June 29, 2012

A Whole New World

So it has been six months since I have updated the blog, so what? I decided long ago not to apologize for things that are trivial, and that is one of them.

Next week we will celebrate two years of having moved out of the crazy hustle and bustle of life inside the DC Beltway and heading for the center of the country. So much has changed, and I am grateful for our leap of faith and the spirit of family that has gotten us through some of the craziness.

I am now doing the work that I have always longed for, working as a Youth Director at our church. We have an incredible group of youth and adults and I am really glad that my journey has brought me here. I have learned so much about myself in the 9 or so years since I was actively in youth ministry about my faith, my priorities and myself. That is not to say that when I was a younger Youth Director that I was not good at it.

Now I am so much better organized and more open to finding ways to honor tradition while embracing the ideas that flow from the minds of young people. It's genuinely refreshing and fills me, even when the hours are long. Hell, I have even started reading books on occasion!

Abby has just turned five a few weeks ago and she is loving every minute of it. She makes plans everyday for her future - who she is going to marry and where she is going to college and all that sort of stuff. She still loves pink more than anything else. She has just finished her swim lessons for the summer, but she still refuses to put her face in the water, so she does not get to move up next time around. I agree with the teachers, that is for sure.

Abby will be going to full-time Kindergarten starting in August and is already very excited to be entering her next challenge. I have written before about Abby's preschool and how completely awesome her teachers brilliance and wisdom. we are so blessed to have had them with us in the journey of her growth. Earlier this week Karen took Abby down water slides that I was sure would never happen, but she not only went down once, but then went down over and over again.

Anny is on spring break, which was much needed. She is loving her job and the people that she works with - they are a great group of people that we have started to get to know better over the last year. She has been really supportive over the last week or two of craziness at my office. This weekend she is at Mound Ridge for a weekend of summer camp with Abby! I am hopeful they do not kill each other as the heat is brutal and they will be outside. A lot.

That's my update for now. I am hopeful to get back into this now that I have gotten into a bit of routine again. I konw the routine will change once school begins, but that's okay, I'll cross that bridge in August!

December 31, 2011

2011 Year in Pictures

Everyone else is doing it, so I guess I should too. Here is a year worth of pictures in one post...

January - First time Ice Skating! She considers herself an old pro now, but that first time was pure sugar-rush! (Pictured with Miss Karen, her teacher in life, and in ice skating!)

January (2) - Ready for dance class! I mostly posted this one for a comparison with the December shot later... She was SO little in January.

February - Snow that led into a perfectly beautiful day for a family walk. The water was literally rushing under the snow it was so warm, but we stayed on the paths and it was a great day.

March - It's not all about Abby, you know. This is a picture I got of the arch on a really nice day.

April - Easter picture! She was so happy to be so dressed up, of course!

May - the invasion began. It would last for about eight weeks, but I post this as a reminder of how bad it was...

June was back to picture-heavy... First up is the newly retired In-Laws! We had a great party at their house, and here they are once the festivities were complete:

I just really like this picture, also from the retirement party.

 July - Abby's first Summer Camp experience, complete with Mogli-Baloo river time.

July (again) - As I worry about running out of "firsts" to share with Abby, here is her first Ferris Wheel ride!

 August - Abby's first professional baseball game!

August (again) - Photobomb by the frog on the left!

August, yet again but this is big - Abby made the second-section cover of the big St Louis newspaper!

September - A great visit with my brother and his family, including niece Shannon!

October - A beautiful, pensive looking picture of Abby. We spent the better part of an hour throwing rocks into the river.

October, again - on another park trip we played near a pond for a long time. Got some fun shots, including this one.

November - VERY thin month for pictures. This is both the best that I got and the only decent one of Abby. This was during our preparation for our Thanksgiving Turkey Trot!

December - Christmas Card Photo Shoot One - best of the night but not good enough. (At the Magic House)

December (2/3) - Another day, another try for the *perfect* picture. I got it, but this one fell short. (Cards have not gone out yet, so I can not post that pic tonight - bummer!)

The final picture of 2011 is this - Celebrating the Noon New Year at the Science Center. Abby got REALLY into it with about 15 minutes to go. It was a blast.

Hoping to take better pictures next year - bummed about some of the thinness here...

Happy New Year!

December 06, 2011

Oh Christmas Door

Alternate Title: Another Year, Another Weird Idea from the Monroe's

Remember last year's Christmas "tree" from THIS post? Yeah, a tripod and some lights was just enough to wet my appetite for something more creative in our apartment at the holidays.

Again, we have many reasons to not have a tree:
Real: Expensive, Anny is allergic to pretty much any cut conifers, too.
Fake: It's fake, and takes up a lot of storage.

This year we were inspired by a Home Depot commercial, of all things. (HERE, if you have not seen it.) I had thought all year about just cutting a piece of plywood into the shape of a tree. I kept putting it off because I could not figure out a few aspects, and I'm glad that I did. We ended up thinking outside of the box once we saw that commercial, and really like what we ended up with.

We started by going to the local ReStore, the retail outlet for Habitat for Humanity. We ended up getting a folding closet door for $10 and a partially used gallon of paint for $5, which just happened to be the perfect green for Christmas! (By partially used I mean that there was maybe 1/2 cup missing out of the gallon of paint - it is incredibly full, even after finishing our project.)

Without further delay, here is what we did:

Started by taking out the slats from the closet door. Since we are in an apartment and I don't want to risk the white carpet becoming stained, I did this in the basement near our neighbors storage area:

With Abby's help, of course, I cleaned the door on both sides from top to bottom. She insisted on her spray bottle, her own washcloth and the most helpful thing for the really dirty part, the scrubber from Ikea.

Abby helped me paint, too. The proof is in the hair, right before Abby's second bath and hair washing of the day last week:

I finished up painting the rest of the door one night after she went to bed, which made it both easier and a bit less messy. I also put on the first coat of paint on the slats. Since we knew we would not be using all of them back on the door, I only painted about half. Good thing, since I broke four in the putting-back-on process (after breaking four or five during break-down) and we still have extras to spare.

I drilled pilot holes in the one of the not-painted slats to use to keep everything in order. We decided on four holes across to allow space for little ones to fit side by side, or to spread them out across the whole slat.

With the piloted hole, it made it easy for Abby to help in that part, too!

Here is the freshly painted door, before the slats:

Here it is with the slats. I was goofing off when I put the red bag on the light. (Which is to say that I like it and Anny did not, so it becomes my goofing off!) We put one into every fourth hole - made for even spacing to accommodate all sizes of ornaments:

Once we added the lights (string of 70 LED's - low power use, too!) around the edge and hung our ornaments along the slats just as we had planned! We sectioned things off, sort of. Presidential Ornaments on the top left, memory-based stuff on the top right and less-easily-broken ones on the bottom.

Like I said, we're all really happy with the door! Storage will be a snap, too. Someone at work suggested that we could leave it up year round and just hang pictures or such. We are not sure about that, but it is on the table now!

October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Alternate Title: Movember Eve

Tomorrow I start my month of mustache, or Movember. My brother is spearheading a team as part of a massive program to raise awareness about men's health issues. You can find out more about that HERE.

You can donate to my 'Stache Plan HERE.

While we are still in October I wanted to knock out a quick blog post about Halloween! For Abby we started nine days ago with tonight as the goal at the end. Here is what we did, and what she wore:

Saturday (the 22nd, that is) - Boonanza at Anny's School (Halloween skirt and shirt)
Sunday - Boo at the Zoo (Angel costume)
Wednesday - Magic House Halloween Party (Angel)
Thursday - Kirkwood Halloween Walk (Skirt/Shirt)
Saturday - just hung at home and carved pumpkins - lots of them...
Tonight - Finally Halloween - Trick-or-Treating in her Angel costume!

Our trip to the Zoo was with the cousins, which netted this cute picture of all four:


Abby and Ada went for a ride on the carousel in their costumes - uber cute! (from the Zoo)

Here is Abby in her full on Angel mode! (From The Magic House)

Here is this evening, Abby modeling the pumpkins! Mine is the new logo for my work, Abby's is just a silly face and Anny's is from a pattern. All are fun, but it's Abby's smile is what sells this one!

All in all, below is a picture of tonight's Halloween Haul brought in completely by Abby. It was doubled at the last place we stopped, one of our neighbors in the apartment complex that we have never met. She has a teenager and was trying to unload before the teen could take it all - she plopped down three handfuls of candy into Abby's bag!

From all of the other events from the week we have about the same amount already set aside in a bowl. I'm not sure what we are going to do with all of this candy, but the Daddy Tax will be coming down quickly, especially since we are short on Snickers in this stack! :)

Happy Halloween to one and all!

October 28, 2011

Fall Colors!

Alternate Title: Finally a Picture Post!

I keep wanting to get out with the camera without the focus of my shots being on people. I snagged a fun shot last weekend while pumpkin-picking, but that is one shot out of the last 30 days. Oy.

Today the weather was perfect and I had hours to burn off at work. Anny was also home from school, so we picked Abby up and headed straight for Lone Elk Park to visit the Elk, Bison, Geese, Ducks and whoever else wanted to play. I'm SO glad that we decided to go - it was a perfect trip, AND I got to have some fun with the camera. Win win.

One of the nice things about my new camera is that the panorama setting is pretty idiot-proof. It literally has a line and a plus sign on each side. Line up the plus from left to right and it takes the next shot for you. If you go too far off-kilter, it kills your attempt. Very cool feature, and helped me pull this off:


Shortly after that we ran into the big Elk Herd - one buck and a dozen or more cows (lady-elk) were hanging out down by the large pond/small lake. The buck was busy scaring the geese away from the cows, which was funny to see. I could not get a good picture of him in motion, but he's a big guy and here's proof:


Another cool thing is that on part of the park property is a Bison area. They are separated from the Elk, with good reason. I would imagine that there would be some major clashes! This was the first trip that Anny got to see the Bison, and they were really close to the car. I took this picture without much zoom, and if you look closely to the right of the Bison-Behinds you will notice another animal, very camouflaged this time of year, a whitetail deer:


Not my last picture of the day, but I think I like the finality of it:


Turns out we missed the best of the leaves around here, but I'm still really glad that we made the trip. Certainly a better way to spend the afternoon than sitting behind my desk!

October 17, 2011

A Good Visit - Kidney Update

Alternate Title: Better than a Punch in the Face!

Last month I was afraid - genuinely afraid - of what I had done to my body over the last year by going off of my kidney medicine. I had not seen a doctor in over a year, and my first trip back made me fearful that a professional would not only give me grief, but would also want to punch me in the face for such stupidity. The thing about a first-appointment, though, is that there is nothing to work with aside from height, weight and, in the case of kidney patients, swelling. I was relieved to not be punched in the face, but still nervous after the appointment at what actual lab results would show.

I will be honest that even a setback in my long term health might have been worth the year of being medication-free. Especially in a year of moving, new jobs, settling, et cetera. Not saying it was smart, but I am glad that I did it.

Today I went back to the nephrologist having done a 24 hour urine and 10 other tests three weeks ago, as well as a spot sample with only four test about a week ago. We were going to have real data to see how things are working in my system. This is what I put on Facebook:

"So, not nearly as nervous as a month ago, but headed back to the doc's office. Today should be about coming up with a plan of attack on my body. Sounds harsh, but that is the reality of living with disease."

This morning I was almost shocked at the conversation with the doctor. I began preparing myself about a week ago for steroids and all that goes with it - superhuman strength ability to sleep, gorging myself on crappy food and blaming the medicine and, of course, Moon Face that accompanies such. I also braced myself for something like the immunosuppresants that I have been taking for so many years that they were as much a part of me as my fingernails. (though they tasted much nastier – gross!)

The shock part of the appointment is that he does not want me to do any of that type of stuff right now – my levels are high but not bad for a kidney disease patient! (He actually said "High for a normal person, but really low for someone with your condition.")

My stats, since some folks care and know what they mean:
Creatinine – 1.2 (almost down to a "regular" person)
Protein – 4 grams (lowest in a long time for me)
Cholesterol – LDL is 127, total is 200 (good, not great)
Blood Pressure – 125/94 (oops – that's high!)

Yes, my blood pressure is high, which is not uncommon with people with kidney disease. Last month the doctor put me on 5 milligrams of Lisinopril, a very low dose. Due to my test results, and the desire to stay off some of the really bad drugs as long as everything else is stable, this is an opportunity to change things up. Looks like changing them up in a BIG way, too. Going from 5 milligrams once daily to 10 milligrams twice a day. Eek! This is an effort to lower blood pressure, so he warned me that I will likely feel dizzy for at least a week and to be careful with that. I think I will start by taking them at work instead of before leaving and driving around town on my way to work, just to start anyway.

My weight is also down a couple of pounds, I think. I will not publish that number here for fear that those close to me will hunt me down, but I really have been making efforts to eat better and get a lot more walking in at work than you would think! (I have done away with our mailroom and walk the mail to our co-workers on a daily basis. Our main level is about 250 cubicles and 50 or so offices, lots of walking to be done!) I think I have convinced myself to run in the local Turkey Trot which is about three miles. It's also only about a month away, so I guess I had best get started on training for that… eek!

Things are going well enough with the doctor that he ordered lab work for one month and I will not go back for a visit until December – just before my birthday actually. THAT could prove to be interesting!

Menu Monday for this Week

Alternate Title - Mmmm, food.

So yeah, it's been a crazy two weeks - I ended up going on a second retreat with church and finally caught up on enough sleep over this weekend that I am awake enough in the mornings to get a blog post or two written. Guess I'm not as young as I used to be - I remember bouncing back from a weekend retreat in like a day!

Anyway, since it has been a couple of weeks, I'm going to post our food from last week and then ours plan for this week. Anny has Parent-Teacher conferences on Tuesday and Thursday, so the plan is less creative on those days...

Last week, and how it went:
Sunday - Accidental Dinner out with friends - those are always nice.
Monday - Baked Talipia with Creamed Cauliflower, which we were supposed to have several weeks ago. Oops! Abby thought the cauliflower was potatoes, so she immediately turned her nose up. Ugh.
Tuesday - Reuben Cubans - Messed these up as we did not have any ground pork. I was bummed about the way they turned out, but they were yummy anyway.
Wednesday - Bow Tie Broccoli - basically bow tie pasta and broccoli with a pesto-type sauce. Yummy, and made for good leftovers.
Thursday - Buttermilk Baked Chicken - BEST! My boss at work forwarded a link to it after seeing it on TV. We decided that this will be our company-is-coming-over meal - really great stuff!
Friday - Food Truck Friday - 17 Food Trucks gathered in Tower Grove Park for the last time for the year. We got to try a couple of trucks we had not been to, and of course got desert from our regular Thursday place, Sarah's Cake Stop!

Now for this week:
Sunday - Steak-Um's - One of those that Abby thinks is awful until she tastes and has a revelation that it's yummy. Drives. Me. Crazy.
Monday - Meatloaf from Freezer
Tuesday - Veggie Grilled Cheese - Shredded Carrots, a little Broccoli, lots of cheese
Wednesday - Crock Pot Chicken - Old Bay this time around!
Thursday - Chicken Quesadillas (with leftovers from Wednesday)
Friday - Tuna Pockets - we have made twice with crescent rolls - going to try with Grand's Biscuits
Saturday - Muffin Tin Gorditas - new recipe, found HERE.

That's our plan - what are you having this week?

October 05, 2011

Abby's First Tent Camping!

Alternate Title: When Did We Get So Old?

(First off an apology - I did not get ANY tent pictures! When we set it up Abby was playing on the playground and I never actually saw her awake in the thing! Oy!)

Last weekend we went out to Mound Ridge for an All Church Retreat. Our first trip out there was last fall for the same event, but this is also where we went for summer camp last summer. Bottom line, Abby is VERY comfortable in this camp/retreat space, and that makes my soul happy. She knows the camp staff, and they know her. She knows the paths and how to get to the river or to the playground by herself. She knows all of the rules about fire, and how to beg for a s'more from the right people (i.e. not me) to get one without the work that most others have to do!

On Friday afternoon we took off early and picked Abby up on our way. She had been asking every day for two weeks if it was the day to go to camp, so you can only imagine her complete excitement about finally starting the journey! We got there and went to the main part of the property where lots of folks had begun to gather. Since it was still light out I let her know that we were going to go and set up our tent, then come back for dinner. (Putting the reward for participation out there in advance - go me!)

Abby stopped in her tracks - she did not want to camp in a tent anymore! After a bit of talking her down, we figured out that the tent is something new but that she really loves the cabin facilities there! We decided, and then convinced her, that we would try the tent for one night before deciding on the second night. She was happy because she expected a cabin-night, and we were happy because we wanted to get in the tent for at least one night so that she has that experience!

We drove up the hill so that we did not have to lug all of our stuff up, found a spot and pulled everything out. I scoped out the area for Black Walnuts, which are huge and lumpy for sleep. We got all of those cleared out and put up the easiest tent in the world. (As it turns out, I have a bruise to prove that we did not clear out ALL of them...)

(insert picture here, had I thought about it, which I did not.)

Fast forward to 8:30-ish and Abby and Anny head back for the tent. Abby went to sleep without a fight from what I have been told. She slept through the night, too! In the morning, though, she was quick to point out that she did her one night in the tent and we would be moving to the cabin on Saturday night. A deal is a deal, so we relented* and made that as our plan.

*Okay - so Anny and I realized at bed time that neither of us has been in a tent for camping since we went with a group of campers in July. July of 2002 that is! We both slept off and on all night. At 3:30 in the morning we had a conversation and had already decided that we both needed a cabin to get any real sleep on Saturday night. Abby thinks she won, we know we won - definition of Win-Win!

I was afraid that Abby's quick reversion to the cabin meant that she was not a fan of the tent, which would be a bummer. There are some incredible places that we would love to explore around Missouri and tent camping is a much easier way to do that. This was a test for us, in a safe place that Abby was comfortable, and it seemed to fail.

On Sunday when we were walking up to our car to leave Abby declared, loudly, that next time we come to camp we will sleep in a tent for TWO nights instead of one! Seems that all she needed was to know that the cabins are still there and available, but she really DID have fun.

That's my girl.

October 03, 2011

Hot Date Follow-Up

Alternate Title: Filled 'Er Up and Turned 'Er In (Gross, I know. Sorry.)
LAST weekend I had my Hot Date with a plastic bottle. I managed to make the most of my day my doing laundry and making dinner, as well as taking in copious amounts of football. Remember the before picture of my bottle? Here is an after:
KIDDING! You gross weirdo. Why would you want a picture of my pee?
I did my test on Sunday and had to take the Jug-O-Pee into a Lab on Monday morning. I was glad to find a little, quiet, insurance-covered clinic about ten minutes from home and even closer to the office. Since I am in the same hospital-system as the Lab is, it was kind of funny to "talk shop" with someone drawing my blood and looking at my whiz.
It was not until I was walking in the door to drop off my Jug that I remember just how many check boxes had been checked on the Lab Slip: 11. Eek - eleven?! Lucky for me I know some of the tricks for having blood drawn - the first that works for me is a clenched fist starting as they call my name and the more important one is to drink lots of water before going in for a blood draw. It helps keep blood flow up and pulls the veins up to the top, making them easier to poke.
I was glad to see that I was only going to have five tubes of blood drawn. I am the type that can not watch my own blood being drawn, but have no problem with seeing it on the counter. Still a little weird, but does not make me faint, so that's a good thing.
The most humorous part of the Lab visit was when I got the look from the technician and a "joke" of sorts: "I need a sample of your urine, which is funny because I have a whole bottle right here!" Yes indeed, even though I had a half gallon of Liquid Gold, or is that Golden Liquid, I needed to give her just a little bit more for one of the tests. Craziness.
Fast forward to Friday and my having just orgotten about the blood and pee fest from five days earlier when the phone rings and it is my Nephrologists office. I ducked the call for reasons that require their own blog post, but when I called back I was not sure what to expect. I spoke with the nurse and she said there is not too much concern on the Doctor's part, he does want to get me onto some meds pretty quickly to see how things go:
50,000 units of Vitamin D weekly for one month (1,000 units daily after that, OTC)
5 mg Lisinopril (for high blood pressure)
I am releived that it was not a "need to see you this week" call and that the drugs prescribed are fairly mundane as far as Kidney Disease goes. We are going to re-test again mid-week next week so that we have results to look at before our appointment on the 17th. At that time I am bracing for a bit more in the medicine department, probably a lecture on my weight and activity and a plan for proceeding. Not in that order.

September 26, 2011

Menu Monday

Alternate Title: Still at It - YUM!

Tonight we tried something new, by which I mean I looked at a recipe and thought "well, hell, I am not going to put all of that crap together, but thanks cookbook-man for the suggestion." I cut out all of the special-buy stuff and it turned out well.

I have said before that we plan our meals out a week at a time, and we cycle things in about once every five or six weeks. We have gotten much better about eating in instead of out, and that is due to the plan, completely and totally! It is a great system for us since I can look out and know what to look for at the grocery store sales, since Abby and I grocery shop before Anny is up and moving on Sunday mornings. :)

It appears that I was on a roll for about one month a long while ago about posting our Meal Plan for the week to the blog to share. Not surprised that I let it go about the time that my blogging slipped to twice monthly instead of twice weekly. We have been using our meal planning, just not blogging about it.

I am happy with last weeks plan, so I am going to share what we had then before I pull out this weeks, just for fun.

Last week:
Sunday - Pan Seared Pork Chops with Corn on the Cob
Monday - Baked Salmon, couscous and fresh green beans
Tuesday - Burgers and pasta (burgers made last month and frozen - time saver!)
Wednesday - Frozen Pizza
Thursday - Tuna Pockets (recipe here)
Friday - Kielbasa and Sauerkraut with rice
Saturday - Peanut Butter Pancakes - not good enough to share that recipe. Boo.

Abby was not excited about ANY of these meals, even the pizza, until we just sort of pushed a little harder than we should have needed to. She even raised a stink about pepperoni pizza. She is clearly four.

This week:
Sunday - Rob's Quick Steak Stir Fry
Monday - Aloha Kebabs and pasta (Recipe from Deceptively Delicious)
Tuesday - Home Made Corn Dogs (baked) (Recipe from Silly Snacks)
Wednesday - Grilled Ham and Cheese and broccoli
Thursday - Baked Cod in Bacon (from the new Jamie Oliver book) and Mashed Cauliflower (recipe here)
Friday/Saturday - Church Family Retreat Weekend! :)

That is what our plan is - what are you eating this week?