Why I Love Wish Lanterns

Lanternfest -4The movie Tangled came out the fall after I gave birth to my stillborn baby Luca. I remember sitting in the theater crying more than once as the king and queen grieved the loss of their baby girl.

My heart was raw at the time. When they entered the balcony to light lanterns for the princess’s birthday tears welled in my eyes. They could not forget their child and longed to have her still.

Lanternfest -1I felt exactly the same way.

Ever since then that movie has been dear to my heart. I have dreamed of seeing the floating lights. Each year on Luca’s birthday we send some to him in heaven but we have never sent more than a couple of dozen on our own.

Last Saturday my dream of seeing the dark night brought to life by countless floating lanterns came true.

I sat in an open field with thousands of others gazing to the heavens as light after light soared into the darkness. It was magical.

For the first time in a long time I felt alive.

For seven years I have been changed. Sure, I have become better – more compassionate, more understanding, more sympathetic. But I have also become worse – more anxious, more sad, more scared.

I no longer think that me and my loved ones are invincible. That has terrified me more than anything. Knowing that I could lose someone and feel the deep, dark pain of loss has changed me.

Lanternfest -10I have guarded my heart.

I have had good times and I have been happy the past seven years, but I have been living a life distracted. I’ve been busying myself to keep from thinking of my loss. I have distanced myself from close family and friends. All to keep from feeling pain or the possibility of pain.

But the walls have started to come down. I have spent the last little while working on internalizing my grief. Working on thinking through the pain.

Watching those lanterns soar to the heavens I sat and felt peace. Peace that I am living my life despite the pain. Peace that I am surrounded by people I love. Peace that I can do hard things.

I still have a long way to go but I am slowly starting to come back to life. A life, I know, that is not only full of sorrow and heartache but also joy, excitement and love.

A life that is filled with incredible moments like the one where me and my husband and kids stood in absolute awe as ours and thousands of others of wishes floated illuminated to the heavens.

Incredible.

Priceless Pennies

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My boys are always trying to strike it rich. From selling candy bars to picking dandelions, they have tried nearly everything to raise or earn money.

Their latest endeavor is priceless pennies.

They have decided they are going to search as many coins as they can until they find those that will make them rich – ones that rare, misprinted or out of circulation.

It’s unlikely that they’ll come a cross a major money maker, but I have to give it to them this time. Trading in something that is worth $0.01 for something that’s worth much more is pretty brilliant.

And as long as I’m not the one forking out the money – like when I paid them to pick all my weeds – I think it’s a harmless new past time.

What does their new job look like? It’s hundreds, no thousands of coins spread across my counter at dinner time. It’s me taking them to the bank to trade in $16 in cash for 32 rolls of pennies.

It’s magnifying glasses thoroughly examining each coin to make sure they aren’t worth more than face value.

It’s them tearing through our house’s penny-catching crevices in hopes that they are hiding a true treasure.

My boys have ripped through my wallet, laundry-pile and couches. They have dumped their siblings penny jars and have scoured through their grandparent’s stashes. They have even pestered the neighbor for her loose change.

Secretly I hope they find a coin worth millions. Until then, I’ll stack their sorted jars and keep waiting.

So far this is all they’ve come up with I bet it’s not worth more than 17 cents:

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Photog Accomplished

Graduation-1I have taken more than 15,000 photos this year on my way to becoming a professional photographer.

Now I’ve taken a lot of photos in the past – like that one year the local print shop knew me by name because I printed off hundreds of pocket sized prints for my albums – but never have I dedicated so much time to snapping pics.

It has been amazing.

I graduated last Saturday from the Fotofly Academy in Salt Lake City – a place where I went from hobbyist to expert.

I’m not going to lie. It was a crazy four months. I decided to enroll the very last day possible and started class January 3. My family made a lot of sacrifices so that I could pursue my dream. I missed out on many of my boys sporting events and scouting activities. I’m still sad that I didn’t get to see the Knight Bus we made race in the Pinewood Derby.

But my husband filled in enough for the both of us. He ran kids around, cooked dinner, picked up the house, bathed my babies and took them out fishing and hiking. And he took pictures of the stuff I missed (good ones too).

Going to school was challenging. Not only did I have to juggle a busy family schedule while studying, doing homework photos shoots and editing hundreds of photos, but I had to get used to being gone.

Something that has been good for me and my kids. They got to see mom do something she loves. And I got to do something for myself.

I also had to learn to let go of a lot of the stuff I normally did. My flowerbeds have been neglected, my office is bulging with junk mail and homework to sort through and my toilets have been stinkier than I would like to admit. I’ll be forever grateful that I have been able to order my groceries online. Otherwise we may have starved.

But through it all we have survived. And I have fulfilled a life-long dream – becoming a professional photographer.

I still can’t believe it.

I even have my own website! (www.neverland.photography)

I know how to crop and shoot. I know how to focus then recompose. I know how to tweak my f-stop, shutter speed and ISO so I can shoot in manual – and I’m never going back.

I know how to naturally pose someone and get expression out of them. I know how to control a toddler.

I know how to add dimension to a photo by finding good lighting. I know how to edit and upload work to an online gallery. And I’m really good at shouting, “Oh Yeah!” when it all works together to make a beautiful picture.

There’s no better feeling in the world when it all just clicks.

According to my 10-year-old it’s easy. “Just push the button,” he would say when I’d get anxious before class or a photo shoot.

If only it was that easy. Above anything else I’ve learned it’s much more than button pushing. It’s truly connecting with people and using everything that you know to help them represent their best selves.

And it’s so rewarding.

I can’t wait to find more people to shoot.

And I can’t wait to see how my next 15,000 pictures turn out.

Extinguishing Our Fun

20170422_160421You know you’re having a crappy day when you walk outside and find two twenties shredded up in a pile of your dog’s pooh.

Ugh.

April 22 is normally a hard day for me. It’s the day our stillborn baby was born. Sure it’s the day I got to meet my third son, but it’s the only day I got to see him. Ever. Unless you count the day of his funeral, and I don’t like to count that day. He was so different then.

Anyway, I walked outside the afternoon of the 22 and found the money that had been missing from my purse in a pile of brown on my lawn. I was rejected.

Seriously? $40?

Little did I know the day would end with a couple of fire fighters coming at me saying I was breaking the law.

My family and I ran around on the 22 doing random acts of service. We wandered through Wal-Mart buying a few things to donate. We paid for someone’s food behind us in the drive through at Wendy’s. And did a couple other things. Then we went home and I took a quick nap. I’m always emotionally exhausted on Luca’s birthday.

We went to the cemetery after I woke up and decorated Luca’s grave. Then we headed out to an Italian restaurant for some comfort food and went to a local park to light wish lanterns to send to heaven. Just like we do every year.

But this year was drastically different.Luca's Birthday 2017-36

Things were going well. We had lit about a dozen lanterns and they were soaring nicely.

Then we saw sirens.

A bright red fire truck was coming down the street trailed by a police car with lights flashing.

They pulled up next to the park’s open field and some men started running toward us. I was sitting on the ground and wanted to hide.

But I took a deep breath and made my way to the officers. Two firemen and a police officer were running toward our group of family and friends shouting at us to stop because we were breaking the law.

When my husband and I approached the group they told us that the wish lanterns were illegal. That they were unattended aerial fireworks.

I wasn’t going to stand down. I argued with them about the law. Luckily I had done my homework. In 2013 the Utah State Legislature was considering banning the sky lanterns. I wrote an open letter to the Utah State Fire Marshall on my blog at the time talking about how much they mean to my family.

The legislature was considering amending the Utah State Fire Code to classify the lanterns as unattended fires. If they did that, they would be deemed illegal. But they modified the law.

As it stands today, lanterns are legal as long as there are no hazardous environmental conditions. Hazardous environmental conditions are determined by local municipalities. So it’s recommended that people check with local authorities for current conditions before lighting lanterns. If there are hazardous environmental conditions, the local authorities may prohibit the lanterns as well as any use of any other ignition sources. Below you can read the official excerpt from the code.

We’ve skipped out on doing lanterns in years past when the wind was strong and it was raining. It was a bummer, but we didn’t want to risk causing a fire. Our family knows what it feels like to lose everything to flames.

So I stood and argued with two fireman and a police officer. They were certain we were committing a crime. I was certain we weren’t.

I’m not going to lie, I felt kind of guilty. Something about lights flashing in the background and a police officer standing there with handcuffs makes you second guess if you are doing something right or not.

Amidst the arguing, one of the firemen stepped away and called the city’s fire chief. Who reassured him that the lanterns are legal.

He came back with a changed demeanor, and stated that he stood corrected. We were right. The lanterns are fine.

I have had people drive by and question us in the past about the lanterns. A couple of bystanders have even joined in and done some with our family before. But never have I been questioned by the authorities.

It was crazy.

I’m just glad I knew the law better than our local firemen did. Otherwise we may have walked away without ever thinking we could do them again.

We are going to make sure to call the fire department in the future when we do the lanterns. That way we can make certain that there are no hazardous environmental conditions and the authorities will be prepared to see the lanterns in the sky and won’t rush to stop us. We can have the conversation about the lantern’s legality over the phone before tensions get high in front of a large group at a city park.

Ironically we had taken candy to the police department earlier that morning as one of our service acts. We brought them a treat for helping us with our tree house drama last spring. I had to bite my tongue as the firemen and police officer walked away. I wanted to ask them two things 1. How did the candy taste? 2. Would they like to try lighting a lantern?

The fire code states:

310.8 Hazardous environmental conditions. When the fire code official determines that hazardous environmental conditions necessitate controlled use of any ignition source, including fireworks, lighters, matches, sky lanterns, and smoking materials, any of the following may occur:

1. If the hazardous environmental conditions exist in a municipality, the Legislative body of the municipality may prohibit the ignition or use of an ignition source in mountainous, brush-covered, or forest-covered areas or the wildland urban interface area, which means the line, area, or zone where structures or other human development meet or intermingle with undeveloped wildland or land being used for an agricultural purpose.

2. Except as provided in paragraph 3, if the hazardous environmental conditions exist in an unincorporated area, the state forester may prohibit the ignition or use of an ignition source in all or part of the areas described in paragraph 1 that are within the unincorporated area, after consulting with the county fire code official who has jurisdiction over that area.

3. If the hazardous environmental conditions exist in a metro township created under Title 10, Chapter 2a, Part 4, Incorporation of Metro Townships and Unincorporated Islands in a County of the First Class, on and after May 12, 2015, the metro township legislative body may prohibit the ignition or use of an ignition source in all or part of the areas described in paragraph 1 that are within the township.

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Mammogram Managed

Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 3.02.34 PMLet’s talk mammograms for a minute. All of my life I have been terrified of the evil boob pinching x-ray machine. I’ve heard horror stories from female friends who relate the experience to running your bosom over with a semi truck.

So last month when I found a tiny lump in my chest I was terrified. (The lump turned out to be harmless, thank heavens.)

But when I found it, my doctor thought a diagnostic mammogram would give us both peace of mind. She ordered me one and sent me to the imaging department a week later.

I was so scared. So scared that I considered asking for pain meds or muscle relaxers before the procedure.

But it wasn’t that bad.

The technologist prepped me on what she was going to do and put me at ease. I’m not big chested, so there’s not a lot to grab and pull into the picture-taking area, but somehow she managed to do it. She pulled my skin until she was satisfied and then the machine squeezed down tight.

Now, I’m not going to lie, it was tight. My chest was flatter than a pancake. But I didn’t feel like it had been run over. Just squished.

I was squished several times before it was all over.

And I survived.

My point? All women should get mammograms. If you are worried that it will hurt too much or that you don’t have time, trust me. It’s not that bad. And I was in and out of there in an hour. Tops.

They even did an ultrasound and read me my results right then.

I don’t know if technology is getting better and making it less invasive and less painful or if I psyched myself out because of all of the bad jokes and stories I have heard about the procedure so when I finally did it I was happily surprised by its mildness. Either way, I will take it.

And you should too. Early detection saves lives.

I’d take a mammogram over a Pap smear any day.

My Angel’s Story – 7 years later

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Author’s note: Saturday would have been my son’s seventh birthday. Seven?! Part of me has a hard time remembering those foggy, surreal moments after I found out he had died in my womb. Much of that times feels like a blur. 

But another part of me will never forget it. The horror. The sorrow. The love. 

I loved him more than my heart could stand. I wanted him more than I realized. 

I’ll never be able to forget how it felt to go home from the hospital empty-handed after giving birth to a full-term baby. I couldn’t take him with me because he didn’t make it. 

It broke my heart.

Seven years later and my heart still feels broken at times. 

I think it always will.

I’ll always long for what I did not get to have. 

Once again I dedicate this week’s blog post to Luca and his story.

My Angel’s Story

I was tired, I was huge and I was ready to have my baby boy. But not ready for the way it would all turn out. I would have happily carried him weeks beyond my due date if it meant he had a chance of being born alive.

Honestly? I wasn’t quite ready for a third child. I always wanted my kids close in age, but my two boys, ages 3 and 1, were a lot to handle. I was okay with waiting a while. But both my husband and I had strong impressions that we needed to try for another baby.

Despite those impressions, I was still extremely nervous about how I could be a good mom to three boys under the age of 3. Each day I grew, not only in circumference, but also in my confidence in being able to raise three tiny spirits.

On April 21, 2010 I had my 37-week check-up. Luca’s movement had been slowing down significantly for a while now and I was worried. I discussed my concerns with my doctor and we listened to his heartbeat, which appeared to be strong. So, my doctor and I decided that maybe little Luca was running out of room in my overcrowded womb.

The beginning of my pregnancy was a piece of cake. I felt better than I had with my other pregnancies and had virtually no morning sickness. But the end was pretty bad. I kept having sharp pains in my side and my muscles were aching.

Fearing the worst

My mother-in-law kept my other two boys while I went to my appointment so I decided to lie down and take a nap until she brought them home. That’s when I started panicking because I couldn’t remember the last time I felt Luca move.

I know what some of you are thinking? Why didn’t you rush to the hospital??? Knowing what I know now, my advice to any pregnant woman who is the least bit concerned about her baby, would be, GET TO THE HOSPITAL, NOW. Speed if you have to. What are they going to do? Tell you your baby’s fine and send you home? Hopefully. Laugh in your face about your unnecessary worries? Never. In all reality, even if I had been in labor and delivery when Luca’s heart stopped beating, they still wouldn’t have been able to save him. There wasn’t anything I could have done. I realize that now. But there are other reasons why babies stop moving. In my opinion it’s just better to get it checked out as soon as possible.

I literally worried all night about my Luca’s movement. I think the strong feelings and confirmations I had received that I was supposed to have another baby kept me waiting for his little legs to kick or his fists to punch. Luca’s pregnancy was my only pregnancy I haven’t run into problems conceiving. I thought that was a sure sign that this truly was meant to be. It was meant to be, just not in the way I hoped or expected.

I waited, and waited for him to move. Finally at about 2:30 a.m. I couldn’t take it any longer. I got up and sat in the bathtub for a long time. Travis came in and convinced me to go to the hospital. My mom came over to sit with my boys so we could run up to the hospital. When I got there, they hooked me up to a monitor and we found the baby’s heartbeat. Well, at least we thought we did — turns out the sound of my own heartbeat was reverberating back. We didn’t know that for sure until they hooked me up to a basic ultra sound machine and zoomed in on the heart. I knew immediately that my son had died. I looked at my husband and he knew it too. We had seen a number of live, beating hearts in ultrasounds. This one was still.

But the nurses said nothing. They tried to remain calm as they called my doctor and asked him to come in. He arrived at about 4 a.m. to confirm my baby’s death. We all cried — nurses included. He told me I could go home and come back later to deliver my baby or he could induce me right away.

The thought of leaving the hospital knowing that I was carrying my dead child made me cringe. I knew that having a stillborn was going to be the worst thing I had ever experienced. Delaying it wouldn’t change anything. They wheeled me into a corner room and posted a grieving sign on the door.

Shortly thereafter we started calling family members to let them know they were going to have to come in sometime that day to simultaneously tell Luca “hello” and “goodbye.”

Sharing the Heart-Breaking News

My poor mother. She was the first to hear of his death. And she had to take the news while watching over my other two little ones in my quiet, lonely home. I can’t imagine how alone she must have felt. She texted me awhile after I called to tell her he had died, asking what she should tell my other boys when they woke up. That literally broke my heart. What did I want her to tell them?

We didn’t want to tell him that their brother was “sleeping” or that he was “gone.” We decided to tell them the truth. That he had died. They were sad, but their grief was expressed differently than an adult. They didn’t cry much but they did throw more tantrums and asked to be held a lot more.

Telling people and hearing their reactions was one of the hardest things for me. I could handle the pain that I was going to have to bear, but having to inflict some of that pain on others made me so sad. It still makes me sad.

Our family members started gathering at the hospital and at our home waiting for the time when they would meet Luca. I knew we would only ever have a few short hours with him and so I prepared to face my nightmare with a smile on my face. This was the only time I was going to hold my baby. The only time I could take pictures of his beautiful face. I wasn’t going to let my grief overcome my ability to make the moments meaningful.

I don’t know if it’s all in my head, but I don’t think I had the full power of my epidural during his delivery. It was by far my most painful delivery. Not only emotionally, but physically. Maybe that’s because I didn’t have the anticipation of meeting my healthy baby to pull me through. With each painful push, I knew I was a step closer to meeting a baby I wouldn’t take home. I’ll never forget the shock in my doctor and nurses voices and faces as Luca was born. They all gasped in unison. He had suffered a cord accident that was visible the moment he was delivered. The cord was wrapped around his neck several times and it contained a true knot. Umbilical cord knots are extremely rare and knots resulting in a baby’s death are even more rare. Although I will never be grateful for what happened to my son, there is something I am extremely grateful for: The fact that we found out why he died.

He was born at 5:13 p.m. and weighed 5 pounds 13 ounces. He was beautiful with curly reddish brown hair and rosy red cheeks. We each took turns holding him and taking pictures. Utah Share came and casted molds of his hands and feet. Pat Wimpee came and took dozens of priceless photos of him and our family. I don’t know what I’d do without those photos. I think I would forget the details of his face. The wrinkles of his toes. The size of his tiny fingers. At times I stared at his little body, waiting for his chest to rise or his eyes to open. He literally was perfect.

We had Luca in our hospital room for five short hours. My legs were still numb from my epidural, so I was forced to watch everyone’s encounters with him from the comfort of my hospital bed. That was really hard for me. I wanted to hug and comfort everyone and yet I was stuck on the sidelines. I am sure that those who came to the hospital to meet him will forever be changed. There was such a special spirit in the room. It was a terribly sad, yet wonderfully peaceful experience.

The next several days were a blur. I left the hospital on a Friday morning. That afternoon I sat in the mortuary office preparing a funeral. We had a very small service on Monday, just four days after I delivered. Thank heavens for pain medications. Without those my traditional delivery pains coupled with the pain of my milk coming in, would have been unbearable. I buried my baby and part of my heart on April 26, 2010.

How am I dealing with his death?

I believe, as my religion teaches, that I will raise little Luca someday. Sometimes that thought brings great comfort, other times it is little solace for a grieving mother who longs to hold her angel infant now. Although he is in a better place, free from sorrow and sin, I wanted the challenge of raising him in this crazy world. Wanted to see him wrestle with his older brothers or hear him giggle as the four of them cooked up mischief. I hate that we don’t get to have him now.

I have experienced all of the traditional grief stages at least once. I have felt depressed, angry, honored, jealous, comforted, tired, rude, bitter, overwhelmed, out of control, anxious, stressed and unmotivated. There have been times I have sat on my couch, not wanting to do anything. Then other times that I feel an urgency to give back to others in honor of my son’s memory.

What do I do when the grief is too much to bear?

I take long soaks in the bathtub where I blast Pandora and cry until my eyes are strawberry red.

I watch movies like Tangled and sob when I see Rapunzel reunited with her parents. I wish I only had to wait 18 years to meet my “lost” baby.

I take my boys fishing. Fresh air and the beauty of nature clear my head and remind me of my place in the world.

I lay by my other kids while they are sleeping. I put my hand on their chest to feel their heart beating and their lungs filling with air. That reminds me of the beautiful children I do get to raise on Earth. I can’t let myself take them for granted.

I start finding something I can do for others. I know it sounds cheesy, but sometimes serving others has been my saving grace. I understand the need to be still and internalize my grief and emotions, but sometimes it’s overwhelming. I have to find a productive way to patch over my grief until my emotions settle and I’m able to digest them.

Finally, I write through my heartache. Writing has always been a way for me to work through life’s problems. I imagine I’ll write through this problem my entire life.

I just have to keep reminding myself that life is hard, life is good and life is necessary.

Hand-drawn Signs Are Always Better

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I have finally come to grips with the fact that I need to chill the heck out. As a mother, as a wife, as a person.

I’ve lived my 33 years worrying about being good enough; striving for perfection. And I can’t keep it up anymore.

Sometimes, most times, perfection isn’t best. Most times it isn’t possible. So why do I keep killing myself and beating myself up for something that isn’t natural or even practical?

A couple of weeks ago I was running around helping my kids do several things in the hour window of time that we have together on the days when I have night-time photography school. It was third grade business day the next day and my son informed me that he needed a sign to go with the dozens of crafts we made for him to sale.

I didn’t have a lot of time to make him a sign but I whipped out the computer and started designing. I couldn’t find the Harry Potter font to go with his Wonderful Wizard Shop name and I was running out of time.

I was stressed.

I finally found it right before I needed to leave for school. I hurried and typed up a sign and printed it off for him to glue onto a poster. He took one glance at it and I could tell it wasn’t what he wanted.

Ugh. I had just wasted the little time that I had.

I took a deep breath and we talked about what he really wanted. He wanted to draw a sign. He wanted to do it himself. He didn’t need me. He didn’t need my fancy font and printed page. A hand-drawn, third-grade written poster was what he wanted. And it was perfect.

Sometimes I get into the habit of thinking things need to be fancy. They need to be typed up and packaged precisely. They need to be crisp and clean and professional.

But looking at that hand-drawn sign made me realize I am wrong. It was far better than the one I made. Sure it wasn’t perfect, but it was perfect for what it was for.

I need to stop searching for the perfect font and the printed sign. I need to stop stressing that my house isn’t clean and my flowerbeds have weeds. I can’t control half of the stuff that worries me or stresses me so I need to chill the heck out.

I wish I could wrap my arms around myself and somehow reassure me that I’m good enough. That I can sit and breathe life in without worrying that I’m not accomplishing enough or that I’m not meeting everyone’s expectations. I need to learn to sit still. I need to learn to let others in my family sit still.

But my mind and heart keep having a disconnect.

So I’m going to work on me for a little while. I’m going to work on feeling like I am enough. I’m going to  get professional help talking to a counselor about why I feel like I’m not.

And I’m hoping and praying that I can learn to let go. Let go of the stress, worry and fear. Let go and love my imperfections.

I’m going to let go until I can realize that I am just like my son’s third-grade sign, I may not be perfect, but I’m perfect for what I am for.

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