Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The one about the Tree HousE: Windows, a roof, and more walls...oh my!

Alright, things are getting exciting now.

If you drive by the site, it actually looks like a house. While we still have a long way to go before we can live there, we are inching closer and closer.

We have enjoyed seeing the rooms in the house take shape. We can actually envision where furniture will be placed, which is exciting. I can't decide which room in the house I am going to love the most, but I think it will be a tie between the great room and our master bedroom. I am in love with the tall ceilings in the great room, but I think the large windows in our bedroom will reflect nature's beauty in all four seasons.

For as much that seems to be going right, we also have had our fair share of setbacks and pitfalls as of late. Remember how months ago, Luke lined up all the subcontractors through a process of lots of emails, phone calls, and site visits? We thought we had all of our ducks in a row, but last week, the plumber decided to pull out of our project. I am not going to share this plumber's name publicly, but I will happily share it privately if you are in search of a plumber. Because this person waited until 2 weeks before we actually needed his services to back out, we are now in a pinch and starting the bidding process over again. A second company that we already had a bid from (but decided not to go with initially) decided to increase their price by $4,000 just because we needed them on short notice. It is so irritating that some people think nothing of causing a giant inconvenience to others, even after a commitment had been made. And now, because of no fault of our own, we might be forced into paying a lot more money for the same services, or at the very least we are experiencing a lot of stress. I am 100% certain we will get it all figured out because we have no other choice. Luke is meeting with more plumbers this week, and I am praying the right person takes the job (and for the price we had budgeted).

There's always something with a project like this. For example, the tape that goes around the windows to seal them started peeling off because it isn't compatible with the brand of house wrap we are using. A couple of windows arrived in the wrong sizes. We had to order more roof trusses because we were short a few.

It's all part of the process. Nothing goes as planned, and that's alright. I tell myself daily, "Everything is fixable. Everything is figure-outable. Nothing is an emergency." This helps to keep me grounded (and to keep Luke grounded, which can be very challenging as he is shouldering most of the stress).

For now, we are thankful for the dedicated crew of builders who have put up with us so far. We are thankful that they work when it's hot, when it's raining, and when they probably would rather be doing something else. We are proud of how far we have come since we began in February, and we are so excited to think about where we might be by August.

Here are some photos from the last few weeks!

 Luke is standing by the door of the girls' room. In front of him is the cutout for the lower level stairs.

 Standing in the kitchen, looking toward the laundry room and half bath.

The first time the girls got to visit their room. The site is pretty dangerous for kids, so we haven't let them do this since. They were really excited! 
Working on the great room. The opening where the plank of wood is resting is where the front door will be.
 Luke is inspecting the windows. This is Leo's room.
 Another view of the great room.
 Getting closer! The existing garage will be connected to the great room by a mud room and a fireplace sitting room (you can see the existing chimney on the far left of this photo).

Thursday, June 1, 2017

project 365-2017; photo catch-up

When I was admitted to the hospital at 32 weeks with preterm labor in April, my photo project had to take a back seat. This was a big bummer because I had made it to 100 days without stopping. I had every intention of getting back on the wagon when I returned home, but once I broke the habit, it became daunting to start back up again.

I have been taking photos again here and there. Luke bought me a new lens for Mother's Day that I have been excited to use. Since Leo's arrival in late May, I have wanted to capture every second with him.

Here is a little photo catch-up of the last month or so. This project, to me, is also about not giving up when I was thrown a curve ball, so here's hoping I can keep going.

 Easter Sunday (and a rare photo with me in it)
Shiloh's haul from our small little egg hunt in the backyard. 

Luke enjoying some snuggles in the hammock with Shiloh. 
The girls put their new umbrellas to good use. We had a lot of rain in April.
  Charlotte taking care of baby Moana in the rain. 
Noelle had a great year and is really excited for 2nd grade! 
Charlotte had such a great preschool experience and already misses her teacher so much.
There is something about this sweet face...

Baby Leo joined our family in May.

I can't resist baby toes!
No more pictures, Mama.

Right now, Leo looks like the perfect mix of Charlotte and Noelle.
He is a wonderful, easy-going baby. How did we ever live without him before?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

the one about finally

Last week, I decided I was done with this pregnancy.

Once I reached the 36 and a half weeks mark, I felt ready to meet this baby. I had not been sleeping well, if at all, for several days...waking up at 2 a.m. and not sleeping the rest of the night. My hip pain that had seemed to resolve a few weeks ago had returned, making walking, sitting, laying, and standing very uncomfortable. My heartburn was creeping back into my daily life, even after taking prevacid for the past few months. My blood sugar readings started to become unpredictable. One day, my fasting numbers would be low and great. The next, they would be too high. Despite insulin, metformin, and countless dietary restrictions, it felt like my body was out of control. All of that, combined with a 1 cm long cervix, incessant contractions, and back pain that were just frequent enough to always have me on high alert but not intense enough to swing me into full-on labor... I was just done.

So, I did what any pregnant lady who wants to go into labor would do. I started walking my neighborhood a couple times each day. I ate eggplant parmesan (no noodles, no bread, because...diabeetus) because there is an urban legend about a restaurant out east that is known for having pregnant women go into labor within a day or so of eating their eggplant parmesan. I ate as much pineapple as my diabetic diet would allow. Spicy foods were daily staples (including a hamburger smothered in jalapenos), and I became so desperate that even castor oil was sounding tempting (I didn't do it).

On Friday night, I had a breakdown. I think all the worrying and anxiety about potentially having this baby preterm had caught up with me...and I found myself frustrated, even angry, that he hadn't arrived yet. It felt like as soon as I stopped my procardia at 36 weeks (which was helping with contractions) and my progesterone injections, that the baby should just come immediately after that. I knew better, or at least I should have, but my emotions got the best of me, and I found myself really upset that I was 37 weeks and still pregnant.

Through tears, I forcefully told Luke that I was NOT going to be induced. I was NOT going to have a c-section. And I was DONE being pregnant.

Somehow, I was able to return to a mostly-sane person and the weekend went on. A chaotic trip to Menard's to order toilets and bathtubs for the new house with the girls in-tow brought about a few contractions, so I decided to capitalize on that and head out to walk some laps at a another store. I committed myself to doing 10 brisk laps before coming home. Though I worked up a sweat (and probably looked a little ridiculous to the store manager who saw me each time I made a lap), the contractions fizzled, and I was bummed.

We enjoyed last-minute adult night out to celebrate our brother-in-law's birthday. Our babysitter came in time for us to enjoy mass without the distraction joy of our girls being with us. This was a true gift. To be able to hear the readings and enjoy the music and actually get something out of the homily was exactly what I needed to refocus and remember how blessed I am. Following mass, we went to dinner with family and headed home.

Early Sunday morning, I awoke to contractions, which wasn't unusual. I started to realize that they were coming about 3-4 minutes apart for about an hour. I woke Luke up to tell him and continued timing them. Determined not to "lose" the contractions again, I started walking laps in our house. After about 3 hours of this, we felt like this could be the real deal and decided to head to the hospital.

Our bags had been packed for weeks, but I didn't allow Luke to bring them into the hospital with us for fear of being sent home. The pregnancy walk of shame is a real thing that I wanted to avoid. In my heart, I felt like this was "it," but I didn't want to take any chances.

When we walked to the elevator, I was still contracting. Luke asked, "Elevator or stairs?" My instinct was to punch him. What man asks his 37 weeks pregnant wife who is actively contracting if she wants to take the stairs to labor and delivery? But then he said it would probably keep the contractions going, so I decided to go for it.

Up four flights of stairs we went, and we both were huffing and puffing when we made it to the floor. Thankfully, my doctor was already there and had alerted the nurses that I was coming, so they were ready for me. The same nurse that helped deliver Shiloh was there, and she knew how I ran out of time for an epidural the last time. Before I was even put in a room, she asked if we should call for the epidural so I would have time to get one. I declined at that moment because, again, I wanted to make sure this was actually going to be "baby day."

Within minutes of being in a hospital gown, we learned that it was definitely going to be "baby day." I was near 7 cm dilated and contracting regularly, so it was game on. I allowed Luke to get our bags from the car, and I settled in, anxious to see how the day would play out.

Slowly, steadily, and without too much pain, I progressed to 8 cm within a few hours and we were ready to break my water. My prayer in the weeks leading up to delivery was that this birthing experience would be calm, smooth, and relatively slow to progress. I know that sounds crazy, but after my near-car birth experience with Charlotte and my really intense and quick experience with Shiloh, I just didn't want to feel fear, panic, or worry. As fun as the stories are to tell now, I have never been more afraid in my life than the night Charlotte was born. And if this delivery was to be my last, I didn't want to remember it in a negative way.

To make it to 8 cm without an epidural and without screaming in agony was an answered prayer. Prior to breaking my water, my doctor and nurse asked me multiple times if I wanted the epidural, knowing there would not be time after my water was broken to get it done before delivery. I felt conflicted. Why would I not get one? Why would I want the misery? Why would I turn down the option for a less painful delivery? But something inside of me told me to just do it-- to let my body do what it was going to do and to get through the delivery without an epidural. So, I declined it for the final time.

It wasn't very long before I started to regret the epidural decision. Lots and lots of pain awaited me in a matter of a few minutes. Very quickly, it was "time." Thankfully, just 3-4 contractions stood between the most incredible, intense pain I have ever felt and holding my son.

For some reason, this picture makes me laugh. Like clinging to the bed was going to save me at this point... but I think you get the idea of the pain level.

 Bless Luke. I am squeezing his hand so hard.

There is no way to describe the feeling of your child being placed on your chest for the first time. Even with this being my fourth delivery, it feels new and exhilarating every single time. Sneaking the first look at his hair, his fingers, his toes, his lips, his cheeks.... counting the rolls of baby fat on his back and checking to make sure he was "still" a boy...such amazing, fulfilling memories of the end of an emotional pregnancy and the beginning of a brand new life.

Leo Benjamin. There is no greater love.

Luke and I were presented with the opportunity to have photos taken during Leo's birth. When Luke was born, he was very sick and needed to be in the NICU for a couple of months due to his lungs being underdeveloped. The doctor who took care of him and can be credited for saving his life, Donna Wilkins, still works in the NICU today (even though she is supposed to be retired). She also has a gift in photography and enjoys taking birth photos. She messaged me just the night before about taking photos of Leo's birth. We made loose arrangements, hoping it would work out for her to be there. Sure enough, the next day, it did work out for her to be able to take photographs of Leo's first breath. How incredibly special that the woman who was so instrumental in getting Luke to where he is today was in the room with us when our first son was born. We will cherish these images and this moment in our lives forever.

After a wonderful hospital stay with supportive nurses, tons of visitors, and plenty of treats (goodbye, diabeetus!), we are home and now adjusting to life as a family of six. There have already been instances of sibling jealousy. I have cried many tears-- wondering if I am "mama enough" for all of them. Shiloh has probably been the most out of sorts. She is acting out and seems so different than the way she was before Leo was born. I know it will take time to get us all back on track, and I know we won't get there without a lot of help, prayer, and teamwork...but I can't help but feel sad for her that she seems so upside down.

I have been reflecting on this pregnancy and new life as a mother of four. The word that keeps cycling through my brain is finally.

Finally, we have a boy. A son. A little man. A beautiful soul who might be able to provide just a hint of balance in this female-centric family. Leo is everything we never knew we needed. Luke was never pining away over having a son. He would have been fine as a dad of four girls. But when I see them together, I know that Leo is just the perfect fit for this family.

Finally, the never-ending pregnancy saga is over. No more needles. No more medications. No more weeks with 2-3 doctor's appointments at a time. No more contractions all day long. No more pain.

A small compilation of my progesterone and insulin needles used throughout this pregnancy.

Finally, a feeling of peace in my heart as I contemplate if Leo will be the last child I carry inside of me. While I don't know the answers right now, I do know that my heart is so full and my life is so blessed.

Finally, Leo. We did it.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

The one about the Tree HousE: There are walls!

The last few weeks have been some of the rainiest I can remember. At first, we consoled ourselves by saying, "April showers bring May flowers," but then when the rain continued into the first 10 days of May, that phrase grew old. Rain is fine and all and necessary to our ecosystem, but when you are trying to build a house? It's a nuisance.

We knew this project would come with delays. What home project doesn't? When I last posted, we were anxiously awaiting the floor trusses to arrive from their manufacturer in Terre Haute. We thought they were coming that next week (mid-April), but it ended up being an additional week later. They did at least arrive in time for Luke's birthday, which he said was the only present he wanted.

The existing garage has been repaired, and know it awaits a new roof, window, and siding.

These are the floor trusses that haunted Luke's dreams (or nightmares) for weeks. They were delivered on a semi all the way from Terre Haute.

From inside the basement, standing basically near/under the stairs. The trusses will allow us to get our duct work hidden and avoid huge bulkheads in the ceiling.

Seeing the trusses go over the basement gave more life to the house and made us really excited. The next step was getting them all level, secured, and then laying on the floor decking for the entire main level of the house. This was about the time the monsoons began, so just as soon as the guys would get some work done, they would have to stop for a day or two at a time. Water of course went to the crawl space and basement, which then had to be pumped out. This process repeated itself for at least a week or so it seemed until all the decking could get secured.

This week, however, we saw some really awesome changes when we pulled into the driveway and found a couple of walls up on the main level of the house. You can stare at a set of plans 100 times over and try to get an idea of what the house will look like, how big the house will be, and how everything will actually go together, but until you step up and into a structure that actually starts to feel like a house, you truly have no idea how it will take shape. Our master bedroom walls with cutouts for the windows were standing tall, and that gave us so much excitement. If we can get more than a day of nice weather at a time, I know that we will see a lot more walls in the coming days.

Walls! There are walls! The exterior walls for the kitchen, master bath, master bedroom, and part of the kids' rooms are set up. The windows are huge so we can see the woods.  

This is the wall that forms the end of the kids' rooms. They are jack and jill style with a bathroom in-between those large windows. 

 This is the back corner of the house. Those three windows are part of our master bedroom. I can't wait to wake up during the first snow of the year and see the snowy trees out the windows.

This is the cutout for the stairs to the basement. The basement will be a highly utilized area of our home, so we are thinking of it more as a lower level than a dingy basement from scary movies. There will be stairs going down and the triangular opening will have railing, but it will be open to the lower level. This will allow light to get in and add design interest.

I am standing in Leo's room...showing him the ropes.

There is a strip of 15 acres at the end of our property that was sectioned off by the previous owner and sold to another couple. We had the first dibs on purchasing this land, but we didn't feel like we needed an extra 15 acres on top of our 40 acres when we needed the money to build this house. This couple has been working on building their home, and from the road, it appears to be much farther along in the building process than ours. It is difficult to resist the urge to compare...to get frustrated....to wonder why theirs is going up so much quicker, but all those thoughts are just distractions from the journey we are on. They didn't have to tear down an existing house. They aren't trying to fit a new house over an existing basement footprint. They have a crew of builders, and it is hard to tell if their home is a custom design or if it is a style of home that the builders have constructed many times over.

Comparison is the thief of joy, and I am not going to let someone else's progress squander the excitement that we feel at this moment with how our house is coming along. When I say that "we" (meaning mostly Luke) have had a say in every single decision, in every 2x4 that has been ordered, in every measurement of every window, in every nail that has been purchased...that is what I mean. It has been difficult to balance Luke's job (which requires every ounce of his mental & physical energy), with my pregnancy (which included a 3 day stay in the hospital a few weeks ago and a baby who is likely to come any day now), in addition to raising our three girls and being present for them. On any given night, one of us is not sleeping. I am either awake with late-term pregnancy discomfort or insomnia, or Luke is awake with a spinning mind and a long to-do list of what needs to be accomplished, ordered, followed up on, or addressed the next day. This is a lot of work! But with great risk there is great reward.

This house is a bit of a "homecoming" for us. Luke grew up 20 seconds down the road, where is parents still live, and the home is nestled in the school district where we graduated from and where our children will attend once their time at St. Mary is finished. My mom has been teaching at our former high school for over 45 years. Many people we have known for most of our lives still live in the area and are very interested in what is going on with "that house in the woods." It is very fun to share our joy, and we are honest about sharing our setbacks (which is why I write this blog), but sometimes being so open can leave us vulnerable to a lot of well-meaning input, advice, and even speculation. We are trying to remember that, again, this is our journey, our process, and we are taking things as they come.

As cliche as it is, the saying is true...life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain. Just please, Mother Nature, a little break would be nice.

Monday, April 24, 2017

the one about hope

I am sad to say that I had to take a week off of my Project 365. Unforeseen circumstances caused me to not be near my camera for a few days, and I didn't have the energy to lift it for the remainder of the week.

Last Monday, following a routine appointment with my doctor, I found myself admitted to the hospital for preterm labor. My little guy decided to scare us all with contractions that wouldn't stop, so we had to take action. Two steroid injections for his lung development, a few liters of IV fluids, 48 hours on a magnesium drip (which forced me to be in the bed the entire time), lots of antibiotics, and an additional 12 hours for observation later....and I was released to go home (and still pregnant, thank God). I was so thankful to have not given birth at 32 weeks pregnant. That felt like a very real outcome on Monday night, so I feel like I got a second chance to grow this baby.

Since coming home, I have had a difficult time with my energy level. As it turns out, being in a hospital bed for nearly 3 days and eating very little food will make you very weak, tired, lethargic, and exhausted by any little thing. I have really been trying to lay down as much as possible while still attempting to get up every now and then so I don't continue to lose stamina...but both situations have proved to be challenging. Laying down with small children to care for is not very realistic, and getting up and moving when my body wants to just be at rest has been burdensome. It is not like me to "lay low." I don't enjoy it and love being productive, but I am determined to keep this baby in for another few weeks (37 is the magic number). I will do whatever it takes.

While I was in the hospital, I had a lot of time to think. This is a luxury I do not typically have. Many days, it is not until the girls go to bed that I can be alone with my thoughts, and by that time, my brain might as well be mush anyway. As I was listening to the little one on the fetal monitor for hours on end, I actually asked myself, "Why do we as women put ourselves through such misery to have babies?" You can tell what my mindset was at that time. I may have been feeling just a little sorry for myself.

I got caught up in thinking about the fact that we had some scares with Shiloh's pregnancy, and maybe I was a fool to take this on again. Maybe I should have known that we would have similar complications and that I could potentially risk the life of my unborn baby. This pregnancy, though I was hopeful would be different, has had all the bells and whistles that Shiloh's did and then some. We have done cervical length ultrasounds for months now. We have done progesterone injections weekly. We have done daily medications for contractions. I am now insulin-dependent with my gestational diabetes. With the recent hospital stay, I don't even want to think about how high the medical bills are going to be...and that's before the baby actually arrives.

Why? Why did we take this on?

We have three beautiful, smart, fun, healthy, wild, strong, and energetic girls. Could have stopped there, but we didn't. We wanted this baby. We wanted this challenge. We wanted this journey. But the fear and the worry and the uncertainty of last Monday night caused me to question everything.

In prayer and in solitude, I kept asking this question and the answer hit me hard today. The answer, to me, is hope. We took on the responsibility of bringing another child into the world, regardless of how difficult and arduous the journey, because of hope.

Hope for the future. Hope for change. Hope for more goodness. Hope for this world.

Each day, we see such terrible headlines in the news. It has become painful to watch and read. If I think too much about it, I get scared. I become leery. I tell myself that this world is evil, and that I just don't understand the point anymore.

But when I think about this baby...the very one that is kicking and punching me and hiccuping all the time inside of my body...I have hope. I have hope that he will be good. I have hope that he will be kind. I have hope that he will be strong enough to shoulder the burdens and temptations and challenges that he will undoubtedly face as he goes through life.

This little boy may be the change we wish to see in the world, and for that, I have hope.

This is why children are so incredible. Their lives have only just begun. Their stories are in the early chapters, and we have no idea how their books will end. My children, all children, give me hope...and that is reason enough to go through a physically and emotionally challenging pregnancy punctuated by expensive treatments and care.

I have had a different boy's name picked out for each pregnancy. With our first, we waited to be surprised at birth so if Noelle would have been a boy, her name would have been Max. I have never gone back to Max for any other pregnancy. For me, it felt like that name belonged to that pregnancy and I couldn't "use it" again. For the first half or so of this pregnancy, I thought we were going to name him one name -- until it hit me one day a few months ago that this baby's name was Leo.

I couldn't explain it. I didn't know why. There wasn't any rhyme or reason to it. I just liked it. It's not a family name. It's not short for anything. I hadn't even really heard it anywhere else. It just felt right. I tried to continue calling him the name we had originally planned, but he just seemed like a Leo.

And now, after what we went through last week and what we still have yet to face, it feels like Leo, which is Latin for lion, is the perfect name. I don't know if he is the fierce one or if I am inspired to be fierce for him, but knowing his name has such a brave and powerful connotation gives me great peace.

Brave, fierce, strong, and tenacious might be how I describe a lion, but the name Leo also seems soft, warm, and gentle. It is a common name for popes, saints, and priests, and this little guy has done nothing but fortify my faith by the day.

I think my favorite thing about the name Leo is that he and I are forever connected in the stars. My zodiac sign is Cancer, and the one right next to Cancer is Leo. I love the symbolism that he is right there next to me even in the biggest, darkest, most uncertain sky.

A few weeks ago, my friend, Kira, met me at our new property to take some maternity photos...just by myself. I wanted to be able to remember the bright spots of this pregnancy and not the times when I felt like I couldn't take one more pill or go in for one more ultrasound or check my blood sugar one more time or stand one more needle in my body. I wanted to just be alone with Leo and thank him for the opportunity to be his mama. She captured what I wanted perfectly, and I am so thankful that I have these to remind me of the miracle of life and the true power of hope.

Monday, April 17, 2017

project 365-2017; days 99-105

We have crossed the 100 day mark in this photo project. There are times when it feels like a very difficult task to pick up my camera and find something to photograph. Maybe I am tired. Maybe it hasn't been a great day. Maybe I am not inspired. But... I take the picture anyway.

This week brought us Easter preparations mixed with daily randomness. We enjoyed dying Easter eggs in addition to visiting our property to snip daffodils put in vases...incredibly small moments smushed together to represent a week in the life of a mama with three very precocious girls.


Noelle had a turn with the yardwork, so these little ones needed a turn, too.


"HEYYYYY!" Shiloh wasn't impressed that her Jenga blocks fell over so easily.


Mismatched outfits and a veggie straw sword fight. Sounds about right. 


The daffodils on our new property have hit their fullest potential this week, so we have enjoyed snipping a few to enjoy in our home. I snapped this of Noelle and now can't stop staring it. She is just so beautiful. Her blue eyes, freckly skin, and curly hair make her a classic beauty. You also have to love the toothless smile.


Noelle's class at school put on a play about the death and resurrection of Jesus. Here Noelle is reading the second station of the cross as Jesus stands behind her. It was a really powerful presentation, and I am so thankful that Noelle understands the actual reason for celebrating Easter.


The girls enjoyed dying their Easter eggs. Always a tedious process, so I am thankful we could be outside for this messy tradition.


It hit 85 degrees over the weekend, so the girls were anxious to have some water play time. I unearthed the water table from behind the tool shed. I was a little afraid to pull it out as I didn't know what creatures were living in the murky water that settled in the table...but I was brave and scrubbed it clean. 

Bonus Photos:

Here are a few more from our daffodil adventures this week...