I know this is temporary.  Eventually a new normal will replace the tangible void in my life.  For now, his presence is so close, so real... I want to turn back time... to two years ago before illness after illness began to attack my beloved father.

Death is temporary, but right now it feels so final.  May we all be so lucky to have the faith, acceptance, strength, grace & peace that my father exhibited throughout his long battle.  All my life I've wanted to be just like him and now more than ever I will strive to embody the lessons he taught me.

Here is his obituary which was lovingly written by my mother.

Here is a wonderful blog post written by my cousin, Kathe, who has spent most of every summer of her life with us (well, near us at their summer home).  This is a beautifully written post that touched me deeply.

Many friends are sharing their memories on my facebook wall and I read and re-read them.  My friend Cyn just wrote her own reflection which I will cherish...and roll my eyes.

Thank you all for sharing this journey with me!  Feel free to continue to send me your memories of my dad... I truly appreciate it!


Until we meet again...

John Adam Orris, Jr.  
My hero.  My constant.  My rock.  My mentor.  My dad.

October 3, 1949- June 4, 2013

I stand upon the ocean shore as a ship at my side opens its sail to the morning breeze and begins to glide across the blue water.  It reaches the horizon and someone at my side says, "It's gone."  Gone where?  Gone from my sight, that is all.  It is just as large now as when I last saw it.  It's diminished size and total loss from my sight is in me, not in it.  And just at that moment, when someone at my side says it is gone, there are others watching it coming over their horizon and other voices take up a glad shout--"There it comes!"

I'm sure I'll have more to say in the days to come.  For now, I will reflect, weep, rejoice and accept the love and support showering down upon my family during this difficult time.

Thank you.


Keeping an eye on the silver lining.

My mom is extremely good at finding things to be thankful for in the darkest of times.  This past week has been the darkest of times for me.  If I could take a drug to wipe it from my memory, I would.

My girls and I have been suffering with a GI bug that leaves us running to the bathroom and in Hazel's case, running to the ER for fluids.

This same bug kept my dad in the local hospital last week and after a 2 days at home, we had him flown back to Cleveland Clinic where he remains in very critical condition.  It's no longer just the GI bug, it's a bacteria infection in his blood, it's pneumonia,  it's impaired kidneys, it's scary low blood pressure, it's a rapid heart beat, it's a lot of tests/ questions/ specialist putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

Dad, Jake, Mahlon & I on a recent hike through Oil Creek State Park.  About 2 weeks ago my mom's cousin, Becky (taking the pic) and her husband enjoyed a week-long visit during a massive RV trip around the country.  My dad took many mile-long hikes with them which was so wonderful!

However, through it all, I've noted the silver linings and that is what I want to share with you:

  • I am married to a knowledgeable nurse who is strong enough to stand up to my father and refuse to let me drive him to Cleveland (which dad and I were determined to attempt despite the fact that he couldn't stand and his bp was 60/40).
  • At the local ER when the fabulous (local!) nurse was confirming past medical history details, I got to hear my dad say "I HAD AML {acute myeloid leukemia), but I don't any longer".  I had never heard him or any of us say that, in fact I still struggle to think that way... but what a huge VICTORY he has in that one small sentence.
  • It makes no logical sense, but I had such a sense of pride when the Cleveland Clinic helicopter arrived at our local ER.  The ER staff was a buzz over their impressive bird, it was the largest they'd ever seen.  Clearly I watch too much science fiction, but watching that bird take-off with my barely stable father cocooned inside, I couldn't help but feel comforted with the thought that he was returning to the "mother ship".
    • I shared that thought with him that evening in Cleveland and was rewarded with a small smile.  I think he felt the same way.  We have such trust and confidence in the Cleveland Clinic teams.
  • My mom was in Alaska and for the past week dad and I have encouraged her to stay there as planned helping my sister prepare for her move to Germany.  On Saturday, when it became apparent that he was taking a turn, she was able to be on a plane and with us at the Clinic within about 20 hours.  She was with my sister during her greatest time of need and now is with my dad.  She's super woman and I am so thankful for the perfect timing of how this transpired.
  • My rough estimate is that my dad lived on the leukemia/transplant (G110 & G111) floor of the Cleveland Clinic for about 4 months this past year.  We couldn't wait to be done with that chapter of our life.  Saturday evening- through Sunday afternoon (when they finally intubated & sedated him), were extremely difficult for my dad.  ICU is loud, crowded, busy... miserable.  He and I asked every specialist if they could transfer him "upstairs".  While he's still too critical for that move, I'm thankful now that we have spent so much time "upstairs" because there is a level of familiarity and comfort at the thought that he will be moved there as soon as possible.  Finding a home away from home is a huge deal when you're under stress... just never though I'd consider a hospital wing to be "home".
  • Yesterday morning, a bone marrow Doctor informed us that the preliminary tests show that his "bone marrow looks beautiful".  We're praying that this is not GvH (graft versus host) ie, not symptoms of his body rejecting his stem cell transplant.  We'll know more tomorrow, today I'll rest in the assurance that he has beautiful bone marrow.
  • My family has a huge support network that jumps right in.  I can't tell you how many texts, calls & messages we've received.  People have run errands, watched the kids, stayed with my overwhelmed Grandmother, driven 6+ hours to get us where we need to be, prayed for us, offered housing/cars/meals/ cleaning/ airline tickets...  I literally feel my heart growing with all the support.  God is very near during times like these.

In related news, our friend, Allie Armstrong, who we met at the beginning of my dad's AML journey continues to desperately need a miracle.  Her blog, while heart breaking at times, is such a source of faith and encouragement.  Her friends and family have organized a 5K to assist Allie's family.  If you live near Cuyohoga Falls, OH, please join me at this event!  Here are the details for Rallie for Allie.


Reflections on Nursing and Mumbo Nursing Pillow Envy

This post brought to you by Comfort and Harmony. All opinions are 100% mine.

I nursed babies for about 3 years of my life.  Prior to nursing, I'd never really thought about nursing nor paid attention to nursing moms.  I didn't realize that they're were nursing pillows, nursing clothes, nursing creams.  I knew I would nurse because I'm too frugal not to, but I never expected to FALL IN LOVE with such a primitive act.

Fall in love I did and now my body physically yearns for another baby every time I see a friend nurse or hear about it.  Granted, I also sleep for about 7 blissful uninterrupted hours of sleep a night... so if push came to shove, I'd probably be very conflicted about whether I want to nurse OR sleep through the night.

ANYWHO, recently I received a mombo nursing pillow to review.  Oh sweet heaven.  This nursing pillow blew my old hand-me-down out of the water.  Immediately I noticed how thick it was (anyone else require an arm chair to get their nursing pillow to work comfortably?).  

A dear coworker, Andrea was super willing to try out this new pillow for me.  Oh, this picture makes my heart turn to goo...



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As you can see, Andrea's sweet boy is growing up (fast) and this pillow was slightly too thick for her normal nursing spot.  However, she noted that it would be PERFECT for those times when we're leaning against a wall or stuck in a non-supportive spot (anyone else get back pain when nursing while sitting on the floor and leaning over in an attempt to use your lap as a support?  ugh!).


One side of the mumbo is firm for supporting during nursing time and the other side is softer for tummy time and sitting up.  Andrea discovered that the mombo nursing pillow was perfect for sitting up time for her little guy.  It provided a lot more structure than her "old" nursing pillow and he really enjoyed sit in the U.  PERHAPS he loved it so much because the Mumbo is the only nursing pillow that includes a vibration box... so our little ones can really relax and feel soothed during their independent floor time!

Mombo nursing pillow's (and other great Mombo products) are available at Babies R'Us...you will be the hit of the next baby shower, I promise :)

Learn more & connect with Mumbo by "Liking" Comfort & Harmony on Facebook and "Following" Comfort & Harmony on Twitter

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Sweet Singing Sneak Preview

Tomorrow the Sunday School kids will be singing a simple song entitled "Praise the name of Jesus".  We've been practicing at home in hopes that Hazel won't stand up with her shy face on not singing one word :)

She forgot one line in this practice run, but despite that, I think she's gonna be a star!

If you listen creatively, you'll hear Heidi chiming in with "Praise the name of Jesus".

*Incidentally, when Hazel grows up she wants to be a singer and a Doctor.

HAPPY (early) Mother's Day, Llama!  I have a feeling this is the best gift you could receive this year :)


Springing Up :: Glimpse into what's growing!

It's that time of year where birds starts returning home and moving into our bird houses, my girls show up with skinned knees and muddy toes and my husband spends every waking moment (often till midnight) digging in dirt.  Oh what a wonderful time of year!

Here's what's happening in our neck of the woods!

The only plants that I can identify and pay attention when Jake talks about are the rows of STRAWBERRIES and my flowering peach trees!  It's so wonderful watching everything grow and develop as each planting season arrives.

Of course, there's A LOT of this going on:
WHY is it so much fun to walk UP slides?  I think I'll name this technique "SISTER BOWLING".

And inspired by our LESS SCREEN TIME PLEDGE, we've been staying OUT of the house and enjoying picnic lunches in the girls playhouse... after just 2 days, Hazel informed me that she will eat EVERY lunch in HER house from now on.  Perhaps we need a better roof (that's an old canvas tent stretched on top)?

How are you celebrating Spring?


Sisters and Their Swingset

Long ago, we received a sweet board book about Sisters (from Grandma Baird).

This is the story of two sisters... who in many ways, were different.
Perhaps because the book reminds me so much of growing up with my big sister, it makes me so happy every time I read it:
One liked to chase fireflies through the grass... while the other liked to lie back and look at the stars.
The two sisters were alike in many ways too.  They both like horses... and sugar-snap peas fresh from the garden.
And a pile of leaves was never safe with those sisters around.
They fought over the piano... 
And both felt the day would not be complete without a swing after supper. 

Last week, Jake erected the girls' swing set .. all for the total cost of $40!  Not too shabby, eh?  We paid for 2 new big girls swings (which Hazel was initially leery of, but now LOVES) and one yard sale slide.  The rest of the set came from the house of a friend of Jake's whose kids had outgrown the set.  I snapped the above picture to show how Jake, the rock climber, managed to stand the set-up without my assistance!  IMPRESSIVE :)  Yesterday during some gloriously warm Spring weather, I was thrilled when both girls spent a huge chunk of time playing on their own outside now that they have their own "playground".

Speaking of SISTERS, recently Houdini Heidi has perfected the art of climbing out of her crib, unscathed.  We're not sure how she does it, but we're thankful our little climber manages it without injury!  Recently I put the girls to bed and knew they were up to mischief, but let it be.  Eventually their squeaky voices quieted and I was relieved that they fell asleep... until I checked on them and was shocked to discover them sleeping in the same bed!
umm... let's pretend my 2-year-old doesn't have electric cords by her head!
Because, you see, they loved each other so very much.
These two sisters sure do love each other!  Hazel is always quick to call Heidi her "best friend" and tell us all the amazing things they are going to do together once Heidi gets bigger.  In the meantime, they're finding plenty of laughter (and mischief) together:

Yup, sisters sure are one of the sweetest things in life!  I can't wait to spend some time with my sister this summer... we will laugh, cry, fight, craft, share and HAVE A BLAST :)

What's your favorite thing about having a sister?

*Here's my affiliate link for this fantastic book.


Changing My Name

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."  will shakespeare

It's cliché for a mama to say "I'm changing my name" in response to 24/7 yells for "MOMMY!".  In fact, like many women, I spent the bulk of my life wishing, hoping, dreaming & praying for the gift of being called "Mama".

However, Heidi is growing two back molars.  Heidi has found her voice and talks NON STOP.  Heidi has a very loud speaking voice.  Heidi has a cold & a cough.  Heidi has decided that she wants to sleep in my bed (note: not with me, just take over my bed).  

Over the past 4 days, Heidi has perfected the art of sleeping peacefully for 2 hours, screaming for "MAMA! MOMMY!  MAMA!" for 30 minutes (feels like 300 minutes), and then sleeping for a few hours again until starting again.  When I know that she is safe, comfortable & as medicated as I'm going to make her, we make her scream it out.

Our hope (and a fact we've proven many times over) is that by not reinforcing this dreadful habit by responding to her every time, she will learn not to scream like a banshee for me throughout the night.  

In the meantime, I'm missing those blissful rapid eye movements and my heart is breaking while I have to lie in bed not responding to the frantic (and have I mentioned LOUD) calls for me throughout the night.

For today, how about everyone just call me "Sleepyhead".

*For the record, this behavior is very unusual for Heidi.  She typically gleefully lies down in bed at 7:30 and doesn't make a PEEP for about 11 hours.  She typically requires no coddling, cuddling, nor canoodlings.


Kindle Review for Mama and Toddlers

Similar to my great cell phone rebellion of 2000-2002, I've held strong against the e-reader phenomenon of the past 5 years.  At times, I have the determination and attitude of an 80-year-old during a contemporary worship service (HA!  I kid... though the older generation does typically dislike anything new at their religious houses).

My arguments against e-readers, weren't unique, but I was passionate:

  • I love books.  
  • I love looking at my book shelves (though I'm too cheap to buy books, so I guess this point was lame).
  • I love the smell of books.
  • I like leafing through a book after I'm done and re-reading my favorite plot twists.
  • I love sharing books with friends (especially being on the receiving end).
As you may know, I started an Independent Consultant business this past fall/winter.  My mentor is an incredibly successful and generous consultant and periodically has some major prizes for her team to compete for. 

RECENTLY, I WON a $250 Amazon gift card.  Personal "fun" items have not been in our budget this year, so I was like a kid at a candy store choosing what I'd spend that money on... JUST FOR ME!

So, I channeled my tablet envy and my book obsession and bought:

At first, I thought I might just use it for checking my email and facebook and maybe a book when I travel.  HA ha DOUBLE HA!  I've read one or two books a WEEK since I bought it.  Yeah, I don't have that kind of time, but I sleep less, watch NO TV and because it's so handy I carry it with me everywhere and enjoy little snippets of reading while waiting for my family, while my kids watch .3 seconds of a TV show, waiting my turn at the bank, etc.

The other amazing discover is how much my KIDS LOVE IT!  They prefer my Kindle over their own toddler electronics and I LOVE the low cost of the apps, in fact most of them are FREE (while I also like their LeapPad, the cost of those games/apps are astronomical!).  Now we can have story time on the go with a HUGE selection of books without carrying all that weight.  I can also keep them quiet in the car, at meetings, in church by handing it over with the sound muted (Heidi loves making fireworks and will do it for a loooong time).

While I have paid for a few apps and books, mostly we enjoy free apps and free books.  I check www.ereadergirl.com every day for daily FREE Kindle books for me and the kids.  You must check it daily because most of the books return to their normal price after a day.

Here are some of our 


What are your favorite Toddler Books & Apps?

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.  I will make a SMALL commission on any sales generated through clicking my links.  Thank you.