Wednesday, October 26, 2011

17 Weeks

... and Baby is about 5 inches long and 5 ounces, like a turnip.

I officially:
- cannot wear my old jeans without thinking about the fact that I would mentally comment on the inappropriateness if someone else were to sport such a muffin top
- can no longer sleep flat on my belly without feeling like I have a grapefruit-sized growth in my abdomen; oh wait, I do
- prefer the 2nd trimester, where nausea and headaches are a thing of the past; I can put up with the bloody buddies
- cannot lean over the sink to put on my mascara
- have two gears: starving and stuffed

The last two weeks have flown by, for obvious reasons, and it's hard to believe I'm nearly halfway through my pregnancy. Then again, the first four weeks don't count because you don't even know you're pregnant, and the last 20 weeks call for exponential weight gain, probably the accompanying stretch marks, and the pregnancy waddle. None of these things will look good on me. Thank god for a husband who wears Love Goggles.

"I know you think I'm just googley-eyed, but I think you're more beautiful now that you're pregnant," he said to me this afternoon.

"Seriously," he continued. "It's not like you were ugly before, but now you have this glow."

I definitely feel prego now, but still feel like I just look fat. I know, I know, I've been saying that all along. Actually, I've been saying that for years. I'm also realizing how little my abdomen really is. I'm not so sure that there's room for a potato-sized baby in there, let alone a watermelon. Already when I eat, my stomach grows two-fold. It reminds me of what Rachel told me about how Logan's first teeth grew in - he went down for a two-hour nap, all gums, and woke up with two lower front teeth. I think my belly is sorta doing the same thing. I never was good at geometry, but I'm curious how my gut is going to fit my pancreas, bladder, stomach, intestines, liver, ovaries, and enlarging placenta all in the same place. Maybe there just won't be room for me to breathe.

Saying Goodbye

I left the island and left Brian, Katie, and my dad this afternoon.

This was my text from Brian today:
"Love u cunt" (uh, since when does he use such language with his semi-feminist baby sister?!?)
"Thanks for everything I've done" (I think he is thanking me, but got his pronouns confused)
"Call me sometime from the road tomorrow" (he has his jaw wired shut, how are we to talk?)
15 minutes pass
"Do u still have any paper left for more pane for my ugly face?" (I'm guessing he's asking me for his paid medication, which I obviously didn't pack in my bags, but can't find the right words).

I wish I could stay longer, to support my brother and see him through this next phase, but, really, I am SO glad to be heading home.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Alex, the hospital social worker, Rach, Dad, Stac - they all keep emphasizing the importance of self-care.

"Remember," Alex tells me, "you put on your own oxygen mask before helping anyone else put theirs on."

Easier said than done.

What exactly does self care, in the face of a loved one's illness, look like? Is it manicures, massages, and facials? Is it simply eating three regular meals and getting adequate sleep? Is it processing feelings with loved ones? I've got the latter stuff covered, but am more than happy to spring for a massage. Seven straight days of sitting in hospital chairs, my shoulders next to my ears from stress, and I could use a little professional help to relieve the tension.


After the speech therapist came in for evaluation yesterday, and my fears about the extent of Brian's head injury confirmed, I was a basket case. I was overcome with worse-case-scenario fears and imagined him forever impaired. His speech therapist, Heather, was nice and thorough, but I could see in her face reactions to his strange answers. He was able to follow basic one-step directions and answer basic yes/no questions. But he had difficulty with several of the other higher level tasks.

When asked to name as many animals as possible within 60 seconds, he said "polar bear, ancient polar bear, old VW bus, vice." When I instructed him to think of the farm right behind his restuarant, the one where his boss's father keeps a variety of exotic animals, he was able to name the Scottish Highland ox, the lemur, and said, "one, not two hat" when trying to describe the one-humped camel. I admit I felt somewhat pleased that he was using an actual word-finding strategy by describing distinctive features and using gestures to get his point across. I'm sure that is something he will work on in therapy.

When instructed to repeat and remember three words, rose, sweater, and hamburger, he was his usual cute self and responded, "I'd eat any of them right now." But when asked to recall the words, he said "seven, sweat, anything." And he wasn't joking.

Heather asked him if he'd noticed any changes in his memory, and he responded, "I'm getting more stupid now that my teeth are glued together." She repeated the question, emphasizing memory. He said, "No. I just feel differently because it's difficulty more than I've ever felt before."

He's perseverative, and needs several cues to address the actual topic at hand, such as the date. He's fully aware of the day and month, but gets stuck relating the date to his work schedule, and is unable to correctly answer the year. When told that it's 2011, he nods in understanding.

Heather asked him to count from 1 to 10. Using his fingers to count, he said, "one ten, two ten, three ten, four ten, five ten." He jumbled digit spans when asked to repeat them, and was only able to say the days of the week and the months of the year when the task was modeled for him. Not for a lack of knowing the facts and finding the words, but because he didn't seem to understand what was being asked of him.

He misspelled frog "F-R-O-G-H," and said "E-G-H-A-R-G" when asked to spell grape backwards.

When given a description of airport, he said it was the Rhode Island Hospital. And with elevator, he said it was a hospital. I guess I don't blame him for not being able to think of anything else after being in the same place, imprisoned, for a week.

He answered most yes/no questions accurately, about the sun rising during the day, and corks floating in water. But when asked if pigs fly, he said, "If you like pigs a lot." Not trying for funny.

When given a list of three words, and instructed to name the category, he was 100% accurate. However, he still said strange things. When told car, bus, train, he said, "If it's not a fruit it's nice, but if it's transportation it's not cool." So he's correct, but had an interesting way of relaying the information.

And finally, when looking at the classic "Cookie Thief" picture he said:
"Oh look at me, I spilt some food or water and I'm smelling some cookie jars ... Out of three people I'm the only one getting cookie jars."

His responses and behaviors were textbook frontal lobe damage, but it's his lack of insight and awareness to his deficits I find the most terrifying. As I learned in school, this can be one of the more difficult things to treat. At this point, the speech therapist recommended a neuropsych referral and intensive cognitive-linguisitc therapy 4 to 5 times per week. While this all might not mean a whole lot to anyone not in the medical field, it means too much to me, and I sometimes resent knowing about brain injury and cognitive rehabilitation, wishing for a more ignorance-is-bliss scenario,


When I went back to the hotel last night, I texted Katie to let her know the Baby and I had plans to sleep in. But when I woke up this morning, I didn't feel any better. I still wanted to lay in bed and cry. And I dreaded returning to room 631. I texted Katie again and let her know I was going for a walk, and that I wouldn't be in for awhile unless they needed something.

Fresh air. Some exercise. Respite. Just what the doctor ordered. I wandered out of my hotel, across the Wickenden Street pedestrian bridge and wound my way through the cute shops and neighborhoods surrounding Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design. At first I had to stop every few minutes, take a seat, and just rest. The exhaustion was overwhelming. But with Foster the People on my iPod and a chocolate-peanut butter milkshake in hand, I wandered all across College Hill in Providence.

When I finally returned to my hotel some four hours later, I passed out on the bed and napped while I Love You, Man played on the TV as background noise. I awoke feeling refreshed, and finally made my way to Rhode Island Hospital, a place more familiar than I ever imagined. Brian was feeling like shit, not surprisingly, and he rested while Katie and I knitted, chit-chatted, and avoided talking about anything related to Bri's injury and his cognitive status.

It was nice to put my oxygen mask on first today, but I still wish I had found a magic wand in that cute Wayland Square toy store.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Wild Things

"Will you keep out all the sadness?," the monsters asked Max when he first came to their forest.

"I have a sadness shield," he said boldly, "that keeps out all the sadness, and it's big enough for all of us."

Wise words from the little guy in the movie version of Where the Wild Things Are.

I envy Max's bravery right now, and I wish I had a sadness shield that was big enough to protect Brian, Katie, Dad, and me. And our friends and extended family, too.

Dad says bravery is not being without fears, but having fears and going toward them. Similarly, Ambrose Redmoon (who?!?) says, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear."

According to Merriam-Webster, courage is "mental or moral strength to venture, perservere, and withstand danger, fear or difficulty."

I think I'll take a bit of inspiration from Max's courage and creative problem-solving, and think some about what Mary Tyler Moore has to say:

"You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you."

This experience, my friends, is far from wonderful, so is that what makes us brave? That we can endure these challenges, maintain some sense of hope, and eventually ride out the storm to rise above? I'm counting on it. Becuase I have to ...

Funny Bone

In an attempt to alleviate some of the stress, fear, and sadness that Brian's injury brings about, I have been trying to find bits and pieces of humor. After all, I'm allowed no Xanax, so laughter better damned well be the best medicine. Cuz it's all I've got. And for that reason I am allowing myself to giggle at the silly things Brian has said, jotting them down for posterity, in order to share these with him when this is all a distant memory of our past.

"Holy shit, where the hell am I?"

"Is it your head or jaw that hurts?"

"Just give me a day." (Telling the nurses to leave him alone and stop waking him for quick cognitive evaluations).

He sat up in bed, pried open just his right eye, and said, "Take it off. I don't think it will be a big deal right now." (Asking me and Katie to take off all his wires and IVs while the nurses and doctors were out of the room).

Brian wanted water. Badly. And we felt so badly we couldn't give him any, as he was still on the waiting list for his jaw surgery.
"Why can't you give me any of that shit?
I got it last time I was here.
What the fuck. They let me drink it last time. I need to finish the joint."

"How are you doing?"
"Yeah, I know. I'm sorry."
"I wanna fucking kill myself. And go to the bathroom."

"What is the date today?"
"Day and half after yesterday."
"Where are you?"
"I need to go back to our place, in Telluride."
"How'd you get here?"
"Same way as yesterday."

"I just want to go home."
"Where's home?"
"You live in Block Island now, Bri."
"That's what I meant."
"Where do you work?"
"Lotus petal. Honga."
"Bri, you work at the Manisses now. Who do you live with?"
"My girlfriend."
"What girlfriend?"
"My MAIN one!" he said, exasperated.

"I feel aggressive. Feel like I've been here for days."

"This sucks. Can I please have the dynafite? Dynarite? Dynamite? I'm gonna lose it. It's been one hour but like nine."

"I hate feeling this sour."

"I can't do this another day. Get me out of this booby trap."

"I'm not gonna make it. It's 1 o clock not 5 o clock. I don't care. Let's just walk around the beach."

"Where's my sister? I want Billy. I really miss Alex."

To Katie: "I'm glad you still like me."

"You're lucky you got me at bedtime." he tells the PT, even though it was the afternoon. "I'm trying to be asleep because I'm pissed off I've been here five days now."

When the nurse checked his blood pressure: "Was that a good number? Did you like it?"

"It's in the cootie."

Isn't It Ironic?

If God were writing a dramatic play, would all this be a literary move of situational irony? That is, the fact that I recently graduated school as a speech-language pathologist, with a focus on cognitive rehabilitation, and that the day before I am called to start my new job in this field, my very own brother suffers his very own brain injury?

Or maybe I am the cowardly lion from the Wizard of Oz, who actually discovers my bold fearlessness which has been there all along? I'm not so sure Alanis had it right, but if you ask me, this turn of events wreaks of irony.

It's a tough role to wear two hats - that of loving, worried and overprotective sister, and that of clinical speech pathologist. It's also tough to balance the fear, doubt, and anger about the worst case scenario, with the hope, optimism and encouragement necessary for best case scenario.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sweet 16

I might be starting to feel that glow and that superwoman energy that people attribute to the second trimester ...

... Or maybe it's the simple fact that when saying goodnight to my brother last night, he acknowledged I was leaving and mumbled "love ya."

When life slows down enough to matter, it truly is the little things.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Brian's Brain

As I write this, Brian is tossing and turning in a restless state we shall call "sleep," Katie is sitting by his bedside staring at the same page of the same magazine she's been toting since Sunday, I'm on the other side of the hospital bed plunking away at my computer as I try to pass the hours and the anxiety until he is well. Oh yeah, and there's a big, stoic black man sitting on the radiator staring at us, where he is supposed to remain for the next 8 hours, as Brian apparently requires a "sitter." I guess he's on the nurses' shit-list for ripping out his IV and taking off his blood pressure cuff to get up on his own to use the urinal in the middle of last night. The bodyguard/babysitter is a modicum better than the safety belt and wrist restraints that Brian has been sporting the last couple days.

We're nearly 72 hours into the ordeal, and I suppose that means we're about to clear the hurdle of "maximum swelling." His condition has been more or less stable for the past 48 hours, and his CT scans and neuro screens have not indicated any additional bleeding or swelling. I suppose that means it's time to breathe a bit easier, but I'm still feeling suffocated by my fear of the long term ramifications of a head injury.

Flashback three days ago.

Brian was helping to celebrate his good friend and sous-chef Billy's birthday. A group of people continued the party at Brian and Katie's apartment after the bars closed. They were ready for the after-party to end, and Bri told everyone to leave. Some acquaintance, a 20-something island kid, was passed out on the couch. Bri woke him up, told him to leave, and the kid cold-clocked Brian, who fell back onto the unforgiving linoleum. One of their friends had the wherewithall to stabilize his head and call 911.

I got a message from Katie around 8 a.m. West Coast time on Sunday morning.

"Your brother is okay, but he's in the hospital."

Apparently he was flown off Block Island and is currently in the Rhode Island Hospital ER. Here I faced a fork in the road of my maturity: do I call my dad, fill him in on the hazy details, and let him take the helm? Or do I call the hospital myself and then break the news to my dad with a more informed dialogue?

I phoned the hospital, left my name with the ER secretary, and waited for the neurosurgeon to call me back. Time stood still. "Admitted to ICU." "Signficant bleeding." "Left parietal lobe. Central bone fracture." "Left frontal, left parietal, left temporal." "Right midbrain." "Subdural bleed." "Epidural hematoma." "Right mandibular fracture." "Currently sedated. Intubated because won't protect airway." The doctor advised I make the trip to be with Brian.

I called my dad. He mentioned that his phone had been out of service for the last 12 hours. I told him I had bad news. I tried to hold it together, but was sobbing while trying to get the words out.

"Brian's been in an accident," I choked. "He's in the hospital with a head injury."

"Nooo. Nooo. Nooo," Dad wailed.

We cried over the phone to each other for several minutes, eeking out expressions of familial love, worry, logistical plans.

"I can't figure out why I can't seem to protect my family," he cried to me.

More than anything, this is what cut me the deepest. Reminding me of the whole family we once were, and the fragments we remain today, without my mom at the helm.

Alex picked up the phone to buy me a one-way ticket to Providence, I packed a suitcase for an indefinite amount of time, and rushed to the PDX airport to catch my flight to care for my only brother.

I found a window seat next to a nice looking older couple. I stared out the window at the wing, waiting for the plane to take off, trying to cry softly to myself. My heart hurt and I was restless with fear. Could he die? Was he in a coma? What about being uninsured? Can I handle this? I was overcome with a strong sense of reliving the past, in reverse direction, like when Dad called me in Block Island and told us to come home to say our final goodbyes to Mom.

"Are you sick, dear?," the woman asked me suspiciously.

"No, no, I'm just crying," I shrugged and half-smiled to her.

She pat my leg, and I proceeded to divulge my whole life story. Brother's recent brain injury. Mom dead from breast cancer. A brother who died at six mopnths old. My dad's family devotion. My marriage and current pregnancy.

"It's just doesn't seem fair," I whined, regaling my family's hardships throughout the years.

"No one promised it would be," she consoled me.

When we landed, I hugged the nice couple goodbye and thanked them for their support and prayers. Although I might not be a believer myself, I certainly count on good God-fearing folks during trying times.

My heart continued to break as the various phone conversations played like a movie reel in my mind. And then there's the baby. My first, worried thoughts lead me to wonder if the baby will even get to meet Uncle B. And if so, will he be the same Brian I have known and loved for nearly 30 years? I yearned for my own mother, wishing she were here to save the day. It's her job to take care of my brother. And then it's her job to take care of me, too.

When I finally make it to Rhode Island, to the Trauma ICU, I see Brian for the first time. He looks almost childlike. And I am surprised by how normal he really seems. Except for that he is sedated and there are tubes coming out of his mouth, wires attached all over his chest, and his arms are hooked up to IV's administering pain-relieving and coma-inducing drugs. He's under sedation because he "can't protect his own airway." This, along with the fact I know he has a small lesion in his brainstem, feeds my worries about his prognosis. Apparently he was so agitated that he required restraints and then sedation for his own safety. I touch his face gently, pet his hair, and kiss him on his sweaty forehead. I then tape up the two family photos I've brought along so that if and when Bri wakes up, he'll see some familiar and loving faces. Truthfully, though, Brian would much rather first see the face of his beautiful girlfriend rather than his homely family. Katie doesn't want to leave him alone, and I call a cab at 3 am back to the hotel I have booked for the night. I'm worried sick, but relieved I can be here with him, and more tired than anything else. I fall asleep, and dream good dreams about a Brian that is alive and well and a part of my growing family's life.

Oh, Brother

On the long plane ride to Rhode Island, I distracted myself from my anxiety about Brian by concocting a list of the things I love about him.

His quotable quotes. Not just the content, but the delivery, too,.
"Booger on your face!"
"I'm going to go take a shit and think about him."
"Let's take virtual bong hits."

His genuine, emotional reaction to Alex and my engagement. It was like he didn't see it coming. "What?!?! Holy shit. No way."

He cried, over Skype, when we told him we're pregnant.

He seems excited, if curious, about being Uncle B.

His carpe diem approach to life.

The irony that one of the most laid-back people I know is also one of the most anxious.

Everyone is his best friend. Even his baby sister.

The story he told me growing up, that I was hatched from an egg on Easter.

He wore his tennis shoes to sleep for the week after the Bay Area earthquake in 1989.

He think I told our parents, at the age of 8, that he was smoking pot with his friends while babysitting me. I hold strong that my 2nd-grade self did not even know what marijuana was.

He texts and posts Facebook photos of his tomato garden.

He makes the best sweet potato/yam mashers ever. Key ingredients: coconut milk and Chef B-Love's special t0uch.

He tries to support and cater to my neurotic diets over the years - by cooking me kale - in a cup of butter. That must be why it tasted so good!

Our Fudge Fight of 2004.

I was inspired to follow and live in cool places because of him.

Christmas in Argentina with the Hartman's, lace cookies and all.

When crazy Grove Street roomie, Cyrus, told Bri he drank too much - after just one beer.

He ran the Vancouver 1/2 Marathon in his skate shoes in the pouring rain because his running shoes got stolen from my Volvo the night before.

We drove straight from Colorado to Rhode Island and he didn't let me drive. Ever.

He supposedly adored me as a baby.

He started riding a stand-up paddle board before the big craze.

Chocolate Lover's Festival.

Take care of Bri and Paul after their separate ski accidents. And visiting the Montrose WalMart with the two gimps.

B-Love is the most accurate nickname.

When he got his wisdom teeth pulled, he asked get me to blow pot smoke in his mouth so he could get stoned. When I declined, he proceeded to make pot cookies. Dad accidentally ate them.

He loves my husband and considers him a brother.

He cried at our wedding, but hid his tears behind sunglasses.

He asks me about 1x per month for my Xanax.

He thinks I'm a doctor.

He's a great gift-giver: Tahitian black pearls, diamonds for high school graduation, plane tickets to visit him.

He treats his friends like family.

He's like the captain of a pirate ship, tattooed and running with a posse.

Even if he's annoyed of Dad, he's never, ever rude to him.

He once shot a Robin Hood and was said to be Junior Olympic archery material.

He's unsettled when he works too much or when he works too little.

He's a serial monogamist, but is devoted to each of his girlfriends.

He is Peter Pan. And now people are starting to think I'm his older sister.

He's not afraid to be sensitive or vulnerable.

He can sleep anywhere. Always had.

His work ethic and leadership in the kitchen.

Singleminded devotion to certain brands of foods. Stouffer's mac 'n cheese. Parmesan Goldfish crackers. Green Machine.

So here's to healing thoughts that my brother quickly returns to the person he was, the Brian that everyone loves. As if you can't tell that from his Facebook page.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Or, Fifteen Weeks Pregnant

"It's not fair that we're not penguins and I can't take the baby from you for a little bit so you can waddle around and find some food."

Husband's say the darndest things.

So yeah, I've mostly been feeling like crap. I tried to blame it on my flu shot, but really I think it's more likely related to the extra hormones coursing through my body. Muscle aches. Nasal congestion. Head aches. Bloody noses. Restless sleep. A fog I can't quite climb out of. Good days and bad days, I think that's just how it goes. Except I keep crossing my fingers that I'm going to be one of those women who totally rocks pregnancy - the "glow" and all. But in the meantime, I will be mixed with dread and excitement about starting my job at the VA on Monday.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Baby Update

Sounds like it's still in there!

I was able to hear Baby Beluga on the doppler at my make-up OB appointment this morning. Steady, fast heartbeat? Check. Weight gain? Check ("3" pounds so far; I call that a well-fed weekend, negligible weight gain/loss as far as I'm concerned). The OB asked me if I exercised, and I said, "I used to." She gently encouraged me to re-start a workout regimen. Instead I stopped at Kettleman Bagels on the way home to ingest my favorite sesame bagel, toasted, with plain cream cheese, cucumber and tomato. Flu shot? Check. I'm feeling a bit more protected before I start working with patients at the VA (supposedly) this week. But my arm hurts. Can that count as my workout today? Scheduled ultrasound? Check! for November 14, where we will get to find out Baby's gender ...

... On that note, Alex started a serious conversation about the possibility of our child being transgendered while we were getting ready for bed the other night. I think this is hilarious. Of all the things to think about, talk about, and prepare for now, I can tell you with all sincerity that this has not yet crossed my mind. And likely wouldn't, had I not been married to a UO Teach graduate.

"How would you feel if our kid was transgendered?," Alex asked me the other night, toweling off his face post-shave.

"Um, fine I guess. If our boy wants to dress like a girl, whatever. Or vice versa. I just don't want him or her to get beat up," I responded.

"What about that puberty-stopping medical treatment? Would you allow our kid to do that?" he asked, sort of aggressively.

"Definitely not," I responded without even thinking twice. "I'm not about to let my developing child make any permanent, health-related decisions until they're 16 or 18. No boob jobs. No nose jobs. No hormone therapies. Then again, if the situation actually arose, I would obviously do more thorough research. Right now all I have is my uneducated opinion."

"So you would make your child live in a body they hated, making them at a higher risk of depression, social isolation, and suicide? " he said, challenging my parenting perspective.

"Yeah, well I never had any gender-related issues, but I had an eating disorder and hated the body I was in. So you can't win them all." Oh, snap! "The bottom line, babe, is that I would be supportive. And I'm not really worried about it right now."

Truth is, I think it's a cute and endearing trait of my husband's, this passionate defense of some of our random societal underdogs. He loves Spanish-speaking immigrants, the LGBQT community, kids who don't like or aren't good at school, and certain kids with disabilities.

And to sate your appetite for facts, here's a quick study guide:

-According the Wiki, "transgender" is: the state of one's "gender identity" (self-identification as woman, man, neither or both) not matching one's "assigned sex" (identification by others as male, female or intersex based on physical/genetic sex).[1] "Transgender" does not imply any specific form of sexual orientation;
-The DSM-IV classifies Gender Identity Disorder as: (1) someone has a strong and persistent cross-gender identification; (2) feels a persistent discomfort with his or her sex; (3) this discomfort is not due to being intersex or hermaphroditic; and (4) the discomfort causes significant distress or impairment in their life.
-According to an article, the cause of gender identity "disorder" is unknown. Interestingly, during the first eight weeks of pregnancy all fetuses' brains look exactly the same: female, nature's default position. Male brains begin to develop differently once testosterone surges in the womb. Some scientists hypothesize that a hormone imbalance during this part of development stamps the "wrong" gender imprint.

Love is in the Air

"I want to live to be 94 so I can shoot you in the face," Alex said to me lovingly last night.

"I hope so, too," I said, kissing his cheek.

Blame it on the hormones, but my heart is warmed by off-beat love stories, like the recent one of the elderly couple involved in a "murder-suicide."

On Thursday in Troutdale, a 87-year-old man shot and killed his 92-year-old wife, called the police, and then shot and killed himself. They had been married nearly 64 years and were found side-by-side in their bed. The husband did not own a gun, according to his daughter, but likely stole his son-in-law's pistol. The elderly couple served in WWII together and met at a dance in Washington, D.C. They had lived in their Troutdale home for over 30 years. Neighbors had nice things to say about the couple, that the husband paid attention to keeping a nice yard, while the wife was more reclusive and watched TV after suffering a stroke two years ago. Her husband had been her 24-hour caregiver since not being able to afford in-home nursing care, a load their daughter described as "exhausting" for her father. The husband caught pneumonia six weeks ago, and reportedly joked about wanting to meet Jack Kevorkian. Their daughter indicated this was an example of what happens to people who fall through the cracks. But I'd like to believe this was an act of mercy and eternal love.

My other favorite love story was the one I saw on The Today Show this morning. It's the story of a couple who found love while enduring the heartbreak of losing their beloved spouses. One man's wife died not even three weeks after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. They had school-aged children together. Another woman's husband died after being diagnosed with cancer. They, too, had school-aged children. Before the wife with the brain tumor passed away, she told her husband to contact this woman, Gina, who had just lost her husband and father of her children. Anyhow, here's a local Michigan news story of how they had each been married to the loves of their lives, lost that love, found each other, and moved forward with their blended family while continuing to keep their deceased spouses alive in their relationship together ... Tear, sniff, sniff.

ROCHESTER, Mich., (WXYZ) - A couple from Rochester will be sharing their story of heartache and hope on national television and radio shows. But first they shared it with our JoAnne Purtan.

It’s dinnertime at the Spehn house in Rochester, Michigan. A time to share the day’s happenings and be thankful for all this family of 7 has.

“For all the blessings in our lives, amen,” Michael Spehn prays with his wife and five children.

Nearly six years ago, Gina and Michael Spehn didn’t think this kind of contentment and joy would be possible a second time around.

It was Christmas day 2005. Just hours after Gina and Matt Kell’s young sons opened gifts from Santa, their dad died of a rare form of cancer.

“Matt was passionate, he was funny, he was an amazing dad and he just loved life,” Gina says of her late husband.

Knowing he was dying, Matt Kell spent the last months of his life leaving behind a legacy for his wife and kids; a series of video diaries in which he teaches his boys the types of things he wouldn’t be around to teach them as they grow older. In the diaries he talks about everything from growing their faith in God to treating girls and women with respect. But with his words only on video now, Gina was left to raise two young boys as a single, heartbroken mom.

Just three weeks later, across town, heartbreak was about to knock on the door of Michael Spehn’s life. Cathy was his beloved wife and mother of his three kids.

“She has a smile that would light up the universe,” Michael says. “It’s one of those unique kinds of unique smiles that people just notice. But she was a wife and mother, better than any I’ve ever seen.”

But out of nowhere came excruciating headaches.

“We walked into the ER, and that’s when they diagnosed her with gleoblastoma, or brain cancer. And from there it was just 17 days later that she passed away.”

Two grieving spouses and 5 young kids left without one parent. Shortly after Cathy died, in their own heartache, her kids wrote a contract for their dad to sign, promising he’d never marry again, unless he asked their permission.

So how did these families become one? Cathy and Matt, both now gone, had been childhood friends but their spouses had never met. As Cathy lay dying, she had a message for her husband.

“And sort of out of the blue, she said to me, ‘Michael, call Gina Kell.’” But Michael said he dismissed it.

“She grasped my hand a little tighter, she opened her eyes and said ‘Michael, call Gina Kell, she’ll help you’ and a few hours later she passed away.”

Before long, he did call Gina and the two became a support system to each other during their darkest days.

“I couldn’t wait for the phone to ring because I knew there was going to be someone on the other line that I could lament do, and would be no judgment, there would be total understanding,” Gina says.

“When you’re the widow or the widower, people are very solicitous to your every need, they walk on egg shells, they talk in certain tones that say you’ve been damaged and I don’t want to upset you,” Michael says. “And you really crave a normal conversation. When Gina came in our life, and her boys, we interacted with each other like normal people, and it was wonderful to feel that way again.”

Their kids shared a connection no children should have to, and they became fast friends. And for Gina and Michael, as the fog of grief cleared a bit they began looking at each other a little differently.

Gina added, “First you’re my companion in grief, in this miserable club that we’re a part of, and then all of a sudden, you and I are looking at each other saying you’re an amazing dad, you’re a good strong Christian man and I’m looking at you a little differently than I was six months ago."

Marriage is something neither imagined ever doing again. But just as Cathy had left Michael a gift, telling him to call Gina, Matt had also left a gift, telling his boys in those video diaries that he wanted their mom to marry again! So when things got more serious between them, they talked to the kids about blending their families.

“We had to almost ask for permission first,” Michael explains. “We had to ask for their blessing, before we could actually ask each other formally. In fact, Michael was honoring that contract his kids had made him sign.

“They hooted and hollered and were jumping around the house, they were as happy as we were,” Gina says. So on a warm October day in 2007, almost two years after they had attended funerals, Gina and Michael got married and were pronounced Mom and Dad.

“They still hold their late parents very close, they’re very present tense, and even between Gina and myself, we get to still be in love with our spouses,” Michael says. “I’m still in love with Cathy, and Gina is still in love with Matt, and she should be. There are nine people in this household; two of them have just been called home.”

Gina and Michael have written a book about what they’ve been through. It’s called “The Color of Rain.”

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fruit Looping

It is said that the second Saturday in October has a history of being a perfectly sunny, cool autumn day in Portland, so the Menne's & Closeman's tested this theory and planned the annual roadtrip to eat our way through the Fruit Loop outside Hood River this weekend. Amazing weather, fabulous company, great food, and the perfect little prop to photograph among the beautiful scenery. There is nothing I love more than a cozy fall day, the changing colors, tall boots, my favorite harvest veggies like squash, and dreams of pear dumplings. Here's a photojournal of one of my most treasured autumn adventures ...

Flowers abloom at the White House

A little bit preggo.

Logan's first baby pear.

Logan's first tractor ride, with Uncle Alex.

Logan's first punkin patch.

Apples to apples. Sauce in waiting.

Kiyokawa Family Orchards.

Logan's first alpaca farm. (Who knew they're related to camels??)

Menne Family portrait.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fancy Files

I was previously the owner of a plastic filing system, of which I abhorred. I was inspired by one of the DIY blogs I frequent to dress up a filing cabinet with some paint and scrapbook paper. So I did just that.

Chair Makeover

When we moved into our downtown apartment in March, we bought our first dining room table from an awesome antique store in Oregon City. We didn't have the beans to fork over for a set of matching chairs, so we "invested" in three pairs of chairs from various Goodwill stores. I had this grand idea to get 6-8 different chairs, all vintage looking, but turns out those old chairs are just as much as new Ikea chairs. Instead, I painted all the chairs a dark brown, and colored just a few bottom beams with red or grey.

Before: A pair of chairs pre-paint.

After: Our favorite pair of chairs, post-paint.

All six chairs.

The dining room. Grey wall paint and red curtains were inspiration for subtle chair color.

Fun With Felt

I made this felt whale for the Baby. Alex thinks it's so adorable he gagged. I think it's kind of awkward looking. Good thing Baby's vision won't really focus for awhile.

14 Weeks

Also known as, the second trimester!!!

Text message from Alex to mark the occasion:
"I just got a text that our baby has started peeing! Hahaha. You have pee in you!!!"

In addition to peeing, our baby can now also frown, squint and suck its thumb. Which I guess means we should start saving for headgear now ... S/he is the size of a lemon or a small navel orange, but still less than 2 ounces. I wore maternity jeans for the first time yesterday, just because I wanted to sport some new clothes. The funny thing is that I actually looked more preggo in the maternity outfit than I do in my regular clothes, which still (barely) fit. I now understand why all women in Mom Jeans look like they have FUPA's.

I was hoping to also have an accompanying picture of the baby, instead of just another one of me. But alas, the Occupy Portland protestors helped to "suspend" MAX and I was unable to make it to my OB appointment. Damnit. I'm re-scheduled for Monday morning with a different practitioner. I just want to make sure the little thing continues to wiggle around in there.

My nails are still great. I still have the occasional bout of diarrhea. I can't eat enough bagels with cream cheese and tomato and cucumber. Cheerios no longer smell like urine. My boobs are still too big for my bras. I sometimes feel cranky for no real reason. And I oscillate between sleeping a regular 8ish hours and the unnecessary 10+ hours per night.

Now that everything is a-okay with my position as a fellow at the VA, I feel like I have a load off my shoulders. I spent nearly 6 hours at the Portland campus yesterday to fill out paperwork, wait in the lab, get my blood drawn for a TB test, wait for a hearing exam, get a physical, wait in HR, then get fingerprinted. Both the PA who examined me and the HR Specialist who assisted me led me to believe I might need to start searching for a new job. Turns out I am technically considered a student who is receiving a stipend for a temporary placement, therefore I am not an official VA employee and not covered by all the same HR policies/benefits.

I decided to bite the bullet. I marched over to the Audiology/Speech department and spoke with Mika, the department secretary, telling her my whole spiel. I'm pregnant. I don't know whether or not I want to do MBSS and be exposed to the radiation. I will need (unpaid) maternity leave. But I still want to complete my CFY in the given time. Turns out - it's no big deal! They didn't have one problem with it, and basically told me not to worry. So now I just wait for HR to give me the official go-ahead to join Michael up at the Vancouver campus sometime next week.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Block Print

While trying my hand at more styles of craft that I ought to, I discovered I actually like this dandelion block print I created. Perfect for greeting cards.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Sleep. It used to be the one thing I was good at. A talent above all others. I could sleep in a car, on the bus, during a movie. But now, it seems this one thing is being slowly taken away from me. This is the third night in a row I have tossed and turned, woken up multiple times, and ended up on the couch. I'm not sure if this is some kind of sick training for when the baby is actually here, but I'm starting to feel like I might never have a good night's rest again. Ever. Hence my pregnancy bad-itude.

"Good morning babe, how'd you sleep?" Alex asks gently.

"I slept on the couch most of the night. I feel like shit. And I hate you."

"Ohhh," he says sympathetically. "I'm so sorry you had another bad night. What can I do for you?"

"It's your fault I feel like death. It's not the baby. It's you."

"Is it my fault because I injected my poisonous juices into you it created a demonic growth that makes you feel sick and not be able to sleep?"

"Exactly. You impregnated me. And now I hate you. I hope you're happy."

I spoke too soon in the last blog, saying that I was feeling "great" and "glowy." What a crock. I feel like I might never enter REM again, like the muscles in my jaw and shoulders threaten to creep even closer to my ears, and that I'm losing a bit of my soul each time I have fever-inducing diarrhea.

And what's with these hiccups?!?

But at least my fingernails are awesome. Seriously. They've never been this long and strong before.

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