Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Memories

My lovely sister, Lauren, asked me to write a post about my favorite family Christmas memories from over the years. I quickly turned it around and asked her to write the post, which I would feature as a guest post here on BtB. Unfortunately, she's still a little blog-shy at this point in time. So, I guess that means I'm on the hook to write this thing. Because I love you, sis, this one's for you...

Every year since I can remember, my parents have hosted a Christmas Eve party for all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins on my mom's side of the family. All together, it's a pretty large family; she has 5 brothers and each brother has a wife, plus most have at least 2 children. I guess if we're being precise, that means 5 uncles, 5 aunts, 9 cousins, my 3 siblings, 2 grandparents, and my 2 parents, plus significant others now that we're a bit older. It makes for a great size party and a house full of warm-fuzzies and fun every Christmas Eve. Folks start arriving around dinnertime with appetizers, desserts, and presents in hand, ready for our annual evening of quirky Christmas delights.

Family at the 2009 Christmas Eve party.

My dad (with awesome Christmas tie), my sister, and my cousin.

When we were really young, my grandfather -- we called him Pepere -- would dress up as Santa, gather us 'round, and hand out all the gifts, gifts that were actually from our aunts and uncles. We had absolutely no clue that this jolly man in red was actually our Pepere, who just minutes before had disappeared into the bathroom and just minutes after reappeared having missed out on the whole Santa visit. We fell for this trick for about 5 years. And it was wonderful.

As we got older, we switched things up a bit. Instead of getting several gifts from all of our aunts and uncles, each cousin would pick the name of another cousin to get one gift for, Secret Santa style. And while we did this, all the aunts and uncles would participate in a $30 Yankee Swap (aka White Elephant, aka Dirty Santa).

Five years ago, my sister was several months pregnant on Christmas Eve. She had bought a thoughtful gift for the cousin she'd picked in Secret Santa and was hopeful that the gift she would receive would be nice as well. Well, unfortunately, the cousin who picked her skipped out on the Christmas Eve party that year and Lauren was left without a gift. And because of her raging pregnancy hormones, she ended up on the stairs, in the corner of the house, crying because she felt forgotten and unloved.

My mom had an extra gift for the Yankee Swap, so she encouraged Lauren to participate with the aunts and uncles, to make up for her lack of gift. This cheered her up a bit. Then, my Uncle Bobby popped in, showed her the wrapped gift he had brought for the Yankee Swap, and told her she had to choose this gift, as it was the gift she deserved to have this Christmas.

When her turn came along in the Swap, she grabbed the gift my uncle had encouraged her to take, opened it, and to her great surprise, she found herself holding a framed picture of him. All the aunts, uncles, and cousins looking on were confused but also in hysterics over his silly gift. Lauren was also a bit confused, but she did as he said and held onto the gift for the rest of the game (though this didn't prove to be a very difficult task, as no one was interested in a framed picture of my goofy Uncle Bobby). It wasn't until the end of the Swap that my uncle revealed why the gift was perfect for her; he told her to take the back off of the frame and behind is she found a $100 bill folded inside. She was instantly in a much better mood.

Uncle Bobby struck again another Christmas Eve when he told my cousin, Nate, his son, to eat the big glob of green stuff off the sushi platter because it was a delicious treat. Ouch! His mouth was on fire for at least an hour. And we were all in stitches again. What a jokester, that Uncle Bobby.

Once our party wrapped up and the relatives headed home, we'd usually get a gift from our parents, Christmas jammies, to be worn to bed that night. We'd also put out a plate of cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer before heading to bed, which would always have big bites taken out of them by morning.

By 7am, we would all be awake and ready to greet Christmas morning by opening gifts under our tree. Though, not so fast, kids! My parents had a bit of a routine before we were allowed to go downstairs and see the tree and gifts in all their glory.

First, Dad had to go downstairs and put on a Christmas CD and set up that clunky, old video recorder. Then Mom would go downstairs next to make herself a cup of tea and get the camera ready for pictures, pictures, pictures! Meanwhile, us four kids would sit on the top stair together and wait for what felt like foreverrrrr for the parents to come back and take our pictures. And when they did, pictures upon pictures ensued. When Mom felt like she had taken enough, we were finally allowed to walk through the kitchen and into the family room, where Santa had left all of us good kids lots and lots of lovely presents. With happy hearts, we'd all find our spots on the floor near the tree and start picking out presents for unwrapping. Oh, and then Mom would take more pictures.

Stair picture #1 - Me, brother Jeff, and sister Lauren with sleepy faces on
Christmas morn' 2006. Camera shy: brother Matt.

Stair picture #2 - Steph & Jeff on Christmas 2009. We were the only two
"kids" who spent the night at the house, so we were the only two featured
in the stair pictures that year. 

Dad next to his not-so-clunky video camera (the cameras got smaller as
technology advanced over the years) and my brother Matt.

Santa gift unwrapping was always a blast -- one gift at a time so we could each be a part of the joy of each others' gifts. Then, we'd get to dive into the little gifts in our stockings. And finally, we'd exchange gifts from each other. We'd spend the next hour playing with our new toys and enjoying cinnamon rolls for breakfast and then we'd scurry to get ready and out the door for Mass. And after Mass, we'd usually head home and pop in one of the DVDs we'd gotten as a gift and all lounge on the couch and just enjoy the free time together.

This Christmas, I won't be experiencing the usual holiday fun with my fam, as it's John's family's turn to have us this year. I'm a little bummed that I won't get to be a part of Uncle Bobby's crazy antics, or the million pictures on the stairs on Christmas morning, but I'm excited to experience a new set of Christmas traditions. Ya see, I've never been with John's family on Christmas, so it'll be a fun and different experience for me. I'm hoping I can pick up a few of their traditions so that we can blend them with mine for our own little family some day. John claims his family doesn't really have any special traditions, aside from vacationing in Florida with relatives and friends for the week of Christmas, which they don't do anymore. We'll see about that, though. I'm sure there'll be something special about it. Something special worth sharing with our kids someday. :)

How about you? What are your favorite family Christmastime traditions?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

What just happened? (And some free prayers.)

WARNING: This post is mostly just a big glass o' whine.

Let me tell you, I think I have some cycles elves conspiring against me, because I don't think my last cycle could have been any more of a disaster!

It all started around peak time. I have trouble identifying peak these days because a certain type of man-fluid looks exactly like the peak-type stuff and I can't seem to get a clear reading on things. So, much to Dr. G's dismay, I use ovulation prediction kits (OPKs) to determine when I ovulate.

I was low on OPK sticks this cycle, so I knew I had to use sparingly. I thought I got a positive ovulation test, though it was a little hard to read. I just went with it and assumed, because of the ridiculous abundance of peak-type mucus I saw that day, it was probably right. Though, three days later I had some not-so-great, but pretty stretchy mucus a few times and because I had no OPK sticks left, I just decided it probably wasn't peak and I should just ignore it (and chart it as an 8).

So then, when what I thought was Peak+5 came around, I went and got my blood drawn. And again on Peak+8 (because Peak+7 Thanksgiving) and again on Peak+9. Just as the doctor ordered. But this time around, the guy who drew my blood was new and forgot to label my vials. So by the time I was ready to pick up my blood to ship it off, it was too late and we couldn't tell which vial was drawn on which day.

I figured that Dr. G could still use the samples, so I sent them off on dry ice like I was supposed to. I used FedEx Ground like I did last time because that got them to Dr. G's office overnight, which is what needs to happen in order for the blood to stay frozen and fresh. But, dummy me didn't realize holiday season = busy FedEx = package will take two days to deliver instead of one. Doy. I should have just paid a little more to have them shipped guaranteed overnight.

So the blood arrived warm. The dry ice had evaporated. And normally the lab won't even run the tests if the blood isn't fresh. But Dr. G convinced them to.

I arrived for my monthly follow-up appointment with Dr. G just in time to find out that of the three vials of blood sent to the lab, only one came back with results. And as far as I can tell, my progesterone was still normal and my estrogen was still low.

At this point, I was already 1 day late for my period, though I wasn't letting myself get too excited, because I was starting to second guess the day I had identified as peak. Dr. G offered to do a serum pregnancy test, but I quickly protested. And he agreed that that was probably ok because the numbers from the blood draw were not really indicative of pregnancy anyway.

Then he pointed at my overabundance of awesome 10KL (peak-type mucus) right around peak time, which made him say, "This is great because now we don't have to worry about Clomid messing with your mucus. It looks perfect." Which bummed me out because, like I said, I'm pretty sure I actually peaked 3 days later, on a day that did not have great mucus at all. And I tried to tell him this, but he was pretty convinced that I identified peak correctly. Sigh.

He said he'd like to start me on HCG injections on Peak+3, +5, +7, and +9 for this next cycle. It sounded good to me! Except, on the ride home, I got a call from the lab that sends the HCG and their machine that makes the HCG broke. It's fixed now, but they can't send out any HCG until it's tested and approved, which takes 3 weeks. Which means we'll be cutting it oh-so-close to when I'll actually be needing it. AND we may not even been in town by the time it arrives, right before Christmas. Which means we might not even get to use it this cycle.

And then my period still took two more days to arrive, which of course got me all too hopeful, even when I knew it shouldn't have. Because I had every sign under the sun that I wasn't pregnant. But still, when you've never had a late period before and then all of a sudden it's 3 days late, you get hopeful. Even if you are mostly sure that you misidentified peak.

Bah humbug!

So, to summarize:

  • Hard to read OPK that made me think I ovulated.
  • Ran out of OPKs when I wanted to test again.
  • Misidentified peak because of silly OPKs and silly boy-fluid.
  • Blood did not get labeled properly.
  • Blood did not get shipped properly.
  • Blood did not even get drawn on the right days because I misidentified peak.
  • Only one of three vials of blood got results.
  • Dr. G is convinced my mucus is good when it's not.
  • HCG machine broke.
  • Period was "late" (but not really) and I let myself get excited about it.

Let's say it again, all together this time: BAH HUMBUG!

I just don't get it. How could that much have gone so wrong in just one cycle?

Hopefully this means all the bad things are behind us and this next cycle will be perfect! Right? 

Also, you may think I'd be pretty down in the dumps about all this, but actually, I was only sad for about 30 minutes. So that's pretty great. I'm just sharing it now because I thought the shear ridiculousness of this past cycle was sure to make some of you laugh. I mean, it's pretty funny, right? That everything just went that wrong? 

Alright. Now that I have all my whining out of the way, I must say, I'm pretty excited to do the HCG injections this cycle (if they arrive in time). I'm hoping it's the magic touch! 


Ok, and now for something totally unrelated, but totally awesome.

I forgot to mention in my last post..

When we attended Mass at a lovely church in Hot Springs, the celebrant, who was a visiting Benedictine monk, asked us all to go to his Abbey's website and send the monks our prayer intentions. They pray 5 times a day and, if you send your prayers to them through their website or by calling, they'll pray for you and your needs by name at their services. How nice is that? John and I have already sent our intentions in, and I hope you will too! 'Cause what's better than a whole bunch of really holy guys sending up prayers for you? :)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Hot Springs!

After that really bad day where I felt like I just needed to escape from reality for a while, John and I decided to take off and explore Hot Springs, Arkansas for the weekend. It was a bit of a last minute trip, as in, I planned it the day before we left, but it ended up being the perfect escape from my not always perfect life.

We took off around 8am on Saturday morning and arrived about 3 hours later in cute, little Hot Springs, home of the springs with really hot water. Upon our arrival, we ate a delicious lunch at Cafe 1217 and then proceeded to check out Bathhouse Row, AKA the "downtown" area of Hot Springs. I put "downtown" in quoties because the area was awfully small and more touristy than anything. But it was honestly perfect. We walked that short, little main street, Bathhouse Row, and checked out one of the old bathhouses, Fordyce Bath House, which is now a museum, free to tour.

My little ham, posing outside of Fordyce Bath House.

Inside the male section of the bath house, which was much larger and
more lavishly decorated that the female side.

The stained glass ceiling on the men's side. 

One of the old tubs.

Bathhouse Row is lined with, you guessed it, bath houses, most of which have been shut down since the hay day of Hot Springs. Seeing that one million gallons of 143-degree water flow from the natural hot springs in Hot Spring every day, this turned into a serious relaxation, throw-your-cares-away, cure-your-ailments vacation city back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with bathhouses popping up everywhere, all claiming to have different restorative powers. One video we watched while in the Fordyce Bath House museum even claimed that Hot Springs was as popular as Las Vegas as a vacation destination back when business was booming. It's no longer a big, famous, vacationy city, but there are still 2 bathhouses in operation, which we took advantage of the next day. But I'll get to that in just a bit.

After touring the museum, John and I went in search of some real hot springs to touch! Lucky for us, right outside of the bathhouse, we found a fountain from which flowed the most mineraly, hot, and steamy water.

Then, we walked a bit into the park (where all of the real hot springs are located), which was right behind all the bathhouses (convenient, right?) and touched more hot water from an actual spring! Mission accomplished!

Oops, he blinked! The hot spring is on the right.

By the time we were done enjoying the soothing powers of the hot mineral water, it was time to check in to our fancy, shmancy bed and breakfast. We contemplated staying at a hotel, but we decided since we were just staying one night, we should splurge and stay somewhere nice. I did a bit of research (in my one day of planning) and read lots of great reviews for Lookout Point Lakeside Inn, so we booked it and boy, are we happy we did! Just look at its prettiness...

Right on the lake!

Johnny showing off the room.

Relaxing on a hammock!

Outside our room.

The main lobby. So much pretty wood! Love that rustic feel.

Relaxing fireplace.

We settled in for a little while, took in all the lovely sites, then headed out to the vigil Mass. 'Cause it's always good to put aside time for God, even on vacation. :)

Dinner was at Rolando's, a most delicious nuevo Latino restaurant. We ate on their second floor, which they had set up to look like a speak easy, complete with girls dressed as flappers, a live pianist plunking out tunes, and a fancy bar. Not sure that's exactly how speak easies functioned back in the day, but it was pretty cute. Oh, and the food was soooo delicious. I just had to take a picture...


And then, because we weren't absolutely stuffed enough (sarcasm), we went out for some ice cream at Nom Noms Mexican Grill-n-Chill, because you just can't go on vacation and skip the most talked about dessert place on Yelp! I didn't take a picture (was too full to think straight), but I found one on the internet, so...

Picture stolen from Rafael Poe Alvarez.

'Cept we ordered this flavor AND avocado ice cream. I know, sounds weird. Trust me. Avocado is good in savory dishes AND as a sweet dessert.

And that ended our night out on the town in Hot Springs. We got to sleep early and woke up the next morning to a most delicious breakfast at our bed and breakfast. Then, we packed up, took tons of pictures of our room, said our goodbyes, and headed back to Bathhouse Row one last time for a dip in their relaxing hot spring baths.

Of the two bathhouses still in operation, we went with Quapaw Bathhouse, the one that has been modernized, where the baths are just four large hot tubs, each at different temperatures (up to 104 degrees), that guests can all bathe in simultaneously, in bathing suits of course! The other option was Buckstaff Bathouse, which still operates exactly the way it did in the 1800s. Men and women go to separate sides of the bathhouse and experience (in the nude, if you wish), a personal mineral bath with a loofa scrub from an attendant, hot packs, a Sitz bath (basically a bath for your butt), a few minutes in the vapor cabinet, and a needle shower. Since we didn't want to be separated, and a few of the old-fashioned bath treatments sounded a little weird, we opted for the more modernized bathhouse.

Quapaw Bathhouse

We spent about an hour relaxing in the deliciously hot mineral water, surrounded entirely by senior citizens doing the same. I guess large, communal bath tubs attract the elderly? Who knows. We still enjoyed the heck out of it, even if we did bring down the average age by a multitude of years.

It's said that the water of the hot springs is known to cure all sorts of ailments, so maybe after our little trip and dip in the soothing waters, our infertility woes are behind us. I'm gonna have to call "unlikely" on that one, but I guess it didn't hurt to try. No, actually, it felt very nice. :)

Before leaving, we did our usual adventure ritual and purchased a magnet from a little touristy gift shop as a sweet souvenir of our trip. All in all, I'd say it was a lovely getaway! I'm not rushing to get back to Hot Springs, as it was mostly pretty touristy, but I also wouldn't mind returning some day. I think if I had a group of galfriends with me, I'd like try out the more traditional bathhouse. And we also didn't have time to really explore the Hot Springs National Park or the supposedly beautiful Botanical Gardens there. So I guess another trip will just have to be in the works sometime.

Gosh, I just love vacations!

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