Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Mother of All Invention

Whoever said that necessity is the mother of all invention was wrong -- or at least not completely right, unless it includes the necessity for a thrill. I explained to the kids this morning that, unfortunately, it iced last night, so they wouldn't be able to play in the snow today; it would just be all iced over. Leave it to Brennan to prove me wrong.

After lunch, I told the kids that I needed to go outside and shovel the walk. The ensuing conversation went something like this:

Brennan: Hey, Dad! I know something you could use in the place of a sled.

Me: What?

Brennan: An unused storage tub!

Me: Well, that's a grand idea, except that we have nowhere to sled!

Brennan (undeterred): Yeah, we do!

Me: Where?

Brennan: The hill across from our house!

Me: (I 've obviously forgotten how to think like a little boy that craves adventure) That would be a great idea, except for the bolted-down bench and the huge brick flower box that guards the bottom of the hill!

Brennan: I could sled down the hill without hitting it! I can steer the tub!

Me (laughing): Right! No, I don't want you to. It's too dangerous.

End of scene...Fast forward to me shoveling the snow outside...Out comes Brennan carrying an old Rubbermaid tub. I don't know why, but I just didn't tell him again that I didn't want him doing it. Instead, I resigned myself to watch him very closely. Back to the mother of invention, he positioned his tub so that he would slide diagonally down the hill, missing the bench and brick wall altogether. He turned over quite a few times to be sure, but, nevertheless, he had worked it out. I found myself just shaking my head at him, thinking that I couldn't believe he had figured out a way to do it. I went inside and grabbed my camera to capture his moment on film. After all, if this turned out successfully, Cristi would want it on film!

Next thing I know, Addison's decided that she wants to try! They must have stayed out there for over half an hour trying different configurations, all the while being careful to avoid the things that would quickly turn it into a bad day.

I just couldn't believe it. I'm still shaking my head. Of course, what I'm really wondering is whether I was a bad parent that got lucky today, or whether I've forgotten what it's like to be a kid...Given my typical positive outlook on life, I'll choose the latter. Now if I could just recapture that spirit somehow...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Our First (Only?) Big Snow of the Year

My parents had been up here helping with the kids -- doing school, fixing meals, ferrying the kids to appointments and activities, and doing laundry. I have to say it was nice to be able to go to work and still let the kids continue doing all of the things they need to. They left on Saturday, though, so I've been at home with the kids this week. As helpful as they were, it's been nice to have some all-by-ourselves time. I think I picked the wrong week, though! Yesterday, it was swim team practice at 0630, school, an allergy shot for Addison, and, oh yeah, try to get some work done from home. Thursday is school, another allergy shot for Addison, an appointment for Brennan (probably coupled with a trip to the pharmacy), and getting ready for Friday. Friday, we start the day with an egg challenge for Brennan (to see if he's out-grown his egg food allergy; I have to cook and bring some scrambled eggs and french toast) that will take all morning, then leave from there to go up to Philadelphia for an overnight trip. Saturday, Cristi's parents arrive.

Today, there wasn't much on the schedule other than school, and an appointment for Brennan. I was looking forward to getting some more work done. It was snowing when we woke up this morning -- what a wonderful surprise! We spent the morning doing school (interleaved with a little bit of work for me), then went outside to play for a while. It wasn't a blizzard or massive snowfall by anyone's calculation, but it was 2-3 inches -- enough to play in! They had grand intentions of building a snowman and a fort big enough to fend off an army of medieval snow catapults...but it just wasn't to be. The snow just didn't want to pack, so we had trouble getting any big snowballs.

Still they had a great time! After spending quite a bit of time working on large snowballs, Brennan devolved into the Ice Age hand-to-hand combat model of snowball fighting. Realizing he wasn't pounding his enemy into submission, though, he made his own catapult using the snow shovel! I would have gotten pictures, but I was too busy running! Nevertheless, I did get a few photos to share. We love snow, but this will probably be our only significant snow this year...Too bad!

After getting frozen in the snow, we came back in to thaw out. We talked about having our semi-official post-snowfall hot chocolate. Addison came up with a new idea instead: Coffee with chocolate milk (i.e., a mocha latte!). Mmmm...was it good!

P.S. Lauren continues to feel well, but can't shake the cough and runny nose. Consequently, she's still quarantined. We just keep hoping it will run its course very soon. Fortunately, Lauren is getting into a routine. Cristi says it's a delicate balance between having a schedule that Lauren can rely on and being bossed around by a 3-year-old dictator (i.e., "Mommy, I watch Dora. You go get breakfast.")! She's so cute, you can't help but love her! Finally, for those that were wondering, I suspect that if a heart were to become available right now, they'd go ahead with the transplant despite the persistent cold symptoms, so that's good news.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugurating a New Year

Today, they had a special event in DC they were expecting a few million people for. Perhaps you heard something about it on your local news station: The inauguration? Rather than fight the crowds in sub-freezing temperatures just to watch the event on a jumbotron, I decided to take advantage of my free holiday by skipping town for a different inauguration. My parents, the big kids, and I left at 0630 this morning for Philadelphia, loaded with presents and a cake so we could celebrate Lauren's third birthday!

It turns out everyone was on the metro, because we flew out of town with nothing to even slow us down. Once we got up there, we all exchanged hugs. The kids were especially excited since it was the first time they had seen Cristi and Lauren since January 6th. Brennan didn't waste any time, though; we came for a purpose, and he was ready to get down to the business of Lauren opening her presents! Lauren had a great time opening gifts. She figured out the gift thing at Christmas, and it was just really special to watch her during that small window of time when it's pure joy and magic to a child.

After presents and lunch, we left Lauren playing with Nana and Papa while Cristi and the big kids and I went to the Narnia exhibit at the Franklin Institute. After the Star Wars exhibit last year, we had high hopes; we weren't disappointed. We started the tour by walking through the wardrobe, past the fur coats, and into a snowing land marked by a lamppost. The exhibit hall had many of the costumes and props that were actually used during the filming. We were quite impressed at the detail. These weren't just any old swords, helmets, and shields. Each piece was intricately made specifically for the movie. For example, one of the helmets had scenes from Narnian battles cast into it. We also got to see a working catapult, sit on the White Witch's throne (it was actually ice cold!), and see how they brought the creatures to life -- from computer generation to high-tech make-up! (For those wondering, while there was some computer generation done, all of the scenery was real.) If you look below, you can see..............wait for it.................the one picture we took. Unlike the Star Wars exhibit, they prohibited photography, so we snagged this one on the way in.

We returned mid-afternoon to the hospital to finish up our birthday celebration -- complete with birthday cake. My mother and Addison worked on the cake together. Lauren liked it because it had her initial on it. We all had a piece -- except for Lauren, of course -- which saddened me. Hopefully she'll get to start eating soon...

Unfortunately, once we had finished the cake, it was time for us to come back to DC...back to the real world for all of us tomorrow: The kids have swim team and school; I have to leave about 0500 to get down to the Williamsburg area for a meeting for the next two days. We had an absolutely fantastic time, though! Can't wait to go back again!

P.S. Lauren's still coughing and has a runny nose, so she's still on contact precautions (meaning she can't leave her room). The rule is that she has to be symptom-free for 5 days before she can be taken off, so she and Cristi still have several days ahead of them of staying in the room. I'm told RSV can actually take 21 days to complete, so she may only be halfway through yet...We could continue to use your prayers for a quick recovery. Thankfully they're taking very good care of her there.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

One Week In

We're now one week into this journey, and it hasn't been rosy. Lauren came down with RSV the day I left Philadelphia after taking her up there to check her in. Despite feeling better after about three days of extreme puniness, she's still on contact precautions for about five more days -- meaning that she can't leave her room, period. No play room, no walks, no group art/music -- nothing but four walls.

After a week of separation, I really miss Cristi and Lauren. Cristi and I usually spend our evenings catching up with each other, talking about what happened that day, how we should tackle the medical concern of the day, what events are coming on the horizon, how we need to coordinate schedules, make joint decisions, why the girl on American Idol thought she needed to try out in a bikini, etc. Making decisions on who will keep the kids when and coordinating resolution of medical bills, etc. is also harder over the phone (or Facebook!).

At work, I got word in a most unsettling and unwelcoming way that my job may be moving to a different part of the organization with a different boss: I came to work Tuesday and had an e-mail saying that everyone on there was soon going to be working for this new directorate and so these slides needed to be done by the end of the day. (Interestingly, my current boss hadn't heard that I was supposed to be moving!) If that wasn't enough, the same thing happened again the next day! I was able to complete the tasks with no problem, but it seemed as if it might become a habit. I've established a good working relationship with my boss and boss's boss that I can pretty much take off whenever I need. I've done that a lot, while doing my best to keep up with work and not take advantage of their generosity. I have no such established relationship with the new command structure. Indeed, they know very little of Lauren's issues and certainly not this latest adventure.

On top of all that, yesterday was Lauren's birthday. I was sad that I didn't get to spend it with her. In fact, I didn't even get a chance to talk to her yesterday. Fortunately, she had a great day yesterday. Check out Cristi's blog for her heartwarming story. We'll celebrate as a family on Tuesday, when we take her presents up there.

Being fearless is a daily challenge. It's only natural to fear the unknown. Still, there are things to be thankful for. I still have our parents and friends to help out with the big kids, so they're getting their schoolwork done -- and I'm not missing any meals. Lauren and Cristi moved to a much larger room with more space to stretch out and play. They put a mat down on the floor, so Lauren can get down and play. The therapists and child life specialists have been good to come by and play as well, giving Cristi much-needed breaks here and there. The work move isn't a done deal yet (still hoping against it), but my current boss e-mailed my new (prospective) boss and told him the situation. Should I have to move, I'm sure that will work out, too. Last, but not least, I continue to be strengthened from all the well wishes, encouragement, and prayers from friends and family. The power of friendship/fellowship should never be underestimated. I simply don't think I could endure this trial without God's blessing of friends and family. You guys are awesome!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Starting Down a Road...

After planning and packing for what could rival a small military operation, Cristi and Lauren left DC for Philadelphia Tuesday morning. I followed suit Tuesday afternoon after the Presidential ceremony.

Lauren checked into the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU), where they gave her an IV, then put her on a new IV heart medicine (Milrinone), with the intent to step it up to a specified level. At that level, it should help her heart at least temporarily, and places her in the highest category of need for a transplant. Yesterday, after much finagling, they put a PICC line (basically a super IV that goes from her arm, up to her shoulder, and back down almost to her heart) in her. That will allow them to get blood from her any time they want/need it and preclude Lauren from getting poked every time – something Lauren is certainly happy about.

We also met with most of the transplant team across several meetings yesterday and today. They’ve really got the full spectrum of support – from the obvious cardiac transplant docs and nurses, to nurse coordinator (that actually rides point on coordinating getting the donor heart and interfacing with us on the process itself), to psychologists, social workers, and child life specialists. You wouldn’t think about needing all of that, but I think each of them will be invaluable at least in some small way at some point during this journey. The psychologist and child life specialists will work on getting Lauren on a routine that matches her home routine to the maximum extent possible – including getting her up and dressed in the morning, taking naps at regular time, and NOT watching movies all day everyday. They’re also getting her set up with regular play room activities such as art and music, and will continue her physical therapy. The psychologist is there for advice/help on how to keep Lauren from becoming so needy/clingy by the time discharge comes that she’s irreversibly altered her personality (i.e., make sure she understands she can play by herself and doesn’t always get her way!). Oh, the psychologist is also there to do a psychological evaluation on us to determine whether we can handle being transplant parents. Cristi hopes my results won’t derail the process…prayers please! :-) The social worker is there to help us with anything that comes up in terms of insurance liaison, housing for me/Cristi, etc. The whole team spent quite a bit of time with us yesterday and today working to put us at ease and help us understand the process and promised that we’d get to know them all quite well. As we concluded our final meeting with one of the attending cardiac transplant docs this afternoon, we got official word that Lauren had been listed. The journey begins…

This morning they moved Lauren to her private room on the Cardiac Care Unit (aka the normal cardiac ward). She went to music time in the play room (officially called “music therapy” – a term I find quite humorous), but really acted kinda puny today. She was coughing a lot today, perhaps like her feeds weren’t setting well. We’re not sure whether she’s getting a cold, or maybe just a little nervous, adjusting to a somewhat-familiar environment during a time when she’s not “sick”. I could actually see myself in her: She’s very out-going and friendly, but initially shy in new and unfamiliar situations/environs. It could also be in part due to some anemia she's been struggling with lately. It hasn't been much to be concerned about until now, but her red blood cell count is trending downward. I hated to leave her not knowing…but, alas, I must return to work tomorrow…

I really felt pretty good all weekend – ominously so – as if I didn’t have a care in the world, or as if it was just another hospital stay (okay, that already makes me a sad case…)…Today, it hit me, though. I think it’s because I finally had to deal with the fact that I was leaving “my other world”, having to return to the reality of what was ahead. Cristi and I will be separated for the indefinite future – she with Lauren, and me with the big kids (with some big assistance from our parents). Cristi likened it to her deploying – a totally unfair scenario, I have to say! :-) Suddenly, we’re entering a period when I could be called at any time (gotta get my bag packed – prepare to deploy on a moment’s notice), where Cristi and I are separated, and where I have to be responsible for Brennan’s appointments and work and scheduling time to get to Philadelphia with and/or without the kids, to manage the stress levels of the kids and myself…and worrying about Cristi actually taking care of herself and getting real food. We’re really entering a scary time of unknowns – or as our preacher put it once in a sermon that has stuck with us so vividly: Going, not knowing…

But as I contemplate the feelings I’m having, I realize it’s not unlike the feelings I have PCSing (moving to a new base for those non-military types) or just changing jobs within the same organization. I know it sounds silly or incomprehensible to compare the two, but I get like that when circumstances change. Remember what I said about Lauren being shy in new situations? After a couple of days, I figure out that, yes, I really can do this, that I’m not in a situation that I will fail miserably, and it just becomes business as usual. I’m convinced that will happen in this case, too. As I’ve said before, I’m still convinced that God has great things ahead for Lauren…so why worry? No matter what happens – no matter what – God is still God, and I will follow Him. I will be fearless. And I will teach my family to be fearless, too.

P.S. We’ve already had several friends that have offered to visit, send care packages, help out however needed, etc. That’s incredibly encouraging to us (BTW, PLEASE don’t feel pressured to send something). It’s also incredibly strengthening to hear how many people are praying for and thinking about our little girl. From the deepest part of me, thank you! Just one more way God is good!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Hail to the Chief!

I had an awesome opportunity yesterday that most people never get. I got to see the President! (This was actually my second time seeing the President; the first was when he came to Oklahoma Christian University while I was in school there. I got to sit right behind him in the band.) Anyway, yesterday was the Armed Forces Farewell Tribute to President Bush. They had a lottery drawing for tickets for each of the Services and my name was drawn.

It wasn't a great venue. They held it at Ft Myer in a building that looked like a converted gymnasium. Imagine a gym with seating on 3 of the four sides of the court (one long side without). The President, First Lady, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were seated in nice chairs right at mid-court at, like, Row Zero. The Vice President, all the four-stars, retired four-stars, and their wives were seated right behind them. We were then placed to the left and right of them down the long side of the court, filling up the goal ends as well. As I sat down, I thought, clearly, there was a bonus for getting there "late" as those folks in the "endzones" (what do you call those on a basketball court anyway?) had the best camera views. The court area itself was filled with all the ceremonial units -- each of the service Honor Guards, the Army Band, and The Old Guard Fife & Drum Corps -- that presented themselves and then did a pass in review. Check out the picture below.

After the introductory ceremonial honors were done, President Bush was presented with a couple of medals and a set of ten battle streamers from units that deployed in support of the Global War on Terror. Mrs. Bush was presented with a DOD Public Service award.

The final part, of course, involved speeches from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ADM Mullen, and the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. They lauded the President's moral courage to respond decisively following the September 11th attacks and to continue operations when it was the right thing to do -- even after it was no longer popular. They commented that, largely because of his leadership, we've seen no more terrorist attacks inside the US following 9/11, we gave women in Afghanistan more rights and education than was previously allowed, and established the foundations for democracy in Iraq in a shorter amount of time than it took to stand up America's own democratic government. ADM Mullen shared comments from servicemembers recorded in a journal, extolling the President for his strong support for them and his personal care, concern, and visits to the wounded. One also praised him for being quick on his feet and that next time he should throw the shoe back!

For his part, President Bush responded humbly that he was deeply indebted to the men and women that had served -- that he couldn't accept the praise given him without giving an equal amount back. He marveled at how time and again, servicemembers had selflessly given of themselves to preserve peace and democracy across the globe.

He was truly humble and personable -- even in this very formal setting. He was authentic -- one of the things that made it easy to serve under him as Commander-in-Chief. The lighting was bad, the seating wasn't optimal, and I didn't get to shake his hand, but I did get some pretty good pictures. I also got to honor the man I've enjoyed serving for the last eight years. He'll be missed.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Kids Say the Darnedest Things

I know Christmas is already coming up on us. It should only be a matter of days before Brennan starts announcing the beginnings of his next Christmas/birthday list. In spite of my tardiness, I thought you might find it humorous the types of things overheard around our house. I'm sure any of you with kids have heard very similar things, so I merely submit these as another example of kids being cute and/or absolutely hysterical without trying at all.

Our first vignette comes from the youngest, Lauren. Twas the night before Christmas. I was holding Lauren and Brennan came up to her. The conversation went something like this:

Brennan: What are you going to do tomorrow, Lauren?
Lauren: Open presents!! (big smile)
Me: (Mildly surprised that she's that attuned to what's about to happen) Boy, you've really got that down...
Lauren: Yea me!!!

Our second vignette comes from the oldest child...The other night at dinner, Cristi and I were discussing two of our friends that we go to church with that happen to work on Capitol Hill. Obviously, they're quite tied to politics, but we're just not sure what their political leanings are, and, darn it, they aren't giving us good enough hints. Finally Addison pipes up:

Addison: Why don't you just look on their Facebook page to see what their political views are.
Me: Well, they don't have anything on there. In fact, some people just put a vague statement on there that doesn't really tell you anything.
Addison: They should make you put down something like, conservative, moderate, or flaming liberal!

I have to say I'm proud of my daughter! I try to give her an unbiased view of politics and allow her to make up her own mind. Since she's chosen Republican herself, that must mean that's the obvious choice everyone should make, right? The mind of a child exudes innocence, right? :-)

And last but not least, our last vignette comes from Brennan. Poor kid. He tries so hard to be serious at times, but, alas, it always comes out funny! Here's how this one played out at dinner:

Me: Who's having ice cream tonight?
Addison: Me!
Brennan: Me!
Me: No, you're not having ice cream tonight.
Brennan: Why not?
Me: Because there's a new rule that on Mondays, you don't get ice cream.
Brennan: Ha ha!
Brennan: No, I'm serious. Ha ha!

I can't make this stuff up, folks! In case you're wondering, Brennan did get his ice cream, but it took a while for us all to pick ourselves up off the floor from laughing so hard! "I wish I could save these moments and put 'em in a jar...I know I can't, but I wish I could." Moments in life like these are precious. It makes everything worthwhile!

Totally Tubular

OK, Cristi started a new blog and beat me to the punch on this one, so you can read both versions of this story and maybe get a complete picture of just what actually happened today. If you're interested, you can check out her blog here. I hope you'll follow hers as well. Just don't forget about mine...'K? Anyway, here's my version of our day today:

This Christmas my grandmother gave our family a substantial sum of cash -- to be used in any way we saw fit. We've been incredibly blessed as a family over the years, so we really didn't need more "stuff". With Lauren and Cristi's impending incarceration in Philadelphia, we planned a quick family trip to the slopes to go snow tubing!

We got up early this morning and drove up to Liberty Ski Resort just across the Pennsylvania border (maybe we should actually move to Pennsylvania!) -- not far from Gettysburg. We were rewarded with near-empty slopes. That's right! While everyone else was recovering from last night, we were enjoying the slopes!

If you've never been tubing, think of it like the luge for amateurs...or one of those inner-tube water slide rides, only on the snow -- at double the speed (see pictures, below -- comments about the combination of my cool red coat with my 14-year-old royal blue ski pants that I got on clearance 14 years ago not required!)! Lauren even had her own bunny slope for 2-4 year olds. She had a great time sliding, but got cold after a while and spent much of her time enjoying the warmth of the lodge. Cristi and I took turns racing -- I mean, supervising -- the big kids. Imagine flying downhill at supersonic speed, with the snow blowing in your face. We rode on your backs, on our stomachs, and even tandem with two tubes tied together. We even spun all the way down the hill! This was great family fun! Our kids are already asking when they can go again -- or if we could make it an annual trip!

Oh, and we were also glad that we decided to set the alarm clock. By the time our two-hour session was up, it was one continuous line from the end of the tubing tracks to the top of the lift -- and a crowd of people large enough to challenge any Black Friday special still waiting in line for tickets and tubes. Looks like 2009's going to be a great year if today is any predictor!