23 June 2014

A 4-Day Weekend

I heard the front door open. It was only 8:15 a.m., Thursday, June 19.
"Curtis?" I called out. What on earth is he doing home? 
"The power was out today at work. I looked for someone—anyone—but no one was in sight, so I came home."

So we took advantage of the day together! The Relief Society in our ward sent out a list of fun summer activities in the area. Lazy 5 Ranch, a private animal ranch in Mooresville, caught our eye. We toured the park along this 3.5-mile path, feeding animals through your car window. We fed all kinds of animals, including ostriches, emus, zebras, camels, llamas, pot-bellied pigs, antelope, blackbuck, elk, deer, water buffalo, longhorns, giraffes (Curtis had to stand out of the car window to reach them!), and a rhino (Well, we didn't feed the rhino, but he was still pretty neat to see!). I was terrified of being eaten, but Sebastian made friends with many of the llamas.

Trying to hold still for Mr. Ostrich

I started off with Sebastian in the back seat, but you can clearly see that I'm out of my comfort zone. Curtis "let" me drive and risked his own life to let Sebastian get up close and personal with the animals. 

Sebastian posing with Mr. Llama
And here's a video so you can see how excited Sebastian really was!

Relaxing after lunch
Livia enjoying the sun
It was definitely a welcome and unexpected surprise to spend the day with Dad. If only he could skip out on work more often . . .

. . . and then Friday came.

"Coming. No power again." I got the text at 7:56 a.m. Within three hours, we were on the road bound for Washington, D.C. I wouldn't consider us the epitome of spontaneity, but whoever you are, Mr. Spontaneous, we gave you a run for your money this weekend.

It takes six hours to drive from Charlotte to Washington, D.C., but with all the stops we needed to make, it took us the rest of the day. My dear friend Emma, whom I taught English in Ukraine with, conveniently lives just outside of D.C. We had a delicious pancake dinner at her home and met her husband, Kevin, and her six-month-old daughter, Evelyn, before we retired to our hotel for the evening.

Emma and I holding our babies (June 20, 2013)
Pretty much the only thing I wanted to see in D.C. was the International Spy Museum. Ever since Curtis and I started watching "Alias" three years ago, I've wanted to be Agent Sydney Bristow. Right now, we are following Annie Walker in the new season of "Covert Affairs." We almost exclusively watch spy/action movies and TV shows. In fact, we shared our first kiss during the steamy scene in The Bourne Identity. And we've decided that, if it weren't for my abominable relationship with running, I would make the perfect spy. It turns out, Sebastian would not.

Can you find Sebastian? (International Spy Museum)
Spies don't generally smile and wave as they covertly navigate the ducts. We could easily have spent all day perusing this museum, but as luck would have it, they don't allow strollers. We got through maybe four of the seven exhibits. I was in the middle of learning about code breaking when Sebastian let us know that he was done.

Thinking Sebastian would love the big elephant and fossils, we decided to try out the National Museum of Natural History. Nope. At least there were ducts at the Spy Museum . . .

Time to move on to something more interesting: airplanes!  Sebastian actually loved the National Air and Space Museum. He pulled us to every exhibit that you could go inside: a few cockpits and a vintage airliner. Curtis had a good time too. While the boys enjoyed the planes, Livia and I enjoyed the Time and Navigation exhibit. In case you were going to ask, I think a sextant would make a fascinating birthday gift.

Lovin' the planes! (National Air and Space Museum)
By far, however, Sebastian treasured his time outside, running up and down the Mall, chasing pigeons. And he deserved it after all the driving we did the day before . . . and all the driving we would do the next.
Hooray for independence! (Washington Monument)
Our little world traveler (National Mall)
Chasing the pigeons (National Mall)
In front of the United States Capitol (National Mall)
That evening, we savored authentic D.O.C. Neapolitan pizza at 2Amys and drove through D.C. one last time in the night light. We sure got a kick out of all the cars parked in front of the "No Parking" signs along Embassy Row. Available evening parking hours or abuse of diplomatic immunity?

Curtis and I first met on the East Coast, and being in D.C. allowed us to reminisce on that time. It's hard to decide the best part of the weekend. But perhaps we don't have to decide. We can love it all. We got to do something spontaneous, do something different, do something fun, do something together, and eat pizza (I mean, come on!). 

16 June 2014

Hello, Charlotte!

Not going to lie, Charlotte, but our welcome was pretty lousy. I would have thought your Southern hospitality would extend to the sky, but alas.

We scheduled our morning just so, so that we could make it to the airport on time. We made it on time. Then things got ugly. Mind you, we were hauling around two babies, two car seats, four large suitcases, two carry-on suitcases, a stroller, a duffle bag, a backpack, and a diaper bag. Just getting to the airport was an ordeal. Two separate cars were required. Getting inside was another story. We moved, piece by piece, through the revolving doors to a massive line to print our boarding passes. I'm not sure what made the airport so busy today, but curses to whatever it was. Amid the hustle and bustle of a moving line and a moving toddler, we couldn't figure out why my boarding pass didn't look like Curtis's. An attendant, who kindly (and sorely) brought us a suitcase we had left at the beginning of the line, checked our papers and sent us to "Special Services."

Apparently, our first flight to Minneapolis was delayed just enough for us to miss our flight to Charlotte. We would have had to stay the night until Sunday morning. Funny, Curtis's boarding pass alerted him to no such delay. Were they just going to surprise him when he landed in Minneapolis? Shame, Delta! And certainly there was another option besides staying the night in Minnesota. Can you imagine little us, trying to get all that luggage (and babies and car seats and bags and stroller) out of baggage claim, to a hotel, and back to the airport in the morning? Not a chance. The lady behind the counter tried so hard to find another flight for us, but she just couldn't. So how is it, you ask, that Curtis was able to find another flight through Atlanta within 10 minutes? We aren't sure how, but it took her nearly a full hour to find the same flight in her system that Curtis found on his phone.

That's not even all of it.
Trying to figure out what to do with our 11 pieces of luggage
 We rescheduled our flight to Sunday morning, so that meant we had to move all our luggage back outside, go get the cars, drive back . . . oh wait. Did I not mention we already moved out of our apartment? Luckily, we still had our apartment because Eva Lu and Marty were going to use it after Marty's surgery. But there wasn't much in it. And Sebastian's crib was neatly tucked away in the storage unit. And all our clothes were vacuum packed in our suitcases. And we had no food or dishes. And we had only enough paper diapers to last us that day.

Yet, somehow, we survived.

Our flight from Portland left bright and early Sunday morning, and with the layover in Atlanta and the three-hour time difference, we wouldn't arrive in Charlotte until 10 p.m. I had arranged with someone from the ward to help us get from the airport to our apartment since we most likely wouldn't be able to fit all of our junk in the trunk of our (who knows what size) rental car.

The flight itself went well. Sebastian behaved and Livia was an angel. We, of course, didn't expect anything else.

Wearing noise-canceling headphones during nap time
We got some dinner in Atlanta. And then we got a gate change. And then a delay. The crew for our flight was still in the air on their current flight. Fifteen minutes. No big deal. Then another fifteen minutes. I called our help in Charlotte to let them know. Another thirty minutes. I called back. These delays put us in Charlotte around 11 p.m. If she were to drive to the airport, wait for our luggage, wait for our rental car, and drive back, we wouldn't be back until clear after midnight. She assured me it was still OK, but if the flight were delayed again, she would not be able to make it.

Another hour.

"I suppose we'll just have to figure something out when we get there. Maybe we can get a taxi. Or have the airport ship us our luggage." At least we had time to make a plan! Did I mention it was Father's Day? We didn't get Curtis anything.

Happy Father's Day!
When we finally boarded, it was probably 10:45. The flight itself lasted only about thirty minutes. We probably could have driven to Charlotte by now, we thought. Sebastian took another nap (which would help him stay wide awake until 4 a.m.). Since we landed after midnight, Curtis left me to fend for myself getting the car seats, the stroller, our carry-ons, our duffle, and the diaper bag . . . and the babies to the baggage claim area. He sprinted to the car rental before it closed for the night.

Heaven sent us two Southern angels to drive all our stuff to the baggage claim. They pulled my bags off the belt for me and placed them on my very own cart. Then Heaven sent us a compact car.

Now, I believe this is one of those miraculous experiences that science cannot explain: We fit everything we had in that 2014 Ford Focus. Three large suitcases in the trunk, two car seats in two adjacent back seats, two carry-ons under the car seats, the stroller folded in the front passenger seat with the last large suitcase balanced on top and the backpack on the floor. Then I squeezed in the back with the last two bags on my lap. And I believe if we tried to fit everything in there again, it would seem impossible.

Heaven was not finished. We pulled into our apartment complex and looked at the first building on our left. "Well, here's where number 207 is." We got out, unlocked the door, and brought everything inside. It was already after 2 a.m. It wasn't until the next day that we found out every building has a number 207. Did we really just pull up to the exact building (There are dozens of buildings.) on the first try? Lucky break or tender mercy? We tend to favor the latter.

Charlotte, you welcomed us well after a hard weekend. I suppose Southern hospitality is a thing afterall.

13 June 2014

Auf Wiedersehen, Portland

When Curtis graduated from Brigham Young University in the summer of 2013, we had no certain job prospects. He had applied for countless jobs for the better part of a year and received only a handful of phone interviews and one face-to-face. Oh, and that one job would have been so perfect! Daimer Trucks North America in Portland, Oregon, flew Curtis out for an interview in May. They screened hundreds of resumes, called their top choices for a phone interview, and flew out their top three best candidates for the rigorous, all-day CAReer Assessment Center. Curtis bought a new suit, rehearsed interview answers, and researched this company to prepare for this crucial day. He flew out on Tuesday, interviewed all day Wednesday (which included group projects, individual presentations, and traditional interviews), and came home Thursday. He felt so good about it! They said they would call Friday—and he didn't get it. Bummer. So we humbly moved in with my parents in August to continue the job search in Dallas, Texas. Nothing. Nothing. And nothing (for Curtis, at least. I got a great job at KidsCare Therapy as a speech language pathology assistant, which was bittersweet to leave). In December, we were reminiscing about that interview in the summer, wishing that Daimler had worked out. It sounded so perfect: German company, mandatory international assignments, engineering in a steady market! A few weeks later, he got an interesting call from...Daimler, of all companies! They remembered him from his interview in the summer. It turns out that they really loved him, but (of course) could choose only one. They had another round of interviews for a slightly different position, and when the other candidates didn't work out for a January start date, they called Curtis to see if he was interested. Lucky for both parties, he was! 

That is how we ended up in Portland. And we are leaving tomorrow.

Curtis is required (oh, schade) to complete three different rotations during his first year of employment at Daimler: the first rotation in Portland, Oregon; the second in Charlotte, North Carolina; and the third in Stuttgart, Germany. We are entering the second rotation, but before we do, let's take a look back at our family's time in Portland.

Going for walks in Vancouver, WA (January 2014)
Playing at the Vancouver Community Library in downtown Vancouver
Getting ready for our first snow day of the season (January 2014)
Curtis driving suped-up Mercedes cars in Stuttgart, Germany (February 2014)
Gazing into the Pacific in Seaside, Oregon (February 2014)

Enduring the cold in front of Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach (February 2014) 
Cooking gourmet meals while Curtis is away on business (February 2014)
Enjoying the Perfect Day (March 2014)
Exploring different parks in Vancouver, Washington
Searching for his first Easter eggs (April 2014)
Chasing the stray cats around our complex (May 2014)
Sebastian picking and giving his first flowers (May 2014)
Welcoming Baby Girl (May 2014) and enjoying the sun at Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver (June 2014)
Playing in the splash pad at Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver (June 2014)

05 June 2014

Thank You, Mammaw!

When I was in my rough teenage years, I remember Mammaw used to tell me that if I ever wanted to run away, I was always welcome at her house. During some hard times, I remember lying awake some nights trying to figure out how to get there. She has always been a safe haven for her grandkids, always made herself available to those who needed her love. 

When I moved up to Utah, I lived with Mammaw and Pappaw Dean for two weeks until school started. Her house was always perfectly decorated, neat, and tidy. "A place for everything and everything in its place," she'd always remind me. She would always hum when she was cleaning. I always noticed it while she was wiping the counter off after dinner. We'd play Phase 10 like it was our only job. "When we're at the card table, you are no longer my grandson," she'd tell my cousin Jason—just as she threw down a Skip card.

She always makes me feel like I'm the favorite grandchild. She made me a quilt after I graduated from high school. She took me to White Elegance to pick out my temple dress, and then bought it just for me. She just about died when she found out we were pregnant for the first time. "He's our baby," she'd sing when Sebastian would come over. She sewed him who-knows-how-many baby blankets. We still use them. She always makes Curtis feel like he's been a member of our family his whole life. She handed him some money when he was searching desperately for a job, "You don't even have to tell Jessie I gave that to you." 

But she makes all her grandkids feel that way. She hangs Garrett's poinsettia on her door every Christmas. She helped Trent purchase a high-end sewing machine to help him start his business. She talks about her adventures with Gordon before he left for his mission as if nothing else were worth remembering. It's not just our family. I know she does the same sorts of things to my other cousins—and their spouses.

When Mammaw found out we were pregnant again (due within two weeks of our impending move across the country), she worried over who would come help us with Sebastian and the new baby. Since we left Utah, we've been missing Mammaw's open door and good southern cooking, and she's been missing our card-playing skills and healthy appetites. She decided to fly up to Portland to help us take care of the baby, occupy Sebastian, and prepare for the move.

Before the baby arrived, we had a good time letting Sebastian get used to her. He would share celery sticks and peanut butter with her. I never thought he would eat celery (maybe because his father and I never do)! After a few days, he knew how to get what he wanted out of her—including Oreo cookies. Mammaw helped me sew two dresses for Baby Girl. I downloaded a free pattern, and Mammaw helped me decipher the directions. I must say they turned out just darling! Our Trial  Dress (to practice before the Blessing Dress) features a black and white polka-dot skirt with a white bodice. The Blessing Dress is a simple, white long skirt and bodice with lace trim around the bottom and lace cap sleeves. 

Every day that Baby hadn't come seemed like a disappointment to both me and Mammaw. Mammaw arrived on Saturday, May 24, and Baby was due on Monday. Nothing Tuesday or Wednesday or—nope. Thursday was the magic day

After Livia arrived, I didn't have to lift any finger, wash any dish, or tape any box. Mammaw wanted to make sure to bake a chocolate pie for us to eat. "Remember how I used to offer you cookies or a slice of pie at my house, and you'd say, 'Mammaw, I shouldn't.' But I knew you needed it more than you didn't want it." She knew exactly what I needed that week, and that was to enjoy my sweet Baby Livia. I was afraid I wouldn't get to take care of her cuddle with her all day long. We had to pack up the rest of our apartment, label boxes, move those boxes to our storage unit, plus cook and clean as always—all with a rambunctious toddler wanting to play.

Thank you, Mammaw, for enriching my life. Not only for this week, but for all the weeks you've taken care of me and known exactly what I needed.

01 June 2014

Meet Baby Livia

I held her in my arms. "Well, that wasn't so bad, was it?" I looked up at Curtis. Really, Jessie? You were just screaming not even 4 seconds ago. They say you forget all the pain, all the burning, until you hold your baby. It's all true, at least for me. Hours of labor, completely unmedicated. I still can't even believe I did that. Let's just start from the beginning.

Maybe tonight, I thought. Well, that's what I thought every night for at least a week. Curtis and I had gone for good long walks (or at least we tried to when the weather was fair) every day to try to kickstart labor. While we were walking, I'd often feel good, strong contractions, but they would always stop once I had a chance to rest. Every morning I'd wake up, disappointed that it wasn't 3 a.m. and that I wasn't in pain. Hm.

She was due on Monday. Then came Tuesday. And Wednesday. But Thursday felt promising. I felt more tension than usual, so I texted Curtis. It turns out that he couldn't concentrate for pretty much the whole day. He'd text me about every thirty minutes to see how I was feeling. I think he was hoping to come home from work early. I was just eager to eat the spaghetti we planned for our meal that night. We could go to the hospital after that.

We timed my contractions throughout dinner: They lasted about a minute and occurred about five minutes apart. We packed our bag and set out for the hospital at about 6 p.m.

We arrived at Sunnyside Medical Center in Oregon and checked in to a small observation room. Sure enough, my contractions were good evidence of early labor and I was dilated to a 3, but the doctors thought my demeanor was entirely too cheerful to be in real labor, so they sent us away for an hour and a half. Good! Let's go get ice cream, we decided. We walked around the hospital, and to Curtis's good fortune, stumbled on a TCBY. We recommend their White Chocolate Mousse with hot fudge.

During our date, I felt more and more discomfort. Curtis sweetly ran back to the hospital to retrieve the car so I wouldn't have to walk back! We returned to our room around 8:30, and the doctor finally came back in around 8:50. They said I looked more uncomfortable, so it was likely they would indeed admit me. At this point, I was dilated to a 5. A warm tub sounded divine, so they began filling the tub and preparing my room. "What are you hoping to get out of an unmedicated birth?" the midwife asked. Well, I'm not sure. "I had an epidural with Sebastian and loved it. I hear a lot of other women talk about how empowered they feel . . . but I guess I just want to try something new." I'm sure that gave them a lot of confidence in me.

After inserting an IV line, taking some blood samples, and securing some portable monitors, I climbed into the warm water around 9:30 p.m. I was able to use meditation and yoga breathing to ease my way through each contraction.  They were coming about every two minutes at this point. I tried to sit back and spread my legs in order to prevent muscles from becoming too stiff. The heat did not take away the pain, but it did soften the intensity and relax the tension. For a little while. I started to feel as if I were becoming overheated. Curtis put cold washcloths on my face and neck.

Near 10 o'clock, I hit one contraction that just did not want to ease up. According to the monitor, most of my contractions looked like spaced hills, but this one looked like a plateau with evergreens across the top. A long plateau! Curtis got in the water to rub my neck and feet. "You're doing so great," both he and the nurses kept repeating. "Really? You think so?" I genuinely asked. I knelt down in the water so that the pressure could be taken off my back. Ooh, I nearly ripped off Curtis's shorts I was gripping them so hard. "I'm not having a good time anymore," I admitted. "I just want to be done. I don't want to do this anymore." I asked begged for an epidural. My doula reminded me that this stage of labor is usually the fastest. I don't care anymore!

The anesthesiologist came in faster than I expected! When I asked for an epidural with Sebastian, they warned that it might take up to an hour for the anesthesiologist to be ready. I felt pressure to decide quickly. This time, she was in around 10:20 and was ready with all those medical questions. Whatever. I've made my decision. I'll sign anything. 

Umcan we hold that thought? I've gotta get to the toilet.

"If you feel like you need to go to the bathroom, you might be ready to push. Let's check your cervix and you can decide if you still want the epidural." Um, pretty sure I said I wanted it. The nurses were being so patient with me! They pushed the bed over to the side of the tub, and I climbed out. I signed whatever papers I needed to to get some relief while at the same time trying to hold in my need to rush to the bathroom. I guess at the same time the midwife checked my cervix. These five minutes rushed by so quickly, and I was overwhelmed with all kinds of sensations. I don't remember seeing much detail: Voices shouting for doctors and extra hands, bodies rushing around me to situate the bed properly, Curtis running from the bathroom with fresh clothes on. I was soaking wet. They were trying to get my wet things off and dry towels on. But somewhere amid it all, one voice stood out: "You are fully dilated. You can go ahead and push!" Bring it on!

First push: my water broke. Hair could be seen. Second push: the head crowned. I needed a quick rest. Third push: the head was out! Fourth push: the rest of the body!

I held her in my arms. "Well, that wasn't so bad, was it?" It's funny how we forget everything before that moment. I still can't even believe I did that.

Livia Milan Hale was born at 10:32 p.m. We were allowed to cuddle and nurse and be a family for at least an hour and a half before nurses came in to poke and prod her. She weighed 8 pounds and 3 ounces, and measured 20 inches. They inked her feet and checked her vitals. Beautiful and healthy. Curtis gave her her first bath, and we prepared to move up to our postpartum suite.

I remember after having Sebastian, I couldn't walk for what seemed like days. Three nurses practically carried me to the bathroom for the first time. This time, I was up and taking pictures within two hours of delivery. What a difference.

I loved that with Sebastian I could relax and sleep through the night. Had I not had an epidural, I would have been past the point of exhaustion by 10 a.m. after laboring all night. I also loved that I could see what was going on in a mirror. With Livia, I wasn't paying attention to anything but the way it felt (and it went by way too fast to even think of bringing a mirror out). But I also loved that with each push I could feel my progress. I knew how much to push and when I needed to rest. With Sebastian, I had to follow the monitor to know when my contractions would help me push instead of following my body. By far, recovery was a breeze with no epidural. I tore less and felt myself immediately after delivery to enjoy the first moments with Livia. I never felt like I needed to prove anything to anybody by going natural, and I don't feel my labor with Livia was any more or less powerful than my labor with Sebastian. They were both difficult and beautiful in different ways.

The next day was full of relaxation, cuddling, and hospital fluff. Sebastian came to visit and just wanted to drive his new car on her head. He did attempt to kiss her though!