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