Sunday, August 28, 2011

I'm With the Band

The last few weeks have been both grueling and exciting for Ethan. He started high school this past Monday, but his school year actually began three weeks earlier, when band camp commenced. He's been in band for several years now, but we're quickly learning that high school marching band is a whole 'nother thing.

Ethan did a fair share of grumbling when he first learned that he'd be practicing eight hours a day for his last three weeks of summer. He was also disappointed that instead of playing his instrument of choice, the snare drum, he'd now be in "the pit," on the marimba.

"The marimba is really hard," he complained on the second night. "We play with four mallets, and we never did that in middle school. It gives you blisters on your thumbs."

Within a few days, however, he was proudly demonstrating his four-mallet techniques, using the couch as his marimba. "It's all in the wrist," he explained. "See, you just pivot your wrist like this, and the rest of your arm doesn't move." He pantomimed alternating between the upper and lower bars of his imaginary marimba.

Two weeks later, when he learned there were a couple of bass drum openings on the drumline, I asked if he was going to audition. "No," he said. "I already have friends in pit, and I don't want to leave the group."

It gave me such relief to know that school wasn't starting for another week, yet Ethan had already made friends.

On the last Friday evening of summer break, we sat on the metal bleachers in the 104 degree heat (40 Celsius) and watched the full band performing their 2011 show for the first time. We couldn't see (or hear) much of Ethan, who stood behind the tall metal chimes, but we were most impressed with the rest of the band's marching. It was hard to believe that they'd memorized all the music and learned those intricate steps in just three weeks. They marched frontward, backward, and sideways, all without missing a note on their instruments.

I clapped until my hands hurt, and for a moment I forgot all about my sweaty legs sticking to the metal bench. And when I spotted Ethan's grin after the performance, I (almost) forgot the shockingly high band fees too.

The true commitment began after school started, when Ethan had to get up at 5:45 each morning for 6:30 practice. On the second day of school, he got there at 6:30 A.M. and stayed until 7:00 P.M. for evening practice. But he didn't complain at all!

We Do Our Share, Too
The band has a website with a list of volunteer needs for each event. I signed Bill up for the hardest job: chaperoning the overnight lock-in at Putt Putt Mini Golf. From 11:00 until 6:00 A.M. Friday before last, he stood around watching the kids having fun, and then, as the night wore on, watching the kids falling asleep on the floor. Ethan, however, managed to stay up the entire night. So did Bill.

For the first football game, I signed up for what seemed to be the easiest job: taking tickets. I pictured myself in an air-conditioned booth, perhaps with a fan blowing on my face, counting change and passing out tickets through the first quarter. Instead, I stood for two hours in front of a chain-link fence, sweating in the rays of the setting sun while all the day's heat radiated up from the concrete under my flip flops.

The saving grace was a lady named Kim, the mother of a sophomore clarinet player. We chatted almost nonstop, and I learned all about how band works, and how high school goes.

A throng of alarmingly surly teenagers streamed through the gates--first the cheerleaders, and then the drill team, the color guard, and finally the band. The cheerleaders complained about the locked gates leading to the field and cursed over the darkened bathroom; it didn't matter to them that we were just parent volunteers from the other team's band. [I had hoped the kids at Ethan's school were more polite and respectful, but Ethan informed me tonight that "over half of the kids in high school act like that, especially the girls." What a disappointment! I don't remember the kids being like that back when I was in school. I guess that tells you how old I am.]

When the drill team filed by in their sparkly blue and white fringed costumes, I couldn't resist exclaiming, "Your uniforms are beautiful!" But the two girls in hearing range literally lifted their noses in the air and made a show of avoiding eye contact. I was flabbergasted. While I'd always thought of the term "walking with your nose in the air" as just a figure of speech, now I knew just what that meant.

But there was one young lady in the color guard who smiled at me, and I grinned eagerly back at her. Next to her was a very short, quite tiny girl, with a face like an elf; her ears, nose, and chin seemed a bit pointy. She was so cute, with rosy lips and a sprinkling of freckles across her cheekbones that reminded me of my dear friend Laura.

A wide smile lit up the girl's face just then, and I turned to see her mother behind me, looking up through the railing. "Don't be nervous!" she called out. "You're going to be fabulous. Just pretend it's another practice.... You look beautiful, sweetie."

The girl's mouth trembled, and she put her fist to her lips. The girl who'd smiled at me put an arm protectively over her shoulder, and the younger girl gave a tremulous smile.

I turned to the mother below. "You're going to make me cry," I said, and tears rushed to my eyes.

"Why?" she asked.

"Because my son is playing with the band for the first time tonight, and I wish I were there with him to see whether he's nervous or excited."

The other mother smiled. "I understand."

"Your daughter is a beautiful young lady," I said.

The woman's face glowed. "Yes, she is."

"Enjoy the game," I said.

I said, "Enjoy the game" approximately 17 more times, as I collected 36 tickets that had been purchased from the lady in the little air conditioned booth with the fan blowing on her face--a real district employee, not a parent volunteer.

Long after all the coaches, instructors and chaperones had passed by, and most of the fans, a frantic mother ran up with an armload of Styrofoam cups. "I had to leave and get cups," she said. "I'm with the band."

Waving her in, I pressed my lips together to keep from saying, "Haven't you always wanted to say the line, 'I'm with the band'?"

The first quarter came and went, but the ticket seller informed us that we had to serve until halftime, no matter what the band website said. Reading our minds, she said, "Don't worry. You'll get to see the halftime show."

At halftime I followed Kim into the stands, and we watched the opposing team's show first. They were pretty good, but of course not half as good as OUR kids.

Afterward I craned my neck, straining for a glimpse of Ethan. At last I spotted him pushing the chimes out onto the field. As he looked up into the stands and then out over the field, I could feel his awe. "That's my son," I said. "The tall one with the blonde hair and the glasses."

"Isn't he handsome?" Kim's friend said, and I beamed.

"Yes, he's really turning into a young man," I agreed, flushing with pride.

Here, judge for yourself:
Ethan in Uniform

After the show, I slipped down to the railing and gave a casual wave, careful not to embarrass my freshman percussionist. My heart swelled with pride when he hurried right over to me. "Did you see the show?" he asked, breathless with excitement.

"Yes, you guys were awesome."

"Were we better than the other band?"

"Well, you were both great," I said. "But I think I liked your music best. Are you having fun?"

"Yeah," he said.

He stood still while I took a couple shots with my cell phone, and then he said, "Gotta go. We have to start putting everything away."

"See you soon," I called after him. And I smiled all the way to the car.

Yep, I'm with the band!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Beets, Glorious Beets!

Here are a few tidbits about what's been going on around here. (By the way, you'll be happy to know these stories have absolutely nothing to do with poop!)

For a couple years now, I've been having fun grinding up all manner of veggies and fruits and hiding them in everything from pizza to brownies. But it's gotten harder now that Allyson is bigger; she shadows me and follows my every move in the kitchen.

Last week when we got beets in our organic produce co-op delivery, I racked my brain for a way to serve them so that someone other than myself would eat them. I came up empty, so I drug out the food processor and turned them into a gorgeous purple puree.

"What's that?" Allyson asked as I surreptitiously scraped the last of the puree into little baby food containers for the freezer.

"Why, it's beet puree!" I announced cheerfully, like a 1950s TV commercial announcer.

She scrunched her brow. "What's it for?" she demanded.

"Oh, I don't know," I evaded. "Maybe I'll make some more pink pancakes with it."

"Mmm! I love pink pancakes."
"Only I don't have any ricotta. I'll think of something," I promised. And then I went online and found this recipe for chicken nuggets with beets:

Can You See the Pink?

It was a very messy recipe, a pain in the behind, really. I mixed the beet puree with a beaten egg, dipped the chicken breast pieces in it, and then tried to make my healthy whole-wheat breading stick to them. My fingers were stained crimson for several days afterward. And while the nuggets in the online picture looked like perfectly normal nuggets, mine were decidedly pink even after I browned them in a bit of olive oil.

"What's for dinner?" Ethan asked as he breezed through the kitchen on the way to the pool.

"Chicken nuggets," I said.

"Really? Awesome!"

I smiled, knowing he thought I'd broken down and bought the greasy kind you get in the grocery store freezer case. When I called him out of the pool a few minutes later and handed him a plate to eat on the patio, he exclaimed, "Hey, why are these pink?"

I sighed. "Beets."

"You made chicken nuggets with BEETS?" he repeated. "Why would you do that?"

"Just try them," I coaxed. "They're really good. You can't taste the beets at all."

"Yeah, try them, Ethan," Allyson called around a mouthful of nugget. In her mind, their pink hue was actually an asset.

Ethan nibbled his first nugget cautiously, and then popped the next two in his mouth and practically swallowed them whole. "Can I have more?" he asked.

Before I had a chance to bask in my victory, he made it even sweeter. Standing at the pool gate and waving a nugget in the air, he yelled, "Hey, Christian! Try one of these nuggets my mom made. They're pink!"

His friend climbed out of the pool. He hesitated for a moment, and then took a nugget. "Mmm," he agreed. "That's good."

Ethan and his friends didn't bat an eyelash the next evening when I offered them pink banana muffins. In fact, they liked them a little too well; between the three of them they polished off six muffins in three minutes. Naturally, Allyson was even more thrilled with her pink muffin.
Beet & Banana Muffins
Besides the muffins and the nuggets, we also got two days of pink oatmeal out of the beets. I saved the water from the steamer's drip tray and mixed it into the boiling water. The juice didn't change the taste of the oatmeal, except maybe to add a hint of sweetness--plus a LOT of nutrients. Most importantly, the pink oatmeal made Allyson feel like a princess!
Isn't the Juice Gorgeous?

Pink Oatmeal

Allyson really wanted me to show you pictures of the pink pancakes I made with our last beet delivery, but I couldn't find the picture. "Be sure and tell them about the pancakes," she said. "Those are my favorite."

Bountiful Harvest... Almost

In other news, we harvested the seeds from Allyson's very own sunflowers recently! It had never occurred to me that we could actually eat the sunflower seeds until our neighbors came by for a swim--the same neighbors who gave us the pumpkin pie Christmas before last. Shawn said the sunflowers reminded him of growing up in the country, and he told us how much his family enjoyed the seeds.

We let the sunflowers dry on their stalks, and then Allyson and I spent a couple of hours at the picnic table, meticulously working the seeds free from the dried flower heads. The proliferation of seeds in one flower was staggering, but we soon found that others had beaten us to much of our harvest. About two of every three striped hulls had a tiny black hole at its base, and the inner seed was either completely gone, or rotten.

Some of the little thieves were still crawling among the seeds, so I had to be very cautious. Allyson didn't mind the little beetles at all.

Getting the seeds out of the flower was the easy part, we soon learned. Extracting them from their hulls was much harder. We could think of no other way besides splitting the hulls with our fingernails and nudging the tiny seeds into a bowl.

After a couple more hours of labor, my too-short thumbnails were literally bleeding. I consoled myself with fantasies of the whole-wheat walnut and sunflower seed bread I planned to make with our harvest. But do you know that all those hundreds of seeds from two flowers yielded less than a quarter cup of seeds? I had to supplement with seeds from the grocery store. Still, the bread was so yummy.

Yesterday Allyson and I went to Sprouts Farmers Market, and I spotted raw sunflower seeds in the bulk section. As I dropped scoop after scoop into a bag, I marveled at the ease of of it, the luxury. And I didn't even so much as chip a nail! Still, I imagine they can't be quite as tasty as those seeds from our very own backyard. No, definitely not!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Every Last Drop

Remember my "beyond beyond" story, about how God went so far beyond my expectations during our recent garage sale? Well, I prayed another one of those beyond beyond prayers over my colonoscopy, especially regarding the prep.

"God, I don't know how you could possibly give me an answer above and beyond what I could ask or imagine, when it comes to a colonoscopy. But I trust you to surprise me," I prayed. And of course, He did, though not really in any way I expected.

Yesterday I shared all the details of my last colonoscopy prep seven years ago, so you might recall that the prep solution took violent effect in under 15 minutes that time. I was expecting the same thing last night, but it couldn't have been more different.

I started by taking a Zofran tablet, which the doctor had prescribed to prevent nausea. I chugged the first glass around 4:00 and hovered near the bathroom door. But nothing happened. I drank the second glass around 4:30 with little difficulty, but still nothing happened. And nothing happened after the third, fourth, fifth, or sixth glass either. (Nevertheless, I spent most of that time on the toilet for fear I might not make it when all that laxative finally did kick in.) The Zofran was working, and I wasn't terribly nauseated, but my stomach was so full that I found it harder and harder to drink each successive glass.

Just before I started each glass, I said a silent prayer: "I know I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." And then I would take four swallows, catch my breath, take four more swallows, and so on. Each glass took about sixteen swallows, in groups of four. After the last swallow I would shudder theatrically, rinse my mouth thoroughly, and then focus on reading a book until my next dreaded dose. (I read the majority of The Poisonwood Bible, which I didn't like all that much, but maybe it was just my circumstances.)

By the time 2.5 hours had passed without any action, I started to get concerned. I phoned Bill, who'd taken Allyson shopping, and walked him through selecting an enema. I think he was embarrassed just being seen in the laxative aisle, poor guy.

But by the time they got home 15 minutes later, everything started moving... and moving.

By the time I'd finished 11 glasses (88 ounces) of the devil's brew, I figured surely this was enough. I'd read all the literature this time, and the directions said you could stop when the "return" was clear. My return looked pretty clear to me, and it was by now 11:00 and I was tired.

But then I got to worrying. What exactly did clear mean? What if it wasn't clear enough? I got on the Internet and started searching, and the more I read the more I got a sinking feeling. The Big Bad Nurse's words echoed in my ears: "If there's any trace of fecal matter... we might have to postpone... and you'll do the prep again (again... again...)."

It almost made me cry, but I went downstairs and pulled the GoLytely jug, now 2/3 empty, from the fridge. "I don't want to take any more, God," I whined. "But I have to. Please help me!" I stood over the kitchen sink and took a deep breath while mentally chanting, "I can do all things through Christ." And then I tipped it up and gulped it down, 16 swallows in a row.

I waited 15 minutes and did it again. And then three more times. The last glass was only 6 ounces, which gave me a little lift. When I threw back that last glass, at 2:00 on the nose, I punched my fist triumphantly in the air. I couldn't believe how proud I was of myself, almost as proud as I'd been when I got up on a wakeboard the first time. I really hadn't thought myself capable of drinking a whole gallon of that salty, slimy solution, but now it was behind me (so to speak).

At that point my return still wasn't quite clear, and I was beginning to wonder if I was going to be the first person in history to drink all that evil potion yet NOT have a clear colon. But after two more hours of diarrhea, it was pristine. So at 4:00 in the morning, I collapsed into bed and slept the sleep of the righteous until Allyson woke me around 9:00.

At the endoscopy center this afternoon, I couldn't wait for the question I knew was coming. "Yes," I replied emphatically. "I drank it all. Every last drop."

The colonoscopy was an odd experience, almost otherworldly. The nurse anesthetist didn't count backward from 10 this time. Instead she said, "Here's something to make you relax." Serenity settled over me almost instantly. "And here's something to make you sleepy," she said next. A burning sensation spread up my IV arm, and I said, with an impossibly thick tongue, "That burns!"

"Yes," she agreed.

Just then, I remembered the story my friend Pamela told me about her recent appendectomy: she had asked the doctor and anesthesiologist to pray with her before the surgery. They were a bit surprised, but game. I vaguely remember murmuring something about a prayer, and maybe I even prayed, though they probably couldn't understand my slurred words. I think it was something about guiding the doctor's hand and giving him wisdom, and about God being near me. And please bless the doctor and the nurse and their families. It gave me comfort as I sank into a delicious drowsiness.

I was surprised then to feel the scope going in; I wondered when they were going to put me under. I felt LOTS of splooshy feelings, and I could hear the doctor and nurse talking but couldn't comprehend what they were saying. I kept squinting in the bright light and staring at a big TV screen with what appeared to be my colon, a smooth and yellowish tunnel.

I can't be sure when I asked this, if it was during the procedure or after, but I know I spoke because I remember the answer. I said, "Why am I awake?"

The nurse replied that my blood pressure was a little low, so they couldn't give me as much medication as they had the last time.

"My blood pressure is always low," I said. 

"It's okay if you're a little awake," she explained. "We just want to make sure you're comfortable. Are you hurting?"

"No," I said. 

The next time I opened my eyes, Bill was on my left side, smiling. "Why was I awake?" I asked. "Was it because my blood pressure was low?"

"Everything is fine," he said.

A nurse said, "Everything was normal, Sarah. No polyps. You did very well."

I dozed then for a few minutes. When I opened my eyes, Bill was still on my left side, smiling. "Why was I awake?" I asked. "Wait a minute, did I already ask you that?"

He laughed. "Yes, about five times now."

"Oh," I said.

He helped me get dressed then, for I was helpless as a baby. While he went and pulled the car around, a nurse put an arm around me and guided me to the door on my wobbly legs. "Was I talking during the procedure?" I asked.

"I don't know, but maybe you were."

"Is that normal?"

"Everyone reacts differently," she said.

"I usually talk a lot," I admitted.

She smiled. "I bet you do."

In the car, I felt much more alert. "Do you know I was awake during the procedure?" I asked.

"You might have mentioned it," Bill replied, and I laughed.

"I guess I did."

All the way home I fantasized about eating some chocolate chip blueberry pancakes from out of the freezer, but when we got there the couch seemed more attractive. In the blink of an eye, two hours had passed.

I got up then and toasted my pancakes. They were the best I've ever tasted!

I'm so glad the experience is behind me, but I have to admit that, other than staying up until 4:00, it really wasn't all that bad. I know now I am capable of just about anything, with God's help. I'd say He went beyond the beyond again.

Thank you to everyone for your prayers and words of encouragement. I could feel the prayers around me.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Last Obstacle

In about 45 minutes, I'll be starting the prep for my second colonoscopy, which of course reminds me of the nightmare that was my first colonoscopy prep--but also reminds me of my love story with Bill. How? I'll get to that. But first, a disclaimer: yes, this is going to be yet another poop story. Feel free to bail out if you like.

After less than a year of marriage, Bill and I started talking about having a baby. I might have preferred to wait a bit longer, but I was almost 33 when we got married, and Bill had said if he was going to become a father he wanted it to happen before he was 35. That gave us about three years to work with, but with my history of unexplained infertility with my first child, we thought it best to get started right away. My gynecologist, however, had other ideas. My thyroid was enlarged, and she wanted me to see the endocrinologist first to get the green light for a pregnancy. And due to my brother's history of colon cancer at age 42, she also wanted me to get the colonoscopy that his oncologist had suggested for each of our siblings.

It took three months to get my appointment with the endocrinologist, but I made it past that hurdle with no problem. He adjusted my hypothyroid medicine and said I'd be fine.

But I had to wait much longer for the colonoscopy. We were changing our health insurance to a different plan and had to wait for the enrollment period, and then I had to get a referral, and so on. And that's why, about a year after we wanted to start our family planning, I was actually a little bit excited about my colonoscopy. (Oh, the ignorance!)

The timing was absolutely horrible: Bill's sister Lisa had come down from Canada for a few days with her three-month old daughter Katie, whom we'd never met. As luck would have it, the second day of her visit was the dreaded prep day. For that entire day, my diet was restricted to clear liquids and Jell-O, but I didn't want to miss out on the sightseeing we'd planned for Lisa. So I sipped my water with lemon and felt sorry for myself while Bill and Lisa enjoyed the best Mexican food around. And then I traipsed along behind them, feeling faint, while they toured the Fort Worth Stockyards.

Lisa and Katie

Baby in a Basket!

But the real misery began around 5:00, when I drank the first 8 ounces of the prescribed gallon of GoLytely solution. My brother Rick had warned me that I wouldn't go lightly, and also that it would take effect very quickly. "Just don't stray far from the bathroom," he advised, telling me about a mishap he'd had while trying to do laundry during his first bowel prep. Not that I planned to do any laundry, but I figured if I did I'd be fine since our laundry room is literally ten feet from the toilet. Man, was I naive.

I chugged the first glass of the cherry-flavored, salty, slimy liquid with no problem. This isn't that bad, I thought triumphantly, and then I sat on the couch to wait 15 minutes for my next dose. The leaflet that came with the solution said it would take 30-60 minutes to work, so you can imagine my surprise when, not 10 minutes after that first dose, I felt a violent urge. I sprinted the 15 feet to the bathroom and BARELY managed to get my pants down in time.
Bill and Katie on the Couch Where My Adventure Began

I emptied what surely must have been the entire contents of my colon and waited about two minutes before pulling up my pants. I hadn't even finished washing my hands when it hit me again. And again, I just BARELY made it the 1.5 feet to the toilet.

I'll spare you the details, but let's just say I soon figured out there was no point getting off the toilet at all. This invoked quite a dilemma since it was past time for my second dose, and I really hated to drink it on the toilet.

"BILL!" I hollered. "Bring me another glass please."

That second glass took about 15 minutes to drink. And the third glass took a full hour, sipped through a straw. And the fourth glass, well, I started gagging the moment the cup touched my lips. I couldn't swallow another drop. But based on the constant water that had been passing through for about four hours now, I figured maybe it didn't matter that I'd only finished a third of the solution. It had obviously done its work, and it kept right on working up until nearly midnight.

Bill and Lisa had taken baby Katie off somewhere; I don't remember where. And Ethan was with his dad that weekend, so I was all alone in the house, with only my self pity to keep me company. I was finally off the toilet, but I was so sore I couldn't even sit down properly. So I lay on my side in the recliner and cried.

When they got home, they both laughed over my woes, which infuriated me, especially since I couldn't help laughing myself. Around midnight, I fell into bed utterly exhausted.

When Bill drove me to the endoscopy center the next morning, I was too exhausted to care about my sore bottom or the piteous growls of my gapingly empty stomach. I was just so relieved that the ordeal was coming to an end at last. Or so I thought.

Wheeling my gurney into the procedure room, the nurse asked cheerfully, "So, did you finish your GoLytlely?"

I laughed ruefully. "Wow, that was rough stuff! I only got about a third of it down, but-"

The gurney screeched to a halt. "You didn't finish your prep??" she repeated incredulously.

"No," I answered in a tiny voice. "But it really worked. I had diarrhea for SIX HOURS STRAIGHT. I couldn't even leave the bathroom."

Her mouth set into a firm line as she resumed the short trip. "That doesn't matter," she hissed after a silence so loud I could hear my own heart pounding. "Your colon has to be completely clear."

"It was," I protested. "The diarrhea looked like water."

She went on as if she hadn't heard. "Because if there's any fecal matter in there.... You realize that the procedure might have to be postponed? And you'll have to do the prep again?"

At those words, I burst into tears. I don't mean those silent tears that you hope no one will notice. I mean the kind of sobs that shake your whole body.

And that's what I was doing when she parked me in front of the doctor. At his raised eyebrows, she muttered, "She didn't finish the bowel prep."

I was sobbing so hard I didn't even hear his response. But I heard her all too plainly when she said, "Now calm down or we won't be able to start the IV."

I felt like a little girl again, being scolded by my beloved daddy. I sobbed harder.

And then I felt a gentle hand on my temple, brushing the hair from my eyes. It was the nurse anesthetist, whom I hadn't even noticed standing behind me. "It's okay," he whispered, and I thought maybe he was afraid of the Big Bad Nurse too.

"Sh-she said I'd have to do the p-prep ag-gain," I wailed.

He ran his fingers through my hair, patting my head the way I would pat Ethan's head after a nightmare. "We don't know that," he said softly. "And there's nothing you can do about it now. Just relax. Everything will be okay," he promised. "Just breathe deeply. I'm going to give you a sedative now, and you'll be asleep by the time I've counted backward from 10. When you wake up it will all be over."

My sobs faded into hiccups, and grateful tears splashed into my ears. When the kind man started counting, he only made it to 7 before everything went blissfully black. From that point, I vaguely remember odd splooshy sensations and the faraway sound of  reassuring male voices. I think they kept saying, "It's okay. We can see what we need to see." So I surmise that I might have been crying throughout the procedure.

I was definitely crying when I came out of it. "It's okay," the nurse reassured me as I opened my eyes. Thankfully, it was a different nurse, and she apparently knew nothing of my meltdown, or if she did she was decent enough not to mention it. She turned to Bill, "You never know how people will react to the medication. Some people laugh, some cry... Your wife, she's obviously one of the cry-ers."

She squeezed my hand. "But you don't need to cry any more, sweetie. The procedure went just fine, and everything was normal." To her chagrin, fresh tears rained down my cheeks then, but they were tears of joy. I hadn't realized until that moment how worried I'd been during all those months of waiting. I'd been afraid that I would go through what Rick had gone through, and that I wouldn't be able to have another baby.

In a moment, I was released from all that worry, and the last obstacle had been removed. We could start trying for a baby!

There's just one more thing I'd like you to know. When I read the doctor's report that evening, this is what I saw: "Quality of prep: Excellent." Yes, the quality of my prep was "Excellent" with a capital E! Take that, Big Bad Nurse.

Now if you'll excuse me, it's time to start my bowel prep.

Looking a Little Worse for the Wear, Day After the Procedure (Aren't the Glasses Awful??)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Tales From the Road

Week before last, we set off on a road trip to visit my family in Indiana. It was Bill's first time to make the 18-hour drive, and he was not too keen about the idea. But the drive was surprisingly enjoyable.

My sisters Amy and Melody were riding along with the four of us, so we rented a minivan. Here's what made it so much better than most of the Indiana drives I remember:
  • Bill did all the driving, so I didn't have to tank up on Diet Mountain Dew to keep my eyes open. I could nap whenever I wanted and catch up on my reading. 

  • We didn't leave at 4:00 in the morning. In fact, we didn't leave our house on the 18th until after 10:30 A.M. (Dad would have been beside himself.) It was so much easier to enjoy all our family togetherness on a good night's sleep.
  • We didn't try to "make time," and we wouldn't have dreamed of driving through the night. We made lots of stops, whenever anyone had to pee. 
  • We stopped for the night at interesting tourist attractions; we took different routes on the way there and back. 
  • We played games to pass the time. Amy brought some dice and the lid to a big plastic tub, and we played Yahtzee and Farkle. (The kids loved saying, "Mama farkled!" but that didn't happen too often since I always play it safe.)
  • We brought yummy picnics (featuring things like Aunt Sue's delectable chicken salad) which we ate at several McDonalds along the way. It felt pretty brazen to walk in there with our cooler bags and jumbo bags of chips, but no one seemed to notice. And we did buy drinks and salads, and the occasional ice cream. So we spent almost nothing, and we ate healthy food that didn't give us tummy aches.  

Allyson Discovers Elvis
As we drove through the Memphis area, where we spent our first night on the road, there were pictures of Elvis everywhere, and brochures about Graceland and other related attractions. That's all it took for Allyson to develop her first crush. She treasured those little pamphlets, which she guarded fiercely.

"Read this book about Elvis, Aunt Amy," she said. But when Amy took a little too long, she demanded it back.

"You've got another copy," I reminded her.

"No, that's Allum's" she corrected me. Amy handed over the brochure.

And then Bill discovered a satellite station that played all Elvis, all the time--which meant we could listen to Elvis for our entire vacation. Allyson was probably the only one thrilled about that.

I wish we'd had time to stop at Graceland; I think we all would have enjoyed it. As it was, we drove slowly past it in the dark. We could just make out the house, but we had a good view of one of Elvis's jets, the Lisa Marie. 

Surviving Jane
In a flash of inspiration at the start of the trip, Bill assigned Ethan the front passenger seat, far enough away from Allyson to avoid their typical squabbles. Ethan's main job was to take pictures of all the welcome signs we passed as we moved from state to state. Unfortunately, he missed most of them due to our camera's abysmal shutter speed.

Ethan also served as Bill's navigator, at least in theory. He pored over the 2005 atlas, tracing the route dictated by the real boss: our navigator, whom we affectionately call "Jane."

Jane sometimes led us astray, though, like the time she told Bill to exit the highway in a scary area on the outskirts of Memphis. "I don't know, Jane," he said as we drove down dark residential streets with beat-up cars and overgrown lawns.

"In 800 yards... turn left," she said cheerfully.

Bill squinted through the darkness. "I don't see a road there, Jane. I'm turning right."

Jane recalculated while we rounded a curve in the unlighted two-lane road and approached a rickety railroad trestle. "In 100 yards... turn left," she advised.

Bill started to pass under the trestle, but we all protested. "This doesn't look right," Ethan said.

"It's a dead end," Bill said. "I'll have to turn around."

All of us shivered with fear as he meticulously executed a three-point turn, backing the minivan up within inches of the 10-foot barbed wire fence that flanked the road.

"I hope there's nothing waiting behind that fence..." Amy began.

I glanced pointedly at Allyson. "Shh!!"

"Why is Jane trying to kill us?" Ethan asked.

Bill said it was probably because he'd been disrespectful to her earlier, questioning her routes. In any case, we made it to the hotel at last, though Jane conveniently failed to mention that Bill needed to turn onto the hotel's side street and we had to make a 3-mile circle practically back to Graceland.

There at Last
We had a wonderful four days in Indiana, though it passed too quickly as always. We spent a lot of time visiting (and eating) with all my cousins, aunts, uncles, and of course my grandma. We stayed with my Aunt Sue and Uncle Jeff. Their Golden Doodle Miley (a cross between a Golden Retriever and a poodle) kept us entertained. She's a giant puppy, very mischievous, with an affinity for socks and underwear. She once got a-hold of one of Ethan's dirty socks and played a ten-minute game of keep-away with him. When Sue got the sock away from her and tried to hand it to Ethan, she snatched it back and pranced away proudly. He did eventually get it back, but only after it was covered in slobber.
My Daily Walking Buddies: Melody, Me, Sue, Amy, Miley (And Allyson)

On our first full day, we went to Potato Creek State Park with Aunt Sue and Uncle Jeff. We rented bikes so old that Jeff said they were probably the same ones they used when they opened the rental shop 30 years ago. The brakes barely worked, and they only had one gear, which was unfortunate due to all the hills. Bill had it the worst because he had to pull Allyson in a little trailer. Most of us had to stand up on the hills, but sometimes Bill had to get off and push the bike.
Foreground: Ethan; Background: Jeff, Bill, Allyson
Bill, Amy, Allyson, Melody

We had hoped to escape the interminable heat, but they were having a heat wave in Indiana too, and with the humidity it was almost unbearable. But most of the time the trail led through the heavily shaded woods, and there was a refreshing breeze. It was only on the stretches through the sun that we suffered.

After our ride, we had a picnic and then cooled off with a quick dip in the ice-cold lake--so much different than our bathwater lakes down here in Texas.

Another highlight was a trip on the South Shore Train to Chicago, where we spent about five hours in the Museum of Science and Industry. We could have spent days. It's an amazing museum. I think my favorite exhibit was the German submarine that had been captured and towed in utter secrecy to the United States.
Ethan and Allyson at U-508 Exhibit

Allyson's favorite was the fairy castle, a giant doll house full of lavish miniatures with a fairy tale theme. For example, the library held real one-inch books with teeny words on tiny pages. I wish we had thought to take pictures.
On the Way Back on South Shore Train

And while I'm mentioning highlights, I can't forget to mention Aunt Carol's famous homemade ice cream with her trademark fudge sauce. I ate two bowls of that!

Stop in St. Louis
On the way home from Indiana, we stopped at the giant arch in St. Louis. We rode up in tiny pods that were a cross between an elevator and a Ferris wheel car.

Allyson Crying Because She Wanted her Own Seat
All Smiles After I Shared Ethan's Seat

At the top was a narrow room, arch-shaped of course, with tiny windows that you had to lean into to see the ground. I was surprised to see people swimming in pools on top of the hotels across the way.

Afterward, we met my cousin Matt's family at a nearby restaurant, The Spaghetti Factory.
Renee, Theron, Matt, Grayson
We had to wait an hour and a half, so we were beyond starving, but it was a great chance to catch up. And the dinner was delicious and reasonably priced. The kids even got balloon animals.
Allyson's Flower Popped Before We Left Restaurant

Hopefully Theron Had Better Luck With His Mouse

At the end of the trip, Amy said, "Even though we didn't go somewhere exotic, this was one of my favorite vacations ever." I have to agree. 


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