Merry Christmas, Happy New Year! (And Happy 1 Month, Noah!)

Well, my fine friends, 2013 has come and nearly gone.  I hope that your holidays have been absolutely splendid.  We are still in the throes of our Christmas vacation, so spending a bunch of time blogging is not an option.  However, I wanted to send out our Christmas newsletter to each and every one of my adoring fans dear, blog-reading friends, even if only virtually.  If you care to read the "really important" memorable moments from the past year, follow this link -   

Our 2013 Christmas Letter

And if you don't...pshh...your loss.  (Ha!)

Happy Last-Couple-of-Days-of-2013 from my family to yours!!

And Happy One Month Birthday to my adorable, fussy-pants Noah!   


Presenting Shep5...

When I last posted, I suggested that my next post might be a birth story.  I didn't expect that it would be nearly December before Shep5 would arrive, nor did I anticipate that it would take me over two weeks to get the birth story down "on paper" (though I'm sure I should have what with all the free-time and extra energy mothers of newborns plus four others have, especially approaching Christmas - ha!).  At any rate, I am stringing together my spare moments today, few and far between though they may be, to tell the story.

On Wednesday, November 27th, the day before Thanksgiving, I felt generally crummy.  I contracted off and on all day long, but like all the other days I'd done that things settled down when I took a break to rest.  My parents were here, and they took care of the big kids for me while I lamented (not-so-quietly) the fact that I was still pregnant four days past my due date.  As much as I know a due date is not an "expiration date," there is something about seeing that date on the calendar come and go that just does not do my mental well-being any good.  When hormones are raging out of control, my back is hurting, my lungs are straining, and I'm just bone tired, all I want is to have that baby out of me.  I'm not one of those moms who loves being pregnant, especially in the last trimester.  I'm always happy to trade the discomforts of late pregnancy for a sweet, tiny newborn.  And the amount of patience I have while waiting for the baby is directly proportional to the number of days until my due date.

When Sam got home from work, he took me out on a date.  We hit up Panera, Rite-Aid (for their awesome sale on diapers), and Big Lots (because I really do love that store).  Sam was still hungry after our Panera dining experience so he got himself some chicken tenders at Zaxby's.  (This is relevant eventually.)  I continued having mild contractions just about every 20-30 minutes, but not close enough or strong enough to care too much about.

That night around midnight, just as soon as it turned "Thanksgiving Day," I laid in bed knowing full well I was going into labor on my own.  My contractions were ramping up slightly in intensity and were coming every twenty minutes (like, I could have set a clock by it).  This didn't warrant running to the hospital, so I took my second long, hot shower of the night to help me relax and I tried to get some sleep.  I was able to sleep through many of the contractions, but I would hardly call it my best night's rest ever.  The next morning, I could hear my parents getting breakfast ready for the kids and my mom was no doubt starting Thanksgiving dinner preparations.  I got up and took another shower and told Sam he needed to call his mom.  My contractions were every ten minutes apart, and my doctor made me promise I would call her when they got to that point.  Since this was my fifth pregnancy and delivery, she was fairly confident things would progress quickly (to the point that she actually advised me to keep a shoelace and some extra blankets in my car "just in case" we didn't make it to the hospital).  With that on my brain, and not wanting to deliver my own baby in the backseat of either of our vehicles, I called the doctor who told me she'd meet me at the hospital (despite the fact that it was Thanksgiving Day and she wasn't even "on call").  I told my parents Sam and I were heading to the hospital and that I'd keep them posted.

We got there about 10am.  By the time I checked in and they took me back to the room, it was 10:30.  After a thorough history, hooking up my IV, checking my cervix (I was at 6cm), and some carefree chit-chat with the nurses (who, by the way, were super sweet despite working on a holiday), my doctor came in to break my water at noon.  At that point, my contractions were about four or five minutes apart and increasing in intensity.  (Please don't ask me what number on a pain scale of 1-10 because I honestly do not know how to answer that question.)  When she broke my water, there was "thick mec," which means that the baby had passed their first stool in utero.  This is concerning if the baby aspirates that fluid and it gets in their lungs during delivery.  When I delivered Ben, my water had meconium in it as well, so I wasn't super concerned, but unlike with Ben my doctor ordered a fluid flush to help clear the nasties out of my uterus and also ordered pitocin as an additional precaution (Nooooo!!!!) because the baby's head did not come down after breaking my water the way all of my others had.  This is a concern because a floating head leaves room for the cord to deliver first which can be extremely dangerous to the baby.

As of noon, I texted my dad and told him he might as well put Leah down for a nap and I'd let him and my mom know as things progressed when they should bring the kids over.  Sam's mom had just arrived at the hospital.  

As expected, the breaking of the water caused the intensity of labor to ramp up significantly, but it was compounded by the introduction of the fluid pumping through my uterus and the pitocin.  I continued laboring for about an hour when I started sweating profusely.  I could no longer talk through my contractions.  And my daggone hair would not stay up in its ponytail (funny the things that we remember...).  Sweet Sam retrieved me cool washcloth after cool washcloth and physically fanned me off with whatever he could find and my nurse fetched a giant floor fan and pointed it straight at me.  It reminded me of those giant misters that football players stand by on the sidelines.  It definitely helped.  A few minutes later, tired of hurting and succumbing to the pain, I told Sam to get the nurse because I needed an epidural.  He convinced me to let her check me because he didn't want me to have the same regrets as I did with Sarah's delivery (I had the epidural for less than ten minutes before she was born).  The nurse checked me and I was nearly complete.  She told me if I pushed a bit with my next contraction I could clear the rest of the cervix away.  All I wanted was for her to get her hand out of "there," and I'm pretty sure I told her that.  (Laboring women aren't very nice.)  Lo and behold, I was complete and ready to push, and I didn't need the nurse to tell me that.  There would be no epidural - and I was actually relieved.  During Leah's delivery the amazing almost-midwife nurse that attended me told me that at the point in a drug-free delivery when you feel like you can't do it anymore, you're almost there.  She was right.  I should have known.  With my next contraction, I said, "I'm going to push!"  My doctor providentially walked in the room at that particular moment, heard the report from the nurse, took one look at me and said, "Don't push yet!  Someone get me some gloves.  We need to break this bed down.  Do we have a supply cart?!  Get the Stork Squad (pediatrician) up here!"  I didn't really care if she had gloves on or not.  This baby was coming out and I was not going to not push.  The frantic movement of the techs and my doctor and the nurse at the other end of the room didn't faze me in the slightest.  I needed that baby out.

Somehow, the team managed to get the bed broken down and my doctor got gloves on her hand in time for three or four tremendous pushes during the course of which I definitely said the words "I can't!" and screamed out loud, both of which my doctor chastized me for ("Yes you can!!!" and "Stop screaming!  Just push!").  Within minutes of requesting that epidural, at 1:27pm, there on my belly was a beautiful new baby with a head full of fuzzy blond hair.  I laid there in a state of exhaustion and looked at Sam and said, "What is it?!"  And with a smile, he said, "It's a boy."  It is amazing the relief and euphoria that comes just seconds after that baby is delivered.  It's indescribable.  Seconds prior I was screaming, quitting, ready to pack up and go home.  Then suddenly I was completely relaxed for the first time in months.

Sam cut the cord, and they checked our little boy out.  I could hear the doctor and nurses cleaning him up and commenting on how big he was.  "I bet he's nine pounds!"  I had no idea.  I really was not expecting either a boy or a giant baby.  Shows you how much mother's intuition is worth.  Ha!  When they finally weighed and measured him he was 9 pounds 13 ounces and 22 inches long.  He scored an 8 and 9 on the Apgar test just like all of his siblings.  He was delivered face-down (the way God intended them to be born).

Sam went out and made the announcement to the kids and grandparents in the waiting room.  

My favorite part of the day was seeing the whole family march in to meet him.

And even though it might embarrass him someday, I want to commemorate the tears of joy on sweet Ben's face.  I don't know that anyone has ever been happier to meet their baby brother.

Okay, actually, they're all pretty smitten.

Even Leah.

And that's the story of Noah Matthew Sheppard.  
Our precious Turkey.

We are praising God for a safe delivery and a healthy baby boy.  We are so blessed.

Edited to add the relevance of the Zaxby's chicken tenders (that's what I get for trying to write a coherent blog post at 1am) - I had a bunch of people ask how the hospital's turkey and dressing was.  Because Noah was born after "lunchtime," I missed out on turkey and dressing...but they did give me a turkey sandwich around 2pm.  That counts, right?  Poor Sam didn't get to eat anything until around 4pm that day, and naturally, nothing much was open except for Cracker Barrel (so it turns out he had a nice, solo, sit-down meal on Thanksgiving Day).  As it turns out though, he joked that he was glad he'd stopped for those tenders because he really would have been hungry if he hadn't had those to tide him over.  And that's the story of the chicken tenders.  It's as if he knew...  Ha!


Fewer Words Wednesday (Because we all know I don't "do" wordless)

Rather than focus on the recent failure that was my "Facebook hiatus," I'm going to instead do a brief report on the best days of our life.

The ones that look like this:

Being able to launch and re-launch and take home a rocket for the first time in four years at the annual RA rocket launch.

 Being able to literally lay down during school lessons, because, for some reason, this works for our wiggle worm.

Being able to take creative license with the way toys are actually supposed to be played with...

Being able to emulate your big sister.  For better or for worse.

Exhibiting OCD tendencies early on - by ordering the cleaning products from under the sink in a nice, neat row while Mommy tends to something in the next room for a total of 15 seconds.

Prepping for Shep #5 (10 days and counting until the due date, folks!)

Quality sister time on the backyard swing...clothing optional, smiles required.

Monday mornings.  The same whether you're 7, 27, or 57.

One on one time with this girl, her reaching arms, and her sad little plea of "Bees!" (which is please to the unacquainted listener).

The unfailing smiles and imagination of this girl and her potato chips in a backyard hideaway.

Today was a great day.

And as the clock ticks down on our time as a family of a mere six - I feel the need to vocalize how abundantly blessed I realize that I am.

So to that lady at the grocery store tonight who scoffed at me and my ginormously pregnant belly as I tossed two little girls into a car cart for a speed run through Publix, I say this - maybe you "don't miss those days" because you didn't realize what you had while you had it.  Maybe I agree when you say, "Better you than me," because even on the hard days, I know that these babies are a gift that God has lent to me but for a short time and I'm able (in retrospect at least) to appreciate their charm and wit and shenanigans and pure, unadulterated love for each other and for Sam and me.

For now, I wait (however impatiently and uncomfortably) for the arrival of our newest blessing.  And I pray that he or she will know from the moment they are born that they have been loved from the moment we found out they existed.  They have a home in our family.  And we are so glad God chose us for him or her.

(Hey, if you've got a minute or two and care to wager a guess as to the arrival stats of Shep#5, click here.)

Hopefully my next post will be a birth story.......but I'm not going to get my hopes up that it will be within the next 10 days.  I've been burned too many times with unwarranted optimism.  (Such is life as a cynic, I suppose!)  Hope you've all been blessed in (but not necessarily because of) my absence! 

Fun Friday...Quotable Quotes

I'll get straight to the point.  These are actual conversations I've had with my family members of late.  For your reading pleasure. 

Ready, set, go!

Me:  (in bed trying to get comfortable) I can't sleep because I keep hearing this grinding noise in my neck.
Sam:  (with a smirk)  Maybe you should get some earplugs.

Me:  (in the car, just making conversation with the kids) What do you like best?  A cow, a horse, or a donkey?
Sarah:  Horse!
Abby:  Well, actually, a goat.
Ben:  Do I have to pick?
Me: (assuming he's taking his usual diplomatic stance on favorites) What is it, Ben?  Don't want to hurt any of their feelings?
Ben:  No.  I just don't like any of them.
(Clearly he inherited his mother's feelings about farm animals.)

While discussing Halloween costumes and explaining to Abby that I would prefer for her to wait to be a witch until we can borrow Grandmom's awesome hat (or really never, but you know) Sarah pipes up, "Why does Grandmom have a witch hat?  Did she have a coupon?"  (I think you really have to know Joyce to appreciate how perfect this comment was.)

Sarah:  I'm afraid of the dark!  I don't want to close my eyes.
Sam:  What do you see when you close them?
Sarah:  Bats.
Sam:  We don't have bats in our house.
Sarah:  Well...is the alarm on?
Sam:  Yes, the alarm is on.
Sarah:  So bats and bad guys can't get in?
Sam:  Right.  And we don't have bad guys here.  They all live in California.  Sorry, Mrs. Sharon. 

(Sweet follow-up the next morning)
Sarah:  I didn't dream!  And I held Abby's hand and I stayed in my bed all night!

As we checked into our first hotel in Montreal on our trip, the kids went downstairs to look at the pool (apparently, the only reason to go on vacation at all)
Abby:  They don't have a hot tub.
Me:  Not all hotel pools have hot tubs, Abby.
Abby:  Do Canadians know what hot tubs are?
Maybe I shouldn't have laughed at this, but it's not like Canada is behind the Iron Curtain or anything.

Abby:  Mommy!  Sarah's sucking on her fingers again!
Me:  Sarah Katherine!!!
Sarah:  Mommy Sarah!!!

Sarah:  You don't fit through small doors because you have a baby in your belly.

Sarah:  When you bounce "up and down, up and down" the baby goes up and down too!  (Seriously though, there is very little bouncing being done these days.)

I was singing different tones to Leah at different pitches while I was changing her diaper and she was doing her best to copy me, but she clearly prefers the lower notes. I said to her, "You can't go high?" And she immediately smiled, waved, and said, "Hi!"  Duh, Mommy.  Of course I can say "hi."

(At the dentist after having two, pretty large teeth extracted)
Dentist:  Ben did great.  I wish all of my patients were as relaxed as he was.
Ben:  (shrug) I didn't even know they'd already pulled my teeth out.  I thought they were still getting me ready.  Ahh, to be blissfully oblivious like Ben.

Sarah:  Do we do "finders keepers" in this family?
Me:  I don't think so.
Sarah:  So..."finder NOT keepers?"

Sarah: We're having sausage for breakfast?! Yummy!!! (pause) Let's name the baby "Sausage!" 

And one final one for the road -with 4.5 weeks to go at the time of the photo:

"I didn't know I was pregnant."

Happy Weekend-ing to You All!  

As for us, we are having our first-ever yard sale.  Wish us lots of success unloading our excess.  And if anyone has any tips they're dying to share with us, I'm all ears.


Whatever You Do...

I'm not going to blame my Facebook departure on anything other than my inability to cope with differing opinions and bad news.  (For the record, I'm never particularly great at coping with these things, but pregnancy hormones are having a field day with my emotional state right now.)  However, if you'd like a small glimpse into one of the things I read that I can't shake, and if you happen to not have stumbled across it in your day-to-day, here is Matt Walsh's blog post entitled "You're a stay-at-home mom?  What do you DO all day?"  (Many apologies if you think I'm about to beat a dead horse.  That's not my intention!)

Let that be our starting point, and I will try to explain some of the thoughts I've had since reading it. 

When I first read it, I found myself nodding along.  The irony of this was not lost on me.  Five years ago, reading a blog post like this would have had me shaking my head (and probably my fist) as I thought things like, "How dare this guy demean working moms in this way?!"  Having entered the realm of "staying at home" nearly three years ago, however begrudgingly, (!!!!  Say whaaaattttt!?  Where has the time gone?!), I obviously have a different perspective on not only the task of being at home, but the title of working mom.

As I read it now, the words paint for me a picture of a man who values the work his wife is doing at home with their children.  It shows a respect for the vocations of wife and mother.  And it suggests (albeit not subtly at all) that these positions are worthy.  To stay-at-home moms who don't get performance appraisals, pay increases, promotions, or awards, words like these are invaluable.  Yes.  Even from a complete stranger.  (Note to husbands - they'd be even better coming from you.  wink, wink)

Thinking back on how I would have read it five years ago, I'd have heard a man who had no appreciation for my need to exercise my brain, use my education, set an example for my children by working hard and being successful in my career, and my adept ability to manage both a home and a career.  The guilt I was already told I should feel for leaving my kids in someone else's care all day long would have been compounded.  I would have felt devalued as a successful career woman. 

But...why?  Why would I have felt this way?

Because in my feeble mind, the only way to pour value into one thing is to rob it from somewhere else. 

Thank GOD, it doesn't work that way.

My God - the Creator of the universe, the One who knew me before I was conceived, the One who redeemed my sin with the blood of His Son - is the giver of all value. 

This is good news, folks.  Because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what Matt Walsh and his blog followers think of you or me.  Or what our Facebook friends think is true.  Or what the eye-roller at the grocery store thinks as you check out with your whole brood along for the ride.  Or what the mom at the coffee store drive-thru says under hear breath as you grab an afternoon pick-me-up for yourself and your coworkers back at the office.

There's only One opinion that counts.  And that opinion comes backed up with grace upon grace, who knows we'll screw up and loves us unconditionally anyway.

The problem is that our identities are tied up in what we do instead of who we are.  Our value doesn't come from accolades and performance, whether at our workplace or in our homes.  It doesn't come from a tidy home or a merit-based promotion.  Our value comes from the God who created us and loves us.

What does this have to do with "work," you ask?

Because we all work.  Men and women, white-collar and blue-collar, at the workplace and at home, earning six-figures or barely making ends meet.  I'm not going to suggest that one works harder than the other or has a more valuable job.  Our culture is good enough at that without one more person chiming in on the matter.

Instead, I want you to think of the last person you encountered (or anyone you've ever met) who embodied these verses:
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  Colossians 3:17

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.  Colossians 3:23

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  1 Corinthians 10:31
For me, it's the little old man at the dump on the eastern shore of Maryland who couldn't have been a day under 80, hopping around tossing reeking trash in the scorching midday sun with a smile on his face like I've never seen before.

It's the breakfast attendant at the Residence Inn in Amelia Island, Florida who not only walks around with her wet rag ready to sop up the syrupy mess my kids will undoubtedly leave behind but with a sheet of stickers and coloring pages to pass out to every child in the room simply because she loves bringing joy to their faces.

It's the janitor at our church who sings worship songs while he vacuums.

It's the hostess at Chick-Fil-A who literally will not let me carry my own tray or retrieve my own highchair.

It's the exhausted woman at the grocery store with a cart full of kids who patiently stands her ground with the one child who is pitching a fit, despite the fact that it would be easier to just put the box of Dora fruit snacks in the cart and continue on down the aisle.

It's the butcher who makes it a point to smile and chat with every single customer who walks in his store, and won't let you leave without a brown paper bag full of bubble gum for the kids and a personal escort to carry your bag of meat to your car.

The Bible says whatever you do, do everything in Jesus' name because we are working for God, not for men.  Our goal should be for our actions to bring glory to Him.  Sometimes it may not seem like we have a glamorous position in life, because our culture says that to be successful we have to put so many hours in, make so much money, have such-and-such a degree.  Sometimes it may seem like our credentials, our finances, our accolades merit more respect than others.  Sometimes we just need to extinguish the chatter of our culture, so we can hear the words of the one that matters.  On any given day, I may fall short of my best, but I can rest easy knowing that God's mercies are new in the morning.  I can pick myself up, dust myself off, and try again.  I think it bears noting that my best and your best are two entirely different things.  Let's do our own personal best.  Period.

God calls us to work and to work hard at whatever we do. 

I don't know about you, but I think that's an excellent place to start this day.
No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

If I'd Been on Facebook Today...

Perhaps the thing I will miss about Facebook the most is sharing the constant shenanigans (which, in retrospect is probably what I should have named this blog) that go on in my world - in real time.  Something about telling my Facebook friends about my minor snafus, quips from my kids, and other major randomness made me feel like I was providing a service, even if only in the form of someone else being able to read what I had written and say, "Better you than me!"  But all is not lost.  I still have this blog.  (wink, wink) 

So, if I had been on Facebook today, these might have been some of my status updates.

All of the maternity shirts that fit me at this point (which is to say, all five of them which will have to last these next six weeks because I absolutely refuse to buy new ones - even if only two of them are acceptable to wear in public) have stains on them. I'm dirty. And I'm okay with that. Quite frankly, I'm too tired to care. And too round to notice. You're the only ones who have to see the greasy spots on my belly.

My girls went "shopping" in their closet resulting a play grocery cart full of previously hung up/sorted clothing. Tell me why I haven't installed a lock on their closet door yet.

The neighborhood boys (Ben included) claimed a pile of scrap wood from the neighbors trash pile to build a fort. It's now in my front yard. Taking bets on how long it stays there before I flip my lid.

Sarah: Leah's awake. I hear her!
Grammie: You woke her up.
Sarah: Prove it!

My kids think it's perfectly acceptable to park their bikes on the porch directly in front of our front door. It's cool.  Sorry guests, just veer around the bike parking lot.

As I lay on the couch trying desperately to claim some long-overdue, much-needed sleep, I reached into the couch crevice and touched...a chicken nugget. It's okay though. It was a plastic chicken nugget. This time.

Anyone else get angry whenever an American Girl catalog shows up in their mailbox? No? Okay, then I'll spare you my cynical speech about excess and commercialism.  (No hate mail on this one, please.)

Pre-registered at the hospital for Shep #5's birth. The woman at the counter laughed right at me when she realized she didn't need to rescan my ID or insurance card since she'd just done it last year. That's right, lady. I'm a regular baby factory. (Okay, it actually *is* a little funny.)

Seem to be suffering from pregnancy-induced amnesia. As I set my cup o' joe in the cupholder of the car during errands, Sam commented, "That's good coffee." I looked at him and said, "What coffee?"

And these are just the ones I remember.  (See above re: amnesia.)

With that off of my chest, and with other, more blog-worthy subjects on the mind, I will be back.  I think that's a promise.  If, that is, I don't forget all of those things about which I intend to write. 


The Day the Addict Decided to Quit

Maybe it's the fact that I'm so seriously sleep-deprived that I might literally snap the neck of the next person who crosses me.

Maybe it's because I have the raging hormones of a woman nearing her 34th week of pregnancy and the most minor of things brings me to tears/violent anger/complete and total loss of speech.

Maybe I'm just tired of being inundated with opinion after opinion after opinion.  Shoot, even the ones I agree with are getting on my nerves.

See?  Grumpy.

I think, even if just temporarily, I have to take drastic measures.  For my sanity.  For my family's sanity.  I have to get the heck out of Dodge off of Facebook.

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.  Well, I have one.  What used to be a fun way of sharing pictures, keeping in touch with old friends, and (ahem) publicly laughing about my kids has turned into a chronic source of stress for me.  It's probably pretty pathetic that Facebook should have such a profound effect on anyone.  And that's why I have to take steps to remedy this.

How different will my thoughts be if I'm not wondering from my kitchen what so-and-so has to say about XYZ over there in the computer?  What if I spent the time I casually spend at the computer with my husband or my kids, or taking a walk, or (dare I say) doing actual housework?  What if by separating myself from the source of my anxieties, I spare my witness by refraining from saying things I shouldn't be saying (or thinking) in the first place?

This is just temporary.  I'm too weak to make a permanent move.  But just like my Facebook fast of October 2010, when I was steadfastly committed to studying for my PE exam, I have a goal in mind.  I want to see if a three week hiatus does anything for my soul.  It certainly can't hurt.

The reason I am posting this in a blog and not as a Facebook status is because I don't want to be an attention-seeking drama queen.  I just fear that if I offered no explanation whatsoever before disappearing that someone might send the police over to make sure I hadn't dropped dead.

Hey, maybe I'll find some time to blog again.  Silver lining, folks, silver lining.  (Or not.  Maybe you hate my blog posts, in which case, hahahaha.)  Check in here if you're missing me.  Don't flatter yourself, Jennie.

If anyone is absolutely desperate to get in touch with me, please do.  Email me, text me, email me so you can text me.  You can even try calling.  I might answer.  (Probably not.  I apologize in advance.)  And with that, I'm off to delete my FB app off of my phone and make some coffee.  Because I've been awake since 3:45am and I hear the pitter patter of little feet.  My day has officially begun
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2

The Day I Flashedback, Fell Down, and Lost a Kid - You Know, the Usual

It started out like any other normal day, which is to say, I woke up at 5:30am when Sam left for work, ate my [ahem, first] breakfast, fiddled around on the iPad from the comforts of my bed getting all jazzed up over our country's current state of affairs, and by some miracle managed to doze back off to sleep.  I was then woken up by the thunderous footsteps of my two smallest girls traipsing into my room around 7am.  With their snuggles, giggles, and demands for a first-thing-in-the-morning beverage, my day had officially begun.

I went to bed last night with high hopes for today.  I determined in advance not to waste a moment of the day worrying about things over which I have essentially no control [like, ahem, our country's current state of affairs].  I was going to hit the ground running with school first thing in the morning, during breakfast even because, by golly, come baby-time in November I'm going to be ahead not behind already.

You know what happens when you make plans like that?  That pesky enemy always catches wind and does whatever he can to mix up those ducks you had so neatly in a row.

We had finished our history lesson over a breakfast of donuts and cereal [it's okay, healthy eating was not on my list of aspirations for the day...you just can't do it all every day].  And since it was only 9:30am, I let the kids out back to enjoy the gorgeous fall morning.  Seriously.  We have to enjoy those when we get them.  Leah, being the precocious 19 month old that she is, insisted on joining her sisters on the back porch where they had set up a playdoh station.  After giving explicit instructions to keep her on the porch, I began cleaning up the kitchen from breakfast [fine, you caught me, it was really from dinner last night].  As I looked out our breakfast room window a moment later, I noticed a little yellow blob at the top of the stairs on our playground.  That would be 19 month old Leah.  Preparing to step down.  And in an instant I was transported back to the fateful day in February 2011 when 21 month old Sarah tumbled down those very steps, forehead-first.

And ended up looking like this -

This time, I found myself a full backyard away, sprinting as fast as a 33-week pregnant woman can, trying to sternly warn her "No, no, Leah!" without scaring her into tumbling.  In the pro column this time, however, was big sister Sarah who managed to grab her by the arm, just as she fell.  Forehead first.  Because Sarah had her by the arm she just mildly bumped the little noggin.  Scared her to death, and me too, but she walked away unscathed.  It was playground redemption for Sarah.  I was so proud of her.  (Abby, who led baby sister out to the playground and left her unattended, however, a different story.)

While relieved to have escaped potential disaster, I came back inside (with Leah, of course) and counseled Ben on his next assignment.  Leaving him to it (or so I thought), Abby and I sat down at the kitchen table and expeditiously knocked out all of her subjects.  In record time.  I went to check on the status of Ben's math assignment.  Nothing.  Hadn't even started.  He was on the computer.  What happened next was a combination of wills - his and mine, which resulted in a show-down (no comments from the peanut gallery on engaging in a battle of wills with a 10 year old boy, he gets it honestly from his stubborn mother).  Long story short, as of 2:30pm, he still hadn't started his math work.  Or anything else for that matter.

Cranky from the show down and from having read quite a few news articles that morning, I opted to take phone call from my sister to lighten the mood.  My possessed phone hung up on her no less than three times, including the time I know it was fully charged but claimed to have a dead battery.  In the process of plugging it in, and in an effort to rescue Leah from the booster chair in our kitchen that she repeatedly buckles herself into and cries inconsolably until someone lets her out of, I got up from my bed to move into the kitchen where the charger awaited me.  As I rounded the corner, my foot literally got caught in my own favorite, pink pajama pants and I fell to the ground.  Hard.  Because, let's face it, 33-week pregnant women cannot fall gracefully.  I landed on my knees and, somehow, the top of my foot.  I played it off so well Julie didn't even know it happened until I told her.  I think I'm okay, but my dignity suffered even if no one witnessed it happening.  As the day progressed, I swelled up and bruised, but Shep #5 is perfectly fine.  And that's really what matters!

At 2:30pm, I called a mulligan and loaded up the herd, including Ben and his math books, for a trip to Starbucks.  Drive-thru, of course.  I felt better already.  All it took to reset the ten year old was the promise of a day off if he not only completed his math for today and tomorrow, but two lessons worth of all of his other subjects as well.  Turns out, that kid lives for days off.  By 6pm, he'd completed all of his schoolwork for two days.  Amazing.

So, the kids all went outside to enjoy the awesome fall evening we were having as we waited for Sam to get home.  About 15 minutes after he got here, it started to get dark so I went out and called the kids to come in.  I spotted Abby on top of the mailbox.  Ben was in the yard across the street.  Sarah was nowhere to be found.  I called inside.  Nothing.  Backyard.  Nothing.  Front yard again.  Nothing.  Her bike was in the road, obviously unoccupied.  The cul de sac was empty.  Most of the houses were dark because it's fall break and the homes where she might possibly have a playmate are temporarily vacated.  Sensing my distress, Sam walked to one end of the street while I hastened down the other and the next and the next.  By this point it was just about dark.  I saw Sam walking back toward me.  Alone.  That's when I started to panic.  It's dark.  She's nowhere to be found.  And no one in the front yard saw where she went.  I checked the playground.  Visions from The Shack came to mind (they always do), and as I re-enetered the house I looked up and saw Sam.

"She's in her bed.  Asleep.  You didn't check there?"

Well...this is Sarah.  That's literally the last place I'd ever look.  I checked her room.  Yelled her name back there even.  But I didn't check under her covers.  Poor girl.  Must have been exhausted.  I can literally count on one hand the times she has put herself to bed.  And it's usually because she's sick.  (Let's pray she's not sick, okay?)

So I cried.  Because even though nothing truly bad happened today, it was just a drainer.  And "losing" Sarah was the final straw.

Since we were all accounted for, no one was permanently injured, and Sam was home, I was able to relax.  He even got me giggling uncontrollably over, of all things, twerking.  I asked him if he could do it.  He said, he was too old and he'd probably pull a muscle.  I said I was going to try it, but only after he left for Chicago next week because I didn't want him to watch me do it.  He said, "Be careful.  You can't even walk without falling down."  Boom.  Hahahaha.  Then he filled a head of lettuce with like a gallon of water and pretended he was the salad spinner and slung water all over our unsuspecting kids and kitchen.  It's pretty hard not to laugh at that.  Love that man.

So that's when I decided to blog about it.  Because, if I'm being honest, this is a pretty normal day in this place.  Crying, laughing, show downs, near disasters, you name it.

People sometimes say to me "I could never homeschool" and "I don't know how you do it" and "How do you manage it all?" 

Here's my reply - Yes, you really could.  I don't, not by a long shot.  And I'm covered by Grace.  Lots and lots and lots of it.

I'm ending today thankful for the whole mess of it.

Thankful for babies who love me and love each other.  Thankful for their strong personalities.  Their mischief.  Their will.  Their smiles.  Their propensity to fall forehead first.  Their unanticipated moves - like putting themselves to bed at 7:15pm without dinner and snatching baby sister out of thin air in an effort to spare her from stitches.  Thankful for a husband who handles with care the fragile emotional state of his very pregnant wife, and makes me laugh despite it all.  Thankful for a God who gives me so much grace I could drown in it.  All of these things, the sum total of which is madness, but somewhere...deep down...there is method in it.


My First Thirty Years

I can't help but think of Tim McGraw whenever I hear that someone's turning 30.  I've always loved the song, My Next Thirty Years, even if I was a mere sixteen when it debuted in July of 2000.  Of course, being an old soul (from birth, I think), the responsible "next" thirty years always resonated more with me.  As I sit here on this milestone birthday reflecting, I don't want to make a list of things I want to change from the last three decades to the next.  If my first thirty years have taught me anything, it's to expect the unexpected.  And, so, that's what I'm going to do.  That makes my song a lot more boring, but, hey, it's concise, and it covers my bases.

Why am I expecting the unexpected?

Because I was born and raised a legalist.  I had rigid expectations of myself and others.  I had a plan that would not be altered, no matter the price.  I determined at the age of 10 that I would be my high school valedictorian, by golly, and nothing was going to get in my way.  (Seriously, who does that?)  I aspired to attend college where I would play field hockey for a D-3 school, live singly, establish my career, live in a semi-urban environment with eventually a husband and maybe two kids.  I would continue to work outside of the home.  I would make oodles of money, but not be above sending my kids to public school. 

Doesn't always work out the way we plan.

It all began changing when I accepted a scholarship to Mercer University, a private, (at the time) Southern-Baptist university where the majority of the students were from Georgia and had never even heard of the sport of field hockey (and certainly made fun of me for the way I pronounced it - apparently "hockey" doesn't sound like "hack-y" - dead giveaway that I wasn't "from around here").  It was never a school that was even on my radar.  It was the first, true step of faith I'd taken in my life.  When I walked around that campus for the first time, I knew I was "home."

Two weeks before I turned 18, my parents and I packed up my belongings and moved to Macon, Georgia, a city 800 miles from the only home I had ever known, a city where I didn't know a soul.  Speaking as a parent now, I look back on that day, and I wonder how my mom and dad did it.  I admire them for their faith in me, for trusting that I would make the right decisions, for having the gumption to drive away.  It's entirely different from the perspective of a 17-year old girl fresh out of high school with an inflated sense of self and nothing to stop her from achieving her goals.  Within the next two weeks, I turned 18, made my first "C" on a test in my life (Calculus II), and called my dad crying hysterically from a pay phone with the news that I hated it and I wanted to come home.  He convinced me to stick it out for the semester.

I'm so glad he did.

Within the first year, I met my husband-to-be, made great friends, learned what it meant to be a "student" for the first time in my life, experienced some pride-crushing grades and lessons in humility (which I obviously needed in the worst way), and made both excellent and stupid choices as I suspect many young women in my position would.

In just two years, on my 20th birthday, I was a married woman, 9 months pregnant, packing up Sam's and my first apartment in preparation for the move into our first house.  Let me just tell you, this was not part of my plan as outlined above.  I like to think Someone had something better in mind for me.

In the next ten years, I continued to make plans.

I determined to graduate with my engineering degree, get a job as a civil engineer, pass my licensing exam to become a Professional Engineer, have another kid, balance life as a work-out-of-the-home mom, among other things.

I accomplished all of those things.

In those same ten years, things I said I'd "never" do came to fruition as well.

Due to the "economic downturn of 2008" I lost my job (albeit not until November 2010) and became a dreaded-to-me stay-at-home-mom.  I sat for my PE license in October 2010, found out in January 2011 that I passed, and have yet to use the designation professionally (and don't have any imminent plans to do so either).  I sit here today, on my 30th birthday, 26+ weeks pregnant with my fifth child.  I'm a homeschooling mom of multiple grade levels who voluntarily pulled my children out of the public schools that I championed for so long.

Never say never.  Expect the unexpected.  Don't pin your lives on things that ultimately don't matter.  Turns out, God's plans are a lot more exciting than my own.  And make a far better story, in my opinion. 

I don't need to write a song for my next thirty years.  I think I'll just default to the classic, old hymn:
When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey.

But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.
In my next thirty years, I want to trust and obey.  I can make plans, but I can also rest easy in knowing that God has already made plans for me.  And life makes a lot more sense when I conform my will to His.

Besides, His plans kind of rock.

God-willing, here's to at least thirty more years of the good stuff - the twists, turns, the blessings both planned and unexpected. 


Life Lately

I always wondered how those people with 1,000 kids keep blogging.  Now I wonder even more.  It's not that we've been exceptionally busy doing anything in particular, we've just been doing this thing.


As I am typing this, my four year old walked into my office the bathroom where I have my computer at my vanity, because, let's face it, I'm not doing hair and makeup there, holding the hand of my 17 month old who was supposed to be fast asleep.  Hence the stolen moments for blog posting.  Turns out, I was only able to steal about two of them.

Maybe I should just go with some snapshots of life lately. 

On July 22, we officially started our homeschool year.  It's been my earnest intention to get as much as humanly possible "learned" before Shep5 makes his/her appearance in November.  So far, we haven't lost any steam and we're even ahead of schedule.  As long as the kids are agreeable, I say, let's move.

Oh wait.  Did I say ahead of schedule?  That would be on math, grammar, writing, and Latin.  I won't even mention science.  And we actually just finished last year's history.  But that was such a momentous event, we marked it with a toga party.  Even if it was two weeks into the new school year.  Turns out, 42 chapters of one history book is hard to cover in one year.  But being the finisher that I am, we could not move on until we read and discussed every last page of that book.  And so we did.  I am pretty sure this was their favorite "lesson" of the year - even if the sparkling grape juice, colby jack cheese cubes, Totino's pizza, grapes, and thawed frozen cheesecake weren't exactly authentic Roman cuisine.  They did wear crowns of laurel, make royal scepters, and don togas (just look beyond the Cars print sheets, please).  I even pulled out the good china because, really, when else do I use that stuff?

Probably shouldn't put this one on here, but it cracks me up.  Oh Sarah.  (Really, folks, it's okay.  She was just pre-gaming with a little grape juice.  I repeat it is just grape juice.)

Clearly that was too long for a snapshot - speeding things up...

We've watched Lee Lee blossom right before our very eyes.  She's so much a part of this family I cannot even remember what it was like before her.  That is one loved baby girl.

Nice ponytail, Leah.

This past weekend we took the adventure of all adventures (okay, slight exaggeration there), and we rode a train to the booming metropolis of Plains, Georgia (population 764), famous only for peanuts and Jimmy Carter. 

Don't they look thrilled?
Notice how I placed Abby strategically right in front of me?  Foiled again all of you belly-lookers, you.  Note also that Sarah is totally hoarding the large cup of peanut butter ice cream all for herself.  Leah, of course, just wants to get down.

The next few months promise to be as exciting as ever including such events as a spontaneous trip to the beach in-lieu-of-presents for Sam's and my combined birthday, a milestone birthday for yours truly, our first double-digit kid birthday, our first international trip (to Canada - where I insist on eating poutine at least one time), a stop in Michigan to visit with dear friends that moved away from Georgia over a year ago now (!!!), a new baby (!!!!!!), and I'm sure many, many attempts to keep Leah from eating every marker in our home. 

On the plus side, she seems to only eat them and color on herself with them.  So far our home hasn't sustained any irreparable damage from said marker usage.  Just one bathroom door that came clean with some Clorox wipes.  Although, she did color the back of our lesser used bathroom door...almost as if to see how it would work out in an inconspicuous location.  Maybe she's just testing the waters before she goes for the tv or something.  Oh man, I'm going to have to knock on wood and put that girl on a leash, aren't I?

God willing our next few months (and beyond) will be full of love and laughter.  Always laughter.  If there's one thing we do not lack in this home, it's the ability to laugh heartily.  I am so grateful for a husband to laugh with...all the time, about anything, about everything, about nothing, about a french fry we discovered shoved in our sleeping baby's mouth when we went to retrieve her from her carseat.

And with that, I will take a note from Leah and attempt to catch some zzzz's, however fleeting the ability to sleep is for me these days.  (By the way, if anyone has any helpful remedies for pregnancy-related insomnia, I'm all ears.)

Until I see you again, I encourage you to laugh.  Heartily.  As often as possible.  To the point of obnoxious.  Life is too short to take too seriously. 

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