Friday, December 31, 2010

Thoughts on 2010

2010 was a tough year, one of the toughest of my life. It had wonderful moments, yes, but I spent a lot of the year feeling tired, overwhelmed, and stressed to the breaking point. I guess that's typical for the first year of first-time motherhood.

Just about every year since I started blogging in 2004, I've done a little recap on the year, using the questions below. If you decide to answer these on your blog (or Facebook page), feel free to leave a link in the comments.

1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year? Wow. I had to make a list of everything that happened this year in order to find a "single best thing." My answer would have to be "finding Angela." Angela is Anne's sitter, whom I found on craiglist.org after Anne's original sitter, Dottie, unexpectedly retired due to health issues. Dan had just gone to camp for ten weeks, I was home alone and working full time, and I suddenly had no one to watch my six-month-old daughter all day. Angela was one of several who answered a child-care ad I'd put on craigslist.org, and she was the only candidate who sounded at all feasible. She got the job, and she does a wonderful job, and I'm so glad she and her family have become a part of our lives.

2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened? The two weeks that I was without child care (see #1) were pretty challenging. The whole year was challenging--working full-time and trying to be a good mom who is there for her daughter. Pumping three times a day. Going to Angela's to nurse Anne every day during my lunch hour. Having a colicky baby the first three months. Oh, and the road trip to Indiana, Ohio, and Virginia with a five-month-old, where we stayed at a different house every night. Having my most severe depression since 2006 descend on me this fall. They have all been challenging. I don't know if I can pick a "single most" out.

3. What was an unexpected joy this past year? Befriending Consuelo, my Compassion child, through handwritten letters. The way certain people really came through for me when I was at wit's end, at home alone with a colicky baby. Watching Miss Anne grow. (Not unexpected, but ... well, I didn't know what to expect, exactly, so that's all been wonderful.)

4. What was an unexpected obstacle? Thinking we were going to have Dottie as Anne's sitter for a couple of years, and then having to find a new one just three months after Dottie started watching Anne. There was also the depression. I can't say it was unexpected, since I have a history of depression, but it was certainly unwelcome. And I forget how utterly incapacitating it can be.

5. Pick three words to describe 2010. Scattered. Overwhelmed. Lost.

6. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe your 2010 (don’t ask them; guess based on how you think your spouse sees you). Strong. Short-tempered. Tired.

7. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe their 2010 (again, without asking). Overworked. Lonely. Stressed.

8. What were the best books you read this year? Southbound, by Lucy and Susan Letcher. I'm also currently re-reading Anna Karenina, which is one of the best books I've read in my life, so I guess it qualifies as one of the best books of my year.

9. With whom were your most valuable relationships? Sweet Anne, my mom, my husband, my sister, my friend Felix, and a couple of friends at work.

10. What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year? I felt hopeful at the beginning of the year. Now I mostly feel lost and defeated. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I feel like a mere shadow of what I was before.

11. In what way(s) did you grow emotionally? This is such a complicated question. I've grown in my love for my daughter, and in my ability to love and care about someone far more than I could ever love or care about myself.

12. In what way(s) did you grow spiritually? I'm really learning what it means, on a very practical and immediate level, to die to self. I am getting a much clearer understanding of grace. I did an in-depth study of the book of James and, by chance, read David Platt's Radical not long after that, and, even though I'm not a particularly materialistic person (for a middle-class American), I have really begun to look at how material things get in the way of spiritual things.

13. In what way(s) did you grow physically? In weird ways, that's what! Technically, I lost all my "baby weight," so my old clothes all fit me again. However, because of scheduling, nursing, fatigue, etc., I haven't (despite my best efforts) succeeded in starting and maintaining a regular exercise routine, so I've lost almost all of my muscle. (I was training for another half-marathon when I got pregnant, so I was pretty fit at the time.)

14. In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others? One thing I hated about this year is that I found myself being more dependent on others than I've ever been. It really was a year in which I felt like I was drowning and constantly needed people to throw out life preservers and reel me in. That has been humbling because I'm an independent-minded introvert who does not like to rely on--or even interact with--others. I guess that has helped me to grow in relationships with people because I've been forced to take off any masks I might have of self-sufficiency and independence.

15. What was the most enjoyable area of managing your home? The day Dan said "yes" to my 8-year-long request to hire someone to clean our house. It was a one-time thing, but words cannot express the joy I felt at coming home to a clean, good-smelling home for the entire week after they cleaned. Oh, and another thing: Dan has really been helpful in the home-management area, particularly since the long hours of development season at work began this fall. I probably don't thank him enough for that.

16. What was your most challenging area of home management? My darling daughter! No, it isn't all her fault. The combination of having a darling, drooling, toy-scattering, crumb-dropping daughter, and working so much that I rarely had energy to cook, clean, etc. Those two things combined made home management a challenge this year.

17. What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year? The Facebook Friend Finder. I rarely send friend requests, but, for some reason, I get sucked into looking for people I know in the Friend Finder. Oh, and Google Reader. It's a great tool, but it also tempts me into reading a lot of blog posts that don't really interest me.

18. What was the best way you used your time this past year? Pumping several times a day and nursing Miss Anne. Pumping is a pain, and I lost my lunch hour each day going to nurse Anne, but it has been so worth it. Not only am I doing what's healthiest for Anne, but we've had some serious bonding to boot.

19. What was the biggest thing you learned this past year? That it's possible to pretend to have lots of energy for playing with blocks and reading nursery rhymes when you're really so tired that you could fall asleep standing up, and probably stay that way for 12 hours.

20. Create a phrase or statement that describes 2010 for you. "This is the last straw." I need to make some changes in 2011--for my mental health, for my relationship with my husband, and for my daughter's life. Having Miss Anne brought a lot of hidden "I've-been-doing-life-wrong-all-along" realizations to the surface, and I seriously need to look at what's wrong and make some changes.

So, those are my thoughts on this past year. (Sorry if it was a bit of a downer!) I hope all of you, dear readers, have a happy and blessed 2011!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

More Reading Challenges for 2011!

What is your reading challenge for the new year? My fellow former English major, Deborah, is using a BBC list of 100 books for her 52-books-in-a-year goal, and Dana Huff is sponsoring the "Books I Should Have Read in School, but Didn't" challenge. I think I'm going to combine Deborah's approach of using the BBC list with Dana's challenge to read a set number of books that I think I should have read in school. Considering the ambitiousness of my other reading and writing goals, I'm going to strive for the lowest level of Dana's challenge, which is to read two of these books sometime between now and the end of next year.

I've gone through the BBC list to determine which books I haven't read (or finished) and have chosen a handful that qualify as books I feel I should have read by now. As an aside, I couldn't find this list anywhere on the Internet except as the meme that bloggers and Facebook users are doing, so I don't know how "official" it is, or if it's even been compiled by the BBC. It's a lovely list, though, because I've read a lot of the books and can thus feel learned, literary, and oh-so-smart. Ha.)

Anyway, here are the finalists:

1. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller (Actually, I think I might have read this before. But, since I can't remember anything about it, I'm including it in the "haven't read" list.)

2. Complete Works of Shakespeare (I actually read quite a bit of Shakespeare in school; that tends to happen when you're an English major! But I've only read about 65% of the plays, so there's (happily) still more to read!)

3. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald (All former English majors have that one major literary work that they're embarrassed to admit they haven't read. For me, it's The Great Gatsby. Shh ... don't tell!)

4. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams

5. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh

6. Animal Farm - George Orwell

7. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

8. Moby Dick - Herman Melville (I've tried to read this one several times and am thankful that no teacher ever required me to read it. I can't get past the first 100 pages. It's definitely not on my list to read in 2011, or any other year!)

9. Dracula - Bram Stoker

10. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert (This one's been on my nightstand for ... a long, long time. I think this will definitely be one of the two "should-have-read-by-now" books that I finally read in 2011.)

So, my goal in this little reading challenge will be to read (or finish) two of the nine books listed above. (Well, ten books are listed, but Moby Dick doesn't count.) I'm thinking those two books are going to be Madame Bovary and The Great Gatsby, unless I can be convinced otherwise (or decide to fly through Animal Farm or a Shakespeare play one night when I can't sleep).

Suggestions? Recommendations? Warnings? Let me know!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Toddler Tuesday: It's (Apparently) Tool Time!

Is it Tuesday again already?

I won't be posting pictures today, for two reasons: (1) They take so danged long to upload, and (2) I posted enough pictures to last a lifetime in my last post. So go there if you want to see pictures of my Li'l Boo.

Miss Anne has become an avid user of tools.

- She is eating, or trying to eat, from a spoon. She doesn't seem to like the whole finger-feeding thing; she wants utensils. She is clearly more sophisticated than her parents.

- Continuing with Anne's new fascination for tool-usage, she's also begun trying to brush her hair. She surprised me the other night when I was getting ready to brush it after her bath: She took the brush, and, instead of putting it in her mouth as expected, she brought it to her head and started to brush her hair. I couldn't believe it!

- She did something similar with her toothbrush last night. I had finished brushing her teeth when she took the toothbrush in her hand, put it in her mouth, and started brushing it back and forth on her little front teeth.

I never thought, "OK, it's time to teach her how to use a spoon/hairbrush/toothbrush." I've never made an effort to get her to use any of those things. She just decided on her own that it was time, I guess. Now, let's hope she'll be the same way with potty training!

Here are some other random observations I've made recently:

- She is still not a big eater, at least not compared to what I'm reading by other December 2009 moms in the blogosphere.

- She's allergic to something. We're not sure what it is. She doesn't seem to react consistently to any one thing. But when she does react, her face breaks out in hives. I mentioned it to the doctor at her appointment last week, but he didn't seem very concerned. Now I'm kicking myself for not standing my ground and saying, "I understand, but I'd like a referral for her to be tested for allergies." So we were supposed to go back to the doctor yesterday, but we're having to reschedule because of the snow.

- She is now a speed demon on the stairs.

- She is into everything. For example, she tried last night to get into her diaper pail. "No," I said, and stepped in front of the diaper pail. So she moved on to the box of pail liners next to the diaper pail and, quick as lightning, started to pull the liners out. "No," I said, and picked up the box and put it in the top of her closet. One second later, when I looked back down at her, she was pulling books off her bookcase. "Let's read just one book at a time," I said, and put all but one book back. But by then, she was three feet away, trying to remove the plastic childproofing cover from the electrical socket.

I had to laugh--both at her persistence and at my suggestion to "read just one book at a time." As if I have ever, in my life, read "just one book at a time." She's seen the tower of books on my nightstand. She knows we never read "just one book at a time" in this family.

Speaking of books, I'll be posting my initial thoughts on the Your Secret Name Read-Along later on. Stay tuned!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Read-Alongs and Resolutions

Oh, me. As I sit here and think of the read-alongs I've planned to join, and the resolutions I want to make for 2011, I begin to wonder if my One Big Resolution should be to relax, tune out the world of online chatter, focus on what's important outside of my Internet life, and ... and, well, just expect a little bit less of my overly ambitious self.

Perhaps that's what I need to do. I'll think about it, I promise. But for now, I thought I'd share three of the big reading/writing activities I see on the near horizon for me in 2011.

1. Your Secret Name Read-Along at Marla Taviano's blog. This officially begins tomorrow, so I'll write a little more about it then.

2. The Bible in 90 Days read-along. I think I've read the entire Bible before. The biggest chunk I've ever read as a single effort was Genesis through Zechariah. (That's right. I made it all the way to Zechariah, but I didn’t make it through Malachi.) But my past reading of the Bible, I'm afraid to say, can be well-described by Calvin:

You will see a number of people who labor very hard indeed at reading the holy Scriptures — they do nothing else but turn over the leaves of it, and yet after ten years they have as much knowledge of it as if they had never read a single line. And why? Because they do not have any particular aim in view, they only wander about. And even in worldly learning you will see a great number who take pains enough, and yet all to no purpose, because they kept neither order nor proportion, nor do anything else but gather material from this quarter and from that, by means of which they are always confused and can never bring anything worthwhile. And although they have gathered together a number of sentences of all sorts, yet nothing of value results from them.
So why read the Bible in 90 Days? Isn't that just another instance of "[doing] nothing else but turn[ing] over the leaves of it"?

Maybe. But Amy at Mom's Toolbox tells us about what reading the Bible in 90 days did for her:
The experience changed me. It enabled me to finally understand the relationship with Christ I had been growing over the years. I felt like finally I was hearing Him clearly and finally I felt that He must be hearing me, too. [emphasis mine]

Many questions I had were answered… and those questions that weren’t, lost their importance.

Reading the Bible in its entirety changed me, and reading it in 90 days enabled me to get an excellent overall perspective and see just how beautifully every piece fit together.

And reading it in a group of accountability partners helped me to keep going when life seemed to get in the way.
So, if you ask me why I want to read the Bible in 90 days, simply see the above quote, or, better yet, go to Amy's blog. In addition to participating in her blog's read-along, I'll be posting weekly updates on my progress, and thoughts on what I'm reading, here at Life Upside Down.

3. Finish my novel ... in 90 days!

No, I'm not going to try to do this concurrently with the Secret Name Read-Along and the Bible in 90 days. I'm not that ambitious. Or crazy. At least not anymore.

This goal is another thing I'll write more about later--as in several months from now, after the two read-alongs are over. For now, I'll say this: I'm going to spend the first few months of 2011 thinking about the novel, praying about it, getting myself geared up to work on it. I think both of my read-alongs are actually going to contribute to these silent, inner efforts; if I didn’t, I wouldn’t do them, and I’d be diving right back into the novel instead. But instead, I’m waiting. Once the read-alongs (and my busy season at work) are over, I'm going to take on the challenge of completing my unfinished novel over the summer. I'll be using Alan Watt's The 90-Day Novel as a guide. (Part of me hates the thought of having to use a guide, but my novel-writing track record tells me it might be a good idea.)

Hmm ... I just realized that I'm referring to "my novel," but I guess I should specify which of my collection of unfinished novels I'm referring to. This is the one I started in 2007. I wrote an outline for 30 chapters, wrote the first 16 of those chapters, and then ... got a job. The job I'm at now, in fact. Work on the novel ceased, except during a one-week "staycation" that I took in 2008 for the purpose of ... you guessed it, working on the novel. It was then that I penned Chapter 17, and then ... nothing more.

It's not that I haven't wanted to work on the novel, or that the characters haven't been a part of my daily thoughts--because they have. I actually feel like they're suffering in Limbo, or dying some other sort of slow death, and that I need to get back to work and release them by telling their stories. I just ... haven't.

So, that's some of what's on the horizon for me, at least reading- and writing-wise, for the first part of 2011. If you have specific reading and writing plans for the new year, I'd love to hear about them!

Multitude Monday #5: Christmas 2010

This year, we spent Christmas in Brevard, NC, at my parents' "summer home." My mom had decorated everything for Christmas back in October, before they left for the season. Thankfully, their "summer visits" are lasting further into the year. Still, it seems like they're never here long enough.

Friday morning, Dan, Baby Anne, and I exchanged gifts. After having her first birthday party just two weeks before, Anne is starting to get the hang of present-opening. My husband got me some very nice gifts, all of which were humbling to me because I hardly deserve them. His excuse was that he'd done nothing for my 40th birthday ... which, I guess, was true, but I'd honestly forgotten all about it.

The three of us made the drive to Brevard Friday afternoon. We went straight to my sister's house, where we had an early dinner of soup and sandwiches. Next, we went to my sister's church, where they had a Christmas Eve service specially geared to children. Kids got to choose beforehand whether they wanted to be angels, shepherds, or wisemen. Angels got sparkly halos, shepherds got ... well, shepherd headgear (what do you call it?), and wisemen got gold paper crowns.

Anne's two-year-old cousin, Ella, wanted to be a shepherd (she'd gone through phases earlier in the week of wanting to be a wiseman, then an angel), so Anne and Ella both got shepherd headgear.

For the service, they first talked about the angels, and all the "angel children" went up to the front, and we sang "angel" songs, like "Angels We Have Heard on High." Next was the "shepherd children," and "The First Noel. Then the "wisemen children" and "We Three Kings." Finally, the Holy Family--a couple with a newborn baby--came up to the front and everyone sang "What Child Is This." It was really a lovely service. I spent most of it in the front with my "shepherd baby," who spent most of her time wandering around, grinning and making friends with the other shepherd children.

It was very sweet. I've been working so much that I've had trouble having any "Christmas spirit" whatsoever, and it was nice to actually feel the solemnity and joy of the season at that service.

We stayed at my parents' house that night, and the snow started at around 9:00 Christmas morning. Long story short: My sister, her husband, and little Ella weren't able to come because of the snow. My brother and his friend Garrett managed to make it, but it the roads were pretty treacherous. We had a wonderful time eating, exchanging gifts, laughing, and just enjoying being with family. I was sad that my sister wasn't there, but I guess it was better than having them get stuck, or in an accident, with the poor driving conditions.

We stayed at my parents' house last night and headed home today, stopping first at my sister's. We had some snow on the drive home, and the roads got a little scary around Asheville, but we made it home safely, just after dark. All in all, it was a wonderful Christmas, and it left me feeling very thankful for how richly I've been blessed in this life.

Here are some things I'm thankful for today:

51. Little baby bellies peeking out from beneath pajama tops


52. Towers taller than her


53. Pretty Christmas dresses

54. Bright paper packages tied up with string ...


55. Grandmas reading to grandbabies


56. Nursery rhymes

57. The old Santa Claus that belonged to my mom as a child


58. How sometimes she looks so much like her daddy's late father


59. Snow on evergreens


60. Laughing with my mom


61. Gratitude jars

62. That bug-eyed telephone we all had as kids--it's still around!


63. Twin snow angels


64. Seeing my brother and my mom having fun together


65. Being safe and warm at home after a long, snowy drive

66. A glass of red wine and a snuggle with the husband after the baby has gone to sleep

67. Long talks with my mom

68. My daughter remembered both her grandparents this time--holding her arms out to my mom and grinning widely at my dad when she saw them.

69. Two little "shepherd cousins," wearing Christmas dresses and shepherd headgear

70. Baby wipes ... you're never really thankful for them until you need them and don't have them!

71. A white Christmas

72. Coming home

holy experience

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day One of Writing ... Well, Maybe This One Shouldn't Count ...

Welp, Day One of my effort to write in the mornings has been a resounding failure. I did get to focus on the novel for ten minutes last night, though. That's TEN WHOLE MINUTES more than usual.

I left work yesterday at 6:20, after putting in a 10-hour day. Picked up Anne from the sitter's, and was home by 7:15. Anne and I ate leftovers (well, Anne and the floor ended up wearing most of them), and then I gave baths to Anne, the high chair, and the floor, in that order. Then we played for a while, and then she went to sleep around 9:45.

I was supposed to make sweet potato casserole for the Christmas lunch at work today. But I was exhausted by then. Hubster had told me he'd be taking today off to do things around the house, so I thought, "I'll just make it in the morning, and if I run out of time, Hubster can finish things up for me."

Well, Hubster called around 10:00 p.m. and said he'd be home by 10:30. And that he needed to work in the morning.

"OK, so I'll get up early and make the casserole. Instead of writing. I'll write tonight instead."

So I fired up the laptop, opened up a chapter and the outline, and started thinking. For TEN WHOLE MINUTES. When Hubster got home, I had to set things aside for a few minutes. He'd gotten the mail and had a letter from my Compassion child, so I was all excited and had to read it. At some point I realized I wouldn't be writing at all again that night, so I got online for five or six minutes while chatting with Hubster (yes, we got to spend 20 whole minutes together yesterday), and then we went to bed. We've been reading passages for Advent, but we were both too tired even for that.

Anne woke up at 11:00, screaming. Teething? Stuffy nose? Both? Yep.

I suctioned her nose, nursed and rocked her, and she went back to sleep.

Thirty minutes later, she was screaming again.

I suctioned her nose, nursed and rocked her, and she went back to sleep.

Thirty minutes later, she was screaming again.

Do you see a pattern here? Lather, rinse, repeat. For the better part of the night.

Hubster is wonderful about getting up at 3:30 a.m. (which, I think, was her last time to wake us up last night), but Anne doesn't want him. She wants her mommy. She'll scream and scream with him, but as soon as I walk in and take her into my arms, she quiets down. So, Hubster tries (bless his heart), but I'm the one who ultimately needs to get up when she cries.

Writing at 5:00 this morning? I don't think so.

Baking sweet potato casserole at 6? You've got to be kidding me. Particularly when I realized I'd neglected to buy the mini-marshmallows on Monday's grocery-shopping trip.

Being at work by 9 a.m., as required? Is it possible when baby wakes up at 6 a.m., nurses in bed with the tired mommy, and then both fall back asleep, and, along with the tired daddy, sleep through the alarm clock and don't wake up until 8:30?

No, not when you're finally awakened by the cat having a sneezing fit in your hair.

And not when you're halfway to work, hair wet from taking an unplanned hair-washing shower, and you realize the car seat--the one your long-suffering husband needs to take the baby to the sitter's for you--is still in your car.

So. No writing this morning. No sweet potato casserole. A few tears, though. And a great, big headache. (Though I kind of had to laugh when I was writing this, several hours after the fact.)

There's always tomorrow. And the novel patiently waits.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Toddler Tuesday: An Update

Anne's one-year doctor's appointment was yesterday. She cried when she got her shots, poor thing. I had to help hold her down while her father sat on the other side of the room and ... oh, who knows what he was doing. All I know is that I was the one who got the "Why-aren't-you-helping-me-you-traitor" look from my suffering, screaming child.

At one year old, Anne weighs 17 pounds and 10 ounces, which means she's gained a whopping TEN POUNDS since she was born. That's actually not a lot, compared to the "average" baby, whose birth weight increases 2.5 to 3 times in the first year. In fact, Anne is only in the third percentile for one-year-olds for weight.

At 29 inches long, she's in the 40th percentile for height, and she's in the fifth percentile for head circumference.

Oh, who cares about percentiles anyway. I just know that we have an teeny-tiny, adorably petite Li'l Boo.

She's walking everywhere, sometimes almost running, which looks very odd because she's so small and doesn't look old enough to be able to walk or run.

She also loves chocolate. And asparagus. And bread.

She's trying to say words. She's said something like "Yes" several times, and she's (finally) begun to say "Mama" (after months of nothing but "Da-da-da-da-da-da"). She, of course, says "bobby" (her word for booby, a.k.a. milk), and she's said "duck" and "baby" a few times.

If I ask her to point to something, or bring me something, she'll do it (when she wants to). Amazingly, she knows what things are. This blows me away. When she was in the tub a couple of weeks ago, I asked her to hand me the washcloth, and she did. If I ask her where my nose is, she'll point to my nose. (Of course, if I ask her where her nose is, she'll point to my nose. We're working on that.)

She talks and talks and talks and talks. I believe I've given birth to a true extrovert. When she sees other children, she hurries over to them, grinning and squealing with delight.

She loves to play "This Little Piggy" and "Peek a Boo." She likes to clap her hands. Whenever she hears music, she immediately starts grinning and dancing and sometimes clapping her sweet little hands.

She has four teeth, and two more coming in on the bottom. And she has the sweetest little smile, don't you think?


She's the most awesome baby ever. I love her so much I feel like I'll turn inside out.

The Need to Enter the World of the Story

Some recent thoughts from writer Lauren Alwan:

“Each writer has a routine, because the act of writing demands a place and time. Sitting down to work requires separating from the actual world and entering the world of the story ...”

And this:

“Whatever the surroundings or schedule, writers need constancy; it supplies the structure that holds the unknown. In my non-writing life, I dislike routine and prefer variety in my days. Yet when it comes to fiction, I need routine.”

I could have written those words myself; I feel exactly the same way, particularly regarding the first quote: Sitting down to work requires separating from the actual world and entering the world of the story ...

Yes, it does. And my inability to do those things has been a huge source of angst in the past year.

One of the best times in my life was also one of the hardest times: Back in 2006, after I had quit teaching, and before I dove back into the corporate world, I had a year to myself. It was a year of healing, mostly; I was dealing with the worst depression I’d had since 1992. Instead of checking into a hospital, though, I got back on antidepressants, starting running, and spent four hours every morning at Panacea (the best coffee shop ever), and wrote.

I would begin with about 45 minutes of journaling. Then, I would move on to my novel. For the first part of that summer, I was working on something like my own version of Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress idea. Then, in January, once I realized I wasn’t yet ready to write my own “regress” story, I moved on to a novel, one that had first come to me in 1998.

Between January and May, I cranked out sixteen chapters of that novel.

Sure, I could have done more, but I was also working on several (freelance writing) projects at the time. (I wonder if there will ever come a day when I can give myself permission to work on nothing but writing if nothing else is pressing ...)

I dove back into the corporate world that June and haven’t worked on the novel since, except for Chapter 17, which I wrote during a one-week “staycation” that I took a year later for the very purpose of working on the novel.

So I read Alwan’s words with a knowing nod but also with some bitterness. Yes, I know we need routines. I know we need to set aside time to write.

But how do you do that when you work 50+ hours a week and have a one-year-old who doesn’t like to sleep and your husband is gone all summer and works late most nights the rest of the year, and ... and ... and ... ?

Alwan writes that she “began writing early when [her] daughter was an infant.”

I can try that again. It would require getting up at 5:00, since Anne wakes up at 6:30. That would give me an hour to write. I need at least four, but I’ll take one.

It would also require that I be asleep by 10:00, which isn’t usually possible. But I can try.

Dear Reader, I will let you know how it goes. This won't be the first time in my new life as a mother that I've tried this. But I need to try again. For me, writing = sanity. And I haven't had enough of either lately.

By the way, you can read more of Alwan’s post, and about her fiction, at The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog: Getting Your Literary Life.

(HT: Kathryn Magendie, who introduced me to this and a few other writing blogs.)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Multitude Monday #4

Lots to be thankful for this week before Christmas ...

50. Chamomile tea on a cold night before bed

51. Christmas parties

52. Little girls in pretty red dresses

53. Daddies and daughters on merry-go-rounds


54. White chili

55. Sleeping in and snuggling on an iced-in Monday morning

56. Tate, the young woman who works in the nursery at church

57. A good reading lamp

58. The way a little bit of our money can go a long way for someone else

59. "Silent Night, Holy Night"

60. Mellowed-out old cats

61. Books that I can read again and again, without growing tired of them

62. Kind words and prayers from across the blogosphere

63. Toddlers toddling

64. Dixieland jazz, and the way my daughter dances when she hears it

65. Finding a grand piano where one wasn't expected, and being allowed to play it

66. Sunday afternoon naps (I only get one every few years, but I had one today and it felt positively decadent!)

67. The way a few days of bitterly cold weather make the 40-degree days seem not so bad

68. Having a job. Sure, I would rather be home with my daughter, but when there are bills to pay, it's better to have a job than not. And I'm happy to have a job I like.

That's it for today's gifts. To read about more gifts from folks around the blogosphere, click the link below.

holy experience

Ten Years Ago Today: Springer Mountain

Here's my journal entry from ten years ago today. If you'd like to read more of my Appalachian Trail hike from Maine to Georgia, you can visit my page at Trailjournals.com.

Date: December 20, 2000
Starting Location: Gooch Gap Shelter
Ending Location: Amicalola Falls State Park, GA
Miles Today: All told, 20+
Total Miles: 2,182.1

At 5:15 this morning, I heard Not Yet stirring next to me at Gooch Gap Shelter. I knew it was time. Today was the day we would summit Springer Mountain. Today we would complete our thru-hikes.

The night before, as I lay in my sleeping bag, I was a little sad. Although the past month had brought rain, snow, sleet, hail, thunder, lightning (yes, lightning!), and bitter cold, I was going to miss the AT. Cold or not (it was 18 degrees), it was my last night in a shelter. I missed my trail life already.

5:25 a.m. It was time to get up and get moving. Not Yet looked at me and grinned. "We're gonna make it!" she said softly, and I grinned back. We were going to make it—nothing could stop us now!

But it was slow going from the start. It was so cold that it took tremendous motivation for me to emerge from my sleeping bag and prepare to hike. I checked the thermometer on my pack: it was a frigid three degrees below zero in the shelter.

Not Yet and I packed as fast as we could, but it took a long time because we kept stopping to put our hands on our stomachs to thaw our fingers, which were painfully numb with cold.

One of the most unpleasant sensations a thru-hiker experiences has got to be that of putting cold feet into frozen boots. I'd tried several methods of preventing my boots from freezing at night, but nothing has seemed to work with the cold temps we've had lately. I spent several minutes working those boots on this morning; they were frozen solid, and it was like trying to put on boots that were three sizes too small.

Finally, after more than an hour, we were ready to go. The cold nearly had me in tears; I had the familiar sense of nausea that I always get when the temps drop below 20.

We first hiked 0.1 miles to Not Yet's car. Her fiance, Macon Tracks, would drive it up USFS 42 and hike the final mile with us to the summit.

The two had planned to thru-hike the AT together; however, Macon Tracks started having foot problems in Tennessee/North Carolina. Although he had to quit hiking then, he's remained a big part of Not Yet's hike by slackpacking her the rest of the way. I joined them a week ago at Nantahala Outdoor Center, primarily so I could be with other people in the cold weather. But I must admit that I welcomed the chance to hike with a light pack for a week!

We stashed our excess gear in the car and started hiking. I was miserable with cold, but I was also excited about reaching Springer, which was about 16 miles away. Not only would Springer signify the end of my thru-hike and the reaching of a major goal, but it meant that I would be sleeping INSIDE that night. . .and the next night. . .and the next night. . . .

To be honest, though, I wasn't in the best of spirits. My fingers and toes were completely numb, and it was hard to breathe through my balaclava. My eyes were the only part of me that wasn't covered, and the cold stung the skin around them. I just kept hiking. I've learned that, after an hour or so of hiking, my hands and feet warm up. I've also learned that, once my hands are warm, my attitude and mood improve tremendously.

It took awhile. Finally, around mid-morning, my feet and hands began to thaw at the same time. I winced at the familiar burning, aching sensation in my fingers and toes that signals the thawing. I don't know why it has to be so painful, but it is. In what first became a daily routine for me in the Smokies, I stopped, threw my hiking poles down, clutched my hands together, and groaned in pain for several minutes.

Did someone say I don't deal well with cold weather?

Not Yet was very nice."I know how painful that is," she sympathized. "Just keep hiking!"

"I just hope this is the last time today that they have to thaw out," I winced, and we hiked on.

But it only the first of several times that day. Whenever we stopped after that—especially if I had to take off my mittens for a few seconds—my fingers became painfully numb and had to thaw again. I just hiked on and tried to ignore the pain.

During our lunch break at Tray Mountain Shelter several days ago, my boots froze as I was wearing them. Today, they were already frozen. Everything else froze, though—my water, my zippers, my candy bars, even my pigtails! The condensation from my breath even froze the bottom part of my balaclava. At one point this afternoon, my water bottle, which I had re-filled only minutes before, leaked onto my rainpants and left a thick line of ice running down them. But on we hiked.

The day was beautiful. The perfectly clear sky was a deep blue, and the bright sun reflected on the snow, making everything glisten and shine like a lovely white sequined dress. It was so bright that I found myself wishing for sunglasses.

The trail itself looked pristine. It was covered in snowdrift—much of it one to three feet deep. Not Yet and I had planned to run the final 16 miles to Springer, but we had to settle for a slow trudge through the snow, which often came up to our knees and sometimes to our thighs. The up-and-down terrain, which would have been a workout in itself, was especially hard when it was under several feet of snow.

We stopped at the side trail to Hawk Mountain Shelter for lunch. It was about eight miles from Springer—a good spot for a break. We were too tired to walk to the shelter, so we sat on a snow-covered log for about 15 minutes—just long enough to wolf down a few granola bars, a Snickers, a few spoonfuls of peanut butter, and a Power Bar.

It's said that your whole life flashes before your eyes when you're about to die. Well, my whole thru-hike seemed to flash before my eyes as I walked the final eight miles to Springer. I fondly remembered June 20, 2000—the day I had summitted Katahdin. I thought of how much I enjoyed staying at Pine-Ellis B&B; in Andover, Maine. I thought of Isis and Jackrabbit, and how much their friendship enhanced my hike through the White Mountains.

I also thought of the magical day in Vermont when I met up with Swamp Eagle, Nimblewill Nomad, and Belcher. I thought about the Purcells in Falls Village, and of the kindness they had shown me. I smiled as I remembered the morning I woke up at Fingerboard Shelter in New York; Yossi, a section hiker offered to let me use his cell phone, so I was able call my mom from the AT to wish her a happy birthday!

I thought of how I'd survived the Pennsylvania rocks, and I remembered my happy, peaceful days of hiking through Virginia. I thought about the cold and snow in Tennessee, and how thankful I was for trail angels like Dave at MRO in Damascus and Bob and Pat at Kincora, who had helped me to get through difficult times on the trail.

I also thought of my deceased grandfather, Leo Baxley, whose presence I have felt so many times on my thru-hike. I first felt that he was with me in Maine as I climbed Katahdin. After that, I would often get an intense feeling that he was nearby, especially in the mountains. I could sense that he was walking these final miles with me, watching over me, making sure, as always, that I safely reached my destination.

I smiled a lot and cried a lot during those final miles. The hike wasn't quite the "victory lap" I'd imagined, since we were moving so slowly and I never did stop feeling miserably cold. But then again, nothing on this hike has turned out the way I imagined. And that's good.

We reached USFS 42, 0.9 miles from the summit, at approximately 2:45 this afternoon.

"Is this where everyone was supposed to meet us?" I asked.

"I think so," replied Not Yet.

The parking lot was deserted, save for a blue truck, covered in snow, that belonged to two section hikers we'd met the day before.

We found a note on the information board from Matt, who'd spent the previous night at Hawk Mountain Shelter. Reading it, we learned that USFS 42 was open but barely passable. As a result, the people we'd expected to see—Macon Tracks, my mom, my dad, my sister, and my friends Jim and Maggie—were nowhere to be seen. So Not Yet and I started up the final 0.9 miles to the summit.

Not Yet raced ahead, but I was so exhausted by the day's hike that it took every ounce of energy I had to keep moving. Finally, I could see the plaque that marks the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Not Yet was standing there with Matt. We all hugged, laughed, congratulated each other, and took pictures.

My Springer summit was similar to my Katahdin summit in that I was too tired to jump up and down, yell, and otherwise express my jubilation at reaching the big goal. We were happy but subdued. The last month of hiking had been tough, and we were all glad to end this long, arduous trek through the cold and snow.

It was a fitting way to end our thru-hikes. Not Yet and I had talked about how Mt. Katahdin is sort of an exclamation point for northbounders ending their thru-hikes, and how Springer is more like a period at the end of a sentence. We'd all had incredible journeys, we were tired, and now it was time to go home.

On the way back to the parking lot, we saw Macon Tracks. He'd been able to get Not Yet's car a mile up USFS 42, but no further. This meant that we would need to hike five additional miles to his car. We were all exhausted, and my legs and feet were numb with both fatigue and cold, but we had no choice other than to keep walking. So we kept walking.

After several hours, we finally arrived at Amicalola Falls Lodge, where my parents and sister had reservations. Macon Tracks, Not Yet, Matt, and I spilled out of Not Yet's tiny blue car and went into the lodge for a very happy reunion—Matt with his mom, and I with my mom, dad, and sister.

And so "normal life" began tonight. No more sleeping outside, no more hiking all day long, no more following white blazes. I'm too tired now to think about the significance of all that, or even how I feel about it. I'm planning to post one more update to GORP in which I write about those things.

But for now, it's time for bed. Six months ago today, I summitted Mt. Katahdin, and today I finished my 2,167.1-mile trek south on the Appalachian Trail. I'm tired, but it's a "good tired." And now it's time for me to get some rest.

- Waterfall

Saturday, December 18, 2010

12 Breastfeeding Days of Christmas

I found this little list via Megan at Sorta Crunchy. It made me realize how blessed I've been to have so much support in this whole breastfeeding thing. I'm still breastfeeding my daughter after year and, while it would be nice to think this is a result of my own dedication, tenacity, and willingness to sacrifice, I think it would have been a lot harder without the support I've had along the way.

So, I'll run through these twelve days and share how I've benefitted from the love and support of those around me.

1. A mother wanting to breastfeed. Hello, that's me! I very much wanted to breastfeed. It saddens me when I meet pregnant women who are already saying they don’t want to breastfeed. I can honestly say I don’t judge them for that ... but I also don’t understand the sentiment. At all.

2. Doula/midwives. Oh, yes. My OBGYN's office has three midwives on staff, plus a nurse who is also a lactation consultant. The nurse taught the class we took on breastfeeding. As for doulas, I didn't use one, but one of my co-workers is a doula and gave me all kinds of resources and encouragement, both while I was pregnant and after the baby was born.

3. Support groups. I didn't have an official support group, but I really didn't need one, considering all the support I got elsewhere. Read on.

4. FABM (Fellow of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine) MDs. I don't know about official titles, but everyone at my OBGYN’s office was very supportive of, and encouraged, breastfeeding. And no one at their office handed out formula.

5. Baby-friendly hospitals. Again, I don’t know about official titles, but my hospital was definitely baby-friendly. No one tried to take my baby from me and put her in the nursery. She and I were separated only once in those first 24 hours, and that was so she could go have a hearing test. Anne was handed to me the moment she was born, and she was nursing before they ever cut the umbilical cord. And later, at around 3 a.m., when I needed some help with positioning for breastfeeding, the nurse on staff came in and helped me.

6. IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants). I've already mentioned the lactation consultant who taught our class. I've called her several times in the past year to ask questions, and to get advice on what to do when my milk supply was starting to diminish. (Yay for her suggestion of Fenugreek!) Also, a writer-friend of mine that I was in touch with on Facebook e-mailed me and said she was a lactation consultant and would love to come visit and, if I wanted, help me learn to breastfeed. So I took her up on it, and she was very helpful.

7. Partners protecting. This one's about my wonderful husband, who went to all the childbirth and breastfeeding classes with me. He "caught" Miss Anne when she came through the birth canal. He's the most awesome husband a woman could want, and he's a pretty good daddy, too. I’m amazed that he puts up with me.

8. Friends. Yes. I didn't know I even had friends before Anne was born. Now I realize I have more than I could have hoped for. My best friend has been my sister, who's shared her wisdom and experience and let me use her Cadillac of a breast pump (a hand-me-down to her from another mom friend). That pump has made pumping at work a much more manageable effort than otherwise.

9. Celebs a-nursing. Ho-hum. Who cares.

10. Nursing nooks. I live in a very small, very conservative town in the South, and I didn't know how people would react if I nursed Miss Anne in public. Turns out it hasn't been a problem. I had to stop wearing a "nursing cover" after about five months because Anne would rip it away anyway. Turns out I didn't need it. I try to be discreet, partly because not everyone wants to watch breastfeeding, but also because nursing is a private, special activity between me and my daughter. And no one--at work, in restaurants, at the park, in the coffee shop--has ever, ever given me a dirty look or said a criticizing word. I'm thankful for that.

11. Strangers cheering. I've had several people encourage me when they learn I'm breastfeeding. Most recently, new visitors to this blog have sent me cheering e-mails, saying how wonderful they thought it was that I'm still breastfeeding Miss Anne.

12. Supportive employers. Pumping on the job? Feeding my daughter when she comes to visit me during the day? Understanding when I'm suddenly without child care and have to be late for work? Check, check, check. I have a really great boss.

This article says that only 12% of moms breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first six months. I'm happy to have made it that far and longer, and I'm thankful for all the help and encouragement I've had to get there.

(Look at me, being thankful ... and it's not even Multitude Monday!)

To read more about important resources for breastfeeding--and get a printout of the "12 Breastfeeding Days of Christmas" song if you actually feel inclined to sing it--you can find it all at the Best for Babies website.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Caption?



Thursday, December 16, 2010

It's Not Too Late

One of the most important things I’ve done in this past year was committing to sponsor a child through Compassion International. As part of this sponsorship, I’ve had the pleasure of exchanging letters with my child, Consuelo, a ten-year-old girl in Guatemala.

This blog doesn’t have a lot of readers, and I imagine most of you already know about Compassion. If you don’t, however, I’d like to share with you a way that you can make a difference in a child’s life this Christmas.

No, I’m not asking you to sponsor a child (though I’d be thrilled if you did!). I’m just asking you to go to Compassion’s Gifts of Compassion catalog online and consider donating money for a gift for a child in poverty. Some of the gifts you can purchase are a mosquito net ($10), a chicken ($16), vaccinations ($25), education supplies ($30), and a water filter ($55). For many of us, these prices are a fraction of what we’ll spend on Christmas gifts for our friends and family. But these little gifts can make a big difference in a child’s life:

- A mosquito net can protect a child from malaria-carrying mosquitoes in Africa.
- A chicken can be a source of income for a family in El Salvador.
- Vaccinations can rescue an infant who might otherwise die of a disease before the age of five.
-  Educational supplies can help children in  Burkina Faso, India, Haiti, Tanzania and Uganda with school fees, uniforms, and books they need to get an education.
- A water filter can clean up to 500 gallons of water a day and helps prevent waterborne diseases like cholera, typhoid, E. coli and hepatitis A.

And so on.

I’d been planning to buy several such gifts this Christmas, but I hadn’t gotten around to it. Thankfully, Ann’s post today reminded me to take what will be, I’m certain, my most important online “shopping trip” of the season.

Won’t you take a trip to Compassion’s gift site, too?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

2010 in Photos, Part 1 of 3


From the Boston Globe. The Haiti pictures are particularly heartbreaking.

Why I'm So Tired

My husband asks me this, incredulous. Why are you so tired?

It's my answer to the standard "How are you" question.

Tired.

Tired of thinking, tired of rushing, tired of trying, tired of living.

____ fatigue. The kind that, if there were no baby needing me, would keep me in bed all day, sleeping 16 hours at a ____, the way I slept at the start of my senior year in college, when I was so _____ depressed.

So tired that this writer's brain can't come up with words, and I end up with a sort of sleepy aphasia, spending who knows how much brain power trying to think of the word I'm looking for, googling phrases that might contain it, running synonyms through the Word thesaurus.

So I'm even tired of trying to think of words and am just typing blank lines when the words don't come.

Ah, yes. Depression. It's back. It's been back for a while.

So last night I dreamed I was on a roller coaster and kept trying to unlatch the bars that held me in so I could jump off. Not that I was feeling suicidal or wanting to hurt myself--I just wanted off.

And that's how it is in real life. My mind never stops and it's a roller coaster of a life inside my head and I just want to get off of the ride for a while.

I'm so tired of being tired. I know I need to be on medication. I've searched the web and talked to doctors and consulted pharmacists, and I can't find anyone who will tell me that Prozac, the one antidepressant that ever seemed to work for me, is safe for nursing mothers to take.

So, I need to wait. I need to wait while I wean this little sweetie pie who just turned one year old. But, despite all the "How to Wean Your Baby" articles I've read, I don't even know where to start.

I don't want to wean her before she's ready. At the same time, I'm nearing some sort of breaking point. I've hit that breaking point before. I don't want to go back again.

For a while, it looked like she was beginning to wean herself; she seemed uninterested in midday feedings, so I stopped going to see her during my lunch hour. That was two weeks ago. Now she wants milk all the time. When I see her after work, she holds her arms out desperately toward me and wails as if she needs me to save her from drowning. I take her in my arms and she starts trying to pull up my shirt with her fumbly little hands, saying, "Ba-bee," "bee-bee," and other variations of "booby." (Yep ... We use "nurse," "milky," and "booby" to refer to breastfeeding. Of course she picks up on "booby" as her word of choice!)

When I'm with her, when I'm nursing her, all that stress, all that tiredness, all that hopelessness just melts away, and all is right with the world.

I'm no more eager to quit the breastfeeding than she is.

I don't know where this blog post is going. All I know right now is that I'm between a rock and a hard place, and that writing usually helps, but that writing is also something that I never, ever have time for anymore.

I went to my pastor for several counseling sessions, and they helped, sort of. Mostly they just reinforced what I already knew: I'm meant to write, and when I don't have the time, energy, or privacy to write, my sense of balance--emotional, mental, spiritual--starts to go. And when I don't have the time or energy for piano or exercise either, I'm in even more dangerous territory.

I read a lot of blogs by Christian women that read like the Psalms: They begin talking about how hard life is, then they end on a faith-filled, hopeful note of praise about how God takes care of them anyway.

I don't feel that way these days. I read those blogs and it's like reading something from another culture.

I don't identify. Even my verse of choice rings hollow these days.

I know it's the depression. It's always the depression.

It's time to leave for work. Sorry for such a downer post. I've started writing posts for this blog every day, and every one of them ends up this way. So maybe if I just put this out there, the need to write it will leave my system and I'll be able to focus on other things.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Multitude Monday #3: Birthday Edition

My little Anne had her first birthday yesterday. We woke up to a world covered in snow, and it snowed on and off all day. The result? Lots of people were snowed in (or sick), so it was a small gathering for her first birthday party. But it was a good crowd (with the focus on "good"), and I was thankful for those friends and family who braved the weather conditions to help celebrate a baby's birthday.

(OK, so my cake-decorating skills need some work.
Fortunately, Miss Anne didn't seem to mind!)

Continuing my gratitude list, here are some things I'm thankful for today:

#28: First birthdays

#29: Chocolate buttercream frosting (Anne is thankful for this, too.)


#30: The sight of a one-year-old eating her first birthday cake


#31: The first snow of the season


#32: My crazy Yankee (Ohio) husband who never wears a coat

#33: My sweet niece, Ella, and the friendship she's already begun to develop with Baby Anne

#34:: Chicken and sausage gumbo

#35: A big brother who comes through in a pinch

#36: The way the snow brings everything--particularly the tree branches outside my bedroom window--into such sharp relief

#37: Used baby clothes

#38: Digital cameras

#39: Camelbak water bottles

#40: Warm, heavy sweatshirts

#41: Time to snuggle with my husband and watch part of a movie (This weekend, it was the last half-hour of "The Godfather"--we started watching it quite a while ago!)

#42: Getting lost for weeks in a thick masterpiece of a novel (I just started reading Anna Karenina again this week, and will probably be reading it well into the new year.)

#43: Time to play piano

#44: A sweet two-year-old niece who shows an interest in piano (speaking of piano ...)

#45: Early-morning snuggle-and-nurse sessions with my baby girl. I'm appreciating them even more now that she's beginning to wean herself.

#46: Pop-up books

#47: My little brother (actually, half-brother), Jonathan, who celebrated his 31st birthday yesterday. We didn't meet until we were adults, but I knew, from the moment he first tried to "mute" me with the TV remote control (the first time we met, no less), that he really was my brother. I love you, kid.

I have a few other friends with December 12 birthdays:

#48: Karen ("POG"), whom I met through the online hiking community over ten years ago. It's hard to believe we've known each other that long. She met her sweetie, Ed, at a Walkin' Jim concert years ago; Dan and I were planning to go, so I invited my friend Karen, and Dan invited his friend Ed ... and the rest is history. I'm so glad we could play a small part in her happiness.

#49: Mrs. Shirley. I just love Mrs. Shirley. She's one of my favorite people in this whole world, and has been for, oh, about 40 years. She's one of the most musically talented people I know, and she has played the organ at First Baptist Church in Plaquemine, Louisiana (where I grew up) for who knows how many years. She always makes me smile, and I always look forward to seeing her when I make my (unfortunately) rare visits to Louisiana.

holy experience

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Forecast for Anne's First Birthday Party

Here's the forecast for Anne's first birthday party tomorrow:


Well, better this year than last, I guess, considering Anne's birthin' hospital was thirty minutes away and on the other side of a mountain.

Poor Anne ... she picked December 12 to be born, a day when weather is often iffy and folks are so busy with Christmas activities that birthdays can get lost in the shuffle. Of course, we've vowed never to let little Anne's birthday to be overshadowed by the holiday madness, and we will look disdainfully upon anyone who deigns to give her a combination birthday/Christmas present.

But still, I feel for the kid. She doesn't know it now, but she's in for a lifetime of wondering if everyone's going to be too snowed in, or too busy with holiday activities like shopping and parties and caroling and such, to come to her birthday party.

Unless ... we celebrate her half-birthdays in June instead of her birthdays in December. Hmmm, now there's an idea ...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

One Year Ago Today ...

I was wondering when my baby would be born, whether I was having a boy or a girl, and if I really had feet below that belly!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Multitude Monday #2

What a weekend. On Friday, Anne was a little baby. By Sunday night, she was something between baby and toddler. What a transformation, and in such a short time!

Friday night, she was standing at the coffee table and took a couple of tentative steps to the couch.

"Hmm," I thought. "Could Miss Anne finally be interested in walking?"

So I sat several feet from her, held out my arms, and said, "Miss Anne, can you walk to Mommy?"

She held her arms toward me, grinned ear to ear, and walked five steps before falling into my arms.

And that was it. She's been walking ever since.

She also started saying "Beh-bee." At first I thought she was saying "Baby," but I soon realized from the context that she's saying, "Boobie," which is Anne-language for, "I want some milk, please Mommy." See, I use three different expressions for milk: "Milky," "Nursie," and "Boobie." And we see which word she's decided to pick up on.

She also started laughing this weekend. She'd laughed a few times before, but she's been, on the whole, a pretty serious baby. But this weekend? It's like she learned that laughing is actually fun, and the whole weekend was filled with the sounds of her sweet little giggle. Last night, she and I just looked at each other and laughed for the longest time--the more I laughed, the more she laughed, and vice versa. She was trying to nurse, but she couldn't because she was laughing. So she's stop and look up at me and laugh some more. It was priceless.

So, today's "Multitude Monday" is mostly about my growing little girl:

#13. Her sweet, infectious little giggle

#14. The way she pulls herself up the stairs and looks back every few steps to make sure I'm still there with her

#15. Her first, wobbly attempts at walking

#16. How, on her third day of walking, she went six steps while keeping her nose in a book. Looked like she wasn't even thinking about the fact that she was walking.

#17. Her sweet hugs

#18. The way she says "bah-bee" when she wants to nurse

#19. The fact that she now points at my nose when I ask her, "Where is Mommy's nose?"

No more of this hand-batting thing!
 #20. The way she played piano this weekend: striking notes with a single finger, rather than batting at them with her hands. This is another significant change I noticed in those magical three days.

#21. The way she loves to be upside down. We'll let her hang upside down for a few seconds, then pull her up, and then she throws her head back so we can hang her upside down again.

#22. The way she's discovered that she can put things into containers. (Up to now, she's only been interested in taking things out).

#23. Our "laughing session" last night. That one's going to go down in my memory as one of my most treasured moments of motherhood.

#24. The way she's begun to "steer" her walker so she doesn't run into anything. It made me feel a little sad, though, that she no longer needs me to redirect it when she's about to run into a chair or a wall.

I have a few thankful things regarding my husband, too.

#25. In addition to working his full-time job, he's been a good house-husband these last few weeks when I've had to put in a lot more hours at work.

#26. His special little games with Anne: the nose beep, hiding under the blanket, etc. It's neat how things are developing, where there are certain games Anne plays with me, and certain games she plays with her daddy.

#27. He's always, always willing to rub my feet. I might have listed that in an earlier "thankful" list, but it deserves a second mention.

Life is good. I'm still exhausted and I had to work a full day on Saturday and Anne is still not quite over her cold from last week, but life is good. All the laughing and playing with my baby this weekend was good for everyone.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Then and Now

A year ago today, it was the eve of my--actually, my baby's--due date. I spent my morning at Riverblaze Bakery, writing and thinking and playing their old console piano with the few sticky keys. I'd been so sure that Baby "Scout" would come early, having "dropped" weeks before. But no ... it looked like "he" (I just knew Scout was a boy) was going to come on his due date or later.

So I waited. Little did I know that I had a few more days of waiting, and several hours-long episodes of "false labor" to go before Scout would finally make her entrance.

Now our little Anne Megan is almost one year old. She's begun to wean herself, I think. She shows little interest in her evening nursing session, and is absolutely indifferent to her midday one. Every workday for the past ten months, I've made the lunch-hour trip to Anne's sitter's house so she could nurse and we could cuddle. She still likes to cuddle, but nurse ...? Nah. Let me cuddle a bit with mommy, and then I'll go back to my books and toys, thank you very much.

So, a year after her due date, I'm going to stop making my midday visits. This makes me a little sad because I miss her during the day, and those visits "hold me over" until I can pick her up after work. But work is getting busier--the all-too-familiar 55-hour weeks of late development season have begun--and Anne is getting more independent.

I'd hoped to nurse her for several more months, and maybe I will; she does still love her morning and before-bed nursing sessions. I love them, too, so I hope we'll keep doing those for a while.

Still, my Li'l Boo is growing up. Soon we'll celebrate her first birthday. She's climbing stairs and walking everywhere (with her walker). When she's in the bathtub, I can say, "Li'l Boo, where's your duck?" "Where's your butterfly?" "Where's the washcloth?" "Where's the cup?" "Where's the drain?" "Where's your belly button?" And she hands me what I've asked for, or points if it's the drain or her belly button.

She is such a little miracle, and I love her so much. She's been sick with a combination of teething and a bad cold this past week, so we've had a few sleepless nights. But even then, there's something so sweet about being able to go to my crying daughter at 3 a.m. and comfort her. Even if I can't make her feel physically better, it's clear that the mommy-time--the cuddling and the nursing--work wonders for her and help her go back to sleep.

"B" of the blog Unexpectedly Expecting Baby recently posted this poem. It's one that, pre-motherhood, I would probably have thought was cheesy. But I'm a whole 'nother creature now, and it had me all sniffly and sobby.

Wean Me Gently
by Cathy Cardall

I know I look so big to you,
Maybe I seem too big for the needs I have.
But no matter how big we get,
We still have needs that are important to us.
I know that our relationship is growing and changing,
But I still need you. I need your warmth and closeness,
Especially at the end of the day
When we snuggle up in bed.
Please don't get too busy for us to nurse.
I know you think I can be patient,
Or find something to take the place of a nursing;
A book, a glass of something,
But nothing can take your place when I need you.
Sometimes just cuddling with you,
Having you near me is enough.
I guess I am growing and becoming independent,
But please be there.
This bond we have is so strong and so important to me,
Please don't break it abruptly.
Wean me gently,
Because I am your mother,
And my heart is tender.

Don't grow up too fast, Li'l Boo.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"Discover Your Secret Name" Read-Along

Another thing I want to do with this blog is share some of the books I'm reading, and one way I'd like to do this is by participating in blogger "read-alongs" every now and then. Marla Taviano, who recently did a "Radical Read-Along" for David Platt's book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, is doing a new read-along starting in January. This time, she and her readers will be exploring the book Your Secret Name: Discovering Who God Created You to Be by Kary Oberbrunner. So I'll be reading along!

Here's the blurb from the back cover:

We all have one--a Secret Name that is. The Bible tells us so. Yet few of us know ours. Ignorantly, we're stuck, caught up in the 'Name Game.' Using the story of the biblical patriarch Jacob as a backdrop, author Kary Oberbrunner calls us to stop accepting the world's labels and start wrestling with God to discover our true identity. Jacob spent years living out the meaning of his earthly name: 'deceiver.' Caught up in pretending to be someone he wasn't, he was unaware that God would build a nation through him, unaware that Jesus would be one of his descendents, unaware of the lands he would inherit. Then he heard God speak his true name and the future God had for him unfolded. Oberbrunner reminds us that we'll be unable to discern what God wants to build through us until we discover how God has seen us all along. In Your Secret Name, readers will find the courage to abandon what they know in order to become who they were born to be.
And this is from an editorial review:

Finding life's purpose often begins with the stunning revelation that we are loved. But our vision must then move quickly beyond ourselves lest we drown in the subtle quicksand of narcissism. 'To find our life we must lose it' by doing something beautiful for others that allows them to hear the whisper that they too are beloved...especially those who have been told their whole lives that they are anything but loveable. (Shane Claiborne)
I'm a little old to be finding life's purpose, but I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't wandering aimlessly most of the time, like everyone else. Part of my problem is that I've always known my purpose, yet I've always denied it, and I'm still denying it to this day. So, maybe this book will help me there. (If that's the case, I'll probably hate it.)

Anyway, if you're interested in reading along with me and others, head on over to Marla's blog and let her know that you'll be joining us. You can order the book from amazon.com, or you can go to the book's publisher, Zondervan, and spend $10 for the book, the audio book, and shipping. Or you can go to your local bookstore and order it there!

Anyway, another thing I want to do on my blog is write about the whole confused "spiritual journey" thing in my life. So I think my posts on this book will provide a good way to start doing that.

If you're interested, Marla provides more details (timeline, etc.) here. Please let me know in the comments if you'll be reading along, too!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Depression and Gratitude

While I was “away” from the blogging world, I wasn’t really away. I was blogging on a mostly private blog, taking part in an effort by many to count up to 1,000 blessings in my life—or more. I felt like I needed to do this. Gratitude has been a challenge lately; these days, I tend to focus much more on what I don’t like about my life. I even thought of having a weekly “Thankless Thursday” post where I complained about things—in a good-humored way, of course. (Hmm ... I might still do that.)

I mentioned in my previous post that depression has become an issue. I wasn’t just being flip; it really is an issue. I stopped taking antidepressants in March 2009, when I learned that I was pregnant. The pregnancy hormones—the same ones, apparently, that suddenly gave me beautiful skin, bodacious (yet painful) ta-tas, and luxurious hair—also seemed to fix the depression problem. Once the baby was born, the hormones released by breastfeeding continued to keep me out of the pit.

But something's happened. Maybe the milk production is going down (though it doesn't seem to be). Maybe I'm just tired. But the long-staved-off depression began to slink back in, darkening everything. It hasn’t helped that I’m working 50 hours a week, not sleeping enough, and never have time to write, play piano, or exercise. In fact, those things have made it worse, since my sure-fire ways of dealing with depression, aside from drugs, has been writing, music, and exercise. Soul-feeding stuff.

It’s been tough. And to get back to the title of this post, depression makes gratitude almost impossible. When depression has really infested your mind and soul, you can’t look outward and see things you’re thankful for. Depression shines a flash-dark (to use Dr. Seuss’s words) over everything. Everywhere seems to be a dead-end, and all you can do is look inward to the dead-end of yourself, to the bleakness within, and feel utterly hopeless about life, the future, everything.

But I’m going to try this again—the gratitude thing. I’ve begun by listing some of the items I already listed on my other blog. And I'll continue from there on a weekly (or so) basis. I’ll participate in “Multitude Monday” each week, even if I can only think of one thing I’m grateful for. (Working on gratitude is also something my counselor suggested I do.)

So, there’s one mission for this blog: Gratitude. Even though it’s a struggle these days. A big struggle.

Whew. I feel like I’m starting a whole new journey right now, with this blog, and with my life. Maybe I am. And maybe one of these days, Life Downside Up will start feeling like Life Right Side Down. Or Life Right Side Up. Something like that. :-)