Author Archives: Alex Allen

The Homestretch

Today marks day 26 in the NICU. We probably won’t know for sure when Ben is coming home until the day he is discharged, but we do know we’re in the homestretch. Ben is doing fantastic, amazing and superb and is SO close to being ready to go home.

{This is Ben at the beginning of the week... he's made great gains since this moment.}

{This is Ben at the beginning of the week… he’s made great gains since this moment.}

This last week has been filled with some of the more frustrating days and experiences in the NICU and I haven’t had the energy to talk about them. Now that we’re so, so close to having Ben come home it’s gotten harder and harder and the hospital experience has become less tolerable. We’re worn down, stressed out, exhausted and ready for Ben to be home, but our heads are held high and we’re staying positive and encouraged by how well Ben is doing and how close we are to bringing him home.

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One of the difficult components of this last week has been that while he finished his “feeding pathways” feeding plan super fast and super strong, the doctor changed the rules that the nurses were going off of and said that Ben actually isn’t ready to come home yet. There was a major communication breakdown from the information the nurses were giving us to the information we were hearing from the doctor. The reason Ben hasn’t come home yet is because while he’s being bottle fed sometimes his heart rate drops because either he swallows too much milk or he hasn’t coordinated breathing along with sucking and swallowing, which is something that mature, full-term babies do.

{One of the best moments of the week was when Ben's feeding tube was removed! He is now eating 100% of his meals by mouth.}

{One of the best moments of the week was when Ben’s feeding tube was removed! He is now eating 100% of his meals by mouth.}

The doctor wants to make sure that we’re competent and comfortable feeding Ben because when we take him home we won’t have the support of the nurses and hospital staff in case he chokes. So, what he’s waiting for is either for Ben to mature a little bit more and develop the rhythm of suck, swallow, breathe, or for us to be completely effective at feeding him without him having any heart rate drops. Now that we have a little context to the feeding situation it has put a little more stress behind it, because while we originally were told that it’s not a big deal that he’s having heart rate drops while eating, it actually really could be a really big deal after all.

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One thing putting our minds at ease is that today Ben tried nursing for the first time. I have several friends with preemies and small babies and nursing has been really difficult for many of them, so I anticipated it would take a lot of patience and several tries. The feeding plan that Ben was on was not friendly or conducive to breastfeeding, which was extremely disappointing, so I had put off trying to start until Ben got home. Now that he’s done with the feeding plan and we’re still in the hospital and have the support of the lactation nurses I decided to give it a try today.

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I was floored how well Ben did – on his first try he had a full feed and his heart rate and oxygen saturation rate stayed completely constant and normal throughout the feeding and he did amazingly well. We won’t be able to exclusively nurse him for a while because he needs some fortification in the milk to provide extra calories so he gains weight at a slightly more rapid pace. It was so encouraging and rewarding to have this experience today.

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We are currently “rooming in” at the hospital with Ben, which is basically the last stage before discharge. What that means is that Ben was moved to a private room {hurrah!!!} and we’re staying here with him {well, at least one of us is} likely for the duration of his stay in the hospital, and providing all of his feedings and care while only receiving light supervision and guidance from the nurse. Thankfully his primary nurse, Megan, is here all weekend. She has put our minds at ease and it’s been refreshing to see her. She is very confident in our abilities and it’s her intention to be our discharge nurse this weekend.

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Finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel. We are so unbelievably excited to get Benjamin home and begin our life together. The last seven weeks have been quite trying and we have put our life on hold. We won’t ever have the same life we had before this all started, but we can’t wait to start a new one together, in our home, as a little family of three.

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Cat Skiing Rossland, BC

While Ali and her dad were off skiing Whistler, my friend Patrick and I packed up and headed North as well. We were aiming for Rossland, BC a town just across the Canadian border. We chose Rossland for its proximity to Washington as well as its access to several resorts and (more importantly) several Cat Skiing operations.

What is Cat Skiing you ask? Well, imagine a giant snowmobile with a box on the back that can fit you, two guides, and 10 of your closest friends (or strangers, in our case). These cats can access great skiing far from anyone else, and we had our fingers crossed that conditions would be good.

This is the cat - a magic box that takes you into great terrain.

This is the cat – a magic box that takes you into great terrain.

We arrived in Rossland on a Saturday and things did not look great. It was warm, raining, and the locals were wandering around the quaint little ski town rather than up at the mountain skiing. Still, we woke up Sunday morning and headed up to Red Mountain Resort for some skiing. Unfortunately conditions were not great. Lets just say Patrick and I usually avoid groomed ski runs, and on Sunday we were seeking them out. Still, there was snow in the forecast so we again went to bed with visions of powder skiing in our heads.

Monday morning Patrick and I woke up and headed up to another resort nearby, called Whitewater. We didn’t know much about Whitewater other than the tree skiing was good, but rumor had it that they got some good snow Sunday night. This turned out to be more than true. When we arrived at around 11 AM, we were greeting with no lift lines, lots of new snow, and the best tree skiing I’ve ever experienced. The runs were mostly open glades, with the spaces between the trees filled with nice light powder snow.

Patrick in the trees, wondering where everyone else is.

Patrick in the trees, wondering where everyone else is.

With tired legs and faces sore from smiling, we prepped for our first day of Cat Skiing at Valhalla Powder Cats.

 

The Valhalla office, complete with transportation.

The Valhalla office, complete with ski bum transportation.

Having never been Cat Skiing before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was prepared for a hard day of skiing as I knew it had snowed a lot more overnight and that Valhalla had a reputation for excellent terrain – it seems to be the choice of pro skiers. I was a little intimidated, but luckily we were set for another excellent day of skiing.

Our guide, showing us the ropes before we drop in.

Our guide, showing us the ropes before we drop in.

Our day started with an avalanche briefing and a long bus ride up to Valhalla Pass. Once there, we did some rescue drills and loaded up into the cat for our first run. After a few turns all concerns about being over my head were replaced with the feeling one gets when they are over their head in powder. Turns were deep, terrain was great, and our guide kept us moving and safe all day. Needless to say, it was excellent.

The face of a man who just skied untouched powder and is about to do it again.

The face of a man who just skied untouched powder and is about to do it again.

It snowed hard all day, and everyone in our group was having a blast. We ended up being paired with a group of German tourists who came to BC specifically for powder skiing. I think they timed it quite well. We slowly developed into a rhythm – ski one at a time up top with a buddy keeping an eye on you. Once out of the steep terrain, we would dip into trees together (again, keeping an eye on each other) and find our way down to a road where the cat would be waiting to pick us up and do it all over again. The guides were constantly re-assessing conditions and safety and making changes to the plan along the way. From top to bottom we skiing untouched powder in great steep terrain.

Loading up for another run.

Loading up for another run.

At the end of the day we had developed a great group and tired legs. Luckily, we had another day of Cat Skiing ahead of us the very next day. Even more luckily, we realized that even though we were going with a different company we would actually spend the day skiing with the German group as well as our guide from Valhalla.

Day two - tired legs but big smiles.

Day two – tired legs but big smiles (and the sun even came out).

Day two found us at Big Red Cats, a different cat operation with the same group and same guide. The day progressed mostly the same – meet at the office, load up into a bus, load up a cat, safety briefing, and then of course powder skiing.

Resting the legs after skiing powder for 3 days straight.

Resting the legs after skiing powder for 3 days straight.

We once again found excellent conditions, great terrain, and a really fun day. The sun even came out for a bit, allowing us to get a sense of what we were skiing and the vastness of the terrain. Its hard to complain when you have a large section of a mountain range to yourself and the snow is soft, but by the end we were definitely feeling our tired legs.

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Looking up at our tracks coming out of the forest.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end. As this was the last Cat Skiing day, I took the next day off to rest up my legs so they could be fresh for Friday’s attempt to ski Red Mountain in better conditions.

Our group on day two. Tired and happy.

Our group on day two. Tired and happy.

While there wasn’t much new snow Friday, the sun did come out allowing us to ski Red Mountain in Spring-like conditions. It also gave us a chance to glance at their abundant (and steep!) terrain. We scoped out a few named in-bound runs that would put Jackson Hole to shame. Needless to say, I will be back.

Enjoying the view at Red Mountain.

Enjoying the view at Red Mountain.

After a hard week of skiing, the only thing left to do was head to our favorite ski town bar and drink a few beers to celebrate. We packed up the car Saturday morning and hit the road just as the rain came back. Somehow we managed to time this trip just right. Given the terrain, the snow, and the fun we had I can’t help but think we will need to make this trip something of a tradition.

Mexico Trip Part II: Guadalajara

Before we begin, lets just get a few things out of the way first. Yes I actually am able to write blog posts. No I haven’t ever written one before this very moment. And of course: yes, I procrastinated writing this enough that Ali release part 3 before I even wrote part 2. Shes way better at accomplishing things than I am. On to the blog.

When I first heard my friend Nigel was getting married in Mexico, I was excited at the possibility of exploring a new country. Having never been to Mexico before, my hope was that I could see the “real” Mexico and take in a bit of culture along side some delicious and authentic food. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure how many vacations days I could use which lead to Ali planning a lovely beach trip in Puerta Vallarta without me. Upon realizing I would actually be able to make a week in Mexico work, it was too late for me to barge in on Ali’s vacation with her mom. No problem: I have a few friends that live in Mexico that were happy to show me a round a bit.

Some friends, happily showing me around.

Some friends, happily showing me around.

It was quickly decided that Guadalajara would be the city when myself and my friends Chris, Justin, and Brian would convene. Guadalajara was chosen for a few reasons: its close to Puerta Vallarta, it has reputation for good food, and its the largest city of the Mexican State Jalisco.

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My arrival alone in a new country where I marginally understood the language was actually quite uneventful. Most airports in Mexico seem to have an official taxi stand where one can grab a cab to your desired location and be relatively certain you are getting one that is legitimate. I was warned ahead of time that the bus was a much cheaper option, but given the exchange rate I was willing to risk it. I think it cost me a total of $18 for a 45 minute cab ride. This would be the most expensive transpiration of my entire stay.

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Justin had graciously rented a place for us to crash in that was located in a quite neighborhood. It matched my expectations perfectly: bright blue exterior, a couple of bedrooms, a guayabera on the clothesline, and a mostly empty bottle of Jack Daniels in the cupboard.

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Our colorful house in the heart of Guadalajara

Guadalajara is considered the home of Mariachi, so the first night out we decided to hit up a bar known for Mariachi – Casa Bariachi. We were able to get a great table, and quickly tucked into some guacamole, tacos, and of course tequila shots. Once the show was over, we meandered back to our little casa to rest up for a day of sightseeing.

Taking in a little Mariachi... and tequila.

Taking in a little Mariachi… and tequila.

When hanging with your friends in a foreign city where beer is safer and cheaper than water, its good to have some ground rules. In order to not spend the entire day bellied up to the bar, we decided to enforce a strict culture to beer conversion. Experiencing a single culture could net you upwards of three beers. Needless to say, we were motivated to see a lot of culture.

Our first stop was an area know as the Nine Corners – or its spanish equivalent. This is an area famous for its Birria which is a spicy stew usually made from goat. We ate ours with corn tortillas, lime, and the best raw onion I have ever experienced. Seriously, I don’t love onions and these things were amazing. If you are keeping track, that is one culture down for a three beer deficit (well one, after lunch).

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Note the goat skulls.

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This was delicious.

To keep the culture train rolling, we stopped by the Guadalajara Cathedral as well as quite a few municipal buildings. We made an honest effort to stop by quite a few museums, but turns out they are all closed on Monday. Still counts. To round out our culture, we stopped by Cantina La Fuente, which has been around since 1921 and looks like it has barely been touched since then. Two birds, one stone.

On Tuesday, we headed down to a pedestrian area know as Tlaquepaque to see a few cathedrals and grab some lunch. This area is mostly closed to cars, so locals come here to stroll, sit in the park, and do tequila tasting (or maybe that’s just us tourists). Sitting outside in the 75 degree weather and basking in the sun, I was amazing to see most locals walking by wearing jackets and sweatshirts. Clearly I am not genetically inclined for the heat.

Strolling around and eating.

Strolling around and eating.

We concluded our Tuesday by meeting up with our friend Tania who had just arrived, and eating at a truly incredible burger bar named Pig’s Pearls. Yes, you heard that correct – good burgers in the middle of Mexico. Mine was a beef patty wrapped in what was basically smoked ham. It’s no wonder why Tania wanted this to be her first stop.

Taking in some cultures.

Taking in some cultures.

With our culture quota filled and our beer deficit balanced, it was time to heat to Puerta Vallarta. It may be a sign of how old we are getting, but we managed to make it on the 8:00 AM bus for a short 5 hour ride to Puerta Vallarta. This may not sound too exciting, but it was actually one of the highlights. A swanky bus, air conditioning, and the ability to see some of the surrounding countryside. I had a great time in Guadalajara, and was very grateful I got to see a bit of Mexico before stepping foot in the resort wonderland that is Puerta Vallarta. I’d tell you to read more about that later, but given my procrastination you likely already have.

A mural, to prove we did indeed see some things.

A mural, to prove we did indeed see some things.

Is this thing on?

Hello? Is that you internet? Is this thing working?

Oh, well yes… it seems to be. I guess this little tech experience worked out quite nicely. Now if only this site had some content instead of some ramblings. Wouldn’t that just be swell?

I’m sure Ali is on it, or at least I hope she is.