Category Archives: Celebrations

And That’s a Wrap

From Family 2011

I’ve gone more than seven months without blogging here. Gee, you’d think life has been stressful or something…

Gladly, the stress in our home has been mostly distributed among the adults. Micah and Sophie are happily unaware of the majority of our family stress, although I’m sure they feel it from time to time, especially on days when Rochelle and I are not at our best.

Regrettably (and gladly, I suppose), we are aware that a huge source of unnecessary stress in our home comes from clutter, disorder and excess physical belongings. They distract from our spiritual needs, they cloud our thinking, and they impart their chaos to our thoughts. I’ve been aware of this growing problem for many years now, but only recently has it become so acute that I began contriving a solution and countermeasures.

As long as I can remember I’ve had a fondness for simplicity, a longing for a concise collection of belongings that could be easily transported, sorted and organized. Of course I haven’t always lived that way very well. I tend to hang on to things that I may need one day. Just in case. I love to be prepared, but preparedness isn’t about excess, it’s about necessary necessities.

I remember with great fondness my mission time in Mexico and my time living in small spaces as a student at SCAD. Moving from place to place required no more than a couple of hours to pack, and most (if not all) of my belongings could be carried by me alone. I sorely miss that mobility, and now my goal is to get my entire family into a position where we know what we own, why we own it, and how each item of our belongings is essential to our goals and priorities.

This will be a slow process, and one that I hope to share with you along the way.

If you’re interested, I highly recommend a book that I read recently called “Simplify” by Joshua Becker. I believe it is for Kindle only, but it is inexpensive and can be read from any Kindle reading application, even in a Web Interface that Amazon provides.

If you do not wish to pay for the book, you should still check out Becker’s website. Most of the ideas in his book are outlined in ample detail in his many blog posts there. I should warn you that I find his tone regarding simplification to be a tad overzealous at times, often coming off as a bit preachy. Rochelle didn’t feel preached at when she read Simplify, but I did in a couple of places. So if you’re not one to be preached at, perhaps just following our adventures here with my sporadic blog posts will be sufficient.

Although, in my excitement I can’t promise I won’t preach at you either. Simplification is something that I believe we should all strive for.

That is our great endeavor this year. It isn’t a new year’s resolution, but it is a change in our home that began with the new year.

The rest of our family news will be covered in greater detail below, but suffice it to say that we’ve experienced a wonderful close to 2011, and we are all looking forward to 2012.

In the latter half of 2011:

  • Micah started at a new school.
  • Sophie saw a neuro-ophthalmologist.
  • We flew out to visit my parents in Arizona.
  • Rochelle and I got new shoes.

Books We are Reading

Brian

Hurray! I’m reading again. My main Christmas gift this year was a new Kindle Touch. Since I got my Kindle, I’ve actually read several books. Most of them have been small, free books (just to get my reading muscles warmed back up after such a long period of minimal use), but I did read The Hunger Games, book one. I enjoyed it, but I can’t say it was one of my favorites. The story was excellent, but I wasn’t able to connect with the characters, and the first person perspective paired with the present tense writing style didn’t agree with me. I think I’ll enjoy the movie, and I plan on reading the next book in the trilogy soon.

Currently, I am actually attempting to finish nine books that I’ve started in the last year. The one I started most recently on my Kindle is The Frog Princess. I’m not going to recommend this book to anyone except the most curious. It’s not horrible, but I’m only a third of the way through and I am going to have to force myself to finish it. I want to finish it, but it’s not the best writing for me.

If you really want to keep up with my reading, I log all of my progress on books I am currently reading, rate and review books I’ve read, and I even keep track of books I intend to read at a site called Goodreads. Here’s the link to my profile page there: http://www.goodreads.com/brianhaddad

Rochelle

Rochelle has always read a ton. She is currently knee deep in her twelfth read-through of the Harry Potter series. I think she’s on book 5 or somewhere thereabouts. I lose track of how many times she’s read them and which book she is on.

For Christmas she got all 8 of the Harry Potter movies on Blu-Ray. We’ve been watching them since we got back home from our little vacation, and so far we’re halfway through the sixth movie. I haven’t read the books, so I’m trying to enjoy the movies just as they are, but I can’t help but notice inconsistencies in the characters and holes in the plots – all of which Rochelle assures me is the result of the movies being inaccurate. I plan to read the Harry Potter series once the ebooks are released later this year.

Rochelle is also on Goodreads, and she too keeps track of books she liked, books she plans to read, and sometimes even books that she is currently reading (unless she is reading something that she’s read before). You can visit her profile there at: http://www.goodreads.com/rochellehaddad

How the Kids Are

Micah

From Family 2011

This year Micah started going to a new school. For his first two years here in Maryland he attended a school just outside of the military base where we live. The school was mediocre at best, often causing more problems than it solved with new policies and rules.

By the end of his second grade year there, Rochelle had nearly reached the limits of her patience dealing with the school, and to her great delight a new public charter school was granted permission to operate on  base.

Unfortunately, the new school, called Imagine Andrews, does not yet have a dedicated, official school building (they are imagining they have a school building). For this year they are stationed in a run-down, hastily remodeled maintenance building at the edge of one of the base golf courses. By next school year they hope to complete construction on an actual school building, complete with a much needed cafeteria, gymnasium, playground and additional classroom space.

The curriculum seems to be challenging Micah so far, which is good. There are several problems, since it is a new school being run by a new faculty in cramped conditions, but we are doing our best to remain positive and supportive of their efforts.

Micah, along with the rest of us, was excited to go back to Arizona to visit his Grandma and Grandpa Haddad. Amazingly, neither of our children showed any concern that Santa wouldn’t be able to find them in a different home.

Micah came home with plenty of cool gifts, including some fun games and projects, Lego sets, spy gear, and some books. He doesn’t know it yet, but his toy collection is going to be drastically reduced under our new policy of simplification, and we are going to help him ensure that his toys are limited to the most versatile, fun toys that he can find. Of course, we aren’t going to be totally oppressive with this, but it will be good for him to be discerning and thoughtful about what to keep and what to get rid of. I learned a lot as a child when my parents would make me dump my toy collection on the ground and think hard about what to keep. I’m hoping he’ll remember the activity with the same fondness that I do now.

Sophie

From Family 2011

Sophie is doing especially well. Every day she shows us new ways that she is smarter than we previously suspected, and she is developing an awesome sense of humor, along with a sharp attitude.

As mentioned above, she did have to see a neuro-ophthalmologist. It started when her last MRI in November generated some concern. We do not yet have any real reason to worry, but there appears to be some thickening in an area that her doctors are sure is merely scar tissue. It is not unheard of for scar tissue to thicken a little, even a few years after surgery. However, there is a possibility that this thickening could be a type of tumor growth.

Some of you have been lucky enough to see Sophie recently, and if you’ve seen her recently it’s likely she’s shown you her “eye trick.” She recently learned that she can roll her eyes up and point them in two different vertical directions. When she showed her doctors, they decided to send her to a specialist (the neuro-ophthalmologist) to see if the anomaly could be related to a new tumor growth.

With this new specialist, Dr. Avery, Sophie was a little angel. He was particularly impressed with her every step of the way through the appointment. He assessed her vision with one of the most in-depth eye exams I’ve ever seen, always amazed at her intelligence, cooperation and maturity. He couldn’t stop raving about how well she was doing.

Near the end of the examination he informed us that she would need eye drops to dilate her pupils. He said that it would “S-T-I-N-G a little” and that there was usually a lot of “S-C-R-E-A-M-I-N-G” with other children. Rochelle and I looked at each other, then told him that he didn’t need to spell it out with her. We explained to Sophie that Dr. Avery was going to put some drops in her eyes that would sting and hurt a little, but that it would go away fast.

I had her rest her head in my lap and helped the doctor hold her head still while he applied the drops. She barely budged, and didn’t complain even a little. Dr. Avery’s amazement was complete. He couldn’t recall precisely the last time he had seen such a cooperative, brave patient.

In the end, Dr. Avery concluded that the eye issue is a result of the original tumor and swelling that she had two years ago, though there was no visible sign that it was a direct result of the swelling (apparently you can see that sort of damage quite clearly even years later on the back of the eye). He was certain that there was no evidence that this eye problem was a sign of any new tumor growth, which came as a great relief to us all.

Sophie especially loved the trip out to Arizona, and had been talking about seeing her uncles, aunt, cousins and grandparents for several weeks beforehand.

For Christmas she also got some craft items, some books, a few toys and her favorite: a pink Nintendo DSi. She may not look terribly excited in the photo above, but she plays it nearly every day, and has a particular fondness for a certain princess game.

Sophie’s next MRI is in February (on Valentine’s day) and we will likely post an update after we get the results.

Until Later

Especially now that we have something specific to write about, and since its process will help me feel more organized about life in general, I expect to be a little better about blogging. But alas I’ve never successfully promised to be better about blogging, and I’m not going to make any promises!

I trust that you’ve learned to be satisfied with my ineptitude at blogging, and I should likewise be more forgiving with myself.

It is our deepest and greatest hope that all of you have transitioned safely and happily into 2012. We look forward to making sure we blog at least once this year, and we also look forward to your emails, Facebook posts, phone calls, text messages and old-fashioned paper mail.

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Filed under Celebrations, Exciting, Holidays, Sophie PMA, Vacation

Christmas Card

From Family 2010

We are terrible about sending cards out, so consider this your holiday card.

In a lot of ways, this is better than any of the other cards you have received this holiday season. This one has links to videos that are long and full of kids opening presents.

So go check out the final version of our Family 2010 album at Picasaweb, and watch the videos below.

Oh, and I’m not going to embed it here, but on our channel you can watch a really cute video of Sophie praying in her sleep.

We are continuing a family tradition from when I was a kid in which we open one non-Santa present on Christmas Eve before going to bed. Both of these presents came from a program at work where gifts are purchased specifically for children using donated funds. Pretty neat stuff.

The next two videos will immerse you in our Christmas morning present opening extravaganza. Many thanks to all the friends and relatives who helped make this possible. We love you all.

Later that evening I went around to see what the kids were doing. This is what I found.

That’s all for this year, folks. Halfway through next month y0u can expect our January blog post. Until then, many thanks and much love from the Haddad family.

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Filed under Celebrations, Holidays

April Showers

From Family 2010

As always, we’ve had an interesting month. It seems we do everything humanly possible to avoid boring you with our monthly updates. To keep things particularly “banging” around here (just coined that phrase myself, if you use it please reference me) I’m adding a new feature. And to keep you guessing, I’m not going to tell you what that new feature is until you happen upon it by yourself.

In summary, I’m giving myself a headache trying to remember everything that we’ve done in the last thirty some-odd days. Micah and Rochelle both had and celebrated their birthdays. We finally finished accumulating the rest of our camping gear, and we broke it in.

In more detail now, late last month we held a party for Micah and some of his friends in honor of his birthday. That’s when Rochelle made the fun cake you see above. We also stayed up waaaaaay too late the night before preparing some pretty nifty decorations that are still up. The party went pretty well, and Micah got several cool gifts. Among them, he got not one, but TWO Nerf guns from us, a few action figures and books from friends, and a party that lasted most of the day and nearly hospitalized his dear parents.

On April first, his real birthday, we gave him an apparently disappointing card that contained nothing but a lousy voucher coupon to freely spend thirty of his parents’ hard-earned dollars at the Lego store. He was not impressed. We decided he will not be getting any more coupons from his parents.

Rochelle got some fun stuff for her birthday. The main gift was a neat little device that she never knew she needed called the Fitbit. She had been wanting a pedometer for quite some time, and was interested in some kind of device that would help keep track of how much sleep she was getting. So, I found a device that does both (and more). Plus, it has a very impressive, magical screen that you would never know is there until it displays something. Very cool. She has been using it religiously to track stuff, and it is helping her feel a little better about being capable of executing some kind of regular fitness regiment.

I also gave her a massive bag of Twizzlers for her birthday. You know, to offset the “healthy” aspect of her gifts.

Her birthday was on Friday, and that night we all unrolled our sleeping bags in the living room and slept on solid ground. The following Saturday was “Outdoor Survival and Enjoyment Day.” I’m proud to say I didn’t even touch the computer OR my phone all day long. We went on a mile-and-a-half walk, we learned about the contents of our camping day-packs and survival kits, and I surprised everyone with the fact that I had already purchased our tent. We set it up (which wasn’t all that hard) and slept in it that night. The kids handled everything pretty well, and we’re looking forward to setting up a real camping trip before too long. I didn’t take any pictures at all, so next time I’ll be sure to better document our adventure so you can see the kids enjoying the outdoors.

And now, for the new feature.

Books We are Reading

Brian

The truth is, I claim to love reading, but I don’t make nearly enough time for it. Part of my problem is that I love to read books that teach rather than just entertain. I read a lot of nonfiction, which can be dry while still providing barely enough entertainment to prevent me from abandoning it altogether. So while I may want to finish a book, I have to force myself to pick it up every time I read until it’s done, at which point I am glad I read it.

I currently have book marks in at least six books (and perhaps more that I’ve forgotten about) and I have a stack of four additional books by my bed that I intend on reading soon. In addition to those books, I have an entire shelf in my bookshelf that is dedicated to books I plan on reading as soon as I can. This is all just the tip of the iceberg, as I have hoards of books listed in wishlists online that I just haven’t gotten around to purchasing yet.

So, I just recently forced myself to finish a somewhat dry but very informative book by Alice Cary called “A TrailSide Series Guide: Parent’s Guide to Hiking and Camping.” It came highly recommended in other books I had read, and got rave reviews online, but it is out of print so finding it was something of a challenge. It is packed full of useful information, but you have to weed through the author’s exuberant love of hiking, which she assumes you share with her.

The most recent book I put a bookmark in and started reading is “Philosophy for Dummies” by Tom Morris, Ph.D. (fancy, huh?). So far I’ve learned that the word philosophy means “a love of wisdom.” Being one who loves wisdom myself, and being one of religious faith who is willing and able to reconcile whatever facts man presents with the truth taught by God, I’ve decided that philosophy is something that I might enjoy dabbling in. So, I’m reading the “For Dummies” introduction before investigating more serious books and classes, should I wish to do so.

Rochelle

Rochelle recently enjoyed “Have a Little Faith” by Mitch Albom. It was a short read and she probably wouldn’t have read it if it weren’t for the book club she joined. Apart from the book club, she read “My Sister’s Keeper” by Jodi Picoult and finally got around to reading “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen (which she will probably never read again). She reads a ton of books every month, but I’ll be sure to make sure she mentions the ones she actually recommends here.

Currently, she is reading “Julie and Julia” by Julie Powell. She is reading it on her nook, which she still loves.

How the Kids Are

Micah

As promised, Micah wrote his own update this time, and he responded to the questions he got last month. Look for footnotes below.

From Stuff That Happened: 2010 version

One day, my friend Madison came to the park close to our house. She was nice. I also watched My Side of the Mountain (1). I played Bakugon (2) with my friends, but I didn’t get to battle. I also played Hot Potato, Soccer, and Basketball and Hoorse (3). And we’re going camping! (4)

My favorite Wii game is the Nerf Elite game (5). I like this game because I like Nerf guns. I do recommend this game for girls because girls would like to shoot the darts.

I like two colors.

They are blue and purple.

My favorite subject at school is science, because we do a lot of things that are fun. (6)

I do like to read.

My alltime favorite book is Campout. (7)

  1. We watched this movie in preparation for learning about camping and survival skills. We watched it after sleeping all together in sleeping bags in our living room, on the day of our dry run where we slept out in the tent in our backyard. Micah really enjoyed the movie despite it being forty-one years old and littered with clumsily delivered awkward lines.
  2. As far as I’m concerned, this is a cheap knock-off of Pokemon that has gained unusual popularity in recent years among children Micah’s age.
  3. He insisted on spelling it this way. His all-knowing, expert, erudite of a friend said that you spell it with two ohs when its the game. In attempting to verify this “fact,” Google offered to correct me – “Did you mean HORSE?” I’m siding with Google on this one.
  4. He seems genuinely excited about the prospect of really going camping, yet he has failed to adhere to certain “Leave No Trace” rules that I’m attempting to instill in him. He understands that I can’t take him camping unless he can show me that he can follow the rules, but his efforts thus far have been trivial. If we ever make it out on a real camping trip, we’ll have a pretty great post to share.
  5. Neft N-Strike Elite. If you’re even remotely interested in getting this, don’t hesitate. Right now on Amazon the package with the game and one Nerf blaster is selling for $17.54 – a whole .44 cents cheaper than the same Nerf blaster without the game disk. I’m not kidding. Go buy it. We paid thirty dollars for it.
  6. He wrote, “My favorite subject in school is science, because we do a lot of things.” I asked him to add just a little more information than that.
  7. The fact is, Micah is addicted to reading. This most recent book that I’ve actually asked him to read is designed to help prepare him for going camping. It covers things like the “Hug-a-tree” program so that kids can be safe when they go camping. Obviously we’re covering a lot more than that with him, but the book is a good way for him to take in some of the information on his own.

Sophie

From Cell Photos 2010

The biggest new things with Sophie are singing, jumping and repeating. Lately, she can’t play or pass time effectively without singing loudly and sweetly the whole while. It is one of the most amazingly adorable things she does, and it hurts my feelings to spend all day at work and miss her hours and hours of beautiful music. She truly loves singing, and her songs are often as humorous as they are cute.

She is also jumping, a lot. Not just jumping straight up, but jumping off the bottom step of the stairs, and off the curb, and flying as far forward as she can. She is still a little apprehensive about it, and won’t do it unless she’s holding your hand, but with your hand in hers, she’s got the confidence to leap several feet ahead of herself. It’s really fun.

Also, she has lost nearly all of her apprehension when it comes to speaking. She’ll repeat just about anything you say now, and it’s often the cutest thing you’ve ever heard. She’s getting pretty good at forming her own sentences now as well, and she has officially said three full prayers all by herself without any prompting from adults. She’s growing up so big, and she’s getting even cuter every day.

Her interest in potty training is still minimal, and in the last month I’ve only taken her to the toilet a couple of times at most. Rochelle has maybe taken her a few more times on top of that. Sophie just hasn’t shown much interest, so we’re not pushing the issue. Of course, when she has an especially stinky diaper that causes even her to cry out in disgust, we do mention that she could have dropped her package off in the toilet before squeezing it into her diaper, and that would have avoided most of the mess and some of the smell. She hasn’t really caught on to the logic at work there, but she’s considering our proposals.

Until Later

One final note. If you didn’t notice, one of the photos featured in this post is from Rochelle’s new online album – Stuff that Happened: 2010 version. She’s started using her own digital camera a little, and will be posting her photos to her own online Picasaweb account. The link can be found in the family section of our links on the blog page (you can’t see the links in a feed reader, you need to view the article at our website address at https://brhaddad.wordpress.com).

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you liked the new segment I added about what we’re reading. Micah answered two people’s burning questions this month. If you’ve got anything you’d like to hear from Micah or anyone else, just leave a note in the comments. We love hearing from you, our favorite friends and family!

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Filed under Celebrations, Exciting, Site Changes

Love is in the Air

From Family 2010

I couldn’t possibly tell you everything that has happened since my last post, but I will try (as concisely as possible).

We’ve been busy surviving around these parts. As I’m sure many of you are aware, our area has been hit with record snowfall this winter, and winter is not over yet. On the radio I heard that the last time this area saw snow like this was over a hundred years ago. Whether that’s true or not, I haven’t seen snow like this since I lived in Colorado (and even then it may not have been quite this much).

We’ve spent much of the last two weeks snowed in and stuck inside. We’ve made every effort to leave the house when it has been safe, and we’ve even played in the snow a bit, but a few of us are beginning to feel a touch of cabin fever (not me, I assure you!).

Although the initial snow caught us off guard and without a snow shovel, we’ve since remedied that. We are now the proud owners of, not one, but two snow shovels, and we are working hard to keep our sidewalk snow free.

We may not have had a snow shovel, but we were prepared with plenty of food and water to ride out each of the major “dumps” from the sky. Since we had just begun spending some of our tax return before the storms hit, we also had plenty to do around the house.

How the Kids Are

Micah

Micah woke up today (yes, this very day) with his first neck cramp. He had never had one before, and this one seems like one of those really bad ones.

Unfortunately, he is extremely intolerant of any pain that hurts less than broken bones. When he’s really hurt bad, you’d hardly know it because of how well he handles the pain. When it’s just a little scrape, bruise or neck cramp though, you’d think he was going to die.

And that’s how he sounded all day long. We couldn’t get him to relax to let the muscle loosen up, and he refused to embrace the pain long enough to work the muscle and rub the cramp out. So, all day long he walked around with his heck cocked to one side and screamed and cried like a little girl every time he had to move his head.

Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty. I’m just glad it wasn’t something truly painful. Like a muscle spasm. Even as an adult I’ve been known to scream and cry out in pain when I get one of those.

Outside of today’s incident, however, Micah has been doing relatively well. I’m thinking of letting him write up his own update next month. We’ll see. If I let him, it promises to be interesting.

Here’s a leftover photo from when we visited my parents in January:

From Family 2010

I wrote a caption for it. It goes like this:

Where Micah is, there also shall you find Horror Land.

Sophie

Sophie just turned two this month, and got one of the best presents ever – A new baby cousin. On the same day as her birthday, my sister gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. If she starts a blog or anything more public than Facebook, I’ll let you all know.

Back in our family, though, Sophie had a really great second birthday. Rochelle worked hard and made a great breakfast for her (with strawberries – her favorite), and a really cool Tinker Bell cake. Sophie played out in the snow, played all day inside, pooped on the toilet for the second time (this was the first time without screaming and crying though), and got her very own big girl bed (which she happily slept in that same night).

I’ve got two videos to sum up the day. One is us playing out in the snow on her birthday. The other is a compilation of the rest of our activities that day (including cake, presents and playing).

My mom and dad sent Sophie a present before all the storms, but because of the snow, we didn’t get the box until a week after her birthday. Here’s a picture of Sophie looking at their card with her mommy:

From Family 2010

She really, really liked the card. It had a Disney princess on it. Sophie LOVES Disney princesses. She also really liked the gift. At our YouTube channel you can find a video of Sophie opening their present, and a video of her enjoying it afterward. What we don’t have video or photos of is her loving it even more every day. She has taken that doll to bed with her almost every night, and she carries it so sweetly, like a little mommy. It’s super cute.

We are going to have Sophie back in for an MRI sometime toward the end of this month or beginning of next month, and we’ll let you know what we learn then (if anything). So far she has been an absolute menace around the house, opening doors, moving furniture, telling people what to do, and pretty much acting like she’s the boss. I don’t think she’s having any problems with her brain. She’s got a bad case of the terrible twos, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Until Later

I’ve uploaded a total of seven new YouTube videos to our channel since the last post, and I’ve added about twenty new photos to our Family Photo album as well. When you get a chance, make sure you check them out since I only linked to a few of them from this post. As always, we appreciate all of your love, comments and support, and we look forward to hearing from you.

If you don’t mind, though, I’d like to just throw in a quick, shameless plug here. I’m currently running a fun little contest/giveaway that you may want to check out. I’m not promising you’ll like the prize that you could win, but entering the contest is fun to do if you’ve got nothing better to do. Click here to read the funny rules and get started.

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Filed under Celebrations, Holidays, Milestones

Home Again

From Family 2010

This last month has been a lot of fun. Sophie has been recovering superbly from her surgery, and her excitement, energy, laughter and happiness have contributed significantly to the spirit in our home.

Last week we flew out and spent a week with my parents in Arizona. They also enjoyed her random giggles, overpowering cuteness, and comical chatter. I know, you’re jealous. It’s OK. You should be. She’s cute. As a consolation prize for taking the time to read this post, I’ve added two super-cute videos of her on our YouTube channel.

Now, there are only six photos in it for now (and most of the good ones are embedded here), but I’ve started a new family album for the year 2010. I figure that some of you may be using dial-up, and a page with over 100 photos probably loads too slowly to be of use to you. So, I will do a new album every year to prevent them from getting so large.

How the Kids Are

Micah

I just have to say, Micah actually started a sentence like this today: “I can’t believe you’re forcing me to…” Now, it doesn’t matter what followed (the fact is, he was being asked to do something extremely lenient and easy, with a follow-up option to do something he really wanted to do). I just can’t believe (to use his words) that he’s talking that way to his mother.

In other Micah news, his jumping on our couch has finally paid off, and the whole thing collapsed yesterday. I managed to mash it back together for now, and once I’m feeling a bit better I’m going to wrap the broken areas up with a healthy dose of duct tape to hold it together until tax return season buys us some new furniture. We kept telling him that if he wasn’t gentle with the couch it would break one day. He must not have believed us, because when he saw that it broke, his face was hilarious. I wish I had the camera out then.

Micah dropped his jaw two times yesterday, in fact.  Later that evening he was in a bit of trouble and was being very rude (angry faces and all) to his mother and father. I carried the book we are reading at night into his room hoping his attitude had changed so I could read to him, but I was met by an angry troll face curled up in the corner of his room. So, I turned around to leave. He yelled something at me (it seems he wanted to talk about it), and it came up that he feels like his memory isn’t good enough to remember the few simple things we ask of him every day. So, I reached into his bookshelf and pulled out one of his favorite new books – a Pokemon reference book with over two hundred different pokemon in it. He’s got almost the whole thing memorized. I held it up and said, “I’ll bet you can tell me which Pokemon is number 150 in this book, but you’re telling me your memory isn’t very good?”

His eyes nearly fell out of his head and his jaw was jammed open for a moment. He was stunned into silence. Victory! I feel bad, because I used to use the same “I forget – my memory isn’t very good” argument with my parents, and I don’t remember them ever winning such a stunningly brilliant victory against me in that department. The moment was almost too perfect, and perhaps his feelings of defeat in the memory department are the driving force behind his rebellious statement this morning (“I can’t believe you’re forcing me to…”).

Either way, he seems to have realized the error of his ways from the two incidents yesterday, and it showed in his behavior a bit today. When he learns a lesson, he learns it well.

In completely unrelated news, it turns out Micah has a photographic curse. I just can’t get good photos of him. I try, I really do. He and Sophie could be right next to each other, doing exactly the same thing, and the photo of Sophie will invariably come out hundreds of times better than the photo of Micah.

Case in point: Take a second to scroll up to the top photo of Sophie playing on the rope web. Good, now look at this photo of Micah on the exact same web, from the same vantage point, at the exact same moment in the exact same lighting (no shadow caused the problem, I promise).

From Family 2010

I promise I didn’t alter either image in Photoshop or any other image editing software. Both photos were uploaded directly from the camera. It’s sad, isn’t it? I take a lot of photos of Micah, but as soon as he realizes he’s in the lens, he goes bonkers, and even if I get a decently lit and framed photo of him, I can’t post it. Either he’s blurred from moving too fast while going crazy, or his face is a grotesque mutation of the truth. So, from now on I’ll just post the photos of him that I get, even though I rarely get anything that I’m happy with for him.

Sophie

Sophie is cute. She has begun a real rambling streak, and we all love it. It can happen during play, during meal times, or whenever else she feels like it. She just starts “talking.” It sounds like talking, but it’s the most varied, random collection of fun noises and sounds that I’ve ever heard. It closely resembles what I once heard from a child (who is her age, but this was a year ago or so) who listened to talk radio with her mother all day. The baby would imitate the talk radio, and it was really funny. Sophie’s sounds area a little more varied than the noises that little baby could make, and Sophie really seems to know what she’s saying.

Of course, she’s also turned into a magnificent communicator. She tries hard to assemble whole sentences and a lot of her more recent attempts are much longer than the usual, “I like (insert something here).”

She’s more curious than ever before, thinking that there’s something interesting everywhere she can’t see, reach or be. She follows instructions really well, and understands a lot better than we thought she could.

I must say, after her brain surgery it was like watching a flower bloom. The child we thought we had opened up before our eyes and became something much more spectacular and beautiful. We are all happy for her and next month you can look forward to news about her future after the surgery as we are going to be meeting with her surgeon at the end of the month to discuss those things. For now, know that the biopsy did come back, but it was frustratingly inconclusive, so consider no news good news until we have something more definite.

From Family 2010

Until Later

On my other blog I wrote a single review for the two awesome movies we saw out in Arizona. The post is short, so if you’ve got a few more minutes, I’d encourage you to take a look.

I don’t want to overdo it, but I am too excited about it not to mention it – I’ve decided to reformat the interior and exterior design of my book, and the changes are making me feel all giddy inside (which is unusual for me). The redesign is meant to give the whole book a much more professional feel. I’m really feeling quite proud of the outcome, but the changes won’t show up in the product for a while. In the mean time the book is no longer for sale. The first edition was purchased zero times, so once I get the second edition up I’m hoping to market it a little to see where it goes. And if you own a bookstore (wink wink, hint hint) I might be possibly shipping you a couple of copies someday to see if they sell. We’ll talk more about that later though. 😉

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Filed under Celebrations, Travels, Vacation

Sophie’s Adventure

From Cell Phone Photos

Let me tell you. This has been one heck of a month. Our little family has been changed forever. Mostly, our faith has been strengthened and our hearts are full of gratitude in ways they never have been before. You’ve become accustomed to me giving a brief overview of things up top then getting into how each of the children are doing in the “How the Kids Are” section. However, because all of us went through the same stressful events last week, I will give the details here, then give a post-mayhem view of how the children are down below.

What Happened

A couple of months ago Sophie reached the pinnacle of her walking ability. I looked through our YouTube channel and found this video from the middle of October where she jumps at the end. I uploaded three videos that day in which she showed remarkable balance and willingness to run, dance and jump.

I looked for a video of her walking just before last week, but couldn’t find one. What I found was that shortly after those videos from the middle of October, when she began to fall over more often, wobble and refuse to walk without holding a hand, we stopped taking video of her walking. Almost all of the videos of her between the middle of October and now are of her sitting down. The one exception shows a wobbly Sophie walking while holding Mommy’s hand, two and a half weeks ago. At first you might see that video and think, “she’s just unsure of herself because there’s snow on the ground.” The sad truth is, she had lost her balance due to a physical problem in her brain cavity.

Being the wonderful mother that she is, Rochelle was far more alarmed by Sophie’s walking problems than I was. I maintained that there could be less harmful explanations for her problems, but Rochelle feared the worst and insisted that we take her in to the doctor for evaluation, despite a lack of other, (and in my mind) more serious symptoms.

On Wednesday last week (the 16th of December) we went to see our family doctor at Malcolm Grow Medical Center on Andrews Air Force Base. Rochelle’s motherly intuition was right in line with the doctor’s impression of Sophie’s situation, and we were referred immediately to a pediatric neurologist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (thirty to forty-five minutes away) with an appointment for the next morning (Thursday).

We spent a very long time at Walter Reed having Sophie’s blood drawn, having a CT scan done, and waiting around to find out more. Eventually, they called us in, sat us down and showed us a scan of Sophie’s brain. In the right hemisphere of her brain, down in the area called the cerebellum, she had a frighteningly large black oval area. CT scans have a low resolution, and all they could be sure of was that this dark “mass” wasn’t supposed to be there and it needed to be removed at once.

Sitting there in that cramped office the news that Sophie’s brain had a large dark mass affecting her coordination and balance hit me like a truck. However, in my usual, stoic-t0-a-fault manner, I assessed the situation logically. My conclusion? Our whole family was about to change forever. Nothing would ever be the same. My wife’s reaction was more motherly and woman-like. She had to fight off a strong compulsion to break down in tears. She found the strength to keep the tears back because she didn’t want to stir up distress in Sophie. Rochelle managed to keep the tears back until Friday afternoon after three pm.

Because the dark area in the CT scan of her brain was the same color as the other dark areas that are supposed to be dark, they guessed it was cerebral fluid that had formed into a cyst somehow. They speculated it was probably a blood clot of some kind, but it could also be a tumor. If it wasn’t a tumor, all that she needed was for them to stick a straw in there and let it drain, they said (not in those words, of course). She would need an MRI to rule out a tumor. The neurologist arranged for us to be driven out by ambulance to the Children’s National Medical Center in D.C. for the MRI where there would be pediatric neurosurgeons, something Walter Reed does not have on hand, in case she needed full-blown brain surgery. Also, they had us make Sophie fast in anticipation of the surgery. That fast ended up lasting over forty-eight hours. It made Sophie very, very angry.

The ambulance didn’t arrive until late at night. I met Rochelle and Sophie over at the Children’s Hospital where we were put up in a room until the next morning when they would sedate her and take her in for an MRI. I went home that night, but in the morning I took Micah to school and went back to join Rochelle while Sophie was in her forty minute MRI.

The MRI was over around eleven in the morning on Friday the 18th of December, and she went in to surgery with Dr. Magge (pronounced “Ma-gee”) at 1:30 PM. After the pre-surgery preparations, they officially began the operation at 2:10. It was then that it hit me: my little girl was having brain surgery. That’s a big deal. Knee surgery is bad, open heart surgery is significant. Brain surgery is huge.

So in three days we went from, “Let’s have the doctor check her out just to make sure there’s nothing life-threatening going on,” to, “They’ve cut a slab of her skull out and they’re scraping a tumor out of her brain.” Rochelle and I both shed tears, finally, and we found great comfort in prayer.

My mind went over the events between the MRI in the morning and the surgery in the afternoon over and over during the surgery. An hour and a half after the MRI, Dr. Magge had come to meet us in the room where we were waiting with our baby, who was hooked up to four IVs, a breathing tube, and a zillion sensors for everything from heart rate to blood oxygen levels. He told us that the MRI revealed what the CT scan couldn’t – there was a thin layer of non-brain material (a tumor) surrounding the cyst of cerebral fluid. They needed to get in there to drain the fluid and scrape out as much of the tumor as they could safely get to without poking around too much in her brain. The area of operation was close enough to the spinal column that there was a terrifying list of possible side effects alongside the surgery.

The possible problems that could come up during surgery were worth it though, considering the fact that if the cyst continued to grow, it would continue to squeeze her brain until the pressure would one day become “incompatible with life,” according to one of the neurologists.

Sometime around six pm we were waiting to hear an update from the nurse who was in the surgery. She had been coming out every once and a while to tell us how things were coming along in surgery. However, she hadn’t been out for a few hours, and we were getting anxious. When we least expected it, the actual surgeon walked in to the waiting room. That meant he was done. I had to remind myself to keep breathing. What had happened? Did he have good news or bad news? The look on his face didn’t alarm me, it must be good.

He said that they had been able to remove all of the tumor that they could see, and she had been fine the whole time with no complications. We wouldn’t know if all of the tumor was out until they did a second MRI at a later time, but they had secured the piece of skull with titanium brackets and sewn her up with a single suture that would dissolve in three or four weeks. When Sophie woke up from the surgery she was mad at the world. She was still groggy and cranky, and she was hungry. The first thing she asked for was chocolate milk and bananas, and after a while she began demanding an apology from the hospital staff (“I want say sorry,” she said through sobs and tears).

That night a friend of ours from Church came out to get Rochelle and take her home, and I stayed with Sophie. The evening brought the beginnings of a terrible snow storm (not so terrible for me being from the Rocky Mountains, but terrible for the East Coast). At first the snowfall was slow and beautiful, but by the morning when they began to sedate Sophie for her post-operation MRI more than a foot of snow had accumulated on the roads.

Saturday morning she had her second MRI, then we went back to our room and waited. Sophie was cranky and hungry after waking from the sedation, but I was happy to see her recovering so well from the surgery. She wanted all sorts of things she couldn’t have since we were still introducing her back into a diet of solids. They couldn’t find a sippy cup for her to drink from, so we cut the tip of a bottle nipple wide open for her to use.

From Cell Phone Photos

As you can see from the photo, she was still groggy and angry. She also refused to give up the bottle, probably out of fear that we would make her fast again. Slowly, they began removing IVs and sensors as she proved to them that she didn’t need them. At first she was hesitant to walk, probably because of the IV still in her foot, but once that was removed I let her roam around the room a bit, watching closely to make sure she wouldn’t fall down.

Sometime Saturday afternoon Dr. Magge (the brain surgeon who did her operation) had seen the MRI images from that morning and came by to share them with me. While Sophie slept and a nurse watched her, the doctor took me to a computer to show me what he could see. He reminded me that the radiologist was the expert who would analyze the images and declare the final “reading.” However, being a surgeon with lots of experience in these things, he felt confident that the radiologist wouldn’t be able to find any tumor left. He showed me the before and after MRI scans, and the difference was staggering. There was still a cavity where the cyst had squished the brain, but that would slowly return to its natural form over time, he assured me. The channel that normally drained the fluid that had caused the cyst had opened back up to its original size, and that was the important thing for recovery. He assured me that she probably wouldn’t need any additional surgeries for this instance, and as long as the tumor was benign (as had been his impression when he held the mass in his hands in surgery), she shouldn’t require any additional treatment in the future.

I breathed a sigh of relief, but anxiously awaited the same news from the radiologist.

By Sunday, she was more stable on her feet than before the surgery. We arranged to have someone experienced with winter driving bring Rochelle to the hospital along with her mother, who had flown in Saturday from Mississippi. Sophie had been asking for mom, but the snow storm had closed most of the roads all day Saturday, and even the hospital staff had to sleep in the hospital Saturday night.

From Cell Phone Photos

The visit with mom went well. Sophie held her and hugged her for a long time before falling asleep on her. By later that evening when someone else came to pick mom up, Sophie was much more content (and mommy had painted her nails, so she felt prettier).

Just as a side note, brain surgeons are probably all wonderful people, very intelligent and capable at what they do, but I would never recommend letting one of them cut your daughter’s hair unless it’s absolutely necessary. 😀

By the evening that day, the doctors were talking about possibly discharging her on Monday, as long as she continued to recover so quickly. The only problem was that her last IV in her hand was beginning to hurt. After an hour of working with the nurses I urged them to remove it. They agreed and Sophie felt much better. Also that evening, the official reading of the MRI from the radiologist came in. From what his expert eyes could see, all of the tumor had been removed.

I called my wife and my mother. A wave of relief could be felt rippling throughout my world, in and out of homes everywhere we had family or friends. Through the magic of smart phones and Facebook, I had kept people up to date with as much news as I had, but this was the best news I had shared so far.

The rest of her recovery was still going perfectly. She held down all of the foods we had fed her, and she had plenty of energy between naps and sleeping at night. She didn’t sleep all through the night, but she also didn’t wake up more than should be expected. She was filling all of her diapers with copious amounts of urine, but she still hadn’t had a bowel movement, which was my only remaining concern (and it was minor).

That changed Monday morning. Take a look at this face:

From Cell Phone Photos

She was horribly constipated and required some assistance getting the feces out. I had to call in a nurse after looking under her diaper and seeing what was trying to get out. Without being too gross, let me just say that the process more closely resembled child-birth than a normal defecation, only without all the blood.

After that she felt noticeably better and she was exhausted. I’m getting ahead of myself though.

The best part of Monday was when the doctor visited in the morning and he mentioned that she would “possibly” be discharged that day. When I asked him what made the discharge possible rather than definite, he said it would be up to me. So, knowing that Sophie was recovering nicely and she seemed to be mostly back to her old self without showing any signs of being sick or having additional problems due to the surgery, I said I wanted to take her home as soon as possible. He said he could have the paperwork done in half an hour.

I rejoiced. So, after the laborious bowel movement, the nurse brought us the discharge paperwork, loaded Sophie into a wheelchair, and we went down to the parking garage where I couldn’t find my car. A kind parking attendant walked all over the garage in the cold winter weather pushing buttons on my key fob looking for my car. By the time he found it, Sophie had fallen asleep. I drove her home, expertly navigating the snow and ice-covered roads like anyone who grew up in the mountains should be able, and at long last we arrived at our home. Sophie was so excited she exclaimed, “yeah!” louder and with more enthusiasm than I had ever heard her do it before.

Rochelle had wanted me to take a picture of the view from our window in the room, but without seeing the full resolution image you might not be able to tell that we could see the capitol and the Washington memorial (among other landmarks) from the large windows. If you want to squint at the photo and try to see what we could see, check out the Cell Phone Photos album, or click on this direct link for the maximum resolution.

How the Kids Are

Micah

Micah handled it all very well, but we’re not exactly sure he fully comprehended the gravity of the situation. He did ask a few questions that indicated his concern, but he didn’t seem to be too upset by the whole ordeal, despite our explanations and descriptions of the operation.

In fact, he didn’t miss any school due to Sophie’s hospital stay. We had to have people pick him up from school Thursday and Friday, but on Monday and Tuesday school was cancelled due to snow, and their winter break began Wednesday (today).

In news specific to Micah, he is doing pretty well. Yesterday he broke down in tears when asked about a book he had left on the floor in his closet rather than returning it to its rightful place in the bookshelf downstairs. After several specific questions it turned out he was so upset because he had the intention of lying about the location of the book before I stumbled upon it during a routine check of his closet’s cleanliness. He knows there are severe consequences for lying, but he was equally upset by the possibility of consequences for intending to lie. I assured him that there were no consequences since he didn’t actually tell a lie, but that this was a good lesson on deciding ahead of time to always tell the truth.

From Cell Phone Photos

Sophie

Sophie is doing very well. She’s laughing more, talking more, walking better and still a picky eater. She’ll repeat just about any word she hears, and is learning a lot of new words. She ate snow for the first time yesterday, she likes wearing bows on heard (present packaging bows) and can say, “bow.” She loves saying, “bless you” (buss-oo) when people sneeze, “excuse me” (a-mee-mee) when people burp, and saying “eyebrow” while touching your eyebrows. Also, she loves zippers, and is obsessed with operating them, no matter where they may be located (such as one’s crotch).

My favorite: Despite all the “bad” things the doctors did to her, she will tell you, “I like doctors.”

She came home to several new items mom and grandma had picked out for her, including a table place mat featuring the face of Sponge Bob Square Pants. She loves pointing to and naming the various parts of his face, and she even put a bottle of children’s Tylenol where the nose goes saying that it was his nose.

We’re really looking forward to watching her continue to gain her balance back and get back to where she can dance, run and jump. Her brain was squished pretty bad, and as it expands the capabilities that area is responsible for may get slightly worse before getting better (two steps forward, one step back, repeat). So far, though, she has made steady progress, and she has a prescription for physical therapy to give us an opportunity to work with professional children’s therapists to help her get back to where she was before the incident.

From Cell Phone Photos

The back of her head should heal quickly, but this was not what we were expecting for her first haircut. When a nurse began to remove little patches of her hair to make bald spots to place markers on her skull for the MRI, I informed her that she was the first person to ever cut Sophie’s hair. The poor nurse nearly died. She felt so bad, but I assured her it wasn’t a problem. We are looking forward to the day when we can even out her hair with a nice haircut that won’t look so odd. Luckily, the rest of her hair is long enough to do a kind of “comb-over” to nearly hide the large bald spot. It just makes her hair look really thin there.

The final chapter in this story will be written when the pathology of the tumor comes back in the coming week. Tomorrow I can call their office to check and see if the results are in. If the tumor was benign and harmless, then we will be mostly done with the whole ordeal and we can begin to move on with our lives without worrying too much more about this issue. If not, we may have chemotherapy or some other form of radiological treatment to overcome before completely leaving this behind.

Until Later

I didn’t think to bring our regular camera to the hospital (it didn’t feel like a vacation), so all of the photos I took are in the Cell Phone Photos album. I’ll take more photos with the regular camera for Christmas though. Also, you can find at least one video of Sophie at the hospital on our YouTube channel. I uploaded two, but only one is available because of some digital errors in the second video. There is a fourth video, but it is impossibly long to upload from the phone, and it may have errors as well.

In case you’re wondering, Rochelle and I handled the whole thing rather well, considering. While it was happening, I didn’t have time to stop and think about it, but when strangers began commenting and offering their condolences, I realized that brain surgery on a little girl not even two years old isn’t something people take lightly. Rochelle and I received a lot of strength and support from so many directions, I can’t possibly thank them all. Of course, the largest source of strength for all of our family has been the Lord and His gospel. He has blessed us greatly. There are a number of amazing facts associated with what we’ve gone through that, summed up, point to only one conclusion – we were highly favored of the Lord in this matter.

The care we received at the Children’s Hospital was superb. The nurses were all wonderful people who genuinely cared for our daughter and even for our own wellbeing. On several occasions the nurses cared for my wife or me with the same tenderness as they tended to our little girl.

A representative from Tricare (our military insurance company) called today and assured us that everything would be paid for and that if we needed anything else just to be sure we went through our primary care provider for a referral. Even my military unit has offered their support in anything we needed.

Geographically we couldn’t have been in a better location without living across the street from the Children’s Hospital. This, of course, is due to when it happened. Had it happened any other time, we would have been in a less convenient location. Where we were living in California the nearest facility that could have helped Sophie was over three hours away.

I could sit here and type about the many blessings we received through all of this, but I’ll spare you the word count. Regardless of whether you helped by prayer or by driving us through the snow, putting yourself and your property in harm’s way, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. This holiday season, this Christmas, our family is celebrating Thanksgiving. We are full of gratitude beyond what we have ever felt before both to the Lord and to our friends and family. So before I run on and on about this, I’ll just leave you with one final thank you.

Thank you.

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Filed under Celebrations, Exciting, Holidays, Milestones, Sophie PMA

Christmas Letters to Santa

I was going to put these on the last post, but I forgot.

Letters to Santa

Mom

This year I have already received many fun things. I don’t really have many things that I want, but for fun I’ll ask for:

  • a calligraphy set (Barnes and Noble online) or (a set from Michaels with a book)
  • nice stationary set (Barnes and Noble online)
  • new journal (Barnes and Noble online)

I have more items listed on Amazon.com. There are a lot of items in the home list.

Thank you for all your hard work.

Love,

Mommy Haddad

(Rochelle)

Dad

Dear Santa,

Thanks, but no thanks. This year I already have everything I could want.

However, I do love surprises, so if you do bring me a little something, I won’t argue.

With Love,

Brian (Dad)

Micah

Dear Santa Clus,

I would like Goose bumps movies and videyo games and my last thing is a big set of Legos. Have fun eating cookies!

Love, Micah

From Cell Phone Photos

Sophie

Dear Santa:

Nine. Ten, ten, nine. Nine. Gum. Banana, gum, gum.

Love,

Sophie

From Cell Phone Photos

Until Later

Look forward to more holiday posts (we should have one about our Christmas tree soon, once we get it up), watch our photo albums, and don’t forget you can get automatic e-mail notification of new posts using the widget in the upper-right-hand corner. We love you.

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Filed under Celebrations, Holidays