Queen of Cups

I typically write my annual letter about life after losing Aidan weeks before the anniversary. It is the first sign that the day is approaching. My brain reaches into my heart and starts delivering words to order my world and orient it in the world that comes after.

This year, the same thing happened, and all of those words are undeniably true. I am undoubtedly more “okay” than I have been in five years. I am weaving all the complicated pieces together day by day. I am living a full life and most days do not forget the gratitude for the life I am living.

The truth, however, as I sit on a bench near the harbor on a rainy morning, stealing a quiet moment while everyone is asleep (so much gratitude), is that I still get lost. The fullness of my life makes it hard to connect to the one person I mostly know through sorrow. I’m working through that, but I still don’t know where it goes.

I heard two whispers from the universe yesterday, however, to help point me to my true north.

Chop wood, carry water. Mindfully moving through the mundane chores of making your life is still making your life. In fact, my intuition whispers, it’s the only way to make your life.

And I want to write again.

So I here I am. I’m not sure what will come of it. But I know this bench and this breeze are part of it.

For now, I’m stepping back into the fullness. Broken heart and all.

What Five Years Looks Like

Queen of CupsThis year, I might have had a 5 year old.

What would 5 look like? 5 would be kindergarten and tee-ball and outgrowing swim class. 5 might be new siblings and new schools and new adventures. 5 might go to bed easily or sleep in once in awhile. 5 would be full of next steps. 5 would have a future.

5 would have summers building memories, leading to a big party. 5 would not have clouds circling as dates and re-surfaced Facebook memories map out the timeline, counting down to the inevitable.

What wouldn’t that life look like? Sometimes I’d like to think that 5 wouldn’t ever be hard. 5 wouldn’t be anxious or breathless or frustrated at tiny stupid things. And the rest of me knows that 5 is long enough that there would be plenty of hard. Plenty of anxious, because even in that other world, I’m still me.

What does Year 5 look like instead? Today it is watching friends’ children go off to kindergarten and not always grieving the classmate they won’t know. Not always remembering that they are the Ones Who Lived.  It is less about one horrible date and more about a patchwork of complicated pregnancy memories, happy thoughts and a dull persistent ache.

Now, Year 5 is mentioning my third pregnancy and high risk experiences whenever I want. And saying I’ve got two kids with much less guilt or anxiety. Some anxiety, of course, because in this life, I’m still me. Today it is hoping I can help others with my story, but not trying too hard to force it. And going easy on myself because I haven’t started a foundation or joined a fundraising walk.

Today, my life is loving ages 3.5 and 1.5. Tired and happy and busy and really fulfilled. Today it is loving my little family and all of its quirks and complications. 5 is emerging into a life led by values of love, clarity, creativity and connection. Finding those with my children and separate from all 3 of them.

Today, Year 5 is really learning about holding two complex contradictory thoughts at once. Santosha. Happiness and hollowness. That life and this one. Abundance after loss. Order in the chaos.

Maybe at Year 5 I stop counting. I don’t know. I don’t know what Year 6 looks like, but today I’m not as worried about that as I used to be. 6 will be shades of today. 6 might be wildly different. To me, that is my biggest source of peace at Year 5. I’ll still be me, with all of these pieces swirling around. The Life that Wasn’t just becomes part of the Life that Is.

Not every day is peaceful, but today, especially today, is the day when it all comes together and is just okay.

A Day in the Life: July 30, 2016

Raindrops on roses

5:45am The alarm goes off. After a week of staying up too late to watch the convention, the alarm has become merely a formality. I resolve to fix that….tomorrow.

7:36am Apparently everyone else has been staying up too late too. Rather than workout or journal, I start first with trying to walk the dog. He still hates the rain.

9:01am French toast with cranberry walnut bread from Vermont (via our freezer) is on the table. Scrambled eggs follow.

9:32am Breakfast is over and I have a minute with my not-so-secret love. I would knock my own children over for Iced Rose Tea.

IMG_184710:15am I resolve to enjoy the rainy day by dressing my daughter in her new Princess Awesome dino dress. She’s got a future in fashion photography.

10:16am There is a potty emergency for the 3.5yo. He needs help with the toilet paper, even though the full roll is well within reach. The emergency ends with a toilet paper roll telescope and lots of giggles. (I’ll spare him the humiliation of putting that photo out in public until at least his high school graduation, but do not fear – I have the photo.)

IMG_185710:45am We head outside to play in the garden during a window of sun. I realize just how lucky I am to live here.

IMG_186811:22am || I discover we aren’t the only ones who thoroughly enjoy our garden. Glad to be doing our part.

11:58am || We shift our attention indoors. The kids happily play in the basement while we play at getting things done.

12:18pm || We realize the kids really are entertaining themselves and we are still combing through our iPhones.

IMG_18833:45pm Lunch and naptimes were such a blur that we magically find ourselves with two slightly wound up monkeys in the parking lot of Home Depot. (Note the massive doses of iced caffeine that accompany us constantly in the car.)

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IMG_19026:30pm Dinner is served: whole stir-fried shrimp in garlic ginger oyster sauce, broccoli, yukon gold and fresh corn smothered in butter and basil from our garden, and fresh heirloom cherry tomatoes.

7:22pm More time on the potty (so many shots from this day are not-safe-for-the-internet). My children already close themselves into the bathroom to plot against us.

IMG_19078:18pm Latest toddler bedtime avoidance technique: Point Out My Elbows. It’s so cute it will disarm her, at least for a bit.

I swear there was more. My older child went to bed and I did too. Somewhere in between I did something that was vaguely for my own sanity. There was a home improvement show on television. I love my nighttime skin routine. I considered reading a book. Living life while documenting at the same time wore me out. Until next year…

Currently: January

Reading || Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, Wherever You Go, There You are by Jonathan Zabat Zinn, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield. This is *a lot* for me, as I normally read one at a time. I’ve been so tired recently that skipping around helps.

IMG_0707Writing || pen pal letters! I’ve slowly picked up the habit since the end of last year and I’m really enjoying it. February is InCoWriMo (International Correspondence Writing Month) and I have plans to give a monthly letter writing challenge another try.

Making || small efforts at creativity with mail art and doodles (mostly doodles) and drawing pictures for my kids.

Remembering || playing in the big snowstorm of January ’16 with my kiddos. We got nearly 20 inches of snow (by my rough count) that required lots of shoveling (with a 3-year-old helper) and hot cocoa.

IMG_0747Focusing || on a shorter more meaningful to-do list. As I get stressed, I pile on to-dos and projects. Then I do none of them due to overwhelm. I’m combatting a bit of that so far by limiting myself to 3 big things and 3 little things. The rest goes on another list. Start….now.

Living || my word for 2016: Bloom. This year, it’s all about starting where I am and bringing that very best self out into the world. To sparkle and shine and be open and just begin. It’s about accepting that I’m in a pretty kick ass place right now. It’s about accepting challenges and opportunities that come my way because I know I can handle them. And it’s also about clarity – seeking it, creating it and finding resolution. It’s about being really clear about the space I’m willing to inhabit and drawing clean boundaries where I need them.

Releasing || that which does not serve me. Comparison. Unrealistic expectations. Projects taken on in a mad rush of yes-ing everyone around me. My happiness and gratitude out into the world.

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Part of my December Bullet Journal..more on Instagram!

Planning || in public! Check out my new instagram, @seekingwhitespace, to see my bullet journal, planner pics, snail mail doodles and other random challenges I undertake in an effort to bring more creativity and connection into my world (two deeply held values that indicate projects that can stay).

Planning December and 2016

Each December I feel a great push and pull between hibernation and powering up to start the new year. In a bid to accept both, I am looking forward to 2016, making plans in the spirit of play and staying open to whatever comes.

For me, planning is a way to quiet the noise of the world’s demands. I’m so knee-jerk responsive to external whims and requests (many happily – like the rugrats or my new job, others less so) that I can’t always hear the important and internal over the urgent or external. So I’m keeping the planning.

I’m staying careful, though, about goal setting or attaching to any particular outcomes in any particular time frame. I have work deadlines. And the season at home guides the rest. I’m thinking through values and intentions and embodying those in each present moment. When the noise rises, I can circle back to my plans and keep my eyes on the prize.

  And so, naturally, I’ve come up with a system that works for me right now.

  • I still *LOVE* my GetToWorkBook. I use it to capture notes, daily to-dos and to break down projects into sizable chunks. I love the monthly review pages and setting three things for my month/week/day.  I don’t tend to use the monthly view very frequently, but I like to input birthdays, trips and other dates when I think of it, using washi tape whenever possible.
  • Beyond my top three, I input to-dos into TeuxDeux and prioritize my day there. It’s getting a bit clogged with undone tasks that carry over day to day (a blessing and a curse), so I’m practicing more letting go and focusing on what really *must* get done.
  • I also keep what a call a “shine journal.” For now it is a monthly journal in a cahier moleskine where I keep my values-based intentions, track habits, do daily/weekly reviews, document funny things my kids say and other memories and what I’m reading/eating/thinking. I doodle, list and practice lettering. A little bullet journal, a little scrapbook, a little art journal. Finding inspiration from lots of planners on the internet like Boho Berry, for example.

I’m playing with pens and washi tape. I’m checking in with myself and my progress. I’m dreaming big and not bothering with any of it if I’m too tired or caught up in other things. A lot of play and intention in my planning to keep me sane.

I’ll be sharing more about my planning system on Instagram while playing along with the #planwithmechallenge hosted by @bohoberry@prettyprintsandpaper & @tinyrayofsunshine.

It’s the most wonderful time of year!

Project: Food Budget || Final Wrap Up

And here we are…12 weeks later. This was an enormously valuable experience for me, with a lot of lessons learned. The biggest and best was just bringing awareness to what we are spending on food. Other lessons learned:

We can totally spend less on food. I get antsy if we don’t have certain food items in the house (milk, waffles, avocados, berries). Beyond those things, we don’t need much if I give myself the room to plan and to check what we already have. Finding that space is challenging these days, but so so worth it.

I miss the creativity of use-what-you-have cooking. Pre-kiddos, cooking was a creative outlet for me. It has become a chore and a heavy responsibility in this chaotic season of our lives. Focusing on using what we have in the last couple of weeks has given me a break (no healthy-ness rules to follow other than doing our best). It released the paralysis of having the whole world of Pinterest or every cookbook ever to follow and it has given me the chance to just play in the kitchen. I so need more of that in my life.

I like public accountability. I haven’t read Better Than Before yet, but I know for sure that I’m an obliger. Blogging with this group hit all my insecurity buttons (personal! navel gazing! money!), but it didn’t matter. I didn’t get every post right on time (or even every post), but I kept up with the project and posted most of the time.

I like blogging. Not food related and not that shocking of a discovery. On the other hand, did I mention chaotic season? I have so appreciated coming here each week and sharing this piece of our story. I haven’t yet discovered what stories I want to share here over time, but I have reaffirmed that I get some joy out of writing and formatting and linking and sharing that story. I don’t know what that means, but I hope I spend some more evenings on the couch telling stories.

And so I’m not sure that I will adhere or track quite as strictly, but I am going to carry this awareness forward. Here goes nothing!

Emily Levenson // McGinnis and Bean // Red Pen Mama // Seeking White Space // Gardening in High Heels // Melissa Firman // Copy & Post // Shea Lennon // Warm as Pie //Two Eggs Over Easy // Rainaldi.org // Erra Creations // Eryn Says… //facepalmmama

Project: Food Budget|| Week 12

Budget Review

  • FreshDirect; $68.50
  • Trader Joe’s: $86.40

Total: $154.90 out of $150

Where the $$$ Went

  • Produce (organic where possible):
    • Lancaster Cooperative CSA Share (eggplant, tomatoes, carrots, onions, green beans, cilantro), blueberries, raspberries, strawberries
  • Meat/Protein: Ground turkey, hot dogs, italian sausage, bacon
  • Dairy/Beverages: Yogurt
  • Baby Food: None
  • Packaged Foods:  Hot dog buns, english muffins
  • Pantry Items/Miscellaneous: Granola, peanut butter, sunflower butter, fig butter, jam, non-pareils, chocolate covered pomegranate seeds, hummus
  • Baked Goods: Sea salt brownies

What We’re Eating This Week

Breakfasts

Yogurt/granola, waffles with nut/seed butter and jam, fruit, eggs, bacon

Lunches

Avocado on rice cakes, hummus and veggies, leftovers

Dinners

  • Turkey burgers with grilled squash, green beans and carrots
  • Summer pasta salad with tomatoes, basil, feta and green beans
  • Chicken with wild rice (freezer stash) and salad/leftover vegetables

How We Ate Last Week and What’s Working

We are doing reasonably well with one night reserved for eating out. It’s not always the same night or the night I plan into our meal plan, but we’re mostly eating leftovers each night so it works. The night is usually selected more for the opportunity to use someone else’s air conditioning than for the convenience of not eating out or cleaning dishes (in the past it was for lack of side dishes or room in the kitchen or just because).

In the August heat, we are totally taking advantage of raw vegetables. Carrot slices, avocado, green beans, sliced tomatoes. With the exception of avocado, my toddler doesn’t love them, but we keep serving them to him. Usually with hummus or ketchup (I know, gross.) to dip. Last night, his turtle wanted to eat the carrot slices even though he didn’t. We got at least four slices of carrot eaten this way. I’m not complaining.

And we don’t do it enough, but I am so grateful for the grill. It is so easy to throw hot dogs and sausages on the grill. I found a turkey burger recipe that I like well enough that is just simple and plain and tasty (goes over with the baby, toddler and parents). Most importantly, it is fast if you put a slice of cheese on top instead of in the middle. I was able to take 15 minutes to prep the burgers and sliced vegetables for the grill. We made 8 burgers, which gets the four of us through two dinners and a lunch/snack for one.

Goals for This Week

  • Stick to the freezer and kitchen clean up meals I’ve planned out
  • Make some baby & toddler-friendly food items for the freezer and for next week’s leftover stash

Please check out the other bloggers on this journey as well:

For more on my experience with this project, check out the whole Project: Food Budget series!

Project: Food Budget || Week 11

Budget Review

  • FreshDirect: $68.50
  • Amazon: $53.80

Total: $122.30 out of $150

(We lost a week in there with posts, but didn’t do much spending due to a family visit and a freezer inventory. The total was $80.84 if you’re counting.)

Where the $$$ Went

  • Produce (all organic):
    • Avocados, strawberries, blueberries, bananas, a CSA share of random veggies to mix it up, prepared salad
  • Meat/Protein: None
  • Dairy/Beverages: Yogurt
  • Baby Food: pouches, jars, puffs
  • Packaged Foods:  None
  • Pantry Items/Miscellaneous: None
  • Baked Goods: None

What We’re Eating This Week

Breakfasts

Yogurt/granola, waffles, fruit, muffins made from my father-in-law

Lunches

Leftovers as rice bowls, leftovers, a prepared salad with goat cheese and beets (and eating out)

Dinners

Leftovers and kitchen clean up

How We Ate Last Week and What’s Working

We ate mostly out of the freezer and did kitchen clean up last week. That meant a lot of meat sauce and pasta, grilled meats and side veggies. I completed a freezer inventory last weekend and realized that we really have more than we need in the fridge to go entire weeks without shopping. We can even shift to smoothies and other fun uses of frozen fruit to cut the berry addiction we have going.

We also had a visit from my in-laws through the weekend, which means that we were well fed and extremely well provided for (we even got gorgeous steamed carrots pre-prepared for my Little Bird. Grateful doesn’t begin to cover it.). This has us very well set up to simplify over the next couple of weeks.

Goals for This Week

  • Eat what we have in the fridge.
  • Fill in this week and next with freezer items (including convincing my toddler that ‘poothies [smoothies] rock for breakfast and snacks)

Please check out the other bloggers on this journey as well:

For more on my experience with this project, check out the whole Project: Food Budget series!

Four Years: Moving towards Celebration

A couple of years ago, I started thinking more intentionally about gratitude. In some ways, that has given me strength and positivity, served as a touchstone in the chaos: yes, my life is crazy, and in that craziness there is so much good.

I didn’t know what to do with, however, my son’s death. When I got stuck in a day of grieving and sorrow, gratitude felt empty and false. I found a book and a process of gratitude that made a big difference in my life: miracle lists. I didn’t have to ever be grateful for my son’s death. I could, however, be grateful for negative feelings and experiences. I could list out that I was grateful for those feelings and experiences, even if I didn’t feel all that grateful in the moment.

This year, I worked through another journaling process that centered on forgiveness and focusing on the good, looking for the gifts that you received from difficult times. My wall went up. Yes, I can forgive and I can find gifts, but not about my baby. That is a cold dark place and it is okay if it stays that way.

I took a gentle walk around that wall and looked at it more closely. Keeping it up and strong and hard felt safe and constant. And yet….what if? What if I could look at my life now four years later and just see what I am grateful for now? What if some of the present good could be seen as a gift thrown over that wall?

Of course, my beautiful children are a gift that I would not have but for all of the experiences and moments that lead up to each of their births. And even in the craziest of times, I am so grateful for those little souls. They are truly gifts in my life, even if the path to those gifts was complicated and challenging.

And so I’ve opened a little door in that wall. A ray of light can shine through into the cold dark place. I’m not sure I can celebrate death itself, not yet, but in finding that door, I’m moving towards celebration of life. All of the moments in life that brought me here today. All of my babies are gifts and I am so grateful for the lessons they are all teaching me along the way.

The Part You Didn’t Plan For: A Stillbirth Birth Plan

Four years ago, I skimmed birth plans unaware, although with skepticism. I knew I would be having a Caesarean due to my own medical history, and that my hospital wasn’t that flexible on procedure around the C. I can’t even tell you what the myriad options were, except one.

In one comprehensive plan (that I wish I could link to, but I don’t know where I saw it), there was a note to tell the staff if you want to see the baby in the event of a stillbirth or other complications resulting in death. I have no idea what my hospital protocol would have been. As I got on the operating table, however, I remembered that guidance and told the nurse that I wanted to see my baby. She looked surprised, but responding gently and practically, she asked “Right away or would you like us to clean him up and bring him to you?”

And so the wonderful nurses who held our hands through the worst days of our lives brought me a beautiful baby boy wrapped in a receiving blanket with his own little hat and beautiful red lips. We had our time as a family before they had to take him away. They made us a memory box with a lock of hair and a special hat with his name on it. They tucked a little heart pillow into the blanket while we held him and then gave us the pillow he snuggled with to bring home. I am so grateful for those moments and memories.

From where I sit, those nurses did everything right. Everything they could do. I, however, had no idea what to do. What I could do. What one does in such a situation. How could I know? And so I put together a list of questions and things you might consider. This is my list from my experience, and if there is anything I’ve learned, we all do this differently.

  • Do you want to see the baby? This is your choice and well-meaning hospital staff may assume that you don’t. Hospitals are getting more modern in this and realizing that people want to spend time with their child, but I’ve heard lots of stories where parents weren’t asked. As I said, I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t.
  • Make your time with the baby your own. When you see the baby, touch or look at every part you can. Look at his fingers and his toes. Kiss his cheeks and look at his hair. We were stunned into careful handling, and each year I wonder what his fingers looked like. I have a lock of his hair, but I didn’t see it on his head. Was it as much as my other children? Was it curly?
  • Consider taking pictures. Our hospital offered us special photographer services. In the moment, we thought it was morbid. We took a few cellphone shots with sad mommy and daddy faces. Those pictures are so precious to me and I wish I had let someone make them beautiful. For someone to help make those moments even more special. Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is a great organization that helps with this. Their Facebook feed offers a lot of support as well.
  • Ask the hospital how long they can leave the baby with you. There may be procedures they have to follow, but they may also have procedures they can put in place to extend the time you can have with him.
  • Call your family or support people as soon as possible. We waited because I couldn’t imagine how to possibly say the words. We waited because it was late Sunday night by the time we knew and were settled in a hospital room. We had each other and that worked for us, but we also lost an opportunity to have family meet our baby. I didn’t know anyone would want to. Not everyone will want to, but at least one family member told us she would have loved to meet our boy. And I would have loved that too.
  • Consider an autopsy. I refused because I couldn’t imagine anyone performing surgery on my perfect tiny baby. He had endured enough, I thought. Now, I don’t know if the autopsy would have shed light on a cause of death, but we may have gotten some peace. I’m not upset that I honored my feelings, but I also didn’t think it through.
  • Consider organ donation. I don’t know the complications around stillbirth babies and organ donation. I did hear a beautiful story on Radiolab about a mother who donated her baby’s organs after his death (a live birth) and followed up on the amazing research that followed. If you are comfortable with organ donation, your child’s life could be a great gift that enriches, even saves, the lives of others.
  • Consider doing nothing. It is okay if you don’t want to hold your baby or have pictures or answer questions. Please do what feels right for you in the moment and give yourself space and forgiveness and kindness.
  • Know you’re not alone. There are so many good books and resources and groups out there. For starters, Empty Cradle, Broken Heart, They were Still Born and the MISS Foundation. Your hospital or local church may have a support group. It’s an unfortunately large club that we belong to, the worst kind. The benefit, though, is you don’t have to do this alone.

I hope you never find this in a late night broken-hearted Google search, but if you are searching, I want there to be something to find. And if that is how you came here, I love you. I am you. You are not alone