Best. Day. Ever.

I don’t even have words. Just photos.

Our amazing photographer Katrina Graham of Katrina Graham Photography send us 671 of the most amazing photos I’ve ever seen. I’d love to upload all of them, but I tried to narrow it down. I ended up with 45. It’s the best I could do.

A few of the Basics
Dress: David’s Bridal
Band: Morton Music Group
Cake: My sister-in-law, Maggie
Flowers: Weaver’s Cut Flowers
Catering: Mission BBQ
Location: Jubilee Farm & Vineyard
Hair & Makeup: Jean & Jo Hair

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The Holt Family + 1

We have an announcement!

J and I love our family. We have three wonderful boys and one lovely doggie. Our home is full of so much love that we felt we were bursting a little at the seams. What to do?!

Add one more to the mix, of course.

Meet our new addition:

Amos Obadiah Holt

Amos comes to us from the Humane Society. So far he likes belly rubs, his new bed, and only sort of knows his name. He does not enjoy sharing his bone and is still getting used to his big brother, Blackjack.

Another boy in my house. Great.

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Honeymooners Pt 2 | Get On the Train

Our honeymoon had a rather inauspicious start inasmuch as we could. not. get. on. a. plane. J and I traveled Space-A, which is to say, Space Available military flights. The benefits of this type of travel are that 1) it’s basically free, 2) flights run almost every day, and 3) flights go to a variety of destinations. Sweet perk of military life, right?

The downside is that it’s Space Available, which means 1) you aren’t guaranteed a seat or a flight at all 2) flights are first-come first-served, and 3) a variety of destinations means that you might not get a flight that’s going where you want to go.

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It pays to be flexible.

J and I headed out on a Saturday afternoon in mid-July, full of excitement and promise and a little loopy as he had just returned from an overseas business trip and wasn’t quite rested up yet. We drove to Dover AFB in Delaware. A flight was leaving Dover that night and headed to Ramstein AFB in Germany. Our backup plan was the two flights headed to Germany the next day and a room at the Air Force Inn on base.

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As we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the plan started heading south. The Saturday flight was cancelled. By the next morning, one of the Sunday flights had been cancelled and the other had a mere 9 available seats. Still, we trudged to the Passenger Terminal with hope in our hearts and a deck of cards in our hands and sat for 6 hours to find out that we hadn’t made the cut. After one more night in DE, we drove three hours to McGuire AFB in New Jersey. No flights were scheduled for Monday, but TWO flights were set to leave on Tuesday.

Day four: success! Our flight was a Boeing C-17, a huge cargo plane with jump seats built into the outer walls. We were among the 14 people selected for this flight, which left Tuesday evening and arrived, let’s see…6:30 pm departure + 8 hr flight + 6 hr time change = 8:30 am arrival.

We’d decided to lean into the travel day and get to our first destination, Luxembourg City, no matter what. It actually helped that we arrived early in the morning, as it gave us a lot of time to fight with the German train system.

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Our first stop was (of course) Starbucks where I ordered the largest coffee I could think of and tapped into the free wi-fi to update my bearings and the time on my phone.

From Ramstein, we needed to get to the train, Europe’s most efficient and cost-effective method of transport. We grabbed bus 147 to Ramstein-Meisenbach, in the village center. At €2,10 each, the bus ride was far cheaper than a taxi, and we figured since Ramstein-Meisenbach was a scheduled stop on the bus line the language barrier shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

So wrong. So, so wrong.

Our bus drive was a lovely German woman who spoke exactly zero English. I have a working knowledge of French, but my Deutsch is less than sub-par and my sleep-deprived brain couldn’t even come up with the appropriate sign-language dance. Fortunately, an older lady on the bus was mercifully bilingual and helped us out.

Ramstein-Meisenbach Train Station is less of a “station” than a platform stop on the local train line. Trains in Europe seem to fall into distinct categories. Large, reservation-required trains run from major cities and between countries. They make relatively few stops at smaller, regional hubs. From the regional hubs, local trains head out in many directions and make quite a few stops.

We procured tickets to Kaiserslautern at a kiosk near the platform and waited for the appropriate train to arrive. Turns out, we needed to take the train toward Landstuhl instead, which we determined as the train for Landstuhl was leaving the station. Oh poop.

Honeymoon Tidbit #1: European trains tend to run once per hour on the same minute (10:07, 11:07, 12:07, etc). Miss one? Take the next one an hour later.

We waited for the next train exhausted, cranky, and overheated as we experienced the tail end of a 5-day heatwave that plagued western Europe. A military wife and her two friends who were headed to Amsterdam arrived at the platform. While the wife had been in-country for over a year, she’d never strayed out on her own and was having an even harder time understanding the train system than we had. By this time, we were veritable experts and were able to get the three girls up to speed and make sure that they ended up in the right place.

Landstuhl is only one stop from Ramstein-Meisenbach, so a few minutes after we finally boarded the correct train, we were on a platform waiting again. We used the larger kiosk at the regional station to buy tickets all the way to Luxembourg. We thought our next stop was Saarbrucken, but the language barrier had us again. We boarded a train toward Saarbrucken, but actually got off in Trier. From there we should have gotten on the train to Luxembourg, but we missed the first one due to labeling confusion (read: the label changed AS THE TRAIN PULLED AWAY).

Honeymoon Tidbit #2: Trains are on time. Like, really on time. If you are at the right track and a train pulls up at the appointed time, get on it. Even if it looks wrong, get on it.

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Finally on our way, J caught a bit of sleep while I watched the German countryside race past the window. It could have been Iowa with the gentle rises and green fields for miles. We made it into Luxembourg about 4:30 pm. It was only about 2 blocks to our hotel, but it took us a while to actually find the door as it was slightly hidden and locked.


Luxembourg


Auberge Gaglioti is a quaint, 12-room hotel tucked on what seems like a quiet street. I spoke conversational French with the front desk manager (win!) who informed us, among other things, that we should be back in the hotel by 11 pm, which I found oddly specific.

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Two main bridges connect the two halves of Luxembourg City, spanning not a river, but a vast gorge. We wandered the city center and across Pont Adolphe. J wanted to try the Luxembourg City Skyliner a, a 360° glassed in tower/elevator that provides panoramic views and pre-recorded narration in several languages. At €7 each, it was a lovely introduction to the layout of the city.

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Heading back, we stumbled upon a descending stone staircase and set off on a sunken path at the base of the old fortress.

20170719_184517By the time we resurfaced, we were near the Luxembourg Viaduct which took us back across the gorge to our hotel. Dead on our feet and starving, we opted to eat at the attached restaurant. We tucked into some amazing Italian food and dragged ourselves to bed. The advertised air conditioning in our room wasn’t working, so we had to keep the windows open. It soon became clear to us why the hotel door had been locked and a curfew was recommended. The quiet street was actually the home of Luxembourg’s red-light district. Surrounding our hotel were questionable clubs and all manner of…ladies of the night.

Fortunately, we were so tired that even the heat, loud music, and yelling couldn’t keep us from sleep.

Stay tuned for Part 3!

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Meal Plan Mayhem | Return of the Gremlins

I love meal planning.

It takes the stress of weekly cooking down a couple dozen notches. Besides the convenience factor, I find that we eat better and spend less with a plan. With the gremlins back from a summer in Texas this week, planning was a must.

J was a reluctant convert last year when I started demanding  encouraging him to meal plan, but with the help of our neighbor and resident supermom Christina (who had laid the groundwork years before I came on the scene) I soon got him to embrace the idea (and lower his grocery budged by about 40%). Win!

We average about $150 per week for our family of 5, which equates to about $30 per person or roughly $1.43 per person per meal. Not too shabby.  When we’re good about meal planning, we rarely eat out and midweek purchases are usually for specialty produce that wouldn’t have lasted all week for a Thursday or Friday meal.

Or Slurpees. We love slurpees.

We make two stops, Costco and Aldi. Costco is where we stock up on bulk items, while Aldi is for smaller quantities. We have a vacuum-sealer, so we buy bulk, split, and freeze things like cheese and meat. We usually buy meat every 3 or 4 weeks, so while costs are higher those weeks, it evens out over time. Bread and milk holds well, so we buy two weeks worth at a time. We have an extra fridge in the garage, which makes storage a non-issue.

When meal planning, I try to use what we have in the pantry/freezer first instead of buying everything. I also try to diversify our proteins.


The Plan

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Wednesday night the gremlins have a youth group activity at church, so a 2-liter of soda, a bag of chips, and some brownie mix were unusual add-ons to our list, but I didn’t have to cook.

We had chicken, ground beef, pork in the freezer, and eggs in the fridge, so the only major protein we had to buy this week was pepperoni for the pizza. We also had a couple unexpected needs: new filters for our Brita pitcher and some power strips/surge protectors. Such is life when married to a computer geek.


The List

Costco
Doritos
Mozzarella Cheese
Bread (4 loaves)
Milk (4 gallons)
Tortilla Chips
Grapes
Water Filters (10 pack!)
#2 Pencils
Surge Protector Pack
Toilet Paper

Aldi
2-Liter of Sprite
Brownie Mix
Pizza Crust (couldn’t find, bought biscuit dough instead)
Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Carrots
Cucumber
Tomatoes
Bell Peppers
Onions
Sweet Potatoes

Total Spent: $161.21


The Prep

I’m not a faithful prepper, but I’m trying to do better. To save myself a little time this week, I whipped up my famous spaghetti sauce on Sunday afternoon while J and I were working on some home projects. I let it simmer for a few hours (a rare luxury) and then divided it into two food storage containers: a small container to be used as pizza sauce on Friday and the rest in a large container for Monday’s spaghetti.

I divided the 5 lb bag of mozzarella into smaller, vacuum-sealed  packages and put most of it in the freezer for later. I also peeled and sliced some carrots into sticks and stashed them in a container in the fridge. Miraculously, fruit and veggies that are already washed and cut up disappear in my house at an alarming rate, while unprepped foods waste away in the crisper. Hmmm….

What are you cooking up this week? Comment below!

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Europe in a Carry-On | A Marathon, Not A Sprint

Disclaimer: This is a loooong post. Just saying.

When J and I planned our honeymoon, we wanted to see Europe, but didn’t want to be bound by a strict timeline or rushed schedule. A decision was made: the best way to really enjoy our trip was to pack light. Really light. One carry-on + one personal bag.

*Spoiler Alert* It totally worked. It was AMAZING to move swiftly and deftly through Europe without the stress or weight of an enormous bag. Our three floor walkup in Luxembourg didn’t faze us. The train connection we almost missed to Bruges wasn’t death defying. We were free from stuff which left more time and energy for experiences.


Full Disclosure: This system works because you’re going to do laundry. Don’t look at me like that, you can do it. We did laundry in a laundromat where all the instructions were in Dutch and it still turned out fine. You’ll be okay. Get over it. 


After a lot of research and hours of packing and repacking, I’ve come up with something of a guide for anyone crazy inspired enough to try minimalist packing.

Step 1: Understand your wardrobe and choose your palette.

Chances are, if you really pay attention to your clothes, you tend to gravitate toward certain colors. Black, white, and olive-green basics are the foundation of my wardrobe. I punch them up with bursts of color like poppy or royal blue. It’s not a rule, but enough of my favorites fit this description that I intentionally packed those colors for our trip. Stick to a unified color palette; your clothes will match each other, meaning more outfit choices with fewer pieces.

Step 2: Consider what you really need, and shop!

Be honest about your needs. Which pieces must you bring with you? For our July trip, over-sized cardigans stayed home in favor of lightweight layers. A sweater for the plane isn’t the same as four, bulky but-what-if-it’s-chilly-at-night pieces.

Be honest about your style. While it can be fun to wear new clothes , avoid completely new styles that will make you feel uncomfortable. If you don’t love it at home, you won’t wear it on vacay.

Shopping is an optional step. If you must, try not to buy a whole new wardrobe for one trip. Stay away from clothes that wrinkle easily or that require dry cleaning as you’ll probably end up doing laundry in a hotel sink or at a laundromat.

Step 3: Assemble

Here’s what I brought to Europe:

4 dresses
2 skirts (1 stretchy pencil skirt, 1 maxi skirt/ cover-up) | 3 pants (2 crop pants, 1 jean)
7 tops (2 tee shirts, 3 sleeveless shirts, 1 tank top, 1 3/4 length sleeve blouse)
2 cardigans | 1 set pjs | 1 swimsuit | 2 camisoles

Also (but not pictured #boundaries) 2 bras | Spanx | 7 pair underwear

I opted for sandals (two pair) and flats (one pair) because they’re the most comfortable for me. We walked a lot (19,000 steps a day on average) so comfort was key.

Extras:
A cross body bag just big enough for my wallet, phone, sunglasses, and the tiny journal I carried with me was the unexpected hero of the trip. It was the perfect size, an easy place to stash train tickets and city maps, and left my hands free for taking photos or holding by new husband’s hand. A huge bag isn’t worth the hassle. I got this tiny curling iron off Amazon and it was mercifully light and easy to pack but still quite powerful. A mesh zippered bag held my charging cords, outlet adapter, and a flash drive of important documents (copies of our passports, IDs, etc.).

Step 4: Pack it up

packing cubesI found these amazing packing cubes on Amazon (not affiliated, just a fan) that have revolutionized the way I pack. They compress your garments a little bit to keep everything tightly packed, but are slightly mushable to fit in your bag. You’ll get the most bang for your buck if you also get strategic with your folding.

For Pants: Fold in half and lay flat, then fold the hem toward the waistband about 3/4 of the way. Starting at the waistband, roll tightly toward the fold. The waistband is the bulkiest part of the garment so rolling it tight results in a smaller roll overall.

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Dresses and shirts: Lay face down. Fold the sides in to the middle in thirds and fold up the hem toward the shoulders. Then roll from the fold toward the shoulders. I fold the hem up to avoid rolling the hem of garments too tightly.  Hems don’t want to lay flat when unrolled if they’re under too much strain.

Shirts fold

Sort your little rolls into groups and fit them into the cubes. Pants, skirts, and dresses went in the largest packing cube, shirts and sweaters in a medium one, and undergarments in a small cube. Of the 5-piece set, I only used 3 for this trip.

Toiletries went in the sweet “Bride” bag my matron of honor gifted me for my wedding.

Step 5: Put it all together

In the bottom layer of the suitcase, I fit the large packing cube. It took up about 3/4 of the space, so I still had enough room to slide in my shoes and cross body bag.

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The second layer was my other two cubes, toiletries bag, and small objects nestled between like a brush and my curling iron.

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Lastly, I used the zippered pocket inside the suitcase lid to store my swimsuit, electronics, and the limited jewelry I took.

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In the front pocket of the suitcase went my bag of liquids, easy access for security lines.

Step 6: Enjoy your vacation!

That’s it! If I had to do it all over again, I could scale back by at least a dress, a top, half my toiletries, and almost all my jewelry (I barely even touched it). I never used my swimsuit or coverup since we were nowhere near the beach (oops), so those could have stayed home, too. I do wish I’d brought a lightweight rain jacket. It rained a good bit while we were in Belgium and we had to purchase umbrellas. If you’re going somewhere that rain is likely, I’d take one. Otherwise, they’re cheap to pick up from souvenir shops.

Our trip was a massive success, in large part because of our bags. I can’t say enough about it. We’ve been bitten by the bug; a week after we got home, J went on a week-long business trip and only packed a carry-on.

Look out for our honeymoon recap coming soon!

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What’s in a name? | Adventures in Bureaucracy

This morning I finally decided to bite the bullet and face the music. I decided to change my name. 

Having been married only a smidge over 6 weeks, I felt pretty good. I’ve heard horror stories of people who put off the big change for a year or more. Ugh. I’m still technically a resident of Maryland, despite my VA address (military weirdness) so I needed to head that way to make the switch, which meant a really wanted to get everything switched in one day to avoid multiple trips.

I had two main objectives:
1. New driver’s license
2. Update HR docs and new badge for work

I went to the Social Security Administration last week and applied for the name change. My new ss card showed up on Friday (only 5 days, what?!) and I took it, my marriage license, birth certificate, lock of hair, blood of a virgin, and incantation crystals to the Motor Vehicle Administration of Maryland, hoping for the best. 

imagesThe drive there was grueling as torrential rain made it hard to see and traffic had my nerves on edge. I finally made it to MVA around 10:30, trudged through the downpour, and found a place in the VERY long line for the information desk thinking if rain is the worst thing that happens today, I’ll be set.

Wrong.

I explained what I needed and presented my documents and talismans for sacrifice. That’s when I found out that I had the wrong version of my marriage license. I needed to take the version I had to the clerk’s office and get a certified copy.

Never mind that this one was signed by the officiant and bore the official seal of the county clerk’s office. Never mind that this was the version that the Social Security Administration accepted for my FEDERALLY ISSUED SOCIAL SECURITY CARD. It wasn’t a certified copy, so I couldn’t use it.

To add insult to injury, I was at the MVA in Charles County. I got married in St. Mary’s County. Which means that the courthouse I have to run over to isn’t even in the same county. Torrential downpour. Everyone closes at 4:30. Clock is ticking. Hmm….

It becomes obvious that I’m going to have to drive the 45 miles to the distant courthouse. I managed a win by stopping by my HR department and switching all of my work documents. New badge: check!

I arrived at the courthouse just after 2 and got the certified copy WHICH HAS EXACTLY THE SAME INFORMATION ON IT. I took it to the MVA location near the courthouse where I waited in line…again. All’s well that ends well though and my new ID is on its way. Soon I’ll be wildly identifiable.

By the time I headed home, the rain finally let up. What even ever.

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The Bedding Wars

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Our bedroom color scheme is black, white, and grey: a calming oasis of neutral tones in an otherwise chaotic household. I scoured Pinterest for ideas while simultaneously letting our budget remind me to simmer down when I feel like channeling my inner Joanna Gaines (I want to hate her, but she’s so freaking amazing).

I found a set at Kohl’s that I thought would be perfect for our space at a reasonable price. J had a business trip this week and the new bedding was set to arrive the day he left. I was psyched; I’d be able to have our new bed set up by the time he got home. When the new set arrived, reality of the situation hit me:

We have a king size bed.
I’m home alone.
The set includes a new bed skirt.

Fast forward to me, tipping the mattress up on its side while shoving the new bed skirt under it. Then the mattress fell on me as I got too close to the foot of the box spring. The additional weight on the unsupported box spring meant I was suddenly surfing my bedroom. I had to run to the head of the bed to right the box spring with the weight of a king size mattress on my back. The dog looked at me like I was crazy.

Eventually victorious, I made up the bed and basked in my adulthood and fancy linens. As bedtime rolled around, I faced a new problem.

The sheets felt like sandpaper.

After a restless night and a quick Google search, I found out that washing your sheets with baking soda and rinsing them with vinegar can slough off the manufacturers starch that makes new sheets feel rough. Simple enough. I unmade the bed and treated my new sheets to a 3rd grade science experiment.

Night two — a slightly finer grit sandpaper, sleep evades.

Four o’clock Friday morning (the sheets arrived on Wednesday) I decided that enough was enough and I was going to return the whole lot. I also found a beautiful set at Macy’s that happened to be 60% off during their One Day Sale. At 6:30 am I ordered the new bedding for in-store pick up later that day, and by 9:30 am I got an email saying my order had been cancelled. Apparently, if you order from Macy’s for in-store pick up outside of business hours, the system automatically cancels your order. I called customer service:

Her: Well, how are they supposed to fulfill your order if the store is closed?
Me: Um…wait until the store opens and then fulfill it?
Her:
Her: I guess that would work. But that’s now how the system processes things.
Me:

Order resubmitted (once the store opened) a sinking feeling hit me: I had to pack up the original bedding to return it. That’s me vs. the damn bed skirt again.

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I was able to shimmy the bed skirt loose and even fit all the pieces back into the original package. I began to wonder if a king bed was really worth it. Maybe Ricky and Lucy slept in separate beds to make laundry easier. The return was simple (blessed relief) and I picked up the new bedding with no issues.

Bed skirt: Round 3. By then, I was an expert and it only took me like…17 minutes to wrestle the stupid dust ruffle into place.

Our new sheets are smooth and soft and glorious. I finally have a grown up bed; I even have shams and throw pillows (aren’t they adorable?!) By the time I finally made the bed back up and the exhaustion of two terrible nights of sleep caught up with me, I slept like a log and woke up refreshed.

And if we ever have to change the bed skirt again, J gets to do it by himself.

I’m out.

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Confessions of a New Wife…

After the hours planned, dollars spent, and stress endured, J and I finally walked down the aisle a couple of weeks ago. The day was perfect and beautiful: our friends and families were on hand to enjoy the gorgeous venue, delicious food, and amazing atmosphere. Everything was wonderful and we were beyond thrilled that all of our hard work paid off. Plus, we were Mr. & Mrs.!

Wedding Photo

We spent the week after the wedding getting the gremlins ready to head to their mom’s house in Texas and entertaining J’s parents. If you’ve never tried to get three boys to pack for a month long trip, you’re better off than I am. We also spent time trying to excavate our home from the mountains of gifts and mayhem.

Since J has been single-parenting for a while and I’m no spring chicken, we each had a house full of stuff. Combining the best of our existing possessions and integrating the BEAUTIFUL items gifted to us by our nearest and dearest was akin to a game of twister: shift a little here and a little there and hope that the whole thing doesn’t go crashing to the floor.

J’s mom spent a day helping me clear out the contents of the kitchen to make way for our new shiny things. We cleaned and organized and arranged. We broke down boxes and hunted down matching sets of food storage containers and corralled collectible cups from various baseball stadiums (stadia? stadii?). We ruthlessly discarded and filled my car with donated items for Salvation Army.

With in-laws gone, kids on a flight, and a holiday weekend to ourselves, J and I finally had time to just be married.

Just the two of us. Alone. All by ourselves. No distractions. At all. Nothing to do but let the weight of the enormous life-changing thing we just did wash over us. Like a tsunami. Oh boy.

Here’s the thing: In my head I knew, I knew, that getting married wouldn’t really change anything.  Oh, sure, I have a new address and a new name. I have a new *ahem* extra-curricular activity. But J and I are still the people we were before the ceremony. We still have the same weaknesses, the same flaws, the same insecurities and neuroses. I knew that putting a ring on it wouldn’t actually change any of that. I knew that only God has the ability to take on my imperfections and redeem me and that getting married wasn’t going to change my struggle.

But maybe, just a tiny part of me thought it might. The tiniest part down in the deep recesses of my heart, the part that I keep to myself, the part that is scarred and hurting and broken thought that just maybe, when someone committed to me for the rest of our lives, I would finally feel worthy. I would feel lovable. I would feel like enough.

Spoiler alert: I still don’t feel like enough.

My husband (!) is the love of my life. He is a good a godly man and I am proud to be his wife. I love him so deeply and truly that it’s astounding to me. I want his welfare above my own and I am constantly seeking to be the partner for him that God called me to be. My husband loves me completely. He is strong and kind and generous. He worries about me, prays over me, and he has gone out of his way to learn how to live with and love someone who lives with anxiety so that he can carry me through in the moments when my brain won’t let me function correctly.

But he can’t complete me. He’ll never make me enough.

I’m still selfish and insecure. I’m still anxious and bossy and stubborn. I still worry about things I should give to God and let my feelings get hurt too often. I still hate waking up in the morning and going to bed at night. I still hate doing laundry and foods that are too squishy and not getting my way. I’m inconsiderate and single-minded and I get impatient when someone wants to talk to me about a topic I’m not interested in.

There’s still work to be done, and there’s only one guy who can do it. It’s not my husband’s job, it’s my Father’s.

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Love vs. Want | The Baby Debate

As work soulmate, Ms. G, and I finally make it out of the building this afternoon, the stench of middle school boys on an 80+ degree day left us grateful for the breeze that wafted all afternoon. Another coworker stood on the front walk, waiting for the last of her students to get picked up from a field trip that lasted beyond the end of the school day. Her husband waited in an idling car with their infant son. I’d never met the little snuggle bug and I was thrilled when Ms. M retrieved him from the car and gave me a few moments of smiles and squishy baby legs before I headed home to write a 15-page paper on gifted underachievement for grad school (Note: 4 pages down, 11 to go). Ms. G saw me light up at the blond prince and commented with a chuckle, “and this from the one who says she doesn’t want a baby.”

Ms. G teases me in good fun, but she echoes a popular question I get: Simone, you’re almost 29 years old. You’re getting married in two months! When are you going to have a baby?! Don’t you want to be a mom?

I love babies. I really do. I love their soft skin and their little snores. I love their tiny hats and socks. They have itty-bitty fingers and toes that seem almost doll-like. I love little, fat, baby legs. I sat with my sister, holding my newborn niece, arms aching from being in one position for hours so that she could get some rest after a 24-hour labor process. I never reach out and touch a pregnant belly, hoping that she’ll remember and let me hold the wee one when he/she arrives. *hint hint, prego friends*

20170408_144303I even love crying babies. My friend Sofie has a 2-month-old whose hobbies include screaming at the top of her lungs and pooping on her mommy. Aunty Simone will happily hose Jenn-Jenn down in the baseball field parking lot between little league innings with a questionable bottle of water I found in the back of J’s car. I’ll gladly walk the length of the field, humming “If I had words” from Babe (Yeah, the pig movie) until she decides that sleeping is better than causing premature deafness.

But I don’t want a baby. 

J and I are relatively young and certainly have time to start a family of our own. But what does that mean, of our own? Does that make Flipflops who would defend me with his life, or MacGyver who makes me laugh when I want to slap him, or Little One who gives the best hugs not our own? Are my kids less my kids because I didn’t give birth to them?

Indeed not.

20170219_133901Just as importantly, J and I have the kids full-time. That means a teen, a tween, and a 9-going-on-3-year-old tantrum thrower that make noise and messes in the house like it’s their job. I spend all day arguing with teens and tweens that I’m not allowed to smack, and all evening trying not to smack the ones I’m allowed to. I’ve had to make rules I feel ridiculous for speaking into existence (no kneeing your brother in the genitals when he bends over backward), constructing and reconstructing chore charts, and finding socks and underwear in places you’d never suspect. I walked in on a family in progress and I’ve made myself one of the pack.

So I’ll hold your baby, snuggle them, give a bottle, or run interference when random strangers try to get too close. I’ll stack up blocks over and over just to watch them get knocked down. I’ll be a great aunt, a human bouncy chair, and someday an overindulgent grandma. But I don’t need a baby to feel complete. I certainly don’t need one to be a mom.

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Suddenly Chaos: MacGyver vs. Mud

I’ve talked about the kids’ chore chart in the past. If you missed it, click here. One of their weekly chores is to take out resident mutt, Blackjack, on a walk. Each boy does this task once a week, which results in three long walks for the pup. The benefits are multitudinous. Blackjack is almost 9 years old so the exercise is good for him. As a bonus it wears him out so he’s less likely to dig in the trash and perform other acts of mischievousness during sleeping hours. Exercise is also good for my iPad addicted boys and gets them outdoors with the fresh air and sunshine and, you know, stuff. Rounding out the trifecta is the universal truth that a house with two children is always quieter than one with three, so it gives us a bit of a break.

So MacGuyver (who NEVER has to be reminded to do anything that involves exercise or being outside) takes the dog out for a walk. I was upstairs dutifully working on my grad school assignment (read: blogging and checking Facebook) when somewhere around 45 minutes later, in comes Blackjack and lays down on the opposite side of the bed from where I’m “working.” I can smell him, but that’s not unusual; he is a stinky dog and I have an annoyingly keen sense of smell. Up comes MacGyver, however with a look I’ve seen before. It’s the look a parent gets when they discover that a kid has done something wrong and seek them out. A sort of half-smile, half-I-will-set-you-ablaze-with-my-eyes look.

Through a gritted teeth, I hear MacGyver enunciate, “Blackjack, outside.”

Turns out, the reason the dog went to the opposite side of the bed was because he was COVERED IN MUD and didn’t want me to see him. Somewhere along the walk, MacGyver let him off the leash to run around in an open field. Of course, Blackjack immediately found a ditch full of mud and plowed in, head first. He got stuck, and MacGyver had to pull him out of the mire. Wet and muddy, they trudged home, where MacGyver brought them in through the back yard so that he could hose them both off. With the sliding door about 5 inches open, he kept the dog outside while he stripped out of his muddy pants and shoes.

Blackjack, sensing that this wasn’t going well for him, rammed the kid and knocked him to the ground, wrenched the door open, and ran for cover.

New problem: muddy carpet. From the back door to the bedside, a wet, muddy trail chronicled the journey. Fortunately, MacGyver sprung into action and pulled out the mini carpet cleaning vacuum, which is essentially magical.

The dog, however, had to stay outside for a while.

Never a dull moment…

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