Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Good stuff and open roads for dreamin'.

Our family just marked another year gone by since the tragedy that claimed Teagan's life and altered us forever occurred. It has been 12 years now. I think one of the things that stood out most to me this year is just how much Teagan will always be a part of our life story~ no matter how much time goes on. The memories of that day are so vivid and clear to me, and I doubt they will ever fully fade. There was so much trauma and weeks of hospital and intense concern surrounding all of our injuries and recovery, that I am sure would take a lifetime to forget. I do know that it sometimes still feels like it all happened yesterday, and the ache of the reality that Teagan is truly gone doesn't ever diminish. The hole she left in our hearts and lives is still the same size as it was the day she was taken off of life support. We have done lots of living between then and now, but who she was and how she changed our lives for the better from the moment she was born will never change.
And for that, I am grateful, and I will always thank God for sending such a vibrant, sweet, beautiful girl into our lives.
I am glad that we didn't get stuck in that place of grief and sorrow that threatens to consume and overwhelm one's life in the days and weeks following death. There was so much pain and darkness in that pit of sorrow. I was so angry to be in it at times, knowing how amazing and pleasurable life had been before being thrown into this place unannounced. I was angry that life for our family was being defined by such an ugly event, and I was angry that our joy had been ripped from our hands without giving us a choice or chance to do anything about it. That was a hard place to be, for sure. All I wanted was out of there, and yet as our injuries and Wyndham's challenges became our new way of life, I realized we would never fully 'escape' the pain and grief.
Chip and I struggled with how to move forward through those early days. I spent many of them weeping and struggling to even catch my breath through my sobs, as my physical pain hurt and my broken heart hurt and life seemed only dark and daunting. I didn't believe we would ever be 'whole' again. I didn't believe there would ever come a day when we wouldn't feel sadness. I felt like all of life was tainted and the only thing I wanted back was a small taste of joy.
I didn't know how that could happen though, because our whole world was pain- from the  nightmares I woke up from in the night, to Brock's post traumatic stress syndrome, to Wyndham's injuries and meds and Chip's broken was all so painful. We didn't even come home from the hospital for 3 weeks. It felt like an eternity. It felt like our nightmare would never end.
In our sorrows and grief and heartache and pain, Chip and I knew we wanted something more. We wanted to be able to live again! We wanted days filled with laughter and fun and happiness. We were living in darkness and we wanted so much to believe that there was Joy for the taking somewhere in the world again. We made a vow to fight for that together. We cried together for what we had lost and for what our "new normal" looked like now. I knew I needed Chip to be by my side- but fully understood how marriages fall apart in those dark valleys of life. I am glad that as hard as some of the days and months and years have been, that after 12 years of hardship, we are still together. We have had ups. We have had lots of downs.
We have had miracles happen.
We have loved deeper and more easily.
We have looked for ways to make new happy memories.
We have fought for joy and laughter.
We have been blessed beyond measure.
We still miss Teagan everyday.
We still lean on God as our source of strength, comfort and Joy.
He is our Rock, our healer and the One who has held us together and carried us through it all.

Our family has grown in number and there have been days that have overflowed with joy and happiness in our life in the past 12 years. I never could have imagined ordinary days being able to be full of happiness again. But we have lived them, so I know they exist. The journey of grief is long and hard and I don't wish it on anybody. My heart goes out to everyone touched by loss of a loved one. Something as simple as going to Despicable Me 2 can be a simple pleasure. Having a healthy family and opportunities to watch my kids grow and learn and to make memories together as a family are the very things that make life so worthwhile. Seeing beauty in the smallest things shows just how merciful, gracious and loving God is. That He cares about all the details of our lives is amazing. It's humbling. That He would reach down and enter into our hurts and cry with us and guide us out of the valley of darkness and death into the fullness of life again is the miracle in our lives everyday.
I sometimes get lost in the place of pity and heartache much more easily than I ever did before our tragedy. I am so thankful that God doesn't allow me to sit and wallow forever.
I am so glad that He put in me- in Chip- the desire to want to live a life of joy again. Even in simple things like baking homemade chocolate chip cookies and dreaming of what lies ahead in life. I am glad that little things- like piles of laundry and noisy kids- are sometimes my biggest reminders of what I love and care most about- the special people in my life are my greatest blessings. The Hope of heaven keeps me going.
If someone had said I would have 6 kids, and be on a scrap team and blog and smile when I use a pink vacuum, and riding carts at Target would all be a part of my life at this time in 2001, I never would have believed it. But I am so glad that they way I imagined life playing out versus the reality of how it actually does look are so vastly different, that I hardly recognize the 'old life' anymore. I am holding on to the good memories as tight as I can. But I am ever grateful that my heart and hands were opened to embrace what God has placed back into our lives. It's pretty great, and I am so blessed to be able to say so!
In case you happen to like the scrap goodies you see in the pages I made here as much as I love them, you can get them for yourself starting tomorrow at Cocoa It is a truly wonderful thing to me, to be able to use my hands and create something- just for the fun and joy of it. I never thought that would happen in my life ever again. And now I do it every single month! And lots of times in between too! God is a God of miracles. I take one look at my life as it is now and I know that it is true.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

I don't travel much, but I love this 80 Days kit!

Here are a few sneak peeks of Cocoa Daisy's August kit called, "80 Days". I am serious when I say I absolutely love everything in it and about it! It is travel-themed in regards to the papers, stamps and embellishments, but I am telling you that there is so much versatility in everything that I want to scrap it for so many topics! I managed to even put a cute Minion on a page this month. That's how fun and lovable this kit is! =)
I wore makeup and hung out scrapping one day too, because honestly I let myself go far too many days in a row in the summer. well, um, I do that in the fall, spring and winter too. But anyway, I took two minutes to actually put a bit of makeup on and I hit my scrap room feeling on top of things. Which is my favorite way to scrap! Clean house? Check. Dinner easy or ready to go? Check. Kids minding business and happy? Check.
Commence scrapping.
That's how I roll. =) So I now have a couple of pages I love and another Day in the Life page to add to my growing album too. Tomorrow night is the full reveal and you are going to want to get your hands on this one. You have my word on it! That's your link to scrap happiness this coming month. Hooray!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Kindness is a wonderful lesson to teach.

My boys aren't naturally kind. Not to me. Not to their dad. Not to their siblings. Sometimes not even to themselves. These guys look so cute and innocent. Some days they wake up all snuggly and sweet and within seconds their moods change and it is all down-hill from there. To be fair, my other kids aren't naturally kind all the time either, but they are several years older, wiser and mellower when it comes to being nice. Being kind to others is something we are all working on every day at my house. It is like a never-ending life lesson, that sadly, as we see and hear in the news, isn't necessarily taught or lived out in our world around us as often as it should and could be. On any given day we all have opportunities to be kind or to respond in kind ways. Even if we don't feel like it, or of we have to create those opportunities up all on our own.
These two little guys, Teague and Crew, are at that age {2 and 4} where they are still growing and learning and soaking in way more than we think they are at times. Today they got a lesson in kindness and hopefully it is just one of many that they see and soak in and hopefully put into practice all their own in the years to come.
This little lesson in kindness started back a couple of weeks ago when Chip and I took a quick walk one night. We waved to a neighbor out in his front yard and Chip nodded to him and offered a word of sympathy in the recent death of his wife. He walked over toward us and shared a thank-you to us for acknowledging his sorrow and recent unexpected grief. He went on to tell us how hard it was to live alone now, as the two of them had shared many years of marriage and had their daily routines down- which added to the obvious void in his 'new' daily life. I extended my condolences as well, and asked if he likes home-baked goods as I do lots of baking in the summer. He smiled and said, 'yes, my wife made a wonderful banana bread and she put pineapple in hers". That simple statement was immediately tucked into my notes in my head and at one of my trips to the grocery store last week I intentionally stopped by the canned pineapple aisle and picked one up knowing it might be just the tiny unexpected bit of kindness that our neighbor man might need in his time of grief.
We have walked and ridden bike by his home several more times in the past few days, and we have exchanged waves, but that has been it. With the anniversary of our own tragedy just days from now, my heart is always more heightened to the beauty of everyday, ordinary life...but with that reality of how precious these very days are. So with all of that in my heart and mind, I browsed Pinterest and looked up some of "the best banana-pineapple bread" recipes until I felt confident I had one that was a 'sure thing'. Next, I pulled out some very ripe bananas and that can of pineapple I had bought for just the right bread and I got to baking. Here is the recipe I used- minus the coconut since someone ate the rest of it in the bag I thought I still had left. It was delicious anyway.
I told the kids the story. I told them how our neighbor misses his wife every day. I told them how it is so easy to be kind, but sometimes you have to listen closely to find out ways you can show your kindness and that sometimes just doing something at all is still a nice thing to do. I told them how I had bought pineapple and tried a new recipe just because it would show how much we listened and cared that much more. They tried out the muffin version of the bread, and a couple of my kids declared it "the best bread ever".
Our next task was to deliver the bread to our neighbor. The kids were all so excited to be a part of "showing kindness". They nearly fought over who would get to carry the bread. In the end, I carried the bread and they rode bikes, trikes and scooters. =) We walked down to the end of the block- the bread was still warm. But unfortunately our neighbor wasn't home at the time. So we brought the bread back and wrapped it up and the kids went on 'look-out' a few times until they spotted his garage door up and they excitement started all over again. 'Mom, he's home now!"
They were so anxious to deliver the little loaf of bread. This time he answered the door and even gave hugs to us for being so thoughtful. I told him how I had to look up a recipe and that I was sure it wasn't even close to how good a bread his wife used to make, but that we had been inspired by her and were happy to try a new recipe. He had that look in his eyes that I know from my own experience. That look where outside you are beaming, but inside it is a ball of emotions because the tug at your heart from the memory and missing of your loved one is so strong. I was happy to be able to tug at that heartstring, because honestly, anyone who is a friend of grief knows how special it is to be reminded at any time in life just how special their loved one still is.
I am a lousy mom far too many times in life. I am not a teacher by nature. I am not all that patient; I am still learning lessons that I feel unqualified to pass on too! But, I can tell you that teaching a lesson in kindness is a win-win-win for everyone involved. I was blessed by being a blessing. Watching my kids get excited to share and be kind and thoughtful renewed my belief in the goodness of little hearts. They DO want to love and be loved and niceness isn't just something to do because it's politically correct. I was blessed in the return hug I was given out of a simple gesture of sharing a little loaf of bread. The neighbor man didn't even need to taste the bread and I could tell it had meant so much to him even so. He blessed my kids by his kind words of thanks. I hope we blessed the memory of his wife as we tried to replicate a favorite recipe.
But above all, I hope that the kindness we shared will be a lesson that my kids and I want to repeat over and over again. It is the kind of life lesson that just gets sweeter and better the more you do it. That is a lesson I hope we never forget.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Cabana Time!

I am popping back in to let you know that Cocoa Daisy's Cabana kit and extras are available for purchase right now. It is such a fun kit for scrapping summer pictures, especially. The graphics and bold colors and little details make it easy to make pages and memories look good! I especially love the new Day in the Life kit and the letterpress cards that they have been adding to the kits. You can't go wrong. Every month it is such a wonderful thing to get a box of this kind of goodness on the front doorstep! I already got a sneak peek of what is to come for next month too. So if you are thinking of getting a subscription, I am here to tell you that you are in good hands if you choose Cocoa Daisy! For sure!! Happy Summer scrapping and memory-making!

Monday, July 01, 2013

Coke Float Day. Then and Now.

It was an amazing day yesterday on many levels. Life has so many ups and downs and twists and turns. Sometimes several rollercoaster rides occur even before noon around our house! It is a tricky thing to find some sort of balance, but never more so than when it comes to grief and living with the loss of loved one, and holding onto those memories, but not letting them suck the joy out of the life you still live even though they're gone. We've been riding this coaster for years now and it is still a process of growing and learning for me. I think it always will be.
So yesterday was a special day for our family. It has been an extra special day since June 30, 2001. That was the day that Coke Float Day was set in motion. We just wouldn't know that until a year later when we made it official. Here is the story behind the original photo of Chip and Teagan. It was 11:00 at night and Teagan always stayed up late to have her Daddy time. She was a Daddy's girl through and through and a night owl too, which was a lucky thing for both of them because he worked late and long hours especially in the summertime. But she still had energy to dance and laugh and listen to Larry Lizard stories with Chip at bedtime. This night Chip came in, changed clothes and grabbed a cold can of Coke out of the refrigerator. Teagan was right on his heels. She wanted some pop too. "Please, Daddy?!" and those big blue eyes! How could a daddy who had spent his day with golfers coming in and out of the Pro Shop, say no to cute, big blues eyes like that...and a beckoning smile to go along with them? Well, the answer is that he couldn't. Not that night anyway. I was ready to crawl into bed, exhausted from home keeping and taking care of Teagan {4}, Brock {2} and Wyndham {just 6 months old} at that time. I wanted no part of Teagan drinking a sugary, caffeinated cola at that hour, I do remember that. However, not that many months earlier we had lived through the scare of our lifetime when Wyndham was just 3 weeks old and having trouble breathing and eating. I had found her turning blue and called 911- this after she had visited the ER 3 times already. Her subsequent trip by helicopter downstate to Hurley Hospital turned into a 5 day stay where the doctors had saved her life and we had been given a second chance at happiness with 3 small children again. Chip and I knew we had brushed death with Wyndham and that incident had given us a new perspective on life. Even when it was 11 o'clock and kids should be tucked into bed by that time of the night! In light of our heightened appreciation for the moments we had with our kids and how precious even the tired moments could be, we did something a little different that night.
Instead of me rolling my eyes and getting upset with Teagan for not wanting to settle in for the night or me grumbling at Chip that he should have waited to open his soda after she was in bed, I went to the cupboard and pulled out a couple of malt glasses. I pulled some vanilla ice cream from the freezer and the next thing you know happiness and delight filled the kitchen as Teagan realized she and Daddy were having a special date night and on the menu were Coke Floats! I remember her smiles and excitement so clearly. She had a way of lighting up a room and add a Coke Float and let's just say the happiness was palpable. Teagan and Daddy sat at her little table; I grabbed the camera. I had no idea that snapping a couple of photos of this simple moment in time was going to turn into anything bigger than the feeling we had of goodness and happiness at that shared moment in time. I knew I was happy that we were ending the day on a positive note. I was thankful for how we were living with intention about making the most of the time with our kids- which is why we were sipping Coke floats at such a late hour. I was glad to know that whatever I had done "wrong" that day as a mom was forgiven with such  ease as making a sweet bedtime treat. My heart was full that night knowing I had done something right and it was so well-received.
I couldn't have known that those few moments in the kitchen would turn into a memorial day for our family. I never dreamed that something as simple as a late-night Coke float would be one of the tickets our family has needed and used year after year, on which to build new happy memories and pull ourselves from the pit of sorrow that consumed us when Teagan died so suddenly exactly one month to that day later. I have written about how I was glad I didn't know what our future held for Teagan and our family back then. It most certainly would have brought dread into moments like these that we did have with Teagan in her final days on earth. We didn't know then, but we know now.
We know now that life is even more precious than we realized it was back then. We have learned that life is a gift every single day. We have learned that life with a Teagan-sized hole in our hearts can never be filled, but it can be recalled and celebrated and still enjoyed.
Anyone who has lost a loved one can tell you just how hard the first year is- every big and little thing that you miss about your loved one is magnified and the loss is felt in new ways over and over and over again until you feel you will run out of tears from all the sorrowing. The ache grows bigger and the hole feels larger as the reality takes hold and grips your heart and mind. Teagan was never coming back. She would never hug us or laugh or sing and play with us again. She would never stay up late and sleep in til noon. She was simply going to be missed. Every single day of the life we had left without her. That reality filled my heart and life with dread so many times. I have written about how I grieved her so much as I just tried to wash and fold a load of whites and her days of the week underwear were no longer in the pile to be folded. I spent hours looking through photo albums of the life we had shared with her and luckily captured on film too. The date stamped on the corner of those pictures sometimes just made my heart ache more. It was so stark in front of me that her life and come and gone and things we had loved and laughed and enjoyed with Teagan became a list of things in my heart I never wanted to do again because they would only make me miss her more and hate the reality of the life we were handed when she died.
As I flipped through the photo album and came upon pictures like Coke floats with her my heart ached. But I also had learned that hard lesson before she was gone that these kind of moments were so precious and the very things we wanted to enjoy in life! I knew in my heart that as much as my grief wanted to drown me and steal all the joy life held that I couldn't let that happen. And not because of me, but because I was still wanting to give Brock and Wyndham the life I had wanted to share with them and Teagan before she was gone. I knew that striking all the fun, happy things out of our life because they caused pain wasn't going to bring me more happiness, but instead they would bring more sorrow. More hurt.
That is how Coke Float Day was born. It didn't come from a family looking to be an inspiration to anyone. It didn't come from Chip and Jody thinking we could turn something so hurtful in our lives into a day of laughter, fun and special memories. It was born out of a sorrowing that hurt so deeply that we didn't want the pain to cut any further, so we looked for ways to make it stop. Even for moments at a time.
This year Coke Float Day was our most amazing one yet. With the ease of social media, like Face Book, it was simple for us to spread the word of our family's tradition of this day with others. Chip's golf club sent out a notice to all their pool and golf members that they could come to the club and enjoy a Coke Float in honor of Teagan's memory. I sent out an invitation to everyone of my friends on FB and gave a head's up about remembering to add soda pop and vanilla ice cream to their grocery lists. Our family spent most of the day at the club pool. We ate cheeseburgers and fries and drank our floats out of plastic cups. They were creamy and delicious. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. We were all healthy and happy. Watching other people walk up to the food service window and walk away with a Coke Float and a big smile on their face made my heart swell. Not in a prideful way at all. But in the bittersweet, humble way recognizing how God heals wounds in time and so painstakingly hard at times, but seeing the depth of our sorrow now putting joy and happiness on the faces and in the hearts of others brought me to tears. This time the tears on Coke Float Day flowed not out of pity or hurt our heartache, but out of the joy that I was glimpsing the way that God does make all things new. He has turned our sorrow to joy in even small ways. I sometimes don't see the joy or feel it long or hard enough. But I glimpsed it and tasted it yesterday. It was in the skip of a little red-haired girl in a yellow polka-dot swim suit. It was in the frothy mustache dripping down my own Teague's chin as he sipped his float. It was in the photos and notes and kind words shared by hundreds of our friends on Face Book yesterday. Each time we were tagged in some way I knew it was God letting us know that although this journey has, and continues to be long and hard, we are not alone. He is there. Friends are there. Strangers are there. Love is there. Teagan's memory lives on. Her life still brings joy to the lives and hearts of people around the world. Then and Now. My heart is blessed to know that although her days were short, her love and joy were so big that they still reach others. That is a gift that only comes from God. Teagan was and always will be our extra special gift!