Thursday, December 24, 2015

Hello 2016!

For some reason I can't believe that I'm already writing to close out 2015. 

What a year. Oh my. 

My kiddos turned 3, 2, & 1, we lost and rebuilt a business, and we are expecting our 4th little Souza next June! 

I am sad to say that I didn't get to much of my reading list, but I think it's understandable. Maybe next year. 😊

2015 was a struggle on just about every front imaginable. I felt like I was trying to balance myself on a rolling ball, where every move I made was purely trying to keep my feet under me until the motion finally stopped and I could get my bearings. 

It would be very easy to look back on this year and remember it only for it's hardships. Incredibly enough, all of that seems almost like a dream to me, and what comes to focus in my mind is all the blessings that have been born out of the hard times. They are truly too many to name. Most are little things that no one sees, changes seated in my heart that seem so small, but that I know will forever impact the way I walk through life. :) 

2016 will be an adventure in itself. I can say that with confidence because how could becoming a family of 6 not be an adventure?? I will try to post an update periodically, but as I was finding this year, life's demands typically over ride my time/energy/desire for writing on the blog. 

So cheers to all of you, family and friends. May the new year hold more wonderful things for you than you can imagine, and more blessings for you than you can count!

Best wishes. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

In The Mean Time...

Well, it's been 2 months since the fire happened (I can hardly believe it), and while we have been full on charging ahead to get our new studio off the ground, life as usual has still been going strong. So I thought I might need to update everyone on how things are with the fam!

The biggest thing that has happened is the midst of all this was another trip to UCSF for Milo in mid February. This time when we went we got to visit the new children's hospital at Mission Bay. It is a beautiful facility... state of the art. I've never been anywhere quite like it. But me being me, I honestly enjoy the more worn in feeling of the Parnassus campus over the "new cool" of this building. That being said, I'm sure Mission bay will grow on me. It's kind of like having a new pair of shoes that need to be broken in before they feel comfortable. 

This is a panoramic of the waiting area for Peds Urology. We also met another family from Back home while we were there!

Mr. Milo (ever social) made a new friend while we were waiting. He played with baby Lena for at least half an hour :)

Mommy & Milo waiting in the exam room. 

Our visits with the doctors this time were very encouraging! Dr. Copp showed us that his ureters looked much less swollen (so much less that Aaron and I couldn't see them on the ultrasound, which was shocking in a good way). Dr. Brakeman also had fantastic news for us... Milo's kidney function was at 95%! Three months ago he only had 50% so this is nothing short of a miracle. We are so thankful that God is healing our son! <3
We will see if his numbers stay the same at our next visit (we were told that they could change as he grows), but we are very excited nonetheless. 

At the end of that week, Aaron, Milo and I attended the Fortuna Strong benefit for the businesses affected by the fire. 

It's always nice to have a reason to dress up, but of course we have to keep it real with the kid toys scattered everywhere ;)

(Photo courtesy of Nick Prete via Twitter)

The benefit was a big success and I'm really proud of our community's response to the needs of those who experienced such a great loss. Thank you everyone who made this event happen, you guys are incredible. 

Another highlight from the past month was a visit from Uncle August & Auntie Tori. It's always good to have them come up for a visit. :)

...and otherwise we are almost back to our regularly scheduled program, a.k.a. Life as we know it. 

I can't finish an update without letting everyone know that we have signed a lease on a new building for Aaron's studio. North Coast Music is relocating to the Parkside Professional Building in Fortuna. We are currently in the process of renovating the space, but our plan is to have him start teaching there in the third week of April. Exciting!!! :)

I have been documenting everything, so I promise a post showing the process when all is said & done. We will be having an open house soon for friends, family, and students as well. 

Thanks for checking in on us Souzas. That's it 'til next time!! <3

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Getting Through It.

"Dang it!" I mutter as I turn for a third time into a new row of cars in the packed Costco parking lot. I've been circling for what seems like forever trying to find a spot that's not in the back forty. All the while the baby in the back is shrieking like a tea kettle about to boil over. 

Frustrated and half crazy from auditory overload, I stop the car and wait to see if anyone moves. After a minute long eternity passes, I finally see Mr. Red Toyota Camry slide into his car, hotdog in hand, and reverse out of his spot. Before he even got in the car my blinker was on. I pull forward into the spot which is thankfully close to the entrance and look over to see people pouring in and out of the building like ants at a picnic. "Great"' I say out loud, "looks like Saturday afternoon wasn't a very good choice for grocery shopping." Milo screams in agreement. I slam on the parking brake and pull off my shades. "Well", I snort, "I'm just gonna just get through it. It's just like anything else these days."

Twenty minutes later finds me and my happily fed-and-burped baby rolling through the aisles again, this time inside the store. I look at my list and push down a light wave of anxiety as I am crammed into the main corridor with a countless number of my fellow Saturday shoppers. "You can do this" I tell myself "Keep swimming, you just need to get through this."

Did I just think that again? I wonder to myself, suddenly shocked as I register my state of mind. I examine the thought again, "I'll just get through it", and am even more startled at how familiar a mind set it really is. 

My heart is experiencing a deer in the head lights moment. Somewhere in the last month since the fire this mantra has quietly crept into my everyday existence. Now it is running amok in the back of my thoughts without me even realizing it. I grab a tub of animal cookies and hurry on. 

"I'll get through it." Such a subtle, invasive, and fortified thought that still has me reeling at it's ease of adoption as my attitude towards life. It's not surprising that I didn't notice that it had come to roost, after all this has probably been one of the hardest months of my life. We've been dealing with the gravity of our loss and the push to start again from an almost blank slate, all the while trying to maintain an already full life with three tiny kids. It's totally normal to feel like this... right? 
Well, then why does the thought bother me so badly?

I'm so lost in my thoughts that the noise makes me jump. In a split second I regain my composure and realize that the raspy dinosaur-like squeak just came from my son who is beaming up at me from his seat in the cart. He started this new game about a week ago, and it is admittedly pretty cute. 

"You are so sweet!" I say, leaning in for an Eskimo kiss. "Did you just need some Mama smiles?"

And that's when it hits me, with a quiet crushing force that threatens to break me apart right there in the cheese aisle. This is the reason why "getting through it" unsettles me. While I have been busy charging through life with my iron clad will and well armored heart, I have been leaving the simple joys of everyday life in the dust of my campaign. 

It is a tragic realization. How many of these beautiful smiles have I missed? How many gentle nudges for attention coming from my children have I disregarded in the past month? Who else have I shut out or mown down in my quest to get to the other side of this, whatever the other side is?

The scope of of these thoughts is so big that I can't begin to get my mind around them. Thankfully in a moment that could have felt so devastating, I received encouragement instead. In the depths of my soul I felt a warm reassurance. 

"Allisen, it's OK. You are OK. Just breathe. You are doing fine, just slow down and open your eyes."

And in that moment that's just what I did. I opened my eyes. I saw my beautiful baby, my cart filled with groceries, and remembered for the first time in quite a little while that life is something to be savored, not just survived. 
So Milo and I sat and sqwaked at each other in front of the eggs while people smiled but secretly scorned me for blocking the way to the sample cart. I was obliviously happy. I could feel the heavy armor on my heart falling away, and I was once again free to enjoy all that I have been given on this journey; the good, the bad, and the all the stuff in between. 

All the things that I was steeling myself against have not gone away. Driving home from the store I look out my window and see the charred ashes of all we lost, an open grave on Main Street in Fortuna. I check the mail and see notices and statements seeking decisions from a business that is still in limbo. I step inside my house and am greeted by the prolific pile of dishes that winks at me from beside the sink. 

But as I look around my little house, scattered with bits and pieces of a life that I cannot keep up on, I am reminded once again about the importance of being present in the moment, even when life is painful. It feels very raw sometimes, but there are so many little things that I do not want to miss. Life will be peppered difficulties of varying degrees. I know that I will need to remember what I am learning right now all along the journey, not just in this one season. Learning to savor even the hard things is what makes life sweet. 

I start to unpack my groceries and I look down once again at my baby who is sitting on the floor. I smile with the thought of how full life is and how overwhelming it can be. "Its ok", I tell myself this time "you can do this. Just open your eyes and breathe."

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Beauty in the Ashes.

On January 28, 2015 the historic Star Hotel building on Main Street in Fortuna, CA was destroyed by fire. Our business, North Coast Music, was one of the five businesses lost in the flames. This is our story about this devastating event. 

Well, my prediction that 2015 will be a big year for our family is off to a pretty radical start. 

This morning while making our morning coffee Aaron got the kind of text message that  everyone hopes they will never get. "Allisen" he said, waking me up at 6 am "I'm getting in the shower and going down to work. The building is on fire, but it's on the side where the pharmacy is. It doesn't sound like it's that bad. I'm just going to go down and get my guitar, I'll be right back. Don't drink all the coffee, I'm coming back for my last cup."

By the time my well intentioned hubby returned home, that coffee was ice cold. Turns out the fire was a lot worse than he had anticipated. 

When he was not home an hour later I called to check in on how he was doing. When he answered the phone I could hear the adrenaline driven fervor in his voice. "They can't get it out. They're going to douse the whole thing. I got the guitars out, and I told them to get the computer. It's really bad down here. I'll try and get home soon as I can."

In that moment it was clear in my mind that we were going to lose everything. This was a self employed small business owner's nightmare. My poor husband was downtown standing on a sidewalk watching much of what he has worked for disappearing in a literal cloud of smoke. I felt strangely divided within myself; between a calm peace where I knew that things would be fine and a deep and delicate stress where any variable might destroy me. I decided that keeping things as normal as possible would be best for the kids and I. I prayed that God would give Aaron and I strength to get through the day, and then I started in on making breakfast. 

The morning was a blur of phone calls, text messages, and Aaron in and out for toast & eggs. The kids sensed that something was up, so right before lunch we decided to pack them in the car and take them down to say goodbye to Daddy's studio. 

It was pretty surreal to watch the fire crews working and knowing that it was our place they were trying to save. When we explained what was happening to Norah, she burst into tears. I don't think Elliot got it at all. When he finally realizes what all the "helper guys" were doing he will be devastated.

I had a serious debate over whether to take the kids down to see the building. Aaron and I both finally agreed that it would make more sense to the kids to see why they can't go to Dad's studio anymore. They love to go there and have special time with daddy; playing, dancing and making music. 

When we were back at the car and buckling the kids in to go home, Norah said "Mom, I feel really sad." Looking at her dispondant little face made my heart wilt in my chest. 
"I feel really sad too Norah." I said, "But you know what? I also feel ok because I know that The Lord will provide for us and Daddy will get a new place to make a new "Daddy's work". This is an unexpected adventure.  Something new is coming, but we don't know what."

It took saying those words out loud to actualize in my mind what my heart already fully believed. "I know it's going to be ok... The Lord will provide for us."

As we pulled into our garage Norah suddenly shouted from the back seat "Daddy! I have a plan! I'm going to make you a new Daddy's work! You can work at home in my bedroom. I have a big chair!" The second she was in the house she went straight to work setting up a space for Dad. She also decided to color a picture for our "neighbor" Dakota who also lost so much in the fire. 

I was deeply touched as I watched my little person freely outpouring love to someone she knew needed comfort. She knew it because she desperately needed it herself. In her own way my three year old now has a real understanding of heartbreak and the needs of others in difficult times. 

By the end of the afternoon they had the fire out. Save 4 guitars, a computer, and a handful of cymbals, there is nothing left of North Coast Music. Between fire smoke and water, we lost it all. 

    (Photo courtesy of Bob Natt)

We have an insurance policy, but it will not give us back everything, and certainly we can never recover the countless hours and precious energy that we have poured into this space. 

However, in the ashes of this chapter of our lives I see beautiful things, and those beautiful things are the people. Just as my sweet daughter poured out her heart with her crayons at our kitchen table, our incredible community has come forward with abundant support and love for our family as we navigate this catastrophe. We immediately had an offer for a temporary teaching space from a neighboring business owner. Our friends have brought us dinner, office supplies and loaner music gear. Countless people are praying for us. And even more beautiful to me still is seeing that Aaron Souza is North Coast Music. He is the heart and pulse of our business. Wherever he goes, his love for teaching and fond affections for his students will be there. He is NCM, not a building or the instruments we put in it. I am so proud of him for being so positive and moving forward with his students without hesitation or looking back. 

Rebuilding what we had will be a process, and our next steps are uncertain. But I do know and believe, with all my heart, that what lies ahead will be just as incredible as what lies behind. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Hello 2015!

Happy New Year (A little late)! Does anyone else feel like 2015 will be a significant year? 
I have a special anticipation heading into this new year; some unnamed expectation in my heart for something new. I'm not quiet sure what it's about, but I feel excited none the less. 
Maybe we are headed into a new season or chapter of life for our family. Only God knows, but I get the sense that there is something fantastic in store for us Souzas. I feel like something inside me is itching to spring to life, and I am sure that it has to do with my family and God's plan for us. 

Anyhow, enough New Years jitters, here's something that's a little more concrete. 
Last year I planned out my reading list and made a picture of the pile. So this year I thought "Why not start a fun New Years tradition and do the same thing?"

So here it is, my reading list for 2015. 

The stack isn't big, but it's ambitious for someone with 3 little kids! 
Some of the titles are repeat reads for me, but they are great books. You can't really see all the titles in the pictures, so here they are in order of appearance:

1. The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian
2. Loving the Little Years by Rachel Janckovic
3. Glimpses of Grace by Gloria Furman
4. Harps Unhung by Eileen & Vicki Anderson

These are all books that I want to read/re-read for encouragement and perspective. #4 was written in part by my dear friend Vicki, so I'm excited to dive into her work a bit. 

5. Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
6. Farm City by Novella Carpenter
7. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
8. The Rosie Project by Gareme Simsion
9. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

These are my for fun reads. #8 was given to me by a friend while I was in the hospital. It's hilarious, but I never got to finish it. #9 is one of my all time favs. It's very well written & fits into all of my favorite literary genres. 

10. On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee
11. Healing With Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

Ok, so these are my big books and I don't really expect to finish them both this year, but I would like to start them. I am a self admitted food nerd, and if you needed any proof, well, these books are it. 

12. The Art of Zentangle by Walter Foster Publishing

This book is totally for fun! Learning the techniques for doing these meditative doodles will be a great constructive thing to do in any small moments of downtime I have in my busy life. 

This will be plenty to keep me busy this year. What about you? What do you plan to read this year? Anyone have a recommendation for a good mystery novel that's not too dark or gory? I'd love to get my hands on something good in that genre.