Tuesday, December 31, 2013


I answer these questions on my blog each year.  200920102011, and 2012.  (I've been blogging a long time now.)  Here we go again...

1. What did you do in 2013 that you'd never done before?
Met up with friends I'd only known via blogs and e-mail.  Flew on an airplane with a baby.  Planned and hosted a first birthday party.  Parented a toddler.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Last year, my goal was to be deliberate.  With memory keeping, time, love, money, and organization.  JUST A LITTLE AMBITIOUS, I WAS.  I did okay with some of those things.  I kept Zuzu's baby book up to date (I have fallen a few months behind on photo albums--I'm still an old-fashioned photo printer.  When I love a photo, I want to be able to hold on to it.).  I tried to be deliberate about where I spend my time--like, no playing Candy Crush while Zuzu is awake.  We definitely had to be deliberate with money after the initial sale of our house fell through.  Organization is still a work in progress!

My goals for 2014:  Complete bookshelves for living room, paint kitchen cabinets, paint basement walls, organize craft/sewing/desk area in basement, make closet more functional, save money!

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My cousin Brandi had a baby girl in July and my friend Caroline just had a baby girl this month.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
My Nana died in August after receiving a diagnosis of lung cancer in the spring.  We hate cancer.  And we miss Nana.

5. What countries did you visit?
We did not travel out of the country, but we did fly to Arizona in March, Zuzu and I visited Chicago in June, and we made a few trips back to Nevada, MO to see the fam over the course of the year.

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?
Well, let's be honest:  a little extra cash would be nice.

7. What dates from 2013 will remained etched upon your memory?
June 29th - Zuzu's first birthday (and first birthday party!).  Weirdly, there aren't any specific dates besides that one that really stand out.  Just a series of lovely and hilarious and exasperating and happy and sad but mostly happy days.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I wrote a novel in November!

9. What was your biggest failure?
I'm disappointed in the way one of my classes this fall turned out.  I was kind of overwhelmed with prep work for class and never really got ahead.  I wasn't really on top of my game and it should have been a better class than it was.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nothing serious, though David and I were both sick the weekend before Christmas through Christmas day--fever, achiness, and general yuckiness.  Zuzu stayed healthy this year, too (except for those pesky ear infections). David and I were each in fender-benders (a week apart) but no one was injured in those accidents either.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
The new house, our bargain sectional for the TV room, and although I didn't buy them for myself, my favorite gift was these Toms wedges (but in black suede) my mom gave me for my birthday.  I love how they look and they are the most comfortable heeled shoe I have ever worn.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
David might win this category again...  he's a pretty good guy.  I'm also really grateful for Zuzu's teachers at daycare.  I feel so lucky to be able to work basically full time and drop her off at a place she loves.  I feel comfortable and confident that I'm leaving her in capable and loving hands.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Congress (bah).  I was also appalled by certain parents at David's school who appear to value their own convenience over student safety.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Two mortgages and daycare.

15. What did you get really excited about?
Finally selling our old house (knock on wood!--we close on January 7th)

16. What song will always remind you of 2013?
I sing this Bob Dylan song to Zuzu every night before bed.  It's our lullaby/prayer.

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
And may you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the light surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
And may you stay forever young...

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
- happier or sadder?  I think I'm happier.
- thinner or fatter?  About the same.
- richer or poorer?  Poorer in cash money, richer in other ways.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
More exercise, more meal-planning.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?

20. How did you spend Christmas?
At home in St. Louis, with David and Zuzu and my parents and brother.

21. Did you fall in love in 2013?
I was already in love.  And I stayed that way.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
Not so much.  I guess that's a good thing!

24. What was the best book you read?
I read a lot of books (not 100, but somewhere around 60).  The best ones were Unbroken by Lauren Hillebrand, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, and I also loved Wild by Cheryl Strayed.

25. What was your favorite musical discovery?
I'm not sure I made any musical discoveries in 2013.  Pandora is blocked at my office (so lame) but I discovered that I can use Spotify at work!

26. What did you want and get?
a beautiful new house

27. What did you want and not get?
a quick sale on the old house

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
We saw very few movies this year (I think only two in the theater).  The Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire was probably my favorite that we saw in the theater.  We want to see American Hustle but instead of going out to dinner and a movie before Christmas, we got sick and watched a bunch of episodes of The Good Wife streaming with Amazon prime.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 33 on my birthday.  David and I went to brunch and then with my parents and Zuzu to the Botanical Gardens and that evening David and I went to a movie.  It was the best birthday I've had in three years.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
If our original contract on the house would have gone through (okay, I swear I'm done bitching about that now).

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?
For the first nine months:  Breastfeeding/Pumping Friendly.  For the last three months:  Leggings + tunic + scarf + boots.

32. What kept you sane?
snuggling with Zuzu

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I still love Kate Middleton

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
The Affordable Care Act.  I think it needs a public relations makeover.  Somebody get Olivia Pope on that.

35. Who did you miss?
Eliza, of course, and grandparents whom we wish could have had time--or more time--with Zuzu.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
I'd technically met her in 2012, but I've become good friends with one of my colleagues at work, which makes work so much more fun.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013.
We can make it work.  2013 was full of a lot of unexpected news--some of it bad, some of it good.  Every time there was an unfortunate wrench in our plans there would be some moping and some fretting and then we'd sigh and say, "Well, we can make it work."

After Eliza died, I quit believing that things will be okay in the end, but I'm still holding on to the idea that as long as you surround yourself with the right people, you can work your way through just about anything.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray.
You'll never know, dear, how much I love you.

Please don't take my sunshine away.

May 2014 have more of the good and less of the bad.  Here's to a new year.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Double Sold

So I just thought I'd offer you a little real estate update from our corner of the world.

As you may remember way back in March, we put our cute little house on the market.

We got an offer six days later, right after our first open house.  We accepted the offer.  The buyer was preapproved.  We took our preapproval letter and made an offer on a new house.

Our offer was accepted.  Everything looked like it was coming up roses.

And then our buyers kept pushing back the closing date.  Our realtor continually assured us that it was going to be fine.  We had worked out a rental agreement with the new house so we could have a couple of weeks to paint and get things settled before moving in.  Pushing back our closing date made us really nervous, although the sellers of the new house agreed to work with us.  I remember asking our realtor "Should we cancel the moving truck?" and she told me no, she'd been in contact with the buyer's agent and it was going to be fine.

And then it wasn't.  The buyers had issues in their credit history that popped up and they weren't approved for their loan.  The sale fell through right after we had moved everything into the new house.

We had gotten such a quick sale at a good price that we were pretty confident it would happen again.  So we scrambled, we talked to our mortgage lender, we talked to our Edward Jones advisor, and we decided to go ahead and buy the new house, fingers crossed that the old one would sell quickly.

It didn't.

By this time it was May and the market was on the upswing, but there were a lot of houses in our area and price range available.  Ours was the cutest, but it didn't have a basement and it was no longer furnished and staged.  I asked our realtor if we should pay to have it staged (HGTV tells me that buyers make emotional purchases even if they don't think they do, and I know our house looks bigger when it has furniture in it).  She said no and never mentioned it again.

Each time we would talk to her about our house (which wasn't often), the outlook was depressing.  She kept insisting that the problem was that it didn't have a basement.  She assured us that the price was right at the beginning (and we got the original offer for close to our asking price) but then kept saying we had to come down--to the point where we would barely break even on our mortgage!

She had extended her contract with us through Thanksgiving, but in October we had had enough of her negativity.  David broke up with her and we took the house off the market.

(Note:  Breaking up with a real estate agent is awkward when she lives in your new neighborhood and you run into her at Target.)

Meanwhile, I'd talked to a good friend of mine about the situation and she recommended another realtor who'd helped her buy her house.  They'd actually become friends in the process.  Also this realtor works with her identical twin, which I found adorable.

So I called her.  At this point, we hadn't even broken up with our old agent, but the new realtor called me back and spent thirty minutes on the phone with me, discussing our situation and offering her recommendations.  The biggest one?  Staging.  She even gave me the name of the person she uses, as well as the name of a rental management company, if we decided to go that route.

David and I talked it over after he broke up with the first realtor.  We decided that rather than mess with renting the house for three months (which felt like a risk since you never know who will be living there and how they'll treat your property) and paying a management company to handle it, instead we would just let the house sit and then stage it and put it back on the market in the spring with the new realtor I'd been talking to.

I called the new realtor back to let her know our plan, and in a surprising twist (!) she convinced us to go ahead and let her list the house now--this was November.  Our old realtor had told us we wouldn't have any luck after October, but the new realtor said that if it was just going to sit, we might as well put it out there and see what happens.  She'd give it a new listing number and a new price to get it back at the top of the search engines, and we'd see what happened.  She pointed out that while the market is slower in the winter, there are still some people who need to buy a house at that time for whatever reason and there are much fewer houses on the market.

So we payed to have it staged, and paid to have part of the dining room floor repaired--it had gotten warped without the climate control running all the time since the house was sitting empty.

Our new realtor took photos of the staged house and listed it.  David and I were not getting our hopes up.  We would be happy if it sold by March.

Two weeks later, we had an offer.

BUT it was a disappointing, low-ball offer.  (Our agent actually called it "insulting," which made me love her more.)

She said that there was one other couple who wanted to look at the house, so she was going to wait and see what they thought of it before responding with our counter offer.

And then we got a SECOND offer.  It still wasn't quite the price we wanted, but we were over the moon and ready to negotiate.

So our agent went to the first offer and said we'd gotten a second offer, closer to our asking price, so we were going to be negotiating with them.

The first offer obviously wanted the house, because she raised her bid $15,000 and said she'd move up the closing date to early January (before our mortgage payment is due).


We signed a contract with her, but it is contingent upon the sale of her current property.  Her agent is acting as a dual agent in that sale (meaning he's representing her as the seller and the buyers who are purchasing her current property).  The only reason this matters to us is because he has all the information on the sale and is confident it is going to go through.  Plus, as our agent pointed out, he's quite motivated because he stands to make a lot of money on that sale, representing both sides.

However, our agent talked to the other couple who made us an offer and they ended up signing a back-up contract with us.  So if our first contract falls through, we'll close with the second couple on February 1.  BOOM.  DOUBLE SOLD.

I cannot even tell you what a relief it is.  David and I are both just giddy at the thought of only having one mortgage payment in 2014.

Since I'm still somewhat superstitious about this kind of stuff (you all know how I feel about counting chickens and whatnot), it makes me a little nervous to post anything about it before it's signed and sealed, but I just had to share a bit of good news at the close of this year.

Wishing all of you the good kind of closure at the end of 2013 and the start of 2014.

Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 Christmas Letter

This year's Christmas letter was inspired by Zuzu starting to sing the ABC's.

A is for Address Change.  We moved to a new home this year. We love our new neighborhood and we are within walking distance of a beautiful park, great restaurants, and our favorite frozen custard place.  And we have a guest bedroom & bathroom, so come visit!
B is for Brooke’s busy schedule.  After a semester of maternity leave and a semester of part-time, she’s back to full-time this year.  When she’s not teaching English literature to college students, she’s chasing Zuzu, working on various writing projects, and brainstorming projects for the new house.
C is for Caroline & Cooper.  These two are good buddies these days.  We’re glad Cooper is so tolerant of Zuzu’s love.  Caroline calls him “Bubba.”
D is for David’s new job.  He’s now the head principal at Crossroads Elementary in the Wentzville School District.  This has been a good move for David and he is really enjoying being the boss at his new school.  The kids like him too—one of his students dressed up as Mr. Duckworth for Halloween this year!
E is for Eliza.  This December marks three years without our sweet first baby girl, and we miss her as much as ever. 
F is for First Birthday.  Caroline turned one on June 29th and we celebrated with friends in St. Louis and again with family in Nevada.  She’s a lucky girl.
G is for Grandparents.  Speaking of family, Zuzu is fortunate to have many grandparents who shower her with love and attention.  Although we wish they lived closer to St. Louis, Zuzu had nice visits with all of her grandparents this year.
H is for Happy Halloween!  The littlest Duckworth dressed up as a little duck this year (naturally).
I is for Ice cream. Zuzu had her first taste of ice cream this summer.  Of course she loved it—it’s in her genes!
J is for Jeggings.  Thanks to hand-me-downs from friends and cousins and a Grammy who likes to shop, Zuzu is a well-dressed little girl.
K is for Kisses.  Zuzu prefers to give them open-mouth—the wetter the better.
L is for Little Mac.  It turns out that Little Mac and Zuzu share a common bad habit:  biting.  As a result, Little Mac has gone to live with Brooke’s parents and is enjoying the slower pace of life in Nevada, MO.  We’re glad Mac has a nice home. Now Zuzu must stop biting so she doesn’t have to go live with Grammy!
M is for Memorial Weekend.  We went to a Williams/Taylor family reunion at a campground in Warsaw, Missouri over Memorial Weekend.  Zuzu met many aunts, uncles, and cousins, and enjoyed swimming with Grammy in a freezing cold pool. 
N is for Nana.  Brooke’s Nana passed away this summer and she is greatly missed.  We are lucky to have so many great memories of her.  Nana was able to attend the family reunion in May and Zuzu got to see her multiple times over the summer.
O is for Opinions.  Zuzu has lots of them, and believe it or not, she doesn’t always agree with Mommy & Daddy.  She is such a joy, but also a force to be reckoned with (see: Little Mac and biting).
P is for Projects.  The new house has meant lots of new projects, and we have lots more in the works.
Q is for Quilts.  Nana was a wonderful quilter and we are so glad to have beautiful quilts that she pieced together with love for her great-grandbabies. 
R is for Rainbows.  Babies born after a loss are called “rainbow babies” because they bring light to our lives even though we never forget the storm of grief.  Brooke and Zuzu met up with fourteen other moms and their rainbow babies for an amazing weekend of love, tears, and laughter in Chicago this summer.
S is for Splish-splash.  Zuzu took swimming lessons this summer and absolutely loved it.  She is a water baby for sure!
T is for Tree.  The tree in our family photo is the one we had planted in Forest Park in memory of Eliza.
U is for “Uh-oh!”  A favorite word of Zuzu’s but one that often gets used in the incorrect context—throwing your milk across the room on purpose is not an “uh-oh.”  At least she keeps us laughing!
V is for Vacation.  We spent spring break in Arizona visiting Brooke’s aunt and uncle.  It was Zuzu’s first airplane ride and we caught a spring training game and opening day Cardinals vs. Diamondbacks (Can you tell David planned our vacation timing?).
W is for Walk for Remembrance.  We attended the annual walk again this year in memory of Eliza and raised money for the Share organization, which supports bereaved families after baby loss. 
X is for X-ray.  David’s shoulder gave him trouble this spring and he retired from his baseball league.  He misses it, but had more free-time this summer to work around the house and hang out with Zuzu.
Y is for Your Turn to change diapers!  We are still cloth diapering and it’s going well, but we do look forward to life post-potty-training.
Z is for Zuzu!  Caroline’s nickname comes from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life and it just sort of stuck.  She’s our Zuzu and we couldn’t love her more.

And that wraps up our 2013 update… Wishing you all the best in 2014!

Leaving Space for Eliza

The second Christmas after Eliza died, David and I ran away to Mexico for the holiday.  There were some members of David's family who didn't understand this decision and who were upset by it.  I don't know exactly how they felt; I only know that I was hurt by the way they responded to our decision.  To clarify:  I was hurt and I was pissed.  I didn't understand how they could expect us to participate in a "normal" Christmas, how they could think for a moment that we would want to "celebrate" Christmas by opening gifts and stuffing our faces with food when our baby girl was dead.  What kind of joy was I supposed to get from a holiday that I would never get to share with her?

I have a little more distance now, and I can see the situation with a little more objectivity.  That doesn't mean I've let go of the hurt, but I think I can understand a bit more where they were coming from.

I think people who were not as intimately connected to the grief as David and I were, who weren't feeling the gaping hole of our loss on a daily basis, were missing David and me more than they were missing Eliza.  This is just how it was.  They didn't know her except in the abstract idea that I was pregnant and we were going to have a baby.  Their day-to-day lives wouldn't be disrupted by her birth or her death.  Their lives were only disrupted when we quit showing up for things we'd previously shown up for.  They missed us.

But they clearly weren't practicing empathy, either.  They weren't trying to imagine how painful and impossible a return to regular traditions would be for us, given that everything we had planned and imagined for our lives had just fallen to pieces.

I think they wanted healing for us, I think they wanted peace, I think they wanted us to be in a place we simply couldn't be.  They wanted us to be able to celebrate the good things we still had in our lives--our families, the Christmas traditions we shared with them--and we simply weren't able to do that.

At the time, though, it felt cruel and dismissive of Eliza, as though we should be "over" her loss.  One member of David's family actually told me (via e-mail) that we obviously didn't need support from them since we didn't want to have anything to do with them.  It was a shitty and unfair thing to say (no, I'm not over it), but I also think it reflects an ongoing disappointment that we all kind of shared.

David and I needed things to be different because Eliza wasn't here.  We needed her death to matter because her life mattered so much to us.  The problem was that, at least at first, the way that her death affected us felt entirely negative.  It had to be negative.  We were just trying to survive grief, and that meant that the things that used to bring us joy were no longer pleasurable.  It felt like everything had been tainted by loss.  I honestly didn't know how I would ever feel genuine happiness again.  Life was exhausting and I quit showing up for anything that wasn't absolutely crucial (ie. work or therapy).

The changes that David and I had to make in order to survive were changes that made other people sad, too.  We weren't up for going out to dinner.  We didn't want to meet your baby.  We didn't want to see your fucking pictures of your family in Disneyland.  We didn't want to shop for birthday gifts or send birthday cards or plan weekend getaways or do anything.  We had nothing else to do, it's true.  But we couldn't just fill our lives back up the way they used to be.  We had to leave a space for Eliza--a space that she would never occupy, but a space that would make her absence conspicuous.  And at first, that space had to be huge.  It had to be big enough to hold her and all our grief.

That first year, it meant that we had no room for Christmas at all.  Our sadness was too big.  There was no way.  I don't think there is anything that anyone could have done to make us want to go through the motions of a traditional Christmas, but what helped most was to know that other people were leaving space for Eliza, too.

The truth was, I was glad when other people made those spaces, too.  My mom didn't put up a tree the year after Eliza died, and she said we should just skip gifts that year, and I was glad and relieved that I wasn't the only one who didn't want to do that stuff.  I think I was hoping for something similar from David's family, and I was hurt when that didn't happen.  I needed to know that people were making space for Eliza.  And people did--everyone who made donations that first year, who remembered her on her birthday and who mentioned her in their Christmas cards--those were people making space for Eliza in the busy craziness of the holiday season, even if they didn't really realize it.  I was so grateful.

I think maybe if my in-laws had said we wouldn't exchange gifts, or if they had offered some kind of accommodation to acknowledge how devastated we were and how different things should have been...  Well, we still would have gone to Mexico, but I think I would be less bitter about it now.  The problem is that they didn't know what to do and I didn't know what to ask for.  It's only now that I can look back and realize what I needed and try to find the words to describe it.

Leaving space for Eliza (and for my grief) at Christmastime still matters to me, but we are able to leave it open in a different way.  There is room for Christmas traditions, but we make sure that our Christmas also has space for an acknowledgement of the girl we've lost.  We weren't capable of this just a few years ago, but we can handle it now.  Our wish that Eliza were here with us may not be formally spoken aloud this year, but only because it won't have to be.  It's obvious that she's missing because we have made all these spaces for her--a candle in the window, a stocking by the fireplace, a collection of her ornaments on the tree, a donation in her honor, a display of cards sent on her birthday from friends and family in the dining room.  Having those spaces for Eliza makes it easier for me to fill up all the other space in the house with the Christmas traditions I'd always hoped to do with my kids--a nativity scene surrounded by angels, a sparkling tree, Zuzu's own felt tree on the wall, a bunch of wrapped gifts underneath, a wreath on the door, lights outside.  Our house is filled up with Christmas, but Christmas has space for Eliza, too.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you're looking for a way to find your way back to celebrating the holidays, or you're not sure how to handle the holidays with a loved one who is grieving a loss, my advice is to do what you can do, but understand that it makes sense to leave yourself some space.

It can be hard because so much of the time, Christmas seems to be about perfection, about being thankful for blessings and being the perfect hostess, having the perfect gifts, making the perfect food, having the perfect fun.  The loss of a loved one forces us to see through the sparkle and shine to the dirty underbelly of pressures and expectations we can't fulfill.  But of course, the real meaning of Christmas is about being broken and imperfect and finding improbable and miraculous hope in spite of all our losses and all our shortcomings.

Maybe, like my friend K, this is the year you put up the tree but skip all the ornaments.  Maybe this is the year you decide to make charitable donations instead of giving tangible gifts.  Maybe you order Chinese food and skip the turkey or ham or lasagna or whatever the old tradition was.  Maybe you can't show up for dinner, so you arrive in time for hot chocolate and dessert.  Maybe you skip the Christmas Eve church service (with its crying babies and lisping angels) and you take a walk outside and breathe in the cold air and send your love and your prayers out into the universe that way.  Maybe you find comfort in the old traditions and you add a new one--a candle lit at dinner, in honor of those you wish were with you; two twenty dollar bills, one for the Salvation Army bucket and one for the volunteer bell ringer; a breakfast of pretzels and glazed donuts, or whatever your pregnancy craving might have been.  You might take away or you might add something new, but either way you can make a space to acknowledge the person you miss.

Of course, you may feel like we did and have to get away from it entirely and run away to Mexico (where I just felt sad that I was missing Eliza and sad that I was missing Christmas even though I didn't want to be there for Christmas either).  I needed so much to escape from Christmas entirely that I remember feeling somewhat surprised that other bereaved parents on my timeline weren't doing the same thing.  Everyone handles loss (and the holidays) differently, and there's no right or wrong answer.  But if you're in a place where you're seeking a kind of balance between the hurt and the joy, I hope that you can find your own way to fill up the holiday and still leave space for the one(s) you are missing.  I hope you can find the strength to ask for what you need this year, and that you'll find the support from your friends and family as they make space in their holiday to accommodate you and your grief.

Keep in mind, too, that this gets easier as time goes on.  Those first two Christmases without Eliza...  I could barely breathe.  Christmas 2010 was like a black hole of nothingness and Christmas 2011 was like salt in a raw and gaping wound.  Two years later, (two short, long years) my bruised and stitched-up heart is filled to brim...  though of course it goes without saying that among all the blessings that stretch my heart to bursting, there will always be a space in it that only Eliza could fill.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Feeling Icky

So the whole fam is not feeling well this weekend.  Which is no big deal.  It's not like we needed to get anything done the weekend before my parents and brother come in town for Christmas.  It's not like I have to finish making any handmade gifts or clean any bathrooms or do any last-minute errand running or go to the grocery store or organize and eat my way through an overwhelming amount of Christmas treats that a certain principal received from students and teachers.

We spent yesterday morning at the pediatrician because Zuzu woke up with crusty eyes and crusty nose and this is her tell-tale sign of an ear infection.  No fever, no crankiness, slept through the night just fine, but the dried mucus on her face gives it away every time.  Poor little thing.  I have to admit, I was taken aback the last time we were at the pediatrician for her 15-month check up and the doctor said one ear was infected and I was shocked.  She hadn't been feeling bad, no green/yellow snot, no fever, no crankiness.  It totally caught me off guard and I felt like a bad mom not noticing my preshus snowflake had an ear infection.  So this time I was all "She's got an ear infection" and BOOM.  She totes does.  But now I'm wondering why she gets so many ear infections.  This is her fourth and she's only seventeen-and-three-quarters-months-old.  I know that binkies can sometimes increase the risk of ear infections, and this is information I DO NOT WANT.  Because I'm trying to be chill about the binky.  She freaking loves it, but she only gets it at bedtime/naptime/stop-whining-in-the-car-time.  We are not ready to give up the bink.  And yet...  Our doctor didn't say anything about frequently recurring ear infections or indicate there was any kind of concern, so for now we're just doing the medicine thing (which, thankfully, she loves to take now that we've ditched the syringe and we let her sip it out of a teaspoon--I can't really blame her for preferring this method of administration).

Anyway, yesterday was a totally lazy day.  It was cold and rainy and we all just sat around in comfy clothes.  David and I complained aloud about our various ailments and took turns waiting on each other and bartering favors in exchange for the other person doing diaper changes.  My stomach was such that I could not even handle the turds.  Zuzu was pretty chill also.  I can't remember the last time she wanted to just lie around on top of us--it was definitely in her pre-crawling days.

We watched Carrie Underwood in The Sound of Music which I enjoyed hugely.  I mean, no, she's not Julie Andrews, but who could be?  I thought the show was super fun even though David kept saying that Captain Von Trapp needed to bust out his vampire fangs and kill all the Nazis.  (For those of you who don't watch True Blood, Stephen Moyer plays a vampire in that show.)  Zuzu seemed relatively into the film, but then she's been entertaining herself for twenty minutes this morning playing with a no-longer-sticky sticker and the end of an already-burnt match.  (#MOTY)  Anyway, we didn't watch it "live" so maybe we missed some of the thrill, but we also got to fast-forward through all of the Wa.lmart commercials (and, let's be honest, through the boring songs the grown-ups sing), so I think we actually made the best choice.  It makes me want to watch the original Sound of Music now.

I'm feeling marginally better today.  Zuzu woke up crusty again but has now had two doses of meds so should be well on her way to improvement.  David is napping this morning.  I hope we can get a little more accomplished this afternoon, but if you know anyone who wants to babysit and clean my house simultaneously, please don't hesitate to send them my way.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Projects and Plans for 2014

As 2014 approaches, I probably should be thinking of some self-improvement New Year's Resolutions.  Like, I really need to get back into flossing every single day.  Also I used to be really good about doing anything unpleasant that needs to be done immediately, as long as it takes less than two minutes.  (Would you believe that my dishwasher can be emptied in two minutes?  I can also clean a sink and mirror in two minutes.  And yet I will postpone those jobs as though they will take me all afternoon.)

Anyway, this post is not about my efforts to be more patient and more tidy in 2014.  This post is about all the stuff I want to get done around the house!  So let's make a list, shall we?

1. Repaint the living room.  I know, you guys.  I KNOW.  This will be the third coat of paint in less than one year.  But after painting it lavender-gray and then painting it the exact same shade of gray without the lavender undertone and not being satisfied with either of those options, I've decided to go with a blank, fresh canvas and paint it the same white as our entry way and stairs.  (Dover White by Sherwin Williams).  It makes the wood trim pop intentionally, it will let my patterned curtains show off, it will keep me from painting the wood-trimmed fireplace and mantle, and it will also show off the new bookshelves.  (See #2)  Plus, you know I've got free child labor to put to use.

2.  Get bookshelves up in the living room.  So we ordered three bookcases from Target over the summer, to at least get my precious darlings books out of bins and boxes.  They are doing the job quite nicely, but books are not meant to be hidden away in the basement.  Books are meant to be on display in every room of the house, as far as I'm concerned.  It is time to get bookcases up in the front room and feature books as they are meant to be featured.  (As well as some framed art and maybe a vase and knickknack or twenty).  I originally thought that we'd built some big white shelves with cabinets at the bottom, but I'm now leaning more and more toward the openness and the unexpected edge of doing shelves like this:

image from here, photograph by Brian Covey Photography
It's made from pipes and 12" planks.  I love that it's open and airy and asymmetrical.  I think I'd like it even better than the traditional built-in I was originally picturing (not to mention it would probably save us a couple hundred dollars).  David isn't sure that it "fits" with our house, which you may or may not remember was built in 1946, has interesting arches and plaster walls and the original stained pine trim.  I guess it's historical(ish) but it doesn't have a slate roof anymore and it has a big drywalled addition on the back.  Overall, the house is a little bit eclectic, and I kind of think it would be fun to have built-in bookcases that are a little unexpected.  I'll solicit feedback on this from the Interwebz, and regard or disregard it as I like, so feel free to offer your opinion.

3.  Paint the kitchen cabinets.  So in addition to the original stained wood trim and doors, we also have decidedly-un-original dark oak cabinets in the kitchen.

old photo, before we got rid of the bulky, in-the-way trash can and put in our table
They aren't horrifying, but they don't make my heart sing, either.  They aren't my style because they really aren't any style.  The countertops are not exciting (I think formica?) and there's no backsplash.  Eventually we may toy around with the whole kitchen makeover we've discussed, but realistically speaking, that's a long way down the road.  So for now, I'm steamrolling the decision to paint the cabinets (David says that sounds like "a lot of work" but so is being married to me and he's handling that just fine).  I want to do them white, but I'm also toying with the idea of doing the lower cabinets in another color (just call me Easily Influenced by Pinterest Trends).  David also isn't sure about that, but I let him keep his bobblehead case upstairs so that means I get final sign off on all other decorating decisions.  I'm also considering moving the cabinets up so they are flush with the ceiling and installing a long open shelf below them.  I go back and forth on this.  It would definitely make the top cabinet shelf out of reach without a stool, but I think having frequently-accessed items easily accessible on open shelving would be super convenient and also kind of open up that side of the kitchen.  Like the cabinet color, I go back and forth, but I'm leaning toward doing it.  Right now the space above is totally wasted.  It would look something like this:

kitchen from Domestic Imperfection, originally discovered here
4.  Paint the basement.  The painted walls are currently a terrible Barbie-skin-beige.  The rest of the walls are paneled.  Original pine paneling be damned, that place is claustrophobic and it's getting painted.

5.  Organize craft/sewing area after painting basement.  I will have to psych myself up to take on this project, but I'll be so happy when it's over.  Maybe I can cajole Crafty Cousin Amanda to come up for the weekend and help me...

6.  Spruce up the laundry area.  A coat of paint and some shelves are really all it needs.  Maybe a fun new rug and a curtain hung up to block the water heater?  I need to get on this because Lord knows I spend enough time down there.

7.  Tile the fireplace hearth and surround.  Right now the heart and surround are brick.  Two different kinds of brick.  Different shapes, different textures, and slightly different colors.  The orangey-red brick does nothing for the stained wood except make it look orangey.

I think we could tile right over the brick, but as David has very limited tiling experience and my tiling experience consists of the YouTube videos I have watched, David says that we need to consult a pro on this.  Which is fine with me--sometimes DIY is great, and sometimes it's totally worth it to just pay someone else to do the same job better, faster, and with less of a mess.  Oh--I also think I'm going to paint the gold/brass surround.  I'm not positive about this because I like shiny gold things but in this instance I think it looks pretty dated in a not good way.  But if I painted it, it would probably have to be painted black (my research is telling me I need to use heat-resistant paint, like for a bbq grill) and I'm not sure about that.

8.  Locate a sideboard/buffet for dining room.  This one is kind of a maybe.  It's not absolutely crucial, but at the same time, I don't have any storage in the dining room now, except for a small cabinet that used to be in the entry way of our old house.  Zuzu has taken over that cabinet entirely--we can't keep her out of it, so we can't store anything useful in there.  It's currently housing a roll of duct tape in one cabinet and a panty liner in the other.  Occasionally I'll find a missing shoe or book and some of her plush nativity figurines inside it--Hey, there, Baby Jesus!  The problem is that I'm not sure exactly what I want in terms of storage in the dining room.  Our dining room table is very contemporary and eventually I'd like to replace it, but I don't hate it (not at all) and it's totally functional and that's not where I'm interested in directing my discretionary income at this time.  So basically I'd like to find a sideboard or buffet that would work with what we've got and also work with a dining table I might like to have in the future (although I really don't know at this point what that might look like).  Ideally, I'll find something midcentury on Craigslist for not much money.  We shall see.

So those are the Top 8 Projects.  Thing have definitely slowed down around here in the project department.  Working really takes away from Other Stuff I Want To Do.  I'm still working in the spring semester, obviously, but most my classes are repeats so I'm hoping there won't be as much prep work as there was this semester and maybe we can knock out some of the stuff on this list (or outsource it, if David gets his way).

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Animal Noises

File this blog post under shameless bragging or stage-mother tendencies, but I cannot resist showing off Zuzu's skills to all the world interwebz.

I filmed this a couple of weeks ago, forgetting to turn my phone so that the video would fill the whole screen.  I just love capturing her little voice, even though I mistake what she's saying at the end.  I thought she was just jabbering, but it is obvious to me now that she was saying "Chicken! Chicken!"

She's still not much for saying please or thank you, but she is into naming the world around her, announcing objects that she sees.  "Birds!" are a big hit, especially if they take off flying from a tree, a bunch of them together.  "Bubba" is Cooper, but "Bubba" is also her word for baby, which can get kind of confusing.

This morning I got her out of her crib and we sat in her rocker to snuggle for just a minute.  Some mornings I get lucky and she'll put her head on my shoulder and we can rock for a few before she gets dressed.  This morning, though, she was alert and chatty.  Instead of leaning against me, she sat up and pointed to the frames on the wall next to her chair.  "Bird!" for the cardinal print.  "Bubba!" for her birth announcement.  "Night-night, bubba!" because her eyes are closed in the photo on her birth announcement.

I understand that we're in for a language explosion between 18 months and 2 years, and I can't wait.  I love being able to understand a little bit of how she is seeing the world.  (And I'm hoping it will help her express her frustrations in less physical ways.)

Anyway, here's my chatty girl (please ignore the head wound--a self-inflicted injury when she threw a temper tantrum at daycare because she wanted to play in the sleeping section of the room):

Thursday, December 12, 2013


One year at church camp (maybe the summer after fifth or sixth grade?), we had a particularly enthusiastic camp director.  She was a middle-aged woman who wore camp knee socks with khaki shorts.  I can't remember what she looked like, but when I try to picture her now, I picture one of the over-zealous Girl Guide leaders from Troop Beverly Hills.  Anyway, her thing was that first thing every morning we had to go down to this hut by the dam that was conveniently called The Dam Hut (as church campers, you'd better believe we got a huge kick out of saying that) and sing "Morning Has Broken."

It's a very pretty song, really.  "Morning has broken, like the first morning, blackbird has spoken, like the first bird..."  But at who knows what ungodly hour in the dampness that is early morning humidity in July in Missouri, before we'd even eaten breakfast, tramping to The Dam Hut to sing a song was NOT what we wanted to be doing.

I've never been a huge morning person.  Even as a kid, my mom had to drag me out of bed for kindergarten.  David is (of course) a morning person, and I've slowly made the adjustment.  There is no singing songs of praise first thing in the morning, but I can usually get myself and Zuzu together and out the door on time.

Confession:  I do get cranky on earlier-than-usual mornings and when something throws my routine out of whack.  I want to be able to get out of bed and go straight to the bathroom without anything diverting me.  I want to brush my teeth before I interact with any other humans.

This works just fine when Zuzu wakes up at her usual time of 7:15am.  But the last two mornings she was up for the day at 6am (I fear she may be a morning person like her father).  I am usually up for the day at 6:45am, which gives me half an hour to take a quick shower and throw on some clothes before getting Zuzu up and around.  An unexpected 6am wake up call puts me in a bit of a panic.  Sometimes I can turn on all the lights and open the door to her room and give her some books and she'll hang out in her crib and read quietly.  Other mornings (like yesterday) she'll scream her bloody head off.

This morning she was up just a little early (6:45am), which meant that when David left for work, I was in the shower and Zuzu and Cooper were in the bathroom with me.

Because why would she want to hang out in her room with toys and books when she could fling back the shower curtain and let in a rush of cold air while saying, "Hi!  Bye-bye!" over and over over again?

I'm not sure what else she and Cooper were doing as I finished up, but by the time I turned off the water and opened the curtain, Cooper was actively trying to get IN the tub with me and Zuzu had figured out how to open the cabinet where I store lotion and hairspray and whatnot.

It was kind of a crazy morning, especially for someone who does not tolerate much craziness before 8:30am.  Zuzu wandered around in her pajamas as I dried my hair and got dressed and then got her dressed (my favorite part of the morning is picking out her outfit for the day--getting her into the outfit is not always as easy, but today is was cooperative) and then got us both downstairs to get her snacks ready for the day (daycare gives them a snack every afternoon, but I always send a little something extra--today was string cheese and a little cutie).  She drinks milk and whines for me to pick her up while I pack her school bag and then we're off.  I load up her and her diaper bag and her school bag and then leave her hanging out in the carport as I run back in the house to give Cooper a treat and grab my water and my purse and lock the door.

To be honest, every morning--even the ones when she sleeps until 7:150--feels a little hectic.  Still, we almost always manage to get to school and work on time (leaving the house between 8:15 and 8:20 allows me to do daycare drop off without feeling rushed and still get to work a little before 9 if I don't get stopped by a train).  I left Zuzu at school eating Greek yogurt with applesauce.  She will kiss and hug me as we walk into school, but once she's with her friends, she cooly ignores me as she eats breakfast.  I kiss her anyway and tell her I love her and tell her bye-bye, and usually her friend Bea or Henry will take pity on me and offer me a cheerful "Bye-bye!" and a wave as I head for the door.

These are crazy, hectic mornings, and I don't always slow down enough to appreciate how glad I am that I have this little girl to wrangle into a coat and hat, how much I love it when she sees birds and squeals, how hilarious I think she sounds when she sees a Santa Claus and says "Ho-ho-ho!"  But these are really sweet mornings, too, with snuggles and squeezes to make up for the whining and snot-wiping-on-my-leggings.

I'm really looking forward to next week, though, when our mornings are all about staying in our pajamas and having breakfast at home and not having to rush around to load up and go bye-bye.

And as much as I love our stay-at-home days, I also know that by the time January rolls around, I'll be more than ready to get back to our typical routine...

Sunday, December 8, 2013

On Eliza's Third Birthday

I wanted you more 
than you ever will know,
So I sent love to follow you
Wherever you go.

As usual, the lead-up was harder than the actual day.  On Friday, David stayed home from work and I stayed home from work and Zuzu stayed home from school.

Actually, that morning we loaded up and took Zuzu to JCP to get holiday portraits taken.  I think studio portraits are kinda cheesy, which is also why I can't get enough of them.  My favorite pictures of Zuzu (besides the candids we snap on our phones) are the ones we've had taken by professional photographers in our home or in the park.  More lifestyle, less posed, or even when we do smile at the camera, we're relaxed and we look like ourselves, more or less (David doesn't look as stoned in real life as he tends to look in pictures, I swear).

But sometimes even more than I want a picture of Zuzu, I want a picture of a particular outfit.  Especially a Christmas dress or Easter dress.  And in those cases, I want a white studio background and a cheesily posed picture.  So that was the plan for Friday morning.  Get us out of the house, get me out of my head, get Zuzu's Christmas pictures taken in her adorable Christmas dress.  I needed a distraction, and let me tell you.  Zuzu was MORE than willing to distract me from my grief and replace it with exasperation.

Any trepidation or uncertainty she might have felt about being in an unfamiliar place was obliterated by enthusiasm and curiosity.  (Note:  David and I have no idea how a child of ours ended up like this--our parents report that we were both more cautious toddlers).  So, the photographer set up our white background and Zuzu refused to stand in place in front of it.  She would not sit on a sled.  She would not sit on a stool.  She would pick up the school and charge at us, running with the legs of it sticking out in front of her and giggling maniacally.

The photographer squeaked a dirty rubber duck to get her attention.  She charged the photographer, grabbed the duck, and then refused to let go of it (it shows up in a couple of pictures, which I have to admit made me smile).

I offered her a jingle bell, thinking she'd hold it and look at it with large eyes, bright with wonder, and it would be a delightful Christmas photo.  Instead, she screamed, "BALL!" and then proceeded to throw it across the room (it appears she has her father's arm).  She launched the jingle bell, then a series of fake ornaments that we thought (mistakenly) might distract her.

She was a toddler terrorist.  It took a full 30 minutes to get 20 shots that were halfway decent and in the last one she had her eyes closed.  There was one shot of her smiling.  In the best one of her in her Christmas dress, she has her tongue sticking out.  I kind of wanted the photo that captured her in a sprint across the room, but she has snot running out of her nose and one eye is squinted nearly closed as she smiles mischievously demonically.

We left the photo shoot craziness and came home to chill out.  Our toddler terrorist proceeded to fall asleep in the car which meant she had a 45-minute nap before lunch and you know she wasn't going to go back down after lunch (we tried).  So then we took her out in the snow to play.  We had a nice dusting of about an inch (just enough to cover the leaves and grass) and she LOVED being pulled in the sled.  See exhibit A:

But it was really cold outside--about 20 degrees--and her cheeks and nose got rosy and Mama's toes got cold and after a stroll up the block and back with Cooper, it was time to come in.  Which was basically the greatest and most tragic disappointment in Zuzu's entire life and resulted in a full-fledged, body-melting temper tantrum, after which I thought FOR SURE she would take a nap.


Earlier in the day, David and I had decided that it was going to be too cold to take Zuzu out to the candlelight vigil.  I also didn't want to deal with the distraction of a potentially whiny (or screaming) toddler at an event where so many hearts are heavy with the ache of loss.  So I e-mailed a friend who, fortunately, was able to come over with her family and hang out with Zuzu for a couple of hours.  Zu was exhausted (go figure) so after play time and reading time, she was in bed asleep before we got home!

The day wasn't terrible, all things considered.  I was comforted by many texts and e-mails and IG posts from people telling me they were thinking of Eliza.  David's grandma bought a poinsettia in memory of Eliza and David's grandpa at her church and sent us a note to tell us that, which made me cry in a good way.  I read a little and snuggled with Zuzu (when she'd slow down long enough for a squeeze) and then it was time for the candlelight vigil, which is sponsored by the Share organization in our area and is held on Eliza's birthday every year.

So once my friend arrived, David and I made the long drive out to the park.  It was weird to me that this was only our second year going to the vigil.  Since it is held annually on December 6th, I was checking in to the hospital while the vigil was happening in 2010.  Last year we went with Zuzu in the Ergo carrier and that was the first time.  But it felt like we'd been going forever.  It was familiar and sad and comforting and heartbreaking.  (And cold--I lost feeling in my fingers by the end of it and it lasted less than 30 minutes).

We didn't want to wait around for the long line of people at the end who leave flowers at the base of the angel of hope statue (even though the cold temperatures resulted in a much smaller turn out than we saw last year).  So we pulled our white lilies out of our grocery store bouquet and placed them up there before the program started.  Then we lit our candles and stood facing the angel and I cried and breathed and cried and thought about Eliza and so many other babies who are loved and missed, so many other families who feel incomplete.

I just still can't believe it.  I cannot wrap my head around the idea that our first baby girl died.  All the fun we had with Zuzu--and all the frustration--makes me more and more curious about Eliza.  It's like as Zuzu gets older, she reveals clues about Eliza--she might have been like this, or a variation of this, or the opposite of this.  We just don't know how to read the clues in order to find out.  Would she have been cautious where Zuzu is fearless?  Obedient where Zuzu is defiant?  Would she boss her sister?  Or oblige her demands?  And so begin the list of questions that have no answers and mostly just serve to torture me.

In my dream-version of Eliza, she is our mellow baby, our easy-going child, cautious around strangers and less prone to bone-melting temper tantrums than her sister.  She has blue eyes and a chin-length bob and is a picky eater and loves to swim and says adorable and precocious things and wants a dollhouse for Christmas.  Oh, sure.  It's easy to imagine her.  I just wish I knew her.

For the second year in a row, on her birthday, we stood outside the the freezing cold and held candles to light up the darkness with many other broken-hearted families.  We love her and we miss her and everything is different because of her.

You are my angel, my darling,
my star ... and my love will find you,
wherever you are. 

(Italics are excerpted from Nancy Tillman's book Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You and were inspired by my friend Brandy's post about her son Andrew, whose birthday is the day before Eliza's).

Friday, December 6, 2013

This Year's Gift

Each year in memory of Eliza, we make a donation to some kind of charity.  Last year it was Living Water International.  The year before it was a specific project that a friend of mine was working on through the Peace Corps.

This year we made a microloan to a woman in Pakistan named Saira, who is working to grow her husband's furniture shop.  I read about this organization, Kiva, on another blogger's website and clicked over to find out more.  Kiva connects with people who are struggling and makes it possible for them to achieve personal and professional goals.  You can make microloans in any amount (starting at $25) to help people purchase laptops for higher education, retail merchandise for small businesses, home construction materials, agricultural necessities, etc.  How did I choose Saira?  Honestly, I got a little overwhelmed with all the options so I chose a woman whose name has five letters and ends in "a."  How diplomatic, right?

The idea behind the website is that the loans are precisely that--loans that the borrowers will eventually repay.  I chose to do a dedicated loan in memory of Eliza, so when the borrower repays her loan, my portion of it will be dedicated back to Kiva so the organization can continue to do this work.  But the idea is that you could loan money to someone and then when they pay you back, you can turn around and loan it to someone else (it goes in and out of your paypal account).

It's important to me to do small acts of kindness in memory of Eliza.  But the truth is that I wish that I were making a microloan to this woman and then turning around and ordering books and puzzles and clothes in size 3T or 4T.  I wish that I were complaining about how close Eliza's birthday is to Christmas because she's going to get too many gifts.  I wish that we were celebrating her birthday with ice cream and a cake with three candles instead of standing outside in the dark, holding candles while it snows.

We miss her and we love and this year we keep doing the best we can to honor her memory.  Thanks to all of you who still read here and follow our story and think about Eliza.  Your support means so much to us and it fills up my heart to know that there are so many people who miss her along with us.

P.S. Looking to give this year?  Here are a few other charities we love to support:

Heifer Project International

Stray Rescue St. Louis

Studio Samuel

Save the Children