Thursday, March 31, 2011


Yes, you read that right. 3/31/10--one year ago today--was the day that our lives got turned thoroughly upside down. I woke up feeling kind of ill...nothing serious, but just really crappy. I reasoned that since I had a week-long Outdoor School field trip the next week, I should probably take a sick day and rest up. So I called in sick, wrote up a sub plan, and went back to bed. Later in the day, I went for a long walk with Allen to meet up with a person who was buying a textbook from him. On the walk, I had a twinge of abdominal pain after running across the street. I sat down for a while and felt better. That afternoon, I happened to have a check-up with my favorite midwife, Alyssa. When she asked how I was doing, I told her about the abdominal pain and also mentioned off-handedly that a few weeks prior I had a night where I had regular contractions every 7 minutes for an hour. She asked if they were painful, but I said no. "Well, they're probably just Braxton-Hicks, but I'll check your cervix anyway."
"That'd be good...I'm supposed to go to the coast on a week-long field trip next week," I replied.
So she did the exam and when she had helped me back to a sitting position, she said, "Umm, so your cervix is dilated 3 cm, and you're still about 8 weeks away from your due date. So, I'm going to send you over to the hospital right now." I was shocked, to say the least. "Should I not go on the field trip, then?"
"Umm, yeah, I don't think you're going to be going to the coast."
Thus began a crazy 24 hours; scratch that, a crazy couple of months. We went to Willamette Falls Hospital, which adjoins the Women's Health Center (where the midwives' office is). I was hooked up to various monitors. All this time, I felt fine, mind you. Physically, anyway; mentally I was completely scattered. I was excited at the prospect of meeting my baby, but scared for her health, being 32 out of 40 weeks along. Allen was with me and he was also in a state of shock. After being hooked up to a monitor for an hour, apparently I had progressed to being about 4 cm dilated. I could feel the contractions, but they weren't really painful.
Enter Stephanie, my principal. I had called her directly upon learning that things were progressing. She asked me, "What hospital are you at?" When I told her, she said, "Okay, I'll be there in five minutes." Click. End of conversation. She dropped everything and brought me some food and books to read. It was at this point that I discovered that I couldn't stay at the hospital. Since Willamette Falls didn't have a NICU, I would have to go elsewhere. Stephanie called and made sure that OHSU was covered by our school insurance plan (it was). She had also worked there on a Masters degree so she recommended it highly. I was ambulanced off to Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU, pictured above). Bear in mind that, at this point, Allen didn't have a license and wasn't really a competent driver. Stephanie took charge. She drove Allen to our apartment and put together a bag of essentials (since we hadn't gotten to the 'packing a hospital bag' stage yet). One small problem, though: she parked in a tow-away zone. Sure enough, she got towed away. She called the tow lot and they said they wouldn't charge her if she came soon enough. So, Allen called his mom to come take them to the towing lot. Karla used the opportunity to give Allen some ill-timed advice about leaving the tap running in the bathroom so the cats could drink and eat and no one would need to go feed them. Meanwhile, I was at OHSU getting monitored and stuck with needles and given steroids to speed up Ruby's lung development and taking nipedaphine (I think) to stop the contractions, and wondering where Allen and Stephanie were. They were finally rolling out of the parking lot and towards the tow lot. When they got there (and of course, it was completely on the opposite side of town from OHSU), the man in charge told Stephanie that it was going to cost her to get her car. He did not believe her when she said that she'd been told on the phone it wouldn't cost, and he refused to give her the car until she paid him. Allen felt pretty bad at this point that she was actually having to drop some serious change all for this situation, but she brushed it off and they got on the road to OHSU. Allen was worrying that I was in labor and about to have the baby. It was late at night when he and Stephanie came into my room at OHSU. Stephanie gave me my things and told me not to worry about anything; she'd make sure everything was fine at school. She was our guardian angel that night. What other principal would do that, unbidden, for one of her teachers? She was such an advocate and champion for me always while I was working there (and even in the weeks after when I was on modified bedrest.)
Well, as you all probably know, we did not end up having a baby on March 31...or April 1...or April 2. The huge SWAT team of doctors kept saying things like, "We think it will be any day now." They said that for 13 days. Finally, they were sufficiently convinced that the baby was not coming yet, and let me do bed rest at home. I had one more false alarm a week or so later when I had to go back to OHSU because I was still shy of 35 weeks (the time at which babies born prematurely are okay without a NICU). But I stayed stuck at about 4 cm. dilated, 90% effaced for 8 weeks! Ruby ended up being born on her due date, May 24.
It was an insane time. It goes to show that you never know what a day will bring. I found out soon after getting back from the hospital that MRA did not pay for maternity leave at all. I didn't think I'd get any pay for the extra school I was missing, but I had been counting on getting something. It threw us into a serious, serious panic. Allen didn't have any work at the time and was taking classes at PCC. Now my source of income was essentially gone, and we had huge hospital bills coming our way, even with insurance. But God provided: I got onto the Oregon Health Plan, which ended up covering almost everything that my regular insurance didn't; we got onto Food stamps and WIC; we joined Gleaners (another food assistance program); people at MRA and Arbor pitched in to give us gifts of money and baby necessities; we got a new car seat for a fraction of the cost; I did some lesson planning and wrote reports from home and got some remuneration for it (hint: do not write reports with a 2 week old baby. Not cool. I am amazed that they came out coherent at all); we found out that our lease was ending sooner than we thought, and found a 2 bedroom place to live that was actually cheaper and closer to MRA, so we were able to move without breaking our lease. Everything worked out for us. It was still an exercise in faith, to be sure, but one that made us stronger.
And now, here we are, a year later. Ruby is a healthy, happy 10 month old baby. My husband is a healthy, happy 23 year old hottie. And I'm healthy and (reasonably) happy at the ripe old age of 27 (at least, my husband says I'm old.) We made it and we'll keep making it, by God's grace.
I'm tired, but I have to mention one last thing: tonight, a guy from our church came by and took some baby stuff off our hands (he and his wife are having twin girls in August!) He was saying hi to Ruby, and she waved for the first time!!! It was pretty darn adorable, and I think he felt awed that he was the first wave recipient. Cute stuff.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Today's highlights

1. Libraries
I love them. They are fantastic. I probably have about 50 book checked out right now, plus another 15 on hold. They are all for school so my kids can do reports on various Native American tribes of North and South America. I went to two libraries today and just went nuts on the juvenile non-fiction section.
2. Quilt
My grandma made an amazing quilt for Ruby! It is SO cute. She made it so it can hang up as the "door" to Ruby's room. Here's a picture...

Here's a closer view...

Such cute little bugs! The other side is a cheery rainbow pattern, which I also love. It is sure to be an heirloom...thanks Grandma!
3. Ruby discovers music

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Writing begets writing

Since starting the blog, I've gotten two delightfully long, thoughtful emails from friend and family member. I think that it is a natural urge to respond in kind. During the summers of college, I used to write my friends postcards and letters...handwritten letters. I was amazed how many I got back. When I first started, I didn't expect people to write back, so I was delighted when they did. It was pretty awesome. This blog may turn out to be similar :)
On another note, I am down at the computer, but I can hear--without the aid of the baby monitor--Ruby expressing her grave displeasure in her room above. Her top tooth is coming in, and I think she is very cranky and insecure because of it. Allen reported that she was extremely clingy today: just did not want to be put down at all. I imagine that right now she's standing and holding onto the suitcase that we've propped up as a boundary to keep her in "her bedroom" area. It is very pitiful to walk in and see her wailing there, her tears making a puddle on the suitcase. But I know that she's tired and I've given her some baby pain relief medicine and a bit of Orajel on her gums, so there's not much else to do besides let her wear herself out. She sometimes just falls asleep on the floor by the suitcase and we put her into her bed. She hasn't really figured out that she can crawl back into her own bed, but she definitely knows how to crawl out.
A parting random thought: today one of my students told me triumphantly that the "words" OMG and LOL and TTYL have been added to the dictionary. "You should let us use them in our writing," she reasoned. I said, "Nope, sorry." Another girl said, "What? They're English words." In a moment of presence of wit, I replied, "So's the F-word."
"You have a point," the girl acquiesced. Zing! Gotta love those moments where you actually think up the right repartee.

Monday, March 28, 2011

How to surprise and delight your wife when she comes home from a long day at work

For any of you men out there who want to know how to wow your lady, take notes.
1. Email your wife at work saying, "You're going to be excited when you come home," thus building anticipation (as if she didn't want to come home a lot already!)
2. Greet her at the door by opening it a few seconds before she does, saying, "I thought I heard you coming in up the stairs."
3. Open the door to reveal a pristinely vacuumed floor and a rearranged living room, thoughtfully constructed so that Ruby can learn to cruise.
4. When your wife admires all of this, smile slyly and say, "Oh, that's only the tip of the iceberg!" This will make your wife even more excited!
5. Reveal that you made dinner. A beautiful dinner. And picked flowers to make a centerpiece. (See diagram 1, below)

6. When your wife giggles with glee at your amazing fruit arranging skills and how you picked out everything she likes, just smile and say, "Wait, there's more..."
7. Suspensefully hold behind your back a giftcard for a facial and massage. Then present them to her. (See diagram 2, below)

8. At this point, she'll probably be speechless and smiley. Gently tell her that you felt like her spring break, while good, was not quite long or relaxing enough, and that she deserved a bit more. Describe to her that you appreciate all of her hard work at school and that you will do your best to make this week as restful as possible.
9. After she eats, offer to wash the dishes and clean the kitchen so she can go play with the baby and write on her blog.
10. Be prepared to be kissed, hugged, and otherwise loved on.
11. (optional) Look good with the flowers you arranged for her (see diagram 3, below).

I wrote all of that; Allen is too modest to toot his own horn. He is an amazing man. Every woman should be so lucky.
Another sweet thing from tonight: I think Ruby kissed me intentionally for the first time. I puckered up my lips to kiss her, and she put her open mouth over mine. It seemed purposeful and in response to the lip pucker. She did it two other times after that. We tried to capture it on video, but of course she didn't go for it that time. Oh well. She also has been saying something that sounds like "mama", but I'm not sure if she has connected it to me yet.
I just downloaded a lot of pictures from my grandparents' visit and Chandra's visit, too. There are way too many good pictures. See, back in the day of actual film, it was a little easier to control the picture taking impulse, because you wanted to make every shot count, and you couldn't see them until you developed them. With digital cameras? Forget it; you can take tons and tons. I always tell myself, "Oh, I'll end up deleting a lot of them." Nope. I can't afford to get them all developed: I literally have taken hundreds since Ruby was born. She's just so photogenic!!! Here are a few (I just can't help myself, sorry)

Yay for pictures, cute babies, and amazing hubbies! It's been a good evening so far...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A little video clip (and random thoughts)

I'm still a neophyte at doing anything other than typing on a blog, so bear with me while I figure out the media aspect of it. But this is from--a month ago? Ruby is a very adept stair climber. Chandra said that her middle name is really "stairmaster." Ruby Stairmaster Cook. Nice ring to it...or not.
Speaking of names, you know what's enjoyable? Thinking of names you like for potential future children. Is potential future redundant? Probably. We do want to have another child somewhere down the line, and said child needs a name. We have a small collection started, but it's fun to keep adding to the mix. When I was little, I was really obsessed with picking out just the right name for my dolls and Barbies. I remember when I was 8 or so getting two dolls for Christmas, a boy and a girl. I just could not settle on names for them. There were too many that I liked. My parents asked me what I was going to call them. I finally decided that I was not going to give them permanent names; I would change their names as often as I felt like. My parents were amused by this, although at the time it seemed perfectly reasonable to me. After all, it's dolls were talking about, not REAL kids. I also had a heck of a time naming a very precious antique doll that was passed down to me when I was 12. It was a lovely doll from the turn of the century, with a china bisque face, soft body, and plaster (?) limbs. She was so old and delicate; she had to have an exquisite name. So, I went with Cassandra Marie. By the way, did any of you doll player-withers out there give your dolls your own last names? You know, like Cassandra Marie Lowe? I didn't. I thought that was odd. Again, not a REAL kid.
So, I bet you are wondering what some of our future names are that we're considering. What, you're not? Then why are you reading this blog? Honestly, if you're not interested in my rambling thoughts, you will not enjoy being here!

Serious Contenders Boys' names:
Maxlowe James (Max for know, like the books about Max and Ruby)
Benjamin James
Simon Jasper
Elliott James

Serious Contenders Girls' names:
Megan Laurel
Molly Anne
Petra Claire (or Petra Claudia)

Kicking the idea around Boys' names:

Kicking the idea around Girls' names:

That's all for now. Allen just read this and said that it was written in a way that seemed tired. He's right. School tomorrow...
p.s. Please don't leave comments saying that you hate one of the names. Remember Thumper's mama's rule: if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. Or remember that Mae West said that if you don't have anything nice to say, you can sit by her.

Love is a Presence (and still a worthy cause)

Wish I could say that title was of my own invention, but sadly (for me), no. I stole the "love is a presence" from Andi Ashworth (see yesterday's post). She asked of us this question:
Where is your weariness factor on a scale of 1 to 10? Where and how do you need care? In the area of self-care, what is nourishing to you and fills your tank? Thinking of mind, body, and spirit, what practices do you have in place already? Is this an area you need to develop more?
Great question, huh? I love the Imago Women's Forums for that reason: you always get refreshed and challenged at the same time. I'll take on the first part of that question for now.
Where is your weariness factor on a scale of 1 to 10? If you'd asked me last Friday (the 18th), I would have just looked at you for a second, and then broken down into a big weepy mess right on the floor of the classroom. I actually asked my teaching partner if he would do me the huge favor of running homework club that day, because I literally felt too tired to stand up. He graciously agreed, and I spent the next hour in a feverish half-sleep curled up on the couch in our "faculty lounge" (i.e. junk basement). I couldn't handle it anymore. I was at a 10, for sure. It had been a rotten week in terms of feeling unneeded, unloved, and generally disregarded by my students. Most of them were coming to class unprepared. I actually teared up about it one day and said, "I don't know what to do. If you don't come prepared, how can I do my job?" They looked sheepish, but then the next day, same story. That's been the story of the year, and I was/am sick of it.
Thankfully, spring break was very refreshing. My awesome cousin (and Ruby's godmother) Chandra came out from the other Portland (in Maine) to see us for almost a week. Sometimes having visitors can be draining, but this visit was anything but. We did some touristy things, but we also did a whole lot of relaxing. I haven't checked in with Chandra about it, so I suppose she could have been bored during those mornings where we just lounged around. But I think she was okay with it. It was really nice to sleep in (as much as a baby permits) and just chill. I didn't think about school much until Friday. I spent Friday at school, cleaning, organizing, and doing stuff that I had been putting off. So, after break, I'd say my weariness level is at about a 3 or 4. Not bad.
But I have to go back tomorrow, and I am afraid the weariness level will spike. Only about 10 of 45 kids had accomplished the project they had 11 weeks to do (memorize the Gettysburg Address) as of Friday when it was due. They all swore up and down that they would be ready when we got back, but I must say I am best. It's hard not to check out and just give up on it. I have had many days where I think, "This isn't going anywhere. I'm not accomplishing anything. I don't see change in them. I see the same resistance and laissez-faire attitude I've seen all along." I know that isn't true, but it feels like it, a LOT. A friend recommended that I pray for God to give me a little glimpse of something good to act as an encouragement to me that it's worth it. "Sometimes our faith needs to be perked up a bit by having something to see," she said, and I think that's true. It's worth asking...
That leads me to the second part of my title, "Love is Still a Worthy Cause", which is a song by the lovely and prophetic Sara Groves. These are the lyrics:

Have you listed all the times you've tried
Do you call on all your alibis
When somebody asks the question why are you hiding

did you feel the pull, did you hear the call
did you take a chance and lose it all
do you fear there's no collateral left for trying

Friend, I know your heart is raw
But love is still a worthy cause
Picking up and pressing on
Oh, love is still a worthy cause
Like the touch that starts the thaw
Oh, love is still a worthy cause
or the word that breaks the pause

in the midst of passing bravery
in the face of our own injury
It's the constant generosity of grace

It's the beauty in the tales we tell
It's the pressing on and ending well
and the joy that comes when we give ourselves away

I love because he loved me
when I had nothing
I love because you loved me
when I had nothing
I love because you loved me
when I had nothing

Even though your heart is raw
But love is such a worthy cause
Picking up and pressing on
Oh, love is still a worthy cause
Like the touch that starts the thaw
Oh, love is still a worthy cause
or the word that breaks the pause
(you can listen to it here)
That song has gotten me through many, many a hard day in my teaching career, so it looks like it's time to pull it out again.

Back to the questions: Where and how do you need care? I feel desperately in need of some words of affirmation. It's one of my 5 love languages (if you've read this, you will know what I'm talking about.) My husband does a great job of affirming and encouraging me, but I'd like to be affirmed by people that I work for and with. I'd like to hear nice things from the parents of my students and from the students themselves. Of course, middle schoolers are developmentally in a similar stage to that of a two year old: very self-absorbed because they are trying to figure out their identity and place in the world. It doesn't leave them much time to (a) do homework or (b) appreciate adults in their lives. But it would be nice, nonetheless. And it would be nice to hear from their parents some recognition for what I do. I'll try to remember to do that a lot for my kids' teachers.
One last thing I will think about for now from those questions: In the area of self-care, what is nourishing to you and fills your tank? I've never been one for bubble baths, but I recently rediscovered candles. We have tons of them, and a few days ago on a whim I got them all out and put them in one place on a windowsill and lit them all up. Since they're all scented, it was a nice melange of smells and the flickering lights lit up the dark room very nicely. The other day I decluttered all the countertop spaces in our bedroom and arranged the candles on it. It has been very pleasant to light some or all of them and just smell their scent and rest in their soft light. I'll have to think about other things are nice to do. Andi suggested that we start small; just choose small things that energize or soothe us. For her, it's listening to Nat King Cole when she works in the kitchen. I tend to listen to NPR in the kitchen, but that can be very depressing. Maybe I need to branch out. I've been craving St. Matthew Passion by Bach (I know, I'm a Johnnie nerd), probably because it is going to be Easter soon. I know that sitting down to an intentional meal with Allen is another thing I like to do. We rarely do that anymore. Life's just been too frazzled. Maybe that's something to shoot for once a week...actually sitting down in chairs at a table at the same time to eat something. It's a start! We want that for our family, but right now...yeah. It's not happening much.
One day at a time, right? Of course right.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

An alternative

I'm typing this with Ruby in my lap, and you may be wondering why I would (once again) attempt to start and keep a blog. The short answer is that I need an alternative to Facebook because Facebook is sucking the life out of my life.
Intriguing enough of a short answer for you? Then I will provide the long answer.
I've been feeling convicted for a while about the amount of time I waste on Facebook. I have tons of "friends" on it and it takes a long time to read all of their status updates. I'd guess that 80% of the people I follow on Facebook are not people with whom I really correspond. I'm mostly their Facebook friend because I want to see what's going on for them. That's the point of Facebook, I think; it's a handy medium to keep tabs on people you have known/know. Nothing wrong with that unless it becomes a mindless activity that takes up way too much precious time...which is what is happening for me. It's kind of a happy homewrecker. Allen and I were talking about it the other night and when I'm on the computer, I can't really focus on anything else, including him talking to me. That doesn't do wonders for the relationship, as you might imagine. Then I went to a Women's Forum at Imago this morning and the theme was nurturing close relationships. The speaker, Andi Ashworth (musician/producer Charlie Peacock's wife), talked about how close relationships need time and attention, and that we need to figure out what should take priority in our lives. She used the phrase "more of this, less of that." Immediately, I thought "Less Facebook!" It's so superficial and takes away from the real and deep relationships in my life.
But isn't a blog going to use up your time the same way? you may ask. Well, yes, it will take time. Hence my title: it's an alternative. I think it will be a good alternative because:
1. I can still post and share pictures, which is one of the important functions of Facebook for my far-flung friends and family.
2. I can actually write more than the 144 or more characters in a status. Yeah, I know that I could treat the "notes" function like a blog, but it just doesn't seem quite right. I love to write but I rarely do it. "I don't have time to write," I say when people ask me about it. Well, if I gave up Facebook time, I would get a lot of writing done. Writing is how I process, so not having spent much time writing means that I'm not at optimal processing levels right now.
So, I'm taking a sabbatical from Facebook and using this as an alternative. Or trying to, anyway. Welcome to the Cookie Jar!
Oh, I'll explain that. Cookie from our last name, and JAR for Jenny, Allen, and Ruby. Someday it will probably be more than just J-A-R, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.