The Tom-Foolery of Carving a Jack-O-Lantern

AUTHOR: | POSTED: 10/21/14 8:22 PM
CATEGORIES: 1015 The River, Blog, Holidays

It started with the best of intentions.  It’s the week before Halloween.  We’ve been to the Gust Pumpkin Farm no less than five times.  We have a herd of pumpkins decorating our house.  So, the next step seemed obvious.  Time to carve those puppies up.

Afterall, it’s a tradition.

When I was a kid my parents would carve a pumpkin for each of their children.  I have memories of perching myself on a kitchen chair while my dad used an electric knife–later replaced with a jigsaw…he’s a power tool kind of guy–while my mom rolled up her sleeves gutting the innerds into the kitchen sink.  I’d bark orders about the shape of eyes, or the slant of a smile and regardless of how I wanted it to look, it always kind of looked the same.  Triangle eyes.  A toothy grin.  And if one of them was feeling extra crafty, a nose.

Of course, all of this occurred the hour before trick-or-treating so they could be promptly lit for the onslot of trick-or-treaters.

When Drew and Ryan came of age I tried to replicate the process.  I’ll never forget thinking it was oh-so-simple.  First, we’d carve.  Next, we’d illuminate.  Then we’d get into our costumes.  Finally, we’d enjoy the chile from the crock-pot before skipping our way out the door–all Norman Rockwell style.

Then reality set in.

Turns out carving a pumpkin without the help of a partner slows the process…a lot.  And, gutting a pumpkin with a kid who has a super sensitive sense of smell is less than optimal. And because the process was taking longer than the eight minute attention spans of my sons, the whole ordeal quickly became a chore while the boys tried to impale each other with a light saber and a ninja sword.  (I swear we bought costumes solely based on the weapons that came with them.)

Before I knew it, the entire process turned into one giant debacle that ended with me screaming something along the lines of, “fuck it”; throwing the half carved pumpkins on the porch; and grabbing a solo cup filled to the rim with wine to accompany my demon children while they pillaged for candy.

I swore I’d never attempt pumpkin carving again.


Then came the second cohort of kids.

Now let me preface this with something that I get…a lot.  As all of my readers know, the ages of our children are quite unique.  It’s not that having a  20 and 17 year old  is anything special.  Neither is having three—soon to be four—kids under the age of six.  But when a stranger asks how old our kids are and I render the answer–the entire answer— they all have the very same look of bewilderment.  I can practically read their minds and as a result feel compelled to explain that indeed, this is not a second marriage…they all have the same father;  and I usually add something about how we are really, really bad at timing.

Once the stranger collects themselves enough to form a sentence, many of them have the very same comment.  “That would be so cool.  Like a do-over.”  Which, is true in a way.  We’ve already managed to get one out the door and into college and another will fly the coop next year.  As it currently stands it appears we managed not to screw up our first two kids but there are definitely things we’re doing differently this time around.  Some of the do-overs are major.  We’ve chosen a different educational setting for our younger kids and we realize now that over scheduling a child in activities/sports really…REALLY…doesn’t make a damn bit of difference when college application time rolls around.  Some of the differences are more trivial.  Like trying to rekindle the tradition of carving pumpkins.

Turns out some of the stuff that stunk the first time around…still stinks.

Fast forward to this past Sunday afternoon.  After doing some Pinterest research and finding a way to “preserve” a pumpkin to keep it from rotting before Halloween, I decided that my first mistake, oh-so-many-years-ago, was trying to get the carving done on the actual day of Halloween.  Now that  I knew how to keep the pumpkin fresh for a week or two, I could devote the time to the process needed to make it stress-free and fun.

So off to the farm we went to pick out three pumpkins for the deed.  We decided on the four dollar variety (which, by the way, would cost no less than $15 at the super market.  I LOVE the Gusts!).  They weren’t to big yet big enough to easily, so I thought, get the deed done.

When we arrived home I covered the kitchen table, put the girls to work “washing” the pumpkins, and prepared my carving utensils.

Now… here’s the thing.  Remember how I said my dad used tools?  I think there may have been some brilliance in that because all I had was the $3.99 carving kit from Meijer which I quickly realized was like trying to cut a pumpkin with a spork.  That’s when the frustration started.  As the girls sat there patiently waiting for me to work my magic I quickly abandoned the spork for a kitchen knife.  And, after a few more minutes my plans for a Pinterest inspired templates were aborted for the triangle eyes, and toothy grins of my childhood.  And, after about fifteen more minutes I realized the girls had lost interest, and there I sat.  Alone.

To which I asked myself, “Why the hell am I doing this?


My plan was to carve a jack-o-lantern for each of my kids.  I stopped at three.  Even though none of them are intricate, they do make me smile because the girls actually do love them.  More importantly those pumpkins have taught me something important.   I know now that there are some things that I didn’t do so well the first time around that I still can’t do so well fifteen years later.  And that’s okay.

Most of it doesn’t matter, anyways.


If you are looking for the recipe for pumpkin seeds that I talked about on 101.5 The River click HERE.

If you are looking for tips on how to preserve a carved pumpkin click HERE.

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Remembering The Value of Suffering

AUTHOR: | POSTED: 10/20/14 1:32 PM
CATEGORIES: Blog, compassionate parenting, perspective, Resilience

Sean and I have spent our entire parenting careers trying to instill certain values in our children.  They are the same values that were instilled in us by our own parents and to us they are platitudes to live by and remember.  And, my guess is, they aren’t all that unique.  Good people don’t become good people without walking a certain talk and sharing certain values.

The values of dedication and diligence; honesty and integrity; and compassion and humility have always been common threads of our parent-speak.  Those lessons are so well-intended but, I fear there is one lesson about reality we forgot to instill in our kids.

An unpleasant one at that.

Teaching our kids to live a good life–to be a good person–always includes the aforementioned virtues.  But somewhere down the line, I allowed my children to assume that if you live a certain way;  if you walk a certain talk; if you work hard and consistently;  if you tell the truth and live honorably;  if you are kind to others putting their needs ahead of your own the people around you will value your efforts.  You will be rewarded.

And that isn’t always the case.

Because life is often unfair.

I suppose teaching our children about the unfairness of the world  is something that we, as protective parents, have a hard time doing.  We want to shield our children from pain, and we fear that if we lift the veil on the randomness of loss, we’ll scare them–or discourage them.  Teaching about unfairness is also kind of tricky.  I can tell a six year old that if she practices her piano her teacher will be happy; or explain to a fifteen year old that his academic efforts will  be rewarded when it comes college admissions time.  Those lessons are  fairly objective.  But the world isn’t always black and white.

Subjectivity can be confusing.

We all know that unfairness always comes.  Sometimes because of random acts of nature.  Other times at the hands of people. And what makes it scary is that we can’t explain it. The “why” is absent.   So we struggle.

Struggling is difficult.   Watching your child struggle is excruciating.

Obviously, Sean and I are currently experiencing a situation with one of our children that has rattled us.  I think one of the reasons it’s been so unsettling is because the rationale behind the situation flys in the face of the virtues we’ve worked so hard to instill.  In this case, our child’s dedication and diligence; honesty and integrity; and compassion and humility was completely disregarded.  The situation was a blindside and like everything unfair–the “why” is absent.

Kids are resilient, though. I keep telling myself this.  I will admit my child isn’t handling the situation the way I would handle it.  But—that’s okay.  My child isn’t me.  I have to honor that.  All I can do is be present;  be respectful;  and be willing to listen and guide if the need presents itself.  I also have to repress my urge to rip the face off of the person who has led us down this path.  That, my friends,  is a feat.  (Ahem…I am nine months pregnant.  I’m guessing I might be able to plea temporary insanity in the event of losing control.)

Of course, that would help no one.

Last week Sean and I were recounting times in our lives where the virtues we live by didn’t seem to matter.  As a result, the lesson about life being unfair came up.  I also confided in my dad.  He reminded me that unfairness usually leads to valuable life lessons.  Of course, at the time, I didn’t really want to hear it—sometimes I need to wallow a bit— but deep down I knew he was right.

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls;  the most massive characters are seared with scars.

Kahlil Gibran

Being screwed over always hurts.  Watching your child get screwed over is even more painful, but time does manage to heal.   If there is healthy support the lessons of suffering can pave the way to a deeper understanding of the world and the people around us.  Suffering builds strength and,  if channeled positively, can give the gifts of compassion and perspective.  Good can come of this.  It still hurts, though.

Of course, this won’t be the first unfair thing that happens to my child.  It also, probably–and sadly–won’t be the worst.  It’s an important lesson.  One that I hope causes a double down of efforts to be dedicated and diligent in work; to live honestly and with integrity in  life; and treat others with compassion while remembering the importance of humility.

That’s where I’m hanging my hat this morning.

Now onward.


I know, I know.  This was a heavier than normal post for me.  Rest assured, tomorrow I’ll return as my normal, silly self.  Just needed to get this off my chest.  There.  I feel better now.

The Name Game…Part Deux

AUTHOR: | POSTED: 10/14/14 9:24 PM
CATEGORIES: 1015 The River, Blog, pregnancy, Pregnant at 45, Recipes

I received an email today from a loyal reader asking me if I’d gone “off the grid”.  It made me chuckle because I’m not exactly “off ” the grid.  I’m more like “under” the grid.  And, the grid isn’t so much a grid.  It’s more of an onslot of book edits,  a pile of laundry and never ending doctor’s appointments that seem to be usurping my schedule in a way that isn’t allowing me to spend the time in this space that I’d like.  Plus…I’m friggin’ tired.  And I’m huge.  I’m probably tired because I’m huge.  Or maybe I’m huge because I’m tired.  It’s a chicken/egg thing.

Bottom line is I’m alive…my pregnancy is well…and  I’m profusely sorry for leaving anyone hanging.

I do have to say I always love it when one of my readers notices I’m missing.  It makes me feel safe because sometimes I actually wonder how long it would take Sean to notice if I was MIA–he’s a busy guy.  It’s good to know Debbie Schaaf has my back.  Thanks, friend.


This past weekend Sean and I attended my cousin’s wedding in Chicago.  It was a quick overnight trip that gave us some alone time to talk about important stuff.  Like, how the hell did I end up 45 and pregnant.  (The miraculous conception of 2014 is still baffling to us.)  And, since the inevitability of this little guy is really starting to sink in, we’d better figure out what the heck we’re going to name him.  Because he needs a name.  And we’ve got nothing.

Sean and I have a history of not giving the topic of names for our children due diligence.  I think our lackadaisical attitude about baby names started with the best of intentions.  When I was pregnant with our oldest Sean refused to discuss names before he was born.  “You wouldn’t name a dog before you saw it.  Why would you name a kid before you saw it?”  This was Sean’s mantra and I went along with it assuming that I’d develop a short list of favorties and surely after he witnessed the pain and agony of childbirth he’d let me name the kid whatever I damn well pleased.

You know what?  I was right.  Our first son entered this world shortly after I ripped a belt loop from Sean’s jeans during transition labor and out of respect–or possibly fear–Sean let me name him.  No questions asked.

Naming Drew was easy. I’d loved the name Andrew…shortened to Drew…my entire life.  That being said, we still managed to dodge a bullet that evening after our L&D nurse gently pointed out that we should consider our son’s initials before we went ahead with Andrew Sean Savage.

That’s why he is Andrew (because I’d always loved the name Drew but wanted a saint’s name)  John  (after Sean’s dad and also because we didn’t want his initials to be ASS) Savage.

Naming our second child followed a similar pattern.  We didn’t know our baby’s gender but I knew if it was a boy we’d be going with another name I’d spent my high school years scribbling on the back sides of my notebooks.    Again, Sean wouldn’t discuss the name during our pregnancy.  And, again, after nearly losing my life during an emergency c-section I was granted unchallenged naming rights.

That’s why our second son is Ryan  (because I love the name) Sean  (because I love his daddy)  Savage.

Mary Kate’s full name is  Mary Kathleen Savage.  She is named after Sean’s mother which was truly a heartfelt gesture that conjured all kinds of warm fuzzies until my mom came to the hospital and asked me a trick question.  “Um…Carolyn, did you pick Mary Kate because you liked the name or did you pick it because you wanted to name her after Sean’s mom?”    

I was like a deer in headlights because I honestly didn’t know if there was a satisfactory answer.  After a few second hesitation I threw a hail Mary and went with, “Uh…we liked the name?”  Which seemed to do the trick.

It’s also why one of the twins is named Reagan (after the president) Linda (after my mother) Savage.

As for the other twin’s name..  Well that’s where our lack of appropriate planning bit us…or me…in the arse.  First off let me rattle off a couple of excuses.  Naming twins is hard.  Naming twins of the same gender is harder.  And, lastly naming babies when there’s a third party with a well-earned equal vote makes the process kind of crazy.  You see, we gave Jennifer a say in the girl’s names.  It only seemed fitting.  She was birthing them so she got a voice–and a veto.

Here’s the thing.  She and I were always in agreement.  Sean was the fly in the ointment.  We liked Harper.  Sean said no.  Sean liked Stephanie.  We said no.  We all liked Reagan but couldn’t agree on an equally balanced name from the contemporary genre.  As a result, I scribbled out a list of ten favorites on the back of a Lowe’s receipt about an hour before Jennifer’s c-section and we agreed to reconvene once her anesthesia had worn off and the good drugs had set in.

It seemed like a decent plan until Baby B, who was full term and weighed a whopping 6#15 ounces refused to breath after birth.  Gone were the visions of all of us sitting in Jennifer’s postpartum room contemplating names, replaced instead by an emergency transport team that worked quickly at moving our baby girl to a hospital with a NICU.  It was an unexpected and very chaotic development that somehow ended in Baby B being given a name that wasn’t on anyone’s radar.

Hence, she is named Isabella (I have no idea why) Jennifer (after her guardian angel) Savage.

So…fast forward to crunch time.  We are T-minus six weeks and counting.  Sean and I have kicked around a few possibilites for this little guy but nothing has really resonated.  Drew and Ryan think they get a say, but so far all they have come up with is “Steele”.  Um…not happening.  They’ve accepted the fact that their first suggestion has been vetoed but continue to insist their little bro has a name that is a little “kick ass“.

And that, my friends, is where you come in.  Sean and I are looking for a little inspiration.  Give us your best…your most distinguished…most creative and beloved suggestions.  And don’t forget…the name has to be a little “kick ass” too.

There are bonus points for explaining why the name is so awesome.


We can’t wait to see what you come up with.


A few recent pics from our family.

Drew ran against his high school teammate at a recent college cross country meet.  So fun to see these boys later in life.

Drew ran against his high school teammate at a recent college cross country meet. So fun to see these boys later in life.


Ryan is nearing the end of his senior cross country season.

Ryan is nearing the end of his senior cross country season.

Took our the Gust Pumpkin Farm right up the road.  We have some serious bunny love going on.

Took our girls..again…to the Gust Pumpkin Farm right up the road. We have some serious bunny love going on.


Big brother came to watch MK run her last cross country meet.

Big brother came to watch MK run her last cross country meet.

Daddy was super proud.

Daddy was super proud.


Me and my great Aunt Angie at my cousin's wedding.  Aunt Angie is my grandmother's baby sister.  I love seeing her!

Me and my great Aunt Angie at my cousin’s wedding. Aunt Angie is my grandmother’s baby sister. I love seeing her!


My baby cousin and my baby bump at the wedding.

My baby cousin and my baby bump at the wedding.

Sunday morning we woke to the pitter patter of the Chicago Marathon passing our hotel.  Awesome sight.

Sunday morning we woke to the Chicago Marathon passing our hotel. Awesome sight.  Awesome weekend.


If you are looking for the recipe for candy corn bark I talked about on 101.5 The River with Rick and Mary Beth click HERE.

“Throwing The Kitchen Sink at This”: A Pregnancy Update

AUTHOR: | POSTED: 09/29/14 5:59 PM
CATEGORIES: Blog, Health & Safety, Prayers, pregnancy, Pregnant at 45

Last week was a bit of a milestone for us.

I delivered Ryan at thirty weeks on the dot so every pregnancy since I’ve celebrated passing thirty weeks sans delivery as an accomplishment. When I was pregnant with MK I vividly remember a family dinner where I confidently announced that Ryan would officially be our smallest baby.  I incorrectly assumed that since I carried MK to 32 weeks she’d be bigger.  Imagine our shock when she was actually 2 ounces smaller despite the extra two weeks of cooking time.

Mary Kate, 2008 at a whopping 2 pounds 15 ounces.

Mary Kate, 2008 at a whopping 2 pounds 15 ounces.

As I type this I’m sitting at 31 weeks three days and as much as I’d love to report that I’m cool as a cucumber about the remainder of this pregnancy the truth is I’m a bit jumpy.  Because of my history of early onset of HELLP Syndrome and other pregnancy related complications I’m on what I would call a close watch.  My doctor’s appointments dropped to every two weeks at 28 weeks and last week it was decided that I should be seen once a week for a non-stress tests (NST).  If you’ve read Inconceivable you know I hate non-stress tests because…well… they stress me the hell out.  As far as I’m concerned the notion they are called non-stress tests is an oxymoron.  In my opinion they would more appropriately be called “Let’s-scare-the-shit-out-of-this-pregnant-mother-for-kicks-test.”  I’m guessing that title wouldn’t fit on the contraption they use for the NST.

Anyways, I’ve realized that these last seven weeks are going to be hard.  I’m huge and tired.  Yesterday I schlepped the twins, a stroller, a bag full of crap and a chair to watch MK’s soccer game in 80 degree heat.  By the time I made it back to the car I felt like Chevy Chase in the desert.

chevy chase


Getting around is getting challenging.  I need to get better at gaging what I can and really can’t do.

In addition, every ache;  every little abdominal pain; every little twinge of nausea worries me.  It’s all normal–but it’s also how my troubles started during the pregnancies that didn’t end so well. As a result, I’m in a constant state of analyzing my physical well-being with a side of well earned paranoia.  I figure the only way to get through this is if I take it day by day.  Each day will be an accomplishment.  Which sounds like it should be easy.  But my days seem to long.  Really long.  With a lot of physical demand.  Luckily our schedules are going to lighten up over the next two weeks.  I think that will help.  As long as I don’t have the baby before then.

So, if you’ll bear with me over the next 35 days I could really use your encouragement.  My goal is very simple at this point.  I want to make it into November without a delivery.  If I can do that, I will have surpassed every pregnancy since my first.  The icing on the cake would be to deliver a baby without a NICU team being present.  Of course, that would require me to go all the way to 39 weeks, so what I’ll settle for is to avoid NICU time for this child.  If I could just have a baby that is categorized into the well-nursery…well…that would be a dream come true.

My posts are going to come more frequently as I get closer because I need all the hand-holding–real and virtual–I can get.


Rest assured I’m in great medical hands.  In addition to the weekly NST’s I’m having bloodwork to monitor my liver enzymes, platelets, and red blood cell counts.  All of this information will arm my medical providers with the knowledge they need to spot trouble early.  In the words of my doctors, “We are going to throw the kitchen sink at this.” I guess I’m good with that approach even if it is scary.

Of course, if any warning signs appear we will hopefully have time to administer the steriod shots to help with the baby’s lung development.  It worked for Logan.  Hopefully it will work for this little guy, too.

Fingers crossed.

Five Candles

AUTHOR: | POSTED: 09/24/14 12:37 PM
CATEGORIES: Blog, Focusing on The Joy, Logan, Resilience

Blessings do not take away life’s pain, they just tuck it into a smaller part of your soul

September 24,2009 – I sat next to Carolyn holding her hand with full hospital garb on as she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, a boy we held as our own for a few precious moments.  I held him up to Carolyn’s face so she could capture a good glance and revel in his presence before the inevitable.  I departed that room with several nurses and the baby to a room which held the people who would leave the hospital with him for life.  An intensely emotional moment as I delivered Carolyn’s sacrifice, a newest of newborns to this exuberant mom and dad while the crushing blow of this loss struck our hearts.   Tears ran down my face as I saw the baby boy Carolyn had carried since February in the arms of another mother and I knew he was never coming back.  The moment was a gift of humanity to others wrapped in personal pain. Tonight I imagine there are five candles on his birthday cake as he celebrates an important milestone with his family.  With the passing of five years I decided to share some perspective time has given me about this sea change in my life.

The baby boy and his mom and dad are fortunate Carolyn is such a strong and principled person. Her determination to see the pregnancy through at her own physical and mental peril is the reason he lived and made it to September 24, 2009.  How many people given the same facts would have made the same choices?

Woman endure so much with their body and mind during pregnancy and to carry a child for complete strangers and voluntarily let go for life in the delivery room takes strength beyond my comprehension. I think that is why the world took notice.

Carolyn and I get a personal peek into Logan’s life a couple of hours one time per year. As he gets older we are uncertain if these opportunities will continue to arise, but Carolyn and I are grateful for any time with him.  He is a handsome boy with boundless energy who is loved by his parents .  As he gets older and learns of his entry into the world he will hopefully know the love Carolyn and I have for him.

My biggest surprise over the past five years is how little those around us ask of Logan or mention anything about the pregnancy or aftermath.  I am sure those who have experienced traumatic loss  can appreciate this phenomenon.   My advice is to not avoid these types of discussions.  The dark side of the moon is there even if you cannot see it.  Ask people how they are doing who have different types of pain in their past.  It is therapeutic to talk about it.

Although we received loving support from so many around the world as our story became public, there were those who showered us with criticism and hate.  I think that is to be expected when you publicly share your story.  Carolyn and I are Catholic and the Catholic people were great, but the Catholic Church simply abandoned us. I believe Jesus and His Mother Mary would have embraced Carolyn and I and said….  well done.

The personal blessings bestowed upon us by God over the past five years are more than we deserve.  Our gratitude for the blessing of Isabella and Reagan in August, 2011 through the loving support of Jennifer, who carried them, is beyond words.  And then our most recent unexpected twist of Carolyn’s pregnancy left me speechless.  I am so excited for our sixth child to arrive in November. We could have never imagined while in the delivery room five years ago that our family was only half complete.  Blessings do not take away life’s pain, they just tuck it into a smaller part of your soul.  I know I am blessed to be able to walk through life with Carolyn and have Drew, Ryan, Mary Kate, Isabella, Reagan and our soon-to-be baby boy as children.

As for Logan, I continue to wish him good health, happiness and love as we imagine him blowing out  five candles tonight.

logan birth 6j