A lullaby for the soul

Sitting in the rocking chair, holding little Asa. I trace the outline of his sleeping face, stroke his cheek and unwind from the day. A pang of sorrow for the pregnancy so recently lost and overwhelming thankfulness for the warmth of his cheek against my chest.

It is good to have a few moments to reflect. To cherish what is and miss what isn’t so it doesn’t get buried too deep.

Micah walks in and I’m annoyed. I don’t want to be disturbed from this moment. From this moment of bittersweet melancholy mixed with joy that seems to make up motherhood whenever I slow down enough to notice. And he’s supposed to be in bed.

“What do you need, sweetheart,” I try not to sound too annoyed.

“Me made up a song. Me want you to sing it.”

I just want to tell him to go back to bed. I don’t know what game this is that he’s playing with his bedtime, now, but I’m not in the mood. Still, there’s that twinkle in his eye like a child on Christmas morning so I try my best to set aside my irritation.

“How can I sing a song you made up in your head? I don’t even know the words?”

“Ok, me sing it.”

And he begins singing his lullaby in his sweet little voice to the tune of Jesus Loves Me.

Rock your baby back and forth,
If him falls then pick him up,
Nurse him nurse him ’til him full,
Love him love him, and kiss him cheek.

I smile. “I like that song,” I tell him. “That’s a very special lullaby and a very special gift.”

And I love how his eyes get that same twinkle every time he hears me sing his lullaby to little Asa. His gift to my soul.

I had a miscarriage

A week before Christmas, we got quite the surprise. We found out we were pregnant again. It wasn’t planned. I was pretty sure little Asaroo was our last. But every life is a gift and I cherished the thought of the little surprise growing within me.

We talked about our little surprise, our little secret. And the kids just thought we were teasing them about their Christmas presents. But Christmas is a busy time of year and I really didn’t have time to think about it that much. A little tinge of nausea would remind me. I would smile and would it would pass.

For one whole week, I harbored a special little secret. And then it was gone.

When the bleeding first started, I was only a little concerned. It was just a little spotting, really. The second day there was nothing. I was actually told I was having a miscarriage in the ER with my first child in London based on the amount of blood and she’s 17 now. I know that a little blood doesn’t always mean the worst.

But as I waited for my appointment with the nurse, the spotting turned to bleeding, turned to heavy bleeding with clotting. And in the middle of the night, I started to wonder at exactly what point I should go to the ER. I was past the recommendations of the nurse, but it was the middle of the night. I didn’t want to wake the children up and scare them.

So I decided to wait and see if it got worse or better or if anything changed at all. And all the while there was no pain. No cramping. No aches of any kind. At first, I was thankful for that. And then it didn’t seem quite right that a life could pass from this world so quietly and with so little struggle.

In the morning, I was told what I already expected to hear. My hcg levels were actually where they were expected to be, but my progesterone was at 1.3. “Early miscarriage. Come back in two days.”

Now, she wasn’t as callous as that. She was actually quite a nice nurse. But that’s what my soul heard as I hung up the phone.

The waves of nausea started getting worse. What was just a tinge here and there before Christmas was beginning to take over the day. I got a package of snack sticks from the hog we recently had slaughtered because eating helped calm it. I felt more pregnant than I did before the miscarriage.

The return visit to the nurse wasn’t a whole lot of help. My numbers actually came up. “It can take awhile for your body to catch up with what is happening in your uterus. The morning sickness can last several days until the hormone levels start dropping.”

I knew that. In my head, anyway. The rest of me still felt pregnant. First the nausea and now I had to use the restroom. For the second time since arriving at the office.

Thirteen days after the first spot of blood, the bleeding finally stopped. But the nausea remained. No longer a reminder of life, however, it now seems like a cruel joke, dragging this on until I find out whether or not a D&C is needed or if the miscarriage completed on its own.

And as short as its little life was, my baby decided not to pass quite so quietly after all.

Last minute card/gift idea to make with your little ones

Do you need a last minute Christmas craft or card idea? I happen to think these are the cutest little cards ever, probably mostly because they’re my two year old’s hand prints, but it was still a lot of fun and totally worth the mess.

So have yourself a “monkey” little Christmas . . .

and a Happy Narwahl!

Ok, so the narwahl looks a bit more like a bird, but you have to be a bit flexible with handprint art.

This actually came from an alphabet book we’re working on.

An idea we “borrowed” from the Red Ted Art blog which is like the best blog to follow if you have preschoolers. She does everything I wish I did. And I blame her for all the half finished projects we’ve started because I get all inspired, but my follow through isn’t all that great.

So anyway, “M” was for monkey and “N” was for narwahl. And that was all we needed to decide little handprint Christmas cards would be The. Cutest. Thing. Ever.

And then you can wish everyone A very monkey Christmas . . . and a Happy Narwahl!

And have this song stuck in your head for the rest of the season:

We wish you a monkey Christmas
We wish you a monkey Christmas
We wish you a monkey Christmas and a Happy Narwahl!

Good tidings we bring
To you and your zoo
Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy Narwahl!

The steps are pretty obvious, but here they are, anyway.

1. Gather supplies. You’ll need brown paint, blue paint, white paint, a paint brush, blank cards or card stock and diaper wipes (the best cleaning supply ever).

2. Write “Have a very monkey Christmas” on the front of the card and “and a Happy Narwahl” on the inside.

3. Turn the card upside down to do the monkey. Older children will try to turn it right side up again so make sure you pay attention. Otherwise you get upside down monkeys. We have a lot of upside down elephants in our alphabet book for this reason.

4. Paint your child’s hand brown, encourage them to splay their fingers, and splat it down on the card, pressing firmly. Then a little paint on the finger should make a wiggly tail. Glue on googlie eyes and you’re done. Or you can get some green paint and let them make fingerprint leaves all over the outside of the card because paint is cool and why stop now?

5. The narwahl is a little more involved. Turn the card on its side. If you’re using the left hand, the bottom of the card should be on the left side.

6. Paint the thumb half of the hand blue (minus the thumb). Paint the other half white.

7. Encourage your child to squeeze their fingers together and press firmly on the page.

8. Paint a little stripe for the narwahl’s tusk and add googlie eyes.

9. You can be done here or let them cover the page with fingerprint water drops, because painting is fun and why stop now?

Also, watch out for the two year olds. After doing these, I held Asa’s little hand while I got a diaper wipe to clean his hands. But he REALLY wanted to see what that paint felt like on his face. So while I was occupied trying to free a wipey, he smooshed his face into his hand and rubbed paint all over his face. He was an adorable mess and I totally would have taken a picture except for the the fact that half my front room would have been painted by the time I got a picture.

And it really doesn’t take that long and makes a super cute last minute craft to occupy excited little ones or make some cute handprint Christmas greetings for someone special on your list!

How I almost set my house on fire. And then walked out the door.

So, I guess it was just one of those nights. I mean, it’s not every night you set your house on fire on your way out the door. And almost don’t even notice.

It started with a toddler temper tantrum. And a frantic search for shoes because it was time to go and no one had any. And all the other typical little kid things that put me in a rushed frame of mind as I’m trying to leave the house.

And then I did it. See, we keep our keys and wallets in a little basket on top of the desk along with whatever other odds and ends get dropped in it now and again. It’s a good place to go for loose change. And it’s a good place to drop things I’ve taken from the baby that he shouldn’t have. So as we were on our way out the door, I grabbed the basket, took out my wallet and put the basket back on the desk.

It’s these little things you do every day that you just don’t think about. Little risks you take without a second thought. Little things that could lead to you stepping right out the door as your desk becomes engulfed in flames.

So anyway, then I turn to open the door and I smell smoke. I think, “Well, duh. We heat with wood.” But it just wasn’t quite right. It didn’t smell like smoldering wood smoke. It smelled like a freshly lit match and that first burst of warmth smell you get when you set a bunch of papers on fire on top of the wood in the stove.

This is the moment where the rush and the distraction could have led to me going right out the door.

But instead, I hesitated.

And I turned around, thinking it was all very odd. And suddenly became aware that there were flames shooting out of the basket I had just taken my wallet out of!

Fortunately, it was contained to a couple of papers sitting in the basket and all I had to do was pick them up, blow them out and toss them in the stove for good measure. And then stand there staring in what seemed like a perfectly harmless basket just moments before. Because normal baskets don’t just burst into flames when you take wallets out of them.

Then I saw it. A wee little burnt match wedged in the basket. Somehow, it had fallen out of a box of matches and taking the basket down and putting it back up on the desk was just enough to get it to strike. And set my papers on fire.

And had I just pulled the door closed behind me instead of turning around, it could have grown to take the basket, the papers around it, the desk and the whole house.

All because I grabbed my wallet as I rushed my children out the door.

Milestones in life and in grief

“He’s so cute. How old is he?”

“18 months. About. I think.”

I hesitate, but suddenly I don’t know. It seems like he’s been 18 months forever. I make a joke.

“With my oldest, I knew to the day. After seven, I know he’s one. And when he’ll be two. But I have to work out the months.”

And we laugh and the conversation goes on. But somewhere in the recesses of my mind, it bothers me. He HAS been 18 months forever. Why does this month in particular seem so long?

In the morning, I take my seat on a bucket beside the cow to milk. Lately, I’ve been apathetic about the whole milking thing. I like the cows. I love the fresh milk. I love the fact that my daughter’s GI doctor used the word “pristine” to describe her recent lab results and is beginning to question whether the original diagnosis of ulcerative colitis is even accurate. And since there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence linking whole raw milk with the alleviation of gastrointestinal issues, you would think I would be more excited than ever about milking.

But I’m not. And it’s kind of weird. This is what we have worked for for so long. Through all the struggles getting started and all the frustration last year. I now have a trained milk cow. She knows what to do. I know what to do. Her calf knows what to do. And while I have never achieved that happy state of looking forward to these moments of relative peace and quiet while I’m alone in the barn, there is no stress involved in collecting our day’s milk.

So I rest my head against the side of the cow to reach her teats on the other side and it occurs to me that little Asa has been 18 months for an awfully long time. And for the first time since first having that thought, I start to do the math.

. . . in December he was 12 months . . . August is the 8th month . . . he should be 20 months . . .

And then it hits me. September 3, he’ll be 21 months. Tiggy was 21 months when he died.

These waves of grief seem to strike out of nowhere. Time doesn’t really weaken them. It just spaces them out more. Makes them more unpredictable. Makes them harder to talk about.

But next week, my little boy will be 21 months old. He’s a little bundle of energy, curiosity and joy. He brings so much joy . . . and fear. It sometimes makes it hard not to parent from that dark place that only sees 1,001 ways a child can die rather than the thrill of exploration and accomplishment. And I’m so thankful he’s a cuddler because right now, that’s all I really want to do, anyway.

Making marriage work

So apparently, a reddit user recently asked what makes a successful marriage. I thought that was easy.


It’s why every year, something takes out my garden, be it weather or weeds or my geese. Every year it is something, and yet every year I plant it again.

It’s why every year I start tomatoes and peppers from seeds and every year I end up going to the nursery to buy tomatoes and peppers because something happened, be it weather or negligence or my herbicidal cat. But every year, I try it again.

It’s why every year I lose chicks or ducklings or goslings to the fickleness of made-in-China heat lamps and cold spring weather, but every spring, I try it again.

And it’s why after over 18 years, I’m still married to the same man.

That and an ability to keep it all in perspective with a touch of humor to make it all worthwhie.

Like when our local nursery had sweet potatoes. Up until the very moment I found out, I had not considered planting sweet potatoes. I had actually decided that was a future maybe-if-I-ever-get-to-it project after my cow ate all I had planted the year before. And then I mistook the Japanese knotweed for a few survivors and dutifully nurtured and weeded my bed of knotweed until it was well-estabished and sent out its little runners into everything without producing a single sweet potato.

So anyway, we went down to buy sweet potatoes. They had like twenty each of two different varieties. I was inclined to take them all, because who can have too many sweet potatoes? My husband had to be all rational. Did I really need them? And I thought need? What’s need? What does anyone really need? At 79 cents a pound, sweet potatoes start looking pretty cheap at the end of a summer of weeding, especially when all you have to show for it is a bed of Japanese knotweed that the internet says you will never ever in a million years get rid of.

So no, I didn’t need it.

“What will you give up for it?”

There I was beaten. It’s hard to stake a potential harvest when my history with gardening is sketchy at best. So I relented and only bought 20 plants. And while I paid, he got to ride on their mower.


And I coud see in his eyes that gleam that says, “I want this. I must have this.” And it also says to me to run and hide the checkbook and the credit cards.

Instead, I decided to share some of his wisdom with him.

“What are you willing to give up for that?”

And you know what he said to me? This man who would begrudge me 20 sweet potato plants?

“Your hobbies.”

And there you have it.

What do you think makes a successful marriage?

An answer to prayer

I sit, holding Asa, watching him sleep. Mookie leans over to give him a kiss. I smile . . . then shudder.

For it occurs to me that this is how old Mookie was when his big brother died.

And I remember a moment a few days before that. I was sitting on the couch takinng off Mookie’s wallaby blanket in order to change his little diaper. The kids were running all over. Tiggy had a cold. The house was a mess. And I was overwhelmed.

I didn’t know how to get everything done, but mostly I was scared of getting pregnant again. I didn’t know how to take care of seven children. It didn’t make sense even then, but I remember praying for some help, some relief, some peace.

And on windy nights when I held a squirming Mookie too close through my tears I would think of that prayer and feel pangs of guilt. As if I had somehow asked for this because for one moment I was overcome by all the responsibilities before me. And it was hard to admit even to myself how much I wanted another child. And how difficult it was to go to the doctor and find out that the issues I was having didn’t really need treatment but would affect the likelihood of having another child. But I couldn’t really talk about that with anyone because who fights back tears over not being able to have a seventh child?

I knew my motives were mixed. I knew another child wouldn’t fill that hole Tiggy left. Nor would it take away an evening of feeling overwhelmed at the thought of a seventh. But feelings are what they are and mine longed for one more child to hold and to count and to raise.

And now here he is. Number seven. In my arms, asleep and showered with kisses by his big brother.

I lean over and whisper in his ear. “You are an answer to prayer, little Angel.” Because I want him to know that even as number seven, he wasn’t an accident. He wasn’t an after thought. He is our little “healer.” Our little reminder of “victory.” In Christ, over death and through new life.

The highs, lows and constancy of Christmas

And now . . . a guest post from my husband.

The First Christmas

My first Christmas memory comes before age six. The anticipation for myself and the other two foster children, they were to be adopted by the family, had been building for weeks. The tree was a beautiful dark green with sparkling lights, tinsel, ornaments and a sea of colorfully wrapped presents. The joy of running and laughing children couldn’t be contained that Christmas morning.

Wrapping flying with shouts and giggles at the revealing of each new gift. Soon the lights were turned off and the family moved on to other festivities leaving a solitary figure behind. Dawning upon this child was the fact that he had received nothing! Alone for hours this first Christmas memory would leave a lasting hurt.

Not Always So

The next Christmas memory came after my adoption. Beautiful tree, rows of gifts but no anticipation, no building excitement. The joy of running and laughing children couldn’t be contained that Christmas morning. Wrapping flying with shouts and giggles at the revealing of each new gift. The question on my lips, ‘is this really mine?’ Yes, my parents exclaimed, though I didn’t quite believe it. Astounded for such goodness had never come my way.

The Lost Christmas

Fast forward 30 or so years. For the first time in ages a Christmas tree stood in my home. The decorations slowly making their way to the top of the tree because of the busyness of a not yet two year old. Thirteen days before Christmas his little mischievous ways would be taken from us forever. That Christmas was shrouded in sorrow and barely celebrated. We were hanging on by threads.

The Best Christmas

One year later came the best Christmas. One carefully sought out gift for each child, scripture reading, hymns, good food and family. The height of the storm had passed and we could see clearly what Christmas actually symbolizes. The birth and fulfillment of hope leading us to….

The Constancy of Christmas

Christmas has much to teach. Firstly, the un-adopted son receives nothing, no good gift; while the adopted son receives many great and free gifts. The ability to, and the reason for overcoming the pain and suffering of our lives was once wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. Thirdly, whether a tree stands in your home or not; what is raised or taken down in the town square, Christ’s birth cannot not be overturned or quieted for it is truth. Fourthly, the greatest truth of all is that one cannot separate Christmas from Easter:

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord….Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…. (Luke 2:11; 1 Peter 1:3)”

Good tidings to all, and a Merry Christmas to you.

Nursing memories

3 AM. I sit on the corner of my bed, nursing my newborn baby boy. The moonlight reflecting off the snow casts just enough light to make out the outline of his cheek and the line of his little arm clasped tightly against his chest. I can tell his eyes are open, but all else is lost in the shadows of the night.

I want to remember these moments.

His breathy excitement as I get ready to nurse him.

The way his mouth opens in a perfect little oval and his whole head follows his lips as they search first to the right and then to the left, back and forth until he’s finally nursing.

The little fist he finds and latches onto while he kicks his little legs because he just can’t wait any longer.

The slow rhythmic suckling, with one arm held tight against his chest.

I look at him and memorize him, trying to hold this moment in my heart.

Three years ago, I sat in this very spot, nursing Micah and staring out the same window at the mini Coupe left on the side of the hill where Tiggy had last played with it.

I sat there and tried to remember nursing Tiggy. But in a busy family, nursing a baby happens by the wayside. It happens while half asleep in the wee hours of the morning. It happens while talking on the phone. It happens while reading to other children. It happens while going over school work. It happens while making grocery lists and menu plans.

But to remember, you have to let go of the busyness, clear your mind of the clutter of managing a household, and simply be there. In that moment. Letting everything else fall into the background.

Tiggy was number five. That didn’t happen very often.

And I also worried what my grief would do to Micah. How would he turn out, growing up in the shadow of his brother’s death?

Looking back, I am incredibly thankful for the gift we had in Micah. His name proved almost prophetic: Micah Jair, “Who is like God? He shines.” And he did shine in the darkness of those days. My thoughts may not have been on him as he nursed night after night. Sometimes, I held him too tightly so that he squirmed while I shook with wave after wave of tears. Sometimes, I held him loosely while my thoughts were distant and disattached. But when he cried, I had to step out of that cloud of grief enough to hold him and that was enough to go forward a little bit more each day.

But I had precious few days to hold him and rejoice in him because he was only six weeks old when his brother died.

And now I sit holding little Asa as I think on all these things. He lets go and begins to cry. I try to burp him. Change his diaper. Hold him against my shoulder. Try to rock him. Try to nurse him once again. Nothing is working. So I stretch him out before me so I can see his face by the light of the moon and sing bits and pieces of songs I’ve mostly forgotten, strung together with verses I make up as I go along.

Each moment is a treasure. And this, too, I want to remember.

A week with a new baby

On December 3, we welcomed a new blessing into our family: little Asa Cole.

I had been looking at name after name (after name), searching for something that meant “restore” or “healing” or maybe “hope.” Because that’s what I hoped for this new life due so close to the aniversary of Tiggy’s death. And we settled on Asa Cole before we even knew if he was a boy or a girl, with Asa meaning, “doctor, healer” and Cole meaning, “victory of the people.”

And his first week with us has been very full.

Full of siblings, begging to hold him.

Full of gazing into those beautiful eyes.

Full of night time cries from a baby who just wants to be held in his mommy’s arms.

Full of little kisses.

Full of the cautious snuggles of a toddler who wants to be close, but is a little afraid to touch him.

Full of questions about how Tiggy still fits into our family. And the heartwarming revelation of a small child.

And full of his tiny footprints across all of our hearts.

Welcome to our family, little Asa.