Friday, May 30, 2008

Playtime


First Results

I spoke briefly with the doctor after my testing today. It seems that I do show some impairment in memory, fine motor skills, and one other area which I've since forgotten. She's forwarding a copy of the report to my doctors and to me (I knew I wouldn't be able to remember everything!).

After typing in some of the key words she gave me into Google, I came across this article. If you read the second paragraph, aside from blurry vision and the age, this woman could be me. I wasn't fired for my job performance, but my performance was definitely affected--I was not performing at my usual high standard. I also have trouble with working memory and cognitive fatigue (read those paragraphs in the article as well).

Not exactly encouraging news. But I have an appointment with the neurologist on Thursday, so hopefully I'll have more answers after that, seeing as how he'll have all of the relevant information available.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Praise God

My memory/speech testing, which was scheduled for June 18th, has just been moved up to tomorrow, the 30th. I'm so happy that we can finally get this done, and that we'll have the results before my June 5th appointment with the neurologist.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mommy, it's moving!

Brad had an MRI of his brain and spine today and a renal ultrasound (basically, and ultrasound of his kidneys and bladder), and let me tell you, I love Duke. I'm sorry honey, but Johns Hopkins is nothing compared to Duke. At Hopkins we were in a dingy old basement with a few old toys, and Brad was taken away and "worked on." He was brought back to me after he woke up, and shared an area with other patients where everything could be seen and heard. Also, no food or drink was given after the procedure.

But at Duke. At Duke. First of all, the parking is great ($1 per hour), and right across the street, and easily accessible to the hospital and highway. I still recall the hour I spent driving around Baltimore after Brad's last procedure, completely lost....ugh. Anyway, the waiting room is cheerful and it has train tables, and doll houses, and wagons, and lots of other toys. There were signs in the waiting room instructing us to speak with the receptionist if we waited more than 15 minutes (!!! Last time at Hopkins I waited at least an hour!).

We were taken back to a private room with lots of books. The only downside was that each room had a television and the nurses station was stacked with about 50 different videos, so I had to tell every person that walked in the room that no, we didn't want to watch a movie. But other than that, everything was great. They gave me a private locker to lock up my metal things...because I was going to be with Brad the whole time!

I held Brad when he was sedated, and sat in the same room (with my own earplugs!) when he was having the MRI. I carried him back to his room and held him as he woke up. The nurses gave him apple juice and graham crackers. He was offered lots of stickers. And on our way out, I stopped at the gift shop to buy him a promised lollipop--the cashier gave us two for free!

By now you're wondering when I'm going to get to Brad and stop talking about the experience, but after five MRIs and two surgeries, I've kind of become a connoisseur of the process. Duke just made the whole experience so pleasant, and even Brad wanted to know when we were coming back to play again--it was that nice!

Brad is fine. He was pretty funny in the recovery room--he said, "Mommy, it's moving!" And I asked him what was moving, and he said, "The room is moving." Then when we got home he told me the house was moving. So I told him he needed a little nap and the house would stop moving. He told me over and over again that he didn't want a nap. I ignored him, carried him upstairs to bed while he screamed and cried, tucked him in, gave him hugs, turned to leave, and looked back to see him fast asleep.

I don't think we'll talk to the doctor before Friday, and I'll post an update when we do.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My Climber

Anne is such a little climber. I don't remember Brad being this fearless, though I admit I could be blocking memories--Anne makes my heart stop with her climbing! She is everywhere, all the time. She's fallen a couple of times, but never seems to mind too much. Thanks to Mimi for the song: "Pick yourself up, and brush yourself off, and start all over again!" I think I'm singing that five times a day!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

For Memorial Day, 2008, I wanted to take advantage of the military presence here in the state of North Carolina. The state is home to many historic military units - the 82nd Airborne Division the most prominent among them - and there is a beautiful new museum in Fayetteville, NC highlighting the work of the Special Forces and Airborne Divisions of the United States Army. After a brief visit on the grounds of Fort Bragg and lunch on the base (Bradford loved that!), we were off to the museum.

Brad is standing on a monument that is made from the steel of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in New York City. A stark reminder of a dark moment in our nation's recent past. I explained what happened on September 11, 2001, and he wanted me to take a picture of him standing by this steel sculpture.

Here Bradford is sitting on a replica of the same airplane that the paratroopers who jumped into France on D-Day used. He wanted to sit there, and he kept talking about jumping out of airplanes. It was a good thing his mother wasn't there!

Bradford was very interested in the models who were soldiers. These were very well done. We enjoyed seeing them, and he wanted to take a picture with the soldiers. I told him they were not real soldiers, but he still wanted to take a picture with them.

Here he was listening to the actual verbal history of an historic mission by the Special Forces of the United States Army. He really enjoyed listening to them. They actually held his attention for quite a while.


There was a tremendous section showing the current work of the Special Forces serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is the replica of an actual soldier who recently served in that region of the world. The entire museum was very well done and was a hub of sorts for military families. Two mothers were just in front of us as we observed the pictures and presentations of our nation's current war. There was a plasma television hanging on the wall with a slide show of some of the Special Forces. One mother told her son, Gabriel, "Look, son, there is Daddy." Several slides showed pictures of his father, and I was struck at the personal cost of this war to so many families.

I was grateful for them, and I admired their resilience and stamina to face daily life without their husbands. I could see that both mothers who obviously had husbands serving abroad drew strength from each other and the museum. For this I was grateful.

I could not help but think (and I attempted to share this with Bradford) that there is such a cost for war. My own father was a war hero - three bronze stars with valor. He served with General Douglas MacArthur (hence my name of Douglas), but he seldom spoke of his experiences in World War II. It was only after his death that I discovered his many medals - literally an entire drawer of them in his chest - and his many commendations. He was on the beaches of Normandy, and he also served in the Korean conflict. He was tough, rugged and my hero.

Most anyone who knows me knows that I deeply revere my father. He was born in rural Mississippi, and his father (my grandfather) was murdered when he was only three months old. My grandmother and her four children sharecropped and often worked for their evening meal. They were very poor and life was very difficult. When my father lied to join the Army at 16 in the year 1938, I'm sure he had no idea what awaited him.

He saw combat - the real stuff - hand to hand combat; he lost friends; he sent money back home to my grandmother. After the war, he quietly served another 10 years in the Army, retired, and went home to Louisiana. I was born when he was 45 years old, and I had the benefit of learning from his vast experiences in life. He was a humble man. He never prayed aloud in our church - even when asked. One day, I finally summoned enough courage to ask him why he would not pray aloud at church because he did pray beautiful prayers at every meal. He looked at me; his eyes filled with tears, and he said, "Son, I've killed many men." That is all he could say. He walked away from me. The conversation ended. The war changed him and marked him for life.

And so, I feel a special obligation to teach my son about the United States Armed Forces. To be sure, the United States is not a perfect nation, and it is very fashionable today to cast blame and deride those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines. Yet, I cannot allow opportunities to pass (like Memorial Day) and not teach my boy about my Dad, his country, and the great sacrifice paid by so many we will never know. Few remember my father. No one in his family is currently living. I am the only survivor of my family. For most, he is a faceless statistic of the World War II generation that is slowly fading away.

If my Dad could see my boy today I wonder what he would think of it all - the museum, the exhibits, the artifacts. He would probably be embarrassed by all the attention that I would certainly give to him. I also know he would love my Bradford and want him to know of the history of this great nation that he loved so very much. My constant prayer is that I would be half the father my Dad was to me during the short time that I had him here on earth. I will never forget him, and I want my boy to know about his grandfather. What better place to teach him than a military museum? Each Memorial Day, I sense a special remembrance of Daddy (I called him that even as a teenager) and I still feel a certain loneliness without him. How I would have loved to have him with us as we walked through that museum. O the stories I bet he could tell.

I told Bradford as I left the museum that I wish his grandfather could see him now. Brad looked at me and said, "Daddy, where is your Daddy?" I told him with the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven, and one day, God willing, we will all meet in that place because of Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection.

And in case you were wondering - you will always be able to find Bradford and me at most any military museum on any Memorial Day.

Sweet

When I put Brad to bed tonight, Doug was just finishing up mowing the lawn. We snuggled for a bit and then I left his room and closed his door. I tidied up the kitchen and then went outside to find Doug and tell him about all the cute things Brad said at bedtime. I saw Doug looking up at Brad's window and waving. It turns out that after I put Brad down, he got out of bed and peeked out his blinds at Doug, who was blowing him kisses and waving to him. What a sweet father and son moment! Seeing Brad's little face in the corner of the window looking at his Daddy...it just about melted my heart. But not completely--after a couple minutes I frowned at Brad and motioned for him to get back in bed. Gotta keep those kids in line! :)

Time

I think one of the best things about our move to NC has been the blessing of time. When we lived in DC, our commutes were horrid. They were horrid for two reasons: the first is the sheer number of people on the road (or Metro) every day, and the second is that no one except those with extremely well paying jobs can afford to live close to their offices. My commute was an hour and fifteen minutes, and Doug's was an hour. One way.

Here in NC, not only are there fewer people on the road, but we can actually afford to live quite close to Doug's office. It takes about 7-10 minutes to get from our door to his parking spot. Which means that he can see the kids in the morning and take time for a wrestling match with Brad, and he can come home for a family dinner at 5:30pm every night, and spend time with the kids until bedtime, which can be a decent hour. So many families in big cities like DC end up putting their kids to bed at 9pm or later just so the parents can see the kids. We have always put our kids to bed at 7pm, even if it meant a little less time with them in the evenings--sleep is just too important to mess around with (see Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child--the best sleep book ever). Here we can have a family dinner, devotions, play time, baths, books, and bed by 7:30 at a leisurely pace (I'm working on getting Anne to stay up until 7:30 and Brad until 8pm, and I'm not going to push those times any later for many years**).

AND, if we want to stop in and say hi to Daddy during the day, we can do that! In fact, sometimes we drive by Daddy's office on errands and Brad asks to stop in. Doug can jump out and say hi, or we can go in and let Anne charm the staff with that dimple of hers. It is such a treat for the kids (and me!) to be able to pop in and say hi and get a quick hug.

Finally, it means less time in the car and more time for Doug and I. With the kids down by 7:30 or 8pm, we have lots of Doug 'n' Nicole time, which I really like!

I'm telling you, the longer we're here, the happier I am, and the harder it will be to get me to leave! :)

**Speaking of sleep, since Brad's tonsil/adenoids/ear tube surgery he has slept like a rock. First of all, he's silent when he sleeps, and for the first time since he was a baby I've had to go into his room and check to see if he is breathing! And second of all, I think he's getting better sleep and sleeping more soundly. He sleeps a bit later in the morning, and some mornings sleeps until 8am (he's usually up around 7:30). Sometimes that means 12.5 hours of sleep at night, in addition to his regular 2 hour nap. That surgery did wonders for him.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The George Garden

We have our very own vegetable garden! Yes, here in North Carolina with the lovely clay soil. You can't really grow anything in this red clay (it reminds me of Margaret Mitchell's description of the Georgia soil in GWTW), and I wasn't sure we'd be able to have one (it's something I've dreamed about doing with my kids). But then I found out about square foot gardening (HT: A Life at Home). Basically, you build a 4 x 4 (mine is 4 x 6, but one side can be no longer than 4 feet) box and put a cross section in it, and you devote each 1 x 1 square to a different plant or crop. The benefits are numerous--if you don't have good soil, like us, you can have a garden anyway, and you can actually plant a little more than with traditional rows. Plus, there aren't any weeds! Or bugs. Although Dad says that we will get bugs soon. :( I don't like bugs.

Speaking of dad, he is the reason we have this garden. It is called the George Garden (like the Rose Garden) because my dad built it. He made up blueprints and everything--I need to scan the plans and post them. Then he found the wood, donated by my grandmother (thanks, Oma!), cut it all to size, and put everything all together. He even made it twice as high and thick as I would have made it, making it much more sturdier and easier to grow root crops. Dad never does something unless he's going to do it perfectly!

Here he even invented legs for the cross section, in case the kids walked on it--that way it wouldn't sink into the soil. I don't know why he still comes to visit us, because every time he does we put him to work! It was a lot of work to do all this, and Dad did about 99% of it (all I did was buy the soil and keep Brad from losing all the screws while he "fixed" his bike). I am so blessed to have such a great dad.

You can see the garden is in a little patch left by the previous owners. I think they tried to have a garden of their own, because I found a couple old markers for peppers. I'm not sure how successful they were, because the soil quite terrible, actually. I'm planning on using the space to the left of the George Garden as a compost pile. Now we just need to train ourselves to stop throwing old bits of food in the trash and throw them in my little compost bowl instead.

I'm really hoping that...well, to be honest, my goal for this year is to not kill the vegetables. But for next year, and the year after, as I get the hang of this, I'm really hoping to save a bunch of money on produce. Salad greens, spinach, carrots, peppers, cherry tomatoes, roma tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli--these things are only getting more expensive. You know things are bad when BankRate.com has an article about gardening! I'll post more pictures as the summer goes on and let you know how my little experiment is going.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Siblings


Yes, that's Brad wearing Thomas pajamas after all my posts about marketing to children. So far, we've avoided the whole "Thomas" thing by buying him generic trains, taking him to real steam trains, and encouraging an interest in how trains work. And believe me, this kid is interested in trains--every time we go up or down the stairs, he tells me that he is the steam engine, and Anne is the coal car, and I am the freight car. And we all go down (or up) the stairs in that order!

But we forgot to take into account one thing: grandparents. Specifically, Grandma. She is the culprit here, and now Brad wears these pajamas to bed whenever they're clean, which is pretty much every night. And many kind people at Doug's office and our church have given Brad Thomas books which he reads over and over again...at least he doesn't know about the existence of Thomas videos--then we'd really be in trouble!

Silly Baby

She looks a little guilty because she's not supposed to be touching one of these things....

Anne is so helpful--every morning she brings Daddy his shoes so he can get ready. Here she is, bringing Grandma her shoes.

Big girl!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Blogging

Blogging is great, but you really have to keep up with the technology. Labels were introduced long after I started blogging, and I haven't caught up. I have over 850 posts, if you can believe that, and I've tagged 100 so far--only 750 to go! I think the hard thing is going to be getting in the habit of labeling everything I post!

Life

Brad is recovering well from the tonsil/adenoid/ear tube surgery--last night he only woke up once at 4am for more pain meds, and that was about 10 hours after his last dose. I'm guessing he won't wake up at all tonight.

Which is good, because I need my sleep! I don't know why, but I'm been having a terrible time falling and staying asleep. And in the morning I wake up in a lot of pain. It doesn't leave me in real great shape to care for the kids in the morning. Please pray that I would be able to get some rest tonight.

But more importantly, please pray for Brad. I just received a phone call from his new neurosurgeon at Duke. They are adding a renal ultrasound onto the schedule after his MRI next week. And the surgeon wanted to let me know he had reviewed the previous MRIs and determined that Brad has an extra vertebrae at the bottom of his spine (it REALLY burns me that his previous neurosurgeon didn't mention this). Apparently, neurosurgeons have a way of counting the vertebrae so that they can say that Brad's spinal cord ends at vertebrae #whatever. Well, because of the extra vertebrae, the count is off, and they can't determine if Brad's spinal cord is too long.

When I asked what that meant, the surgeon said that it could cause paralysis. Given Brad's other issues (the fluid in his spinal cord, the possible incontinence, the orthotics, and delayed gross motor skills), it is a possibility. They're not going to do surgery just to find out for sure. What they will do is keep a close eye on him and rely on reports from us. If there are changes, then he will have additional surgery.

I hate this. On so many levels. I'm really steamed that the previous neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins mentioned NOTHING of this--when our current neurosurgeon talked with me, he assumed I knew. I'm not happy that Brad wasn't followed more closely from the beginning.

I'm so happy and so grateful that he will be followed closely now, by a team of specialists working together.

I've posted previously that God is gracious--he sent us here to NC for a reason, and I think it wasn't just to further Doug's career--it was so that Brad and I could have excellent medical care.

But he also sent us here so that we could be part of a wonderful church. FBC Durham is the best church I've been a member of. We've had three different women bring us meals this week (Doug was out of town, and as you know, we haven't been doing well physically). Each one of them was so gracious and so kind--that is how this church is. And the sermons. The sermons. They are SO good. This is exactly the church we need to be a part of right now. We even volunteered our home for a Home Fellowship gathering next fall and spring (on Sunday nights, a few couples gather at homes around the Triangle area for fellowship) so that we can minister to others. Anyway, all that to say, praise God, and please pray for us.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Picture taking

When Brad was first born, I used a film camera to take pictures and soon discovered that I was at a disadvantage because I couldn't tell which pictures were worth printing--I had to order the whole roll, which was expensive (because film is more expensive to print than digital, and because of all the awful pictures) and wasteful.

I quickly switched to digital (Doug bought a very nice digital camera before we were married, and it's sort of become mine now....don't tell him that!). Having a digital camera is great because you can take all the pictures you want and discard the ones that are bad without having to order them. But if you don't get organized you can get overwhelmed.

Every week or so I download all the pictures on the camera to my computer. Then I look through them and select the ones that I'd like to keep. I probably keep less than half of what I actually take. I then move those pictures into folders sorted by month. So under the "Photos" folder in my computer I have a subfolder titled "2008" and within that one titled "0805" (May 2008). I have folders like this going back to 2005. Then, every other month, I upload the pictures in the folders to snapfish.com, where I order prints. At $.09 per print, it's pretty cheap.

Now, if you actually stay on top of this and order prints every two months, you'll be fine--you can get them and slide all 50 or so into your photo albums while watching your favorite TV show. Two months' is a nice balance--any more often and you're paying more in shipping than you need too, and any longer and it takes forever to file the photos away. Since Brad was born I've filled five photo albums with 200 pictures each and an additional four albums of 600 pictures each...I'll let you do the math. (Yes, I take too many pictures, I know!) By the way, if you're wondering why I don't just get a CD, it's because you can't pull a CD of pictures down from the shelf and thumb through them with your kids (or as a kid, as my sister and I used to do, and laugh at all the funny clothes together). It's just nice to have them all printed out, if for nothing other than posterity.

But if you happen to move at the end of the year and stop ordering prints because you're busy with other things and end up having to order six months' of prints at the same time, you'll find yourself thankful that you ONLY took 283 pictures worth printing, because you were so busy moving. And then you remember that the pictures you ordered right before the move haven't been put in photo albums yet, and your picture taking during those months was especially prolific, and you estimate that you have about 500 pictures to label and file. And then you decide order some really long movies from Netflix...

Bagel Chips

I have successfully made bagel chips--they are SO yummy. A good recipe is right here. Of course, I put in twice as much garlic 'cause I love it. And I didn't have any Italian seasoning, so I made up my own with a bit more rosemary than would probably be called for in regular seasoning.

How would you make your bagel chips?

"Airplane" with Grandma

Not too bad for a 50-something, Mom!

God's Providence

Right now in our Bible for Life class at FBC Durham, we're studying the book of Esther. It's a great book, and if you'd like to hear a WONDERFUL sermon on this, check out Mark Dever's sermon here (BTW--if you can't listen to all 63 minutes (!), start around the 30-minute mark).

So I've been re-reading Esther and thinking about the complete sovereignty of God in my life. Nothing is coincidence--God orders all things.

In 2003 I had to leave my job and find a new one. I was very unhappy about having to leave, and I did not want to work anywhere else. I went on one interview and took the first job I was offered. And I hated it. I was so miserable, and wanted every day to quit.

But God had a plan.

Almost a year after I started the new job, I found out I was pregnant. Wonderful, I thought, this will give me a reason to quit.

But then things started to get better. My work environment changed, new people came on, I was given more responsibility, and I realized that not only did I like my job, I truly enjoyed it. I was happy to go to work every day.

A lot of things happened at work that summer that I was pregnant, and I can't go into details here, but many things happened that you could call coincidence, but I call the providence of God. So many little things lined up where they needed to be for everything that followed to happen.

I submitted a proposal to work part-time, with a lot of hours from home. I volunteered to be paid hourly. Not only was I allowed to work part-time, and from home, but I was kept on at 75% of my salary, and kept my benefits. What a gracious God. If I had stayed at that first job, after Brad was born I never would have been allowed to work part-time, let alone from home. I would've had to quit my job, which would have been fine, but we probably would have had a cash-flow problem, living where we did.

So for the first year of Brad's life, he was cared for by either myself or Doug. Then he went to a baby sitter's house for two days each week, to play with her and her two children when we moved to Annapolis when he was one. And while at the time, I wondered why God moved us to Annapolis and the Naval Academy--so far from my job, and definitely not my favorite place, I now know it was so we could have Anne. Doug had health insurance with a large employer that gave us great benefits--we had never before and have not since had that same kind of health insurance. Again, the providence of God.

When I finally left my job before we moved here, I was back up to 40 hours, still working some days from home, with benefits, and a big retirement account from working and saving for almost five years. And the kids were still only going to the babysitter two days a week.

So in 2003, while I was moaning and complaining and ungrateful, God had already planned everything out for our family. In five years, I had not only had what turned out to be a GREAT job, but I learned new things, earned money, and built up our net worth, all the while keeping the children with either me or Doug.

When we moved to North Carolina, I did take a new job, but the hours weren't flexible, the benefits were horrid, and the work was a few levels below where I thought I'd be. Plus, I had gotten really spoiled at my DC job--I don't think I'll ever find employers and coworkers as nice as the ones I had! Doug and I realized that God has always given us exactly what we needed, when we needed it.

In DC, God gave me a job, and arranged for my work hours so that we had the money we needed. In NC, the cost of living is so much less, we're able to live on Doug's salary alone. Which, again, is the providence of God. Because if I was working full-time while trying to juggle a possible MS diagnosis (I'm feeling not-so-great these days, by the way--more on that in another post) along with a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy, along with all of the other doctor's appointments we have (I feel like we're at a doctor every other day!), it just wouldn't have worked. I'm now able to completely focus on caring for my children, keeping my home in order, and trying to figure out this MS thing.

I'm just so grateful for the providence of God. It is truly amazing.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Ugh.

Add "insomnia" to my list of medical travails.

Update

Okay, I know. I've been terrible about updating. But Brad has NOT been feeling well. Last night was the worst so far--I basically gave him pain meds every two hours. I don't know what tonight will be like, but at least he's in his own bed for the first time since the surgery.

Today was pretty bad, too. He doesn't tell me when he's hurting, so I watch for the signs. He'll get very quiet and stop eating or drinking. Then he'll stop talking. Then, if I don't catch it in time, he'll suddenly put his hands over his mouth and start crying. That happened once, and since then I've doped him up when he stops talking. Day 5 and 6 post-surgery are supposed to be the worst, so hopefully if we get through tonight and tomorrow everything will be better.

I'll tell you what, though: After five days of alternating between Cinderella and Peter Pan, I've hidden the DVDs. I can't take any more chirrupy Disney songs, and I'm tired of the TV being on. I can't stand all that background noise. I'm REALLY hopeful that tomorrow he'll be a little stronger so we can get back to our routine--I miss the YMCA. I guess if he's not it will be time to break out the construction paper and finger paint (outside, of course!).

Last night was Mom's last night here (email me some pics, Mom!), so I broke out our grill for the first time. The homeowners before us left it here, and it's really nice! It's connected directly to the gas line to the house, and it has an extra burner to the side, as you can see. I cooked red potatoes and carrots in the skillet, and steak on the grill. It was so much fun--I'll definitely be grilling more dinners this summer.

Ever since the Louisiana candle episode (when Brad decided it would be a good idea to touch a flame on Easter Sunday, and got burned), he has been very concerned about being burned again. Here he is, with "my suitcase" (he has stocked it up with blocks and books), standing as far away as possible from the grill. I told him it was hot, and after he heard that he wouldn't even walk in front of the chair--he walked behind it, away from the grill, to get back in the house...At least he knows not to touch hot things anymore!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tonsils, Adenoids, Ear Tubes

Our baby had his surgery today. He was so pitiful afterwards--the nurses let me get in bed with him in the recovery room. I just held him for awhile, and we finally convinced him to take a sip of apple juice (they wouldn't let him go until he drank something). He was so drowsy and droopy in the car, and when we got home I told him he could watch TV (we usually only watch a TV/movies when we're driving in the car to see Grandma, which is maybe twice a year--see my previous posts on the evils of TV-watching for kids. My children do not watch TV, and I don't draw a distinction between TV and movies. Check out this book--very insightful on the dangers of TV watching for kids).

He was pretty pleased about that and laid down with me on the couch and refused to drink or eat anything. I think I fell asleep (hey, we got up really early!), and the next thing I knew Cinderella's stepsisters were arguing over a shoe and Brad was asking for a popsicle. He was suddenly Mr. Happy and ate three popsicles in a row while I read him Mr. Brown Can Moo over and over again. As I was putting him down for his nap, he asked if we could "go somewhere" after his nap. --that's his favorite thing, by the way, to "go somewhere," it doesn't matter where, just "somewhere"-- Then he said he wanted to go to Pullen Park and ride the trains! I don't know how he'll feel after his nap (the doctors gave us a huge bottle of pain meds for him), but for now he's handling this really well.

His ENT said that there was so much tissue in his throat it was "almost unbelieveable" and that there was so much fluid in his ears it had solidified into a jelly-jello-like mass. Yuck. He again promised us the world--Brad should hear better, sleep better, behave better (again, we'll see!). Brad keeps telling me that he doesn't have tonsils anymore, and opening his mouth to show me. He likes to go down the list: "Daddy doesn't have his tonsils, and Grandma doesn't have her tonsils, and I don't have any tonsils, but Mommy has her tonsils. And Anne. 'Cause she's too little." :)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Medical Updates

One of the nice things about being home with the kids is that I can schedule doctor's appointments with impunity. In the last four weeks, we've had eleven--yes, 11!--appointments. I'm coming to believe that one of the reasons God moved us down here was for Brad and I to have easy access to top medical care.

Brad had an appointment with his new neurosurgeon today, and I am so thrilled about this practice. It's at Duke Hospital and Dr. Grant was recommended by our doctor at Johns Hopkins. First of all, they had a train table in the waiting room, which was thrilling to Brad. And Dr. Grant was wonderful with Brad, and told me about something that the previous doctors had not told me--Brad has a syrinx in his spinal cord, which needs to be watched very carefully, to be sure more fluid doesn't develop. Right now it's stable, and it needs to stay that way. So he's having his next MRI on May 28th at 8am to check for any changes. They will be doing his brain as well (last year it was just his spine).

But what's even better than this (aside from the parking, which was easy to access and only $2--nothing like the nightmare that was Johns Hopkins), is that this clinic has a special spina bifida clinic that Brad will go to after his MRI. We'll be able to see a neurologist, urologist, and an orthopaedist all together! Previously his care was managed by individual doctors, and the only coordination that was done was what I managed to do. Now they'll all be able to talk amongst themselves and have fast and accurate access to the same medical records. I'm so pleased and grateful for this.

Anne also had an appointment today--she has had a green nose for over a month, and has been on antibiotics for the same period. So she got a new (and hopefully, stronger) medicine today. But she's in very good spirits!

As for me--I'm not sure what to say. I'm having a lot of different symptoms and was actually at the ER on Mother's Day because I was in a lot of pain. From what I've read, if you do have MS, it's best to stay active, so I've been going to the YMCA every day with the kids to work out (which they love!). But as I said, every morning I wake up in pain and I get more and more tired as the day goes on. My ability to speak coherently seems to get worse as the day goes on, and I am so tired of people asking me to repeat myself! By the end of each day I'm usually exhausted and have a terrible headache. So I'm getting an appointment with a different neurologist for a second opinion.

All the medical issues aside, I'm so grateful for this season of my life. Grateful for our beautiful home, grateful for access to good medical care, grateful to my wonderful husband for providing so well for our family. God's providence is truly good.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Why you shouldn't let your preschooler "help" you at the grocery store...

...because when you get home you'll discover a can of cat food and two dozen razors that you don't need tucked neatly in your grocery bag. Those razors cost $33!!!

(Alternate title: Why you should pay close attention when the cashier is ringing up your groceries.)

Kids are Odd

For the past week or so, Brad has been showing up in our bedroom each morning completely naked. Yes, that's right: naked. He will have a new pair of pajamas in his hands and ask me to get him dressed. From what I've figured out, he wakes up, plays a bit, gets himself undressed, picks out a new pair of pajamas, and then comes to wake me up. Don't ask me why--I have no idea why this child does the things he does. I have a difficult time convincing him that he needs to put on shorts and a t-shirt rather than new pajamas!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Library Thing

If you have ever been to our house, you know that we have a LOT of books. I thought I had a lot, but then I met Doug! When we first got married, we lived in a small apartment with a huge pantry. I used half of the pantry for food storage and the other half for book storage!

Over the years Doug has accumulated even more books. By the time we left Annapolis to move here, we had 8 1/2 bookcases double-booked with books, and books on top of the double books, and books stacked all over the study. It was a huge mess, and we couldn't find anything. But we didn't have any space to really organize anything.

Then we moved to our lovely home. One of the big selling points (besides the kitchen and master bath), was the basement. Finished basements are rare here in NC, so we were thrilled that we had a partially finished basement plus a huge unfinished area for storage.

One of the first things we did was go to Target and get six more bookcases. I thought we needed about ten, but I thought I'd start small.

What was now a mess is now organized on...wait for it...on 19 1/2 bookcases. They are not double-booked, and every book is alphabetized by author. I ended up taking two extremely old bookcases that I had planned to use as storage shelving and three more that Doug's office was going to get rid of, to get us up to 19 1/2.

Right now I'm working my way through the books to get them all in LibraryThing. It is an AMAZING tool if you have a large library. I use a little scanner (that I bought for $15) to scan the barcode on the back of the books (if the books don't have barcodes, you can add them manually using the ISBN or LC catalog number, or by author) and all of the information about the book is immediately populated on our LibraryThing account ($25 for a lifetime (!) membership). Then I tag the books with whatever categories I want (such as history, evangelism, fiction, etc.). It's ridiculously easy to use--I showed my grandmother and she was just shocked--she thought it would make librarians obsolete!

I'm through the first part of the P's, and we have 2400 books logged so far!!! I think we're going to hit 3,000 by the time I'm done.

Right now, I have a small worktable in our second library room, and it is piled high with books that are duplicates (some are the result of our marriage, some are extra copies that Doug intended to give away, and I believe some are the result of having a messy library and forgetting what we had!). I'm thinking that right now we need at least two more bookcases to finish the project--one to hold all of the duplicates (which we will work on giving away), and one to hold all of my children's books (right now they are stacked four deep on a ledge near our window). And, of course, though I've done my best to leave spaces for more book purchases, I'm sure we'll need another bookcase for all of the books before the summer is over.

I think it will probably take me through May to get all the books into LibraryThing, and my project in June will be organizing our CDs (they were organized in Annapolis, but, sadly, the movers un-organized them for me). More on that later--it involves cats--you'll definitely want to check back for that.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Big Girl

I used to play this game with Brad when he was Anne's age--toddlers think pretty much anything is funny!

She looks so big to me--I can't believe she's 16 months old already!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Siblings

Anne is getting to be of the age where she can play with Brad. I'm so grateful that my children are close in age--I hope they'll always play together!

Anne hands Brad a piece.

Is this the right one?


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Good News

The good news is that the MRI of my spine doesn't show any lesions like the ones on my brain.

I have been scheduled for language/memory testing on June 18th, and a follow up MRI in early July.

The best case scenario is that they see the same lesions--no changes--and decide that I'm just really odd with eight lesions on my brain and something else is causing the speech/memory problems. An alternate scenario would be that the MRI shows changes, which would probably indicate MS (not all people with MS have lesions on the spinal cord).

So we're in a wait and see pattern now, for a little less than two months. Thank you so much for all your prayers and emails--I very much appreciate it.

Please pray for Brad--his surgery (tonsils, adenoids, and ear tubes) has been scheduled for May 15th.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Tomorrow

Tomorrow, May 5th, is my (Nicole's) 28th birthday. I can't believe I'm closer to 30 than 25. I feel very old, especially when I think that when I turn 30 I'll have a six year old and a four year old! Where did the time go?

Tomorrow is also the day that I'll be going in for my second MRI to confirm a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.

I wasn't going to post about this until we had heard back from the neurologist after this MRI, but it seems as if everyone knows already, and I figure more prayers couldn't hurt. I've been having trouble with my memory and cognitive functions, and in April my primary care physician referred me to a neurologist. The neurologist ordered an MRI of my brain, which I had last week, and it revealed eight lesions on my brain.

The eight lesions alone to not confirm MS--elderly people, people with a long history of migraines, diabetics--you would not be surprised to see lesions on the brains of these people. Unfortunately, I am not elderly, I do not have migraines, I am not diabetic, and while the neurologist said she might be able to dismiss two or three lesions, she cannot dismiss eight.

So tomorrow I'll be going in for an MRI of my spine, to see if the same lesions are there as well. If there are lesions, the neurologist will probably make a firm diagnosis of MS. If there are no lesions, the lesions on my brain are enough to warrant follow-up. Definitely an MRI in six months to check for changes, and possibly a spinal tap now, to look for other clues.

MS is not a death sentence, and while there is no cure, the symptoms can be managed with good medical care. I am blessed to be here in the Raleigh area with such excellent facilities and physicians. Not only that, my husband has a job close to home (he can be home in 15 minutes, tops!), and a flexible one at that. If this had happened while we were still in DC, it would have been difficult to coordinate with the traffic and our location.

In some ways, I'm not surprised--as early as last August I was having trouble cognitively--my speech was awkward, I was stumbling with my words, and I kept forgetting things--not good when you're trying to manage the books of the top mediator in the nation, along with his wife's respected college counseling practice and non-profit organization! I think even then my work was slipping, and when I started my new job here in NC it was even more obvious to me. 50% of people with MS end up leaving the workforce due to cognitive dysfunction 15-20 years after diagnosis.

I think my biggest fear right now is my mental health--I want to be alert and functional. I want to be able to think quickly and solve problems, as I always have.

But through all this, I am profoundly grateful for the saving work of Christ in my life. He is indeed my refuge and strength, and I'm getting a lot of comfort from that right now. The sovereignty of God is amazing, and I will be posting later on this week about the providence of God.

So for now, please pray, and I will update when I hear from the doctor.

Mystery Shopping

If you've been reading this blog long enough, you know that when Brad was about six months old or so, I started mystery shopping. It's very easy, but you don't get paid a whole lot (if you wanted to support yourself by mystery shopping, you'd probably have to work 10-12 hours day, seven days a week). But the point is, you do get paid, for doing things you'd likely be doing anyway.

Brad and I went EVERYWHERE. We pretty much explored the whole DC area and went to supermarkets, banks, fast food restaurants, chain restaurants, department stores, specialty stores...you name it, we were there. I also got to take Doug to some pretty fancy restaurants in DC and Baltimore, for free. Overall, I netted $400-500 a month, on average.

But then Brad got a bit older and wanted to move around instead of sitting quietly in a stroller, listening to Mommy discuss the finer points of a super savers account. So I mainly stuck to a local supermarket chain and restaurants.

Then we moved to Annapolis, and the supermarket chain didn't have any stores in Maryland! So we just went to restaurants occasionally.

Now that we're in North Carolina, I can start shopping again! That grocery store chain has a TON of stores in the area, and I've already done five shops in April. I mean, you have to eat, right? You're going to buy groceries, right? Why not get $11.50 a shop to do it? (I told you it wasn't much.)

So if I do two a week (and believe me, I could do one very day if I wanted!), that's $23 a week or $92 a month. If I spend $400 on groceries each month, I've just cut my grocery budget by 25%! Not bad.

So if you have some free time and want to earn some money running your errands, you can start by stopping at the MSPA website. And remember, legitimate companies don't require you to pay them--they pay you! If they require a "signing fee" or anything like that, it's a scam.

Oh, and if you're in the DC area, and want to get in the grocery action, email me and I'll send you a link.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Rebates

What are you doing with your tax rebate? If you live near a Kroger, you may want to consider getting a gift card.

Kroger is offering customers the chance to get 10% extra when you bring in your rebate check (and if you don't have one--we have direct deposit--you can just charge it to your credit card or write a personal check). They're doing it in increments of $300, $600, and $1200.

So if you took your $1200 check to Kroger, they'd give you gift cards totaling $1,320. That's a 10% return, for doing nothing.

But wait--it gets better. If you happen to have a (no-fee) American Express Blue Cash credit card, you can use your card, which gives you 5% cash back on grocery purchases, and in effect, spend $1,140 to get $1,320 in groceries. That's a 16% return!! I challenge you to find a better return anywhere else.

So head on over to the Kroger website, and check it out. If you don't have an AmEx Blue Cash, you can get one here. But remember kids, pay off your credit cards each month--DO NOT do this if you're not going to pay that bill in full.

PS Yes, I know other stores such as Sears and KMart are offering this deal, but honestly, are you really going to spend $1,320 at Sears or KMart? I hope not--what you should do is get that cash at Kroger, and then move what you would've spent on groceries every month into a high-yield savings account until you've squirreled away that rebate. For heaven's sake, don't be a patriotic American and actually spend it! :)

Pullen Park



It was Doug's first time at Pullen Park, and he and the kids had a blast!

Fun, fun, fun

Waiting for the boats to start.


Peek-a-boo!

I know where we'll be spending a lot of time this summer!

Friday, May 02, 2008

CVS Game

By the way, now that I'm home with the kids full-time (and more on that in a later post), I'll be writing more, in addition to all the pictures, about life at home.

The CVS Game is pretty easy to play. What you need:
A CVS
The weekly CVS circular
A CVS Extra Care Card (available at your local CVS)
Coupons (not totally necessary, but really helpful--just get the Sunday paper)

How it works:
Check out the CVS weekly circular for the deals. There will always be at least one deal that is advertised at a certain price, say $7.99, with $7.99 in ECBs (Extra Care Bucks) back. What that means is that you pay for that item, and on the bottom of your receipt there will be $7.99 in ECBs to use (just like cash) on your next purchase.

So the goal of the CVS Game is to make your first purchase and get as many ECBs back as you can. Then the next week, you'll know which items are free with ECBs, and you can use your ECBs from the week before to make money. So you keep rolling over your ECBs and you don't pay cash for anything.

Confused?

Let me give you an example. Let's say you need some more razors. So you look at the CVS flier, and sure enough, they are offering deal on razors this week--buy one at $5.99, get $3 ECBs back. You have a manufacturer's coupon for this worth $2.00 that you found in the Sunday paper. And from your trip to CVS three weeks ago, you have another $1.00 off coupon.

So it looks like this:
$5.99 original price
-$2.00 coupon
-$1.00 coupon

Total paid: $2.99

Pay with $2.99 of ECBs from the week before, get $3 to use for the next shopping trip. You've effectively earned $3 for something that cost you nothing.

So the goal should be to pay pennies out of pocket at CVS each week, while rolling over your ECBs and getting lots of free stuff.

I know this isn't the best tutorial, and thankfully, someone who has been doing this much longer than I has a better one. Check out her blog.

This can also be done at Walgreens, and possibly at your local drugstore/pharmacy. Let me know how it goes!

Fun Day



A local business near the park where Spring Daze was capitalized on all the traffic going by and had signs advertising $7 haircuts for kids. So we stopped by for Bradford, as you can see. And some chicken nuggets.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Does your husband...?

Does your husband always take your phone calls, even when he's in a meeting?

Does he not laugh (too loudly) when you tell him you're standing on a kitchen chair because there is a huge lizard walking across the kitchen floor?

Does your husband drop everything to come home in the middle of the day to rescue you?

Does your husband shoo out a tiny salamander (okay, so I may have exaggerated with the whole lizard thing) with a broom, but manage not to get any salamander guts on the broom?

Does your husband coax you down from the chair (which you are still standing on, and have been for the last fifteen minutes), and kiss you and not say anything about how silly you are?

Mine does.

Crafty


Spring Daze is really pretty much an arts-n-crafts festival. I wanted to buy EVERYTHING there, but I restrained myself to a corker for Anne (pictured),

a bag of kettle korn (SO delicious), and some homemade lemonade (really, really good!). I think the kids had fun walking around--there were also some live entertainments, which they enjoyed.

Bye bye, Spring Daze!

Spring Daze



Cary has an annual festival called "Spring Daze." It's held along the trails of a beautiful park near our home, which means that it's not only pretty, it's shady! Daddy and the kids played on the playground while Mommy looked around. Doug couldn't help but make comments on all of the men and children playing on the playground while the wives walked from booth to booth! Doug was very patient while I looked at all of the wonderful crafts.