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.

Don't Make Me Change My Mind

Dear Sweet Election Phone Call People:

I am already voting for your candidate.

It's nice that you care about me. When I lived in California, I never got a phone call begging me to vote one way or the other. I guess living in a battleground state makes me count, all of a sudden.

But if you wake up my napping baby one more time, I'm voting for the other guy.

Thank you,

Kelly @ Love Well

Curious Kelly

So I'm over at 5 Minutes for Parenting today, ranting about the FDA trying to take away my kids' cold medicine. I don't rant often these days, because after years of ranting, I found it did little besides raise my blood pressure and focus my attention on things that don't fit the Philippians 4:8-9 criteria. (Northwest Airlines, for example, is not noble or reputable. Neither is the check-out cashier who was unspeakably rude to me.) But I couldn't hold this one in. It chapped my hide.

But now ... I'll let it go. Deep cleaning breath. Aaaaaand exhale. Because as Bok Choy taught me, "If I hold on to my anger, my anger will hold on to me."

Plus, I have more important things to attend to today. Mainly, Bloglines appears to be permanently hosed. I'm considering switching to Google Reader. (By the way, did you know I know one of the top guys at Google? I do. He worked with me at NBC. Incredibly smart, good-looking guy. He went to Google before they went public. I believe he's what's known as a gazillionaire these days. Hey Adam, if you feel like buying a house on a lake in Minnesota, call me. I'll totally hook you up.)

Wait. Where was I? Oh yes. Google Reader. If you use a blog feed service, which one do you use? Do you favor one over the others? And if you use Bloglines, have you also noticed a certain lack of quality service lately?

Not that I'm ranting about this! I'm just stating the obvious.

Baking Day

I awoke Sunday to the sound of gentle rain tapping on my roof and a not-so-gentle baby coughing phlegm on my chest.

The cold has returned. The slime knows no bounds.

Corey bundled up Natalie and headed for church. Connor stayed with me and the smiling but sneezing Teyla. I decided there's only one appropriate answer to a cool and gray Sunday, and that is to bake.

It took me a while to get down to business. Blame Teyla. The poor thing would manage to nurse herself to sleep, amidst a tussle of snuffles and gasps. But when I tried to lay her down in her crib, she would wake up and cry most pitifully, reaching out for me with her sweet little hands. I couldn't leave her. Sixty seconds later, of course, she was laughing at Connor and sneezing small monsoons of germs across my kitchen. Such is the nature of the Love Well children when they are sick.

But by 3:00, after four failed nap attempts, I pulled out my beloved red Kitchen-Aid and got to work. Butter was creamed with peanut butter and brown sugar. Chocolate chips spilled across the counter. Vanilla was sniffed. (Can anyone add vanilla to a recipe without inhaling more deeply?) Black bananas were pulled from the back of the fridge and made into bread. And the pièce de résistance -- I heated oil, honey and water, added flour, yeast and salt, mixed in two sunny eggs and spent ten immensely satisfying minutes kneading and braiding challah loaves, Corey's favorite.

Last Sunday, I spent the day hiking among fiery trees, screaming down a mountain next to Lake Superior, throwing off my jacket and admiring the sunshine.

And today, I turned on my fireplace to fight off the chill and baked three dozen cookies, two loaves of banana bread, two loaves of challah -- and I made homemade meatballs for our spaghetti dinner.

This is how I know fall has arrived.

Contents of a Dirty Diaper

(Consider the title of this post a warning and a disclaimer.)

Corey changed a particularly messy diaper of Teyla's last weekend. He came downstairs, grinning, and said, "I can tell you what she's been eating lately."

"Go for it," I laughed.

"Corn?" he said.

"Check," I replied.



"A leafy green vegetable?"

"Ummm.... Not check."

I think we're going to have to get rid of all our houseplants.

WFMW: New Recipes

I'm trying my hand at Works for Me Wednesday this week, partly because I think Shannon is a brilliant blogger, and partly because this week's theme is Kitchen Organization, and that phrase is bewitching for a neat freak who likes to cook, such as me.

(Also? Run-on sentences. They call to me. And not in a healthy way.)

Recently, I was reminded that one of the best things I can do to keep my kitchen organized is keep my meals planned out at least a week in advance. And the best way for me to keep up to date with that task is to put new recipes on my menu. Cooking new dishes keeps me excited about cooking dinner each night, and keeps my husband interested in coming home to eat. (Not that he has a choice, but it sounds nice, doesn't it?) It also keeps the kids on their toes, because they never know what's coming when they ante up to the table. (Mwuhahahaha!)

For the past few years, my favorite new recipe source, hands down, is Martha Stewart's "Everyday Food." It's a tiny magazine that packs a wallop in the kitchen, because it's ALL recipes. And said recipes are tasty, ingenious, creative -- and they don't require you to
make fondant vegetables or have your own bee colony in order to make them work. It's Martha-owned without being too Martha-esque.

Their September 2008 issue was especially killer. When I first picked it up, I started folding down the page corner when I found a recipe I wanted to try. Halfway through the magazine, I realized I'd marked EVERY SINGLE RECIPE so far. And the rest of the magazine was just as good. I guess I'm not tearing out pages from this one. I'm just keeping the whole thing.

Here are a few recipes from the September issue that grabbed me. I can only personally vouch for the Late Summer Vegetable Soup, which was AMAZING. (I made it last weekend, since I had some corn from the farmer's market that I wanted to use up. I'm going to make a few more batches while zucchini, green beans and corn are still in season so I can enjoy summer-in-a-bowl come January.) The other two recipes are on my list for this next week.

Late summer vegetable soup

Herb-crusted salmon with spinach salad

Glazed pork chops with smashed potatoes and stewed green beans

And here are a few from past issues that are long-time favorites with me and my family.

Mini turkey burgers with sweet potato fries
Best kid-friendly meal ever. This is my go-to meal when Corey is out of town.

Roasted pork loin with black-bean and sweet-potato salad
The roasted pork is good. But the black bean and sweet potato salad is scrumptious. I'm thinking about making just that and keeping it around for lunch.

Baby spinach salad with tuna
My favorite salad, which is saying something, because I'm not a fan of salads usually. But this one rocks.

New recipes. They work for me.

(Also -- if you're interested in a creative way to get your kids to try some new foods without having to resort to bribery, check out my post over at 5 Minutes for Parenting today. It's all about my experience with Muffin Tin Lunches. Fun stuff.)