Sunday, November 10, 2013

Practice Thanksgiving

Am I the only crazy lady who does a "practice" Thanksgiving a few weeks prior to real Thanksgiving just to make sure I remember how to properly roast a turkey? Well, even if I am, I relish in my craziness because 1. I stinkin' love Thanksgiving food so I get to enjoy it twice in a month, 2. It's also my husband's favorite food on the planet so he's pretty stoked on it, and 3. Yes, I really did remember how to roast a turkey, a 15lb turkey y'all! I actually added a new little twist to the process which turned out fantabulously, so I will indeed be implementing this new trick and am thoroughly pumped for real Thanksgiving now! :)

But none of those were even the absolute best part of having a practice Thanksgiving. The absolute best part is what happened overnight following the glorious meal. My kitchen continued to work all through the night to give me the greatest gift of all time: 6.5 quarts of homemade, all natural, lip-smackin' awesome turkey stock. Oh yea, baby. It was my greatest yield to date, in thanks largely to my newest kitchen obsession:

This is one of those appliances I saw once at a party and died with culinary envy. It had three different types of seafood gumbo in it, and I was straight up weeping with joy as I tried each one, carefully spooning them out of their precious little, matching mini crockpots. It was a moment I'll never forget. Yes, I'm emotionally moved by food. Anyway, I was walking through Sam's Club the other day with the hubster and stopped dead in my tracks when we came across this. "There it is!" I exclaimed, "The triple, mini-crock, must-have-it-now, three-different-gumbo-holding, greatest kitchen appliance ever extraordinaire!!!" At least that's how it went in my head. In real life it probably sounded like "It's the-dahoddle-thingamijabbin' crazy cool crockpotty thing!"It had to be mine! So yea, Mama Bella and I are now bffs and that's just how it's gonna be. 

Here she is next to Big Mama C as they all work so diligently to make me my much-loved turkey stock:

Divvied up the turkey bones between the crocks, added onion, garlic clove, celery, carrot, and just a dash of salt :)

Here's the giant pot of it the next day:

I froze it all into two-cup portions. Well, not all of it. Some of it I used that very night in some recipes. And some of it spilled. What??? I'm clumsy as all get out, these things happen. Did I cry about it? Well, maybe on the inside, but I was still so pumped at the sheer volume of stock I yielded that it didn't really crush me completely. I lost a little over a cup. In other news, our kitchen floor is totes slanted cuz when it spilled, it all flowed like a sad, slow river right down into the center of the kitchen floor. Awesomeness. 

Didn't get any pictures of that though. You can just use your imaginations :)


Oh and ps, yes, I am fully aware that this is my first post in roughly 7 months! Hiiiiii!! I'm not gonna do one of those classic "Hey, yo, still alive, here's the last seven months of my life summed up into three sentences to catch you up" type of posts that I've done in the past after a hiatus. Instead, I'll be doing something much more fun over the next few posts to catch you up. Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Avila's Birth, Part 2 - Rocky's Perspective

The Birth of Avila Grace - from Rocky's Perspective

It was a long night, Gemma kept waking up, 11pm, 1am, 3am -fine,  you win Gem!  I decided it would be easier if I just brought my pillow in and slept with her to get a wink of sleep. Sometime before 6am, I hear the door crack open and my beautiful wife’s head is poking in sharing “I’m awake, you can go sleep in our bed” – “aww, thanks hunny” I think as I stumble into the comfortable normal-sized bed.  I hear CA moving around and think to myself – something is not right and now I am awake. “How are you doing CA?” she looks at me and says “I'm pretty sure I'm in labor, been having contractions since 2am” – OH… Great! Thanks for the heads up… actually, thanks for the sleep – doesn’t seem like I missed much! Then I see her bend over and breathing really hard. She says “we should head down stairs and begin timing the contractions." Cool, I’ll make a pot of coffee – it’s going to be a LOOOONG day!  She called Bettie, one of the midwives, after seeing a lot of blood during her latest trip to the bathroom. She comes downstairs, and has few painful contractions and then together we decide we should call Bettie back! CA tells Bettie the contractions are happening faster – Bettie says, “time a few and call me back.” We time a few as CA runs to the bathroom  she is yelling “Start – Stop – Start – Stop” and I can not tell what she is saying as she is starting to moan in pain and groan under her breath. CA comes out and says, CALL BETTIE! I call our lovely midwife who says “Hi, CA, how is it -" “Ya, Hi Bettie, it's Rocky, ummm, Contractions are going 1 min, 30 sec, 1 min, 30 sec” The whole time CA is moaning and being loud! Betty says "that is good and normal, can I talk to her?” I look at CA and say “NO, you should probably come” – She agrees and we hang up…

The next contraction was different – it was LOUD and I could feel the pain and CA yells “CALL LAURA” (the other midwife). Well I am terrified and say “Hi Laura, when are you coming?” she replies “I’m leaving now, be there in 20 minutes” …it is about 6:45am.
Now this whole time, I have had another thing going on in my mind – the time bomb that CA is not caring about and shouldn’t have to – our lovely 2 year old GEMMA. I texted one friend at 6:15 asking if she could be on standby – no response. Then at 6:30 I contacted our neighbor and friend Katelynn, who did not realize what an integral part she would be playing in today’s event! At 6:50 I tell Katelynn to be ready to run over as soon as Gemma wakes up and pondered if I should wake Gemma up, but after every loud contraction I realized I could not leave CA’s side. 

7am - CA is loud and starting to cry saying  “I don't think I can do this. I cannot handle this if it goes on much longer” and I am thinking – me neither, where are our trusty midwives? CA goes from leaning on the couch down to her hands and knees, primitive style and yells, “WHERE IS LAURA?” and I grab her phone and think “YEAH. What the hell!?” but say “she will be here any minute, I will call her – you’re doing great hun!” Laura says “I will be there in about 20 minutes, there is an accident” and I think “What the heck, seriously, you said 20 min like 20 min ago… you little slacker, you got coffee or something huh!” but told her I would call her back and keep her updated if something happened. CA SCREAMS one more time 7:05am “Rocky, I think the baby's coming” – Oh sh-t! I think or say aloud and grab CA’s phone because I don’t have their numbers and say “Laura – I think the baby is coming – I am going to keep you on speaker phone.”  She agrees and says to make sure CA breathes like a horse – What the!? - Whatever man – “Hey baby, can you breathe like a horse?” – her look almost made me laugh as I was thinking the same thing and for the life of me could not tell you what sound a horse makes at this point. I can’t get CA’s phone on speaker and begin frantically trying to type the number into my phone – did I mention there is blood everywhere because stuff is happening down there and I have no doubt we will be having a baby soon. My hands are shaking as I mess up the number like 3 times and finally call her back. “there, you’re on speaker – now what do we do!?”

7:10 - WAAHHH, DADDY? Where are you? – Really!? Now, RIGHT NOW GEMMA!? I grab CA’s phone and call Katelynn and say, "get here now!" as I am running upstairs like a rocket. I sweep her up gently and say “Baby Avila is coming today and you need pants – do you want chocolate milk – Great – anything else – TV – no problem – Katelynn wants to watch with you" – Unlock the door – Katelynn smiles her joyful smile – “Hi Rocky, is CA -?" Ugghh “Here you go, bye” hurl Gemma into Katelynn’s arms, no shoes, no bag, chocolate milk and pants – SLAM! 

7:11am - Where were we –  “AHHHHHHH” oh yes – “Hi Laura, I'm back .. I see something weird back here… It looks like a foot or something” I think some of these things, but only say the appropriate part (you do NOT say foot to anyone when birth is happening- I knew this because of the amount of time CA spent trying to turn the baby so the head was facing correctly). It is growing- and it is not a foot, my wife’s area I cherish is now growing hair – lots of it and I yell with full knowledge of what this phrase means in pride, joy, fear and nausea “Laura, we’re having a BABY!” She says “You can do it” and as I want to black out and fall to the ground I think – if not me, then who? And snap into SUPER ROCKY – HERO OF THE WORLD and Doctor Rocky, MD of Birthing. “You’re doing great baby, push – Horse lips, horse noise, NAAAYYY – PPPBBBBSSSSHHHH!” Yep, it’s a head (Do not yell push unless you want to see something wild happen). That hairy thing shot out some more and now I see a forehead coming out. “I see the Head! push PUSH!!!”  Now I see the nose, “PUSH!!!” There is now a head hanging out of my wife in something not far off from Ace Ventura and the Rhino Scene! The baby is not breathing and I get scared but don't say anything (I never learned about any of this in any special class, but I assume we will be okay, maybe the baby is holding its breath like a fish out of water, right!?) Laura says “Rocky, get the shoulders out” I try to pull but do not want to pull the baby’s head off so I yell “PUSH!!!” Blood shoots out as the shoulders come and I have my hands ready to grab and move. Shoulders pop out and CA lets out the primal “AHHHHHH” and just like the Ace Ventura Rhino/ City Slickers Calf/ every movie ever- The baby shoots out and into my arms and I say “It’s a BABY!!! We have a BABY” I am in absolute shock and think – “Oh crap, now what!?” as I look around and see blood everywhere (on pads, not the carpet…mostly) Looks like the scene after a 300 battle. I start to smile as I hold our new baby and want to do the Lion King Presentation-  “I need to hold her!!!” Oh ya, my wife. I go to hand Avila to CA and the baby is stuck to a cord – Doing! -kind of funny as CA stands and tries to jump rope over the umbilical chord to hold our new child (and succeeds)… Mission accomplished, CA's laying on the floor with her joy and I go to sit back and think – what do doctors do at a time like this? – they check the time – I run in to look at the clock on the stove – 7:18am – Awesome. I check my pajamas to see the damage on my white shirt and shorts – NOT A DROP! Laura walks in at 7:25 and smiles, congratulates us and says “Rocky did you change?” – Nope –The miracle of birth – I’m still wearing the same clothes as I write this story – actually – had to change my shirt because I wiped my iphone screen  to clean off all the blood that got on it. Mission Accomplished – Rocky Rhoades - Hero of the World – Call me if you need any pointers!

All joking aside, this was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It challenged me  which always makes a man come out stronger and proud. I could not believe that by 11am all 4 of us (Gem, Avi, CA and myself) were snuggled up at our own home, healthy, happy and not in a hospital bed waiting for CA to go pee or Avi to go poo before someone would "let" us leave. I can not imagine anything else but a home birth for any future babies and can not wait to use the exact midwives. I know home births sometimes get a bad rap and people worry that it could be dangerous, but if you heard my side of Gemma's birth you would understand exactly why I am so thankful for this. The greatest part of the home birth was that it let me be involved in the experience instead of sitting to the side as a spectator (not that I knew I was going to be THAT involved!). I would never say yes to anything that would put my family in danger and never once did I feel danger near us. I felt God with us. Looking back, this was the most natural thing ever, women have been birthing since forever. It was amazing and incredible and I am beyond proud of my wife. We are so blessed and I just can't stop thanking God. Life is good.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Birth of Avila Grace

I figured it would be best to write this birth story now while everything is still pretty fresh, as I know details get hazy VERY quickly :)

It's hard to think about this birth story without comparing it to Gemma's birth. If you've read her story, then be prepared for basically the exact opposite this time around! Although there are a few funny similarities. Labor with both girl began around 2am, and both girls were born a little after 7am... the difference being, with Gemma, there was a FULL day between, whereas this little one barreled into the world in just five hours!

So here it goes. (As with most birth stories, it's long... with some tmi details, so fair warning!)

I had been having prodromal labor for about two weeks already. (I lost my mucus plug, and would have contractions on and off.) There were three particular episodes of contractions that I thought were going to lead to true labor for sure, but each time, the action stopped completely and left me very disappointed. I think I could have handled waiting a little better if my body weren't playing so many tricks on my mind! But I guess all that "practice" labor really prepared my body well, because once true labor kicked in, it was show time.

I had gone to bed around 10pm on April 1st, and was actually grateful I hadn't gone into labor that day because I wasn't in love with the idea of an April Fools baby! haha So I slept for four hours, and woke up to a contraction. "No big deal" I thought, as this had happened to me SEVERAL times in past two weeks. So I went to the bathroom, and dozed back off. At this point, I was in the bed alone, because Rocky had gone in to get Gemma back to sleep at some point, and fell asleep with her there. So for the next few hours, I laid in bed and felt contractions every so often, but I was mostly able to sleep through them. I figured this was just more Braxton Hicks and that they'd go away eventually. By 4am, they were picking up in frequency, but I still felt that the intensity of them was not that bad. So I still laid in bed, trying to rest. I had the thought that if my body was going into actual labor, then I'd want as much rest as possible to be able to get through what I imagined being many, many hours of labor!

5am hit, and I could no longer lay comfortably through the contractions, so I got up. I went downstairs, had some water, walked around a bit. I started to keep an eye on the clock to see how often the contractions were coming, and when I observed they were steadily hitting every four minutes, I realized I was definitely in labor at this point. Yet, the intensity still was nothing to put me over the edge. I had to breathe through them and really concentrate a few times, but generally, my management of the pain was not a challenge at all.

I decided to let Rocky know he could go move back to our bed if he wanted a few more hours of comfortable sleep. Again. I imagined we would be dealing with a long day of labor, so I wanted him well rested as well. I went into Gemma's room, and told him I was in labor but that he could move to our bed to sleep a bit more if he wanted. So I went into our TV room and heard Rocky walk to our bedroom. About two minutes later, he joined me. "Yea right am I gonna be able to sleep now" he said, knowing that I was in labor.

(tmi warning!)
I went to the bathroom, and saw a LOT of bright red blood. I knew to keep an eye out for "bloody show" but this seemed pretty excessive to me. So it was at this point that I first called to check in with my midwife, Bettie, just a little before 6am. I told her about the blood, and that I was having steady contractions. She listened to me through one contraction, which I mostly just breathed through, but I definitely could not talk to her through it. She said to put a pad on so we could measure how much blood I was losing, and to call her back if I filled a pad.

Within ten minutes, my contractions went from perfectly manageable to very, very intense. I went to the bathroom to check and had almost filled that pad, but noticed that the blood had slowed almost to nothing, so I wasn't too worried. I called Bettie back, updated her, and told her my contractions were getting really intense and that they should probably come soon. So she said she'd let Laura, my other midwife, know and they'd be on their way. Laura lives about 20 minutes away, and Bettie live closer to an hour away.

The second we hung up with her, I got hit with the most intense contraction of my life. It was SO strong and so long!! I was kneeling on the floor, with my face pressed into the couch. I was definitely vocalizing very loudly at this point, though it was muffled by the couch cushion. (Yes, Gemma was still upstairs, asleep!) Once that contraction ended, I looked up and said to Rocky "I don't think I can do this!" because I literally thought this was just my labor getting more serious, but that were were still a long way from delivery. I could not fathom how I was going to handle much more labor at that intensity level. And before I knew it, I was hit HARD with another contraction. I had hardly any rest after that last one! This one was just as intense but not as long as the previous one. (Looking back, I can now identify that as a double peak contraction, and my body's official signal that I was now in Transition). Once that contraction was over and yelled to Rocky "Call Laura and make sure she is on her way NOW!"

As he got her on the phone, my next transition contraction hit and again, I did not think I was going to make it through. It was just SO intense. I was vocalizing really loudly and remember kind of crawling down the length of the couch, still with my face smashed into the cushions. It felt like I was trying to crawl away from the pain! It subsided down for a moment, then the double peak hit once again. Laura was in the car, on her way but said there was an accident so with traffic it would still be another 20 minutes probably. Rocky put her on speaker so she could hear me and he said to her "Laura, I think we're gonna have this baby!"

After one more really intense contraction, all of a sudden I felt it. The urge to push. "Oh my gosh" I thought, "I can't believe we're about to be one of those stories!" Thinking of how amazed and amused I've always been of birth stories where the midwife didn't make it and the husband had to catch the baby!

So with my next contraction, almost without my consent, I moved onto my hands and knees, and my body just started pushing! Laura was on the phone with us still and she could hear the difference. She knew I was pushing. Right then, Gemma woke up. Awesome timing. Rocky texted our friend (who thank the Lord, lives right next door!), ran up to grab Gemma, and handed her off to our friend through the back door. She tried to ask Rocky a question and he pretty much was like "I gotta GO!" and slammed the door. (Sorry, Katelynn!) He was gone from my side for a total of like 90 seconds, during which time, I had another pushing contraction, and could hear Laura on the phone asking Rocky what he was seeing. He laid down the absorbent pads from our birth kit all over the floor and under me.

He got back to my side, and told Laura he could see the head starting to come. She was talking me through the pushing, trying to get me to blow horse lips and keep my pushing as gentle as possible. I tried. Oh, I really tried. But mother nature is strong. And there were a few not so gentle pushes on my part. So, sometimes primal screaming, sometimes calmly blowing horse lips, I was officially in push mode. My body was working VERY efficiently because before I knew it, Rocky was telling Laura "Okay I see the hair... now the forehead... there's her face! The head is out!" My body rested for a moment, and Laura said the next contraction should push the shoulders out. And she was right. Through the next contraction, I very gently pushed and could feel the rest of her body slowly moving out of me, and then with a huge gush, she was out. It was 7:18am. She was there!!

"Ho. Lee. Crap. She's here!"

^^^That's all I could think!

I think I only pushed for maybe five or six minutes total. Our baby girl came out, Rocky caught her, and laid her down gently between us. She was so pink, and so slippery! She didn't even cry at first, just kind of wiggled and we heard her make a little gurgle, so I rolled her to her side a little and she coughed up some stuff and then let out a few cries. I laid down next to her and brought her close. She latched on pretty quickly and started nursing right away. So we just laid there peacefully for a few minutes. Just us. Mommy, Daddy, and our little baby girl. Laura walked through the door about 7 minutes after she had been born!

Once she was there, she checked on the baby, who was happily nursing and doing great! I delivered the placenta shortly thereafter, and we got all cleaned up (I'm gonna let that phrase cover a myriad of activities that went on). They did the newborn exam; we all guessed her weight and my midwife Laura got it spot on - 7lbs, 6oz. 20.5 inches long.

Reflecting back on the whole experience, I think the reason the midwives "missed" the birth was because we were all so confused. Mostly me. I didn't realize when I was in active labor, which was while I was still laying in bed. I was so used to having contractions through the night, that I didn't take it seriously, and to top it off, I was just handling the pain so well that I also thought, "Surely this can't be active labor, I remember it was so much more painful last time." Well... last time, my water broke before labor started, so I had no fluid to "cushion" my contractions, and I was having crazy back labor due to posterior positioning, AND I was on pitocin for most of my labor. Any of those circumstances would cause labor to be more painful, and I had all three compounded on each other. So I guess now I know what labor feels like when everything is normal - and comparatively speaking, it is really not that bad! Had I known I was truly in labor at 3 or 4am, I would have called the midwife then! And even when I did finally get on the phone with her, I was handling the contractions so well that even she didn't suspect how far along I was. And then before anyone could get a grip on reality, I was already in transition and it was pretty much go time. Even then, I didn't know I was in transition because LAST time, I had an epidural through the transition and pushing so I had no clue what it felt like! So here I was thinking "Well, I'm definitely in active labor now, and if this is what labor's gonna be like for however many hours, I do NOT think I'm gonna be able to handle this!" Little did I know, I was already so close to the end!

Through it all though, there was just no fear. No anxiety. I felt God with me the entire time and especially once we realized our midwives weren't going to make it for the delivery, I felt Him covering us with grace to handle the situation. Which brings me to the final point I wanted to discuss in this post... our baby's name.

Avila Grace

We chose her name, or I'd rather say, her name was chosen for us, many months ago. From the moment we knew I was pregnant, St. Teresa of Avila started hounding us. In a good way! :) Everywhere we turned, she was showing up to both Rocky and I in our spiritual lives. People would give us books by her, send us quotes by her, novenas to her, etc. Before we even knew the gender of our baby, we knew that St. Teresa of Avila was clearly going to be this little one's patron! Once we knew we were having a girl, we chose to name her Avila in honor of her patron :)
---for those wondering how to pronounce it - it starts with emphasis on the first A, which is short, as in "apple"and ends with "villa" as in a cute house in the country :) So... "AV-illa" Hope that makes sense!  --

For her middle name, we wanted to primarily pick a name that honored Our Lady. So Grace became a top choice, being that Our Blessed Mother was hailed by the angel Gabriel as "full of grace". God was also so faithful to us in providing the means to provide a home birth experience for me, which was something I desperately wanted since my hospital birth was so unpleasant. The name of our midwives' business is actually called "Full of Grace Birth Services" which is just another reason we knew God had his hand guiding this whole pregnancy. There were so many moments throughout my pregnancy, too many to recount, that were just covered with God's abundant grace, and I am so thankful! Right to the very end, through my labor and very special delivery, we were just covered in his grace!

We are so, so blessed and filled with gratitude to God, and all our friends and family who have shared our joy in this and carried us with their prayer and generosity! Today, we've spent a lot of time snuggling our newest bundle and playing with our sweet Gemma! I kind of feel like I was hit by a truck (was I this sore last time?? I don't remember!). It feels like I did a hardcore, full body workout yesterday... every muscle in my body aches! Rocky is a champ, waiting on me hand and foot, and man, did I already mention how grateful we are for our friends out here? We have some AMAZING friends!!

Time to go get some more rest! Thank you all for your love :)

.... if you'd like to Rocky's version of this experience, check out his post

Monday, January 28, 2013

She's Such a Great Talker!

"Why thank you!" I usually reply when this compliment is paid to me about how great Gemma's verbal communication is. It seems weird to receive a compliment on behalf of her, and even weirder to say "thank you" as if her ability to speak so well is somehow because of me. So I spent some time pondering on this idea recently, and came to an important conclusion - it is in fact somehow, at least partially, a result of my efforts that she speaks so well! This is a video of Gemma a few weeks before her second birthday:

Now, there are many factors, some of which could probably never be measured that contribute to a child's ability to communicate verbally. Of course, part of it is simply their natural level of intellect, and if there are any communicative barriers present in the child, such as the presence of Autism. Another part is their personality type - some kids are just really talkative by nature, whereas others prefer other methods of expression. Still another factor is their physical development. Oftentimes a speech impediment can be attributed to a tongue tie or other anatomical anomaly in the child.

But beyond the various elements which are more or less left up to nature to decide, I do believe that there are several factors that can be controlled by the parent which can contribute to nurturing a child's ability to verbally communicate well with others. I am SO not an expert in this field and my experience with it is simply anecdotal so keep that in mind as I continue! :) This is what I've found to have contributed to Gemma's verbal development in a positive way:

1. Talking and reading to her.
I know that might sound silly, but I think it is SO important. From the time she was still in my womb, we began to talk to her, Rocky and I both. Especially in the last few months of my pregnancy when I was no longer working and Rocky was gone all day at work... well, I needed someone to talk to!! Haha! So I would talk to her and sing to her all day, and this continued after she was born of course. I would look right at her and just talk. Didn't matter what I was saying, just that I was engaging her verbally. I would narrate my day to her, tell her how adorable she was, ask her what was wrong when she cried, etc. I'd read books to her, even if she seemed entirely uninterested in those first few months. A key element to this was that I never distorted the pronunciation of the language to her. It's one thing to whisper or raise the pitch of your voice when you talk to a baby - it's normal to talk to them in a "cutesy" way, but I knew that from the very start, we'd always communicate the language itself to her properly. Now believe you me, I had my cutesy baby voice I would often use with her, but I'd still say "What's wrong with my little baby?" not "What's wong wiv my wittle baby?" Not condemning folks who do this, but it just seemed to me that if I eventually wanted my kid to know how to pronounce our language properly, I should probably start modeling it myself as early on as possible so that we all didn't develop bad verbal habits.

2. Baby Signs.
Implementing some simple signs early on really helped her to gain confidence in her own ability to express her needs and wants to me. We started introducing a few signs when she was about 6 months old, and over the next few months she mastered a handful of fairly simple ones, and would often use one sign to express more than one thing, but I wasn't a stickler. What mattered to me was that she was communicating to me! It was awesome. Now here's the tricky part - I really think that there needs to be an end to using signs as the primary means of communication between parent and child. They're called Baby Signs for a reason. Pretty much as soon as Gemma started to show an increased ability and desire to use her voice to communicate to me, we stopped using signs. She was around 12 months old, so for us we only used the signs for a brief period of time as her communicative launching pad. Like I said, I'm no expert, so I could be way off here, but I somehow just felt that continuing to use signs when she was ready to communicate verbally would have been an impediment and a crutch to her overall development in the area of communication, so we switched gears once I observed she was ready.

3. Labeling and Narrating.
Once she was about a year old, and showing a propensity towards verbal communication, I started labeling everything to her. Every. Single. Thing. She had a sock in her hand? I'd point to it and say "sock." She started walking towards a bench? I'd lead her there and say "bench." She was watching me make myself a sandwich? I'd narrate the entire process to her: "This is bread. Now I'm putting mustard on it. See? Mustard. Now I'm putting cheese on it. Cheese." And so on and so forth. This just became our little norm. As I said, she was already used to me talking to her all day every day, so it came rather naturally to us, but I really make a distinguished effort to narrate and label the items and actions that her daily life was filled with, so she could start to build an organized and meaningful vocabulary.

4. Repetition and Encouragement.
So simultaneously with step 3, we began this process. Anything I said, I'd encourage her to repeat it. In the beginning, she rarely would. Sometimes she'd just stare at me blankly, other times, she'd completely lose interest and move on, and lot of times she'd just laugh at me. It's cool. I have a thick skin. I never pushed her, but by persistently encouraging her to repeat my words throughout the day, it took very little time for her to become interested in the process. Eventually, she'd attempt to say something after I prompted her. I'd pick up a book and say "Book. Can you say book?" and in the beginning the sound that came from her very rarely sounded anything like the word "book" but hey, she was trying. I'd encourage her again "Book. Book. Can you say book?" She'd try again. As days and weeks would pass, her repetition would become much more clear and her words sounded very much like the words I was encouraging her to say! It was awesome. Seriously! Any parent will tell you how cool it is when their kid starts to talk. Something really crucial we did during this time was to always encourage proper pronunciation. Of course the first few times she was working out a new word, we'd be happy to hear her say just about anything that sounded similar to the word we were trying to teach her. But once we had observed she was pretty confident with a new word, we'd work on her saying it the right way. Learning the word "marshmallow" for example. She said a few different things at first that sounded pretty close to it. Then she started calling them "mushrooms" so I'd slowly say "Marshmallow. This is a marshmallow. Say marshmallow." "Marshallow!" Okay, this was closer than mushroom, so I'd let it pass. After a few more times talking about marshmallows, I'd encourage her further. At this point she's calling them "Marshallows" so again, I'd say really slowly "Marshmallow. Say Marshmallow." And she'd get it! "Marshmallow!" Yay, we did it! :)

5. Conversation and More Encouragement.
As we worked on repeating almost anything and everything she touched, saw, or experienced throughout her day, I watched her vocabulary grow quite rapidly, and we very naturally just shifted into a more conversational relationship. I could ask her all kinds of questions and she was now equipped with enough words to actually communicate a meaningful answer to me. Now, of course, this was really, really simplistic early on (12-15 months). I'd say "What's this?" and she could reply "Book!" Woohooo!!!! Now we're really making progress! I could ask her "You're hungry? What do you want?" and she could answer me with a whole variety of words now, but usually her answer to that question at that point was "Milk!" haha my little nursing champ :) But as she grew, she could really tell me what different foods she was in the mood to eat.

6. Empowering Her and Overcoming Challenges.
Communication is a powerful thing. Giving the child the tools they need to communicate their needs and wants to you effectively is so vital to their well-being. Think of how frustrating life would be if you could net tell anyone around you what you needed or wanted! Up to this point, Gemma's verbal development was really flourishing and she was gaining so much confidence. We'd read a million books a day to grow her vocabulary and play all kinds of games to give her practice (What does a cow say? Moooo. Where does the birdie live? Tree. Who am I? Mommy!). But of course, there would come many occasions in which she would be trying to communicate something to me but didn't have the words yet. Bring on the tantrums. Almost all her tantrums at this stage of development (18 months +) seemed to have been very simple - she needed or wanted something, and could not figure out how to ask me. So I would do my best to empower her. I'd work with her to solve the problem and give her the words she needed. I'm making this sound so complex but we're talking really simple issues here, folks. Example: We're sitting on the floor and she starts making a fuss. I realize she's looking for something. She'd begin throwing items around and shouting, at which point I'd step in and say "let me help you find what you're looking for" and I'd begin listing every toy or item I could think of that she's come into contact with in the last 24 hours. Eventually we'd make progress "Is it a book?" She'd nod or say yes  or something and then I'd start picking up and naming every book in the vicinity. No, no, no, we're not finding it! Her frustration would increase again... Okay, I'd have to think outside the box. What else is there that a 20 month old might interpret as book but is indeed something else? Hmmm... well she was coloring on a pad of contraction paper earlier... So I find the pad, hold it up and suddenly, the storm is over. We've found the magical item she so desperately needed, but now to save ourselves from this terrible problem in the future, I need to give her the words to communicate this to me next time. "Paper! You wanted paper. To color. Do you want to color?" "Yes!" "Okay, can you say paper?" "Paper" "And can you say color?" "Color!" Okay, awesome. Deep breaths all around. Now she's ready to communicate that need to me better next time, because I've empowered her with the words she needed! :)

7. Establishing a Safe Environment for her to Talk.
So remember earlier when I said some kids have a personality where they like to talk and other kids not so much? Well, I have a talker. Kid loves to jabber. Ask anyone who knows her. I can't tell you how many times she'd be yammering on an inch from my face when I was trying to read, or on the phone, or what have you. While there were definitely moments I'm not proud of, most of the time, I do try really, really hard to just let her talk. I stop what I'm doing, return her gaze, let her engage me in conversation and listen to her happy babble. And we talk. I'll answer all kinds of silly questions, oftentimes ten or twenty times in a row, because she so loves to repeat herself :) But it's important for her to feel that we care about her words. Now that she is so darn great at communicating, I certainly wouldn't want to squash her love for it. And when she makes mistakes... calls a cotton ball a marshmallow for example, I always try to respond positively to correct her: "You are so smart! That looks just like a marshmallow, doesn't it? But come feel it... look... it's all fuzzy. And we can't eat these. These are called cotton balls!" Sometimes it's hard not to giggle when she says certain things because she'd so stinkin' adorable but I try to never make her feel stupid or that I don't care about what she has to say. I always want her to feel confident and comfortable communicating to me and others.

So there you have it!! That's really all that comes to mind at this point as to why I think Gemma has become "such a great talker" as we've been told time and again. I've even had two speech therapists comment on how impressive her speech is for a two year old. Now again, how much of that is just nature? Is she just a natural-born talker? Has an IQ of 160? I don't know. I think that sure, she's pretty smart, and sure, she's naturally extroverted. But like I said, to say that those are the only factors which have helped her develop her verbal communication would be silly. I'm really happy about the steps that we took to encourage her development in that area, and would like to think that they did at least somewhat help her along the way in this area.

Now, what will be really interesting is to see how these steps will contribute to our new baby's verbal development! She'll probably have a way different personality and develop at a different pace than Gemma, so who knows what will happen? Maybe I'm just a nutcase and am patting my back for nothing at all! Watch this baby get to be Gemma's age and be hardly talking at all, even though I followed the same processes with her as we did with Gemma. Then I can really enjoy a big, fat piece of humble pie :) Time will tell!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Unalienable Right to Life

So, yesterday I was driving home from some errands and I was listening to a very popular, mainstream Christian radio station. The woman dj was commenting on what a special day it was - to be celebrating the Inauguration on the same day we commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. She said "If people in Heaven are allowed to look down on the affairs of our world, I would bet Martin Luther King Jr. is looking down today and is really proud of how far we've come."

His niece and I couldn't disagree with her more. 

The most current stats on abortion in our country show that one of every two African American pregnancies ends in abortion. Half. HALF! This group is aborting itself out of existence! I doubt very much that MLK is proud of that, he who fought so hard for human justice, for equal rights for ALL American citizens. 

Why am I bringing up abortion? 
Because today is the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court Case Roe vs. Wade which legalized abortion in our country, and since then, the yearly abortion rate has risen to a steady 1.3 million abortions per year. But many will read that and roll their eyes, because we as a nation have become numb to statistics. Numb to the reality behind giant numbers like 1.3 million. And most of all, numb to the word "abortion." After all, what is an abortion? A medical procedure? A fundamental right? A moral conundrum? 

Most basic dictionaries define abortion as: Induced termination of a pregnancy with destruction of the embryo or fetus. 
Most medical dictionaries define it as: An operation or other procedure to terminate pregnancy before the fetus is viable. 

(Hmm, so I wonder what it's called when a woman undergoes an operation or other procedure to terminate her pregnancy after the fetus is viable, which is still legal and available in 16 US states...?)

And while we're in the lexicon mood, let's take a closer look at that phrase "terminate pregnancy." Various medical and dictionary definitions exist for the term "pregnancy", but here are a few:
1. The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth when a woman carries a developing fetus in her uterus.
2. The condition of carrying developing offspring within the body.
3. The period from conception to childbirth.
synonyms: maternity, gestation

So now that we've done some research on the verbal and medical definitions of these words, let's revisit my original question: "What is an abortion?" 
We can accurately answer: An abortion is an operation or procedure which can take place anytime from the conception of offspring until the birth of that offspring that a woman voluntarily chooses to undergo in order to put an end to her current condition of carrying a developing human within her uterus, by destroying the gestating embryo or fetus. 

Supporters of abortion get all up in arms when people define abortion as "Ending a life." 
But the fact is... that's what an abortion is. 
Seriously. For once, let's put semantics aside. When a woman is pregnant, she's carrying a new human life inside her womb. Call it a zygote. Call it an embryo. Call it a fetus. No matter which term you choose, the reality remains: it's a human with its own genetic code and it's alive. Ask any doctor in any hospital or clinic around the country and they'll tell you the same. And an abortion intentionally removes that human life from the mother's womb, thus ending its life. Sooooo.. you tell me how defining abortion as "ending a life" is in any way inaccurate. 

The reason people turn their hearts and minds away from the realities of abortion is because it truly is too horrific to behold. Even many who are avidly pro-life cringe at the pictures of aborted fetuses. Myself included. It's too hard for anyone, pro-life, pro-choice, pro-whatever, to really internalize the reality of what it actually means when a pregnant woman goes into a building with a child in her womb, and leaves with her womb empty... her child dead in a pan or trashcan somewhere in the bowels of the building that her boyfriend, mom, friend, husband, sister, father, or unknown cabby is driving her away from. So people cover up the realities with gentle euphemisms, twisted language, empty words. And all too often, it works. For a time, at least. You know why? 
Because language is powerful. 

Words go to battle every day in wars of politics, morality, and philosophy. Weak words will be quickly forgotten, and profound words will live forever. Such immortal words include those of he whom we honored yesterday, Martin Luther King Jr: 
"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." 
And he quotes the profound, immortal words of the Declaration of Independence, the creed upon which our nation was built:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."


An unalienable right, endowed to men by their Creator.

Have you ever read the next few lines of the Declaration of Independence? The lines that immediately follow? Here ya go:
"That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,  That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

When they say "these ends" they're referring to those unalienable Rights - Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness - that were endowed to us by our Creator. Dr. King fought for those rights. He believed in America, and he believed that every single citizen deserved to have a fair shake at life. He worked for social justice, knowing that without an equal playing field for all, oppression would never end. Many battles have been victorious in securing social justice for African Americans, but today the war is being lost at an alarming pace. 

Social justice begins in the womb, for if the most basic right to LIFE is not valued, all other human rights are robbed of their value as well. And this is a war that is being waged not just against African Americans, but against humanity as a whole. 

Today, I remember the millions of Americans who have been legally killed since the legalization of abortion 40 years ago. And I will take a strong, vocal stance against this Holocaust. I will not be afraid to say abortion is morally abhorrent and I refuse to support it. 
It's not always easy to take a polarized position on an issue that many say is "too complicated" for black and white answers. It's not always popular to say things that you know will potentially enrage certain friends or family members. It's not always fun to stand up to your peers and speak the truth when you know they may very well alienate or persecute you for it. But as hard as all those things may seem, it's not nearly as hard as it would be to stand by as a silent witness to a generation's genocide. 

During the Holocaust in Germany, every single death executed by the Nazis was legal. It was sanctioned and supported by the government, propagated by Hitler who was voted into power by the German people. And the German people, because of their ignorance, their silence, their blindness to the realities of the horrors going on around them, were forever and deeply scarred by the scourge of these mass murders. After it was all said and done, and the Nazi regime had fallen, the German citizens were walked through the death camps where they saw first-hand the atrocities that were being carried out there just days earlier, in their own backyards. The Germans left these camps wailing and weeping for what had happened, their eyes finally opened... their hearts broken. 

America, how many more of our citizens must be slaughtered before the scales will fall from our eyes? When will we be freed from this oppression? When will we be walked through the halls of the abortion mills and be horrified by what we see? When will we finally stand up for the voiceless and say "No more"?  When will be be strong enough to defend the weakest among us? 

When will we live up to our nation's anthem and truly be "the land of the free and the home of the brave"?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año!!

Something I was so excited to do this year for Christmas was making handcrafted and homemade gifts for my family and friends!! There were so many ideas to choose from (thank you Pinterest), that the hardest part was narrowing it down and choosing projects I could actually do without overwhelming myself. So I went with the following:

Homemade bbq sauce and peach jam!

Homemade aftershave
all-natural, alcohol-free! perfect for sensitive skin :)
Homemade simmering potpourri - smells SO good!

This year, we spent Christmas morning just us! All during Christmas Eve, we were preparing Gemma for what was to come. We'd tell her "Guess who's coming tonight?? Santa!! And guess what tomorrow is? Jesus' Birthday!!!" She got the Jesus' birthday part and was pretty excited about that, but she was still struggling to understand the whole Santa thing.
Now, we're not exactly convicted on pushing the Santa story on her, but she at this point definitely understood that there was a big guy in a red suit with a white beard named Santa that seemed to be everywhere. She wanted to know more. But she's 2, so ya gotta keep it at her level. Like I said, she understood the Jesus' birthday part of it, so we went from there. Here's how the conversation went ("Us" is Rocky and myself - yes we speak in perfect unison when teaching lessons to our child):

Us: Well, baby, Santa is a guy who realllllllly loves Jesus and is so excited that it's his birthday that he goes around and gives gifts to everyone to celebrate.
Gem: Santa Cwause comeeng to town??!!?!
Us: Yes! That's right, he'll come here tonight and leave you a present under the tree so you can celebrate Jesus' birthday too!
Gem: I Gemma. This is MY twee for Happy Burtday Jesus! (point to Christmas tree)
Us: That's right, you are Gemma. And Santa's going to come to Gemma's house and leave a present under Gemma's tree for Jesus' birthday!!
Gem: (Unblinking, terrified silence for 15 seconds).
Us: You okay baby?
Gem: Santa Cwasue comeeng to Gemma's house??
Us: Mhm!
Gem: Dat's weally scawwy!!!!!! (runs behind Daddy's legs and starts crying)
Us: It's okaaaaaaay Gem!! It's not scary baby, Santa is really nice and just wants to spread joy for baby Jesus!
Gem: Santa Cwause WEALLY scawwy Mommy!!!
Us: ..........yea, I guess it is kinda scary, huh? It's okay! Santa Clause doesn't have to come tonight! But baby Jesus will still have his birthday tomorrow okay!?
Gem: Okay. I LIKE Jesus.

Sooo, all in all, so long as Santa apparently scares the crap out of our kid, I guess we'll just leave him out of our Christmas celebrating altogether. Fine by me! We care way more about our kids getting excited for Jesus' birthday anyway! And Gemma is definitely solid on that, so maybe we're not awful parents after all.

Here's some pics of our Christmas this year:

Christmas Morning
Action shots - opening presents!

The after-carnage :)
Playing with her new toys after Mass
Gem and her Rudolph! 
She loves him :) 
She thought it was so funny to make Rudolph "bite" her finger while he sang. 
Big hugs!
26.5 weeks!

One of the things I love about celebrating the liturgical seasons of the Church is that Christmas is so long!!! And we really have been carrying the Christmas spirit with us all these days since the 25th. And we're not done yet - we'll keep the carols spinning and the cocoa pouring till Epiphany! :)

I'd say that our best Christmas gift this year came to us on the fourth day of Christmas. We went as a family to have an ultrasound and got to see our beautiful baby! I absolutely love baby boys and of course would love to be blessed by a son some day, but during this entire pregnancy, both Rocky and I have sooooo deeply desired this baby to be another daughter. Well, I guess God was preparing our hearts for what's to come because sure enough our hopes were fulfilled - we are having another baby girl!! I thought I would cry when I found out because eeeeeeverything makes me cry these days, but just the opposite happened - I burst out laughing! I was SO overjoyed and just could not contain my happiness. The u/s tech actually had to stop for a minute so I could compose myself enough for her to continue with the anatomy scan!! Which, was just a continued blessing as our baby is perfect in every way. She's camera shy though - she hid her face the entire time so we never got to catch a glimpse of her profile for even a second. Just an ear :) The cutest little ear ever of course. So we won't get to see her beautiful face till her debut - which is getting ever closer! Only three months to go!

I am so looking forward to all the blessings God has in store for us this 2013. Although I kicked off the New Year in the worst way ever. Oh sure, we went to a few parties and saw our friends and had tons of fun. But right around 11:30, the stomach beast from Hades violently overtook me, and we had to rush home. I was writhing in pain in the backseat and just praying I wouldn't have any issues in the car. Somehow I made it till we got home, and while the world was watching the ball drop, sipping champagne and kissing loved ones at the stroke of midnight, I was crying and hugging a toilet bowl. I'll spare further details. Problem with being pregnant is as soon as you tell anyone you're sick, or that you got sick, they think it's pregnancy-related. Nope. Just ate something that didn't quite sit with me too well. Not too well at all, actually.

So, this rather dismal ringing in of the New Year episode made me think. Wouldn't it be cool to start keeping a personal record of how you spend each New Year's? Who you're with, where you are, what you're doing right when the clock hurdles us into a New Year... I think I might start. I'll back-log the years I can remember, and maybe if I'm feeling super-momish, I'll keep a separate log for my kids so they can have it and take over when they're old enough to track their own. I just think it would be such a neat thing to look back on when your 70 years old and see all the different chapters of your life, all the different friends and homes, all the different ways your life changes as the years roll by.

As for Resolutions, I'm keeping mine simple this year:
1. Love more, yell less.
2. Write. Write for work, for fun, for relaxation, for prayer, and for no reason at all sometimes.
3. Finish my TSOL certification. (Certifies me to teach English as a Second Language)
4. Set small goals; be optimist and positive in completing them.

I have all kinds projects and improvements I want to make this year - in my personal life, my relationships, my work, my home organization, etc. I'm not going to list them all out as my "New Year's Resolutions" because I know I get overwhelmed easily by long to-do lists. So instead, I'll just pick a project and complete it. When that's done, onto the next. Small goals, one at a time!

I hope you all are having a lovely Christmas season and I pray your 2013 will be very blessed. What are you thankful for from 2012? What are you looking forward to in 2013? Any resolutions?
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