Excuse me, but could I make your wildest dreams come true?

January 8th, 2018

When we lived inside Wichita city limits, where our power was provided by the massive energy company Westar, we called about trees encroaching on our power line – only to have the power company tell us that they would only take responsibility for the alley line. Once the power line split off from the alley to service our neighbor and us? We were on our own.

And maybe that’s the norm. I certainly don’t know. That was the first home either Daniel or I had ever owned. But we hired an arborist to come out and trim our line – and to do a little extra work around the yard too.

Then we moved to Prairie Elms, where we have all sorts of prairie weed trees (aka Eastern Red Cedar) and tall but scrappy Siberian Elms along our fence line, right underneath our power line. It just so happens that I desire to keep exactly zero of those trees – and even though we are now the proud owners of a rather nice chainsaw (and beaucoup bucks worth of accompanying safety equipment), I don’t feel comfortable with Daniel or I removing almost any of them.

Because, tall trees. Relatively close to the house. Very close to the power line.

I knew we’d need to hire someone to get them removed in the next couple of years before they became a hazard. But I was not looking forward to the prospect of researching arborists again, contracting one, determining the minimum they could do to make it safe for us to do the rest, and paying for the whole bit.

But then I was taking my rest time and I heard a knock at the door. A few minutes later Daniel entered our room to see if I was still awake. The folks with the bucket truck who’ve been in the neighborhood all week are clearing power lines for our electrical co-op. Was I okay if they just took down all the trees under the power line?

Was I okay with it?

It’s a dream come true.

2018 is shaping up to be my kind of year.

A Christmas gift

December 26th, 2017

After 55 hours of labor, we were pleased to welcome Beth-Ellen Irene Garcia into the outside world on Christmas Day.

She was born at 42 weeks, just like her mother before her, and, by the grace of God, via an unmedicated vaginal birth after 2 cesarean sections.

Welcoming Beth-Ellen into the family

She is the answer to prayer, a delightful Christmas present. But, as the reporter from our local news forced me to clarify, Beth-Ellen is not the greatest Christmas present ever.

As I told the reporter (unfortunately, the most important part got left out of the news clip), that distinction is reserved for another baby, one born over 2000 years ago. Because while Beth-Ellen came on Christmas to be a part of our family, Jesus came as “not just a member of our family but someone who came to make us a member of God’s family, and that’s truly the greatest gift. And what a treasure we have to be able to share that with our daughter, our Beth-Ellen.”

Rejoicing in the Incarnation – and in this precious gift we get to share Christ’s gift with.

Survivor: Prairie Edition

December 22nd, 2017

It’s a coyote-eat-chicken world out there – and the number of free-range chickens about dwindles as the season drags along.

The one remaining rooster

This proud cock is the only neighborhood free-ranger who still ventures onto Prairie Elms. Louis will be heartbroken when he goes the way of all unsecured prairie chickens.

41 weeks: Repenting at Leisure

December 18th, 2017

Three months ago, I wrote of the “countdown“:

But all mothers can agree: the time will come when you feel SO PREGNANT you just CAN’T WAIT for this baby to be BORN ALREADY!

And surely this is a common experience for many mothers….
But some of us, we mothers of preemies who persist in getting pregnant, have a different experience.

I think I can understand how normal women feel, how impatient they become with the waiting, the comments, the ungainliness of a heavily pregnant frame. But I can’t imagine ever feeling so pregnant, so eager for my pregnancy to end.

Instead, I tease about inducing at 44 weeks, about making up for lost womb-time.

Well, now, at 41 weeks pregnant, still healthy, I understand how normal women feel.

I’m tired of waiting. Tired of getting up each morning and trying to get my house clean because “today might be the day”. Tired of analyzing every little change: “could this be the beginning of labor?” Tired of telling Daniel every morning that yes, he should still go to work.

I’m tired of worrying. Tired of mentally estimating baby’s position every time he kicks (baby was engaged head down at 37 weeks – and flipped head up and completely out of my pelvis by 39 weeks before heading back down again.) Tired of wondering whether my body is even capable of initiating labor, much less going through with it. Tired of worrying that I’ll have my longest, healthiest pregnancy yet only to be cut open again – and never have a chance for a normal delivery.

Even when I’m experiencing the pregnancy I’d only ever dreamed of – healthy, normal, active – I’m still filled with envy. Envying my friend (due after me, of course) who delivered naturally at home at 37 weeks. Envying my cousin’s wife (due after me, of course) who delivered in the hospital ten days early. Envying another friend (due two weeks after me, of course) who delivered on her WAY to the hospital last week.

Even as I’m living the happiest-yet ending to one of my pregnancies, I’m crying and complaining all the time.

Oh, who will deliver me from this body of death?

I thank God, through Jesus Christ my Lord!

Weather below the Mason-Dixon line

December 16th, 2017

Once upon a time, when I lived in Lincoln Nebraska, I decided to take up worm composting. I started calling around to all the local bait shops, hoping to find some red wrigglers – the best of composting worms.

I was met with rejection after rejection. “No, we haven’t got any of those.” “Sorry.” “What about…”

Finally, a shopkeeper who I now remember to have a Southern drawl (whether it existed then or not is anybody’s guess) explained: “Ah, ma’am, you can’t find any of those this time of year north of the Mason-Dixon line.”

I thanked him warmly and ordered my worms online from a warmer climate. And from that moment on, the Mason-Dixon line was forever burned into my consciousness as “where they don’t have winter.”

Years later, I moved to Wichita Kansas. It’s still on the plains, shares many similarities with the place of my birth. But the climate is nothing like Lincoln’s. Winter weather here is like those memes about Southern people, emptying the grocery stores whenever more than an inch of snow is forecast. (True Story.)

I was completely baffled by it, totally caught off guard. I’m used to Plains-folk (Midwestern, we sometimes call ourselves, likely to the chagrin of those blizzard-surviving Wisconsin-ites) being tougher than that.

And then, one day, for whatever reason, I was looking up Wichita’s exact location. Latitude 37.68 N. My aha moment had come. Wichita was south of the Mason-Dixon line (39.43 N)

I announced this happily to my husband, thrilled that I had finally found an answer to my “why are Wichitans such wimps?” He, not having had my experience with the red wrigglers (and the corresponding association of “south of the Mason-Dixon line” with “no winter”), was less than impressed.

But it was a groundbreaking discovery for me, and one I think of whenever “winter weather” is predicted for Wichita. I laugh a little internally and roll my eyes: “Southerners”, I think.

To all of you real Southerners out there – and, yes, even to my Wichitan friends – please understand that I mean no slight by this. The reality is that the infrequency of “winter weather” in the south makes it much more likely to be dangerous in smaller quantities. Roads aren’t prepared for it, municipalities cannot justify the purchase of equipment to deal with it, drivers don’t have experience driving in it. Further south than us, homes may not be well equipped for cold snaps. While I might still feel like your reaction to snow is a bit of an overreaction, it’s not unreasonable. But it took the “Mason-Dixon line” for me to realize that Wichitans are not just a wimpy version of Plains-folks but a product of their environment, here where the Plains meets the South (at least insofar as weather is concerned).

We Celebrate Santa Lucia Day

December 14th, 2017

Was I six, seven, eight when I first read Kirsten’s Surprise (of the American Girls collection) and decided I desperately wanted to celebrate Santa Lucia Day?

I’m not sure exactly when it was, but it was decades ago. For decades, I’ve been waiting for a chance to celebrate Santa Lucia Day.

Now, I know I tried to celebrate at least once growing up – I remember finding a white gown at a used store and hemming it up so my little sister could wear it for Santa Lucia Day. But, in general, I was (am) full of enthusiasm – and my siblings were less-than-willing participants in my schemes.

So I waited.

I waited until I had a captive audience – children who have little choice but to participate with my schemes.

This year, in other words.

I found a picture book that mentions Santa Lucia Day and checked it out of the library. We unwrapped and read Hanna’s Christmas by Melissa Peterson (illustrated by Melissa Iwai) together on Sunday.

On Monday, we cut out a Santa Lucia crown for Tirzah Mae, covering it with construction paper holly leaves and cardboard candles. We cut out a pointed star boy hat for Louis, too; but he refused to wear it. He wanted a crown like Tirzah Mae’s. So he got a crown too, covered with blue construction paper stars. Tirzah Mae wore her crown to our 40 week prenatal appointment.

Celebrating Santa Lucia Day

She wore her crown all day long Tuesday, proclaiming herself to be “like Hanna”. She requested re-read after re-read after re-read of Hanna’s Christmas. Occasionally, Louis tried to grab Tirzah Mae’s crown, so we got his out for him.

Tuesday evening, I dared labor to start by arranging canned cinnamon rolls onto a cookie sheet in a wreath shape and placing a dollop of cherry pie filling in each. I’d contemplated baking them in advance, so we could still eat them if labor started and I wasn’t prepared to bake them in the morning – but I decided on the dare instead.

My body feinted, but didn’t take the dare. Daniel baked the rolls while I napped after a long night of what I had hoped was the beginning of labor.

We woke the children, put on their crowns, and ate our cinnamon rolls (Mental note: yes, doing the cans was a wise move relative to the uncertainty over baby – but I’m never buying canned cinnamon rolls again. They were gross! But the kids and Daniel still enjoyed them, so we’re all good.)

The beginning of what I hope will be a long tradition of celebrating Santa Lucia Day.

Playing Pregnant

December 3rd, 2017

I remember it clearly.

My mother drawing the hopscotch board on the driveway in sidewalk chalk. Drawing it properly – with a big square at the center, diagonal lines dividing it into four equal triangles numbered 4 through 7.

My mother, showing us how to hop on one foot and then on two. One. Two-three. Four. Five-six. Seven. Eight-nine. Ten. One last hop across the line.

My mother, showing us the tricky part. Throw the beanbag on a number. Hop across, skipping that number. One. Two. Four. Five-six. Seven. Eight-nine. Ten. Hop across the line. Returning to pick up the fallen beanbag. Ten. Nine-eight. Seven. Six-five. Balance on one leg on four while picking up the beanbag on three. Now two. One. Hop to return to the starting line.

I was five. Anna was six. Joshua was almost four. This was our homeschool P.E.

As clearly as I remember it, one detail escaped my notice.

Thankfully, it didn’t escape my father’s notice. He took a series of pictures, which made plain upon later inspection what my memory does not.

My mother taught her four oldest children to play hopscotch while heavily pregnant with baby number 5 – at least eight months pregnant with baby number 5.

If pregnancy slowed her down, we didn’t know it. Pregnancy was part of her life, and of our lives by extension. We had no idea that pregnancy meant altering much of anything.

Maybe the relative ease (at least to all outward appearances) with which my mother carried and bore her children influenced my early desire to have a whole slew of children myself. Certainly her example made me confident that healthy pregnancy, natural childbirth, safe homebirth was possible. After all, she had seven healthy pregnancies, seven natural childbirths, five safe homebirths (the other two were planned hospital births).

And then I had two pregnancies that were anything but healthy. I had two births that were about as far from natural as you can get. I had a month’s worth of hospitalization between the two births.

Our maternal fetal specialist told us he didn’t see any reason why we shouldn’t continue to have more children – but that we should expect similar outcomes each time. We should expect preeclampsia, preterm delivery, NICU stays.

And so we did. I wrestled with the idea of hoping for a normal pregnancy for a while before deciding that the specialist was right. Better to expect the most probable circumstances and be pleasantly surprised if things don’t turn out that way than to set myself up for disappointment by hoping for an improbability.

And then we passed the point where we had been hospitalized with Tirzah Mae. We passed the point where Tirzah Mae was born. We passed the point where we were hospitalized with Louis. We passed the point where Louis was born. I was more pregnant than I’d ever been.

Then I was term.

And then, today, just shy of thirty-nine weeks, over eight-and-a-half months pregnant, I stood with my preschool Sunday school class and led them in singing:

“Hallelu- Hallelu- Hallelu – Hallelujah
Praise ye the Lord
Hallelu- Hallelu- Hallelu – Hallelujah
Praise ye the Lord
Praise ye the Lord
Praise ye the Lord
Praise ye the Lord
Praise ye the Lord”

The gals who had been visiting at the desk outside our classroom’s big window turned around to watch as I squatted down low to the ground on each “Hallelu” and popped up with my hands in the air for each “Praise ye the Lord.”

And I thought of my mother, eight and a half months pregnant, teaching my siblings and me how to play hopscotch. And I rejoiced, thankful that I’ve now been able to experience what I never imagined, on this side of preeclampsia, I’d be able to experience: a perfectly healthy pregnancy.

39 weeks pregnant and still playing with the kids.

When I shop local

November 25th, 2017

I’m not one to shop local for local’s sake. Trade protectionism, whether on the federal or state or local level, isn’t my gig.

What I am into is three things: bargains, service, and stuff you can’t find anywhere else. And truthfully? It’s highly unlikely you’ll find all three in any one location.

Except maybe at The Heavy Hanger. I was first introduced to The Heavy Hanger one year ago today, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving (sometimes called “Small Business Saturday”). I hosted Thanksgiving for my whole family at Prairie Elms (our home), and one of my sisters felt the need for a new bra right away. She’d looked on the internet for the best place to buy a bra in town and had found The Heavy Hanger.

So a whole contingent of us went down to be fitted. The proprietress was skilled and efficient, finding just the right bras for our diverse and not-found-in-department-store sizes. We were sold. I was sold, even though I didn’t end up purchasing any that day since I had a full supply I’d laboriously bought from Amazon after Louis was born (have you ever shopped for nursing bras online? I bought and sent back probably a dozen different sizes and models before I arrived at something that worked, even if it wasn’t ideal.)

My sisters have since taken special trips down to Wichita to get new bras from the Heavy Hanger. It’s that good. And the last time they were down? It was time for me to start replacing those post-Louis bras. So I got a new bra too. And a new bathing suit with actual support – on clearance for a great price. (The bathing suit I had in my drawer was one I made myself TEN YEARS AGO after I tried fruitlessly to find something sufficiently supportive – so finding a bathing suit with support that fit off the rack and was on sale was kind of a big deal.)

Well, that’s all marvelous, but it’s what happened next that convinced me that The Heavy Hanger was worth its weight in gold. As I passed that magic line last month into “more pregnant than I’ve ever been”, I also experienced the relaxin-induced ligament-loosening that prepares the body for labor. My ribcage expanded and my bra band became really uncomfortable. I toddled off to The Heavy Hanger last week expecting to drop a couple hundred dollars on new bras to get me through the next month of pregnancy.

Instead, the owner listened to my predicament and told me not to waste my money on bras when we don’t know what I’ll need in a month’s time. She sent me out the door with a $1 extender (that perfectly solved the problem I was having) and encouraged me to give her a call when I have the baby so she can get me the right size then.

This is why even a globalist like myself supports my local bra shop. Service, selection, and a shopkeeper who’s not going to encourage you to waste your money.

If you find yourself in the Wichita area, I highly recommend dropping by The Heavy Hanger.

Any day now Sometime next month

November 21st, 2017

With my other pregnancies, I was reticent to make predictions about when baby was coming. I told my due date with Tirzah Mae (Christmas Day is a pretty spectacular due date), but always immediately clarified “so we’re expecting the baby to come around the New Year.”

Louis was due July 31, and the last thing I wanted was for people to get “due in July” in their heads and therefore get impatient and start asking me when the baby’s coming too soon. I told everyone I was due at the beginning of August.

Left to themselves, many babies go past the due date. I myself went two weeks past. And that’s just fine. “Late” generally means “not yet ready to face the outside world”.

And I was (and always have been) determined to let my babies choose their birthdays.

But after two babies born prematurely due to severe preeclampsia, and with our maternal-fetal specialist telling us we should expect a recurrence, I gave up on obscuring my due date. After all, it’s not like I’ve ever gotten close enough to the due date to feel pressured.

I haven’t scheduled anything besides doctor’s appointments for two months now, because I expected to go to the hospital for bedrest at any time. For two months now, my fellow Sunday School teachers have been telling me they’re hoping to see me again next week – explicitly or implicitly expressing their hopes that I not have a baby just yet.

And every week for the past two months, I show up to Sunday school or Bible study and see the relief on all my friends’ faces. I’m here. I’m still pregnant. Friends and acquaintances, all of whom have been praying, catch my eye and we share a look of rejoicing, thankful for God’s grace in prolonging this pregnancy.

And then, yesterday, I reached 37 weeks. Term.

The baby can come now, at any time.

Now that we’re term, “stay pregnant” doesn’t apply.

We have. We are. And now the baby can come, whenever he chooses.

After two months of expecting the baby to arrive at any time, of praying the baby won’t, of counting down first to “more pregnant than I’ve ever been” and then to “term”, it’s time to switch gears.

Now that everyone knows it’s only three weeks until that magical “due date”, now that everyone knows we’re term, now it’s time to switch gears.

For months, it’s been “any day now” I expected my health to head south – now I need to adjust to “could be another five weeks”.

Because I still believe it best for baby to choose his own birthday. And I don’t want my excitement over making it to term to rob this little one of his final fetal triumph – that of initiating this amazing process we call “childbirth”.

Book Review: For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage by Tara Parker-Pope

November 20th, 2017

What makes for a good marriage? What combination of inborn traits, behaviors, and life circumstances makes for marital longevity and bliss?

Sure, there are plenty of people willing to opine based on their personal experiences with marriage, or perhaps on their experiences counseling married couples or divorcees. But what does the science say?

Ostensibly, that’s what Tara Parker-Pope set out to explore in For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage.

And, if you do a cursory reading of her book, you’ll come to certain conclusions about the best marital model. Mainly, you’ll come to think that an egalitarian, 50-50 marriage is the way to go. It is clearly the best option. That is, if you fail to read page 254 carefully. There, a couple of paragraphs belie the drumbeat of “egalitarian is best” to which the entire rest of the book marches:

“It’s often a surprise when people learn that a traditional marriage, which is marked by the male breadwinner/female homemaker roles, is widely viewed as the most stable marriage. It had the lowest divorce rate in the studies by Dr. Hetherington. But just because these marriages are stable doesn’t mean they always are the most happy.

For a traditional marriage to thrive, both partners have to be happy with their individual role, perform it well, and feel respected by the other partner for the contributions they make to the marriage and family. If one partner changes, particularly if the wife decides she wants to work outside the home, the marriage can be stressed, often beyond repair.”

I love how shocked Parker-Pope is (and how she attributes her own shock to “people”) that experts on marriage stability regard the traditional marriage to be the most stable model (you know, based on things like… data.) I also love how quickly she jumps to discredit that result. I mean, it may be the most stable, but clearly one couldn’t actually be, you know, happy in a marriage like that.

When I read that second paragraph, I can’t help but think that the things she’s arguing make for a happy traditional marriage are things that make for a happy marriage altogether. Even if both spouses work, they will be happiest if both are happy with their individual role, perform it well, and feel respected by the other partner for the contributions they make to the marriage and family. And if one partner changes, perhaps maybe if a woman decides she wants to stay at home with the children? The marriage is stressed – not necessarily by the desire, but by the change in family dynamics that must be navigated before a new equilibrium is reached.

Now, does this mean that Parker-Pope’s book is not worth reading? Not really. I found it to be interesting. It sparked lots of conversation with my husband (always a nice thing whether or not the topic of discussion is marriage – but it’s especially nice when a book about marriage enables conversation with your spouse.) There was other information that is applicable even if you reject the pervasive belief that egalitarianism is the best model for marriage (for instance, did you know that couples with MORE conflict tend to have stronger marriages? It’s really in how conflict is brought up and managed that makes the difference.)

I don’t think this is a great book to read if you feel like your marriage is in trouble. It’s not terribly practical in that regard. I also don’t think it quite succeeds at the subtitle’s aim of discussing “the science of a good marriage” (given its failure to look any deeper at the most stable model of marriage – the two paragraphs above are literally ALL that is said about traditional marriage.) But if you’re like me, in a happy and functional marriage and eager to continue learning and growing within that marriage, I think this could still be beneficial (or at least interesting).

Rating: 3 stars
Category: Marriage
Synopsis: Attempts to discuss what the science says about successful marriages (that don’t end in divorce), but without really regarding a traditional marriage as a viable option (and therefore leaving out an entire area of inquiry that seems rather important to this reader.)
Recommendation: Interesting information, probably not helpful for a struggling marriage.