Four Staples

A while back, I said that I would post some of our favorite family recipes. I forgot. Today I got a message from one of my cousins (I have 38 of them on my mom's side...I'm 33rd) requesting some child friendly recipes. Cora isn't a "normal" child eater. I guess I mean she's never been too picky. She goes through phases, but overall, she tries just about anything we put past her. With that said, she does have her favorites.

Her most favorite in the whole wide world, the meal she requested for her third birthday, the she gobbles is up every single time meal is:

Spicy Red Beans and Brown Rice

Don't let the title fool you, I'm just quoting it from the Get Healthy, Go Vegan Cookbook by Dr. Neal Barnard. This is my adaptation. And I always double it.

1 TBL olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 c brown rice (not instant!)
3 cups of water (or vegetable broth...I just season the water my own way and save some money and sodium intake)
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, with liquid
1 tsp chopped canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (this is the spicy part. You can omit this altogether if you don't like any spice and single members of the family can use tabasco to add some heat. I love the flavor, but a little goes a long way, I only use about 1/2 tsp. And if you have no idea what this is: It's with all of the Mexican/Latin foods...)
1 (15 oz) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed.
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat olive oil in medium sauce pan (or a big one if doubling) over medium heat. Put in the onion and saute for 3 minutes. Add garlic and stir constantly until fragrant (less than a minute). Add brown rice and saute for 2 minutes.
2. Add broth, tomatoes, and chipotle pepper. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and lightly simmer for about 45 minutes, until the rice is cooked through. Add beans and cook for 2 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper.

Three-Bean Barley Chili

This is a great chili. We double is as well and use the left overs in enchiladas with a chipotle cream sauce...that will be another day. This recipe is adapted from Supermarket Vegan by Donna Klein.

4 c water
2 c salsa
1 can rotel (if doubling, use one can of Rotel and one can of diced tomatoes)
1 3/4 cups of water (again my own specially seasoned water or 1 can of vegetable broth)
1 c barley (I always use the fast cooking kind because it's the only one I can find)
2 TBL olive oil
1 1/2 TBL chili powder (or to it cool for less spice)
1/2 TBL ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
pepper to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste, optional
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can Great Northern (or any white bean), rinsed and drained
1 c corn, fresh off the cob or frozen

1. In a medium stockpot, combine water, salsa, tomatoes and their liquids, water/broth, barley, oil, chili power, cumin, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally.
2. Reduce heat to low/medium low, cover, and simmer until barley is just tender (the time will depend on the kind of barley you're using. If you're using regular, all-out barley, it will be about 40 minutes. I usually use the kinds that's done in 10 minutes).
3. Add beans and corn and return to boil. Reduce heat, let simmer uncovered until mixture is slightly thickened, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.

Winter Vegetable Potage

I LOVE this soup. The flavor combination is wonderful. This one is also adapted from the Get Healthy, Go Vegan Cookbook.

5 1/2 c seasoned water or vegetable broth
1 1/2 c onion, chopped
1 c carrots, chopped
1 c fennel, finely chopped*
salt to taste
1 c green cabbage, sliced
1 medium sweet potato (about 1 1/2 c), peeled and chopped
1/2 c rutabaga, peeled and chopped*
pepper to taste
1 c chopped broccoli

*I've made this without these two ingredients. They aren't somethingI typically have on hand. I just add extra onion and cabbage in their places.

1. Heat 1/2 c water/broth in large pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots and fennel. Season with salt and saute for 7 to 8 minutes.
2. Add remaining 5 c water/broth, cabbage, sweet potatoes, and rutabaga and season with more salt, if necessary, and black pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover pot and simmer on low for 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add broccoli and cook for 5 minutes.


Homemade pizza is always so fun. We have it a lot at our house. Be creative with your toppings. Think outside the cheese and meat (obviously), you will be so surprised at all of the wonderful combinations you can make. My favorite right now consists of tomatoes, spinach, fresh basil, olives, mushrooms, red onions, bell peppers and jalapenos. I spread some super cheap "Zesty" spaghetti sauce (it comes in a can) as a base. I love this stuff. At any rate, I've tried several different crusts. This one is my favorite go to right now, and I don't think it's just because of how fast it rising! Makes 2 crusts.

2 TBL yeast
1 c warm water
1 tsp salt
4 TBL oil
3 c flour
Italian seasoning or some other favorite seasoning, optional

1. Preheat oven to 425. Mix yeast in luke warm water in mixing bowl (I use my KitchenAid stand mixer with dough hook) until yeast is dissolved. Let is stand for a few minutes.
2. Add salt, oil, seasoning if using, and 2.5 cups of flour. Mix. Add more flour as needed for dough to form ball. It shouldn't be sticky, but you don't want too much flour or it gets dry.
3. Divide dough in two. Roll out dough and place it on pan or stone. Poke holes in it with a fork, and cook for 5 minutes (more if using a upwards of 10 minutes...5 is perfect if using a jelly roll pan).
4. Remove from oven and spread small amount of oil.
5. Add your toppings and bake for 15-20 minutes...until spots on the crust just start turning the perfect golden brown.
6. Enjoy it. Enjoy it with all your heart.

I'll add more soon. There's a great, super simple chickpea snack we love.


I have good news, and I have bad news.

Good: I finally tried Cool Mint Oreos.

Bad: I finally tried Cool Mint Oreos.

They taste like thin mints. They are vegan. I'm finally three pounds below the dreaded weight I could never break after Cora and before Magnolia. I am in trouble. DARN YOU mint and chocolate craving. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I picked up this package a little before six this evening (not my first package), and it's almost gone. Almost an entire package of oreos in one day. Not even a whole day!


I mean yum.

I mean...Seven pounds to pre-pregnancy weight. I can hold strong. Today was tough. I don't depend on the bottle, so oreos had to suffice. I bought TWO packages.


Does anyone want a package of mint oreos? Anyone, please. Put me out of my misery.

Why I don't miss cheese

The most common thing I hear when I tell people I'm vegan is:

"I could never do that. I like cheese way too much."

I take it in and laugh a little to myself. I LOVED cheese. (and cookie dough shakes from Braum's.) Loved it, and I loved going to Cattlemen's for prime rib my birthday and partaking of their house dressing (a garlicky ranch). I guess I laugh at the slight fallacy that perhaps they love cheese more than I did - the one who went through, on average, a pound of cheese a week - and that was just at home. Who knows how much I consumed elsewhere?

Anyway, I don't eat cheese anymore. I've officially been vegan for about six months, and I can't imagine ever going back. Here's why:

I spent a great deal of my life as a sufferer of seasonal allergies. I'm not talking a few sneezes and a runny nose, I'm talking upper-respiratory infections at least twice a year, and that was a good year. In my middle and high school days I would get bronchitis at least once a year (but usually twice) - all thanks to the respiratory complications of my allergies. And on top of that... Allergy induced asthma. I have a huge collection of handkerchiefs for aesthetic and practical reasons.

I was hunkering down as spring rolled around, I had all of my allergy medications lined up. People around me started suffering as the season changed, but wow, not me. Like this is an absolute miracle. I used to pray for relief, but after so many doctor visits and different medications growing up, I had succumb to my fate.

I ran in high school: Cross-country all four years, and track for like a season and a half. You see, they were both at the worst time of the year for an allergy sufferer. I loved running, but I hated it too. I was always so full of allergy medicine that I was super dried out, you know how allergy medicine does that. Allergy medicine and inhalers were my constant companion. I made it to state in cross-country my junior year, and I ran a 60 second split in a 4x400 relay my senior year. Those were good days. You see, I was sick on the actual state championship race day - I still came in slightly on the better half of middle, phew - I could never be consistent, which is super frustrating if you're working hard every day at something. There's nothing worse than pushing it, working as hard as possible, and then just having your body flake out on you because it's being deprived of a little thing like oxygen.

Anyway - the urge to run comes in waves with me. If you've been reading for an extended period of time, you probably know that. I am on an up swing of needing to run. I'm just so curious how different it will be without the bulk of the respiratory problems of my past.

But this post isn't really about running. It's about this very magical thing I could have never imagine. Something I truly never thought possible - cutting dairy out of my diet has completely taken the suffering out of seasonal allergies (aka that place we do not speak of), has taken seasonal allergies away from me. So, sometimes I get the urge for an ooey gooey pizza, sure, but only when I'm really hungry, and only until I think of how awful I used to feel. I wouldn't go back at all if it means that my bouts with seasonal allergies and all the poo they bring with them are gone for good. I can't even express how grateful I am that I happened upon (ha...happened over a thoughtful transition that took several years) this new way of life.

PS: It's also done wonders for Cora. She, too, was following in my footsteps. She had 10-12 ear infections in 2010, they were all caused by the drainage that would roll around from allergies. She had one at the very beginning of this year, before she'd completely gone dairy free. That's all.
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Notes on Parenting

I went to a parenting class at church tonight. It was wonderful for all kinds of reasons. The content, for sure, but being able to listen to it because sweet Laurie Bithell took Magnolia from me after I'd taken her out into the hall. Thank you, Laurie, thank you. It's good to be around you again.

One of the women who presented, Mary Bliss Hassell, discussed the five things that can help women go from anxious pull their hair out type moms, to ones who are relaxed and experience an ease in motherhood.
1. Fill your reservoirs. [AKA take a break.] We all need a moment to sit back and relax and feed our souls in whatever way we can with whatever time we can steal away. She said, "Be where you are - appreciate what you have." She was talking about a mother of 9 in Anchorage, AK, and she doesn't get many moments. Sometimes her break is just walking out the front door and looking at the lights on the leaves. That's it. She's put something back that gets lost in the constant care of others. And then Mary Bliss said the part that resonated most with me: "Take a break that allows you to accomplish something." You might get a break, but you don't see any progress, and you usually need a break because you're not seeing any progress or feeling any sense of accomplishment. We should, after all, be filling our reservoirs. You know when we zone out on facebook or in front of the tv? If we have to dive back into the daily grind after something that isn't really giving us anything, it wasn't really a very useful break.

2. Every difficulty is an opportunity to be creative - use your interests and gifts to interact with children and solve problems. She handed out a card with several attributes like: Morning Productive, Evening Productive, Steady, Structured, Athletic, Concerned, Intellectual...and so on. We each looked through and associated ourselves with some of these attributes. She then made the point that no one would really pick all of the same things, and we should use our individual gifts make home and family life better.

3. Give kids more attention. It will reassure them that you're there when they need you. They'll have more confidence and come to you less often. She used the example of the second you get on the phone, your kids need you. You usually try to get them to do something else, but they just come back more and more. If your kids need you, always take the time to stop and touch base. Focus on them. Focus [period].

4. "Get the kitchen floor to shut-up." It's difficult to discover the right order of what should be done when juggling the jobs of both mother and homemaker. She read something amazing that I wish I had verbatim, but it was about a mother up at 6 AM, taking stock of her home and what needed to be done, and already feeling behind. She went on about the tasks before her, but then decided that it didn't matter if dishes were left undone, or pillows unfluffed if she'd taken the time to do something with her children because a house can go from clean to dirty in less than a minute. A recommendation of giving days to tasks was given. Make Friday [or any day] the day you clean the kitchen floor, so you have power over it. If it starts talking out of turn, you can look at it and let it know that it's not it's turn yet. And if Friday rolls around, and one of your kids needs you, wait until next Friday.

5. Consider your speech. Celebrate the positive without that little dig of negativity. We're often sarcastic about certain things, even if we're being positive, but those little negative digs are so damaging. Be kind to yourself.

The next portion of the evening was about Disciplining with Love by Diane Pratt - this is where Magnolia started the show signs of fatigue, so my notes are spotty.

Set limits. As parents, we have to figure out the boundaries for our home. She used an example of one of her children saying that a certain family got to play a game, and he didn't know why they couldn't have it. She replied with "that's great for them, but in this house, we don't play it." We are only the parents of our children, and regardless of what other parents are doing with their kids, the boundaries are set for a reason and we can't waver just because so and so has different limits than we do. That's them, this is us. There is no competition.

When communicating with our children, get down on their level. Be eye to eye, and don't yell. Don't create bad habits.

Separate your child's mistakes from the person they are. You can use things like "This isn't you" when pointing out some sort of behavior you're not happy with. And bolster that with positive reinforcement..."This isn't the kind, intelligent child I know." You're expressing disappointment while bolstering the attributes you know they have and want them to show more often.

"Choose to be a great mother." She said this right at the end, but wow, choose it, really. It's simple, but it's one of those things that's great to hear. She discussed the divinity of our children right before, after sharing a really touching story about a father in a situation of serious fury at the behavior of his daughter. When he was on his way to pick her up, a voice clearly said "Be careful what you do with my daughter." It completely changed him and his reaction to the situation. A reminder that our children are more than just our own.

Bouncing Back

I woke up this morning with a migraine. The investment in the darkest pair of summer shades the day before was one of the best forethought buys of my life. My girls thought it was funny, but I'd already taken the max amount of migraine medication the night before when I felt it coming on, so I was trying anything. Around lunch time, I couldn't take it anymore, and took what amounted to double the recommended dose in 24 hours. About 20 minutes after I took it, my brain started turning to fruit cake. 1.5 hours later the migraine from h-e-double hockey sticks, though definitely not the worst I've ever had, was gone. Phew. I'm still feeling wiped out.

In other news...
Jake is playing for Lyric Theatre's production of OLIVER!. I went to opening night last night thanks to Vaughn and Tracey coming up and staying with our girls. It was wonderful. It's playing through June 25th.

We spent the weekend accessorizing Dot. She's looking pretty fabulous. I love bougainvillea. My childhood babysitter had a huge bougainvillea in her front yard. We (all the kids who were "sat" by her) would hide underneath it.

The first day ever Cora took the initiative to put her shoes on all by her self.

Proud moment. I let her wear them all over on the wrong feet.

And last, but not least...

Something fabulous needs to go above the mantel. I want a dreamy landscape with some beautiful cool hues. I'm in love with Regina Murphy, but my favorites of her fanciful landscapes are sold*. The wall is about five feet wide. Keep a look out.

And then there's always Sky Above Clouds IV by Georgia O'Keeffe, but it's a little bigger than my wall. And the Art Institute would miss it. And I would miss it there. You know, when I go back someday...

*And pretty far above my price range, but I love her anyway.

The Great Experiment

Dot's square footage is up for debate, but there's no arguing the fact that she's on the smaller side of today's American home standards. I know this because one day at playgroup, before we officially closed, someone asked how big she was, and I'm pretty sure there was an audible gasp when I mentioned the specs. And then at Wal-mart, I ran into someone I know who knew we'd just moved, and he asked if we bought a "nice big house." I think he was disappointed when the answer was no.

Anyway, the debate is over two conflicting square feet evaluations. We bought her knowing that she had 1138 square feet, that's what it is according to the county assessor. When we got the assessment back from the bank, they put her over 1200 square feet. Wow, we're moving up. Either way, most families would shy away from a house this size all together. Did I mention two bedrooms and one bathroom? There's also an office, that Magnolia is currently using as a bedroom. The room that Cora and Magnolia will share is 14x14. I don't really know how big our bedroom is...brb

Okay, our room is just shy of 12 x just over 11. I think the perfect sized bedroom is 12x12, so we're almost there. We got rid of a dresser and the night-stand from our bedroom set. I was reading about bungalows one day, before we found Dot, and it said that everyone should have the opportunity to live in one. They're completely utilitarian, you can fit what you need, and live comfortably. In talking about bedrooms, it said, a bed and a chest of drawers is all you need. I took them up on that advice. Though we also have a trunk and a chair in our room. It's perfect. And less drawers means less places to accumulate things I don't really need.

One of my three resolutions for this year was to Live with less. And we've been working on it all year, but when we found Dot, I had a moment of panic. Buy a house that's an experiment? Can we really do it? The answer is yes. We're still in a bit of disarray. There are three boxes of things that are going to go in our studio (We have a small soon-to-be studio space behind our garage), as soon as a few things get picked up, which will happen tomorrow, phew. With all the purging we've done, I feel like there's always more that I could do without. That's a nice feeling.

So, less storage space means more creativity. I know I'm going to arrange and rearrange things a few times before it's at optimal convenience level. I'm excited to have my father-in-law on board for some storage/canopy beds for the girls. It will be rad. Aside from our indoor living space, we also have two decks and a front porch, so we're taking advantage. Jake put together four chairs this weekend. It's liberating knowing that we don't need a house to match our stuff - that we can pare down and have stuff that matches our home and life. Did I mention Dot has twenty-seven windows? I'm talking walls full, and I'm quite certain nothing makes a home feel bigger than that.

Pickles and Jalapeños and Watermelon.

I've been really into pickles lately. Pickles and jalapeños in a jar. What I really suppose this means is that I'm into vinegar. It is the common factor, besides the fact that they're green. And a little seedy. And they both crunch. Though pickles are definitely crunchier than jalapeños. But not as hot.

Do you ever say juh-lop-i-nohs? I do, even though I know how to say it for real. I'm from Arizona. I know how to pronounce things like saguaro, ocotillo, Velasquez, and Canyon De Chelly. And jalapeño. But you already know that.

There was this boy in elementary school, Logan Cooper, and I always thought he smelled like pickles. We rode the same bus in kindergarten. I was going to my babysitter's house from AM kindergarten and he was on his way to PM kindergarten. I would look for him every time, and take note if the pickle smell was present, and it always was. I even asked him if he had a pickle for lunch, and he always said no, and I never believed him.

As I was eating my pickle today, and thinking of Logan Cooper, who had similar tennis shoes to me in second grade (they were unisex. Think of a the white version of Vans...with some Sperry styling), I wondered if his mom was just into canning food. He was Mormon, after all.

Logan was best friends with Jeffrey Adams. He was my for-shiz first-grade crush. He was so dreamy. And he would always win the tether ball court for me, and then we'd play a game or two, depending on the line waiting, and sometimes he'd let me win. Most of the time. And sometimes he would even bloody his knuckles hitting the ball. Whenever I watch Napoleon Dynamite, I think of my little playground hero.

And just because: the name Kelsey always reminds me of watermelon because the first girl I ever knew who was a Kelsey had red hair and freckles. I guess her hair reminded me of watermelon, no, I think she smelled like it one day. So if you have red hair, it reminds me of that beloved summertime melon, and if your name is Kelsey, it does the same, and I think you should have red hair.


Windows. I love them. Big Windows. Lots of them. I love them because they mean light filled rooms. I love them because they mean outside breezes inside.

Dot has 27 windows. That's right. 27. My parents' house in Arizona, the last of theirs I lived in, had 5, that's including their sliding glass door. We have 27 including our French doors, though excluding the single window-filled French door between our room and our office...our office that is Magnolia's room until she moves in with Cora.

I especially love all of the sky I can see from our windows. And I love that they all have thick trim around them. (The first photo also shows the color I finally decided on. It's Halo by Benjamin Moore - The more I see it, the more I enjoy it. Phew. Much Ado.)

One day, while driving home to the house we just moved from, when I was especially missing Chicago, I thought it was so weird that as big as the world is, we spend so much of our time walking back and forth in approximately 1300 sf of it (you can enter the size of your own house). That thought let to another...

Why here?

Why, of all the countries, states, cities, neighborhoods, streets, houses, why this place? I didn't know. Of all the places I could be, I didn't know why I was [t]here. Fast forward to now. I love Dot. I love waking up in the morning here. I love playing in this backyard, across the street from that school. I love walking down these sidewalks with these trees. I love living 1 mile from this city's downtown (I'm still holding out for a fantastic public transportation system) and being 3 blocks from our park.

I still don't have the perfect rug, and I feel clueless about landscaping, and stores in Dallas have my dream dining room set, and my dream kitchen and bathroom are in my mind...BUT they all fit here. And I can't begin to describe the peace that brings. 27 windows and all.

To Baby Brannon on the Day of His Birth

I was at Target looking at Method cleaning supplies when my phone rang. I looked and saw that it was Becky, your grandma. I was puzzled because it wasn't 4:30, not even close, and that was the time I was expecting to hear news about your mom's dr. appointment.

"Katy's going to the hospital."

My heart started racing. And then she told me how your mom had rescheduled her appointment to go in early because something was going on. Well, you were going on because she was already dilated to a six, and the doctor sent her straight to the hospital.

I methodically spent the next 30 seconds looking at what I was looking at. I didn't want to show up right away. Fashionably late, right? (I'll teach you these things.) I left the store, and on my way home, I realized I was speeding, a lot. Fashionably late wasn't going to work this time. I was excited, and I wanted to be where you were...because you're already that cool.

I dashed into my house to grab some food and entertainment for your cousins, Cora and Magnolia, then I dashed into the garage for the stroller so I could carry all of it in one trip, and we were off. I made it to the hospital in less than 20 minutes from my house. No small feat.

I got there right in the middle of one of your mom's contractions. They'd already broken her water, and let me tell you, as if you'll ever really know (I can't teach you everything)...contractions after broken water are crazy-faced. They were just starting prep for her epidural. I didn't hang out too long. I didn't know she was that far along or I wouldn't have barged in with my stroller-o-fun, but I'm glad I did. I'll tell you why later.

Cora, Magnolia and I hung out in the seriously awesome waiting room for about 20-30 minutes before our other family arrived. Great-Aunt Tracey, Meemaw, Peepaw, Uncdiddy Kory, and Grandpa aka Kerry Brinlee aka Sir came down the hall. They were all so nervous! That's the crazy thing about the transition time of giving birth. Everyone is so excited, but scared at the same time because there are so many unknowns. No matter how routine it is, it's still a mystery. You're safe and warm in your mama's tummy, and you travel a relatively short distance to make it out, but you still have to make it out, and it's still a miracle every time a baby is born. Yes, you are a miracle, too.

I ran to your house (your house that you'll live in for a few days because your parents are moving this weekend) to gather all the things your parents had prepared for your arrival but couldn't grab because of your hastened arrival. (Let this be a lesson: Preparation is super rad, but life will sometimes throw you curve balls, like being dilated to a six (not that you personally will have to worry about that), and you'll have to adjust. Plan B, if you will, and plan B always works out just as well, if not better, than the initial plan.)

I got back and your mom was already pushing. I was like, "Phew, I made it." And then a lot more time went by than what we were all anticipating. In the meantime, we watched this (I'm borrowing your great-aunt Angie's photos - she showed up after I got back with the stuff - with more cousins and a little while later, you other great-grandparents arrived. And your dad's side of the family was anxiously awaiting your arrival from their own homelands. Every time we would call to update someone, they would say they knew because Celeste (Grandma) had posted it on facebook - there were people all over looking forward to your arrival):

Magnolia was watching the storm roll in. We all were.

We had an excellent view.

Angie caught the rad lighting shot after many misses.

After all of that hard work, you had arrived! 7 pounds 7 ounces. We were elated. There was jumping up and down. While we were waiting for you to become acquanited with your mom and dad, the hail came. No joke. Golf ball sized. And then everything went dark outside, and debris was hitting the waiting room windows. We all moved away from the windows. The power went out shortly after, and it took what seemed like forever (less than a minute) for the generators to come on. What a day! The evening ended up being beautiful. This rainbow was just for you, I know it.

Let me tell you a bit about your mama:

She was perfect. I could see the determination in her eyes with each contraction I saw her go through. (Your dad was sweetly encouraging, too) And when I saw you in her arms after you were born, I had tears in my eyes. You were holding onto her finger, and looking up at her. She was made to be yours, and you were made to be hers. You would cry, and she'd gently give you a soft, "shh," and tell you it was okay, and that was enough. I can't wait to see you and your family today. I love you!


My little baby turned one today.

Dear Goo,

In the beginning you grunted all night long while sleeping, and spit up a lot after you ate, so I spent many a night sleeping* in our rocking chair while holding you upright to try and avoid the afore mentioned spit up and grunting. You slept well, but Jake and I did not.

We lived in Chicago for most of that phase. We had communal laundry facilities in the basement of our building, and I couldn't wait to move to a place with a washer and dryer in our house to help make all of the laundry from all of the spit up easier.

At seven weeks we left your first home and journeyed back to Oklahoma (you've lived in three houses already, can you believe it?). So much of the last ten months seems like a blur to me, honestly. That's how it goes for mothers. Days in and days out, but the gravity of all that is happening in those days that all seem to blend together [and go by too fast] is evidenced by the love that grows and grows.

Early on, you started talking. Your favorite phrase was "Goo." It was so sweet. You would say it, and we would repeat it, and then you'd say it to us again.

You became my "GooGoo Baby." Some might think Goo is a funny nickname, but I can't help it. You wanted so much to talk with us and be part of us, and you did and you were, and Goo reminds me of that. So, Goo, someday when you're going off to college, which will feel like tomorrow, I'm sure, and I whisper "I love you, Goo" as I send you into the great unknown, you'll know why.


For now, I'll love on your squishy cheeks, and blow through your wispy hair, and smile every time I see your perfect gappy front teeth. You're sassy and always let us know what you want. You love your sister, and you rarely shy away from a cuddle. You enjoy dancing and singing. And yelling. You yell a lot. And you are loud. You're not mad or upset, just yelling [and sometimes the volume and consistency make me feel a little ill, but I love that you love to be heard]. You have super tiny hands and feet. You almost wear a size two shoe. But not quite. It's such a miracle to watch your little fingers do big things.

You are a miracle. I can't imagine my life without you and everything you add to me and our family. You've taught me more about how to be a mother - I've grown more confident since you arrived. You like to wake up before seven every morning. And you still like to eat at least twice every night. When you're feeling shy, you put the tip of one finger (usually a pointer) between your teeth...of which you have six. And just in case you are interested, according to my non-technical way of standing on the scale while holding you, you weigh about eighteen pounds.

Happy Birthday, Magnolia. You have and will continue to change my life for the better. You're in bed now, but I can't wait to kiss your head when we encounter one another for our first meeting tonight.

Love. Love. Love. You. You. You. Goo. Goo. Goo. [Baby.]

The Story of Magnolia's Birth

When we got to the hospital, I looked at the clock in the car. It was approaching nine at night, my contractions were every two-four minutes, just like they usually were when I made the call to go to labor and delivery. I hesitated, wondered out loud if we should just wait and come back in the morning. I had one fine string of something holding my emotions together, and being sent home one more time without a baby would have severed it completely. So there I was...there we were, Jake, Tracey, Cora, in-utero Magnolia and I. Thirty-six weeks and six days pregnant, stripped membranes, contractions, and a promise my doctor made earlier that morning that she wouldn't send me home (she'd made the same promise a few days before, broke it, but I loved her anyway).

I made the trip up to Labor and Delivery, waited patiently to be hooked up to the monitors. When the nurse took me back, I asked if I could just go home. I did, really. She looked at me, puzzled, and said, "Well, you didn't have to come in." Right. Then she said, "Let's just see how everything is going." I think I cried a little.

I changed into a gown, left the standard sample, got hooked up to the machine. The best part was always getting to hear my baby's heartbeat. Soothing. The resident came in and after a bit of talk and a confirmation that I was in fact having regular contractions and was dilated to a five, she called my doctor. She came back in and asked if I wanted to walk a bit. Me? Walk a bit? I'd been averaging three miles a day trying to move things along. While Jake was coming up to walk around with me, my doctor, Dr. Hampton, called back and basically got the show on the road. I was moved to a delivery room.

They started a low dose of Pitocin to ramp up the contractions a bit. I believe the pitocin level goes up to around twenty-four. I was receiving a four. Why is this important? I was going for a VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section). Pitocin increases the intensity of a contraction, and a greater intensity of contractions leads to a greater risk of uterine rupture after a c-section. The pitocin was in, my contractions were more frequent and more intense, but I was still totally fine without any pain medication.

About an hour after the introduction of pitocin, it was time to break my water. The weight of what was actually happening set in, and for the first time, I felt nervous. I knew that Magnolia was safe and warm, and that her environment was controlled in her unruptured home inside of me. When the doctor broke my water, and I felt all of that warmth and safety leave me, I cried. And even in reflecting on that moment now, I still find myself overcome with emotion. Something inside, even though I was getting to deliver, for the most part, the way I wanted to, said "this isn't the way it's supposed to be."

In addition to breaking my water, an internal monitor was placed inside to keep track of the intensity of the contractions. It's a standard thing when a woman is attempting a VBAC. But that's when the pain began. My body started treating it like an invader, and my uterus started cramping severely in an attempt to get rid of it. There was also no water left to soften the blow of each contraction. It wasn't long before I was requesting an epidural.

I had to take my mind somewhere else to stay still for the epidural while enduring the level of pain I was in. If I would have known the pain would intensify so quickly, I would have definitely gone for preemptive relief. The anesthesiologist ended up giving me four times the regular dose of medication before things started to calm down. It took the edge off for about thirty minutes, then wore off, and I was back to feeling everything.

The medication from the epidural had made my blood pressure really low. There was a lot of repositioning and moving monitors to bring my blood pressure up and to keep Magnolia's from dropping with each contraction.

All the while I'd been progressing. I was a seven, then I was a nine. My doctor was on her way somewhere, the contractions were so intense, and every little part of me was saying "Push! Push! You know how to do this. Push and meet your baby." But I "couldn't" push yet, not without my doctor. With every wave of pain and instinct to take control deliver, I could handle it until the very peak, and I couldn't do anything but scream to get some get some sort of relief. Over and over again until doctor arrived, and I was able to start helping my body do what it was trying to, what it knew how to do. They stopped the pitocin just as I started to push. I didn't know it was still going, or I would have asked that it be stopped. I'm sure it was responsible for the ongoing intensity of the pain.

Twenty minutes of pushing. Twenty minutes of give and take. Twenty minutes and it came down to two pushes. She was coming out slowly at first. It was fine. She was crowning. I reached down and felt the top of her head. I pushed once. The doctor and the nurse gasped. Her head came out. There was a raised portion of right in the middle of it. I don't know how to describe that moment. I thought the gasps were because of the raised spot on her head. My initial thought was that I'd broken her with that push. It was such an overwhelming sensation of love, not only in seeing her, but in an instant resolve that I would make sure this little body that I'd broken would be cared for and "fixed." I pushed again, they both gasped again, and before the gasp was over, Magnolia was in Doctor Hampton's arms. What I quickly found out was that the gasps weren't because my baby was broken, but I was breaking. Magnolia came out so quickly right at the end, that I started tearing. 4:08 in the morning on the very day Magnolia was full term, and I was the mother of two daughters.

In a matter of seconds, she was on my chest. No need to describe a mother's love here. But it is instant and overwhelming. I was caught up in her tiny hands, her little six pound one ounce body, her dark hair. I did it. I had accomplished the impossible. The terrifying, the desire of my heart for her delivery: I had actively birthed my baby. This act, I'm sure, allows most women to realize the amazing strength she has. I pushed that baby out, and that experience is something that no one can ever take away from me. It is an experience that I will feel blessed to have the opportunity to try again, if more children are meant for our family. It was an act of divinity, a tender mercy in my life. And it is all made sweeter for the beautiful girl I have as a result.


Afterthoughts: If I had it to do over again, I would definitely do a few things differently. First, I would do everything possible to avoid pitocin. It adds a very unnatural component to labor: namely, the intensity of contractions which leads to greater pain, messes with blood pressure and baby's heartbeat. I know it's a routine thing, but it compounded all of the hard parts of having a baby for me. Hopefully taking pitocin out of the equation would also take away the epidural, which is weird for me to say because while a needle was definitely poked into my back, it might as well not have been.

I don't want to labor lying down. I want to be up and around. It's hard because of the whole VBAC thing. I want to be as safe as possible, but I only want completely necessary interventions. With Magnolia, I was glad that I was being monitored the way I was, really, but it took away from what my body wanted to do instinctively, and I trust my body way more than anything else.

Lastly, I don't want to deliver lying down. Seriously. They had me down pretty flat for a while because of the whole blood pressure thing from the whole epidural thing. Then when it came time to push, I was still at pretty horizontal angle. Dr. Hampton told the nurses twice to raise me up, but then I think actually having a baby became more important than what position I was in to do so. I kept looking over at a birthing chair/stool, wondering if I could hit the pause button and move over there. I would rather deliver standing up than the angle I was at. That was in retrospect. All of this was. But in the end, it comes down to being an "active" active participant in delivering.


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