Archive for April, 2013

Although I murmured a disappointed sigh when I had to pull my coat out of the closet now that we’re back in Seattle, it still feels really, really good to be home.  This weekend was full of all those little things I missed while we were away:

  • Our Seattle peeps.  There were so many moments in Texas when we turned to each other and wished our friends were sitting at the bar with us, pigging out on brisket with us, hanging at the park with us.  We got together with the gang yesterday for Jon and Adrienne’s baby shower, and it felt good to be back in the fold, to know how exactly what Nance meant when she said it seemed like we were gone for such a long time.
  • Watching the Giants on TV.  Dang, it feels good to veg out in my sweats on a Sunday afternoon.  Even if our boys did get swept by the Padres.  Hmmmph.
  • Fresh produce.  I did manage to squeeze in a salad or two between the tacos and the barbecue, but I really missed our fruit bowl while we were traveling.  Don’t get me wrong – ice cream and cheese puffs are still high my list when I get the afternoon snack attack, but that juicy mango I had at lunchtime hit the spot like nothing else.
  • Our house.  Our comfortable bed, our large bathroom (his and hers sinks have saved us many a marital conflict), our Japanese maple which brought forth bright new leaves while we were gone.  An afternoon nap on our cozy couch with my favorite blanket was nearly as satisfying as the aforementioned mango.

Like I said, it’s good to be back.  If I could figure out a way to come home each day to clean towels and a fresh-made bed, we might just book our next vacation in Seattle…

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We arrived back in Seattle last night – Texas is once again a faraway land, and on Monday we’ll return to work and the associated “real world”. But it was a pretty grand vacation, up until the very end…

We kicked off Thursday with a walk along the riverfront – the Colorado River ran right past our hotel and was bordered by a beautiful walking path that ran for miles in either direction.  We didn’t see quite as much sun as we’d hoped in Austin, but those warm, humid mornings were still wonderfully tropical.  If I can be in a tank top at 10 am, I’m a happy camper.

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Post-walk, we grabbed coffee and breakfast tacos at Jo’s – one of the places we’d vowed to return to after our first stroll down South Congress. Their patio is the perfect place to camp out with a book and a latte, and we sat there for awhile, alternately reading and people-watching (this place is hipster central). It’s also the coffee shop with the best graffiti.

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We spent the early part of the afternoon at the downtown AMoA Arthouse, taking in their latest contemporary art exhibits. I majorly dug the architecture-inspired drawings by Seher Shah. From there, we picked up a picnic lunch at the market and drove over to the sister Arthouse at Laguna Gloria. The art collection at this site was small, but the grounds were beautiful. Our old friend Steve, Shane’s best man at our wedding, lives in Dallas and made the drive out to Austin to catch up with us over salami and cheese.

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We headed back to our hotel and I got some rest while Shane and Steve chilled out on our patio. It was so good to see the easy way they fell into conversation with one another, as if hardly any time had passed in the four years since they last saw each other.

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The three of us grabbed dinner that evening at Black Star Brewery. We sat at our table well after we’d finished eating and talked about theology, about dreams for the future, about finding our callings, and then it was time to say good-bye to Steve as he hit the long dusty trail back to Dallas.

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I assumed we were calling it a night after that, but Shane had other plans up his sleeve.  I raised my eyebrows when we missed the turn to our hotel, and he grinned that mischievous cocktails-on-the-brain grin of his.  We parked on 4th Street and headed toward Peche, known (in Shane’s circles, at least) for their impressive absinthe selection.  But first, we paused for a moment on the sidewalk to listen to this band’s rendition of “Sweet Home Alabama”.  Gotta love Austin.

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Shane’s absinthe pour was all he’d hoped it would be, and I was quite taken with my lime ricotta tart and cherry whipped cream.  Double-score.

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We started Friday morning with another long walk along the river (still working off that brisket!), and then brunched Bouldin Creek Cafe.  The food was excellent, the hippie vibe was lots of fun, and I reveled in what I feared may be out last outdoor dining experience for awhile.

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We had an evening flight and a couple of hours to kill until then, so we drove up to Mount Bonnell to check out the view of the city.  That morning mist had yet to burn off, so things weren’t super-clear, but the stairclimb definitely did me good.

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Temperatures were in the 80’s by this point and we were feeling ready for some lounging, so we drove over to Barton Springs Pool to grab a seat on the lawn.  This pool, an offshoot of the river, is incredible – it’s absolutely huge and has this cool mixed character of man-made and natural.  I wasn’t equipped for a swim, but it felt good to kick our shoes off and lay in the grass for an hour.

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A quick stop at the Ice Cream Social truck for waffle cones, one more iced coffee at Jo’s, and then it was time to say so long to Austin.  We were a couple pounds heavier, a bit more tan, and a lot more relaxed than when we’d first arrived – the city had been good us.

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Steve asked Shane and I on Thursday night what it was that we hoped wouldn’t change with the arrival of the baby, and this question has been rattling around in my head ever since.  There were so many moments in this trip that were decidedly kid-less (long mornings in bed, late night cocktails, the absence of any sort of set schedule), and as hard as it may be to see that sort of freedom go, I’m ok with it.  But the laughs?  The joy in sharing a new experience?  Our ability to have silly, unbridled fun together, to genuinely enjoy just laying on the grass with one another?  That’s the good stuff, the stuff that’s here to stay.

We hit Texas hard on Wednesday, as we ventured out of Austin for a day full of eating and sight-seeing. First up: real Texas barbecue in nearby Lockhart. We arrived at Kreuz Market around noon and promptly ordered ourselves a pound of the beef brisket, rumored to be the best in the entire state. The man behind the counter shaved four super-thick slices off a warm hunk of just-done beef, slapped it down on a thick sheet of butcher paper with a full stack of Saltine crackers, and directed us to the adjacent dining hall to dig in. We sat down at our table and scratched our heads for a moment over how to go about eating this. Was there barbecue sauce? Forks? No and no. Shane did manage to rummage up a plastic knife, I fetched a lemonade at the drinks counter, and, taking our cue from the cowboy seated next to us, we just had at it. I suppose the thinking is that meat prepared this perfectly doesn’t need sauce or proper utensils, which is a point that’s hard to debate. Tender, moist, perfectly charred around the edges – this was the real deal.

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But Shane hadn’t come all this way to let some New York Times article tell him what was the best brisket in Texas – he needed to decide for himself. So we took a few minutes to let round one settle, then made our way over to Black’s Barbecue to see what the alleged runner-up had to offer. We restrained ourselves (a little) at this place, and ordered just one slice of beef, a couple of ribs, and a side of mashed potatoes. I favored this place, where the meat was a little smokier, but Shane favored Kreuz, so I suppose the jury’s still out.

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My baby bump was bulging extra big by the time we waddled out of Black’s. Shane read somewhere that babies start to have taste buds at this stage, and that you can actually get them used to the taste of certain foods depending on what you eat while they’re in utero. I guess vegetarianism is out of the question for little Schnell?

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From Lockhart, we made the hour-long drive over to San Antonio to check a few things off our to-see list. We started at the Alamo, which admittedly, we found a little underwhelming. The history of the site was interesting, and we learned a few things about the Texas revolution, but after 30 minutes there, we were ready to move on. To be fair, I think we were both in such a deep beef-induced stupor that I’m not sure anything would have captivated us at that point…

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We had heard good things about the San Antonio Riverwalk, and that sounded like the perfect way to burn some calories, so we parked our car in the city center and took the nearest staircase down to the waterfront. It was beautiful down there – charming cobblestone bridges, lush tropical plantings, umbrella-covered tables. We walked the loop, loving the sense of “urban oasis” that came with the sound of birds calling overhead.

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We happened to be in San Antonio during “fiesta days”, so we followed the sound of live music back up to street level and wandered through the giant street fair taking place adjacent to the central Mercado. A band doing Sublime covers on one stage, a couple of guys crooning smooth Spanish ballads on another, food stands peddling street corn and funnel cakes and fresh fruit – “festive” hardly begins to describe it. I bought a cup of watermelon agua fresca and we took it all in, overwhelmed by the colors and smells and sounds.

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We had hoped to have dinner in the city, but the thought of food was still entirely unappealing at 6 pm, so we headed back to Austin, hoping we’d regain our appetites during the drive back. By 8:30, we felt like we were ready for a snack, so we made our way to Papi Tino’s for a light dinner. The perfect Texas tacos continue to elude Shane, but his margarita was top-notch, and the green sauce on my enchiladas was the best I’ve ever had. Determined to live it up and capitalize on Austin’s vibrant night life, we headed over to Donn’s Depot after dinner to check out their house band, which we’d heard packs out the dance floor every night. We were both surprised and amused to walk into the bar and find ourselves the youngest ones there by nearly 40 years. But it’s true – the house band was hoppin’, and the dance floor was packed, so we ordered drinks and snagged a seat to watch those ol’ cowboys and their poofy-haired ladies strut their stuff.

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Cheers to a day full of so many memorable moments.

We landed in sunny Austin on Monday evening, eager to explore the city we’d heard so many good things about. But first things first: tacos! Shane had booked us a table at La Condesa for dinner, just across the river from our hotel. It was a perfect evening for a stroll – warm, a little breezy, sidewalk terraces filled with people.

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Admittedly, the tacos were no match for Turlock’s finest taco truck, but this place definitely wins on presentation and ambiance.

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After dinner, we wandered over to Sixth Street to check out Austin’s famous nightlife. Horse and buggies, a dude riding a mechanical bull, bar after bar with live music of all sorts – it was a scene. But seeing as how it was 8:30 on a Monday night, most places were relatively empty, so we called it a night without taking any of those hustlers up on their 2-dollar margaritas (you know Shane shudders at this “quantity over quality” approach to cocktails, anyway).

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We rolled out of bed gloriously late on Tuesday and headed down to South Congress Cafe for brunch. Carrot cake French toast with creamy pecan syrup? Yes, please. It was rich and sweet and fluffy and ridiculously decadent – perfect vacation fare. Shane went nuts over his Migas Eggs Benedict.

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We loved the hip little stretch of shops and restaurants on South Congress – I bought a pair of handmade earrings, Shane looked in a shop window and wondered aloud whether he could pull off trendy western-wear, and we lamented the fact that we were too full to check out any of the street’s other culinary offerings.


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After making note of a couple places to return to, we drove to the other end of Congress Avenue to visit the city’s Capitol building. The exterior is constructed of unique red Texas granite, and the dome stands taller than our nation’s Capitol building in D.C. And thus concludes the trivia portion of this blog post…

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By late afternoon, I felt like I was due for some quality cafe time, so we headed over to Mozart’s to enjoy their sunny river-view patio. We sipped our cold drinks, read for awhile, and sank further into vacation-mode. Felt good.

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Our brunch had finally settled in our stomachs by 6:00, so we made our way over to Contigo for happy hour. It’s been a little tough to watch Shane drink his tasty cocktails while I play the part of the responsible pregnant lady, but I hardly missed the tequila in this concoction of ginger ale, lime, cucumber and mint.

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We made it back to our hotel just in time to catch that evening’s “bat exodus” at the Congress Avenue bridge. Yes, you read that right. The underside of this bridge is home to 1.5 million bats, and every evening at dusk between March and October, they leave their bat caves to come out and eat. We stood there on the lawn and watched them pour out of the concrete crevices and swarm in the darkening sky. It was incredible. And a little creepy. But mostly incredible.

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From the food to the (relatively) warm weather to the fascinating flocks of night creatures, this city was showing definite promise.

We managed to squeeze a little SF getaway into our itinerary before flying to Texas – 22 hours in the city to see a game, catch up with a couple of friends, and dine at our favorite restaurant in The Mission. It was a whirlwind, but Shane had it all carefully mapped out. I married the ultimate trip planner.

After a quick coffee date with Brieanne, I met up with Shane, Marco, and Lisa at the ballpark for some Giants v. Padres action. I can’t think of a more perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon than soaking in the sun while watching Buster Posey knock baseballs out of the park. Bliss.

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Final score: 5-0, Giants! (As if these grins didn’t speak for themselves.)

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High on victory adrenaline, we trekked back to our hotel near Chinatown to clean up a bit before dinner. Shane had scored us a room with a great view of Coit Tower and the Bay – I think I grow a little fonder of this city every time we visit.

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We had dinner reservations at Delfina that evening and took our time strolling from the BART station to the restaurant. The Mission has become one of our favorite neighborhoods in San Francisco – the bright colors, the lively crowds, the mix of new and old. And the pasta at Delfina. Ohhhh, that pasta.

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In our younger days, we would have capped off the evening with a cocktail at Bix or Bourbon and Branch. Instead, we headed back to our room and capped our evening with a chocolate bar and an episode of Veep. After changing into my stretchy pants and slipping between those crisp hotel sheets, I can’t say I minded the way things have changed.

I met up with my friend Danielle on Monday morning to dish the latest with one another over coffee and pastries, and then it was time for us to say adios to the City by the Bay and board our plane for Texas. I always leave a little piece of my heart in SF after visits like these. Good thing Buster is there to hang onto it for me. 😉

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We’re in the midst of a little tour de sunshine – a few days in California to visit friends, and then a getaway to Austin to see the hip side of Texas. We kicked things off on Thursday evening as we boarded a plane bound for Oakland and said goodbye to a soaking wet Seattle. After a smooth flight and our requisite stop at In N Out for dinner, we made our way to Amanda and Josh’s place in Turlock and settled into their cozy home, thankful for that special kind of comfort that comes in being with old friends.

Amanda gave birth to a precious baby girl four weeks ago, and I was over the moon with excitement to cradle this little one in my arms. Sadie is absolutely perfect, and it was such a blessing to be able witness one of my dearest friends and her husband in this sweet, life-altering new-baby phase. Despite the 3 am feedings and the mounds of dirty diapers, this little girl has succeeded in only magnifying Amanda and Josh’s very best qualities. They are still wonderfully easy-going, rolling with the punches of parenthood with grace and laughter. They’re tender and affectionate, in a way that’s completely natural but also new and heart-achingly beautiful. They give Shane and I much to aspire to. And to look forward to.

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Because the baby is still in that glorious sleeps-18-hours-a-day phase, Amanda and I had plenty of time to catch up with one another during naptime. We made our usual visit to our favorite shoe store in Modesto and critiqued each other’s tastes with brutal, laughter-filled honesty, we hit the mall to do a little summer accessorizing, we shared notes on pregnancy and then picked up Slurpees from 7-11, because it turns out that pregnancy thirst sticks around and just becomes breast-feeding thirst. I told Shane the other night, it just feels good to be with Amanda, to be known and listened to and encouraged. It’s a special thing we’ve got goin’ on.

And there were some pretty great moments with the rest of the girls. Amanda, Kelly, and I headed to our favorite Mexican restaurant on Friday night to meet up with Francine for dinner, and I was surprised to find the table strewn with baby-themed confetti and loaded with gifts for little Schnell. A surprise baby shower! Blankies and a rubber duck and a bag full of “must-have’s” – I have some incredibly thoughtful friends.

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On Saturday night, we all gathered at Amanda’s for pizza and chatting, more laughing about old times and talking about what’s ahead. I hope we’re still having these reunions 20 years from now. And I hope we’re just as silly then.

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Francine’s 6 month-old little girl had me at hello with her big brown eyes and her roly-poly legs.

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And then seeing Josh try to handle two babies at once, well that was just…priceless.

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We headed out on Sunday morning – I gave Sadie one last snuggle and then handed her back to Amanda, feeling especially sad about saying good-bye this time around. I feel like the passage of time between visits will be so much more evident now, with the addition of little ones that change so quickly. But there’s solace in knowing that Amanda and I will pick up right where we left off next time we see each other. Some things never change.

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Today marks 20 weeks, which means we have officially hit the half-way point – in 20 more weeks (give or take), we’ll be holding a baby in our arms, hearing its cries, looking into it’s barely open eyes, navigating the entirely new experience of being completely responsible for the sustenance and well-being of another person. Ooof. That sounds scary. And amazing.

We had our 2nd trimester ultrasound on Wednesday, where parents can find out gender if they so choose, and we’re having a healthy, bouncing…TBD! As hard as it was not to peek when the ultrasound tech told us to divert our eyes because she was in the “gender region”, we stayed true to our decision to keep baby Schnell’s sex a surprise. I know, we’ve waited and waited and waited for this kid, and now we’ve put ourselves back in the waiting game, but this time the suspense is full of excitement and fun. I have this really silly 50’s-esque image in my head of Shane passing around cigars wrapped in pink or blue foil with “It’s a Boy!” or “It’s a Girl!” printed on the wrapper while his buddies give him congratulatory pats on the back (he’s also wearing a snazzy suit and has a martini in his hand – have we been watching too much Mad Men?). While this probably isn’t how the announcement will go down (okay, knowing Shane, there may be martinis involved), the anticipation and prediction-making shared among us and our friends has been a joy.

When we weren’t “diverting our eyes” at the ultrasound, we were soaking in every other detail that showed on the screen. It’s incredible to see that what was was a miniature jelly bean 14 weeks ago is now a miniature human with fingers and toes and a mouth that opened and closed in what looked like cute little yawns. Watching this development take place is mind-boggling. Shane can’t believe that I have the ability to grow something as solid and strong as human bones inside of me; I’m overwhelmed by the complex detail of it all – functioning organs and little toes and a brain (does the baby have thoughts yet?). I’m simultaneously super proud (I’m growing that, inside of me!) and very much humbled (clearly I’m not the one making this magic happen). It’s all so wonderfully confusing and surreal. So while we don’t know yet if it’s a little boy or a little girl, we do know it’s a big, big miracle.

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My screenprinting class ended a couple of weeks ago, but I’m looking forward to plenty of future Saturdays spent hanging out in the studio.  I love, love, love it there – the messy jars of paint, the rows of squeegees hung on the wall, the anticipation of that first pulled print, not knowing just how much detail will come through a freshly made screen.  It’s good stuff.

This was my final class project, playing with color in a photo that I took last time we were in Central Oregon, then overlaying it with different geometric patterns.20130408 screenprinting7 sm(detail view):

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It was a little hard for me to hold back from sharing the early months of my pregnancy on the blog – I looked forward to the news being fully “out there” so that I could freely write about my thoughts and hopes and experiences.  And now here I sit, bump and all, wondering how in the world I’ll put my jumbled, confusing bag of feelings into words.  Bear with me.

The physical part of being pregnant has gone more smoothly than I expected – there was mild nausea, some fatigue, and a couple of vomitous incidents, but all in all, the symptoms were minor and quickly passed.  The emotional part, though?  Sheesh.  Saltine crackers weren’t going to help me there.  The first few weeks were ridden with anxiety – I tried to guard my heart through denial, to prepare myself for the bottom to drop out at any moment.  I told myself that the faint pink line on the pregnancy test was a fluke, that my HCG levels in that initial bloodwork were too low to make this a viable pregnancy, that since I wasn’t spending every morning locked in the bathroom with morning sickness, this probably wasn’t real.  We shared the news with our parents and a couple of close friends, but I always followed the announcement with, “remember that it’s still really really really early and this might not work out”.  Joy was terrifying – I was afraid my heart was too fragile to handle the blow of having to come down from a celebratory mountaintop, should things take a turn for the worse.  So I stayed down in my hole, just in case.

We scheduled an ultrasound with our doctor at week 6, as that’s the point when they can start to see development and, hopefully, a tiny little heartbeat.  I remember walking down the hall to the exam room with Shane at my side, my palms sweating and my own heart racing as I prayed a single word over and over and over.  Heartbeat.  Heartbeat.  Heartbeat.  Please, please, please, God – let there be a heartbeat.  I couldn’t help thinking of the 6-week ultrasound we’d been through 18 months earlier, where there was nothing but stillness.  Please, please, please, God – let this be different.  I held my breath as the image of my uterus flashed on the screen.  And then, there it was – our baby, looking like a grain of rice, with a fuzzy little flicker at its center.  The sonographer quickly confirmed that the flicker was indeed a heartbeat, and I grabbed Shane’s hand as tears of relief streamed from my eyes.  The first seeds of hope took root in me that day.  That hope blossomed as subsequent ultrasounds at weeks 7 and 9 and 12 showed positive development – by week 13, I had come to believe that this was actually the real thing.  I was going to be a mom.  I was free to celebrate with reckless abandon, right?  Right?  I could start digging into that pile of baby books people had lent to me, I could start thinking about converting our extra bedroom to a nursery, I could quit trying to fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans and settle into the comfort of elastic waistbands.  “Danger zone” cleared!  Happy trails ahead!  And it’s true – there certainly were moments of unbridled joy as the weight of infertility was lifted from my shoulders.  But I also found myself still wanting to stay on the fringes of baby-related conversations among my pregnant friends, and I still felt anxious when they started to talk about how fun it would be to watch our babies grow up together.  What was my problem?  I had ached for so long to be part of the expectant mothers’ club, and now that my time had come to talk diapers and daycare and maternity fashion, I was stand-offish and uncomfortable.  Some of my reticence was due to sadness for the women I know who are still in the throes of trying to conceive – it felt so unfair that some were chosen to carry a baby while others were left waiting.  I felt like I was leaving my fertility-challenged sisters behind, like it woulnd’t mean as much anymore if I said that I knew what they were going through.

And then when I really dug deep, I found that a part of me was still caught in the clutches of the sorrow I had felt over the past couple of years.  I had let the disappointment and uncertainty become an integral part of who I was, and while the presence of a baby in my womb washed much of that away, there were remnants of loneliness and worry and that were not so easily purged.  And there was regret.  So much regret over who I had become while I waited and longed and mistrusted God’s plan.   I wish I had been better at finding my joy in Him while we were still on our journey toward pregnancy.  I wish I hadn’t wallowed, hadn’t let fear take such a strong hold of me.  I wish I had been a better friend last year to the pregnant women in my life, rather than succumbing to jealousy or bitterness.

Day by day, I’m the clearing the sorrow and regret from my soul and settling into the spirit of joy and gratitude that God has intended for me all along.  The road to this place has been full of envy and tears and deep, gaping potholes, but I can’t change that.  So I’m focusing on that one very, very important wish that came true with that tiniest little flicker of a heartbeat.  I have much to be thankful for.

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Spring has sprung in Seattle! The sun is shining, flowers are bursting with new blooms of color, and I have optimistically tucked my winter coat into the deep recesses of my closet. My mom and dad spent the past few days with us, soaking in Seattle’s springtime glory. Glory, glory, glory, indeed – it was a great weekend.

We joined the hoards of other sun-struck Northwesterners at UW on Saturday to take in the view of the cherry blossom-lined Quad. The trees were perfectly pink and fluffy, set against a crystal clear sky.  No, the sun doesn’t shine here quite as often as we’d like, but when it does, we do a pretty good job of making the most of it – there was this contagious buzz of joy in the air that morning.  I never knew how good Vitamin D was for the soul until I moved to Seattle!  Absence makes the heart grow fonder, I guess.

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And a bonus!  We ran into Jack and La V, who were also on a mission to embrace the Springtime spirit.

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After stopping at the U-District Farmer’s Market for a few essentials like tamales, bacon, and goat cheese (apparently it’s not peak produce season yet!), we headed over the Olympic Sculpture Park to check out the view of the mountains.

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After dropping off the guys at home, my mom and I spent the afternoon shopping till we dropped.  We hit Southcenter hard that day and scored a few good deals – I was in need of some clothing of the more…er…”elastic” variety, and it was fun to share this next step in the pregnancy process with my mom.  Shane threw some Italian sausages on the grill for dinner that night, and we passed the rest of the evening resting our tired feet at home with ice cream and a movie.  It had been a full day.

We spent Sunday morning at church, celebrating His rising with music and reflection and prayer, and then headed over to Jason and Nancy’s for an Easter meal with the gang.  We watched the kids hunt for eggs, we ate, we laughed, and we reveled in the goodness of an overly generous God.  I felt so lucky to be sharing the day with my “family family”  and my “Seattle family”.

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The rest of the day was devoted to relaxing – naps, basketball, a leisurely walk by the water at Seward Park.  I can’t imagine a more perfect Easter weekend – hopefully I can ride this high right through the rain that’s supposed to start falling later this week…