If I had written

I just spent the last 90 minutes catching up with my poor, neglected Google Reader. I watched snippets of the Packers - Bears game in-between comments. I also checked the radar neurotically, since we have another (ANOTHER) snowstorm bearing down on us.

I did everything BUT write. Which is what I sat down to do 90 minutes ago.

If I had written, I might have told you how obsessed I've been the last three weeks with finding the right pet for our family. Last Friday, after agonizing for approximately 48,000 years, I called the shelter again to stress that I really did want to adopt the one-year-old puppy I showed you in this post. To my horror, the very kind woman who answered the phone told me "my" dog had been adopted by someone else the day before. Seems they never got my messages.

If I had written, I might have told you how devastated I was, initially. I felt like Christmas was going to be as flat as day-old ginger ale, seeing as the only other gifts my children have from their parents are coloring books and socks and oranges studded with cloves. (And Legos. And Polly Pockets. And tons and tons of books. But that ruins the drama, no?) But now, a few days later, I've made peace with it. That's largely due to Corey's constant encouragement that God is in control of everything, even this. Besides, he said, he didn't really think that dog was the right one for our family. So we're back to the drawing board. Here's my top pick right now.

We might get to meet her tomorrow night.

If I had written, I would probably have told you that Teyla is still sleeping through the night. However, the naps -- they are elusive. Last week, she took one nap. All week. By Friday afternoon, I was shredded. But today, she slept for two hours (TWO HOURS), and she was so sweet all afternoon. She has this beautiful throaty laugh that brightens a room. I love that laugh.

If I had written, I might have told you how I got a book in the mail last week from my BBFF and it's funny and smart and well written and encouraging at every turn and I get to give away a copy in January. Stay tuned.

If I had written, I might have told you that I miss journaling. I miss it dreadfully. Having three kids leaves me so little free time, and during the holiday season, that time is quickly gobbled by Christmas-related tasks. My soul is starting to ache with all the words inside it.

But I didn't write.

Instead, I'm going to show you this picture I took in Target last week.

Yes. Last week.

Merry Valentine's, everyone.

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 2)

------ 1 ------
I was giggling at the Texans and Okies on Twitter this week. They were all: "SNOW! It's snowing! I see snowflakes!"

And then they'd post pictures of brown backyards and kids running around in snowsuits with slightly solidified rain visible in the background. If you squinted. After pressing on your eyeballs for a few seconds. Or maybe they just took the pictures out-of-focus. Same difference.

Cracks me up. I lived in Southern California for almost a decade, so I say this lovingly, but if you live in a climate that allows you to feel your appendages in January, you don't know snow. And you couldn't handle it if you had it.

Case in point: Yesterday, I checked my favorite weather site. (Of course, I have one. Don't you?) It said two of my locations had weather alerts. The North Shore of Minnesota was under a winter weather advisory; an approaching storm was supposed to drop four to eight inches of snow that night, possibly falling as heavily as one inch every hour. Winds were going to gust to 40 mph, and temperatures were going to drop quickly behind the system.

The other alert was for the Bay Area of California (where my parents live). It said -- and I quote -- "Cool and showery weather starting this weekend."

An alert. For cool weather. And maybe rain. Starting in a few days.

Take cover now.

------ 2 ------
You know that scene in "Princess Bride," where the prince is declared only mostly dead?

I've decided this blog is mostly dead, at least for the month of December. I just want some time to work on other projects. It means my posting here is light, and my commenting has dwindled to nothing. Please know it's not personal, and I don't intend to fade to black. It's a temporary mostly deadness.

Anybody want a peanut?

------ 3 ------
Teyla is sleeping through the night. I repeat, TEYLA IS SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT.

I'm working on a dissertation on baby sleep, so I won't give away any secrets here. But this last Sunday, I cracked the code. And she started sleeping almost immediately.

Of course, I'm still waking up once or twice a night out of habit. But that's OK. I can see the end of the tunnel, and that's tremendously encouraging.

Now for naps. (I got Elizabeth Pantley's brand new book "The No-Cry Nap Solution" in the mail yesterday. Talk about perfect timing! Look for a review soon.)

------ 4 ------
I realized last week that I talked and Twittered and talked some more about my Thanksgiving menu -- but I never told you how things went.

In short -- Alton Brown is a genius. A mad, evil, funny genius. His turkey was amazing. It cooked so fast, it freaked me out a little. (I got one of those cool temperature gauges this year that allows you to monitor the internal temperature of the meat from outside the oven. It was unspeakably cool. I'm resisting the urge I have to use it on the kids while they sleep.)

Pioneer Woman's mashed potatoes are divine. The roasted vegetables were a great foil to ALL THE BUTTER in the mashed potatoes. The pumpkin chocolate cheesecake pie was really good, although the pumpkin layer was a little bland for me. Next year, I'm going to add my own mix of spices, instead of relying on the timid pumpkin pie spice.

And last week, I made the pumpkin sandwich cake (which was cut from my Thanksgiving line-up) for a MOPS Christmas brunch, and OH MY WORD. It was A HUGE HIT. (Sorry. I get excited about food.) Basically, it's a dense pumpkin cake layered with billowy cream cheese filling and topped with chocolate ganache. It would be perfect for Christmas.

(Just one note, that I feel compelled to add for any Google searchers who may end up here: When I made my cake, the layers turned out really thin. Like, REALLY thin. They were about 1/2-inch high. I wrote BHG about this, and a few days later, I got a reply from their wonderful Senior Food Editor. Through a process of elimination, he helped me figure out my problem: I used 9-inch cake pans instead of the 8-inch called for in the recipe. It doesn't sound like a big differece, but he said the 9-inch pans have 25% more capacity, resulting in much thinner cake layers. Word to the wise.)

------ 5 ------
I'm feeling very humbugish this December. (Maybe because I'm one of the Santa killers? That was my post over at 5 Minutes for Parenting this week.) I finally went and got a tree last Sunday -- by myself, since Corey was sick and in bed. (No pictures, since I'm saving them for Boo Mama's Christmas Tour of Homes.) Having it all twinkly and cheery in the living room window has helped my mood. So has Pandora's holiday music stations. I have either jazz holidays or peaceful holidays playing at any given moment lately.

------ 6 ------
I went to a cookie exchange this week. (Which is TOTALLY self-defeating for someone who likes to bake, by the way; I do NOT need your cookies in my house when I'll have 10 dozen of my own to contend with in a week.) Someone brought homemade marshmallows to the party.




I know what to make for the kids' teachers this year.

And here's where I must apologize for mocking Martha Stewart for YEARS for making her own marshmallows. I'm so sorry, Martha. I had no idea.

------ 7 ------
(Come close to your monitor. I need to whisper this last one.)

We're thinking of getting a dog for Christmas. The kids -- Natalie, in particular -- have wanted a pet for as long as I can remember.

Here's a picture of the puppy I love.

Upside? She's adorable. Downside? She's a puppy, and as such, must be trained.

Here's a picture of the one-year-old puppy I love.

Upside? She's trained and we know her temperament. Downside? She's already lost the puppy fuzz.

Thoughts? (Just don't bother telling me I'm crazy. I already know. Corey tells me all the time.)

(If you missed my first 7 Quick Takes, this is a new weekly carnival hosted by Jennifer at Conversion Diary. Awesome idea. Go check it out.)


I was stuck in traffic on I-494 last night, headlights playing the part of red and white Christmas lights against the inky blackness that is 5:00 these days, when I realized: I have no idea what to have for dinner.

I spent the day driving to and from the Tiny Town where we used to live; one of my best friends there turned 40 yesterday, so I loaded up the kids and showed up at her birthday brunch. Surprises are fun. The whole day was delightful. Tiny Town drove me crazy in so many ways, but the friendships I forged there will last a lifetime, of that I am sure.

But even on days filled with surprises and delight, someone has to cook dinner. That someone is me.

I called Corey from my cell, to gauge which of the meals remaining on my current menu sounded the most appealing.

“I have some ham to heat up with baked sweet potatoes.”


“Or I could throw together that sausage and potato casserole the kids love. It’s fairly quick.”


“The only other option is meatloaf, and that would take too long. Do ANY of those things sound appealing to you?”

Corey finally spoke. “I’m hungry. Really hungry. I haven’t had a good, hearty meal for a few days now. And I’m tired. And cranky. And hungry.”

OK then. So the man is hungry. He needs some real food.

For the record, Corey is a big guy. He’s very active, and he has an incredible metabolism. When we first got married, I cooked dishes that said “Feeds 4-6.” I ate my serving. He ate the rest.

But Corey is also an incredibly healthy eater; he’s very non-male that way. He never – and I mean never – eats fast food. He doesn’t like sweets. He loves vegetables and fruit and whole grains. (You should see his face light up when I make quinoa.) He loves ethic food (except Indian), fresh seafood and -- his favorite, lately -- streamed broccoli and lemon juice.

So he can be a bit of a challenge. A hungry challenge.

Thankfully, I remembered I had some leftover barbecue beef brisket in the freezer. So I ended up serving that last night with some risotto, which is my favorite comfort food right now.

But I’m still thinking about what makes a big, hearty meal for a healthy man – which is good timing, since I need to go grocery shopping tomorrow.

Stew would top the list. So would many of my soups. And lasagna, homemade lasagna with lots of sausage and cheese.

What about you? What do you feed a hungry man?

Bonbon Charms Photo Ornament Giveaway

Updated one more time to announce Sarah from themommylogues is the winner! Congrats Sarah. And thanks to Erica at Bonbon Charms for providing such a beautiful and elegant prize. Remember: The 20% code (LOVEWELL) is good through Friday.

Updated to add: It seems like traffic has been extraordinarily light over Thanksgiving weekend, so I'm leaving comments on this giveaway open until 7:00 PM Central tonight. Winner will be announced shortly thereafter. So you still have time. Tell your family! Tell your friends! Merry December!

The last few years, I've fallen out of love with Christmas kitsch.

That's saying something, because when we moved from California five years ago, I had at least four huge tubs of Christmas paraphernalia. Mismatched stockings, ceramic snowmen, Christmas dishes, the cheese knives that looked like pine cones, I had everything Target had ever clearanced. Most of it wasn't even my style anymore -- if it ever had been. It was just clutter I had accumulated, which I was then obligated to scatter around my house each December.

So I got rid of it.

Not all of it. Not immediately. But slowly, each year, a few more trinkets made their way to the Salvation Army or the dustbin.

The only box unscathed during the purge was the gigantic box of Christmas ornaments. My ornaments aren't just decorations to me; they are cherished memories.

I believe I mentioned last year during BooMama's Christmas Home Tour that my Mom started a tradition when my siblings and I were young; she gave each of us a personalized ornament each Christmas to commemorate a significant event that had taken place in our lives the previous 12 months. (Examples of what I'm talking about are halfway through that post.) The beauty of this particular tradition is that, when the child grows up and moves out, the ornaments go with them -- a sweet reminder of their childhood and a treasure trove for their own kids each year when it's time to decorate the tree. "What's this one, Mom?" "Well, it's from the year we got our dog...."

And that's the rather long back-story to the fabulous giveaway I'm doing this weekend. (It's my own contribution to Black Friday.) Perhaps you've heard of Bonbon Charms. Erica's day-to-day business is designing vintage, silver charms for bracelets and necklaces.

This year, she's also handcrafting Christmas ornaments, including personalized ones and -- my favorite -- photo ones. And because she's awesome (and the sister of one of my BBFF), she's agreed to give a photo ornament to one lucky reader of this blog.

To enter, you need to go to Bonbon Charms, do a little shopping and then come back here and tell me about your favorite Bonbon. And do it fast, because I'm choosing a winner on Monday, December 1 (which is supposedly the Internet's version of Black Friday, only without the insanity).

If you love what you see -- and you will -- you can also get 20% of your order by using the discount code LOVEWELL when you checkout. But be aware -- to get it delivered by Christmas, you'll have to place your order no later than Friday, December 5. That's not much time. Order early. Order often.

Personally, I can't wait to add a
Bonbon ornaments to my collection. Unlike the faux bronze decorative reindeer and the music box carousel, this is one piece of Christmas that will be treasured for years to come.

Thanksgiving Eve

I just took the pumpkin chocolate cheesecake pie out of the oven. It looks and smells wonderful. It joins the homemade rolls and the apple pie on the sideboard to cool.

Now I have to cook the potatoes and the vegetables and the stuffing and the green beans. And then I'll make the brine for the turkey and assemble the decadent baked French toast casserole for the morning and -- oh, did someone say something about eating dinner tonight?

Originally, I didn't plan to cook all day today. I had portioned out the Thanksgiving recipes and carefully divided the tasks for this week into tidy little squares.

But life is rarely that neat.

Teyla came down with a cold -- the kind that sends streams of golden goo flowing from her nose every time shes sneezes. (That makes it sound so much more pleasant than it is.) That means I cannot, in good conscience go workout after I drop the older kids off at school; the childcare workers would not esteem me. Plus, the sweet baby just wants me. So we've been joined at the hip -- or, more accurately, the shin bone -- all week. Which makes it hard to cook.

Also, my weary brain has entered into a new phase of sleep deprivation, one in which my ability to multi-task vanishes like frost in the sun. By dinner each night, I find myself sluggish and blurry, my speech slurring, my muscles trembling from the strain of staying upright. (Side note: I still maintain that the sleep training is working. But thanks to the cold, we've taken a break from the seriousness of it all. When she wakes at 4:00 AM with a stuffed nose and a dry mouth, I nurse her and rock her and wrap her in a blanket of comfort.) All that to say -- mushy brain, no focus, stay away from sharp knives and hot stoves.

But Thanksgiving is tomorrow; there's not getting around it. And even with all the mitigating factors, I was so looking forward to cooking this meal. So I cleared my calendar for today, ran one last trip to the grocery store to pick up forgotten ingredients (although I still can't find watercress; guess it will be parsley instead) and got down to business.

The best part about having a whole day to cook is the domesticity. It quiets my soul to work with my hands on what is right before me. That's how I came up with of What I'm Thankful For This Thanksgiving (A Partial List); it's posted over at 5 Minutes for Parenting today.

May God open our eyes wider everyday to his boundless glory. Happy Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Dinner 2008: The Final Cut

First, I'd just like to say to the recipes who auditioned for Love Well Thanksgiving 2008, you are all winners. Truly, each one of you has something unique that you bring to the table, be it comfort or flair or beta-carotene. I wish I could give each of you a serving dish come Thursday.

But as you all know, there isn't room for everyone. I spent the last several days going over your ingredients list again, and I've finally reached a decision on who will be apart of Thanksgiving Dinner 2008. The final selections are:

Good Eats Roast Turkey
Pioneer Woman's Delicious, Creamy Mashed Potatoes
Simple Stuffing with Mushrooms
Roasted Harvest Vegetables
Green Bean, Watercress and Fried Shallots Salad
Homemade Rolls (emeritus)
Pan Gravy
Land O' Lakes Apple Pie
Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Pie

Those of you who made the cut, I'll see you tomorrow morning. Pie crusts, you'll be up first. Homemade rolls, you're right behind them.

And to the rest of you, don't lose heart. You'll go right back in my recipe box. There's always next year.

And So It Begins

Alternate titles:
a. It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas
b. Kill me now.
c. If it was 75 and sunny at your house today, do NOT tell me.
d. There is no spoon.

Feel free to suggest your own.

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 1)

In case you don't read Conversion Diary -- and really, if you don't, I'm not sure we can be friends anymore; go subscribe right now -- I'm participating today in Jennifer's new Friday blog carnival.

------ 1 ------

It's bright and sunny out today. Naturally, it's bitter cold. The digital weather station I got Corey for Christmas last year (it was for him; I swear) said it was 10 degrees outside.

That's right. Ten.

It's winter's catch-22: You want sun? Fine. It's going to be so cold your jeans will creak when you run your daughter across the parking lot to school. What? It's too cold for you? No problem. Here come the clouds. It will be gray and dismal and dreary until you wish someone would sell you a butter knife and make dotted lines across your wrist.

------ 2 ------

Several of you have asked via e-mail or Twitter how Teyla is sleeping these days. My assessment is that the sleep training is working. But it's slow going.

She is no longer nursing to sleep, most of the time. (Sometimes I just can't catch her before she nods off.) She will fall asleep in her crib without me holding her, although I do still sit next to the crib and remind her to lay down (either verbally or physically) so as to encourage the sleep.

But she's still waking up multiple times each night, and sometimes, she wakes up and is very alert. For example, this morning she woke up at 5:30 and was ready to go for the day, babbling and looking at her fingers and making homemade movies on her little Mac. She eventually went back to sleep by 6:45, but she was up again (and CRANKY) at 7:00.

So we're making progress. But I'm still relying on coffee far more than I like to make it through the day.

And let's not even talk about the napping. It's Phase 2 of the Great Sleep Project.

------ 3 ------

I completely agree with Jennifer's take on Facebook (#6 on her list). I joined the Facebook cult a few weeks ago, after my family lovingly told me I might want to get with the 21st century.

But like Jennifer, I have zero interest in "finding" any people from my past, nor do I want them to find me. So I'm very hidden on Facebook, and so far, I only use it to keep in touch with my family and my real-life friends (and a few blogger friends who found me before I pulled out my super secret identity).

It's a fun way to keep in touch, but as someone who is already fighting to keep the computer from consuming her, I am playing very coy with it.

------ 4 ------

I'm trying to finalize my Thanksgiving menu today, a task that is both agony and ecstasy. Thanksgiving dinner is a meal of traditions, not easily refined. No one wants to see a huge fish gracing the table next Thursday, for example. But as a cook, I always want to try something new.

So today is the day. I've been clipping recipes for month, auditioning them in my mind. Today I make the final cut. Should I go with the traditional sweet potato praline casserole? Or should I go with the lighter, roasted harvest vegetables? Should I stick with plain pumpkin pie? Or try the pumpkin-chocolate cheesecake pie? Do I make Pioneer Woman's mashed potatoes? Or Martha Stewart's mom's?

Decisions, decisions.

I'm in heaven.

(Jeni over at One Thing posted a very funny tribute to her foodie sister earlier this week. She captured how I feel about Thanksgiving perfectly. Food is my spiritual gift.)

------ 5 ------

Given that I'm slightly excited about Thanksgiving, you might think I've been loving the "Dear Food Network: Thanksgiving" specials. You would be right. I stumbled on the dessert episode Wednesday night, and I'm still lusting after a piece of Alton Brown's pear-cranberry pie. And Ina Garten's nontraditional mixed berry cheesecake? Wow. I've never made a cheesecake before. But I'm mighty tempted to try it after I saw that one. (But for Christmas. I can't NOT make pie for Thanksgiving. Tradition, remember.)

------ 6 ------

I checked out a stack of books at the library last week, the first time I've checked out anything for myself in about a year. (Who has time to read when you have a blog and three kids?) I immediately devoured Tony Campolo's "Letters to a Young Evangelical." I don't agree with Mr. Campolo's viewpoint on many things. But he's a spectacular thinker and communicator, and I believe he's very much a prophet, calling the modern Western church to get back to the basics of Christianity and not be swayed away by the siren call of political power or too much Western thinking. I recommend it.

------ 7 ------

The sad truth? It's taken me almost six hours to write this post, thanks to constant but sweet interruptions. Which means I'll barely get it posted while it's still Friday. So that clunky title, Jennifer? How about Saturday Seven?

The Band in My Utensil Drawer

As I was making dinner last night, Connor started sorting through my utensil drawer, on the hunt for “musical instruments for his band.”

He pulled out a solitary chopstick.

“It’s a baton,” he explained.

Next up, my wooden rolling pin.

“A guitar,” he grinned.

My favorite tongs?

“A snapper,” he said, clicking the two pinchers together.

A cookie dough scoop?

“A skoozer,” he said emphatically.

(I don’t ask questions.)

Then my long-forgotten wine bottle opener, a relic from the days I worked at Friday’s and Olive Garden.

“A gun,” he solemnly said.

Because goodness knows, every band needs a gun. Those groupies can get out of control.

My post at 5 Minutes for Parenting today is also about when cooking and parenting collide. Sort of. It's a little esoteric. Go see for yourself.

Deep Thoughts, Part One

I have so many deep thoughts rumbling around in my brain right now. It feels weighted down and very tangled. One trail leads to another which leads to another. Eventually, I end up going in circles. And the fact that I'm sleep deprived doesn't help. As I've often said to Corey this past week, I don't think I'm licensed for this.

What I really need to do is journal. It's always been the way I clean out my mind. There's something tremendously cathartic about getting all those thoughts out of my head and down on paper where they can be studied and analyzed and (if nothing else) captured and told to be still. But lately, I find it difficult to journal because the blog guilt is ever present. "Shouldn't you be writing something for the blog? Have you checked Twitter lately? Did you leave a comment on all the blogs you read today?"

Annoying. And wrong.

I've got some ideas about how to balance this addictive and fulfilling hobby with the kind of writing I used to do on a regular basis. But so far, I haven't reached any conclusions. Circles, you know. But still. It's good to be thinking about it. I feel like, the past few months, I haven't had a blog. The blog has had me.

That has got to change.


Teyla past the ten-month mark on Sunday.


Making the time warp worse was the fact that my nephew -- whom I've only gotten to see once in the last 12 months, which breaks my heart -- turned one on Sunday. ONE!

He is the first child of my brother, Michael, and his lovely and hysterical wife, Julie. And he may be one of the cutest babies ever to be born.

Here he is just at just a few weeks old.

The face! I can't get over it!

And here is in at his party on Sunday.

With his Mom.

And his Dad. (Michael is just three years younger than me. I feel the need to point that out, since I will now feel younger by association.)

Looking at his birthday party pictures last night made me feel a nostalgic and time warpish. (It's a word now.) So I did what I often do when feeling a tug on the heart strings -- I pulled up my blog from exactly one year ago and read what I was thinking about 12 months hence. I posted over at 5 Minutes for Parenting today about what I was doing back then.

Adding to the sense of wistfulness is that my sister, who birthed the other cutest nephew on the planet almost two years ago, is now pregnant with her second. And TODAY is the all-important ultrasound where she finds out if she's having a girl or boy. (This post was about her, by the way. Corey's record lives or dies with Emily. The irony is rich and thick there.)

I just wish I was there in California with her to hear the news in person. I don't like all this living happening when I'm not around to experience it.

So there.

But I am blessed beyond measure to know that my siblings and nephews (and maybe a niece?) are living each day in love and health and security. Family is the best gift from God that I can imagine.

I guess that's why time seems to fly. We're just having too much fun.


Corey offered to take the kids Saturday morning and leave me home alone with Teyla.

“I can get them to karate at 10:00 and then hit Home Depot and Trader Joe’s before swimming lessons. You’ll have the whole morning to yourself,” he said warmly.

How could I deny that?

Yet, as I helped the kids get into their karate uniform and tie their belts, I felt oddly empty.

I went to find Corey.

“I don’t want to be home all day,” I said meekly. “I know you’re trying to help me, but if you run all the errands this morning, I’ll have nothing else to do today, no where else to go.”

He grinned at me.

“I forgot,” he said. “Solitude isn’t a gift to you.”

No. No, it’s not.

So he took the kids to karate while Teyla took a nap. Then I ran the rest of the errands – plus lunch at Wendy’s – to round out the morning.

And I was happy.

Library Day

My head is stuffed with cotton and filled with deep thoughts tonight -- the product of sleep training a strong-willed child and me inhaling this book in a matter of days. I'll have much more to say about that .... soon. (I'd say "tomorrow," but we all know that's the kiss of death for a post. So I'll just say ... soon.)

But first, I need to show you what book Natalie checked out of the school library this week.

It's a Christian romance novel.

It's called "Loving Care," in case you can't make out the title due to all the pastel sweetness on the cover.

The back summary says (and I quote):
After the failure of her marriage many years ago, Christie Hanuman started over and vowed to remain single . . . until her ex-husband walked back into her life. Patrick had also changed, and was now raising his three-year-old son while also caring for his ailing father. Even more amazing to Christie, he had discovered a profound faith in God. Was this transformation a sign from above? And with so much history and love between them, could Christie dig deep into her soul and uncover the truth -- that she'd never stopped loving Patrick . . . and that this was a new chance at happiness?
It's sap at its strongest. Worse, Christian sap. (Sorry for the offense. Just goes against everything that is within me.)

Also? Natalie is seven. She's in second grade. Last year at this time, she couldn't read a Dr. Seuss book by herself.

When I pulled the paperback out of her school bag, we had the following conversation.

"Ummmm, Natalie? Is this the book you checked out of the library today?"

"Yes Mom," she said with a bright smile. "It's a chapter book. It's called 'Loving Care.' And I know we should be loving and we should care, so I checked it out."

Hard to argue with that.

Thankfully, the book was set aside immediately, as are most of the books she self-selects at the school library each week. (Last week's selection was a field guide to butterflies.)

As for me? I'll be stepping up my own loving care of Natalie this very month. If it's chapter books she wants, chapter books she will have.

Only none of the ones I'm choosing have pastel covers.

Election Reflection

I have to admit: I didn't wake up this morning with a pit in my stomach that signaled the world was about to end.

(I can't vouch for my sister. She lives in California, near San Francisco; thus, her exposure to The Crazy is about 250% more than mine. For the past six weeks, she's been making plans to move the family to our house in Tiny Town -- which is still on the market, in case you were wondering and/or looking for lake property. She's already decided that her husband will bring his gun to hunt deer, that the garden would need to be expanded to feed the extended family, that she would assume the homeschooling duties for the children in the compound if I would agree to cook. And all this was decided at 2:00 AM. She's nothing if not a Beaver.)

There's a part of me that feels I should be more concerned. After all, while I respect the process that gave President-Elect Obama his title and while I'm absolutely sure that God is in charge even today, I don't agree with many of the man's politics. Many of his views run completely contrary to my own, and he has now been given the right to enact those viewpoints.

But last night, I went to bed with a blanket of peace wrapped securely around my heart and my head, and this morning, I awoke with a smile on my face. (After I'd had my coffee, natch.)

Want to know why? Read the whole story over at 5 Minutes for Parenting.

Beacon of Hope

Teyla was awake more than she was asleep last night. I woke up this morning with puffy eyes and a pound of cotton in my brain. Teyla was equally delightful. She woke up at 7:00 AM and started crying. No smiles, no coos, just wails.

Alrighty then.

Connor, Natalie and I managed to get ready for the day amid the screams. ("SHE'S HURTING MY EARS!" Connor shouted at one point, his hands firmly covering his own.) We left for school on time, which was an accomplishment. I tried to grab that small beacon of hope and hang on. I'm not a morning person in any sense of the word, but I hate starting my day with a thundercloud around my head.

I assumed Teyla, bless her poor exhausted soul, would fall into a sleep coma the second we hit the freeway. I assumed wrongly. She stayed awake. However, the screaming stopped.

Which is why I decided to drive straight to the polling center after we deposited Natalie in her classroom.

That's when the beacon of hope started to shine a little brighter.

It's a beautiful morning here in the Twin Cities. Normally, November is a bleak, gray, barren month. But this year, fall is refusing to succumb to winter's bullying ways. As I drove along my neighborhood streets, I saw trees still clothed in shades of gold, maroon and wine and bushes blazing with brilliant red. The grass is still green, if not growing. The sun is bright and warm. Our high today is 71 (which is about 25 degrees above normal).

I pulled into the Lutheran church where I would cast my vote, a freedom that was bought for me with much sweat and even more blood. Moms pushing strollers and elderly couples walking slowly and young men with scraggly beards mingled on the sidewalk. I parked the mini-van and joined the throngs. Despite the uncertainty about the economy and the angst about the direction of our country, the tone was decidedly expectant and proud. The red "I Voted" stickers were worn as badges of honor.

And that they are.

I have mixed feelings about politics. I have little faith in either party these days, nor do I believe that America is somehow close to God's heart because of the faith of some of our founding fathers. I think God is in perfect control of this world, no matter who is elected President tomorrow, and I have complete peace in that.

But I do love this country. Despite her many, many flaws, I believe she is among the best countries in the world. And that's why I was proud to vote this morning, proud to have my five-year-old son help me put my ballot in the ballot scanner, proud to have my baby daughter hugging my thigh as I exercised this precious freedom.

That beacon of hope shines brighter still.

Which is a good thing.

Because Teyla is crying in her bed right now, refusing to go down for her nap.

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have a Winner

Wow. What a fantastic turnout for the Sloppy Baby giveaway. I think 219 entries sets some kind of a record for me.

But I don't blame you. My friend's baby gear is adorable. Who can resist it?

And the winner is ...

Random Integer Generator

Here are your random numbers:


Timestamp: 2008-11-03 02:58:21 UTC

... Leslie. She doesn't have a blog, but in her comment, she said she has a new baby, Shelby Kate, and thus far, Shelby has had to make do with hand-me-downs from her older sister. Well, no more! Shelby is about to get some baby stuff of her very own. I hope she enjoys it.

Thanks for playing everyone. And congratulations Leslie! May you enjoy each day with your own sloppy (but sweet) baby.

Willy Wonka's Got Nothing On Me

I'm pretty sure a diabetic would keel over just by walking across my threshold right now.

There is candy everywhere. EVERYWHERE. From the looks it, an entire regiment of Oompa-Loompas has set up shop in my kitchen.

How did it get this bad?

I bought two bags of candy late in September --
a 105-count bag of Blow Pops and a 290-count bag of Sweet-Tarts, Laffy Taffys, Nerds and Runts.

Late last week, I panicked. We have at least 40 kids in our neighborhood these days, I reasoned. I have enough candy for them. But what if we are flooded with adorable little visitors? What if the kids in our complex have friends over? What if I run out?

So I swung by Sam's Club and picked up a third bag. "Just in case," I told myself. "I won't open this one. I'll just keep it as insurance."

And last night?

We had seven trick-or-treaters. SEVEN.

Rumor has it that most of our neighbors took their kids to THE MALL to trick or treat in banal safety.

Meanwhile, Connor and Natalie trick-or-treated in our townhouse complex and were rewarded with handfuls of candy at each stop. Seems I wasn't the only person in our neighborhood to overestimate the amount of Halloween candy needed. Connor and Natalie actually had to come home every few houses to empty their buckets.

We even opened the door this morning to find one of our neighbors -- a single guy from India who appears completely amused at the Halloween frivolity -- handing us all the bags of candy he wasn't able to give out last night. He said he didn't want it in the house, and he figured we could use it.

Corey didn't have the heart to refuse him.

And that's how I ended up with 12 pounds of candy in my kitchen.

How many Operation Christmas Child boxes do you think I can fill?

WFMW: Operation Halloween Candy

Halloween is just two days away, in case you've somehow managed to avoid the merchandising machine that has created a monster out of October 31. ("It lives! IT LIVES!")

I always know Halloween is nigh when my In Box starts to fill with e-mail forwards containing pictures of cheesy pet costumes.

I mean, seriously. Is that pet abuse? Or pet adoration? (Or pet product placement?)

That has absolutely nothing to do with my Works for Me Wednesday tip, except that my tip is related to Halloween.

If your kids are like mine, they will be hauling in copious amounts of candy Friday night. (True story: We still have Halloween candy from last year in the cupboard. It's out of control.)

Last year, I decided to dwindle that stash immediately. After Natalie and Connor went to bed Halloween night, I went through their bags and removed almost all of the non-chocolate candy -- the Tootsie Rolls, the Dum-Dums, the Nerds, the licorice, the bubble gum, the Sweet-Tarts and the like -- and used it as filler for my Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes, which I typically pack in early November. It acted nicely to cushion the real presents inside, and I was able to share the treats of Halloween with kids who probably didn't have a stash of candy from last year still in their kitchen.

Redistribution of the wealth. It works for me. (Sorry. I couldn't resist.)

For more Works for Me Wednesday tips, head back to Shannon's.

The Night of the Barely Living and other Such Tales

Want to get your creative juices flowing? Join me over at 5 Minutes for Parenting today, where I'm coming up with true horror movies.

Such as:

I Know What You Won’t Be Doing Next Summer
New parents are horrified to learn that their life après baby doesn’t allow for midnight movie showings or spontaneous weekend trips. PG (repeated showings of “Yo Gabba Gabba” may disturb some viewers)

Come up with your own movie, leave me a comment over there and you could win (I know! Stop the insanity!) a year subscription to Parenting magazine.

In lieu of flowers, please send donations

(Reminder: If you haven't entered my Sloppy Baby giveaway, leave me a comment here. It's open until Friday, then closed for all eternity.)

Thank you for your condolences on the loss of my Starbucks.

(I can't believe Hallmark didn't start making a card for that as soon as the store closure list was released last July, honestly. Talk about a missed marketing opportunity.)

To clarify, I do have other Starbucks in my general vicinity. Specifically, there is one in almost every Target store, and seeing as this is Target's home base, I can't throw a cat without hitting a Target.

(Not that I'd throw a cat, but....)

(No, actually, I take that back. I tossed our ex-cat countless times when she was in the process of sinking her teeth deep into my calf muscles. So the statement stands.)

It's just that my old Starbucks, may she rest in peace, was right around the corner from my house. On balmy summer evenings, we rode our bikes there and bought Vivanno smoothies for the kids. I could swing by, get some new beans for our morning brew and be on my way again in less than two minutes. I harbored fantasies that one day, when the kids were all in school, I would make that Starbucks my morning writing laboratory and complete my transformation into Hip 30-Something Writer Chick. (Which I would basically describe as a more mature version of Word Girl, my personal hero.)

But now, those dreams are shattered, and the only stand-alone coffee joint on my daily drive is a Caribou Coffee, which, like Target, is headquartered in the Twin Cities, and therefore, should have my loyalty. But I find their coffee to be anemic and their customer service dismal or outright hostile. So I shrink from handing them $2 for a cup of joe.

And that is why I will be upping my consumption of coffee brewed by the sexiest barista on the planet. Corey makes the best French press coffee for me each Saturday and Sunday morning. It's like drinking warm-brand-new-fleece-worn-next-to-a-roaring-fire. With hazelnut cream. (Or peppermint mocha, as soon as Coffee-Mate decides the holiday season has begun. Note to Coffee-Mate executive: Target's already made the call. Get on board, people. Release the yumminess.)

Plus, Corey's customer service is second to none. On Saturday, while he was at the gym, I text messaged him (I know! Text messaging! See? I'm halfway there to that Hip Writer thing.) the following: "On your way home, could you stop and get me a Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate? Oh. ... Wait. ... "

I was really just trying to make him laugh. The last couple of weeks have been busy and exhausting, leaving us very little time to connect. I didn't want a hot chocolate as much as I wanted to show him I was still thinking about him, that he remains my best friend.

And that is why he made my day, when, 30 minutes later, when he walked into the house holding a steaming cup of my new favorite drink.

He had driven 20 minutes OUT OF HIS WAY to get it for me.

Who needs a neighborhood Starbucks? I've got my love to keep me warm.

And caffeinated.

Got a Sloppy Baby? Have I got a deal for you.

Five years ago, when we moved from San Diego to Tiny Town, Minnesota, I had many misgivings. (Which is a huge understatement, but for the sake of expediency, we'll move along.)

Minnesota, I knew. I grew up in the Twin Cities.

But I had never lived in a small town before. I wondered if I would fit in. I didn't have my first baby until I was almost 30, clearly making me an "older mother." (I hear you laughing, AM.) I spent most of my free time online. I rarely ate fast food. I loved my coffee. I had never set foot in a Wal-Mart. Would I stick out like some sort of traveling California freak show?

Much to my relief, God connected me almost immediately with a group of women who put my fears to rest. Most of them were from Tiny Town, but they were still "my people." They were funny, authentic, smart and friendly. And their homes! Oh my word. I guess when you don't have to spend $500,000 to buy a two-bedroom rambler, you can actually afford to decorate with Pottery Barn. They were all like something out of a magazine spread. These ladies had great style and sharp wit and loving hearts. (I forgive them for not feeling that epidurals are necessary for childbirth.) I no longer live in Tiny Town, but I know many of those friendships will continue for the rest of my life.

That is the back-story behind my fabulous prize for the Bloggy Giveaways Fall Carnival. One of my friends from that playgroup went on to start her own business. It's called Sloppy Baby, and it makes über-hip bibs, burp cloths and blankets that are sold in trendy boutique stores all over the U.S. They are so chic, they are even included in fabulous baskets of baby swag given away to celebrities.

And now you have a chance to own a whole Sloppy Baby set for yourself. My gracious friend has agreed to give away a full gift basket -- a fully reversal bib, a matching burp cloth and a patchwork baby blanket made out of patterned cotton squares and plush fabrics -- to one lucky winner.

My favorite is the Samantha set, because I'm a sucker for pink and brown. (Teyla is wearing pink and brown today, in fact.)

But check out the Finley set, pictured at left. It's super fun, made with bright colors and playful sock monkeys. If I had a baby boy right now, I'd be all over that.

And of course, everything is machine washable and super soft and touchable. My best friend, who has the Julia blanket, says its her daughter's favorite snuggle toy.

Which would you chose? Just go to the Sloppy Baby website, check out their gift sets and leave me a comment letting me know which one is your favorite. Comments will be open until midnight on Friday, October 31. (Insert scary ghostly moans here.) I'll pick a random winner this weekend and announce the winner next Monday.

Be sure to check out Bloggy Giveaways all week for more fabulous prizes. It's like Christmas in October.

(Which is pretty much like saying, "Hey, we're just like Target!" I shopped for Halloween candy last week with lighted reindeer glaring at me from the shelves above. Seriously retailers. One season at a time, people. One season at a time.)

Note to Family: No Starbucks Gift Cards for Christmas This Year

My neighborhood Starbucks closed its doors on Friday.

It's only now that I'm able to talk about it.

It wasn't a surprise. Technically, I've known it was coming ever since Starbucks HQ released the list of store closings back in July.

But still. It hurts. They took away my caffeine. Not to mention that was the only distributor of Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate for a five-mile radius.

Some of you may be rolling your eyes right now. I know it's not hip to like Starbucks. Too homogenized, too ubiquitous, too bent on world domination.

But here in Minnesota, coffee isn't just trendy. In January, when it's dark 28 hours a day and the temperature struggles to hit -40, coffee is life. It's necessity. It's survival. And that Starbucks was the only coffee shop on my daily route.

Guess I'll have to turn to the caffeine dealer next on the chain -- my husband. He makes a mean cup of joe.

And lucky for me, he's not going anywhere.

I'll Take Most Excellent Harmonies for $500, Alex

It's been a long day.

I could tell you how Teyla got up four times last night (and Connor twice) and how one of those times she was up for 90 minutes. I could tell you that she didn't nap today, again, except for a few brief cat naps in the car. I could tell you that I was alone with the kids for the evening, again, since Corey taught Bible study last night and had a client in town tonight. I could tell you how I decided to try to make tonight special for Connor and Natalie by making fall cookies with them, but that decorating cookies loses its charm when a 9-month-old is hugging your knee the entire time you're working with the kids, sobbing and falling down and trying desperately to get you to pick her up because she's so, so overtired she doesn't even know what to do with herself.

But instead, I'll just show you this video. Because in the end, this is how I want to remember tonight.

"Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious -- the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies."
- Philippians 4:8-9, The Message

(For what it's worth, I'm so backblogged this week -- hat tip to Angie for the brilliant word creation -- that it's not even funny. Exhaustion will do that to a person. But I'm coming 'round to visit this weekend. I promise.)

The Tangle

I've had a tangle of thoughts in my head for a while now. They are so tightly interwoven, its difficult for me to follow one coherent string to its end. But they all share the same basic color -- that of simplifying, learning to be still, focusing on eternal priorities, nurturing a thankful heart, living a disciplined life, being purposeful.

My post over at 5 Minutes for Parenting today touches on one shade of that theme. So head over there and let me know if it resonates with you. (Or if my thoughts are so muddled they doesn't make sense to anyone outside of my mind.)

Bonus for you, since you're here -- a profound quote that is having a huge impact on me this year in regard to the tangle.
By examining as closely and candidly as I could the life that had come to seem to me in many ways a kind of trap or dead-end street, I discovered that it really wasn't that at all. I discovered that if you really keep your eye peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even such a limited and limiting life as the one I was living on Rupert Mountain opened up onto extraordinary vistas. Taking your children to school and kissing your wife goodbye. Eating lunch with a friend. Trying to do a decent day's work. Hearing the rain patter against the window. There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly. In writing those lectures and the book they later turned into, it came to seem to me that if I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.
- Frederick Buechner, "Now and Then"

Why I Blog

While Natalie was at her dance class last Thursday afternoon, Connor, Teyla and I crammed in a trip to the grocery store.

It was my first trip to a real grocery store in a long time, which is sad, really, because I love grocery shopping. No lie. Grocery stores make me happy. There's something about all those orderly aisles and the colorful produce and the smells of the bakery that releases a flood of endorphins in my brain. I smile, I relax. I might even get a little giddy.

Corey mocks me mercilessly, but I have a strong id. He can't touch quench this fire.

As I was shopping Thursday, several things struck me.

1. The music of my life is now grocery store muzak. As I buckled the kids in the shopping cart (the kind with the car on the front, which is so huge it practically requires its own ZIP code), I realized the song coming from the overhead speakers was "No One is to Blame" by Howard Jones. "Wow," I thought to myself. "I haven't heard that song in forever. Funny. It still bugs me."

I shopped for canned fruit while humming Kool and the Gang's "Cherish." I bought some chicken while a Madonna-wannabe exhorted me to take a "Holiday."

And a part of me died, just a little.

Those were the songs of roller skating rink angst, people. ANGST. And now they've been reduced to background music for middle-aged housewives who consider a trip to the grocery store the highlight of the day.

I am old.

2. Earlier this year, I was a regular buyer of organic milk. Now that the economic picture is growing darker by the nanosecond, I'm a regular buyer of the store brand. (Although it's still r-BST free. I can't compromise on that one.)

3. I bought the following vegetables: celery, onions, carrots and potatoes. Oh yes. Fall has arrived. Goodbye garden fresh tomatoes and piles of verdant green beans. I'll see you next year.

4. When you are in a hurry and are shopping with two young children and you have your cart piled high with food, it helps to have your wallet in your purse instead of in the car.

Thankfully, the checkout clerks at our neighborhood grocery store are long-suffering. As are you, for having read that list.

I call it Exhibit A in "Why I'm Glad To Have A Blog."

A few days weeks About a month ago, Lisa @ Take 90 West tagged me with a meme (which rhymes with theme; Lisa taught me that). The purpose of the meme is to share five ways blogging has affected you, either positively or negatively.

Her answers were great, as were the Queen B's before her. So I felt like I needed to give this one a little time to ruminate before I did it. (Translate: I was really tired and couldn't hold a coherent thought in my head if my brain were made of Velcro.)

Here's what I've come up with. All are positive.

1. My blog motivates me to write. When I first started my blog, I was excited to have a deadline again, even if it was self-imposed. Over the years, I've learned I function best when I have a little outside motivation. There's nothing like the thought that my story is going to be on the air in 60 seconds to make me bang out that final sentence with a flourish.

2. My blog gives me a channel to share the randomness that otherwise clogs my mind. Theoretically, anyway.


3. I love that blogs are two-way conversations. It's not just me writing in a vacuum. It's a dialogue. (Hint: This is why comments are important.)

4. Virtual conversations have led to real friendships. I treasure so many of you that I have gotten to know online. Like Lisa and The Queen B said, I often talk about you to my real-life friends or family and then find myself in the awkward position of having to explain that "No, I don't really know these people, at least not in the sense that I've stood next to them. But I still KNOW them." Because I do. I feel like I know you. And I like you. I really, really like you.

Bonus: Meeting virtual friends in real life. This past Saturday, I had breakfast with a group of Twin Cities bloggers. There was much laughter and much coffee and much noshing (which made this breakfast lovin' girl quite happy) and I can't wait to do it again.

(Clockwise from bottom left: Rachel from Badgers on the Loose, Heather at Extraordinary Ordinary, me, Sara from Greetings from Butterville, Whitney from Baby Tunnel Exodus, Jenny from A Latte Talk and Heidi from Minnesota Mom.)

Also, please note that none of us are ax murderers posing as mommy bloggers. In case you were as concerned about that as our husbands were.

5. And that leads me to my final positive affect. These bloggy relationships have encouraged me as I seek to be a disciple of Jesus. I love to laugh. I love the companionship of other moms. I love learning and being intellectually challenged. But in the end, my favorite aspect of blogging is when a fellow blogger comes alongside and encourages me (literally: infuses me with courage) to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith. Sisters in Christ; there is nothing like it.

I'm now supposed to tag some other bloggers to keep the fun going. Normally, I flake out at this point. But since I'm still on a sanguine high from my breakfast Saturday morning, I'm going to tag my fellow pancake-loving, coffee-drinking Twin Cities bloggers.

And next time, ladies, I'd be honored to serve you breakfast at my place. I'm always looking for an excuse to go to the grocery store.

Connor, Part Two

For Part One, click here.

"What do you mean, they don't do epidurals?!?" I gasped. It wasn't easy to talk, seeing as the very air was being sucked out of my lungs by the collapse of the universe.

My new friends laughed nonchalantly. "They've never done epidurals at our hospital. But it's not a big deal. They do intrathecals instead, and they are almost as good."

I don't remember the rest of the play date. I'm pretty sure I excused myself shortly thereafter, gathered up Natalie and ran for my car, where I promptly started to ball. (Oh crazy pregnancy hormones, you never fail.)

I called Corey, still breathless, and we had the following conversation.

Me (ragged with tears): "I just heard the most horrible news!"
Corey (concerned): "What? What's wrong?"
Me: "The girls at playgroup just told me that the hospital in this god-forsaken little town doesn't do epidurals!"
Corey: (silence)
Me: "Are you still there? Did you hear me?!? NO EPIDRUALS! I am moving back to California as soon as I can pack my bags. Are you with me?
Corey (amused, which was NOT the right tone, may I add): "Wow. For a minute there, you made me think something was really wrong. Like an ax murderer was loose on the streets or something."

I don't remember the rest of our conversation. (Denial is my favorite coping mechanism.)

Eventually, I learned that our hospital, like many rural medical centers, had decided it would be too expensive to hire an anesthesiologist dedicated solely to laboring women. Instead, they offered intrathecal narcotics, which don't require anesthesiologist and are like epidurals light -- "half of the pain relief with double the side effects."

I was devastated. But I loved my doctor. And my new friends tried to reassure me by giving me glowing reviews of the intrathecal. "It really helped take the pain off during transition. Of course, the itching was so bad they had to give me Benedryl in an IV for 24 hours. And that meant I slept through my baby's first day. And I threw up a lot. But otherwise -- it was golden!"

Fast forward to my 9th month. During my first cervical check at 36 weeks, my OB pronounced me 2 cm dilated. I was stunned. Natalie had been born at 41 weeks, and I was barely 2 cm the day she was induced.

The trend continued. At 37 weeks, I was 3 cm. At 38 weeks, I was 4 cm. At 39 weeks, I was 5 cm. "Cool!" I thought. "I'm halfway there, and I haven't even felt a contraction worthy of calling Doc Baker."

My OB wasn't as enthused. "You can't walk around town 5 cm dilated," she said firmly. "When that baby comes, he will come fast. You are going to have that baby in Wal-Mart if you aren't careful. Do you want to have your baby in Wal-Mart, Kelly?"

I assured her I didn't. I asked if Target was an option.

She said it was, but that she probably wouldn't be able to make it in time for the delivery. As an alternative, she strongly urged me to come back to the hospital the next day to get induced.

The next day. As in THE NEXT DAY.

I was thrown into a tailspin. I had never considered that I could have a baby BEFORE my due date. It had never happened in my family. And I had a lot on my To Do List for the upcoming weekend. The next day? Really?

But in the end, after much praying and many phone calls and tons of adrenaline, Corey and I decided my OB was right. I called the hospital and put myself on the induction calendar for the next morning. Decision made, and nerves aflutter, I sat down with Corey and Natalie for our last dinner as a family of three.

It was somewhere in the middle of dinner, around 7:00 PM, when I noticed I was having contractions. They didn't hurt; it was more of a tightening sensation. Still, they wouldn't stop. So I told Corey I was going to lie down on the couch for a while and see what happened.

It was on the couch that I noticed the contractions were actually coming in a pattern. Four minutes apart. Steady. Tick, tick.

Corey was alarmed. He urged me to call the hospital and ask a nurse for advice. So I did. On the phone, I downplayed my situation, both because I hate to be a bother to anyone and because I truly didn't believe I could be in labor. The nurse advised me to get into a warm bath, drink lots of water, relax, etc.

I followed her advice. But the contractions didn't stop. They got stronger. And painful.

By 8:00 PM, I told Corey we might as well head for the hospital. If the contractions stopped once we got there, we could always just spend the night. We were scheduled to be induced at 7:30 AM anyway.

Thus began the scramble to find someone to stay with Natalie. I won't bore you with the details. (An ironic statement for sure in the middle of this long, rambling post.) But we didn't know our neighbors, our closest family members were two hours away and the few friends I had made in town were all unavailable. So it took time -- precious, precious time. I ended up lying on the bed, moaning a little, trying desperately not to think about the future and just focus on my breathing. "Please, Lord. Just help me breathe."

Finally, one of my friends helped us find a grandma substitute. She arrived at 9:30 PM. By this point, I couldn't stand without collapsing in pain. Corey carried me to his SUV and we were off, racing to the hospital, running deserted red lights, screeching around corners. "It's just like the movies!" I thought between contractions.

At the hospital, Corey pulled directly into the ambulance bay. A crowd of people came running. (Not that I saw them. By this point, my eyes were firmly closed as I tried to cope with the ever-quickening contractions.) They pulled a gurney around to my door. I rolled over and fell on it. Two orderlies wheeled me to a room in Labor and Delivery, where a trio of nurses took over my care.

Not sensing (or maybe not believing) the urgency in my demeanor ("I was already dilated to 5 cm at my OB appointment this morning. Can you please get the intrathecal right now?"), they suggested we start by getting me into a gown.

Trying to be a cooperative patient, I got up and took two steps toward the bathroom. But I didn't even make it through the doorway before collapsing on the tile with my head on the tub.

"Can't stand," I panted. "Need to lay down. Stay on side."

The nurses were convinced. They whipped into action, supporting me to the bed, dressing me in a hospital gown even as I stayed curled in a fetal position.

About that time, Corey made it to the room. It was about 10:00 PM.

I continued to ask for the intrathecal. The head nurse said she needed to check my progress before she could call for the narcotics.

Her next words changed everything. "Honey, you're already dilated to a 9. We don't have time for any medication. This baby will be here before that."

And with that, she placed me squarely in the middle of my greatest nightmare.

The next 30 minutes were excruciating but mercifully fast. The OB on call (not my doctor) sauntered into my room to do his standard meet and greet and was met by a flurry of nurses yelling, "Change out of your street clothes! NOW!" He ran out of the room.

I started to feel the urge to push, which scared the heck out of me. I had pushed for an hour with Natalie -- after my nurse had turned off my epidural and turned up my pitocin. (Like I said, another story.) Pushing was THE ABSOLUTE WORST PART of labor for me. I couldn't believe I was getting ready to do it again WITHOUT ANY PAIN MEDS.

But what do you do? There's no retreat. So I moaned and gasped and pushed and suddenly -- Connor was here, a red-faced, dark-haired baby placed on my shuddering chest.

The time was 10:30 PM. We had been at the hospital for 30 minutes.

Doc Baker would never have made it.

Post-Script: Connor today is a sweet, smart, inquisitive imp. He is obsessed with Legos. He's a mastermind at puzzles. He can read almost as well as Natalie, which is a little freaky to me. He can count to 100. He loves to make Teyla laugh by running into a wall. He's goofy and charming and he has the longest eyelashes I've ever seen on a boy. I'm totally in love with him. He was worth it all and more.

Happy 5th birthday, buddy.

Connor, Part One

Good gravy, the last two days have beat me up and left me for dead. Birthdays are fun, but I swear I had no sooner finished one task than it would be time to start the second. "The cake is in the oven. Now, I can blog.... Except I'm supposed to be making the icing right now. And as soon as that is done, I'll need to wrap his present before Dad gets home so we can open it and he can play Legos while I decorate his cake and make dinner so we can rush to church at 6:30 and later I'll melt into a steaming puddle of goo next to my bed."

But roughly 80% of the festivities are done at this point -- we still have a family party on Sunday to look forward to -- so I finally have time to sit in my white Ikea chair and type up Connor's birth story for you. Which will truly be a pleasure. In fact, if Corey hadn't just crawled into bed at 9:00 PM (!!), I would ask him to make me some decaf so I could enjoy this experience to the hilt.

The most important thing you need to know before I start is this: I have been terrified of childbirth for most of my life. As far back as my memories go, even before I knew what was involved, the idea of birthing a baby scared me nearly to death. As a scrawny ten-year-old, I would lay awake at night, eyes staring into the darkness, and I would pray that God would never, ever make me endure something so hideous, so excruciating, so awful.

I trace the roots of this fear back to one source: "Little House on the Prairie."

Those of you who grew up with "Little House" know of what I speak. Childbirth on the prairie was akin to torture. It usually involved the mother-to-be writhing in a damp bed, with her normally well-braided hair flying askew. Doc Baker would wash his hands next to the bed and look hopeless. (Now that I think about it, Doc Baker always looked hopeless.) The next scene would be the father-to-be standing outside the house, while a anguished scream rent the heavens. And it usually ended with Doc Baker handing a bloody infant to the father, while simultaneously giving him that wearied shrug that clearly said, "Don't ask. You don't want to know."

So deep-rooted was this fear of labor that Corey and I didn't even consider having children until we'd been married eight years, and even then, the "goalie was pulled" only because a handful of my close friends had given birth at that point with the benefit of epidurals, and they swore by them. "I actually slept through part of my labor, Kelly. You can do this."

So we had Natalie, who's birth story will be saved for a future date. And she was a joy. My heart could scarcely contain the euphoria. I was a Mom. And I loved it. Who knew?

About 18 months after Natalie, I discovered I was pregnant again. We were thrilled, but it was rough timing. We were literally in the middle of our move from California to Minnesota. Corey wasn't even with me when I got the positive test results; he was driving our cars through the middle of a blizzard in Nebraska at the time.

The fatigue and nausea of the first trimester made our first few months in our new home a blur. (A blur of "Playhouse Disney," to be specific. To this day, I still get vaguely nauseous when I hear the theme for "Higglytown Heroes.") Eventually, I made it to the second trimester, and I started to venture out into my new community to make friends.

And that's how I found myself standing in the middle of a playground on a beautiful summer day, gasping as I heard the words, "No, they don't do epidurals here. Why?"

(Whoops! There's the baby. To be continued...)

(But thanks to the miracle of technology, you don't have to wait! Click here to go to Part 2 right now.)

No Rest for the Mommy

I'm over at 5 Minutes for Parenting today, hitting the wall. It's time for me to get serious about teaching Teyla how to sleep through the night. She needs to learn to self-soothe, to use the modern vernacular. But such a process takes a tremendous amount of energy from me, and it's daunting to tackle a task that you know will make you more exhausted before it gets better.

But so be it. It's motherhood. This is why we get paid the big bucks.

Oh. ... Wait.

Never mind.

But I'll do it anyway.

And while I hate to load up your feed reader, I'll be posting later today here at Love Well, because today is Connor's fifth birthday, and I have a mind to share his birth story. (Which is like crack for us mommies, isn't it? I can't turn away from a good birth story. Can. Not.)

Here's a teaser: The hospital where Connor was born doesn't do epidurals.

See you in a bit. If that doesn't scare you away.

Sunday Afternoon Naps

I took a nap this afternoon.

That is to say, it's Sunday.

Growing up in a pastor's family, Sunday afternoon naps weren't optional. They were required. Nay, they were next to godliness.

When I was a child, I didn't appreciate the tradition. I remember being forced to go into a darkened room on Sunday afternoons, long after I had given up naps on other days of the week. A skinny shaft of sunlight would tease me from under the window shade. I could hear the neighborhood kids laughing and calling to each other. Sometimes, I would sneak to the window and pull the shade to the side, just an inch, so I could gaze out at the promised land and the heathens that inhabited it.

As I got older, the naps became a refuge. The Sunday schedule was firmly fixed by the time I was a teenager. Get up. Say good-bye to Dad, since he had to leave super early for Important Pastor Stuff. Take a shower. Eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast, the only day each week my Mom didn't make us a hot meal. Curl bangs. Tease hair. Fight with Mom about why I had to wear a slip under my dress. (She usually won the battle. I won the war. I haven't worn a slip since I was 16.) Drive to church. Screech into parking lot, since we were usually running late. (Maybe because 1 Mom + 4 kids - 1 Dad = perpetual tardiness.) Go to Sunday school. Go to church. Hang around and talk with friends. Say good-bye to friends. Hang around and read books in the library. Hang around some more. Eventually leave for home, where Mom served us a huge Sunday dinner. Eat until my stomach feels ready to burst. Fall into bed and nap until 5:00, when it was time to get up, fight with my Mom about why I shouldn't have to wear a dress to Sunday night service and then attend said service.

These days, the Sunday afternoon nap isn't a regularly scheduled event. My Sundays aren't nearly as structured now as they used to be. I guess that's because I'm the Mom now, and it's hard to find time to sleep without everyone suddenly remembering they need me.

But today, I napped. (Thank you, Corey.) And it was good.