Monday, November 23, 2015

For This Child I Prayed.

It has been four years since we celebrated the best Thanksgiving of my life. At the time, I didn't know it would be the best Thanksgiving of my life. At the time, all I knew was hope, and a little fear, that what we'd prayed for would finally occur.

Now I know that it would be the last Thanksgiving my father would spend with his brother and sister and their families. Now I know it would be the last trip my brother would take with our Dad. Now I know the house my in-laws had, at the time, just purchased, a house in which we'd celebrate subsequent Thanksgivings.

But in that week, all I knew was hope. All I knew was living moment-by-moment. All I knew was prayer that at least one of the eight lives living in a lab in Rockville, Maryland would continue to grow.

That Thanksgiving week, as my brother and father spent time four states away and my mother-in-law was another four states away (in a different direction), we all waited for the daily call telling us how many lives were left, whether they'd grown. I remember trying to distract myself by shopping, getting the call that there were eight embryos - more than I'd ever had before. I remember screaming out "EIGHT, Mama, EIGHT!" in the middle of that store, both of us sobbing with joy and hugging while people hurried along around us. I remember calling my husband, sharing the news, believing together that maybe this time God would say yes to the thousands of prayers.

I remember my husband driving me to the embryo transfer, knowing that several of my babies had died, not knowing how many lives would be left to welcome into my womb. I remember the news that three babies had lived. I remember them handing us the photo of those three little lives. I remember the embryologist coming out with the syringe containing my three babies, holding my husband's hand as they transferred those babies into me, then checking to find that one had been "sticky" and was still in the tubing. I remember waiting for that sticky embryo to be brought back and transferred to me. I remember joking that this was the one - the one that would be stubborn enough to stay with Mama.

I remember gently walking to the car, knowing that nothing was going to "fall out", but still not wanting to disturb those lives nestling into my womb. I remember reclining in the seat all the way home, looking at the photo of the three embryos, talking to my husband about the possibilities ahead. And then I remember going to bed and staying still, praying for those lives inside of me, mourning the other lives lost.

I remember Thanksgiving day, a meal my Mama cooked, a meal shared with my father-in-law who had to be away from my mother-in-law while he finished up his job locally. I remember gently leaving bed only for the meal and then rushing back to make sure those babies had every opportunity to attach and grow. And I remember the prayers we offered that week in thanksgiving for life and family and provision and love.

I remember the wait, the pain of not knowing whether life had taken root. And I remember the call that told me God had said yes. I remember the tears of joy as I called my husband and my Mom and Dad and brother and in-laws to share the news we'd all hoped for: there was finally at least one baby growing inside of me. There was life.

So as we enter into this season of Thanksgiving, I'll continue to remember how that one Thanksgiving changed my life. I'll remember how my family and friends rallied around me, praying from many states away that God would answer our prayers in the affirmative. I'll remember the beginnings of that year. And I'll forever be thankful for the provision of life that was rooted in that week. From that week on, Thanksgiving has never again been the same.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The House at JoHarry

I remember the first time we went to see the house I've known as home for 40 years now. Built at the dawn of the 20th Century, I remember the basement looking like the door to a great adventure. I remember the red shag carpeting of the powder room off the kitchen. I remember sitting under the windows of the front bedroom, embracing a stuffed dog that was bigger than me, declaring THIS would be MY bedroom.

We moved into the house right before I started first grade. At the time I was eagerly awaiting my 6th birthday, and spent a good bit of my time keeping my little brother from pulling the heads and arms from my Barbies. Instead of getting the biggest, front bedroom, Mama put me in the back bedroom facing the back yard. It was the smallest bedroom in the house, barely containing my twin bed, a dresser, a desk and bookcase. But it did have a huge closet with a built in dresser that was easily twice my height.

Before the move, Mama had been busy prepping furniture for my new domain. My baby brother inherited the bed I'd slept in until the move, and I inherited new (to me) furniture. Mama had painted her grandmother's bed and dresser in a crisp, white enamel. The bed had posters and creaked when I turned over in the night. The dresser was Victorian and had candlestands, a mirror that pivoted on a frame, and a top that looked like a castle crenelation. She'd found a bookcase that would house my well-loved books and desk for future homework that she painted to match the dresser and bed.

She then took me to the Ethan Allan store and walked me through the bedroom vignettes they'd set up to sell furniture we couldn't afford on a college professor's salary. It was there I spotted the patchwork wallpaper that Mama sacrificed to make mine - in all the lime green, yellow, pink and purple glory you can imagine. She found a pink carpet fit for a princess to finish my kingdom at the back of the house.

She spent the winter making a patchwork quilt to match my wallpaper, with blocks of lime green, yellow, pink and purple gingham, and knotted with yarn that would eventually fray into pom poms. She went to the carpet store and found carpet samples in lime green, yellow, pink and purple to create a patchwork floor in my huge closet - a closet that eventually provided hours of playtime for me and my brother.

Though she had an entire house to remodel and repair, she focused on my room first. I got the smallest room in the house as a bedroom, but she made it a vision of a five-year-old girl's dreams. It was a place where we'd lay pallets and read books, a place we'd set up our record player to pretend we ran a radio station, a place where I'd sit and watch the trees sway in the breeze. Eventually, it was the place I'd redo after college to befit a young professional, the place I'd dress for my wedding day, and the place I'd bring my newborn son while my father received cancer treatments.

Though I've not lived in my home town for almost 20 years, and Mama has since remodeled the room to fit her needs, this is still "my room." The trees are no longer there, but the room still seems sheltered and safe at the back of the house. My son has adopted it as "his" room, and gets very upset should we sleep in any other. But in my mind, it will forever be my patchwork princess playground - a place where many of my dreams began.

Friday, October 23, 2015

On being different.

Almost 20 years ago, I moved from my home state to Washington, DC where I found that I was a bit "different" from most of the people I met. I already knew I was different. It had been driven home to me time and again from childhood. My family didn't vacation the same way others in my community vacationed. We didn't play the way others in my community played. Heck, I didn't even color the way other kids colored (Mama gave us any art supply we asked to have but we NEVER, never had a coloring book). But coming to Washington, DC drove my differences home more solidly than ever before.
My father was a history buff, and particularly loved 18th Century history. I think his love of the Lone Ranger and Tonto morphed into a genuine passion for learning about Native American culture, and that dovetailed into stories of "frontier life" in the 1700s. Our region was rife with history from this era. Our home was the frontier, the battles happened virtually in our back yard.

When I was about six years old, Daddy became involved in a project to rebuild an 18th Century refuge fort, called Prickett's Fort. Mama made us period appropriate costumes. Daddy spent 400+ hours making a historically accurate muzzle loader, and started practicing his knife and tomahawk (not to be confused with an axe) throwing. We started going to rendezvous, where others dressed in 18th Century garb, camped in authentic campsites, and competed in shooting, as well as knife and tomahawk throwing. The days would end with campfires and singing of historically appropriate music playing historically appropriate instruments.

I would imagine there are very few people who think it "normal" to regularly dress in 18th Century costume, there is probably a more select group who learned to weave "linsey" on a 200 year old barn loom, spin wool on a 150 year old walking wheel, and cook in a fireplace with a cast iron pot. I doubt many spent their summers listening to the beat of a tomahawk repeatedly hitting a target, even fewer who'd been taught how to throw tomahawks as a child, and I may be the only person I know who had an ex-boyfriend chased off the property with a tomahawk. But this was my family's normal.

While other of my classmates were heading to the beach or an amusement park, my family was heading to another fort, historical site or rendezvous. While other families went hunting for venison, my Dad begged the skins of the deer to make buckskin britches. While other fathers were winning sales awards, my Dad was named State Champion in knife and tomahawk throwing. And Mama and I spent many an hour looking for red fox pelts to make Daddy's fox hat (instead of the oft seen coonskin cap).

My high school science project was on the effects the pot had as a mordant in natural dying (copper pots made the prettiest dyes). While other girls were dressed in 80s neon, I was graduating from shift and mob cap to English bodice and lace cap. And one of the most enjoyable parties I threw in law school involved showing a group of friends how to hold and throw a tomahawk - in the Nation's capitol, just off one of the main thoroughfares.

Somehow, somewhere along the way, my family had taught me an important lesson: embrace who you are. As I grew older, it became easier to be okay with the fact that we were just different, and that there were many other people out there who were also different - in a different way, but still different. Eventually, I found those different people, embraced those different people, and called them friend.

Today, I live in Alexandria, near Mount Vernon, where it is assumed if I'm in 18th Century costume, I'm probably giving a tour nearby. I have a son who's already outgrown his first 18th Century costume - the one he wore with his (proud) Grandfather to a rendezvous at 18 months.

One of the larger challenges I have facing me as a parent is to encourage my child's different self in a way that will encourage him to embrace who he is with confidence. I don't think it will be easy because I know conformity is a much easier path. But what I CAN do, is point to those people I've called friends - some of whom I can claim almost a lifetime of friendship - and say, "See? THIS is what makes you rich. THIS is what makes life good. THESE are the people who will celebrate life with you." And I will thank my "different" friends for embracing the different in me, while I celebrate their different with them. All the while I will know: my life will always be richer for embracing the different.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Stairwell Update: The big reveal

As promised, after two days of painting and wallpapering, here's the big reveal for my Stairwell Update.

The walls and ceiling are now the same color. The shelves are uniform and I added storage I had around the house to keep together like items - dog stuff with dog stuff, diaper stuff with diaper stuff, cleaning stuff with cleaning stuff. Things finally have a place!
From the basement, things look clean. I'm thinking about adding some hooks under the bottom shelf t,m,; o hold things like the diaper bag, the backpacks and other things that can hang here rather than clutter up the living room. 
 Despite having to freehand the black paint here on the stairs, they look better than the dirty grey - and little feet apparently approve. All said and done, this project cost about $100, including painting supplies. Had I been able to get only a quart of porch paint, I'd have been able to drive that cost down. The most difficult part was waiting the three days to walk on the stairs!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Stairwell Update: Wallpapering

After painting, I still had that terrible strip of paneling that showed through the paint. In past renovation projects, when you don't want to drywall and you really can't patch a wall, we've put up wallpaper. I'd decided not to use my paintable wallpaper on the front of the stairs, and this became a perfect solution for covering up that nasty paneling place.

I carefully measured my wall space, leaving a little extra for cutoff at the top and bottom. I then measured out my wallpaper, cut it in a straight line at the end, and rolled it up so the pre-pasted side was facing out rather than in (as it comes on the roll). I then filled my son's baby tub with water, dipped my roll in so that as I unrolled the pre-pasted side faced out and got a little wet. I folded my paper in half with the pre-pasted sides facing each other. This allows the paste to activate and allows for even wetness. I had to be very careful not to let the wallpaper tear as it was very fragile in the non-design parts.

After allowing that to set for a few minutes, I unfolded the wallpaper and positioned it on the wall. Start at the top and work your way down the wall. If you need to re-position the paper, just pull it up and start down the wall again. Work from the vertical center of the paper, feathering out your wallpaper brush or a wet rag to work out your bubbles and to smooth the edges down to make sure they stick. Then take a straight edge and boxcutter and trim off the top and bottom of your paper along the wall and floor or trim.

Please note: old houses are notorious for not being square - i.e., you can't count on a wall or ceiling being straight. Because I was only putting up one strip, I eyeballed the distance from the wall to position my pieces. Ideally, you should take a level and draw a vertical line (pencil or chalk) on the wall as a starting place to ensure you start with a straight line.

Because it looked weird to have one wall papered and the other wall plain, I papered the mirroring wall in the same manner. I decided to leave it unpainted because I like the contrast of stark white to the Antique White of the paint. The good thing is that I have the option to paint it in the future if I decide to do so!

Stay tuned for the big reveal!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Stairwell Update: Painting

When painting, it's important to prep your area before you begin. Paint will not stick to a surface with dirt on it, so cleaning your surface before painting is important. I used a scrub brush and rag dipped in a Lysol/water mix on the stairs to get them ready to paint after I'd used that same mix and rag to wipe down the ceiling, walls, shelves and other trim.

While my clean surfaces dried, I gathered my painting supplies. I prefer to use a 4" roller because it doesn't suck up as much paint and doesn't get as heavy as you continue to paint. I think the ease of use makes up for the smaller surface area with each stroke. I also used a small, plastic paint tray. Normally, I'd have used a larger paint tray that could be cleaned up and used again, but having a 1 year old has severely limited my time. I needed a quick, easy clean up, which also meant a cheap brush to do my trim work.

Please note, because I used a cheap brush on the trim for the white, I had to buy a new brush to use on the black - the first brush was a mess and there was no way I was going to get an edge on the stairs with that blown brush. Moral of the story? Use a good brush from the beginning.

I began by painting the Antique White. I worked in small sections, painting the trim and corners first, and then filling in with the roller. Working in small spaces helps with blending between paint brush strokes and paint roller marks. It makes for a cleaner finish if you transition from the brush marks on the trim to the roller while the paint is still wet. Because I was painting the ceiling the same color as the walls, I didn't have to tape off the ceiling. Keeping the paint color the same from walls to ceiling helps make a space look bigger.

After 24 hours, I started taping off my space to start the black paint. I had decided earlier that I was only going to paint part of the riser black along with the tops of the stairs. Because the white was freshly painted, I was careful of the type of tape I used. I tried the FrogTape(R) for delicate surfaces because it is made for newly-painted ares. I found, however, that it wasn't sticking well because my surface was uneven - 60 years of use will do that I guess.

I ended up free handing the black paint along the edges because the paint wasn't working as well as just carefully using the brush. Again, I had to use a new, more expensive brush for this trim work to help keep the lines straight. I was also able to keep a good line with my roller as long as I didn't have a ton of paint on the roller. By just adding pressure to the outside, I was able to keep the line straight. I then feathered that in with a brush and used the roller to fill in the center.

As I painted the stairs, I painted every other stair so I wouldn't get caught in the basement. I allowed the paint to dry for the prescribed 3 hours (check your paint can for a repaint time) and then finished the job with the remaining stairs.

Stay tuned for the wallpaper finish!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Stairway Update: Choosing Paint

My family and I started renovating my home in 2006, and finished most of the renovations in 2007. There was one space, however, that had not been touched in that time. It's a utilitarian space - used to get to the basement, but also to store some of my extras - like formula and household goods I need to keep away from the baby.

The steps were a dirty grey - who knows when they were painted last. The handrail was pretty, but looked like it had 60 years of dirt embedded in it. The walls were an amalgamation of cream, peach, unpainted drywall and paneling that had been patched together. My first thought was that if we could just get it all one color, it would look 100% better.

After doing some extensive Pinterest research, I decided to do an antique white and black combo. I initially bought some paintable wallpaper that looked like a tin ceiling to put on the riser part of the stairway, but when it got down and dirty, I realized it wouldn't look right given each of the risers has what looks like a framed area on them.

I chose Antique White from Behr's Premium Plus in Antique White, and decided on a semi-gloss finish for the walls. The paint store will usually steer you away from this finish, saying the shine will show blemishes in the wall. But this is a hallway that will get hand prints going up and down, and the only light is at the base of the stairs. I wasn't worried about blemishes showing. And a semi-gloss finish is really easy to clean.

For the stairs, I wanted a paint that could stand up to wear and tear as well as one that was easily cleanable. I went with Behr's Porch and Patio Floor Paint in Belugah I knew I'd probably only use a quart of this, but Home Depot only sells this in the gallon size.

Stay tuned for painting and wallpapering steps!