From Mummy Tummy to My Tummy

I have never been thin. I am compact, sometimes very fit and sometimes Rubenesque if I have been on a particularly gluttonous path. My favorite feature has always been my stomach. In my prime, I could roll a quarter down it. I think years of singing kept it in  shape. In shameful honesty, it has been a point of vanity throughout my life. When we first saw a fertility specialist, she told me I was “way too skinny” to have a baby. I knew she meant my stomach. It was one of the greatest days ever, minus the fertility issue. After having my first tiny one, I bounced back very quickly. I assumed the second one would be the same. How wrong I was.

Tiny 2, or the lion cub, was a painful pregnancy. He was totally worth it. Look at this beauty!

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I now realize it was so unbearably painful to be pregnant with him because I had diastasis recti and my stomach muscles were not holding him in place. He would just bear down onto my pelvis. I would float in my bathtub at the end of the day and notice how my stomach came to a point, instead of a nice round sphere like it had been the first time around. It was a curiosity but I didn’t think much about it. After my lion cub was born, my stomach seemed unusually large for a much longer time. My elderly neighbor asked me when the baby was going to be coming, while I was pushing him in a stroller. (Cue hormonal tears) SOMETHING WAS WRONG AND IT WAS THE ONLY GOOD PART OF MY BODY!! Everyone tells you it takes a while for your body to bounce back, but this felt different.

I googled ferociously and found out about diastasis recti. It was me to a T. Roughly, diastasis recti is when your stomach muscles separate and your innards push forward with nothing to keep them in place. It’s “mummy tummy.” When I did a stomach crunch, I could put 4 fingers in between the muscles of my stomach. This was humbling and awful. I started physical therapy, avoided traditional abdominal exercises and started a serious weight lifting program to help it. (ok I also gained 10 pounds and nothing fit.) It all helped a little bit, except for the horrible binder I had to wear. That was discarded after a very terrifying ride home after wearing it to eat sushi. #neveragainshallwebind  I digress however. Nothing fixed it and I had lower back pain and a protruding stomach with a major outie belly button. Try googling belly button covers….

I looked into everything. There is a lot out there about exercises you can do, but not a lot of personal stories. The exercises did not work for me and I had a lot of back pain. I decided to explore the surgical route. When I first dug for information I learned that insurance covered general surgery where a vertical incision is made and the muscles are stitched back together. This leaves a wicked scar, and my vanity proved to be an obstacle for this route. I consulted a plastic surgeon, but he (and others) did the surgery in conjunction with a tummy tuck. I did not need the tucking and insurance would not cover this. Hmmm. I needed time to think.

God works in mysterious ways and solved my entire problem by allowing my kindergartener son to bring home the most vicious stomach virus I have ever encountered. The virus lurked in hidden corners and became the real life boogie man. I cleaned in a mask and gloves and washed linens, pillows, towels, robes, etc with the vigilance of a woman possessed.

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I still got it. Oh I got it. I got it so violently that I popped a hernia because my ab muscles couldn’t hold my dear insides where they needed to be. I thought it was my last straw. I cried. I had had it. I was beside myself with that hernia. Here is what a hernia with diastasis recti looks like.

I saw a surgeon, Dr. Wes Powell in Pasadena, CA. Dr. Powell had trained a new technique where he could make a small incision and fix both my hernia and my diastasis recti with the help of a robot. My mind was blown. No hip to hip scar and a tummy tuck, just a laparoscopic robotic surgery, outpatient. I signed up as quickly as I could. It might as well have been a 5 star vacation I was signing up for. I could not WAIT for surgery to happen.

I bounced into the hospital the morning of surgery on May 2, chipper as one could be. Dr. Powell marked my belly to follow the diastasis path and I was ready to go. I chatted gleefully while wheeling back to the surgical site. The anesthesiologist was very kind and gave me a little something to relax and I remember nothing else. I awoke, recovered and learned how to use a surgical drain. I was fairly grossed out, but a woman on a mission and this was one step closer. I got home and snuck a peek at my belly. Hmmm, not exactly what I had envisioned; perhaps a little bit of panic snuck in but the pain pills knocked me out and I moved on with trust.

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The recovery was a full 2 weeks in bed. The first week was painful. The second week was somewhat painful and really exhausting. I did make it to part of the Eric Church concert, with my surgical drain pinned into my dress. Once the surgical drain made its exit, I began slowly exercising. I could already feel the difference. My stomach was tight. I couldn’t stretch very far and coughing or laughing was excruciating, but I could feel progress. The anniversary of my 39th birthday came on May 22 and I knew I was going to be happy with the next year and my new fixed stomach.

Today is 9 weeks from surgery and I am thrilled. I have most of my range of motion back and I can laugh until I cry with my family and it doesn’t hurt, much. I am lifting weights and jogging slowly. In 3 weeks I can start to work my stomach muscles and build back up to heavier weights. Dr. Powell did it. He fixed my stomach. My belly button looks relatively normal and my days of googling belly button covers are gone. I feel strong with the surgery. I feel like me. I always appreciated my stomach, but I never fully appreciated my strong body, until I didn’t have it. I share this story because I promised myself if I ever fixed my diastasis recti I would help the next mummy with a tummy who is searching for a happy ending.

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Merry Christmas!

I’m sitting at my dining table surrounded by glitter, cut out Christmas trees and dough ornaments and I am so happy to see the Christmas crazy all around me. It occurred to me that my years left of little kid holiday crafting are fewer than I would prefer, so I am trying to soak in every moment. My tiny people bring more joy than my heart can hold, it feels. While there are certainly hard moments, time has shown me I forget about those and remember the good. 

Teddy Dennis is a basketball fanatic. He has worn the tread off of 2 basketballs in 6 months. He discovered Kansas basketball during March madness and a new world opened up to him.

He soaks up basketball facts like the little sponge he is. We were just home in Omaha for Thanksgiving and he and my dad went to a Nebraska basketball game, a Westside High School game and watched hours of it on tv together. He also attended his first Lakers game with Pat. The big change this year was kindergarten (which about killed me; I just teared up writing the words) and he has embraced it in his usual happy and determined manner. He loves school. He loves his new friends. He does NOT like nap time. 

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He spends his free time drawing, writing endless lists of things that are of current interest and shooting millions of baskets. He is beloved to us. 

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Summer 2018 basketball thoughts

Leo Lion makes me laugh endlessly. He is a tiny, blonde ball of frenetic energy. He talked late, but has been making up for lost time. He is very dramatic with his vocabulary and I delight in it.

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His preferred method of movement is jumping. He jumps everywhere and off everything. We tried a tumbling class this fall thinking it would be a perfect fit, but it was a fail. He ended up sitting next to the teacher most of the time so she could keep her eyes on him. His best friend in the entire world is Ellie, his elephant. Ellie goes everywhere with him and he bathes Ellie by himself, wraps Ellie up in a towel and cuddles him while he dries.

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He is home with me and I adore having him all to myself. I think my most peaceful moments are quiet mornings reading to him while he drinks his repulsive honey milk and I my coffee. I cannot imagine life without him.

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Patrick is the same; overworked and filled with ideas. My mother has said she has never met anyone who is as fulfilled in their work as he, and this is the positive. The negative is that we don’t see him as much as anyone would like. He commits to family dinners and this makes me swoon. He plays wild games of tackle football with Teddy, running through the house, and it’s music to my ears.

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He is a wonderful father and a partner who is always up for an adventure. I was thinking about this recently. My life always has an element of excitement to it because Patrick likes to do new things. He never says no. If we have a house idea, he is up for it. If we want to drive to the mountains for a few hours, he’s first to the car. He makes our regular life exciting. 

We had a fantastic family vacation in July with all of my family in Steamboat. I got to spend time with both of my brothers together!!

My parents come out and we visit them as much as possible. I miss them terribly but the converted garage has been wonderful to allow them to come and stay more. We saw the musical “Dear Evan Hansen” and it was incredible. It is one of the best scores I have heard in a long time. It made me think about myself and what I want; goals. I’m putting it on paper that I want to sing again. Even if it’s just practicing. My mom told me it makes her mad that I don’t and I haven’t been able to get that out of my mind. I’m mad too. It is time to do something about it. So, that’s my goal for 2019; open my mouth for good, not to insert my foot. And maybe write more. I have hope. I have hope because of the promise that Jesus gave to us. These little hopes delight me, but the big one fills me with joy knowing that we will live forever as a family. 

With joy and hope,

Patrick, Katie, Teddy, Leo and Ernie 

Merry Christmas–a bit late

Merry Christmas!

I’ve been thinking about this letter and going back and forth. Do I write it? Do I skip it and just mail cards? Patrick commented that it didn’t feel like the Christmas season, and my inner grouch agreed. It didn’t. Why write a letter? We have been rushing, building, making big decisions for next year and general small children life living, and I thought it would be easier to skip it. The other day, I was driving with Leo and he demanded “Carol of the Bells.” He knows my favorite Christmas song and loves it too. Christmas is here for my little ones. They are excited. One of them is sneaking extra advent calendar chocolates (and is in for a big disappointment) and they have the Christmas spirit. I needed to find mine. Patrick may be too busy to find his for another week or so, but he will get there. So, I am writing the letter. It brings me joy every year. It is something I do at Christmas. The Christmas Cantata at Dundee Presbyterian church last week brought me to tears and solidified that the letter was going to happen. Life should never be too hectic to feel the excitement of the coming of Christ.

Why is Patrick missing the spirit? He has no time. He works all day and then is adding a bathroom and GIANT closet to our converted office/guest suite. He is working at least 18 hours a day between the 2 and I will be forever grateful for his determined soul because it will allow my beloved parents to come and go as they please. Also, we can have house guests now! He is a daily inspiration to our boys to find your passion and pursue it.

Teddy is 5 and filled with spirit and roughly 1,000,000 ideas. Today I found him holding construction paper over his humidifier and then blending markers over the damp paper in an attempt to make fabric. His mind never ever shuts down. Now that I have figured out how to get him to sleep at night, this is one of my favorite parts of him. He has created and built treasures this entire year. He lives outside like a feral animal. He received his own tool belt and REAL tools for his birthday and has put in probably 40 hours working with his dad on the new bathroom. He is in his last year of preschool and embracing it with vigor. I cannot believe how lucky I am that he is mine.

Leo Lion, aka Meatball or Lion Boy is embracing 2-years-old with every inch of his body. He is a blonde tornado of energy. He loves and plays hard. His brother is his best friend and he will do anything to make him laugh. The two of them play for hours and it, of course, makes me cry happy tears. I am expecting many broken bones from this one. He loves trying new bikes, scooters and throws everything he gets in his little hands. He is a dedicated thumb sucker and, most nights, informs me his thumb is “too spicy” and it needs to be rinsed before bed. He sings his bedtime songs loudly with me and I am madly in love with this little stinker.

My year revolved around my family. My world (and my entire family’s) was turned upside down when we learned on April 4 that my dad had throat cancer. My dad is my hero, my rock and my earliest moral compass. It took most of the year, but slow and steady won the race and he is cancer free. Life is not forever on earth, but I cannot bear to think about life without any member of my family and I am grateful that I get to spend 2.5 weeks with him (and my mama) in just a few days. My brothers and I were home for his 70th birthday and it was a weekend to remember. We laughed, ate, drank and made very merry. All felt good again.

We wish you a merry Christmas and jingles all the way!
Patrick, Katie, Teddy, Leo and Ernie
2017

Learning From a Big High School Fail

I sang the National Anthem frequently around town while growing up. I sang a lot, and this was by far the most intimidating song in my repertoire. Everyone knows it. My vocal teachers would debate me on this next comment, but you can kind of fudge the lyrics if they are in, say, Latin or German, but you cannot fudge the lyrics to the National Anthem. They are magnificent. The end of the sung verse is my favorite; such power.

“And the rocket’s red glare, the bomb bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

I was asked to sing it before a basketball game at my high school. It was thrilling and terribly nerve wracking. I started fine, but soon forgot the words. I pulled out my pitch pipe, reset my nerves and started again. I forgot the words in the SAME spot. I stood in the middle of the basketball court, frozen. I truly had no idea what to do. A kind human in the stands started singing and many people joined her. They bailed me out. It put me back on track and I finished it. I left the court as quickly as possible and sobbed downstairs for the first part of the game. I knew that the longer I hid, the worse it would be, so I put my game face on and went back to the game and cheered along with my friends. There were MANY jokes the following week, but that was to be expected. It was just part of life and I moved on easily.

I have been thinking so much about this great country lately. I love the pledge of allegiance. I cry almost every time the National Anthem is played at my beloved gymnastics meets. Participating in a USA chant for an Olympic trial was one of the most thrilling moments of my life. It hurts my soul to see how splintered our country is right now. The blatant racism, the lack of help in areas that need it after natural disasters, different groups separating in cries of injustice and how divided we all are over what is right and wrong. There is so much anger and hurt. I have been trying to sort out what I believe. I, too, have been angry. I have been angry that subsidies for some are so high, yet my family pays an enormous fee for ok health coverage. I have been angry that taxes are high and spent on programs I don’t agree with. I have been angry over this. I have been angry over that. Things have felt unfair toward ME and MY family when we have worked so hard to have a good life within our means. It has eaten at me. I value kindness toward others as the highest priority, yet deep down, I haven’t always felt kindness toward others. I have been too busy being angry and feeling self-righteous over how we take care of ourselves while others didn’t. I have been preaching one thing to my children, but feeling something else inside.

Then, while running, I started thinking about what needed to be done. I am not so presumptuous to believe I can fix things I know little of, but I wanted to think about what I believed. Forgiveness and letting go of what has been done in the past was the only thing I could come up with, but it has stuck with me and I have been thinking about it continuously. Apologize for the wrong, and give forgiveness and acceptance to others no matter where they are in their journey. It needs to start with the people who have the most, who have emotional bank accounts that are full. It needs to start with people who have what they need in life. It needs to start with me. I grew up surrounded by models of success, and more importantly, models of extreme work ethic. I grew up supported by 2 parents who loved and believed in me unconditionally. I grew up with hope for the future as part of my life. I believed I could do anything I wanted. I never had to worry about a basic need and I never once worried that my parents would be anything but my loving parents, together, for me. I received a parental bailout when I needed one and they threw me in the air to fly when they knew I was ready. Because of that, in my case, there was no way I was going to fail if I gave it my all. I fell many times, but my confidence from my upbringing pulled me back to my feet. Who would I be without it? What if I had grown up without seeing happiness and success in front of me? Who would I be if I never felt safe at home? What if my parents thought I wasn’t enough just in being me? What about those who were told over and over that life isn’t good or that there was no point in trying because you were going to fail? How can I expect them to give up their hurt before I give up my frustration? I need to be the one who extends the first hand. I need to say hello and ask how you are, first.

I can only imagine the nerves it took for that wonderful woman to start singing from the stands. I have sung in public forever, and that idea scares me. But she did it. In doing so, other people sang with her and lifted me up when I needed it. She didn’t know me, but she wanted to help me. It was the National Anthem. We all know it. She knew how to help and did it. I promise to return the favor. I am working on letting go of my anger over political fairness. I may agree or disagree, but I am not going to be angry anymore. I am going to be more interested in being a fellow human who says hello and focus on our shared humanity, flawed and beautiful.

A Dozen Years

I have been married for a dozen years on June 10th. I keep reflecting on this. I like the sound of it more than the sound of 12 years. I think it is the materialist in me. A dozen eggs, a dozen necklaces, a dozen doughnuts….mmmm. Like a dozen eggs, a couple of years have been cracked and (emotionally) discarded, but most of them have made wonderful food for the soul. I am happy. I am sated. I look forward with joy in my marriage. I know that a dozen years later, I am still beloved to him, as he is to me.

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My husband and I met in high school. Adolescence threw me two giant curve balls otherwise known as breasts and I went from an A cup to a D cup in one year. This is NOT the stuff dreams are made of for a young girl, despite how it may sound. There was a traumatic bra buying incident where my mother learned that she could fit her head inside the cup of my bra. I loved that woman madly, but my 14-year-old humor had not evolved enough for that joke.

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I reference my gigantic adolescent boobs because they are responsible for meeting my husband. Any and every 16-year-old boy is interested in advanced female physical development and we started dating. Any adult can tell you this is not enough to sustain a relationship and 4 weeks later it was over because he fell deeply in love with my dearest friend. I loved her far more than I liked him and we all moved on in high school. By that I mean that I detested him but still loved her.

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Fast forward 10 years and a meeting as adults. I lived in Manhattan and he lived in Chicago. He found my email address we became really good friends. His humor got me. His humor! Our locations dictated that our friendship had to come first and I am forever grateful for this. Without a physical connection, we learned so much about each other. I went through a quarter life crisis and he was my rock, my sounding board and my greatest cheerleader. To this day, he is my greatest cheerleader. His belief in my abilities lifts my heart and I pray he never finds out I am not as talented as he believes.

We have had times when we did not really like one another. We have had times when a bit of the faith in love was lost. There was a year I was really mad and did not know how to get passed it. There were a few years where we were broken together trying to start a family.

In all of that, we had faith and perseverance because of our foundation. That friendship forged on a landline phone grounded us. Our knowledge and love of what was deep down inside has sustained our marriage. I love him and depend on his love returned. He is the best father for our two boys. I pinch myself when I think about what he does for our family. A lot of it he does because that is who he is as a man, but I know there is quite a bit in it because he loves me. That makes me swoon just as it did a dozen years ago saying “I do.”

A few years ago he asked me why I had chosen to get a breast reduction. I felt like he was speaking a different language. I looked at him and said it was because they were miserable, always in the way and probably would be to my waist by now. He said, “They were the coolest thing ever.”

I kind of love that the awful teenager still resides just a little bit inside the body of the most beloved man. Cheers Patrick, to us and a dozen years!

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Into the Woods of Motherhood

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Lisa Helmi Johanson and Anthony Chatmon II as Little Red and the Wolf

My favorite musical is “Into the Woods” by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. I had the fortune of playing Little Red in high school and also wrote my college paper about how Sondheim had taken bits of music history (Wagner’s leitmotifs being my favorite) and wove it throughout the score. He also wove all the major fairy tales we learned as children into one big, dark and intriguing tale.

My mother’s day gift was to see the national tour of Fiasco’s staging of Into The Woods at the Ahmanson Theater. My darling husband surprised me with 4th row seats (swoon) and I was skeptic but excited about the production. They had scaled it down visually and made it more abstract in appearance. The characters sat in chairs around the stage and played instruments when they were not active on the stage. I thought it could be awful and perhaps my favorite, over the top, musical would be ruined.

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It was wonderful. Without the big production to sidetrack my senses, I focused on the story more than I ever had. It was the first time I had viewed the show since becoming a mother, and really a true adult. If you haven’t seen it, the story is that all of the characters have a big wish for life. They have to venture into the woods (a metaphor for life) to try and “get their wish”. By the end of the first act, they each achieve that wish. The second act is about what happens when your wish isn’t everything you thought it would be. Sound familiar?

I desperately wanted at least 2 children. We had fertility problems. This is a major theme in the musical. I could identify…. I saw the Baker and his wife confused about how to care for a baby once their dream was realized. This hit home with me. My tiny T is a handful with big dreams and feelings these days and I struggle with how to firmly yet kindly manage his wishes and desires. I have been working on how to mother him and feeling inadequate about my progress. I felt so invigorated after seeing my favorite show through fresh, time travelled eyes. My least favorite song in the show has always been “Children Will Listen.” I did not see how it fit with the story. I thought it was a pretty song woven in for beauty’s sake. This time, it brought tears to my eyes. How could I not have understood before? The entire show is about how to navigate through the woods of life and whether you choose the good, bad, easy or hard path. What can be more relevant in that plot line than guiding a child?

Today for mother’s day, I am going to reflect upon these lyrics. I have already lost my temper when my tiny boy refused to sit through church. I could have been gentler. I could have focused on the gift and card he made me and gave me with such a glow in his eyes. I could have let it go instead of telling him how frustrated I was. Because they always listen and they feel so deeply.

Thank you dear husband for that beautiful gift. I will share the lyrics with you mamas out there who may need the same reminder I did.

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CHILDREN WILL LISTEN

How do you say to your child in the night?
Nothing’s all black, but then nothing’s all white
How do you say it will all be all right
When you know that it might not be true?
What do you do?

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn

To learn what to be
Careful before you say “Listen to me”
Children will listen
Careful the wish you make
Wishes are children
Careful the path they take
Wishes come true, not free

Careful the spell you cast
Not just on children
Sometimes a spell may last
Past what you can see
And turn against you
Careful the tale you tell
That is the spell
Children will listen

How do you say to a child who’s in flight
“Don’t slip away and I won’t hold so tight”
What can you say that no matter how slight
Won’t be misunderstood.
What do you leave to your child when you’re dead?
Only whatever you put in it’s head
Things that your mother and father had said
Which were left to them too

Careful what you say
Children will listen
Careful you do them too
Children will see
And learn
Guide them, but step away

Children will glisten
Tamper with what is true
And children will turn
If just to be free
Careful before you say
“Listen to me”
Children will listen

***I pulled pictures off the web from the Fiasco Tour’s Website. Some of the characters and cast have rotated roles or out of the show, but it gives you an idea of the feel of the show.

WHEN ONE LICKS A DOOR STOP

Today the tiny ones and I had a long drive. After an hour and a half of Glee‘s version of Proud Mary, I decided that for the longevity of my sanity and their lives, we should stop and get lunch. We parked one block away from the pizza spot that was deemed acceptable. Out of sheer laziness, I decided to carry my 16-month-old lion cub instead of strapping him in his carrier. (Mistake #1) The village that housed our restaurant rejuvenated my tired (ok crabby) soul and as we passed a bakery I announced that I would spring for cookies after lunch. (Mistake #2) We were given a booth at the pizza joint and I assumed the 3 of us would just share one side instead of putting the lion cub in a high chair, as he hates being confined. (Mistake #3) It started out blissful as both boys wanted to eat my salad with me and I thought maybe people would think I was one of the unicorn moms who has perfect children. As soon as the pizza came and they only brought one bowl of ranch to dip, the sh*% hit the fan. The lion cub was climbing over his brother to rub pizza crust on the opaque glass separating the booths and screaming when his brother hoarded the ranch. The older one was furious he couldn’t eat in peace and I quickly got a box and the check. Balancing the pizza box in my arms with the wily lion cub, I was reminded that I promised dessert. NOW, here is what I forgot about the quaint village. It hosts 5 colleges so the clientele on a Sunday afternoon is pondering, meandering and perhaps nursing a hangover. There were 2 couples in front of us in the bakery. I am certain that they each discussed the meaning of life with the cashier. I KNOW they discussed what filled every single sandwich on the menu because it took 10 minutes to get to us.

10 minutes. Do you know what damage can be done in 10 minutes with 2 small children? By 2, I mean 1 in this instance because the older one hates being in trouble, but loves to tattle. My lion cub started in on the stacked high chairs because he was not strapped into his carrier, because of my earlier laziness and I couldn’t hold him and the $5 worth of pizza in the stupid take out box. He moved on to the door stop. First he touched it. I tried to whisper hiss at him as I could tell the intellectual clientele would be offended by my mom voice ruining their Sunday coffee. He didn’t care, even a little. He proceeded to lick the door stop and the surrounding area, which is where everyone walks. At that point, it was my turn to order. I told his brother to watch and make sure the door didn’t swing open and hit the little floor licker. Not one patron offered to move the little stinker for me. We got our dessert and I carried a screaming, writhing child to the car while the other one screamed, “HOLD MY HAND MOMMY!”

Clearly, I left the children with their father as soon as we got home. I came home later to a wonderful dinner of spicy chicken sausage and corn on the cob. After we ate, my husband informed me the lion cub had massive diarrhea. I asked him if he had thought about that before feeding him spicy sausage and corn on the cob. Nope. (Mistake #4)

 

Stocking Stuffer Musts–If Santa Is Not A Sure Thing

I am incapable of shutting my mouth and smiling kindly when backed into a corner. It is a glaring flaw in my personality. Just today I was telling my mom about a conversation where my inner common sense was screaming at me to just listen to someone I completely disagreed with and let it go. Just listen and let it go. Nope. I firmly ignored that poised inner beauty and let the sweaty, striped capri pant, crazy haired girl with red armpits from laser treatment carry on like a Halloween lunatic. I’ve been this way since childhood. This unfortunate characteristic was the reason for the entire Santa Claus unmasking. The well mannered, quiet girl would have gotten a couple more years of childhood, but the loud mouth had to be protected by her mother. Here is what happened.

Third grade started off with getting an out-of-the-blue giant nosebleed on my new dress, on the first day of school and my teacher would not let me walk the one block home to change my dress. This was a sign, in hindsight. Near Christmas vacation, we were in class doing a Christmas craft. The girl next to me said Santa Claus was not real. I told her if she believed that then he would not come and bring her presents. She said that she knew he was not real. This started a full blown discussion/argument including everyone around our desks and I was the ONLY one on my side. (Ok, Kristen Amy, WHERE WERE YOU, best friend??) I went home and indignantly replayed it all for my mother. A couple of hours later, she took me across the street to our church, early before choir practice. We sat in the sanctuary and she told me that Santa was really named Leanne and Dennis–but really just Leanne because I know my dad wasn’t picking out the presents. I sobbed. I was devastated. I asked if this meant that the tooth fairy also was not real. So many dreams were shattered that night.

IF Santa is not a sure thing for your stocking, may I suggest some must haves to make the holiday stocking commercial, merry and feminine.

BEAUTY Category:

I found the brand Beautycounter and am a convert. They stand on the premise that we must do a better job promoting safer products. Our skin is our largest organ and we slather it with unregulated chemicals. Rest assured that everything this mom owned company sells is safer for you and your littles. I sell it on the side, but these are two of my favorites. I could go crazy telling you about all my favs, but here are a couple. Want more info, http://www.beautycounter.com/katieszurpicki

Cleansing Balm, or aka miracle balm. $80 and lasts about 6 months. The price is steep, but lasts forever and is worth every cent. Cleanse your face with it, remove make up, slather it all over after a day in the sun or a day in a blizzard, rub it over bitten cuticles or tiny cuts. It is the most incredible soothing product I have ever used. The incredible scent comes from essential citrus oils.

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Beautycounter Body Butter, $39. Winter dries out your skin. You need that extra layer of thickness to protect yourself. My fingers crack, even in 65 degree weather. This is amazing. Again, the scent is from essential citrus oil. You are paying for the extra time in sourcing the ingredients and time spent ensuring its quality and safety. Support safer products. My lion cub has very sensitive skin and this soothes his baby eczema.

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Lush bath bombs. Perhaps the phrase “it’s the bomb” came from referring to this fabulousness? My entire family loves these. I convinced my child at 10 months that baths were tolerable with the magic dragon egg bath bomb that turned colors as it fizzed. Buy them. Don’t worry if your tub turns a color. A good clorox spritz will get rid of it and you can bathe again with more of these magic balls. http://www.lush.com

Everyone Soap and Lotion, $11ish. I found these at Whole Foods, although available on Amazon.com as well. This is a non GMO and essential oil scented line. This is a HUGE bang for your buck and it’s fantastic. I bubble up the boys’ bath to the tippy top and then turn around and use it neck to toe on myself. This is my new fav for the bathing process.

everyone-soap

Living Proof Dry Volume Blast, $29 sephora.com. I just received an unfortunate haircut that I am referring to as the reverse mullet. I have more styling options with this as my #1 favorite hair product. Spray it after drying your hair, all over, mess it up and finish styling. It is equally as awesome as their dry shampoo. Don’t judge the product by my hair, just trust me.

living-proof

 

Wearables:

Ditch the conventional stocking and fill up some pretty cowboy boots with goodies instead. This is the most versatile shoe ever. I’ve been wearing boots for 20 plus years. I’ve given up my highest heels after having 2 teenies, but boots make me feel pretty and I can chase my cubs at the park in them. If you’re new, don’t go conservative. Jump in. Wear color. Cute dress with boots? Why not. Skinny jeans tucked in? Absolutely. Feeling fat? Boyfriend jeans, cuffed with a hint of boot peeking out. Perfection. No one looks at thighs when you have a detailed boot. http://www.countryoutfitter.com has my favs. Check out the Corral brand. Yes. Please.

pink-boot

Athleta Chauranga capri, $64. It may be the first stripe to make thighs appear thinner and your booty perkier. I swear on all that is sacred that this is the BEST capri ever made. Put an IOU in the stocking with this picture because they’re back ordered until January, but get them. GET THEM!! Amazing. Plus, you can size down. Vanity sizing works for me. They come in a full length tight as well, but the fabrication is not the same. The magic is in the capri.

athleta

Lou and Grey Steeeetch top, $59.50. Lou and Grey has wearable pajama fabrics. It’s the equivalent of a security blanket that has been washed 1000 times. Their fabrics are to die for. The fit is beautiful and skirts the timeless and trendy category in just the right way. I like this top because you can go full on athleisure with it. Pretend you are going to the gym when you pair this with your chaturanga capri. Check out the thumb tab on the sleeve. You look like you are pulled together with fitness goals. Win.

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Thingies:

Thegrommet.com. This site is my current obsession. They launch new products regularly and it is all based upon individual creativity. I. LOVE. IT. MADLY. You also get a video of the product. Check out the chicken launcher game. I was crying with laughter. BUT, to continue with the feminine stocking stuffer, I really eye balled the Impwear laminated cotton bags starting at $24.95. Laminated cotton. This not only appeals to the mother in me, but the clean freak. It is a giant pain to clean makeup bags, but I gag when bags get too dirty. This is a wipe down bag WITH a loop to hook upon things. You have several options in color combos too. Perfection.

JBL Flip 3 Wireless speaker, $79.99 (currently at Target.com). I’m not tech savvy. I know Beats and Bose have these too, but the JBL had the best price and I love it. I hook up my Pandora app from my phone and have been rocking out to Christmas carols (Hello Trans Siberian and Manheim Steamroller) since November 1. I love that there are color options too. Perfect for a techie wannabe.

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Oil Diffuser. I’m not into candles. I don’t like the dust that accumulates on top and I’m over plug ins now that I have discovered the beauty of essential oils. I am a sucker. Plus, I feel fancy blending the scents. I am a scent junkie and this hits the spot. Plus, if you blend Eastern and Western medicine, there is science to essential oils and healing properties. In full disclosure, I rubbed fennel oil all over myself in an attempt to nurse the tiniest tiny longer and it didn’t work. However, I diffuse the left over fennel oil and it works instantly to make me smile with its scent. Amazon has a million oil diffusers to choose from.Youngliving.com has the best oils, but man are they expensive! Their Thieves oil is both therapeutic (hello cold and flu season) and it’s the best smell ever. It comes in cleaning products as well as the oil. It is the icing on the essential oil cake. It is, however, about $41.

thieves

Here are a couple from Amazon that I have loved blending and are in the $7-$12 range. Clove and sweet orange are lovely together and perfect for a cozy winter afternoon. They are not just for the ladies either. My husband asked for a diffuser and starter set for his office. Boom.

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LaMarca Prosecco sparkling wine. My dad decided he had enough ties and shirts and decided to switch to buying fancy wine. He built a wine rack and started buying wine from The Wall Street Journal recommendations. He has a dot system for coding how fancy the fancy wine is. His children are not allowed to choose bottles with dots on them, certainly not a 3 dot bottle. In fact, after I stayed in my parents’ home for 5 weeks and they were concerned we would never leave, he implemented a top shelf only rule for me. I am only allowed to help myself to top shelf wine. He brought this one home for me one night. It’s very moderately priced and has a great sparkling taste that is not too sweet. Thank you Dad.

Cards Against Humanity Game. This is not a new game, but so funny and wrong. It’s wrong that one might put it in a stocking, which makes it so right. You learn about people and how to play to your judge. For example, I learned my mother generally played the dirtiest card but would never vote for a dirty card when she judged. I love you Mom.

Merry Christmas! 

 

 

My Night With Cooper Bear

My dog Cooper has been my companion for almost 10 years. I read once, in “Guideposts” where a woman described having a ‘soul connection’ with her dog. I feel this deeply with Coop. I have had 2 babies in the last 4 years and perhaps Cooper has not received what he was used to in past years. Perhaps life has not been quite as full. I cannot remember the last time he received a McDonald’s ice cream cone and tonight this shames me to my core. Tonight, Tiny 1 and 2 went to bed with their father and I stayed up and relished the quiet. Cooper was my companion as his furry brother beds down with my boys.

I decided to take Cooper for a walk instead of just one last trip outside for the night. Now, Cooper is mostly deaf and his back legs are weak and now bent at an angle from severe arthritis. His joints are swollen and he wears non skid socks that I replenish roughly once per month because he cannot get up without them. His walks are limited. When I entered the living room with his leash, he struggled eagerly to get up. His excitement was obvious and I marveled at his optimism. No pain or lameness would get in his way! His walks are, at most, around the block. Tonight, I thought, let’s walk on the other side of the street. His tail wagged the entire time. I let him sniff every mystery in the grass. He had a spring in his step. He was a hunter once again. I walked sobbing, watching this animal who has my heart completely. This beautiful, earnest and loving dog who is in pain most of the time, enjoyed the moment given to him. There are so many times when aging terrifies me. Most days, I think of the unfairness Cooper has been given in aging. Tonight, I learned a lesson from this strong beast of mine. He accepts what is given to him and finds joy in simplicity. The act of crossing the street filled him with energy and enthusiasm. I am in awe of the beauty and grace of this sweet animal. Thank you my big bear.

I NEED YOU

My husband has a small, close circle of friends who are dear to him. My husband is not an easy read and his fierce love of those who make it past his prickly exterior are in for life. I find male relationships fascinating; there is not talk of feelings, dissection of what conversations might mean, or endless discussions on how to ensure you do not raise serial killers, YET the relationships are rooted deep into the earth even without many words.

My husband has 2 friends from kindergarten who are his dearest friends 35 years later. They have their own language. It is loud, bawdy and complete gibberish but you cannot help but to smile when you hear the three of them together in “Nina”speak. These 3 friends are rarely in the same city together, but the bond of friendship is always there. Bits of business are intertwined. Somehow, anniversary vacations and honeymoon destinations overlap. One friend’s wife planned a romantic anniversary vacation near where we live. Her husband said to her, “Thank you for bringing me to see my best friend.” She was so tickled by the friendship, she did not bring up the fact that it was supposed to be THEIR time together. My husband tagged along the entire time of the trip, in the back seat of the rented convertible, both friends as happy as can be.

One component of the friendship has been the love of one another’s mother. All three mothers are vastly different, but each one brought something special into each boy’s heart. All three men grew up to love strong women, and to value that relationship above everything else. I am certain few who knew this band of miscreants in school would have expected or believed this to be a truth, but I believe their love of their mothers and who they were/are, led them to the family men they are today. As time marches on, losses start to become reality for these friends, and the beauty of the friendship shines brighter as the circle becomes tighter.