It’s Just One Christmas

This year my family’s holiday celebrations are low key, low effort, and carried out with even lower expectations. You could call it a lazy Christmas, a minimalist approach, or a scaled-back yuletide season.

I am calling it survival, and I’m one hundred percent, guilt-free, okay with it.

The festivities we skip, the traditions (only a few years old anyway) that fall by the wayside, the days we are decidedly not merry  … they are all just days, and it’s only this one, decidedly busy, Christmas.

Being 99 weeks pregnant with our third baby, I have to let a lot of things go. Like, most issues of daily life, and every single extra thing that comes up. My energy is intensely prioritized: actual trauma; basic necessities; remembering how to form sentences and when to pick up my 4 year old from preschool; and then celebrating Christmas. On a separate list, there’s prep for baby number three (if you could really call a box of diapers, a car seat, and a clean outfit hanging around somewhere “prep”), plans for where everyone else will be, and some things resembling food stashed away in the pantry and freezer.

Completely maxed out. Sorry Christmas, but it’s just this one year.

Chances are slim that we will get pictures with Santa in matching outfits, if we even make it to see him. With our non-existent budget, there are fewer decorations, fewer outings, and not a single holiday party (family gatherings aside).  Our (let’s face it) super fussy kids, have caused us to happily abandon many festive plans because they are JUST NOT WORTH IT.

I even have to skip my favorite tradition: an annual cookie baking extravaganza, followed by delivery of treats to friends and neighbors. But hey – we made some 2-minute-fudge yesterday, and cookies from a mix. My little bakers, whose hearts and sugar obsessed bellies are full, got in their messy mixing and used way too many sprinkles. (Although … if anyone wants to supplement our holiday cookie fix, we don’t turn down donations.)

And it’s all good – really. It’s just one Christmas.

What we have found so far, with a couple weeks left, are a few simple joys.

Since I spend a great deal of time coaxing the kids to let me sit and put my feet up these days, we’ve cuddled on the couch with our favorite Christmas books and movies over and over (and over).

The kids have spent whole days in Santa jammies, listening to holiday music, and making simple construction paper chains (in lieu of Pinterest style daily crafts).

We’ve made special trips out to buy simple gifts for each other, and made inexpensive and low effort homemade gifts.

Energy, time, money and patience have been spent on a few things we can’t live without. The kids require all things possible relating to the Grinch – movies, books, songs, and holiday shirts. I don’t have an ounce of merriment without hanging up my mom’s 12 Days of Christmas decoration and watching our shared favorite movie: Christmas in Connecticut. Kevin cannot go without a tree or hanging lights along the eaves of our cozy home. And Penny doesn’t get into the holiday spirit without stealing a stick of butter from the counter, left out from making (human) treats. All of those bases have been covered, and there’s still some time to spare.

It’s a simple year, all we can manage, and I am surprisingly okay with it. In the grand scheme of family life, it really is just one single Christmas.

Happy holidays to all my friends and readers out there – however much or little you are celebrating! More from this human after the New Year, or when I come up for air after labor and newborn number three.

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39 weeks. I exist like this all day, and yet I don’t see how it is humanly possible …

Why I Teach my Kids That the Most Important Thing to be is KIND

As per usual, leaving the children’s museum after a morning of fun has become a struggle and a half. Tears over the things we did not do on this trip. Tantrums over wet pants (despite reminders that playing in the water is both against the rules and, as evidenced, leads to wet pants). Full body, pregnancy aches and pains. The kids and I are tired, hungry, and over stimulated, but we make it to the parking lot via patience and promises of skittles.

A young mom approaches; her stress shows in the sweaty gleam of her makeup and the exasperated movement of swinging a toddler held for too long from one hip to the other.

“Excuse me, but do you happen to have jumper cables? My battery’s dead and we’re stuck.” I can hear in her voice that I am not the first person she has asked. Over her shoulder I see an SUV with the hood popped, a few cars down from my own. I flash from fuck, I really just need to get out of here to I would be so pissed if that were my hood up and my panic brewing.

“Yeah, I do. Let me just get my kids changed and in my car real quick.” She looks relieved and a little guilty (which she should not be) as she apologizes, noting that I obviously have my hands full. I tell her I do, but it sucks that she’s stuck and it’s really no problem to help out.

I can feel four little eyes and four little ears – all attached to the humans I created and am raising to be civilized – at attention for this exchange. As they stand in the back of our car, waiting for dry clothes and treats, I ask: “What’s the most important thing to be?” The response is quick from both: “KIND.” No further explanation is needed – they get it. Stalling our day briefly to help a stranger in need takes priority over our slight levels of discomfort.

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Why do I teach my kids to be kind, above anything else?

To counteract all the ugliness around us. In this shitstorm of a society filled with hatred, horror, and division, the only way to fight back is to create a little army of humans who will do better someday.

My kids need to be decent to each other, to their parents, to our dog, and to an overwhelming number of people with whom they must coexist daily. At 2 and 4, they are vastly selfish and need every possible bit of practice in kindness.

As they grow and form relationships, they should expect the same treatment from others. Accepting that this two-way street is mandatory will be a lot easier if they’re already following protocol in their own lanes.

It doesn’t cost or hurt anything. Seriously. 90% of the time, being kind takes absolutely nothing away from us.

The lesson reminds me to dish out compassion throughout my own day. I’m grumpy, and I don’t always like people. I go from neutral to irritated in seconds flat, and have to work hard to have a filter when I do. So I guess, at 38, I still need the practice too.

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The most important thing to be is kind. No day is left lacking in opportunities for this reminder.

When one of them is cooling off from hitting the other, of course, but also when one is basking in a compliment, a toy shared, or some other act of sibling sweetness.

When we bring dinner to friends, or when friends bring us dinner.

When we see a man sleeping outside and talk about how not everyone has a place to sleep, how a smile is better than a stare, how much we have come to like a particular homeless couple who we visit regularly with homemade lunches. Kind is the most important thing to be to all humans, no matter how different they may seem.

When someone holds a door open for us, remarks on a kid’s cuteness, moves their grocery cart to let us pass, or picks up one of the thousands of things that I drop and can’t reach – all small acts that could go unmentioned. Of course I model by saying thank you, but I also work to tell my kids explicitly “wasn’t that so kind?” or “that kindness made me feel good.”

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As an adult, I understand the complexities and nuances of life within a society. We often have to balance our idealistic qualities for protection. At some point, a person or situation may prove that our kindness has been exhausted and abused. It is possible for more than one thing to be the most important way to be. I want my kids (and myself) to strive for happiness, health, empathy, intellect, and success. But those all follow kindness, and my 2 and 4 year olds need to get that one down first.

So when an out of the ordinary circumstance – like someone asking for help with car trouble – presents itself, we choose compassion over convenience. That afternoon, on the way home from the museum, our conversation takes great turns. We talk about how it would feel to need help from a stranger – how it may be hard to ask, and feel upsetting to not know what to do. We talk about how it felt to stay calm and patient for long enough to figure out how to use jumper cables (or sit in the car quietly during the process, at least). We talk about how it feels when a little kindness gets us out of a jam. We talk about how car batteries and engines work. For the last ten minutes of the drive, we listen to my son lose his mind screaming and crying, because it’s long past nap time. But the example of how to be a decent human is still more important.

My myriad of hopes and dreams for my kids, of course, doesn’t end at kindness, but it starts there. And so I drill it into their little minds:

“What’s the most important thing to be?”

“Kind.”

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Fallish

The change in season is palpable from my chair in the front yard. The heat of late summer is (mostly) behind us, the endlessly lit evenings have passed, and daylight savings ends in a few short weeks. Fall is here, and my whole body relaxes into it, while the kids soak up the last of the sunny, late afternoons.

It is still warm enough that the kids are in tee shirts. Owen is practicing soccer: kicking the ball into the goal, rolling it back and forth under his five inch foot, and throwing it up as high as he can into the sky (“Now clap!”). That last move may not be part of the World Cup practice drills, but it is helping to release his restless energy.

Addie looks wild, in unicorn pants that would stay up better if not for the too small, star “leg warmers” bunched around her ankles. We have yet another talk about the leg warmers (which are sized for babies but have been unsuccessfully removed from her drawer countless times since she, in fact, stopped being a baby). I remind her how tight they are, that we should find her new leg warmers and pass those down to baby sister. The kid fears change though, so a meltdown begins, and I let it go again. Who has the energy to provoke a preschooler at five pm? It’s never worth it.

I sip on iced tea (one of the few beverages that doesn’t give me debilitating heartburn), but in a month or less it will be replaced by a hot beverage. A little warmth of the day lingers in the air. Not the blazing summer heat but a gentle glow that never gets oppressive, loses its luster in the slightest of shade or breeze, and dies out with sunset. I breathe in the mild air and sigh it out of my cramped-by-baby lungs.

The kids start a new project: something involving piles of wood and gravel leftover from the summer’s yard remodel. I sit in a broken glider chair, recently relocated outside to make room for its replacement. I find it hard to let go of this chair – a gift from my grandmother during my first pregnancy. I nursed each of my babies in it (the spit up stains deep in the crevices serve as a reminder). In the last year, they have flung it wildly backward to the point where it no longer sits straight, and bent an arm so far to the side that it’s roomy enough for us all now. The glide has been replaced by broken clunks, and the footstool died months ago. Not everything can last through all three babies, I guess, but I’ll cling to this one until the rains hit.

Rousing myself from memories, I realize evening is almost upon us and this late afternoon peace is fading. The light shifts to an impending sunset. The breeze picks up to a cool, fall pace. The kids shift into witching hour mode and there are all the fires to put out: fights over bubbles, dog toys, chalk, and space. Issues over a bike not to ride on the new lawn, a piece of wood unsafe to fling around in battle, and flowers not to be picked, push us toward the warm living room. I have skinned knees to kiss, dinner in the oven to check, big feelings and problems to talk through, and I need to pee (obviously).

The moment was nice to savor, though – taking notice of fall finally feeling like it. Some days are so full of heavy, serious issues. Busy, mundane weeks can fly by without the time to contemplate the way I feel about anything, in any moment. I often have no energy for reflection, passing out from exhaustion the second the kids fall asleep.

Amidst all the hustle and bustle, the focus on kids, pregnancy, and the daily grind, I’ll take a little gratitude in something so simple as the time passing into my favorite season.

 

 

The Only Things to Hold Onto at the End of the Day

Friday afternoon, 4 pm, at my house is predictably chaotic. This has been a particularly brutal week, and it’s still a long-ass time until dinner. It is my last day of babysitting, and Addie has just gotten home from school, so everyone is underfoot. One kid is overtired and on day five of the constant unhappiness in the life of a four year old (“I don’t like how my life has turned out!”). The other kid, lacking in physical activity for the day, is running wild laps and jumping off the couch (standard issue two year old crazies). I am getting worn out from the baby’s game of pulling up to stand on my legs, swaying unsteadily with wild eyes and arms for 1-2 minutes, and then crashing into my massively pregnant belly, laughing like a tiny psycho. Addie and Owen are making up for the time they spent apart by cramming all of the screaming and hitting they can into each second.

I am suddenly saved by my handsome husband getting home from work. He is exhausted –meetings and back to school night this week have left him fried. Maybe it’s because of this that Owen quickly talks him into a scooter ride. With the dog.

So that’s one tiny human and a dog occupied, out of my line of sight.

My little sprite, Addie, needs some downtime to unwind from the work of preschool and gear up for the evening (including having family friends over for a pizza party). I toss out my first suggestion for a quiet activity, bracing for the usual battle: me offering six to ten choices, her screaming at the ludicrousness of each one, and then an argument in which she says “I never have anything to do. Life is so boring.” and I say “We can throw out all the toys then! You can just sit in silence.”

This day, though, the occasionally reasonable side she has developed since turning four kicks in, and the fight never happens. I say “Sweetie, why don’t you take some time to relax in your room. Please go sit down quietly and read all of your new library books.” She says (drumroll please) “Okay Mommy”. What just happened? Never mind, don’t question it.

And then she does it; she walks into her room without whining, growling, or stomping, and is silent (save for a little rustling of paper).

That makes two small people, and the dog, out of my personal space.

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Jacob gets a bottle and a snuggle. I get as deep of a breath as the baby pushing on my diaphragm from the inside will allow. We may survive the witching hour.

My amazing little book lover stays in her room quietly for a full twenty minutes. She emerges with calm, renewed energy that shows in her smile and lack of screaming or flailing. She sits next to me on the floor and hugs Jacob, asking again “Is this our last day babysitting? Will we still get to see him?” Yes it is, but of course we will. Answers which previously caused her to melt down in tears and anger make her hug him a little tighter, telling him what a sweet and clever baby he is.

I ask how quiet reading time was and she says (I don’t even need to embellish here – I swear – because the phrases are now engrained in my memory forever): “Mommy, there are two books that you picked that we read before, and I love them so much. Thank you Mommy, for picking such good books. You’re the best Mommy.”

It’s a fleeting moment of peace, wrapped in a feeling of relief, and rolled into a four year old who is turning out to be more perfect all the time.

I offer to read her the two she loves so much, and she leaps at the chance. She snuggles next to me on the floor, with her funny way of wrapping her little arm around my shoulders, as though she is the adult. We read Poppleton in Fall, and PJ FunnyBunny Camps Out. Jacob starts his wild standing and flopping game again, and we laugh. The guys and the pup get home.

Chaos resumes and grows as our friends arrive. The house is full of wild kid noises, pizza and countless interrupted adult conversations until the evening ends and we ruin the tiny humans’ lives by making them say goodbye to each other. Kevin and I have a quick bedtime strategy conference: definitely no baths, just wipe them down; which one do you want?; what kind of bribe can we offer for cooperation?  We do the bare minimum, roll them into bed, make the rare decision to leave the house messy, and drag our tired old selves to the TV.

These are the things (the only things) to hold onto from today. The beauty in all that chaos; the fact that we survived another week; that calm moment when I soaked in my girl with pride; the last day with Jacob going smoothly and culminating in a perfectly crazy dinner with both of our families; the quiet after the storm and the short chunk of time with my husband before another wild day begins.

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Rylant, Cynthis. Poppleton in Fall. The Blue Sky Press, 1999.

Sadler, Marilyn. P.J. Funnybunny Camps Out. Random House, 1993.

Growing Veggies and Humans

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When I planted my garden this year I didn’t know I would spend gardening season pregnant. Had I known this, I would have skipped it (growing the vegetables, not the human) and what a big mistake that would have been.

It doesn’t always sound appealing – in the heat, when my back is achy and my kids are underfoot – to go tend to the plants. The otherwise minor tasks of trimming zucchini leaves, tying back heavy tomatoes branches, and watering are all more difficult each day, as I get bigger and more exhausted.

I don’t always want to stand in the kitchen – literally barefoot and pregnant – finding ways to cook, store, and preserve the garden bounty.

My already short patience is aggravated by keeping the dog from digging in the dirt (coming up brown-faced, feigning innocence) and reminding Owen not to pick the unripe tomatoes.

It has proven more than worth it, though. With low memory function these days, I often don’t have a vegetable to go with dinner; we’re lucky we eat at all some days. It’s a relief to walk out my back door and grab tomatoes, cucumber, and zucchini. I forget during the winter that the difference between store bought and homegrown vegetables is out of this world.

The kids like to help: Owen with watering, Addie with cooking, and both with picking and eating. The whole experience is grounding (pun intended) for all of us. It helps my visual little humans to wrap their minds around where food comes from, when they see it go from the earth to the kitchen table, and into their mouths. Owen loves to talk about where things come from (luckily he hasn’t started on babies yet). Each night at dinner it’s: “From grocery store? From farmers market? From Costco?” I love telling him “Nope, this one is straight from our garden. We grew it!”

Addie has become a pro vegetable chopper in the last two months. Cooking projects give her the same flow and focus they give me. With her little nylon knife and her scrunched in, grumpy-looking serious face, she is content to zone out on zucchini rounds. It kills a bunch of birds with one activity: quality time together, skill practice, something to do while I’m cooking, and maximum cuteness.

The first sauce making day of the year was the big payoff from the work of the garden, both in process and product. Lugging in pounds of tomatoes over a few days, watching them get dark and ripe on the kitchen counter, and gathering ingredients and jars kept me motivated. The Instant Pot made it possible to cook a big batch in one morning.* This is the second year I’ve made it this way, so I dove in with confidence.

Addie, ever the helper, tied on her apron and supervised each step. This was a tough project to let her help with, since so much of it is done over heat and with sharp knives. But there was zucchini to chop, veggies to wash, basil leaves to put in the bottom of each jar, and lots of tasting along the way. Her favorite part was learning to use the immersion blender. She was afraid to hold it, but watched and whispered “immersion blender … is it smooth yet?” the whole time.

The sunny kitchen was a sensory carnival – from cooking smells, prepping sounds, and bright natural colors, to the tomato juice dripping down my arms. Even the air was relaxing: the hot steam released from the pressure cooker dissipating in the breeze from my greenhouse window.

All in all, the sauce was such a satisfying project, from start to finish. I shared my daughter’s zen feeling from chopping. I shared my husband’s love of the aroma of onions sautéing in olive oil. I shared my son’s love of all foods brightly colored and messy. I shared half the population’s amazement at the Instant Pot.

Watching my children in the garden and kitchen this year has made it worthwhile, even though some days the thought of either environment wears me out. I hope they form healthy relationships to food and earth and life. And maybe eating raw, freshly picked cucumbers every day will balance some mom guilt over ALL THE CAKE we seem to eat too.

* https://www.hippressurecooking.com/large-batch-tomato-sauce-pressure-cook-6-pounds-at-once/

Round 3: Just One More Baby

My recent 20-week ultrasound, for this third pregnancy, was quite different than for the other two. The first time I counted down the days, triple checking where to go, what to do, and that Kevin had the day off. I had no idea what to expect, and then the concept of new lives – my daughter’s and mine as a mother – solidified into reality when I saw her tiny body growing.

During my second pregnancy, we left the flailing 15-month old at home for the big ultrasound, but talked more about her than about the new life we saw on the grainy screen (oh, second babies). I was more aware of potential problems, and my anxiety was at a new and treacherous peak, so all I cared to see was that my son was healthy.

To ultrasound round three, we brought the whole four person family fiasco. The lab room is not large, the equipment is not indestructible, and my kids are (many good things but) not well behaved. It could have gone two ways: meltdown disasters or heartwarming sweetness. It was somewhere in between and perfect.

Addie was fascinated by the blue “goo” on my stomach (“Is it sticky? Can I touch it? I want to eat it!”). Owen, already used to going to checkups with me, settled right in and snuggled. He asked all morning “We go to doctor appointment? At Kaiser? See baby sister?” Kevin wrangled both of them, no one fussed too much, and I was relieved to see my healthy 3rd baby squirming.

I hoped it would make the idea of our family growing a little more real to the kids. Who knows if that happened, but they were excited and involved. They know that we are in this together, as a family, as we prepare for her arrival.

Ultrasound Snuggles

Not so long ago, after careful deliberation on the matter, Kevin and I were solidly done having babies. Turns out we were wrong, obviously. I blame this blog post: No More Babies. The natural law of parenting is that once you proclaim the way things are, they instantly change. Doubly true for announcing it on the internet.

Wherever the blame belongs (with Kevin, my super cute part-time third baby, or my bold public announcement) the new reality is pregnancy and planning.

The first round, pregnant with Addie, I was both plagued and relieved by the unknown of it all. With no images of what daily life would look like, no anticipations of the challenges, I was also blissfully unaware that crossing the line from no kids to kids would be a permanent shift in every fiber of my being. I was unencumbered by dreams of false perfection or preconceived notions of how things should be, and had no prior mistakes upon which to improve.

I started out by accepting less control over life and was forced to live in the vast unknown for nine or so months. It turned out to be great preparation for parenting; damn, this business is unpredictable. The only constants are change, chaos, and a love so heavy it shatters and puts you back together every day.

Round two, pregnant with Owen, I had a better sense of how much a new human changes everything, which was a source of grave anxiety. I spent those nine months anticipating every challenge from the first time reoccurring. I was prepared for an early baby with jaundice and months of extra concern over growth charts and milestones. I was braced for the spit-up, the sleepless nights, the unexplained crying, and the total lack of personal space and time. I dreaded postpartum anxiety and the anguishing recovery from giving birth.  Knowing that babies are 24-7 curveballs, I figured we were in for a whole heap of new issues too. I felt doomed.

I doubted my ability to handle it all – the moment to moment, day to day, around the clock, work of parenting two under two. What would I do when both babies were crying, sick, or clingy?  

More than anything, I worried for Addie. I did not yet appreciate the resilience of kids to change. My heart broke every time I imagined having to put off soothing her to tend to the needs of some stranger baby.

I took comfort in the overwhelming, automatic, primal love that I felt for my baby boy.

I took comfort in knowing that, even if Addie’s life was temporarily destroyed, she would get a sibling out of the deal – a lifelong companion, a little buddy to boss around.

I took comfort in her being so young that she would never remember life without him.

Everything (and everyone) is different this third round – from the group appointment to the ultrasound photos tossed haphazardly on the coffee table, instead of on the fridge or placed carefully into a baby book.

This round, I make no assumptions about her personality, our challenges, or the kids’ reactions.

This round, I am not focused on every little pregnancy symptom – I have no time to do that.

This round, I have less concern for the logistics; I pretty much know where she will sleep, and I have a car seat for her – that seems good enough for now.

Baby #3 will find her place in our home, our family, and our hearts. I know now that all of those areas of life stretch and multiply to make room for more love.

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38

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37 … 38

38 years old … What does this feel like? Is it the same as 37, as 36? It should be, but instead it feels like a long stride closer to 40. 38 is the difference between picturing my 40’s as a blurry time in the future, and realizing that it will just be another year, then another.

When I was a kid, my grandma claimed for a few years in a row – with her unique and baffling tone of kidding, but really was she? – that she was turning 38. I remember knowing it was a joke, but not quite getting it. It does seem like a good place to stop.

In my memories, she – eerily and eternally young – could have been 38 all those years. To my brother, cousins, and me, in our little kid days, she gave a plethora of her time.. She owned a huge part of our weekends, holidays, summer breaks, and the joyful spaces in our hearts. Technically 38 or not, the memory is my standard for the energy and dedication of the age.

Clearly, I am in a different place than my grandmother, who was packing seven grandchildren in the Suburban for a day trip to Marine World. 38, for me, is growing a third human while chasing the first two (as depicted in the family portrait birthday card, by Addie my artist, below).

 

How about my mom at 38? That would have been 1992 and right in the middle of her new lease on life and passion as a teacher. Like everything else, I failed to note how inspiring her drive to start a career late in life was. I try to imagine now how she managed to go to college, get her credential, and start teaching when my brother and I were elementary school brats.

I would be tempted to derail at every station of that nonsense. Not Sandi, though. At 38, she would have been in her first few years of that madness and – if memory serves – loving it all.

Oh the irony that my plan is basically the same. At 38, I’m not exactly marking off days on the calendar until I can go back to a life that isn’t overwhelmed by tantrums, needs, nagging, and carseats, but I do have a countdown to it in mind. (Obviously, Baby #3 is pushing back that timeline.)

My mom’s 38th was also one of the first years when we clashed over each wanting to be the sole epitome of the grunge movement. We fought over being the most disaffected, multiple pairs of Doc Martens and jars of Manic Panic, and loving Pearl Jam the most (she won that last one hands down).

We both wanted independence during these years, while somehow retaining our mommy and daughterness. I can feel that, now that I am on the mommy side of the equation. Addie and I are years off from clashing our teenage and middle age angsts, but I have a taste of my mom’s perspective now.

So how do I feel then, if not the same as 37, but not different? If not like my mother or grandmother (in her real or faux 38th years), but not totally unlike them? What is 38 to me, if I’m not unsettled with my daily grind, nor perfectly satisfied with my place in the world?

I have no concrete answers to those existential questions – not yet nor maybe ever. 38 is peachy keen so far, despite feeling older and slower all day every day (which could be my symptomatic of my geriatric pregnancy). 38 feels fine; maybe it will get good enough that I too stay here for a few years.

Birthday Present
Gifts at 38, from my husband: paintings by my favorite local artist (more on him in a future post).