Chesed

When Bears Stalk Us

I went to bed completely exhausted the Wednesday night of June 1 with the kitchen in a mess.  Thursday morning I stumbled to the kitchen, groggily hoping the coffee David made hours earlier before leaving on a work related trip to Virginia was still hot.  Still sleep deprived, I noticed the olive oil bottle lying on it’s side.  Exhausted or not, I don’t leave bottles side lying. Ever. I thought maybe David knocked it over in the pre-dawn hours but that wouldn’t be like him either.

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As I got closer, I realized that not only was my mess still on the counter, there were wet clumps of cut grass and bits of watermelon rind there, too.  Then I noticed the window sill was FILTHY.  Coffee forgotten and wide awake, I picked up the olive oil bottle.  Dirty.  Scratched label.

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I saw the watermelon had rolled forward from where it had been at the back of the counter, thankfully rolling against a random fork as opposed to falling to the floor and splitting.  When I returned it to a safer spot at the back of the counter I noticed it had claw marks.

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Oh, wait.  The screen was gone.  And the window had slobber marks on it.

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I stepped outside to see the screen and saw paw marks that reached above my head next to the window.

Seriously alarmed, I circled the house.  Sure enough, two windows in the living room had ripped screens from bear claws.

So there I was.  34 weeks pregnant.  Three kids. And a husband five hours out of town.  Why do our crazy things always happen on the days when he is so far away?  He offered to call the DNR and I declined.  I was going to play my pregnant with three kids card well and I meant business.  I had absolutely zero interest in walking out the hallway some morning to find a bear in my living room, thank you very much.

The bear had been bothering us some over the past few weeks.  He bent a two inch metal pole, stripped the metal screws out of the back of the bird house and consumed the poor baby bluebirds.  He knocked the hummingbird feeder down and while I was gone one evening telling tales about him, he walked the entire way around the deck and dumped the planter on the far corner before dragging it out into the yard.  I was mad at him then, but this was way, way too far.  If people go to jail for breaking and entering, this bear needed to be shot.

I called the DNR office and first left a message with the “invasive species” department before realizing I really should have transferred myself to the “nuisance animal” department. :)  I called back and got an answer.  The drama worked.  She took notes as I was talking, “How far along did you say you are? I’m putting out an emergency call to your area. You should get a call soon.”

I cleaned up the messy kitchen except for all the bear souvenirs and before I’d even finished got the call I was looking for.

“We’re bringing out a trap today and should be there soon after lunch.”

From there, things played out like clockwork.  Sometimes they set a trap and nothing happens.  Sometimes they set a trap and get a bear a week later.  And sometimes they set a trap and get a bear right away.  I was super impressed with the warden who came out. He was so patient with the boys and showed them exactly how the trap worked.  The plan was to fill the trap with donuts and molasses and then “process” him if he get caught.  He’d get pepper sprayed, shot at with rubber pellets, and hopefully figure out that people and houses are not enjoyable.  He also confirmed that my bear death threats wouldn’t land me in jail because it would be considered protecting my family.

That afternoon my friend, Anita, arrived for five days.  It was the normal hullabaloo of heading out to baseball only this time we got soaked in the rain.  She helped me finish putting strawberries in the freezer when we got home and once again we cleaned up the messy kitchen before heading out to the front porch to enjoy our strawberries and ice cream to the sound of the whippoorwill.  It was 9:45 and our conversation turned to the bear.  What would we do if we suddenly saw an even blacker shadow emerge from the darkness? I was a bit nervous because the rain would certainly muffle any sound of his shuffling.  Anita was still damp from the ball game and feeling cold so we opted to head inside.  (Ok, ok, we were also a little bit nervous.)

I headed downstairs to tuck the boys into bed and, as I hugged Liam, noticed a flash of lightning.  Do you guys want the curtains open so you can watch the lightning?  Oh, yes, they did.  I flung the left panel to the side and instantly saw a huge, round shadow lumbering between the clothesline and the house … not fifteen feet from where I stood inside the door.  “I think I saw the bear,” I said, then immediately crossed it off as fear induced imagination.  You can see a lot of things when you’re scared.  Still, I checked the other window just to make sure and watched as that big black shadow lumbered straight up to the trap and walked in front of it.  The boys yelled upstairs to alert David while I ran to yell through the bathroom door to Anita.  By the time I got back to the window David had turned on a floodlight to the yard.  I started to yell, “don’t scare him away,” when Liam said, “The trap door is closed!”

We dashed upstairs and out and instantly heard an angry commotion coming from inside the cage.  And oh, let the adrenaline rush begin.  He was thumping angrily inside the cage, shaking it, rattling it, throwing himself against the sides.  I couldn’t stop smiling.  Finally, it was HIS turn to get the short end of the stick and I told him so gleefully.  Going to bed was a different story.  About the time I thought I could settle down, I’d hear the cage start back up.  He rattled metal that started to sound like the door and I was petrified he was smart enough to figure out how to open it and get away.  I mean what bear wouldn’t love that.  Donuts and molasses and no punishment.  I kept waiting on him to growl and he never did.  Did you know black bears don’t growl?  They snort and clack their teeth and sometimes they whine. We only think they growl because of Disney!

Black bear snarls

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(shhh! Yes, we opened the trap door to get a picture of him! And no, we didn’t stick our fingers in the cage.)

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By 7 the next morning the bear was the attention of the neighborhood.  I called the warden on his personal cell phone and he never even said hello.  Instead he greeted me with, “Hi Michelle.”  We weren’t the only ones excited.  They only catch about three bears per year so it was a big day for everyone!  He was so generous about letting camp come over to watch and learn.  Seriously, I was completely amazed!  I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to hear them say they don’t want to deal with a crowd, it’s not safe, yada yada and I would have totally respected that.  Instead Rande said sure and spent an enormous amount of time educating us on how bears get habituated, what is “acceptable” bear behavior (in their book, not mine!), and what happens when they cross a line like this one did.  It was so impressive.  Kids are always teachable, but at an extraordinary moment like this, they soak in and remember so much!  One of our campers from the city decided he wants to work for the DNR because of the presentation and education!

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After he explained everything, the bear got put to sleep while our crowd of nearly sixty headed to the other end of the yard.  He estimated he might weigh 300 lbs and it’s impossible to know exactly how a bear will metabolize the meds.  But it’s a given that if he’s worked up from the noise it’s going to be harder to put him to sleep.

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Once he was truly sedated, they dragged him out of his cage and let everyone circle up around him.  We guessed his weight and then a few of the campers got to don gloves and help to weigh and measure him.  He was HUGE!  An average neck circumference is 25 inches.  This guy was 29.5!  And not only did he reach the estimated 300 lbs, his actual weight was 348!!!  His paw was 5.5 inches across and he measured about 72 inches long.  He was truly a big, big very naughty boy.

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They medicated his eyes and wrapped them with a cloth since the sedation would keep him from blinking, pulled a tooth to check his age, took a hair sample to document his DNA and then tagged his ear so they’d recognize him if he caused trouble again.  Because three strikes you’re out.  I may or may not have silently told Mr. Bear he wouldn’t get another chance at our house.  I was going to learn how to load a gun if I saw him in our yard again.  If you are a bear, you don’t mess with my kitchen windows or food sources inside the house and you don’t make me nervous about having kids in the yard without repercussion.

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And then everyone got in a line and had a quick turn touching him and posing for a picture.  The bear’s respirations were getting less shallow and it was time to get him back in his cage.  Which also meant it was time for the crowd to leave because the next part should go like clockwork, but it was unpredictable.

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What happened next was supposed to be the dramatic part of the day and actually turned out to be way shorter and sweeter (for the bear) than I expected.  The remnant of us hung out around his cage and he was given meds to help him wake up.  Once he was truly awake, he got poked at to make sure he was good and awake.  He really wasn’t happy.  His ear was hurting.  His mouth was hurting.  He was probably kind of confused if I don’t miss my guess because drugs do that.  And then he said all children and unborn children had to go inside.  Bummer! David was allowed to stay at his own risk and was planning to get a video of what happened next so we could show everyone at camp since they had to leave.  In the excitement, he pushed the wrong button and got nothing!

I dutifully went inside and watched them spray the bear with pepper spray through the window.  As soon as the pepper spray was done I sneaked out to the deck to get pictures but I was too late.  What I thought would take two minutes took less than ten seconds.  They lined up on either side and on top of the trap with “slammers” (rubber pellets and koosh balls) and “bangers” (fireworks that got shot over his head) and then opened the door.  By the time I got out and got my camera to focus, the bear was at the edge of the woods!  Interestingly, they’d turned the trap away from the house before releasing it and he still emerged and ran straight down through our back yard the way he’d come.  Clearly he is way too familiar with the territory!

Did it work? You decide.  We haven’t seen him since.  But that very night he showed up in the neighbor’s yard about 1/2 mile from our house.  They saw him every night for a few nights after that.  He’s definitely not afraid of people and houses, just our house.

Less than two weeks later, we saw a black bear at the edge of our yard eating watermelon rind we’d thrown out.  We’ve been keeping the trash barrel in the garage ever since the bear trouble started in April and most of our food scraps go in there.  But watermelon rind is heavy and messy so we threw it outside.  Our mouths dropped open as we stood on the deck and watched him eat.  It wasn’t the same bear.  No yellow tag. He didn’t look quite as big.  And he had a bit more brown on his snout.  Still!  How did we suddenly have two bears in such close proximity!  And this one wasn’t nearly as scared of us, coming out in broad daylight instead of watching our movements and coming when we were inside or gone.

Around 7 that evening I sent Liam out with a bowl of lemon rinds to dump.  In typical Liam fashion he didn’t just take them.  He ran.  He was past the playhouse in the backyard when he suddenly realized the bear was back for more and they were within fifteen feet of each other!  His trip back up the hill to the front porch was on wings as he gasped, “the bear is back.”  I grabbed my camera and this time David and the kids walked around the outside to the back deck to avoid the very squeaky patio door.  I walked through the yard, determined to get a good picture since he was so fearless.  I snapped, walked closer, snapped.  When he lifted his head I went motionless.  Sure enough, he put his head back down for another bite of juicy watermelon rind.  I sneaked just past the garage and snapped another picture as he lifted his head.  I don’t know if he smelled me or heard the shutter click, but he decided that was enough and turned to amble off.

I realize it’s only June, but I’m quite sure this is likely to be one of my favorite shots of 2016.

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Meanwhile, I’m quite fine with the fact that he hasn’t shown up again.

I’ll be even more fine if the almost seven foot black snake on our front porch the following Wednesday NEVER slithers within my sight again.

Wildlife is cool.  But not on my porch and not in my kitchen.

The end.


Baseball

We were thrilled to discover there is a Little League team in our tiny town this year.  I’d been wishing for a way to get the boys involved in something more active since we homeschool; but wasn’t willing to look at a long drive on top of a super busy season.  But ten minutes from our house for practice and home games? Cha ching! It’s been such a good experience for them to get to play on a team.  I’m sure that’s a good thing for everyone, but with where we live, it’s even more important.  At first when camp was small they were sometimes allowed to play with staff games.  It wasn’t ideal because they were always up and against adults, but at least they got a little bit of practice in.  More and more since camp is growing and other people from the community are invited, they tend to get sidelined instead of allowed to play which means they get almost no chance at organized sports.  It was so GOOD to see them be able to play a game consistently enough to hone skills and to do it with kids their own size.  They’re learning a lot of discipline and team dynamics and having fun doing it.

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I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting. I know I was hoping the boys would have fun and that they’d get along well with their coaches and team mates.  I think I also hoped I wouldn’t get frustrated with the crazy schedule and that I wouldn’t get too bored. 😉  I had no idea I’d actually like it so much.  Is it crazy? Yes.  With two boys on two different teams we’ve had up to eight practice / games in one week.  Our evenings and some Saturdays are almost exclusively devoted to getting out the door and heading to a game.  But it’s just a season and it’s a short one.  The two things that surprised me most was that it it’s so much fun to watch them play! It’s always disappointing when their games happen on the same night and we have to miss out on one child’s game.  The other thing that’s been so much fun is getting to know a few parents in the community.  I feel like I’m making friends, not just attending baseball games, which has been a really perk in my sometimes isolated world.  Sometimes I think it’s a study in human dynamics and diversity, but mostly it’s about friendship. 😉

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Oh, and of course, the nachos.  Can’t forget the nachos. Pretty sure there is a direct order line for in utero service and the order is always the same.  Nachos with plenty of cheese, please. I took a little tumble last night and didn’t think it was anything to worry about, but the midwife insisted on an ultrasound today to rule out placental abruption.  Everything looked great and baby is measuring a little above average.  I think we’ll just plan on not needing too many newborn size diapers and blame it on the nachos.

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Adam has been playing first base and catcher and loving it! Sports aren’t his first love.  He likes playing with friends, but tends to gravitate toward a book or fishing in his free time.  He wanted to sign up, but was lacking the exuberance that nearly had Liam bouncing off the walls.  It was really fun to see him get more and more excited about it after a few practices.  One of his coaches told him he’s really good.  He thinks he could go on into the majors (Oh, the nice things coaches say. Adam is very average.)  Adam said, “Nah, I’d rather do construction.” :)

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Liam plays third base.  He’s loving baseball, but dreams a lot about soccer.  It’s so interesting to see how kids grow up in the same family with such unique interests.  Adam was obsessed with trucks growing up; Liam mostly played with them to be with Adam.  Adam is passionate about reading, but will sometimes opt to play some kind of ball with Liam.  Liam has wings in his feet and springs in his arms.  He is constantly dribbling a ball in the house and shooting imaginary hoops.  If Adam won’t play with him, he’ll practice soccer moves on his own.  He often asks to go running and will run for up to thirty minutes … on the road if he’s allowed or around the perimeter of the property if he’s not.  He’s fast, agile, and has amazing endurance.  The other day Adam and Liam both decided to run a mile and a half and it was Liam who would wait on Adam to catch up and then finally dashed on home.  You can almost feel his happiness when he gets to speed around the bases.

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Liam’s team is significantly weaker than most of the teams they play against.  While a lot of moms say their kids don’t care, Liam was pretty disappointed.  They’ve been losing left and right, sometimes by a margin of 15-20 points.  It’s given us a lot of chances to talk about loss and about doing your best.  Even more, we talked a lot about personal growth and how sometimes that’s just as important to think about as team growth.  He’s learned a lot this season.  He’s always been good at catching and throwing, but he’s getting more consistent with batting and he’s learning a lot about baseball plays.  Somehow, I think he’s learning important things about life he doesn’t even realize. Sometimes I wish his mom absorbed life lessons as easily as he does.

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Hats off to Little League coaches (and support staff) who spend hours behind the scenes who volunteer their time to encourage kids and help them learn to give it everything they’ve got.


What Would You Do?

The other week Zara and I were shopping at Marshalls after my prenatal appointment.  It was pretty busy like it usually is in the afternoons.  Normally, I don’t pay much attention to other shoppers unless I’m standing in line people watching; but this time I ran into the same mom twice.  I still probably wouldn’t have even noticed except that she had two boys just younger than the ages of ours.  And there was a lot of yelling.  Neither one of the boys was staying with her and the youngest, who was maybe six, was in under clothes racks, tunneling through clothes like a rabbit creating a new burrow.  Did I mention yelling? Oh, yeah? That was the mom.  The boys didn’t seem to hear her.

She had clearly had it.

I finished looking and got into the checkout line.

Unknown to me (until the yelling started again), she was in line behind me.

The yelling got worse.  The littlest kid whined and she snapped that he’d just lost his privilege of stopping at Toys R Us.  He whined some more and she said yelled, “No, I mean it.”

He spit at her.

I’m not even kidding.  It was kind of a spluttery, lots of air included spit, but clearly intended to be a spit.

About that time, Zara peers around my shoulder at their little family, makes eye contact with the mom, and breaks into one of her biggest smiles.

I didn’t even turn around; but her words pierced the entire area.  “Yes, I see you being all cute.  But I’m sure you have your moments, too.”

That’s not the question.  Zara definitely has her moments.  But in my head, I wondered how overwhelmed a mom has to be to get snarky with a two year old who smiles at her?

We checked out while her son walked over in front of the door and picked at the floral display while his mom tried to ignore him and then said, “Do you want to get picked up by someone? Get back over here.”  I had Zara buckled and crawled into my own seat just in time to see her forcibly dragging a very reluctant boy across the parking lot.  The doors were closed but her facial expression and mouth movement when they crawled into their own car was telling.

And all the while, I watched helplessly.

What is there to do?  We all know moments of frustration.  But there was something in the level of their interaction that spoke of living this way a lot.  He was six for crying out loud.  Not two and missing his nap.  Not thirteen and belligerent.  Just six.  There was a side of me that wished for a business card for Allegany Boys Camp so I could have scrawled, “Hang onto this for three years.  I suspect you’re going to want it.” and quietly given it to her.  There was a side of me that wished I could think of something encouraging to say ….. anything.  A “hang in there, you’re going to make it,” kind of message.  After the way Zara’s smile antagonized her, I’m not convinced anything could have felt encouraging.  There was a lot of me that ached inside for that kid and his mama and the life they’re living.

I really don’t like seeing pain happening.

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Have you ever run into a really upset family in public and have you ever had the courage to speak into it? Have you ever been that mama? What would have spoken hope to your heart?


The Resident Two Year Old

Zara is two.  The past six months have swished by so quickly there are days I cannot comprehend this. But all it takes is a few minutes of watching Zara and the truth is unmistakable.

She is definitely two.

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I’ve absolutely loved watching our babies turn into little people with such distinct, individual personalities and Zara is no exception.  She is super independent most of the time. If I dare to pick her up to put her in her high chair, she yells a distressed, “Me! Me! ME,” that doesn’t let up until I put her back down on the floor and let her climb in by herself.  Choosing clothes for her to wear is best done quickly and strategically while she’s not looking, because if the dresser drawer is open, you can bet your bottom dollar she will have enormous opinions about what to wear.  Around February I had a few packs of diapers with XO’s on them for Valentines.  Zara loved them.  Every diaper change turned into an ordeal because she wanted the “E,O” ones and anything else produced huge alligator tears.  Speaking of clothes, it’s hysterical taking her shopping.  For the longest time, everything she saw was “dat TUTE, me, ME!” and there were huge tears when things had to be put back on the shelf.  But the other day she was in a mood and it wasn’t a pretty one.  She’d missed her nap for the second day in a row and I was actually looking for spring / summer clothes for her.  I thought she’d love it.  But oh, no.  It was not her day for shopping.  Every time I showed her something and said, “Look Zara, isn’t this cute?” she wrinkled up her nose and said, “Dat ewww.”  But the independence dissipates like mist under a July sun when it’s time to go out the door and she becomes completely incapable of walking.  She is terrified of Goldi.

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Yes, Goldi, who has always been the docile golden retriever and is now showing her advanced age by lying in the sun and barely walking around.  Zara was fine with her until last fall when the neighbor’s dog came to visit and jumped all around and on Zara and now all dogs are to be feared like the bubonic plague.  She can’t wait to go bye bye, but the instant we get close to the front door she chants liturgically with shakes of the head for emphasis, “No, de doh.  No, de doh. No, de doh.”

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She’s a girl of routine.  Months ago I gave her a toothbrush while combing her hair to help keep her distracted.  Now, even if it’s two minutes before lunch, she can’t get her hair combed without “teef.”  She’s also the girl with music in her veins.  She sang before she could talk and at twenty-one months held a pretty impressive repertoire of songs she could sing along with, including “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “Miss Polly Had a Dolly,” “Jesus Loves Me,” and a host of other Christmas songs.  Now she sings “Dinkle Dinkle Little Star” all by herself and I still catch myself just stopping to listen as her little voice lilts through the words.

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But the funniest thing about her currently is the dramatic expressions.  When I call her name from another room, she yells “what?” in the most grownup tone imaginable.  As soon as I tell her to come she says, “otay” in a baby voice.  If the boys were downstairs, she used to stand at the top of the stairs and yell, “Addie {Adam}! Tom!” in commanding mimicry.  It’s becoming more and more obvious there are big brothers in her life. Sometimes when I tell her to do something, she flounces her arms down against and gives me a huge sigh …. oops! You’re two, honey.  Not THAT age … yet. 😉  But my favorite is the facial expressions which seem to be impossible to catch on video because they’re so unpredictable and even more difficult to describe.  She can furrow her brow and throw her eyes in a quick move that has all of us erupting in laughter.  Or, in a current signature move that looks an awful lot like her Grandpa Beachy when he’s thinking about something you’ve said, she purses her lips to the side and gets uber thoughtful in an expression far, far beyond her years.

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One of the best parts of being two is the vocabulary explosion.  I knew it seemed like she was saying new words every day but two weeks ago when David and I went to Life for our last training session, I was in shock at all the new things she was saying after three days of being away from her! It’s the dearest thing the way she brings things and says, “I nee’ elp.”  or the way she randomly gives me a hug and coos, “I uv ou.”  Most words are pretty decipherable, including her funny little “another” that starts with “a” and turns into a tongue swishing across her lips funny sound; but we’re still trying to figure out why a horse is a “ba ba” and a fish is a “wee wee.”  The other day we were heading into town when my phone beeped with a new message alert.  “Dat noise?” piped up a little voice from the back.  That was my phone. “Dat ‘nnoying.”

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I thought for awhile she was going to potty train herself.  With all the hullabaloo of school and a few trips this spring, I wanted to wait until late May when we could really focus and then stay at home for awhile.  There is nothing more inconvenient than a recently potty trained child on a long trip who figures out they get out of their car seat every time they need to go to the bathroom.  But Zara was ready.  She begged to go so I bought a little potty to introduce the idea at bath time and let her get good and ready.  Twice in one day she told me she needs to go and sat down and went.  We still haven’t gotten serious about it.  I’m pretty sure she mostly goes when she wants candy.  “Me pee pee. Me tandy.”  There is no rhyme or reason and while I feel she’s close enough we’d probably get there in a day, I’m not willing to go through the recession I think is likely to happen on  a long trip so I try to ignore the subject as much as possible.

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Meanwhile, she’s awash in a world mixed with routines and new discoveries.  Playing guitar with the purple pick (and only the purple one), wrapping her baby in a blanket and learning how to burp her after a bottle, making little beds with pillows and blankets and insisting Liam lie down and take a nap, helping to tear lettuce for salads, learning how to crawl into her crib, going bye bye with daddy, making rounds at chuckwagon with Liam to say hi to her favorite boys, singing the ABC song, needing paper and pen so she can write, counting to ten,and thinking hot tea should be a daily occurrence.  It’s a fun world, this world of being two.


The “Perfect” Family

For two months shy of ten years I was a mama in a boy world.  Trucks, bulldozers, fishing, fire fighting, jeans with big holes at the knees, hammers, astronauts … these were the language of my days.  I loved it.

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When I was pregnant with Adam I realized that I was slightly terrified about being a mom to a son.  Growing up in a family of three girls, a boy world seemed so foreign.  I would randomly see these twelve year old boys and wonder, how in the world would I have any idea how to parent a son?

Then he was born.  The world was foreign.  I was navigating toy aisles I’d never walked, learning boy language, and what made them feel strong and confident.  I built roads in the living room, drew up targets for BB gun practice, and searched the library for books that would help enlarge his world.  As he got older, I realized that being mom to a boy was really nothing to be afraid of even if I knew nothing about it before.  Boys don’t suddenly show up as twelve year olds.  We get to grow up with them, and because we do, we learn how to parent in stages, progressing so gradually from baby to toddler to preschool that we hardly realize how we are evolving along with them.

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There were many days I wished I’d get to have a  daughter.  As Adam and Liam grew older and often went with David, I would remember the girls shopping trips, the times we’d sit around talking and laughing, or the times we’d do a fun project together when I was growing up. And then there were the Saturdays when my heart nearly burst watching two boys trail after their beloved Daddy … and it smiled a little bigger at the realization that I had a day to myself. 😉

Two years ago, Zara splashed our world with pink.  While the transition felt surprising in some ways … just getting used to a baby world again was breathtaking  …  in other ways, it felt so natural.  Head bands, twirly skirts, toy strollers with babies to ride in them, and tea sets.

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When we found out we were expecting again, I realized I didn’t have as strong a preference boy or girl for myself.  But everything inside me hoped so very much that Zara would get to have a sister.  I know it’s a narrow perspective, skewed by my own experience of growing up with sisters; but I could hardly imagine life for a girl without a sister!  Five weeks ago, I got to peek at the darling little girl who was kicking around inside me.  Zara is going to have a sister!

We were all elated! Even Zara who had no idea what all the cheering was about but whooped anyway because her beloved brothers were cheering.

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What took me by surprise in the weeks following was how many people found out and then commented with, “What a perfect family.”  I’m still trying to figure out what I was feeling inside when they said that.  It wasn’t that I felt upset by the comment … I knew they meant that it was super cool that the boys each had a brother and the girls would have a sister and that it wouldn’t have been imperfect had we found out we were having a boy.  It was more a bumping inside of me.

Long, long, feels like half a life time ago I remember struggling through the “perfect” family image.  When we got married life felt so perfect.  Then we had Adam and it felt like we were complete in a way we hadn’t even realized we were incomplete.  It felt so perfect.  Around Adam’s first birthday, I remember us taking a little walk down to the bridge and almost laughing inside at how we reflected the postcard image of family.  Dad, Mom, a boy and a dog.  But a while later, our family didn’t feel so perfect.  Dreams and prayers and pleading for a baby didn’t bring answers.  I wondered if Adam would ever have a sibling and I begged God to please give him at least one.  I watched him play with little friends and then come home alone while they went away in twos and threes and fours, the party continuing even at home.  I tucked him into his big bed at night and watched him bravely live his little life alone.

I tried to believe that our family was perfect for us, but it didn’t feel like it.

Then the miracle happened and Adam had a baby brother.  The profound gratefulness I still feel for that gift is not diminished all these years later.  Our family was perfect. Or was it?  Their four year age gap felt tricky for awhile.  He had a brother, but it hardly felt like it.  Instead of curling up on the couch to read stories to the boys, I would read short books to Liam, then read chapters of another to Adam.  There were heart melting giggles at bedtime and older brother protection when they walked out the lane to watch for their daddy to get home.  But there were plenty of frustrating moments because playing ball was either no fun for Adam or dangerous for Liam.  Every game even remotely based in strategy was an instant win for Adam.  But in those years as I once again realized there very well may be no more babies, I learned to truly believe that our family was perfect because it was God-designed.  As I watched how dynamics differed in small families versus large families and especially how they differed based on sibling spacing, I chose to believe that God had designed our family to prepare our boys for the life that is ahead of them as adults.  I chose to believe that our family was perfect, even if it didn’t look like what we would have chosen.

I still think I fully embraced that belief.  But the recent “perfect” comments made me realize that lurking in the crevices in my heart were feelings that didn’t feel perfect.  I wouldn’t have chosen to raise what sometimes feels like two families.  I adore that we got to experience babies again, but there are days when juggling two big boys and baby / toddler life feels like a stretch.  There are days when I struggle with wishing we could take the boys on the kinds of outings we thought we’d be doing by the time they’re this age.  There are days I feel guilty for the many naps Zara has to miss because homeschooling and being a toddler mom don’t always mesh.  My perfect dreams at twenty definitely didn’t include doing a pregnancy at thirty-eight.

But you know what? They’re right.  Our family is perfect. Not because we have two boys and two girls, but because it is perfect for us.  In all its seasons.  In all it’s stages.  In the heart melting moments and the moments of juggling, it is perfect because He created it.  I’ve never known anything quite so sanctifying as the gift of motherhood.  😉 Which is making me think that maybe God defines family perfection for us as mothers as much as He does for our children and how it will impact their future.

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So whatever your perfect or imperfect looks like, I hope you can find rest in the fact that the same God who ended each day of Creation with “that’s good” is defining your life with good, too.  Meanwhile, I’ll be over here in my corner, learning to believe that on a deeper level, too, thanks to friends who unknowingly revealed crevices of unbelief in my heart; and wildly celebrating the parts that feel too perfect to be true.

Much love, mama friends!


WFMW: Swallowing Pills

Do you remember what it was like trying to learn how to swallow pills?  Like it was yesterday I remember the way the pill would swirl around and around in my mouth as I took in a mouthful of water.  It swam like a whale and then beached itself on the front of my tongue, even more forward than where I had dutifully placed it to begin it’s journey.  Not only that, it now tasted horrible.

Somewhere along the way, long after I’d learned how to swallow them successfully, I read a great tip and stored it for future reference.  It worked beautifully with both boys.  Adam learned how to swallow pills when he was five!  Liam didn’t need to until a bit later, but also learned very quickly.

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Put some water into a water bottle, like the 20 oz kind.  Anything with a smaller opening that automatically creates a pursed mouth shape.  If the bottle is only a third full or so, they will need to tip their heads back.  We started with a tiny soft gel because they are the easiest to swallow.  You can get little fish oil soft gels for kids or Vitamin D soft gels.  As soon as they got over the hurdle of letting something go down with fluids, they had no trouble swallowing a larger capsule.  Adam has superceded me by a long shot and swallows four or more capsules at a time. {eyes bulging!}  And I know, why would a child need to swallow so many pills? Lyme will do that to you.  Thank God we’re nearing the end of the many capsule nights for both boys!

Have you helped someone learn how to swallow pills? Any great tips?


Pregnancy & Plexus

This pregnancy is flying faster than I imagined it was possible for a pregnancy to fly!  I’m quite sure it has an enormous deal to do with it being baby number four and the way my days are filled to the brim with little time to think.  I’m equally convinced it has a lot to do with not being in abject misery for months and months on end!

I’ve just passed the seventeen week mark and I still can hardly believe I will likely make it through an entire pregnancy without my insides trying to reach the outside with projectile force.  Actually, I think I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I am pregnant in the first place.

So what made such an enormous difference?

That little pink drink, of course!

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I’d been hearing stories of women dealing with infertility (including cases of endometriosis) getting pregnant after starting Plexus.  I’d heard a lot about hormones falling into line after getting their blood sugar stabilized.  I knew I was feeling better; but I didn’t expect that it would make such a night and day difference for me.  But even as I steeled my heart for what would likely be another long emotional journey, boom, there it was.  A little plus sign sending shock waves of joy through our hearts.

I think I’ve finally found the cocktail that works best for my morning sickness days, er weeks, er months.  While Plexus has eliminated morning sickness for many women completely, I only got relief of the desperate level I used to experience.  This time there were only about three or four days of wishing I could die instead of weeks on end.  There was feeling yucky and being on the couch for hours, but infinitely less gagging and none of that unmentionable projectile stuff.  Did you get that? None!  Food tasted gross a lot, but dishes didn’t send me over the edge.  Previous pregnancies? I often couldn’t even get within three feet of my completely empty and clean kitchen sink without dire results for a few weeks.  While I still got sick at five weeks this time, it didn’t last nearly as long! At nine weeks when the intensity usually escalated out of control, I started feeling a little better! By eleven, I was definitely seeing light (say what?!) and by fifteen my head was clearing and energy was returning.

Lack of energy was definitely bigger for me this time than nausea and I’m pretty sure the recent Lyme / mono attack was to blame as much or more than the pregnancy.  Often when I couldn’t pick myself up to do anything I realized it wasn’t the typical first trimester exhaustion, but the familiar exhaustion coupled with super heavy arms that didn’t even want to be told to lift from last summer. It makes me really curious what this pregnancy would have been like had I not been so depleted going into it.  Even so, I am infinitely grateful to actually be able to enjoy parts of being pregnant! The closest I ever got to this feeling was sometimes for two weeks in the middle when I said, “I think I can see why some women say they enjoy being pregnant.” :)

I’m loving all the little kicks going on.  Baby is super active, much like I remember Liam used to be.  I think he / she is having fun in there!  And speaking of he / she, three more weeks til the gender reveal assuming baby cooperates! We can’t wait!

Here’s my full pregnancy arsenal this time around.  I was on progesterone with Zara and noticed a slight improvement in the level of nausea.  This time when I started getting sick David suggested I get back on it, just for that.  The combination of triplex, progesterone, and lemon water was pretty impressive.  If I missed even one night of either ProBio or progesterone I could tell a big difference in how I felt the next day!  I weaned myself off the progesterone at twelve weeks because by then the placenta manufactures a lot of it on it’s own.  I couldn’t wait, because while it does seem to help me with nausea, it also seems to make me gain weight like nobody’s business and it makes me super, super tired.  From then on there were iffy hours and a random bad day here and there, but so much improvement over my history!  Now I just want to tell the entire world of women who are holding down the couch as they grow tiny humans inside, there is hope!!!

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I showed the supplements to my midwife even though I’d heard that many, many OB/GYN’s and midwives across the country are approving them for women in their care.  They couldn’t see any reason why there would be a problem with them and I happily continued.  I love that I have FINALLY found a vitamin that doesn’t make me sick.  I’ve never taken vitamins consistently during pregnancy because they make me even ridiculously more ill.  So I duly swallow them until the nausea rears its head, hoping to get enough folic acid in to reduce the risk of spina bifida and then quit until about twenty-four weeks when I take them as I can handle them. This time I took vitamins every single day! Yeah for baby!  The X factor doesn’t have iron in it so no nausea.  Instead, it contains black currant which helps your body to absorb iron better.  There are even stories of people with long standing anemia who have had their iron levels come up because of taking the X factor!

Interested in knowing more about Plexus? Email me at smilesbymiles{at}gmail{dot}com or message me on facebook.  If you’re early in pregnancy I promise your secret is safe with me. 😉  And if you’re looking for help with other health issues I have so many hopeful testimonials I’d love to share with you!


A 40th birthday celebration

Back in September my friend, Jeanne, was talking about how she’d thrown a fortieth birthday party for her husband, Keith.  Now he was wanting to do the same thing for her and stressing about how to make it happen.  I jokingly said, “Oh tell him I want to help.”  The more I thought about it, the more I realized I wasn’t joking.  It really would be a lot of fun.  I sent him a text in early November and told him if he wanted a party planner I’d love to help.  He was delighted; but hardly as much as I was.

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Plan a fun party about the time the doldrums of winter are setting in? Yes, please! Plus, I knew it would give me something pretty and fun to focus on during the hardest part of my pregnancy.  Our mutual friend, Nola, offered to help which made my job so much easier.  I got to know Keith and Jeanne almost seven years ago when I wrote a piece of their story.  Getting to know someone on such an intimate level does something to bond your hearts quickly.  They’ve been friends of ours ever since.  But sometimes, like when planning a party, I realize how much our relationship developed on a heart level first.  I didn’t know her favorite foods or colors; so having a friend step in who knows her so much better than I do was amazing.  Plus, Nola is a genius in the kitchen which is clearly not my forte.  Cha ching.

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Keith gave us a guest list and answered a few questions about whether he wants a formal dinner or a fun come and go type of event, but other than that, he pretty much turned us loose.  And oh, did we have fun!

Because Jeanne loves blues and we were planning an early January event, it seemed like a natural fit to incorporate snowflakes, aqua, a touch of silver, and lots of white.

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If you don’t know Keith and Jeanne, the best way I know to describe them is outgoing, friendly, generous, and fun.  You know how often people marry their opposites? Well, Keith and Jeanne definitely aren’t carbon copies of each other, but they both love being with people. Sometimes when I was running party plans around in my mind, my thoughts kept going to Jeanne and how much she embodies what the word friendship really means.  She is always thoughtful of others, asking how they are, giving little gifts, finding ways to care for and bless others.  She’s the first person I thought of when the neurologist called and said I need you to have Zara in the ER by 5:00 because I knew that not only would she stop and drop to take care of our boys, her heart would understand mine without us needing to talk about it.  She’s the friend who remembers little things, who enjoys your kids, and checks in with a text if she doesn’t hear from you for awhile.  But when she first talked about the possibility of Keith doing a party for her she said, “If anyone throws a party for me, I don’t want any gifts.” It seemed a bit strange coming from someone who loves to give to others; but it made a lot of sense when we asked her more about it.  “I love to give gifts; but I just don’t ever want my friends to feel obligated to give me a gift.”   We really wanted to respect her wishes, but still have her go home with something tangible so we sent out blank cards with the invitations and asked people to share memories or a blessing on her life. Words of life and blessing are sometimes one of the most meaningful gifts of all; and sometimes the one we most forget to give to others.

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The hardest part was going to be surprising Jeanne.  She is incredibly intuitive and because she is such a caring person, she stays in touch with her friends a lot.  Living over an hour away, I knew I was pretty safe unless I inadvertently sent a text to her instead of Keith. Being virtually next door, Nola had a tougher time keeping everything out of sight when Jeanne would pop in out of the blue.  It was so much fun having her actually be so surprised! I think she herself was surprised at being surprised! :)  A few days before her party, she switched a child’s birthday party to that night and Keith wisely let her go.  So instead of suspiciously looking for something to happen the morning of her party, she was busily making taco soup and cake.

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Jeanne’s local friends helped with food {we could never have made so many fun dishes for a crowd of fifty by ourselves} and our husbands were amazing … hanging lights and tulle with precision, running after balloons, making jalapeño poppers, capping strawberries … if it needed to be done, they did it.

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You know how sometimes you plan an event and then when it happens, you wish you would have done something differently? This was one of those times when it felt like everything happened perfectly.  Well, aside from the fact that I should have given myself an extra hour on Saturday and the fact that the whipping cream I stabilized suddenly decided to go wibbly wobbly; but that’s pretty minor.  It was pretty and sparkly just like we’d hoped.  The food was delightful to look at and even more fun to eat.

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And everywhere you turned, there were little groups of friends talking and laughing and having a great time.

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I remember during the planning process thinking about Keith and Jeanne … about how much they love each other and love to surprise each other with little things.  But I also thought about how much they shower love on others.  When I imagined what they would want if they verbalized it I could hear Keith wanting the party to be about celebrating Jeanne’s life; but I could also hear them both wanting it to be a wonderful time for all their friends who came.  Because that’s who they are.  That night, surrounded by so much happiness, I couldn’t help but savor how much friendship is a gift that gives full circle.

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Storm Jonas

If it’s going to snow, this was an awesome way for it to happen!

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After lots of preparation and window peeking while doing school, the first flurries showed up around noon on Friday.  We haven’t had any significant snowfall this winter so any snow would have been fun.  But predictions for one to two feet?! That’s cause for some excitement! The timing couldn’t have been more perfect! In Virginia, a big snow usually meant a snow day both for school kids and construction workers.  When you do school at home and you live practically within breathing distance of your husband’s job, it’s a little tougher to get a break unless you declare a vacation day.  We had about thirty minutes of school work left for the week when the snow arrived and better yet, the biggest snow day would be on Saturday when David was home.

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We haven’t had a lot of free weekends recently.  Who am I kidding? We never do since we live here.  This one was supposed to be an at home weekend; but to have it turn completely into a fun, kick back and relax weekend was such a fun gift!

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It’s the kind of weekend that makes memories forever.  Lots of time to read, to play in the snow (although somebody got the flu and somebody’s mom hadn’t purchased baby girl snow pants so that didn’t turn into an all family event this time), fun foods, lots and lots of coffee (ah, finally, finally I can drink it again!), excited snow measuring, a fiercely competitive game of Monopoly, and watching a movie together.  And that word is perhaps what makes it so much fun.  Together.

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(Zara watched Liam and started begging, “Me. Me. RaRa. Eeeeeeee. Me. Finally it was her turn.  This picture happened about 1.7 seconds before the look of terror turned to crying, “no, nooooooo” and the ride had to be aborted. She doesn’t want anymore eee rides.)

So many hours to be together … having fun, playing, talking … while the deep snow muffled the noisy demands of life.

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I love the way the world gets still outside when snow falls.  White. Beautiful. Pristine. And silent.

But I love even more the way it quiets our normal and helps us pay attention to little things again.

The way it gives opportunity for big conversations about life that might not have happened otherwise.

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The way it reminds us of how barren can become beautiful.

I tried a new recipe this weekend that was an instant hit for David and I. (Don’t bother asking the boys for their opinion.  Their taste buds are still developing.) These Greek gyros with homemade pitas and Tzatziki sauce are oh so delicious.  The only thing I’d change next time is to add a bit more salt to the chicken and up the seasonings in the sauce just a tad.  But this and a Greek salad on the side? Party in my mouth.

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Did you get hit by the storm? Tell me something about your snow party.


Happy New Year

It’s the start of another year and always the perfect time to reflect, dream, plan.

When we were little girls, I read a story about another family who wrote out their bad habits and burned them and then wrote out their New Years resolutions.  I don’t recall whether that was the first year Mom stayed up with us to see the New Year in or whether we just added that little tidbit to the staying up tradition.  Being a list oriented person already back then, I was enthralled with the concept.

If only it were that easy to get rid of bad habits and reach new goals.

These days I feel far less inclined to make a list of goals in favor of thoughtful evaluation and dreaming.  Not that goals are bad in any way, but I know my tendency to get over-achieving list happy and then feel like a failure when I can’t possibly accomplish it.  So this year I’m taking a moment to think about the future.

Like anyone, we have things we are excited about and things that feel heavy.  But this year, we have one thing our entire family is excited about!

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Oh summer, come quickly!