Sunday, March 31, 2013

Worth it

Baking and cooking teaches me so much...this post might be a little flowery (eh, since it is about baking I will say flour-y), but here it goes...

We went to a friend's house today for Easter lunch...and mid afternoon snack...and dinner and helped contribute to the feast. One item we brought was Ina Garten's Carrot Cake recipe introduced to us by our friend Karlin. As I prepared the cake last night I remembered what a labor intensive cake it is at first. You have to do a lot of prep work in order to get to the actual cake making. That prep work is mainly taken up by grating carrots and dicing fresh pineapple. Both of these steps are crucial to a good, moist, delicious cake. The carrots have to be grated on the finest grate you have and the pineapple does not taste right unless it is fresh. In the midst of doing these procedures last night, I questioned if it was all worth it. It's not like you are mixing in a couple eggs, oil, and water and if it turns out a little dry or tastes a little funny then it isn't a big deal. When you bake cakes from scratch, it is a labor of love and you can be seriously disappointed when they turn out off (ask me about the Italian Cream Cake of Christmas 2005 debacle sometime).

So why the effort?

Because that is part of the process in baking and in life. We put forth effort and hope for good results. We work hard and pray that it pays off. We try, try, and try again and sometimes we fail and sometimes (hopefully more often times) we succeed. We cannot know the outcome when we begin any process or even when we are part of the way through a task. We just have to do our best. I remind myself of this daily, whether it be managing all three kids in Hobby Lobby (ultimate temptation in breakable things for my kids) or having a busy schedule where we try to balance time together with time for others. Whether it is letting the kids try something new or working through our regular routine. We prep and assemble and wait and see.

The cake was awesome. Moist, lots of good flavors, and the most delicious cream cheese frosting on top. I love when that happens. Thankfully, this is the case in my life more often than not. Things turn out pretty good and a lot of times there are even better things that unexpectedly add to it "on top".

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Johnny at 5 months


Tomorrow you turn 5 months old. How funny that you were born on Halloween and your 2 month birthday falls on New Years eve and this year your 5 month birthday falls on Easter. Lots of celebrating going on for all your big months. I feel it is well warranted!

Over the past two weeks you have dropped your 10:30 or so feeding at night! That means we can have all three kids down in bed for the night by 8:30 and everyone sleeps until 7:30! I feel like a new woman!!! I have an evening again! Thank you for being such a good sleeper too. You are still in the bassinet, but we will be making the transition to the flat surface of the pack and play soon, we noticed that you have finally started to outgrow it and some of your 3 month clothes. We usually just put you down when you start getting a little fussy or restless and you will sleep. Right now you are waking up to feed around 7:30 and will grunt a bit until Mommy pumps your bottle, you will play with Mommy until 8:30 or 9 then go down for a nap for a couple hours. If we are running errands you will sleep in the car seat until noon or so, if we are just at home you like to eat around 11. Then you will sleep some more until 2:30 when you like to eat again then stay awake for a good stretch. This is usually when we do your therapy work and play time. You doze for an hour, eat around 5:30, then are often awake until your bath, bottle, and bed time around 8:30. For each feeding you will take 5-6 ounces. 

You have the best smiles. They are big, wide, gaping mouth smiles that are usually crooked and off to the side. Your laugh is so funny to hear, almost like you are trying to catch your breath. You love when Mommy plants kisses all over your neck and face and into your armpits that are getting chubbier by the day. You love to look around at pictures and what your sisters are doing. You also usually have your hands brought together almost like you are praying. You like for Mommy to clap them together and to sing a little song for you. You have started playing with the toys on your play mat a lot and will bat at them, grab them, and bring them to your mouth frequently. You enjoy tummy time, more on the boppy pillow than off. You have started trying to wiggle your feet underneath you to try and push and flip over. I think it won't be long before you are rolling over at will and that will make Mommy's job a bit harder to keep you interested in staying on your tummy. You are very, very verbal and will usually verbalize throughout your awake times, especially if someone talks back to you. 

Johnny, we are so pleased with you and everything you are and everything you do. You melt our hearts on an hourly basis and you charm everyone you meet. You are so special and we are so glad that you have come to us to be part of our family.

We love you!
Mommy and Daddy

Friday, March 29, 2013

Keep rolling

This week has been a lot to handle. We found out that one of my grandmothers is not doing well. She has been battling cancer for years and is winding down that fight. We also had a scare its my other grandmother who landed in the hospital and is now released, but it was a lot to handle all at once. My body has finally succumbed to the allergies and cold that has been traveling around our area and while I love having the backdoor and windows open for the girls to play outside, that is not helping with me feeling great. However, the purging is beginning, cleaning and organizing is under way and while it may not look like it now, I have started the process and sometimes that is all you need. So we keep rolling and keep trudging along. We are faking it until we make it! And I definitely felt successful ironing the pleats in the girl's Easter dresses...I learned a thing or two in catholic school!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Little Mama

Keegan is a nurturer. Most are surprised by that because of how fierce she can be, that girl is one determined little firecracker. But beyond all of her impish and banshee wild ways, she has a heart as big as they come. She always comforts others, makes sure that they have their drinks and favorite toys, and will gladly give anything she has to someone else who may want it. She has always taken great care of her stuffed animals and is much more interested in dolls and actually playing with them than Mac has ever been. Lately, the girls have really enjoyed when we swaddle their dolls and animals in receiving blankets. They love having them wrapped up tight and taken care of so they can hug on them like wee babes. In fact, last night I wrapped up Keegan's tiger and actually held it up for her like she was a new's good practice for my next career in L&D nursing!

We have a good number of stuffed animals and dolls in our house and we try not to migrate the set from upstairs to downstairs and vice versa, but sometimes it takes a bit of coercion for the girls to keep their animal or doll of choice upstairs in the morning. I guess they are like real mommies who want all the early morning snuggles they can get. I have been convincing them that their babies need naps and we make a huge deal out of tucking them into the bed. This morning, Keegan had tucked in her tiger and was giving it kiss after kiss as she cooed and loved on it. I rubbed her back and said "Oh! You are such a good little mama." With that she stood up straight, turned towards me, squared her shoulders, planted her feet, buckled her chubby legs, put her hands on her hip, furrowed her brow, and told me "No! I Keegan!" 

It took some convincing that she good be a good little mama and Keegan at the same time. Glad she made that clear to me...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Johnny "Wait and See" Howard strikes again!

After two successful hearing tests at the audiologist we made an appointment with a highly recommended ENT in the area to check on the fluid in Johnny's ears. The appointment is through the Texas Children's satellite near us which I love. We are there with some frequency and are very appreciative of their friendly staff and the ease to get to the office. When we were called back, they weighed Johnny in at 14 pounds 7 ounces (that could explain why he is rapidly filling out his 3 month onesies) and asked a few screening questions (why we were there, any hospitalizations, if he used a pacifier, and any other concerns). We waited about 5 minutes for the doctor to come back to see us. He explained briefly that one of the manifestations of T21 are found in the skull structure that leads to smaller ear canals making it harder for fluid to drain out of the ears. He looked briefly in each ear, in his nose, and his throat (E...N...T...) and then called for backup from a nurse. Apparently Johnny's smaller ear canals are exceptionally small and he needed to look into them through a microscope. I held Johnny's head, one nurse held his body, and another held his legs. Poor little guy tried so hard to be brave but started to get sadder and sadder as he was restrained and he felt the doctor looking into his ear. It was hard to see his big eyes looking up at me and him trying to fight back his sad face, but he eventually let it go and started crying.

The ENT said that there was definitely fluid behind Johnny's left ear, but because of how small his ear canal is, there is no point in trying tube surgery yet. So we are under strict doctor's orders to grow! He also has us watching Johnny for snoring and difficulty breathing because the adenoids and tonsils can be problematic and cause some sorts of Sleep apnea. So we go for a follow up in a few months to check on if Johnny is ready for surgery at that point.

I am kind of glad for the wait and see this time around because he will do better recovering from surgery and being put under the bigger he is. Also, we have a follow up with cardiology next month and while there is no reason to suspect that he may need heart surgery, it will be nice to double check that there are no new developments so the two surgeries can be done at the same time. We are slowly building up our own private recommendation of all sorts of doctors!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Things that I love

Driving down the road, seeing a firetruck, and exclaiming "Look MacKenzie! Look Keegan!" to show them.

Catching yourself doing the above even when your kids aren't in the car.

Nurses that confiscate your baby as soon as you arrive at your doctor appointment and don't give him back until your appointment is over.

Squeals of delight of your kids playing outside in a decidedly cooler March than we've had in some years.

Being assured that one day, if you do become an L&D nurse, that you will be a great one...and being excited about something that seems so far away and being completely ok with the process of getting there. 

Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies from Potbelly Sandwich Works

Little girls that protest at me leaving from tucking them in to quickly because (and I quote) "Kiss, cheek" as they reach for my face to kiss my cheeks. 

All three kids being down for the night before 9:00!!!

Having a blanket and doll presented to you so you can swaddle them for bed time and hearing giggles all the while from the child who probably still misses being swaddled.

Jeans, long sleeved shirts, and comfy shoes

Little boy gummy smiles who recognizes you as the only love in his life

Organizing my crochet/knitting/sewing team to provide for little ones and keeping the peace between the crochet and knitting factions

Dozing with my baby boy in bed this morning because we all were up too late last night and smelling that sweet baby smell

Having a Barney song stuck in your head all day long...

Ok maybe not the last one...

But I do love the smile on their faces when I start singing and dancing to it...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Cookie recipes

Within a relatively short amount of time I was bestowed with two really delicious ginger cookie recipes. The first is from my friend Wendy and it is more of a crackle cookie. I loved the crunchy outside and soft inside of this cookie and could eat them by the handful! I want to try making these by rolling them in the raw brown sugar to try something different sometime.

 Here is that Gingersnap cookie recipe.
 2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter (softened)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
3 1/2 oz crystallized ginger chips
 Preheat oven to 350degrees. Mix dry ingredients together and set aside. Mix butter and sugar in large bowl until creamy. Stir in molasses and egg. Add dry ingredients into dry mixture and mix well. Stir in crystallized ginger chips. Chill dough for one hour. Form one inch balls and roll in sugar, place on cookie sheet two inches apart. Bake 8-10 minutes. Remove cookies from sheet to cool. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

 The second is from my sister-in-law McKay. This is a traditional, roll out cookie that really holds it's shape well and is very soft to eat. Her icing is great for covering large amounts of cookie.

 Ginger Bread Cookies
Mix together first:
½ cup shortening
2 c sugar
½ cup butter
½ cup molasses
2 eggs
 Sift together in separate bowl, then add to sugar mixture:
4 cup flour
2 teaspoon(t) cinnamon
1 t ginger
½ t soda
1 t nutmeg
1 t cloves
¼ t salt
 Divide dough into 4 groups, wrap in wax paper, chill overnight or until stiff (3-4 hours). Roll out dough and use cookie cutters. Bake at 325 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Cool completely before icing. 

Mix together first:
½ cup butter
½ cup shortening
½ cup milk
½ t vanilla
Then add:
2 lb bag powdered sugar, until right consistency

Add food coloring (This icing recipe makes more than you need for one batch of cookies, but keeps great in the fridge if air tight.)

 For my sister's cookies I iced with a icing that hardens and is a bit easier to manipulate into smaller portions of the cookie.


And thank goodness my trusty stand mixer is keeping up with all of my may be on it's last leg though. The first two speeds don't work very well and it definitely protests if it has to work hard!


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Wedding Cookie Project

My sister had me/ coerced me into making cookies for her wedding last weekend. Birds were a large part of her wedding and seeing as her new last name is Brown, it was only fitting to make little brown birds. I will post the recipe tomorrow for this cookie and another delightful gingerbread cookie, but I wanted to post a few lessons I learned in bulk cookie making.

One- If you decide to make 300 cookies for a wedding that need to be rolled out, cut, and decorated, you may want to do it on a week that your husband is not traveling for work. Thank goodness the kids are really good!

Two- If you decide to make said cookies anyways, get all of your supplies before your husband goes out of town. I lugged the kids in and out of THREE stores that I had no other reason to go into in an attempt to find pre made cookie icing to make my life easier. It was fun to make my own and hand decorate the cookies a bit more, but it isn't the plan I originally had!

Three- You need a bigger kitchen. Cooking, baking, decorating, assembling is very difficult to do in small spaces.


And now for some philosophical lessons...

Four- Sometimes we don't look quite right, sometimes our head hurts...

Or our tummy hurts...

Or we just have that crazy look in our eye...

Or we just need time to cool off...

Sometimes we need our friends...

Sometimes we just want to be alone...

Sometimes we need the love of our lives...

 The kissing cookies were kind of funny. I tried to pair a lot of them off as I was making them and as they expanded on the cookie sheet in the baking process, many of them were kissing. I guess things got a little hot and heavy in the oven...

This project was definitely a labor of love, but it was so worth it. And that is the take away from making these cookies. I would do anything for my sister. I worked into the wee hours of the morning to finish these for her and tried to do so joyfully. At moments I had to stop and recollect myself as my patience was getting away from me, but I also thought about all of the details of her wedding that she was obsessing over to make sure her day was great. Was making 300 cookies and packaging them a lot of work? Of course. It was a great service though. I had made a commitment and I was honored to see it through... And I of course hope that it made Jessica's night a little bit sweeter too!

The R Word

Dear Mr. DJ,

 You did a pretty good job this evening. You played a good selection of music and kept the very lively party going for the duration of the evening. While it was a little jarring to go from Pat Green to The Beestie Boys with no bridge, overall I didn't find you overly annoying.

 That being said...

 At one point this evening you were helping the photographer get a series of shots. I'm not exactly sure what the purpose of the action was or what the photographers vision was, but it involved the whole crowd watching the groom dance wildly then breaking out in dance as well. Interesting. In the midst of your directing the crowd, you said, "Look at him like he's retarded." Let's think about that for a moment shall we. Really think about what that means. How does one exactly look at someone else like they are retarded. I get what you were going for, society has so ingrained this imagery of what "retarded" looks like that it is an easy word to throw around to get a point across. But it's horrible. I too have used the word flippantly throughout my life, never really thinking about how that can be construed by someone who is mentally disabled or by someone who loves someone with mental disabilities.

 My son has Down syndrome. He may or may not have mental disabilities or delays, more than likely, he does. But when I look at my son, someone who is "retarded", I look at him with love. I look at him with eyes that shine for him. I look at him with a smile that can't be contained inside. I look at him with hope, compassion, and fierce pride. This isn't what you meant. When you said to look at the groom like he was retarded, you meant it negatively and harshly. My heart sunk. Because despite how honored I am to have my son in my life, I fear every day that walking down the street he will be "looked at like he is retarded". My soul cries out with preemptive pain at how many people will judge him and see what he can't do instead of giving him every opportunity he deserves. Your passing comment left more of an impact on my heart with worry of how frequently my son will hear that word thrown around as if it doesn't have meaning beyond the imagery out society has created.

 Be careful with your words. It's a lesson that I myself have learned way later in life than I should have. But a passing comment at a wedding could be deeply hurtful in ways you don't even know. Please show use a different kind of "r" word and show some respect.

 A Mommy

Friday, March 22, 2013

3-21 2013

Yesterday was a first. We along with numerous other families around the World recognized 3-21, a day set aside as World Down syndrome awareness day. Appropriately picked because of the date coinciding with 3 copies of the 21st chromosome. Before it had always marked a passing "beginning" of spring (although here on the Gulf Coast it feels more like summer) and was rarely given a second thought. This year it means our admittance into a global community that we rarely thought about and never fathomed we would be a part of. I diligently made us all 3-21 t-shirts, or a onesie in Johnny's case, as a visual representation of today. The teachers at the girls Mother's Day Out program said they racked their brains all day long trying to figure out what it meant or referred to. We also timed a belated birthday dinner for myself to give Mattie the chance to wear his shirt as he was unable to wear a t-shirt to work of course. It felt like a badge of honor to wear that shirt around all day and I proudly told the handful of people who asked why we were wearing the shirts.

There is so much that comes with that extra chromosome. There are struggles, but there is also pure, raw joy that comes with reframing your mind to step back and see what your child actually brings to the life table. Johnny and his extra chromosome have taken so much pressure off of me as a parent. Life has turned from "When is each child going to meet this milestone" to "Wow! It is amazing that they can already do that!" He has taken us from "What is next?" to "What is now?" We approach each change a bit more momentously and with much more enthusiasm.

He is thoroughly uninterested in us

Yesterday as I skimmed through my Facebook feed, I took note of how many friends posted about 3-21 or Ds. And it wasn't for any motive or purpose, it was simply to see. As I scrolled through the pictures, links, and posts people made in reference to Ds, I began to cry. I was overwhelmed with emotion at the idea of how many people in our community have embraced us and our little guy. I felt so amazed by how many people now know a little bit more about Ds because of Johnny. I was humbled to be a part of such a loving and kind group of friends and family that are willing to advocate and say "I know this little boy..." Last year at this time, I had a status update about my birthday and about The Hunger Games movie. Two years ago, my status update was about nursing Keegan. I consider myself to be reasonably educated and before Johnny came along, I never knew that 3-21 was such a day of advocacy, of love, and of life. Just one more reason to thank Johnny for teaching us so much about a great many things.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


Earlier in my blogging career I began to document our search for the best pizza here in Houston. We are still on that search and have several places to document, but I don't think we will get much closer than we did tonight. To celebrate my birthday we made the trek out to The Woodlands to try Grimaldi's. We had heard about Grimaldi's in hushed tones as if it was a secret that it had been transplanted down to our relative neck of the woods. It is a direct chain from New York and they pride themselves on being some of the best pizza worldwide. According to their website they even have the water tested frequently in each nationwide location and adjust it as needed to achieve that perfect New York taste in the dough. Their attention to detail was evident as well when our server informed us that if we want to come back, not to do so between the hours of three and four as they shut down the ovens and clean them each day. I was delighted to give it all a try.

The ambiance was actually kind of perfect. The restaurant is two stories which felt very authentic and was decorated in brick and red and white checked tablecloths. The service was good. Our server gave us a rough explanation of the menu and noted a few of his favorites along the way. We got everything we asked for in a fairly timely manner, especially considering the fact that fresh pizzas simply take time to make. We both partook in a Peroni on tap which is our favorite pizza beer, light and crisp without a lot of extra flavor to take away from the pizza. We ordered caprese and a Mediterranean salad to start. The salad was typical and fine. The caprese was excellent. The mozzarella was a great balance between firm and milky and had just enough salty cheese flavor. The basil leaves were huge and covered the entire slice of tomato (hot house sized) and the tomatoes were perfectly firm and ripe. I was really impressed in how good the tomatoes were, that they didnt just grab some tomatoes and hoped they tasted good, they were actually good tomatoes. For pizza we went with our standby toppings, pepperoni and onion, as we feel that the best New York style pizzas need the simplicity of one or two toppings rather than multiple, supreme toppings. With the first bite I automatically noted how great the sauce was, tart and seasoned well, and how they used perfectly thin slices of fresh mozzarella as the cheese. The pepperoni was the small circle kind which was good because it got extra crispy as the pie baked. The onions were scattered too sparsely to notice, next time I would ask for double the onions. The crust was almost perfect and actually got better with our second slice once it had cooled a bit. I told Mattie it was almost disappointing because two or three tweaks (stretched a bit less to make a slightly thicker, chewier crust and adding a pinch of salt) would have made it pretty close to perfect. It was enjoyable, but Lombardi's is still king in our books.

Overall I give it an A. We will definitely return. So a pretty good find and friends that haven't been to Lombardi's will never know what they are missing. This is a definite must go to for the New York experience.

I think Keegan would love for us to return. She chowed down on caprese and kalamata olives and asked for more!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Gettin' Old

I turned 29 yesterday, I am officially in my 30th year of life. I remember as a kid wondering what my life may be like at this point, feeling for sure that I would have it all figured out. And while I think I have a pretty good grasp on a lot of my life, I find it interesting that sometimes I still work to "find" myself. I never thought that I would be considering a trip back to school within the next decade to start a different career in an entirely different field. I never thought that I would already have three kids and would really like to have a fourth before that big 3-0 appears by the box that says "age" (I am very happy with the idea of all the kids being graduated from high school by the time I am 48). I never thought that my life would be a lot like I imagined it and nothing like I imagined it all at the same time. I never thought I would be a stay at home mom and loving it. I never thought that the woman that I am would be enough for me. I thought I would have "done something" with my life by now, that I would be famous (although I could never pick between Hollywood fame and glamour or academia fame). You couldn't have told me that Target, picnics outside, and take out brought by a friend would be a pretty fantastic birthday. 

I am so stinking happy. And it isn't like everything always goes right for us. Matt and I argue. Household chores are left undone. The kids get fussy. I feel left out. I struggle. But despite all of the normal, every day situations, my life is good. And the normal stuff doesn't feel uncontrollable, it feels necessary. The rough times are just that, times. So we work hard to change what we can, we learn to communicate a bit better, and we learn to be content and grateful for all of the wonderful things in our life. So happiness is an emotion that is felt more often that not. So happiness is being delighted and thankful for moments with my three kids rather than rubbing elbows with the big wigs I thought I would know by now. Happiness is working through arguments with Mattie and continuing to learn about one another despite tiredness, being worn out, and feeling stubborn. I never could have imagined such happiness for myself.  And because I am that happy, this whole getting old thing doesn't feel so bad. So while I might feel a little worn down because I am finding grey hairs with a little bit of frequency, 29 feels like a good age to be because I am happy with me at this age. 

Happy birthday to me!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Biggest Loser

This morning I watched this season's finale of The Biggest Loser. While I fully recognize that this show needs ratings and thus they put an emphasis on drama, they also really try to motivate and show the contestants the flaws in their lifestyles in an effort to get them to change for the better. I was pretty excited because my favorite won the big prize, but on top of that, a recurring theme throughout the finale (and throughout the series) is how happy the contestants are with the changes they have made in their life. Over and over again, the contestants reiterate how they have their life back, how they have a second chance. It is amazing how much the transformation is necessary on the inside as well as the outside and how hindering one can hinder the other in a never ending cycle, just as the opposite is true.

This season, my favorite trainer, Jillian Michaels was speaking with a contestant and she told her, in reference to the contestant not wanting to work out, that "It's got to be because the desire to change is outweighing the pain and the fear. You just have to dig deep and make a choice. And right now it's gonna be as simple as 'hand/foot/hand/foot'." I love this quote. It is so important for us to keep this in mind in order to get to that place where we want to be...that so often we are crippled by fear and the big picture when we really need to focus on the smallest little steps in getting us started in moving towards our goal. We focus too much on the desire end result without taking time to look and see where we could be at this moment and what we could be doing at this moment. We are so fearful of not making it to our goal that we miss out on the opportunity to change our life and see where things go. While making it to the end of the show and the chance to win the big money is these contestants goal, each one of them focuses on something small, making it one more week on the ranch, powering through a "last minute workout" with the trainers, or simply jogging for 90 continuous seconds. I think this is something I need to work on keeping in mind, the end result and the little steps, looking at both things together, to make the changes I want in my life and to work towards the things we want or need.

Monday, March 18, 2013


I have been faced with an onslaught of people approaching me over what they see as issues in my kids or their behavior. Every time I am shocked by the boldness of people and their assumptions. Some of the times it is small things like people trying to make sure the girls get back to my table after playing at Chick Fil A (each time I have been watching them as they played and it hasn't been an issue...overprotective of other parents, but forgivable). Other times it is silliness, like when they kids were at the zoo playing in 40 degree weather on the playground and a Mom came up to me to tell me (rudely I might add) that Keegan had a runny nose. No kidding lady, it is 40 degrees, windy, and we have seasonal nose is running too, who are you going to tell that to? Like I told my friend who was with me, I don't need to know unless she is wiping boogers on your kid or hurting herself or others. Just let kids play!

Today I was at the grocery store with all three kids. Mac and Keegan were sitting in the "car" underneath the cart and Johnny was in the bucket seat in the basket. Several times Keegan had tried to dive head first out of the car so Mac was continuously pulling her back in and telling her to stay in the cart. Something I very much appreciated as I tried to swoop through the store before dinner. I paused to look at something and then heard Mac saying once again, "No! No! Keegan you have to stay in the cart." As I continued on, a lady from further in the store, rushed at my cart saying "Watch out!". I paused at wondered what was going on, the cars don't have an opening on the bottom so I know that their feet weren't caught, they hadn't grabbed anything, so I figured the only logical thing was that Keegan was going headfirst through the front of the car. When I looked Mac was holding onto Keegan in a bear hug around her neck to make sure she was staying in the cart. It wasn't tight and Keegan looked like she could have cared less. The woman then started to say that "She has her hands around her neck and she is choking her!". I looked down and said, "They are fine, kids do that." To which I got the nastiest look and she started to berate me. There was a lot of "You need to stop them." and "My kids never did that" as I rounded the corner to get a way from her. 

As I continued on with my shopping, I of course thought of a million things to protest and retort back. I stopped half way down the aisle to make sure they were both ok, which they were. Trust me, Keegan would have made it well known if she wasn't 100% ok with the situation. And the hot tears of embarrassment and anger began to set in as I tried to move past what the woman said. I fully recognize that I don't parent the way that a lot of parents do. We are pretty laid back in letting the kids explore and try new things. But this wasn't a situation where one of the kids was ever in any danger. The lady didn't know the full story. And I would never, ever approach someone over a situation like that without having observed something clearly going wrong. Ironically I would have expected someone to comment on Johnny being sideways across the sides of the cart in his bucket seat more than what the girls were doing. At the performance of Annie yesterday I saw a kid being disciplined by his mother and he was wincing after she yelled at him and was squeezing his shoulder. He did look like he was in pain, and I felt bad for the little guy, but I don't know that their story was. I don't know what was going on. I don't know what factors went into her decision to do that. The whole situation was over in less than a minute so it seemed like a pretty normal parent/kid interaction and thus I turned away and forgot about it until now. Matt and I are so careful on the way we treat the kids and discipline the kids and you still get scrutinized in public for things that aren't even what they seem. We work so hard to raise our kids to be kind, brave, strong, articulate, and caring and most of all, happy. And so it is frustrating to be placed under a microscope for such a small occurrence in our lives that really shouldn't have been a big deal at all. 

I should have told her that I was so glad we live in a country where we can all raise our children as we see fit. I should have told her to shove it. I should have told her that I am a damn good parent (which I am) and that I was quite sure there are decisions she makes with her life that I may not agree with. I should have done what a friend said and shown her what an actual headlock looks like. Instead I walked away. Which will be a good lesson for my girls someday. But I also hope that one day, the right thing comes to me in which I can express myself clearly and firmly in a situation like this so they can see that it is ok to stand up to others who disagree with you too. For now I am going to keep on doing what I have been because my kids seem to be doing pretty well with that and if they don't like it they can meet me out back and we can settle this like civilized human beings...I guarantee I would win that fight!

Sunday, March 17, 2013


I will add pics in later A few months ago I found out that a decent sized local theatre near us was putting on a performance of Annie. Mac has been increasingly interested in shows and musical numbers and from time to time we will watch different parts of musicals on YouTube. I have always loved going to the theatre, from the absolute jolt I got from feeling I was doing something fancy and "high society" to simply suspending all else for a few hours and seeing a story unfold in front of you, the theatre makes me happy. So I was very excited when Mattie said we should take Mac. We have been trying to be deliberate about occasionally spending one on one time with each of the kids and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to take Mac out on a date. I think she did fabulous and I am pretty sure she liked it. She was fascinated by the set changes and was totally "that" kid that asked what were they doing as they moved stuff around on stage. She sat in her seat for almost all of the first act and sat mostly in Matt's lap for the second act. We know she liked when Annie was singing and loved the little Sandy dog, played by a golden retriever. We treated her during intermission and got her a stuffed sandy (only 5 bucks because it was the last show) and a little snack that she paid for out of her purse. We had such a good time with our girl and you could tell she felt extra special when we took just her out with us. I hope I have a little theatre buddy for years to come. I asked her if she wanted to sing and dance on stage and got a most determined "no"!

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Love is in the air. At my sisters wedding, welcoming a brother into the family! Have a great night to all! It's a special one for the Howard clan extended!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Out of town

Mattie was out of town this week for work. The weeks are a lot of work for him and he comes back drained, but we are still so appreciative of his new job that we don't mind. In fact, I kind of like that he goes out of town on business from time to time because it seems so different from being tied into the branch like at the bank. It's kind of a status thing, right?

That being said, this week was a little harder because MacKenzie has really started missing him on his trips. When he tucked the girls into bed Sunday evening, he explained that he was leaving early in the morning and wouldn't see them until Friday. For the first time, Mac got misty eyed and clung a little tighter to him. She has been saying she missed him before this trip, but this was the first preemptive sadness we have had so far. It is really hard on both of us to see her little heart breaking. Nothing made me sadder about taking Johnny back to the hospital when he was a baby than Mac crying and saying she didn't want us to go. So now that this is a somewhat regularly scheduled part of our lives for the next few months, it is hard to walk away from those little tears. Mattie is such a good Daddy to make sure to show them extra love and then go out and provide for our family.

He also gets major points today because he got to the airport early so he could get on an earlier flight to spend more time with us. Mattie for the win!

Thursday, March 14, 2013


After writing about giving Johnny's health issues over to God a friend and I were talking. I told her that with all of my issues with doing chores and keeping up with household tasks that it may be time for super type A Ashley to reemerge. I put her on the bench with kids because you have to be/can be more lax around the house with taking care if things. But now, as I have said, it has all piled up to be too much. So if I give God the big stuff, then maybe I will have more energy to bring the other stuff back in line with where I want it to be. So lists and whatnot are starting to make their way back into my life along with schedules that have been messed up with altered sleeping schedules due to the time change. Of course I made this decision before I remembered that I have to make, decorate, and bag 300 cookies for my sisters wedding...but more on that later! Off to do my must do chores!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Diaper Issue

Keegan is tantalizingly close to being ready for potty training. I could throw us into it now if I wanted and have marginal success, but Mac was so easy (partially because we waited until she was 2 3/4 years old) that I want that kind of ease again. And frankly, Keegan uses the restroom much less frequently than Mac does so it isn't that many diapers a day (for her, her brother is another story). That being said, Keegan has a horrible habit of taking her diaper off at night. It isn't even when the diaper is used or nasty, sometimes the diaper will be completely dry and her bum will be sticking up in the air catching the breezy air from the fan in their room. I could care less about the nakedness part, my only gripe is the fact that I have to change sheets several times a week because of said diaper removal. She will wait until the diaper is off, fall asleep, and pee on the bed, pillows, or floor. We had tried everything from extra layers, zipper pajamas, diaper covers, duct tape, discipline, all of the above. Nothing worked. She would take her punishment and discipline, cry and say sorry, help clean up, and do it again at the next possible sleep time.

She has always been like this, needing positive reinforcement instead of discipline. When she was younger she had the habit of throwing food off the plate. We would give her hand spanks and go through our entire discipline process of why that was unacceptable only to have her do it again. Eventually she caught on and would throw food on the floor then hold out her hand looking at us like, "Go ahead, do your worst". Only when we changed things up did she stop. Instead of waiting for her to do the negative behavior, we would take her hand when she had food in it, gently shake it over her plate saying "Drop the food on your plate", then praise her, telling her what a good girl she was for leaving her food on the plate. A couple of days later, there was no more food on the floor (with the exception of course). So we know she is a little pistol when it comes to doing things our way instead of hers. We really should have thought through her name a little bit better!

So not knowing how to give immediate positive reinforcement for leaving her diaper on due to the fact it was coming off every sleep time, I went to Facebook and asked for tips. A newer friend offered the best advice- turn her zipper pajamas around so she can't reach the back. Genius! Last night was the first time, she giggled as I got her dressed for bed and looked a little confused as we put her feet and arms in different holes than we normally do. When I zipped her up she looked down confused and said "Button?" looking for her zipper. I smiled at her and told her it was in the back. She reached behind her and you could see the realization come over her. She turned a few times trying to reach it and started giggling. Finally she stopped and smiled at me saying, "Back". I couldn't tell what the smile and gleam in her eyes meant. On one hand it could very well mean "Challenge Accepted", on the other hand it could mean "Well played Mother, well played".

When I went up to get her this morning, the pajamas were on and the room left untainted. Hopefully this will keep the diaper securely on for some time more. She did laugh at me again as I zipped up her pajamas in the back which made me slightly nervous. I wonder if it is a matter of time before she cons MacKenzie into unzipping for her. In the meantime, Yay for Mommies helping Mommies!!!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I hear you!

I'm not sure how much of this I have mentioned before, but we were very concerned about Johnny's hearing before he was born. When they run the full microarray on chromosomes they can detect a lot about those little things. One of the things detected was a deletion of a small portion on Chromosome 13. Because they ran our blood work as well, they knew this deletion was inherited from Matt as he has the same portion missing. The actual loss for anyone who is interested in genetics (as I am becoming increasingly) is in chromosome band 13q12.11. When they were explaining the major link with the loss, they said that it is sometimes linked with hereditary deafness to which I couldn't help but snort at. Mattie and his Dad both have major issues hearing and filtering out noise. I felt a little hesitant about this information as I knew that Johnny would face some challenges already and I knew that if he has any hearing loss then that road will be all the more difficult. They said there were additional tests we could run to see how big the risk factor was for our little man, but we decided that as there was nothing we could do about it, then we may as well just wait. I wasn't a huge fan of risk factors at that point. 

When Johnny was born he failed the hearing test in the hospital twice. They ran it in our original stay and when we we readmitted for phototherapy, our pediatrician had us run the test again since we were at the hospital anyways. After he failed we had to jump through hoops to get an appointment with an audiologist to which we have now been to twice. Johnny can hear just fine but is still retaining fluid in his ears which could lead to problems later. This is somewhat common within kids with Down syndrome because of the way Ds manifests in the cranial/skull structure. Smaller inner ear bones and structure make it harder for fluid to drain out. This is also a somewhat normal issue for the non-chromosomally enhanced population. So we have an appointment in a couple weeks with an ENT that comes highly recommended from several people. In an odd way the fluid in his ear has made me smile. Because it is a normal kid thing too! We could be facing tubes which is something I can talk to other Mommies that I know about! We have several friends that have faced this very thing! And that feels really good to know that others have faced what we face in that regards. 

Another interesting takeaway from all of this being laid out by genetics is the fact that they have all of this mapped out for us to see. For hundreds of years people have said they get certain traits and ailments from relatives. In our day in age we get to see that! We can see that if Johnny develops difficulty hearing later in age, then he gets that from his Dad and it is mapped out in every cell of his being. Science keeps looking and searching and they keep finding out more and more and finding smaller bits of our very being. While I think there is a fine line of how much you want to find out, it is pretty amazing what science can see. I also think that the boundary will always be pushed further and further and we will never reach the end. Each time scientists get ready to exclaim, "This is it, this is the end!", new discoveries are made of even smaller parts that need to be investigated. It's pretty amazing design!

Monday, March 11, 2013

More prayers

Matt and I are very keen on getting information. We always want to know. We want things to be laid out in front of us and to have an onslaught of as much knowledge as we possibly can. We want probabilities, guesses, statistics, possibilities, data, websites, the whole enchilada if you will and we like for it to be all at once. When we were trying to decide what to do about me working last year we wanted to know. We wanted to look into the future and see the book written for us with clear direction on which way to go. It doesn't work that way though. We finally had to make a plunge and decide for me to stay at home and we know now that was absolutely the right decision. So even though we knew that you cannot always see what may be in store for you, we still went through a lot of Johnny's pregnancy and months after he was born praying for answers from doctor appointments and wanting to know. I think this is natural, that situations feel less scary if we have knowledge to go with it. And we are thankful that we had the ultimate answer and prenatal diagnosis given to us so we could deal with things in our time frame as we always said we wanted. This is one reason we had to wait a tad longer for our amniocentesis results, we wanted the full microarray done which takes longer than preliminary work that just tests for T13, T18, and T21. But there were so many doctor visits where we were given the old "wait and see". Again and again we prayed for answers, for clear direction, to know what was going on. We sent out prayer requests to our church group and posted on Facebook that we needed and yearned for answers. For weeks on end we would ask for knowledge and for many of those weeks we were denied clear and definitive answers. We thought that would end with Johnny's arrival, but it continued and still does today. I look back on it now, how I would sit and listen to friends praying for us, "Give them knowledge." And I think, if God smiles, He smiled at those moments. That He sent peace and strength, but also thought to Himself, "They still have progress that needs to be made."

Last weekend I was spending time with the ladies in our small group and as we went through our needs and struggles I commented that we had a lot of appointments for Johnny that week. I was taking him to see genetics, audiology, and he had a well check. When they asked me what my prayers were for these appointments, I laughed because I had thought about it a lot. I told them that a year ago, six months ago, I would have asked for clear results and answers, but God had worked so much on my heart that while I would like answers, I don't need them. I asked them to pray for clear traffic, ease in finding the office, and that Johnny was well behaved. We all laughed, but I really think it has become a true turning point for me. For over a year I have been telling God that I was submitting myself to Him, that I was ready for His work to be done, but that wasn't completely true. I wanted to be equal partners with God, I wanted to be on His level and to know where I was going within His plan. But that isn't my right. It has been important for me to learn that not only do I need to tell Him I am willing, but I also need to completely give this over to Him. Again, I think this is normal for humans to do, we always want to know more, but my desire to know where the journey was headed was becoming a hindrance.

In a quite amusing way, the appointment on Monday went really well, we had perfect traffic, it was super easy to get into Texas Children's, and Johnny was a dream baby. Additionally, we got some really good, clear information! How ironic that when I took a step back, I actually got what I wanted. When I realized that I was going to survive without that information, that it wasn't what I needed to raise my son, that it was given to me as a little bonus. And to further reaffirm His point, that His timing is beyond my own, the audiology appointment went well, but we have to see another doctor to figure out some fluid issues Johnny has. Sometimes I will get clear information and sometimes I won't. I suppose a better prayer from here on out may be more along the lines of asking to be given the knowledge that He thinks I need at that time, that the information be presented clearly, and that I am strengthened and supported through any times of uncertainty. And in the meantime, I should continue to praise Him for all the great things He has given us and the way He guides our lives. We are truly blessed.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Serving others

This summer I took up crocheting. It was a good way to meet up with friends as we crafted together. Two of my friends brilliantly started crocheting last year and have started their own business. I loved their hats for the kids, but seeing as I wanted about a hundred hats for each of them, I figured I should learn how to do it myself to save a bit of money! While perusing some of their work, I discovered that they had made hats for a NICU support group that is local. That got my brain tinkering. Remembering Johnny's short stint in the NICU and several other friends who have had NICU stays made me realize how heartwarming it must feel to have a little homemade craft presented for your wee one through an unexpected hospital stay. After a few weeks of mulling over this I sent my nurse friend an email asking if this was something we could do for Methodist Willowbrook. I knew I could count on several of my friends to pitch in and help. We were met with a resounding and enthusiastic yes, but might we also consider another need. 

Johnny's first couple hours in the NICU

 Johnny's overnight tanning session in the NICU

My nurse friend let me know that they have a huge need for items for the babies who don't make it through childbirth. They need hats, gowns, slippers, and blankets for these little ones in a desperate way. I immediately thought to myself, "Of course." because it should seem so obvious that there was a need there. I couldn't imagine having to go through the pain of losing a child and then having to also think about clothing or something to put my pre-term child in to wear. If we could help fulfill this need, that would be one less thing the parents and families would have to worry about in this time of struggle. 

We immediately began some internet research and the work has begun. We will be trying to fulfill both needs and already have a great start on a number of items. We have to be a little deliberate in choosing colors and styles for the little angel babies because we want their items to be beautiful but respectful at the same time. It is teeny, tiny work, but many of the items being made are simply gorgeous and it is such an honor to be working with these women to provide for others in need. The NICU babies can get items of all colors and styles, we want them to look bold and strong! All of us are trying to be conscious of thinking about and praying for these children, their families, and their providers as we work on these items. We know this is a need that will be fulfilled through our work and we hope to continue it for some time. 

 A preemie sized hat

My first attempt at clothes
It is a little large, but a good starting lesson

The five of us (for now, maybe our numbers will grow) crochet and pray, crochet and pray, and send each other links of tips and pictures of our progress as we love what we do. If you would like to help us, please let us know. There are other ways to help or items that we need that do not involve crochet or knitting. Additionally, this is one of those examples where 5 bucks makes a big difference. On sale we can get one to two skeens of really soft yarn for just over 5 bucks which makes a ton of preemie and micro preemie hats. So if this is something you may be interested in helping with, leave a comment or contact me however you normally would!

Saturday, March 9, 2013


I guess I technically missed a day of blogging...but if you define a day as the time you are awake then I still made!

My mom is a caterer and event planner and we had a mega event today. I told my mom I would work for her as I frequently do, this was a rather large event and she needed lots of help (especially from such a great and experienced worker such as myself). This morning rolled around and I really did not want to go into work. I had a ton of stuff I needed to get done, a ton more I wanted to get done, and I just didn't feel like going in. I had no choice however, my mom was counting on me. As I grumbled my way through the drive to Lake Conroe I let my attitude get worse and worse. When I got the venue I set to work, but kept my bad attitude. As I worked through different tasks, I continued this inner dialogue of how much I didn't want to be there.

About an hour after getting there, I stopped what I was doing and realized it was time to change that attitude. Matt and I are very fortunate that I do not have to work, that we have that luxury of me having the option to stay at home. So this income from working for mom is entirely for extra stuff or for saving for extra luxuries that we don't necessarily need. Not everyone can say that. Additionally, I tell myself that I like working for mom because I like to help her. And I do. And that is where my attitude shifted. If I was there to help, then I needed to be good with being there to help. My work would get done either way, but I would have a lot easier time if I made good with the fact that I was there and the work was good.

I need to remember this more often. I work really hard at making myself available to help others and I need to remember to be more joyous and happy in. I need to stop feeling like it is a burden or sacrifice and start genuinely feeling glad in that help.

Friday, March 8, 2013


I have been doing some preliminary research on alternative therapies for Johnny to help some of the manifestations of Down syndrome. While there is, of course, no cure for Trisomy 21, there are a lot of ways to help with the way that extra chromosome presents challenges in his life. All the research I have seen suggests that the early intervention programs (occupational and physical therapy and later speech therapy) are helpful in the long run. Since those are already in place, I was seeking out information on two other therapies and wouldn't mind reader input.

One thing that is kind of "trendy" in Ds circles right now is essential oil therapy. Different oils are selected and placed on different parts of the body routinely in order to help with different physical ailments or to help with overall health or cognition. I am particularly interested in the cognition oils to help increase his memory and learning capabilities as he gets older. Oils seem like such a hokey, hippy idea though. Also, from what I understand, true/pure essential oils are expensive. Any thoughts?

The other therapy I am looking at is nutrition based. This was something that struck me to look into as I have read a few articles that link the rise in the number of diagnosis of autism with poor diet. There has been success with altering diet and seeing an improvement in kids with both autism and add/adhd. I really like the idea of nutrition therapy in a pure sense of altering his diet once he begins solids, rather than in a supplemental/vitamin based way. Research suggests that the extra chromosome produces different enzymes and proteins in the body literally leading to an imbalance. This imbalance can, in theory, be altered some by diet. Plus, looking at it in the simplest sense, it is very basic and common nutritional knowledge- lots of essential fatty acids, DHA, extra vitamin A, betacarotyne, and antioxidants. I will be looking a lot further into this because this is an example of a therapy or change that can't hurt. Being deliberate about having a lot of this nutrients in all of our diets will beneficial for our overall health regardless of how it changes Johnny's chromosomally related issues.

There it is...anybody know any ideas?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Johnny's 4 Month Appontment

Today I took Johnny to the pediatrician. It was a relatively good appointment with our pediatrician. She recently lost her father so we had the chance to talk about that, it was nice to hear that she had some good times with her father before he passed. She was pleased with Johnny's progress. He is meeting his developmental milestones so far (smiling socially, cooing and verbalizing, opening hands, and lifting head 90 degrees). He weighed in at 13 pounds 7.5 ounces which puts him around the 60th percentile for the Ds chart and 10th percentile for the regular chart and was 24 inches long putting him at the 66th percentile for Ds and 16th percentile for regular. They were pleased with his eating and sleeping (as am I) and she gave the go ahead to start solids at any time (which we won't for awhile). He has been extra sleepy and a little sad this evening because of his vaccines (one oral and two shots), but that is to be expected. Also a good note, the ENT suggested by friends of ours was highly recommended by her so we will be making an appointment soon to check on the fluid in Johnny's ears. We've got to make sure our kids get the best!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Our cup...

I have been thinking about the idea of optimism a lot lately. It came up on a message board I was perusing while pumping and the comment came up about how so many of us see ourselves as having a good attitude because we are optimists, we see the cup as being half full. This, the commenter said, is usually grossly inaccurate of our reality because we should really see our cup how it is, running over. I think I do a good job of keeping track of how blessed we are. I really do see my cup as runneth over. How could I not? For all the frustrations that prompted an "argh" blog post last night, I have a wonderful life. Like I told someone in response to yesterday's post, the best thing about a "bad" night, is that you get to wake up the next day and not hold a grudge against the evening or your family. You pack up extra snacks, make a plan for a surprise visit to the Livestock show, and end up having a really great day.

The kids and I had a fairly good time at the Livestock show. I felt the morning warranted an even more extra special treat which meant donuts for the girls and a Diet Dr Pepper to add a little pep to Mommy's step. When we got down to Reliant, Mac was super excited to get to their surprise, she even said, "Look Mommy there are fountains at our surprise, Wow!" I love how making things a surprise can warrant exclamations at things I wouldn't have even noticed. I loaded the girls up in the double stroller, wrapped Johnny up in the "Faux-by" wrap and trekked the kids over to the show. Three different people looked at me and asked if I needed help and if I was sure I wanted to walk over there instead of waiting for the trolley. I smiled and told them I needed my exercise and we made it on our merry way. It was actually a gorgeous day and a nice little walk so I didn't mind the extra weight. I also feel we were rewarded for my efforts because the person at the gate didn't make me pay for my entrance (kids were free today). Once we got in the show, I was surprised how crowded it was as it usually isn't on non-spring break days, but we pushed on knowing that even just a couple hours would be fun. The girls had a blast in the petting zoo and I was shocked to see Mac being the bold one petting animals and Keegan being the one hiding behind my legs. They had goats, sheep, donkeys, chickens, llamas, and wallabies (?) for the kids to interact with. 

We made our way through a handful of exhibits and the girls were particularly fascinated with the chickens in various life stages. I think we distracted a lot of people from the actual show because I cannot count how many times people pointed, smiled, and stopped to tell me I had my hands full.

We had heard friends talk about the Farm adventure exhibit for the kids and I was excited for Mac and Keegan to get a little taste of the process of getting food to the store. The exhibit is interactive and lets the kids play as the plant seeds, harvest crops, take care of animals, take their items to market, get paid, and get to buy a real snack for all their hard work. All of the stuff is fake (except for the snack at the end) and play, but it is set up to show the actual process farmers and agriculturalists go through to make their money and provide goods for the people. As a former educator, I give this exhibit a ten plus!

We ended up finishing earlier than we thought so we were able to meet Matt for lunch which was a great treat. I also had the foresight to put a pork butt in the crock pot and had a great meal for tonight ready to go and plenty of leftovers for tomorrow. Tomorrow this meal will be made into pulled pork quesadillas! Yummy!

 So top it all off with the girls playing outside, working on a service project (details to come), having little moments of connections with family and friends, and even our theoretical bucket would runneth over. You just can't contain all of this good stuff! And I love late birthday presents for my Keegan that show what a great nurturer she is...

Especially when you hold this in your arms...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

There'll be days like this

Today was one of "those" days...and truth be told it wasn't even one of those days, it was one of those nights. Which I think is worse in ways, it sneaks up on you as you are settling into notching off the day as being one point for the Supermon. There I was, basking in the glory of having worked out, gotten some good deals at the grocery store, and feeding the girls and myself (and by extension Johnny) a relatively healthy meal when it happened. Broccoli ended up on the floor, water spilled on the floor, a very aggressive balloon fight ensued, toys that I wasn't ready to open were ripped to shreds. Babies got fed up of having their nose picked, refused to eat, and cried at being put down. Toys became cast about the room, war broke out over the lone Minnie dress up dress in our possession, and bubbles that I should have put up started to get blown through the living room. Not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. But I didn't want it to be a messy night tonight. I wanted to fold my laundry, straighten up the dining room table, and maybe take a stab at loading the dishwasher in a fun new way just to see Matt shrudder when he opened it up. So now I am telling myself that it's ok, that its just a season, that there will be years of clean house ahead of us, but only months of baby snuggles, book reading, and dress up happening in our living room. That my main job right now is to have kind, loved, well adjusted kids and while some families can have a clean house and those things, it's not in our cards at this moment. So I'm busy typing this on my phone with a precious four month cuddled against my chest because he needs his mommy right now. And I am redistributing the Supermon points away from chores and instead assigning them to things that are really point worthy. Things like watching my girls "exercise" as they run back and forth in front of the gym, lunch with a dear friend and her daughter, hearing Keegan call my friend a "princess" and giving her a hug, cherishing the picture MacKenzie drew for me today at the gym, and best of all, giving Johnny kisses on his cheeks and hearing his first real belly laugh, deep and strong! When you look at it that way, today has been pretty good after all.

Monday, March 4, 2013


I love Houston. I wasn't born here, but I have definitely lived most of my life here. I grew up pretty much right where 290 meets 610 in a house that my dad still lives in today. Even as a kid I loved living in Houston, I was always a little confused as to why people would vacation in Houston, but I loved being from here and growing up here. I became increasingly exasperated with people in college who would ask me where I was from and then ask if I lived in Jersey Village or Cypress. Nope, when I say I grew up in Houston, I grew up in Houston! I am so glad that Mattie and I made the decision to move here when we did. I recognize that other parts of the state or the country don't realize the appeal of Houston, but we really love it here. Affordable housing, lots of jobs, different areas to choose from in the city, tons of great food, world class museums, a plethora of entertainment options, the list goes on and on. Matt and I are so snobby about Mexican food having been spoiled by it here in Houston that we won't eat Mexican food north of Waco because we are quite simply convinced that it simply isn't worth it! I am not crazy about professional sports, but I fully support my Houston teams above all others (professional teams that is). So even though we aren't technically IN Houston, we still love being Houstonians by association.

Today I felt incredibly blessed to be a Houstonian for another reason. I drove Johnny down to the medical center for an appointment with Genetics. The appointment went great and in the process we were given the referral for Johnny to go to the Down syndrome clinic to be checked out by specialists once a year. It became so clear to me as I walked through Texas Children's Hospital how lucky I was that we were here, in this great city, with only a drive down a couple of freeways to get to medical offices that are frequented by people from all over the world. People routinely come from around the state, country, and further to visit the offices that I can easily get to. Some families have to plan trips months in advance, take off work, arrange flights for them and their kids, get a hotel, and deal with all the other travel woes just to have the same couple hour visit we had for Johnny. It is such a blessing to have this resource at our disposal.

So a big thank you to Houston for being the great and misunderstood city that you are! The Howard family loves you very much!

Image from

Sunday, March 3, 2013


I think we have outdone ourselves on busy days. I can think of only a handful of days busier than Saturday was. Might I say an enthusiastic "Woo-hoo" for Mattie being home on the weekends? It is simply so much more fun to be busy within around. Can I also add that our kids are amazing and flexible and I am so proud of the way they handled too much fun. We had three birthday parties yesterday. We didnt want to miss any of them and we are so glad we made the effort to be there for each of these special little girls. While Mattie and I try to limit sugar intake on most days, for parties we let caution go to the wind. Fortanetly, the girls didnt eat too much junk. In fact the only thing I really worried about was their hydration! Each had an appropriate timed meltdown around 4:30 and after that remained good for the rest of the day. We were very proud of them and would have given them a treat if not for the fact they had been treated all day. We were even prouder of Mac when we were making cards for each girl's present. She wrote two of the girl's names on their cards when we spelled it for her and wrote the first initial of the last one's name. She is learning so much with just the little bit we do! A definite heartwarming occurence when we were headed home, Mac exclaimed to both of us, "I am happy! I love you!" Today I was pleasantly surprised to get a handful of tasks done, the most important being finding my dress for JJs wedding. I am pleased with my find and the fact that it is versatile enough to wear again and again. So this was a bit of a ramble, but I really wanted to remember the good job the kids did with their busy day (for those days that they aren't so great)!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Happy Birthday to the First

Prior to Keegan’s delivery, we had teased our friend Karlin about whether or not she could be in the room for the delivery. We had every intention of her being there, but it was quite humorous to watch her sweat over being there to see our sweet Baby Trike being born or not. In the end, we are so thankful she was there because my sister, who was supposed to take pictures for us, was a wreck of emotions and could barely manage to look at what was going on through her tears much less take pictures. As Karlin made moves to leave the room, Jessica handed her the camera saying she had to take pictures because she couldn’t do it. I also think having her in the room made me control what was coming out of my mouth a little bit more, because there were several times I said “God…” and trailed off, not finishing that statement how I wanted to.

When it came time for Karlin to deliver her own baby last year, I had told her that while the decision was obviously up to her, I would love to repay the favor and to at least keep me posted as I am perfectly happy and content to sit in a waiting room to be among the first to wish babies a Happy Birthday. Thus, I set my little cell phone to a special ring tone just for Karlin and eagerly awaited the news that Baby Bumble was on his or her way. Several weeks before Karlin’s due date I prepared my class letting them know that I may be missing class time to be there for a friend who was having a baby. This brought an onslaught of questions my direction; the most disturbing being asked if I would bring them pictures/video to see of the delivery. I immediately protested “no”, but now that I think about it, if it led to more abstinence in the 15 year old population then maybe I should rethink that policy! In the week leading up to Baby Bumble coming, it became increasingly evident that Karlin’s body was gearing up for labor. Each text message would send my heart racing and palms sweating as I waited for the “It’s time” to be sent my way. I spent several afternoons over at their house, walking with Karlin, visiting, and letting her and Ryan to attempt a date night. In fact, I already lined up a substitute for the day I got the call because we were all pretty sure that the big day was coming.

Very early in the morning, I got a text saying that they were headed up to the birthing center and that I could make my way there when I wanted. Which is hilarious…when I wanted…when I know a baby is making it’s way and my kids are taken care of, then I will be there as soon as I can. I hurriedly got dressed, brushed my teeth, and headed in their direction making two stops to try and find tangelos, Karlin and I’s special postpartum present to one another. Seeing as it was “very early” no stores were open and I had to resort to bringing them later that weekend. When I got to the birthing center I sat in my car wondering if I was in the right place. The birthing center is located in two houses that have been remodeled to fit the needs of the midwives and their patients for delivery and I wasn’t exactly sure what I was expecting before that. Going inside, it was still set up very much like a house with a few tweaks here and there, mainly having space in the rooms for a tub and bathroom for the laboring mothers. I am a little freaked out by this being an old house, but reminded myself that this is Karlin’s thing and Karlin’s day and that I am here for her 100%. I am slightly comforted when looking in a closet to see that there is an oxygen tank ready to go, why that gave me comfort, I’m not sure, but it seemed like a little assurance or reminder that we are all on the same side…to deliver a baby safely!

When I arrived, Karlin was receiving her first and only dose of antibiotics for Group B strep which had been a large worry for quite some time, she really wanted to labor at home for a large portion of her labor and was worried about having to head into the birthing center and stalling.  As she continued to labor, I was hesitant on how to help. I knew instinctively how I wanted to help, but we had never sat down and discussed what she may want or need from me. Within a relatively short amount of time of being there, several tasks presented themselves to me and I was slowly able to work my way into being more supportive of her. I knew the number one thing I want during labor is for someone to ease delivery in the small of my back so that is what I did, rubbing her back with each contraction hoping that it was providing some relief. It seemed to help, or at least didn’t hurt anything because, trust me, she would have let me know.

For awhile Karlin walked through the birthing center hoping to progress further and rocked back and forth on the labor ball. Ryan and I took turns with words of encouragement and Ryan took the opportunity to read several Bible verses to Karlin as labor became more and more intense. I think Karlin could have kissed the midwives when they said she could get in the tub to continue laboring there.  After all, isn’t a water birth (or at least some portion of labor taking place in the tub) kind of a requirement for a non-hospital birth? Once in the tub, Karlin went into a focused Mommy zone that only laboring Mommies can. We would try to ask her questions to help provide her with relief and would be answered with very noncommittal one-word answers or not at all. Ryan and I tried to guess at what each answer or not answer meant and there is no funnier communication that non-verbal “What did that mean?” over a laboring woman’s head. Words of encouragement continued on both our parts and Ryan worked hard to physically and emotionally support Karlin. Karlin would utter words like “Hot” and we were left to interpret what that meant…is she hot from the water, hot from the air, or does she like the hot water…we turned the water on and were met with fierce head shaking and a firm “No”. We guessed that she meant she was hot, but not wanting to leave the warm bathtub and all of the relief it provided her, I set myself up for washcloth duty. In washcloth duty, I had a rotation of four washcloths that rotated in and out of ice (yes, ice) water. One was for Karlin’s head (and often had to be held there as she moved to different laboring positions) and the other was for her neck, while the final two were icing back down. Each time I plunged my hand in the icy water to retrieve the next one I was worried she would freak at how cold it was, but she never did. In my mind it was like she garnered strength from the ice whereas us mere mortals would find it paralyzing! As labor progressed and Karlin moved more and more, it was hard to move the midwife “supplies” from side to side of the tub and along with it, the washcloth tub. However, we would occasionally hear a “Cold” from Karlin and that meant that I was on duty to provide that cool relief she needed.

All the while, Karlin is doing amazing working through her contractions, which were progressing quickly and a midwife assistant was in sitting with us. She asked if I was Karlin’s Doula, which gave me a great sense of pride that, “Hey, I must be doing something right!” I quickly shook my head no and the assistant continued on. Several times as Karlin started vocalizing as she was working through contractions, we would hear a tone similar to that being uttered from elsewhere in the room. I would look up at Ryan as he looked at me, wondering if I was matching Karlin. When it became clear it was the midwife assistant I suppressed my laugh not wanting to frustrate her or Karlin. I did really appreciated the relaxed nature of the birthing team as one of the midwives brought her baby daughter to the delivery and she snoozed in another room as Karlin delivered and we all got a chuckle out of her rainbow striped socks. It was all so intense and so incredibly normal at the same time.

Karlin tells us that at one point she was hit with an overwhelming feeling of this whole natural childbirth thing, at a birthing center, might not be such a great idea. And I think this is a point that all of us hit in our deliveries, like "oh God, what were we thinking, God if you could do me one last little favor, get me out of this..." I rarely saw Karlin at this point during her delivery, but it became sort of noticeable in a moment shared when only her and I were in the room. She was moving in and out of her "zone" in the tub and I hear the faintest sounds coming from her. As I strain to hear her, it becomes clear that she is saying "help, help me". I want to cry now thinking about it, that most vulnerable point in her labor, feeling so desperate that she whispers a plea for help. My resolve strengthens for her and I quickly assure her how amazing she is doing, I remember telling her that we were all there to help her, that Ryan, the midwives, and myself were there to help her however she needed, but truthfully, she needed help from no one. That she was doing this all on her own, that SHE was doing it, and doing it really well. I held her hand and we prayed for strength and calmness and relaxation and for little Baby Bumble to be protected through this process. After that she settled back into her zone and continued on as before. It was an amazing moment for me because I knew, as I have in my deliveries, that she probably felt incredibly small and a little helpless, while those around her saw her as being strong and powerful and amazing as she worked to deliver this little miracle.

Once delivery got closer, the details on the timeline become less clear, at some point the midwives asked about her water breaking to which Karlin protested that she was in the bathtub, how was she supposed to know that her water had broken… they smiled and knowingly answered to let them know when it does. Sure enough, a bit later Karlin was able to tell them that her water had indeed broken. Karlin also became more and more adamant about the midwives getting close to her or touching her to check her progress. Her increasing discomfort told the midwives that delivery was near, but they couldn’t get a sense of the actual process. Karlin was told that she really needed to get the baby into a better position and sitting on the toilet was suggested as a good place to do that. For hours, we hadn’t seen the clear and decisive Karlin and suddenly she made her appearance. “The toilet?!?” and protests of not being able to get up soon filled the room. The midwives assured her that she would have support, and that she shouldn’t deliver the baby in the toilet, and even if she did, the baby wouldn’t actually come out in the toilet… How reassuring… So up Karlin goes (good thing Ryan is a strong guy and not some little beanpole) and half way to the toilet (a good ten feet away) here comes the next contraction. Ryan supports Karlin, I take PG pictures, and there goes the midwife…on the floor…with a construction grade flashlight checking Karlin as she contracts. This is the scene they should show on “crazy hippy birth stories”- a toilet in the background, a rainbow socked midwife crouched on the floor, a Mommy in the throes of labor working through a contraction, and an assistant uttering vocal tones in the background. It was a little crunchy and was in desperate need of sage burning and some tribal drums patting out a little rhythm. That being said, the toilet positioning worked wonders and before she knew it, Karlin was moved back in the tub and was ready to push with full force.

The best moments of course, were the moments leading up to the actual delivery. Karlin is making sure that the midwives aren’t touching her, to which they reply that nobody is touching her, that is the baby crowning and that she is doing amazing.  I love that moment of reassurance to a Mommy, that she has done well and that her time, her reward, is near. Ryan is poised, ready to catch the first glimpses of his baby girl or boy, trying to be cool, but is hesitant in the way that all Daddies are before they meet their new little ones. The midwives are calm, knowing that everything is going perfectly and are just waiting for that moment a new life is brought forth. And then, there it is, clear and blurry all in the same moment, like flashes of memory because your mind can’t grasp the wonderful things taking place. The baby is turned and waits patiently under water to be brought up onto Karlin’s chest, laid close to the beating heart which is the most constant and comforting sound it has ever and will ever know. Karlin joyfully welcomes her little one into her arms and has to be reminded to look and tell us that it’s a girl! Praise is showered on her for a job well done, for a job done perfectly. And there are many tears of happiness that Hanne Elyse is here, as Mommy is busy soaking in all of those first moments, blinking eyes, first kisses, tender touches, all meant to reassure this new life, “Welcome little one, you are loved”.

It was an amazing day and interestingly, reaffirmed my growing desire to become a Labor and Delivery nurse. While I think that midwife groups and birthing centers do a great job coaching their mommies through childbirth, they have the “natural thing” covered. We need more women who are experienced in the field of natural birth in our hospitals, empowering women, educating women, and supporting women whatever their choice may be. Having a good support staff is crucial in making it through a natural delivery and I want to be able to provide that for women in the hospital. Hanne reassured me of that. I shook on the way home from her birth, a jumble of nerves and adrenalin and a lot of smiles that made my cheeks hurt and exclamations of “That was amazing, I want to do that professionally!” It was an amazing equilibrium of pouring completely into a dear friend and receiving complete satisfaction in return. To Hanne, Karlin, and Ryan I will always be grateful because she was the first child I saw come into this world that wasn’t my own.

Happy Birthday Hanne!