Monday, October 8, 2012

Hoarding vs Emergency Prepping vs A Prepared Life

At the end of last month I was talking to a friend about some of the emergency preparations that my husband and I are completing.  I'm not going to go into all the reasons why I believe one should be prepping as much as possible for even harder economical times ahead.  Even if I didn't think there were signs I believe in living a prepared life.  By living a prepared life I am referring that one should try to prepare as much as possible for life's emergencies.  For instance, as an adult you should have a will in place, even if you are not married, that state's what your wishes are regarding your assets (or your most valuable items so that your family doesn't fight over them.  Sometimes people fight over the silliest of objects when grieving.)  You should have a medical power of attorney stating what your end of life preferences are (hopefully "Choose Life" vs accidentally signing a "Do Not Resuscitate" order as I did while in the middle of pushing my Jessie out of my body.  THANK YOU GOD THAT I DIDN'T DIE THAT DAY!)  You should plan for life's normal emergencies ahead of time.....for instance, if you live in a hurricane area you should already have the basic hurricane/tropical storm items on hand: candles/batteries in case of power outages, a water supply, etc,. etc.

We live in an area that has frequent power outages during/after strong storms due to the number of downed tree branches that fall.  When we first moved into our home four years ago we lucked out that we only lost power for a day, but our other neighbors were without power for a week....Last fall a nearby town had a major water line break: no water for three days.  People in that town were checking into hotels.  Last March our well pump broke which became a minor emergency in our household.  I made the mistake of thinking it was going to be an easier fix than what it was.  Instead of going straight to paper plates/napkins/plastic silverware I waited two full days before realizing, "uh oh...this is major."  Thus, even though we had stored water, I had to waste quite a bit to wash the dishes that the seven of us had used for six meals...big mess, big waste.  Now thankfully Jason was able to refill our big blue water containers, but in a real emergency he might not have been able to do so and I would have been boiling creek water for those dishes.

My friend though brought up an interesting question though about some perceiving "prepping" as "hoarding," which has really made me think for the past ten days.  I'm still not sure exactly how to explain the difference. I am sure that there are those providentialists who would argue that any and all prepping is hoarding...but then how does one explain  how God used Noah or Joseph in Egypt?  I believe that God uses normal people living extraordinarily ordinary everyday lives to help those around them....for instance, everyone thought I was insane for keeping my first husband Chris' car after he died.  It was a 1998 Dodge Stratus.  It had no collector's value whatsoever....I just had an emotional attachment because he bought it a month before we decided to move up our wedding date.  Chris only took out a three year loan and he never went back to the bank to refinance once we got married.  That car payment was a huge monthly expense that we frugally lived around.  As soon as Chris realized that I was pregnant with our second child we decided that it would be prudent to go ahead and invest in our mini-van, thus taking on overlapping car payments for a short while...again, we just frugally lived around it especially since we gave my mom my old car to use since it was paid off.  Anyways because I kept the car I was able to loan it to my sister and brother-in-law (plus another  friend as well) to use briefly when their vehicle needed to be fixed.  Then Jason ended up driving it after his truck was totaled when someone broadsided him by running a red light.  (We were engaged-not married-at the time and it took him a few days to be okay about driving the car.)  We kept it even after we had to invest in a truck with four wheel drive after we moved to country.  Jason would still drive the car to help save on gas money, but then there came a time when we needed money to help pay off some unexpected  bills and we found out that there was a family in need of an affordable (read: cheap) car.  By this time the car was about ten years old.  I was the one that brought it up to Jason about selling it.  I asked Joey if he would be okay with me selling his dad's car and he looked at me as if I was the crazy one....because to him I was-he didn't have any emotional ties whatsoever to that car-it was all me.  At that moment, I was finally able to let go of the car-and I have to admit that it did help to know that I was helping a family in need plus helping my own family in need.  If push had come to shove and I hadn't been able to afford the car prior to that moment than I would like to think I would have been able to let the car go sooner...but for me that moment was "right on time."

There have been other times when I would say that I have been in the "right place at the right time" to help someone else in need....someone in need of a dehumidifier that I happened to still have from our old house...extra cash on hand while travelling that we were able to give a family whose vehicle was broken down so they could get some food for their children and help with their vehicle.  (Again, if I didn't believe in travelling prepared we wouldn't have been able to help them in that way quite as easily.)  Donations to fundraising garage sales, etc., etc.  Now some would say I was "hoarding" the car or the dehumidifier or the cash....but I was able to help those in need at that particular moment....I am sure that God could and would have provided for those people without me, but I was able to give and hopefully grow in holiness by doing so.  As we try to prepare for coming economic hard times we are keeping in mind that we may need to help others in need...if we don't prepare ahead though we will not be able to take care of the children God has given us to feed and clothe...nor will we be able to help any we prepare and pray....

I was raised by parents whose parents had survived the great depression.  We always had a pantry and candles and matches-even when my mom was a single a prepared husband was in the military, so we had wills and life insurance policies at the age of twenty-two (MORE IMPORTANTLY: BE PREPARED TO MEET GOD IN CASE YOU DIE TODAY RATHER THAN TOMORROW) a prepared life....everyone gets colds and the flu in the a prepared life (medicine, buckets, fluids)....power outages a prepared life....what are your particular possible NORMAL emergencies (tornados, fire, hurricanes, snow storms, water main breaks, no heat) a prepared life.  Teach your children by example to live a prepared life.

Give where you can when you can while you can because you never know when you will be the person in need or the person on bedrest or the person unemployed....a few years ago my father donated a ton of things to his local library when he was opening a business that closed within the first year-the librarian even suggested that he keep the items (probably thinking the same thing I was that he could sell them on Amazon), but instead he gave them away and I remember his joy...he received great joy in thinking of all the people that would read the books and watch the movies.  He gave even when he was in financial need.

There is peace too in living a prepared life.  Having already lost a spouse I have felt great peace in knowing that the legal documents are in place whenever I have had a surgery....I know that both Jason and I felt "peace" even as we were stressed during the well pump break-what comfort there was in those huge containers of water to drink, cook and wash our hands with....what comfort our four year old received a week ago when Jason was able to light a candle in the middle of the night when we lost power briefly for some unknown reason......

Wishing all of you the comfort and sweet peace that comes with living a prepared life,



Monday, September 10, 2012

Surgery and Bedrest

I am sorry for my absence this summer from blogging.  Life has been busy and complicated.  I took "a page" from Tracey McBride of Frugal Luxuries fame (book and blog) and didn't worry about my blog.  Right after publishing her book one of Tracey's parents got sick and eventually died.  She was being pressured to do talk show interviews and appear on programs showing frugal crafts, etc....  She refused them all to take care of her family.  She even took the last eight months off from blogging again when her husband was laid off from work...  Anyways, I've been trying to keep all my commitments in the correct priority order therefore this blog comes last.

I am once again on bedrest.  When I was approximately eight weeks pregnant with Libby (our youngest) I experienced an "impacted uterus" for four days (aka, my uterus collapsed onto my bladder and blocked my body from being able to release urine.)  I had a catheter put in and then it fell out on its own.  Instead of heading back to the emergency room right away to have it reinserted my doctor recommended waiting to see if I could pass urine and thankfully I could at that point.  (Sometimes it takes weeks before the uterus filled with the weight of the baby lifts off the bladder.)  Upon receiving a correct diagnosis Jason and I realized that I had also suffered from an "impacted uterus" for about three weeks when I was pregnant with Katie two and a half years earlier, but it had never been correctly diagnosed because I could pass a little urine or bowel movement here or there.  (No one ever performed an ultrasound in order to get a correct diagnosis at that time.)

In July 2011-six weeks after Libby was born-I drove an hour away to participate in a novena of thanksgiving to the Infant Child Jesus of Prague for blessings we had received as a family (namely-the birth of our gorgeous baby girl-read previous blog post here.)  At the end of the church service-at the very moment when the priest held up the Eucharist and the entire church was on their knees praying to God-my uterus collapsed-while I was holding Libby.  At the time I did not know what actually happened-I just knew that I was in the most pain I had ever felt outside of childbirth....I was hot and nauseated and felt like I had to use the restroom, but could barely walk to get to the restroom.  When I did manage to get to the restroom nothing came out.  I managed to make it to my vehicle to call Jason while sobbing because I didn't know what was wrong.  (Now realize I have had five vaginal non-medicated natural births-I can handle pain-my longest labor was 26 hours with 14 of those hours being stuck in "cervical transition-the most painful part of labor" because the baby was stuck and not fully engaging the cervix.  This uterus collapse felt as painful as that intensely painful childbirth except I had the intense fear because I didn't know what was wrong and I was alone with a baby.)  Jason immediately went into "rescue mode"-he found a neighbor who volunteered to take our other four kids plus our niece who was visiting-so that he could drive to get me.  I was bad though and in effort to take my mind off my pain started driving home.  (Don't do that!!!  Wait for help!!!)  The really funny thing in hindsight is that I later realized that I was actually parked in the parking lot for the local hospital located near the church....I could have just walked hobbled while carrying the baby to the emergency room.  After dropping off the kids Jason called me to talk to me while we were both driving so that he would know if I got in an accident, etc., etc.  He repeated something that our neighbor said-and since I had been praying to God asking what was wrong with me-I suddenly realized that my uterus had collapsed once again....I ended up parking my car in Steubenville and Jason drove me home until I could see my doctor the next day.  (I refused to rack up thousands of dollars in medical bills only to be told to "see my ob-gyn" like I had been told the two previous times I had gone to the e.r. for this condition.)  I had a few pain pills left from when Libby was born so I just took those until I could see my doctor....he confirmed my self-diagnosis and then gave me more prescriptions for pain meds and bladder infections while I decided what course of action I wanted to take for my condition.

So-the normal procedure for a collapsed uterus is a hysterectomy.  Thankfully I did not "have to" have one right away because my uterus didn't collapse through my cervix into my vagina-it instead was painfully flipping and flopping back and forth between my bladder and my bowels-meaning sometimes I couldn't urinate-sometimes I couldn't have a bowel movement-often there was pain during intimate moments....but I wasn't forced into a traumatic surgery that I was vehemently against.  I had time to think and pray and pursue non-traditional methods in an effort to preserve my fertility and the very organ that helps to regulate my hormonal levels-those things that help to make me a woman.  Most women if they are not going to have either a full hysterectomy (where they take both the uterus and ovaries and fallopian tubes) or a partial hysterectomy (where they take the uterus and fallopian tubes, but leave the ovaries) end up trying to use a pessary insertion.  Thankfully my local ob greatly discouraged even trying this route since he said that in his experience pessary insertions were messy, ended up causing more infections than they prevented and basically don't work in a condition as bad as my uterus was.  I started researching different options and came across this amazing doctor , Dr. Toaff, located in the Philadelphia area.  He was willing to immediately complete a pelvic floor lift surgery on me....the problem: I cold not lift anything for two months (including the two month old baby), then lift nothing over 10 lbs for another four months (this means again: no lifting the baby) and then after six months never lifting anything over 20 lbs....(like my toddler size children-or any of the numerous boxes that we process at our UPS Store) my wise husband lovingly nixed this wonderful idea slowly over the course of a few months as a viable option for us to pursue.

God led me via "a friend of a friend/local acquaintance" to UPMC Women's Rehabilitation Center.  So within a month I was driving back and forth to have internal physical therapy, which greatly helped to control my pain plus gave me some greatly needed emotional support regarding my nearly constant pain.  Another friend recommended trying acupuncture, which had previously helped to reverse her prolapsed uterus.  In January I began to experience my ribs dislocating (usually during the middle of the night after I would fall asleep) from the tension of my pelvic ligaments trying to hold up my now completely collapsing pelvic floor.  Now my weekly chiropractic appointments that helped to prevent migraines were increased to two to three times a week to pop anywhere from two to eight ribs at a time back into place.  By the middle of February I was a wreck-I was physically ready for a hysterectomy-but not emotionally.  Jason and I went away for Valentine's weekend and I was unexpectedly able to be anointed on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.  When I next saw my physical therapist she was excited about how much healing had taken place inside my pelvic area (and believe me it wasn't because I had actually been doing my exercises faithfully-it was from the anointing I had received.)  By the first week of March though I was away from my house and kids thirteen to twenty hours a week.....if I missed one appointment with either the physical therapist, acupuncturist or chiropractor then I was driven to my knees vomiting in pain (even taking pain pills).  I was also building up a tolerance to pain pills-not an addiction that I wanted to develop just to keep my April I could finally say "yes" to the wasn't a matter of "if" I should have was just a matter of "when".....I could now emotionally stand in front of God and say, "I did everything I could to preserve my uterus/hormones/fertility."  I also knew that I should try to schedule my surgery when it was most convenient for my family-not because it became an emergency due to a further collapsing of my pelvic floor.  I was also at the point where I wanted to be able to take care of the five miracles God had already blessed me with-I wanted those hours of my week back with my children.  Jason and I had already come to terms with the fact that we were not going to have any more children naturally-even if God had blessed me with a miraculously healed pelvic floor we weren't gong to take the chance of another bedrest situation that I may never recover from.

The search was on for a local surgeon that was qualified to do the extensive surgery I needed....we prayed and God protected us-we kept having surgeons turn down my case-until via a casual acquaintance who overheard an unexpected conversation (you know the kind of conversation where you are wondering "why am I talking about this personal stuff to this particular person?") led us to Dr. John Wright and Dr. Cathy Saunders and Heritage Valley Health System in Beaver, PA.  By the time everything was in place in July we had to make a decision-we had a choice: surgery immediately in August or not until January since the recovery time would be so extensive.  (Remember: I need to work Christmas time at the store.)  Jason pushed for the immediate surgery in August even as I half-heartedly objected due to the fact that our two oldest were playing travel soccer and we had the beginning of the homeschool year.  Jason won and God provided the childcare/cleared the calendar for the first ten days, followed by an amazing, dear friend volunteering to come and stay for the next ten days.  (Her family even had enough frequent flier miles that the ticket was free.)

While meeting with Dr. Wright we had a short debate on whether we should actually keep the uterus.  He said that he was amazed by how much it "had lifted" from my physical therapy and acupuncture treatments.  We finally decided that it wasn't worth "taping it into place" and taking the risk of an unexpected pregnancy that would destroy all the other repair work that had to be done and from which I might never recover from. At this point both my bladder and bowels were also collapsing.  The vagina is the next thing to start collapsing and I really didn't want to start having a Josephite marriage.  I also had fibroids forming once again in my uterus.  My August surgery date rapidly approached and I once again battled my fears of anesthesia (that risk that I may never wake up).  I was once again prayed and anointed over by two wonderful priests, received the eucharist and made my confession, and made a last visit to a dying friend that died one week after my surgery, kissed all the babes goodnight and then woke up at 3:30 am to make it to the hospital by 5:30 am.

During my surgery they removed my uterus/sent the fibroids off for testing and also found endometriosis (no surprise there since that's a reoccurring condition I have already been diagnosed with.)  In the five weeks since my last pelvic exam and the surgery though my left ovary had also collapsed and was entangled/rolled up in my uterus.  The uterus had rolled into a ball so tight that they could barely see it.  (I hadn't had any acupuncture treatments since June/internal physical therapy since April.)  The doctors managed to untangle the ovary from the uterus-I guess one could say they were "adhered" together-and tack it back into place.  They inspected the inside of my bladder via a camera and then taped it back into place, though there was some bleeding that occurred.  They then pushed all my bowels back into place and taped it up with mesh as well.  (They were careful to state that they used as little as possible due to my "young age.")  They tacked my vagina to a ligament to help hold it into place.  The second surgery surprise was that they found that my uterus had developed adenomyosis.  This is a sponge-like condition of the uterus (basically endometriosis within the uterine walls.)  Your uterus should be a firm muscle-like your heart.  When andenomyosis occurs the uterus muscle becomes sponge-like and thin and the uterus becomes larger and larger.  Many women experience miscarriages and sometimes even uterus perforation-which can kill both the mother and baby.  Adenomyosis can only be diagnosed via internal examination and had  not been diagnosed in either of my previous surgeries three to five years ago.

The diagnosis of adenomyosis actually has given both Jason and I "final peace" about the surgery.  As Jason says we were faced with numerous awful options, but in the end we made the right and just decision after much prayer and research.  We can now laugh about my actual uterus collapse moment in the Church: I call it my "Job moment."  I was given a trial of suffering in God's house-and only through the grace of God-and many prayers from holier people than myself-I have survived.  I am not a saint by any means-and I often feel as any purification I am receiving from my suffering I waste on my complaining and whining of my condition.  (My usual line is that I would still be a great Creighton Model FertilityCare Practitioner without having to experience almost every area NaProTechnology treatment that there is to experience-for instance I shall now be on their post hysterectomy hormonal replacement system.)  I am but a humble servant doing her best to honor God each day, however poorly that offering of the good, the bad and the ugly in my life may be.

Oh-so why the bedrest...well, it's not complete bedrest-it's partial: I can lay down or walk, but need to avoid sitting as much as possible because it makes the blood pool in the pelvic floor-causing recovery time to be longer.  Sitting also puts intense pressure on the pelvic floor....I can actually feel the blood pooling/swelling starting when I have sat too long at meal times or to nurse.  It's God's sense of humor since I complained about not being able to walk for seven months during my last bedrest.  It can take anywhere from 1-3 months to recover-I am trying to be extra good so that I will get the go ahead to start sitting/driving again at the 4-6 week mark post-surgery: easier said than done since I frequently lean over and pick up Libby Lou while walking through the house-that habit dies hard.  At sixteen days post surgery it still hurts in the pelvis area, especially in two spots of stitches-it also still hurts to laugh or cough and there is still some post surgery bleeding...but I can finally go to the bathroom without pain (that took 10 days).  The lack of sitting/time with five kids to take care of is why it took so long to post this note after my surgery.

I have been so blessed by the amazing community of Steubenville: meals, rides for my kids, notes of encouragement and prayers beyond number.....I am humbled and only wish to repay everyone back with my own works of mercy when I recover....for now I offer my simple prayers of thanksgiving and offer up my suffering to whomever needs it most.

This is an especially personal post to write, but I know how the rumor mill works and I wanted to make sure that my story was told in my own words rather than "the telephone word of mouth system."  It also was getting really painful to keep explaining to everyone asking what happened....though I am at peace it doesn't mean that I want to keep talking about the surgery over and over again since it is rather complicated.  I also hope that this post helps others who may be experiencing a weak pelvic floor.  As Dr. Wright explained some women naturally have strong pelvic floors that snap back into place even after they've had nine kids-you can't even tell that they've had one, but some women are like me and their pelvic floor is weak and collapsing before they even had one child (for instance I have always been diagnosed with a retro flexed uterus, but was told not to worry about it.  Basically my uterus was tilted back instead of standing straight up and down and it was folded over like a curled up pillow-I was told this at my first pelvic exam as a teenager.)  As I ponder this "weak pelvic floor diagnosis" I realize more and more every day how much of a miracle each of my five wonderful children are.....and for any of my friends who may be keeping it a secret that they are pregnant because they don't want to hurt me-it's okay-I will rejoice with you....I have had fourteen months to "grieve" the loss of future natural children....God  has another plan for my life-I may shed a tear here or there-I mean I do still have my ovaries/some hormones!-but I will rejoice for those upcoming baby blessings....I am also a Creighton Model teacher-baby announcements are a part of my job!:)

May all of you experience the sweetness of the gift of healing from God (in whatever area you need it in),


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Memorial Post for Lt. Christopher T. Starkweather

Ten years ago today the world lost a special soul, my husband, U.S. Navy Lt. Christopher T. Starkweather.

(Chris with our cat Desi, short for Desiree)

Chris died when two T-39 Sabreliners collided during a training exercise over the Gulf of Mexico about 40 miles south of Pensacola, FL.  Six other crew members died with him. There were two Raytheon pilots: retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Homer "Gray" Hutchinson III, age 57; and retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Marshall F. "Fritz" Herr Sr., age 59. (Both had grown children and I know that Fritz now has grandchildren that were born after he died.)  The other victims included two instructors, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William R. Muscha, age 36; and Royal Saudi Air Force Maj. Ambarak S. Al-Ghamdi, age 32, who between them left behind 11 children.  The remaining crew members were students: Navy Ensign James T. Logan, age 26 (who was an identical twin); and Marine 2nd Lt. John N. Wilt, age 23.

"I do not know now, nor do I ever expect to answer or understand why this happened," said retired Navy Capt. Charles Tinker in his eulogy. "I fear it will remain a tragic mystery."

The planes landed at the bottom of the ocean, over 210 feet deep.  The navy did decide to try to salvage the planes.  The only human remains that were found belonged to James Logan, which helped to give his twin brother some closure.

I don't remember much from any of the 3 memorial services that were held for Chris outside of people later criticizing me because I didn't really cry at any of them.  I just remember feeling like I couldn't wake up from a bad dream.  I did cry later though, mostly in my shower because it broke my heart even more when my two year old son brought me a baby blanket to dry my tears with one day.

How would I describe Chris to someone who never had the pleasure of meeting him?  How do I describe him to the two children that don't have any memories of him?  (Joey was 23 months and Jessie was 6 months old when he died.)  I see mountains.....I see him skiing down the mountains with his family, laughing with them and spraying each other with snow when they fell.

(Chris' little brother, Jacob, and younger sister, Mary, skiing ahead of me down the mountain.)

Chris running.....he ran ALL.THE.TIME.  Even while in flight school to become a Naval Flight Officer, ( a navigator like the character Goose in the movie Top Gun) he ran ALL.THE.TIME.  I was beginning to hate running around the time he died.  I was a jealous wife and running was "the other woman" in our marriage.  I felt that we had so little time together as a family and it took him away from us, but he had to run.  It was as essential to his happiness as breathing.  Also, what do you buy someone whose only "hobbies" were flying (the navy paid for that) and running (gift cards for shoes each birthday?)  The man made gift giving kind of hard, especially since he was so frugal!  (Chris would order a whopper without cheese and put the cheese on at home rather than pay the extra money for the cheese-he was a very frugal man.)

(Chris before running in his first and only marathon in Lincoln, NE.  That's him crossing the finish line.
Final time was 3:18:02.)

Chris was Catholic, in every sense of the word.  He couldn't articulate his faith very well, but he lived it, he breathed it.  He was a St. Francis in that he walked the walk and only when necessary used words.  In the infamous "conversion story" post that I haven't published yet I will explain how he loved me into the Church. So many people asked me after he died if I was going to stop being Catholic after two years now that Chris was dead.  I guess they all assumed he pressured me.  Out of the seven years we were together before I converted (three years of dating in high school, two years engaged and the first two years we were married) he only asked me five times if I would convert.  The last three of those five times were during the last four months of the RCIA class before I entered the Church on April 23rd, 2000.  I didn't become Catholic to make Chris happy.  I became Catholic because I wanted that faith for myself, but Chris' patience, love and prayers helped to bring me into the Church.  His example of always attending Mass during college, while on vacation and as much as possible when deployed on the Navy carrier also went a long ways.  He also wouldn't compromise by attending any Protestant service whatsoever outside of my baptism.  If I wanted to attend church with my husband I had to go to the Catholic Church service.  I was free to go by myself to a different service, but he wouldn't attend with me.  I think I went twice without him and decided I was wasting precious time that I could be spending with him when time was so limited to be together.

(The two of us on Easter Vigil 2000.  I was 7 1/2 months pregnant with Joey.)

FAMILY.  Chris was all about his FAMILY.

Thankfully God changed our "five year plan", because Chris died four and a half years into our marriage.  God opened our hearts to being open to having babies sooner than either of us "had planned."  First we conceived Joey-both of us were surprised.  We had just started to learn the Creighton Model FertilityCare System of Natural Family Planning, but I was coming off the birth control pill.  We had been told to expect it to take several months before we could possibly conceive a baby.  With God's sense of humor we actually became pregnant in the two weeks that I stopped taking the birth control pill prior to starting Creighton classes.  Chris tried laughing it off when I told him we were pregnant.  I threw the box at him with the "info sheet" about how accurate the tests were.  He read the info sheet quietly and then a few minutes later informed me that he was going to go rest.  (It was still light out-I think it was like 6pm at night.)  Chris didn't get up until the next morning and was cheerfully resolute.  From that moment on he was already a "dad"-he got on me about caffeine, began coming home from work with parenting advice from everyone stationed at the STRATCOM intelligence offices in Nebraska, etc., etc....

(Chris holding Joey after being awake for over 22 hours.)

(Joey this past Christmas-age 11 1/2)

Chris was a devoted son.  He loved his parents and called home several times a week.

(Chris' parents, Larry and Sherry, holding their grandson and godson, Joey.)

Chris was a devoted big brother.  Anyone who was in our high school drama and speech class remembers the hilarious speech he gave about each time his parents announced there was another baby on the way.  He took his job as the big brother seriously and is probably giving their guardian angels pointers in heaven.

(From Left side, starting in back: me-Stephanie, Chris holding Joey, Laura, and James.
Front row: Jacob, niece Reagan and Mary.)

Here's Chris before going out on a "date" with his sister Mary to see a musical.

Chris was also devoted to his grandparents, aunts and uncles.  We've moved things around so many times in this house and so many things are still boxed up that I could only find one photo album (Joey's baby album), so I couldn't find any of the pictures with his aunts and uncles.  Here is Chris with his PapPap and Nanny.  But he was also devoted to his Grandma Jean.  In fact when we lived in Pensacola at the time of his death our house was just 2 blocks away from the house his Grandma Jean and Aunt Linda shared.  (Thus preparing me for having my new mother-in-law live right across the road from me ten years later.)

(Me-Stephanie, Chris holding Joey, Nanny and PapPap.)

Chris was an uncle.  Here he is with his niece Reagan.  Funny story: after we got married and I moved into the military "hotel room" he lived in at Virginia Beach for intelligence officer training school all the cleaning staff wanted to know where "our baby" was because he had pictures of Reagan hanging in his room.  (For those confused Chris was first an intelligence officer and was transitioning to become a naval flight officer when he died.)  Even in college Chris always had pictures of his family (and me) hanging on his dorm room mirrors, so I didn't think it was unusual, but the cleaning staff informed me that most men only have pictures of their kids taped up-not their nieces.

(Chris helping Reagan hold Joey.)

Friends....Chris was a really devoted friend.  This is a picture of his best friend since kindergarten, Christopher Kaufmann, otherwise known as "CK" in the Starkweather household, and his wife Jackie.  Rather than wasting time watching tv or a movie if Chris had spare time he would usually bake brownies and call a friend to see how they were doing....CK, Dionne, Branden, Michelle, Nathan, Jon Watson, his high school cross country coach, etc.  He would always try to make plans to see one or two of them when we went home to Wisconsin.  He was loyal in every sense of the word.  Maybe that's why I've been so blessed to have so many of them stay in contact with us over the last ten years.  I know that it wasn't easy for any of them especially when I started dating again.

(Joey sitting on Jackie Kaufmann's lap with Christopher Kauffmann)

I'm actually quite frustrated that I can't post a picture of Chris holding his daughter Jessie.  (I've been in tears for over two hours now about it.)  Until I find the box Jess just know that your daddy loved you.

(Jessie age 10)

That smile you see of him holding Joey is exactly how he smiled when he held you.  In fact he had a dream of a baby girl about two weeks before your big brother Joey was born.  Whatever he saw in that dream convinced him that we were going to have a baby girl.  He was quite surprised when they said that Joey was a boy.  Your daddy also wanted the name "Jessica."  I wouldn't even allow it on the list as possible girl names for Joey.  But then one day I was tired while pregnant with you....Joey was napping and I didn't feel up to doing housework, so I got on the computer via dial-up and looked up if Jessica was a saint name....low and behold, it was a derivative of St. Joanna, one of the women who found the empty tomb of Jesus on Easter.....and from that moment on you were either going to be a Jessica or a Nicholas....You are the baby girl your daddy dreamed have even fallen asleep many a night reading your daddy's old Calvin and Hobbes books for years now.

(Chris loved Calvin and Hobbes-he even had a Calvin tattoo that he planned on having joined by a Hobbes tattoo on his next naval deployment.  Calvin was holding an American flag on the tattoo.)

I don't know how it can be ten years since Chris died.  It seems like yesterday....yet it seems like forever.  How do I celebrate this day?  Two years ago I was planning on taking all the kids back to Pensacola and asking the training squadron for a tour, etc., etc...Even just a month ago Jason was asking me if I wanted to go to D.C. where Chris' memorial stone is in Arlington Cemetary.  Since we will be going to D.C. to visit family in June I decided to wait and do it then.  Instead I plan on honoring him the same way I always have on this anniversary date: just doing my duty....

(Joey and Jessie when I first started grad school eight years ago.)

We're starting the day with a memorial mass being said for him, then we'll have breakfast, maybe get some school work done before heading back into town for the Tuesday afternoon kid activities.  We'll finish the day though with a meal of some of Chris' favorite dishes: sweet potatoe souffle and a chicken casserole, maybe brownies if I can get them made in time...if not, we can have that later in the week.  We'll put out Chris' picture on the dining room table and light a candle just like we do for his birthday in September.  I'm sure that I will cry at some point since I have been crying off and on for the past few months anticipating this date......but really I think that I honor Chris most by just doing my duty: raising my kids to the best of my ability.  I have made so many mistakes over the past ten years, so many things that I would like a "redo" on....but in the end I hope that even if I were to die tomorrow my kids would know the things that matter most: God, family and country.

(Joey and Jessie on September 6th, 2011-Chris' birthday.)

Several people "accidentally" used the two edged sword saying, "The good die young" after Chris died.....While I understood it, especially after reading the book of memorial letters people sent me after he died-one could probably seriously begin a cause for canonization, especially with some of the events that took place afterwards-it hurt....what does that mean about me???  (Am I chopped liver?)  Why was Chris taken instead of me, especially because I have felt many times he would have handled single parenthood way better than me??....I begged God to reverse bring Chris back to life and take me to heaven to no instead "I sucked it up"...some days living in just 15 minute increments....and that was really the biggest miracle of my life....I survived what I didn't think I could survive.  Eventually I could breathe again without it hurting....eventually I was happy without "faking it" for my kids.....eventually I was blessed to find Jason, a man who has always honored Chris in our home....I have been blessed to maintain loving relations with Chris' family.....I have three more children that I can't imagine not having loved....but I still love Chris...I will always love Chris and I still miss him....while I can't "see his face" anymore without looking at a picture, I am blessed to still have moments when I feel him with me.  I was afraid of leaving Pensacola, especially because I could still "feel" him there in our house....but God has blessed my move to Ohio in so many ways-and has included that still being able "to feel Chris" when I have needed it.  Joey and Jessie smell like him when they sweat, and I'm right back there to seeing Chris all smelly and sweaty after running.  At times I hear the kids laugh and I see him belly laughing at something I said.  At times I pray and one of "our" songs by Journey comes on the radio....I pray that I finish the race well, that I hold true to the faith and that when I die I will be found worthy of entering eternal life and being greeted by Chris....that I don't do anything stupid to lose my salvation at the last minute....

(Our family currently: Jason, me-Stephanie, Kids in order of ages: Joey, Jessie, Katie, Christianna (known as "Anna" pronounced "AHNA"-she's the child hanging upside down) and Elizabeth Grace (known as "Libby.")  For the record, Jason picked the name Christianna-one she was conceived around Christmas and two, it's a "family" name.....he's that kind of man....not many men have that sense of duty and honor.

One of the few country music cd's that Chris would let me listen to when he was around was by Collin Raye.    It was only recently that I could actually listen to the one song, "If You Get There Before I Do."  The lyrics of that song's chorus are kind of my motto in life:

If you get there before I do 
Don't give up on me 
I'll meet you when my chores are through
I don't know how long I'll be
But I'm not gonna let you down
Darling wait and see
And between now and then ‘til I see you again
I'll be loving you, love me

May the soul of Lt. Christopher Todd Starkweather and all our military departed rest in peace.

Some of the words to "Eternal Father, Strong to Save"
(US Naval Hymn)

Eternal Father, strong to save
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Lord, guard and guide the men who fly,
Through the great spaces in the sky.
Be with them always in the air,
In darkening storms or sunlight fair.
Oh, hear us when we lift our prayer,
For those in peril in the air!

God, who dost still the restless foam
Protect the ones we love at home.
Provide that they should always be
By thine own grace both safe and free.
Oh Father, hear us when we pray
For those we love so far away.

(Chris with Joey about eight months before he died.  Sorry about the camera flash.  I was being lazy and didn't want to take the time to scan the picture.  It's late and I have to leave for mass in five hours.)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Offering Emergency Preparedness Classes

I am so sorry about my lack of blogging!  I have been busy trying to take care of my health, which I shall update on a different blog post.  Jason and I also just gave a S.P.I.C.E. testimonial talk at the 11th Annual Steubenville FertilityCare Center Creighton Model Seminar Day.

Jason is offering a FREE set of classes for anyone who lives in our local area.  He is open to giving a second set of classes if there seems to be enough interest for people that already have Thursday night commitments.  Just let us know and we'll try to plan something for later this spring....Jason was thinking that maybe one four hour class would work?

The information is as follows:
Classes will be held at The UPS Store-Steubenville from 7pm-8pm

March 8th: Emergency Preparedness (Bug out Bags, etc)
March 15th: Emergency First Aid and Evaluating a Casualty
(Break for a Family Wedding and Holy Week)
April 12th: Emergency Power, Food and Water
April 19th: Security, Misc. Topics and Your

Hope to see some of you there!

I also pray that you are having a blessed Lent!

Wishing you the sweet feeling of security,


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Stories That You Just Can't Make Up

So, I have written many blog posts in my mind over the last few months, but just have not had the time to sit down and write any of them.

Life has been crazy and about all I can say for the past few months is this:

We survived and hopefully thrived a little.

This past Saturday though sums up how life has been lately.

I went into town with Libby for both of us to get adjusted by the chiropractor.  Then stopped by the local grocery store for a small shopping run.  Afterwards I went by Joey's married travel soccer coaches' house to drop off our belated Christmas present to them.  Though both their vehicles were at home no one answered the door, so I just figured they were maybe taking a nap with their one year old daughter or something.  I decided to leave the Christmas present in their mini-suv as surprise....Now the soccer coaches live in a what locals call a "holler" around here...a little valley area between hills that locals were crazy enough to build their houses in way back when.....This holler is extra special because you have to drive over a small wooden bridge going across a creek to get to the houses.  Joey's coaches live in the first house on the right IMMEDIATELY AFTER YOU CROSS THE BRIDGE.    I mean immediately....there's the bridge and then there's their's a really tight holler.

Joey's coaches are wonderful people and the only reason he was able to play this fall was because they helped take him to and from practices and away games, so I've been there several times to drop/pick him up....I know that I have to crank the wheel hard when coming out of the driveway to miss the creek bank and end up in their neighbor's driveway so that I can turn around.....somehow that didn't happen this time.....I began slipping down the creek bank.....I slammed the trailblazer into four wheel drive-go forward, go backwards, over and over-but no movement forward-I just keep slipping backwards down towards the creek-and not only that-I am blocking the one way lane to get in and out of the holler....I try calling the wife's cell phone-no answer....go up to the door again to knock-still no answer....I take a deep breath and then call my hubby for help....just as I'm trying to explain to him that I need for him to drive the 20 minutes to come pull me out I look up and see one of the holler neighbors driving down the road towards me wanting to leave the valley....great, just great....still made the mistake of thinking, "Can this get any worse?"

....yes, oh yes, it can......

You see, it was a lovely older gentleman-the kind of gentleman that I would love to sit around and hear his stories, but not end up as "one of his stories."  I could just tell that he was still trying to figure out how I got stuck and why I couldn't get out.....and he couldn't figure out why I hadn't gotten the coaches to pull me out yet....I was trying to explain to him that they didn't answer the phone or door....but he went up and yelled and pounded on the door.  (Now why hadn't I thought of that-oh yeah, because they have a baby!.....)  I then called the husband's cell phone and he answered-but he wasn't home!  He was out hunting!  Just as I was trying to explain to him that the older gentleman wanted them to pull me out with their min-suv the wife coach came to the this point there are four conversations going on: me with the husband on the phone, wife coach to me wondering what I am doing there-older gentleman to wife coach...older gentleman to both cases the older gentleman is barking out orders informing us that he's going to have wife coach pull me out after he goes back home to get a strap.  Wife coach informs him that she's never done that before....he informs her, "That's okay.  I'll teach you what to do after I get back with a strap."  Then I hear him talking to someone else and realize that the older gentleman neighbor whose driveway I was suppose to turn around in has come out to join my humiliation party.

As I am walking towards my truck I see the second gentleman kneeling down by the back end of my truck-which I thought was weird, but thought maybe he's looking to see how stuck I am.  I kindly informed the first gentleman that my husband was already on his way to help pull me out to which he replies, "Oh, you don't want him to see you like this.  Call him back and cancel.  I'll get you out."  Inside I am thinking, "I didn't want any of you seeing me like this."

I begin walking back to my truck and I hear a cat meowing.....I look around and ask, "Is there a cat under my truck?"  To which the second gentleman replies, "I heard a cat meowing too, but didn't see one under your truck-you don't have one inside it?" "No, I don't have one inside it!  I just have a sleeping baby."  I kneel down again with wife coach and sure enough-there is a gray cat under my truck above the gas tank!!!!  We manage to coax the cat out from the truck.  I put it down on the ground and it immediately starts running under the first gentleman's returned truck, so I manage to catch one is claiming it as a holler cat.  Wife coach doesn't want it in either of her vehicles or house because she is allergic to cats.  Neither of the older gentlemen will hold it while we try to get unstuck-though they both tease me about driving twenty minutes into town with a meowing cat under my truck.  I reply that I did no such thing-the cat must have crawled up at either the doctor's office or at the grocery store, which were both less than three minutes apart and about five minutes from the coaches' house.

So, now I'm attempting to be pulled out of the creek with a slim full size skinny strange gray cat running around in my truck because I am afraid it's going to get run over.  Wife coach gets me pulled out with directions from first gentleman....second gentleman unhooks the strap.  I thank everyone profusely, but I still have to "back out" of the holler making a "k turn" with all three of them watching me and a strange cat running around my truck that I am afraid is going to either eat my three pounds of bacon and/or wake up the baby.....and my truck's steering won't work correctly....I am cranking on it, but the wheel won't turn correctly.  Gentleman number one begins yelling out driving directions to me and has to back up his truck because I am making the "k turn" so wide.  I yell back a couple of times that my steering wheel doesn't seem to be working right.  Finally the turn is complete and I can leave.

Now I have the fun twenty minute ride with the cat...I have the thought that this cat could be psycho-it keeps running back and forth from the front seat to the back.  Thankfully it only went into my groceries once or I swear to God that I would have thrown it out of the truck on the major highway-there is no way that I was going to lose my bacon to a stray cat!  I try to keep the cat on my lap with little success.  It tries sniffing Libby and wakes her up.  I say a prayer asking for the cat not to eat her.  I coax it back on my lap and it begins trying to sniff my face-I cringe thinking, "What if it attacks my face!"  At two different points it climbs up onto the top of my head to try to sniff my face-will this car ride never end?!  My guardian angel pulled off the one hard right turn I had to make to get home safe-thankfully there were not any cars in the oncoming lane of traffic.

My entire family thinks it's great that we got another barn cat out of my humiliation....I'm still not so sure.  The cat has followed me from side to side of our house meowing to be let in.....I say it needs to work off the tab it owed me from the car ride to our house in dead barn rats....not sure on it's name yet.  The kids are fighting over "Shadow" and "Smokey"....I say it should be "Creek" or "Miracle" or "Humility."

I just bought some "steering wheel fluid that stops leaks/squeals" and am really hoping that we just have a leak and not any busted lines.

I'm also hoping that if any of you decide to play "secret santa" that you don't slip into any creek beds!!!

Wishing you the gift of being able to see God's sense of humor in life,