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Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Christmas Tradition

Every year I make a stencil out of paper to look like a very large boot. On Christmas night after our kids are asleep and all the Santa work is done, I make boot prints leading out of the fireplace. I put the boot stencil on the ground and sprinkle baking soda through a sieve lightly. Lifting up the stencil, I add another boot in a stepping pattern from the fireplace to the Christmas tree. As the prints get farther from the fireplace, I lighten the look of the "fireplace ash" until it is barely there. After I have all the boot prints set, I also add a few pieces of the actual coal ash from our fireplace to the baking soda prints to give a "real" look. This tradition was started the year my second child was born. Teale was in the NICU recovering from her traumatic birth and gastroschisis repair after being born on December 9th, 1998. I was looking for a little extra "magic" as the month had been so difficult on our family. We practically lived at the NiCU that year. Our son, Beau, had turned three in August, 1998. Although I was excited for Christmas with him, I knew it would be tough to wake up Christmas morning without my Teale at home also. Somehow this year seemed like the perfect magical year with Beau. He was old enough to really understand the traditions, the facts around Christmas and the magic. He was so excited to "catch" Santa and was sure he would. I looked forward to seeing his face in the morning when he realized he had missed the "Big Guy." We continue this tradition today and as each child becomes more savvy, I wonder what they think. But the truth is, Teale will probably always believe. Years after her little sister, Gwenn, has discovered the truth, Teale will be talking about Santa coming. So every Christmas eve, after all the gifts are set under the tree and the stockings are filled, I make the boot prints and go to bed dreaming of the magic of the season.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day Date, part five

As we were leaving the vineyard, I remember I have our camera and for once I want pictures of Mark and I together. I often take pictures, but I take them, so there are hundreds, no maybe thousands of pictures with Mark in them. There are many pictures with our children and Mark. There are ones of our trips before children, scenic settings and again, many of Mark. There are gigs he played, pictures of musicians and Mark. Pictures where he is on stage singing or blowing his saxophone. There are some but very few pictures of Mark and I together, but on this day date, I am determined to get a couple. A camper pulls up and several people get out, obviously all of them a bit intoxicated. They all enter the building quickly except the driver and one woman. The driver seemed sober and walked into the building slightly ahead of the last passenger. The woman lingered, taking pictures of the building and the scenery. She appeared to be the only option I had to take a couple pictures of Mark and I. As she agreed and I handed off my camera, my nerves were a bit high. This woman had apparently visited more than just one vineyard. I was handing her my camera that I really couldn't afford to replace if she dropped it. Well, she took the pictures and she didn't drop the camera, but the stress on my face in the pictures is apparent. After getting my camera back, we get in the car and decide our next destination. Bully Hill's restaurant was recommended when we asked about local places to have lunch, so we decided to go there. The ride was quick between the two vineyards, but we wouldn't realize until we got home that it didn't include the same road where we saw the mangy cat.  Now we will never know if that cat has a home or not. I still think about him on occasion, wondering if he is wandering those country hills alone. My Mom instilled this love of animals in me, we could bring home any stray and she would let us keep it. My siblings and I had many animals; snakes, turtles, cats, dogs, rabbits, chickens, even an orphaned baby raccoon. My Mom had a soft spot for vulnerable animals, I have the same and from what I can tell, my kids do too. But back to the date, the time is ticking and based on the drive up, we calculate that to be home for Teale's bus, we must leave this area by 1:30pm at the latest. Beau is obviously fine getting home alone, even Gwenn can get herself into the house. She knows how to call my cell if I am not there and besides Nana is almost always home. But Teale, we have to go to her bus to get her off, she can't just walk up the driveway alone. I have even been called by the bus garage when I have had sitters at our house meeting her bus. Her drivers are very protective of her and won't leave her in just anyone's hands. Beau could get her if needed, but considering it is a Friday and his soccer team lost in sectionals the night before, I had my doubts he planned on going home straight from school. His friends and he would probably get together. After all, soccer had been all consuming for months, so this would be one of his first free afternoons in a very long time. We had about another hour and a half, lunch would mostly consume the last of our "free time." We walk into the restaurant, the room tasteful and simple, all warm wood and huge windows overlooking the fall colored hills. The host tells me they can accommodate my Celiac Disease, a bigger plus at any restaurant, no matter how nice the setting. We are seated and both order diet sodas. The wine tasting was quite enough for me and I am still feeling the effects. Looking around I notice we are the only ones without a wine or beer glass. Often at a restaurant, I try to figure out couples around us. I find it interesting to contemplate if the couples are happy, married, newly dating or just hanging on. You can tell a lot about a couple by their body language, whether they are talking or staring into space avoiding each other's eyes. Do they laugh too easily or just "enough?" As Mark reaches for my hand across the table, I wonder if anyone is analyzing us? As we laugh and talk easily, do they think we are newly dating or maybe even a couple having an affair? I look into Mark's green eyes, once again thinking how blessed I am to have a husband who I truly enjoy being with. I'm thankful I conjured up the courage to invite him on that first date many years ago and thankful that he accepted. And at that moment, I am especially thankful that Mark brought a bottle of Dr Konstantine Frank wine on that first date. As that bottle of wine gave us many memories and an excuse for this beautiful day date together.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Day Date, part four

As we drive through towns without stores or gas stations I realize how thirsty I am. There is nowhere to stop but we know of a small grocery in Naples we have gone to a few times. We will be driving through there on our way and although there is much to do in Naples, our only stop will be the grocery store. As we walk around the store, we grab a few things we need or want. Because I am Celiac, I am always on the look out for new gluten free items. It is funny, the small town stores often carry items I have never seen. Mark and I both scan their GF section, his support with my diagnosis of Celiac has been incredible. It is not always easy to find a quick bite to eat with me, I can't just get a burger or a piece of pizza. At times, it has to be frustrating, after all, he didn't marry me as a Celiac, I wasn't diagnosed until I was 39 years old. But Mark rolls with it, helping to keep me on the diet with his support and sometimes also his protective nature. He will ask questions at restaurants or gatherings, as sometimes I back down with the lack of understanding. There have been many times I have felt like people may think it is an attention getting diagnosis, not a real one. Actually, I hate the extra attention it brings to me in a restaurant or at a party. People trying to work their foods around my need for gluten free often causes me angst. Many times I just don't eat and try to go unnoticed. Parties are the toughest, even if something is GF, a cracker may have been dipped in it, which causes cross contamination. It may sound like I am being neurotic, but if you understand the disease, you get this. I react to even the smallest amount of gluten, physically I may get sick, but it is the unknown that gluten does to my body, that really scares me. Every time a Celiac has gluten, it creates their villi in their small intestine to flatten. The flat villi do not absorb nutrition and so foods go through you "quickly." The healing process after I have accidently had gluten takes about a month. A month of nutrition not being absorbed correctly and the other unknowns this can cause, scare me into following the diet strictly. There are many studies because Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease, that indicate we are more likely to get certain aliments and cancers if not following the diet. I think this is what drives both Mark and I, our family needs me, so I do my best to stay gluten free. Mark does his best at protecting me from uncomfortable situations and especially from doubters. I grab an apple at the grocery store, fruits are always safe and my favorite, Honey Crisp, is in season right now. We get back in the car and continue toward our destination, only about another half hour to go. As the roads become winding and the houses fewer again, I wonder how people ever find this place without a GPS. We are out there, for sure, the country roads twisting as NRBQ and Skeeter Davis play softly in the background. Mark introduced me to NRBQ when we first started dating, an underground band that never really made it big, but has a good following. Their music is fun, upbeat and happy, it is a welcome change from our kids choices in music! As we drive down one of the dirt roads we spot an orange, mangy looking cat on the side. Mark knows I am a sucker for such situations and immediately says "If it is there on the way back, we'll stop." I make him promise, knowing he means what he says. As we approach our destination, it is all I hoped.  It is a gorgeous setting overlooking the lake and the fall colored hills. The romantic in me is just thrilled! Walking into the building we look around and then see the wine tasting room. A young woman with another couple in front of her asks us if we want to do a tasting. It was much fun, as we talked with the other couple and our host. Many of the wines were delicious, some were not my taste. It was interesting what Mark and I had in common and what we did not. We tried several varieties of whites only, as the other couple did not want to try reds and I can get migraines from drinking reds. The host was very generous and knowledgeable, giving us much history of the vineyard and the Frank family. It was to me like marking off a bucket list item. We were actually at the place that we have celebrated with every December 17th since that first one in 1988. Mark could have brought a wine from California, Germany, anywhere that first date. But that he brought one from a local vineyard and it took us almost 23 years to finally visit it, made it all the more special.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Day Date, part three

The drive is long, one hour and a half at least, something we would dread with Teale in the car. A long drive alone though is a welcome treat. We can talk without interruption, relax and I even grab the magazines that I never get to look at, for the ride. Teale likes to blast Justin Bieber or Camp Rock on the car stereo. Whenever she is in the car, she will push repeat the whole time if she is "stuck" on a song. So Mark and I have heard some songs repeatedly, literally hundreds of times. We are both very tolerant of such things with Teale, but sometimes I try to imagine how other parents might deal with this, if they could deal with it? It can get to me, the same song over and over again and very loud! If I touch the volume to take a cell call, it can turn into a battle, so generally I just survive the car trips with Teale these days, glad when we are at our destination. My point is, we never get to listen to music we enjoy anymore. Mark is a musician, he has been his whole life to one degree or another. He has strong musical tastes but over the years of being a Dad, he has rarely been able to enjoy listening to those favored artist of his. As we were leaving our house, I thought to say, grab some CD's. I was thrilled to have Mark be back in control of the music, something I know he misses and so do I. The drive would be at least half the fun on this beautiful fall day with good music and a chance to catch up with each other. We take the scenic route, driving the country roads and talking about memories of our lives. Sometimes we still find out surprising things about our childhoods. Growing up in the same small town, often our lives paralleled each other, even though we didn't officially meet until we were in our twenties. (to read our story of meeting each other ) Like there was a local restaurant owner not far from our home town that owned a lion, my family used to visit the lion just for the fun of it. As we drove past the remains of the restaurant, Mark remembers going there for dinner once, but surprisingly to me, only once. As a child my older siblings would buzz me out there just for something to do, maybe getting a soda and french fries at the restaurant, maybe just looking at the lion. It is funny how Mark and I had many of the same small town experiences and then other things I am surprised at that we didn't share. The drive is beautiful, the hills, although the fall leaves are mostly past peek, are still a sight to see. I am not a huge fan of fall, but that is the half empty glass part of me, fall means winter is fast approaching. Fall is a favorite season of many in Upstate New York, but spring is my favorite, with the promise of summer around the corner. I can't deny on this gorgeous fall day though that fall is an amazing time of year, the trees are vibrant with many colors rolling over the hills and the sun is shinning brightly. It is a perfect day for a day date and as I sit next to Mark, I feel blessed to have this time. We drive past the ski hill that many of our friends will soon be on as the cold winter is fast approaching. Neither of us are skiers, mostly because we both grew up with Mom's who struggled financially to keep our families afloat. Skiing was for those kids who had more money than our families did. Mark's Dad died suddenly when he was just two years old and as I said earlier, my parents separated and then divorced. Both of us grew up in a fairly affluent town, but neither of our families were in that higher tax bracket. I remember saying to Mark once that "I knew not to ask to go to ski club." and he said he felt the same way. I often think our growing up so similarly in the same town is a big part of what bonds us. I always yearned to ski, but the cost prevented that. Mark had the same desire and also wished to play ice hockey, a sport that costs much money also. We talk about "maybe someday" as we pass the hill. One of the values we share though is that always getting what you want, does not build the same strength and character in a person. If life had been handed to us easily as kids, wouldn't living with the many struggles and loses we experience now be so much more difficult? Might we have given up and walked away? I often wonder if God was preparing Mark and I to be Teale's parents. Our strength and loyalty has helped us persevere. Sure there are times both of us dream of running, but we would never actually do it. That's what makes day dates so important and special to both of us, it is the escape we need, without hurting anyone we are responsible for. As we pass one of the great lakes, we talk about memories of our times there, both together and before we met. Then we reach a small town that we have visited several times, we want to stop and go to the glen that we have hiked, but time restraints prevent us. The buses will bring the girls home and we must be there for their arrival. We are determined this time to get to our destination of Dr Franks Vineyard. We decide, if on the way home there is time, we'll stop. (to be continued)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Day Date, part two

So after taking care of rescheduling, we start talking about what to do with our newly found free day. I have always wanted to visit a local vineyard with Mark, but it wasn't just any local vineyard. This vineyard had significant meaning to us. On our first date, December 17th, 1988, Mark came to my apartment for dinner, bringing a bottle of wine. It was supposed to be a double date, a dinner party, but the other couple was running late. So it was just Mark and I and the bottle of wine he brought, the other couple never saw a glass of it. It was a very nice Riesling from a local vineyard, Dr Konstantin Frank is located in the Finger Lakes. The vineyard is less than two hours from our home and has been on our "bucket list" for many years now. Lately it has come up in conversation as a place we keep meaning to go to, but have not. So with that idea, we started researching the drive and discussing the other stops we could make along the way. I joked that after all, this is the place "I blame for our marriage." Our first date sealed our fate, our conversation fluid, (whose wouldn't be after a bottle of wine?) we hit it off well and were engaged less than two months later on Valentine's Day. But Markie quickly corrects me, saying he doesn't "blame" Dr Frank, he "Gives credit to him for our marriage!" Comments like this are common from Mark, he is sweet and corny all rolled up into one. Often the kids and I laugh at his icky sweet comments, but truth be told, we love his corny sweetness. It makes us roll our eyes, exclaiming "I can't believe he just said that!" Our older nieces and nephews take much pleasure in teasing Mark also. Mark is the source of many jokes among them, I can hear my nieces say things like "You know how Mark is? You won't believe what he said now ..." They are quick to laugh at him, but every one of them at some point has said to me, "I hope I find a Markie." Mark is truly an endearing man, his corny jokes and all. So as I roll my eyes at his sweet comment, I too thank God he still enjoys being married to me. Our life can be so stressful, a tiny part of me worries that someday Mark may just walk away. My father basically did that, he walked away. Of course there is much more to that story, but as a young child, that is what it felt like, he was sick of us and walked. My insecurity around that is still very evident at times. Every time a marriage of someone close to us breaks up, I become very clingy. Mark has taken this all in stride really well. He knows it will pass, but for days, weeks or even longer, depending on the situation, I need a little more TLC and reassurance we are ok. I may ask him repeatedly if he loves me and he is good at just helping me ride those feelings the way I need to. So as we decide our day date, thoughts of that first date, our fate in meeting and all we have lived through, floats through my head. There are so many memories at this point, we have begun to lose some of them. Recently we were debating whether we had gone to a restaurant together in Letchworth State Park. I was pretty sure we had, but the memory for both of us was vague and Mark didn't think we had. We discussed it much, finally deciding that maybe we had gone there on an anniversary? It makes life interesting, our discussions about whether we have done something or not, as apposed to talking about strong memories. Yes, we are getting older! So as we plan our day, we also debate if it could possibly be true, that we have never gone on a wine tasting together? We have been together for 23 years this December and we live close to an area that is known for wineries. Many people go on wine tours, using limos to get from winery to winery. It is somewhat of a common "big Birthday" event or bachelor/bacheloret party event. But we both agree, we have never done this! To both of us, that seems crazy, but then again, our life took a much more family focused direction after having Teale. It has been tough for us to pull off "adult" things, getting away, even if for a day, has been nearly impossible. We have gotten fairly used to this, but sometimes it is still tough to swallow. We see other couples pull off vacations alone, weekends away, we can only dream of such things. A day date is our big splurge! We feel a sense of normalcy with several hours to "just be a couple." The magic ends at three o'clock, when Teale's bus returns home from school, but for those precious hours, it is just me and my boyfriend of almost 23 years. (to be continued)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Day Date

On Friday, Mark had the day off. I had somehow missed this day off on my calendar but after mentioning his Mother's doctor appointment scheduled for Friday, we discovered the mistake. Mark's Mom lives with us and I manage most of her personal care. Over the past three or four years I slowly took over her medical care, as Parkinson's and Parkinson's dementia started taking over her body and mind. It had been a slow decline since her diagnosis many years ago, but has been increasing in speed the last few years. We added a geriatric doctor to her care about a year ago and the appointment was with him. I had gone with her just a month earlier and to tweak out some issues that they wanted to check up on. The thing is, in between that appointment and this appointment I had seen Mom's internist with her, tweaking some more, hoping to help Mom feel better. Mom's energy is low, her motivation is even lower, Mom suffers from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and we are heading into the dark days of winter. I understand this disorder well, as I have suffered with SAD since I was a young teen. It is common in our town, grey days are far too many, the lack of sun and light can go on for many days in a row during the winter months. The feelings your body experiences are similar to depression, as it is a seasonal depression. Feeling tired and having a lack of motivation are some of the symptoms. I also feel cravings for carbohydrates and a desire to just stay home and hibernate. Often I gain weight in the winter from the extra eating I tend to do and the lack of activity. When Mark and I were first married I explained that I suffered from SAD. I had managed it as well as I knew how and knew that often the best thing for me is getting out and doing something fun and or physical. Mark understood SAD and had seen it living with his Mom. He dealt well with my SAD and was able to help me when I wasn't seeing myself slipping into it. I remember times I had barely left the house for weeks and he would insist we go ice skating or for a walk or out on a date. One of my favorite memories before we had children was on a winter day that I just felt awful. I would have gladly stayed home in bed all day, but Mark knew what I needed and took me to a movie, sneaking wine coolers in his coat. Then there were the times he would take me to see a band or just walk the mall. Simple things like that would lift my spirits. Medications for SAD were not used when I was younger. The advice was light treatment, buying an expensive special light and exposing yourself to it a certain number of hours a day, exercise and keeping active through the symptoms. I have used many treatments, but then about five years ago, the FDA approved a drug for SAD, Wellbutrin. I jumped on it, convincing my doctor to let me try it and I have taken it ever since. It is amazing to me how much better I feel in the winter! My friends would say I should be a spokeswoman for Wellbutrin, if you suffer from SAD, it is worth a try. Five years after starting this treatment, I am still in awe of the difference I feel when the endless grey days hit our area. I often comment to Mark that I can't believe I feel this good, it has been an amazing drug for me. Unfortunately for my Mother in law, she can not take it, do to other health issues, so we have been tweaking her medicines, trying to help her feel more energized. Knowing first hand the right medication can make a huge difference, I have been a huge advocate for my Mother in law. We recently made two changes in her medications that show promise, but it will take time to see the full extent of her improvement. So, getting back to Mark's day off. I would usually be responsible and follow through on the appointment, but days off with Mark are precious to me. We had had a few recently, but all of them had been filled with work around the house and tasks we needed to accomplish. I was in need of a day date, but with this appointment for his Mom smack in the middle of the day, it would be tough to fit anything in. I debated rescheduling early in the week, but somehow I felt badly putting Mark's Mom's needs after mine. On Friday I woke to a beautiful sunny fall morning. It hit me as my coffee kicked in, a statement often said to me as a care giver of our special needs daughter and of my Mother in law. "If you don't take care of you, you can't take care of anyone else." I called the doctor's office and rescheduled the appointment for my Mother in law. It won't hurt Mom to see her doctor in a week I told myself. Mark and I need this time, after all we both work hard to keep this family afloat and days like this are few and far between.  (to be continued)