Thursday, August 25, 2016

Let Joy In

This was originally written March 23rd, 2016.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Stephen Alexander

Several people called me brave today. Brave because I gave my grief voice which struck me kind of as odd, because sharing my sorrow for me isn't brave, it's how I heal. There's a saying along the lines of "Shared joy becomes joy multiplied; shared sorrow becomes sorrow divided". It's not that I want attention, but just want to share because really what I'm seeing are that my experiences are not singular; they are very common and the solidarity I'm finding truly does help me.

Miscarriage and stillbirth are becoming less of a taboo to speak about and observe; maybe because it's just the season of life I'm in but it seems like just 5 years ago these types of losses were not at all on my radar.  I knew they existed and happened, but it seemed as though people spoke of them in more of a hushed whisper. Thankfully I think the dialogue is changing and I think it's great, because honestly, for me at least, it helps. And if I'm not alone in my sorrow, surely I'm not alone in the healing process.

There are so many thoughts still racing through my mind when it comes to Stephen, so forgive me if this isn't the most coherent of things as I simply write what comes to mind. 

The first is his name. There are very few names whose meaning I'm familiar with, but I do know the origins of my own name,"Stephanos". I've always known that it translates as "crowned one" but more recently listening to a sermon it was further defined that specifically it's someone who wears a victor's crown. It reminds me that even though death is a power and a force in this world; it has been defeated, that Christ has victory over death. The beautiful poetry of I Corinthians 15:55, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"Paul chose Alexander, and while his explanation to me was that he liked that it is a solid, strong name (which was pretty much the same rationale I gave for how I chose Mal's middle name), I also appreciate that the name Alexander often evokes images of a conqueror, someone who defeats his enemies.

I do feel some guilt though that he got a name and my first pregnancy which ended after only 7 weeks we simply refer to as "before" and therein the comparison and contrast between these two experiences is somewhat jarring. In February of 2012, I experienced my first miscarriage. After spotting I went to the ER, the doctors confirmed pregnancy and I even got to hear a weak, but present heartbeat that day. A week later though I went back for a follow-up and there was there was no more heartbeat. First trimester miscarriages are shockingly common. And knowing that others had experienced this and still went on to have children (including myself) brought me comfort but there was still a season of grief and bitter disappointment. My doctor gave me 2 weeks for my body to finish the spontaneous abortion process, which it did without further complication. A couple of months later, I conceived what is often referred to as a rainbow baby, and a sweet boy was born at the end of that year.

That loss, it was easier for me to grieve and my heart was rather callous as I didn't acknowledge the personhood of that baby. It wasn't really a baby, it had never really lived. I read so many essays on miscarriage and one that really stuck with me at the time was this one "Heartbeat: My Involuntary Miscarriage and 'Volutary Abortion' in Ohio" by Tamara Mann. In it Tamara writes about what are the markers for determining "the start of life." I still don't know, even after this later experience of miscarriage, but since my first in 2012 I became acutely aware that conception doesn't equal pregnancy and pregnancy doesn't equal a baby.

More recently, I read this piece entitled "How Abortion Has Changed the Discussion of Miscarriage". And I do see how the desensitization of abortion does shape how we think about miscarriage (it's quite evident viewpoints regarding abortion shaped how I mourned my first pregnancy). Mourning potential and what ifs is truly heartbreaking because there are so many unknowns to dwell upon. It's the loudest way we are reminded of how very little control we actually can exert.

As I said, I still don't have any definitive answers as to when the mark of life truly begins, but I do think what drastically reshaped my reaction was that this time there was no simply letting my body handle the situation and letting nature run it's course.

This time I had made it to the safety of the second trimester. I was beginning to gain back some energy, I had switched over to maternity pants, and one night I even whispered to Paul that I was beginning to feel the baby move; those first small flutterings I felt at night, recognizable now after experiencing them with Mal.

This time when no heartbeat was found, the baby measured somewhere in the 15th week as opposed to the late 6th/early 7th week. This time there was no letting me go home to let my body handle it, I needed to remain under medical supervision as the risks were now greater to my health.

The night of Saturday, February 14th, I cried because I had a feeling. The day before I had strong cramping and earlier that day spotting started. Sunday I took it as easy as possible, but still spotted and cried again that night, fearing the baby was lost. Monday night came and while I didn't cry,  I was very acutely aware that for the past 4 nights, I hadn't felt that fluttering sensation. Tuesday morning found me at the ER, where I learned the awful truth as the ultrasound tech mutely took scans and measurements. My fears from the past few days at last confirmed.

There are so many small details I could get into, but they're still too raw for me touch, but my discharge papers from the hospital read "Normal Delivery". A first, as Mal was an unplanned cesarean delivery. Technically, Stephen wasn't far enough along to be medically defined as a stillborn baby; but being a baby was the respect and dignity he was treated with at the hospital. He was taken out of the room at my behest. Soon after a nurse returned and asked if we wanted to know the sex. It had been a boy. Even later, a nurse brought me a card; it had his weight, his length, and the tiniest but most perfectly formed ink stamps of his two hands and his two feet. 10 fingers and 10 toes, just millimeters big. It was after that I worked up the nerve to have his little form brought back into the room, the small body that I felt flutter. He was wrapped in a blanket the size of a washcloth, and topped with a matching knit cap. 10 fingers, 10 toes, less than 2 ounces, just over 5 inches long.

After seeing him, I told Paul the least we could do to remember him was give him a name, so we did.

There won't be a funeral or a service of any sort. We left his body at the hospital as at that point it simply was just a body. Despite not fully knowing him, he's deeply loved. His absence will be sharp again this summer, when, in a perfect, whole world, he would have arrived with those 10 fingers and 10 toes, and so much more. That perfect and whole world isn't here yet, but my hope for it has grown more than I can measure.

* * * * *I've been studying Romans recently and this past week I've been in chapter 11 where Paul wrote this wonderful doxology that has been speaking so loudly to me
 Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out.
Is there anyone around who can explain God?
Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do?
Anyone who has done him such a huge favor
    that God has to ask his advice?
Everything comes from him;
Everything happens through him;
Everything ends up in him.
Always glory! Always praise!
    Yes. Yes. Yes.
Romans 11:33-36 (MSG) 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Easiest Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent

I've been making my own laundry detergent for about a year now and I love it. Works great, can tailor the scent to exactly what I like, and it's cheap. And recipe I have using isn't terribly hard, but it yields 5 gallons at a time! Do you know how much that weighs? It's over 40lbs and now that I'm expecting again, I'm not lugging 40+ pounds of detergent from the kitchen down to the utility room.

So, I made some calculations and adapted the original recipe I used, to one that's even easier to assemble and only yields 1 gallon at a time.

Here is the original beastly recipe:
  • 1 bar castile soap, grated
  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1 cup borax
  • 35-40 drops essential oil(s)
  • 5 gallons of water

  • Melt the grated soap in about 1 cup of water. In a 5 gallon bucket combine melted soap, washing soda, and borax, slowly adding water while mixing. Let sit overnight and re-mix as it will have settled. Use ~1 cup per load of laundry.

  • Not that tricky really, though the grating and melting of bar soap was a bit cumbersome. But they make LIQUID castile soap and I thought, wouldn't that be about 10 times easier to use than grating and melting bar soap into a liquid? It is a little bit more price wise for the liquid than the bars, but to me it's worth saving the time and effort.

    There's a handy little blog post comparing and contrasting the difference of Dr. Bronner's bar and liquid castile soaps and the break down of soap content (1 bar roughly equals a heaping 1.5 cups of liquid soap).

    So now, here it is the Easiest Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent!

    • 1/3 cup liquid castile soap
    • 3 tbsp washing soda
    • 3 tbsp borax
    • 8-9 drops essential oil(s) - I use 9 drops of Young Living's Thieves EO blend
    • 1 gallon of water

  • Add powder ingredients to container (in my case, old apple juice bottles). Add ~1 cup warm water, shake gently until powder is completely dissolved. Add the castile soap, fill about 75% of the way with water. Add in essential oils, shake gently to incorporate, top off with water. Use ~1 cup per load of laundry (I typically eye ball it, and it's probably less than 1 cup use, more like 3/4 of a cup).

  • Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy.

    Sunday, November 24, 2013


    So what started off as a kind of joke amongst friends, turned into an epically delicious dinner: Turbacon.  That is basically a turkey wrapped in bacon.

    Here is the original "inspiration"
    popular image that has been making the rounds on the interwebz

     But then I got to thinking, why not go big?  This was the first time I've ever attempted cooking a turkey, and I figured I should go ahead and pull out all the stops.

    So I bought a frozen turkey on this past Tuesday and left in the fridge to thaw for my Gospel community's big agape dinner that occurred today (Sunday).

    I wanted to brine it for longer but when I pulled it out of the fridge yesterday it was still partially frozen, so at that point it got a nice cold water soak in sink for a few hours.

    So while it was thawing, I got to work on weaving together some bacon for maximum bacon coverage of the bird.  My go to brand of bacon is Wright.  It's hands down my favorite bacon, and typically I'm a sucker for the Applewood, but I thought for being paired with turkey, the Hickory would be a better choice.  Basically I laid out about 18 or so strips of bacon to form a rectangle with a L:W ratio of 2:1.  Folding over every other strip and laying down more bacon, and pushing together to get a nice tight weave resulted in this:
    two square feet of mouth-joy

    I worked my bacon weave together on a nice big slab of freezer paper, then once done weaving it, sealed it by laying a piece of that cling wrap super seal stuff, rolled it up and put it back into the fridge.  I was now ready to put together a brine for the bird.

    After much internet searching, I landed on what is probably the simplest of brine recipes for my turkey (because I like to follow the Ron Swanson school of thought when it comes to meat).  Dissolve 2/3 c salt and 2/3c sugar into 6c hot water, once dissolved add an additional 6c ice cold water.

    I do not have a vessel large enough to submerge a turkey into, but I did however pick up a handy box of oven bags, so I put my turkey in one of those said oven bags, poured my brine into the cavity of the turkey, then worked with the bag until about two-thrids of the turkey was actually sitting the brine solution, breast side down.  I was running out of time, and figured the breast was what really needed the brine in the first place, so didn't bother with flipping the bag or anything like that.  I let this sit in the fridge overnight, soaking away.

    Cooking day, had now arrived.  I preheated  the oven to 325 degrees.  Removed turkey from brine and gave it the lightest of pat downs with some paper towels.  Transferred turkey to new oven bag.  Stuffed it loosely with stuffing (stuffing that also featured the hickory smoked bacon).  Grabbed the roll of woven bacon from the fridge, unrolled and then pretty much just flopped it over top the turkey.  If I was a little more hardcore, I would have also spiraled some additional strips of bacon around the legs, but I'm no Martha Stewart. I figured the two square feet of half inch bacon covering 90% of the turkey would suffice.  Sealed up oven bag.  Cut slits in the bag as per the instructions on the box of the oven bags, wriggled a meat thermometer in and put it in the oven for 3.5 hours.  Maybe I should mention at some point I cooked a 13.5lb turkey, but I was looking to get the meat up to 180 degrees/the center of the stuffing to 165.

    After 3.5 hours, I trimmed most of the oven bag away to let the turkey roast the last hour without as much concentrated moisture.  Here's what that looked like after I trimmed away the majority of the bag:
    Photo: the middle seam broke apart a little but #Turbacon is looking good otherwise
    the seam where the two squares meet are pulling apart a bit, but bacon coverage is still very good 

    As mentioned, the turkey roasted for another hour give or a take a few minutes.  Really I was just waiting to get a good temperature reading in several spots to know that everything had been cooked through.

    Pulled it out of the oven and tented some tin foil over it mostly because it needed to be transported, but also because all meats need a resting a period between being pulled from their heat source and carving, and I didn't want it to cool down too much.

    And here is what it looked like right before it was carved up for the serving platter:
    your mouth is watering, isn't it?

    Overall, I'd say this was a pretty darn successful first attempt at making a turkey (I did apparently neglect to remove a bag containing the offal of the turkey from the neck cavity, but that's a common rookie mistake right?).  The meat came out very moist and had some nice smokey undertones to it.  I am also now no longer intimidated by the prospect of cooking a turkey.  Multitasking a whole Thanksgiving meal is still probably out my reach, but at least I know I can pull out this show stopper.

    Friday, November 15, 2013

    Stitch Fix #1

    I celebrated a weight loss milestone this week by getting my very first Stitch Fix (link will take you to their FAQ where they can explain better what exactly the service is).

    My happy, shiny box arrived late Thursday afternoon:

    happy, shiny box!

    guide with suggestions as to how to incorporate pieces into wardrobe and style them
    Everything was neatly wrapped in tissue paper, so it was fun unwrapping each little parcel to discover my five things.

    41 Hawthorn Turquoise Scarf; Just Black Grey Jeans; RD Style Black Cardigan
    Ravel Red Sweater

    Renee C Off White Dress

     To be honest, initially, I was feeling a little underwhelmed.  But I'll break it down piece by piece.

    Black Diandra Chunky Knit Open Cardigan by RD Style

    I already have several open style cardigans (and then several more other cardigans) so I was going to have to be wowed I thought for me to be able to consider buying it. This was a piece that I was able to get a sneak peek of thanks to the wonders of Google (this is what I found, which incidentally is the same styling card I got with the cardigan). I didn't dislike, it just was about the cardigan equivalent of Ann Veal.

    I put it on.  Felt very soft, was nice and warm.  Good piece, as I feel like this was included after I added a note to my file mentioning that I'd be moving to Michigan in a few weeks and I would like some things to help me stay warm.  But I was still on the fence. Then I tried it on for Paul.  And he liked it.  So you know what happened next? I started to like it even more.

    Layered over a typical Steph outfit of a solid knit cotton shirt and denim jean
    I know I need some help with this whole belting open cardigan thing (I've seen it done, but I feel like every time I attempt it, it doesn't work just right... I mean, what's pictured above isn't bad, but I still feel like maybe I'm doing something wrong).

    Status: KEEPER


    Red Erika Mixed Knit Crew Neck Sweater by Ravel

    The sweater had received a "not buy" status from another girl, who pointed out that the detailing around the hem just drew attention the hip region... so I wasn't expecting to like it either as a fellow hippy lady.

    followed the styling guide by putting a T underneath and rolling up the sleeves
     I really like the knit pattern that the central panel is made up of, but I found the sleeves odd when not cuffed to my elbow and Paul didn't like this massive chunky seam that runs down the back of it.  And the final factor, this cotton sweater was priced more like a cashmere one, so

    Status: SENT BACK


    Turquoise Underwood Fair Isle Knit Infinity Scarf  by 41Hawthorn

    I really like scarves.  But to be honest, infinity style scarves confuse me.  I just don't get them.  Infinity cowls, I get (I have one that I crocheted last winter), but the scarves just throw me for a loop and I don't know how to wear them.

    left: looped around twice; right: looped around thrice as my style card said I should do
    Twice looks crazy, thrice looks and feels like I'm in a neck brace.  Honestly, if this thing hadn't had it's ends serged together, it would have had a different ending.

    Staus: SENT BACK


    Grey Adora Skinny Jeans by Just Black

    The jeans are a pretty basic thing, so my main concern was whether or not they would actually fit.  As you can quickly see, there is no picture of me actually in the jeans, because alas, they did not fit.

    This is my big complaint that I think Stitch Fix should address: they should ask for actual inch/centimeter measurements to help determine correct fit before heartbreak like this occurs.  My pants size is all over the place depending on the cut of pants and who makes them (thanks vanity sizing for making everyone feel better, but actually leaving us more confused than ever).

    I especially liked that these jeans were made in the US (maybe I should look to see if I can buy them through other channels), that they were going to be an instant staple and I could finally retire my Old Navy Rockstar grey jeans that are too big and annoying to wear, but I keep wearing them because they are gray and skinny.

    Status: SENT BACK


    Off White Enrique French Terry Fit & Flare Dress by Renee C

    This is the piece I was most excited for.  And it did not disappoint.  I was taken aback a little by the stripes (I'm trying not to add any more striped things to my wardrobe as I already have many striped tops), as I was hoping it would be something that could be a bit more dressy, but it's still an incredibly versatile little dress.

    so, I'm already planning on wearing this to MOPS on Monday; styled with denim blazer, orange scarf, black tights, and black boots

    styled with long beaded necklace, skinny belt, green tights, and black ballet flats

    It is a little shorter than what I'm normally wear, but it's not immodest by any stretch it's just a big step outside of normal comfort zone, but the fit is impeccable and it's very comfy and cozy material wise.  Also scored some major brownie points for being made in the US.

    Status: KEEPER

    Overall, I enjoyed the experience. I think that I set my expectations too high for this first fix (your stylist gets better the more feedback they are given, so it only makes sense that subsequent fixes will get better as you interact more by trying on pieces and sharing why you liked/disliked them), and I would definitely give a whirl again sometime down the line.  I don't think I'd be willing to sign-up for the auto every month level as this was a bit of an investment (read: more money than what I'm typically spending at Old Navy, GAP, or American Eagle), but I think maybe for birthdays, or letting it be a special treat, it's a fun way to shop and maybe branch out a little.

    If you want to sign-up (sign-up is free!), try out the style profile, you can also be super awesome by using this link, which shows me as referring you to Stitch Fix and if someday down the road you decide to get a Fix, I'll get some credit (and then can get a fix too ;-) )

    Saturday, September 21, 2013

    When Being A Sheep Is OK

    This past week at church the sermon focused on Andrew. The context of the sermon was more along the lines of how Andrew shared his faith, not with rhetoric or apologetics but simply by having so much excitement over having found Messiah, he physically took people to meet Jesus.  It's interesting to think about and if you want to check out the sermon you can do so here, but it got me thinking about Andrew in that he was one of the very first disciples. And thanks to his excitement he dragged his brother Cephas (better known as Simon-Peter) out to meet and listen to Jesus.

    So when I watched this TED talk a few days later, you can see how my mind instantly thought of Andrew.

    A leader is only a leader when he has a follower, and as Derek quickly points out in the video, the first follower is really a leader in their own right.

    This point is truly a great jumping off point for so many other related discussions, but one area I want to expound upon more ties back to something that has been making the rounds these days on several social media sites, an article titled Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy.

    I'm a part of Generation Y and my guess is that you reader are or at least know someone who is also apart of this generation.  And it's true, we were all told that we are each special and destined for greatness.  But here's the thing. That's not really possible (well, it depends on how you define greatness, but you get the gist of it).

    I will admit, I am very fuzzy on it these days, but I remember watching Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead in high school and it left a big impression on me.  It left me wondering, "What's wrong with being a supporting character?"  You see, I grew up being told I was the star, the lead character.  My story was the one worth reading or watching. But what did that mean for others in my life?  That they simply are supporting characters?  Or was it that I was a simply a supporting character in their story?

    Simply put, we can't all be the President.  It doesn't mean that we can't aspire to these things, but we need to keep expectations in a healthy check.

    So, how does an early disciple of Christ, a basic model for starting a movement, and the disillusionment of a generation tie together?

    I have the radical notion that I want to teach my son to be a follower.

    Perhaps to make this less inflammatory I should add that I want him to be a discerning follower.

    I hold a certain disdain and contempt for sheeple, but there's a world of difference in weighing the truth from several angles and deciding a course of action than just doing what everyone else is doing.

    So the question is how do I teach that balance of knowing when to forge ahead as that first lone nut and when it is better to yield and support someone else in an endeavor turning a lone nut into a leader?

    Wednesday, August 28, 2013

    When I'm Only A Human in His Eyes

    This is me and Tadpole on Mother's Day this past year:
    Tadpole and Mommy rocking stripes and anchors.

     Isn't he cute? (and yes, I'm going to be one of those types that refers to him by a codename, because the poor kid is already losing a ton of privacy at my doing) Tadpole's awesome.  He's truly a blessing to Paul and me and we're incredibly grateful that we get to be his parents.  All sorts of new things come along with parenthood as we are learning.

    This past week at church the sermon dealt with parenting. So that's been on my mind.  So has the idea of failure.  I've been thinking about failure a lot because I have a very strong fear of it, and it often hinders me from attempting new things (but that's a whole other story for a whole other day). And I was rolling around these two ideas in my head, they collided in one rather sad truth -- one day I will fail my son.

    It isn't a matter of if, it's a matter of when, because a day will come when I will mess up and he'll be able to call me out on it.  As of right now, I'm able to get away with a bit because he frankly doesn't know any better, nor does he have the communication skills required to convey any understanding of how I might be letting him down... well, that's not entirely true, he sure let me know that one time when I took off a little bit of finger tip while trying to clip his nails.

    (*not Tadpole, but one of the many things I chuckle at on a website I often waste time on)
    And while there is a lot of joking in our home of Mommy-Fails and Daddy-Fails as we trial and error some things, those are the things that make me question my ability to parent.

    We can all remember back to when we were young and our own parents went from infallible pillars to humans who mess up.  For me, it was when I was about 9 and my parents informed my brother and I of their divorce.  Looking back, that's when I began to realize that my parents weren't perfect (still aren't) and that try as they might, they are simply humans who sometimes make terrible decisions, can use poor judgement, or just be downright foolish. I'm capable of all those things as well.

    So knowing that I'm not perfect, I began to wonder what will it be, that will someday show Tadpole, that I too am simply a human. 

    Will there be a moment where I mismanage my emotions and yell at him in anger? 
    Will I make a decision that leads down a more troublesome path than necessary?
    Could there be habits or behaviors that I unintentionally foster in him that are not favorable?

    I'm not sure.  Heck, it could be something as simple as me having to parallel park one day and him realizing it shouldn't take four tries only to end up 18 inches away from the curb.  I do know, however, that there is some truth behind the Boy Scout motto of "always be prepared" in that, sometimes it's good to plan for a worst-case scenario:

    (umm, seriously, why did no one get me this book?)

    Those three questions above reflect three of the more serious ways I fear I may someday fail as a parent. Joking aside from other worst-case parenting scenarios like what to do when there are no more clean diapers, I think it's good to think out what would I do in those moments because, having a rough outline of what might happen helps when you may actually face that situation (ask me some time about the sovereignty in play when I had my Tommy Boy incident).

    I won't delve into each of those specific topics at this time, but I will say one thing that will help me deal with future parenting fails is by establishing a home that relies on and reflects grace.  My hope is that we as parents will talk and share, openly and honestly, about what is important and even more so, we will demonstrate it by how we act. And grace is by far is greatest gift we have been blessed with (yes, even more so than our handsome little fellow).  I hope that when Tadpole sees me mess up, after he calls me out on in, he will extend grace to me because he's seen and experienced grace himself.