Category Archives: UpWORD (Beauty)

They’re Here!

It is with uncontainable joy that I announce the arrival of Arden Charlotte Reph and Henry Warren Reph, born Friday, July 26.

Yes, that was a month ago.  We’ve been a little busy.  Meanwhile, happy one month birthday, Henry and Arden!

We chose Henry’s name because we have loved it since early in our marriage.  Henry’s middle name, Warren, honors my father, a hugely important person in our lives.  Arden’s name came to us through a woman Mike met a couple of years ago, and he came home and told me that he loved that name — it was feminine and strong, with the bonus of being unusual.  Charlotte honors my maternal grandmother, whom I love very much.

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I can’t wait to share their birth story, but I’m already surprised at how little their birth story matters to me in comparison to who they are to me.  I thought their birth would be everything, but it’s a very small thing when weighed against the tremendous, overwhelming experience of falling in love with them every moment since.  Their birth was important, but their lives far more so.  I’m excited to write about their lives.

But let’s look at them again.

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You may notice their size discrepancy…most people do.  Arden was born at 7 lbs 14 oz, and Henry was born at 5 lbs 13 oz — nearly a two-pound spread.  This was most unexpected as their pre-birth measurements had them at about equal weights.  Thankfully, both weighed more than the average twin (5 lbs 5 oz) and both were wonderfully healthy at birth.

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We did have one complication: Henry didn’t eat much by mouth, so he had to be in the NICU for an unbearably long seventeen days.  We went home with Arden after five days (she was never in the NICU), and leaving the hospital without Henry was the most heartbreaking experience of our lives.  We spent every single day with him, arriving at 9AM with Arden in tow, and staying until 10PM.  They wouldn’t let us spend the night because they couldn’t have Arden there, otherwise we would have.

The babies are 17 days old in these pictures, because they were taken on the most glorious day — going home day!  We practically danced down the hall; I had to restrain myself from breaking into a sprint with my free-at-last baby boy.

Not that I forgot about my sweet baby girl…

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We have been loving life at home, adjusting to the beautiful chaos that is life with twins.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

This is our family.  We are happier than we have any right to be, and we give God the glory.

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The Nursery Reveal!

Creating a nursery for twins is a unique challenge made even trickier when the babies are opposite sexes.  We waited until we found out the babies were a girl and a boy before designing their nursery, and we quickly nixed the idea of trying to make the room half pink and half blue.  It sounded like some sort of mish-mash nightmare.

After a little time on Pinterest, I decided the best approach would be a really clean, modern nursery, because of the need for two cribs (and double the clothes) and the fact that the room was fairly small.

Here is a picture of the room when it was a rarely used guest bedroom:

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The furniture, thanks to my in-loves, was gorgeous, but oversized for the space, and the color on the walls was a garish Seahawks green.  Incredibly, this room was used as a nursery for twin boys by the previous tenants, which is the only reason we can assume it was painted such a color (the photo doesn’t capture the brightness adequately).

I am not a designer by any means, and am often paralyzed when it comes to decorating, but I put my heart into making a room for the babies that conveys my love for them.  It really was a joy to create.

I enlisted the help of my friend Meredith, who works as an interior designer, to map out a floor plan that would allow for two cribs, one changing table, and a rocking chair.  I sent her the measurements of the room and the furniture we thought we were going to purchase and she created a floor plan to make it fit.

Then we got to work.  When I say we, I mean Mike.

We purchased the paint (no VOC for baby breathing safety) and he painted the entire room white, including the ceiling, because we needed a fresh canvas.  Then he, our dear friend Greg, and my father-in-love taped the walls with precision to ensure our stripes were going to be crisp and perfectly even.  They did a fabulous job.

Our color scheme was yellow, gray and white.  Gender neutral, baby friendly, and just happy.  I wanted a really happy room for the babies, and I think we nailed it.

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We chose simple, modern cribs in a soft gray color to contrast the bright wall and yellow and white chevron rug.  They are from Wal-Mart, if you can believe it, and are highly rated and made from sustainable, non-toxic pine wood.  After hours of searching, they were the best cribs at the best price — and they look exactly how I’d hoped.

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After an extensive search, I found the rocking chair from a company called NurseryWorks, as it was the only rocking chair I could find that wasn’t frumpy, old-fashioned, or incredibly 90’s (think gliders with bad fabric).  I could see using this chair in other areas of our home after we no longer need a nursery (but let’s not get ahead of ourselves as the thought of that makes this pregnant woman want to cry already).

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The curtains were generously handmade by Meredith, who is phenomenally talented at sewing.  She even added a layer of blackout fabric to the curtains so I can get the room as dark as possible for naps.  She brought several gray swatches and we chose a shade that matched the cribs, but had lots of white detail to keep the room from becoming too dark.

The little pouf is from Restoration Hardware Baby and Child and is one of my favorite parts of the room.  It’s both whimsical and highly practical as a footrest while sitting in the rocker.

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My mom gave us these adorable switch plates for the outlets that she found on Etsy; it’s hard to see here, but they have giraffes and elephants on them.

And there’s a Jonathan Adler ceramic giraffe nightlight: to die for.

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We found the changing table on Craigslist, and I’d still like to swap out the knobs on the doors for something a little more substantial.  We’ll see if I get to that in the next couple of days before the babies arrive.  If not, I don’t think they’ll mind.

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I loved organizing the changing table supplies — little bins with diapers lined up, a bin with diaper cream, ointment, etc, and tons of wipes.  The cabinet underneath has all the backup supplies and refills.  It also has a healthy stock of something I’m super excited about: cloth diapers.  YES — I am going to try to cloth diaper the babies.  A fellow twin mom from EMOMs gave me hers which is why I have the confidence to go for it; she did it without a problem, and she saved me about $600 by giving me hers (they’re $25 a piece).  Proof I’m not insane: we are not starting the cloth diapers until after at least a month (Mike maintains he’s not doing it at all, but we’ll see who wins that battle of the wills).

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I love the giraffe changing pad cover.  Giraffes are my animal association, meaning they’re the animal I most resemble.  I also happen to like them more than any other animal, which helps.

Please note the space-age camera mounted to the wall.  This takes baby monitoring to an entirely obsessive level, but it’s a level this new mom needs.  We can watch the babies sleep on our iPad and can move the camera by touching the screen.  It’s super Jetsons, and we owe Rach and Phil for the idea — they’ve been using theirs for over a year with Lillian.

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My sister, Sam, graciously made the framed artwork of animals from an idea she found on Pinterest.  Each animal is made up of the letters that spell its name.  My in-loves gave us the beautiful gray piece of art that uses the alphabet to make a little poem about how much we love the babies.


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You may be wondering where all of their clothes are hiding since we don’t have a dresser.  That was intentional, due to the size of the room.  Instead, I bought a unit with pink and blue drawers to keep inside the closet to organize all of their clothes.  There’s a drawer each for jammies, sleepsacks, socks, hats, onesies, etc., and open cubbies for swaddle blankets and burp cloths.

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The hanging storage on top keeps their day-to-day outfits, since I think it’s impractical to fold or hang tiny baby clothes when I’ll be doing laundry so frequently.  This way I can just tuck them into their cubbies (based on size of clothes) and grab what I need.

The two bins on the shelf hold all of their carriers (Mobys, Ergos, Baby Bjorns) and the Boppy is stored up there as well.

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The other side of the closet has their hamper and a few hanging outfits, as well as hanging storage for clothes that are six months and beyond.  Up top, it also has the enormous My Breast Friend for Twins.

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Confession: I often sit in the rocking chair and picture what it will be like when the babies are in their cribs, or in my arms.  It’s such a delightful room, so full of the hope and anticipation of babies on the way.

Now there’s only two things the room is missing:  the babies!

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Not Your Mother’s Maternity Muumuu

Maternity clothes have progressed mightily in the last thirty years, and those currently pregnant among us are deeply grateful.  Gone are the days of large floral smocks disguising not just a bump but one’s entire body.  No more are women roaming their homes in oversize overalls.

Instead, figure-hugging clothes are the norm, and bump-accentuation is the standard.  This comes with the added bonus of allowing pregnant women to look approximately thirty pounds lighter.

Once pregnant, I knew right away what I wanted my maternity clothes to look like, and more importantly, what I didn’t want them to look like.  I didn’t want my style to change along with my body.  If I didn’t wear ruffles and bows before, I was not going to wear them now just because I became a party of three.

With that in mind, I hit the stores.

“Stores” is a loose term here, because there really aren’t any.  Online shopping is an absolute must for maternity wear, and that’s because very few stores exist for preggos, and those that do have a tiny section in the back corner that make you feel like you’re shopping for illicit sex toys rather than garments for your widening girth.

My mom and I went downtown to scope the scene around my 14th week of pregnancy, before I really needed any maternity clothes.  We wanted to get ahead of the game so when it came time I wouldn’t be frantically shopping in an ill-fitting shirt.   Our first stop, naturally, was A Pea in the Pod.

This was an excellent first choice because of the service and selection.  The saleswoman congratulated me and started showing me great starter pieces.  We got shirts that are absolutely fantastic because of the fabric — the stretchiest I have ever encountered, and also the longest.  The magic of these shirts is that they spring back into their original shape, which looks like a non-maternity shirt, perfect for post-pregnancy wear.  They’re more expensive than other options ($45), but look infinitely better and will last far longer.

They had perfect preggo leggings, similar to the shirts in that they could be worn postpartum.  Just fold the elastic panel down around your hips and you’re good to go.  Again, slightly more expensive ($45) than getting your leggings elsewhere, but fantastic quality.

Easily the best part about A Pea in the Pod was the changing room.  Each room came with two or three prosthetic baby bumps labeled by month, so you could try clothes on and see how you would look when further along in your pregnancy.

This was a good time.

I strapped on the nine-month bump because, as the saleswoman reminded me, “That’s only like 7 months for you,” pulled on my new clothes and popped out of that room nearly giving my mother a heart attack.

“Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I can’t even look, it’s too real, too fast.  Oh my gosh, I have to take a photo,” she kept saying.

Just for kicks, let’s compare that picture of the fake 9 month bump with my actual 7 month bump, to see if the saleslady was correct:

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Here I am at 28 weeks (7 months) in the same shirt:

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Apparently she knew what she was talking about.

The strange thing about A Pea in the Pod is that they combined forces with Destination Maternity.  Destination Maternity is like Old Navy to Banana Republic — same owner, entirely different approach.  We went to the Destination Maternity portion of the store because we love a good deal, but we were quickly confronted not with good deals, but really lousy clothes.  All of the fabrics were rough and cheap, and the cuts of the clothes were not flattering.  Instead of form-fitted, they were boxy.  It was as if they had taken all their regular clothes, made them four sizes larger, and relabeled them as maternity wear.

Even though we didn’t go cheap, we weren’t about to shell out $200 for maternity jeans either.  To be fair, I am usually willing to shell out about that much for jeans, but that’s because I’ll wear them for years.  I’m not going to spend that on jeans that I will wear for 5 months, and maybe not even that because June and July are not pleasant jean-wearing months.  So we skipped on A Pea in the Pod jeans and headed to the Gap.

This is where we encountered the maternity shame.  We asked the clerk where the maternity section was and she pointed us to the top floor, behind the children’s clothes.  She wasn’t kidding — the preggo-wear was tucked in a back corner, with about four racks of clothing and a wall of jeans.  Luckily, the jeans were fantastic.  They fit like a dream and were $60, marked down to $35.  I will say the prosthetic baby bumps in the Gap dressing room were a joke compared to the ones at A Pea in the Pod — they were like stuffing a pillow under your shirt, but at least they tried.  I got a pair of skinnies (ironic, no?) and a bootleg cut.  I grabbed a couple of tops and practically danced out of the store with maternity-wear glee.

Skinny maternity jeans from the Gap at 21 weeks:

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The rest of the purchasing I did online, since there weren’t many other stores to choose from.  I ordered several more tops and dresses from A Pea in the Pod and Gap, most of which worked, some of which I had to return.  The real dark horse in this story?  Old Navy maternity.  Total shocker.  My sister sent me a link to their website one day because they had a screaming 40% off sale, so I thought I had nothing to lose.  I ordered a bunch of items that seemed foolproof and was astonished at not having to return a single item.  Each one fit perfectly and was flattering…and inexpensive.

Exhibit of Old Navy attire:

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Maxi dress:

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Maxi dress:

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Knee-length eyelet dress (with my mamas at a shower — note their expert twin grandma-to-be attire of blue and pink, which was totally unintentional):

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Maxi skirt and tank:

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The main piece I would recommend as an absolute must-have for any pregnant woman: Old Navy’s maternity tank top.  Absolutely perfect: softest, longest, stretchiest, totally wearable post-pregnancy.  And at $12, you can buy one of every color.  I wear them under everything, and all summer I’ve been pairing them with skirts, jeans, leggings, as pj’s — they are my go-to.

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Some pieces end up having to switch gears partway through pregnancy.  Take my striped dress from A Pea in the Pod.  It started as a dress which I wore at Annie’s wedding rehearsal at 17 weeks pregnant:

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And four weeks later I wore it as a tunic with leggings at our gender reveal party, because wearing it as a dress at that point would have given people a view privy only to my OB:

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Now that I’m 36 weeks along, my options are more limited.  Regular pregnancy clothes really aren’t made for twin pregnancies, so I’m walking into my closet each morning choosing between forgiving maternity dresses and leggings with tank tops.  Those are pretty much the options these days.  No more jeans.  No more body-hugging pieces.

And that’s OK, my friends, because the countdown to the birth is on, and soon the only thing I’ll be wearing is a hospital gown.

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Fluffy Bows and Thick Mustaches

Before we knew we were having twins, we seriously considered waiting until the birth to discover the sex of the baby.   We loved the idea of the grand surprise as well as finding out as millions of others have throughout history.  But once we discovered they were twins, that idea was dropped faster than a particularly offensive diaper.

The immense amount of prep work and planning for twins did not allow my Type A brain to consider the option of getting double of everything in green and yellow.  An ambiguous twin nursery?  No, and no.  Apart from that, the sheer desire of wanting to know who they were tipped us right over the edge, and we decided to find out the genders at the first opportunity.

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It wasn’t long before we came up with the idea of a “gender reveal party.”  These are a relatively new social gathering, where the results of the gender-revealing ultrasound are shared in front of family and friends in a creative way — cutting into a cake to see blue frosting, opening a gift to reveal a pink onsie, you get the idea.

We chose to do balloons being released out of a two large boxes, because balloons are a sign of celebration, and they are highly visible to a large crowd as they float up into the air.

We went to our ultrasound at nearly 21 weeks and the technician was totally supportive of keeping the genders a secret from us during our appointment.  She helped by having us look away when the screen was going to show the babies’ delicates.  She then filled in a piece of paper I had brought along, which said:

Baby A is a:   GIRL      BOY
Baby B is a:   GIRL      BOY

There were check-boxes next to the girl and boy options, which she checked and then highlighted with the corresponding pink or blue highlighter, and then stuffed it in an envelope we’d brought.  It was deliciously difficult to walk out of the office with that information in our hot little hands, but the promise of the surprise was all the motivation we needed.

Many people asked us over the previous months what we wanted.  I never really answered that question aloud, because I was a thousand times more excited about having twins than I was about having one gender or the other.  I knew in my heart I’d be thrilled with any combination.  If I had to say which made me slightly unsettled, it was two boys, because I grew up with only sisters and didn’t have any idea what raising boys would be like, but I actually really wanted a son.  I’ve also always hoped that I would one day have a daughter, due mostly to the fact that I have such a great relationship with my mother.  Mike felt the same way, but the opposite — he would be thrilled no matter what, but he’d love to have a boy in the mix because he’s always wanted a son.   But really, we spent countless hours talking about how wonderful each combo would be, and how especially fabulous one of each would be because we’d get to experience raising a son and a daughter at the same time.

The next morning Mike went to QFC and asked the lady at the balloon counter to fill the boxes he’d brought along according to what was in the envelope he was about to hand her.  This made no sense to the balloon lady.

“You want them to be pink and blue?”

“No, I want you to read the envelope, and then fill the boxes based on what it says.”

“Do you want me to tell you what the envelope says?”

“No — again, this is surprise to me; you will know, and I will not.”

(ten more minutes of explaining)

“Oh!  I get it!   How exciting.  But it’s my break time so I’ll be back in twenty minutes.”

(Mike stifles rage)

Several people asked why we would trust the revealing of our genders to an hourly-wage QFC employee, but we knew we had the envelope with the results, along with ultrasound photos the technician included, so we could verify that the balloons matched the genders once it was all over.  Incredibly, the balloon lady managed to complete the task, and we headed to my parents’ house for the party.

My sisters were enormously, crucially helpful in planning the creative aspects of the party.  They were all over Pinterest getting great ideas and then we had a sisters’ sleepover to craft everything the night before.

It totally paid off.

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We created a board for people to cast their votes of which gender they thought they babies were, and then they wore pins to signify their choices.  Pink bows for girls, black mustaches for boys.

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We posted signs around the room of fun facts about twins.

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And of course the food was blue and pink themed.  I mean, how many chances in life for this, people?

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About an hour into the party we took photos of the guests showing their votes.

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And then it was time for the big reveal.

Mike and I, along with our parents, were bundles of nerves.  Honestly, how many times in your life are you aware that the next five minutes will literally change the entire rest of your life?  It’s too enormous to comprehend.

Mike and I went into another room to collect ourselves, remind ourselves of what was really happening, and say a prayer of gratitude for the babies, no matter what sexes they turned out to be.  Then we joined the crowd of about 30 friends and family for the opening of the boxes.

One of the most incredible things about this party was the people who weren’t physically there — we had relatives and friends on Skype and Face Time staring at us live as we opened the boxes.  It was an insane Jetsons’ moment to look into a crowd and see our siblings and best friends staring back at us on iPads, ready to see the big reveal live.  We were so, so moved that they would attend from, in some cases, 3,000 miles away.

We chose to have the grandparents be the ones to open the boxes, to honor them and their role in our children’s lives.  We let my parents go first because they would be first-time grandparents through the twins.

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Here is a video of the big moment.

When those pink balloons slipped into the air, my heart absolutely exploded with joy.  I felt an immense rush of love and gratitude, which I could only process with tears that filled my eyes and closed my throat.  I kept saying “I have a daughter, I have a daughter” which was something I’ve wanted my entire life.

I will also fully admit that my immediate second thought was:  oh praise the Lord who knows me enough not to give me two boys!  Amen, and amen.

I love the hug that my mom and I shared in that moment, because she wanted a granddaughter as intensely as I wanted a daughter (and, as a mother of three girls, she wanted it not to be two boys more than anyone can comprehend).

Even as we turned to open the second box, my mind couldn’t move past the fact that I was having a daughter.  I kept saying it over and over — the shock was palpable.  I felt so full of joy that my anxiety for box #2 really melted away.  I kept thinking how amazing it would be for the next balloons to be blue because my dad would have a grandson, my mom would have to learn how little boys operate, and my in-loves would have another grandson (they currently have one and three granddaughters).

Mike’s nervousness had not melted away.  He was thrilled to have a daughter, and had talked about wanting a girl for weeks, but he really also wanted a son.  So once the girl balloons were opened, the pressure was on.  He was visibly nervous as Glenn and Colleen began to unwrap the second box.

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Here is a video of the big moment.

I remember two things about those blue balloons floating out of the box:

1.  My soul rocketing out of my body as I realized we were going to have one of each — the feeling was like fireworks going off in every corner of my mind.  The gratitude and joy were measureless.

2.  Suddenly coming out of my own shock in time to see my husband three feet above me, screaming at the top of his lungs in way I have never heard him scream.  He leapt across the room with such abandonment, he later said it was an out of body experience — he simply couldn’t react any other way.  I was so thrilled to see his joy, his excitement, his unstoppable ecstasy.  It was one of the greatest moments of our lives.

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Spectacular!

I have no ability to play it cool about this, so I’m just going to say it:

I’m pregnant!

WITH TWINS!

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This is far and away the most spectacular thing ever to happen in my and Mike’s life, and we’re completely astounded that God would give us two.  TWO!

I have never talked about it on this blog, but I have wanted twins for many years.  Not just wanted, craved.  I’ve never really fantasized about having a baby, but twins consistently made me feel overcome with desire.  This cannot be logically explained beyond the fact of what my mother said to me upon finding out I was having them.

“This isn’t like God granted your wish to have twins.  You were always going to have twins because He wanted you to — so He gave you the desire in your heart to have them long before you did.”

She’s absolutely right.  There’s just no other explanation.

But let’s back up, shall we?  Let’s replay the scene of Mike and Abby finding out this little tidbit of information.

We found out we were pregnant shortly after Thanksgiving, and we went into the doctor for our eight-week ultrasound about three weeks later.  We answered the nurse’s  standard questions of our medical history and that of our families, I got checked out for overall health, and then the OB-GYN came in.

She looked exactly like Elizabeth Banks, which made me like her right away because nothing proves you’re already a good mother than judging your doctor’s professional abilities solely on youthful good looks.

She talked to us for a little bit and then opened our chart and said, “OK, looks like you don’t have twins on either side of the family, so we’ll rule that out…”

I interrupted, “Oh but I would LOVE twins!”

“It’s true, she always has,” Mike chimed in.

She blinked at me.  “Why?  Oh my gosh, are you serious?  Well, I won’t go into all the reasons you don’t want twins, because what if you have them and then you hate me?”

She lead us down the hall to the ultrasound room and we were clearly excited, but also nervous.  As I changed into the tent-like gown, Mike held my hand and told me that if there was nothing in the ultrasound, it would be OK, and we could try again, and not to worry.  I agreed completely, but told him if nothing was there I would cry a little bit, but then I’d be fine.  With that healthy communication out of the way, in walked the doctor.

She turned on the monitor and proceeded to move the wand around, and said, “OK there it is,” but before she could even finish that thought she gasped and said, “OH MY GOSH THERE’S TWO.”  Her eyes were enormous and she pointed to the screen where we saw two tiny glowworms with hearts that fluttered like confetti.

My mind went white hot with a rising hope so intense my only way to cope was to confirm, again, and again, and again.

“Are you serious?  Are you joking?  Are you serious?  Are you serious?  Are you kidding?  Are you kidding?”  I said this to her in an absolute blur, talking as fast as I could while I watched her face and the screen, back and forth looking for this to be real, because if it was, my whole life just got made.

She shook her head in disbelief and said very calmly, “I’m not kidding, I’m not kidding, look right here, those are two hearts and two babies.”

I believed, but the happiness was so extreme that my heart and brain couldn’t function on a rational level, so I started laughing, laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe, laughing with the most outrageous joy I’ve ever felt in my life.

Finally I crawled out of myself enough to think…Mike.  What does he think?  He didn’t want twins the way I did…and I turned to him and saw the biggest smile I have ever seen on my husband’s face.  His eyes were the size of sand dollars, but it’s that smile I will always remember.

We hugged in a way that conveyed everything our overwhelmed souls couldn’t express.  It was the fiercest hug we’ve ever shared.

It was as if the entire night sky had exploded in that room, every twinkling star, the wide full moon.  Everything in our lives was instantly transformed, instantly ruptured into a creation more beautiful than we knew possible.  My uncontrollable laughter (that was still going on) was the only way I could function as I realized my most absurd, least attainable, out-of-my-control dream was coming to life.  Two lives, actually.

“You’ll have to stop laughing for a second,” the doctor said while laughing herself, “or I can’t get a photo of them.”  Every time she snapped a picture, one of the twins disappeared because my stomach muscles were all over the place with belly laughs.

“I will,” I said, trying to breathe, “Just one second.  You are witnessing the most surreal moment of my entire life…” and I burst out laughing again, feeling exactly like the second grader who tries to hold in laughter at the most inappropriate moment.  I took stuttered breaths so she could get some good shots, and then she said she couldn’t tell yet if they were identical or fraternal, but that we’d likely know at the next appointment.

When we got back to the exam room, we were on a kind of high that happens only a handful of times in a person’s lifetime.  The doctor wanted to get right down to business (“I need you to understand that breastfeeding will be your full-time job”) but Mike and I kept interrupting with new revelations.

“Oh my gosh now we really need to find out the sex — there’s two!” Mike exclaimed.  “And look at her hands, she’s shaking!”

I was, I couldn’t stop.  I tried to listen as she told me to add 600 calories to my daily diet, but the sheer joy in my body was crowding everything else out.  I couldn’t stop thinking what that must have been like for the Lord to see us — He always knew there were two, and on this day He finally got to see us be let in on the secret.  It still blows my mind.

A nurse poked her head in the room after the doctor left and said, “So!  You and the Duchess!”  Which was like a kiss, it was so sweet of her.  She couldn’t possibly know my obsession with Kate, and yet she reminded me we were pregnant together.

We went to lunch to celebrate and couldn’t even order food, due to shock.  The waitress came by four times to take our orders and we hadn’t stopped gaping at each other long enough to look at the menus.  Finally Mike blurted out, “I’m sorry, but we can’t order because we just found out we’re having TWINS!”  She shrieked and congratulated us and then came running back five minutes later to tell us she’d told the whole staff.  We just laughed.

So here we are — 21 weeks in:

21 Weeks

The doctor told me I would measure about four weeks ahead of a woman pregnant with a singleton (can you believe doctors have this robotic word for babies who aren’t twins?), and the bump is not disappointing.

More to come…much, much more.

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Rubies, Emeralds, Aquamarines

The region along Italy’s west coast is so spectacular, so stunningly beautiful and exceptional that when asked what it’s like, it’s hard not to sound like your IQ is dangerously nearing single digits.

“So it’s a beach town,” the skeptic says.

“Right, except it’s built into a hillside!” you exclaim.  “There are century-old buildings and houses on cliffs!”

“So it’s crowded?” they continue.

“There’s no cars!  You can’t access it except by train or boat!  And you can walk between the five towns!”

“So it’s a beach you can’t get to, it’s overcrowded, and I have to walk everywhere?” they say, turning away.

“…….(sigh in defeat),” say you.

This was a little of our dynamic the day we took the train to Cinque Terre from Lucca — it was Kelly, Amy and Brian’s first time, and the rest of us were trying to describe the majesty of the place, but failing miserably.  Finally we decided to let it speak for itself and we settled back in our seats to read on our Kindles, or in Brian’s case, rescue the princess on his Gameboy Color.

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The train ride there is largely uninteresting, with slightly shabby towns pockmarked across stretches of fields.  There is no evidence that soon one will be on the Mediterranean, much less in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

We switched trains in La Spezia and rumbled through tunnels, the last of which ended with a split-second view of the water making everyone gasp and dive toward the window.  We knew we were close and became giddy at the thought of the day ahead.

After getting off the train and purchasing our return tickets, we walked down the stairs from the station into the first town — Monterosso.  The sight stopped us in our tracks.

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It was even more spectacular than I remembered — rich colors filling every inch of the landscape, enormous emerald hillsides reaching out of cobalt waters like cathedral ramparts, tanned Europeans lounging under brightly striped umbrellas, relaxed tourists sipping wine and licking gelato before noon.  It was paradise.

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We were so overwhelmed we didn’t know what to do first.  Erin and I walked around to re-familiarize ourselves with the place, while Brian lead Amy, Mike, and Kelly  to the nearest tropical drink shack to celebrate our arrival.  Soon we all had handmade smoothies, some with booze, some without.  I made a quick pronouncement.

“Let’s make every effort to eat and drink in every town.  Yes?”

I got signed contracts from everyone in the form of happy grins.

Erin, Mike and I had extremely fond memories of a particular bruschetta restaurant in Monterosso, and we were determined to return.  After exploring the town a bit more, we headed off in search of the perfectly toasted bread, tomatoes drenched in olive oil and basil, and the perfectly proportioned dusting of sea salt.

When we found it, right where we’d left it three years earlier, we shouted a little for joy.  When it was even better than we remembered, we felt appropriately validated.

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Kelly, who avoids gluten, was beside herself at being able to savor this treat with abandon.  It turns out that Italians don’t modify their wheat the same way we do stateside, so even those who can’t eat gluten can eat it in Italy.  As if Italy weren’t perfect enough?

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Next we hopped on the train for village number two, also known as Mike’s favorite: Vernazza.

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As we walked through the quaint town of small shops, we saw a large poster commemorating the disastrous mudslide that rocked the town a year ago.  It was hard to believe that 18 feet of mud covered where we now stood.

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When we reached the center of town lining the beach, it was like stepping onto a movie set.  It was so colorfully radiant, so decadent in leisure, and so unaffected by tourism; if this place were almost anywhere else, there’d be cheap carts set up everywhere with key chains and towels and hats with I’VE BEEN TO CINQUE TERRE printed garishly across the front.  Instead, it seemed perfectly untouched, as if we were the first to discover this European heaven.

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We wandered off to take pictures, enjoy the view, and walk along the rocks in the water.  Before I knew it, Amy came up behind me and made a little announcement.

“Brian went swimming,”  she said.

“Wha — he didn’t bring a suit!” I replied.

“Apparently that’s not a problem for our Bri Bri,” she said.

And it wasn’t.  Up walked Brian, dripping wet in the 90 degree weather, wearing the expression of a child with a free unlimited tickets to Disneyland.

It took about two seconds for Mike to light up like a rocket, a bigger explosion of excitement than if he’d seen a dozen puppies.

“I’m going in, too!  YES!  THIS IS AWESOME!” he hollered.  At first I was aghast at the idea of my husband running around in public in his underwear, but then I remembered I was in the Italian riviera, and people were changing in and out of swimsuits in broad daylight.

Amy wasn’t far behind, having made the wise decision that morning to select undergarments that were both black and very swimsuit-like.  Kelly, Erin and I were not as lucky, so we agreed to hold clothes and take photos.

The joy radiating from their faces in the water was contagious.  It was a moment that made us stop and recognize what was happening: we were all together in Italy, swimming in the Mediterranean, living a day most people can only dream of.  We were so, so grateful.

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The good people of Vernazza kindly provided a hose to rinse off the salt, and the swimmers rinsed while we found a table for a glass of wine and refreshing Pellegrino.

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We stopped at the next train station, for Corniglia, but when we were told it was a 400 stair climb to the town, we immediately got back in line for the next train.  It was blazing hot, we had two towns to go, and hiking up a hillside sounded laughably unappealing.

When we arrived in the fourth town, Manarola, we split up to explore and take photos.  The girls combed the town, pointing out buttercream yellow buildings and hundreds-year-old churches.  We posed for pictures by terraced vineyards so steep we marveled that the grapes were able to be harvested.

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We eventually found the boys exactly where we’d expected: having a cold lager on an outdoor deck.

We walked to the water’s edge and saw dozens of people swimming among the rocks, some climbing dangerously high to free-fall into the aquamarine waters below.  We couldn’t believe how high the cliffs were, and it made my palms sweat to watch them stand at the edge and dither about whether to jump.

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It wasn’t two minutes before Brian was again casting off clothing and descending the stairs into the water.  We all watched nervously as he disappeared behind the black rock, with Amy calling for him not to kill himself.

When he finally appeared at the top we held our breath, laughing nervously as he hollered words in English that were thankfully lost in translation, like “Here goes the salt water enema!”

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He flew through the air and we cheered when his head bobbed back up to the surface.  His earlier prediction hadn’t been far off, for the landing ripped his shorts in half.  Luckily he still had his clothes to throw on, so all was well.

Our last destination was Riomaggiore, or as we nicknamed it, Rigamortis.  The path along the hillside to walk there is called Via dell’Amore, or The Way of Love.  It’s a famous place for lovers to walk the kilometer-long road and take in the spectacular view and dedicate their love by putting a lock into the fence (Sam and Aaron did this on their walk with Dave and Nancy).  Mike and I took a photo there in 2009 and decided to recreate the moment in 2012.

2009:

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2012:

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We semi-forced Amy and Brian into the same thing, which they only found mildly cheesy.

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In our final quest for food we were hoping for a real meal, but truly came up short in ways we couldn’t have thought possible.  We found the most stunning location, a restaurant high on the hill built into the rock, overlooking the ocean so forcefully it was hard to look away.

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But the food.  My word, the food.

To say it was appallingly bad would be like saying Honey Boo Boo is a little tacky.  It was inedible.  We quickly discovered how bad it was going to be when we saw little asterisks on items of the menu that signified “frozen meal.”

We ordered as best we could, and made up for it with glasses of white wine, but there was little that could be redeemed.  It was completely obvious that there was no kitchen in the establishment, just a bar down a steep flight of stairs that presumably held a freezer full of frozen entrees and a good stock of booze.  The entirety of the restaurant’s appeal was its location.

But honestly, there would be no true complaining from any of us.  We knew we were sitting on top of the world on one of the best days any of us would have as long as we lived, and a thawed panini wasn’t going to shave an inch off our ecstasy.

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I could tell you that our day in paradise ended with missing a train connection in La Spezia and having to spend 100 euro on taxis to get us all home.  I could, but I won’t.  With a day like that, even with an ending that makes a tightwad like me want to light my hair on fire, I will never regret a second.  Doing so creates a person who wins the lottery only to whine about the taxes.

Le Cinque Terre, a place so magical you’ll be filled with envy on behalf of every other place in the world that calls itself beautiful.

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It Wasn’t All Sunshine and Roses, but Mostly it Was

When we weren’t homicidal with road rage, things in Italy were actually pretty spectacular.  Take our first dinner out, for instance.  We were staying in a town called Vorno, which is just outside the medieval walled city of Lucca.

This little town is pure Italia.  It is nestled in the hills with views into a larger valley, and it is void of tourists, apart from us, of course.  That was part of what made it a jewel of a town; we were joining their authentic lives, they weren’t contorting themselves to become the American tourists’ version of an Italian town.

Vorno only has one full service restaurant, but one is all it needs.  We knew nothing about the place except that it served rich cappucinos every morning with sugary croissants on the side.  We figured if they can make foam that well, they can probably cook up a great meal.

We spent the day biking the walls of Lucca, which is something I’ll remember as long as I live.  We rented bikes for three euro an hour and took off exploring the ancient city.  Once inside the walls, we found ramparts in various places, so at the first one we pedaled right up and were instantly charmed at the sight of the city below us.  The walls are forty feet high, though there isn’t any danger in biking them; they’re about twenty feet wide, more in some places.

We felt like a cross between Peter Pan and Mary Poppins as we flew in the sunshine along rooftops and brick chimneys.

This is from the top of another building, but shows a great view of the city.

We made the three-mile loop, stopping along the way to point out major buildings or a rooftop deck overflowing with Bougainvillea.  The chestnut trees lining the road provided desperately needed shade, as it was 95 degrees and we were exercising, like fools.

Back at the house we swapped bikes for bathing suits and jumped in the refreshing water of the pool.  After showering and dressing, we made plans to go back to Lucca for dinner.  My parents and Dave and Nancy said they’d rather stick close, so they walked to the restaurant in Vorno, which was about 300 meters down the road.

The other eight of us were in our toy cars when we passed the restaurant and saw the four of them sitting outside with glasses of Prosecco.  It was too much.  We screeched to a halt and popped out of the car to see if they might be able to change that reservation from four to twelve.  You know, just a tiny increase.

Luckily they were, and we ditched our Lucca plans faster than you can say “Ciao.”

We grabbed a table near theirs for our own apertivos, and nodded at each other in grateful approval that we’d made this choice.  Rather than navigating roads and struggling to find parking, we were watching the sun go down with our hands around cold beers and white wines.

Before we knew it they were seating us in the restaurant, on their large outdoor patio strung with lights.  It was one huge table and we were delighted.

I think it was Dave or Nancy who made the genius decision to order the entire antipasti menu for the table, and it was absolutely the best decision of the night.  Before we knew what was happening, waiters were pouring out of the kitchen with platters of food so delectable we considered canceling our main courses.  At first we thought we’d have to split everything, but then the waiter said, “No!  No!  You order the special so you get many for all.”  “Many for all” was exactly the kind of abundance we hoped to find in this little back-door town.

So out it came, plate after plate of olive oil soaked bruschetta, soft and hard cheeses, salamis and prosciutto, toasted cornmeal fried potato cakes, small mountains of olive and tomato tapenade so good we thought this was the first tomato we’d ever tasted.  Just when we thought they were done, more came.

My dad said, “This is the best meal I can fathom, and my entrée isn’t here yet.  How is this real life?”

That was the sentiment carried across the table as we opened another bottle of wine and leaned in for further conversation.

Midway through the meal, the owner came around to greet us because she lived for a couple of years in the states.

“Which one?” we asked her, thrilled that she spoke English and had a love of our country.

“Ohio,” she said with a smile.

“Oh…” we replied, not sure how to proceed.  Ohio.  Oh…hio.  Not much to elaborate on.  Should we ask what she thought of Cincinnati?  Eh, we didn’t really care.  We were far more interested in what she’d done in Italy.

“Look, my son.  Your waiter.  And my husband is the chef.  You like what you’re having?”  she asked.

We practically choked on our words trying to tell her fast enough how much we loved her food, her son, her restaurant.

When Dave nonchalantly said, “This one’s on me,” at the end of the meal, the rest of us were so overwhelmed by his and Nancy’s generosity that it put the evening completely over the top.  There were now unicorns dancing on rainbows, as far as we were concerned.

We’d already faced some adversity, and we were somewhat sure more was ahead, but during this meal, in this town, with these people, we were certain we were exactly where we wanted to be.

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