Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Nine years ago today....

....Iain and I went on our very first date. 
It was a blind date. We were set up by friends and had been talking on the phone for a few weeks before our schedules allowed for an in-person meeting.  The phone conversations were so much fun before we met (and after too.) They became fairly regular and came precisely at 8:50pm each night.  I had evening commitments with my youth ministry job and would get so tickled to come home to that dependable call. (I should have recognized the foreshadowing of what it would be like to be married to an engineer.)  He played it so cool -- but I could tell he was excited to talk to me too. 

The night of our big date, I happened to be house-sitting for one of our matchmaker friends, Belinda.  The doorbell rang and I casually sauntered to the door to greet him.  Cute.  Shorter than I imagined, but cute. I do remember he was wearing black boots.  Deep in the August heat and he wore boots.  I later found out that it gave him a little extra height. Ha.

I expected there to be awkwardness.  There wasn't.  It was like seeing an old friend who I'd really missed.  We chit-chatted for a bit and then made our way to his car.  Nice car. Clean too! And best of all he opened my car door....every single time I got in.  My friends all said that wouldn't last.  They were wrong.  He opened my door for me every time for nine years. He was a gentleman, indeed ~ as well as a gentle man.

He took me to eat at Italian Villa, which was a lovely upscale, cozy restaurant. And Italian!  How could he go wrong taking a Tartamella to an Italian restaurant.  Smart man.  When we walked into the restaurant, the Maitre D greeted me with, "Hey Maria!"  It was one of my former students.  I introduced him to Iain as he brought us to our table and lit our candle.  "Your waiter will be with you in a moment."

As the waiter made his way to our table he made eye contact with me. Once again, "Hey Maria!"  This guy was a family friend with whom I went to grade school.  After we chatted and placed our orders, Iain looked at me and said, "Are you running for mayor or something?" 

"Yeah. I kinda know a lot of people."  Little did he know just how many. I think the 500+ people at our wedding might have clued him in.  But he knew a lot of folks too.  And strangely we knew a lot of the same people - who once they saw us together invariably would say, "Why didn't WE think of setting y'all up! Y'all are the perfect match."  We were.  But that truth unfolded with time.

After our lovely dinner and great conversation, he asked if I'd like to go for a walk at the Civic Center.  We strolled along the boardwalk as the sun set and continued our wonderful conversations.  Getting to know him was effortless, delightful and exciting.  He took me back to the house where I was sitting, gave me a great hug and made a date for the next Monday, which was Labor Day.  After that, there was no turning back.  He won my heart.  He still has it.

* * * * * * * * * * *
And ANOTHER anniversary today has to do with our sweet daughter.  Today is the 3rd anniversary of Gianna's Baptism.  What a memorable day THAT was!!!  Iain's parents came in to meet Gianna and celebrate her baptism and arrived just in time to hear that there was a Hurricane Warning for SW Louisiana.  Yep.  That was Hurricane Gustave.  We didn't know what to do about the Christening plans since there was an evacuation plan in place and the storm was schedule to hit in two days.  Iain was being summoned to work later that afternoon to get locked in the plant and thank heavens he managed to schedule his parents flight out the next morning.

We went on with the baptism as planned and it was just surprisingly well attended. Three priests and about 40 people came to bless this long awaited baby. It was a beautiful and special ceremony that we felt so blessed to enjoy (even though we were exhausted from staying up the night before as we packed to evacuate a newborn, her momma and their dog.)  Things have never unfolded simply for our family.  EVER! 

Leaving Iain behind that day was one of the most mournful days of my marriage.  I was scared to death to drive to Arkansas by myself with my 8 week old and not know if I'd have a house or husband to come home to.  I sobbed as I drove all the way to Shreveport that night. It was the first time we were separated as a family during a time of crisis. Those feelings are very familiar to me now.

Happy Baptism Day, sweet Gianna! Mommy AND Daddy love you more than you will know.
Can you see her dimpled smile in the picture!
Joy of Jesus!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

How do I even begin?

I've written about 17 posts (in my head in the middle of the night as I stare at the ceiling), but all my thoughts seems too raw or too trite.  I have so much I want to say - but I don't even know where to begin. This is my weak attempt at a beginning.

I cannot believe this is my life.  I cannot believe it's been two weeks since my husband died. (I cannot believe I just typed that sentence!)  It's the first time in nine years that I have gone more than a day without speaking to him.  Surreal is the only word I can come up with that describes my state of being and it seems so inadequate. 

I began this blog almost three years ago to document the 'ordinary and extraordinary moments of our lives.' I have, with few exceptions, blogged primarily for myself and my little family. The bonus was that people we knew (and some I met through the blogospher) could keep up with us.  I've used this blog to share pictures, stories, antecdotes, philosophies, ideas, recipes, videos, and well, just life.

Life has now changed.  I have such a need to be real and to share this experience of loss and tragedy in our lives and how it relates to my spiritual journey and my child.  I also have a need to blog about the regular, vanilla events that become woven into the fabric of our lives.  I want to continue to gush about our beautiful daughter and share all the joys and challenges of parenting her.  I want to share my pain and my questions and my heart.  I want to post crockpot recipes and craft ideas.  Does that all belong in the same place?  Who knows.  It will belong in this place. I have no idea what direction this blog will take...but I need to be authentic and continue to blog primarily for myself and my little family.

I know people are wanting to know how we are.  I'll begin be saying that we are surviving. We are functioning with relative normalcy (which is astounding to me) and at the same time we are just dipping our toes in this vast ocean called grief.  I'm fairly certain we're still numb - which is a little disconcerting and a little bit of a relief at the same time. As time passes and reality sets in -- I'm sure the intensity of our grief will increase.  I try not to think of that too often because I'm acutely aware that I am only able to handle what today brings:  "our daily bread."

Someone asked if there are good days and bad days.  For me, the answer is "no." Not now, anyway.  Everyday there is joy and laughter (thank you God for the radiant light of Gianna!). Every day there is intense sadness.  Every day there is peace.  Every day there is discontent and restlessness.  Every day there is hope. Every day there are fears. Every day there are unexpected meltdowns (from both of us.) As you can tell, my days are full --- and empty at the same time.  What a bizarre place to be.  I will tell you this:  we are riding on the wings of prayer and love and amazing support.  Our lives are forever changed...but they are not over.

Please be patient with me.  Please be understanding and accepting of my unique place in life.  Please remind me to do the same. Please cover us in prayer. Please.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Iain Fitzgerald Lewis, 40, of Moss Bluff, LA passed away from this life Saturday, August 13, 2011 in his residence.
Iain was born in Jinotepe, Nicaragua on April 5, 1971.  He moved to the United States with his family in 1978 and lived in Florida , Colorado and Kansas until he graduated from North West High School in Wichita, Kansas .  He began college at the University of Kansas and achieved his chemical engineering degree in only 3 and a half years.

After working in Houston for a short time he made his way to Lake Charles , LA where he had a long career at BioLab, Inc.  For the last five years he has been a devoted and revered employee at PPG.
Those left to cherish his memory are his beloved wife of seven years, Maria Tartamella Lewis and his beautiful three year old daughter, Gianna Elyse Lewis of Moss Bluff; his parents, Dr. Soledad and Dr. Gerald Lewis of Bonner Springs, KS; a sister, Geraldine Lewis and Anthony Salvato of Bonner Springs, KS; two brothers, Dr. Robert Lewis and his wife Angelique of Tampa, FL and Gerald Lewis, Jr. and wife Lesbia of Jinotepe, Nicaragua; a niece, Madeleine Lewis of Tampa, FL; two nephews, Stephen Lewis of Bonner Springs, KS and Duilio Lewis of Jinotepe, Nicaragua; mother and father-in-law, Angel and Frank Tartamella of Lake Charles; and a brother-in-law, Vinnie Tartamella of Lake Charles.
Iain will be remembered for his brilliant mind, kind nature, gentle spirit, loyal friendships, hilarious sense of humor, encouraging words, strong devotion to his family and his deep love for his wife and daughter.  His memory will be cherished and his presence will be missed beyond measure.
A funeral mass will be held at 11:00 AM on Thursday, August 18, 2011 in Our Lady Queen of Heaven Catholic Church.  Monsignor Daniel Torres will officiate.  Fr. Wayne LeBleu, Fr. Whitney Miller, and Monsignor Charles Dubois will concelebrate.  Burial will be in Consolata Cemetery under the direction of Johnson Funeral Home.  Visitation will be held on Wednesday from 11:00 AM until 9:00 PM.  A rosary will be held at 3:00 PM and a scripture service will be held at 7:00 PM.  Visitation will continue on Thursday from 8:00 AM until 10:45 AM.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Abrazando Cristo Mission Program to Nicaragua, 414 Iris St., Lake Charles, LA 70601; or to New Life Counseling, 631 E. School St., Lake Charles , LA 70607 .

Words of comfort to the family may be expressed at www.johnsonfuneralhome.net.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Funeral Arrangements

Just so you know, Gianna and I are doing remarkably well.  I'm sure shock and numbness are a blessing at times like this so we can function to do what we need to do. We are riding on the wings of your prayers.  There will be dark days ahead, but I assure you we will be okay. Being okay, walking in faith and embracing life is how we will honor Iain and his legacy of love.

  Thank you for all your kind words of support, prayer and love.  I think my Facebook account might just explode! I'm humbled and overwhelmed. Please keep the prayers coming for us....Iain, Gianna and I and our families and friends who's daily lives will be forever changed.

These are the funeral arrangements for Iain:

Wednesday, August 17th:  Johnson's Funeral Home (Lake Street in Lake Charles)  
11:00am - 9:00pm Visitation
3pm: Rosary
7pm: Scripture Service

Thursday, August 18th:
Visitation: 8:00-10:30am
Funeral:  Our Lady Queen of Heaven Catholic Church (Lake Street) - 11:00am
Recepetion at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Life Center following Burial at Consolota Cemetery

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Yesterday tragedy hit Lewis Land.
My precious husband and father of our sweet baby girl - died.
We are broken.
We beg for your prayers.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Counting by Fives

Since the last post was a bit of a downer...I figured I'd give you this little ditty to give you a bright start to your weekend.

We heard this Counting by Fives song on Pandora. (The Laurie Berkner channel has awesome kids music!)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

When life gives you lemons....

....then you may have to have a mini-meltdown, mutter inaudible choice words under your breath, whine and complaint a little bit, and throw yourself a pity party before put your big girl panties on...
...and then make lemonade.

* * * * * * * *
Our latest batch of lemons are of the real estate variety.
You may remember we listed our house for sale in the Spring.
Twenty couples went through our house and 93 days into the process - we got an offer!
We were beyond thrilled since keeping the house 'show ready' with Hurricane Gianna was beginning to take a toll.  The buyers were solid and wanted a closing 45 after we negotiated a contract instead of the customary 30 days.  That was awesome for us since we wanted a little time to secure a house in LC.  We found one quickly - perfect for our family and beyond our expectations.  It was in a precious neighborhood on a cul-du-sac with only one other house (only two houses on the street.)  Everything seemed to be falling into place - and our big confirmation was that the name of our street was our last name.  We just knew that was a sign.

So inspections were done on both homes, appraisals were complete, and all the hoops were jumped through.
Closing date on both homes was set for August 10th.
That's today.
It didn't happen.
Neither of them.

Two weeks ago we had a hard time getting exact information on the closing of our home.  The buyer's lender wasn't returning calls to the buyer, his agent or our agent. We were concerned, but not worried since we heard that many of the big lending companies sometimes drag their feet.  The buyer was furious with his lender and pulled his profile and said he'd be getting another lender.
It all went downhill from there.
Ten days ago, we got a call from our realtor (and good friend) to tell us that the deal fell through.  The mortgage company denied financing (they had already given them an approval letter) and his government job was in jeopardy due to budget cuts (so he says.)

So, not only did we lose the sale of our house - but the new house in LC was contingent on the sale of our home.  We were sick.  All three families had packed up their homes.  We have been hauling boxes to a storage unit in LC for weeks.  About 80% of our belongings are in storage.
(Gianna keeps telling people, "You wanna come to our house?  IT'S EMPTY!!!!")
We felt so terrible for the people whose house we would be buying.  Even though we weren't directly responsible for the breakdown of the deal - we knew how horrible it would be for them.

We still had the hope that maybe we'd quickly get a buyer so we could purchase the awesome house we loved -- but today we learned that there is a new offer on that house. So, here we sit....in an empty house, back at square one, having missed almost six weeks of showing our home during prime buying time and now having to start from scratch. UGH!!!!!

For us, it felt like being left at the altar.  Oh, it could have been MUCH worse and we are very aware that these are definitely first world whinings. We are blessed to have a home as nice as we do, our health and our family.

Interestingly, we just went through a similar upset in our adoption journey.  I haven't even wanted to blog about that, because I haven't fully processed it all.  The thumbnail version is that back in April we were told we were chosen by a birthmother.  We were thrilled to learn that the baby would be born four weeks later.  We told no one ~ not even our parents.  We decided that we would tell people as soon as we met with the birthmom.  Two weeks later, Iain took off work so we could travel to a neighboring city and meet our birthmother for the first time.  As we got ready to get in the car, my phone rang and I heard the regretful tone of our social worker's voice.
"I'm so sorry, the birthmother changed her mind."
It was a kick in the gut.

Part of the negative is having to prepare Gianna for possible big changes in our lives, get her psyched, and then completely change gears.  She is such a trooper! She is playing with TWO toys since everything else is in storage.  And she continues to pray for 'Ms. Karen to sell our house' and 'for God to send us a baby brother and a baby sister." (She says 'and' - I say 'or'!!!)

So, we're in limbo - not just in the adoption arena, but in real estate as well.
We really do have faith in a bigger plan that we cannot see.  We really do have faith that God has not forgotten us and that He has our best interests at heart.  Even though we are not quite so sure what these events are supposed to be teaching us - we do believe that we are called to be faithful - regardless of our understanding of God's Plan (or lack thereof.)
We are praying that we will handle this challenge with positivity and grace and that we can trust in God's bigger plan.

Sooo....I've got my big girl panties on, but I'm still a little whiny when we are
reminded of all the ways this event has inconvenienced our lives.  We do know this is small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. Twenty years down the road, this will just be a "remember when..."  But for now, it stinks.  We feel much better than we did last week when it all happened. Maybe for my next pity party, I'll be able to serve lemonade.
This is certainly not the end of the story.
I look forward to watching God's plan unfold....
maybe while drinking a glass of lemonade. :)

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Swim Lessons

It's been a crazy busy summer and I finally made time to squeeze swimming lessons into our schedule.  
I'm not sure who was more nervous....Gianna or me. Our summer has been full of challenges and new concerns with our three year old - so I had no idea what to expect.

We figured private lessons might be more effective for her, so I registered her and found out her instructor would be a man. That gave me a little concern because lately she has been very shy with men - even men that she knows well.
Gianna has become much less willing to try things in the pool this year.  Last year she'd jump off the edge and go under - this year, she wasn't having it.  But alas, God sent the perfect swim teacher for her....CJ.
How cute is he? (I didn't want to know how old he was because I'm pretty sure I'm old enough to be his mother.)
He was incredible with her.
She was HILARIOUS with him.
She talked the whole time.
He laughed the whole time.

He'd ask her to put her head under water and she'd say, "Nah, that's okay." or "But, I'm just a little kid!"  or "How 'bout you put your head under?" (After which she'd offer to give him gummy treats for a job well done.)
He said she was the most fun lesson he'd had all summer.
She really was pretty fun - and funny. And I was relieved, because you just never know which way these things can go.  (I'm crossing my fingers about upcoming ballet lessons - where she'll have an audience for her antics.)

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Jelly Book - volume 7

I keep a "JELLY BOOK" of some of the entertaining things that Gianna says and does.
Here's my latest entry...

Spring/Summer 2011

* * * * *
Gianna often wants to know if random people are happy. Usually she asks us right after she gets into trouble.  When we went to Florida we were driving to her uncle's house:
G: "Is Uncle Robert happy?"
Me:  Oh, I bet he's in heaven right now. (Referring to him having his whole family visiting him.)
G: Uncle Robert died?

* * * * *
Me:  Gianna, why are you blinking so much?
G:  Well, I think my allergies are trying to come out.

* * * * *

G:  No, Mommy - not in the sun!  I want to live in the dark shade.

* * * * *
At a children's concert talking about the song, "Whatcha want to be when you grow up?"

Me:  What do YOU want to be Gianna? (She usually says doctor of fireman.)
G:  Frweee.
Me:  You just turned three, Gianna.
G: Oh. Then Frwee and a half.

* * * * *

Prior to that same concert, I'd asked G several times what she wanted to be when she grew up.
Consistantly her answer was, "A boy."
Well, I did tell her she could be anything she wanted. (Gosh, I sure hope I'm not going to be in the same support group as Cher!)

* * * * *
G:  Mommy, come with me. Quick!
Me: What's wrong, Gianna.
G:  Jesus, is on the ceiling. Come look!
My curiosity piqued, I quickly followed her.
G:  Look Mommy, he's up there!
(Pointing to the crucifix above the door.)
G: You see him?  He rose from the dead!!!!

* * * * *
During nighttime prayer:
Me:  Is there anything you're are thankful for tonight?
G:  Black.
Me:  Umm..... Black? You want to tell me more about that?
G:  Yes...I am thankful for black choc-o-late.  When I'm four could you make me a choc-o-late cake?  I like the white cake, but I LOVE choc-o-late cake!

* * * * *
Another night during prayer:
G:  ...God bless Sophia, baby Joseph, and Ms. Nichole...(smiles)...Rock and Roll, Ms. Nichole.....(proud grin)....that rhymes!

* * * * *
After a a good ten minutes of her attempt to fight her nap, I entered her room only to find her out of bed (which she rarely tries) and playing with her dollhouse. 
"Gianna?!" I said sternly.
"Oh, hi Mommy, I had a lovely sleep!" 
Nice try, dumpling.

* * * * *
As I was driving (about 35mph) after being stopped at a traffic light for several minutes Gianna said in a very concerned voice:
"Woa! Mommy. What are you doing? Why are you going so fast?  Gentle, Mommy, Gentle!"

* * * * *
Gianna's not sick very often, but every now and then after she cries (new pastime) she complains,
"Oh no, Mommy! Now I'm all 'snuffy!'"

* * * * *
Gianna was crying after she had gotten scolded and said,
"Oh NO! I can't see."
I started getting concerned and asked, "Gianna, why can't you see?"
"Because of the drips in my eyes."

* * * * *
One day we stopped for a train on our way home.  As we watched it pass, Gianna asked me,
"Hey Mommy, Is that train going west?"
(Not left, but WEST.   I actually had to see where the sun was setting to figure out that the train was indeed traveling westward.  Geez!)

* * * * *
I can count on my right hand how many times I've had to wake Gianna up in the morning.
Last week was one of those times.
She was so groggy and could barely open her eyes.
Me:  Wake up, Sleepyhead, we have to go to swimming lessons and the funeral home.
Gianna (barely able to lift her head):  Ummm....maybe Saturday.
Me: (laughing) No, not Saturday, today.
Gianna:  Or how 'bout Christmas?

* * * * *
Lately, we've had a lot of family friends who have passed away.  I'm pretty impressed by her understanding of the difficult concept.

G:  Mommy, George died? 
Me:  Yes Gianna, he did.
G:  George went to heaven?
Me:  Yes Gianna, that's right.
G:  Mommy, we're all going to die.
Me: Well, eventually - yes.
G:  But Mommy, I don't want to die yet.
Me:  Me neither, Gianna.  Let's wait.

* * * * *
I gave Gianna some frosted mini wheats for a morning snack.
About 20 minutes later she came up to me,
G:  Mommy, can I have something to eat?
Me:  Gianna, I just gave you mini wheats that you didn't eat.
G:  But Mommy, I DID eat them.
Me:  Gianna, the bowl is full.
G:  Yeah, but I only ate the 'cream'.

* * * * *
Another time she did the same thing with pretzels....licked the salt off, left the pretzels.

* * * * *
Soaking wet after playing on the Slip-n-Slide, Gianna says,
"Mommy, can I go on the swing?
Not wanting to stay outside, I replied,
"Well, Gianna you're all wet.  It'll be very slippery."
Gianna's response:
"So, Mommy.....how bout you put me in the swing.....and then if I'm too wet and slippery, THEN we can go inside."
Who's going to say no to that logic?

* * * * *
On the swing:
"Hey Mommy, wanna push me Super Pie?''

* * * * *

G:  Oh no. It's brokeeen.
 (I love the way she says broken and rarely correct her.)

* ** * *
My dad was recently in the hospital and on our way to visit him we spoke with a hospital worker emptying out a trashcan in the hallway.
G:  And what is YOUR name?
Worker:  I'm Carmen.  What is your name?
G:  I'm Gianna.  What are you doing Carmen?
Worker:  I work here.
G:  Oh, good.  My PePaw is here and he's sick.  Can you make him better?


* * * * *
The first day of swim lessons, the precious instructor tried and tried to get G to put her head under water.  Finally, she looked at him, tilted her head and said,
"Mr. CJ, I'm just a little kid!"

* * * * *
We had a large packing box that Gianna turned on it's side and turned into a rocket.
We just read a book from the library called Mail Harry to the Moon (so cute) and she asked me if I could send her to the moon in her rocket.
Every time she got in the box I'd begin the countdown....
Five, four, three, two, one....
The door (lid) would fly open and Gianna would have a panicked expression and
say, "Ummm....Mommy, can you come to the moon with me?"
Me:  Oh Gianna, I can't today.  I have to cook supper.
G:  Well, can Max come with me?
Me:  No, silly. Max is a dog.  He can't go to the moon.
You'll be okay.  Ready?  Five, four, three, two, one.....
G: NOOO.  I don't want to go to the moon!
Me:  But I thought you wanted to go?
G:  Yeah...but I'm just a little nervous.
Me:  Really? Why?
G:  Mommy? Is this for pretend?

* * * * *

I love my Jelly Book Girl!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Party time....

Well, almost a month later - I'm finally posting about Gianna's birthday party.

The theme was - use whatever you have around the house to throw a 3 year old party.....starting with the invitations.

The theme was Cupcakes...if that is even considered a theme.
I found these cupcake placemats for 96 cents at Pier One in November. I knew I'd figure some way to use them.  (I cut the letters out of felt that I already had....didn't even have to glue them!)
She was given a fancy party had for her first birthday, I've uncovered it and re-covered it each year.
Simple spread...just had hotdots and cupcakes. (Chips and dips too.)
I wasn't sure if just cupcakes would suffice, so I finally got to use my giant cupcake mold and put the humungo cupcake on top of a cake.
Little friends (and big ones too) made for a fun time.
Lovin' from Nanny Jeanne and Uncle Alan...
Our PRECIOUS godchild, Nate...
Precious indeed!
The gifts were awesome! And SO appreciated.
My family was in Florida for the funeral of a close family friend of ours, but Uncle Vinnie gave Gianna an awesome gift....
And right before we were getting ready to sing Happy Birthday, Gianna got the BEST gift!  MeMaw and PePaw caught an earlier flight and made it just in time to celebrate with us!
(I was TERRIBLE with my camera on party day.  I missed so many shots and so many people.)

* * * * *
And Mommy schemed up an idea for she and Daddy to give to their big three year old.
Daddy even built it himself!

(She's been holding concerts ever since she got her karaoke machine at Christmas.)

The stage was a hit.
The party was a success.
And the momma was tired.
And as happy as I am to celebrate my child, I'm SO glad we have another 11 months to think about another party. :)
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