Monday, December 21, 2015

This Is Why I Hate Driving. Or At Least Hate Drivers.

For the record - I took this photo sitting in standstill traffic. I do not photo while driving.
My office is located just off of one of the busiest roads in my small southern city. It's a road that was targeted for retail development in a big way, but city planners never really gave much thought to whether or not the the street could actually handle the influx of traffic. At this point, it's become a horror-movie; a four-lane jumble of bad drivers, potholes, cloverleaf merges onto the interstate everyone takes doing like 20 miles an hour just so we can all be terrified, with the kind of Christmas traffic that makes you question your faith in the universe.

Just a few doors down from my office is a QT gas station, located right on that same busy road.

When we first moved to where we live now, there was a QT right down the road that rapidly turned into one of my favorite places to pop by before I drove up into the mountains for my last job. Grab a coffee, a doughnut, a chicken Caesar wrap, a salad... it's basically a gas station with pretensions of being a restaurant, and I am all for that. Especially since this food is actually pretty good.

QT has a mobile app, and my coworker told me about them doing "the 12 days of QT giving", where they gave away something free every day. I signed up for it and today the free item was a small latte.

Yes. It's a gas station with lattes.

Even when I'm picky about my coffee, I'm really not that picky.

After picking up my latte, I took the side entrance out onto a little feeder street that exists basically entirely to get people from a small apartment complex  about a half-mile back onto the aforementioned horrible busy road. With one lane of traffic that heads in the direction of the apartment complex and two lanes going the opposite direction - one that turns right onto Busy Road, and one that turns left onto Busy Road.

I pulled into the left-turning lane, happily sipping my latte, only for a gigantic semi-truck to attempt a ridiculously wide right turn on top of me.

Let's remember, folks; I'm sitting in my own left-turning lane.

This wasn't a "truck makes wide turns" kind of thing. This was him essentially not turning at all and sort of trying to head diagonally across all three lanes of traffic. He would have driven on top of me and still ended up facing the wrong direction towards oncoming traffic trying to turn onto Busy Road.

Now, it turned out for him that my car is actually a solid object he could not simply drive on top of without having to deal with at least some inconvenience on his part and a lot of explanations to his boss as to how he ended up with a massive lawsuit on his hands when he decided he wanted to drive onto the grass at the KFC instead of making an actual right turn.

When I refused to simply stop existing in my lane, he came to a stop and got out of the truck.

He stomped over to me, even more infuriated by what I'm sure was a thoroughly befuddled expression I was wearing.

"YOU ARE IN MY LANE," he shouted.

Oh, good, I thought, we're just going straight to shouting.

Traffic began to back up behind him. I mentioned this is a hugely busy road during Christmas, right?

Now, his back was to all those people, but I can tell you - a few of them were definitely making some communicative gestures he wouldn't have liked.

"This is a left-turn lane," I replied. "I'm waiting to turn left onto Busy Road."

"NO, IT ISN'T! IT IS NOT A LEFT-TURN LANE!" I thought about reminding him that we all learned in kindergarten that talking loudly doesn't actually make you right about something, then thought better of it.

I tried one more time.

"It's a left-turn lane," I said again, gesturing to the three cars who had pulled up behind me into the same lane by this point. "You're blocking me in."

He paused.

The light bulb flickered.

The light bulb went out.


"That doesn't make this not a left-turn lane. That's not how driving works. My light is green and I have to go to work now," I said, I thought very politely. I rolled up my window and pulled out around his semi-truck and made the turn.

So did the three people who were in line behind me.

Last I saw, he was still standing in the road by his truck shouting and gesturing at those of us who had the temerity to want to drive in our own lane of traffic. 

And that, my friends, is what driving on this particular road in December is like in a nutshell.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Tantrum Times

It's happened.

Audra is officially a tantrum-thrower.

They call them the Terrible Twos, but I'm pretty sure that's just a reassuring lie they came up with so people would think they had more time. Sometime within the last week or so, seemingly at random, Audra discovered that she could actually throw a serious fit.

So far as I can tell, the idea came to her fully formed.

She really mastered whining at the exact pitch and volume to really dig into my eardrums a couple of months ago, but that was about where it ended. The occasional protests she put up when expected to let go of a toy for thirty seconds in order to put an arm through a sleeve hardly even counted. We got past them so quickly.

Oh, how lucky we were back then.

These tantrums are to those earlier little fits what a puddle on a rainy day is to the kind of torrents that created the Grand Canyon.

They. Are. Epic.

We're talking total rigidity if she's in our arms, her first indignant cries building up to a serious shrieking of mythical proportions, crocodile tears that have be forced out of her eyes through the sheer violence of her anger, little fists and feet pounding on literally anything within reach, whether it's the floor or Mommy. She flings herself backwards as though she plans to exact her revenge by killing herself on the concrete driveway outside our house.

It's possible that she's not so much suicidal as trying to cause us to die of embarrassment when the neighbors glance over to see what sort of apocalyptic showdown must be happening at our house. Luckily, our neighbors have small children, too (or they are the grandparents of small children), so mostly I get these kind of understanding nods as I attempt to pick up a 25-pound-toddler who suddenly weighs three hundred pounds and is as rigid as a board to carry her back in the house.

Part of the problem, of course, is that at the moment these tantrums are so new that they are also pretty funny. 

There is nothing so ridiculous as watching a child who just managed to grow taller than my knees rage so mightily at being denied the ability to eat a dime she found under a box.

While she beats her feet into the floor and wails at the ceiling, I can't help but laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all. Of course, this only makes the whole thing worse, because now I have not only denied my daughter that all-important copper and nickel snack, I'm also denying her her dignity.

My current method of dealing with these tantrum-flares, since they have only really happened at home so far, is simply to walk a few feet away and go about my business. "Go ahead, get it out of your system," I say without raising my voice at all. I don't know whether she can even hear me. "Let me know when you're finished."

After the longest thirty seconds-to-five-minutes of my life, she seems to just wear out all at once. She goes still and quiet.

"Are you feeling better?" I ask without looking at her - that only encourages her to start it up again.

She scoots over to me, still determined to refuse to walk without assistance even though she absolutely can, and little arms are held up. Little eyes look up at me, wide and very blue.

I scoop her up immediately. I don't know how long I'll be able to soothe her by picking her up - I plan to make the most of the time I have.

"Do you feel better?" I ask.

"Bah buh mah-boo, nuh too ka," She says softly, and lays her head on my shoulder.

I reply, "I love you, too."

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

God is Not in the Loss: A #Wholemama Post

I could have gone a few different ways when writing about ‘still’.

I could have written about the stillness of early morning, when the birds haven’t even woken up and it’s just me, my cup of coffee, and the quiet. I could have written about a state of mind, the idea of serenity, the way we talk about “being still” as a way to listen to ourselves.

I actually wrote most of a post about “still” as it applies to my toddler daughter, functionally incapable of even grasping the concept.

I tried a few different ways to be funny. I’m better at funny – it comes more easily to me to write with a dry humor, putting myself at a little bit of a distance from my subject.

None of it seemed to work.

Instead, I’ve decided to write about tenacity and the “still, small voice” after the fire. It’s not about motherhood exactly, I guess, except that I’m only a mother as much as I’m a daughter, too.

Read the rest of the post over at Erika Shirk's blog Overflow, where I am the featured poster this week for #wholemama.

Today's post is my fourteenth while participating in the #wholemama link up. This week's theme was "still". You can find the linkup here over on Erika Shirk's blog Overflow. My other posts as part of the linkup have been Hurry Up and Wait, She is HomeI Used to Think I Couldn't DanceCalmA Hard Leap Off a High CliffMotherhood on PurposeOn Reading and PeaceI Lay You Down to Sleep, My LoveWhen It Rains... Celebrate,Parenting is SillyAnything But OrdinarySpacePrayer, and A Supermom is a Sleep-Deprived Mom

Friday, December 4, 2015

Hurry Up and Wait: A #Wholemama Post

Toddlers are a great lesson in what it looks like when you don’t know how to wait.

Every minute is an eternity. The seconds that might tick by in the time between her requesting milk and my ability to put the cup in her hand stretch out into unacceptable infinity. I think to toddlers we adults must move slowly, like a giant tortoise lumbering by while they move at super-speed.

By the time I can even get the lid off of the milk, her initial polite request (delivered via the “more” sign, which in her mind means anything from “milk” to “food” to “no, not THAT food, this other food”) will have begun to morph into the full-throated, ear-piercing whine that is every toddler’s innate specialty.

She takes the milk from my outstretched hand and drinks noisily, immediately content, forgetting she was ever impatient at all. Meanwhile, my blood pressure is already up and the echo of her whine is still bouncing off the inside of my skull. Just about the time that echo dies down, she thinks of something else she wants and the process begins again.

I find myself occasionally wishing I could wait the way she does -- that is to say, there are days I’d like to whine, too, to stomp my feet and fling myself backwards or throw myself face-first off the couch in my frustration and know implicitly that I won’t hit the floor too hard when wrapped up in emotions because someone else will have already caught me before my head touches the hardwood floor.  

Toddlers do not wait, and they swing wildly between a kind of unthinking courage and helpless anxiety.

Monday, November 30, 2015

#FindJoyinNovember Recap, Week 4 - and Giveaway Winner Announced!

The winner of the #FindJoyinNovember giveaway is... Sheila R.! I'll be sending you an email shortly, Sheila, to get mailing details so I can get your package on its way!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The week of Thanksgiving, you'd think, would be the easiest week of all to find reasons to be joyful, because gratitude is even built into the name of the holiday. You'd think that.

Monday, November 23, 2015

My Daughter is a Special Snowflake

The other day I went to pick Audra up from daycare.

When I walked in, the room appeared empty except for two of the daycare ladies sitting in chairs gently rocking the smallest and youngest of the babies in the Baby Room.

These babies make my heart hurt, by the way, to once again have my own tiny four-month-old babypotato. Then if I think about the idea too much my bank account hurts.

But anyway.

 The whole place was utterly, eerily quiet.

No playing babies squeaking, shrieking, or squealing at each other in Baby Language. No babies crying while being put through The Utter Horror That is a Diaper Change. No babies two inches shorter than mine running circles around her while she steadfastly refuses to walk even though I've seen you do it, Audra, everyone knows you totally could walk if you wanted to.

It was like the beginning of a zombie movie.

Or like the way the water looks right before Jaws attacks. 

I grabbed Audra's bag off the coatrack, and took another look around. Only those two little babies?

No toddlers. Not even that one little boy who always insists I'm his mother no matter how I try to convince him otherwise.

Nothing at all.

"Um," I finally said, looking around again. "Where are the babies? Where's my baby?"

One of the daycare ladies in the rocker laughed and gestured around a wall, where I couldn't quite see. "They're all over here."

I all but tiptoed, unnerved by the quiet of a room that is normally nearly so deafening I wonder how the daycare ladies can even hear each other, and stuck my head around the corner...

A third daycare lady stood there, patiently blowing soap bubbles, surrounding by a rough semicircle of every baby capable of moving under their own power. Ten little sets of eyes followed her every move.

Ten little babies and young toddlers, awed into abject silence.

Audra was kneeling, her eyes wide, following the way the bubble seemed to float through the air. Her little hands worried at each other.

When I called her name, she turned and saw me, breaking ranks to frantically scoot my way. Babbling with excitement, she pointed back at the soap bubble lady, I suppose just to ensure I had seen the amazingly cool thing happening over there.

As I swung her up into my arms, one of the daycare ladies in the rockers turned to me and said, with a huge smile, "For the record, yours was the only baby trying to pop them."


Sounds about right. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

#FindJoyinNovember, Week 3: Rockin' the Grunge Look

(This is your weekly reminder to make sure you enter the #FindJoyinNovember giveaway! Great local goods from Mostly Made in the South, a store that specializes in locally made items like home decor, candles, soaps, and more - as well as other items picked up with finding joy in mind. It's basically a great self-care package to help you get through the dark days of winter, so get your entry in! Two weeks left to enter! You can find the week 2 recap here.)

Yesterday was beautiful! Someone was up at 5:30 in the morning, which inexplicably felt like midnight to my sleep-deprived brain. She was just amazingly cheerful and snuggly, though, so I'll give up that last forty minutes of "sleeping in" on a Saturday morning if it means I trade it for baby cuddles and big cheesy grins.

After breakfast, a nap, riding her scooter (and rockin' the Seattle 90's grunge look), and a late brunch, Audra was ready to go see Daddy volunteering at a local historical site. Yes, I said breakfast, nap, brunch. This girl is livin' the life.

(Well, sort of. I mean, breakfast was cheerios and unsalted peanuts (her all-time favorite food) and brunch was these froze mixed veggies she loves but won't eat if i put literally any seasoning on them. Not even salt and pepper. Whatever, it's healthy.)

I originally had planned just to stop by for an hour or so, but since my in-laws were there, too, we ended up staying for a nice long time. Audra was on point, managing to go almost six hours between naps without really getting fussy at all. But, you know, indulgent grandparents and people everywhere cooing over your cuteness will chase away the crankiness in anybody, right?

This last week my sister had a birthday, which made her #FindJoyinNovember posts some of my absolute favorites. You'll notice she tends to show up pretty often.

I'm counting down days until my mother arrives for Thanksgiving. Audra is a pile of adorable new tricks and words coming every day. Jason is fighting the cold that knocked me off my feet last week, so I'm doing what I can to help him - which mostly consists of annoying him endlessly by asking if he needs another pillow or a cup of tea or maybe some soup and if he sure he doesn't need at least one more pillow?

He lives a charmed life.

#FindJoyinNovember on Instagram:

On Facebook:

And a couple via text!

I love the photo on the left - it's my Great Aunt Ann, who lives in Arizona, and my cousin's little girl. Aunt Ann is visiting Illinois due to my Great Uncle Del's recent death, and it's been so long since she's been able to visit. I just wish I could have been there to visit, too. Sometimes living four states away is harder than it should be.

This week I'll eat way too much food. I will make food mistakes. I will hopefully see the Biltmore Estate with Mom and Jason. I'm probably going to drive her over to Pickens at some point while she's in town. I may even go completely crazy and go to the mall during the first weekend of the Christmas Shopping Season.

And, most importantly, I will spend hours and hours attempting, in front of various family members of Jason's, to convince Audra to show any of her many skills, and will end up instead trying to convince all the relatives that I'm not making it up, I swear she really does do these things, I didn't just hallucinate that she can point at her nose even though she resolutely refuses to show them...

It's going to be great.

(Seriously. Go enter the giveaway. Everyone needs awesome soap, high quality candles, and inspirational signs. EVERYONE. Plus, that pile of stuff? Makes for an amazing Christmas gift. Or gifts. Just sayin'.)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

She is Home: A #Wholemama Post

(The main post for our #wholemama theme this week takes on the refugee crisis with compassion, integrity, and faith. I highly recommend the read, even if you don't usually look at the other posts in the linkup.)

When I pick Audra up from daycare, I usually see her before she sees me.

Once she does see me, her reaction is always the same - she flaps her hands, kicks her feet, wiggles whole body and shoots us a beaming smile that is heartwarming and terribly guilt-inducing. I've explained to her before that we have to work so that she, um, has food to eat and lights that turn on. She's fine with this, inasmuch as she definitely understands the words "food" and "bye-bye" and thinks they are super fun.

Her arms are held out for me long before I can take the maybe five or ten steps across the room to sweep her up. If Jason and I pick her up together, of course, it's him she holds her arms up to, as she is overwhelmingly and thoroughly a Daddy's girl already.

I sign her out, always somehow managing to forget that I'm left-handed until I'm trying to write down her names and the time with the same arm that's holding her onto my hip. She helpfully points at the coatrack where her diaper bag hangs on a peg with her name above it, always concerned that we might forget.

She cannot read her name, but she knows the bright teal Vera Bradley diaper bag that has gone with her to daycare for nearly a year straight. (What? I'm Midwestern. We love our Vera Bradley.) Once I wasn't looking and accidentally picked up a different bag and she squawked at me until I realized it and put it back. She's a helper that way. A helper who makes strange noises.

Happily snuggled in my arms, she will wave goodbye at the other children and the ladies who take such good care of her each day.

Within the last three weeks or so, she's begun adding a clear "Buh-bye", which she repeats three or four times to make sure everyone hears her. Then she'll repeat it a few more times, with increasingly volume, if it takes me longer to get her out the door than she would like because I've committed the cardinal sin of wanting to stay and chat for a few minutes.

Outside, she wiggles around until I let her get down to toddle, holding tight to my hands, across the parking lot towards our car. Sometimes other parents smile at me as they make their own way in to pick up their own happy children. Now and then we see one of the many cats being fed by someone who lives in a house right near the daycare. They are skinny and uniformly very young, watching us from beneath bushes and running when she points at them and yells, "Dat!"

Barefoot when it's warm or in socks when it isn't, Audra makes her way towards my car. She knows which one it is and will quickly correct me if she feels I'm not heading right for it. She uses my hands for balance, but otherwise she walks confidently, with a toothy smile. I know that she won't want to hold onto me for long, that we are getting very close to the "I do it myself" days.

I pack her into her carseat while she alternately tries to "help" or fights me like a banshee, depending on how she feels about carseats that day. While she straightens her whole body into a straight line that appears to be stronger than steel, I briefly mourn the days where my daughter was essentially a warm loaf of bread that gurgled once in a while.

Then she looks me in the eye and says, "Mama," and I realize that this is the happiest I have ever been, I don't need that bread-baby, I need this little girl and her words and her love. I wistfully think about how nice it might be to have this little girl and the warm-bread-loaf baby.

I remember my bank account balance and the part where doctors and hospitals expect you to give them money.

I wait to get out of the parking lot while rush-hour traffic zooms by, somehow leaving just enough room between the cars for me to get impatient but never enough room for me to actually get where I need to go. I try to contain my ever-present road rage while Audra babbles her day at me in the backseat, using occasionally kicking the back of the seat instead of punctuation. As far as she is concerned, this is a conversation had between equals.

I'm inclined to agree - I just don't understand her language.

Bundling her back out of the car after we park includes a bit of a balancing act, considering I never leave myself enough room on the drivers' side and always end up having to do strange yoga poses to get her and her diaper bag out of the car intact.

If the weather is nice, I'll drop the diaper bag on the front porch and let her walk around in the yard and the driveway. We might go see the neighbors, or maybe just the neighbors' chickens. Sometime we just walk up and down, up and down, Audra's hands gripping so tightly to my fingers that I eventually lose feeling and I don't even care.

Eventually, even she has to admit that never napping at daycare means that she's tired when she finally makes it home. We go inside and have her afternoon ritual - milk and snuggles on the couch, in the dim half-light let in through our windows, and then down for a nap.

Except of course, on those days where she decides naps are for other peoples' children and fights like King Richard's last stand until we finally give up and accept that bedtime's going to be very early tonight...

She's spent her day at daycare, a kind of nonstop VBS, playing with other babies or chewing on toys, eating lunch there with friends and her favorite daycare ladies. It's the place she knows second-best.

When either Jason or I comes in to pick her up, though, she discards daycare immediately. She holds her arms out to us, and when we pick her up she knows she is only seconds from home.

Really, she's already there. So are we.

Our steps out the door, to the car, and inside are just a series of afterthoughts.

The moment she is in our arms, she's home.

We are home for her, and have been since the first second they laid her on my chest and she took turns looking between me and Jason and back again, blinking wide dark eyes and drinking in our faces and smells to remember this world, first.

We are home for her.

But, really, I'm not "home from work" until I pick her up.

I may leave work and have some time at home before I need to get her, time I usually spend doing a little picking up around the house or getting laundry started or doing prep-work for dinner. Sometimes I just have a cup of tea and decompress. But I'm not really home until all three of us are. Until Jason and Audra are both in the house, I'm just killing time.

We are Audra's home, and she is ours.

Without her, nothing quite feels finished about our space. When she's there, dropping parts of her dinner to the dog and insisting that giraffes make the same noises as velociraptors, things just seem to fit. Oh sure, it's exhausting and intense and I feel like I've been running marathons by nine, but still it fits.

I didn't realize she was missing until she was here, but there it is, the truth of the matter. She's not the siding, she's the walls. She's not the shingles on the roof, but the bricks that laid the foundation. She's not our front door, she's the cornerstone.

She may hold her arms out to us when we arrive, but we are also reaching out for her.

She's home.

She is Home: A #Wholemama post from Stress and Stars

Today's post is my twelfth while participating in the #wholemama link up. This week's theme was "home". You can find the linkup here over on Erika Shirk's blog Overflow. My other posts as part of the linkup have been I Used to Think I Couldn't Dance, Calm, A Hard Leap Off a High Cliff, Motherhood on Purpose, On Reading and Peace, I Lay You Down to Sleep, My Love, When It Rains... Celebrate, Parenting is Silly, Anything But Ordinary, Space, Prayer, and A Supermom is a Sleep-Deprived Mom

Sunday, November 15, 2015

#FindJoyinNovember, Week 2 Recap

(If you haven't already, make sure you take a look at Week 1's recap and enter the giveaway! There's lots of great products, many created right here in Greenville where we've made our home. The giveaway runs all the way through the month, so you have plenty of chances to enter!)

I'm still loving all the photos! We broke 200 photos for our tag on Instagram this week, and it's a tag full of coffee and babies and books and everything that is good and wonderful in the world.

This week has also been a lesson in my own good fortune. The purpose of #FindJoyinNovember has been, from the start, to remind myself of how good the day-to-day can be, no matter what. This week there was a moment, standing still in my kitchen, where I realized that I was, in fact, incredibly lucky.

For everything that has gone wrong, there is wonder lurking underneath, behind, or within it. A kind of good luck that I cannot account for.

My mother fought cancer - and alongside her own innate strength she had the support and love of her husband and family.

A tree fell on my car - and the car we ended up with afterwards is a hundred times better for our lifestyle than the last one and our loan for the car is actually less than for the last one (plus, it's green! I wrote an ode to it!).

My husband lost his job - and became considerably more content and less stressed out than he's been in years. He even was laid off at the perfect time, after I had been able to leave my former job and start work with a wonderful company that allowed us to live on my income alone. This week, he began working at a new place, with hours that still let him pursue his blacksmithing.

My father suddenly died - I was able to make it home to my family in Illinois less than 36 hours later. Since he was no longer working with his previous employer, Jason was able to come with me. My whole little family and I were able to stay for more than a week, far longer than any previous job would have been willing to let me go. I had friends within four hours of my father's death offering to keep our animals so that we wouldn't need to worry about them while we were gone. My amazing co-workers stepped in to pick up many of my work projects so that I could focus on being with my family.

My in-laws had their arms open to hold Audra while I worked to hold myself together long enough for Jason to get back home. They kept her so Jason and I could pack a suitcase faster than we ever have before. My husband's parents drove across four states to be there to keep Audra for the visitation and funeral so that she would not be in a strange place with strangers while I shook the hand of seven hundred well-wishers, and they have helped in innumerable other ways.

My family in Illinois continues to be subject to an outpouring of love, sympathy, stories, and support that is still ongoing two months later. Seriously. My sister is still filling out new thank-you cards.

My longtime cat became ill and died - and the vet came to our house and we were able to give her a few moments of feeling truly okay for the first time in months.

Through it all, I have watched a baby that began as kind of a warm squinty potato-in-a-blanket turn into a tiny little person, full of complex emotions and discovering through us how life is to be lived. Although she is apparently getting her first set of molars this week, so our parenting skills are definitely getting a workout.

Thoreau said "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation", and I was reminded this week that no matter what has gone wrong, there is so much that has gone right. I do not lead my life in quiet desperation, but with the strength and goodwill of a community of people that truly know me and still love me. I've entered a career field that I had never really known was an option and am happier at work than I have ever been in my life.

I have ended this second week of #FindJoyinNovember in a place of abject gratitude for every good thing that was connected to the bad. There are so, so many good things.

So even if I didn't post another picture this month for the tag, I think I'd still call this project a pretty raging success.

This Week on Instagram:

This Week on Facebook:

And This Week, in a Text!

I have a box of Christmas presents that need a-wrappin'. I'm over halfway done, which is great, since I'm usually pushing it right to the very last minute. Also, I love Christmas. Also, it's less than two weeks until my Mom is here visiting. Also also, I am nearly finished with Sarah's Bessey's book Out of Sorts, which has taken me forever since I can only read it during naptimes on the weekends or that scarce two hours between Audra's bedtime and mine on weekdays. It's a book I'd recommend to just about anyone who asked me, and probably a good many people who didn't.

Finally, this week we began to really interact with our neighborhood in a way we haven't really before. I think I even made a new mom-friend. I might have plans for Starbucks with her next Saturday! I am excited and vaguely terrified.

The truth is, I have a lot to be grateful for.

(I'd like to end this with a little bit on the tragic act of war just waged on France Friday night. After 9/11, France was one of our strongest allies and gave us some of our most comprehensive aid and support. We should return the favor. You can donate to the French Red Cross here or Secours Populaire Francois here, both on-the-ground right now helping people in Paris.)

Monday, November 9, 2015

I Did Not Buy These Kleenex: The Magic of Mom-Purses

I found this Kleenex travel-pack in my purse Sunday.

Here's the thing about that, though.

It wasn't in my purse the day before, when Jason and I were out and about in town and I carried a purse for some ridiculous reason that really makes no sense when you consider that I was carrying a diaper bag, too.

I know because I searched for Kleenex at one point and found none.

Then, Sunday afternoon, when my friend Sherrie sneezed and asked if anyone had a Kleenex... there it was.




Here to help.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

#FindJoyinNovember: Week 1 (Plus a GIVEAWAY!)

The first week of #FindJoyinNovember has been basically a huge success, I think. There's a great group of us posting over on Instagram, a little on Twitter, more than a few on Facebook, and I've even received them via text from my cousin! Altogether, I have been inundated with the different ways to see the bright side in our days, and already November feels brighter.

Yesterday, I went to grab groceries at Publix. While waiting in line, I realized the man behind me was balancing some awkward-looking boxes of something and really only had a few items, while my cart was full. I told him to go on and go ahead of me. He chatted with me in line, and kept up a running conversation. I talked about how this is the first year Audra will actually interact with Christmas in any real way, so we're going all out, and how Christmas as an adult involves a lot more worrying about how to afford it than I realized. We laughed about that, and talked about his three kids and how much fun -they- have, being older kids.

What I didn't realize was that his conversation was an attempt to distract me (a successful one, I might add).

He bought me a forty dollar Publix gift card as a thank you!

That was a moment of real joy and gratitude, yesterday - and a reminder to remember how kind we can be to each other.

I promised to feature three photos from #FindJoyinNovember each week, but I've run into a problem. I can't possibly share just three. Instead, I've put together, well... a few more than that.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

I Used to Think I Couldn't Dance: A #Wholemama Post (and Sarah Bessey Linkup)

(I’m hitting two linkups in one fell swoop today - my usual #wholemama group as well as linking up for the release of Sarah Bessey’s wonderful new book, Out of Sorts: Making Peace With an Evolving Faith. Sarah issues a challenge to be part of a blog linkup on the topic “I used to think ____ and now I think ______”, and that seemed to dovetail perfectly with my idea for this week’s #wholemama prompt of “dance”.)

I used to think I couldn’t dance.

Honestly, let’s not beat around the bush.

I know damn well that I can’t dance.

It’s not like I’ve really tried. Most of the ‘dancing’ I’ve been called upon to do has involved a kind of middle-school slow-dance technique, all shuffling feet and awkwardness and you could probably take one good look at my face and know I’d rather be reading a book. There may have been once or twice, at my sister’s wedding or a few times in college when enthusiasm and beer got the best of me, that I tried. It’s probably for the best that no one had camera-phones then.

For all my famous lack of rhythm and my surplus of self-consciousness, I’ve still danced more in the past year than probably my whole life combined before then.

A little over a year ago, I became a mother. The grace of motherhood is how it teaches you that whether or not you can dance never mattered in the first place. What matters is that this little person in your home and in your heart sees that you dance anyway.

My daughter does not care that I have no rhythm.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Friday, October 30, 2015

Calm: A #WholeMama Post

Stress and Stars: Calm: A #Wholemama Post

Calm is little arms around my neck,
little hands curled into sleepy fists.
She is still while she listens
to my heartbeat with one ear
and my breathing with the other.

Calm is a few minutes of early-morning quiet,
before the coffee is made or the dog is fed -
before anything else but this.
Calm is the warmth of her
when it's just she and I in the silent night
and the way we breathe together.

I think she had to be here now,
that she could not have been my baby
four years ago or five years in the future.
She had to be who she is right this second
so that I will get out of bed each day,
if only so I can hear her breathe.

Calm is the way I feel when she is
all I think about. For a few minutes there isn't
a hole in the world where my dad should be.
I don't worry about money or want to go to bed
for a year. Instead, her arms are tight around me.
My daughter and I breathe together.

She may hold her arms out to me for help now,
but what I am doing is just the same.
When I sweep her up to watch her smile,
it's the way drowning men grab the hands of
rescuers and collapse with relief onto dry land. The way
they hold on to the sand and keep breathing.

The calm is in her terrible sticky kisses and
the way her hands are always damp. It's in
her halting steps and her big cheesy grin that
shows off all eight teeth. Most of all,
the calm is in those early-morning seconds
where we just sit and breathe together.

Calm is the way her eyelids flutter as she fights
to stay awake against the lull of my heart, the
first sound she knew. She always knew my breathing, too.
We have always known each other. I was once
the length of the world to her.
I knew her hiccups before she ever breathed.

The calm is in the way we sit and the weight of her
is more and yet somehow the same as
when I carried her. Calm is how we sit,
silent. I am calm and I don't think about
anything at all, except
the way we breathe together.


#wholemama this week: Calm. See the post over at Erika Shirk's blog Overflow!

Today's post is my tenth while participating in the #Wholemama linkup. This week's theme was "calm". You can find the link to this week's linkup and post over at Erika Shirk's blog Overflow - this week the "guest post" to start things off is by Gayl Wright, who I met through #wholemama only to find out she lives very close by here in South Carolina! .My other posts as part of the linkup or just inspired by the theme are A Hard Leap Off a High CliffMotherhood on PurposeOn Reading and PeaceI Lay You Down to Sleep, My LoveWhen It Rains... CelebrateParenting is SillyAnything But OrdinarySpacePrayer, and A Supermom is a Sleep-Deprived Mom.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Find Joy in November: A Challenge

I feel like things have gotten a little bit negative in my head lately.

Honestly, it's probably pretty understandable. This has been, by all accounts, a year that most resembles a tree attempting to withstand an avalanche. It began with my mother's battle with breast cancer, hit its mid-point with Jason and I becoming quite unexpectedly a one-income family, and because the universe has always been a fan of one-two punches, followed that up with my dad's sudden death. It just hasn't been exactly an easy year.

Lately, I feel like I've been letting the positives slip away.

I have been finding myself doing an awful lot of sitting around trying to figure out what's going to go wrong next. As someone who lives with anxiety, this is already something I am very prone to, but it's tipped over into a whole new world of worrying.

Who will be the next person to get sick? What's the next thing that will cost us more money than we can afford? Obviously, it's going to be something. I have had it beaten into my head several times over this year that we don't just get to have a good month - something terrible will no doubt follow.

As you can imagine, this is not a good place for my brain to live.

So I've decided I don't want to live there.

To that end, I'm giving myself (and anyone who'd like to sign up!) a challenge for the next month:

Find Joy in November

Here's my plan: On my instagram, I'm going to take a photo every day of something that makes me happy. Even if it's just a cup of tea or a well-written sentence in a favorite book. Just a photo, maybe a line or two, and the hashtag #FindJoyinNovember.

I'd like you to join me.

Just a photo, and a line or two. Or a few, if you'd like - a thousand if you want. Share it on Instagram, on Twitter, write a blog or a Facebook post. Do whatever you'd like! Just make it about a moment, big or small, that gives you real joy and happiness.

Once a week, I'll do a kind of linkup post. I'll showcase my favorite posts from the week and share what everyone has been finding their joy in this month. Anything posted under the #FindJoyinNovember is fair game.

While my challenge to myself will be to post on my Instagram account every day, that's not really my challenge for everyone else. Although I'd love to have someone post every day with me, just to help me keep motivated. But I want to see your weekly or even just occasional joys, too! As often as is comfortable.

Whatever you post, whether it's on Instagram or if something about the challenge sparks a blog post in you, let me know! I'd love to see what everyone else is finding their happiness in. Let me know!

I want to give myself something positive to think about every day, something to dwell on that isn't what might go wrong next. I'd love to dwell instead on my joy and on yours.

Share with your friends and see if they'd also be interested. Basically, if everyone could just flood me with images of happy things all November, that would be great. We could all use more happy things.

My first post will be on November 1st, and it will be here and include a recap of the challenge and the rules just to keep everyone fresh on it. Here's a shorter version of my idea, just for everyone to share around and start thinking about before things start.

#FindJoyinNovember Rules:
1. Comment on the introductory post on November 1st. Let me know where you'll be posting (Instagram, Twitter, Blog, etc) & your username or a link if it's a blog.

2. Take a photo of a moment of real joy or happiness, no matter how big or small. This can be daily, twice a week, weekly, whatever. Write a line, or two, or ten - it's up to you - about the moment and why you found such happiness in it. End with the hashtag #FindJoyinNovember

3. Post the photo and text into your chosen medium - blog, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook posts, whatever.

4. I will post a "roundup" once per week. If you've blogged on the topic, comment with your link. I'll pick 3 favorite posts or photos per week to share but of course will encourage everyone to look through the hashtag photos.

5. Share that you are participating around! Get friends involved! I like people!

6. Watch for a giveaway! I will post about it within the first two weeks of November, and it will be open to participants in the challenge! (Spoiler alert: It's almost certainly a book. I like books. I might go crazy and give away something else, though. I don't know. It's happened before.)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Google Maps Clearly Doesn't Know Where I Live

Today, I went out to a little pumpkin patch in Taylors with my friend Sarah and her family. We had altogether a lovely time in the bright sun. Audra was feeling a little insecure and is in the process of trying to get rid of the morning nap that she refuses to believe she really does need in order to not be a fire-breathing dragon all day, so she was basically glued to my arms the whole time.

Except, of course, for the short time that she was glued to the arms of Sarah's husband.

Then back into mine.

Audra was essentially apathetic-verging-on-miffed about the whole process. There were roosters that made noise and at one point one of them crowed and when she turned around, I had moved less than three feet away and that meant I wasn't right next to her and that was not okay. Then, her evil mean mother had the utter gall to insist on being within six feet of a pair of llamas that she was pretty sure were planning to murder her.

Although she did enjoy pretending to vacuum the little playhouse, which is sort of hilarious since I'll tell all of you, that child has never seen me vacuum.

That's her father's job. Mommies don't vacuum - we leave the house when the vacuum is on or hide in another room because vacuum noises were invented by the Devil.

She did cheer up for the hayride, where we went in a circle learning all about the farm animals. Our guide at one point had to defend the idea of pigs eventually becoming sausage to a little girl who was profoundly disturbed by the idea. It didn't help that this farm's pigs were exceptionally cute. I think I may have seen a vegan in the making in that little girl's face when the hayride ended.

In order to get to the pumpkin patch, I had gone to Sarah's house and then followed them out there. When we decided we were done, we went our separate ways.

"Are you okay to find your way home?" Sarah asked.

"Oh, sure," I replied. "I have GPS."

I put my trust in Google Maps, pulled up my home address, and followed the directions it gave.

I should not have trusted Google Maps.

Instead of heading straight back to my house, or at least as straight-back-to-my-house as the windy hilly roads-in-the-foothills would allow, Google Maps decided that what I really needed was a scenic countryside drive in a direction that, if I went long enough, would eventually end up putting me on a road I recognized as being connected to a road that's connected to a road that leads to another road that would lead me home.

I don't know the other side of town all that well. I could see Paris Mountain, so I knew that as long as Google Maps had me headed in that general direction, I'd be going the right way.

Google Maps proceeded to take me around the other side of the whole damn mountain.

Luckily, Audra fell asleep right away. I drove in silence (except for a quiz show on NPR) through the hills and down into little valleys and then back up again, around sharp curves, taking rights and lefts as my phone told me what to do.

Every once in a while, I'd catch a brief glimpse of Paris Mountain, not at all where I expected it to be.

I'm sure it'll take me in the actual direction of home eventually, I thought to myself.

Then, when I came up to a four-way stop with no one coming or going, I idled for a moment and looked at the map.

Oh, sure, it was going to take me home. By taking me north and north and north, depositing me on the other side of where my house was, then turning around.

So I turned Google Maps off, stared long and hard at Paris Mountain, took a deep breath, and decided my poor sense of direction and I could only get so lost before I ran out of gas and had to ask for help anyway.

I somehow ended up coming out in the middle of Travelers Rest, which is fine since that's at least roads I know and it's only about five minutes from my house. Audra woke up just long enough to drink a couple ounces of milk and then went back to finish up the long nap she so sorely needed.

And... to be honest, I think I kind of did need that countryside drive.

The leaves are starting to turn, finally. I couldn't go too fast and had to take my time and enjoy the view.

Plus, Audra now has her very own tiny little adorable pumpkin.

Friday, October 16, 2015

On Parenting Philosophies

"I would rather love my daughter than be 'right'."

This is something my mom said years and years ago, in response to someone else.

If you want to know who my mother is and was to us, that sentence says it all. It's also, essentially, my parenting philosophy and my guiding star for who I want to be to my children, too.

Of course, in a lot of ways my parents got lucky. The worst thing we did, as children, was slam some doors and date significant others they didn't exactly approve of. We weren't after-school-special characters, unless you count the Goody-Two Shoes Best Friend. But we went to college with the skills we needed to take care of ourselves, and built our homes with the respect for each other we knew from them.

Once, reading about something on teen pregnancies online, about a girl who was kicked out of her parents' house and ended up on the street, I turned to my mother and asked, "What would you have done if I ended up pregnant in high school?"

She sort of sighed and answered, "I don't know, Katie. Probably yelled at you and then we'd have figured it out together."

That's my other parenting philosophy.

I know my Audra Grace is so little, that the ways in which she'll stretch my heart thin and make me afraid for her are things I can't even fully imagine yet. Right now we spend so much time trying to teach her to speak. Soon enough we'll be desperately wishing for peace and quiet after the third time she tells us the story about the goose she saw at the park today, and soon enough after that she'll be a teenager and we'll working hard to get her to speak to us again.

I think that I will be afraid for her, because I already am. This isn't a nice or an easy world to grow up in. I feel uncertain, with neighbors we don't know very well and city traffic that doesn't compare with my childhood experience. Despite the fact that she is statistically safer than she has ever been, the news makes it hard to believe. We are raising our children with what is probably the worst invention of the modern age - 24-hour news on every form of media there is. We hear about every single terrible thing, live right as it happens, in the thick of the rumors and false information and the sense that no matter how far away it is, it's happening right here. It feels like she is in danger, all the time. It feels like that even when she is so little that all I have to do is pick her up and carry her.

I know that one day I will be expected to teach her how to be an adult. This is sort of a terrifying thought for me, as I mostly feel terribly un-adult myself. How can I possibly be responsible for teaching someone about responsibility when I'd rather read books than do dishes? When sometimes I eat leftover pizza just because it's there, even when I know I could make a salad instead?

I know that she'll make me angrier than I ever thought I could be at her. That she'll snap back or slam doors or lay there like a lump when we desperately need to leave to get somewhere on time. She'll make friends I don't like or ignore texts and phone calls (although God help her if she does that).


If I do this right, she will also come to me for advice on what to do, how to either fix mistakes or learn from them so that she doesn't make them again. I can't fix them for her, but I can help her navigate the consequences, good and bad.

So, there you are.

My parenting philosophies, straight from my mother:

I will love you more than I love being right.

I will love you unconditionally.

At least a few times, I'll probably yell at you.

Then we'll figure it out together.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Because Sometimes, Life Just Sucks For a While

So, because 2015 hasn't been enough of a rollicking roller-coaster of fun, the universe decided I needed one more piece of infuriating, harsh, nothing-you-can-do reality bleeding into my life.

Let's go over my last year or so, shall we?

Ahem. First, my mother was diagnosed with and subsequently underwent chemo treatment for cancer (although she is currently doing great healthwise, for those wondering). In July, Jason lost his job the day we returned from a vacation that we had cut short essentially so as not to inconvenience them. A month later, a tree fell on my car, because that seemed like a reasonable followup to the whole sudden unemployment thing. After that, my father's sudden death has made it clear to me that the ground under my feet isn't actually ground, but quicksand made from shattered glass.

Why not one more thing? The universe asked itself.

My cat is officially a "senior citizen", as she is either 14 or 15 years old, which means that she is somewhere around 80 in people age. She has recently begun to drool somewhat continuously, which is exactly as vaguely unsettling as it sounds. I looked her symptoms up (drooling, knocking food around her bowl, looking haggard and a bit gaunt lately) and was told by Dr. Google, Pet M.D. that it would either be a tooth/gum infection that may require pulling several teeth (inconvenient and expensive, but a fix) or outright kidney failure (inconvenient, expensive, and nothing you can really do).

I went ahead and scheduled a vet appointment.

Ten minutes after the vet came in to check her over, I discovered it was neither of the things that Dr. Google the Vet had assured me it would be.

Instead, I was informed my cat is dying of bone cancer.

So far all she's really doing is drooling. The vet says eventually eating will grow too tough and painful for her to keep it up, and then we'll need to decide when to make the call.

While she's a secondhand cat, she's been ours for over 8 years now. She was the very first Big Thing Jason and I did as a sign of being really committed to our relationship.

I found her in a newspaper ad, and Jason went to pick her up because I had to leave town that weekend and her previous owner said she'd have her put down if no one took her by a certain day. He brought her to my apartment and cared for her himself until I returned from my weekend trip, and so really it was him she bonded with first.

She has slept curled against our backs or purred in our laps for over eight years now. Her age had begun to make her a bit grumpy and prone to crankiness, but she's handled both the advent of the dog and a new baby like a champ. She's been known to lay near Audra and let my daughter "pet" her - which, granted, mostly involves my toddler daughter good-naturedly smacking her back and sometimes her face while chanting "Dat dat dat dat". Eventually, she will get up and move away, to escape those little hands that don't know that no one likes being smacked on the nose six times, no matter how gently it's done.

But she purrs right through until she's had about enough and decides, finally, to move.


If I didn't have enough weighing me down this year, the universe decided to throw "dying pet" on me, too.


Why not?

I've carried enough weight around my neck this year, why don't we add just a little bit more?

Friday, October 9, 2015

He Was Just Here

You have to understand - he was just here
in August,
holding my baby girl and hugging my niece downtown
by the waterfall in the park
His face was the first we saw
(who will be up to greet us now?)
at the hotel, my father of course
already up and out on a walk
with his hotel coffee in hand.

He was just here
at my daughter's birthday party
her very first
(the only one he'll have attended)
Buying groceries with Mom and I last-minute
Making friends
As easily as he breathed

He was right there
on a bench, holding my baby girl
as she finally warmed up to him,
this grandfather she's only seen a few times
(that she will never see in person again)
She babbled and giggled with him
I fell in love with the moment.

I'm not sure how here became there
so quickly, without warning
how we became the children
who visited "the site of the accident"
(shaking hands for seven hours next to a closed casket)
how we went from laughing on a bench downtown
to never seeing him again
so quickly

How did here become there
become the way I dread this Christmas
(and all the other Christmases, too)
how I find myself picking out flannels at L.L. Bean
In just his colors, just his size
only to remember
I no longer have someone to buy a flannel for

I don't understand how here
became gone.
How did it so quickly turn into
the way the stories will have to change
(he is no longer here to tell them)
or how the tenses have to shift from is
to was. I hate the word was.
I never hated it before.

Please, you have to understand -
he was just here
I did not see him go
(I always assumed I would say goodbye)
He is a shadow standing at my shoulder
A voice in the back of my throat
The ground underneath my feet
That gives way all over again every day

How here became there
became gone
is the mystery I rage against
(I ask God, but get no answer)
the inevitability I fight like hell
the truth I'd love to be in denial about
Denial stubbornly will not come

Gone is our good-natured arguing about everything
Gone is my father's laughter and smile
Gone is the standard by which I judge everyone

He was just here in August.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

5 Things: The Old Corn, New Beans and Other Such Things Edition

1. We have mostly given up on our backyard garden (and actually the front one, too, although I have tentative plans to find half an hour one afternoon to pull up all the weeds and leftover pepper plants and mulch them), but apparently it hasn't given up on itself.

We have new bean vines spiraling their way around the brown and dried-out stalks of corn we've left where they stand.

We even have some kind of butternut-squash-style gourd plant that has taken over every square inch of space, which is interesting since we didn't plant gourds. Only pumpkins, and all our pumpkin seeds sprouted.

I suppose that's the magic of gardening for you.

Also, we caught the dog stealing tomatoes off of what's left of the tomato plants.

He thought we didn't notice.

We totally did.

2. My friend Liz took me out shopping last Saturday, as a kind of "just have fun for a few hours" trip. We had breakfast at Panera, shopped in the mall, ended up having lunch with my friend Sarah and her family, and finally went home after the (always obligatory and the perfect ending to a day out) bookstore.

There's a store on our mall called Altar'd State that is a little bit like anthropologie went to church and then lowered its prices by 10 dollars. Usually the things in there are a little bit too young for me, but there are always three or four items that really catch my eye.

This time, it was a gray-and-black version of this shirt - and I ended up buying the green-and-caramel version pictured. It's basically the best winter shirt ever and I've worn it twice in five days and you can't stop me, so there. It's a skinny-jeans-and-boots kind of shirt. I'm trying to resist picking up the tan version that's available online, even though it's almost the same color as my skin and probably wouldn't be super flattering. The shirt is that comfortable.

They don't seem to have the gray-and-black variation online... or I'd already have bought it. I'm regretting not buying it when I was in the store. I could basically live in this shirt if it wouldn't eventually smell and scare people away from me.

So basically, highly recommended. A+, would buy again - or will buy again, if I ever have time to go back to the mall where the gray-and-black version lives.

3. Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood is on Netflix! Jason and I aren't huge TV watchers - we do more video-game playing, to be honest. Audra usually isn't even aware that the TV is on, unless you count "wanting to chew on the Xbox controller" as watching TV.

When I saw Mr. Rogers pop up in the Newly Added category, I decided to go ahead and push play. I remembered it, a little, from childhood. I didn't remember much beyond the theme song and a general sense that it had been one of the most pleasant things I had ever watched, second only to what Sesame Street was like before they became so heavily involved in merchandising instead of being "preschool on TV" for kids whose parents might not be able to send them to the real thing.

Audra. Is. Rapt.

Not for all of it, obviously - she's only 14 months old and tends to get distracted and play with something else. But the theme song has her sitting very still, listening to him sing. This morning, she and Jason cuddled on the couch while most of an episode played.

One of the episodes we watched recently, an episode that meant far more to me than it did to my baby, was an episode of dealing with really big sad feelings and how to be angry and sad in a healthy way, not to push it down or try to forget it but to actually deal with it. I sat there and thought, good Lord, Mr. Rogers is teaching me.

I'm 29 years old.

So... Mr. Rogers is definitely on our okay-to-watch list for Audra.

And, um, for me.

4. My blogger-friend Sarah over at Sarah On Purpose (I got to know her blog through our participation in #wholemama) just posted this list of 6 things you need to know about supporting a friend through a tough time.

While it's general and more geared towards a friend who is dealing either with their own illness/injury or that of family members than it is towards the kind of grieving-after-sudden-loss my family is going through, I think there are some really solid guidelines here to look into.

Her chart on the Circles of Support alone is worth taking a look at, and will ring very true for anyone who has gone or is going through stuff like this right now.

I can definitely say, these are important steps to take if you're trying to help someone deal with the awful that comes with illness or death. My friend Liz (who I mentioned took me out shopping Saturday) also lost a parent, although some years back and in a much different situation. One of the most important things she's done for me is talk about her own experience and how angry she was, gave me advice on grieving books she had read and which would be good to read vs. those I should probably wait to look at until the wounds are less raw, sympathized with me on how difficult it is to respond to people, things like that. These are things you don't (can't) talk about with many people, and having someone here who has experienced it walking with me through it when my own hurting family is so far away has been really invaluable.

Check out the blog post Sarah on Purpose wrote - you'll find some really good, important tips there.

5. Speaking of skinny jeans and boots, I am head-over-heels in love with this flannel tunic top from Lands End. Yes, I realize I live in South Carolina. Yes, I realize I'd only wear it for maybe two to three months a year.

No, I don't care about any of that.

I still love it and I still want it.

Look at it! It's such a pretty pattern! In an awesome color! And it's flannel!

I have a genetic predisposition to liking flannel, you know. I can't even help it. I'm not even responsible for my feelings about flannel.

Farmers wear flannel. It's what they do. When you come from farmer stock, there is always some part of your brain whispering to you, Now Katie, you and I both know today is a perfect day for a flannel shirt even when it's August and it's 92 degrees because you moved below the Mason Dixon line for some reason, who knows why*.

I. Love. That. Shirt.

This concludes your latest edition of "Katie is totally a walking Midwestern stereotype".

The End.

*We moved below the Mason-Dixon line because A. South Carolina had jobs and Illinois didn't, B. Jason's family lives here so we knew our eventual kids would still get to be close to at least one set of grandparents, and C. we wouldn't have to face the prospect of living without working heat during a cold Midwestern winter again. Just, you know - for the record. If you were wondering.