{Daily Life Wednesdays}: What I’m Reading

Books have always been my favorite way to spend time.  I remember when I read the first chapter book on my own (B is for Betsy by Carolyn Haywood); the freedom I felt! No longer did I have to wait for my mom to read me the next part in the story, or stop when she was tired. I was on my own and could read as much as I wanted.  From that point my love for books only increased.  My nose was always buried in a book and each trip to the library would bring a stack of new books home – so much so, my mom had to put a limit on how many I could check out at one time (I think it was 10!).

I thought it would be fun to start a monthly post where I share what I’m reading, a way for me to keep track of what I’ve read as well as hear new ideas from you.

So, without further ado, here is what I’ve read recently:

Bringing Up Bebe

Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman

A fun book to read on what parenting looks like in France.  The author is an American living in Paris, she observes many differences between the way French parents raise their children and American parents.  Reading this book was a good reminder to me that while some parenting techniques I see here seem so important, they actually are not and that other cultures even do the opposite with good results!

Found  Found by Micha Boyett

This book came at a good time for me.  The author writes studies Benedictine monks and uses her the information she finds to help as she processes the changes becoming a mother brings.  Doing the simple daily tasks of raising a child and keeping a home is valuable even if it’s not exciting.

The tug of war I’ve felt since having Esteban has been hard; part of me wants to still do the “bigger” things of ministry, mentoring, and being a part of this community.  I often can’t though, because I have a little one who has his own schedule and needs.  This book helped as I wrestle through these changes.

Inner VoiceThe Inner Voice of Love by Henri J.M. Nouwen

I’ve read through this book numerous times, I relate so much to Nouwen’s wrestlings and struggles.  Reading his thought process and the truths he identifies in the midst of his struggles is encouraging to me.  One of my favorite quotes from this book is, “when you befriend your true self and discover that it is good and beautiful, you will see Jesus there.  Where you are most human, most yourself, weakest, there Jesus lives.  Bringing your fearful self home is bringing Jesus home.” (pg. 49)

Gift of ImperfectionThe Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

Currently, I am right in the middle of this book.  Brown’s work on shame has been an interesting topic I visit every so often.  This TED talk of hers is one of my favorites.  So far this book has been somewhat insightful on how to accept various areas of imperfection in life.  I wouldn’t say the book has been life changing though.

What I Know for Sure

What I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey

While, there are parts in this book that are a bit un-relateable – I (unfortunately) am not able to escape to Hawaii for a personal retreat on a whim.  There were, however, some good themes through the book that challenged me.  Specifically, what do I love to do and am I doing it?  In fact, that is where writing more frequently in this blog came from.  I love to write and wasn’t doing much of it.  After reading this book I made the decision to start blogging on a regular basis!

Have you read any of these books?  What were your thoughts?  Any books you read or are reading that you’d recommend?

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Raising Children Here.

Living in our neighborhood comes with a lot of wonderful aspects – the people, the culture, the closeness of friends, etc.  Living here also comes with challenges.  These challenges become a lot more intense once one has a child.  I remember when I was expecting Esteban one of the girls I mentor said, “You guys aren’t staying here once the baby comes, right?  I mean, why would you want to stay??”  A lot of people who live here have the goal to get out of the neighborhood, if they or their children are able to move to away they have “made it.”  To purposefully stay when we are able to leave seems strange to some.

Today I met a woman, a neighbor of mine, we spoke about children and raising them in our neighborhood.  She has three kids, all in college now, all are doing well and love the neighborhood as well as where they’re at for school.  We talked about how difficult it is to find good schools around here and the challenges of where the kids play outside, the battle to want to give your child freedom to explore and be on their own but also to protect them and keep them safe.

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The woman reminded me that while the struggles around here are hard, there are troubles everywhere.  She told me about when her daughter was in high school, she was a part of an honors program at a school in a wealthy area of the city.  She would come home and mention how many issues she saw every day among her classmates – things were not so much better just because she was in a “better area.”

Earlier this week I sifted through my struggles and fears with raising kids in this neighborhood.  Well, I often sift through my fears and struggles, but this past week they’ve been especially present on my mind.

I want our children to be friends with and a part of the neighborhood, not just living here and going outside of the neighborhood for everything. However, I don’t want my children exposed or pulled into all the awful things that also a part of our neighborhood.

Towards the end of last year, a fifteen-year-old was stabbed in the neck and dumped into a trashcan in an alley, specifically because he told the group of guys hassling him that he didn’t want to join the gang they were in.  My heart aches when I think of that story.  The kid had been bothered for a while by these guys to join and then that happened.  With a little baby boy, I just want to keep him inside and never have to face all of that.

I wrestle with loving the young men in the gangs, the young men my husband works with everyday, knowing they do things like this.  They are human beings, were once little boys just looking to be cared for, but also are murders and are also murdered.  When I think of these things happening I wonder where my son will fit in with everything one day and how he will process things…how do I help him to process these things?

Talking with the woman today though helped me to hear stories of other kids who are doing well, who enjoyed living in our neighborhood and still call it their home. She and her husband still live here.  If Epi and I are called to be in this neighborhood, which I believe we are currently, we need to trust that God has equipped our children to also live in this place.  He knew what he was doing when he gave us Esteban, and it wasn’t an accident his parents live in a sometimes scary neighborhood.  The work lies in trusting Him who is greater with my son, and following His leading.

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{Mama Mondays}: Birth Story

I’m a bit late in sharing this with you all, but figured better late than never!

My hope through pregnancy was to deliver Esteban through a natural, drug-free delivery.  I had done a lot of reading, talked with friends who had delivered drug-free, and taken an amazing birth class that covered all sorts of topics but also went over pain management and helps for delivering without medicine.  However, I also understood things might not go the way I would like and was okay with that too; pending no complications though, my resolution was to deliver completely naturally.

The Wednesday after my due date I had an appointment with my doctor, Dr. K, my blood pressure was a little high but nothing severe.  Dr. K had labs taken to test for pre-eclampsia and said to come back in on Friday to have another blood pressure check but she wouldn’t be too concerned if the labs came back fine.  The labs did come back fine; Dr. K decided I should come in anyways though.

That Thursday night Epi and I were watching TV, I had a horrible headache but didn’t think too much about it – I get migraines pretty regularly and figured it was just another one. I also saw funny little sparks in my eyes every once in a while but just thought my contacts were being weird or it was the migraine.  Since my labs had been normal and I hadn’t had any issues during my pregnancy I wasn’t concerned.  That night though, I could not sleep my head hurt so incredibly bad so I just sat on the couch with Miklo, our cat, curled up next to me and waited for morning and my doctor appointment to come.

Epi, who had gone to all of my appointments with me, had a big case with one of his mentees and wouldn’t be able to go with me to this one.  Since I was just going in for a blood pressure check and everything had been fine we figured it wasn’t a big deal. At 10:30am I walked my 40 week pregnant self the half mile to the clinic.  The medical assistant took my blood pressure, told me it was normal.  My doctor had a lot of patients that day so had me see one of the midwives.

After hearing about my headache and the sparks the midwife decided to double check my blood pressure.  After taking it, she paused and re-took it.   “Liz, it’s really high.  With your headache and other symptoms, I need to send you to the hospital.”  “Ok…” I said totally unaware of what that meant. “Epi’s working the rest of the day, should I tell him to meet me there when he’s done?”  She informed me I shouldn’t be driving and she didn’t feel comfortable with me walking home by myself.  I called Epi, who said the fastest he could get back was an hour and a half.  After a bit, the doctors and midwife felt it was okay for me to walk back home.  I was instructed to get my bags together for the hospital, eat some lunch, and tell Epi to hurry.  As soon as he got home we needed to go to the ER.

Epi arrived; we grabbed our hospital bags, and drove to the hospital.  My hope still at that point was that my blood pressure would decrease and we could go back home where I could go into labor naturally.  I just kept thinking, my labs had been normal, I ate healthy, exercised, and hadn’t had any issues all pregnancy, there is no way things are bad now.

I was wheeled up to OB, my labs were taken again, and I was hooked up to a machine that took my blood pressure every fifteen minutes. Often the machine would read 145/102 (normal blood pressure is 120/80, my normal is usually even lower); Epi saw it get up to 197/145 a few times.  After a couple of hours my labs came back and were terrible (one doctor told me they were the worst he had ever seen for a pre-eclamptic patient); the doctor on call from our health clinic came in and told me I needed to be induced.

I was admitted to the hospital, hooked up to IVs and other machines, and the whole time was so confused. Physically I felt okay, I didn’t even have a headache anymore, and didn’t understand why I needed so much medicine to get labor started.  I texted Dr. K asking her what was going on & to give it me straight.  “Those meds are to prevent you from seizing and to keep your organs from shutting down.  Your labs are bad and your blood pressure is really high, you need them. You have severe pre-eclampsia and we’re worried about it moving into eclampsia.”   Okay then, that was all I needed to hear.

All through the night I was given medicine to get me to dilate and go into labor. For almost twelve hours nothing happened. Each time the midwife would come in to check me and each time we’d hear the same answer, “maybe a fingertip dilated, but that’s it.”

6:30 in the morning things kicked into gear, I was 2cm dilated and my water broke. Around 8:30am I was 4cm so could get an epidural.  We called our doula as well and told her she could head over in the next couple of hours. Even though I wasn’t having a natural/drug-free birth anymore, the main reason we had a doula, I still wanted her to be there to help!

My blood pressure was still really high, sitting around the 150/105 zone which was a bit unnerving. I was still hooked up to the machine that checked my blood pressure every fifteen minutes. After checking, alarms would go off because it was so high.  We’d then sit with the alarm until a nurse came in to shut it off.  So around 9:30am when an alarm went off Epi and I didn’t think much about it until our room flooded with people shouting and checking the machines. Our son’s heart beat had disappeared and they weren’t finding it quickly. One of the midwives rolled me to one side and then the other while another midwife moved the sensor around my belly trying to find his heartbeat.  I remember the urgency I heard in their voices and their yelling to get an OR ready for me.

One of the midwives told me to get on my hands and knees, “I can’t feel anything though [from the epidural].”  “I know,” she said, “but you have muscle memory and can do it even if you can’t feel what you’re doing”  I fumbled around and finally figured it out. Then his heartbeat came back.  Turns out the Pitocin was too high, the contractions too strong, and his little body couldn’t take all of that stress.

From there, things began to go fast. By the time our doula arrived, thirty minutes after we called her, I was at 9cm – I had dilated 5cm in 30 minutes! I stalled for just a little bit, but soon was at the point to push.

My epidural had worn off by that point.  The nurses offered to call the anesthesiologist; I decided it was probably better to feel what I was doing when pushing.   Pushing took two hours. I liked it better than contractions though, it felt much more productive.

Right before Esteban was born, his heart started slowing down. Alarms were going off and everyone started shouting I needed to push and get him out.  I was so tired at that point, and just wanted to be done.  I remember telling Dr. K to “just cut him out!” Dr. K who had been so positive and encouraging through the whole process looked at me with this very stern, serious face (quite like the one I’ve seen her use with her children when they are in trouble) and said “Liz, you have to push.  There is no time to do anything else to get your baby out.  His heart rate is dropping and if you don’t get him out fast we’re going to be in serious trouble.  You need to find it somewhere and push him out!” And so I did.

Out came a limp, purple baby with the cord around his neck.  They rushed him over the warming table and worked on him.  Meanwhile I was losing a lot of blood and had some other complications. I laid there for what felt like a long time waiting to hear our son’s cry.  I remember praying and praying that he was okay.  Watching the table where they were working on him I started talking to him, suddenly his little foot kicked up and a shrill, newborn cry filled the room.  I felt so relieved! Our doctor and the attending OB at the hospital finished working on me and then I got to hold my little son.   His tiny self was so perfect!  Epi and I spent hours taking in each little detail of him & could not get over how amazing he was.  IMG_5337

Two days later, my blood pressure went back to normal-ish territory and everything was given the green light for us to go home.  Driving home that rainy May afternoon was so surreal, everyone around us were going about life as normal.  Nothing much had changed since we went in to the hospital four days earlier, but for us everything had changed!

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Fire.

Here is a recounting of an event that took place a couple of years ago that I’ve been meaning to write about:

Around 3:30 in the morning Epi and I woke up.  It took a moment for me to realize what had disturbed our sleep, and then I heard the shouting. A man’s voice.  As I came out of my sleepy haze I realized our bedroom was filled with an eerie flickering orange light and was warm, almost hot.  Suddenly I wasn’t in a sleepy haze at all, but wide awake.  E. ran out of our room and threw open the door to our back balcony, the entire porch of the house behind ours was in flames.  All three stories ablaze with the fire licking at the rest of the house and at the neighbors’.

Epi called 911 right away, trying to explain where the house was and the urgency of the situation. I ran to get our shoes.  The heat while standing on our balcony was intense, the smells of wood burning and plastic melting filled our noses.  The buzzes of the electrical wires being eaten broke up the roar of the fire in our ears.

For a minute we stood there unsure of what else to do, then we heard a woman’s voice yelling for help, and little kids shouting from inside the home.  E. looked at me, ran down the steps of our porch and took off towards the house.  I grabbed the keys to our house, my phone, locked things up and took off after him.

As I ran down the alley to get to the other side of the block the electrical transponder connected to the house exploded over me and Photo Apr 30, 3 40 48 AMsparks went everywhere, in the distance I heard sirens – a sound of help on their way.  I found E. in front of the house, “Everyone got out okay,” he said.  We stood there with everyone until the firetrucks arrived, made sure the families who live in the home had somewhere to go that night, and then walked back to our home.

The next day I was looking at the two pictures I had taken of the fire when E. and I first ran out onto the balcony.  As I flipped through the two pictures I landed on the one next in the photo stream, a picture of a page in a book I had been reading.  The day prior I had flown  back to Chicago and while reading a book, Undaunted by Christine Cain, a paragraph stood out.  Without a notebook or pen to write it down I had taken a picture of the page to remind me of what I had read. Seeing the picture and re-reading the paragraph so close to having heard the calls of someone trapped in a burning building gave me a much stronger understanding.

Photo Apr 29, 2 04 35 PMThat morning, having been through the experience of the fire and reading the paragraph, I was reminded how important it is to not judge those in bad situations, it’s too easy to jump to conclusions about how that person got there.  My job however, is to not judge or criticize but to reach out and offer help and encouragement to get out of those situations.

I thought of how E. and I heard the shouting and our automatic reaction wasn’t to judge how the fire was started.  We didn’t sit and discuss whether the person actually should be helped out of the house, E. just took off to the house, ready to get them out.

May we not sit and judge those around us, debate whether they actually need our help, but instead reach out and offer a hand when they cry out.

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{Daily Life Wednesdays}: Family Update

IMG_9478

Processed with VSCOcam with c6 presetEsteban* turned 8 months old last week and is learning new things all the time.  He army crawls all over the house and loves his newfound mobility. Ever since he was a tiny newborn he loved to be in constant motion; now that he’s a hefty 25 pounds, I’m happy he’s starting to be able to move himself. :)  Last month he cut five teeth, so now has a total of seven teeth! He eats and enjoys almost everything, even stronger flavors like curry.  Esteban loves to give kisses, wave, and greet people (as well as inanimate objects); he says “hi” and “hey” a lot, along with “dada” and “all done.”  He is such a joy, and so full of laughter and smiles!

*I’ve noticed Esteban’s name is a little tricky for non-Spanish speakers to say.  Here’s a little pronunciation guide: Eh-STEH-bahn (the emphasis is on the second syllable).

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Epi is busy at work doing one-on-one mentoring sessions with the guys as well as leading group sessions.  Right now he splits his time between juvenile justice (gang involved youth who are on probation) and junior leaders (at risk youth in 6th-8th grade).  Epi is a part of Neighborhood Sports Little Village, or NSLV, a group of people and organizations working together to create access and opportunities for youth in Little Village to play.  Currently NSLV has a volleyball league each Thursday evening, Epi plays on a team with some of the Junior Leader guys.  Epi also started a running club this past summer for youth in Little Village.  It has been so cool to see them run each week in the neighborhood, at the local gym now that the weather has turned chilly, and in a couple of local races.  A few of the Epi’s mentees come over and hang out at the house pretty often which we love, Esteban loves them all too – it’s like he has older brothers!IMG_9480

I love, love, love being a mama! It certainly has its challenges but I enjoy being with Esteban so much and am thankful to be able to work only part time so I can spend the majority of my day at home with him.  I work mornings at the non-profit health center I’ve been at since graduating college, after returning from maternity leave I moved from Development to Clinic Operations, which basically means I help with scheduling for our providers and communicating with patients.  I manage customer service for patients as well (this has been an interesting task).  I also mentor two girls; after mentoring them for almost six years it’s cool to see where they’re at with their life.  Both have challenges in life for sure, but are strong young women and working hard keep moving forward.

That’s us in a nutshell.  Hope you are all having a wonderful January and start to 2015.

{Top Photo:  view from our back porch the other morning}

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a new year, a few changes.

Guys! Ahh, it’s been too long.  I’ve been struggling a bit on what to write here.  I have so many things I’d like to share, thoughts and stories and events rolling around in my head I’d like to get down on paper.  Often though, I think of what my blog has been (anonymous stories about things I’ve observed) and feel like some of what I want to write about doesn’t really fit in.

I also struggle with knowing how much to share as it’s important to me to respect those around me if/when I share a story that involves them.  The people in my neighborhood aren’t “those people” to tell stories about or show how “they” live.  “Those people” are my neighbors, my friends, and are people with just as much worth and value as anyone else.  It gets tricky as I write about all of this, about gang lines and about people my husband and I interact with.  I want to record the ways I’m challenged in my thinking, inspired, and just what I see in my day to day life.  I won’t pretend to understand, or offer the solutions.  I do want to share the beauty of it though, the courageous lives I see being lived out around me each day.  I want to share the stories behind what people see only as stereotypes and prejudices.

I will be the first to admit, I have lots to learn and areas to grow in.  That’s what I hope this blog does – helps me to process events and circumstances I encounter, to share my thoughts with you and hear thoughts back from readers (in a constructive respectful way of course :)).

I also hope for this blog to help those who aren’t living here with us to feel a little more connected with our lives.  I often hear from people who don’t live here in Chicago with us, that they aren’t really sure what my husband, Epi, or I do, or even why we’re choosing to live and raise our family here.

So, this blog will be changing a bit.  No longer will the author be this anonymous-ish person (I think most readers know who I am since I do publicize new posts on my social media sites).  I also plan to open it a bit more to include parts of our family life to document a timeline of sorts for our family.  I think I’ll include some mom pieces too.  I’ve experienced some interesting things with my son, Esteban, so far and reading other blogs on how to handle issues such as multiple food intolerances, bi-racial/bi-lingual homes, etc. was so helpful, I’d like to include my two cents as well.

We’ll see how this goes.  At first it may be a little messy and all over the place.  I’m sure things will start to organize themselves.  Please feel free to chime in and share what you’d like to hear from me about!

Little Guy

Yesterday E. and I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood with Baby E and get some ice cream.  While sitting outside at one of the patio tables a little guy darted past us, kind of acknowledged E, and went into the store.  E called after him to come back and say hi “for real.” “In a minuuuute” was the response.  “Who is that?” I asked. “That is a kid that comes by the church a lot, he’s in second grade and causes all sorts of problems,” E responded.

Soon, Little Guy came out, leaned against the stroller and started to talk away.  In the middle of his thoughts he told us he was hungry because he hadn’t gotten lunch that day.  When we asked where his family was he said they had gone to do some things and had left him.  We asked him where the friends he normally hangs out with were and he said, a bit dejectedly, “they’re all with their moms.”

As I sat there listening to Little Guy I thought about how he had been left to handle himself, to walk around the neighborhood on his own, and how he was hungry.  He even knew something wasn’t quite right by the way he told us that all of his friends were “with their moms” and his mom had gone to do something without him.  For being the tough, trouble making kid headed for the street there was still such a small little boy in him wanting to be taken care of.

“Let’s go get you lunch,” E said.  On the way to a nearby restaurant Little Guy chatted and asked questions – who could run fast, how tall we thought he would grow, and what was faster – a turtle or a snail.  While E bought Little Guy lunch I stayed outside with Baby E so we didn’t have to navigate the small restaurant with a stroller, Little Guy sat in the booth at the window while E ordered.  As I rocked the stroller back and forth, I looked up to the window.  Little Guy was sitting on a stool, his chin propped on his hand just staring at me.  When we made eye contact he gave me a big grin.  Soon after E came out and we were on our way, leaving Little Guy to enjoy his lunch with instructions to head home after.  As we left, Little Guy gave a big wave to both of us.

Often it is easy to see the guys on the corners in our neighborhood, or the images of them in the news and picture just the tough gang banger.  What struck me yesterday was Little Guy’s initial description from E – tough, causing lots of issues, headed for the streets. Then, while talking with him we saw the little boy in him just wanting to be listened to and taken care of.  It got me thinking what the older guys in the neighborhood were like when they were younger, when they were second graders.

city neighborhood

 

This morning E received a text from a probation officer asking if he knew that one of the youth committed murder.  The text was short, blunt, and to the point.  At first E wasn’t sure who the text was referring to or even the case, who was murdered?  When was this person, mentioned in the text, picked up on the murder charges?  As the conversation unfolded, E looked up the story.  He and I quickly lost our previously cheerful mood.  We looked through the pictures and stories of the youth who was killed aching for him as well as for the one being held for murder that both of their lives were cut short over essentially nothing more than a quest for respect and territory.

 

I wondered where both of their moms were, if they were also grieving the loss of their boys.  The truth is, it’s hard to be on either side of the story, hard to lose anyone to gang violence, especially so when they are young and have so much ahead of them.  Hard also to know the one who killed, to hear the title “murderer” placed on him, and see his name in the news.  It is hard to reconcile that identity with the glimmers of another one that would sometimes shine through past the tough gangbanger shell.

 

Looking through and processing all of this is enough to make anyone ready to stop – to stop living in this neighborhood, to stop mentoring, to stop having hope for the youth that we interact with.

 

I left for work after that, my heart heavy for the situation and for E knowing that starting the day with news like that sets you at the bottom of a very steep hill.  As I shut the back door, two verses came to mind, two verses from very different books in the Bible, different contexts, and given to different people.  For the moment though, I felt God whisper it was okay to let the two combine and to hear the truth spoken through them.  “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened or discouraged.  For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go…The Lord your God is with you.  He is mighty to save.”  Joshua 1:9 and Zephaniah 3:17.  My God is with me and E., He is with the families in this neighborhood, with the young men on the street corners, the young girls running around without much of a home to go to.  This God is the One who will bring light and reconciliation to situations otherwise dark and hopeless.  This God is the root of E.’s and my strength and courage, to keep walking forward and sharing the truth that He is mighty to save.

 

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A list for you with some favorites around the web I’ve come across:

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a quick thanksgiving list.

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! E and I hosted about 10 of our mentees & their friends at our house yesterday.  The day was full of E and me making many of the day’s dishes, a full house in the evening, rounds of Taboo, and lots of laughter.  Truly things to be thankful for.  To close this holiday week I wanted to leave you with a list of a few things I’ve been especially thankful:

  • The little one that is growing inside of me and the excitement that comes with his/her arrival.
  • Celebrating 1 year of marriage with E last month – I am so thankful for this man, this past year with him has been so much fun as we’ve started building a life together.
  • Getting to see friends and family in far away places this past year – a new niece was the occasion to travel to PA, a friend getting married meant going back to NE for a weekend, and other smallish road trips made for an exciting year of travel.
  • Our home and the many people who have filled it this last year.
  • Close friends to laugh, cry, share life with…and play scrabble with.
  • The girls I have been able to mentor and watch grow over the past four years, and the new girls I have met this year and have gotten to hang out with and mentor.  Such a privilege it is to be allowed into their lives.
  • My family and the people who are in it.  Those who’ve known me my entire life and those I’ve known their entire life.  The strength in some of these people have taught and inspired me.
  • Our neighborhood and all the people in it.
  • My piano & its current home…and those that house it. :)
  • Friends at work, the potlucks we’ve had together, and other treats shared.
  • A job – one that helps pay the bills and provides health insurance for E, myself, and the little bambino
  • A working oven/stove – cooking is my therapy and the way I put my science degree to use.  Any recipe is conquerable after doing organic chem lab!
  • All of you who read this blog.  I started this as a way to document the stories I learn from those around me and have been delighted to see so many of you read and take an interest in what’s going on.
  • Hope for all that lies ahead.
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