Friday, January 1, 2016

Things I Was Grateful for in December...And What I'm Looking Forward To In 2016

Happy New Year! Instead of another long philosophical post about goals, resolutions, etc., I decided to share the things I listed in my gratitude journal in December.


  • Justin and the kids playing keep-away in the living room.
  • The Christmas tree is decorated--and that included buying it!
  • Unexpectedly profound conversations with my daughter.
  • No matter how frustrated Justin and I get with my mental illness, there is a bedrock beneath our marriage.
  • Just ordering some presents online and planning to send the birthday invitations gave me some peace tonight.
  • The stunning red-orange color of the Japanese maple outside our front door.
  • The riotous fun of Juck* and L's Nerf gun wars.
  • Word Warp, an app I play obsessively but still cannot get anywhere close to the high score my husband does.
  • Receiving grace and truth from my counselor.
  • Chocolate-covered dried mangoes from Costco. It's worth the membership fee for them alone.
  • My new "adult" coloring book. (Side note: C was disgruntled that they are called adult coloring books when, in fact, people her age like them too. Settle down, I told her, it's a marketing strategy.)
  • The Sara Beth Yoga YouTube channel. She just annoys me less than any other exercise instructor whose videos I've done (and I've done a lot of them), plus I can actually DO the beginner yoga videos, plus she explains what to do so clearly that I don't usually even have to look at the screen. For someone with very little coordination, that last one is HUGE. She's occasionally a little hippie-dippie, but is not too annoying with it.
  • Chipotle's chicken fajita burrito. Tastes just like I remembered, when I would get one every time I had an OB appointment when I was pregnant with L, because there is a Chipotle near my doctor's office. Didn't matter if it was 10:30 a.m.: I was GETTING my giant burrito. No wonder he weighed almost 9 pounds. 
  • A mom friend who talked me down from the ledge and helped me plan C's 13th birthday party, plus she immediately offered to drive, so I will love her forever and ever, amen.
  • C's friends--they're such good kids.
  • Almost everything has been bought for Christmas.
  • So much cool stuff at Dollar Tree today. (Yes, I lead a glamorous life. Try not to be jealous.)
  • The Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market is so much more sane than the Supercenter. Shopping there has definitely improved my quality of life.
  • The kids helped Juck put up the Christmas lights and were actually helpful, which was a first.
  • Little Caesar's $5 pizzas left over from C's party, which my hormone-riddled self ate too much of. But dang, those garlicky crusts are delicious!
  • Today's peaceful yoga practice followed by 5 minutes of meditation--no crazy brain weasels after 4 days of yoga in a row!
  • The opportunity to give away an American Girl gift card
  • Chick-fil-A's Cobb salad...and a few waffle fries. ;-)
  • C's basketball coaches, for encouraging her and teaching her more than just basketball skills.
  • All of the kids' teachers--we are blessed to have them teaching our children. May they have a restful break.
  • The sausage and ribs our business partner smoked for us until they were fall-apart tender.
  • Sucking on a Hershey's kiss until it melts away--and then doing it again.
  • Christmas-scented candles.
  • Wrapping paper made of brown Kraft paper with red and green huge polka dots on it. I actually bought cute ribbons to tie on the presents and they looked charming.
  • Cuddling with my husband in the mornings before we have to get up.
  • An ice-cold Coke.
  • How much easier traveling is now that the kids are older. 
  • How much easier everything is now that the kids are older.
  • Talking to my three-year-old niece who is SUPER emPHATic with her WORDS.
  • A big group playing Apples to Apples Jr. (Apples to Apples is probably my favorite game so I have been waiting for L to be old enough to understand it so I bought it for Christmas and we had so much fun with it.)
  • The family's favorite pastry, made only at Christmas, called butterhorns. My mom says they are also called rugelach. I disagree, because the filling is not the same as the listed rugelach fillings, but they do look the same. 


These are divine. Sorry, I promised my late mother-in-law that I wouldn't share the recipe outside the family (really. She shared most recipes but not this one or the other special Christmas treat, called Cherry Bon-Bons.)
  • Vastly improved relationships
  • When your kids start getting or making presents for others without being asked to do so.
  • A safe trip home through the storms.
  • Avocados that are already perfect on the day of purchase.
  • The Harry Potter books, and the fact that C and I are sharing our experiences with them.
  • All the books I get to read or reread in 2016. (To point out just one difference between when I'm in a bad place or a good place mentally: when I'm depressed, I feel defeated by the length of my to-read list because clearly I can never read all of those books, so I will definitely miss out on some amazing books and that means I should just lie here on the couch and beat myself up for not feeling like reading. See the difference? I definitely can feel the difference.)
  • All of the writing I get to do (see above entry).
  • My new Spark planner. I love it!
  • Saltine toffee. I could eat my weight in it and I think I almost just did.
  • To paraphrase Anne Shirley, it's a brand new year with no mistakes in it.
  • The fact that it's okay to make mistakes in this brand new year.

Whew, that turned out to be a longer list than I expected! Congratulations if you made it all the way through--I don't blame you if you skimmed some parts. But I had to include it all because December's list was WAY longer than when I started keeping a gratitude journal, beset by intrusive anxious thoughts but determined to find out for myself what research has conclusively shown: that practicing gratitude is the way to experience a better life. In mid-July, I could barely list one or two items a day...but look at how many things I was grateful for in December!

The good things were always there, of course. I just had to let myself see them and give thanks for them.

Oh, and I'm slightly embarrassed that so many of these entries had to do with food. IT WAS DECEMBER, OKAY? I will do better once the saltine toffee is gone. Seriously, that stuff is my crack cocaine. #sorrynotsorry #evenmystretchypantsaretight

Happy New Year to all you lovely people! My life was enriched by you in 2015. Here's to an excellent 2016!


*My husband Justin's preferred** nickname is "Juck." Rhymes with Chuck--in fact, people often think that's what was said. His cousins came up with it and I have no idea why unless it's because they're from Louisiana and things are...different down there. This would also explain why he likes it and asks people to call him by it...he likes being different. ;-)


**His non-preferred nickname is/was "Justy." Pretty much only his parents still called him that and now they are both gone, maytheyrestinpeace. Whenever his mom's gentle voice called, "Jahhhsssttyy" (that's how she pronounced it; I wish I could have Juck say it for you because he can imitate her exactly) I could only see a blond-headed, freckle-faced little boy with a mischievous glint in his eye.*** That was before I ever saw any childhood pictures of him...and it turns out, that's exactly what he looked like. But "Justy" doesn't command much respect as a business owner. I guess "Juck" does--it's even his email address and it hasn't stopped anyone from buying cabinets from him yet.

***See? He's the one on the left. (This is the only pic I currently have in digital format of him as a child.)
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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Thinking Big

I've been wanting to post the next part of my reflections on the past year and goal setting for next year--I already had this written two weeks ago--but y'all know how the two weeks before Christmas are. Super busy, but I wasn't stressed because no papers to grade! No misbehaving students! Woo-hoo!

Once the kids were out of school on the 18th, we started finalizing gifts and food for our celebration with my family here and Justin's family in Louisiana. It was so fun to see C get excited to give gifts to others; I'll have to post pictures of the gifts she made me and Justin.

Anyway, this exercise is from Kate Matsudaira, who designed the Spark Notebook and now the Spark Planner. I got mine early in December and started writing in it today. It's gorgeous--see?


Kate has been sending out emails to help us think about aligning our yearly goals with what's really important to us.

I know the whole "What would you want your obituary to say?" idea and may seem trite and overly morbid as well. But I found it incredibly inspiring. The words just poured out of as I considered what I hope people will remember about me. Some of these things are already true for me (I think) and others are aspirations. So without further ado...here is my Thinking Big post.

MAKE A LIST OF THE PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE WHO MATTER MOST...

1. Justin

2. My kids

3. Mom and Dad

4. My friends

6. Extended family

7. Church family and our pastors

NOW IMAGINE YOUR FUNERAL...
FOR EACH PERSON ON YOUR LIST, MAKE A NOTE OF WHAT YOU HOPE THEY WOULD SAY ABOUT YOU AND YOUR IMPACT ON THEIR LIFE.

1. I hope Justin would say: "Ali was my heart. She felt things so deeply. Even though she fought depression and anxiety, the point is that she FOUGHT them instead of giving in. At times I wanted her to "snap out of it" (it became a joke as she showed me that wasn't always possible). She wouldn't give up, she said, because of me and the kids. She couldn't end it all because she couldn't--wouldn't--do that to us. That was a huge gift and I know it cost her a lot at times.
     "She may have had bleak times, but most of the time she loved to laugh, even at my corny puns. She was always learning, always full of information she had read and was dying to share. She adored our kids and was a great mom to them, finding ways to nurture their talents and interests as well as sharing hers with them (for example, reading). She was their biggest fan but she didn't like it when I got upset on the sidelines because she hated conflict. When they disobeyed, she balanced out my sternness by providing a calmer perspective. When we disagreed, she insisted that we "fight it out" instead of letting things fester.
     "She never stopped trying to improve. When our marriage struggled, she took responsibility for her part and learned to 'speak' my love language more fluently. She also advocated for her needs when necessary.
     "Overall, she never quit loving God, her family, and her friends."



2. Allowing for their individual experiences and personalities, I hope C and L would say something like:
     "Mom was our refuge, a soft place to fall. We could always go to her when something was wrong and know she would listen and validate our feelings. She never told us we didn't or shouldn't feel a certain way. Sometimes she started to give advice before we were ready to hear it or tell us how to handle a situation, but as soon as she realized that, she would back off. As we became teenagers, she would say things like, 'Wow, that sounds tough. What do you think you're going to do about that?' She always believed we could handle our business and we knew she would be our sounding board if we needed to run things past someone first.
     "Mom was open about her struggles with mental illness. She believed that 'secrets make us sick' and she didn't want us to grow up knowing something was wrong but not that she (and Dad) were dealing with it. When we were little and saw her crying, she would tell us, 'Mommy's just sad but I am going to get better.' And she did. She set an example for us of someone who had an invisible illness that many people think of as a character flaw, but she chose to be open and vulnerable in her writing and in person so that other people could be helped by her experience.
     "Mom wasn't the most obsessive housekeeper, but she was a good cook. She believed that spending time together as a family was more important than anything else except our relationship with God. In fact, she pointed us to God; not only were we at church almost every week, but she served in any way she could, especially as in the prayer ministry. Mom knew how to pray and showed us how by example. When we were little, she would pray for us whenever we were scared or sad or just needed to go to sleep. Even as we got older, we knew she prayed for us every day. Finally, Mom lived her belief that she just wanted two things for us: one, to love the Lord, and two, to find and follow His purpose for our lives."






3. My parents have told me many times now that they are proud of the woman I have become. They are unbelievable parents. They embody everything I hope my kids will say about me in the years to come. They have told me--and proved--that their love and support is unshakable. They've encouraged me in everything I attempted, and sometimes when I wasn't ready to attempt it yet. They affirmed my efforts as a mother, from becoming a stay-at-home mom, to a working mom with a full-time job, to a mom with a part-time job. They have listened and given me invaluable advice ... I will cherish it forever. I wish they would outlive me but not because I died young; I'd love for them to live to 110 at least!



4. I hope my friends and extended family would say something like:

     "Even when life got so hectic that it was hard to connect, Ali was committed to our friendship. I could always call or text her when things were tough and she would drop everything to be with me. She also made time for us to spend together for no real reason, just to hang out. She would send notes or emails or texts or call us to let us know she loved us and specifically why.
     "Ali prayed passionately for us when we or our families were struggling, but she didn't lecture us. She knew how to just be there for someone when they are hurting. She always brought something to make us feel better, and it usually involved carbs and chocolate. She would send us funny things to make us smile.
     "She was REAL. She was willing to share her struggles, both to ask for help and to help others. She always loved my kids like her own and insisted that I tell her if hers were misbehaving. She believed in dealing with issues instead of pretending they weren't there. At the same time, she was a peacemaker. She didn't like conflict for no reason, but if it was there, she faced it with love so we could move forward."

5. I hope my pastors would say (speaking for my church family):

    "Alison was a deeply committed member of our church. First of all, she loved Jesus all the way down to her core. Nothing was more important to her than finding and following His heart. Religion and rules were not important to her and were discarded if they interfered with experiencing His grace. She was passionate about her method of witnessing, which she called  "not being a jerk." Although it upset her to see Christians acting hatefully, she tried really hard to forgive them, too. She made it a priority to look for the good in people and to be respectful of everyone, no matter what their beliefs. (If they were jerks, see above. However, she learned--rather late in life, because she was a recovering people pleaser--not to suffer fools gladly, but to speak the truth in love.)
     "Alison served the local church in some capacity at every point in her life. She did not believe in simply warming a church pew. She was involved in children's ministry, youth ministry, music ministry, small group ministry, benevolence ministry, prayer ministry, and world missions at various times in her life, as the need arose and her gifts were needed. She gave freely of herself and did not demand recognition.
     "Alison was a giver. She gave cheerfully of her family's finances, faithfully supporting the kingdom of God with tithes and offering. She chose to give from their gross rather than their net income, because she said she wanted a gross blessing rather than a net blessing. She believed she was blessed to be a blessing, and that she was meant to be a conduit which God's blessings could flow through rather than a reservoir in which they would stagnate. She not only supported the local church's efforts, but also world missions in countries like Haiti and Lithuania. She gave in practical ways when asked, such as supporting a Haitian orphan and loading bags for canned good drives.
     "As the daughter of a longtime pastor, Alison was a huge supporter of her pastors and their families. You never heard her criticize them; rather, she prayed for them and their children daily. She often let them know in person or in writing that she loved and appreciated them. She was also voracious in her desire to hear God's Word; she always, always had her notebook for taking notes during a sermon. She showed love to people in the church, going out of her way to welcome visitors and new members. She was a vital part of our church family."


And there you have it...what I hope people will say about me when I'm gone. I also made some goals based on these thoughts. I'll come back soon and post my motto for the year and the goals I've set!

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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Mini Book Reviews--Fall 2015

The book titles are linked to Amazon for your convenience!

1. Strong and Of Good Courage--31 Devotions on Spiritual Warfare by Leann Guzman.



Full disclosure: this book was written by my oldest f1riend  friend I've known the longest. It's awesome (along with her first book of devotions, Women of Blessing: 31 Days of Flowing in the Favor of God). If you are looking for a great devotion to start in 2015, this is an excellent choice. It's not a creepy, mystical approach to spiritual warfare; rather, it's full of wise, practical advice you can begin applying in your prayer life right away. Buy it! It's only $10, so it's a good deal. (I probably should have plugged her book earlier so you could order it for gifts. Oops. You could order it anyway and give the person a printout of your Amazon checkout screen. There.) Five stars.

2. The Smartest Book in the World: A Lexicon of Literacy, A Rancorous Reportage, A Concise Curriculum of Cool, by Greg Proops

I always liked Greg Proops on "Whose Line Is It Anyway" so I picked this up on impulse at the library. I didn't finish it. For one thing, it has waaaaay too much about baseball for my taste. I'm not a big sports fan in general, although I do enjoy watching a game now and then, but reading about baseball is definitely not my thing. The whole book sounded like he was trying too hard to be clever and likable (a common occurrence with books written by comedians, I've noticed), Also, I have no idea why Facebook kept choosing this book cover as a picture when I linked any post to Facebook. Two stars.

3. Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay

Well, it's finally happened. I've read a Christian novel that I liked. And that didn't make me cringe (not even once) due to bad writing or heavy-handed approach to Christianity. I loved the allusions to Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Edmond Dantes, and the like. Even though the ending is a little predictable, I can't complain--such is always the case with romances. It was great fun getting to know Sam, the narrator. I'll definitely read Katherine Reay's other books--and it looks like she has several more. Four stars.

4. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black

I didn't finish The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, but the premise is intriguing and Holly Black is a talented writer. Although the part of it I read is incomparably better than That Other Vampire Novel, part of the reason I stopped is that it's now basically impossible to write an enigmatic vampire hero and make him believable...at least to me. Also, I don't know much about horror, but the first half of the novel had me on edge in a good way, but then when the action began, it didn't live up to the promise. I don't know, you might feel differently, especially if you like supernatural romance/horror.
Three stars.

5. Various Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett (Lords and Ladies; Carpe Jugulum; Monstrous Regiment).

When I'm anxious and/or depressed, I can read very few things. Terry Pratchett's novels are wonderful whether I'm feeling good or awful. The first two are part of the Witches strand (I can't think of a better word) and the third is mostly a stand-alone book, although Commander Sam Vines of the Ankh-Morpork Watch plays a significant role. His books are always funny yet they are very wise. If you want to try them, you can jump in almost anywhere without fear of being spoiled. But because I am a rigid, inflexible person, I like to read them in order. Here is a handy chart if you are like me (and lucky you, for getting to read these for the first time! I'm going to start buying them in paperback and rereading.) Four-star average.
Click to make bigger, so you can actually read the book titles.


6.

Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch In the Throat: Yuletide Yahoos, Ho-Ho-Humblebraggers, and Other Seasonal Scourges, by Jen Mann


I actually laughed out loud several times while listening to this audiobook. The laughter was probably helped by listening to the author read it; her deadpan delivery is perfect for her material. I now read her blog. Four stars.





7. The Lake House, by Kate Morton

I couldn't get into it at first, probably because of the multiple points of view and deliberate omission of information to keep the reader in the dark. But I continued, because Morton is a good writer who knows what she's doing. The big reveal felt anticlimactic for me, because it seemed so contrived, but I don't know, YMMV. It was perfectly fine (how's that for damning with faint praise?) Two stars.

I'm currently reading Winter Solstice by Rosamund Pilcher and loving it. It's a perfect Christmas book.
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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Looking Back: 2015

I am so excited that yesterday I received my 2016 planner from Spark Notebook, which I had backed in a Kickstarter campaign. It was already funded so all I had to do was sign up and wait to receive it. I'll talk about the planner another time, but for now I want to focus on the planning sheets that the owner, Kate Matsudaira, is sending out for each week in December so we can reflect on 2015 and look ahead to 2016. Now that I'm out of crisis mode, this is an ideal time to do that. When I started answering the following questions, the answers just poured out of me.

WHAT WAS THE BEST THING THAT HAPPENED IN THIS YEAR?

I started my new job working for my husband's company instead of teaching school. It was a huge adjustment--once I caught my breath, I realized that with the exception of a couple of years when I stayed home with C, I had been tied to the academic calendar for 35 years (yes, I'm old.) But it was worth it.

OF ALL YOUR WORK THIS YEAR, WHICH ACCOMPLISHMENT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
While my work life was nice and family life is always rewarding, I'm most proud of myself for starting therapy again to dig myself out of my chronic depression and anxiety.

WHAT WERE YOU DOING WHEN YOU HAD THE MOST FUN?
Laughing with my family; spending time with our friend group; relaxing at home alone; tending to chores I didn't have time to do before; listening to audiobooks; reading blogs; writing.

DID YOU ACHIEVE ALL OF YOUR GOALS? WHY OR WHY NOT?
I don't know because I don't remember setting any. I was so desperate just to get out of my stressful job. I successfully did that, so I think I'd say I did okay.

WHAT ARE 5 THINGS THAT WENT WELL?
1. Beginning to work for Village Cupboards. I discovered I am good at office work and organization.

2. Relationships with my husband, kids, and parents. My kids especially are a source of so much laughter and joy in my life. I'm closer to my parents than I've been in my adult life so far. My husband and I had some conflicts but are coming through them with more empathy and closeness than before.

3. Blogging (even though I just started back blogging regularly in November). I have written some of the most powerful pieces I've ever written. My heart has broken...but broken open and my vulnerability has taken my writing to a whole new level. I love blogging because I can have a  tangible connection with readers and get their input.

4. Getting to know the parents of my kids' friends. I didn't have much time for that before, unless we already went to church together. They are neat people and I'm glad my circle has expanded.

5. Therapy. My therapist says she just holds up a "mirror" to me and I process everything out loud while she listens  and occasionally summarizes or asks questions when I (finally) get stuck. I've had some life-changing insights.

WHAT ARE 5 THINGS THAT COULD BE IMPROVED?
1. Obviously my chronic depression and anxiety is an ongoing area to target for improvement. Importantly, though, I'm realizing that it doesn't mean I'm a bad person for having these episodes.  They are symptoms of an illness I deal with and I am learning to trust myself to manage them instead of freaking out, "It's BACK! THE SKY IS FALLING!"

2. My relationship with my husband. Our time together as a couple usually gets put on the back burner, and we need to make time for each other.

3. Working regularly rather than blowing it off just because I can (and once could not). I need to embody being a business owner (since I am a 25% partner).

4. Making time to spend with friends. I have spent more time with groups of women but not very much one-on-one interaction.

5. Create opportunities for our family to do fun things together to make memories rather than stare at screens. (I've already got some ideas going for this one; tune in later, as I'm going to blog about it!)

6. (Which was not on the list, but I just realized I need it.) Exercise. I didn't stay consistent with any certain routine although there were stretches of time when I was a gym regular. I need to make it a routine I will actually do on a regular basis ("No duh, Sherlock," as my 10 year old son is fond of saying.) This means it has to be super easy and so convenient that my excuses are...well, inexcusable.

I started writing about my new exercise plan, which I actually love and have done 5 out of the last 6 days (I had a sinus headache on Sunday), but then I realized it needs a post of its own.

Because it's not like it's common to make plans to start exercising in the new year and then bail out. That's never gonna happen to me. *snort*

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Monday, December 14, 2015

American Girl Giveaway

EDITED: I found a little girl who will be so excited (according to her mom) to receive this gift card! She is the little sister of one of C's school friends, and they lost their dad a few years ago. They are such a sweet family; I'm thrilled that I thought of them. 

I told the mom that she could give it from Santa, but she wanted her daughter to know it came from us so she could be thankful and "pay it forward." I told her we were definitely paying it forward since people have blessed us so much in the past. So this morning C and I wrote her a note in a card with a cute glittery polar bear on it and are sending it home with big sister. Love wins!

On Friday I wrote about my first baby turning thirteen. I teared up as I wrote the post off and on throughout the day, again when I was looking at baby pictures, and finally (of course) when I read the post to her. I was rewarded by her giggles at all the right parts, a few "awwwws" and at the end she hurtled into my arms. 

A win indeed! 

But this post isn't about my newly minted teenager--it's about what I would like to do for another little girl who needs something to make her Christmas special. 

A few years ago, C was in Girl Scouts. What is the main thing Girl Scouts are known for? That's right, the cookies. Our troop sold approximately a metric ton of cookies, not only to family and friends but also by sitting outside stores and once even a car wash, in the chilly air. A troop receives a (very small--much less than you probably think) amount for every box sold, and this funds their activities for the year, including Girl Scout camp. Our troop leader helped the girls set a goal every year for the dollar amount they'd need to reach to do this, the average number of boxes each girl needed to sell, AND then they'd vote on an awesome trip with the extra money. It was a great motivator. One year we went to Great Wolf Lodge--it was the cheapest trip possible there, what with four to a room and whatnot--and now I never have to darken the door of that godawful place again, thankyouJesus.


Anyway, a few years ago C could not attend the extravagaza, due to a scheduling conflict I can't remember. Oh, that's right, it was a special party for my dad's 65th birthday.The girls had voted to go to the American Girl Doll store and buy everyone a doll and then eat in the cafe. There were at least 25 girls in the troop.


I TOLD you we sold a ton of cookies. 


C wasn't too bothered to miss this because just on the cusp of being too old for dolls. (The average age of the group skewed younger.) I would've loved to go to the boutique (but Samantha was my favorite, and they stopped making her. I SO should have bought her even though I was an adult with no kids when American Girl dolls came out.)


C's lovely troop leader didn't just absorb the money C would have spent into the general fund; she bought a gift card and brought it back to her. However, as I said, C didn't care to buy any accessories, let alone another doll, even online. I'm glad, because now I can use the card to do a RAK!


Yes, it's been several years and the gift card has languished in our kitchen junk drawer. 


Until now.


Here is a photo of the real, actual card that can be used online or in an American Girl doll store. It is loaded with $74.00 American dollars. (I know that is an oddly specific amount, but the rules state that the exact same amount must be spent on each girl.) I've verified that the card is still completely valid and that the money is still available. That should be enough to ALMOST buy a ridiculously overpriced but still very cute doll, or some clothes, or whatever the doll owner wants. My mom once got my daughter and her doll matching PJs and they were very, very cute.




Here's what C and I want to do.


We would like y'all to nominate someone who could REALLY use this gift card to make their child's Christmas special. Not just, "Oh, I could use that because my kids are only getting eleven presents." Or even three, because that's always been my rule (until this year when I went a little nuts on smaller stuff, but that's another post.) 


No, I want this to go to someone who is truly in need. I want this to go to a mama* who is wondering how she is even going to be able to give her kiddo a nice gift. Whether it's a hardworking single parent or someone who has been hit hard by tough economic times or health problems, I'd like to take away one worry for another parent. It will be worth it to me for them to see their child's excited face when they open a great present. (I'd love to have a picture if possible. Not to put on my blog to congratulate myself, just to show my daughter that Love Wins.)


Please comment, send me a private message on Facebook, or email me at hairlinefracture at gmail dot com to nominate someone. In the event that I have more than one nominee, I will enter their names in a random drawing for the card. Be sure to leave me a way to contact you if your person wins so that I can mail them the gift card in time to use it for Christmas.


This drawing is open until 9 p.m. Wednesday, December 16 because that's right before C's bedtime and I want her to do the drawing. Why only till Wednesday? Because Christmas is right around the corner!


I'm sooooo excited now!


*Or dad. Dads totally count!

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Good Deeds...Not a Humblebrag

Over at Bye Bye Pie, (a hilarious blog, by the way) June has up a post in which people can list good deeds they are doing for the holidays. (She uses the term "good deeds" on purpose, as the acronym RAoK is super annoying to her, and I agree. It's unpronounceable without sounding like a crow cawing.) The comments describing the good deeds done--it can be major or as small as "I refrained from doing something awful"--is inspiring. Here are mine:

1. I donated to a family whose 17-year-old son had to have surgery to remove metal rods from his chest. Fortunately, he is now doing well but as you can imagine, their medical bills are enormous. I don't know any more details (although I morbidly wish I did, because HOW did that happen? Of course, 17 year old boy. 'Nuff said, really.) I learned about them from our medical sharing plan, which we use instead of traditional medical insurance. Samaritan Ministries assigns a share amount to its members (the amount for a family with three or more people is $405/month) and the situation, name and address of the fellow member who needs the money to pay for their medical expenses. They ask you to send a note of encouragement with your money, which according to the letters from members, are even more cheering than the checks. 

This family was not assigned to us (we had a family whose baby was in the NICU for twelve days and is now home). Samaritan publishes "Special Prayer Needs" for those whose medical situation is not publishable, usually due to preexisting conditions. Ethan's surgery took place before they became members, or they would have been eligible. I wrote: "Please tell Ethan the A____ family from Texas is praying for him and believing for his full recovery! Merry Christmas!" 

This family is from Nebraska and we will most likely never meet. But now we are linked because we have prayed for them and given to a fellow believer in need. My children and I prayed for Ethan this week.

2. Much smaller and less effort: start any of your Amazon.com shopping at smile.amazon.com. You can designate a charity of your choice and Amazon will donate 0.5% of your purchase to it. Every little bit counts! (I order everything I possibly can for Christmas from Amazon, so my charity will be BANKING in January.) I designated the Beyond Blue Foundation as my recipient, though there are truly many to choose from. My son's elementary is even on there, although they don't need money as much as some nonprofits do!

3. Finally, I'm going to do a special giveaway this week on this blog! Super excited about it...please check back Monday to see it!

What good deeds have you done or are you planning to do?

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Thirteen

Dear Girl Child,

First of all, I feel compelled to emphasize that I am not normally sentimental. You know this, because you inherited this trait from me, along with an aversion to being touched strong boundaries about your personal space. I am the person who threw away 90% of the crap precious treasures you brought home from school/church/summer camp. I have ONE BOX of baby clothes for each child, and it's not a big box. One scrapbook album for each of your first years--and I worked HARD on those, dang it, because you did NOT inherit your artistic talent from me--and about 5 more for the whole family, and no more although I keep promising myself I'll use that app that makes it so easy. Like everyone else, Facebook is now our family album. It usually takes moms getting to the third child before reaching this level of unsentimentality. (Yes, that's a word. Because I say so, and you still take my word as law when it comes to the English language.)



I am also bad about taking pictures and videos. Now, though, I wish I had more (just LOOK at that greatness above this paragraph. But I have always been better with capturing memories with words than images, so this will have to do.

First, you should know that you were not only planned, you were AGONIZED over. By me, not your dad. He said we could have a baby whenever I wanted. (Smart man.) He was 27 and I was barely 22 when we got married. I could not imagine being allowed to care for a baby by ourselves. I felt I was still looking around for the grownup in charge and panicking when I realized it was supposed to be me. (Spoiler alert: sometimes I still feel this way.)

It took me five years to be ready.

Five years of being broke while your dad worked his tail off in various forms of physical labor and I went to college and became a middle school teacher (which let's be honest, probably definitely extended my timeline of wanting a baby). Five years of wondering if we would ever be able to own a house (I had this fixed idea of needing a YARD before we could procreate, and now I hardly ever venture out into it. Weird.) I started having baby fever but also fretting about being financially responsible. A good friend once said, "If you wait till you can afford a baby, you'll never have one." So true, but I didn't get it. Because I am an external processor, I had to talk this all out. Many times. Usually in bed around midnight.

Finally one night while I sat up in bed dithering out loud, the lump of blankets next to me your dad said, "I think you're being selfish."

What??? I thought I was being wise and thoughtful of the future because of course I had to be the PERFECT MOM bringing a PERFECT BABY into a PERFECT WORLD we had created.

AHAHAHAHAA! Excuse me while I gather myself after laughing that hard. I knew NOTHING.

I made him explain. He said, "I am not getting any younger and I don't want to be too old to play with a kid when we have one."

Now, you and I both know this would never be the case. He would've wrestled y'all on the floor if he'd been Abraham and I were Sarah; he's just a huge kid at heart. But he totally called me on my selfishness and made me realize that I was waiting for ME, not for him--and certainly not for our baby. Because I wanted to see myself as a perfect mom. He made me see that the perfect time to have a perfect baby was never going to happen.

Except...it totally did.

I can't explain how except...God, but once I meekly said, "Okay, I'll make an appointment with my doctor to see what I need to do to start trying," everything fell into place. A house we could afford magically fell into our lap. We stopped thinking about getting pregnant and...boom. Six weeks later, we were frantically remodeling our new/old house so we could move into it by the time our lease was up and I realized I miiiiight be pregnant.

There have never been a longer three minutes than the time we spent waiting to look at that pregnancy test. And there has never been a shorter amount of time between that discovering one is pregnant and quitting all remodeling duties. (Hey, that 1970s paint we were sanding off the walls had LEAD in it! I was probably saving you from having three arms or something! Your dad disagrees, but whatever, he didn't have to be pregnant for the next nine months.)

You made pregnancy so easy. I was only sick one time (On The Border, you are still dead to me). We decided not to find out your gender, much to Mawmaw Sher's dismay, since she was champing at the bit to buy adorable baby clothes. (As her post today admits, she secretly prayed for a baby girl with red hair. God apparently listens to grandmothers who have waited mostly patiently for five years for a grandbaby.) The doctor didn't have your sex written in the chart so she wouldn't accidentally say "he" or "she." She was so excited because almost no one chooses to be surprised in the delivery room these days. I still can't believe we waited. (To be honest, on my part it was mostly because I knew I didn't want to decorate a nursery twice and Classic Pooh would be gender-neutral. Gah, I was so sick of Pooh by the time your brother left babyhood.)

Anyway, you also made it easy on me by making it very clear when it was time to go to the hospital. I had been hoping my water would break because the otherwise basically useless childbirth class taught me that if your water breaks, you go to the hospital, do not stop, do not pass Go and most certainly do not collect $200. There was a couple in that class who were there preparing for the birth of their SECOND baby. I know, whaaaaatttt? They were so young and ignorant for the first child's impending arrival that she DIDN'T KNOW SHE WAS IN LABOR and had the baby at home by accident.

I cannot emphasize enough how much I DID NOT WANT that outcome. I had known since the age of about ten, when your Mawmaw told me I was born painlessly after a magical thing called an epidural that I wanted one when the time came.

Me + pain = NOPENOPENOPE.

But I had a certain amount of it after my water broke. I am sorry, I know this will gross you out when you hear it, but I didn't know exactly HOW MUCH water we were talking about. Not the modest cup or so I imagined. I sent your dad back into the house for a towel to protect the car seat "just in case" and he brought back a hand towel. Not sufficient, it turned out. I walked into the hospital with my dress dripping and the nurse joked about me messing up the floor.

It was all very funny but at least there was no question they would admit me because my water had broken. Well, it was funny from 2 a.m., when I arrived, until about 6 a.m., when I tired of walking the halls in a hospital gown, pushing an IV pole, to get my labor going. After that I lay in a bed and stared at a "focal point" the labor class had taught me to choose and thought, "This crap is getting REAL. I don't think I can DO this much longer."

Luckily, without me even asking, the doctor said I could get an epidural so they could speed my labor up, and I swear, I would've kissed the anesthesiologist if he'd still been in the room when the epidural kicked in. Things got much better after that. The next thing I remember, the doctor and nurse were so excited about seeing whether you were a boy or a girl. You were born, I listened for your healthy cry, they put you in my arms.

And there you were: 7 pounds 11 ounces, 19 1/2 inches long, blue eyes and strawberry blonde hair fuzz.

You were my perfect baby. And I had nothing to do with making anything perfect about you or for you. You were just perfect.

I don't mean you were not hard work (I'm still traumatized by the sleep deprivation you put me through.) I hope I have communicated over the past thirteen years that you are perfect just the way you are--that is, I mean that you are LOVED just the way you are, and that you will never have to earn my love in any way whatsoever. You guaranteed that the moment I surrendered to the idea of having a baby. That's why I was so scared, by the way. I was afraid of not having control. Well, motherhood is one long roller coaster ride of realizing over and over again that you have no control over all the things you fear the most. Actually, the one thing you fear the most is losing your child: to illness, accidents, death, or even estrangement. The thought of not seeing your face every day or at least hearing your voice scrunches my heart up until I think I might not be able to breathe. That started the day you lay in my arms, a baby burrito, and I realized, as the saying goes, that my heart would now forever walk around outside my body.

Out of all the girls in all the world, how did we get the very best one?

You have brought nothing but joy into our lives. (At least, that we remember. Your brother can thank his existence for our short-term memory loss.) You were bright-eyed and curious from Day One. I had never seen a week-old baby hold her head up so long; I swear it was so you could look around at people. You wanted to be held constantly but hated the front-facing carrier...and the baby swing...so I held you most of the time. Thank God you deigned to be placed in your bouncy seat for up to 15 minutes at a time--or 25 if I put on a Baby Einstein DVD--so I could gulp down lunch. Showering? Not possible till your dad got home. Some days he asked what I'd done that day and I had to think before answering, "I brushed my teeth." Oh yeah, and kept a human infant alive. Did I mention I'd never even BABYSAT a child under the age of 5 before you came into my world? I'm pretty freaking proud of myself for not accidentally sitting on you. We'd go to bed at night and I'd say, "Well, we kept her alive another day."

Until you woke up two hours later having the audacity to want to EAT, which, well, I am not proud of my attitude after about two weeks. Let's just say there's a reason God doesn't let children remember anything about their first year.

Sweet girl, your mama wants you to know I'd fight a lion or a bear or any man on God's green earth to protect you. I have tried my very hardest to nurture you but not allow my anxieties to limit you. When you fearlessly wanted to do something that scared me--like jump off the couch, climb the backyard fence, or attend kindergarten without me sitting beside you holding your hand all day--I closed my mouth that had been open to scream, "Nooooooo" in slow motion like on TV. I swallowed, put a big smile on my face, and said, "Sure you can!"

(There was this picture book called Little Quack that really helped. I channeled Mama Duck: "Come on, little duck," said Mama, "I know you can do it!" Good Lord, did I really just pull that dialogue out of my ancient withered brain?)


And the thing is, you have done it all. Everything I doubted turned out to be a lie. You proved every fear wrong. You fulfilled dreams I didn't know how to dream. You taught me how to parent you. I am only grateful that I had the sense to get out of your way when necessary.

I believe in you. As our favorite Doctor (Ten forever!) said about Rose Tyler:

"But if I believe in one thing... just one thing... I believe in her!"


And I believe in your dad, who convinced me to risk becoming an imperfect parent, which meant that I became fully human. I believe in the God who was merely waiting for me to take a leap of faith. Finally, I believe in the love that was born in me the moment I heard your speedy little heartbeat on that first doctor visit. My precious girl, I wouldn't trade anything on this planet for the last thirteen years I have been privileged to be your mother.

Now, in one week school will be out and I demand some mother-daughter time in which we will read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and talk about it, catch up with the Twelfth Doctor, practice with your newly-allowed makeup (I predict you are already better with it than I am, so please teach me your ways), agree about all the ways that seventh-grade boys are idiots, and just generally have a lazy old fun time in our pajamas together. I think you'll agree you owe me that much just from the story above.

With all my love,
Mom