Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Like a fine wine . . .

. . . she just keeps getting better with age.
Happy birthday Suzy!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Saturday, August 21, 2010

6 am climbing:

Another great way to start a day.

Particularly when it hits 100 degrees by 7:30 am.

Another gorgeous morning in the desert.

(Plenty more sunrise photos to follow.)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010





Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pine Valley Peak - ZNP

And then there was that beautiful summer day when Jason (Suzy's bro) and I made an early morning climb up Pine Valley Peak in Zion National Park.

Kolob Sunrise

Morning Breaks on Pine Valley Peak

Going Up!

Overlooking the Hop Valley

The climb was invigorating, and the views from the top were truly spectacular.

King of the Mountain

View from the top - Pine Valley Peak 180 degrees

We rappelled off the mountain and made it back home by 10:00 am.  That's just a great way to start a day.

Hiking Kolob

One fine summer day, Pops, Isaac (nephew), and I explored various trails in the Wildcat Canyon area of Kolob in Zion National Park.  Among other things, we hiked the Northgates Peak Trailhead to the Viewpoint, and then climbed the Northgates Peak East mountain, which offered these lovely views.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wyoming Sunset

(This was my first attempt at making an HDR photograph. I'm pretty excited about the technique because it helped me capture this beautiful view pretty much as I saw it.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Grandma Stewart's Reunion - 2010

It has been a CRAZY summer. Now that things are settling down a bit, we have exactly four score blog posts to catch up on. So brace yourselves.

First up: Grandma Stewart's annual Fourth of July family reunion. The 2010 edition was held outside the thriving metropolis of Afton, Wyoming. Anytime the Stewarts gather together and don't have enough societal supervision to keep them in check, things are bound to get a little bit funky. This year's reunion was no exception. We sure had a good time, though.

We stayed at the beautiful hunting lodge at Reunion Ranch,

which offered comfort, seclusion, and picturesque views at every turn.

We played lots of games, ate lots of food, teased each other incessantly, laughed at the stories of each others' awkward stages, and let our kids run wild in the vast surrounding fields. One of the highlights was our hike to Grand View Point, in Grand Teton National Park. You can tell that the views were spectacular because all the people in this photo are smiling, despite the fact that they had just learned that the hike that I had told them would be 3-4 miles (from Two Oceans Lake to Jackson Lake Lodge) was really going to be 7 1/2 miles. C'mon guys, what's an extra mile or four? Besides, it was totally worth it!

And there's just nothing like being in a small town in the Rockies for the 4th of July.

It was such a beautiful place, and we have many more photos of the area in the queue. Thanks mom for providing such a great time! It will be hard to top this next year, but here's one idea I had.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Tait's Birth Story

I had intended to post Tait's birth story sooner than this, but with everything that has happened I just have not had the time. Here it is.

Tait's birth story is inseparably connected to my dad's death story. I cannot tell one without the other. That being said, Tait's birth is in no way overshadowed by my dad's death. Tait's arrival has brought our family so much joy!


Tuesday, June 1, 2010
I woke up to Tennyson knocking on his bedroom door saying, "Moooommeeeee!" I felt groggy and I had one of those sleep-deprivation headaches. I had not slept well. Tennyson woke me up once in the middle of the night and after that I had random contractions that kept me up until morning. I was so tired. Tennyson was bright-eyed and bushy tailed. I knew I did not have the energy to keep up with him and I worried I was going to go into labor at any moment without having slept very much. I knew my body was preparing itself for labor. I decided to go to my friend's unofficial yoga class where moms can do yoga together and not have to worry about the kids running around destroying the zen. I did not actually do any yoga. My stomach was enormous and my body was flirting with labor. I just showed up and rested on the couch while Tennyson played with the other kids. My dad's laproscopic splenectomy was scheduled for that day and I had talked to my mom and knew he had already been taken into his surgery. The plan was for my mom to fly out on my due date, Thursday, June 4th if my dad's surgery went well (since his recovery would be very short and he would be back to work on Friday). If there were any complications, they would have to open him up the old fashioned way and his recovery would be a couple weeks, in which case my mother would stay home with my dad. I thought about my dad from the moment I woke up that day. I prayed for him that morning and had a prayer for him in my heart the whole day.

A friend of mine offered to watch Tennyson that afternoon. I was so glad because I was able to get 2 or 3 solid hours of sleep. I was at her house picking him up when my sister Rebecca called. My sister and I talk all the time so I thought nothing of it and silenced the call because I was just finishing up my conversation with my friend. I forgot to call her back when I got home. I had been home about an hour when she called me again around 5 pm. Rebecca asked me if anyone from the family had talked to me. I answered no and asked why, thinking the worst that had happened was that they had to open my dad up and that my mom was not going to make it for the birth. She said, "Because dad's surgery did not go well, Suz. In fact, it went very badly." I thought, "Is she telling me dad is dead?" I knew that if that had happened that I would not have been speaking to Rebecca, but that I would be speaking to my mom. I asked her what happened. I could tell she was trying really hard to sound "together" but that inside she was panicking. She told me that they had knicked dad's aeorta and his intestines. She said they were able to fix the knicks, remove the spleen and lymphnodes but that he had lost so much blood his body was in shock. She said his spleen was attached to his diaphram and that it had been difficult to remove. She said we all needed to pray because the next 24 hours were crucial. There was a chance he could start bleeding internally and his body could only handle so much surgery. I was sick inside. She told me it was miracle he did not bleed right then and there on the operating table.

I felt a heavy darkness over my head. I was scared and nervous. But I did not want to panick. After all, he was alive. It was a miracle. He was stable and in ICU. My dad was my dad: he couldn't die. This was one of those things where everything is really scary when you are in it but in the end it would be okay and it would become one of those stories that you share about how everything was so scary and then thank goodness everything was okay.

I got off the phone with Rebecca. The rest of the night I was somber. I explained to Tennyson what was happening and told him we needed to pray together for Grandpa Ross. So we knelt down together and prayed. I didn't want to overreact or lose it. I tried to be normal and make dinner and take care of Tennyson but all I could think about was my dad. I was so sad. At the same time my uterus was still contracting randomly. When Jeremy got home from work I didn't say anything to him but he sensed very quickly that something wasn't right. He asked me what was wrong and I told him everything. We prayed as a family for my dad.

I was exhausted. I was still having random contractions. They were irregular and spaced far apart but were quite strong. I was so grateful after Tennyson was in bed and we had finally laid down. I was just falling asleep at 10 pm when my sister Robin called and told me that dad had started bleeding internally and was currently back in surgery. She said we needed another miracle. The next few hours were some of the highest stress hours of my life, if not the most.
Jeremy and I immediately prayed. We prayed that they would be able to stop the bleeding and that dad would recover. We went back to bed. But of course I couldn't sleep. It wasn't enough. I got up and went downstairs and knelt by the couch. The next while is a blur of prayers and tears and contractions. I tried to muster all the faith I could but I was distracted by my extreme sleep deprivation and my imminent labor. I was both terrified at losing my dad and scared that I would go into labor in the next 24-36 hours without having slept enough. Once I felt at peace I went back to bed.

Rebecca called me before I had a chance to fall asleep. I was glad to talk to her. We both needed to talk. We shared memories we had of my dad. I remembered a time when we were staying on a houseboat at Lake Powell and dad swam all the way out to this shallow under-water island in the middle of the cove carrying a rock tied to an empty 2-liter soda bottle. He left it on the under-water island as a buoy to warn and protect unsuspecting boaters. We talked about how we felt when we prayed. She said she had a bad feeling when she prayed, like he wouldn't make it. I had had that feeling too but had worked through it and now felt that everything would be okay. This seemed to calm her down a lot. We finished our conversation. I think we were both so scared but felt like in the end dad would pull through.

June 2, 2010
Just after 1:00 am, I finally got word that the surgery was successful, that they had stopped the bleeding. Our prayers were answered! But still, he had lost a lot of blood. He would be recovering in ICU for as long as he needed. My mom would not be flying out for the birth. It was a hard adjustment for me mentally but I was so relieved that my dad was okay. I could finally go to bed with my heart at ease. I fell asleep about 1:30 am. I woke up at about 2:30 am because my water had broke.

I told Jeremy in a hushed, excited announcement, careful not to wake Tennyson, "My water just broke!" I was glad to finally not be waiting and wondering when I was going to have this baby. The waiting game at the end of pregnancy drives me crazy! I asked him to get the phone so I could call the midwives. The midwife on call was Katie, and she asked me lots of questions. I told her I was very sleep deprived and that I needed more rest before birthing a baby! She instructed me to call when the contractions were stronger and closer together or when I woke up in the morning, whichever came first. Then I texted my two sisters with the update. I didn't dare tell my mom. I knew it would be too much for her.

I tried to go back to sleep but I started having contractions that were a little stronger and about 7 minutes apart. They were enough to keep me from falling asleep. By morning I hadn't really done anything helpful. I hadn't slept and I hadn't gone into active labor. I talked to the midwives. I told them I was so tired and hadn't slept for more than 5 hours in the last 48 hours. They told me to sleep as much as I could but that when I woke we would consider intervening somehow with castor oil or something. I ate breakfast. Jeremy called his work. He asked me if I wanted him to stay. I said, "Are you kidding? Yes! I am in labor!" He responded, "But you aren't really having contractions . If you aren't in labor I really should go to work for at least part of the day. I answered, "Jeremy, my water broke. Whether at the birthing center or at the hospital we are having a baby in the next 24 hours." And I explained how once the water breaks you generally have 24 hours to have the baby before doctors intercede because of the increased risk of infection. Once he understood he called in to work to say I was in labor and that he would not be in that day.

I went back to sleep. I was able to sleep the entire morning. Finally! By then my contractions had slowed significantly. I felt rested enough to have a baby. We consulted the midwives again. She suggested some things to get labor going. Jeremy went and bought castor oil.
By early afternoon I was getting anxious. I told the midwives we were coming in and that I'd drink the castor oil there. While I was on the phone I had a contraction. The midwife asked me to stay on the line during the contraction so she could time it and listen to it. So I dealt with a contraction while she listened. She timed it and it was over a minute long and it was obviously strong. She asked me again how often I was having them. I answered, "About every 15 minutes." She asked me, "Are you sure?" I wasn't really. I told her we'd be in to the birth center soon because I didn't want to be stuck in traffic. We dropped Tennyson off at Clara's on the way and stopped at McDoanld's for some lunch. I was starving. We ate in the car. On the way my contractions finally got closer together and a lot stronger. I had a feeling that would happen. It happened with Tennyson. I was finally in active labor!

I arrived at BirthCare at 2:40 p.m. My contractions were 5 minutes apart and very strong. I laid down on the bed and Jeremy gave me an awesome footrub. But maybe it was too good because my contractions slowed again to every 10 to 15 minutes. Katie suggested a couple tricks to get labor going, which worked almost immediately. My contractions became very intense and were spaced 2 to 3 minutes apart. I was really struggling with my contractions. It was weird. They seemed so much harsher this time compared to when I had Tennyson. I tried coping with the pain by leaning on a birthing ball on the bed. I did not like it. I felt strange. I was making jokes and stuff. But I was in so much pain. At 4:20 I got in the tub. Ahh! Finally some relief! The tub felt awesome. But maybe it was too awesome because my contractions slowed down again. We continued using the techniques Katie suggested and they continued working. At 5:10 I got out of the tub. My contractions started slowing down again. We had to keep using the techniques Katie suggested to keep them going. It was frustrating to me because with Tennyson everything progressed gradually so I was able to constantly adjust to the new levels of pain. With this I felt like I was on the clock once my water broke and nothing was gradual. I felt like we had to keep proding labor along and I couldn't go at my own pace. But Tait's heart rate was super strong and he was handling the contractions just fine. Jeremy put pressure on my hips and that relieved a lot of the pain.

At 5:40 my contractions were intense and very close together. I felt like someone was knifing me in the abdomen. I started bearing down. I layed down and started pushing with my contractions at 6:00. I was so glad to finally be pushing because I knew it would be over soon. But the pain was absolutely breathtaking. For some reason I was still trying to breath through my contractions. Katie suggested I hold my breath and just push with the contractions instead of trying to breath through them. That did the trick and things really started to progress. I would get so hot when I had my contractions. Jeremy got some cold water and would cool me down with a cold compress during my contractions. I was covered in sweat. Suddenly, I announced, "I'm going to throw up." Jeremy quickly got a bucket and I completely emptied my stomach. I was on my left side and all of a sudden I hated that position. I got on my hands and knees. After a couple more contractions my baby boy was born at 6:41 p.m. I cannot describe the intense feeling of going from absolute agony to absolute ecstasy. I went from severe pain to complete relief and holding a slippery, tiny baby boy in my arms. I was compltely alert and totally in love with my baby. I was so glad it was over. I did it! All the pain was finally over! I was kneeling and everyone helped me reposition myself so I was reclining and holding my baby boy. The placenta was delivered 3 minutes later, and it was really interesting to examine it and the umbilical cord. Tait was still blue so my birth asssitant Liz gave him some oxygen and he pinked right up. The cord was intricately braided like challah bread. It was beautiful. My placenta was very big and thick. Katie examined the bag and commented that she was surprised it even broke on its own at all because it was so strong. She picked it up and it held together perfectly. Inside I knew it broke because of all the stress I had gone through in the hours leading up to it.

I asked the midwife if she had given me my pitocin shot at the end to stop my bleeding. I had not felt it at all and was nervous they had forgotten it. She said they didn't forget. I guess I was just in so much pain from pushing out a baby that I didn't notice a needle going into my thigh! I rested and was able to get showered and cleaned up. It was so nice to feel clean and alert and to not be in pain and to hold my new person!

On our way home Jeremy and I stopped at Good Things Eatery. I was so hungry. We parked on the street and Jeremy ran in to get the food. While I waited my new little boy started screaming. I had forgotten what to do with a newborn. I unbuckled him and tried to nurse. Neither one of us knew what we were doing. It was so funny. But Jeremy came back with the food and we took our baby home. The food was so good. We all slept through the night. It was awesome. We were all so tired.

The next morning we found out that my oldest sister Robin had gotten a plane ticket and was flying out to help us. We were so grateful. Having her there was such a joy. And since she is the communications center of our family we got frequent updates on my dad's condition. But it was such a roller coaster. He would get better and then something else would go wrong. It was also hard being so far away from it all. When Robin left most of the information we received about my dad was from random texts like, "Dad is out of sedation." or "Dad is drinking Diet Coke."

A week after his surgery my dad seemed to be doing better. He was becoming more lucid but still had problems with his lungs. He was also in a great deal of pain. That Friday the doctors decided to do an exploratory surgery to search for blood clots or anything else that might be causing his pain. After that surgery my dad never came out of sedation. By the next Monday his kidneys were failing and he needed dialysis. His heartbeats were irregular and the doctors inserted a pacemaker. They accidentally punctured his lung while inserting the pacemaker. By Tuesday night my dad was experiencing massive organ failure. I woke up early Wednesday morning to nurse Tait. I nursed and burped him and then changed his diaper. It was very quiet. The city had not woken up yet. I laid him back down in his bassinet. I was thinking about my dad the whole time. I kneeled down for another prayer. I prayed that my dad would be restored to me. Fifteen minutes later the phone rang. It was six in the morning. It was my mother. My father had passed away.

I often wonder why our prayers were not answered the way we wanted them to be. But in the end I know my father will be restored to me and that this period of separation will seem like a blink of an eye. I love my father and my family. I am so glad Tait joined our family. What a comfort he is to everyone. We love you Tait!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Utah Sunsets

The sunsets in the Utah desert are consistently phenomenal. Exibit A (taken in St. George, UT):
We're having so much fun on our paternityleavecation, and one of our favorite parts of every day is watching the light show every evening. Many more sunset photos and many more posts of our adventures will follow once we settle down again and have consistent internet access.