My Happy Place

There's a scene in Dumb and Dumber where the main character, Lloyd, is about to have an unsavory encounter with an old nemesis in a gas station bathroom and he begins chanting to himself, "Find a happy place.  Find a happy place." 

Some days, to be completely honest, I find myself thinking these same words.

This is my happy place.

It's my backyard.  With tall grass.  Give me a mower and someone to watch the kids and I will mow until I can mow no mo'.  I do my best thinking while I'm mowing.  It's a good, boring, repetitive task that requires no amount of concentration and so my racing mind just ready, set, goes for the duration.  I don't know why I enjoy it so much.  I guess it's fulfilling.  Like when your carpet is visibly dirty, then you vacuum it and it's suddenly 100% better.  I like being able to see my path of progress as I mow each row.  I like being able to see how much is left and watch it dwindle as I go back and forth, back and forth.  I really like that I can get a little suntan while I'm doing it. 

Shortly after we moved to this house in 2006, my father-in-law gifted us an old riding mower.  It was so unbelievably appreciated.  We lived on a quarter of an acre at our old home which was easily mowed with a pushmower.  Our new yard was more than double that, and while I pushed it for a few months, a riding mower was a small glimpse of heaven.  It worked well for a few years.  Then, over time, just as all machines do, it started to wear out.  And I got weary of trying to make it work.  Here's a little run-down of how it would go when I'd try to mow the grass:

1.  Open shed.
2.  Notice back tire is flat (again).  Walk to garage to retrieve air compressor.
3.  Inflate back tire.
4.  (Unsuccessfully) Attempt to start mower.
5.  Push mower to driveway to jumpstart with the van.
6.  Mow for 5 minutes before a child retrieves you from backyard for an "emergency" like "I need some milk." 
7.  Go inside to tend to said "emergency" only to return to a dead-again mower.
8.  Go back to Step 4.

Maybe it's just me, but I'd rather pull out the pushmower and get something accomplished than spend 45 minutes trying to get the riding mower to start.  So that's what I did.  Even when it was really hot and I was really pregnant and being seen behind a pushmower cutting grass should probably have been embarrassing.  Mowing is just my thing.

Last summer, we decided it was high time we fix up our fixer-upper and so Sam did a pretty extensive overhaul on the old girl (if hand-me-down riding lawnmowers are, in fact, girls - whatever).  New blades, new fluids, a new tire, new belts.  Everything was taken off and re-installed.  I cranked that baby up like she was good as new and mowed through a 42" path of grass like butter.  About 5 rows into it, oil sprayed onto my leg, a giant plume of black smoke emerged from the engine, and the whole thing cut off.

It didn't look or sound good.  And it wasn't.

May she rest in peace.  (Or, indefinitely at the back of our yard behind our shed.  Because, what do you do with a riding mower when you don't have a truck to haul it away with?)

In case you're wondering why I've written this long of a post about mowing the lawn...here's the pay dirt.

I got this new girl today.

Because my husband loves me.  And he wants me to use my time efficiently.  Now I get to think on the mower, then I'll have time to come inside and type it all up in the form of a blog post.  Wait, sorry Sam.  Probably didn't see that coming did you?

I'm just grateful for spring, a big yard full of tall grass (or "grass" as the case may be), kids to play in it, and a way to mow it. 

My happy place.

Happy Spring!!!

Where do you do your best thinking?  (Coming in a close second for me is the shower.)


All of the Things

While it's impossible for me to believe that November 28th was over four months ago, I sit here with a house full of kids in perpetual motion around me while the newest member of the family sleeps happily (for now) in a swing that I hid from his way-too-adoring big sisters in the corner of a bedroom where he's never been located before.  Flexibility.  That's the name of the game these days.

As I observed my family today, I realized how long it's been since I even uploaded photos to a Facebook album, let alone blogged about our many adventures (and non-adventures as is typically the case on a run-of-the-mill day around here).  These are things that have taken up residence in my mind.  I read something online today that says you should declutter your brain, spring-cleaning-style, by writing things down.  My mind clutter is about to become your blog reading.  I decided to sum up our last six-ish months in a single blog post and write about ALL OF THE THINGS.  All of them.  Hold on to your butts.  (That's a Samuel L. Jackson quote from Jurassic Park thrown in just for fun because my brain contains a useless wealth of obscure movie lines.)  But seriously, don't quit reading.  I'll use pictures and bullets, you know, of the literary variety not the "pow-pow" kind.  'Cause that's what I do.

All of the Things I Meant to Blog About...but Didn't.  Until Now.

1.  A Medical Emergency in a Foreign Land - While Sam and the 3 oldest went to the hotel pool, Leah and I hung out in the room (pre-Noah's birth).  I fixed myself a cup of coffee with the in-room coffee pot, and, well, went to the restroom to pee.  While in there, I heard a blood-curdling scream, only to find Leah had pulled the coffee down from the sink and scalded her underarm and ribcage.  Here I was alone on the 10th floor of a hotel room in Canada (okay, so it was Niagara Falls and I could probably have spit on the United States from our balcony, but it makes the story better this way) with a hysterical 18 month old, and a history of not exactly remaining cool, calm, and collected in emergencies.  I rinsed her in the sink, handed her a tiny piece of chocolate, and did the only thing I knew to do - took her to the pool to ask Sam for advice.  Turns out, that was a good move.  We dunked her, cooled her off, and she stopped wailing.  It looked bad (photo if you care to see).  We slathered her with some good Canadian medication and mummy wrapped her in gauze, and, by some miracle, watched that sweet baby up completely within a matter of days.  Isn't it awesome how quickly children can heal?  The best thing to come out of this experience was that Leah developed a healthy fear of all mugs, coffee pots, and general hot things.  In fact, her first word aside from the usual suspects (Mama, Dada, duck, ball, bird) was "Hot!"  Poor, sweet girl.  Talk about Mommy guilt. 

2.  Hotel Living - People ask us how it works on our trips with so many people.  Let's just say we travel with an air mattress, and sometimes we have to get creative.  (And those are the times I want to snatch these kids of mine up and hug their necks.  Just look at them.  Precious.)

3.  Dandelions and Hill Rolling - Sometimes you just never know what might make the biggest impression on a child.  Like...when one of them decides to pick dandelions just feet away from Niagara Falls.

Or when they climb Mount Royal in Montreal only to be more excited to roll down the side of it.  Part of me wonders how many Canadians watched us and shook their heads.  "Crazy Americans."

4.  The Christmas that Almost Wasn't - You hear so often about house fires in the winter, usually from space heaters and faulty decorations, etc.  What you don't hear about as often is central vacuum cleaners whose faulty wiring cause tripped breakers.  So very thankful that Sam discovered this on December 23rd and saved our home from an electrical fire.  It would have started in the attic.  I shudder to think how long it would have gone unnoticed before we realized...

And then there was the whole Abby-falling-out-of-a-tree on Christmas Day thing.  When we heard she'd done it, at first we thought, "Oh Abby."  Then we realized the severity of it.  The tree literally tore her shirt practically off of her body as she plummeted to the ground.  We are very grateful she was not more seriously injured (aside from scrapes and a sore tailbone).  Must have had an angel soften the blow for her.  But, know what?  This hasn't stopped her from continuing to climb trees.

5.  The Kidney Stone Saga of 2014 - I say that with finality because even though it's only April, I'm really hoping it is the kidney stone saga and not one of more.  On Sunday, January 27th we got home from dinner at Firehouse Subs after church, I was in my bedroom getting ready to put the kids down for the night and that all-too-familiar pain hit me in my back.  With tears in my eyes, I told Sam I was taking myself to the ER.  He, of course, refused to let me and while I cried myself a pity party, he called our favorite family of gingers who sent relief over to keep the kids safe while I writhed in pain at the emergency room.  As I was literally vomiting from the pain, my doctor took a comprehensive medical history in the exam room.  "You have five kids?!  You know what causes that right?!"  (Dude, not the time.)  Then he sent the nurse in to inform me that he would not give me any pain medication until after my CT scan.  I informed her that I was not a drug addict, that just 8 weeks earlier I birthed a nearly 10-pound baby without pain medication, and I didn't have a clue how I was supposed to be still enough for CT when I could not stop my body from shaking.  My arguments were not compelling enough.  To CT I went.  Lo and behold - I had a kidney stone.  On the bright side, our kids got to take their first ever "field trip" to a urologist's office.

Long story short, it didn't pass, my kidney puffed up, yadda yadda yadda, I had outpatient surgery and went to Disney World two days later.  Then Noah and I drove back from Disney World to get the wretched stent out of my body and I was as good as new.  Which brings me to....

6.  Walt Disney World!!!! - This very obviously deserves its own post, but we did go to Disney World.  This was the kids' big Christmas present this year.  Ten days at the most magical place on earth.  It was splendid.  Here's a picture of the kids when they found out they were going on Christmas Day.

And one from actual Disney World...maybe one day I'll dedicate a post to the trip.

6.  Leah is TWO! - I don't know how or when it happened, but it did.  This deserves its own post too.  I love this sweet girl to death.  What a joy she is in every way.  Age two has brought a language explosion and the sophistication that comes hand in hand with it.  I cannot even tell you how happy we are that Leah is part of our family.  Just look at her.  Go ahead.  Bite her.  She's irresistible.

7.  The Staph Infection (seriously, what's next?  Typhoid?) - I can only assume I picked up "the staph" during one of my hospital stays.  Hospitals are good at hosting things like that.  On one particularly beautiful Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago, I decided to mow the backyard.  It's what I do for relaxation.  (What?  I'm weird.)  Apparently, I should wear gloves because I grip the handlebar way too hard, and I irritated a patch of eczema on the palm of my right hand.  This minor irritation was the perfect site for the staph to colonize, and within 12 hours of developing a minor fever feeling, I was in full-on infection mode.  Festering boils, pain and streaking, swollen and sore glands in my neck, high fever.  Thanks to Dr. Google I was self-diagnosed before I even saw my GP.  And as he ran behind by nearly an hour for my appointment, I sat in the tiny exam room and imagined all sorts of worst case scenarios like, "What if they have to amputate my hand?!" and "How can I take care of 5 kids if I'm plugged up to an IV in a hospital fighting off MRSA for six weeks?!"  Turns out a 10-day course of antibiotics knocked the thing clear out of my body and I'm good as new, but seriously...what in the world is God trying to tell me!?

This is already too long, and I'm on a roll so I'm cutting myself off.  Thanks for letting me de-clutter my brain on you.  I had a college professor who called this a "data dump."  Whatever you call it, it's my life - sometimes crazy, usually fun, always unpredictable.  And in good company.  Until next time, blessings, my friends.

A New Season

At the risk of sounding like a real loser, here's my 2014 health resume.  In just the past seven weeks, I have experienced a kidney stone that ultimately required surgery, a virus that hit me the day after my surgery, and am now fighting a staph infection, which I am earnestly praying will not require a hospital stay (seeing as I'm sure that's where I picked up the bacteria in the first place).  I have been put on my butt.  From pain and fever.  Multiple times.

I don't like being on my butt.  At all.  I like to be useful.  And being on my butt just gives me time to think about how useless I am.  Then I cry.  So, I've cried a lot and had to accept help a lot.  And that's just not something I do.  I've got a little bit of a pride thing.


This morning, Abby woke up before anyone else, and when I met her in the kitchen, she was fully dressed in the brightest tank top and shorts combination she could find in her closet, with a ponytail in her hair and flip-flops on her feet.  I said, "Don't you look like spring?" To which she replied, "Why do you think I picked this outfit?  I'm going to go see how warm it is outside."  Right then.  At 7:15am.  Apparently, to Abby, the advent of spring is a pretty big deal.  She was literally bouncing with excitement over the new season.

At that moment, I decided that I was glad that despite the fever from the staph infection, I somehow got through a full school day with the kids the day prior because I didn't have to feel as guilty about making The First Day of Spring an official Sheppard Family Holiday.  For our "school" holidays, you don't have to brush your hair, put on matching clothes (or even change out of your pajamas), wash your face, keep your hands clean, or wear shoes, and getting dirty is just a sign that you did it right.

The rule for the First Day of Spring was "If you're inside, you're doing school.  If you're outside, you can play."  I'm not trying to brag to those of you who seem stuck in an eternal winter, but it was pretty much the most beautiful first day of spring I can remember.

These even peeked open for us.  Literally today.  I think God planned that just for Abby to make it even more special.

We enjoyed the sunshine that ushered in the new season.  I think even the birds had a little extra pep in their step today.
This little number was a team effort on the part of Ben and Abby who collected all of the scarves in the house to create a pulley system for sending "mail" between the different parts of the playground.  My only question was - Why do we have so many scarves?  Umm, we live in Georgia.  (And I'm just noticing that Ben was absent from the backyard for the duration of the picture-taking.  Clever boy.  He avoids the camera like his mother.)

We're just so glad she finally has enough hair to get "bed head."

I was fever-free for twelve hours.  And we made the most of them.  (We even got in a math lesson...score!)

I am ready for spring.  But more than that, I'm ready for a new season.  I truly feel like God is trying to get my attention with these random ailments.  And I'm praying that with this new season, He will open up my eyes to the message He's trying to get across to me.  Discernment.  That's what I need.  He might very well just be telling me I need to rest.  Or maybe it's that I need to trust Him a little more and myself a little less...you know, the pride thing I mentioned.  Maybe he's trying to tell me to stop being annoyed by people who seem chronically sick by making me into one of them.  (Hey, I've never claimed to be nice.)

I wish you all the most beautiful of spring times, especially those of you who seem to have fallen under Elsa's curse this winter.  Steal some moments to just take it all in.  I never cease to be awed by the rebirth of spring.  God's creation, man.  He was good at it.

I'm Not a Self-Righteous Know-It-All, but I Play One on the Internet

Last Friday, the day of the thirty-second turned three-hour task, I got angry at my kids. 

For wanting to eat breakfast.

I struggle every day with selfishness, pride, entitlement, and jealousy (even though wisdom that comes with age has helped me to grow up and get over this one to some extent).

I raise my voice.  A lot.  Then I feel guilty.  Especially when it makes Noah cry.  Then I feel like the worst mom ever.

I am quick to judge, slow to love, very quick to anger, and even slower to forgive..especially myself.

Transparency is important to me.  I have no claims to perfection.  I am so very far from perfect.  I think if you know me in real life, you are 100% aware of this.  Because, well, it's obvious.

One of my vices is the internet.  I feel captive to it.  It's really kind of embarrassing to say it that way.  I'm enslaved by what is going on inside my computer.  True story.  I'm aware of it and I'm taking strides to wean myself off the addiction.  But the truth is, I mostly want to be rid of the misrepresentation.

I am so quick to jump to conclusions when I read things on the internet.  If I stop by someone's blog or read an editorial or a tweet or a status update, it takes about five seconds for me to assume that I know everything there is to know and to draw conclusions and make diagnoses from a mere snapshot of that person's life and experiences.

Maybe I'm the only one who does this.

It's probably my insecurity showing, but I end up second guessing my entire life because of innocuous Facebook posts about kids reading at age three or potty-training at 18 months or winning Olympic gold medals and what have you.  We weren't meant to do this to ourselves.  We were created so wonderfully unique.  Why do we always think we have to fit into someone else's mold?

When I post a status update or blog or share an article, I am giving a small snapshot of myself.  It doesn't represent the big picture.  I feel like if I share successes or victories (large or small), I'm bragging.  If I share struggles or difficulties, I'm admitting failure.  If I ask for prayer, I'm being self-serving.  If I laugh at the expense of my kids, I'm being defamatory. These things, of course, are not true, but I can see where others might view them in this light.  Because that's what I do.

I can attempt to be transparent all day, but at the end of it, I've still only provided a snapshot.  I don't want to misrepresent myself.  Who I am cannot be described in 144 characters, even several times a day.  As much as it pains this introvert to say it, what I need, what I crave, are friends with whom I can be completely honest about my shortcomings and my successes.  Friends who care to know the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Instead, what I find I mostly have are Facebook interactions with people who haven't seen me in twelve years and with whom the only communication I've had is one of heated tone over what I thought was a fairly un-debate-worthy Facebook share.  How that happens, I don't even know. 

So what is the solution?  Grow thicker skin?  Turn off the computer?  Unfriend people I haven't seen face to face within the past couple of years?  Get over myself?  I don't know, probably all of the above.

I just don't want to spend my life misrepresented and misunderstood.  I think the only remedy for this is good, old-fashioned face time.  And not the app.  Real, live people.  Over coffee and chocolate.  I've got the good stuff.  Come on over.

Do you struggle with any of this?  What do you do?  And please ignore the irony of me seeking wisdom from my internet friends. 


If You Assign Yourself a 30 Second Task...

Friday Morning.

I woke up, fed Noah, and waited for the four other kids to traipse over to my bedroom where we start our day out with lots of hugs and a cartoon from under the warm comforter.  (Turns out a king sized bed fits one adult and five kids just perfectly.)

Seeing as how it was Noah's "three month birthday" and all kids were present and in seemingly good humor, I decided to snap a photo of the growing lad with his big sisters and brother.  Easy.  Done.  They were even all looking...kind of.

I sat down to complete what should have been a thirty second task - download the picture from my camera card to my computer.  As luck would have it, my card reader (which has been on the fritz for a while) didn't recognize the camera card.  I remembered that we bought a new one a few weeks ago, but I didn't remember where we put it.  Determined to complete the "thirty second task" I searched high and low, in drawers, even in the attic with the Christmas lights that I knew we bought at the same time, only to find it on the "camera bag shelf" where I should have looked in the first place.  Except...that card reader didn't work either.  At this point, I'd invested about thirty minutes into the thirty second task.  The cartoon was over.  Bellies were hungry.  There were simultaneous, urgent demands for Juice! and Milk!  But, alas, I did not waver.  With my eyes set on the goal, I properly ignored my thirsting and hungry children and pressed on.  With the two card readers, I tried a different laptop.  No go.  Ten more minutes gone.  I moved to the desktop computer in our office, but I don't know the passwords anymore because I haven't used it in three years.  Call Sam at work.  No answer.  Ask Ben.  Get logged in finally only to find that the built-in reader on the monitor doesn't recognize the card either.  Give Ben a ten second lesson how to make waffles and continue on.

Frantic and now worried that I might never get to see the pictures we took of our first full family vacation to Disney World (oh, by the way, we went to Disney World in February), having seemingly forgotten the reason I started this task in the first place, I finally remembered that I can plug the camera directly into the computer.  Only, when I try to copy the files "Windows Explorer" encounters some obscure, un-fixable error and has to restart.  No go on the copying.  I tried "importing" (a fancy computer word for "copying") and it finally worked.  Five minutes later all of my photos from the past two months were on my computer.  I could share the sweet picture of my Noah boy and his four big sibs.  Wait.  The internet was down.

Frustrated and nearing tears.  (Over a photograph, mind you.)  I persevered until, finally, at 11:21am I uploaded the picture.  Yes, that's right.  At least three HOURS after I set out to do it.

Is this a noteworthy story?  Not really.  So why am I sharing it?  Because sometimes it feels like every thirty second task I set out to do takes three hours.  I have a backlog of ideas to write about a mile long, things I want to do around the house, with the kids, for others, but every day I first have to feed, clothe, bathe, teach, and enjoy my family, maintain general sanitary conditions, and strive for some a small semblance of order.  These things alone don't allow for thirty second - turned - three hour tasks...or even thirty second tasks, to be honest.  Maybe time management isn't my strong suit (it's not).  Maybe motherhood has given me attention deficit disorder (I truly believe it has).  Maybe I just wanted to pat myself on the back for having the wherewithal to complete one, simple, innocuous task for what feels like the first time since 2003. 

Some days are just like that.  I'm calling it a teachable moment.

"See kids, perseverance pays off.  And you might never have learned to make waffles on your own otherwise."

To sum up...this is why I don't blog a whole lot.

God Bless, Friends.  Enjoy your season.  Wherever you might be. 

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