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I haven’t fallen off the edge of the Earth! I swear!

14 Jan

I’m still here and I still actually continue to do things – I just haven’t been blogging about them.  This weekend is a long weekend, so perhaps I’ll make the time to catch up on here…

It’s been more than 6 months since I posted to this blog, but I haven’t given up on blogging, I’ve just been incredibly overwhelmed and busy!

Quick overview of my life since last June:

  • Chuck and I did our usual summer vacationing:
    • We went to Virginia Beach for a week with the dogs and visited our dear friend Mary, and met her friend Debbie.  We can always count on a fun and relaxing week when we visit Mary.
    • We went to Rehoboth Beach with Chuck’s friends and enjoyed the boardwalk and having fun with all of our friends’ dogs, bunnies, and children (I let a 12-year-old convince me I wanted to sling-shot myself into the air with nothing but bungee cords strapping me in…but, as they often are, the 12-year-old was right…it was fun)
    • I went to Ocean City for the first time ever.  It was like being on the longest boardwalk I’ve ever seen, with tons of eateries, shops, and arcades…that repeat every block…for blocks and blocks and blocks.
    • We traveled with my family to Edisto Island and enjoyed a week of sun, sand, and toddlers.  We rented bikes and a golf cart and enjoyed a nice, slow Southern vacation with family.
    • We visited with my mom in South Carolina and now I realize that will be my last trip to see her there because she’s moving back up here!!!!  (well, to Tennessee, which is closer than SC…so YAY!!!)
  • I got a full-time teaching job in a school I love, teaching students I love, alongside colleagues whom I both respect and enjoy.
    • Finally teaching.  Is. Awesome.
    • AND. INSANELY. TIRING.
    • Along with the teaching job came the added responsibility of being a class sponsor.  I am sponsoring a spunky class of 375 Sophomores.  I love being a class sponsor, but it definitely adds more to my already full plate…however, we kicked ass at Powder Puff, we won the Spirit Cup during our Fall Spirit Week, we had a fun and successful Breakfast with Santa fundraiser, and we’re preparing to host two more big events this Spring…we’ll see if I make it out alive!
  • We adopted a puppy for Chuck’s parents (but I not-so-secretly wish he was mine).  His mama was a black-and-tan coon hound and we think his papa was a Vizsla, or something like it.  He’s a farm dog, and he’s awesome.  He’s handsome and smart and very sweet.  Having a puppy around has been fun and has definitely kept us entertained.  I think Chuck’s parents are as in love with him as I am…
  • Chuck and I celebrated our 30th Birthdays by taking a trip to Orlando over Halloween weekend.
    • Hard Rock Hotel = AWESOME (this was new for both of us and it was totally worth the $$$)
    • Disney World = AWESOME (as usual…this is a place Chuck and I never tire of)
    • Universal Studios = AWESOME (this was new for me, but not Chuck…it was really fun!)
    • Universal Islands of Adventures = AWESOME (we’ve done this together before and loved it)
    • Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios = CRAZY AWESOME!  (SOOOOOOOO much fun!!!  For Halloween lovers like us, this was the ultimate Halloween celebration)
    • Wizarding World of Harry Potter = O.M.F.G.  This was seriously the best place I’ve ever been in my whole entire life.  We drank butterbeer.  We went to Zonk’s.  We bought wands.  We dorked it up like we’ve never done before and I think when I die and go to heaven, I will wake up at WWoHP.  For reals.
  • We lost Gus, our 17-year-old Pomeranian, right before Christmas.  I don’t want to talk about that.  But we love him and miss him terribly.
  • After a long pregnancy (well, it was actually the normal duration, but seemed long) with gestational diabetes, my best friend had the most beautiful baby girl right before Christmas…  I made her a quilt which I will share with you later…
  • I’ve only read a very few books since I last posted…
    • The first two in the Millennium Trilogy (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Girl Who Played with Fire)…I have the third on my Kindle App, but have been sidetracked by other books.
    • The Thirteenth Tale (LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE this book!  So fun to read!!!)
    • Sarah’s Key (I’m reading this one now and I really like it so far…)
  • I’ve made a few crafty things…As I already said, I made my friend a baby quilt, I also made some scarflettes as Christmas presents and I’m finishing up some burp cloths for Chuck’s cousin (who is due in a couple of weeks) and my best friend.
  • OH!!!  And I bought a NEW SEWING MACHINE!!!!  I managed to royally jam mine, and although it could have been taken to the shop and fixed, I thought it was the universe telling me “Go buy that super cool, super affordable Singer at Costco!!!”  So, I did!  I love it.  It has 79 stitches and a digital readout.  I’m so fancy!
  • I’m still attending Weight Watchers meetings at work and still not actually following the program, so I’m still not actually losing weight.  I made no resolutions because I never keep those anyway, but I do think I’m ready to start making better decisions regarding my health.  We’ll see.  Continuing to attend WW is part of the plan.  They just started the new Points Plus program, so I think it’s a good time for me to “rededicate” myself.  Again…we’ll see.  I make no promises, so nobody can shake their finger at me later.
  • Another part of the “making better decisions” plan is playing with Chuck’s Kinect more.  That thing is crazy fun and I actually enjoy it…I just need to do it regularly.  Again…no promises, because promises mean accountability and who really likes being accountable, anyway?

Okay, so that’s it for the catching up.  When I’m more awake (maybe tomorrow) I will post some photos of the trips and crafty things so that everyone can see.  For now, I feel good about actually coming back to the blog and I’m excited about posting more crafty stuff for you to see!  (you = my mom, sister, and best friend…because nobody else actually reads this blog…a fact with which I am totally cool).

Yikes!

4 Jan

I can’t believe I’ve let half a year pass since I last posted!

Okay, quick recap of the past 6 months of my life:

  • annual trip to VA Beach to visit Mary (Got to catch up with some of my VT UK friends, and got to meet the newest little Goodman!)

  • D.C. staycation with Moma, Betsy, and “the kids”

  • Our first experience participating in the traditional summer trip to Rehoboth Beach with the Dhavales, Parishes, Sean, Laura, and Julie (and two darn-cute kiddies)

  • Opera in the Outfield (Barber of Seville)

  • Birth of the newest Kemp (who Chuck claimed was the first infant he’d seen who was cute straight from the womb) and this little baby blanket.

  • Student teaching!!! (and temporary end of income)
  • Melvin got a new heart!!!  (recovery was a breeze for this guy!)

  • My 29th birthday!  (tick-tock)
  • Thanksgiving! (yum)
  • Finished my graduate program – I’m official!! (thank GOD)
  • 2 feet of snow
  • Christmas! (Got a directional flash for my SLR – thanks, honey!!)
  • New Years!

Aaaaand, here we are.  Up to date!

Whew!

Dum Spiro Spero

22 Jun

Last weekend I took a trip to see my mom in Columbia, S.C. as a belated Mother’s Day “gift”.  Since my father-in-law’s heart problems started up last November, Chuck and I haven’t been able to travel more than four hours away from DC, so we haven’t been down to see my mom since last summer.  Although Chuck and I hate to be apart, we decided it was best to use our frequent flier miles before they expire this Fall.

I didn’t take Chuck, but I did take his little tiny camera (His is the Olympus: our waterproof, shockproof, portable digital point and shoot – mine is the Nikon SLR which helps me take nicer pictures but isn’t as travel-friendly).  So, although the photos aren’t mind blowing, what’s cool about Chuck’s camera is that it has a video feature.   Since my sister and her kiddies weren’t there, I took some videos of fun stuff while we were at the zoo.  This post is mostly so Betsy can show her kids the cool animals we saw –  just a disclaimer for those of you hoping for my usual crafty stuff.

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On Saturday, mom and I drove over to Charleston.  It’s a cool little historic town near the water with cute boutiques, museums, and markets.  There was a craft market the day we visited and we spent some time looking over the beautiful handmade works by local artisans (my mom and I marveled at some hand-woven “mobius strip” style shawls which ran about $85, but were absolutely gorgeous!  Kinda hard to think of wearing a woven shawl, though, when walking around in the humid 90+ degree weather).

After wandering around the market and exploring some of the boutiques, we ate some fresh seafood at a little BBQ joint while taking a reprieve from the heat. Walking back to our car, we took the scenic route and enjoyed the architectural features of of the town.

Andrew Pinckney Inn

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(do you like these photos?  Go here to download the actions I used in PS)

Charleston is chock full of churches…there was one on every street…

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(These photos were a little dull, so, again, I played around with some of the Photoshop Actions I’ve downloaded…I obviously need more experience with PS…)

Something I found really interesting in Charleston were all the porches with entry doors (I think technically these types of porches are called “piazzas” because they are to the side of the house, but my architectural terms are a little fuzzy, so I’m not totally sure). The houses are tall, narrow, and deep and the porch runs along the side – they have a real door at the end, which opens up to the street.  I imagine that the door is there because in the South, porches are an extension of the living space, so you “enter” the house from the street level and find yourself on the porch…then you go through yet another door to enter the inner rooms of the house.  From what I’ve read, these kinds of porches are unique to the south, specifically to Charleston, S.C.

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Charleston was very cool…it was a nice, relaxing way to spend our Saturday and I really enjoyed getting a little taste of the Southern hospitality and charm of South Carolina.

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On Sunday, mom and I trekked over to the Riverbanks Zoo, in Columbia. I’m always so undecided regarding my true feelings on zoos’ exhibition of animals.  I always wonder are the animals better off in their natural environment, where they have plenty of freedom to live as nature intended but might be subject to poaching, predators, and endangered habitats and food sources as a result of human development…or are they better off “protected” in an urban setting, living their lives in a fabricated enclosure, in climates unnatural to them, with intense human interaction?  Which is worse?

Anyway… We spent a couple hours visiting with the animals and enjoyed a cup of Dippin’ Dots before heading home.  At every exhibit, we found ourselves wishing we could share the animals with my niece and nephews, so I took copious pictures and videos, but only a few of them actually turned out decent.  Here is a small taste of what we saw:

Teehee…not the best photo, but if you look closely, you’ll see this three-toed sloth is sleeping upside down with his tongue hanging out.

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We spent a long time watching the Grizzlies…

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They were just hangin’ out…

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and swimmin’…

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and grinning at the camera…

Here, you can see  this fella having a snack:

We enjoyed the African elephants…they were covered in red clay and dirt, so they kinda blended into their habitat…

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…then I got up close and personal with some giant tortoises (or are these turtles?)  These guys were about two feet long…really big dudes.

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we watched some kids feeding the giraffes…

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We caught these two fellas hanging out…

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And of course, the lions…

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(They didn’t do much to entertain us, but they were beautiful, nonetheless)

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Unfortunately, the week before we visited the zoo, one of the Gorillas escaped his enclosure…So, when we went the Gorillas were not in their outdoor habitat (it was being inspected for more weak spots and the gardeners were trimming back the bamboo shoots).  We did catch one old fella in the indoor enclosure, but it was so sad…he just sat at the window, looking out. It was heartbreaking to see his face…he seemed so despondent.  The information provided at the “Gorilla Base Camp” said there were three male Gorillas in the exhibit and noted that this guy was known to stick out his bottom lip to try to imitate one of the older, larger gorillas (so he’s not just pouting in this video, that’s apparently his preferred countenance).  When you look at his eyes, he looks so human…and sad (I think).

We watched the  Siamang apes playing for a while (they seemed much happier than the Gorilla)…

And then we enjoyed watching the penguins swim about (This video is pretty short…I was trying to catch the little buggers as they swam by, but they zipped by so quickly, I kept missing them!)

As we headed back to the parking lot, we passed by the flamingos…

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Although I missed Chuck and our pups, I really enjoyed my time with my moma – we ate ridiculous amounts of good food and got to see some pretty interesting sights while I was there…the flight was short and surprisingly pleasant. (oh! and I bought “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” to read on the plane. I’ll tell you how that is when I finish it…so far I’m liking it a lot!).  All in all, a very wonderful weekend!

~Fin~

Gratuitous Baby Photos…

3 Jun

I love these guys…

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I especially love this guy…

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Memorial Day

25 May

Today I’m thankful for this man:

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I’m thankful he loved my sister so deeply he was willing to take her place in Iraq so she could stay home with their beautiful children.  I’m thankful for his sacrifice.

In some ways it seems so long ago that he came home from Iraq and we laid him to rest.  In other ways, it feels like just yesterday that he was playing with his son and stepson and watching football on the couch with Chuck.

On the day of his funeral, the people of our small hometown lined the streets, saluting our fallen soldier.

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It was not the homecoming we had hoped for when we last said goodbye to him after the birth of his daughter in January, but it was an honorable and appropriate acknowledgment of his sacrifice.

I think of Jesse every day and every day I give thanks for who he was and what he gave for my family and for our country.  It is with great love and respect that I remember him today and every day.

Staff Sgt Jesse Adam Ault

February 18, 1980 – April 9, 2008

Staff Sgt. Jesse Adam Ault

KIA, Tunnis Iraq

Babies

15 May

Today was a baby day…

We had AP testing in the library today, so the library was closed for usual business.  This seemed the perfect excuse for me to leave work early and go into DC to meet up with Rachel, one of my dear friends from my UK study abroad program back in 2002.  Her husband, Jimmy, is a police officer in Chesapeake and they were in town for the National Police Week festivities in DC.  They had the blissful luck to start a family last fall and today is the first time I’ve been able to meet their sweet little Emily!  She is absolutely adorable!!!  What a happy little girl.  I had such a lovely afternoon just hanging out with Rachel and her new daughter.  BTW – I love the word “lovely”…it’s so much more apropos than “nice” or “good”…it’s the perfect descriptive word for those things which are just right in every way…today was, without a doubt, perfect in every way.

Then, this evening Chuck and I drove out toward Centreville to enjoy a yummy dinner outside on the porch at Joe’s Crab Shack .  We even got a free dessert (which was SO GOOD)!   Afterward, we went to visit my boss, who gave birth to her second baby this past Tuesday.  I’m still in awe at how teeny-tiny she is!  Little Olivia is absolutely precious!  She is still so new to the world she’s doing that awkward hand waving thing that infants tend to do…you know – they move their arms, hands, and fingers around as if they’re still trying to get the hang of all this mobility…  She was so funny!  What a beautiful girl.  Chuck and I made our visit fairly brief…we dropped off some gifts that had come into the office at work and then I was granted the honor of holding little bitty Olivia for a few minutes before she decided she was quite hungry (that’s because while I held her, she made some productive little toots and squirts and made room for more in her tummy).

And then there’s this baby…

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Yesterday, Chuck took family leave from work and took our two babies to the veterinary clinic to have their teeth cleaned.  This means having pre-operative tests done to make sure they’re okay for anesthesia, then they’re put under and their teeth are super-duper cleaned…we’re talking about miracles that are performed here.  Horrendously stinky, brown, plaque-encrusted teeth come home white and sparkling with nary an odor.  Miracles!  (At quite a shocking price, I might add!

Our youngest, Francy (who is 10), had two teeth pulled (because they were apparently already loose), but came home no worse for wear.  She was already acting like herself by the time I got home from work.  She’s taking pain meds and antibiotics for a week, but she seems to be unfazed by her visit to the “dentist”.

While our eldest, Gus (he’s 15, going on 16 this year), was under the general anesthesia, we had the doctor remove several worrisome places to send away for biopsy – two growths on either side of his nose and a fairly large spot on his back.  Poor baby also had four teeth pulled.  He came home in pitiful shape.  He’s now got sutures on either side of his muzzle and a row of stitches on his back, not to mention his sore gums from the dental extractions.  He’s on pain pills twice a day for 7 days and an antibiotic twice a day for 10.  We can take him to get his sutures out in 10-14 days.  He seemed relatively spry and happy and basically acting like normal today.  But yesterday he was just plain pitiful.

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Chuck’s dad was terribly grossed out by the sutures on Gussie’s back.  He kept making faces and asking (with great disgust) why we didn’t cover it up.   It does look a little yucky, but other than the little puckered bits at each end of the incision, it’s a pretty clean cut and the sutures are holding well.  It’s on a part of his back near his tail which he can’t reach to scratch or lick, so that’s a good thing (no silly cone collar for this old man).

When I got home yesterday and saw him I burst into tears.  Not little tears that just well up in your eyes and then disappear.  We’re talking big huge buckets of tears and a fair measure of sobs.  He just looked so vulnerable and fragile.  It broke my heart to see him so pitiful and it seemed so much more evident to me then that he’s 15.  15!  That’s like, way beyond senior citizen for doggies.

Reality hit me when I was looking at his stitched-up, sweet little face. He’s not going to be here forever.

It’s hard to imagine my life without him.  It’s impossible to imagine my and Chuck’s relationship without him.  He’s been with us practically the whole time we’ve been together.  We’d been dating for less than a year when my sister allowed me to have him (he was originally her dog, but when she joined the Army he came to live with me at my dad’s, and when Chuck and I moved in together, she gave us “full custody”).  He’s been in my family since my sister’s then-boyfriend gave him to her as an early Christmas gift – he was a 6-week-old little fluffball and we were all instantly in love.

I can’t imagine coming home after work and Gus not greeting me at the door.  I can’t imagine life without his stinky kisses.  I just can’t imagine going to sleep without him cuddled up beside me, a warm, snuggly little ball of fur, snoring away.  I don’t want to imagine it.  I want to hold on to him forever.  I know eventually we’ll have to let go of him.

But I’m not ready yet.  I will never be ready for that.  Because this little guy right here…he’s our baby.

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Happy Belated New Year!

23 Jan

Wow, it has been two and a half months since my last post!  I’ve officially dropped the ball.  But I’m back on track and will start updating more often.  (yeah, yeah, I know – my promises usually fail in the follow-through department, but seriously, I’m going to make a concerted effort)

So what has kept me away for so long?  Let’s do a quick run-down of my past couple months:

  • Doom and Despair. Early November Chuck’s dad experienced health complications which kept him in the hospital for a month. (More about that later)
  • Welcome baby Benjamin Peter Caro!  Born in the same hospital where Chuck’s dad was admitted, at the same time Chuck’s dad was in, so we were all able to amble over to the labor and delivery unit and snuggle him and give our ohhhs, and ahhhs.
  • Happy Birthday Gus!  Our eldest child turned 15 (I’m referring to our two fluffy Pomeranian children), which in dog years is approximately 89 years old.  We love him and cuddle him every day and spoil him at every opportunity.  He’s a lucky dog, but we are so much luckier to have him in our lives and we never forget it.
  • Happy Birthday me! I turned 28…my ovaries haven’t dried up completely, but I can feel them withering and I know it won’t be long until I’m a barren spinster…Chuck and I are going to work on that.
  • Happy Birthday Matt!  My brother-in-law turned 19…so weird – he was a chubby little 13 year old when Chuck and I started dating and now he’s a college student who stands over us all at a muscular 6+ feet…insane! (but he’ll always be the “little” brother)
  • Surprise! My sister-in-law got engaged on Christmas Eve – in front of the WHOLE FAMILY (cousins, aunts, uncles, soon-to-be relatives, EVERYONE – very brave move on our soon-to-be-brother-in-law’s part)…which is wonderful and terrifying at the same time – wonderful because she’s quite smitten with her fiance and had been hoping and praying for a ring for a while now and terrifying because she wants me to be in the wedding…another reason to reacquaint myself with my elliptical machine during 2009.
  • Merry Christmas!  We actually got our shopping and wrapping done early and enjoyed a wonderful holiday! Everyone was happy (even my poorly sick little niece and nephew – who smiled and laughed through the snot, the crud, the coughing and hacking – and gave us all their colds to enjoy for the new year – yay!)
  • Happy Birthday Jonathan Adam Ault! My baby nephew turned 2!  We were able to spend his birthday with him and he had a lovely time with all his new toys, books, movies, and clothes.  Happy Birthday Little Man!
  • Happy New Year!  2009?  Really?  Weren’t we all just crowded around our TV’s and computers waiting for the Y2K end of the world event?  Wow. 2009.
  • Back to work after a fantastic 10-day vacation.  Thank GOD we work in education!  Glad to have the vacation but also happy to go back to work in the most amazing school with the most amazing coworkers (no, seriously…we work in the most amazing school ever).
  • Happy Birthday Chuck! Now you’re as ancient as me!  Hurray!  We’re getting old!  Ouch.  But Hurray!
  • Happy Birthday Rachel Natalie Elaine Ault!  My sweet, sweet niece turned 1!  She is what made this last year bearable for all of us.  We thank God for her every day.  Beautiful girl with her daddy’s beautiful eyes.
  • THANK GOD IN HEAVEN!  We have a new President!  One whom I support fully and for whom I have high hopes and reasonable expectations.  Let this be the beginning of many positive changes for our blessed country.
  • Congratulations!  I found out that two of my very closest friends are pregnant with their first babies and my boss (who is so awesomely cool and I will miss dearly when I leave TJ for student teaching in the Fall) has confirmed that in May she’ll be having a little girl and she’s even picked the sweetest name – “Olivia Suzanne”.  This means over the coming months I will be super busy making all sorts of adorable baby things – stuffed animals, booties, quilts, afghans…I’ll be sharing all of my creations with you here.  I’m so excited!

So, that brings us up to speed.

The one thing that has influenced my absence from the blogosphere the most was my father-in-law’s medical setback.  In early November he went into the hospital with severe gastrointestinal bleeding (he suffers from diverticulitis, which can cause GI bleeding, so it’s happened before and wasn’t totally a surprise).  But because he lost so much blood and then refused a transplant, his ticker had to work overtime to keep what tiny bit of blood he had left pumping through his body.  Eventually his overworked heart gave out and he was hospitalized again.  This is when our cardiovascular education began.  We learned more acronyms and medical terminology than we ever wanted to know.  He experienced a PE (pulmonary embolism – or blood clot in his lung) and two separate instances of MI (Myocardial Infarction – or basically a heart attack).  The second MI lasted for over a day (did you know a heart attack can last and last?  We know now).  The severe heart attack left his left ventricle useless – by the time they gave him a cardiac catheterization, the majority of the muscle in the left part of his heart had already died, so no bypass or surgery could revive that dead tissue.  This left us with two options – immediate heart transplant or implant a device to take over the functions of his left ventricle.  Since heart transplants can’t just be ordered up by the cardiac surgeon, my father-in-law had to have an LVAD implanted (Left Ventricular Assist Device).

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This little machine lives in his body and is attached to his heart in two places (to the aorta and the left ventricle – it helps pump oxygenated blood back out to the body).  The surgery was necessary, but quite serious.  He had to stay in the hospital another three weeks for recovery.  Now he has a tube that comes out of his body that connects to a controller, which in turn connects to either a power base unit plugged into the wall or a set of batteries which he wears in a harness around his shoulders (imagine a gun holster you see cops wear on TV).

Here's what the LVAD looks like on a computerized model - it basically looks like this in real life.  Except Chuck's dad isn't quite as see-through.

Here's what the LVAD looks like on a computerized model - it basically looks like this in real life. Except Chuck's dad isn't quite as see-through.

We have to change the dressing around the tube every day and keep it clean and dry to prevent infection and he has to take a myriad of pills every day.  He already had diabetes before the surgery, but the surgery made it much worse, so now he is insulin dependent and has to monitor his glucose levels closely.

He was briefly re-hospitalized because his glucose levels got up to 578 and were still climbing (which is incredibly dangerous – can even cause coma or death)…  The doctors never discovered what caused the spike in his blood sugar and eventually let him come back home, but it was quite scary.

We have had multiple scares during this time – constant worry about his health and if we’re doing the right things and taking care of him properly. It’s been stressful for us all – when he was in the hospital we prepared for the worst, upon his return home we had to adjust to a new lifestyle and medical care, and now we have to constantly battle with him to get him to be compliant with his doctors’ orders – which means lots of shouting at the dela Cuesta house (because that’s how dela Cuestas do business, I’ve learned.).  I’ve, ashamedly, even been in on the shouting.  He is currently on a heart transplant waiting list and he his listed as 1B, which is one step down from the highest level of need (1A).  They’ve told us it will probably take a year for him to get a compatible heart.  In this time he’s basically puttering around at home, on temporary disability.  Which means a financial crunch during a recession.  More stress.  Chuck and I are living in the basement of his parents’ house and have promised to stay until after the transplant – we try to help out with medical care, driving my father-in-law around (because in Virginia you aren’t medically cleared to drive or even sit in the front seat of a vehicle for 90 days after any open-heart surgery) and with various responsibilities around the house.  Chuck and I even played landlord and maintenance crew for a rental property Chuck’s dad has – the day of the surgery the sump pump at the rental house broke down and the basement flooded with sewage – which meant dealing with difficult tenants, ripping up carpet ourselves, replacing the sump pump (with the help of my daddy), and replacing the carpet.  We decided we don’t ever want to manage rental property, no matter how lucrative it may be.

To say the least, we have been slightly stressed since November.  However, we have managed to have some wonderful moments, as I listed above.  We enjoyed lots of birthdays and holiday celebrations and Chuck and I have managed to even squeeze in some romance, cuddling, and quality time with our sweet, sweet pups.

Now, of course, for some gratuitous photos of my sister’s adorable children:

Dirty-faced Munchkin - How can you resist a smile like that?

Dirty-faced Munchkin - How can you resist a smile like that?

Uncle Chuck with his favorite niece

Uncle Chuck with his favorite niece

Blurry brothers having fun playing in the floor

Blurry brothers having fun playing in the floor

My hair is even longer now - it's about 2 inches below my ears...

My hair is even longer now - it's about 2 inches below my ears...

Curious little girl

Curious little girl

I just can't take enough pictures of her beautiful eyelashes and little rosebud mouth

I just can't take enough pictures of her beautiful eyelashes and little rosebud mouth

Here’s to a new year – a year full of hope.  Hope for less loss and sorrow and more joy and laughter.  Hope for better health for ourselves and everyone we love.  Hope for more time spent with family and less money spent on materialistic endeavors.  Hope for more books, more learning, more creating, more relaxing.  Hope for healthy babies for everyone expecting and those hoping to expect.  Hope for our nation and our world – may there be peace and understanding, charity and kindness, and blessings of freedom, financial relief, healthcare and food for all who are in need.  This year will be better than the last.  Welcome 2009.