Saturday, June 28, 2014

Kate and Crew 12: Spring Break (1)

12. Spring Break Part 1 (March, 2014)

         This particular spring brought some new things: new baby kicks, trees blossoming (always new, even if an annual event), surprise snow showers, and a new element of Mister's job--attending conferences. He had gone to a few conferences before, but this spring, it seemed that there were always multiple conferences looming on the horizon. Some were short 1 or 2-day affairs. Some were small and by invitation only, like seminars. Some paid Mister to attend, and others had attendance fees. The eclectic nature of conferences was still a mystery to Kate, but she came to understand through this season that they were an integral part of Mister's work. The conferences where he presented papers helped with his name-recognition and networking. The smaller seminars were important for learning and discussion, hashing out ideas and in some small way trying to change the future of how economists think and operate. 
         Spring Break was just such a time for a conference. This was a large, annual conference--though one that Mister had never before attended, about 4 days long. Mister went to Charleston, South Carolina for those days, which fit perfectly into their Spring Break plans to go down and meet the Millers in Florida afterward. And for those four days, Kate got to stay in Savannah with their dear friends who had moved away from Fairfax. 
         This surprised Kate--the fact that she thought of them as "dear friends." The Millers and Kypes had not known each other long before the move, nor had they spent considerable time together. But there was a certain, unexpected understanding of heart that had formed an instant bond, and Kate was altogether thrilled when she first realized that in the last several years, God had given her not just one, but several friends who had surreptitiously moved from "acquaintance" to "dear friend" 
         The drive down to Savannah lasted between 6 and 7 hours, and Teddy behaved better than either of his parents expected. He slept and played with crinkly plastic things in the food box and drank formula like it was his job. Kate was feeling under the weather with a slight cold. Normally, she didn't mind being sick. She liked the excuse to slow down, and generally dealt with the stuffiness and sore throat with her tried and true remedies of non-stop tea and decongestant. And of course, easy days at home were always welcome. But with a baby, she minded. Getting up in the middle of the night to make a bottle for a screaming baby wasn't tops on the list of helpful recovery activities. 
         But there was no better place to be sick without Mister. The Kypes house was that big, gracious, old Georgian style, and their family was just the same. They had a 1-and-a-half year old (exactly a year older than Teddy) and Kate once again had the joy of seeing the special kind of interest that small children have only for each other. Kate's friend, Jillian, had a sister from Ethiopia who was visiting for the first couple days of Kate's stay, and Teddy was completely taken with her. He would stare and stare at her beautiful chocolatey skin and giggle in delight if she so much as graced him with a smile (which she was always happy to do.) Kate actually felt a little jealous...but it was so fun to see him notice things and start having preferences. 
         The long weekend ended with a jaunt to downtown Savannah, driving past scenic parks full of wedding parties, exploring the boardwalk, and (ever Kate's favorite occupation) investigating a large candy shop which rewarded them their troubles with fresh pralines. Kate marvelled at the ancient houses, monuments, and bridges of the old city.
          "You know," she said, "growing up in Alaska, it was easy to understand the beauty and power and grandeur of God from nature. The hugeness of the mountains and the wilderness, and the smallness of myself...they were both obvious and overwhelming at times. But moving to the D.C. area, I've learned a whole new appreciation of the amazing knowledge that God has given man to create things...these huge buildings with intricate carvings, fountains, machines, mathematics and architecture. And then to remember that man's wisdom is foolishness to God! It's vast and humbling in much the same way." 
          And of course on Sunday, Mister finally returned from his conference! They celebrated their happy reunion with a lunch from Green Truck, the famed Savannah burger joint with enough rapport to increase the value of the houses lucky enough to be within walking distance. Burgers might sound anti-climatic, but this was far from the case. These were famed burgers for a good reason, and Kate had been craving just such a juicy, savory, avocado-ey, mass of goodness!
         So they ate and loaded up their things and said their goodbyes and hit the road again. Together once more, with a baby, off on another adventure to Florida. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Kate and Crew 11: Getting Bigger and Almost Crawling

11. Getting Bigger and Almost Crawling (March, 2014) 

        In early March, Kate started her second trimester, and almost immediately began to feel more energetic. She also felt bigger. Her shirts were tight, her pants were snug, and her belly seemed to want more and more support. Nothing felt good, and nothing looked cute. To top it all off, she was beginning to have some serious pain in her lower back, around her SI joints. On good days, she didn't notice it at all. But on bad days, she could barely stand on one foot without collapsing. Mind you, standing on one foot wasn't exactly Kate's favorite hobby, but sometimes it was essential--say, while getting dressed, or taking steps. And for those moments, it was far too easy for her to feel like a complete invalid. Honestly! she thought to herself, how pathetic is it that getting dressed seems like the hardest part of the day?! 
          At least she wasn't reduced to crawling quite yet. Of course, if she needed to get something close by and she was already on the floor, a little scootching across the room might take place. But that certainly didn't qualify as crawling, no sir! This was the hardest part of pregnancy: the gradual reduction in capability, the necessity of being careful, the intense aging that happens over only nine months. Kate liked to tell people, "well, when you're pregnant you gain about 65 years over nine I may look 27 to you, but really, my body is acting much, much older!" She quipped about it, but it still hurt her heart every time she found herself weighing the cost of picking up her son or getting down to play with him on the floor. 
         And Teddy was getting to be really fun. He, like his Mama, was growing fast and almost crawling. He rolled everywhere. It was his mode of transportation, rolling across the floor over and over again until he reached his desired goal. But Kate and Mister could tell, he was desperate to crawl. He would push himself up on his arms and pump his legs, ready to zoom across the room in a more dignified, upright fashion. But he couldn't figure out the arms, at least not for going forward. Every once in a while, he'd work his way backward, but after a few moments of this, he would stop and fuss--clearly that solution to his movement problem was quite unsatisfactory. 
         Mister pronounced an oracle, "He'll be crawling before the month is out!" (And so in this case, at least, the prophet was proved true by his words.) 
         In watching Teddy, Kate was reminded of the many good things that come with pregnancy--the main one being a new baby! Teddy was so alert and aware and interactive, even at 6 months old! His giggles were a delight, and he was gradually finding his talking voice and experimenting with different noises. And next year, they would have another one about this stage, only Teddy would be a year older, and they would be playing together! But...she also knew that in a year, she would have her hands completely full of babies. 
         On her energetic, less painful days, she wrote out long lists of projects that she wanted to work on and try to finish before September. It was a looming deadline, and Kate had almost inumerable projects to complete, including (but not limited to) completeing afghans and baby blankets, Teddy's baby quilt, catching up with their scrapbook, finishing her half-written novel, getting an agent for a children's novel already completed, writing music, writing in her journal, and learning to cook Indian food. If she could get all that done, what a summer it would be! But if she didn't...would she ever?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Kate and Crew 10: Teddy on Campus

10: Teddy on Campus (Feb, 2014)

          Kate and Mister had long talked about how to be more involved as Christians at Mister's university. Before Christmas, they had decided to start going to the CRU meetings on campus as a family. It was an easy enough decision. One evening a week, 8:30 to 10ish, worship, devotional, meeting people--pretty simple and straightforward, a basic commitment. They hoped to meet some students, get to know them and start being more involved either through Bible studies or simply having them over to their house. Of course a baby could and did complicate matters simply by being an extra person that is (by nature) high maintenance. But Kate and Mister had discovered that life, as it moves on, simply gets more complicated. They figured that the earlier they learned how to deal with it, the better. 
         As the new semester started, Kate and Mister and Teddy bundled up and trundled over to campus, feeling rather conspicuous with a car seat or baby carrier (or both) as they found a spot in the CRU meeting room. And they had reason. There was never a more conspicuous person at CRU than whoever was holding Teddy. Four months old, starry blue eyes, strawberry blonde hair, and a smile to melt the heart of the most ardent baby-hater: Teddy was a magnet, and generally adored. After the first two meetings, Kate lost count of the number of people who offered to babysit him. One week, a young man came up and exclaimed (in admiration), "What an amazing head of red hair!" 
         Kate, who had spent many a day considering (without conclusion) Teddy's hair color, replied in earnest, "Wow! Really?" 
         The student had seemed confused, but then again, so was Kate. There might be some reddish tint in some lighting, but to definitively lable him as a redhead was...confusing. 

         The first week, Kate had Teddy in their Ergo carrier, and was surprised by another girl coming up to her and enthusiastically exclaiming over and asking about Teddy. Then she explained that she had a daughter of her own and that she and her husband were both on staff for CRU. That evening and the next week brought deep heart-to-heart conversation, understanding, and a committment to get together for dinner and games--which they discovered was a shared passion. 
         At dinner, Kristen and Jared taught the Millers how to play Guillotine ("the revolutionary card game where you win by getting a head"...snicker, snicker) and the conversation flowed fast and thick through stories of meeting spouses, having a first child, overseas experiences, and schooling...where there was a pause. "Wait a second," Jared interrupted when he heard that both Kate and Mister had gone to Hillsdale College. "Do you know Elliot and Bonnie Wild? I think Elliot went to Hillsdale around the time you were there." 
         They both knew Elliot-- "In fact," Kate expounded, "Elliot was better friends with my own brother, Elliott, but I did go to their wedding in Hillsdale." 
         "Wow. Small world," said someone...but all were thinking it. Kate was delighted. The older she got, the world seemed both bigger and smaller. She realized more and more (especially since Teddy's birth) how distance can seem so far when it makes it hard to see family and friends. And yet the world couldn't help but seem small when you can meet a random stranger almost anywhere and they happen to know (or be best friends with) the so-and-so that you knew in college, or high school, or church, or wherever. 
         The other delightful thing about dinner together was watching Teddy and Charlotte play together. Well, "play" as young babies can. Teddy had never encountered another baby that was close to his age, and he was fascinated. They watched each other all evening. They gurgled at each other and flapped their hands and touched each other when they were close enough. 
         Kate watched in wonder, amazed at Teddy's amazement. It's too bad that grown-ups loose so much of that delight in meeting someone new that just comes from a common humanity, Kate thought. It really should be enough to pique our interest when we meet someone new who just happens to be about our size and happens to be another human being...

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Kate and Crew 9: Mister's Birthday

9. Mister's Birthday (Feb 2014)

This year, Mister's birthday was on Sunday. Moreover, it was Super-Bowl Sunday. And, as always, it was Groundhog's Day. Only the first was really meaningful, but what it meant was a very full, busy day. Kate and Mister had to be at church early because Mister was helping teach a children's Sunday school class for the month. Then there was the service, an hour or two for a special lunch, an evening church service, where Mister was giving the short message, and then back to watch the rest of the Broncos/Seahawks Super-Bowl game—Kate and Mister usually watched as a concession to popular culture's excuse to get together with friends. But this year, Mister was actually excited about the game, since he grew up in Colorado and had fond memories of watching the Broncos games.
Considering the schedule, Kate realized that on Mister's birthday there was hardly going to be any good time for a birthday celebration. Saturday would have to be the day. She wanted to do something...get him something that would make this year memorable. Something that would be an honest-to-goodness surprise. And she had just the thing. As soon as she thought of it, she was committed. She would get him the thing that he had been longing for since they moved to their house. (Two and a half years before...) She would get him a lovely, sturdy dresser. 
Of course, she didn't have a car to transport it. And she certainly wouldn't be moving it herself...into the car, or out of the car (once she got one), or into the house, or up their three flights of stairs into their bedroom. BUT. It was the perfect gift. Mister would be so pleased and surprised. She would simply have to work out the details and get people to help. That's all. 
The week before Mister's birthday, Kate took a surreptitious shopping trip to the discount furniture warehouse where they had bought couches to provide for the previous year's Thanksgiving bash. She had remembered the amazing deals for slightly scarred furniture--that was right up their alley. After spending two years in an apartment, with a free dresser off craigslist...which subsequently (and quite literally) fell to pieces when they got ready to move; Kate and Mister were ready for something durable. And they didn't mind a little scratch here and there. Before leaving, Kate carefully calculated a gift money budget gleaned from Christmas and birthday checks. But at the store, roaming through the aisles of "sell as is" furniture, she almost despaired of finding something nice within that range. 
When she paused before a gorgeous dresser that she had seen and admired online, she was completely shocked to see the list price was her price. Sure, there was a noticeable scratch right on top, and a few on the side, but it had all the drawers and was otherwise completely lovely and flawless. She wavered for a few minutes, wondered what time it was, and decided she would be a fool if she passed up this deal--the exact thing she had been looking for. 
She felt terribly old. Marching down to the counter and deciding just like that. Buying furniture that wasn't from Salvation Army or Craigslist. (Of course, she knew she would still be doing plenty of that in the future.) But this was a moment of oldness...and wealth and prosperity. God had blessed them so richly to provide something like this that they could afford. After she paid, she arranged with the sales clerk to come pick it up on Saturday. Then she went out to her car and carefully tucked the receipt into the glove compartment and shook her head. I'm not old, she thought, I'm terribly, terribly young...I keep doing things without thinking ahead! How on EARTH am I going to pick that huge thing up on Saturday?!
Through the week, Kate expressed so much nervousness and worry about the weekend and Mister's gift that Mister kept asking questions about it. Kate tried hard to be vague, but she was worried that it wouldn't even be a surprise! But Saturday finally came, and a plan was all in place. Misterwent to the university for about three hours in the afternoon, and Kate had to drop him off and pick him up, which cut off about 10 minutes on each side. As soon as he got back, some new friends from church were supposed to arrive for dinner. Kate had asked them to come early to help unload the dresser, and they had agreed...which was wonderful. But that narrowed her time window by another half hour, and she had no idea what was the picking up process at the warehouse. Kate was rushing her way to a friend's house to borrow a van when she got a surprise call from Uncle saying that he was able to borrow a truck from a neighbor. What a Godsend! Kate breathed in relief. One more step eliminated...I don't know why I thought this would work!!! she thought frantically as she stepped on the gas. 
At the warehouse, Kate and Uncle had to wait behind a family that seemed to have bought furniture for their entire house--presumably about 10,000 square feet in size! Kate tapped her feet anxiously and swayed back and forth as yet more dressers and beds and mirrors and chairs were loaded into a van. But, (another Godsend) the workers had pity on them and paused their search and retrieval for the mansion in order to get Mister's dresser in the truck. From then on, it was smooth sailing. Mostly. 
Kate and Mister's guests pulled up right as Uncle and Kate were backing into their parking space. The husband, Peter, was young and strong and glad to help. But the dresser was very large and heavy, and Kate and Leah alternated between tentatively helping, hopping out of the way, and cringing as the heavy wooden corners narrowly missed pictures and threatened to gouge holes in the walls. 
(this is not THE dresser--merely the same kind, and without
the mirror.)  
At last the deed was done. The dresser was in place, unwrapped, dusted. Mister was retrieved from the University. And was he surprised! Kate led him upstairs to see his gift, and he merely looked at the dresser in awe and some befuddlment--as if he couldn't figure out how it got there. When he asked, Kate laughed and said, "It was quite a project. And I had a lot of help." Then she looked at him tentatively, "I know that in reality the dresser is for both of us. And I know it's just one big gift...that you can't even unwrap. I hope it still feels special though...?" 
"Definitely!" came Mister's confident reply. "Very special. And a great surprise. I wouldn't have guessed this even with all the clues you gave me! And one of the best parts is that I didn't have to do or plan anything!
Kate smiled with satisfaction. All her work and her worry and her planning had paid off. It was all her gift for the man she loved most. And he was both surprised and delighted.THISshe thought, is what real success feels like

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Kate and Crew 8: Food: problems and fixes

8. Food Problems and Fixes (Jan/Feb 2014) 

Problem/Fix #1:
             When Kate took Teddy in for his 4-month check-up (it was really closer to 5 months by the time she got around to it) she didn't think there was anything to worry about. It's true, he hadn't been eating or sleeping very well...but honestly, wasn't that par for the course as far as babies were concerned? Besides, he was getting teeth in, which could explain a lot; and he was clearly developing well in strength and dexterity and awareness.
             They did all the usual things, checking his weight and height and temperature. And then the assistant left Kate and Teddy to study the I-Spy boards in the room while they waited for the doctor. But when the doctor came in, instead of sitting down to talk, she took them back to the scale for another weigh-in...just to double check that it had been done properly. Kate had thought it was a little low, but when she saw the 11.1 pounds on the growth chart, her heart sank. It was well below the lowest percentile. No baby was that small at that age!
             The doctor asked about how Teddy was eating, and Kate explained that it wasn't very good and that she had also just found out that she was pregnant again. Seeing Kate's panicky expression, the doctor hastened to sooth and reassure her, "It's probably just the pregnancy hormones changing your milk supply. We'll send you to a cardiologist just to make absolutely sure that there is nothing wrong with his heart, but I expect that if you try to supplement every feeding with formula, you'll see him gain a lot very quickly. Do that for this week, and then bring him back and we'll make sure that's doing the trick."
             The cardiologist assessed Teddy's heart and found it to be completely normal. And through the rest of the week, Teddy ate so much that he gained a pound and a quarter! (And roughly another pound for each of the next two weeks!) Teddy was the happiest little boy, cooing and gurgling and starting to laugh and giggle when Mister swung him through the air. He slept for long stretches at night, up to 8 or even 9 hours at times. It's a traumatic thing to suddenly realize that you've been starving your child...Kate thought many times through those weeks, but I'm so glad there's such an easy fix to the problem!

Problem/Fix #2:
             After being gone for a month, it was understandable, but disconcerting all the same. Whenever Kate opened the fridge, it was a blank white expanse, mitigated only by a pickle jar, a container of yeast, and a few other odds and ends. It didn't exactly speak welcoming words to one's rumbling tummy...especially a pregnant one.
             But the task of grocery shopping...not just the task, even thinking about felt overwhelming. The questions were unending: If she got this much meat, how many meals would she make with it, and if she wanted to make this, then she would have to also get that, that, and that. And if she got that...she could also make such and such. But to make such and such she would need to make sure she got blittery blat. And so on. Then Kate would shake her head firmly and go back to the age old question, “What do we usually have in the fridge?” Which would again and again morph into “What do I want to have in the fridge?”...which invariably depended on some kind of meal plan.
             After hours, (it would have taken days, but there wasn't enough food to sustain that kind of deliberation) Kate had a list in hand. And with all the contingencies of which stores to go to if others didn't have what she wanted, Kate set off on her equivalent of an expedition up Mt. McKinley. At the H-mart, she found special deals on lots of fruits and veggies, and instantly her brain set to work revising her much-edited list. She made it out with lots of food, about half her list crossed off, and a blazing headache. Again she revised her plan. She would skip all the other stores and just stop at Target to get their essential bread, milk, eggs, and then make a beeline for her bed.
             Of course that didn't happen. Oh, she did made it through Target and she did go home. But her efforts to collapse in bed were stymied once again by responsibility. There were all the cold things to get in the fridge, the bags to put away, the meat to package, the pantry to fill, and then after all that, a very necessary snack. And all this effort was made possible by Mister being home and watching over Teddy as he napped...and woke up.
              I don't know how single-mothers even survive, Kate thought, as she finally climbed into bed to rest. God must just give them an extra measure of grace and strength. But Kate, though she felt rather helpless and weak, did realize with some depth of emotion that her accomplishment that day was not only significant in that they would all have food to eat that night, but it was meaningful (as only a pregnant woman can feel emotion) in a larger and deeper and ultimately transcendent way. Her family would eat. One more family would survive one more day. And she, Kate Miller, was a cog that had (albeit imperfectly) faithfully executed her role in this cosmic scheme that would continue until all things were fulfilled and brought to their final rest.

Problem/Fix #3

              For all fortunate and expectant fathers, here's a tip from Mister: When your pregnant wife craves Subway, go be a shining hero. Spend the six dollars. Get a footlong.