Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The four seasons of Colorado

As we creep up on the first anniversary of our great big adventure to the US, I've started to think about the weather extremes we have experienced. While at home in Canberra we do get to experience four distinct seasons, those seasons are very different to what we are experiencing here.

The first thing to note is that seasons don't align with specific months. At home, summer is always December - February. But here in the US of A the seasons are astronomically aligned. For example, summer this year is 20 June - 21 September. It just seems crazy for the seasons to suddenly change mid-month. But the locals think we're crazy for thinking that just because the month changes so does the season...

The second thing to remember is that geographically Denver is located at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. So we get to experience unique weather patterns due to the mix of the freezing extremes from up high, and the roasting extremes that creep across the eastern plains. It makes for some interesting weather patterns.

And the third thing to pay attention to is that Colorado experiences 300 days of sunshine a year. Yes, you can maintain a great tan line all year round!!

So way back in July when we arrived it was the middle of summer and we were experiencing hot days in the mid to high 30s. It was minus 8 the morning we left Canberra, so the warmer weather was welcome. But what we hadn't expected was the intensity of the sun! Our house sits at 6,000 ft above sea level, and as a result the sun seems more fierce, making it feel hotter than it was reported. (Sidebar: whose stupid idea was it to measure the temperature in the shade, out of the wind!!!)

I spent my mornings sitting on our back deck, sunning myself before it got too hot, and my afternoons lazing in pool at our community club house. Everything was green! Strict watering requirements ensured the world remained lush and vibrant - a very foreign concept to an Aussie who has been taught to take short showers and to not waste water! But I must admit it was a beautiful way to shift hemispheres.

But in the late afternoon, the storm clouds would roll in, obstructing the sunshine and the heavens would open with a wild sound and lighting show. One of my favourite times of day was after dinner when I would curl up on my couch (in my heavily air conditioned lounge room) and watch the rain batter the windows. I cannot describe the peace I felt during those moments. I love the rain!! The creek out the back would fill up each night and giggle and trickle every morning starting my daily routine again. Life was TOUGH!!!

Autumn, stupidly known as Fall in this part of the world, began on 23 September. Unsurprisingly things remained green due to regular watering so "Fall" seemed to be a misnomer. The sun continued to shine brightly though the air became a bit crisper, and they shut the pool :-( But they did blow out the sprinklers in mid-October so we got to stop watering the grass and things started to de-lush-ify (yes - I do have a way with words), beginning to make nature better match up with the season.

Outside the man made lands of suburbia, the forests and mountains turned vivid shades of red, orange and brown. "Leaf chasing" became a state sport with everyone I know running to the mountains to watch nature shed its greenery. And I must admit it was spectacular to watch. Canberra is lovely in Autumn; Northbourne Ave turns into a beautiful postcard of falling leaves and warm colours. But that beauty paled against seeing entire mountain ranges going through the same natural evolution. Being able to watch how it impacted a mountain, with the colours fading as you looked up, starting at green so dark and healthy down low, and shifting through a myriad of colours until the leaves fade out, falling off the trees nearing the sky.

After the intensity of summer, I was ready to wrap myself up in a blanket and read on the deck in the dwindling sunshine, to make some hearty meals - roasts, stews and soups - but before I could settle into the rhythm of my favourite season, the skies opened up again, dumping foot on foot of snow - way before the actual "start" of winter on 21 December. You might remember that the week Zac was born there was a foot snow and we experienced temptatures in the range of minus 20. Not even Mother Nature was prepared for such a downfall. Branches collapsed under the weight of the snow, and sap froze causing trees to snap. It was crazy!!

Several months of snow followed. It seemed every time the ice would almost melt off my street we would get another downfall. Despite the severe weather - an average daily temperature of minus 3 - the sun continued to shine. The mountains wore snowy white mantels and were often obscured in the clouds. From my kitchen window, holding a cup of hot Milo, it was lovely. It was like living in a postcard...

In Australia, there is a myth that snow has clean and peaceful connotations, that once the snow begins to fall the world begins a hibernation that involves sitting in front of a cheerful fireplace - after living a "white winter" I know this postcard to be a LIE!!! Snow is dirty and mushy, hiding layers of black ice that slip you up. You have to wear layers of clothing to walk the shortest distance between your car and the shop door, but when you get inside you need to strip off all your layers and lug them around (GRRRR). Your car gets covered in some sort of black anti-icing salt that is laid on the roads in an attempt to keep the main roads free of black ice. This black c@%p is near impossible to wash off your car windows yourself, so you need to go to a car wash to be able to see out of them. Of course Murphy's Law dictates that every time you do this it snows again!!(double GRRRR).

The world loses its luscious green coat in winter and when you occasionally see the grass it is brown, dead, with bare patches where the bunny population has devoured the roots. It's depressing, worse then seeing drought as at least with drought you know that it has taken several season to reach this point. In my mind it makes no sense for the grass to be dead in the heart of winter when in the heart of summer it is so green you need to wear sunglasses to look directly at it.

When Spring arrived earlier this week (20 March), me and every other Aussie in town was waiting with baited breath for some fair weather. And Denver delivered! Today is a lovely 26 degrees. I'm wearing a dress, and on my little walk around our mini-suburb I saw trees budding and not a trace of ice on the pond or on the paths. It was AWESOME!! But the flip side of this glorious weather is the crazy wind. I mean serious, hurricane like winds - 100km hour. It has shifted my outdoor furniture all over my deck, even blew the table top off. I know we get winds in Spring at home, but this is ridiculous!!

Unfortunately, our seasons of pollen have more in common that high winds. As you may have seen on the news, wildfires are ravishing the mountains. These high gusts have fanned the flames across several thousand hectares of forests and suburbia taking with it 30 homes and three people in three days. But I must say we seem to deal with these catastrophies better. Despite the fire not being at all contained, there are only 400 fighters being circulated on the front, and government is not at all involved in the coordination efforts (though both the Governor and the local Senator made comments that they hoped the state wouldn't be sued due to the destruction of property and people really should ensure they have adequate insurance to reclaim any destroyed property and/or goods...).

So, I've seen the scorching hot sun, the spectacular colour shift of autumn, feet on feet of snow (GRRR!!!), and the rebirth of spring. Four crazy seasons that have similarities to home, but are foreign enough for me to know that it is no longer a 2 hour drive to the coast (don't even get me started on how much I miss the water!!!). But it defiantly has its own unique beauty. And as we move further into the warmer months, I know I'll appreciate it more and more. Especially since there are kids around to kidnap and take to the water park ;-) I've already stocked up on sunscreen (that I had to wear all winter anyway), dusted off my sandels (that had a work out in the ice as well), and bought a new swimsuit better suited to my new Mummy status (and jelly body after a long winter of sitting on my bum). I'm EXCITED!

Now I'm just waiting for the pool to open. You have no idea how buzzed I am to have a pool party for my birthday!!!

Lots of love everyone - I'm off to have a glass of wine on my deck. Anyone in the area is welcome to join me :-)

Sunday, 18 March 2012

bringing the little fella home

Proof that prayers, positive thinking and love prevails - Zac came home on 20 February. For those of you that were keeping tabs, that was his actual due date!

December was hard. Leaving the hospital with my baby still there was far and away the most difficult thing I have ever done. Seeing his tiny body covered with medical equipment tore a hole in my heart. However, he was so tiny that I knew that the hosipital was only place that he could survive. Plus with Tristan and I as parents I knew his fighting spirit would kick in and he would be fine. So each day we would visit for a couple of hours, waiting with baited breath for that 15 minute window every 4 hours where we got to check his temperature, change his nappy and hold his hand while the nurses made their checks of his little body.

As December passed into January, Zac started to grow. He stopped looking like an alien as his checks and limbs started to fill out. We got to hold him almost everyday, and more and more medical equipment came off. By the time February rolled in, he was grunting and growling like other babies do. And we started to feed him.

Daddy had much better success rate than mummy did at getting Zac to eat. Since he was only breastfed once every 8-10 feeds, it was foreign to the little boy, so all he wanted to do was chomp. This did not impress me one bit!!!! However, Zac seemed to slowly get the hang of drinking breastmilk out of a bottle, and Daddy's pure stubbornness ensured that Zac would take at least half his feed out of the bottle when he was around.

But he wasn't (and still isn't) great at letting us know if he was hungry. So if he wasnt awake and seemingly hungry, his meal was pushed down his feeding tube. Zac, proving that he is a clever cookie, learnt that if he didn't want to take his bottle, or if it hurt too much to eat, he just needed to play possum (close his eyes and pretend to be asleep) and his meal would be tube fed to him. Yes, his little redheadedness learnt to be lazy from a very young age.

This seemed to be the longest chapter of our hospital stay. Some days he would eat. Some days he wouldn't. We learnt that we could keep feeding him even when he was playing possum. But only Tristan and his primary nurses had any luck with this. I contiuned to try unsuccessfully to breastfeed, and other nurses who had him irregularly didn't know to push him even though he seemed asleep. Then the evil reflux started, and all the hard work of the past few weeks came to a sudden stop. Zac was no longer interested to taking the bottle, and I stopped trying to breastfeed him in hopes that if I could just get him to eat by bottle we could take him home and I could teach him to breastfeed in the comfort of our own home.

After Tristan and my little get away to the mountains, we visited Zac before we went home. On a seemingly normal visit, the nurse told us that the doctors wanted to have a talk to us about our baby. They sat us down in a very serious manner and told us that they feared that Zac was developing an eating aversion due to his reflux and they wanted to try him on a formula. The formula would be thicker than breastmilk, would be more difficult for him to spit up, and would be more likely to stay in his belly and digest. At this point both Tristan and I were so desperate to have him home, that even though we both wanted him to be breastfed, we agreed to try anything that might speed him home to us.

So they started him on the magic formula. And before the day was out he was taking full feeds by bottle and a few days after that they started talking about him coming home!!! Sure, he would still play possum, and was only just making or just missing his quota, but he was eating!!! It was a miracle! Not only was there light at the end of the tunnel, but I felt like I could reach out and touch it.

The next few days are so clearly ingrained in my memory. Tristan worked that Sunday and I was taking an opportunity to have a bit of a sleep in (knowing that sleep would soon become a precious commodity) before I headed to the hospital. At 725 he called he to say that Zac would be coming home today and to get some sleep. Well of course I couldnt sleep anymore, so I bounced around the house making the final preparations to have my family all under the same roof for the night. Then at 930, just as I was about to leave to go into the hospital, Tristan rang back to say not today, but certainly tomorrow.

While disappointed, I understood that the doctors wanted to observe him for one more day, after all he hadn't been on the formula for 5 days yet. So I just spent the day with the nurse, receiving our last baby classes, getting lots of cuddles, and feeding my son. Life was almost perfect. That night Tristan and I said goodbye to our primary nurse who had become like family over the passed few months, and set home for our last night at home alone.

The next morning Tristan and I were both having a sleep in, both of us dreaming of that magic momment that we would bring Zac into his home, when I received a phone call from the hospital. Zac hadn't made his minimum feeds that night, and they wanted to keep him for a few days longer. I have no idea how, or even if, I kept a steady voice during that conversation, but I can remember wanting to cry my heart out when it was over. Today was the 20th of Feb - Zac's due date. I wanted him home more than I could ever say. It had been long enough.

As a girl, I dealt with this problem with tears. As a bloke, Tristan dealt with this as situation that needed to be resolved. I could see the anger and disappointment festering under the surface. I felt sorry for anyone who got in his way that day. They were never going to win.

We went straight to the hospital and spoke to the doctors. They were concerned that if Zac came home he may not eat enough, not gain any weight and end up needing to be readmitted to hospital. While appreciating their concern, we knew we could feed our son. We had spend hours and hours (and hours and hours) at the hospital feeding him. We knew that we could do it and we had the support of the nursing staff. But the doctor was holding to his position. So tearfully, and hugely disappointed, we set up for another day in the hospital. Tristan was determined to be at the hospital for as many feeds as possible and, if necessary, force feed Zac to ensure that he would meet his quotas.

An hour or so later, it was rounds. As the hospital we were at was a teaching hospital, rounds were overseen by an experienced (and generally very elderly) attending physican. When Zac's care came up, I turned my head. I just didn't want to hear anyone say Zac wasn't coming home again, but curiosity beat out denial. Each doctor argued their case. It was interesting to hear that there were two opposing camps: one in favour of letting us take Zac home, the other in favour of a more conservative path that would see him stay for a few more days until they were certain that he could eat enough regularly. The attending listened to both arguments and then spoke to us. He seemed to take us at our word that we could make Zac eat. But the pediatrician we choose seemed to sway him enough that he agreed to let us take him home as long as we saw the pediatrician three times a week. We didn't need to be told twice!

Two hours later we left the small room that had been the only place we could be a complete family for the last 82 days. It was very bitter sweet. The sweet outweighing the bitter 10:1 but the hospital had become an enourmous part of our lives. It was like an out of body experience leaving it for the last time with our precious cargo. I kept waiting to be told to put Zac back into his crib, or for the alarm to go off that we were stealing our baby. But I didn't. We just walked out, staring at our bundle of love.

The elevator doors closed on our exit that afternoon, ending an incredibly painful chapter in our lives that showed us that we had strength we didn't know we had. And even more importantly, renewing our faith that Tristan and I always have each other. The best part was that this chapter had a very happy ending.

So if you ever need proof that prayers, positive thinking and love can change the world, all you need to do is look at Zac. I do - everyday

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

There are those times...

Dear Zac,

By now, no doubt, you have realised that your Mummy is very silly. And that she loves and trusts your Daddy to distraction. So today, when Daddy said "let's go to the park" I got very excited.

It was the first day that it was over 20 degrees and I thought it would be a lovely day for a stoll in the park. Thinking that we might want to take a family photo I wore nice jeans, a pretty white t-shirt, and sandals (I had just had a pedicure so my toes were happy). I blow dried my hair, and while I stopped short of painting a full face of make up, I did add a bit of volume to my eyes and some gloss to my lips. I looked great! Even your daddy said so!

We packed the car up (bottle warmer, oxygen, pram, nappy bag, iPad, camera) and set out on our adventure. The mountains looked picturque, the sky was perfectly clear, and I was with my boys - I couldn't have been happier. We drove down the highway. And we drove a little further (you were peacefully asleep in the backseat and missed it). The mountains got closer and eventually we left suburbia and hit "rural" Denver.

It was about here that I asked what park we were going to. I thought it must be a very special park given we had driven this far. I was thinking beautiful manicured gardens, perhaps a decorative pond, lovely green grass, and paved paths that would wind through the park passing playgrounds, children laughing and ducks (a good park will always have ducks).

However it seems I made a stupid assumption - we weren't going to the park: we were going to a state park. After taking a moment to call myself several nasty names(stupidmbeing the kindest)I thought a bit more about it. Your Daddy and I have been to a few very nice state parks, and while there probably wouldn't be any ducks or green grass, we would stil get to take a nice family stroll.

I started to get worried when we had to drive along a dirt track to get into the park. And then we had to walk up a mountain (ok - not a "mountain" but a serious hill considering we had the pram) to the visitors centre - which had a desk and a coke machine...

Don't get me wrong - it was beautiful. There were these enormous red limestone rocks just popping up from the ground in the middle of no where. There was sunshine and birds singing. It was like a postcard.

We(read: Daddy) decided that we would take you on a walk around one of those big red rocks. It was a dirt track, but the man at the gate said it would be suitable for a stroller. It was a 3.5 mile walk, which I thought could be a nice hour or so walk as a family...

But there was still snow on the ground. And slush where that beautiful sunshine had melted the snow. And there was mud where that slush had hit the dirt. And I was wearing SANDELS!!!! To top it off, there were strong wind gusts that blew my hair everywhere!!! My lips were chapped, my toes were wet and muddy and there more hills to climb!!!

My glamourous park adventure with my family had turned into a farcical event where I could barely keep my balance (or my language) as I slipped, skidded and slided around the "path". To his credit, I didn't hear your daddy laugh at me once - or maybe the wind just blew the sound away... But he did have to contend with the elements and push your pram around. He was huffing and puffing in some parts. I laughed at that.

Thank goodness your daddy didn't suggest a family photo at the end. I was muddy, sweaty, disheveled and seriously unimpressed. But the glint in your Daddy's eye made it hard for me to be (too) mad at him.

It was a beautiful walk (I'm sure...) and I would love to go back and do a different trail, but it was just not what I had expected. It was one of those times when making an assumption had made me look like a complete fool. Sigh

Your Daddy is wonderful man, and loves to go on family adventures, but it will be the last time (at least for a while) that I don't get more details about where we are going.... Sigh.

And you - you seemed to have loved the entire ordeal. You slept, wiggled to avoid any sunlight, and didn't fuss once. You seem to like the off road (won't that make your Uncle Jonny happy). Sigh.

And now, while you sleep off your big day out, I'm off to wash my feet!

Lots of love