Be wary of anyone who tells you that recovery from any type of abdominal surgery will be “a piece of cake”.

A piece of cake is delicious and a totally good time. Abdominal surgery, and the recovery that goes with it, is neither.

My first experience with any sort of abdominal surgery was August of 2005. After less than two months of marriage, I had to rush Cortney to the hospital to have his appendix removed. Emergency surgery like that is frightening anyway, but our circumstances were complicated by the fact that I was rushing Cortney to the ER moments after he said goodbye to his dying dad.

The recovery was complicated by needing to be able to dress up in a shirt and tie, walk up a church aisle, and read scripture at his dad’s funeral three days after surgery.

My first abdominal surgery was an emergency C-section. That recovery was complicated by postpartum depression. As was my second C-section.

The recovery from my third C-section was simpler, but I would not classify it as “cake”. It still hurt. I still had frustrations and setbacks.

Hernia surgery was, by all accounts, the easiest abdominal surgery yet. The recovery was not what I expected, although it has been textbook. I wanted to be back to normal in days. I wanted to be back doing what I do with no lingering pain or other inconveniences.

But that is not how recovery generally works, is it? Recovery is usually at least a little hard. Because as soon as the initial numbness wears off, we have great pain. And that great pain can be controlled, but it’s not gone right away. Things are not “normal” just because we take some meds.

Other people are generally affected when we need to recover too. It’s obvious that when Cortney had his surgery, I took over household chores, and he took over pretty much all of life when I had all my surgeries. Once we had kids even more people rearranged their lives to help us out: people to care for our kids, help out at work, bring us meals.

And in all cases, once recovery is declared over, there are scars left to show what we went through. I have a long scar on my lower abdomen: the exit route of all three of our children. And now I have a little frowny face over my belly button (or as Charlie calls it, “a button rainbow”).

Recovery has been on my mind lately not just because of my own recent surgery, but also in terms of recovering from a pain that isn’t necessarily physical, but emotional. Which brings me back to Cortney’s abdominal surgery: his appendix.

We had been married just under two months and just left his dad and stepmom’s house where his dad lay prone on a Hospice bed, unresponsive, barely breathing, dying of lung cancer. We weren’t even out of the subdivision when I got the text that he had passed, but we couldn’t go back because Cortney was having an emergency of his own.

Once it was confirmed that he would have an appendectomy, I went to work making phone calls so everyone knew where we were and what was going on. I called my parents to please come sit with me at the hospital. I called my best friend and told her Cortney was having surgery…and that his dad died…and could she please start a phone chain to all our close friends. I ran home and threw some clothes and toiletries into a bag and grabbed my pillow in hopes they would let me stay the night with him (they did).

It was a whirlwind in every sense of the cliche.  We’ve been in recovery ever since.

I don’t think this is the kind of recovery you call call complete, although it does leave scars.

Sometimes, even after almost 18 months, my C-section scar will bother me a little. Sometimes it itches, sometimes there is a twinge. Grief is like that. Each time our children to things that make us think about what their grandfather is missing, our heart hurts where the scar of loss is. Each time I see the dimple in each of their smiles, I think of their dad’s dimple, and then I think of their Papa’s dimple. Each time Cortney has a house project to work on or tells me he is going to ask my dad’s opinion of something, the scar flares up.

I think of him at least once every single day.

Sometimes it’s a fleeting thought or a smile. Sometimes it’s a “what if he was here…” thought. And sometimes it just hurts.

Then I think about how if this is how my “recovery” is going, how much more hurt it must still be for Cortney and his siblings. For Cortney’s stepmom. For his Grandma. For his aunts and uncles.

He was my father-in-law for 57 days. The only photos I have of me with him are from my wedding to his son. How much deeper are the scars of those who had a lifetime with him?

I can’t even imagine.

With time after our surgeries, Cortney and I were finally deemed fine. And now, eleven years after Steve’s death, we are fine.  But the scars don’t go away. The emptiness doesn’t go away. The memories of the hurt don’t go away.

We will always be in recovery.

I love this picture for a thousand reasons, but one of the big ones is that Cortney now looks and acts so much like his dad then. And Charlie now, looks and acts so much like Cortney then.

I love this picture for a thousand reasons, but one of the big ones is that Cortney now looks and acts so much like his dad then. And Charlie now, looks and acts so much like Cortney then.

About That Hernia

So I have a hernia.

Well, I guess I don’t anymore. Friday I had it repaired. I don’t recommend having a hernia.

I first noticed mine when I was pregnant with Alice. It was a hard bump right above my belly button that was really tender. I figured that it was an elbow or knee or heel or something since I was carrying her super high.

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After she was born, it was still pretty tender. When I put the boys to bed, I sit in Eddie’s bed and Charlie sits in my lap and likes to lean his head back against me. There were times when I thought I was going to jump through the bunk bed with pain.

One night, I walked upstairs pushing around on the tender spot. I noticed a lump in there and made Cortney push it too. He said, “you’re going to get that checked out, right?”


I hate getting stuff “checked out,” but I messaged my doc. Um, so I have this lump type thing above my belly button and it hurts a ton and Cortney said I had to ask you about it.

His response was something like, Could be a hernia? I’d have to see it. You should come in.

So after a few more weeks of putting it off, I finally call and of course can’t get in to see my doctor for like six months or something because his schedule is so packed. I reluctantly agree to see another provider. This was in April or May. So you know, I put up with this hurting lump for over a year at this point. Also at this point, I am coming home from work feeling horrible. Carrying anything against my torso feels like death and it’s all bloated and hurting.

My appointment with this provider lasts less than 10 minutes. She has me lie back, pokes around my owie lump thing and says, “yup. an umbilical hernia. We’ll get you a surgery consult.”

I’m like, “wait. I need surgery?”

And she’s all, “Well, you need it fixed or it’s going to get worse and then bad things happen.”

That was it.

So naturally I put the surgery consult off until school was out. When I finally went in, my hernia wasn’t bugging me much anymore, but the surgeon took a poke at it and said, “yup. Let’s fix that.” He also told me that hernias poke out of weak areas, and that it was probably a birth defect that I just hadn’t noticed until my third pregnancy finally put enough pressure on it that a little bit of my intestines started to bulge through.

I asked if it was an emergency situation. He said, no, but that I would want to get it taken care of.

That was in June. Again, I put the actual surgery off until, well, this past Friday.

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I walked in feeling fine. My hernia hadn’t bothered me even a little all summer. I felt dumb for going in and I knew that this would inconvenience a lot of people, but mostly Cortney. I was told firmly to stop saying it was dumb and to just get it taken care of.

So I did.

Well, the team of docs and nurses did. I just laid there unconscious.

I was in quite a bit of pain the first 24 hours, but now that I am past 48 hours, I am doing better. I am at that point where I want to do more than my body will let me. I’m sick of being in bed, but it’s where I feel best and where no children (um, Alice) are crawling all over me putting knees and elbows into my very tender torso.

I ate dinner at the table tonight rather than in bed, and I’m not icing my incision area anymore. I’m also trying not to take the prescription drugs and just do the OTC stuff.

It’s definitely an easier process than after a C-section, but it’s still abdominal surgery and I’m trying to remember that I need to give my body time to rest and heal. I’m just not a very patient person when I feel like I should feel better and I want to do more than just lie around.

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The kids are being troopers, Cortney is being amazing, and I’ve had lots of great texts from friends and family showing their love.

I’ll be back at it sooner than later, until then I will try to relax and let my body heal without pushing it to do too much.

Five Summer Reads

five summer reads

So far this summer I have read quite the eclectic array of books. I had friends publish books, so I wanted to read those. I also wanted to read some more adult fiction since I spend a good deal of time reading YA lit, however I do love YA lit, so I have still be reading lots of that too. While I have read a LOT of books since school got out (around a dozen or so), these five stuck out as ones I wanted to pass along in case you needed something to read by the pool, beach, or on the couch while the Detroit Tigers are losing.

Letters for Scarlet by Julie C Gardner 

I have a confession. When my friends write a book I get very nervous to read it. I mean, what if I don’t like it? How will I tell them? Thankfully this has never actually happened to me. Letters for Scarlet is written by my long-time blogging friend, Julie. I have read her blog for years and marveled at her ability to write. To be able to hold her book in my hands made me giggle happily.

The book is one I would totally choose to read on my own. Corie Harper is a late-twenties English teacher. She and her husband, Tuck are trying to get pregnant, but can’t. One day, Corie gets a letter from herself–one she wrote senior year of high school when she was best friends with Tuck and Scarlet. Corie and Tuck had a falling out with Scarlet and hadn’t heard from her since. Until Scarlet’s mom wants Corie to find her and deliver the letter.

Scarlet, on the other hand, does not want to be found. She has a great job and finds out she is pregnant. She thinks having the baby would be a terrible idea.

Both women are running from the memories of one particular night their senior year. The book gives you bits and pieces that just keep you turning pages to find out what happened…and if Scarlet will keep the baby…and if Corie and Tuck will make their marriage work.

All The Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doerr

I love historical fiction because I feel like I am getting a glimpse of life from a different time in a way no history class could ever teach me.  All the Light We Cannot See does this so beautifully. The story is engaging, sure, but the writing!  The writing captured me and just would not let go in the best kind of way.

The novel is really two stories that wrap around into one. Marie-Laure lives with her grandfather in Paris near the Museum of Natural History. At age six, she goes completely blind, and he builds her small models of Paris and it’s roads so she can have a 3D map of sorts to learn her way around. When the Nazis capture Paris, they are forced to run away to the walled city of Saint-Malo to live with a reclusive uncle. Marie-Laure is unaware that they have carried something extremely valuable and dangerous with them.

Werner is an orphan who lives in an orphanage in a mining town in Germany. He is brilliant at building and fixing radios. The Nazi party catches wind of this and recruits him into the Hitler Youth. Eventually Werner finds himself in the basement of a building in Saint-Malo trying to fix some equipment. His story is about to meet Marie-Laure’s…or has it already?

The Viscount of Maisons-Laffitte by Jennie Goutet

Jennie is another one of my very wonderful blogging friends. I’d already read (and loved) her memoir, but this was my first time reading her fiction. As usual, I was nervous I would not like it, especially since this one was being touted as a romance. Romance is not what I would pick up, but it’s summer and I love Jennie and I thought, “what the heck? I’ll give it a go!”

I am so glad I did! This book is not what I would think of when I think of a typical romance…or maybe I have the wrong idea of a typical romance? Chastity is a single mother and high school English teacher in France. One of her students is the son of Viscount Charles Jean Anne de Brase. Now, don’t let not knowing what a viscount is get in your way of reading this one. I know next to nothing about France, and I was able to figure it all out with context clues. Jennie’s writing is accessible to anyone who wants to read it!

Chastity is unimpressed with the Viscount’s off-putting personality when she asks to meet with him about his son’s academic performance. She has pretty much written him off as a total rude snob, when her ex-boyfriend–straight from prison for drugs–shows back up and wants to spend time with their son. An accident involving their son throws the Viscount further into Chastity’s life than she could have imagined.

Challenger Deep by Neil Shusterman

This book may be my new favorite YA read. Having dual narrators is hot right now, but Schusterman takes that to a different level by having the narrator always be Caden Bosch, but from different states of mental health and awareness. Sometimes he is first-person narrating from the reality of his family and friends, other times it’s from aboard a ship with a deranged Captain and a talking parrot who both give him direction. Is he hallucinating? Is this a different world he has created for himself? Does he have another personality? Other times he falls into second person narration when he seems the most disconnected from reality. His ship world and the “real” world are connected, but you have to keep reading to find out how.

This might be the most beautifully tragic journey into and through mental illness that I have ever read.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Anything in the genres of paranormal or fantasy are a big stretch for me. In fact, I have never read Harry Potter (Don’t shoot!).  But I had A) heard this was very good and B) let myself get intrigued by the real photos that were used. I flipped to the back of the book and learned via the interview with Randsom Riggs that he found all the photos first and would write little stories to go with them. I found this a fascinating way to jump start a novel.

Jacob, a sixteen-year-old, finds himself traveling to a remote island off the coast of Wales in search of some family history. He finds, instead, and abandoned house that used to be Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. After searching some more, he finds that maybe these children were more than just strange…and maybe, somehow, they are still alive even though it is said they were all killed in a bomb attack during WWII.

Just like with Stephen King novels, I found myself drawn to how real Riggs made everything seem before introducing the paranormal/fantasy elements. I was already drawn in and invested in the characters before what would normally turn me off occurred. I was already hooked! I look forward to the next in the series (that I will have to borrow from my own classroom library!).

So what have you read so far this summer? Anything I should add to my list?


So often

I see reflected in my children

that of which I am ashamed

in myself.



unkind words.

I am SO over you right now!

I can’t deal with you!

Get out of my face!


these reflections are so clear

but occasionally

those effigies shine




I love you.

These are for my brother.

I forgive you.

In those moments

I am

assured that

it’s going to be ok;


will be more

than Ok.


The Best Part

This past weekend our little family joined my mom and dad in a little cottage up in Pentwater, Michigan. I love that cottage. My parents have been renting it on and off for more than 20 years. I have some great memories there, so it was so fun to take the kids and help them make some great memories too!

At the end of each day, we would ask the boys, “What was the best part of today?” They would laugh and giggle recollecting all the fun we had. It was always difficult to choose just ONE best part.

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I will say the 90-minute drive was not my personal favorite. Usually I enjoy the trip; it’s a very beautiful drive, however you see how close the boys sit to each other? And Alice is rear-facing behind me. Yeah, there was loudness.

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Breakfast was always a highlight. Grandpa made lots of breakfast meat and french toast for the troops. You can see that Charlie is dressed and has his backpack on. He was so ready for the beach, man. SO. READY. Sandboxes are his love language and the beach? Dude, it’s one big sandbox.

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See? Homeboy is in heaven. We had the best possible beach weather ever. Charlie still talks about this as being one of his “best parts”. He would live at the beach if he could. Annnnddd…cue beach pics….

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Alice hates sand and dirt and getting dirty. Such a diva. But she sat in that little beach chair just as nice as can be for two plus hours with her cold drink looking cute. That is really my kind of beach day too.

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Grandma gave the boys a snack of Vanilla Wafers…on frisbees! Grandma is so smart when it comes to snack distribution.

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Even Alice enjoyed some beach vanilla wafers. With her cold drink. In her chair. Not touching the sand at all.

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It was a super hot day, but it was quite breezy, so we didn’t feel like were were sweating too much. Plus Lake Michigan was around 75 degrees.  I could have stayed much, much longer, but Alice needed a nap and the boys were getting sunned out.

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We did plenty of sitting around too. That was probably one of my best parts. I enjoyed not having too much access to wifi and having no TV or other screens available. I read a whole book from start to finish from Thursday night to Sunday afternoon. My mom and I both brought a plastic horse shoes/ring toss game, so the boys had a good time sticking the stakes into the ground and making up rules about what “level” they are on. My very patient parents went along with these nonsensical rules and laughed and laughed as my mom pretty much missed every time she tossed.

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When we got home, Eddie made the comment that Grandma is so good at helping us find things to do when we might be bored. My mom totally understands that four and seven-year old boys need to keep busy. If there started to be hints of whining or fighting because of boredom, grandma would swoop in with a game of Go Fish, or Old Maid, or going for a walk to the dock or around the block. Eddie helped set the table most of the time, and Charlie helped carry out food.

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Charlie made a comment that we are pretty lucky to have a Grandpa who shares his boat and fishing hooks with us…and “cuts up a good watermelon!” Charlie is pretty much his Grandpa’s shadow–both lefties, both bearing the name “Thomas”, both loving watermelon and “putzing” around.

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Speaking of watermelon…apparently I bought a good, crisp, juicy one! It wouldn’t be a summer vacation up north in Michigan without a messy delicious watermelon after dinner.

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Alice even needed a sink bath after she demolished a huge chunk of melon. All of the sticky in her hair and on her whole body!

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I mentioned my parents have a boat. They were kind enough to haul it all the way up north and my kids LOVED it. They boys always love boat rides. When we out of the channel and onto the big lake, my dad “put the hammer down” and as we lifted up, Charlie–who was sitting in the “first mate” seat–said to Cortney, “THIS IS MY BEST PART!” After a ride, we circled back to the beach.

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It was another HOT day, but with no wind. My dad anchored off shore from the beach and we all took a dip! The boys jumped off the boat over and over into the refreshing water!

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Both boys showed us all the things they learned in swimming lessons, but with life jackets on since we were in water that was around 6 feet deep. Little Bird paddled around for hours!

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It was so hot we even got Alice to float around a bit with her Daddy! She clung pretty tightly to him, but I think she enjoyed the cool dip.  In fact, she fell asleep on me on the ride back to the boat launch.

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Both boys have fishing poles my dad gave them for their birthdays. They were so excited to fish with Grandpa! He was super patient with them as fish after fish swallowed up his hooks. I even showed off my casting skills (that my dad mocked!) and ability to reel in a bluegill when Charlie got a little nervous about doing it himself. I think Cortney was impressed!

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It rained on our last morning at the cottage. My parents tried to keep everyone busy with Old Maid and other games, but things got a little punchy by afternoon. Luckily, the sun came out and we were fortunate enough to get to town to get my dad the ice cream cone he was craving and find treasures for the boys to take home to remember their vacation.

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Even Alice was getting antsy to leave the cottage by the time the sun came out. It’s a lovely cottage, but it’s small for seven people–three of whom are small people with a lot of energy!

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Before we left, we put jammies on everyone so they would be all ready for their beds when we got home. But we couldn’t leave without one more tickle session with grandpa!

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We were all stinky and tired and ready for our own beds…and showers…by the time we hit the road homeward bound. But we were happy. Because being able to spend so much time with Grandpa and Grandma was definitely the Best Part.

Thank you, mom and dad, for the awesome time. We are grateful to you for sharing the cottage with our noisy, energy-filled crew. Hopefully you got some sleep and quiet after we left! We love you!

Lessons from Netflix

We just got back from being without screens for four days. It actually went really well because we were so busy the boys didn’t have time to want to watch anything. Even before bedtime when a show is usually what chills everyone out, they were so tired from all the swimming and playing that a listening to a couple books was enough to knock them out.

Last night, though, when we got home around bedtime, the first question was: Can we watch a show? Of course I answered “yes” because I too, missed the electric glow of the screen. As we watched yet another episode of something the boys are currently obsessed with, I realized that over the past three years, we have learned a lot from Netflix. Here they are in no particular order.

  • I should probably not supplement my income by making and selling meth with a former student. (Breaking Bad)
  • Vampire squid can see in the dark. (Octonauts)
  • Tomato juice works for getting skunk stink off. (Curious George)
  • We all enjoy waving our hands in the air like we just do not care. (Home)
  • All guys experience the “vinegar strokes.” (The League)
  • There were dragons in the time of Vikings. (How to Train Your Dragon and Dragons: Race to the Edge)
  • Not everything on Netflix is 100% nonfiction (see above lesson)
  • When the children are watching a show and everything stops and the little loading circle stops at 25%, there will be shrieking and gnashing of teeth.
  • It’s fun to go to the “search” option and just type random letters and see what offerings pop up.
  • Excellent nonfiction books can be turned into ridiculously addictive fictional television series. (Orange is the New Black)
  • My kids will watch anything that has been on the Cartoon Network and I will hate all of it.

I have also learned that my kids can binge-watch just about anything, where I simply do not have the binge gene. I can watch a few episodes of something at a time, but I feel like I am wasting my day if I turn on the old Flix then, and at night I am too tired to watch more than a few episodes.

Even so, I have learned that I don’t think our family could go with out Netflix. We all have our favorites shows and movies (um, Back to the Future is now showing. Yes, the entire trilogy!), and it’s become a preferred way to relax at the end of the day…together.



Finding Joy

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It’s very easy for me to get wrapped up and overwhelmed and pulled down by grief and sadness in this world. It’s always a fine balance for me to let myself feel sadness, but not to take on everyone’s misery. Daily I make a conscious effort to listen and and stay informed, but to also allow myself joy.

I’ve been keeping a daily gratitude journal where I list five things each day that I am “hanging my hope on” for the day. It’s been a really good, conscious way to look for the joy that is in my life each day.

It’s also not a secret that I struggle with being home with my kids. Cortney worked the budget so that all three kids can go to daycare twice a week, which has helped immensely. I feel like I can run all our errands without the anxiety of taking all the children, I can do household cleaning without anyone getting in my way or messing up what I just cleaned, and–best of all–I can read and write in a quiet house (or blare inappropriate music and have a dance party all by myself…whatever).

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Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are my days home with the kids and because I get Tuesday and Thursdays “off”, I find that I am a much better mom to them. My patience has a chance to renew on the “off days” and I find that it’s easier to find the wondrous in the every day happenings of our lives.

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Eddie’s love of Legos.

Alice’s love of books…all books–board books, my books, picture books.

Charlie’s ability to make up stories. Very wild crazy stories that almost always involve his stuffed kitty.

Eddie’s endless patience for his little sister AND how much he loves to play with her.

Alice’s tiny pig tail.

Charlie’s hilarious facial expressions.

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Eddie’s willingness to “ride around the block” with his little brother, even though Charlie rarely stays with him like he is supposed to.

Alice’s willingness to give hugs and kisses and tickles.

Charlie’s desire to be a “good helper boy”.

Eddie’s thoughtful questions.

Alice’s babble talk.

Charlie’s thoughtful silence.

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Eddie’s quickness to read his sister and brother books.

Alice’s way of cuddling her blankie to her face when she is sleepy.

Charlie’s drawings of water towers.

Eddie’s sense of humor that is so much like my own.

Alice’s way of shadowing every single thing I do.

Charlie’s imagination and ability to play happily by himself.

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Eddie’s interest in reading nonfiction.

Alice’s way with dolls.

Charlie’s bond with Alice.

Eddie’s detailed drawings of Star Wars.

Alice’s cheeks.

Charlie’s big blue eyes.

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Eddie’s willingness to try anything once.

Alice’s dancing and booty-shaking.

Charlie’s chuckle.

Eddie’s love of all people.

Alice’s giggle.

Charlie’s engineer-like brain.

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These are only just a handful of things I have written down.

Each of these little goobers is so crazy different from each other. Lately my monthly therapy appointments are more focused on me talking about how to parent each kid to their own personalities than talking about myself.

Eddie is a zero or a hundred type of kid. If he’s not 100% successful, happy, winning, etc, he uses failure talk. He uses extreme talk like “everything is horrible” or “nobody loves him”. It’s all about absolutes with that kid. He is so much like me in this way. He needs lots of encouragement and lessons about how 80% is still really good. Just because he’s not best, does not mean he’s worst. He is my rule-follower, yet he questions why people would break rules or want to do mean things. He is so kind and has such a loving heart.

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Charlie is explosive. He has big feelings he doesn’t know what to do with. He is quiet and thoughtful and loving and then BAM! Throwing things, hitting people (usually Eddie), and screaming hateful words. He needs positive reinforcement more than punishments. He cannot process once his brain floods with frustration. We need to teach him it’s Ok to walk away, cool down, and come back. He wants to be helpful and loving. He wants hugs and snuggles. He doesn’t care much about rules, but he wants to be of service to those he loves.

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Alice is my little shadow. She is proof that sometimes nature does trump nurture. She was born into a house of trucks and blocks and action figures and she gravitated to the stuffed animals and one baby doll in the house. In a room full of “boy toys” she picks the pink tea pot. Not only is she shaping up to be a rule follower, but she is observant. She knows where her dirty laundry and diapers go. She already wants to do things herself. She follows directions and can find things when we ask, “where is your….?” She is starting to test our consistency and boundaries by throwing things and hitting, but responds when we say, “no”.  She is loved on by all of us, and it’s evident that her brothers and her parents have more patience when it comes to her than we have for each other.

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This summer, while I still find myself yelling too much and wishing the hours away sometimes, I have been enjoying my children in a way I haven’t been able to in the past. I’ve been allowing myself to pause and watch them and talk to them and play with them and ask them questions. I’ve given more of an effort to learning their personalities and letting them know I see them.

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Don’t get me wrong. There have been meltdowns by ALL four of us. There have been booties that have been swatted. There has been more screen time than should probably be allowed.

This summer has been far FAR from a perfect picture. However I am doing a much, much better job recognizing the privilege of being home with them while also getting enough “off time” to do work. I am only too aware that we will never have 7, 4, and 1 ever again. This summer will be the only one like it, and our last with a baby-toddler.

So I am choosing, even on the hard days, to find five things to hang my hope on. To focus my joy on.

What have you found joy in today?

Pictured…and #NotPictured

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Pictured: A cutie pie and her mom at the park.

#NotPictured: The whining this child did every time her mom tried to set her down. The foot stomps, the head-shaking “no”, the arm reached up in protest of not being held EVERY. SINGLE. MINUTE.

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Pictured: An older brother with his baby sister, holding hands as they walk around the park.

#NotPictured: The middle child having a meltdown at my side as I take this picture because I didn’t bring snacks or drink to the park and we have been there a whole 10 minutes and “this park is stupid. everything is stupid. I want lunch.”

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Pictured: A smiley girl who loves her shoes and sunglasses.

#NotPictured: The one zillion times she took off the sunglasses and shoes, threw them at a parent, then demanded they put back on.

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Pictured: Eddie crossing from Tiger Scout to Wolf Scout.

#NotPictured: His younger brother who lost all patience with boring ceremonies and went to the playground with his younger sister and dad missing this. Also not pictured is the search that everyone did for the missing Tiger slide because Eddie lost it ramming around in the grass.

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Pictured: Charlie hamming it up for the camera after having his first bloody nose.

#NotPictured: The epic scream-fest and blood-bath that took over my bathroom moments before because Charlie was terrified of what was happening and did not want Cortney to TOUCH him, let alone squeeze his nose shut for ten minutes.

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Pictured: Cortney and me on our 11th anniversary.

#NotPictured: The three children who were at their grandparents’ house, the delicious meal and drinks, the awesome waitress, the 11 years that were a giant ball of pain, heartache, joy, and laughter.


Pictured, #NotPictured is a little bloggy hop thingy thing from the mastermind of Ann Imig. You should check out her original post, natch.

How They Read Now: The ’96 National Book Award Winners

National Book Award

Over the past month, I have been busy reading five books that I normally would not have picked up on my own. This year marks twenty years of the National Book Award and this winter I joined a group of colleagues and book lovers to go back and read those award-winning YA books. There are twenty of us participating–each taking a year of winners. Each year has five novels. Each reader is tasked with choosing the one book from their year to move on to the next bracket, with the idea that we choose ONE book from the past twenty years that we all feel is the BEST of all the National Book Award Winners.  I chose 1996 for a few reasons.

I am at that age where YA novels were sub par when I was the target audience for YA literature. My mom would make a weekly trip to the library in the summer and come home with stacks of books from their tiny section with young people as the protagonist. I read a lot of terribly written books over those summers. The YA scene didn’t vastly improve until after I had gotten my job teaching high school English. Coming of age with shoddy writing about gender stereotypes and predictable plots made me want to revisit what judges deemed exceptional back then.

The books I read:

Parrot in The Oven: Mi Vida by Victor Martinez

I read this one in grad school for an adolescent lit class circa 2004. I remember being blown away that this sort of literature existed for young people since everything we read was extremely different than the tales of summer romances and back-stabbing best friends that I had access to. Since it had been more than a decade, I re-read the book for this project. I was sure this would be my pick for the best.

Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida is told from the point of view of 14-year-old Manny Hernandez who lives with his sisters, his brother, and his parents the barrio in California. The writing was beautiful. Martinez creates lovely vignettes for each chapter painting each scene with similes like when he describes the pepper plants he and his older brother are going to pick from to earn extra money: “…gesturing down at some limp branches leaning away from the road, as if trying to lift their roots and hustle away from the passing traffic” (10). The way he describes what the sky looks like above the pepper field, “clouds boiling like water on the horizon” not only appeal to the reader’s visual sense, but also reminds us that it is so blisteringly hot that even the clouds feel it (13).

While the writing was lovely, the plot was underwhelming. Manny’s family has issues and he is deciding whether or not to join a gang. At the time of publication, the race wars in California had tensions across the entire country running high. Not many authors had so eloquently written about the Latino experience from the eyes of a Latino youth, so it is not surprising that the plot coupled with poetic prose, won an award twenty-years ago. However if I were to hand this book to my middle school students now, I don’t think they would be as blown away after reading the works of authors like Benjamin Alire Saenz and Margarita Engle.

What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman

After reading reviews of this one, I was looking forward to something ground-breaking. What Jamie Saw read more like what I remember 90’s YA lit reading like: potential that is just not realized. The plot is that Jamie witnesses his mom’s boyfriend do something mean to his younger sister. Mom and Jamie and the baby leave. They are afraid of the ex-boyfriend. The problem is that the plot falls short. Other than mentioning something–domestic abuse–that probably wasn’t mentioned much then, it really stops there with just mentioning it. Since Jamie is just a little kid, the language is simplistic and we are left to infer what conversations his mother is having when she asks him to play outside or tend to his baby sister.

In the end, the book felt like an after school special, but with even less drama. Definitely did not seem award-winning to me.

Send Me Down a Miracle by Han Nolan

This may have been my least favorite of all five books. At least with What Jamie Saw I was interested in the plot even if it did turn out to be too simple for my taste. Send Me Down a Miracle had better writing, but the plot was pretty terrible, as was the characterization.

Charity is supposedly a 14-year old who lives with her younger sister, her dad, who is the preacher in a super small Southern town. Her mom is gone to a birdcage convention and later we find out she may or may not be coming back. A stranger–an artist from New York–comes to town one day to work on her art. She announces she will be living closed from society for a month. When she comes out she claims to have seen Jesus sitting on a chair in her house.

First of all, Charity seems way younger and naive than any 14-year old I have ever met. In fact, she is somewhat unbelievable as a 14-year old. Her father reminds me of the dad in Footloose, but less of a fully developed character. The most interesting characters to me where Adrienne (the artist) and Charity’s mom, both of whom are flat and undeveloped. In the beginning I thought Adrienne was going to be the star of the book when Charity describes her entrance: “Then in walked Adrienne into our tidy home, looking like some wild jungle woman with fat, frizzed-out hair, rings on her toes, and this long, brightly colored skirt that was practically see-through.” But no.

The entire plot of the town going crazy for a “Jesus Chair” was just poorly executed, in my opinion.

The Long Season of Rain by Helen Kim

This was the last book I had to read and it was hard to find. When it showed up to my house I took one look at the book cover and groaned. I thought for sure I would be bored to tears. I was pleasantly surprised.

The Long Season of Rain takes place in South Korea in the 1960’s. It starts during the rainy season, Changma, while school is out for recess. The story is told from 11-year-old Junehee’s point of view. She is the second of four daughters and lives with her parents and her paternal grandmother. One day her grandmother brings home a boy her age who was orphaned in a mudslide. His presence brings out family secrets and tensions between her mother and father.

I will admit that historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and I hadn’t read any historical YA lit about Korea before, so even though I thought the book would bore me, I was wrong. The writing was lovely and wove Korean words easily with English in a way that was not confusing to the reader, but brought a richer sense of tradition and culture. Kim also does a good job of weaving the traditions of a conservative Korean family into the plot. They do not stand out, but rather enhance the story and push the motives of the characters.

I would classify this as a fairly typical bildungsroman because Junehee “comes of age” as she loses her innocence of her parents’ relationship and family workings. This was my runner-up pick.

A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer

As you may have already guessed, A Girl Named Disaster is my pick for the best of the 1996 National Book Award Winners. Like The Long Season of Rain, it falls under the historical YA fiction heading. At first, I wasn’t so sure about it since I have recently read two other YA books set in Africa, but this one blows both of those away too.

Nhamo is 11-years old living in a traditional village in Mozambique where she doesn’t fit in. Her mother was killed by a leopard when she was a baby, and her father took off before she was born. Culture places daughters with their father’s family, but Nhamo is brought up by her maternal side. After sickness plagues her village, it is decided that she should be married off to a terrible man to bring health and luck back to the village. Nhamo decides it’s time to find her father’s family who are supposedly in Zimbabwe.

Her year-long adventure is like a cross between the hero’s journey and a bildungsroman. She definitely “comes of age” during her travels, but it almost exactly follows the typical “hero’s journey” elements as well. Of all the books this is the one that not only stuck with me after I was done reading, but I found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it. It was a book I stayed up late to finish because I needed to know what would happen. That alone makes it the clear front-runner.

The writing was beautifully descriptive as well. One of the qualities of a truly good book–especially world literature–is when the author can make the cultures and traditions come alive and make sense and weave them into the plot of the book. Farmer does that impeccably in A Girl Named Disaster.

I look forward to reading the winners from the 2012, 2008, 2004, and 2000 groups so we can decide on one to push through to the final brackets! I’ll keep you posted!

My Summer Binge List

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I’ve seen everybody talkin’ all about what they can’t wait to binge watch this summer on Netflix. New seasons of favorite shows have started coming out and the list of what is coming and going in July was just released. I’ll be honest, it gets sort of stressful to me.

In fact, I have had to avoid certain Facebook threads because people are discussing the new season of Orange is the New Black. Season four just came out like last week and people are already talking all about the thing. I am not even done with season 2 yet because that is how far I got last year on maternity leave before the boys were home for the summer and I never watched it again.

I also haven’t finished Breaking Bad yet.

So let’s put both of those on the list for this summer. I get two days each week without kids and I have some projects to work on that I can do in front of the TV, so maybe I will get to watch my favorite not-kid-appropriate shows while accomplishing things. That would be fun.

Ok, but the real thing that I am looking forward to having a binge-fest on is coming in July. Cortney rolled his eyes so hard when I told him about this that I thought his eyeballs were going to get stuck in the back of his head.

I’ll give you a hint…I’m sort of a super fan…

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Ok so yes, I have all three movies on both VHS and DVD (including all the special features, commentary, etc), but now it’s on NETFLIX!  That means it’s even EASIER to access on all of my screens all of the time.


No more will I have to go downstairs to find the DVD, put it in the DVD player and all that jazz. Nope. It’s right there. RIGHT THERE ALL THE TIME!

B to the F! Marty! Doc! George! Lorraine! Biff! The whole gang!

Gotta get back in time!!!!



To recap: Orange is the New Black finish season 2 and watch seasons 3 and 4. Maybe finish Breaking Bad. Watch the Back to the Future Trilogy ad nauseam until my family makes me stop.


Disclaimer: I write posts for Netflix once a month. They give me free streaming and a device to watch it on. All opinions are clearly my own because no body else in the world–except maybe my brothers–love Back to the Future this much.

Oh, I would also like to pour one out for all the PBS shows that are leaving Netflix this summer. We miss you, Curious George. And Daniel and the Kratt Brothers will be very VERY missed.

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