Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My New Hardware

The day after Brandon and I returned home from vacation with my family, we packed our car to the brims and headed back to Michigan for the month of November. When I was 12 (2001) I had back surgery for a herniated disk. The surgery was successfully and I spent the next 4 years playing year round volleyball and engaged in normal high school activities - however, when I headed to college in 2006 the pain began to return. Years of doctors appointments, alternative treatments, and chronic pain followed. The doctors knew what was wrong, kind of, but weren't sure how to fix it.

My trendy set of wheels.

Fast forward to 2013 when Brandon asked my dad for permission to marry me. My dad asked him two questions:

1. Do you know what you're getting into?

2. Do you know how expensive she is??

Now normally a girl might be offended that her father was insinuating to her husband-to-be that she was high maintenance, but I knew that my dad was not necessarily referring to my personality, but more so the fact that in our family, I'm generally recognized as the one who is a "medical mess."

Brandon, brave soul that he is, accepted the challenge and married me anyway :) 

A few months into our marriage, Brandon decided that he was going to find a solution to my pain! I was pessimistic, but went along with getting a new round of x-rays/MRI/CAT scans done and finding new doctors - including the doctor who did my grandfather's back surgery last summer. To make a long story short, we finally found a surgeon we loved who, after a summer of injections and diagnostic tests, gave us the option of scheduling a surgery with a 60-70% of a positive result. We decided to take the risk.

Because we were so happy with our MI surgeon, after we made the move to MN, we decided to travel back and live with my parents for a month so I could stay with Dr. K.

About 3.5 weeks post-surgery and one of the first days I put on "real" clothes! A visit from Reagan was great medicine, but because I'm on a 5 lb weight limit for the next 3 months someone has to put her in my lap for me!

As it turns out, the surgery was anything but "uneventful." In the two weeks leading up to my surgery date we were convinced it was not going to go through. Our insurance was cancelled, and the new insurance was set to kick in 2 days before surgery - not enough time to get approval. My body was showing numerous signs of pregnancy (which we would have loved and welcomed) - which made for some frantic weeks of testing and doc. visits to see if we needed to cancel surgery. 4 days before the surgery I got a call that I had a random infection and needed to start taking meds for 3 days before the surgery (we were in FL when I got this call). Finally once our insurance was finally figured out (the old insurance extended coverage until the end of the year because of our situation) the insurance company did not follow through with approving my surgery until the day before!

Finally, after everything we had gone through, when I was sitting in pre-op starving (because of an emergency my surgery was pushed back until 5:30 p.m. and I hadn't eaten anything since the night before and a hungry Julianne is not the most pleasant person to be around....), my doctor chose to remind me that this surgery was elective, and I could back out at any time. 

I broke down. Thankfully my mom and Brandon told me NO WAY was I backing out, and when the doctor came out to talk to them post-op he said things were worse than he had ever expected and that if I hadn't gone through with surgery now he was certain I would have needed it in a few months.

After 5 days in the hospital, I headed home with my own walker and a brand new set of hardware gracing my lower back!

The last month and a half has been very difficult - recovery is slow and tedious, and there have been some setbacks along the way. But Brandon has been an absolute gem - in both living with his in-laws for 5 weeks and in caring for me, and I couldn't have done this without him.

Brandon's work was awesome and let him work remotely for the month - including a few days from the hospital!

It's still too early to tell the full results of the surgery, but we are hopeful! 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Tales of a Cole Vacation

Last week Brandon and I met my family in Florida for a celebratory vacation in honor of my parents 40th wedding anniversary.

While I was blessed that my family took frequent vacations while I was growing up, this was really only the second time that we all went away together (meaning all the in-laws, grandkids, etc.) and the first time that Brandon, Isaac, and Reagan were part of the mix.

She really is as sweet and cuddly as she looks!

There is nothing like waking up early to hear at least 8 people trying to be quiet...because really who wants to sleep in when hours of swimming, laughing, and talking lay ahead? Besides if you wait to long, you might miss the 1-woman musical being performed by the resident 5-year-old, although, she really could care less if you were listening anyway...

These girls clearly have NO personality or flair for drama.

During our trip we spent a day at the Magic Kingdom. This was an extra special element because when I had back surgery when I was 11, during one of my pre-surgery frightened states, my dad promised me a trip to Disney World when everything was over. Thirteen years later and only days before my second back surgery - dad fulfilled his promise! Although, when he originally made the offer I don't think he was expecting to take my husband along :)

This was my first time to Disney, but we managed to cram a ton in. Under the recommendation of my brother and sister-in-law, we ended up purchasing tickets for Mickey's Halloween party. We were able to be in the park from 4 p.m. until midnight, and because we weren't interested in the festivities (trick-or-treating and special shows/dance parties) we were able to fly through the ride lines!

Napping buddies after a late night at Disney.

 Another day was spent at Epcot, where we all declared that we could easily spend several days eating ourselves around the countries :)

But Brandon and I voted the night we celebrated my parent's anniversary as our favorite. After tucking the kids we introduced my mom to fish tacos and spent the night sharing memories and playing the newlywed game! We let my parents do a few rounds on their own and then the rest of us joined in.

The siblings - we were able to get a date night out while Grandma and Grandpa hung out with the kiddos.

My family is far from perfect. At times we struggle with communication and selfishness, and we are kindof a medical mess - but moving away has made me realize even more how deeply I love these people - and how precious being a daughter, aunt, sister, and wife really is.

LOVE these sweethearts! Sasha (7), Alexis (5), Isaac (23 months), and Reagan (5 months)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Throwing a Gender Neutral Baby Shower

I have reached that stage in life where I am surrounded by pregnant friends and newborns. Last year the trend seemed to be all girls, but this year almost every baby I know (in the newborn or in utero stage) is a boy!

We do have a couple of friends who are deciding to wait to find out the gender (which has resulted in Brandon an I having several in-depth conversations over which way is best). While I love the suprise element that not finding out brings with it, with gender reveal parties becoming the new norm, such a choice seems to be becoming less common.

Last week my friend Jess threw a baby shower for some dear friends of ours who are expecting their first child in December. I was given the job of being chief assistant #1. Jess contacted me about a month ago knowing that she wanted to decorate onesies at the shower (because the mother-to-be is an art teacher) but having little direction past that.

Once I found this saying on etsy - we decided to go with an art themed baby shower.

The decorations were simple, but fun. We stuck to different shades of teal/light green and grey for a neutral pallet and accented with animals (mostly birds and elephants) and art accessories (chalk, chalkboards, crayons). Jess brilliantly filled glass bottles with water tinted to match the color scheme and I snuck out of Home Depot with way too many free paint samples that we used as a table runner.

Our main activity of the night was painting onesies and bibs. I've heard of people doing this, but have never had the chance to actually do it myself. It was a blast! It was so much fun to see what people came up with and we had stencils for the less artistically inclined (ahem :) ).

We kept the menu to a heavy appetizer spread (meatballs, cheese, chip dip, veggies, fruit, olives, etc.) and iced the cupcakes to match the color scheme. Just in case anyone is wondering, 5 drops of blue + 3 drops of red + 2 drops of yellow= grey icing.

I loved this theme and it fit the mom-to-be's personality perfectly. While I loved it for a gender neutral shower, you could easily tailor the colors to be more gender specific.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Food for the Soul

I. love. books.

Every once in awhile I forget this. Not forget that I love reading - but more so forget how much I love books

"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.
George Martin

This realization was made most evident in our recent move. For two adults sharing a 2-bedroom apartment, I would say that Brandon and I own a fairly reasonable amount of stuff (clothes, furniture, kitchen supplies, etc.) but then there are the books.....filling every bookcase and shelf, stacking in tubs under the beds and in closets, not to mention the full bookcase left behind at my parents. Most of our conversations about said books begin with "someday when we have a library...."

Since we've moved I've had fun exploring 4 of the local libraries. Yes 3 (in 10 days). I just happen to keep ending up near a different one and figure, why not?

So far I've encountered:

1. The downtown library (Minneapolis). This is the largest and has the best book selection I've ever seen. However, given its location, it also tends to be the hang out spot for Minnesota's homeless population.

2. The closest library (Minnetonka). The second largest library in the area, the book selection here is fair. However, I had to fight for a parking spot since the library shares a building with the county court and apparently there are a lot of parking tickets that need to be taken care of...

3. The prettiest library (Wayzata). This was the first library I visited. The book selection is pretty awful, but it's located right off a lake and has a beautiful view. 

I'm choosing to add libraries as a point on the "Minnesota positive" list, and not consider it to be a reflection of necessary entertainment for the winter to come. :)

"Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you'd most like not to lose."
Neil Gaiman

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My First Post as a Minnesotan

It's been nearly a month since I last posted - and it has been a month full of changes.

After a lot of prayer, Brandon and I packed up our apartment in Michigan and relocated to Minnesota. Thus, the last few weeks have been very busy and full of transitions! While I lived on the west side of the state during college, I've never lived outside of Michigan - and so moving away from my family (and switching time zones) has been quite the adventure.

Our move happened a few weeks after my federal clerkship came to a close (the federal government is set up so that Judges typically have 1 "career" clerk, who is a permanent member of the chamber's staff, and 1-2 "term" clerks, who work for a 1-2 year term). Because of the move and some medical issues, I eased out of a full-time away from home position and into the role of stay-at-home-wife! While it's taken a little bit of getting used to, both Brandon and I love having me at home full time. God truly blessed us as far as timing in this area. With me at home I was able to do the majority of the packing and unpacking that has gone along with the move. Brandon's work schedule is incredibly busy and with me packing during the day, we were able to spend the hours he was free treasuring our last moments with our Michigan friends and family.

And so begins a new chapter. While I wouldn't necessarily have chosen the Minnesota climate for my new home state, our first week here has gone smoothly. We live about 5 minutes away from some of our best friends (the couple that introduced us), Brandon loves being back in the office (as opposed from working from home as he's been doing for the last year), our new apartment is unpacked and starting to feel like home, and I've already found a great bible study. True I need a GPS to go anywhere, and I've yet to figure out the grocery stores here - but God has eased the transition with 70-80 degree weather all week :)

And so since we have a guest room and you are all welcome to visit, I'll leave you with a few Minnesotan phrases that I've encountered so far....

1. Uff-da (Oo-fh da) - used as an expression of surprise, although I've also heard it used in moments of exasperation. Apparently it actually has some Norwegian origin, which makes sense given my plethora of new neighbors whose last names end in -son.

2. Hot Dish - you don't make casserole for dinner, you make hot dish. Brandon tends to use this as a lumped category as well, as in "I hate hot dish" not "I hate the chicken and rice hot dish." Thankfully his grandma did provide me with a personalized hot dish carrier for all my future pot-lucking events.

3. Duck Duck Grey Duck - what the rest of the world calls "Duck Duck Goose." I seriously am lost over this one....

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

When Friends Become Family

Sometimes words just don't do justice.

I wish I could put into words how much I love this family. How much they truly have become family. How hard we manage to laugh together, and how edifying conversation with them is.

Because why not wear an Elsa dress to do dishes in (and play and sleep, etc.)?

But this time, words just aren't enough.

Working on Paisley's quilt!

Instead you'll have to imagine how great it is to wake up to coffee hour on the deck that can last hours, the delicious smells wafting from a true Italian kitchen, the warmth of hugs and snuggles from the little ones, and the beauty of realizing that even after 4 days of non-stop talking, you still didn't have enough time together.

If she's this cute in pictures, you can only imagine how sweet she is in real life! (unless you sit next to her at the table....)

Words can't accurately describe how hard this family fights for their littlest, how fiercely they love, and how passionate they can become :)

And words can't adequately express my thanks for their friendship - for the mentors Allen and Kathleen have been to Brandon and myself, for their hospitality, and for their generosity.

My first crab experience! (yes we ate like this every night!)

Brandon and the boys were heartbroken that he couldn't come along this time - so he sent a paper airplane book in his place and I returned home with numerous notes and planes for him and under solemn vow that I would bring him with me next time.

But the great thing about having friends like these is that sometimes you don't need words to convey feelings - you just know, you get each other. And if push comes to shove a real Italian hug will remind you that you're loved for life.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Life with Miss. R

This past weekend our little household expanded by 1! A few weeks ago my brother and sister-in-law mentioned they had to be out of town for a wedding and asked us if we would mind watching their 3-month-old daughter. Not sure of how....ready Brandon would be for a full-time infant, I initially replied that I thought we might be able to take her part of the time. Brandon however quickly piped up that we would be happy to have Reagan for the whole time!

We had a blast! This little girl is such a gem - seriously the most perfect baby. She sleeps like a dream, eats like a champ, and spends any awake time sharing her coos and smiles with the world.

Aside getting the chance to have some extra bonding time with our little princess, I loved watching Brandon with a baby. Reagan has reached the age where he is pretty confident that he won't break her anymore, so he welcomed the chance to snuggle with her and by the end of the weekend was serenading her with his guitar and whispering "I love you" in her ear. I think he was hooked :)

In just a few short weeks we will be moving out of state. Without a doubt, the number one thing we will miss about Michigan is spending time with my family. We are committed to staying involved in our nieces and nephews lives and welcome opportunities like these to spend a little extra one-on-one time.

"Children will not remember you for the material things, but for the feeling that you cherished them."
Richard L. Evans

Right before her parents were about to arrive home we were sitting on the couch with Reagan on my lap. Except, she only had eyes for Brandon! While he was on the phone, she practically dove off my lap in an attempt to catch his attention and send a smile his way!