Memories... Like Mom Made!

Memories... Like Mom Made!
Out of dark moments, flowers grow.

Monday, February 28, 2011

One Month Ago Today...

January 28, 2011...

One month ago today, my world stopped. The sun stopped shining, the earth stopped turning, and though in all actuality, it beats as well as ever, I am pretty sure my heart stopped, too.

I talk about Leila a lot, because I don't know what else to do. If talking about her makes others uncomfortable, then I am sorry. But she was my daughter, she was everything I could have ever wanted, and my time with her was so brief. I want to be able to remember every tiny little thing about her: from her teeny tiny little finger nails on her loooong skinny fingers, to her cute little nose, to her dark peach fuzz hair, to her skinny little legs and her adorable little feet.

I don't want to forget a thing.

It feels like just yesterday the doctors were starting to be more positive about Leila's fight. I remember joking with her doctor about how stubborn she would be as a teenager. I remember laughing and smiling and dreaming about her future. Can it really be true?

Has it really been one month since we said goodbye?

I am reliving those moments again and again right now. I remember walking down the hallway to her room. I remember the look on our favorite nurse, Donna's face. I remember looking at Leila's body. Knowing that something was wrong. Knowing what I didn't want to know.

That she was hurting.

Before Leila passed away I had received a link to a story about a premie baby girl. The story talked about the daughter's struggle and the parents' pain, then about how she grew into a happy and precocious little girl. One day when at a baseball game, the daughter asked her mom, "do you smell that?" The mom looked around and said "Yes, it smells like rain." The little girl said "No, mom! Do you smell that smell?" Again the mom said "Yes honey, I think we are going to get rained on soon." Finally the little girl says, "No Mommy. It smells like God, when you rest your head on His chest."

As soon as I read that story, when my Leila was still alive, I imagined that God was in her isolette with her. Holding her, breathing His healing breath on her. Comforting her. Any time her fight got rough, I told myself that God was holding her and taking away her pain. I told myself that she talked to God and He talked to her.

After she died, I found myself wondering if God was there with her. I wondered if maybe she told God she was ready to go.

If she chose.

I think I would feel better if I knew that she had told God she was ready, and that she didn't want to fight anymore.

I hate the idea that she just died. No sense to it, just death. It feels so final.

I want to believe that while she was resting her head on God's chest, she told Him she didn't want to fight anymore. That she wanted to go to Heaven and play with angels. That she loved her parents and her brother, but that even she understood that we didn't want her to suffer.

I think she gave us those last few minutes with her, to love on her and hold her for the first and last time, knowing that she was going to go home to God.

I pray with every fiber of my being that she is happy. That she will get some semblance of the childhood that was taken from her. That she will get to do all the things she never got to do down here: like run and play and laugh and cry and eat. And see.

I really hope she can see.

More than anything I wanted to see her eyes. I knew that they were still fused shut because she was so early. Because they weren't ready. I had prepared myself to raise a blind daughter. I didn't care: I would learn to read braille if I had to. I just wanted her to be healthy.

But now, now that she is in Heaven, I REALLY, really hope that she can see. I hope that she sees us and knows that we were her parents. I pray that she can see how much we loved her. And I hope that she can "see" the balloons we send up to her. I pray that she can feel the love her brother has for her. I wonder if he can see her and talk to her. Because sometimes, I swear he is talking to someone... He adores her so much.

I have so many thoughts bouncing around in my head.

So many things I can't put in to words...

So many things I have to do but don't know how to start.

For now I am going to snuggle on the couch with my sweet baby boy, and reflect on my baby girl's life.

<3 My sweet Leila. I love you so. I carry you with me in my heart everywhere I go. I pray for your peaceful rest. I love you, my sweet angel. <3

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Catching Up...

For the past month I have felt like life has been soaring ahead of me and I have been stuck in place, trying desperately to keep pace with the world bustling around me. I haven't been able to move past the basic emotions of anger and sadness. I am pretty much stuck on those two most of the time.

I still smile, laugh, talk, and function seemingly normally on the outside, but to be honest: I am completely broken inside. I feel awkward, I feel too big for my body, I feel numb. I feel like I am functioning on auto pilot and the rest of me is just along for the ride.

It has been hard being trapped in this house. Every where I look I either see something of Leila's, or I see "where Leila should be"... but isn't. The funny thing is, Leila never entered this house alive, so you would think that I wouldn't have all these reminders. But that isn't true. For the five months I was pregnant all I could think about was where her pack and play would be, where her swing would go, where I would put her baby gym, how her room would be decorated. I rearranged and redecorated our house physically, and in my mind so many times that all I can see is her. She is everywhere, and yet she was never truly in this home at all.

It kills me that her whole life was spent behind a plastic wall. My heart breaks for all the other NICU mommies that I met and encountered while she was at the hospital. I saw so much sadness and so much joy pour out of those rooms. There were a few moms that I encountered that shared similar stories to ours: they offered me so much hope and strength. They seemed to have a never ending supply of positivity. I tried to be like them, even in the darkest hours.

But now, being trapped at home with the reality that my daughter is gone forever, I am finding it difficult to be positive.

And I know Landon can feel that.

And that tears me up inside.

So when my husband came home from his boat det (Navy speak for a short "deployment" to get him ready to really deploy), we packed up Landon and headed to Disneyland.

I will be honest, we had a pretty good time. There were plenty of things that reminded me of Leila or made my heart stop for a minute, but all in all, it was a pretty good time. We were able to "escape" our emotions for a few minutes. We became fixated with Landon's happiness and making everything perfect for him.

I will write more about our visit when I have time. For now I am just trying to catch up with the real world. Coming home last night was like running in to a brick wall.. We had been avoiding it for the past half week, but coming home we could no longer escape reality.

For now I will sit with my son and eat our French toast, and try to hold on to the magic of Disneyland...

Don't worry, I will post the French toast recipe later!

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Coping: the process of managing stressful circumstances.

Managing stressful circumstances. Exerting control over. Handling.


I never thought so much about those words.

What they really mean.

What they don't mean.

They don't mean "I'm okay".

I am just "managing" the awful circumstances I am subjected to.

Not quite exerting control over, maybe handling, but definitely not ignoring.

I am not sure what I thought would happen in the weeks after Leila's death. I think, to be quite honest, I couldn't think much of anything. At least, not about the finality of her death. I truly believe there was a part of me that thought it wasn't over. Like I am still waiting for the doctors from the hospital to call with the nightly update and tell me that her blood pressure has stabilized, that her heart rate is strengthening, that she is thriving.

And then I look up from my bed, and I see this little wooden box, and my whole world caves in again.

It is a very simple little box. Nothing too intimidating. Nothing fancy or flashy.

She might have been our little diva, but none of the carved stone or flashy marble urns seemed right for her. Instead we chose this simple, shiny, light oak box. No engraving, no markers. Just... Leila.

Maybe secretly inside I chose it this way to try and hide myself from the fact that she is gone. Maybe it was just the time crunch that made me avoid any added time or expenses on the urn order. I honestly can't say. All I know is that this little box holds my heart, a piece of my soul.

A tiny, precious, 1 pound 4 ounce piece of my soul.

At least, that is what she weighed the day we welcomed her in to the world.

At 4:23pm my little girl would have been 5 weeks old. I don't even know what to say next. I don't know if her eyes would have opened by now. I don't know if she would have finally filled out and gotten her "cheeks"... face and butt cheeks, as my husband joked.

I don't know anything.

There are moments when I start to move forward: I am laughing, talking easily, smiling, enjoying myself...

Then all of a sudden this feeling comes over me like I am driving alone on a winding road in the middle of the night, and suddenly I come up on a bridge only to find that it has come completely crashing down, and I slam on the breaks and go skidding over the edge.

I can almost feel myself hit the icy water and gasp for air, but the frigid air only makes it harder to breathe, and I feel my lungs become like anchors, dragging me under. I feel like I am drowning in my sorrow.

Then as I look up, I see my son. And I fight like hell to make it back to the surface. I force myself to push through the pain and...

manage my difficult circumstance.

That's what I do.

I handle it. I manage to get through it. To the next minute, the next hour, the next day.

I am not sure if I am "coping" with my pain, my grief, my "difficult circumstance", but somehow, I am finding a way to manage it. And I am pretty sure my beautiful son is 100% to credit for that.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Greek goddess Pasta

At first I had titled the post very simply "Greek Pasta"... then I decided, being the domestic goddess that I am, to very appropriately rename this delicious Greek inspired pasta dish...

So Greek goddess Pasta it is!

And it really, truly is goddess worthy...

One of my favorite foods in the entire world is Greek salad. In fact, once when I was 12 I asked for Greek salad as my birthday meal... Pretty exotic taste for a preteen, huh?

Lately I have been having these insatiable cravings for Greek salad... constantly... I have been eating them so much that I haven't really eaten much else. And though salad is extremely healthy, yes, I have dropped about 30 pounds since I had our daughter (not baby weight, as I had already lost weight during the pregnancy and hadn't yet gained), it was time to "bulk up" my nice little Greek salad into something more of an actual meal. I added some chicken, added some pasta, added a creamy Greek inspired pasta sauce...

It was sheer perfection.

Here is how I did it. But wait, first I need a quick disclosure: I did not write down this recipe while I created it... but I think I remembered everything pretty well. This is not my best mapped out recipe ever, but I only have time to post while my toddler is napping, so this is going to have to cut it for now!!!! GOOD LUCK! ;) (oh come on, I promise you can figure it out!!!)

You will need

2 chicken breasts,cubed into 1 inch pieces
1 bottle of Greek dressing (or make your own if you wish. I used the Kraft stuff... it's yummy!)

Sun dried tomatoes (reconstituted if you use dried like me)
1 can artichoke hearts
Kalamata olives
Red onion
Feta cheese

1 block cream cheese
1 cup grated parmesan cheese (the kind in a can)
3/4 c milk
1/2 c butter

First, a couple hours before you are going to begin cooking (or even the night before), transfer the chicken cubes to a plastic baggie and cover with some of the Greek dressing. Maybe 1 cup, but you probably won't use more than that. Seal tightly and let marinate in the fridge until you are ready to begin.

Meanwhile, reconstitute your sun dried tomatoes. You can do this one of two ways. 1) Heat a pot of water to boiling. Place tomatoes in a heat proof bowl, cover with boiling water, place a plate or lid on top to keep in heat and let soak for about 30 minutes. 2) Or if you are like me and forgot to reconstitute them until right before you need them, pop them in a saucepan, cover with water, and boil until tender. It works.

Next, line a cooking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. Arrange artichoke hearts on the pan, drizzle them with olive oil, and bake them at 375 for about 20-30 minutes, checking every few minutes so they don't burn. You will want to shake the pan to move them around so they get roasted all over.

Why roast, you ask?

The answer is simple: you have NEVER fully experienced an artichoke until you have tasted it roasted. Just trust me. Sometimes I just mix together red peppers and artichoke hearts and garlic and drizzle it all in olive oil and roast it... it is amazing.

Ok so back to the artichokes: you want them to be a goldeny color, but not super burnt, so keep an eye on them. Oh and let me warn (if there a nice kind of warn?) you now: they smell INCREDIBLE! You may have to contain yourself to keep from plucking them right off the baking sheet after they are done...

Okay so now that your prep work is done, heat a skillet with a bit of olive oil and add your garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the chicken and cook until done on all sides. Next add your artichokes, capers, tomatoes, olives, and about 1/4 cup of the Greek dressing. If it looks a bit dry, add more.

While you are cooking your chicken, you will also be making your sauce. It is basically a creamy alfredo sauce that you will mix in to the chicken, and it will mix with the Greek dressing, and magic will happen.

In a medium sauce pot, add the cream cheese, Parmesan, butter, and milk. Heat on medium heat until everything is melted and well blended. Stir often.

Add about half of it to the chicken mixture and stir well, continuing to cook until the chicken is done. You can add more to your taste after you add the pasta, but I ended up with about half or a little less left over, and tossed with with plain hot cooked pasta and gave it to my son as a fancy "macaroni and cheese". He devoured it.

Stir in about half a box worth of hot, cooked penne pasta, and serve, topped with feta cheese, of course.

Now I would have pictures of this deliciousness, but my husband had the camera, so I do not have pictures...

But I can tell you a secret: if you don't have time to do all the prep work, you can make this a much quicker meal if you just use some cherry tomatoes and pop them under the broiler until the burst open. You can also just pop the artichoke hearts under the broiler for a few minutes if you are in a hurry, but keep an eye on them. And last, if you forget to marinate the chicken, it isn't the end of the world. Just add a little more Greek dressing to the cooking pot.

Good luck! I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Hanging in There.

Everyone asks me how I am...
They say I look great and comment on
"how well I am grieving".
On the outside, I smile at them.
I say "I am hanging in there".
And I am.
By a thread.
What they don't know is that
they don't know anything.
Inside I am dying.
Inside I am reliving the moment
you died, over and over
and over again.
The second your heart stopped beating
a piece of mine died.
It dies over and over.
On autopilot, like the rest of me.
There is nothing strong about me.
Nothing strong about the way I am grieving.
I am just doing what any mother would do.
I am "mothering".
Sometimes I want to scream at people,
but I don't.
Sometimes I want to crumble and break apart,
but I can't.
I have this purpose, even though you are gone,
I still have a purpose.
I am still a wife and a mother,
and that is all I know.
So while my heart is breaking over and over again,
my hands are folding laundry and fixing dinner,
my eyes are carefully watching your big brother
as he explores the world around him, running,
jumping, climbing, falling...
doing every thing you will never get to do.
my mouth is kissing "owies" and scolding "no-no"s
and singing lullabies, and saying things like
"I'm hanging in there"
my feet are moving forward, my legs carrying me
to the next destination,
but my heart is broken.
Frozen in time.
In that one moment.
Hanging on by a thread as you took your last breath.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine Schmalentine...

When I was in grade school, an awkward nerdy girl at a stuffy Catholic school, Valentine's day was always torture for me. I would decorate my box and carefully fill out Valentine's for each of my classmates, praying just praying that I would receive one "genuine" Valentine in return.

One year I even wrote on a Valentine to a boy I liked asking him to go to a movie with me...

It was epic fail.

I mean, so epic fail that said Valentine was read aloud from the highest point in the playground while I was mercilessly laughed at and sent running, tears flying, to hide out under a climbing tower.

Needless to say that was a pick up attempt that was completely, 100% SHUT DOWN.

Rejection is so brutal for an 11 year old.

So anyway, all the kids are required to give each classmate a valentine... It's the rules.

I think those rules were made for kids like me, so that our box wouldn't be empty.

Thanks to the narcissism of Valentine's day and my burning desire to have my own true Valentine, the first 10 or so Valentine's of my primary educated life were just plain crummy.

When I got to about 7th grade, I started having boyfriends. I managed to always have one right around Valentine's day, I think because of my intense fear of loneliness and humiliation.

Ok so the next few Valentine's days of my life weren't so bad.... I had a couple awkward dances and a date or too. Then my senior year of high school I had a boyfriend (he last only about 2 weeks, but just so happened to exist around Valentine's day) that pretty much made up for every obligatory valentine I had ever been given... I will be honest, I don't really remember said "boyfriend" very well. But I remember 8th period on Valentine's day...

I had been called to the office to receive flowers and what not twice already that day. One was from my Mom and Dad, the other from my Nana and Ahda... So I was feeling kind of loserish by the time 8th period came around... I mean, come on, I finally had a legitimate boyfriend on Valentine's day and hadn't reaped the benefits of being publicly showered with lavish gifts.

And then the "runners" from the office came down to call me for a pick up. They had 3 slips.


That is a lot.

So much in fact that the runner warned me to bring a friend or two to carry it all back.

So my friend Amber and I ran down to the office and asked where my delivery was. They pointed to an annex that had lots of deliveries left in it - flowers, a huge balloon bouquet, two GIANT boxes, and a big heart shaped pillow with a big fat box of chocolates on it...

When I asked which one was mine... the office clerk looked at me with this exasperate expression and said "All of it..."



So we lugged the loot back to 8th period, I passed around chocolates, and my very nosy and easily distracted teacher canceled the rest of class to watch me open my presents.

After tracking down a knife (not that hard to do in a public school, surprisingly) to open the boxes, we ripped those suckers open to reveal two GIANT sized teddy bears. Boyd's Bears, to be exact. And if you know your teddies, Boyd's is top of the line. One was a 4 foot tall teddy, the other about 2 feet or so...

It was ridiculous.

Oh and did I mentioned a bouquet of 2 dozen wired roses in a gorgeous vase...

Yeah, it pretty much made up for everything.

And like 1 week or so later that guy was gone and out of my life... And I can hardly remember his name... but he definitely rehabilitated Valentine's Day for me.

My first Valentine's Day with my husband was 2008. Our son was 2 months old and we were traveling across country in a huge moving truck with a trailer on the end of it, a cat, a dog, and a nursing newborn.

It had every ingredient necessary to cook up a big, giant disaster. (Did I mention the blizzard? Yeah, that too.)

But my amazingly romantic husband cleverly planned a stop at our home state, we stayed with his parents, and on Valentine's day he took me out for sushi at my favorite restaurant, and presented me with a gorgeous diamond necklace.

Take that Senior Year Boyfriend! You got schooled!

So this Valentine's Day my husband is gone and my Valentine is my precious son. Which I guess is in a way, a Valentine from my husband.

I don't even need flowers, chocolates, or giant stuffed teddy bears to have an amazing Valentine's day anymore.

That may sound corny, but honestly, all of that was just for show... To feel special in front of a group of people.

Which is why I can tell I have grown up.

My love for my husband isn't about spectacles or putting on a show in the middle of an 8th period classroom, or reading an embarrassing Valentine in front of everyone at school. It's just love.

Pure, unconditional, make me weak in the knees at the thought of him, LOVE.

We have those romantic moments that make other people want to throw up

We make each other laugh,

usually he makes me laugh harder...

He always knows what to say or do to cheer me up when I am down... Or to make me laugh when I am obsessing over bills, laundry, etc.

We have our serious moments where only we can be there for each other.

He looks at me in a way no one else ever has, or ever will.

He completes me... He is the yin to my yang, the peanut butter to my jelly, the freshly ground pepper to my coarse natural sea salt.

He is the best friend I ever had, no embarrassing "will you go out with me" valentine necessary.

So happy Valentine's Day to the love of my life. I miss you, I love you, and I am so thankful for you... no matter how February 14th is spent.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Anger, Meet Heartbreak.

Today we received an envelope in the mail.

This has been pretty normal lately. Leila was loved by so many people, literally in the thousands, from all over the world. She was like the world's tiniest celebrity.

At least that's how I think of her. My sweet little diva. Always fighting and kicking. Refusing to give up until she just couldn't go anymore.

We have been receiving a lot of mail lately. Probably about 3 cards or letters a day from people who were touched by Leila and wanted to share their story with us about how she changed their lives, or just to send us a card offering their prayers, and we still receive the occasional hat too, but I will explain the hats later.

Today in the mail we received three envelopes (not from bills or ads or anything, but honest to goodness mail, ya know?). One was a card from a church telling us about a contribution made in Leila's name. Another was a sympathy card from a close relative. And the third made Donovan's and my heart jump into our throats and our stomachs sink into our toes.

Sounds pretty dramatic, huh?

That's how it felt.

Like wanting something so badly but knowing that having it would bring you heartache all at the same time.

This is kind of like that.

When Leila passed away, a very nice lady came into the sterile little room they had put us in while we "grieved", and offered to take pictures of us with Leila after they had cleaned all the tape and tubes and masks off of her.

At first I liked this idea. I thought it would be great to hold her again, and I had heard about Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep and the work that they do. As Donovan and I tried to wrestle the strength to go face her lifeless body and hold her while someone we didn't know took pictures, we just snapped. It felt wrong and morbid and neither one of us could work up the courage. I guess we just weren't ready and the thought of it made it all too real. Stifling so.

Donovan said that he didn't want to ruin his last memory of her: laying on her Mommy's chest where she belonged. It was a beautiful and sacred moment to him.

I waited a long time, struggling with the decision to stay in the room with him, the room that was too quiet, but so loud. The room that was considerably roomy for two people to sit alone in, but made me feel claustrophobic. That was the room in which the doctor had told me three days earlier that she probably wouldn't make it, but that he had such high hopes for her. That was the room where we sat right before she started getting better, which was right before the very end. That room was not a place for happy news. That room was a bad omen, and it was suffocating me.

I realized that I didn't believe it. I truly couldn't accept that she was really gone. And it was probably selfish of me, but I wanted to walk back in there and see that they had hooked her back up to the machines that were keeping her alive, and that she hadn't really left me... Not yet.

So I left Donovan and walked down that hall. I had probably walked down that hall at least 50 or 60 times in the last 12 days. Maybe more than that. Every single time I walked down that hall, I stopped at the counter to drop off my coat, stopped at the sink, put a pile of soap in my hand, and scrubbed up for a full minute. Sometimes I would just barely brush against the wall when grabbing a paper towel, or forget and brush a hair off my cheek, and I would start all over again. Nothing was worth the risk.

But this time when I washed my hands it was different. I was on autopilot, but I knew that she was safe from any contamination I could possibly bring. "But the other babies aren't," I reminded myself. So I washed.

Probably longer than ever before.

Out of the 60 or more walks I had taken down that hall, 3 of them felt like "the longest walk in my life". The first one was the day when she was 9 days old and the doctor called and said to be with her for her final hour. My mom and I took that walk together and each step felt like ten more were added in front of us. It felt like it took years to make it to that door.

But we finally did.

And there she was just kicking and waving around. And the doctor said he was surprised to see her like this, but not to get our hopes up.

But we did.

We always did.

I was always so confident that she was going to make it. The doctors would be talking to me in the serious tone that they use... reminding us of how critical she was and that every minute was a miracle with her. But I told the doctors that I wasn't worried because I knew she was going to make it.

She had to make it.

And that next day even the most skeptical of her doctors admitted that she was improving more than they could have ever hoped.

Maybe too quickly.

A little body can only strain and fight so much before it can't fight anymore.

And, My God! She was a fighter!

The second "longest walk" was earlier that day. Donovan and I walked together. This one wasn't quite as long as the one on day 9. She was improving, I had thought. She is going to be waving around and kicking and flapping and doing what she always did.

I was more wrong than I had ever thought possible.

I am generally a hopeful and positive person, but I can't even put in to words how hopeful I had managed to stay despite everything the doctors said. It was all I could do.

So back to the third walk, the walk back to her while the photographer was taking her pictures. This one was an eternity. Every step I took I felt like the hallway stretch out even longer. Like in the cartoons where the door at the end of the long hall streeeeeeetches backwards until it is teeny tiny and the hallway is like a mile long.

It was like that.

I never realized how awkward I am until that moment. I didn't know how to walk... I didn't know if I should cross my arms, or put my hands in my pockets, or keep my hands spastically up by my face to wipe my tears as I walked. I felt odd in my own body, like I didn't belong there.

I didn't even know what to do when I hit the doorway. The same doorway I had probably walked in and out of hundreds of times while she stayed in the NICU. I stood at the doorway and stared helplessly at the nurses. I felt like I didn't belong there any more.

A sweet nurse who's name I don't even remember came and took my hand and led me to her.

I will never forget what she said.

"Love on her, mama. She needs you."

And that was it.

The floodgates opened back up and I poured my tears onto the bed Leila was laying on. It looked like she was sleeping.

She even had a teeny, tiny little nightgown on.

The first and last outfit she ever wore.

They told me to hold her hand. To put her little fingers around my finger. To kiss her. To put my hands around her tiny little body.

I don't really know how to describe the experience. It's like being given a brand new car, minus the engine.

Okay, horrible analogy. It's nothing like that...

It's like getting exactly what you want, and the exact opposite of that at the same time. For the past two weeks all I had wanted was to hold her and love on her and have her not be in any pain.

But the last thing I ever could have wanted was for her to be lifeless. It was my nightmare.

It still is.

So back to that envelope in the mail. We both knew exactly what it was as soon as we saw the padded envelope. The final pictures of Leilani Marie Decker had arrived. We didn't open it at first... neither one of us knew if we could handle what was on the disc. We put it off almost until the last minute, right before Donovan left for the boat today, but we decided to go ahead and view them together so we didn't have to wait until he got back.

They were simply beautiful, but they made every part of my being ache for her. Only a parent who has lost a child can even remotely fathom the ache I am describing. I can't even begin to use words to explain it, and that is saying something coming from me.

I can't necessarily say yet that they have helped with the healing process, because I am still struggling with all of that and I will be for a long time. All I can say is that I have beautiful pictures of my daughter now. No wires, no tubes, no mask. Just gorgeous little Leila. I don't care what anyone else thinks - I know she was perfect. Absolutely perfect. And my heart aches for her every second.

So yes, I am still very, very angry. But more than anything, I am just plain heartbroken.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Red Wine Poached Pears with Chocolate Red Wine Ganache: Valentine's Day in a Bowl

Looking for that perfect Valentine's Day treat for your honey?

Look no further. I have just the thing for you.

And to be honest, this is a "knock em dead" type of dessert. I mean, you can't really serve this dessert without impressing the pants off of (eh, eh, eh?) your guest.

Trust me...

Whoa! Don't get worked up! I was kidding...


But seriously.. Want to score a few extra brownie points on Valentine's Day? Guys, make this for your lady and she will think you took a cooking class and didn't tell her.

Girls, make this for your man and well... He will be hooked forever. Like, I am talking diamond engagement ring hooked...

It is just THAT good.

Okay so enough lead up, I am sure you want to know what this incredible dessert is, right? *This is, assuming of course, that you can't read the title... but humor me anyway.*

Two words: RED. WINE.

Lots of it.

Not just red wine in a glass.

Oh no.

I'm talking red wine, in a glass, alongside a bowl with/or without a brownie (the brownie is really optional... more or less a condiment to the real star of the show in this dish), topped with a juicy pear that has been poached in red wine and spices, then soaked for hours (or if you are short on time, simmered for 30 minutes), topped with a red wine chocolate ganache, homemade whipped cream, and drizzled with a red wine reduction sauce.

In short: it is THE perfect Valentine's day dessert.



It's like a giant Valentine in a bowl.

But it's good for other holidays too.

And it's ridiculously easy to make, but like I said, you will look like a pro.

Red Wine Poached Pears

1 bottle red wine (I used a cheap Merlot... no need to waste on a fancy red wine... any cheap bottle will do.)
2-4 pears (depending on how much you want to make)
1/4 cup white sugar

Wash and peel the pears. If you are feeling fancy, you can peel 1/2 inch sections off of the pear vertically, from base to tip, in a spiral fashion around the pear. It is a little trickier, but the presentation is unbelievable.

If you are like me and in a hurry, you can peel them completely, then halve them and use a melon baller to remove the middle with the seeds and junk. This doesn't make for a bad presentation either since the melon baller gives a place to put the chocolate sauce later... like a little reservoir for goodness...

Pour the wine into a medium size sauce pot and add a few dashes of cinnamon (maybe a tsp or two?), a splash or two of vanilla, and the white sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring gently, over high heat.

** At this point, reserve 1/2 cup of the wine mixture for your ganache. Then continue with the recipe **

Once at a boil, carefully add the pears and return to a soft boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes or until pears are a dark red color. Remove pears and continue to simmer sauce until it thickens slightly and reduces.

If you have time and are preparing these the night before, you can skip the reduction step and pour the entire pot into a tupperware and chill overnight. This will give the pears extra time to really soak up the wine, and you can still make your reduction the next day (if you don't like the consistency the sauce already has).

Red Wine Chocolate Ganache

2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/4 cup chocolate chopped really finely (I wanted to skip the chopping step and I happened to have Nestle mini chocolate chips in semi sweet, so I used those and they worked great)
1/2 cup of the red wine mixture

In a small sauce pan bring the cream to a boil. Pour over chocolate in a bowl and stir with a whisk until chocolate melts. Add wine. It helps if the wine is warm as it continues to melt the chocolate, but if you are doing the ganache the next day then your wine is probably cold, so feel free to heat it up in a different sauce pan or in the microwave for a few seconds.

Continue to whisk until it is smooth and completely blended. The ganache should be smooth and shiny, without any lumps.

Make the ganache as close as you can to the time of serving to avoid it cooling to much and over thickening.

This ganache would make an incredible cheesecake topping, ice cream topping, cupcake filling or topping, and so much more.

I will be honest, I would eat this stuff off of cardboard it is so good.

Homemade Whipped Cream

Heavy whipping cream
1-2 Tablespoons sugar

If you have a magic bullet blender, food processor, hand blender, or anything that mixes things up really fast (was that a dumbed down description? surely not ;) ), pour your cream in the cup/bowl/whatever and top it with the sugar. Whip, blend, process or beat until it is fluffy and light. This is another thing to be made right before serving as it will thin out as it sits.

Next step is to assemble your dessert.

For WHOLE PEARS: Mound about two spoonfuls of ganache into a bowl and stand a single pear upright in the middle of the ganache. Drizzle lightly with the wine sauce (not too much or it will look messy), and garnish with homemade whipped cream and a mint leaf, or any other garnish you like. Perhaps a chocolate shaving? Serve with a glass of your favorite red wine.

For PEAR HALVES: Using a plastic sandwich baggie, pipe a swirl of chocolate ganache on the bottom of a bowl. Using a spoon, drizzle the red wine sauce inside the swirl. Place a pear half on top and fill the well in the center of the pear with the ganache. Top with homemade whipped cream and garnish of your choice. Mint leaf, chocolate shaving, part of a cinnamon stick, candy heart. You name it, do whatever speaks to you...



by the way,

YOU ARE WELCOME... Trust me...

Friday, February 11, 2011

My Ugly Shoes

I am wearing a pair of shoes.
They are ugly shoes.
Uncomfortable shoes.
I hate my shoes.
Each day I wear them, and each day I wish I had another pair.
Some days my shoes hurt so bad that I do not think I can take another step.
Yet, I continue to wear them.
I get funny looks wearing these shoes.
They are looks of sympathy.
I can tell in others eyes that they are glad they are my shoes and not theirs.
They never talk about my shoes.
To learn how awful my shoes are might make them uncomfortable.
To truly understand these shoes you must walk in them.
But, once you put them on, you can never take them off.
I now realize that I am not the only one who wears these shoes.
There are many pairs in this world.
Some women are like me and ache daily as they try and walk in them.
Some have learned how to walk in them so they don't hurt quite as much.
Some have worn the shoes so long that days will go by before they think about how much they hurt.
No woman deserves to wear these shoes.
Yet, because of these shoes I am a stronger woman.
These shoes have given me the strength to face anything.
They have made me who I am.
I will forever walk in the shoes of a woman who has lost a child.

*This is not my poem, but I live this poem. I didn't write the words, but I have to live every one of these words every day. There was no author credited with the poem when I found it, so thank you to whoever wrote it. It describes how I feel pretty much perfectly.


When I was 15 a friend of mine passed away.

It hit me pretty hard. I think a big part of it had to do with the fact that that girl and I had drifted apart when we moved to high school and my new group of friends weren't very nice to her... But I had known her my whole life, so her death was hard on me because in addition to saying goodbye to a longtime friend at such a young age, I was put face to face with my own mortality.

And that is never easy for anyone.

Especially not a hormonal teenage girl like I was.

So I joined a grief counseling class offered by my high school. It was kind of cool because we got out of part of 4th period every week, but more than that I was given the tools to handle my grief.

We talked about a different step of the grieving process every day...

Shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger, bargaining, depression and loneliness, reflection, reconstruction, and acceptance.

There are a million different books that talk about grief, some with these steps in this order, some with different steps and different names, and some that follow a completely different grieving process.

I remember feeling comfort as we worked through the "grieving process" in that classroom. There were about 7 other students and they all had their own multitude of feelings they were sifting through. A few kids had lost parents, a couple lost grandparents, one had lost a sibling.

Day after day I listened to their stories, shared my own, and slowly but surely I started to hurt a little less.

I mean, let's face it, I wasn't even that close to this girl when she died... It was really my mortality that I was more upset about than losing her friendship.

Harsh much? Yeah, that was pretty harsh. But don't think I didn't grieve over her - I did. And it was heartbreaking when she died...

And now I have even more understanding of just how heartbreaking it was.

Her mother. Her mother had to do something no mother should have to do.

I have lost a lot of people close to me over the years, several friends, my best friend, an old "sweetheart", many acquaintances, handfuls of obscure relatives that I didn't really know, my great grandma who I loved very much, my granddad, my uncle... you name it, but my family tree has lost a lot of good apples over the year.

When updating the line that says " Died:_________ " you usually look upward in the family tree... You aren't supposed to have to fill in that line just days after the line was even created. You aren't supposed to have to write it below your own name.

You aren't supposed to bury your own children.

You just aren't.

So you probably wonder why I am writing all this?

I do too.

I have no idea how to grieve this tragedy. I have no idea how to pick up the pieces and move on.

I keep looking at the stages of grief and I can't quite move past anger.

I am SO angry.

I am not an angry person. In fact, I am the person that will let someone insult me to my face, completely stab me in the back and destroy my trust, and then I will still be there for them.

I am a happy person.

I WAS a happy person.

Those two sides of me are fighting these days: the happy person I have been my whole life is in a wrestling match with this unhappy shell of a person who is angry at the world and everything in it.

I hate having so much anger. I don't know what to do with it. So instead I just sit on my couch or in bed and cry. I beg God to change this. I bargain. I bargain with God a lot. I beg him to give her back to me and I will change whatever I can to make Him happy with me. I beg him to take my life and somehow bring her back.

I get mad at Him. That is the hardest thing for me to admit. I get mad at my Creator... When my best friend took her own life I was mad at her. I could place my blame where it belonged: she had chosen to leave.

But my daughter didn't choose. Her body gave up on her. Who can I be mad at in that situation? As much as it hurts me to admit it, I sometimes feel angry with God. And then I feel worse.

When I was holding her in the hospital, after they had taken her off life support and the nurse was manually breathing for her, I begged God to take the breath from my lungs and the beat from my heart and put it into her. I begged him in my heart and out loud and I shouted up to Him. And nothing happened. I screamed for the doctors to put her back on life support. I wasn't ready to let go. I am still not ready. One of the hardest things for me is facing her urn, which sits on the book shelf across from our bed. When I see that I am forced to face the reality that no miracle can bring her back to me. She has no lungs left to fill with air... Her heart is a pile of ash in a box.

My precious daughter, the one that was supposed to drive her brother crazy, have daddy wrapped around her finger, and argue with me when she was a teenager, well she is in a box. A box.

A damn box.

So yeah, I can't move past anger yet. I am going to be angry for a long time. And I am perfectly fine with that by my own compass: I don't need a book or anyone else to tell me that "that's fine" or that what I am doing is "perfectly normal".


There should not be a standard or normality for burying one's child.

It is not normal.

And if one more person that barely knows me tries to tell me how to handle my grief, I will slap something. Maybe not them, because goodness knows I don't want a law suit on my hands. But I am just a 24 year old mother trying to come face to face with the fact that I will never get to tickle my daughter. I will never get to see her dance, or walk around in my high heels, or take her to Disneyland.

And that makes me so very angry.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Beer Bread

If you have never before had beer bread, you are certainly missing out. I have fond memories of making beer bread with my mom at the restaurant when I was just a little tyke. I remember being fascinated by the way the beer bubbled over the flour and mixed together to make a yeasty, doughy blob of deliciousness... and of course the alcohol cooks out while baking, but even my mom would let me swipe my finger along the edge of the bowl and taste the batter, beer and all.

Yesterday I had a craving for two types of beer bread at the same time... I wanted a sweet, fruity beer bread, but then I also wanted a cheesy savory beer bread.

So I made both.

It's amazing how easy this recipe is. If you search online you can find hundreds of different variations for beer bread. Some are good, some are "okay", and some just don't turn out at all... but I will be honest, it is pretty hard to mess up beer bread.

But I of course, did not search online for this beer bread recipe. I searched in my hand written box of recipe cards (courtesy of my Nana).

There are three ways to make the beer bread: plain, sweet, or savory. I will list all three.

Plain Beer Bread

3 cups self rising flour
1/4 - 1/2 cup sugar
1 bottle beer (not lite.. blech... we want FULL flavored beer!)

Sift the flour into a bowl. Or if you are like me, you can just shake the flour out of the bag into a measuring cup, kind of eyeball it a bit, and then dump it into the bowl. Remember what I said about beer bread being hard to mess up?

Pretty awesome, huh?

Dump your sugar on top. It is up to you how much sugar you want to add if you are making plain beer bread. Or you can meet in the middle at 1/3 cup and take the guess work out of it.

Stir in the beer and watch your delicious dough form. Dump into a greased pan and bake at a preheated 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes. I always start checking with a toothpick at 35 minutes.

My mom's recipe calls for the bread to be rubbed all over with butter after you pop it out of the pan to cool. I changed that a little bit. I now melt butter before baking the bread and pour it on top. It makes a delicious crispy outer crust... oh, I still rub it down with butter when it comes out, too.

I really like butter.

Sweet Beer Bread

3 cups self rising flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
Raisins (as much or as little as you like)
1 bottle beer

Stir together first 4 ingredients, then pour the beer on top and stir until a dough forms. Dump into a greased bread pan.

Melt 2-3 T butter and pour on top of the dough. You don't want it to be swimming in butter, just enough to moistened the top so it gets a good crispy crust.

I like to sprinkle mine with a little bit of a cinnamon sugar mixture before popping it in the oven. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes (start checking at 35 and keep baking until toothpick comes out clean). Run a knife along the edges of the pan and turn onto a cooling rack. Rub with butter, then let cool on the rack.

Savory Beer Bread

3 cups self rising flour
1/4 cup sugar
Grated onion (I grated about 1/3 an onion, but you can do as much as you want, or omit all together)
Dill, Thyme, basil, chili powder
Any herbs or spices you desire

Mix together these ingredients, then, you guessed it, pour 1 bottle beer over the mixture and stir. The rest is like the above recipes, so I am confident you can figure it out from there...

Now yesterday I made a plain cinnamon bread for my husband. I used the sweet beer bread recipe and omitted the raisins. I also made a cinnamon raisin bread for me and Little Man. I used the sweet beer bread recipe, and added about 1/2 cup raisins and 1/2 cup golden raisins.

My absolute favorite bread, however, was my last creation.

I call this one "Artisan Cheese Beer Bread".

It makes me feel fancy.

Artisan Cheese Beer Bread

3 cups self rising flour
1/4 c sugar
1/3 cup grated onion
1-2 cloves minced garlic
Thyme and Dill to taste
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (the kind that comes in a can)
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Mix together, then add the 1 bottle beer. Stir, then dump into a greased bread pan and pour 2-3 Tablespoons melted butter on top.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, though with this bread I noticed I had to bake it a bit longer. Probably because of the melty action from the cheese. I let it get pretty crispy around the edges and it was SOOO good!

So there you have it... A million and one ways to make beer bread. You can change the recipe any way you would like. Experiment with different types of beer. You can use dried cranberries or cherries in place of raisins. You can add cheese to the savory recipe, and use any herbs you would like. I bet a monterey jack cheese blend and chili powder would be a great combo to try for chili night, or to accompany tortilla soup! There are really endless possibilities with this simple recipe.

And like I said, you can't screw it up...

But if you manage to mess it up, let me know about your fail so I can warn others.

Oh and if you succeed with a variation of your own, please let us know what you did!!


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Leilani Marie Decker

About a month ago I wrote about how I was going to be a "better blogger" and post new recipes almost every day, blah blah blah...

And that didn't happen.

I am sure you are wondering why that didn't happen. If you know me in the "real" world, you already know the answer. If you don't know me, and you just happen to read this blog by some fate of the internet search engines... well, read on is all I can say. And if you, like me, are easily moved to tears: you may want to get some tissues ready.

I'll be honest. I am already crying.

So a month ago when I wrote that I would be posting recipes a lot more frequently, I had specified that one of those reasons was because I was put on bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy. If you don't recall - my due date was May 12, 2011 (though my doctor insists it was May 18th according to her measurements). January 14th, I had a "normal" weekly ultrasound... my umpteenth ultrasound of this pregnancy... We went in as we always go in, smiling, excited, chattering about our daughter and how beautiful she is going to be and how perfect she is. During the first part of the appointment they did an external ultrasound. We watched in amazement as she flipped around and squirmed at the touch of the technician. After the technician had wiggled her around in all different positions and angles to get each picture she needed, it was time for the cervical measurement...

To spare you the gory details... this one is done with a... different approach. Not your normal belly ultrasound.

So anyway, as soon as the technician located my cervix to do the measurement (this is why I had to go every week), we both noticed something very alarming...

No cervix.


It was gone.

And our baby was trying to come N-O-W.

I instantly panicked, and though I am sure she wouldn't want to admit it, the ultra sound tech looked a little panicked too as she quickly paged the doctor.

My husband stared on in wonderment - completely oblivious to what we were worried about. All he could see was his gorgeous baby girl swimming around on the screen.

After the doctor rushed in it was obvious that I wasn't going to be leaving the hospital pregnant. The next time I left the hospital, no matter how long or short it would be, would be after the birth of our daughter.

I was admitted within the hour and as I lay on the hospital bed sobbing uncontrollably, I listened to the doctors drone on about my condition and their ideas of how to stabilize the baby so I could continue my pregnancy in the hospital until she decided to appear.

But all the talk never went anywhere, because 48 hours later I was rushed in for an emergency C section, and our gorgeous daughter, Leilani (Leila) Marie Decker, was born.

She was everything we imagined she would be, just smaller. She had ten fingers, ten toes, the sweetest little nose you have ever seen, and lots of dark peach fuzz all over her sweet little head.

She was four months early, weighing in at just 1 lb, 4 oz. She was 11 1/2 inches long. She had the longest, skinniest little fingers. Everyone said she would grow up to be a pianist or a surgeon. Her eyes were fused shut - they hadn't finished forming in the womb and would need extra time to open now that she was "out".

She was so eager. She wanted to do everything her way: always kicking and thrashing around even when the doctors had her bundled up to help her conserve her energy.

She was our fighter. From day one the doctors said she may not make it through the first night, but she showed them. She fought and fought and survived day after day.

When she was nine days old the doctors called us and told us that she was in her final hours and we should come be with her.

We prepared ourselves for the worst, went to her side, and prayed.

And prayed.

And within a few hours, she started to respond.

The doctors admitted that even they didn't expect the turn around.

We spent ever minute with her we could for the next 24 hours. She was getting stronger, she was improving.

Everyone was impressed.

We left Thursday afternoon, around 11. We kissed her through the isolette. We told her we would be back on Saturday but we would miss her terribly. We sang to her. We laughed, we smiled. We were so confident in our little fighter's ability to thrive.

All night long we received updates from the doctors every few hours. It was obvious that our decision to leave the hospital, located about an hour from our home, was a hasty one. They told us to come back: that they were having to make some decisions that we would need to be there for.

We weren't worried.

We knew she would fight. We knew she was going to make it. But we hurried there anyway. Expecting to walk in and see her waving and kicking like she always did.

But that is not what we saw.

Our baby girl was struggling. She was in pain. She was dying.

They all knew it. Even my husband could look at her and see it was true.

Maybe I was selfish, but I wasn't ready to give up. The tears are rolling down over the keyboard as I write this, but I just wasn't ready to let go. No mother ever is.

The doctors asked me to hold her. To say goodbye.

So I did.

And I rocked her, and I sang to her, and I prayed that God take the breath out of my lungs and put it in to her. That He take my heart beat and let it beat for her.

But that didn't happen.

At 3:50pm, on Friday, January 28th, Leila passed away in my arms. I begged the doctors to revive her - to do anything to bring her back to me. I cried harder than I had ever cried before. I felt like I wouldn't be able to breathe. I didn't want to let her go.

The doctors said it was multiple organ failure. Her little body just couldn't fight anymore.

There aren't a lot of words I can use to describe how the past week has been since her passing.

I have felt so empty, so lost at times... like I will never be the same. I have felt so much guilt, so much anger. Helplessness, hopelessness... all these words describe only a portion of the emotional roller coaster I have been on.

And I know it will be this way for a while. They say time heals all wounds... but they never tell you how long it takes. There is no timeline on grief. But I know one day it will hurt a little less, though the hurt will never truly be gone.

My daughter was the closest thing I have ever known to an angel. When I think about her I am filled with so many different feelings. I feel so blessed to be her mother and to have been able to know her for 12 whole days. I feel heartbreak at knowing that I will never again get to hold her, I will never see her grow up. I will never watch my daughter walk down the aisle, or have her own children.

But I will also never see my daughter cry from heartbreak. I will never have to watch her get sick or be in pain. I will never hear her say the words "I hate you, Mom". All my daughter knows is a world where her parents love her and wanted her more than anything.

There are so many more words I want to write about this precious angel and how she touched me. I can promise you that I will talk about her often, but I can also promise you that I will be posting more recipes soon. Cooking has always been therapeutic for me, and as my life gets back to normal, I am sure I will find extra comfort in the kitchen.

This morning when I woke up, my son grabbed my hand and dragged me to the kitchen. He pointed to a box of Hungry Jack and said "Pease?" (Please in Landon speak). Though part of me wanted to crawl back into bed and cry, the other part (the cooking part) couldn't help but start thinking of a recipe. Here my living breathing child was hungry, and he needed his mama. So I did one of the few things I know how to do well: I thought up a recipe, and I cooked.

And it felt good.