Saturday, December 27, 2008

Giving Presence

First, a very sincere thank-you to my sisters for the conversations that resulted from my last post. It's always hard to talk about sad memories, but sitting down to leave blog comments and share e-mails gave us time to gather our thoughts and share some meaningful memories. My sister Nancy shared some thoughts and memories on her blog. You can read that post here.

November and the winter months that follow are always a difficult time for me. The anniversary of my mom's passing and the short daylight hours make me long for spring and new beginnings. And those heavy thoughts were somewhat multiplied this year with sad news that two of my sisters have friends who lost spouses in the past few weeks, both due to cancer. Both have young children. One has a blog where friends wrote about her battle with cancer, and now a celebration of her life. If you're interested, check that out here.

December turned out to be a very busy month, much more so than I anticipated. The first weekend, we visited dear friends in Kirksville. It's always a mixed blessing to go back. We want to visit everyone, but it's next to impossible to have meaningful visits when they're so short and rushed. For those we did see, thanks for your flexibility as we generally dropped in unannounced, whenever Sam and Eva's naps and eating times would permit. For those we missed, especially Michele's good friends from Kirksville Middle School, we hope to see you sometime soon.

Once we returned home, I found myself in a hole at work and spent the rest of the month digging out. That meant numerous hours away from home, very little family time, and extra stress on Michele as she took care of Sam & Eva by herself for two straight weeks. I arrived home very late, after Sam & Eva were asleep, and often left before they were awake. Twice I worked all night. When you’re in the middle of a mess like that, I don’t know what the short-term solution is. Long-term, our goal is to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them. But in the short-term, we just tried to keep our heads above water and survive.

We only made it to church once, but somehow the message stuck with me all month. The topic was "Giving Presence". Wordplays like that can often make me cringe. But our pastor has a way of sharing ideas in a laid-back, entertaining manner that gets right to the point without being preachy. This idea of "Giving Presence" is something we all know: Christmas should not be about the presents, rather it's about the time ("presence") we spend with each other. It was also a call to spend less of our money on ourselves and donate more to those who are truly in need. Here's an excellent video from a group called Advent Conspiracy that summarizes it well:

With thoughts of the Advent Conspiracy in mind, Michele spent several hours this season making some meaningful presents. For me, she made two photo frames using cardboard and wrapping paper. One has Sam's name in cut-out letters and the other has Eva's. I was wanting some sort of frame to hang on my door at work and (hopefully) insert new photos every week to entertain my co-workers. These are perfect. Now I just have to do my part!

The other meaningful gift Michele pulled together was baking dozens of cookies for her family and organizing them in Christmas tins. Special thanks to my sister Ann and her boyfriend Matt for spending a few days with us and helping bake! Unfortunately, the gift exchange with Michele's family got a little crazy, as the younger kids were super excited to open presents. So Michele missed personally giving the cookies to her brothers Forrest and Jonathan and her sister Aimee. But hopefully they're enjoying them at least half as much as Michele enjoyed baking them!

Right now I'm enjoying giving lots of "presence" to our little family. I'll post new photos soon...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Remembering Mom

We recently found a great donut store near our home. One Sunday morning a few weeks ago, I drove Sam to this store and we brought home some donuts to enjoy with our new little family. The donuts lasted into the week, and one morning I brought one to work and enjoyed it about mid-morning with a cup of coffee. In an instant, it took me back to childhood and Saturday nights. My mom used to make homemade donuts on Saturday evenings. They were for our family to enjoy Sunday mornings before church, but my dad and I would routinely steal a few on Saturday night and eat them with a cup of coffee while watching the original home improvement show “This Old House”. I can’t imagine how a 5 year old can enjoy coffee, but I did. I liked to dunk the donut in the coffee and then eat it. Every time I taste that combined flavor of donuts and coffee, it takes me back to that memory.

Today is the 26th anniversary of her passing. I was eight years old, in 3rd grade. It was a shock. A non-smoker with lung cancer. I remember she had ear aches over the summer, then eventually went to a doctor in September, just after school started. She was diagnosed at a local hospital and then came home for a weekend. We took a few photos that weekend, otherwise I might not remember it all these years later. But I remember reading a book to my mom, some patriotic book that had to be summarized in a book report due that Monday. That was the last weekend she was home. On Monday, she went to St. Louis and spent her remaining weeks in the Intensive Care Unit at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center. My dad visited her most every evening after work. My 3 sisters and I visited as much as possible, probably 3 or 4 times a week. There wasn’t much we could do during our visits. She was hooked up to all sorts of machines, with breathing and feeding tubes preventing her from talking to us. We would write short notes to her on pieces of scrap paper. I remember taking a warm, damp washcloth and washing her feet. What pain she must have felt as a mother, seeing the 4 of us there and undoubtedly knowing that she wouldn’t see us grow up. Early on the morning of November 30, 1982, I remember hearing the phone ring and running into the darkness of my parents’ bedroom. My dad was up and getting dressed, telling me to go back to sleep. Later that day when we arrived home on the school bus, our pastor ‘Brother Ed’ was waiting in our family room with my dad. He told us the sad news and my sisters cried. I remember not knowing how to react, just feeling numb. The funeral was a few days later, our home church packed with family and friends. At one point during the funeral, I looked up to my dad and saw a tear roll down his face. It’s one of the rare times in my life I’ve seen him cry.

Our family doesn’t talk much about my mom. It’s painful to talk about. When we have talked, I’m often surprised how they remember things that I don’t. I’m hoping my sisters and other family who read the blog might be inspired to type a few comments with their memories. Or if you've lost someone close to you, feel free to share some memories of them too.

We miss you Mom. You’d be proud of us – and your grandkids. I can’t wait for you to meet them someday.

Monday, November 24, 2008

She is the Rising Sun

As Thanksgiving approaches, it's hard to express how thankful I am for the family that we'd hoped and prayed for, for so very long. We are truly blessed.

Music has played an important part of my life. I remember my mom playing guitar when we were young. I grew up playing trumpet, and in the last few years picked up guitar and found a new home playing with our church band. There's an indescribeable feeling that comes with playing as part of a team. I'm not much of a sports player, but I imagine it's similar to the feeling of playing on a winning sports team. You have a role that only you can play. And when it all comes together and everyone plays their part, it's like magic. Now that we've moved on, my guitar playing consists of entertaining Sam, which is still quite rewarding - just in a Dad sort of way, seeing a little guy watch me strum "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" as I encourage him to sing along.

Even more than playing music, I enjoy listening to music. Discovering a new artist or a new CD that surpasses expectations is a treasure. It was incredibly rewarding a few months ago when I ran across "The Ill-Tempered Klavier" by Ben Shive. "The ill-tempered what?" you ask. I don't know, I haven't figured out that title yet. That's part of the beauty of this CD. Ben doesn't lay it all out for you. But his music is beautiful and it makes me think. And tonight, as I heard "She is the Rising Sun," I thought of my beautiful wife and our beautiful family and how thankful I am that we have each other. Here are the lyrics:

She is the Rising Sun
Ben Shive

I would say that I was lost in space
Shivering stone in a lonely sky
I was sinking in my silent grave
And I was drowning in the dark
Until she woke me with her light

She is bright as the morning
Fair as the evening wanes
There is warmth in her fingers
Light on her lovely face

She is the sun
She is the rising sun

And there's a hole in the pocket of the midnight blue
And I am slipping through like a lucky dime
And I'm running like a boy in brand new shoes
And when I'm flying by Orion, she is shining in my mind

She is on my horizon
Rising to wake the dawning day
She is drawing me homeward
Driving my tears away

We are dancing in orbit
Marking a season's turn
And though I cast her reflection
She is the fire that burns

She is bright as the morning
Fair as the evening wanes
There is warmth in her fingers
Light on her lovely face

She is the sun
She is the rising sun

Happy Thanksgiving to my rising suns.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bedtime, Steak & Shake, and the Santa Parade

We're fortunate that bedtime is a happy time. Sam loves to go to bed. He listens to music and falls asleep on his own. Eva is getting there too. She's sleeps in a playpen in our room. Within the last week, she's started to sleep for longer stretches. Her current record is 5 hours, which our pediatrician considers a full night's sleep. She seems to have an upset tummy more often than not. The bad news is that chocolate seems to be the culprit. So Michele is forcing herself to resist her chocolate temptations!

Monday Morning Update:
Eva slept 6 hours straight last night!!

Steak & Shake
We treated ourselves to Steak & Shake this past Friday night and had a great time. Our waiter was excellent and as we were leaving, he gave us 2 hats. Sam loves them!

Santa Parade
Saturday we went to the annual Santa Parade in Granite City. We invited some good friends from Kirksville who have also relocated to the St. L area -- Shaun & Jenny and their kids Isabel and Atticus. Last time we saw them was at a Cardinals game back in April. It was great to catch-up and the kids loved the parade. Isabel brought a bucket to collect candy and she filled her bucket 3 times! The parade was impressive with 100+ entries. It was cold but fun.

We're really enjoying our new double-stroller. It's a Baby Jogger City Mini. It was pricey but you definitely get what you pay for. Very high quality, incredibly easy to push, and it fits in the trunk of our Honda Civic with quite a bit of room to spare. And at just under 30" wide, it's narrow enough to fit through doorways. We searched for several weeks and read endless reviews. If you're looking for a side-by-side, I think this is the best stroller for the money.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tough Guy

Miss Eva's Halloween costume
(courtesy of Aunt Annie!)

Uncle Sam

Sam entertaining Eva

Our new double stroller!
Despite Sam's facial expression below, he loves it.
He helped me put it together, then climbed in and insisted on a ride around the house.

And lastly, our Tough Guy
Last night Sam fell down our stairs. Michele was at the bottom and leaned up to catch him. Then they both landed hard. It was scary to say the least. Sam cried hard, but the only damage is a rug burn on his nose (thankfully).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sam takes his first steps!

We were super excited last week when Sam took his first steps! We've been working with him off and on for several months, and last week he finally took his first steps on his own. When he tries walking on his own, he gets so excited that he laughs and falls. But last week, he made it back and forth between Michele and I several times. His current record is 5 steps in a row.

Celebrating with Dad
(I was goofing around and wearing Sam's socks on my ears.)

Eva was snoozing on the sofa.

And this was Mr. Sam's Halloween costume! As you can tell, he wasn't too excited about it. In fact, he didn't even wear it on Halloween. (We took this photo a few weeks ago.) The Halloween tradition in our new neighborhood is a little different. There's a big Halloween parade on the 31st, so most kids go trick-or-treating on Oct 30th. We had beautiful weather both nights. On the 30th, Sam and I stayed outside to welcome all the trick-or-treaters. Sam got so excited watching all the kids that he screamed at them and his whole body shook! It was hilarious. The parade on the 31st was packed, so we didn't get to see it as close up as we'd have liked. But we went with some new friends & neighbors who have a little guy (Noah) who's just a few months younger than Sam. Sam and Noah had a great time hanging out and eating Cheerios while we enjoyed the parade from a distance.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Poem for our family

by Denese Young (a college friend)

Congratulations, Michele and Rob
You've come quite a ways
From lonely single students
Back in your college days
To happy married grown-ups
With jobs and bills and stuff
And the knowledge that things you own
Are really not enough.

You prayed and finally got your Sam
And, oh, you were so glad.
You wanted so very much
To be a mom and dad.
And now you've got your Eva,
So you can shout "Hip-hip-hooray!"
Congratulations, once again
To the Family Gasaway.

Many, many thanks to our families and friends for all the kind words, letters, e-mails, meals, and gifts as we welcome Eva to our lives. Michele's healing process is going well, Eva is already growing up too fast, and Sam is a super big brother.

The past few weeks have been busy, but I'll try to get back in the groove of posting photos more routinely.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Home Gets Sweeter

We headed home on Saturday. When Michele was born, she wore this same dress home from the hospital. Her parents brought it just in case we had a girl. My parents bought the pink booties without even knowing about the dress. Also note the ankle bracelet - a little extra security at the hospital. Special thanks to Brenda, a good friend at work who let us borrow a car seat until we figure out what brand will work best for a car seat and double stroller.

Here we go!

Big brother Sam is already a helper.
If he stands on his tip toes, he can peek in her playpen bassinet. When she cries, he rushes over to see if he can help.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A new life

Some photos from the past few days...

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers.
Michele and Eva are doing great
and may get to come home on Saturday.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Early Arrival!

It's a girl!!!

Eva Catherine
7 lbs even
19 inches long
Born 3:49 am 10/2/08

Mom and baby are doing great. C-section was scheduled for 7 am this morning, but Michele's water broke just after midnight. So the baby came early!

Eva means 'good news' and Catherine is in memory of my mom. After struggling to have kids for so many years, it's such an unexpected gift to have 2. We are so blessed.

Thanks to everyone for your thoughts and prayers. I'll post some photos in the next few days.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Vote now!

Uncle Sam needs your vote! (Actually it's "Brother Sam" and this Cat in the Hat hat is the closest thing we could find to an Uncle Sam hat.)

It's baby week! Our new baby could arrive anytime, but Thursday at the latest. Vote now on whether you think it's a boy or a girl! Winners earn bragging rights - "I knew it was a ____!"

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Counting the days

In just 3 short weeks (or less), Sam will lose his "only child" status! He seems to be taking the news pretty well. Below he's snuggling with Mom after a nap.

Michele still takes him for walks. Here he's snacking on some frozen "Go-Gurt" as they get ready to head out.

A few weeks ago, Michele's older brother Forrest & his family visited. They enjoyed playing with Sam at a nearby park, then we enjoyed a tasty dinner together after I got home from work. Sam was asleep by the time we thought to take some photos!

And finally, a few silly photos...

In case you're wondering, that's a trash can. Grandmother Lawson randomly bought it on sale and gave it to Mom. But Mom didn't have a need for it so she offered it to us. Sam thought it was much too nice for trash!

Garfield... without the cat

One of the best sites I've ran across lately is Garfield Minus Garfield. Just like the name implies, it's the same Garfield comics, except Garfield has been removed. As the site notes, the result is "a journey deep into the mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness and depression in a quiet American suburb." It's a little suprising how taking out a character gives the strip a very different feel. Can you think of any other strips this might work with? Maybe "Calvin Minus Hobbes"?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Happy Birthday (to me)

Unfortunately, Michele didn't feel well today. So I stayed home from work part of the day and got to help out with Sam a little more than usual. Michele had hoped to surprise me by meeting me for lunch at work and baking a cake later, so it wasn't the day she'd hoped for. But it was fun to spend some extra time with Sam -- and that made for a great birthday. Hopefully Michele feels better soon!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Time for a trim

Not long after our Charlotte vacation, we decided it was time for Sam's first haircut. Michele's dad was nice enough to trim his sideburns a few months ago, but it was starting to look shaggy all over. I wanted to hold out as long as possible. Something about that first haircut felt like we were crossing a line and couldn't go back.

Emily, a new friend from our church, performed the honors while Sam sat on my lap. Afterwards she gave Sam a snazzy certificate that reads, "This is a real official piece of paper saying that I was real brave and didn't scream or fuss too much when they took me to this place, covered me up with a sheet thing and cut my hair. As of today, I am a BIG KID!"