Three Years

This post was meant for last year around this time. You’ll find out why it was so delayed towards the end 😉 To get caught up, you can head back a couple posts to Year One and Year Two of our family’s Year in Review following my husband’s GBM diagnosis.

Do you know what’s amazing? My husband’s MRI’s continued to be good throughout the third year, and that’s pretty special in the world of GBM. He continued to receive his bi monthly infusions of chemo, and as time has gone on he has adjusted really well to it, becoming less and less fatigued as the year went on.

I also have become way more clinical in the way I talk about it. More matter-of-fact. I think this has evolved over time because so many people ask how he’s doing, so I started to just kind of recite an answer. I started to put a guard up over my true fears surrounding everything, and chose to try and embrace more normalcy in life instead.

Chris started a new job that he absolutely loves. He’d often blame the stresses of running his own business as one of the reasons he thinks the cancer happened. There really is no way to know, but our beliefs are powerful, and so is our intuition, even if we can’t scientifically prove it. So once he returned to work he decided he’d work for other shops instead of running his own. His position is part time and it works perfectly for us. I work at my office part of the day in the morning while he watches Olivia, then he goes to work and I work remotely from home while Olivia takes her afternoon nap.

Budgets are tight, but we love not having to put Olivia in a daycare just yet and also getting to enjoy time together as a family midday.

I read a book! That is a legitimate accomplishment in the age of devices and parenting a toddler. I read “It’s Okay to Laugh (and Crying is Cool Too)” by Nora McInerny Purmort. Her husband had the same brain tumor as Chris has. I found her blog when I googled “my husband has a brain tumor” shortly after he was released from the hospital following his craniotomy. I poured over those pages until I knew their entire story, looking for any secret to helping my husband live life to the fullest despite this. And to know there was someone else out there who was in such a similar situation helped me, like I had someone to turn to for advice, even if we never actually spoke.*

* Nora did comment on one of my instagram photos once and it was so special to me. She is a woman who has been through some sh*t and she now spends her days pouring kindness and compassion into people’s lives who are experiencing their own tough times.

I had my first art show. It was so exhilarating. I created twelve watercolor illustrations of  zodiac inspired portraits. I put a lot of research into each signs colors and the symbols they’re associated with. I also coordinated the backgrounds with each signs element. I called the show “We Are Stardust“. The show hung at a local coffeeshop throughout the month of July. The owner said his customers naturally gravitated towards sitting by their sign, even when they didn’t know that’s what the painting was about. I think that is so neat, I guess my research paid off, because people really are drawn to their signs portrait.

I still have some prints available in my shop from the Stardust series, check them out here.

I also created the Typewalk campaign for our local AIGA chapter. I had a lot of fun with this one. This year our area was the brewery arts district, which used to be a main thoroughfare through town, so there’s tons of vintage neon motel signs. I created a custom hand lettered “type” design, which I illustrated to have the look of neon tubing. I used a bright & fun color palette and included a nod to the original Typewalk letters by slapping them on the sign pole as stickers. Check it out here.

Our family went to Lantern Fest on a summer evening in June. We sat around a fire, roasting marshmallows and releasing intentions via sharpie marker onto our paper lanterns. When the sun went down everyone lit their lanterns and released them into the air. It was a very well attended event, so hundreds, if not thousands, of lanterns filled the sky with their warm flickering light. It was so beautiful and magical and powerful, it brought tears to my eyes. If one of these events ever comes to you, I know it seems cheesy, but it was so beautiful, everyone should experience this at least once in their life.

Since budgets are tight, and I desperately need a vacation, I decided to create little weekend trips for our family. The first one we set out for was a hot springs called Soldier Meadows. It’s a working farm in northwest Nevada where you can stay in their bunkhouse, camp & eat. The first time we headed out there we were planning on just going for the day. We also decided to take the long way through desert dirt roads and spent the majority of our day driving. We stopped and ate sandwiches I packed at a fence sporting a no trespassing sign while I contemplated if I missed something. I decided not to trespass and we turned around, never arriving at our destination.

I emailed the farm later that week and discovered that I was supposed to continue past that sign, by only 10 more minutes! This time I made arrangements for our family to stay on the farm and make a night of it. We were the only ones at the hot springs that night and it was warm and peaceful. A little charge for the batteries and back to everyday life.

The mini weekend break was my new bff.

Olivia’s hair started getting more length, and the precious curls at the nape of her neck kept coming. They’re the sweetest and I want to save them forever but I don’t have the heart to bring scissors to her hair. My photos will have to suffice.

Chris’ dad wanted to have a fishing trip just him and his sons before he departs for a mission in Chile for 2 years with his wife, so Chris left Olivia, Celeste and I behind to catch some fish in Wyoming. I am so jealous. I am feeling the weight of not having any vacation in years and I have the travel bug bad. But since we barely get by, it’s just not in the cards rights now.

Enter the next mini weekend trip!

My grandmother unexpectedly comes to town, so she stays with me that week and plays with Olivia while I work from home. At the end of the week we took a drive up to Tahoe to watch the sunset since my grandma mentioned she hadn’t seen Tahoe in 20 years. It’s a short drive from town, so how could you not go soak in the wonder for an evening?

For our weekend trip I took the girls to San Francisco. It was a lot of walking and public transportation, and Celeste was getting pretty miserable about it. Until I  showed her the painted ladies. She had gotten really into Full House a couple years prior, so I thought she’d really enjoy seeing the iconic opening shot. We also visited the Exploratorium, ate breakfast at Dottie’s, walked through the Castro, visited the General Store and some other really neat shops in Ocean Beach and ate pink champagne cupcakes at Sift.

Celeste started middle school in August and I spent the remaining long days soaking up every last bit of sunshine I could.

In September I hosted a beginner watercolor painting workshop at West Elm. My Stardust series caught their attention, and I’m so grateful. It was an intimidating thing to do, but I met some really cool people and I loved teaching people new artistic techniques and styles they may not be aware of.

I also was able to make hand painted name tags for the annual Art Blast art show. It was a really exciting project, but I found out later that most people thought they had been painted by another local watercolor artist, which was a little disappointing.

Later that fall Chris’ new job packed up the artists and flew them all back east for a tattoo convention in Massachusetts. It looks like it must’ve been so gorgeous to see at that time of year. I’m jealous again.

I take Olivia to the pumpkin patch with a friend. They’re not too into the pumpkins. But the running around and the animals? Love it. Just before Halloween I take Celeste to her first concert. It’s a small all ages show at the Holland Project. Damien Jurado. I just love his music and it’s mellow enough to at least introduce my almost teen to concerts. We attend the Aiazzi pumpkin carving party again this year. I love this so much, it’s so magical seeing so many pumpkins lit up at once. This is Olivia’s second Halloween, so she actually gets a little taste of trick-or treating and lollipops.

We also attended ‘Harry Potter Thanksgiving’ at the Aiazzi’s. They let their grandson Asher (our nephew) pick out what kind of Thanksgiving we should have this year and this is what he said. It was pretty cool. Everyone dressed up, there were floating candles and Harry Potter themed recipes. I even brought along some Butter Beer Cupcakes.

We chopped down or fourth Christmas tree together.

With winter in full swing, I introduce Olivia to the best winter treat, hot cocoa. I also spend a fair amount of time painting wood slices and making them into ornaments for my first ever pop up shop. I added some handpainted flour sack towels and some notepads to the mix along with my art prints. It was a pretty fun endeavor and I just love that someone got my creations for their Christmas gifts.

The snow finally came in the first week of January and Olivia had a blast stomping through it and trying to eat it. Every time we’d get in the car she wanted to bring snow with her, and she would be so upset that the snow didn’t make it too far into the trip.

Towards the end of January Olivia and I got up bright and early and participated in the historic Women’s March. I have never been involved in something quite like this. It was powerful and I hope it carries meaning for our children in the future.

At the end of the month I had another pop up, but this time it was a bit of a bust. You win some, you lose some. I am beginning to tire at this point though. Trying to work full time, be a wife and mother, and be an active participant in my husband’s healthcare in addition to my artistic pursuits is wearing on me financially, physically and emotionally. I really think this is where I am starting to realize I can’t actually do it all, subconsciously, and begin to grow bitter from it.

That doesn’t stop me from trying though! At this time, I am still working on my next art show, which will be later in the year, at a bigger location with more foot traffic. I am really excited and hope I will finally start to gain some more recognition for my illustrations. But it’s hard. I often finish my paintings just in time, leaving me flailing when it comes to the show promotion, like social assets, postcards, art prints.

In fact, in the two subsequent shows I’ve had since the Stardust show, I didn’t finish with enough time to make prints. And my work sold, so they’re out there in the world, which brings me so much joy, but I don’t even have a photo of a lot of them.

In February, on Valentine’s Day, I took Olivia and Celeste to Gardnerville to walk around and enjoy the day. In one of the gift shops I bought Olivia a little stuffed cat. She wasn’t really saying the word cat just yet, she called cats “meow”. So when asked her little kitty’s name, she replied “Meow”. We didn’t realize it at the time, but Meow became the newest member of our family. Olivia went everywhere with Meow, had to have Meow to sleep every night, and even tried to take Meow in the bath tub a few times.

As if I don’t have enough on my plate, I also add participation in the Atelier Truckee sketch event and the Handmade Valentine Project to the mix. Sometimes I think that I don’t know how to focus my creative energy, so I just end up jumping on every bandwagon that comes my way. They were fun, but exhausting. But, the more you do, the better you become, so I am glad for the growth in my abilities that these projects gave me, even if they don’t go in the portfolio.

It was cold and snowy on my birthday, as is often the case in early March. Chris took me to the Carson Hot Springs and we splurged for the private room. It was so fun and relaxing to float and soak for an hour. It was a little break to reinvigorate and spend some time together as a family. Our lives have become busy between our jobs and projects and doctor appointments.

Around this time I also decided to turn my front yard into my garden. I have had a small garden in my backyard for years, but I can’t seem to keep the dogs and cats out of it. The dogs either jump the picket fence, or I’ve watched one literally head butt the chicken wire to make a hole to walk through between the pickets. Seriously, they want to mess in my garden so bad. Well, when Chris and I didn’t live here and I rented the place out, one of the tenants left for out of town work and didn’t water the front yard for three weeks and all my beautiful landscaping died. The only survivors are a rose bush and a peony bush. So this year I built planter boxes on one half of the yard and planted a little veggie and herb garden.

In the middle of March our little Olivia Drue turns two. I baked her a tall cake with melted caramel topping. Now, I love trying new things, and this sounded so good, but I did it all wrong. I poured it on too hot and it just ran down the sides melting all the frosting with it. It was like that Pinterest comparison show “Nailed It” before that was a thing. So I put flowers on top and you sort of couldn’t tell.

Tasted fabulous, that’s all that matters, right?

Have you heard of the Wee Ride? I used the money I made from selling some artwork to get a bike, and the Wee Ride is the seat I went with for Olivia to ride too. It’s much smaller than the rear style ones, and I loved being able to see her. Plus, when she falls asleep, as bike riding babies often do, she has a place to rest her head. We started taking daily bike rides around the neighborhood, eventually working up to rides a couple miles long.

Easter this year was the first year Olivia really understood the egg hunt. We went to my sister in law’s parents, it’s our little tradition, and they hid eggs all over their yard for her too, so she was super pro by the time she was done with her second egg hunt.

In April, I took an art journaling class with my sister in law and her mother. I fell in love. I love journaling, and memory keeping, which is why I adore my blog. There’s so much I forget, then I go back and read a post and am instantly transported to fond memories or reminded of how strong we are, how much we have persevered through. And to pair journaling with watercolor painting was like a dream come true.

Well, I still haven’t been able to pick up a solid habit of art journaling. I have decided it will have to join scrapbooking and photography as things I am passionate about and will revisit when I don’t have a toddler.

Around this time I also started taking Yoga again. When Chris and I first met I had a monthly membership and took as many classes as I could. Following his diagnosis and with a new baby on the way, I ended a freelance job and a part time job, so I also really reigned in on the budget. But Yoga was something I missed desperately.

So when I ran across a class that would be taking place at a low cost, early Saturday mornings while Olivia, Celeste and Chris slept and didn’t interfere with work, it was meant to be.

The instructor was so friendly, and as we spoke after class I learned she had a son the same age as Olivia, who shared my birthday! We hit it off and started hanging out and having play dates and before you knew it Olivia and I both had new BFFs.

We’re nearing the end of year three now, which is May, since these “year in reviews” revolve around Chris’ diagnosis, when life changed forever for us.

May was my Flora & Fauna show. I am so proud of all the work I was able to create. Part illustration, part installation, it was a little piece of me on display for this show. As many people do, I find great inspiration and healing in nature, especially gardening. Did you know there are studies that show that the bacteria absorbed into our skin via gardening in the soil is good for your mental health? Science. I guess that explains why when I am feeling really down or frustrated I just like to get outside and tend to my garden. Anyway, this show was an exploration of flowers, and animals, it included specimens in jars and pressed flowers and leaves, even a deer skull I drew a floral illustration on.

We also packed in another mini weekend trip to Big Sur in May. I’ve noticed lately that we are just glued to our screens and that breaks my heart. I want our little family to have memories grander than sitting on couches living vicariously through youtube and instagram. So I booked us a tiny cabin in Big Sur with no internet or cell phone access. I think it was just what we needed. Olivia ran around playing in the dirt and looking at flowers. We watched birds out the cabins big picture window and talked and read books and roasted marshmallows and looked at the stars.

It was one of the most gorgeous places I’ve seen. And for me, being near the ocean is a big inspiration for me, it stirs up so many emotions and memories. I know I came home from that trip a different person, with a renewed appreciation for our little simple life. A new set of blessings to count and help outweigh the bad.

At the end of May, about 3 days before I am scheduled to leave to Dallas for the AIGA Leadership Retreat, we got a big scare. Chris suffered a seizure while at work. If you’ve never witnessed someone having a seizure it is a frightening thing, especially since you’re so helpless to come to their aide. You can really only make sure they don’t hit anything or choke. Or try anyway. And when they’re done seizing, they’re in this post seizure fog, called a postictal state.

When I arrived at his work he was in this postictal state. Every couple of minutes it was like his brain was resetting, he would ask “what happened?” and the paramedic would explain and he would say “oh, I did?” and look around and then start the process over again.

That’s an unnerving thing to witness, a glitchy brain. Your own mind immediately thinks that this is a permanent thing, the mind of your loved one is broken forever. But it wasn’t. I took him home, contacted his Oncologist and they arranged a CT Scan the next day. As time passes, the fog lifts, and Chris becomes his normal self, though with no memories of what transpired.

The CT Scan was to ensure there was no brain bleeding from his fall, and it didn’t show new tumor growth either, so the seizure we guessed happened because he may have forgotten his antiseizure meds that morning. In retrospect, a seizure wouldn’t typically happen from one missed pill. But that was it, the issue was pursued no further.

A couple days later, a little hesitant, a lot excited, I boarded the plane to Dallas to drink the AIGA kool-aid and truly immerse in the culture of design. It was non stop for three days and so fun and invigorating and I returned home completely amped about really growing our chapter and local design community. Design is a powerful force in our world, and the designers out there are doing more than just making pretty logos and ad campaigns, they’re changing how we vote, how we socialize, how we shop, how we care for our families. Design literally impacts every aspect of our lives in some way. That’s a really neat thing to be a part of.

On the last day of the trip I was exhausted. Of course we had been in classes non stop from morning to evening, followed by hanging out and drinking late into the night. We went to an arts district to walk around and check out some print shops and eat breakfast before flying home to Reno. It was hot and muggy and I became so dizzy I was literally gripping my chair because I thought I’d fall over.

I chalked it up to getting older and trying to do too much while also a bit jet lagged from the travel.

After a few days back home (we’re entering year four now) and I’m not feeling any better. In fact, I feel so dizzy I describe it like walking around drunk all the time. And I’m so tired that I begin to miss a lot of work. I’m frustrated and so is my boss, so I decided to finally go to the doctor to find some answers about what is happening to my once vibrant and peppy self.

And the only thing the blood work shows is I’m low in vitamin C, which doesn’t really explain the symptoms.

Armed with my new routine of a daily vitamin C, I’m still so tired I can barely stay awake. My job is suffering, my house is falling apart and I’m asking my husband to pick up fast food everynight because I can’t even think of cooking.

And my sister in law says “it sounds like you’re pregnant”.

“I don’t think so.” I mean, my husband is on chemo, doesn’t that make you infertile? And, it’s not like we’re ‘trying’ , you know? Whatever, I take the test to rule it out.

That was the fastest positive pregnancy test I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s like like little line appeared instantaneously. I still stared at it for the full minute in case it would disappear. And then I hid it in my truck for a week while I tried to figure out how to tell my husband.

I felt like I had made a huge mistake. Like it’s my job to make sure this doesn’t happen, and now I could be pregnant with an unviable baby because I got pregnant with a husband on chemo.

And, why didn’t my doctor test for this? She didn’t even ask. Probably because people aren’t usually this oblivious to their own bodies. I was pregnant for 11 weeks. And didn’t even know it.


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