Monday, July 26, 2010

Carrying an Angel

The two weeks following the amnio results were very hard and very sad. I was less than 20 weeks pregnant and was searching online for a burial outfit and a funeral song for my baby. I cried all the time. I looked at pictures of stillborn babies online constantly. I knew I shouldn’t, but I couldn’t help myself. My husband found me crying my eyes out one night and put a stop to it.

“Listen,” he said. “That’s enough of this crying and carrying on. We’re not going to go on like this. This is the end of it. From this point on, we are going to enjoy the rest of the time we have with him. He deserves that. Besides, we are his parents. If we don’t believe in him, who will?”

So, from that point on, we enjoyed the pregnancy. I mean, we really loved being pregnant. Everyday was a celebration, a victory that was never going to be achieved, but was.

We named our little boy Gabriel Nicolas James. Gabriel means God is my strength. Nicolas means victory. The name Gabriel, of course, comes from the angel Gabriel in the Bible who was a messenger sent to tell about Jesus. We got the name from one of our favorite movies, The Patriot. The actor who plays the character Gabriel in the movie said about Gabriel and the Patriots, “The Patriots had a reason to fight. They fought with fire and passion in their bellies, and because of this, they won an impossible battle.” His middle name Nicolas comes from my middle name Nicole.

Gabriel did things they said he would never do. He kicked and moved all the time, sometimes so forcefully that objects placed on my belly would almost get knocked off. Others could feel him move by placing their hands firmly on my belly. His heartrate remained strong, usually 129 beats per minute. He kicked and played and had fun. His was living his life.

I carried him. I bragged on him. I loved him. I talked to him about how special he was, too special to stay with me after his birth. I told my baby about Jesus. I told my baby I would give him to Jesus when it was time.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Paducah Summer Festival

We have never been to the Paducah Summer Festival before, but Skyler came across it on the internet, called about it, and it sounded very exciting. We were told the festival was over 40 years old and would draw 12,000 to 14,000 people. We would be the only barbeque vendor, and our tent would be right next to the music. This description made us feel okay about the $500 entry fee.

We ended our two and a half hour drive to Paducah, KY by driving to the brick street riverfront and seeing a large banner stretched above that said “Paducah Summer Festival 2010.” The riverfront was beautiful, and the banner made it seem like a big deal already. We felt excited to get started.

Location is everything. Get a bad location at a festival, and you’ll starve. We arrived and were placed at the back side of a square parking lot where six other food vendors were set up. Six? Does that sound like an appropriate number of vendors for an event that draws 14,000 people? We asked a few other people what they thought of our location and we kept hearing, “There is no bad location. This place will be packed come Saturday.”

We brought more food than we’ve ever brought to a festival before. Three cases of pork, two cases of babyback ribs, porkburgers, brats, boneless porkchops, two cases of lemons, 100 pounds of sugar, and everything for barbeque nachos. Plus, we brought an extra employee after the madness at the Murray Freedom Fest. An extra employee would help us get more food out to more people faster and thus make more money.

It didn’t help that the heat index exceeded 105 degrees. It also didn’t’ help that we were lied to. We weren’t right next to the music. We were three city blocks away from the music. All the vendors were. From the concert area, no one could even see that food vendors were available. The 14,000 people we were told to except turned out to be less than 1,000.

Thursday night was ridiculously slow, but we were told to expect a little more on Friday and a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd on Saturday. Before arriving, we were told it would be beneficial to be available for lunch on Friday, but on Thursday night, that same person who told us that said she wouldn’t set up for lunch the next day. All of the other vendors were staying closed for lunch as well. So, our two employees enjoyed a long morning in the air conditioned hotel room.

Friday night was not much of an improvement over Thursday. This led Skyler to talk with other vendors in order to hear what their thoughts were on the festival. We met a lemonade vendor who also set up in Henderson at the WC Handy Festival. He was very disappointed in comparison to the type of business he usually does. He was also told to expect 14,000 people. A team from northern Mississippi was in attendance. They drove 5 hours just to be at this festival and were irrate at the poor setup and lies they had been fed. All of the vendors agreed that food concessions should be located next to the stage. We were told by the chairperson that this was impossible because of electrical requirements. What?! I believe the music stage had plenty of electricity as did the Pepsi concession located right next to it.

At the end of Friday night, we still owed $400 of the vending fee. Skyler didn’t want to pay it. The vending chair showed up with three men to collect the fee from him. We were told if we didn’t pay it right then, we’d have to pack up and leave. He pretty much threw the money at her. “You don’t know what you are talking about,” she said. “Saturday will be packed.”

No it wasn’t. The lunch was very slow. The music attraction was not playing consistently throughout the day. We had an okay dinner crowd, but it wasn’t a Saturday night crowd. The heat was insane, but the problem with the festival was the terrible set-up. None of the vendors stood a chance. We now have a freezer full of meat and buns and a refridgerator full of cole slaw and potato salad.

Lesson learned: Do not attend a new festival with a full set-up. Go in with lemon shake-ups and check it out. Try it on before you buy.

One good thing did come out of it. We met a few very nice food vendors who shared their information about the best festivals to attend. Where will we go next?

Friday, July 23, 2010


A week later, the results of the amnio confirmed the worst – our baby had Triploidy Syndrome and would die. Triploidy Syndrome is the presence of an entire extra set of chromosomes. A normal person, known as a duploid, has 46 chromosomes – 23 from Mom, 23 from Dad. A Triploidy (tri for three sets of each of the 23 chromosomes) baby has 69 chromosomes – meaning it got an extra set from either Mom or Dad. Triploidy can be caused by three different occurances, but most Triploidy cases are caused when a single egg is fertilized by two sperm, known as dispermy.

We set an appointment that day to talk with a genetic counselor. It turns out our baby was really a boy and indicated by the 23rd chromosome being XXYY. A normal baby boy is XY. A “normal” triploidy is XYY. It has never been determined why our baby has four of the 23rd chromosomes. The two Ys indicate that the cause of the chromosome disorder was fertilization by two sperm.

The genetic counselor told us what to expect with this pregnancy. And, yes, we talked about the possibility of termination, but not extensively because that is not available where I live nor at the hospital where I was receiving services. Rather than tell me about my “options,” she told me how the pregnancy would probably go. At 18 weeks pregnant, I was told it is unlikely to miscarry during this phase of pregnancy. I would likely carry my baby to at least 25 weeks gestation. I may never feel him move inside of me because chromosome babies don’t move a lot. He will probably be very small, and I am almost certainly facing a stillbirth.

Oh, and one more thing. I could go visit my regular OB once a week to check for a heartbeat because I would never have a way of knowing if he was alive or not since I wouldn’t be feeling him move.

We had our third ultrasound of the week and decided we were too in love to terminate. God would decide what happened to our baby.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


After a week on the couch, I went in for the amnio. It was not an easy decision to make. The amnio could have caused me to miscarry. The doctor would not offer a recommendation on if she thought it was safe. I know she didn’t want to tell me the wrong thing.

I needed to know if there was reallly something wrong with my baby so I could know what to do. I was quickly approaching the maximum gestational age for termination. So, we decided to go for it.

I closed my eyes, lay back on the table, and held my breath. The long needle was inserted into my abdomen an inch to the left of my navel. I felt the long, hard needle penetrate skin, fat, muscle, uterus. It was so scary.

As the doctor drew the amniotic fluid from my womb, she commented on how terrible it looked. I bawled, hating that I wasn’t producing a healthy environment for my baby.

Once it was over, we were sent home to wait it out for ten days until the results came in. I went back to work the next day. I began to gush blood at work. I was hysterical, thinking I killed my baby. Wasn’t that what I was planning to do, anyway? I went to the doctor, and an ultrasound showed my baby was alive. I had a placental abruption. I was in bed for another week.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sometimes Dreams Die

After we found out I had placenta previa, the doctor put me on partial bedrest. I could go to work (I’m a teacher), but I had to limit my walking and standing. At home, I was on bedrest – the couch, the bed, the recliner. No cooking, no cleaning, no lifting.

The doctor also said that we could come in for an ultrasound any time we wanted just to reassure ourselves. After three days of bedrest, Skyler insisted we go back in for an ultrasound since I was still bleeding. No one ever thought the bleeding was going to go away. He just wanted an excuse to find out if we were having a boy or a girl.

The technician spent quite a bit of time looking at the baby. The doctor hadn’t ordered an anatomy scan, so I was a little surprised that she was doing all of this, but I didn’t care because we were getting to look at our beautiful, perfect baby. I also knew the baby was positioned away from the scanner, so maybe it was taking a while to get the right shot.

While she wasn’t completely sure, she told us she thought we were having a girl. She then said she had to go discuss something with the doctor. I asked her if the baby was alright, and she wouldn’t say that she was.

After hearing this wonderful news, we were just left by ourselves, knowing that something must be wrong, imagining the worst. After a few minutes, we were asked to go into the doctor’s office and wait for her to come in and talk to us. A nurse came in and tried to offer me a tissue. “I don’t want a tissue! I want someone to tell me what’s going on with my baby!”

The doctor came in, sat down, and calmly (too calmly) told us there was fluid on the baby’s brain and kidneys, and that they suspected a chromosome disorder “like Down’s Syndrome, only worse.” I couldn’t imagine anything worse than Down’s Syndrome. She also told us she suspected I had a partial molar pregnancy and that my baby had a condition that was “incompatible with life.” I had never heard of such a thing. My baby is alive and growing. We’ve seen and heard her heartbeat. How can she be incompatible with life? It didn’t make sense.

She had us go to a high risk OB for another ultrasound and a second opinion. The new doctor agreed with the lethal diagnosis after looking at the new ultrasound. She said we were likely looking at Triploidy Syndrome or Trisomy 18. Either way, she said we could expect a stillbirth.

An amnio was scheduled for the next week. My family drove in to be with us and comfort us. It seemed like a memorial service because we were made to believe our baby could die any day. I told my family that we were having a girl.

I stayed awake most of the night, bawling my eyes out and researching Triploidy Syndrome and Trisomy 18. All I read was that my baby had no hope, that both of these conditions were always fatal. I decided the best thing would be if my baby died before my next appointment to minimize her pain (and mine). I prayed that she would. If she didn’t die, I would terminate.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Big Scare

At sixteen weeks gestation, I unexpectedly had a big bleed. I thought it was over. I thought my baby died. My sister took me to the ER at 10:30 PM. After what felt like forever, the nurse found the heartbeat. I began to sob uncontrollably. Thank you, Jesus!

We had to wait for the sonographer to arrive at the hospital. She scanned us for a long time. We thought that was a little strange, but we were just glad to see that beautiful baby kicking away in there. As it turns out, I had placenta previa. The placenta was incorrectly positioned over the cervix instead of the top of the uterus. I was told to be careful, follow up with my regular doctor, and that I may require a C-section.

After seeing the baby on the ultrasound, we just had a feeling it was a boy. To us, it looked like a boy. The next day, we went shopping and looked at mostly boy stuff.

In just moments, I went from having a perfect pregnancy to being high risk. If it’s a boy, that will be just fine. The only thing that matters is having a healthy baby.

Friday, July 16, 2010

God Gives Us Dreams

July 1, 2009 we finally tried the fertility procedure again. I didn’t think it was going to work. I thought, “If it didn’t work the first time, what’s going to make it work this time?” I didn’t know, though, that the HSG I had this time (a procedure that checks to see if there is a blockage in the fallopian tubes) actually flushes out debris in the tubes and increases the chances of conception.

Day 26, I was a nervous wreck. Day 27, a basket case. Day 28, I couldn’t believe I had made it this far. Day 29, I knew I was carrying a dream. Day 35, I got the blood test to prove it. Day 38, the nurse told me that my second HCG test (pregnancy test) is very high, possibly indicating twins. At six weeks we had our first ultrasound. One baby.

We were happy about that. While one baby wasn’t as exciting as two, it was definitely less scary. At eight weeks, we had another ultrasound to hear the heartbeat. Beautiful.

Everything was perfect. I was having the dream pregnancy. No morning sickness (I always knew I wouldn’t have any.). No spotting. Everything was perfect. At 11 weeks, we heard the heartbeat again. We had such a strong little baby.

We were full of hope. I was full of hope for a girl. I had always wanted a girl. I mean, really wanted a girl. Not a boy. My husband truly didn’t have a preference. I was thankful, though, for whoever it was that God had put inside my belly and knew I would be in love with whoever it was.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Chasing a Dream

When I was 15 years old, the Devil told me a lie. He told me a lie about my children and my future as a mother. I have spent the last 16 years rebuking that lie. I have spent the last 16 years trying to convince myself it wasn’t true.

I always wanted to have children, but when I got married, I wasn’t in a huge hurry to have any. My husband and I began trying to have children three years into our marriage. After one and a half years, we sought the help of a fertility specialist. It took him one year to determine how to get us a baby.

In October 2008 we made our first attempt to get pregnant. It was expensive financially and emotionally. I didn’t get pregnant. We were devastated. It never occurred to us that we wouldn’t get pregnant.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Phat Skinny’s BBQ tried something new this weekend – not being Phat Skinny’s BBQ. We attended Pork Day USA in Albion, IL for the first time. Albion, IL is a really, really small town. My husband is originally from Albion, so we thought we might do well since we are known there. However, we were very skeptical about investing our money in a couple hundred pounds of pork and everything else we normally sell at a festival. We almost didn’t go because we were afraid to take the risk. Then, we had a brilliant idea. We decided to set up only as “Mrs. Skinny’s Lemon Shake-Ups.” With the low $30 entry fee, no health inspector fee, and the low cost of lemons and sugar, we weren’t risking a lot.

It was a stressful hour and a half trip because we left late (big surprise), had two lawn chairs blow out of the back of the truck just three miles from our house, and we had to turn around a second time because I forgot to load the six bags of lemons I sliced the night before. Stress! To make it even worse, I had to ride crammed in the front seat of the truck with my husband and smelly brother-in-law. It was a tight squeeze.

Upon arrival, we saw that most of the other vendors offered lemon shake-ups (or orange shake-ups, or strawberry shake-ups). It was tight competition. Our only offerings were lemon shake-ups, sweet tea, and bottled water.

A morning parade led to a pretty good lunch crowd, so at first, we were regretting not having our barbeque tent. Plus, live music was promised all day long. We weren’t sure, either, if our past success with shake-ups was linked to our delicious barbeque.

We began selling shake-ups like crazy. It wasn’t long before we had sold our six bags of sliced lemons and had to start slicing new. However, around two o’clock, the crowd died down and never returned. We packed up early, willing to sacrifice the two shake-ups per hour pace we were on.

We did great with our shake-ups and are thankful to have made a good decision. It was excellent profit with little stress, an easy workload, and no overhead. We sold one case of lemons, 25 lbs of sugar, several bags of ice, 5 gallons of sweet tea, and one case of bottled water. We will definitely try this again.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Murray, KY Freedom Fest 2010

This is our second appearance at Murray, KY’s Freedom Fest. We set up concessions two years ago and were successful. Just the three of us went: me, my husband, and my brother-in-law. Last year we didn’t go because it rained nonstop. I thought the three of us could handle it again, but Skyler insisted that we needed another employee. He said the employee would pay for himself because of how much more food we would be able to sell. I reluctantly agreed, even though it also meant taking an additional vehicle.

For the first time ever, we decided to rent a U-Haul to carry our equipment. If not, we would have had to borrow a truck. Two trucks and the car still would have been a tight fit for everything. The U-Haul truck was big enough for all of our stuff, but it was expensive. $20 per day, plus $0.69 per mile, and we had to return it with a full tank of gas. Without this investment, however, we would have been unable to attend the festival.

I was very worried when I saw the location they gave us. All the other vendors were stationed on the perimeter of the courthouse square with the music stage at a vertex of the square. We were located outside of the square behind the stage. I complained to the festival workers, but they would not move us. They insisted that they thought we would be fine, but I knew from past experience that an out-of-the-way location could be disastrous. Once again, we had everything we had into this festival, and we couldn’t afford to have slow business.

We got a late start (big surprise), and we set up a new tent which took longer, so we weren’t quite ready at 4:00 PM when the event started. People started coming to our tent right away, though, and before we knew it, we had a line of customers that never stopped. We kept 10 to 30 people in line the entire night. The four of us never stopped serving until 11:30 PM. We sold lots of lemon shake-ups, sweet tea, pulled pork sandwhiches, pork chop sandwhiches, brats, porkburgers, babyback ribs, and bbq nachos.

The next day was no different. Customers were ready to buy food and drinks before 8:00 AM. By 2:00 PM, we sold out of everything we brought . . . 2 cases of pork, 1 case of ribs, 100 porkchops, 50 brats, 25 pork burgers, 1 ½ cases of lemons, and 6 cans of nacho cheese.

The festival was a big success. We came back with no food and lots of cash – just the way we like it. We were very tired, though. It was a lot of hard work, but well worth it.

On the hunt for our next festival. . . . .

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Back in Business

February 29, 2008, my husband Skyler and I opened a small barbeque restaurant that we named “Phat Skinny’s BBQ.” “Phat” because he’s fat and “Skinny’s” because his nickname is Skinny . . . because he’s fat.

Skyler has dreamed of owning a restaurant as long as I’ve known him. There were many occasions when he came home from work telling me about “the perfect place for a restaurant” that just happened to be for sale or rent. We even went and looked at a couple of places over the years, but I always ended up saying no. I was never willing to take the risk.

In the summer of 2007, he met a man who custom builds wood smokers. When Skyler found out he could have a Chicago Bears themed smoker, he just had to have one. He had never used a wood smoker before, but he knew he could learn and planned to use it to cook food for concessions at some of the small town festivals we attended growing up. He knew nothing about operating a concession stand.

After using the smoker just a few times, we sold some of our food to some people who ended up really liking it. And, wouldn’t you know it, a small restaurant was available for rent just three miles from our home. I made the mistake of agreeing to look at it with Skyler. We liked what we saw (I don’t know why, the place was a mess!), and the owner made us a good deal. Skyler was unemployed, and it seemed like as good a time as any to take a risk. I got way too excited about how everyone seemed to love our food and thought, why wouldn’t our restaurant be a success? Maybe Skyler’s dreams can really come true.

“Let’s just do it,” I said one morning. “Let’s open a restaurant. What the heck!”

“Are you serious?” Skyler couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

So, we did it, and it didn’t work out. We worked our butts off. We were a slave to the restaurant. It was a nightmare, but do you know what kept us afloat a lot of the time? Our concessions business. The concessions business that was the purpose of purchasing the smoker in the first place. Since we weren’t making enough money at the restaurant, we decided to try our hand at concessions afterall. We had all the food and the facilities to cook for it. We invested in tents, tables, coolers, and other equipment and we gave it a try. That was risky, too. Festivals cost a LOT of money to be in. Typically, a two to three day festival can have an entry fee anywhere from $100 to $650, plus food, labor, and travel expenses.

It was easy money, though. Well, actually, it is very hard work, but food vending at a festival is like taking your product to the customer instead of sitting in a restaurant and waiting for the customer to come to you. When a small town has a festival, people show up. They will come. Since it’s a once a year thing, people are willing to splurge. We almost always make a lot of money in just a short period of time.

We closed Phat Skinny’s BBQ in January 2010. I honestly think our food was loved by a lot of people, but our poor location kept us from continuously getting new customers. Eventually, we ran out of steam. We just couldn’t keep the doors open any longer. We sold everything inside the restaurant at an auction in February, but we decided to keep our festival equipment. If Skyler was unable to get a job, we had a good business to fall back on.

For several months now, our garage has been full of tables, coolers, tents, boxes full of cups and plastic tubs full of supplies. For several months now, my husband has been unemployed. He has delayed getting back into the barbeque business because he has been holding out hope for getting a job, but it hasn’t happened. Finally, when the W.C. Handy Blues and Barbeque Festival ( rolled into Henderson, KY for its 20th annual festival, we decided we had better be there for our third appearance in one of the nation’s largest free music festivals.

The festival kicked off Saturday, June 12 with the Taste of Henderson Barbeque. Several local barbeque vendors set up on Main Street to sell their delicious food to festival-goers who came to listen to great blues music. It was Phat Skinny’s first time back in a long time, so we decided to start off slow with a small menu. We sold pulled pork sandwiches, pulled beef sandwiches, bbq nachos, and babyback ribs. It sounds good, but nobody comes to a barbeque festival to eat beef, so we didn’t end up selling very much of it. We should have known that. The only reason we brought beef was because we already had it in our freezer at home. At last year’s Taste of Henderson, we sold a lot of ribs because we were the only vendor selling babybacks. This year, everyone had them. We only sold a few slabs. We did sell pulled pork sandwiches and bbq nachos, but not like we usually do. It was really, really hot. Too hot to eat hot food. Plus, we weren’t allowed to sell any drinks, and our short menu may have made us look undesirable. We came home from the one day event with only enough money to cover the cost of the food we bought for the event, not enough for the labor or to reimburse ourselves for the entry fee.

I put the meat in the freezer, and we searched for a way to get into the coveted 2-day
W.C. Handy Blues Festival finale on Friday, June 18 and Saturday, June 19. The chairman had reserved us a spot, but we had yet to pay the $650 entry fee. It was long past due, but the guy likes us, so he agreed to let us pay the entry fee after the Taste of Henderson. Obviously, that didn’t work out the way we planned. We had to keep the little money we did have to buy food to sell. Plus, we had to pay $150 for liability insurance to even be allowed to participate. The chairman agreed, once again, to help us out. We would pay him the money on Friday night after our first day of sales. To buy the food to sell, we did something we haven’t done before – I went to a check advance store and got a $500 advance on my June 25th paycheck. It cost $89 to do that.

We bought enough food to scrape by on the first day of the Handy Fest. We didn’t buy any more pork because we couldn’t afford to. We used the frozen pork leftover from the Taste of Henderson and our several slabs of leftover ribs. We bought more nacho cheese, tortilla chips, nacho toppings, beans, and decided to add pork burgers and brats to the menu. This weekend, we were also allowed to sell drinks, so our sweet tea and Mrs. Skinny’s Lemon Shake-ups were for sale. They are always a hit and a big money maker.

No risk, no reward. We decided to aim big with a big menu and three employees in addition to Skyler, his brother, and myself. We were the top seller for lunch on Friday, and by early Friday evening, we knew we would soon sell out of pork. Skyler sent me to the store to buy two more cases (about 140 lbs) of pork butt. I bought it and rushed home to prep it and get it back to town and on the smoker ASAP. We sold out of our ribs that day, and our shake-up sales sold us out of a whole case of lemons. We’re back in business!

We went home tired, but feeling excited about a great day. Falling asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow, we were unaware of the strong winds that came through that night with a thunderstorm. We received a phone call at 6:30 A.M. from an employee telling us that our tents blew away! We rushed to town, only to find out tents upside down and mangled in the middle of the street! That’s how it always is for us– one step forward and two steps back.

We managed to bend the tents back together and set them back up looking no worse for the wear. They had to be thrown away after that, though. A $400 loss. What could we do from that point on except get back in the game?

Saturday was extremely hot and sunny. The day was slow, and we were a little worried. When night fell, business picked up. Everybody was coming for the nachos and shake-ups! We sold big and the weekend was a success.

The barbeque concessionaire business if exciting and profitable, but it is also very stressful. It costs so much money to be a food vendor at a festival. If the weather is bad, that might be all it takes to keep us from selling our product. Also, if our tent gets put in a bad location away from the main traffic, that can be disastrous as well. This business is a gamble, but the odds are well in our favor.

July 2nd and 3rd . . . off to Murray, KY for the Freedom Festival ( ).