Piper's First Days

We did get to come home from the hospital on Christmas Day. Rowan was very patient and waited for us to open her stocking. It was actually good timing to bring a baby home in terms of adjustment for Rowan...two solid days of Christmas celebration and opening presents provided a pretty good distraction from how her life is changing!

It's also been a huge help to be at my parent's house. Lots of extra hands to help...lots of playmates for Rowan, I think she's just barely registered my divided attention so far. My parents are both educators, so they're on Christmas break for another week. One of the best parts of this arrangement is that when Rowan wakes up in the morning, she can go downstairs on her own and play with Grandma and Grandpa, allowing us to catch a few extra hours of sleep if Piper is still sleeping. This is a luxury that most parents of 2 cannot fathom!

The days have passed in a bit of a fog...in a way that only a newborn's schedule can induce. All day I ask myself "when did I last nurse?" "how long has she been sleeping?" "when was her last diaper change?" "did I remember to take tylenol at 3:00?" and time seems to be measured by baby bowel movements and burps and longest length of adult REM sleep at night.

Joe worked at the house for part of the day today, and when he got back about 7:00, he wondered why Rowan was in her PJs so early. Because we never got out of our PJs today, of course!

We had to take Piper to the pediatrician yesterday and everything looks great. Breastfed babies are given a week to get back up to their birth weight....and at 4 days old, Piper already weighed 8 lbs, 6 oz, a full 2 oz bigger than her birth weight! Yes, I was proud. Both the doctor and the nurse asked what I was supplementing with. That's all my milk, thank you. And yes, it means my milk has come in, and come in with force! I've needed Piper the last few days more than she has needed me.

Some of you may know that I've been interested in becoming certified as a Lactation Consultant, so I feel quite confident and comfortable with nursing. I know what a latch should look like and feel like, know the trouble-shooting things to do to ensure a good latch, and just in general know a lot about breastfeeding. Knowing that Piper's latch was excellent, I felt like I was more sore than I should be after a few days of nursing. I checked out her frenulum and it seemed like maybe she was a bit "tongue-tied", meaning her frenulum is closer to the tip of her tongue, making it difficult to stick her tongue out of her mouth very far. I asked the pediatrician about it, and sure enough...she has a tight frenulum. It's not a bad case...just a bit tight. So now we have to decide whether or not to get it clipped. Usually people get it clipped if there are problems with breastfeeding...but since she is gaining weight and doing so well nursing, the answer isn't so clear about clipping or not. It's more about my discomfort.

You'll be glad to know that the tight frenulum is her only imperfection so far :)

I forgot what sleep deprivation feels like. I don't think I'm there yet...but give me another week and I'll be deep in. Thank goodness newborns sleep a lot during the day, otherwise the nights might just be unbearable. Like most newborns, I suppose, Piper prefers the warmth and comfort of our arms to sleep...and when we lay her down alone for sleep, it only lasts an hour or so. Even though we've done this baby thing once before, the constant questioning begins: do we bring her into bed with us, ensuring longer, albeit lighter for us, sleep? Will we be setting bad patterns with too much patting, rocking, sushing, assisting her to sleep? Should we offer her a pacifier already, will we disrupt her learning curve for nursing?

I think that the only sure thing about parenting is that you will question yourself constantly.

I'm trying to give myself some time here with no rules or worrying about schedules or patterns or "what other people might think"...and just going with my gut, doing what feels right, and most importantly: ENJOYING this child and her newness.

Oh yeah, and doing whatever it takes to get some sleep at night.

I think I've done a good job of enjoying Piper so far. I love the brief times during the day when she is awake and alert. She has been quite calm so far during these wake times, and just locks eyes with whoever is closest. We swear that she has been smiling...and not just gas smiles...social smiles. I know that everyone will say it's gas or coincidence, but the evidence is mounting by the day that these smiles are in response to human interaction, and one of these days we'll capture it on film.

Newborns are cute, for sure. Partly because their heads are so big in comparison to their bodies, and also because they are just so tiny and new and soft and easy to marvel at. Every new parent thinks that their baby is the cutest thing ever...and then sometimes they look back months or years later at photos and realize that the baby wasn't all that cute after all...their bonding hormones were just raging, ensuring they would care for this thing that looked like a drowned rat.

We don't think that Piper is the most beautiful newborn out there....of course we think she's cute, but I think we're rather objective about HOW cute she is (or isn't!) We've been laughing at some of the photos (we need to eventually post a bunch of the "rejects" that never get posted!) because she just looks SO BAD! Newborns are completely UN-self conscious, of course, so it can be great entertainment to watch them wake up, or fall asleep, and observe all the crazy faces they make....crossed eyes, horrible grimaces, red red skin, many of them amusingly ugly!

To see a few more pics from the last few days, click here.


Piper Jane's Birth Day

Piper's labor story began at about 3:00 AM on Tuesday when I was awakened by contractions. I'd been having strong braxton hicks contractions in the evenings for over a week, so at first I thought that's what I was feeling. When I couldn't get back to sleep and started paying attention to the close timing of the contractions, I quickly determined that this was the real deal. I was able to manage them in bed for awhile, just breathing through them and letting Joe continue to sleep. By 5:00 they had been coming consistently at intervals of 5 minutes or less and I decided that I should get final things packed for the hospital and wake Joe. My contractions intensified and I needed to stop what I was doing to get through them---being on my hands and knees or laying on a big exercise ball seemed to be the most comfortable position to weather the pain. I called the Doctor a bit after 6:00 and he instructed us to head to the hospital. My contractions were now closer to 3 minutes apart, and intense. Still, it felt a bit early to go to the hospital (of course I was thinking of Rowan's labor, which was over 20 hours). But since I had tested positive for Group B Strep a few weeks ago, I had to be on antibiotics during labor and ideally be on those for 4 hours before delivery. So off we went.

We arrived at the hospital and they put us in a triage room...where they basically determine if you are in labor or not. This was the most rotten part of the day. After checking dilation, they hook up all the monitors to see contractions and baby's heart rate...then check dilation again after an hour to see if labor is progressing. But you have to stay laying down in the bed because of all these monitors...and that's just the worst way to labor. Gravity is working against you...and for me, I just felt totally out of control of pain management. I wanted to be up, wanted to be on my knees, wanted to squat, wanted to lay out on a ball, wanted to do ANYTHING other than lay there flat on my back. But I guess that's the legal part of having a baby in a hospital...lots of rules, and one thing they've learned is that lots of people come in and are not actually in labor yet. The irony is that making you lay on your back is a great way to stop a labor that may have actually been progressing!

Once they determined I was in active labor (thank you very much), they moved us to a room where we could labor and deliver. By now the contractions were coming 1-2 minutes a part and I was making a lot of noise to get through them. I wasn't sure going in if I would get an epidural or not, and at this point opted for one. It was a huge relief. It felt so good to rest for a few hours before pushing. I was already dilated to 7 when I got the epidural, and by 11:30 I was completely dilated and ready to push. When the doctor did the final cervical check, he said that baby was turned face-up. That was the only point in labor that I felt a bit scared, because that is what precipitated 3 hours of pushing with Rowan. Thankfully, Piper turned around during my first few pushes...and within a half an hour, she was born. The pushing was exhilarating this time--I was alert and not weary, they positioned a mirror so I could watch everything perfectly. I remember lots of smiling at Joe between contractions, and during one break, I even said that this was kind of fun. And I meant it. Is there anything in life, truly, than can rival the birth of a child? I felt hyper-present during those 30 minutes....completely unaware of anything else in the entire universe, as though everything hinged on those moments, Piper's moments, in that room.

We saw her hair first...and marveled at this longish, darkish head when we were certain it would be bald, or at the very least blond. She crowned slowly, so I was able to avoid an episiotomy (just had a small tear), and once her shoulder was out, I got to reach down and help pull her the rest of the way out. I held her up over my abdomen to get a look between the legs, then put her skin to my skin right from the womb, where she remained for an hour before any of the silly hospital stuff they had to do to her.

I didn't recognize this child. What a strange feeling, to look upon a child who is yours, who you already love, and to not know who they are. Already, less than 36 hours later, I've memorized the curve of her cheek, the soft of her hair. She is mine. But right after birth, I wouldn't be able to pick her out from a line of babies. All puffiness and red and not really looking like Rowan, or me, or Joe. Who is this child? I remember feeling the same when Rowan was born. Who are you?

Birthing a second child is a different experience on many levels. For one, the comparisons already begin...and I had to be aware to focus on THIS experience, on THIS child, on THIS birth. But the comments would come so easily "with Rowan's birth," or "when Rowan was turned the wrong way" or "at this many hours in during Rowan's labor." I imagine that this is a foreshadowing of Piper's other milestones, and I have resolved to be diligent about the uniqueness of her story, her spirit. Oh to be a first child with nothing to compare you to!

The other big difference this time is seeing the experience through Rowan's eyes. That's been a really fun part. I was so excited to call her on the phone just 10 or 15 minutes after birth, and let her know that her dreams had come true! "Is it a girl?" she asked me tentatively. Yes, child, you got your sister. And she did rush to the hospital...in time to see Piper's first bath and give her lots of hugs and kisses. The photo below is of Rowan's very first glimpse of Piper....I'll never forget that look on her face. She first looked at me intently, a bit tentatively, as though her little heart knew the significance of this meeting, and when she felt re-assured enough by me, she looked down at Piper with such pride and happiness, I've just never seen an expression on her face quite like that before. I asked if she wanted to come sit with us on the bed, and she very politely replied "no, thank you." She just wanted to watch....which she did intently over the next few hours.

Her name. Piper Jane. It wasn't official until a few hours after birth because we hadn't decided for sure beforehand on names. We did know for sure that the middle name would be Jane. My maternal grandma died two years ago in January, and her name was Jane Lenore. Grandma had this spirit about her that was more than just a grandmotherly love. She was honest, funny, gorgeous until the day she died. So Jane is for her. Because I want Piper to have some of my grandma in her. Piper is really just a name that we have always admired, liked for it's quirkiness, for being unusual, and because we can just imagine a daughter of ours fitting into the name. There were a few other girl's names that were in contention...but after spending a few hours with her, Piper just seemed to suit her the best.

So Piper has mostly been sleeping, which has afforded me opportunity to write this all out while it is fresh. She had an okay night last night, although her deepest, longest sleeps have been reserved for the day times. She's nursing well and vigorously...deemed healthy on all the tests they've done...and we plan to go home tomorrow morning. What an unusual and blessed Christmas Day it will be!

My dad gave me this poem today that he wrote for Piper, and I want to share it with you. There is meaning in a birth so close to Christmas, and I love how my dad's poem connects us all not only to the manger, but to the animals there...as a reminder that we are called his sheep, and He our Shepard. The last line is reference to C.S. Lewis who talks about us as wooly sheep...and a good image for a child with a head full of hair like Piper's!

A Birth Poem for Piper Jane

Among ox and ass a baby divine.
In the stable of life comes new grandchild,

I look for the Savior in crib full of hay.
I see Him in Piper, in graced arms
now laid.

I pray she will know her life now is fully
In hands of the Shepherd, who sees us as

To see a few more pictures from yesterday, click here.

Have a great Christmas.


Piper Jane Cebulski

Hello friends and family. This is gonna be short and sweet. A larger post to come tomorrow when I have some brain cells functional to write with. We are elated to welcome this bundle of life into our lives. 8lbs 4oz. 21 inches long. Momma and baby are doing great. Dad is holding up ok despite having done far less than the two aforementioned ladies. Both of which are radiant beams of pure beauty! A couple of teaser pics. More to come manana.



Back in the summer we had a visit with our friends Ken and Gail Heffner and talked a lot about some of the possibilities for our future. We were still undecided about what was next for us, but we talked about the possibility of being in Grand Rapids, of buying a house, of maybe needing a temporary place to stay. Before we had even made the decision to move, the Heffners had offered that we could stay at their place should the need and situation arise.

I got to know the Heffners during my last few years at Calvin. Ken is the Director of Student Activities at Calvin, and one of his main contributions to Calvin and the Grand Rapids community has been the tremendous quality and quantity of bands and concerts he brings in. He’s also been an important voice in the realm of popular culture and how Christians should enter into it. Gail used to co-direct the Service-Learning Center at Calvin, where I worked my senior year and where I was prepared for the world of non-profits. I first met Ken and Gail through a friend because we were talking about starting an intentional community to live in for our senior year, and we heard that the Heffners had lived in intentional community in Pittsburgh before they moved to Michigan. Through our conversations with them, we eventually asked them to be mentors for our intentional community---committing to meet with us on a regular basis to talk through whatever issues came up, to give us guidance as we formed this new community. Pamoja was the name of our house…there were 6 of us living together, eating together, carpooling together, trying to know each other and love each other in an intentional way. The Heffners helped us tremendously through that process. I only lived at Pamoja for my senior year…but the cool thing is, it’s still going on! I think they are in their 11th year….and the Heffners are still their mentors! A month or so ago I got to sit in on one of their Sunday night meetings at the Heffner’s house---how neat to see this group of students and get to talk a bit about the early vision of Pamoja and what they are up to now.

This is a really long way to get to the present….but Ken and Gail have remained in our life, even when we moved from Grand Rapids, and each time we visited home we always looked forward to a yummy dessert and long conversation on their front porch. They have been like mentors to us, but not in a formal way, and have always provided us with good questions, solid guidance, and an excellent example of what marriage can look like after 20 and 25 years. Ken and Gail both have a knack for drawing people out with sincere interest and excellent questions, and they especially know how to engage younger people in a way that not only helps them grow, but offers enough respect to make them feel like friends.

The Heffners have 3 grown children (their youngest is a senior at Calvin) and a house big enough to fit them all, even though none still live at home. Their home also happens to be in Eastown, near Wilcox Park, which is one of the hippest neighborhoods in town. They gave us their attic space and newly added second full bathroom to use and live in for 2 months…allowing us to take over not only some of their space, but a certain level of their privacy and autonomy for that time period as well.

Ken and Gail are an inspiration to be around on many levels. They take creation care seriously, and diligently strive to work out the day-to-day meaning of loving God through loving the earth. So they actually pay attention to the kilowatt hours they use each month. They bike whenever and wherever possible. They have 2 vehicles but seldom use the second. They ride the bus. They buy local. They expanded their kitchen this summer and are most proud of all the materials they re-used, and the recycling center that extends one whole counter-length. They unplug stuff and turn stuff off when not using it. They compost. They collect the shower water as it’s getting warm to use to flush the toilet. They belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and freeze and can lots of veggies for the winter. They think of creative ways to use the kale and cabbage that comes for too many weeks during the summer. They introduced us to carrot fennel soup, lots of uses for squash, and dishes too numerous to count that use local foods in season.

They are great cooks…and make stuff that is unusual, mostly vegetarian, and as locally grown as possible. They invited us into their kitchen for any of it, and it was fun to watch and learn and help with some really great meals. As anyone who has lived in community knows, meals are a cornerstone of living together. No different at the Heffners. If you’re going to love each other, you eat together. You talk. You take time.

They are also refreshingly honest, candid, and real about family life and marriage. They have a uniquely close relationship with each of their children, and each of their children is an amazing person in their own right. It was neat for us to see a family and marriage (that isn't our own immediate families!) close up for a few months and to witness all the inner-workings. That was the true gift they gave us--not just the place to stay, but an open window into their world and relationship, giving us another solid example in our lives of how a family functions, all the good parts, all the challenges, and a hope for our own family and marriage that we will do as good of a job.

My main regret of our time together: not enough pictures. I go on a trip somewhere for a few days and take hundreds of photos....then I get hunkered down in daily life for a few months and forget to take any! I will have to make up for it during subsequent visits to the Heffners--meals and conversations that we are already looking forward to! Thank you, Ken and Gail, for loving us and for welcoming us into your home. We miss you guys already!


38 weeks

Joe wasn’t with us when we took the photos of my 37 week belly…so we decided to take a few more at 38 weeks so he could be in them. Or, I should say, our friend Gail gently (highly) encouraged us to take some photos together because we’d regret it otherwise. Gail is wanting to get a digital SLR, so she wanted to mess around with our camera and take a few shots to see what the digital SLR is like…so it all worked out! There are a few more shots at Flickr here.

I’m actually closer to 39 weeks now…and everything is great. I’m having weekly doctor’s appointments, and this week I was dilated to 1 cm and 50% effaced, and the baby's head has descended a bit. Not that that means anything is going to happen soon…just means things are progressing as they should towards delivery. I’m thankful to be very patient at this stage. People have been asking a lot this week if I’m ready to be done being pregnant, or if I am feeling impatient. I’m really not. I love being pregnant, I remember how hard a newborn is, and I’m just really trying to enjoy these last days with just Rowan, these last days getting a full night of sleep, these last days of feeling the intimacy of the baby within me.

Of course I’m eager to meet this child, to look it over, to name it, to smell it’s skin. That’s a given. But there is also some loss in thinking about not being pregnant anymore. Give me the full 40 weeks.

Rowan has her heart set on a sister. We’ve been talking a lot about what will happen when I go into labor, where she will stay, what it will all be like. I’ve told her that she will be the first one I call when the baby is born, and that I’ll either say “Rowan, you have a baby sister!” or “Rowan, you have a baby brother!” The other day we were talking about this with my mom, and Rowan said “if you call and tell me it’s a girl I will be SO excited I will tell EVERYONE that I have a sister and I will RUSH to the hospital to see you!” My mom then asked “what about if it’s a boy?” Rowan thought for a second, then said “well, I’m not going to rush.” This could be interesting!

I’m trying to prepare her for some of the not-so-pleasant parts about babies and about having to share her mom and dad with a sibling. Since she’s almost 4, I think she comprehends it all more than a 2 year old awaiting a sibling might. Not that she really has a CLUE how her life is about to change, but I sense that she understands me when I tell her there will be days when she wishes the baby were still in my belly. My hope is that when those days come, she won’t feel guilty or bad, but can tell me about it.

In other news, we are not living at the house yet. When will we learn to at least double the amount of time we think it will take to get a project done? Joe is working hard and enjoying the work…but the space is just not livable yet. It's going to be gorgeous when it's done, and we're going to live there for awhile....just not yet! We had been staying with our friends the Heffners (blog forthcoming) since mid-October, but decided to move back in with my parents to await labor and to bring the baby home. We moved our stuff over about a week ago and have been getting settled and nested. We had a wonderful stay with the Heffners, but it feels comfortable and right to be at home, and in many ways it will be a tremendous asset to be living here with a newborn. Lots of help with both Rowan and baby, meals, all the ways parents tend to pamper and take care of you!


37 weeks

Only a few weeks left to go in this pregnancy! I'm past the 37 weeks mark, and can't believe how fast it's gone. This is going to be a long post...it's been awhile, and I'm not even going to get to the non-pregnancy updates! So if you're not interested in lots of details about pregnancy, feel free to skip this post!

I feel more relaxed about this pregnancy (not that there hasn't been stress, and lots of life change, DURING the pregnancy!) than I did with Rowan, which I'm sure is no surprise to second-time moms. I haven't been as eager to read all the pregnancy and childbirth "how-to" books...not because I think I'm an expert or think I will just remember everything (after all, it was almost 4 years ago that Rowan was born!), but because I learned with the first one that all the preparation in the world cannot really prepare you for childbirth and parenting. There are so many ways that the story can unfold, no sense in getting all tied up to one hope or vision of what will be. Maybe that sentiment comes from a rough birth experience with Rowan (3 hours of pushing a posterior baby that never turned...just came out sunny-side-up!)...and not having it measure up to what my carefully thought-out birth plan outlined. I wish that I had been better at going with the flow...and not struggled for even one second with feelings of regret over what kind of birth I had.

Giving birth should not be associated with regret or guilt. Any woman that carries and then delivers a baby...no matter how she does it, via c-section, drug assisted or not, should not feel regret about that awesome feat.

So anyways, I've been more focused on the emotional/spiritual part of this pregnancy. It's surprised me during this advent season how meaningful it is to be so pregnant as we await Christmas. That's what advent is about...the anticipation and waiting for Christ's birth. I feel in tune with Mary, find myself thinking about her traveling to Bethlehem on a donkey at 9 months pregnant, only to not find a room...and ultimately give birth in a barn! It's a story we've heard a million times, but really...can you fathom how awkward she must have been? Can you fathom how scary it must have been to be away from home, trying to "nest" in a stinky stable surrounded by animals? Rowan has this one children's book with the story of Jesus' birth...the text is just the King James Version of the story, but the pictures paint it in a new light. One of my favorite pages is a sequence of Joseph trying (struggling) to get a big-bellied Mary hoisted onto the donkey, not successfully at first, both of them exhausted. I love those images.

The incarnation is a mystery we celebrate every year at Christmas. Being in my last month of pregnancy during the holiday season this year, feeling this baby's daily growth and kicks and stretching for room, wondering if my skin can stretch any tighter over the expanse of my uterus, catching glimpses of myself in the mirror and marvelling at the beauty of my new rounded form, dreaming every day about what this child will look like, what it will feel like at my breast....I have continually thought of Christ growing in Mary, of her pregnancy, of the wonder and holiness of it, that God grew in a woman's womb.

My hand constantly gravitates towards my belly, when I feel a kick or in hopes of feeling one, trying to guess at body parts, wanting to be as close to this child as I can. I love the feeling of life growing inside of me, can't get enough of it. I think of Mary, touching her belly, wondering what it will be like to be the mother of God. I think of Mary, putting her hands over her abdomen, feeling our future tumble inside of her.

One of my favorite poets is Luci Shaw, and she has this gorgeous poem about Mary and Jesus' birth...I've re-read it many times these last weeks. It's called "Mary's Song":

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest …
you who have had so far to come.)
Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world. Charmed by doves' voices,
the whisper of straw, he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,
all years. Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.

My parents gave me a beautiful book during this pregnancy called "Great With Child" by Debra Reinstra. It's a personal account of her 3rd pregnancy, through the eyes of faith, and it's in line with Annie Lamott or Barbara Kingsolver for it's brutal honesty, humor, and feeling that you want to be friends with this person. Debra is actually an English professor at Calvin....I had her for a few classes, so that made it even more fun to read this book. I devoured it, really, because it was what I've been craving....not a book with endless warnings about what could or could not happen during pregnancy, labor, and delivery...but a book about what pregnancy, labor, and mothering look like fleshed out in a person's heart and soul. I recommend this book to anyone who is pregnant!

Then I just finished another book that Gail Heffner (a blog post is forthcoming about the Heffners...we have been staying at their house the last few months) lent to me called "Motherhood and God" by Margaret Hebblethwaite. She is Catholic, so that's been a bit of a different perspective, but it's along the same lines as Reinstra's book....rich in detail and candor about the nitty-gritty of pregnancy and motherhood as it intersects spirituality.

There is one passage from Hebblethwaite's book that I particularly like, especially since Rowan and I have had conversations lately about heaven, eternity, having new bodies (she's not totally keen on that idea, either), and resurrection:

"Paul writes 'the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality (1 cor. 15:52-53)'. Often in the past I have felt uncomfortable with this idea of a new body that is ours, yet different: in so far as it is different it has seemed not truly a body, and not truly mine, and yet it could not be the same as now if it belonged to eternity.

Perhaps it can be understood a little through the parallel with pregnancy: though we cannot imagine it in advance, perhaps when it happens it will have the same feel of rightness and fulfilment, as though the whole development of our earthly bodies has been a sort of puberty preparing us for the moment when in a truly physical way we shall move into a new phase. We shall find our bodies able to do things we never thought they could, a little bit like the way in pregnancy the whole metabolism switches into a new gear, works bigger and better than ever, nourishing and feeding not one but two bodies, or like the way we find our tummies can stretch to an extent we would never have believed possible has we not seen it in others, or like the way our bodies can open up and give birth to the fully grown baby--how could we have imagined that there would be room for a whole baby to come out in one piece if we had not the experience of others to go on? Maybe our new risen bodies will have that feel of unexpectedly fulfilled physicality, so that when we materialize and dematerialize (as the risen Christ did) we will feel not less ourselves, but more then ever ourselves."

My mom gave me a card the other day that had a drawing of a pregnant woman on the front...and it says "I never thought of myself as particularly perfect....until now."

I feel that way as I head into these last weeks of pregnancy.

My friend Jill Herweyer took all of these photos a few days ago...at exactly 37 weeks pregnant. Jill has ben taking more and more photos, and I've admired her keen photographic eye. So I asked her if I could set up my backdrop and lights, if she would lend me her good eye and take some photos. I think they turned out great...and you can see a bunch more on Flickr if you click here.


1235 Allerton: Before

Finally getting a few photos of the house posted! Here is the house from the outside...click here to see a handful more of the interior.

These photos were taken a few weeks ago....so there has already been a lot of progress. It's a huge one-man job, and Joe is working long hours to try to get everything accomplished. Our hope is that the upstairs (3 bedrooms and a full bath) will be done in time for us to move in with a few weeks to spare before the baby comes.....my due date is Dec. 31, so we're shooting for the middle of December. This is our hope, anyways--we'll keep you posted as things progress. The downstairs won't be done yet by mid-December....but maybe started on....and we'll just deal with a make-shift kitchen for awhile.

Joe has spent most of his time so far doing things that you can't really see...but it's all important foundational stuff to get the house ready for the cosmetic changes. He's completely shored up the basement....tore out all kinds or junk down there that wasn't needed, fixed several beams, did mold remediation, re-wired the whole basement, re-plumbed, re-did all the gas lines, tore out old duct work, and painted the whole thing. He's also been playing general contractor and trying to decide which jobs to hire out and which to tackle himself. He ordered all new windows for the house this week...and he'll install those when they arrive in a few weeks. We'll hire someone to do new insulation on all exterior walls and the attic. Joe says he is enjoying himself....and it amazes me how he can work on such a huge job and not get overwhelmed. He's doing SO much work, then coming home at night and spending a few more hours on the computer doing research for this or that, figuring out his game plan for the next day, who to call, what equipment he needs, etc. It will be fun to see this place as it transforms!


Halloween and Pregnancy

I have woefully neglected the blog!
This is going to be quick---a few photos and updates. I'll write a longer one later.

We had a fun Halloween--Rowan insisted on being Cinderella, and I figured I could indulge her for one day or revelry. The only time Rowan will endure clothing that isn't completely comfortable is when it has to do with princesses, barbie, hearts, and maybe pink. Where did she come from? Anyways, she was supremely itchy and uncomfortable all night (was over the top with plastic high heeled glass slippers that left pretty good blisters!)....but INSISTED on keeping everything on and in perfect place the whole time. Wish she was that way with all the other clothes she owns but won't wear...

We were invited to a neighborhood pizza party/trick-or-treating on our new street on Halloween...we got to meet several new neighbors and children, and it made us even more excited to move into our house on Allerton. Really cool group of people. After that I took Rowan to a "No Fear Here" Halloween party at Tom and Stacia's church...they had all 4 kids and we thought it would be fun to join them, and it was.
I'm also including a quick picture of my growing belly. This was actually from a few weeks ago...so I'm definitely bigger now. I'm 33 weeks along....everything is progressing fine and normal, I feel great, and the 7 weeks left until we meet this child seem really short! In addition to neglecting the blog, I've been neglecting good documentation of this pregnancy. With Rowan, we took pictures every few weeks of my belly....now I have to really remember to do it, and we've missed many many weeks. Is this what's in store for a second child? I'll work on better photos/reflecting on this pregnancy, I promise!

More to come...


Bought a House (and a new camera!)

We closed on our house on Friday! Since the main deadline for getting the house "livable" is the impending arrival of the baby, it was great news that we could close so quickly....more time for Joe to work on the house! There is a LOT of work to do on the house (pictures will come soon...you will have to see the "before" shots!)...and even working full time on it, it will be a challenge to get it livable in a few months. We're discussing what livable really means...the house definitely won't be DONE in a few months, so what are the requirements to be living there? It's easy for me to take for granted how knowledgeable and skilled Joe is at so many aspects of construction and house stuff....it will be fun to see what he gets accomplished in the next months.

I'm definitely ready to be in our own, stable place for awhile...and the "nesting" hormones (which are very real!) that come with this third trimester of pregnancy are only amplifying that desire. My mom jokes that I'm "nesting" in her garage, because that's where all our stuff from the RV is being stored...so I'll go in there and pull out baby things, see what might match for a nursery. And I'm nesting at Tom and Stacia's house...they get the girls in mid-November, so they've had to re-arrange bedrooms and get beds/dressers all situated for two more children....and I've been (happily) helping (nesting) with those tasks.

Joe has been battling a respiratory thing for several weeks now. A few weeks ago was the worse...he was laid up for several days with a fever, aches, and deep deep cough. He had a chest x-ray, and it wasn't anything bacterial...so at this point he's still just trying to let it run its course. But it's been no fun. He's just been fatigued and sore....

We're also been waiting to hear on the firefighter thing. The "tentative" schedule said that the next round of testing (oral examinations) would be at the end of this week. But no one has been notified as to whether they have advanced or not. Someone Joe knows who also took the tests called Human Resources at the end of last week (even though, at the first tests, they had strongly been instructed NOT to call Human Resources to find out results! but come on, this is getting ridiculous!) and they told him that nothing had been sent out yet....couldn't tell him when results would be sent out....but then said if he didn't hear by the end of this week it probably wasn't a good sign. I guess the fire department doesn't mind the potential of over a thousand people calling to see what's going on?

We replaced our camera. Ironic time to fork out that kind of cash, but oh well. So there has been a lack of pictures, obviously, and I will try to make up for it now that the camera is back in my hands! I included a few shots of Rowan...I took some pictures of a friend's family (see below) this weekend and Rowan helped me scope out some locations beforehand. The fall days here have been gorgeous (although not quite warm enough for no sleeves...that's just Rowan for you...and the hat, of course, what can I say? I just ordered a copy of "The Highly Sensitive Child"...several friends recommended it and when I did the little self-test on-line for her, and she matched just about every criteria, I realized that I could benefit from a little more understanding of her particular ways). Speaking of Rowan, she loves pre-school....is loving all the time she gets to play with cousins and friends...is eagerly anticipating her new sibling (she has her heart set on a sister) and told her daddy this morning that "some people think that an asteroid hitting the earth killed off all the dinosaurs." She got a (bad) rug burn a few days ago on her abdomen...but refused band-aids or any sort of care for it (that highly-sensitive thing, she won't tolerate band-aids) but was keenly aware of how it was healing. She told me the next day that there was "interstitial fluid coming out, it's kind of like a liquid" and when I asked Joe about it, sure enough, he had told her the day before that the burns were wet because of interstitial fluid....not thinking she'd actually retain it! Rowan is a lot of fun to be around...and while of course the never-ending routines and tasks of parenting can get old sometimes, for the most part it's just a pleasure to be with her. We have great conversations, play hard, read a lot. I'm trying to remind myself what a newborn requires...and trying to soak up these last weeks with just Rowan. Here she is:

Just a quick shot of the Herweyers from this weekend...I'm not done editing all their photos yet...but what a gorgeous family on a gorgeous day! I'll share more later.


Michigan Update

Lots has been happening the last few weeks! Hard to know where to start. This will be a long post! Joe got here just a few days before his firefighter testing. He had an eventful trip cross-country, to say the least. Had a few problems with the truck (he's become quite the mechanic this year...so he took care of it on the road)...and then was stranded for 5 hours with a U-haul tire flat waiting for U-haul to get their act together (he pulled a small trailer with the stuff we've lived with all year!) He had no problem finding veggie oil on the road...and made it back in a long 4 days. We haven't sold the RV yet, but decided to leave it in CA in the hopes that it will have a better chance of selling there with the more temperate fall/winter weather! We have 2 people going to look at it this weekend..it would be really nice to have this thing off our hands (and the cash in our pockets!)

Joe got here and hit the ground running. I had been looking at houses and narrowing down our options, so the first day he was here we went and looked at my top 5 or 6. At the end of the day, there was one house that stood out above the others...and we spent the next few days going back, taking an inspector through, looking carefully in all nooks and crannies. The house is foreclosed...someone had bought it with the intention to flip it, and apparently ran out of money. So the house is in mid-remodel....they did a lot of demolition, but didn't put much back together. So there is literally NO kitchen or bathrooms...just the spots for them. No toilets, fixtures, counters, cabinets, or appliances....nothing. There is some new drywall, but the house is basically a clean slate. It's a classic Grand Rapids 4 square, all brick, big front porch, nice oak floors, solid bones.

One of the best parts about the house is the neighborhood. It's on a great block. The first day Joe came to see it, we met some neighbors who we were sure the realtor was paying to try to convince us to buy this house. 10 of the neighbors participate together in CSA (community supported agriculture) and take turns each week going to the farm to pick up bushels of fruit and veggies for the neighborhood. There are 16 kids under the age of 8 on the street. To top this off, one of my very best friends, Katie, just bought a house less than a block away. It's about a half mile from Rowan's pre-school, a little over a mile from my brother Tom and his wife Stacia's house, and within 2 miles of many other friends.

This house really is an ideal situation for us. We wanted to re-do a kitchen anyways, and probably would have eventually re-done bathrooms, too. So not having them is actually better for us...we don't have to do the demo OR pay for someone else's work! We had our offer of $77,000 accepted (it was listed for $82,900)...and that's cheap, even in Michigan's real estate market. Because the house is so affordable, we will have some money to put a kitchen and bathrooms in.

The timing also works out fine for Joe to work full-time on the house for awhile before moving in. He really wants to see the firefighter process through, and we won't know whether or not he gets that job for a few months. If he gets it, he'll have the time to work on the house because training doesn't start until January. If he doesn't get it, we won't know until November or December, so he wouldn't pursue other full time work until then anyways.

Speaking of firefighter stuff...Joe took 2 days of testing last week and it went well. The first day was a multiple choice, general knowledge test. He estimated that there were 1200 people there to take the test! The second day was a written test...about 24 hypothetical questions that required written answers. Joe said that about 3-400 LESS people showed up for day 2 of testing, apparently self-selecting themselves out because day 1 was too hard. They grade these tests and then a certain number (we have no idea how many) will move on to the next phase, which is an oral examination sometime later in October. Hopefully we'll hear soon whether or not he advanced to that stage. After the oral examination comes the physical testing, and finally oral interviews.

Other than house and firefighter stuff, we've been busy doing all the other business of moving: new driver's licenses and car registration, figuring out house loans, trying to sell the RV from across the country, getting insurance and doctors figured out, getting settled into pre-school, etc. Joe has also been doing some odd jobs for friends and family.

We had an unfortunate (and almost unbelievable) week financially. It started on Monday when, in separate incidences, our credit card AND Joe's debit card were stolen. The credit card number was stolen on-line somehow, and luckily we noticed right away that some strange transactions had taken place. We got that cancelled right away...but still a pain in the butt. Within an hour of that, the bank called to say that they saw some suspicious charges on Joe's debit card (like 4 tanks of gas in a day!)...and we realized that Joe had inadvertently left his card at an ATM machine the previous week. Again, we got that all cancelled and taken care of....but still no fun. Then Tuesday morning as Rowan and I got in the truck to go to pre-school, I realized right away that the truck had been broken into. I know that this sounds incredibly stupid, but we had left our camera in the truck the night before. Neither of us can remember EVER having left the camera in the car....it was just really bad timing and bad luck. We were staying at Joe's parent's house...and they live in a gated community, couldn't feel more "safe." So we got the camera...and our garmin (GPS)...and a computer-timing thing for the truck all stolen. Over $3,000 worth of stuff. Right now their home owner's insurance is saying they won't cover it. Ouch. I'm not a materialistic person and could do without just about any of my possessions....but my camera? That one has really hurt.

They say that God speaks through children....and Rowan sure spoke to me that day. I was pretty upset about the camera, and when I realized it wouldn't be covered under home owner's and we might not be able to replace it, I was crying. I explained to her that I was upset that my camera had been stolen, that it was important to me and that it cost a lot of money. "But mommy," she says, "we still have food! Maybe someone else needed the camera, maybe we needed to share! We can buy another one!" and later, trying to make me feel better, she recited a litany of things that were not affected by the theft: "you can still read to me! we can still look at the stars and find shooting stars! we can still hike in the woods! we can still have hot chocolate when it gets cold!" and on and on she went, trying to remind me of the bigger picture, that we're going to be okay.

And she's right. We are.

Already in the few weeks we have been here, I have been thankful to be a part of every day things going on in the lives of friends and family. One of my best friends, Jenny, lost her mom to cancer in September...and I got to be there for the funeral and to spend some time with Jenny before she returend to California. My grandpa had his hip replaced, so I've been able to see him in the hospital and help with transport and other things. My friend Katie and her family moved this weekend, so we got to chip in with the truck and extra hands.

One huge blessing that we've been a part of in our extended family is that my brother Tom and his family are adopting 2 little girls....and it's all become firm and official in the last few weeks. It's hard to describe how much it fills me with joy to be here for this kind of stuff....Rowan and I took care of their son, Seth, on the morning that Tom and Stacia got to meet the girls for the first time. It's one thing to talk on the phone or over e-mail about these huge things going on in our lives...it's quite another to sit there face to face and hear about the first time my sister-in-law met her new daughters, to see the tears! Shae is 4 and Tayva will turn 2 next month. The girls will come to live with Tom and Stacia by the holidays. Lots of changes for their family and for all of us--we are excited and could all use prayers!


Cebulski Family Update

This post is complicated to write. How to explain the process of coming to a very significant decision? How about I just put it out there:

We're moving back to Grand Rapids, Michigan!

I suppose that I finally feel like the decision is final because Rowan and I landed back on Michigan soil last night; I didn't want to announce it until we were actually here! We flew in one way....Joe will follow in the next week or two with the truck (with or without the RV, depending on if we can sell it out in CA). He's busy selling the Mercedes, a couch set we bought for the house, and some other misc. other things we acquired over the course of the year that we don't really want to keep. Then he'll make the trip cross country.

It's honestly been a roller-coaster summer, and especially the last few weeks, of making decisions, weighing options, and seeing what doors opened and closed. One opportunity that we were waiting on was out in Stockton...it involved Joe getting enough funds to keep the training center out there alive, then staying on as an assistant coach/administrator of the center. Ironically, Joe was able to secure significant funds from a local foundation (he did a tremendous amount of work and I'm really proud of how impressive he was in meetings and interviews), but it didn't end up being enough...or maybe just not the right timing...for everything to work out. There is obviously a much bigger back story here, but I'm trying to keep this all brief.

We had pretty much narrowed it down to either staying in Stockton for a year or two, or moving back to Michigan. So with the door closed on Stockton, that left Michigan! We have many details to work out in the coming weeks--jobs, living, insurance, etc. Joe has talked and thought about becoming a fireman for several years now (I'll let him write a separate post about wanting to be a fireman...since that may surprise some of you!) Turns out that the Grand Rapids Fire Department is hiring 12 new firefighters...and they haven't hired in 5 years. So that feels serendipitous--a door opening. The testing process begins on Sept. 25; Joe will have to be in Grand Rapids by then. The whole hiring process takes most of the fall...if he were hired, the training doesn't start until January. So while this will be the first thing we pursue, there will be some months in there to fill in with odd jobs and finding a house (and you know us--that means a fixer-upper!). If you're in the GR area and need some work done around your own house, remember that Joe might be available :)

Rowan starts pre-school tomorrow at Oakdale Christian School, the same school I attended for kindergarten through 8th grade. She got to visit the school in the winter because her cousin, Seth, was attending there last year. Feels strange to have my child going to the school that my first memories of school are!

I feel really good about being here. This begins a whole new chapter of life for us--can't wait to see how it all unfolds! We'll keep you updated as details become more clear. Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers and we've been in this transition mode.


Summer in Michigan

Between the Cottage in early July and my sister's wedding in mid August, we had lots of fun and adventures in Michigan. Many events probably deserve their own posting, but in light of the fact that I am way behind...I'm going to include a whole bunch of things in this one post. Here are the highlights:
1. Jenny's Shower: Right after the cottage, we held a bridal shower for Jenny at my Aunt Anne's house (if you want to see why I love my aunt anne's house so much, check out a few pictures from the shower on Flickr). It was mostly cousins and some of my mom's friends...but it is always good to see these people. I was pleased to get to be a part of the wedding process (little did I know then how much more involved I would get to be as the month wore on!) and begin the celebration of Jenny and Mark's union.

2. Farmer City, Illinois: I got to meet Joe's grandparents, his mom's mom and dad, after we had been dating for a year or two. They live in a tiny little town in central Illinois called Farmer City. Grandpa and Grandma Thomas farmed for their whole lives before moving to the "city" for their retirement. But they didn't slow down much...Grandma will turn 90 in September and Grandpa is 94 (or 95, I can never remember), and every time you show up at Grandma's house there is a meal with like 12 different elements to it waiting on the table. From the first time I met Grandma and Grandpa Thomas, I felt welcomed and accepted...and have felt like theirs ever since. In the last year Grandpa has suffered several falls and is now living at a nearby nursing home, which has been a hard adjustment for everyone.

Joe's mom, Rowan, and I drove down to Farmer City to see Grandma and Grandpa and to celebrate their 74th wedding anniversary! That's right--74 years! So we had a little open house/party for them with other family that live in the area. It was good to spend time with Grandma, and although it was hard to see Grandpa in the nursing home, it was also good to give him big hugs and watch him laugh at Rowan.

3. Peoria, IL: one of the nights that we were in IL, I got to leave Rowan with her Nana and Great-Grandma and drive an hour over to Peoria to see my sister. She recently bought a house there...so I got to see her cute new house, do a few wedding things, and meet some of Mark's family (they are all from Peoria). It just so happened that the night I was there, Mark was playing bass with his band....so Jenny and I got to hit the town and catch the jam session! I can't remember the last time I was out at a bar past midnight....we had a blast! A big part of the fun was watching Mark play. It was a part of Mark I didn't know yet....he really gets down on stage. He is incredibly fun to watch because he gets so into the music, is really intense, and is clearly enjoying himself. I was proud of my brother-to-be!

4. Playgroups: I have several friends from high school and college who still live in Grand Rapids. Most of them have small children...and when we all get together, it's pretty crazy. It's a lot of fun to see close friends with their kids, to see how they parent, to see the personalities of each kid, to see my friends' faces in these little people toddling around. I also got to spend a few individual play dates with friends who have kids close to Rowan's age. We went to a great little beach/park with Jill and her adorable girls, Lauren and Sophia--twice! We had lunch at one of the most fun places in GR--Yesterdog--and played at a park with Katie and her sons Simeon and Judah. And we also walked down to a spray park with Heidi and her son Ethan. Then we had a bigger playgroup out at the beach where Becky's family was staying at a cottage...and had a perfect evening of swimming, cooking out, and watching the sunset....and chasing around a dozen kids under the age of 4!
5. Meijer Gardens and High School Musical: Back in January, Joe's dad received the incredible gift of a new kidney from a woman named Stephanie Taylor. I got to meet her in February when we visited, and this summer got to spend a little more time getting to know her and her amazing family. We met up with her and her sons, Benjamin and Matthew, at the GR favorite Meijer Gardens. Then a few days later we attended a play with them that local high schoolers were putting on: High School Musical. We didn't know much about HSM, but Rowan ADORED the play...it was fun to watch her watch the production!

6. Evans Family: When I was 11 years old, a family moved in across the street that significantly impacted my life. They had 3 children....a daughter who was nearly one, and two sons...probably 3 and 5 years old. I spent a huge part of my pre-teen and adolescent years babysitting Daniel, James, and Noella. Not only did I have a ton of fun playing with these kids and watching them grow up...but the whole family sort of took me in as one of their own, and I also developed a close relationship with their mom, Gail. We have remained more or less in touch over the years...but I hadn't seen them in many years. We got back in touch and met up for lunch this summer....and all 3 kids (well, the youngest, Noella, is 21 now, if that doesn't make me feel old!) were able to come. It meant a lot to me to see them all and reconnect. I love this family! Then we also met up the next week to take some family photos at the park. Nothing better than taking photos of people you care about!

7. Mom and Dad C's 35th Anniversary: Joe's mom and dad celebrated their 35th anniversary on August 4. A few days after their actual anniversary, Joe and his sister Stephanie were both in Grand Rapids...so we made a dinner to celebrate. Their good friends, Dick and Pam Formsma, joined us for the fondue dinner. We went all out and had cheese fondue with bread and veggies, oil and broth fondue with meats and veggies, and a yummy chocolate fondue with all sorts of sweets for dessert. It was a long, leisurely, beautiful meal. We shared stories about mom and dad, gave them some gifts, and had fun hearing some details about their wedding day.

8. Lots of adult/friend time: because of all the gracious help with childcare, I got more than my fair share of friend time this summer. Several evenings spent out with "just the girls," coffee here and there, an evening of long talks and great dessert with Ken and Gail Heffner (friends who are more like mentors to Joe and me since before we were married)....all of these made for a summer rich in relational reconnections and feeling re-energized with conversation.

Click here to see a set of more misc. summer photos talked about in this post.


Summer Photo Contest Winner!

This summer I took some photos of my friend Meredith and her family...and they submitted one of the shots to a summer photo contest in the Grand Rapids Press. Out of over 1,000 entries, it won! Pretty cool!

Click here to see the photo and read the article.


The Cottage

For the past three summers, my parents have rented a cottage for a week in Holland, MI, right on the Lake Michigan shore (this happened during the week after the 4th of July...I'm trying to catch up on the blogging!) It's a big enough place to sleep our entire family--siblings, spouses, and cousins. That would be our family, my brother Tom and his family (wife Stacia, Taryn and Seth), Jenny and soon-to-be husband Mark, my brother Adam's children Kahalah and Wasson, and of course my mom and dad. There is a big open room with two impossibly long oak picnic tables where everyone can gather for meals, a movie room with a huge screen in the basement, a loft sleeping area with bunk beds for the kids, a hammock overlooking the lake, and a beautiful staircase that descends right to the sand of Lake Michigan.

It's an incredible gift that my parents give us every year---the lazy days on the beach, the shared meals at night, nights playing fast scrabble and Boggle with the adults, watching the cousins play for hours in the sand and water, taking bike rides, going on a dune buggy ride, the fellas playing endless games of bocce, long walks down the beach, picking blueberries, s'mores by the campfire, riding the sea kayaks, and just having tons and tons of time to talk to each other.

I remember the first year that we did this, I was a big skeptical that a whole week with family in one house was going to be fun. I remember telling myself that by the end of the week, I might really be tired of everyone! But that first year took me by surprise...it was a perfect balance of togetherness and separateness. Sure, we were together a lot. But if you wanted to steal away for a solo walk, or better yet...leave the kid with someone and talk a walk with your spouse!...it easily happened. People would do their own thing, then come together for dinner or a swim. It is also great to be at a neutral location. No one is "entertaining" and so the tasks of keeping a house running for a week---the meals, clean-up, shopping, laundry, sweeping, etc--get easily shared (at least I hope my parents feel that way!) Everyone feels equal responsibility.

I also love being with family for a week and having ample opportunity to take photos...at a gorgeous location. Each year we have gathered for a big family photo, then attempted to take individual family photos, depending on the mood of the children! What a joy to watch Rowan with her cousins, chasing them around, looking up to them; she awakes each morning wanting to know exactly where each cousin is and what they are doing!

I know that the weeks at the cottage will be an enduring childhood memory for Rowan (and future children!), and for that I am especially grateful. There are certain events in my childhood that stick out above others, and I often think back on these events. What could be a better memory for life than a week in the sun, with sand always in your suit, surrounded by people who love you the best in the world?

A highlight of the cottage for us this year was an unexpected visit from our good friends from Jonesboro, the Wilkies. Jason has family in MI and they just happened to be driving near Holland while we were there...so they stopped by for the afternoon and dinner. Jason and Julie (and their children: Duncan, Quinton, Lillian...and that's cousin Noah along, too!) were a big part of what made Jonesboro feel like home to us. For the last few years that we lived in AR, we faithfully carried out this tradition: each Monday was Cebulski/Wilkie night. So one Monday, Julie and I would go out...the next Monday, Jason and Joe would go out. Then every once in awhile we'd get a sitter and go out all 4 of us. But the Mondays that were just the guys or just the girls were awesome--it wasn't just meeting for coffee, although sometimes it included that. It was a whole evening...sometimes we'd take a walk, do a little shopping, and just talk talk talk for hours. Julie also has a special place in our family because she delivered Rowan, and took amazing care of both me and Rowan during a fairly traumatic labor and delivery! It was fun to catch up with them and see how the kids had grown in so many months.
To see LOTS more pictures from the cottage (thanks to Joe for all the editing) click here.

Oh, and a quick current update: we moved out of our big house of athletes yesterday (Friday) and are at Tye and Amy's this weekend...then into the RV temporarily until the next thing. Lots of big plans and decisions are being made this last week...so we will have something to report soon!


Pregnancy at 21 weeks

We arrived back in CA late last night...and had our mid-pregnancy ultrasound already this morning. I missed a pre-natal appointment while we were in MI, so I wanted to get in right away!

Everything looked fine in the ultrasound. We decided to not find out the gender...yet. We had them seal it in an envelope in case we change our minds....but for now, it's still a mystery. The ultrasound experience in CA was much different than in Arkansas with Rowan. A lot more legal stuff surrounding it here...they did a whole series of pictures before even allowing us to see anything, just in case something was woefully wrong. And the ultrasound tech couldn't tell us ANYTHING here...I have to wait for a full report from my doctor next week. She did say that our baby looked fine, though, and through our untrained eyes...it looked perfect!

We saw the heart beating and all 4 of it's chambers, saw the hands, legs, and ten toes and ten fingers....the baby has been really active and I've been feeling it move more and more every day, so it was awesome to SEE it moving around, too. The baby is already over 10 inches long and weighs about a pound. What a miracle!

I included a few photos of my growing belly here...the one at the top is when I was 16 weeks pregnant, the one right above is from 19 weeks. I love this part of pregnancy...well enough into the second trimester that I feel great, have a good appetite, am sleeping fine, and the belly isn't big enough to cause any discomfort yet. I absolutely love being able to feel this child roll and tumble around inside of me...I just can't get enough of it, or get over how amazing it is to be carrying new life. I love seeing my belly getting rounder and bigger every day...I just want to touch it all the time. I am definitely one of those women who loves being pregnant...and I am thankful for that.


Wedding Photo Preview

Jenny's wedding was beautiful and we had a great day....but are a little relieved that it is over, too!I just wanted to post this link to the photographer's blog...she already posted 20 or so images of the wedding day. The photos are AMAZING and really capture how gorgeous Jenny and Mark were and how joyful the day was. I'll eventually have to post a video of Jen and Mark's first dance....it was totally choreographed, funky, funny, and no one knew it was going to happen. Total fun.

Click here to check out the photos from the photographer. Since it is a blog, you might have to scroll down to see the right photos...but today they are right at the top.

My sister-in-law Stacia and I did all the flowers for the wedding...including Jenny's bouquet, the corsages, boutonnieres, and flower girl's crowns...and NO, we have never done flowers before! So check those out in the photos...we think they looked lovely :)

Joe and I didn't get to take a lot of photos at the wedding...we were a bit busy with everything else! But we will eventually post a few that we have from the week.

We're getting on a plane in a few hours to head back to CA, then more blog updates will follow...


Wedding Week

My sister, Jenny, is getting married on Saturday. Joe, Rowan, and I are all at my parents' house trying to help where we can and get things done for the wedding. We forgot how much work it is to get married! A simple concept...but the details can get overwhelming! I included below the invitations that we put together for the wedding. Jen and Mark couldn't decide which one to use, so they just sent out both--one to half the guests, the other to the other half. Joe and I took these photos last summer out at Lake Michigan after they got engaged--beautiful subjects, easy photos!
We're flying back to CA on Monday. We're hoping that in the next few weeks we'll have a better idea of what our next months will look like---namely where we will live and what we will do for work. We'll keep you posted! For now, we're going to enjoy family and this wedding celebration!


Crater Lake with Curtis and Amanda

This is Joe again. I'm just a bloggin' fool. We are just finally getting our blog life caught up with our real life. I guess that is a good thing. Means we are still having adventures.

Curtis Diller is my Bud. A Bud with a capital B. What does that mean? Well, he and his wife Amanda are in one of the most difficult years of their life, with tremendous challenges and demands upon their lives. In the midst of this, Curtis (and Amanda) saw no other option but to make it to Eugene to be a part of supporting me as I finished up my career. Afterward, we had a few days to burn before heading back to CA, so we headed up to Crater Lake Oregon. Curtis and Amanda camped out in the forest while Laura Rowan and I took refuge in a little motor inn.

We made our way around the lake by veggie truck for a few hours taking in the scenery. Stopped at a few outlooks and Curtis and I made fools of ourselves doing silly jumping photos while tourists whispered amongst one another as to which asylum we might have escaped from. Our wives took it all in stride, as many years of marriage has worn away their aversion and ability to be embarrassed (although I did hear them discussing who had the better life insurance policy on their husband).

It soon became obvious that we would have to blaze our own trail. After a bit of searching we identified a peak at the rim of the lake that seemed like a nice place for lunch. Only four feet of snowpack and a few thousand feet of elevation stood in our way. Convincing Rowan was easy. She’s such a cool girl and sees life so clearly. Laura and Amanda were a bit harder sell. Amanda recently had knee surgery and Laura was worried that she might need hospitalization if the trip was not successful. Nevertheless, we made it to the top and did in fact enjoy a nice lunch with a fantastic view. Now the trip back down to the truck was a different story. The image is seared into my memory (thankfully the funny side of my brain). Picture Amanda barreling down the 40 deg slope on her backside with a crescendo of "whao...WHao...WHAO's!!" emanating dopplar effect style as she flies by all of us. Curtis was at least 50 ft away when Amanda began hurtling toward the grove of pine trees. In a heroic display of matrimonial love and death wish tendencies, Curtis began to sprint down the slope after her. My original thought was that I would now lose two good friends in the next 20 seconds...but instead Curtis caught up with her, spun 180 deg in front while digging his heels in and somehow brought both of them to a stop. We all then joined Rowan (who the entire time thought it was hilarious) in uncontrollable laughter. What fun.

That evening we had a wonderful dinner together at the Lodge right on the lake. Good conversation and fellowship. Curtis and Amanda are deep thinkers with good questions. Followed that up witha campfire back at the woods and S'Mores for everyone. What a great way to end a couple of days with good friends and beautiful scenery. As always...more pics here! Oh, and the photographer of the pic above is Rowan. She loves taking pics and has to use all her strength to get our big SLR up to her eye, but she focuses, frames, and shoots away. She ends each shot by looking at the LCD and saying "That's just beautiful!"

Beijing Games

How fun to watch the games in Beijing. Sure there's lots of politics and propaganda involved. But in the end, it's just a riot to sit down for a couple of hours and catch some mashed together swimming, biking, rowing, volleyball, and fencing beteen the world's best. It is sport...and in the end, it is like a garden salad...just really hard to mess it up.

We were talking over dinner last night, and Laura and I figured that we have between 15-20 athletes competing in the games that we consider friends. So watching the commercials is funny as we will be like, "Oh, there's Bryan...or look at Jake long jumping...or that's a funny shot of Amy." What I can tell all of you as you watch these games is that each and every one of the peolpe we know has given up much, and worked harder than some could even imagine to be there in Beijing. They deserve an unbiased, non-politacal, just for the joy of it viewing of their performances.

Here is a thought that I have used as a balm when considering the games in Beijing. This was brought up to me by a Decathlon buddy while I was still in Eugene, and I have used it to "give myself a little credit" over the past several weeks.

Many consider track and field at the Olympics to be a collection of the best athletes in the world. While many of the best are there, not all of them are. You see, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) only allows three athletes (that qualify) from each country to attend. In the decathlon, the standard for qualifying is 7700pts. If you are from Tunisia, and you score 7700pts in the year leading up to the Games, you are allowed to come and compete in Beijing. In the US, we have close to 30 athletes who will meet this standard. This is why we have the Olympic Trials. There is really no other country in the world that has (or needs) a true Olympic trials. So here is the interesting thing that my friend told me. The IOC allows up to 40 athletes to fill the field at the Games in Beijing. If you were to just go down the list of performances from the past year, and take the top performers regardless of country, I would be writing you from China right now. My score from this season places me in the top 30 in the world. I take this as great encouragement from this season. My only regret is that maybe I should have gotten British or Polish citizenship last year:)

OK, that's all...resume your enjoyment of the games. Blog coming soon about our time at Crater Lake with Curtis and Amanda.



I'm No Brett Favre

Hello all. I am back from the Thorpe Cup after a horrendous day of travel. My flight was supposed to go through O'Hare, but weather in Chicago caused massive delays. Ended up switching airlines and coming back to GR through Cincinnati. I left the hotel in Kansas at 5:00am and arrived in Grand Rapids at 9:00pm. Flew home in 14 hours, could have driven it in 10.

The decathlon at the Thorpe Cup was absolutely brutal. I had honestly felt pretty good and was excited for the opportunity. If it wasn't for plasticine. You see, I can now verify firsthand that a 200lb human body can float effortlessly for up to 5 inches on the stuff. I can also verify that the same 200lb man will be stopped instantaneously by mondo once the plasticine has no more real estate. I am describing my second attempt in the long jump. I landed on my head in the pit, and apparently did some damage to my foot (would have preferred damage to the head). It appears that they hired a second grader to mold the stuff to the board as it was at least half an inch thick. Tendon or ligament I don't know, but it is somewhat in the arch area. I was elated to clear a bar in the high jump, and actually managed a complete the 400m despite the better judgment of our team physician who wanted me to get an MRI. I told him three things: 1) an MRI is expensive 2) I couldn't possibly make it back in time for the 400 and 3) I did not see the team of wild horses he would need to keep me off the track. Oh, and did I mention...it was 107 deg. Day two was excruciatingly painful, and with temps in the 110's it felt as though they had transported us to the surface of the sun (meet location pictured above). I was able to hobble through what I could, but the pole vault was just impossible. In the end, however, the US team was able to defeat the Germans by a large margin and put up the second highest team decathlon score in history. SO awesome to be a part of that.

Here are some other good things that came out of the meet. I was able to go out with some of the neatest guys I have competed with in 10 years. At our first team meeting before the start of the decathlon I was selected to be the team captain. What a humbling honor (and reason to finish the meet no matter what). If I wasn't able to go out on top, at least I was able to go out well liked and respected.

Secondly, there are elements of finishing with a dec like this that is good. Good in a way that a personality like mine maybe needed...to be reminded that it is time to move on and that moving on is the right decision. It is entirely possible that I could have had a great meet had I not sustained the injury...and that would have been nice too. But maybe I would have had a bug in my ear to try and "get a little better". Not the case with me now. That was one of the most internally as well as externally painful meets ever. The foot every step and the sun and heat every minute. I am done! I am content. I am moving on. This is in many ways an answer to prayer for me.

Thanks again to everyone who supported us this year in all we tried to accomplish. What a wonderful journey. As C.S. Lewis has written, in order to know the greatest joys, you must be willing to leave yourself open to some of the greatest sorrows. We have known both over the years, and I would have it no other way. If there are things in life that you have always dreamed of pursuing, why not give it a try. There is no guarantee that the result will be what you expect, but the journey and the answer are often worth more than the prize you thought you were seeking.


Bummer Decathlon

If anyone checked the scores from the decathlon this weekend, you could probably tell that something was amiss. Indeed, this weekend did not turn out as Joe had hoped. He ended up tearing a tendon in the arch of his right foot during his second attempt at the long jump (which is the 2nd event on the first day). He was in a lot of pain, but really wanted to finish the meet...so he did, except for a no-height in the pole vault. It was also hotter than anything...nearing 110 both days. Not a fun meet....really hot and in tons of pain.

I'll let Joe give you more details and his thoughts on officially being done with his decathlon career...but I know that people were wondering how it went this weekend. We are eagerly awaiting Joe's arrival in Grand Rapids...he was supposed to get in mid-afternoon, but Chicago is bogged down because of thunderstorms, and right now we're hopeful that he'll arrive tonight at 9:00. He left 3 weeks ago today, so we are MORE than ready to see him. It's really been too long to be apart!

More to come


Live Results Today and Tomorrow

Joe is in Manhattan, Kansas, competing in the last decathlon of his career! It's called the Thorpe Cup, and it's a meet that they put on every year between USA and Germany. Each county sends 7 decathletes and 7 heptathletes, and at the end they total up the top 5 scores from each country to determine a winner. It is usually very competitive and close...and is a fun meet because while you still get an individual score and can go after PRs (personal records), you're also competing for an overall team score, so there is a lot of fun camaraderie.

Joe is feeling good and is excited to compete. They don't start today until 2:00 PM Central, and tomorrow at 1:00. Live results will be posted throughout the day if you click here.


Seattle: Natalie and Adia

While Rowan and I were up in WA, we got to swing down to Seattle and spend the night with another old friend, Natalie, and her daughter Adia.

The summer after my freshman year of college (that would be 1996!) I did a program called Kingdomworks in downtown Philadelphia. The program was the brainchild of Bart Campolo, son of Tony. It put groups of 6 or so college students together in an area of need, partnered them with local churches, and had them live communally and serve the neighborhood/church that they were living in. So I was one of 6 that lived in a small apartment in Kensington, a rough neighborhood north of Philly. We ran a day-camp at the church, spent lots of one on one time with kids, and in our free time tried to figure out what it meant to live in community and negotiate all of our differences. We lived in a small space, cooked all our meals together, worked together....you could say we all got to know each other pretty well!

Natalie was one of the people I lived with that summer, and we have kept in touch ever since. I went to WA when she got married, she came to MI when I got married, and she made a trip to AR soon after Rowan was born. It had been a few years since we had seen each other, so it was especially nice to reconnect and spend time together. Natalie and her husband Silas have one daughter, Adia, who is 6, and are newly pregnant with their second. They live in Sunnyside, WA. We met at a hotel north of Seattle, then headed into the city for the afternoon. Nat and Si went to college in Seattle and then lived there for a few years...so it is sort of her old stomping grounds. We went to Pike's Place Market then out for dinner at her favorite Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. Then we headed back to the hotel for what the girls really wanted to do: swim! Never mind cool art, music, and fish being thrown through the air...for a 3 and 6 year old, not much can top a pool! The girls played and we visited, then we plopped them down for a movie so we could keep talking. In the morning we ate breakfast, hung out, then parted ways again.

I always marvel at friendships that can pick up easily after time and distance. There are just those people that are comfortable no matter what, who you can listen to and talk to with ease, who you feel known by and know, even across years and miles. Those kids of friendships are a real blessing. Natalie and Silas have had an amazing journey since 1996, and she has been gracious to let me in, help me understand her life, and teach me what it means to be a friend in new ways.

Natalie and Silas decided to make the trip over to Eugene to see Joe compete at the Trials, so it was fun to have a short good-bye and then get to see them again for a few days. Competition time is never a great social time for me or for Joe, but it meant a lot to us that they came out to support us. Nat and Si were both interested, gracious, and patient with the long days of competition! Kind of humbling, really, to feel all the love and support and prayers we have had from friends.

Natalie and Silas have a blog which you can visit here. They wrote a few nice entries about the Trials if you scroll down a bit...with a few pics.

To see a few more photos of our time together in Seattle, click here.