Categories
Book Reviews Featured

Live Big, Love Bigger

Cover of book, Live Big, Love Bigger

Kathryn Whitaker‘s new book, Live Big, Love Bigger hit shelves yesterday and I couldn’t put it down.

I’ve known Kathryn for probably nearly 15 years now—she was the graphic designer that created most of the paper printed for the University Catholic Center when I worked there. We became friends through her amazing design, my knack for untangling technical issues, and what became our common reality of a lot of kids under one roof.

Even though I know her, Scott, and the family, the book still contained many surprises. Kathryn, in a very real way, discusses her faith life and how, in particular, it was impacted by her fifth kiddo, Luke, who had a pretty crummy hand dealt to him in his early days resulting in premature birth, 40+ days in the NICU, and a litany of post-NICU specialists and surgeries over the last decade.

I gained another commonality with the Whitaker clan when our fourth and fifth kiddos, the twins, were premies and spent time in the NICU. Add on Olivia’s too-frequent hospitalizations for asthma and becoming more familiar with Dell Children’s Hospital than I ever wanted to be, there were a lot of aspects of the book that hit home.

Kathryn’s story with Luke and his medical needs absolutely blow my kiddos’ needs out of the water. Even though I can picture so much of what she describes from her NICU experience from my own and her words bring back a flood of memories, there was never any real mortal fear with our girls after the initial intake. But nevertheless, Kathryn shares her experience in a very real way that definitely led me to closing the book, taking a deep breath, wiping away a tear, then opening it up to keep going.

A returning theme in the book is how trying to maintain the perfect life is often what prevents us from living a perfectly real life. What impresses me with her telling is many of the things her family did in their quest to recenter themselves on things that matter is many of these things I’ve wanted to do myself but have been chicken. It sounds like a great idea to take a semester off from everything to reset, but actually doing so? Ha, I don’t think I would have thought it actually possible if I was being real with myself. But, if they can do it with six kids, well then, maybe so can I.

A small gem—the quotes on the chapter cover pages. The book’s forward was from another friend, Paulist Father Dave Dwyer, and the first three quotes were from Catholic religious figures, so I started to expect them all to be religious in nature. There were a couple that surprised me and reminded me that even the most faith-centered life is not exclusively religious—there is still the intersection with the secular world. And as an aside, one of the quotes is what is inscribed in my wedding band. Spoiler, it isn’t the quote from the BBQ Editor of Texas Monthly.

If you’re looking for a faith-centered but real account of how a family worked through difficulty, critically-sick kiddo, failing marriage, and able to come out stronger on the other side, this is a great read. Without getting too deep or going off into the weeds, the realness of her story makes it accessible.

Note: The links above are affiliate links. While I know the author, I purchased my copy off the virtual shelf like a regular Joe and Kathryn doesn’t know this post is being written, so I’m definitely not being paid or being given other considerations to write it.

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Categories
Current Events Featured Reflections

El Paso Shooting (and Dayton too)

Thankfully, we did not have any family or friends involved at the recent El Paso shooting, but far too many people are not able to say the same thing today. One family member was there no more than two hours before the shooting and there is no reason why she was spared while others were not.

I am glad and hopeful that President Trump called this senseless act of hatred what it is: racism and white supremacy.

The President, though, needs to do far more to make me believe that he meant it. He needs to do far more to make those who choose hate and for those that choose violence to believe him.

According to researching at the University of North Texas, counties where then-candidate Trump held campaign rallies in 2016 had a 226-percent increase of hate crimes compared to those that did not host a rally.

The President has consistently referred to the issues at our southern border “an invasion”. The cornerstone of his campaign has been to create fear of “the other”. His Twitter account is full of racially-charged derogatory nicknames. He laughs off when someone at a rally yelled that they should shoot people.

I hope that this is the time that enough is enough and that he will change his behavior—for our country but for his own soul—but I’m not going to hold my breath. Until that happens, I can only assume something from a teleprompter is what his aides thinks he should say and his Twitter account is what he actually wants to say.

Guns are complicated, to a degree. As a society, though, do we need weapons with the disruptive power freely available? The Dayton gunman had an 100-round drum—legal. He killed nine and injured 14 within 30 seconds when shooting on a street. Imagine if he started within the crowded bar he was walking toward? He didn’t have priors, though there were warning signs he had issues a decade ago, nothing that made into a system.

Even treating the 2nd Amendment like a Golden Calf, there are better ways to control guns.

I’ve read on Facebook people say that guns are only tools and we need to dig deeper to the root causes. I don’t disagree with that either—we can still look at the tools while going deeper. As a country, we have plenty of problems, but as long as President Trump uses the amazing power he has to stoke fear and excite those with extreme xenophobic and racist views, we’re going to continue to see more and more weekends like last weekend.

Categories
Featured Travel

I Don’t Think I’m Going To Go Anymore

Except, I do like my job. I’m just not going to go back for awhile.

I’ve been really lucky to work at a place that wants employees to be well-rounded people. Between reasonable work goals and unlimited vacation time (still got to get the work done), I’ve been able to be do good work without overworking.

But, there’s more to life than regular vacations. They offer some great paternity leave options and every five years, a three-month sabbatical to really unplug and recharge.

I’ve been at Automattic for nearly six years now, so time to take some time. I’m about to log out and I think I’m not going to go back to work. Well, not until September at least.

Have a wonderful summer! Details soon…

Categories
Church Featured Travel

Scala Santa ⛪️

On this Good Friday, I remember last Friday when I visited the Scala Santa in Rome.

It is said in the 4th century, Emperor Constantine’s mom, Helena traveled to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage to the sites of Jesus’ life.

Being the emperor’s mom and an empress herself, gave her a ton of access. There she founded some major churches (like the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem) and brought back a number of relics—including the stairs of the praetorium that Jesus climbed to be condemned by Pilate.

Placed in Rome as stairs to the Pope’s private chapel (because of course), they became a pilgrimage location where pilgrims would climb on the knees.

Hundreds of years ago, worried about wear, the original steps were covered in wood. Until now. The wood was removed for restoration work and they decided to leave it off and open them to the public until the end of the Easter season before adding the covering again.

By just pure luck, I was in Rome when they reopened it last Thursday and able to visit on Friday morning. It wasn’t really a moment to snap pictures on the phone. In visiting Rome, almost everywhere, I saw others taking pictures, but no one had a camera or phone out, so I took a quick one as I walked in. The Catholic Traveler on Instagram took some better pictures.

Picture of the Holy Stairs in Rome
Pilgrims ascending the exposed marble Scala Santa on their knees for the first time in hundreds of years.

As we look to celebrate Good Friday today, my mind takes me to these stairs trying to imagine what Jesus must have been thinking climbing them, knowing that condemnation awaited him.

I’m reminded of Palm Sunday liturgy where we counterposition of laying palms before Jesus as he entered Jerusalem only to have the crowd condemn him a short time later. Last Friday, I joined with others to worship him and to honor the physical existence he had on Earth, but then turn around and assuredly condemn him through sin or inaction.

If you find yourself in Rome, especially before June 9th, find a few minutes to visit St. John Lateran and the Scala Santa across the plaza.

Categories
Daddy's Corner Emergency Operations Featured Reflections

That Was Scary: Postpartum Hemorrhage

Last month, we welcomed our sixth daughter, Ruth, to the world. The pregnancy and delivery were pretty unremarkable. Everything textbook and nothing really out of the ordinary.

About four hours after she was born, we were in the postpartum ward of the hospital. Vanessa’s parents had just left after meeting Ruth and we were settling into the normal couple days of being in the hospital. Vanessa said she wasn’t feeling very well. Okay, no biggie. Let’s call the nurse.

Vanessa called and asked for her nurse to come down. A few seconds later, “I really don’t feel good.” How so? Vanessa said she felt like she was going to faint. Again, “I don’t feel good”, she kept repeating. I offered her to take a sip of water because doctors always say drink plenty of fluids. I pressed the call button again. She coughed instead of swallowed and then she went unconscious. All of this was within 60-75 seconds of Vanessa saying she didn’t feel good the first time.

This was a new one for me. For a split second, I was in denial. “Vanessa, come on.” and shook her a bit. “No really, come on, open your eyes.” Nope, nothing. It was a strange thing to see, never seeing someone go unconscious before my eyes before. Her eyes weren’t quite shut and her mouth weirdly skewed.

Thankfully, when we were in labor & delivery, Ruth was coming relatively quickly but the team thought we probably had a half-hour to go. One of the L&D nurses told us to hang out, but said if Vanessa felt like the baby was absolutely coming and not slowing down, to pull the call button out of the wall to get people in the room right away. Nurses may have told us that trick before, but this time, it resonated and stuck with me for whatever reason.

Back in postpartum, Vanessa is unconscious and that seemed like a pretty good time to test out pulling the call button out of the wall.

Upon pulling it out of the wall, the chime ringing outside the room kicked up a rapid pace and a nurse we hadn’t met was in the room very soon after that— “Is everything okay?” “No, she’s unconscious!”

Good to Know!

Pulling the call button out of the wall will bring medical staff quickly.

At that point, the nurse called out to another who had come into the room to “get people” and put some smelling salts under Vanessa’s nose. She jolted awake and then looked to immediately pass out again. I took Ruth, who was hanging out in her little bed, to the far side of the room and the room filled with people quickly.

Something newish I think to the hospital we were in, they called a “Code Rover” after the first folks started working on Vanessa. It wasn’t a thing when the twins were born and in the NICU, but from reading a bit online, it is like a Code Blue (for when someone has stopped breathing and heart has stopped), but not that severe. It alerts a team to help someone who is in a life-threatening state, but their heart and lungs are working still for the moment.

At this point, the room filled very quickly! At one point, I counted 20 people in the room and I could see more people in the hallway. With me was a medical student explaining what was happening medically and the hospital’s chaplain to make sure I was doing okay. Vanessa had a nurse at her head administering oxygen, three or four on each side doing nurse-y things, and a doctor at her foot acting as the conductor. There were a couple of nurses taking everything Vanessa had bloodied, then weighing it against fresh versions to determine how much blood she had lost. Someone else was bringing in blood, someone else was running vials down for lab testing.

They worked for awhile giving her various drugs, pushing fluids, and whatnot. I had a coworker lose their wife after childbirth—was this that happening? Both at the time and writing this weeks later, it was the scariest moment of my life.

In our family, I’m the “emergency” captain. I own situations like Olivia’s various emergency room trips and hospitalizations. Every birth, I’ve owned that I need to manage the situation since Vanessa has more important things to do. The twins were a high-risk delivery that put them in the NICU for almost two weeks and then re-admitted when they were a month old. I’ve handled all of these situations without letting emotion in, beyond a bit of dejected frustration at 4:30 a.m. of Olivia’s first asthmatic ER trip.

Except for when my dad died, this was the first unexpected immediately life-threatening situation I’ve handled. I worry and play random worst case scenarios through my head literally all the time, but losing Vanessa while holding our newborn wasn’t one that I had prepared myself for.

Not wanting to be the guy flipping out on the other side of the room, I was able to hold it together enough to tell myself Ruth needed me to keep her calm and to text Erin, a dear friend of ours who had been a L&D nurse. At first, I expected her—or at least wanted her—to tell me something about how this was all really normal and not to worry. Her first response was to sit down if I needed to, which validated that I was legitimately in a situation where it was okay to be flipping out a little. I suppose the hospital’s chaplain being paged to stand with me was validation enough, but I digress.

It was about 30 minutes before I could see Vanessa moving and she finally was able to open her eyes and look at me. In her telling of the story, she was awake ever since the smelling salts, albeit too weak to even open her eyes, but to me, she looked limp and unconscious for a long time.

The worst I heard them announce her vitals, she had a blood pressure of 60/30. She lost enough blood where they gave her a transfusion and, all said and done, took about an hour before most everyone besides a couple nurses left the room.

In the end, we were pretty lucky. Lucky that she started bleeding when she was awake, so it was obvious something was wrong. Lucky that I was in the room. I could have easily been taking something to her parents’ car with them or checking out the gift shop. Pulling the cord may have been enough to get her attention fast enough to ensure we had a happy ending.


It wasn’t until we were home for almost a week before Vanessa and I processed it together. She agreed not to scare me like that again.

Categories
Daddy's Corner Featured

Welcome Vanessa Ruth!

Vanessa and I are proud to announce the birth of our sixth daughter, Vanessa Ruth Gonzalez Kraft, born yesterday morning.
Both Vanessa and Ruth are doing well now. We weren’t expecting her until closer to her due date of the 25th, so we didn’t expect to be here right now! At Automattic, since we all work distributively wherever in the world we are, we gather a few times a year, either with the whole company or with our immediate teams. My team’s meetup is happening right now and they were generous enough to plan the meetup to be in Austin. I knew Vanessa was too far along for me to travel, but it was a rush to get a message while at dinner with the team that Vanessa’s water broke. Nine hours later, Ruth was here.