Nov 26, 2014

Pain, Puddles, and Praise: Elise's Birth Story Part 1

I suppose this story began last fall when I realized that the Lord had chosen to bless us with another child. Anne was 10 months old, and while I felt decidedly unready for another pregnancy and delivery, the anticipation of a sweet, soft baby is always joyful. I tend to worry during pregnancy, but this was my first completely uneventful pregnancy, and it was a blessing to fully enjoy those precious kicks and hiccups.

As my due date neared, I was again dreading labor and delivery, but Modern Modesty shared a great post of verses on fear that I read and meditated on each time I felt that nagging panic. Since we decided to keep the gender a surprise, our family began to revel in the excitement and mystery of the new baby's arrival as we counted down the days.  The girls were unified in their desire for a little sister, and Leah had already settled on the name Cinderella.

My due date was June 26, just five days before our insurance year restarted. Our plan has a high deductible which we would have to pay again if she arrived on July 1 or later, so we prayed that this little one would arrive in June. My forty-week appointment was scheduled with my midwife on June 25 at seven in the morning, and her office is thirty-five minutes from home. Now showing a presentable face before the sun does has never been my specialty, but with three little girls to arouse and dress, I knew leaving the house at 6 a.m. was bordering on the impossible.  So we asked the ever-so-accommodating grandparents to keep the girls overnight, which was a delightful arrangement for everyone. Grace was so excited, she packed their backpack with clothes and (necessary!) toys two days early.

Wednesday the 25th dawned rainy and cool.  Ben was leaving for work at the same time as I was leaving, so we walked to our cars together, and he gave me a parting hug and kiss and reassurance that God is in control.  I was a brimming cup of emotions and tears, and his reassurances made  a few of the tears slip over the rim.

I arrived on time for my appointment, and I waited anxiously for the midwife.  She is a bustling whirlwind of confidence and realistic positivity, and morning hours did not seem to dampen her enthusiasm.  She brightly asked if I was ready to have this baby; while I most emphatically did, I was none too excited about the process of  arrival. I lay on the table, willing her to find me much further progressed than I had reasonable hope for. No sooner had she begun the exam than my water broke, and it was no mean trickle. It was more along the lines of a gushing spring.   At my last exam, she had stripped my membranes and pushed me to 2 cm, and today she said I had progressed to 3 cm.  She sent me home to walk and wait, giving me an adult diaper, her cell phone number, and instructions for encouraging contractions to begin.

As I got in to the van, the tilting of my pelvis made a small river rush down my leg, and I felt an intense gratitude for the morning rain that hid the puddle I just made on the black top.  I called Ben, and asked him to come home from work.  He wanted to make one more stop in Cleveland, but I insisted that I needed his moral support.  Behind the hospital and the midwife's office is a lovely wooded walking trail.  It is a small area, but the path circles and loops, making the most of the area. I took a lap around it, hoping that maybe contractions would start right away, and I wouldn't have to walk home.  I was really hoping for a repeat of Anne's birth--surprisingly quick, but it wasn't following that pattern.

I got into the van and headed home.  Ben met me there about 10:30, and it felt so good to have his presence.  We laughed as I cut up Leah's night-time PullUps to use to collect the flood of amniotic fluid that continued to gush.  A sweet friend stopped by, leaving me encouraged by her fellowship. After some lunch, a call to the midwife, and a little rest time, Ben recommended that we drive to the park and go for a walk. It was a great suggestion.  Except for the whole labor and gushing puddles part, it was a lovely date.

As we neared the end of our walk, the contractions began to fall into a more regular five to ten minute pattern. It was about 2 o'clock, so we decided to drive to Westlake where the hospital is, since the midwife had asked us to check in at the office at four.  Halfway there, we realized this was probably going to end with a hospital admission, so we turned around to switch vehicles with my father-in-law, so they could have the car seats.

We still had some time to kill before the appointment, so we went to Volunteers of America, one of our favorite secondhand stores in the area, and nabbed a few deals.  Ben found a box fan, and I found seven hardback Bobbsey twin books for the girls and a hardback edition of Oliver Twist. Score! Pushing a cart down the aisles, breathing through the contractions and praying that I wouldn't make a puddle or a scene was a little awkward, but the shopping was a great diversion.

To be continued....

Oct 1, 2014

Why I Don't Take Selfies With My Husband

Dialogue that accompanied this montage:

"Honey, will you please take a picture with me? Just turn your head towards me and smile."

"Honey, c'mon, look normal and smile."

"OK, you don't have to smile, but could you please look normal?"

"Ben, C'MON ON!  Open your eyes, and take a nice picture!"

"Benjamin, I said a NICE picture. You could at least look pleasant."

"You better take a nice picture or you will have to pack your own lunch for work tomorrow."

Jun 19, 2014

Pregnancy Progression: 9 months in Photos

18 weeks

19 weeks

 20 weeks

20 week 3D scan

22 weeks

24 weeks

27 weeks 

32 weeks

 34 weeks

 35 weeks

37 weeks 

39 weeks 

Aug 30, 2013

The Raging Mama

We had been reading through the kindergarten science textbook, the girls and I, and we came to the chapter on animals.  We read the page about insects and spiders, and the text noted that insects have six legs while spiders have eight.  We talked a little bit about this, counted the legs on each, wrote down 6 and 8 next to the respective bug, and then I attempted to review, the book still open in front of us.

I start with, "How many legs does an insect have?"
She replies offhandedly as if we hadn't just been talking about it, "I don't know."
I try again, pointing to the number 6 jumping up and down on the page, "A spider has eight legs, how many does an insect have?"
She counters again in the same casual manner, "I don't know."

I can feel the steam building, my armpits sticky and my face blushing.  I'm half-amazed that she could not remember two numbers that we had just spent 5 minutes discussing and writing. The other half of me is irritated that my daughter is not taking me seriously. My voice is starting to grate, and I feel a lump form in the back of my throat.  I tell her I am in earnest, and now is no time for fooling around. I continue to question her, unwilling to just move on.

By the end of the incident, I am red-faced and ticked off, and she is in tears.  I am  a n g r y.  ANGRY.  The temper that I didn't think I had rears its ugly head.  I have it.  And not just that time.  When a sweet gift from a dear one, just received, is broken by careless hands.  When the milk is accidentally spilled for the second time in five minutes.  When the older ones make the youngest cry from unintentional roughness. When sisters provoke and agitate repeatedly. When I have been up countless times in the night and I am, and little faces and hot, sticky hands will not even let me eat my breakfast in peace. In the heat of the moment, I feel so controlled. So controlled by my emotions.  I say hurtful things, barbed words that stick in the soul, unfiltered by the Spirit and dictated by the demands of my passion.  I'm exactly what I had purposed never to be--an angry, yelling mama.

Five years ago, as my belly swelled with the beauty of new life and dreams that I had thought might never be mine, I had pored over child-rearing books, and all of them agreed that anger has no place in the home.  I knew it, mentally assented, and for the first few years, never struggled.  Now, three precious bundles later, I still agree, but now I labor to live truth, stretched thin by the relentless onslaught of dirty dishes, clothes, and diapers, and the demands of loving, teaching, and caring for three little ones who take, but give little at this point. I've asked for help from friends and mature mothers, sought God's Word, and counseled with my husband.  I'll share with you what I have been learning.

  • In the moment, just stop.  Step back long enough to rationally respond, not instinctively react. You make the choice to allow anger or truth to determine your reaction.
This was the beginning of small victories for me.  I began to pray for the Spirit to give me an awareness of when I was about to blow up.  Often, I was so caught in the moment, I had already reacted before I was even cognizant of my decision.  The Holy Spirit is so good to me, and He has given me a real consciousness of my mental state.  Proverbs 29:22 says, "...a furious man aboundeth in transgression."

  • Choose humble gratitude. 
As I name my blessings one by one, out loud, it is much harder to maintain an angry heart. Remembering that what I have is more than I deserve serves to humble my offended, proud heart. 
I love the following thought by Nancy Leigh DeMoss--
"One of the fundamental qualities invariably found in a grateful person is humility. Gratitude is the overflow of a humble heart, just as surely as an ungrateful, complaining spirit flows out of a proud heart. Proud people are wrapped up in themselves. They think much of themselves and little of others. If people or circumstances don’t please or suit them, they are prone to whine or become resentful." (quotations are mine)

  • Actively forgive.  

Many times my anger was not based on the singular incident in which it happened to appear, but it was the climax to a series of events.  I had been saving my anger from the last run-in, nurturing my irritation.  My frustrations were just piling up in my heart until I just exploded either in ugly, quiet tones or loud, uglier words.  I was in the midst of this battle when I read Matthew 18 in my devotions one morning.  I read the passage in verses 20-22 where Peter asks Christ how many times he should forgive his brother, and he thought 7 times was a reasonable limit.  Christ's response really struck me. He wants me to forgive my little hedonistic children countless times.  Even when they aren't sorry.  Even when she gets in to my purse and eats gum and breaks my chapstick three times in the same day.  Till seventy times seven.  Forgive. Again. And again. And again. 

  • Find joy.
I asked an older mother about my situation, and she encouraged me to enjoy my children and cultivate times of fun and bonding.  Often I feel like I can't take time to do this, because hellloooo, the laundry pile has reached epic heights and dinner doesn't feel like making itself tonight.  Regardless, having those moments when they flash a smile of appreciation and they bring you bouquets of flowering grass and wrap their chubby little arms around your neck are priceless.  Writing down their adorable pronunciations and delightful words make the hard times more palatable.  Watching them sleep, catching them doing right (even if it's momentary), and treasuring their artwork are all ways that I have found to create joy.

Jun 27, 2013

Anne {6 Months of Bliss}

1 month:

2 months:

3 months:

4 months:

5 months:

6 months:

A side-by-side of all three girls at 6 months:

Jun 19, 2013

Keep Yer Chin Up, Grandma! {Epic Faux Pas}

My dearest Leah,

You never cease to amaze me by your innate knack for stirring deep emotions, but today you outdid yourself. It started this morning when you woke up with bed head, and I realized with an acute twinge of motherly fondness that the bangs that you cut for yourself last night really are charming.  As I braided your older sister's long hair, the falling clumps that you snipped from her pony tail yesterday were a fresh reminder of the dread I felt when daddy told me you'd found scissors.

 Later, as I made a pie in the kitchen, I looked over my shoulder to see you quietly washing the dining room wall with a dirty rag from the laundry basket.  I smiled to myself, remembering how industrious you are and delighted that it was momentarily bent in a constructive direction. Three minutes later, the purple crayon in your hand circling the freshly painted front door made me gasp with dismay. My horrified choke served to warn you to cover your eyes with your chubby little hands as I found the full extent of your handiwork, that I now realize you were trying to clean off with that rag. The giant purple scribbles on the walls, tile and grout provided more emotional trauma, only slightly offset by your guilty reaction.   An hour later, you stir me again by climbing all by yourself into your sister's bed, the top bunk, using the play kitchenette as a stepping stool to the grand height.  I shudder, considering how that kitchen must have wobbled under your weight.  You beam at me from up there, quite pleased with your latest conquest. You clinch the afternoon by running out of your room in a panic, adamant that you had stuffed a Pez candy up your nose.  I couldn't see or feel anything, so for now, we are waiting to see the doctor tomorrow to see the collateral damage from that experiment.

But you were merely warming up, and you saved your crowning moment for an audience.  This evening we invited daddy's mom (whom you call Baba), dad and grandma over to our house for dessert.  Momma wanted to make it an extra special evening, so I made strawberry rhubarb pie and homemade vanilla ice cream.  Great-grandma Newman, at the venerable age of 90, has traveled from Arkansas for a two-week visit, and we wanted to make this a memorable time.  Thanks to you, it surely will be.

As we finished up dessert, you crawled down from your perch at the table to get better acquainted with great-grandma.  You showed her your newest toy fascination, a tiny mother cat and her mini kittens, all resting on their royal pillow.  You meowed with great fervor to the accompaniment of great-grandma's supreme amazement at your volume.  Your interest in the toys began to wane as you turned your attention to great-grandma's person, curious about her earrings and slacks.  I chatted with grandpa and entertained baby Annie, only half-aware of your conversation with great-grandma.

I was dimly aware that you were repeating a singular question to great-grandma, but Baba's reactionary face-dive into the couch catapulted me into hyper-consciousness. My first reaction was disbelief, then horror.

Again, you repeat it in your sweet toddler accent.

Grandma, frustrated, replies that she can't understand you, honey.

Louder, you innocently ask the unspeakable again, "You have two chins?"

I flinch as Great-grandma looks over to me, her face pleading for understanding.

With alarm, I realize that I am being drawn into this conversation.  I resist, stalling, hoping and praying that I am struck with inspiration to mask the awkwardness and rescue tact.

Nothing comes.  The whole room seems to momentarily freeze, waiting for relief.  Now both of you look at me for interpretation.  I nervously laugh, hoping that you both will just forget.

My laugh sets great-grandma on edge; she suspects it's at her expense.  So she urges audibly, "What is she asking?"

I cannot believe I must ask this lovely little matriarch such an awful question, but seeing there is no way around it, I plunge in, "She wants to...she wants to know if you have two chins."  I stutter, willing the words to mean something less awful.

Eager to know and excited that you are finally understood, you nod your head encouragingly, offering an agreeable, "Yeah, yeah!"

Stunned, great-grandma ponders the full weight of your question, then graciously but a little confusedly replies, "Why, I guess I do! I'm not sure why..old age, I guess..."

I try to play it off, joking that I'm sure I'll have sagging chins too, as I think they run in my family.

The room collectively squirms during the ensuing silence, avoiding eye contact.  Thankfully, daddy walks into the room, and we all turn our attention to him, excited by the diversion.

And that, my dear middle child, is why I anticipate my own grandchildren.  I take no small pleasure in the thought of your children inheriting your delightful, daredevil personality, your zest for life, and your boundless curiosity.   I relish the prospect of exasperated phone calls from you as you tell me a mother's woeful tale.

I have no doubt that justice will be served.

With all my love,

Your mother

May 23, 2013

12 Legitimate Reasons I Haven't Blogged {Picture Proof}

 I've been instructing in proper ink placement...

...and correcting misplaced stamp art.

(Note the blob of toothpaste on the toilet.) 
We have thoroughly explored oral hygiene

and gotten hands-on experience with canned cricket anatomy.

Runways have been strutted in true fashionista style...

meanwhile maintaining healthy habits and sanitary surroundings with liberal doses of non-fluoridated toothpaste--{thank you, Lord!}

We've waded through sticky situations,

and returned for another course in the remedial ink placement class.

Now we're actually considering a PhD in that ink placement study...

 and follow-up with a solid study in clean water sourcing.

We rounded out the month with a texture and taste test in the field of non-edibles...

...and finished with a small exploration into sensory development through painting with alternative materials.

Any questions?

May 10, 2013

Homemade Yogurt Tutorial {Regular or Greek}

Making yogurt can seem intimidating. Kinda like 'fessing up to your husband that you ate the last piece of his dark chocolate--and you better believe I know something about that! 

It really is simple, and it is outrageously inexpensive compared to the little 6 oz. tubs that you buy from the store for a $1 each.   Based on a $3 gallon of milk and a $1 starter, you can make at least 12 servings of Greek yogurt for no more than $.33 each!  That's a savings of nearly 70%!

Homemade Greek yogurt with strawberries and raw honey

Here's what you need: 

  1. A gallon ( or however much you want) of milk - the higher the percentage of fat, the creamier the yogurt.
  2. 2-3 tablespoons of plain yogurt, also referred to as the starter

110-115 degrees -- the perfect temperature for live yogurt cultures to marry and proliferate

In a nutshell:

  1. Heat the milk to just below a simmer.
  2. Let the milk cool to lukewarm.
  3. Add the starter and stir to combine.
  4. Let the milk/yogurt sit covered and undisturbed in a warm place for 8-12 hours.
  5. For thicker Greek yogurt, strain in a lined colander for an hour or two to separate the whey from the yogurt. 

My strained Greek yogurt - I do mine in batches because my colander isn't very large.

And here are the detailed instructions:

  1. In a large pot, heat the milk over medium heat until the milk starts to get little foamy bubbles around the edge of the pot, just below boiling.  If you use a candy thermometer, you want to reach 180 degrees.  This denatures the milk, creating a better textured yogurt.  If you want the whys and wherefores for doing this, check this article out.
  2. Allow the milk to cool to lukewarm, which is around 110-115 degrees.  If the milk is too warm when you add the starter, it will kill off the live bacteria. 
  3. Add a half cup of the warm milk to the starter, stirring to combine.  Add the starter mixture to the lukewarm milk.  
  4. Cover the pot with the lid, then place the pot wrapped in a bath towel in the oven or some other warm place.  I turned my oven onto its lowest setting for about 3 minutes, then shut it off before putting the pot in.  You just want the yogurt to incubate in a semi-warm place. I've read that others just leave their oven light on.
  5. Allow the yogurt to sit for 8-12 hours and culture.  The longer you allow the yogurt to sit, the more sour it will be.
  6. Homemade yogurt is usually more runny but less sour than the store-bought counterpart.  To make Greek yogurt, line a colander with a paper towel or a coffee filter.  Pour the yogurt into the colander and allow to sit for an hour or two.  I cover the yogurt with another wet paper towel and put a couple of dessert plates on top to create a little pressure and speed up the separation process.  The longer it sits, the thicker the yogurt will be. In my experience, after an hour, the yogurt will be about the consistency of store bought; after 2 hours, it's like Greek yogurt.
  7. You can sweeten the yogurt at step #3 if you want it all to be sweet, or you can sweeten individual servings.  
Leftover whey from straining

If you're wondering what to do with all the leftover whey, here and here are an excellent collection of tips.  FYI: I tried making ricotta cheese from whey, and it did NOT work for me.  I did make this healthy lemonade recipe that uses whey, and my family had no idea it was made with anything out of the ordinary.

This yogurt will stay good for 7-10 days, and possibly even as long as 2 weeks.

Mar 28, 2013

Homemade Peppermint Honey Lip Balm

Did you know that your skin is the largest organ of the body?  And what you put on it is absorbed into the body-- in fact, many medicines today are available as skin patches for those who can't swallow pills or tolerate shots.

One thing I have been considering lately is the lotion, soaps, and moisturizers that I use on a regular basis.  Here's a tedious but well-documented article on the dangers of just one of the chemicals used regularly in toiletry products, sodium lauryl sulfate or SLS.  While I'm not ready to turn all-out crunchy anytime soon, it's a little hard to deny that there may be some wisdom in avoiding it when possible.

Have your tins all ready for pouring before you begin the melting process.  The balm hardens quickly.

I was super excited about making my own lip balm.  I actually volunteered to make it as a favor for our church's ladies retreat back in November.  I had all of the supplies on hand, excepting the salve tins, so it was way inexpensive.  If you don't have the supplies on hand, the beeswax is probaby the most difficult to find, but you can order some from eBay very reasonably.  The honey, coconut oil and lanolin (find it in the baby aisle!) are available at most grocery stores, and the peppermint oil is available at a craft store like Hobby Lobby with the candy-making supplies.

Plop the coconut oil, lanolin and beeswax in the top pan of a double boiler, or if you're like me, just rest an oven-safe bowl (preferably with a pour spout) on top of a smallish pot with a bit of simmering water in it.

Over a medium-low heat, melt it all down.

The beeswax will be the last to melt and incorporate.  Because the mixture is a little messy to clean up, I recommend using something small and simple to clean, like the handle end of a wooden spoon.

All melted!

Quickly add the honey and peppermint oil, whisking constantly, and begin to pour into your containers as soon as it is incorporated.  The honey does not mix well with the oils, so I had to stir constantly while pouring into the tins.  If you have two people, this step may be a little easier.  I didn't get any pictures of this step, because I needed both hands.

All done!

Peppermint Honey Lip Balm
7 tbsp. coconut oil
1 tbsp. lanolin
3 tbsp. beeswax
1-1/2 tbsp. honey
30 drops peppermint essential oil

Melt the coconut oil, lanolin, and beeswax over low-medium heat in a double boiler. Once melted, remove from heat and quickly add the honey and peppermint oil and stir until incorporated.  Immediately pour into tins.

The stats:
Time: 15-20 minutes
Cost: about $.88 per tin
Yield: 12-15 tins (probably about 1 oz. tins)