Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Red balloon surprises

Reality never really goes away does it. Today, it came in the form of staring at the words "25 weeks pregnant" written in the notes section after my name before they were deleted by the dental hygienist during my appointment this afternoon. So quickly those words were erased as she back spaced in updating her patient notes in what was a routine mundane part of her work day yet it made time stand still for me. If I had blinked, I would have missed seeing those words. As the dental hygienist scrolled down her computer screen, I recalled that doctor appointment from November 2015 and how giddy with excitement I was as I bantered back and forth with the hygienist that day saying I *only* had 15 weeks to go until meeting the little babe nestled inside me.

Next, I was snapped out of that reverie when I saw the big black letters that spelled out, "Hysterectomy 03/07/16", as I sat in that cold hard chair at the dentist's office with the fan blowing cold stale air down on me. You'd think by now just seeing that word or thinking of that date would not bring the hot tears or lump in my throat anymore. You'd think that the nonchalant way of the question of, "So you had a hysterectomy on March 7th, 2016 but have you had any other surgeries since then?" would just slide off me by now. So odd these questions were being asked even though I've been to the dentist multiple times since Charlotte's birth. I am going to chalk it up to the fact that I had a new hygienist today.

You'd think I would instead choose to stand in the light and bask in the joys and chaos of raising a 2.25 year old. That I wouldn't keep hearing the doctor's voice say, "we have to take the uterus" on auto loop over and over and over in my head as my mind drifts back to that night. Oh, what I would give to just permanently erase her voice and the sting of the message from my mind. I wish I could permanently turn the volume down on that phrase that continuously plays in my mind and instead increase the volume of Charlotte's laughter or a waterfall gushing by or the soothing tune of a beloved Bryan Adams or Kim Kalman song.

But to do so would change part of the story. The story that began the same night the other story ended. Sweet Charlotte's story was in the beginning stages and brought to light that night. This is the book I'm choosing to pick up and burying my nose in...this is the story I want to memorize and know every detail of...this is the choose your own adventure I was thrust into and I'm so thankful for the characters who jump off the pages each day as this story unfolds. God's creativity and love know no bounds and being the ultimate author already knows how it all goes.

Let me tell you about the current setting. He brought me to this little town four years ago. He led me to this community that is unlike any other. Yesterday, when heading out to a playdate with my cousins, we found a red balloon tied to our car by Charlotte's door. It even had a loop at the end of the string to fit on a small child's wrist. Now, did this balloon drift to our car and just happen to lodge itself near Charlotte's car seat or did someone put it there? Who knows?! What I do know is that I had one happy little girl who hugged that balloon the whole way to Pittsburgh area and insisted it go on the stroller when she and I took our evening walk. She squeals with glee each time she sees the balloon and I'm thankful for whoever orchestrated that surprise even if it was the wind (??!!).

Each page of our story contains the unknown, even if it's just a silly little toy that brings joy to a sweet innocent 2.25 year old little girl or if it's a routine appointment that rears pain's ugly thoughts but forces a struggling mom to turn to prayer all the more that night, and but it's still being written. These little surprises can help us to remember to let hope float much like the red balloon tries to do when the string is let go. Praise God the story is still being written instead of being a memoir of an unexpected ending thanks to the life saving hysterectomy that yielded both the biggest heartache and the biggest relief that I'm still here to be Mommy to the biggest surprise of all.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Inspired by the number 3!

Tonight is our last night of a peaceful week long stay in OBX that also held our third wedding anniversary!

Our mini Jackie O.! 

Since we will be leaving first thing in the morning, we went to mass at one of my favorite churches down here this evening. I have been to Holy Redeemer by the Sea with my parents, older brother and his wife, two sets of friends, and even an ex boyfriend but this was the first time I was able to bring my husband and daughter to the beautiful church.

We were fortunate enough to sit in the second from the front pew where we were able to hear and see Kim Kalman perform and hear every word of Fr. Bill's teachings. Something I really appreciate about his style is that he gives previews about the liturgical celebration and the readings we are about to hear during mass throughout the time we spend together. It is almost like we are getting bits and pieces of the homily throughout the mass!

I wasn't sure what to expect when Father began by talking about how bad things are in threes. Adam leaned over and said, "Uh, we are a three" referencing our triangle family. I nodded and continued listening to  Father's words. He said how threes are viewed as being bad for relationships in that three's a crowd, the third person feels left out, and there is a third wheel. Then he shifted gears and spoke of how the universe is based on sub-atomic particles made up of only three parts. In my mind, I also thought of the holy family being made up of three. Father transitioned to connecting what he was sharing in relationship of threes to the Trinity of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit which was the focus of tonight's mass. He finished the homily by turning things around with respect to three and recognizing it is the perfect number after all.

Trinity Sunday also reminds me of our family but probably not for the reason you may suspect. Yes, we are a family of three but this is also the Sunday when I found out why Adam picked my particular wedding ring. He had purchased the wedding ring set without my input. When he proposed, I had been too shocked to notice the ring he held before me. It wasn't until after the engagement ring was in place on my left ring finger that he asked if I wanted to see the rest of the ring set. I asked him to hang on to the wedding band until our wedding day as I wanted to be surprised again!

With the excitement of participating in our wedding mass and engaging in the sacrament of marriage, I didn't lay eyes on my left hand until after Communion. Wow! What a gorgeous and unique wedding band Adam had selected! I didn't learn the meaning behind it until after our honeymoon one week after the wedding that happened to be Trinity Sunday. As we sat in the front of Holy Family Church, during the gospel, Adam leaned over and said he had to tell me something about the ring after mass. In the parking lot, as we walked to the car, he said what he liked about the ring was that it is in three parts and he views the outer bands as representing the two of us but the center (the engagement ring) represents God who should be at the center of our relationship and who brought us together. He said as he heard Msgr. Jerry speak about the Trinity during the homily, he was reminded that he hadn't told me the story of why he picked the three part ring. Now, three years later, when I slide that ring on my finger it is a daily reminder to keep God at the center of everything and to call on Him.

Another reason I was reminded of our wedding is because we were able to enjoy Kim's singing throughout mass. The last time we heard her doing this was three years ago at St. Joseph in York when she sang during our wedding mass. There is something so comforting and soothing about her voice! I am so thankful we just happened to meet at a conference back in 2011! The song she sang during the offertory is a popular one, "Who Am I?" Listening to it tonight, coupled with the readings and homily (and recent student evaluations I received), helped me to reflect on who I am and where I can improve both personally and professionally. Father shared a three part prayer toward the end of the homily that may speak to others the way it spoke to me :

1. Think of the best thing that happened today. Thank God for it.
2.  Where did I fail today? Ask God for forgiveness.
3.  Think of tomorrow. Ask the Holy Spirit to assist you.

So thankful for the music ministry of Kim that strengthens my prayer life (check out Charlotte's smile in the picture... She has been listening to Kim since before she was born... Lol!), the chance to worship at a church and seek the Holy Spirit by the sea on this beautiful last night at the beach, the healing and redemption that comes from Jesus, and a God who chose to love us, His children, flaws and all!

So thankful for Kim and her musical gifts she shares with the world! 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Secondary Infertility certainly does not feel like it is secondary to anything

This week is Infertility Awareness Week.

Considering this is something I face every day, and have since the night of March 7, 2016, I don't particularly want to dwell on this fact.

I don't feel the need for seven days of even more reminders of this. It is already hard enough being on social media and living in a town where large beautiful families abound where daily reminders of others being able to live out one of your lifelong dreams occur. New babies are born on a weekly or monthly occurrence around these parts. At any given point in time, a meal train is in the process for an expanding family and park outings are planned given the warm spring like weather that has finally arrived.

For me...secondary infertility is when seeing your friends and families with their babies makes you both incredibly happy and incredibly sad at the same time. It is sitting at mass week after week, watching the other growing families and adorable children interact with one another while Adam and I tend to Charlotte. It's seeing other moms who were pregnant at the same time as you were having second and third babies since that time. It's sitting there with arms folded over your empty womb. Being at mass is one of the hardest places for me. I am usually able to hold it together up until Communion. For some reason, the hardest part of the mass is after Communion as I watch the families file back to their seats. In those moments, I try to turn the prayers of sadness and consolation into prayers of thanksgiving and praise but it's oh so hard.

Secondary infertility is when you see or hear another pregnancy announcement and the jealousy and comparison makes you feel like less of a mother.

It is when people ask, "Is she your first?" and "When will you have another?", and you just have to politely nod or change the subject because you just don't want to get into the story or explain that it is not a physical possibility any more.

It's looking over at your husband and wondering if he would be happier with a woman who can give him more children. It's knowing your fears are completely unfounded as he tells you for the thousandth time that he has all he needs in you and your daughter.

It is when you are grateful that you at least know the reason why when so many others struggle with knowing why they are unable to conceive but also wishing that you could still get a period each month because just maybe, maybe it could have happened again.

It's knowing there are others who have no Charlottes to hold and feeling extremely grateful for the one miracle baby you do have.

Secondary infertility is when close friends fear telling you they are expecting again for fear of upsetting you.

It is you feeling so guilty and ashamed for feeling the way you do when your daughter is more than what you deserve. It's you not wanting to stand in the grief, anger, and other feelings because you want to be present and only happy for what you do have. It's wondering if these feelings will ever go away and if you could just experience the joys of parenting without the sad feelings. It's recognizing the beauty in feeling all the feelings and trying to brace yourself for feeling these emotions during each milestone of children's development. It's accepting a small part of you is dying as your baby gets further and further away from newborn stage and progresses through toddlerhood knowing this is the only time this part of parenting will be experienced...for the first and the last time.

It is wondering what you will say when Charlotte is old enough to ask for siblings and wondering how the story can be shared in a loving way without blame.

It's getting lost in the "what ifs" in thinking of how many kiddos there might have been given that Charlotte was a honeymoon baby and getting pregnant with her was so easy. Then it's thinking how presumptuous of you to think that having others would have been so simple given how no one knows how things would have gone. Secondary infertility is also a bit of relief in learning that you didn't know how serious things were or how badly they could have gone in the moment during the actual pregnancy and delivery because that experience of carrying the little angel for 40 weeks and having a natural vaginal delivery was a beautiful moment in time.

It is not going to mommy's play groups or social events because it's hard to keep a smile plastered on your face as you hear others share the trials and joys of raising the larger family you wanted to give to your husband and (first) child. It is retreating into self and hoping that you're "enough" for those who love you.

It is constantly asking God why and only hearing silence in return.

It is fighting all the fears & doubts and trying to keep from drowning in them...every single day. It is keeping busy and taking on way more than can be handled at work to shove the feelings down and try not to face them even as they stare you in the face. It is crying your way through writing it out while the house is still quiet and asleep in the early morning hours.

Perhaps most importantly, for me, secondary infertility It is having hope & faith & trust that this is the journey meant for your family even as you desperately cling to old dreams and hopes and try to redream. It is trying to accept being the mother you were made into rather than who you thought you would be even as you cry yourself to sleep again. It's being thankful for those who have stood in the gap with us the last two years and keeping all those who struggle with any form of infertility close to my heart not just this week but every day.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Shielding the Feelings

I'm glad today was such a busy day of looking at a prospective house a dear friend is thinking of buying, playing with Charlotte, schoolwork, meetings, and trying to get things crossed off the to-do list.  It kept me off social media for the better part of today.  
Then I logged in just before bedtime and was reminded today is "National Sibling Day".  A post I had made six years ago of my three brothers, two sisters-in-law, and me surfaced as a memory in my newsfeed.  Seeing these pictures and thinking of my siblings (by blood and marriage) made me smile.  

Then the sadness and longing for things to be different started rolling in....yet again.  What will Charlotte feel on these kinds of days as she gets older?  Will she yearn for a sister as I did for so many years being the only girl in my family?  Will she look around and see her friends in their houses filled to the brim with noise and toys and kiddos and wonder why her house is quieter and smaller?  Will she compare her life to the lives of others and wish she had a little bit of what they have?  Or will she look outward then reflect on all that she has under this roof?  Her triangle family of three and her pups...will we complete her world and bring her joy?  I sure hope so!  Will she look around and see and feel the love that surrounds her?  Will she know how much she is adored by her mom, dad, and others in her life?  Will she be grateful that she can have our undivided attention and not have to share it with other children?  Will she have a humble and servant heart and be kind to others in spite of not having the built in opportunities to practice sharing and other virtues with siblings?  Will she be resourceful and creative and imaginative as one of my adult friends who is an only says she was as a small child?  Will she not want for siblings and be super close to us, her parents, as another adult friend who is an only child told me was the case for her shortly after Charlotte was born?  

I often go back to the conversations Lisa and Becky had with me when I was first mourning the loss of the big family dreams I had had for Adam and me and for who I thought was going to be the "leader of the pack".  Throughout our pregnancy we believed it would be the first of many.  Even though we don't talk as frequently these days because, well, life. is. so. beyond. crazy. busy. atthemoment. I still think of these two friends' kind words as they brought me comfort in thinking maybe it won't be such a bad world for our little girl to grow up as the center of ours.  I read recently that a mom said she finds she acts as the role of mom and sister to her one and only daughter and her husband acts as both a father and a brother to her.  I find this an interesting concept and wonder if Charlotte's relationship with us will take on some of those characteristics as well.  Obviously parenting will be first but I hope that she will also form bonds with us in other ways as she grows.

As I was about to sign off social media tonight, I saw this beautifully written post (see below) in one of the support groups I belong to online.  It was a beautiful reminder to not project as I fearfully wonder if I'm doing and to stay in the present and let Charlotte Annie have her own experience!!  Adam, her pups, and I are her whole world right now and hopefully it will be enough....along with tons of family time with our siblings and their children, play dates, and a whole lot of God.
Her shirt seems to capture the sentiments behind this posting perfectly tonight.  Yet again, she is looking upward...this little girl has a knack for helping me to look up and to stay in the light!  Praise God for her.

This is the post I referenced in the last paragraph:  This might be a long post, but I hope it's helpful- I sometimes read the posts here of all the sad parents that are unable to give their kid a sibling and the greatest advice I think I can give any parent is to not feel sorry for their child for any reason - kids sense it and end up growing up feeling sorry for themselves as if they have missed out. If you raise your child reminding them this was not the upbringing what you had hoped or imagined, they will feel like they are missing out. 
Focus on the positive and keep your personal lamenting to yourself - at least while they are still children.
I'll give you an example - my life:
I grew up in a small apartment of immigrant parents - like ALL of my friends. By the time I was in high school I saw all of my friend's families move into houses. We didn't. We stayed in our apartment (my parents and me and my brother). I would tell my mom how much fun it must be to have a big house and a yard, and she would agree cheerfully but always added how cozy our apartment is.. How much we loved our neighbors ... How convenient it is to have a super...
I would ask if she thought if we would ever move and she'd say Maybe. But the conversations would always go into the positives - casually. She was happy with our family. She loved our cozy apartment. She wasn't unhappy, so we weren't.
It wasn't until I was an adult that my mother expressed how difficult it was to watch our friends move to big houses with yards- that's what my parents always wanted for us, but could never give us. I told my mother, that I would have never guessed that she harbored any sadness about the life they gave us.
I told my mother that I never needed it. A big house with a yard... That happy parents who taught me to look at the bright side and find beauty in life has served me much more.
Please don't think I'm making any assumptions about anyone here. I just always admired my mother for this when I grew up and realized that she shielded me from her personal sadness when I was a kid.
The adult onlies that I've met, I've noticed that the sad ones who wished for a sibling are the ones whose parents apologized to them for not giving them a sibling. I say, there is no need for that - while they are kids focus on the loveliness of your family. Focus on the positive. One day when they are adult, they will appreciate the sadness you felt for them.

Soooo...anyone have any tips on how I can shield Charlotte from this at times all consuming sadness?  Please keep the prayers a comin' and be assured of mine for you.  Pax!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Charlotte Ann is two!!

Charlotte Annie turns two today! 

People always say that it will be hard to remember life before a child enters it and I understand that statement now.  The last two years have flown by and I sit here in awe that we now have a toddler.  Just two short years ago we had yet to lay eyes on our child.  Now, I cannot imagine a day in which I don’t get to see our girl.  With her birth, I’ve experienced some of the happiest moments and also some of the saddest in life.  I wouldn’t trade any of it though.  Seeing Charlotte’s scrunched up nose or watching her wiggle her eyebrows to evoke a smile takes the edge off the deepest despairing thoughts that accompany the joy. 

Watching Charlotte learn something new (every day it seems!), interact with others, and love on her pups has brought so much joy.  There are days I wish I could keep her enclosed in my arms forever to spare her from being hurt or saddened by life.  Yet other days I’m so proud of her as she makes new friends or experiments with a toy without our assistance.  She is definitely a people (and animal) lover!!

Becoming Charlotte’s mom has taught me to love in a different way and has challenged and stretched me in so many ways.  Hopefully it has made me a better person, wife, friend, and teacher but I know I’m not the same.  Unfortunately, it has also added more layers of profound despair, disappointment, and anger but I’m working on that and I know it absolutely has nothing to do with Charlotte but with how I’m handling life’s curveballs.  It’s amazing how God gives us the chances to grow in virtue even when we think we don’t need any more lessons and are ready for the next chapter. 
I hope Charlotte always keeps her loving gentle nature with her pups, her goofy personality when she gets silly happy (usually right before bedtime), and continues to express herself as she gets older.  She definitely knows how to express her needs as her voice rises to a near crescendo if you don’t look at her according to her wished timeline (“Mama!     Mamaaaaa!     MAMA!!!!!”)

She loves to bring her toys one by one to us and line them up.  However, she loves getting in to my school bag of highlighters (thank you color coding) and pens even more.  The walls in every single room in our house can attest to that.  We have a budding Picasso on our hands you know.  There are so many things I love about our two year old but one of the things I love the most is how no matter where we are or what we are doing, when she clasps your hand as you walk down the street, hallway, around the living room, she giggles with glee and looks up with such glee in her eyes.  I hope she never loses her joy.

She cracks us up by excitedly saying “bye bye” and blowing kisses as soon as she thinks we or someone else may be leaving a place.  She doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to those kinds of transitions or rituals.  She excitedly says, “Byebye!” when she sees cars or trucks go by sometimes spending 20 minutes at a time staring out the living room bay window and calling out, “Byebye!” to the cars that drive up and down our street.

She enjoys spinning around in circles, dancing, climbing, pouring milk all over the carpet and coffee table, and running out on the back porch at all hours of the day and night when the pups are being put outside regardless of wearing shoes or not.

Oh, and smoothies!  She loves to drink smoothies and has called coffee, a cup of milk, and milkshakes smoothies.  She gets ecstatic when she sees a smoothie being poured into her sippy cup.  She loves coming to school and giving fist bumps and high fives to the college students often requiring everyone who crosses her path to do one or both actions. 

When she sleeps, she puts her left arm up by her head and nestles her nose into her armpit, again seeming like she is sniffing her armpit as she did when she was itty bitty little.  This is a quirk that makes her unique and all the more loveable but I’m a bit biased.

Lately, when brushing her teeth, she has fits of giggles and laughter.  I suppose the toothbrush tickles?  I love how we snuggle at night time before bed and she leans in the crook of my arm or throws herself across my stomach.  Then when she peers up and smiles, I about melt.  When she says her name, it sounds like, "LaLette", and she shows some of her spunkiness when she purposely calls me Daddy and her Dad Mommy.  She does it with a little smirk and shake of her head as she tries to get a reaction out of us in using the wrong name for each of us.  She'll point to her Dad, then me, then herself, and loves to switch up the names.  She also has a toy lamp from her dollhouse that she loves to carry around the house and "sing" into as if it were a microphone.  "Lalala!" is one of her favorite songs.  She also likes to point out that I wear "glasses" but is unable to say the "gl" sound just yet so she innocently says her word for glasses while Adam and I try not to laugh.

She is fuuuuull of personality.  She definitely lets us know when she is not happy with something or someone.  She has a mind of her own.  She grabs (and breaks) glasses with no warning.  She fights bedtime and naps.  She completely undoes a whole house being cleaned in minutes.  She leaves her mark on my students’ midterm exams (thanks to the red pen she gravitates toward).  She creates so much noise that Adam can hear her through his headphones when trying to listen to an online lecture for one of his classes.  She is a ball of energy who loves to zip around the house with her car, stroller, and even her high chair until it got stuck in the doorframe.

Most of all though….she is the best gift.  One I’m so not worthy of but am so so so grateful for and will spend the rest of my days working to ensure she knows just how loved and wanted she is.  She is the primary occupier and receiver of my prayers and has impacted me so much in her short two years.  Just when I think my heart couldn’t expand any more I find myself loving her more and more each day.  I’m so thankful God saw it fit to have me be her mom and to meet this little miracle face to face that Monday afternoon two years ago!

She is currently 31.5” and 22.5 lbs. but takes up every square inch of our hearts!  Happy 2nd Birthday Charlotte Annie!!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Loving Enough to Leave

My parents have raised us four children to leave.  I don't mean that in a bad way.  I think it's pretty safe to say that I can speak for my three brothers when I say we had it pretty good growing up with my parents.  What I mean is...that part of parenting us has meant for my Mom and Dad that they have  had to get pretty good at saying goodbye.  I'm thinking specifically about when one of us left home for the first time.  In the mid 90s, my big brother, Brian, went away to college and was the first to leave our family of six.  I remember how strange it seemed to make the familiar long drive across the state on the turnpike from Pittsburgh to northeastern PA, about a five hour drive from University of Pittsburgh to our home in northeastern Pennsylvania as a family of five rather than six.  How odd it must have felt for my parents to be sitting at the front of the van with only three kids in tow rather than the usual four.  I never stopped to consider it until now but it must have felt like a hole in their hearts that took the form of my tall lanky determined to move south someday Nascar loving brother.  We had a ball moving him in to his dorm in one of the towers at Pitt earlier that day but then reality set in as night fell and with each mile that separated us on the highway as we drove home and my brother began his life at college away from the only family life we had ever known.

Then, my twin and I followed in Brian's footsteps two short years later when we both left at the same time for two different colleges.  My parents had to love us enough to let us leave and do two at the same time!  This made for three children being away at school at the same time.  Not only did that take a toll financially but it must have emotionally as well.  Patrick, my little brother, was not too far behind us joining the ranks of college student in the early 2000s.  Yes, at one point, my parents had four grown children in college all at the same time with the closest one being 1.5 hours from home.  I can't fathom Charlotte Annie being away from Adam and me and the thought of the silence and stillness from her absence that we will someday experience makes my heart want to break.  I can't imagine how that would feel times that by four as my parents must have experienced!  I have a whole new appreciation for the loving my parents gave us and the heartache that accompanies parenting four at once as I look at our upbringing with a new set of eyes today.

A couple years after college, my parents had to love us all enough to leave my twin on the other side of the state as they visited him in western Pennsylvania where he was enrolled in the state police trooper academy at the time.  Mark's time in the police academy was tough and it was probably hard on my parents to think of his facing these trials so far from home.  At the same time, we would make trips down south to visit Brian in his new home state of North Carolina and see Patrick in his new home in Delaware which was about three or so hours from home.  I became the child who lived the closest to my parents with living in central PA.  However, we were and are all happy with where we are so that probably eases some of the sadness my parents might feel over having their children spread out so far.

Mom and Dad have been such terrific examples of raising confident strong children who are not afraid to chase their dreams and work hard for them yet know they can come home when needed.  They loved us enough to let us branch out and try new things even if it meant stumbling and falling.  They provide us with the encouragement and wisdom to get through rough patches and while I'm sure they would probably rather we all live a stone's throw from home, they are hopefully proud of how we have turned out so far and where we are in each of our respective lives.

I also think of Adam's parents and family and am so grateful to them for loving Adam enough to let him leave (for now).  He picked up and moved three time zones away to start our lives together as a new family.  Only by the grace of God, and support of our families, are we able to have the courage to face each new day as we chase our dreams and seek to serve through our God-given abilities.

In a few days, my parents are going to have to face probably one of the most difficult goodbyes yet.  They, along with my big brother, are going to drive to Delaware to pick up my little brother.  Then they will make their way down to Georgia where they will drop Patrick off at the top of a mountain. They will have to hug him, smile through the tears, and wave goodbye as he sets out on the biggest adventure of his life.  They will need to let him walk off into the unknown literally and figuratively.  They will return to their vehicle, probably with a mix of excitement and nerves, with that one empty spot in it, much like when we returned home the first time we had to live as a family of five rather than our customary six when we left Brian in Pittsburgh back in August 1996.  Patrick will be out on the trail until August or September - - six long months from now.  My parents will make the trek north by car as they drive from Georgia to Ohio just in time for little Charlotte Annie's 2nd birthday party.  I'm glad that they will have something joyous and celebratory to look forward to as they try not to focus on the temporary physical absence of my little brother in their hearts.  I hope some day I'm able to love enough to let Charlotte leave and make her own mark on this world following my parents' and my in-laws' example. 

I also can't help but think of how much the Lord loves us when I think of my parents and the kind of parent I hope to be to Charlotte.  We are each the Lord's children yet some of us don't make time for Him in our lives.  How it must pain him to be separated from so many of his beloved children yet He is always at the ready for when we seek Him.  What a mighty and loving Father to accept us flaws and all!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

These boots were made for walkin'....

Here is an update on my little brother's upcoming hike!  His work newsletter wrote up this interview they conducted with him.  The start of his time on the Appalachian Trail is so near now!!  Prayers are appreciated!

Missing you already!!  

First, thank you for finding my page. As you might know, beginning in March of 2018, I plan to attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT)- five to six months, 14 states, 2,189 miles, from Georgia to Maine. While that task seems incredibly daunting, it does not begin to compare to the journey faced by thousands of severely wounded veterans upon returning home.
In January of 2017, when I began planning for next March (now 20 days away), I decided to connect this hike with an effort to raise a substantial donation for an organization I've been following for about five years whose mission is to help the veterans I just mentioned. This non-profit organization provides all-terrain wheelchairs to veterans who have sustained major nerve damage, amputations, and paralyzation, in an effort to restore their independence to pursue activities they enjoyed prior to their injury (hiking, hunting, fishing, even golf and automobile repair). They also provide medical, emotional, and physical treatments/therapies to these veterans and their caregivers.

I'm happy to report that in the past six months, I've secured $2,586 (now, $6,014) in donations, but I hope, with your help, we can do even more.
I have set a goal for this page that seems appropriately out of reach. The goal is equal to that of $1 per mile of the AT. This is NOT a request to fund or sponsor my trip in any way, as 100% of the money raised will be added to the previous donation total. If you are in a position to help, in any amount, I hope you'll consider doing so. I also invite anyone interested to follow along on this journey with me. I'll have more information in the future about how to do that, but for now, please accept my gratitude for your consideration in helping me with this project!

 1) Tell me about your upcoming journey - where are you going, how long will it take...
The Appalachian Trail (AT) is a footpath that starts on Springer Mountain in Georgia - about 75 miles north of Atlanta - and ends atop Mount Katahdin in Maine.  The first section was designated in 1923, and it was completed in 1937.  The trail is 2,190 miles long and generally takes about 6-7 months to complete.

I will leave Delaware on March 5 and begin the drive to Georgia.  On March 7 or 8, I will start from the top of Springer Mountain, two hours north of Atlanta ,Georgia and start hiking north toward Maine.  There are shelters along the way, and they are generally spaced 10-20 miles apart.  The shelters are typically built like a three-walled log cabin that includes a roof - and often, any small animals you would expect to see running through the woods.  Everything that I will need, I will have to carry in my pack.  That means my tent, sleeping bag, clothes, a battery source, electronics, water and water filtration, food and a small propane stove on which to cook it.  Everything.  Depending on weather and the time of year, shelters may fill up before I arrive for the night.  In general, there is room for 10-15 people to sleep in the shelters, but there are spots around the shelters to pitch a tent.  My tent is a two person tent, which really means it's a one person + room-to-store-your-gear tent.

There will be times when the trail crosses paths with small towns.  In those cases, I will head into town for some good cooking, a laundromat, and possibly a room at a hotel, motel, or hiker hostel.  Those towns will also be important when I need to recharge my batteries (figuratively and otherwise), dry everything out, warm up, and just relax for a day.  For clothing, I will have the clothes I'm hiking in and one or two changes in my pack.  After a few days, all the hikers will stink the same, so I don't expect it to be an issue.  I will have a set of clothes that will remain dry at all times, and they will be my camp/sleep clothes.  If it means hiking in cold wet clothes for a while, so be it, because it's too important to be dry at night when it will probably be cooler, and I won't be out moving.  

The shoes I'll start with are called trail runners.  They're like sneakers on steroids.  They have good traction to hopefully keep me upright along with my trekking poles, and they're made of a thinner material that dries quickly and lets my feet breathe.  Shoes on the trail are expected to last about 500 miles.  That means over the course of a thru hike, hikers will need to buy 3-4 pairs of shoes.  For the rough weather, I'll have a lightweight rain jacket and a down jacket that pack into their own pockets to save room.  I'll have a thermal base layer, beanie, and gloves.  As the weather changes, the clothing I need will change.  When that time comes, I will exchange what I no longer need with what I will need by mail from wherever I happen to be at that point.    

Weight and how much space things take up are major factors when planning a long hike.  It's crazy how you really have to think about every single ounce when accumulating the right gear for a hike like this.  My pack is currently just under 20 pounds which I'm really happy about.  The first time I thought I was done preparing, it was just over 25 pounds.  The fact that I found ways to shave off 5 pounds should make a huge difference in the long run.  I wish it was that easy to drop other pounds in real life.    

Without really knowing how much I'll be able to do, my tentative goal is to cover about 15 miles per day - or about the distance covered in one nursing shift.  For real though, the daily distance will fluctuate based on elevation changes, weather, and the terrain.  But, if I am able to keep the average around 15 miles per day, a full hike would take around 5 months - less than the expected 6 or 7 months most budget for.    

2) What inspired this trip?
I grew up in Pennsylvania, and the trail crossed a road not too far from home, about 30 miles away.  When I would be in the car and see hikers near the road, knowing what they were attempting, I used to think they were insane.  Years later, I began wondering what it would be like to try it myself.  I started planning out logistics at the end of 2016.  I decided to make the leap and see if I could actually be part of the 1 out of 5 people who actually complete the AT.  

One thing that really struck me was how easy it actually was to decide to try.  The task itself will obviously be much, much more difficult and complicated, but the decision to try was simple.  It was eye-opening to me because I thought about people who are not able to "just decide" to do things anymore- specifically, veterans who came home with severe injuries like amputations, paralysis, and nerve damage.  It was that realization that remains a major inspiration for this trip.  I knew of an organization that does some amazing work to help restore independence to those veterans in an attempt to allow them to "just decide" to try things again.  When I began to really plan for this trip, I connected my efforts to raising awareness and funds to help those veterans.  I expect to draw some real inspiration from this group while I'm away, especially on difficult days.  If someone came home from war unable to perform normal daily functions on their own but still finds ways to persevere, what excuse could I possibly have for not getting up and hiking north for one more day?    

3) How can people keep up with your progress?
I will be carrying my cellphone, an mp3 player (which has fm radio for local news and weather), a GoPro, a headlamp, and a battery charger.  The charger will get charged in towns and then be used to charge everything else I'm carrying while I'm hiking for a few days at a time.  Solar chargers are said to not be the best option because at a certain point, the trees have their leaves back and form a canopy, giving the trail its nickname of the Green Tunnel.  

I plan to take as many pictures and videos as possible.  I know not everyone gets the chance to hike the AT, so I'd like to share what I see with anyone who is interested.  It will also give me the chance to look back on everything afterwards and relive it again- this time from the comfort of home.  I'll be posting to social media when I have a signal, mostly under the Instagram account of @patontheat

Anyone who wants to is welcome to join and follow along.  There is a link in the profile of that account that will allow those interested to read more about the hike and the project I've been working on that aims to help injured veterans and their caregivers.  

4) What's your plan for when you're done?
When I finish, I will take a much needed nap and a long shower.  I also hope to head to North Carolina to present the donations that were gathered for the non-profit organization in Charlotte.  After that, I will begin the adjustment back to normal life which will include returning to my position as one of the Medication Reconciliation pharmacists at Kent General.  Pharmacy leadership and Bayhealth has been phenomenal in working with me as I planned out this journey.  Everyone has been super supportive.  Co-workers have been sharing stories they've heard, tips they've come across, magazine articles, even bringing in a bear safety information poster in order to keep me from "becoming a statistic".  I'll miss the pharmacy crew, but it's nice to know that I'll be welcomed back, hopefully with some cool stories.