When The Mouse is a Blessing

Wow. I have to say, I'm a little surprised at the amount of vitriol out there for Chuck E. Cheese and his cohorts. I realize I didn't show a great deal of love in my last post, either -- but I was mostly being dramatic for comedic effect. (What, moi?)

For those of you who've never stepped foot in a CEC -- it's not nearly as bad as you fear. It's true that crowds of kids can be -- what's the word? Oh yes! Obnoxious. But I've found that most Midwestern parents are pretty good at policing their own kids. (Which was not my experience in California, by the way.) Good parenting can go a long way toward making a gang of little hooligans a lot less hooliganish.

(Can I make up words on my own blog? Or must I pull out my AP Style Book?)

Overall, I've found CEC to be clean, bright, safe (kids and parents hands are stamped coming in, and an employee stands guard near the doors) and fun family entertainment. And if you can go when school is in session -- which was my MOD before Natalie started first grade this year -- you can have the run of the place. I've met friends for afternoons at CEC when less than 20 kids were there the whole time.

There. I've said it. Chuck E. Cheese isn't that bad.

Please still like me.

Upon further reflection, I developed a theory. I'm wondering if many of you dislike CEC simply because you can. That is, you live in a climate where you don't have to entertain your children indoors for six months every year.

For those of us in the north, an indoor diversion such as Chuck E. Cheese is a blessing too great to ignore. Consider that my children haven't played outdoors since last October. (Those two sledding play dates excepted.) No backyard playgrounds, no neighborhood parks, no riding bikes, no walks through the woods. We've been inside, at home -- playing games, making projects, watching videos, setting up make-believe restaurants and tea parties and Little People worlds. We are desperate for a departure from the routine. Chuck E. Cheese is a oasis for those of us suffering from cabin fever.

So how about it? Does my theory hold water? Leave me a comment with your general location (warm climate, cold climate will suffice) and tell me if you've ever looked forward to a visit to CEC. And be honest. After my confessions the last few days, what do you have to lose?

No. Not Disney World. The Place with the Other Mouse.

So it's day three of Natalie and Connor's spring break. So far this week, we've managed to clean the house, do some laundry, get sick, puke a little, do some more laundry and watch Noggin 27 hours a day.

Fun times.

That's a lie.

Today, in a last-ditch effort to escape the walls of this abode, which are caving in on me like ... well, like something that caves in dramatically and with flair, we went to Rat E. Fromage. (Hat tip to the talented Mr. Lileks.)

Purposefully scheduling a trip to CEC during spring break week might be one of the sure signs of insanity. To say it was busy would be an understatement. I think the Skeeball games might have been spitting out full-grown children instead of tickets.

But it got us out of the house. For that, I am grateful. And we got to see one of my favorite people in the world -- my friend Sonjia. She lives in the small town we left last August. I don't get to be with her nearly as much these days, which makes my heart hurt a little. I'll do just about anything to sit in a room with her for a few hours and talk face to face.

So. My observations about Chuck E. Cheese?

1. It's great training for a future generation of gambling addicts. I saw scores of kids standing near the "bonus ticket" games, feeding tokens in one after another with a completely blank look on their faces. They didn't even watch to see what or if they had won . They just kept shoving in small gold disks. It's like the little old ladies who play the slots machines in Vegas have found the Fountain of Youth, only they couldn't shake their bad habits. Now there's a horror movie someone needs to make. (Can't be any worse than "Rock Monster.") (Seriously.)

2. D
id you know Chuck E. now sings classic '80s tunes during his twice-hourly shows? 'Tis true. I was slightly disturbed to realize A-Ha's "Take On Me" was being sung by a six-foot-tall mouse. But I guess CEC knows their audience -- and the age of their audience's parents.

3. The pizza at CEC is really pretty good. I'm as stunned as you are. But I'm dead serious here. (Notice how I avoided saying seriously there? Thank you.) I even took home the leftovers. If that admission makes you like me less, I'm sorry.

4. China has found a new buyer for their lead-infused toys, and it is CEC. The vast amounts of crapola they have available for ticket redemption is truly astounding. Naturally, kids love it. Natalie got the following for her 78 tickets:

Oh! And this fetching jewel in her hair.

But in the end, the noise and the chaos and the KIDS EVERYWHERE and the large rodents butchering some of the best music in the world -- none of that mattered. Because while I was talking to Sonjia, my kids crept up and placed this in front of me:

They made it for me -- blurry smiles and all -- "because we know you love us."

Yep. Totally worth it.

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like ...

... Easter.

What, doesn't everyone wake up to fresh snow on Easter morning?

It's something of a tradition in Minnesota -- especially when Easter has the audacity to land in March.

Needless to say, we didn't wear our Easter dresses to church this morning. Nor did we have an Easter egg hunt outside.

But that's OK. Because spring, as wonderful as it is, isn't Easter. And pretty pastel dresses aren't Easter. And chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks aren't Easter.

My Jesus -- He is Easter. And He's alive.

Did you feel the mountains tremble?

Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we've been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now!

Bad Friday

Yesterday morning, as the kids were eating breakfast, I reminded Natalie that she wouldn't have school today.

"Because of Good Friday," I added.

"You mean Bad Friday, Mommy," she replied, between bites of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. "Because Jesus died."

"Well, honey, it's a bad day for Jesus. But it's a good day for us, because if Jesus hadn't died on the cross, we wouldn't be able to be friends with God," I reasoned. "That's why we call it Good Friday."

She chewed thoughtfully for a moment, then said, "Well, if it's a bad day for Jesus, then it's a bad day for me."

May we all take Jesus' gift just that personally this weekend.

We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.
- Romans 5:7-8, The Message

My Mom

Here's a morning most Moms will recognize. (If you know Hebrew, insert the word yada there.)

I got up this morning after hitting snooze five times, stumbled into the bathroom, took a shower (and washed my hair, which should be an Olympic event due to the thickness and length thereof), got dressed, broke up a fight, admonished kindness, threatened no treats for the rest of the day if clothes were not procured immediately, remembered Natalie's class was celebrating pajama day today thus negating the need for said clothes, told Connor he did not have the same luxury, gathered crying baby from bed, fed crying baby, changed diaper, pushed tiny limbs into tiny onesie while cooing at tiny smiling face, directing the hoards downstairs for morning sustenance, poured Raisin Bran Crunch for Connor, pleaded with Natalie to eat something, anything, "it's the most important meal of the day," gave up trying to get Natalie to eat breakfast, resigned myself to raising a child who will most likely fail her SATs due to lack of morning sustenance, plucked crying infant out of hateful bouncy chair, tried to eat Kashi while holding infant in lap, wiped milk drips
due to lack of hand-eye coordination off of infant's head , forewarned children that The Bus O' Mom would be leaving in 5 minutes, gathered last-minute school supplies and Natalie's lunch, balanced supplies and lunch and coffee and baby on trip down stairs, ran back up the stairs to get coats and snow pants and gloves out of dryer where they had been stuffed last night after a very wet and wild last-minute sledding party at Angie's, helped kids put on coats (no coat for Mom, since the Coat Boycott is already underway), buckled happy infant in car seat, steeled nerves for the wailing that was about to ensue, corralled everyone into the car, backed out of the driveway and saw that we were on time for school.

And that was just the first 90 minutes of my day.

Being a Mom is tough work. Amen?

This is a particularly tender truth to me today, because today, my Mom is celebrating a Big Birthday. I won't risk her wrath by reporting her age (although she would have no idea how to avenge herself here, since she and computers are not on speaking terms). Let's just say it's one of those birthdays when living 2,000 miles away from my family really stinks.

So instead of a warm hug from her oldest daughter, she's getting this -- a tribute on the World Wide Web. Which isn't altogether a bad thing, because it gives me the chance to brag on her a little and tell you she's my Mom Hero.

Ever since she was a little girl, my Mom has always wanted to have children. She loves children. She's great with children. In fact, before she met my Dad, she was a nurse who spent much of her time working with children.

So it's probably no surprise that her first baby (that would be me) was born only 14 months after she got married.

(First, a picture of my parents, avant moi. Aren't they stinkin' adorable?)
(Look Mom! That French I took in high school is paying off!)

Childbirth was no picnic. In fact, if you want to see my Mom get excited and my Dad stammer, ask about the time my Dad left my Mom while she was in labor in the hospital so he could go home and take a nap.

(I know!)

But it must not have been too bad. (Either that, or she has a really bad memory.) (Wait. ... Where was I? Oh yes!)

She kept having babies. Sadly, none were as cute as me. But God bless 'em for trying.

In a few short years, our family looked like this:

(Well, hello 1980. How have you been?)

(My siblings are so loving me right now.)

But here's the thing. The serious thing. The thing I sat down to say. My Mom gave birth to four children, raised us all to love the Lord, love each other and cook (well, not that last one, but not because she didn't try) and SHE LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT.

I can honestly say her family is her crown. Her family is her joy. Even on the hard days -- and with four loud children, I suspect there were more than a few -- I daresay her heart was full. She had her children and her husband around her. Nothing else mattered.

Of course, she did all sorts of "Mom" things. She got up early to pack our lunches. She made us a hot breakfast every morning, even when we all went to school at different times. (Even when one of her daughters complained bitterly of being teased for smelling like bacon at high school. Why couldn't she just dole out cold cereal like the other Moms? Why did she have to torture her teenager with French toast and syrup and bacon?!?) She did all our laundry. At one point, she sewed a ton of our clothes -- until she realized that was insanity with four kids. She baked everything from scratch (still does), created fabulous traditions and memories for our family (like the ornament one I described here), made art projects and picnic lunches and took us swimming and apple picking and sledding.

(And did I mention she's a pastor's wife?)

Even more importantly, she always took time to just be with us. When we were young,
she played "Candy Land" and "Chutes and Ladders" and Hot Wheels and restaurant. As we grew, she came to every play, game, concert and court hearing we threw her way. Now that we're grown and scattered, she spends hours listening to us ramble talk on the phone. She laughs with us, cries with us and always -- always -- points us to Jesus.

Now that I have three children of my own, I'm in awe of her accomplishments. I'm in awe of her heart. I'm in awe of her love. I'm in awe of her ironing skills.

She is everything I hope to be to my kids -- and more.

A few minutes ago, when I called to wish my Mom a happy birthday, she told me that one of her favorite Bible verses has always been James I:17, which says (in part): "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father."

I know she believes her family is a gift.

I believe she is ours.

Happy (big) birthday, Mom. I love you.

P.S. Remember, I'm your firstborn. I know you love me more. It's OK. I won't tell anyone.

P.S.S. That was to help you stop crying. See? Funny stops the tears. Right?

A Cure for March Madness

And I don't mean the basketball variety. (I believe that's terminal, frankly.)

I mean this:

It's what happens in March in Minnesota, and it's what I woke up to this morning. It's madness, I tell you.

We're only two days from the first day of spring, and the landscape out our windows looks like a freakin' Currier and Ives painting.

Of course, it will all be gone by Thursday. And it is fascinating how a thick blanket of springtime snow makes the whole world look like a black-and-white photo.

And look -- do you see what I see? Is that a bud on the tree? (Look under the snow.)

Lord have mercy. Spring might be coming after all.

In the meantime, I'm going to use this snow day (figure of speech only, I assure you; can you imagine how much snow we have to get in Minnesota for schools to cancel?) to post the recipe for my new favorite soup. Because if it's going to be cold (still) and snowy (still), I can at least eat good food.

I was inspired by Rachel at Badgers on the Loose, who is a fellow Minnesotan, a great writer and a fabulous cook -- and not necessarily in that order. A few weeks ago, she posted a bunch of healthy and hearty soup recipes (check out her Chicken Tortilla Soup with Guacamole) that almost made me wish winter would last until May.

Lasagna Soup

1 lb. hot Italian sausage, bulk (although you could also use regular, if you're Scandinavian and think ketchup is a little too spicy for your likes) (by the way, you get bulk sausage -- which is just sausage meat without the casing -- right in the meat department; I just learned this)
2 cups onion, chopped
2 cup carrots, cut into coins
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp. garlic
4 cups chicken broth
1 14-oz. can Italian stewed tomatoes (I used Italian diced tomatoes, because I'd rather have bite-sized tomatoes in my soup, but it's your call)
1 10-oz. can tomato sauce
1 cup mafalda pasta (fun shape of pasta that looks like mini-lasagna noodles, but you could use bowtie or even penne, I'm sure)
2 cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped
1 cup fresh mozzarella, diced (I use the medium-sized bocconicni; you can also use provolone cheese, but I think the fresh mozzarella is divine because it melts into soft little nuggets of wonderfuleness)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
4 tsp. thinly sliced fresh basil (or pesto, if you don't want to pay the outrageous prices for fresh herbs in the grocery store at this time of year)

Brown sausage in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions and carrots; saute 3 minutes. Stir in mushrooms and garlic; saute another 3 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes and tomato sauce, and bring to a boil. Drop in pasta and simmer until cooked, about 10 minutes, or according to package directions. Stir in spinach and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Place fresh mozzarella in bottom of soup bowls (that's my favorite part) and ladle hot soup on top. Garnish with Parmesan and basil.
I realize this is pitiful, but as I was typing up that recipe, Connor decided to start playing a "Clifford" computer game next to me, and hearing the birds tweet on Birdwell Island almost made me cry.

So you eat the soup and enjoy. Me? I'm off to fire up my flame-thrower and single-handedly bring spring to Minnesota.

The Blogging O' The Green

Originally posted March 2007, but my blog was so new back then (read: I had virtually no readers), I decided to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a wee pit of recycling. Because that's green blogging.

Get it?!? Recycling? Green blogging? On St. Patrick's Day?

OK. I'm done now.

I believe I've mentioned before that I am fairly giddy about food. It comes from my birth family. We love to discuss dinner over breakfast. Vacations revolve around what we're going to eat that day. "What do you say we head to In-and-Out for lunch, Jamba Juice for an afternoon snack and then go to Mandarin Gourmet for dinner? Other than that, I don't care what we do today." Even our most treasured family heirlooms are memories of food. "Remember Nannie's gravy?!? Mmmmm. Now that was eating."

So put that together with the fact that the biggest chunk of our family ancestry comes from Ireland, and you should have a clan that enjoys some good corned beef together on St. Patrick's Day each year.

Problem is, I have come to the slow realization that I hate Irish food. Corned beef? Yuck. Steamed cabbage? Whew. Boiled potatoes and carrots? Pass the salt and pepper, please. And soda bread? Well, I'm redeemed there. It's difficult for me to dislike anything that has "bread" in the title. But still.

Growing up, we had a traditional Irish meal each March 17. It was part of what we did, and there was no questioning it. Once I got married, I continued on the tradition without scrutiny. "Sorry, honey, it's what I do." Then, last year, after cooking all day and ending up with a smell in my kitchen that would easily qualify for a chemical weapon, I looked around to see no one eating the meal (except the soda bread, of course; we would have starved that night without the soda bread). And it hit me -- maybe I shouldn't do this next year.

So I celebrated St. Patrick's Day this year with just a green sweater and prayers of thanks to God for faithful servants like Maewyn Succat.
And maybe a little mood music from Celtic Woman so I could pretend to riverdance around my kitchen. You can take the girl out of Ireland....

Yep, He's A Boy

Connor said the following to Corey yesterday morning as he absconded from the bathroom with the tweezers and toenail clippers.

"Dad, I need these. Because they are dangerous!"

Pray for me.

(Connor, May 2007)


OK, I just re-read my last few posts, and I've come to the conclusion that I say "seriously" way too much.

Seriously. For real.

Upon further reflection, I believe I've discovered the source of this vocabulary habit. (And living in California for 10 years doesn't quite cover it.)

I think it all started one night about a year ago. Corey and I were climbing into bed. I was blithely chattering along about the trivialities taking up room in my brain, and he was exhausted and half-comatose. Even as he settled onto his pillow and closed his eyes, I kept up my sporadic stream of information.

Apparently, at one point, he actually fell asleep on me. (The nerve!) Thus, when I launched into my next story, he bolted up -- like someone who's twitching from falling asleep too quickly -- and blurted out, "Seriously?!?"

It totally cracked me up. Corey teases me a lot about my verbalness, but he's rarely mean. (Probably because he's realized that chattering is what I do when I'm happy. That's right. I'm like a bird. A happy, little chattering bird. Only I don't like suet.) So his undisguised, unfiltered response struck me as really funny.

So now, whenever I start to ramble on and on about nothing of consequence, he'll wait until I stop to catch my breath and then say, in jest, "Seriously?"

Of course, it doesn't happen that often anymore. Because now I have this blog. And you, my dear imaginary Internet friends, are the newfound recipients of my stories and fascinating tales.

My husband thanks you.


Maybe They Make Ear Seeds?

So my husband, who is on quite the gift-giving roll this year, gave me an iPod Shuffle for Valentine's Day.

Maybe you've heard of them? Tiny matchbox-sized boom boxes? The popular kids tell me they're all the rage. They don't intimidate little old ladies or shake the ozone when you carry them around on your shoulder, but I can live with that. I'm 36, after all.

Mine is mint green. (Much like my mini-van.) (Whoa. I am so not cool anymore.) It's sleek and shiny and chick.

Of course, my hipness factor was taken down a few notches when Connor glanced at my gift right after I'd opened it and said, "Oh! Papa has one of those!"

Which means my dad -- senior pastor, lover of God, Nano-owner and happy user of the senior discount at Denny's -- is cooler than me.

Pause and let that sink in.

Then, in maybe the ultimate insult, Connor decided I was probably too old to be trusted with this new technology and appropriated the Shuffle for his own use.


I especially love how, when I ask him who owns the Shuffle, there's this enormous pause while he figures out what to say.

But dang it if he isn't cute with it.

He especially loves to listen to "rock and roll." (That would be the Newsboys -- or the Newer Boys, as Connor often calls them.)

Sorry. I'm getting distracted by my son's cuteness.

Anyway. I love my Shuffle. (When I get to use it.) I really do. I especially get a kick out of not knowing which song will come next on my play list, because I have some seriously varied musical taste.

But the ear buds that came with it are the bane of my existence. No matter what I do, they won't stay in. They just keep popping out, like ... well, have you ever tried to stuff a large marshmallow into a thimble? It's pretty much like that.

Naturally, I looked to Google for a solution. And there are a lot of ear bud adjustment products out there. But most of them look like they are designed to keep an ear bud in an ear that is too large for the ear bud, not too small.

Corey pointed out that I could always plug in a a pair of antiquated ear-covering headphones. We have some leftover from the '80s. But I fear that will send my coolness quotient into a free fall, and Connor will never let me use the Shuffle again.

Any suggestions?

I'm Sensing a Theme Here

I wasn't kidding about the dead battery in my last post.

After a somewhat rough Sunday morning that included me waking in the dark (the only part of the time change that really bugs me), Connor balking at the clothes I picked out for him to wear (he has opinions) and Teyla crying anytime I wasn't holding her (which is tough to do in the shower; those babies are so slippery), I got everyone bundled into their coats and strapped into their appropriate car seats.

I was feeling a little frazzled, a little rushed. (Single moms? Seriously. You have my undying admiration!) But I was pleased to see that we still had 20 minutes to get to church and get everyone delivered to their Sunday school rooms. That meant we were on time, a huge accomplishment for a recovering late-a-holic like me. And I was really looking forward to church that morning. Really. Looking. Forward. (And not just so I could entrust the children to another caring adult. I seriously adore our new church home. We had to skip church the Sunday before due to The Sickness, and I almost cried from the disappointment of it all. But I didn't, because Vulcans like my husband view crying as a sign of weakness.)

So anyway. I put the key in the ignition, listened for the roar of the engine over the sound of Teyla's screams and heard -- a click.

A click?!? Not good.

I tried again. Another click.

My brain raced. Corey's car is at the airport. (Baby screaming.) I don't know any of my neighbors. (Baby screaming.) I can call AAA, but by the time they get someone here, church will be over. (Mommy screaming.)

That's when I remembered Corey's battery charger. He bought it a couple of years ago, when we lived in The Country and had all sorts of battery-powered equipment that constantly needed a little somethin'-somethin'.

So what's a woman to do? I got out of the car, popped my lid, plugged in the charger, reminded myself to keep the negative and positive clamps separated lest we all go "boom!" and jump started my car.

Yeah baby. I'm all that. Natalie and Connor were duly impressed. Teyla just kept screaming, but I think they were screams of respect and admiration at that point.

It reminded me of something Garrison Keillor wrote many years ago, in an advice column for Salon. (Warning: Some slight inappropriateness is ahead. But -- well, it was published on Salon, a website not known for it's adherence to Victorian values. And it's worth it -- I promise.)
Dear Mr. Blue [Garrison's pen name],
I am looking for a woman who's really exceptional: smart, funny, good-looking, horny, loyal and strong. The women I've met so far aren't even close, but is it wrong to date them anyway, knowing there's no long-term future? Should I never go out with a woman if I think she's not "the one"? I don't want to "settle" for someone, but I also don't want to waste my time looking for perfection if it doesn't exist.

Dear Looking,
The exceptional women you seek are here in Minnesota. Smart, funny, good-looking, horny, loyal, strong -- that, plus blond, describes them to a T. They're all over the place; any man who could walk four blocks down Nicollet Avenue without falling in love with at least three women is either clinically depressed, or gay, or blind. Minnesota produces tall sinewy women who can paddle a canoe, handle an ax, dance the tango, manage money, write a paper on "Hamlet" and at the end of the day do things that make a man faint from ecstasy. If you can settle in Minnesota for a few months, you won't have to settle for anything less than perfection. If you're looking somewhere else, you're probably wasting your time.
Garrison's political viewpoints are a sometimes tad wacky, but this column made me stand up straight and say loudly (even though I lived in California at the time), "Amen brother! I'm a Minnesota woman!"

Which, to me, really means, "I'm a strong, capable woman who loves her man and doesn't have to cut her own grass or change her own oil or fix the leaking sink. But I could, if I needed to."

Oh! And the car battery was dead again Monday morning when we were leaving for school. (Baby still screaming.) It took longer to jump it this time, for whatever reason. But because I'm a Minnesota woman, I eventually won the battle.

How about you? Is there anything you can do that makes you swell up like a puffer fish?

Mom Against the World

Corey left Saturday morning for a four-day business trip.

I am alone. Utterly alone.

Unless you count the three kids, ages six, four and eight weeks, who are determined to help me release the grip I have on my remaining sanity.

Oh, I joke. It's not really that bad. In fact, I took all three of them to the grocery store yesterday -- a Saturday, mind you, which everyone knows is Amateur Day -- and I lived to tell the story.

Would you like my survival tips?

1. I told Natalie and Connor before we left that they would get a cookie or donut at the end of the expedition if and only if they were "big helpers." Sugar has amazing motivational powers. (Spoiler alert: Lunch consisted of donuts with sprinkles and hot chocolate with marshmallows. And I sprinkled some sugar on the marshmallows just for good measure.)

2. I wore Teyla in my favorite fashion accessory -- the Baby Bjorn. (I wonder what Big Mama would say about that.)

3. I made everyone wear their coats for the duration of the time in the store. As Antique Mommy acknowledged recently, the winter wear workout is quite exhausting for those of us in the Northern Regions. I'm so tired of dealing with the coats and gloves and hats and boots -- all of which are shed the minute we enter a heated building, leaving Mom Sherpa to tote the gear around -- I think I'm going to start my annual late-winter Coat Boycott this week. It's when I stop wearing my winter coat no matter how cold it gets because It Should Be Spring By Now. And yes, I'm totally serious. Besides, it's supposed to be 40 here this week. Forty! Who needs a coat with that kind of a heat wave?

4. I had a categorized list. (Which is really like saying, "Hi, I'm me." I never go to the grocery store without a list. Nev-ah. I can scuba dive, move 9 times in 15 years, give birth without any medication and marry a black-belt sky-diver who has broken almost every bone in his body, but I cannot grocery shop without a list. Because that's insanity.)

5. I refused to get the race-car shopping cart, because I know it's easier to drive a semi-truck through the streets of Manhattan than to steer that beast around the produce displays. Instead, we opted for the double-seater cart, so both of the older kids would have a place to sit if their legs wore out. (Naturally, they sat very little. But Natalie did use the harness belts as a bridle on the cart, which became her bucking bronco whenever I was more than five feet away. "Whoa girl! Whoa!")

6. I smiled at everyone who dared make eye contact with me. Most didn't. Wimps.

And to prove how bad I really am, I even bagged my own groceries. That's right. The check-out lady asked me if I wanted help, and I said, "Oh! No thanks. I'm good." Then I told myself that I'd like plastic (don't judge; I always recycle), and I commenced to pack the produce and dairy with like products to make it easier to put everything away when I got home.

(Insert wild applause here.)

Surprisingly, there was no gold medal waiting for me when I pushed my loaded cart into the parking lot in negative-degree wind chill.

I think I could totally win on Iron Mom America -- if someone would just invent the show.

Up next: Mom Against the World attempts to get all three kids to church on time. Too bad she doesn't know the car battery is dead. (Music swells ominously then out.)

Eight Weeks Old

I love being a Mom. Absolutely love it.

The irony of this is not lost on me, as having children was never on my wish list. Thankfully, God is in control and not my 25-year-old self. (It's also a good thing said self was never given a glimpse into the future, as she would probably have died from shock had she seen me enjoying life as a stay-at-home-mom, which she considered the ultimate dead-end job. Although she probably would have envied my cooking skills a little.)

All that to say, I've relished the last eight weeks. Teyla has completely stolen my heart. Her little face brings a smile to mine even at 3:30 in the morning.

Let's get right to the update, shall we?

Developmentally, Teyla is right on track. Her neck is freakishly strong. She could hold her head up at one week of age, as could Connor and Natalie. She can focus on objects and track them when they move. (I say when not if, because ... ummm ... have you met Connor?) She can stand on our laps and support her own weight, and she turns her head in response to sounds, especially our voices.

But by far the coolest milestones of this last month have been the cooing and the smiling.

Want to see?!?

Here's a picture of her big smile. It's a little blurry and dark, but it's hard to use a flash five inches from a baby's face and still have a happy baby. Go figure.

Here are a few more shots of the happiness. Notice the double chin. That cracks me up.

And the cooing? Oh. My. Word. She coos at me, I coo back, she breaks into a huge smile and coos again. It's at this point that I have to stop and mop my heart off the floor where it's just melted into a huge, gooey puddle of sap.

Wanna see this too? Here's a clip. (I love the Internet.)

And really, that's like caveman talk compared to the cooing she can do now. We're talking full-blown conversations here. I think she's even starting to say an infant form of "Dude!"

Personality wise, she's an easy-going, happy baby.

Unless you have the audacity to put her in her car seat.

Don't believe me?

Oh yes. The cry of the tortured child. Maligned. Rejected. Forced to sit in a warm, soft pocket of fleece while I drive her sister to and from school. Poor thing.

But aside from the car seat, Teyla is remarkably content. She's settled into a tiny rhythm. She wakes, eats, plays and then goes back to sleep in roughly three- or four-hour intervals. At night, she sleeps in four- or five-hour chunks -- which is completely do-able for me.

Tangent alert , but many of you have asked how I'm doing with the sleep deprivation. My answer? What sleep deprivation? Consider, if you will, that I worked the overnight shift at the TV station for more than two years. Two. Years. I went to work at 11:00 PM, returned home around 9:00 or 10:00 AM and tried to sleep while the San Diego sunshine poured in my windows. (Yes, I had blinds, but the San Diego sun scoffs at blinds.) I rarely got more than four hours of sleep before I gave up and started mainlining coffee. It was a miserable existence.

By the end of my two years, I was so utterly exhausted, I fantasized about driving my car into a tree on the way to work just so I could sleep for a few hours in the hospital. I spent most of my weekend hours sobbing to my husband that I couldn't go on. "I'm just so tired," I would wheeze and moan. I totally understand why sleep deprivation works as a torture technique.

So waking once or twice a night to spend 30 minutes feeding a tiny baby doesn't even phase me.

There. That's my tough-as-nails moment for the day.

Moving on.

Teyla's favorite activity is probably her nightly bath. (Double chin + spit-up = nightly bath.) I think she's fascinated by the water. As soon as I lower her in, she turns her head to the side, opens her mouth and licks at the water. Cracks me up every time.

Hmmm. This is turning into a really long post. Maybe I should speed this up.

Teyla prefers to sleep in her own bed, versus my bed, the car seat (noted), the swing or any other contraption. This is in stark contrast to my other children, who would sleep anywhere but the crib.

Her favorite way to be lulled into dreamland is to have Mom or Dad walk the halls while holding her close. Favorite lullaby? Skinnamarinkidinkidink.

(No, a cat didn't just walk across my keyboard. Just click on the link.)

(And if you seriously think I would consider letting a cat in my house again -- sorry Queen B -- you are way beyond help. Someday, I'll share my cat stories, and you will understand.)

And finally, if you were to meet Teyla and me in the grocery store today, chances are good you say one of two things. ("Aren't you Kelly from Love Well?!?" isn't one of them.)

Either, "Oh my word, that baby is so tiny." Because she is still really small. Even with double chins.

Or "Oh my goodness, that baby has a ton of hair!"

And that, my friends, is indisputable.

Until next month.

Update from The House of Ill

Quick update on The Sickness: It appears both Connor and Natalie have nothing more severe than the influenza. And despite the ill-fated incident with Connor and the couch yesterday, this is not the flu of the intestinal variety. He just throws up the first day of every phlegm-filled infection -- a trend line I noticed for the first time yesterday. Something about the quantities of slime in his stomach, I guess.

Thanks to Corey's freakish DNA (maybe he's part zombie), we're already on the mend. One more day of napping and Noggin, and we'll be ready to go again. Thanks for your well wishes.

Coming soon: A post that doesn't mention vomit. Teyla will be eight weeks old tomorrow. I'm breaking out the video.

Must ... Not ... Inhale

The fact that I just Googled "how to clean vomit off couch" really tells you all you need to know.

But hello? This is me. I always tell you more than what you need to know. Heck, I tell you more than you want to know. It's my personal motto.

You're welcome.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we? I was all set to write a post this morning about how Natalie is sick with a fever-cough thing. (Could be a cold or could be the flu according to Internet diagnosis engines. And yes, I agree that I am entirely too cozy with Google.) (Random question of the week: Why do we say a cold and the flu? We all know there is more than one strain of influenza. Yet it somehow retains the formal proposition of "the." Like it's The Queen or The President of The Brangelina. Weird.)


The Sickness is noteworthy because its the first illness we've had in our family in about a year. That's right. Twelve months without so much as a runny nose.

I don't know how we got so lucky. Maybe it's Corey's alien DNA. (For the uninitiated: My husband is adopted, and we know nothing about his genetic background. However, many external signs point to a Vulcan father. Something about the pointy ears.) Maybe it's because I let the kids eat food out of the garbage can to build their immunity. Maybe it's because I'm still nursing my six- and four-year-old, and we all know mother's milk strengthens immunity.

(JOKING! Oh, I'm so sorry about that last one. But I just cleaned vomit off my couch. I'm entitled to some dark humor, don't you think?)

Whatever the reason, we've managed to fight off all viruses and bacteria (minus the mastitis, which doesn't count in my book) until this weekend.

And I think I know what turned the tide.

I was getting smug. A little cocky. A tad too confident in our family's extraordinary germ-fighting immunity.

Pride cometh before the vomit.

So Saturday, when Natalie started to say, "I don't feel good, Mommy," I knew what was coming. After all, most of the blogs I read and many of my real-life friends have been, "The whole family is sick, I have vomit in my hair and in my bed, I hate February" for the last six weeks.

I took her temperature -- 101.2 -- and dished out some bubble-gum-flavored Tylenol and made her a nest of blankets on the couch where she could watch Noggin to her heart's content.

This morning, Connor joined in on the "I don't feel good, Mommy" chorus. At first, I thought he was faking it to get some of the great medicine Natalie's getting. (We get sick so infrequently, the kids think medicine is an elusive treat, a grape nectar of the gods.) But when he wouldn't eat breakfast -- and this child often out-eats me at breakfast, which is saying something -- I knew he was for real.

And the vomit said child just spewed onto my couch? Also very real.

Excuse me while I dry heave. Because -- trivia -- the smell of vomit is my Kryptonite. I try my darnedest not to breathe through my nose while I'm cleaning up the mess, but I rarely succeed. And it only takes one wiff for me to start compulsively gagging.

So if anyone's looking for us, this is where we'll be. Sitting on the couch, avoiding the spots soaked with Febreeze and marinating in Noggin. (Except for Yo Gabba Gabba, if I can help it. Seriously, is that not the American answer to Boohbah? Bizarre! Naturally, my kids love it.)

Oh, and Jon? What night this week would you like to come over for dinner? We can't wait to see you.