Wednesday, June 17, 2015

And in the End...

It was a Wednesday, six years ago today. I watched those purple plaid shorts walk out of my life for the very last time. That day, I wanted to crumple over, but that was the first in a long string of days where something larger came, showing me that we can take far more than we ever thought possible.

Aviana had seven years. At times I count them. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven... An awfully small number. But then I think, I can safely say two things with absolute certainty, I had never learned more up until I met her, and won't ever learn as much until I die. I can also say that what I accomplished before Aviana and anything from here on out will pale in comparison to looking deep into her eyes and respecting her wish to exit this life and move on to another. I know, bold statements. But they're true. I look at Dave and have never been more proud of the two of us, for listening, being her voice, and for honoring her.

As I watched her walk out the door six years ago, I thought I knew a thing or two about difficult things. I was wrong. In teaching us, we were not only given a whole different perspective, but also released. We were freed from fear. I'm sure some who've lost tremendously can relate. In losing Aviana, the mystery was unraveled. Before I was a fraidy cat, too scared to speak of death, too terrified to hear the words about or from my parents especially, or to go sit or visit with people who've lost a loved one...I'm embarrassed to say, I wanted to run the other way. But because of Aviana, I'm more comfortable. She shows me that death is a part of life. Soon after the accident, we made sure to have a will and trust. Amongst other things, we made sure to clearly outline our own wishes should something as catastrophic occur. Because of her, I can now sit, visit, talk (to even my parents (!), listen, think about everyone close to me dying, and have completed my training to be a hospice volunteer - all with our girls at the forefront. On my way home from here or there, I sometimes cry, because one little girl made her momma grow up. She made it possible for me to do things I couldn't in the past. She made me understand that no matter how bad or sad a situation, we'll (I'll) somehow get through. And as bad as anything is, there's beauty somewhere. Thankfully in our time of need—family, friends, perfect strangers, and the small wonders of this earth were just above all that was awful and felt bad.

In recent years, I'm forever grateful that through God—Aviana and Kama have shown me this isn't the end.


I opened six years ago to avoid having to continuously speak about what happened to our family. My intention was to close soon after. Little did I know, a blinking line on a blank screen would become my saving grace, pulling me in and grounding my broken heart. For years I left my hopes and dreams for Aviana, fumbled my way through an 'anything but normal' life, and slathered the deepest depths of the beast known as brain injury.

I've decided to say goodbye. I want to especially thank each of you for caring for Aviana the way you have. You are truly some of the most loving people. You may never know how much you mean or have helped me through the years. I want to especially thank you for holding us through the holidays with Aviana's Elves. From my heart to yours...always.

If ever you'd like to say hi, our contact information is in the Aviana's Elves link.

We wish you peace and love,

Dave, Jen & Rainey

And in the end,
the love you take is equal to the love you make.

~ The Beatles

Monday, June 15, 2015

I Dreamed A Dream

I dream of her often, hurt and well. Within these dreams, I'm often times on the brink of waking, but fighting to stay.

During the adoption process, we were allowed to send four care packages. Everything had to fit within a one gallon sized ziploc bag. I wish you could have seen ours (and I imagine every adoptive family sending one of these). Dave has a reputation of maximizing every millimeter of space within a storage unit or U-haul, but in my eyes, this would be his actual greatest feat.

We'd go shopping for our girl, pick the sweetest and most adorable, and then I'd cycle through the arduous task of narrowing and laying out the most precious of all for him. I'd then beg, "Honey, please make them fit." With a plastic bag and a cozy litter of tiny onesies, a super soft blanket, plush animal shaped rattle toys, and a never to forget disposable camera, he'd sit in front of the game and let the folding and unfolding begin. I'd come and go, sometimes catching glimpses of a big poof with an odd rattle out. I'd be somewhere in the house and around the corner he'd come with the "thank God for a good zip on that bag" and nothing in hand. I'd laugh and cheer as if it were the happiest day. And it was, because this one-gallon plastic bag was our only tangible connection, the only real way for us to share all our love for a girl who felt a zillion miles away.

So in my dream this morning, we were at the airport, filling out forms with our puff of a care package. The man took out a list of cities in Guatemala. He asked where we were traveling? In unison and without looking at the paper, we answered, "Guastatoya."

We arrived in the town where Aviana was from; her foster family is in the home. Her foster mother, Gladys, tells us she's in the back room.

By this time, in my dream and in real life I could hear Dave getting ready in the bathroom. This has happened many times before, so I try and stay calm, but beg...Please let me stay. I need to see her.

Dave and I both have all the knowledge of everything that's happened to her, to us. We give one last look to each other and open the door. Aviana is lying on the bed. She's healthy, happy, and smiling. We run to her side. We hug and smother her in kisses. We both tell her how much we love her. We can't stop looking at her, touching her hair, and feeling her soft skin.

The clanking from the bathroom is demanding. It's pulling me from her. I try desperately to stay, to keep holding her, but I can't. I have no choice. I give in and open my eyes.

All ready for work, Dave walks out from the bathroom. He's used to my dreams. Although I'm sure he should be going, you wouldn't know it. I begin to tell him, once I get to a certain part, I break. He comes and sits on the edge of the bed. He rubs my legs, and listens. We sit in silence for a little, letting it all soak in.

He says, "If only we could have one more day." I admit that I don't think I'd want one. He asks, "Isn't that what your dream was about? Just having one more?" I'm unsure, but say one would never be enough. It would be a tease. I'd only want more.

We talk some more about Aviana and then he asks if I'm okay. I know it must not be easy for him to leave after I wake from these dreams, but I'm happy to have them. I'd rather feel her, than nothing at all.

I tell him I'm okay, and it's true. I am.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

By Hand

When they say we can feed them, we have no idea what to expect. We just follow the arrows that say, "Hummingbirds." 

Ash leads the way. With a sudden buzz to his head, it all began. One turns to many. We stand out in the open, our feet lodged in disbelief. As these miniature birds whiz back and forth, we stare. To them, to each other, and back at them. 

Tentatively at first (so as not to get struck by a beeline) we walk to a woman who hands us each a feeder. One, two, and sometimes up to five hummingbirds zoom in and fight each other for a single serving...from our hand

As I carefully swivel my guy, the years flash. Filling and hanging feeder after feeder. Stealing as many glances throughout the summer, and then, making sure to take those feeders down by Labor Day so as not to affect their migration. And now, I'm essentially holding one, two, four of these highly sought after creatures at a time.

As I drink him in, all has fallen away. He's highly expressive. Often times feisty, especially with his eyes. His tongue is surprisingly longer than the length of his beak! His colors are vibrant, but as they reach his tail feathers, fade to black. If another even thinks about jacking his sugar, he'll throw the wicked stare.

He's got me. I'm under his spell. I never want to leave. How can I? I might miss a flutter, a fight for food, another visit from the rare one of the bunch? 

What to do? 

The rainforest isn't a dangerous place to sleep at night, is it?

The stare down.

My nephew took some video in slow motion. If you turn your sound up you can hear them. 

Yes, I'm in a trance.

These particular hummingbirds are really big. They're deep purple and black with white tail feathers underneath. They're gorgeous as they fly away.

They were the shyest of the bunch. They'd sit in the trees and only come down every so often. 

My nephew was taking pictures of himself with the hummingbirds on his shoulder. I thought it a great idea. So when my dad saw me doing this...

He kicked it up a notch. Why not have one coming out my head! 

The one on top of my head was the rarest of the bunch. We only saw this one that day. Feeding them was the best part of our trip. We couldn't resist and went back another day.

We never saw another like this again.

Compared to the others, this variety has a bent beak. 

We were all holding our feeders how the woman showed us, which was by the bottom part. My dad decided to hold his like this. It was really neat because the hummingbirds would sometimes walk, or stand on our hands. There's nothing quite like the feeling of their tiny claws.

As you can see, when it's feeding time, the green ones mean business. 

Can you see the guy above? I think he's looking at the camera?

Until next time...because we have to go back to see them again.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015


Costa Rica. My dad's vacation of choice for quite sometime. For no particular reason, Costa Rica was off my radar. Had I known what this vacation was all about, I would've moved it to the very top of our list.

We were welcomed by a late night Costa Rican style drive to our hotel. By this I mean an on edge, back and forth (every man, woman, woman hold that baby tight, dog beware) through what we're told is one of the most beautiful mountain roads. My love of a good roller coaster relaxes me through the ride. I do however ask, "so do a lot of these dogs get hit?" Without missing a beat, our driver says, "The smart ones don't." Makes sense. It's obvious; the dogs have these streets down.

After arriving at our hotel, we can only imagine what's on the other side of the shadowy grounds.

The next morning I'm caught between sleep and a dream, or so I think. I open my eyes and listen. I'm torn. I want to run and see what's making all the noise, but also want to wait for Dave. I lie still, trying to decipher what's coming from where. I swear some are two distinct sounds simultaneously coming from one bird. My patience is wearing. I look to Dave. When he's out, he's out. I think about waking him? I got it, I'll accidentally nudge him, but kind of hard. No... He's much too peaceful. Here, he should wake naturally. I hop to and pull the curtain. Frozen. I stand and stare. Green everywhere, with swooping, sweeping, bursts of color. I slide each of the doors open. A cool breeze blows through our room. The bird sounds are now amplified. This is enough for Dave to wake and join me. As we look on at all that's happening, I smile back at the tiny vision I'd created from the night before.

Just as distinct as the sounds coming from the rainforest, so are the people of Costa Rica, or the Ticos as they call themselves. Yes, warm and welcoming like other places we've been... but there's something else. What is it? At first I'm unsure, however it's something I seek. Something when found, I stick to. Over and over, there it is. The quality I chase. Maybe at first I was on animal overload, but I finally see. The people are charismatic, yet calm. Conversation isn't just for the sake of conversation. When they ask a question, it's because they really want to know... not just to fill space. They truly care for your answer. They internalize your words and respond in kind. They say what they mean, and mean what they say. I love this. They're genuine. They take the time. They slow for the moment. They aren't distracted by phones, or rushed and onto the next, in mind, motion, or body. They're present. They are with you. They meet you in the moment. We have rich, real, quality, exchanges. I eat this up. I eat them up.

Speaking of eat. I didn't just eat them up. I ate everything up. They had some of the best bread I've ever tasted. I couldn't stop, and of course, our nephew thought it best to always keep another basket coming, so I had to keep eating right? We wanted authentic Costa Rican dinners so we asked the guy who drove us horseback riding, "Can you take us to the place where you eat with your friends or family?" That night he took us to his hometown. Yes! We had the best meal ever. I asked many... some variation of, "What's your favorite food? What do you eat? What do we have to try before we leave?" The answer was the same. The Casado. The Tico standard. It's made of beans, white rice, some sort of protein, salad, tortillas, and plantains. They had many, but this one was the ultimate. The red beans at this place had been cooking on an open wood fire grill in a cast iron pot the whole day through. I have never! And the plantains... I'm sorry. I throw the towel. Wave the white flag. I won't even try. That good. They kept it coming the next morning with fresh pureed pear juice. It was earth shattering. Along with the juice of the Gods, the most perfect cinnamon roll I've ever tasted—not too sweet, not too gooey, super soft, yet flakey on all the right edges. And just the right amount of cinnamon is key in my baking book. They did it. They did it all with this one! I shall call it The Knock Down, Drag Out, Cinnamon Roll! I didn't overdo it! I was 'pat myself on the back' proud. Why? What for? What's wrong with me? Everything. I should've eaten twelve... for fear of never seeing my sweet soul sister again.

Ash disappears. Boom! Four more cinnamon rolls. I couldn't let them eat mine, right? Noooo! I was cursing him at the time, smothering him in kisses in retrospect. To this day... cinnamon sweetie visits my dreams.

I was impressed with the Ticos knowledge of their country. They're proud of where they live. It's obvious they have a true connection and deep respect for their history and culture. They probably weren't as impressed when they turned and asked, "So what does Tahoe mean?" And we all four hemmed and hawed, spit some various facts about Tahoe, and finally said, "uh, we don't know."

The Ticos also seem to know everything about all who roam including the insects and animals. I act a fool when it comes to any creature that moves. I try to keep it under wraps, but the closer I get, the more that spills. I have a stupid ear-to-ear grin and just want to touch whatever's near! I morph into a four year old. I look like an adult, but it's a lie. In any area with animal action and kids, Dave grabs my hand tight. He knows I'm tempted to launch, maybe push my way, or accidentally shove a real four-year-old out of the way. I loved when Aviana was around. She was my "in." Many of the Costa Rican people light in this same way. I could see the shine as they slowed to show us the swinging monkeys, or the toucans flying from tree to tree, or the sloth sleeping up on a branch. I could hear it in their voice as they described the dangers of the bullet ant, the dart frog, or the various venomous snakes.

These people have a great respect for their environment, the animals and insects, their people, the land, and the food they put into their bodies.

Something was stirring throughout the week, and as we made our way home, I felt a definite shift.  My vision and world tilted for the better. I suppose that's what each trip is about—seeing the way other people live, experiencing new things, and coming home a little different.

Upon arriving home, I learn that part of Costa Rica is considered one of the five Blue Zones of the world. I understand why.

The Toucans!

One of the highlights of our trip.

Dave's my polar opposite when it comes to anything that moves. He liked this guy though.

We were able to feed them. Their diet consists of avocado, papaya, and banana. They all left the banana.

Yep! The best way to feed a toucan!

They're so cute!

They talked... color coordinate their outfits for the day.

The answer is yes! He fit perfectly in my bag for the long trip home.

Our hotel backed to seventy four acres of rainforest. We explored every inch of these trails, which included five waterfalls. 

My (not so little anymore) nephew Ash.

My gosh. I was just graduating high school when he was born. I'm so proud of this kid. Although I took 4 years of Spanish, I've lost most all of it. Ash is fluent in Portuguese, so he did a great job of navigating us around Costa Rica.  

When I saw these two, I came undone.

Dave can't stand spiders. I couldn't wait to show him who was lurking just above our suitcase.

I got your back buddy. 

Standing on the edge of forever.

My daddy and me.

Best vacation suggestion ever.


Oh, you don't like BUNNY EARS?

Meet Carmel and Carmelita.

When I found out we could milk Carmelita, I almost died and went to heaven. 

I never thought I'd see the day!

It wasn't easy. Dave and I laughed at how much milk we collectively eeked out of Carmelita. 


I hardly ever drink milk, but we had to know?

The verdict. Fresh milk is what it's all about!

I think Ash begs to differ. 

The best zipline! This one was higher and faster than the one in Alaska.

Every time I look, this picture makes me laugh!


Everywhere we go...

There she is...


My nephew had the idea to float her leaves down through the water.

Good in theory, but not in execution. 

They got caught on the rocks ; )

We went to San Jose one day. When I'm with my mom and we see a church, she always wants to light a candle for Aviana, so we do. 

I have a habit of taking pictures of churches for my mom, so now I not only take a picture, but light a candle for Aviana too. 

When we went into this one, I realized I didn't have any cash to pay for a candle. Dave and Ash didn't either. I was going to make the long trek down the stairs and back to my dad. Ash thought that was crazy and said, "I don't believe in having to pay at church! Just light the candle for Aviana." I laughed because although I respect others wishes, I don't believe in paying either. When I hear my mom's words, "I bought so and so a prayer (or five)..." I don't think it sounds right, but think to each his or her own.

So on this day I didn't pay. I guess we made the decision to let the church donate a candle in honor of Aviana.

Next time I'll donate two, or four. 

"Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, 
she became a butterfly."

Yes she did.

You know the times you laugh so hard your cheeks hurt? This was one. 

I took my picture first and couldn't stop laughing. Then Dave was having trouble with his kiosk, so I helped him. The machine spit this little beauty out. 

I put the two together and wondered... who in their right mind would let these two hood rats cross the border?

Best souvenir ever.


~ The hummingbirds need their very own post ~

Monday, May 18, 2015

Deep Thoughts By Jen Hodder

Running shakes and sifts. What's left? A whole lot of deep and not so deep thoughts.

Am I the only one who, more often than I care to admit, parks and gets halfway out of my car while it's still running? What does this mean? Have I not come as far as I thought in the patience department? Should I have kept this one to myself?

About a year and a half ago, I slowly weaned from half my headache medication. Although the medication helps, it hurts my thought process, writing, baking, studying, my inner and outer health, and more. I'm wondering when I'll be ready to taper the rest? Last time I had horrible daily headaches and nightmares, so I'm not looking forward to starting again. But my gosh, do I want off.

Some moments I'm this and this, but majority of the time I'm this. I never listened to the last song, or the radio, but soon after Aviana died, she sent this along at a time when I needed it the most. 

I've had a hard time staying focused since Aviana's been gone. I tend to bounce from one to the next. There are a couple things that hold my attention. One is PIE! I want to frame the word and place it in sparkly lights.

 Oh pie,
 Let me count the ways I love you...

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cream

She Wore a Raspberry Beret

One of Dave's all time favorites.
Cookie crust, a layer of chocolate, raspberry filling, topped with cream cheese.

Amy, Dave, and I made this one in the very beginning of our pie making days. I pulled the picture to check it out and laughed! We thought we'd made ourselves a masterpiece.

Dave wanted this again so we made it two months later. Better crust for two months time.

I now put the chocolate on the bottom so when we cut it, the chocolate doesn't crushes into the pie.

Live and learn... 

Sour Cream Lemon

Banana Cream

It was dark when it came time to take pictures of this baby. Too funny, my cousin and Dave were shining light down from their phones as I took the picture.

Triple Coconut Cream

in an almond cookie crust. 

It was my uncle's birthday. He and my aunt had been eating really well, so she didn't think he'd want any dessert. She decided to check, just in case. My uncle said, "I'll have one of her pies!"

He said any pie, but his first request was cherry. There wasn't one single fresh (or even frozen) cherry in the Tahoe area, and I'd just gotten back from Reno when I found out. So Coconut Cream it was. But since I couldn't make cherry, I had to think of a way to kick this up a notch. After all, this is my Uncle Roger

This was hands down probably one of the best pies we've ever made. Let's just say it was a no leftovers for the neighbors, pie for dessert and breakfast, kind of pie.

I suddenly feel like baking again!

Straight Rhubarb Pie

Our Copper friend, Todd, created a Rhubarb monster out of us! We're kindred spirits, he and I. I wait all year and when I see those long celery looking stalks, I calmly on the outside, but clawing on the inside cross the store and bag those beet red babes. 

Dave had a lapse of judgment. He asked, "Are we going to add strawberries?" I almost choked on my words I was trying to get them out so fast, "What? Why? And mess up a good thing? Why would we taint such a perfect pie?"

I mean maybe some other day, maybe when we're experimenting, maybe when we're making two see what this strawberry is all about
but not today.

I told my dad I was going to drop a piece by for him. He said, "I don't think I want that." I told him I was bringing it anyway. He took a one bite and said, "That's really good! I'd like a whole pie of that one."

Rhubarb, the most misunderstood pie... at first.
We were kind of leery too. 

- - -

 In the past, a couple people asked why I don't include recipes when I post pictures of pie. It's because I post so many at one time and wasn't sure if anyone wanted the recipes since this is another kind of blog. If ever there's a pie you want the recipe for, I'd be happy to come up with it and post it on here. 

- - -

Speaking of focus, I've finally kind of narrowed in. Amongst other things, I'm going to substitute teach. That is, once I pass the cbest. I failed it a couple months ago. From the beginning, my friend Sara suggested I split it up. I didn't get the full meaning of what she was saying. I finally got it. So I took the math last week, and passed. I have the reading and writing sections on Thursday. 

My friend Jen got me hooked on essential oils! I'm in the beginning stages, but can't stop! Dave had a sore throat, so I grabbed all my little bottles out, "Inhale this, gargle this, roll this here, done! Do you feel better?" I walk around smelling like some made up concoction of something, for something. Are they working? I'm not really sure yet. I've been making sugar/salt scrubs and bath salts with them too. And when it's time for bed, there's always something diffusing the night away. Do you use them? What are your favorites? Can you tell if they're working?

Out of nowhere, these books popped into my head on my run. 

Do you remember them? It's crazy how our brains store and randomly pull information.

In a way, I shut down after coming to Tahoe. Creating a life has taken more time and energy than I imagined. I've mostly kept to myself, because I haven't had enough to give. I was feeling kind of bad because all our friends and family have been really supportive. While trying to maintain, I definitely slipped, but the great thing about people who care about you is—they don't mind, they love you no matter. I had a head change on a recent trip to Costa Rica though. Although I'm still trying to figure things out, I feel better about the direction I'm heading. 

So much has been on hold because of these tests! I can't wait to see Pitch Perfect 2 and Aloha. Since moving back, my dad and I go to the movies together. To see a movie we go to Reno, which is about 45 minutes away. My dad hadn't been to a movie in years! It's fun to watch him gather his popcorn, drink, and talk to everyone about how much it used to cost to see a movie and how they were an all day event (of which he and his friends never made it through because they'd get kicked out). So when this is over, I'm going to grab him and catch up!

What are your deep and not so deep thoughts?