Picture Perfect

Social media and blogs are famous for only showing the best of the best. Carefully curated images of stunning vacations, hearty meals, adorable children, and pristine living rooms. If you could smell what’s wafting from my stove right now… you’d be glad you weren’t in my house.

Yes, I have an adorable baby, I do take some fantastic vacation photos (full disclosure, I have a degree in photography), and on occasion can bust out a photo-worthy meal. Yes, I make my own baby food, put care into decorating my house, and sometimes I get around to actually posting about the aforementioned things on my blog. But, as any mom human will tell you, everything can’t go according to plan.

After putting Luke down for his first nap of the day, I tiptoed up to my office (I like to keep the house quiet during his naps, less so for Luke, and more so for myself to enjoy some uninterrupted peace and quiet) to get some work done. With priority number one checked off my to-do list, I decided to check something quick off the list and paid two bills. No sooner had I clicked submit than Luke woke up. Looked like I was only going to get a 40 minute nap out of him (usually the first one sets the tone for the day and is at least an hour. A clingy tired baby and a second 40 minute nap later, and here we are:

Let me preface by saying that I prefer to make baby food while Luke’s awake so that the food processor doesn’t cut a strong nap short. Plus, I can put him in his high chair and get at least two types of food made before he looses interest. That doesn’t mean I don’t still try to make 4-5 types of food (one day I’ll learn).

I hardly count bananas as a thing because they require zero prep. Just peel and stick in the food processor. Everything else needs to be boiled soft before it can be turned to mush. So with the bananas done and the squash and blueberries each boiling in their own pots, I started to peel the sweet potatoes. I set them to the side when I was finished, and pulled the blueberries off the stove, blended them, and poured them into containers. Since Luke eats more now, instead of using ice cube trays, I fill Dixie cups.

Luke started fussing as I was putting my blueberry-filled Dixie cups into the freezer and I missed the shelf. Warm blueberry compote spilled all over the freezer, my pants, and the floor. I had to jump into action to avoid stains everywhere. For the next several minutes I wiped blueberries off of the freezer and floor while Luke continued to fuss – he didn’t understand that blueberries don’t waste time staining everything they touch. Eventually I decided that the kitchen was ‘good enough’ and decided that the pants needed to get into the washing machine asap if they were going to be spared.

After starting the washing machine, I put the sweet potatoes on the stove to boil and took Luke out of his high chair and into the living room to entertain him. While our kitchen fiasco was happening, the mail had been delivered. Luke decided that the Harry & David’s catalog looked good enough to eat tear apart, which was fine, he was happy. I sorted the rest of the mail and printed a shipping label. A faint smell of Thanksgiving came wafting from the kitchen. The sweet potatoes!

A lift of the lid and Thanksgiving turned into that pungent smell that only burnt food cooked into the metal of the saucepan can produce. And typing that sentence just reminded me that the food that I set aside to be refrigerated for the next couple of meals is still sitting on the counter. One sec… and back. The pureed bananas look leopard print from being left out for the past hour.

So here I am, typing this in a t-shirt and underwear (did I mention it’s laundry day overdue and I was wearing my last pair of clean pants – regular AND pajama pants included) waiting patiently for the dryer to buzz, in a house that smells like burnt food, with a baby going to town on the Harry & David’s catalog, my feet stained with blueberries and which are also now inevitably crusted into the portions of the freezer that I didn’t get wiped up immediately when I decided to stop wiping because my pants were more important (the pants were only a month old, and I do want a new refrigerator after all, haha).

Oh well. At least I can cross ‘make baby food’ off my to-do list.

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The Tribe

Mike and I drove up to Wisconsin today. So did Kathy, Szy, Katie, Ian, Diana, Joe, Jim, Kelly, Sam, Bequita, Chad, Mik, Adam, Kaylee, Joe, Matt, Amy, Steve, Jeanna, Jenn, Shelley, Eric, Nick, Derek, Darren, Erin, Jake and so many more people that the crowd spilled from the church out into the narthex for seating, with several more streaming in via tablets from a few states over to as far away as Hong Kong. We were all behind Adam. Literally sitting behind him, and symbolically as a tribe of his friends, there to support him and mourn the loss of Nichole at her funeral.

The word Tribe kept surrounding my thoughts today: as I listened to Adam’s breathtaking eulogy, her family, and our friends, also taking turns speaking heartfelt and hilarious memories; as I walked hand-in-hand with Mike while we followed the herse to the cemetery down the road; as we took turns tossing roses into the grave; and as we all gathered at a barn later to celebrate Nichole, at which time a rainbow formed the shape of a smile directly above us just outside of the barn. Somewhere along the way a group of students spanning almost a decade’s worth of graduating classes from the same suburban college (and a few of us non-alums who happened to make our way in via dating and marriage) took a shared love of the stage – be it on stage, back stage, or in the audience – and spun a network of deep hugs and even deeper friendships.

As the coffin was being slowly lowered into the ground, I looked around at my friends, this tribe. We all grew a little bit older today. With tears streaming down our cheeks, we watched as our own young naivety was lowered into the grave alongside Nichole. It wasn’t supposed to end this way, not at 28.

Tomorrow the sun will rise, we’ll hang up our black clothes, put tea bags over our cried-too-hard puffy eyes, and to put it as our friend Steve wrote, “we’ll honor the dead by continuing to live”.

The Post that You Never Want to Have to Write

It’s been radio silence on the blog this past month, I feel like each week it’s something: post-vacation catch-up, catching a cold, giving that cold to Luke, but this most recent week it’s the worst of the worst, waiting for the phone call that says that a close friend of yours has passed away.

The best way that I can describe Nichole is that she was really good at being a friend. She was excellent at keeping in touch, remembering little details of a conversation and then actually checking back in to see how whatever you mentioned panned out, and coming to visit. As someone who is really good at thinking to do those things, but never actually getting around to doing so, I can say that I really appreciated the effort that she put into every single one of her friendships. And she had a lot of friendships. If you happen to be friends on Facebook with anyone who was friends with her, you’d be reading some of the most beautiful sentiments from people who just lost a really great friend, and one very eloquently written post from her newly widowed husband. She touched so many people that when word spread that she wasn’t going to be leaving the hospital, folks started making travel arrangements to come into town to say goodbye. Frozen meals are being prepared, funds collected, and prayers said, as a whole community of her friends learns how to grieve for one of our own.

Nichole fought with stage 4 breast cancer for a little over a year. When all was said and done it had spread to her liver, back and lungs. She passed away less than a week shy of her 29th birthday. If you didn’t see her slowly disappearing, you’d never know she wasn’t going to make it. In every conversation about cancer that we had, she had optimism. Optimism for the next drug they were putting her on, optimism that she’d be walking for our friend Katie’s wedding, optimism that she’d be heading back to work in October, optimism that she’d hold on long enough for a cure to be found. Even a couple of weeks before she passed away she was calling the oxygen tank temporary and we talked about future chemo-holidays (being off chemo for an extended time if your numbers are low enough). I remain completely blown away by the grace that she possessed.

Mike and I were fortunate to see her awake in the hospital one last time before she passed away last night. Even though she was struggling to stay awake, I got a trademark eye roll at a joke that I cracked upon kissing her on the cheek as we headed out of the room, I still smile thinking of that moment and the look she gave me. And then completely fall apart thinking of the last look that we gave each other, as I blew her a kiss from the doorway, somehow holding my composure in the moment. It was a beautiful end.

Luke woke us up in the middle of the night a couple of nights ago, and after he was soundly sleeping again, I was left there in the darkness, awake and alone with my thoughts. I cried for Nichole, not knowing how she was able to handle knowing that her days were numbered in the low single digits as she said goodbye to all of her friends and family as they flocked to the hospital at her request. I cried for her husband Adam and her dad. I selfishly cried for myself, not out of pity, but out of anger that I never managed to visit as often as I’d wanted to, or text every time that I thought about checking in. I wanted to apologize for not living up to my friend-potential.

There are two paramount things that I’m taking going forward, the first is to watch over my health like a hawk. Nichole was the one who inspired me to get my dark, raised mole removed and tested, even before she was diagnosed with cancer. She’d been on me about it since 2012, and I finally took care of it in spring of this year, I need to be more proactive about stuff like that. Second is to be a more involved friend to my friends. I need to take a page from her playbook and actually contact people instead of just thinking about contacting them. As a friend, she is the friend that I’ll forever aspire to be.

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I was honored to do Nichole and Adam’s engagement photos, taken long before she knew she was sick. Here are a few more candid moments.

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