#WeAreNotThis on this Maundy Thursday

It’s Maundy Thursday. The night of Holy Week in which many Christians commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples. Churches all over the world are serving up the bread and the wine, many as I write this.

Once the church I grew up in started making it part of the Holy Week tradition, the Maundy Thursday service became my favorite service of the year. But it’s been a long time since I’ve been to one. My last church never observed Holy Week. And, well, toddler life prevents a lot of things from happening in the evening hours.

And for as long as it has been since I’ve been to a Maundy Thursday service, it’s been even longer since I have craved Jesus. It’s been even longer since I have had a sense of God at work in this world. There is entirely too much broken. Latent racism and intolerance has once again become overt in this election year. The wounds of a dictatorship and exile were opened once again when our president stepped foot onto Cuban soil and a baseball game was one of the celebrated highlights of the tour. Another set of suicide bombings in Europe has reminded us that extremism looms large–and has for a long time in some parts of the world but hit our Western doorstep again, prompting us to lower our flags to half staff. The legislature in my home state rushed into an emergency session to pass one of the most discriminating pieces of legislation arguably since the Jim Crow era.

And that’s just this week.

As I stand here and stir the pot that contains my dinner, my husband is stirring the pot alongside a friend and many others at a protest against HB2. Many of my friends are commemorating the subversive, pot stirring movement of Jesus. I’m performing the mundane tasks of the daily routine, all the while craving the body and the blood….the bread and the wine…the unmistakable presence of love and acceptance in our world.

Because that’s what Holy Week is about. Love. Sacrifice. Welcome. Hospitality. A way in for all. A command to love and care for one another just as Jesus did for us.

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Glory Over Everything

Several years ago, I stumbled upon Kathleen Grissom’s debut novel The Kitchen House. I actually listened to the audiobook. And it was phenomenal. As in jumped into my Top 5 Books of All Time phenomenal. So when I heard her sophomore work was coming out this spring, I got REALLY excited. And then I had the opportunity to get an advanced reader’s copy through Net Galley.

Guys. This book.

Glory Over Everything is a stand-alone sequel to The Kitchen House. It follows the story of Jamie Pyke after he left Tall Oaks in Virginia. The story is his, though there are characters from The Kitchen House that make an appearance in addition to the new characters we meet from his life in Philadelphia. Glory is written in a similar style to Kitchen in that each chapter is written from the point of view and in the voice of one character. It is rare that an author can bring characters to life in the way that Grissom does.

What is even more amazing about her writing is how unbelievably human her characters are. In a way that stands in opposition to the period in which she writes in which humans were commodities. I’ve never had a better sense about slavery and the effects it had on people than after reading one of her books. I’ve also never felt more enraged at the injustices of slavery and the subsequent issues of civil rights in this country. Grissom’s writing is provocative in a way few others are.

My only complaint about this book is how abruptly some pieces of it end. For example (and without giving too much away), one character’s piece of the story comes to an end in one sentence–and I was left wanting more.

On the whole, this book is well worth the read–and, if you’re like me, you won’t want to put it down. It’s set to release on April 5. Run, don’t walk, to your bookseller and pre-order it. Right now. And if you’re in the Raleigh, NC area, Kathleen Grissom will be at Quail Ridge Books on April 28 at 7:00 PM.

I Would Run 500 Miles

I entered the lottery for a spot in this year’s New York City Marathon. I didn’t mean to. I wasn’t really even sure I should enter. I was peer pressured into doing it, actually.

Even though running and I are frenemies.

I pushed the button (with some hand-over-hand support from my husband) and then didn’t think about it for WEEKS.

My brain, on the other hand, was working on it at least a little. Because it remembered that the lottery would take place on March 3. And in the few days preceding it, I started to think about how cool it would be to get in. How much training I would have to do to make it at least an OK day. How much I would really…REALLY like to get in. Screaming at myself for the notion of wanting to get in.

WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?!?!?!

And then March 3 actually rolled around and I started checking my email at regular intervals. Like stalking the inbox. Hoping I’d get the congratulatory email. Not sure I would. And texts were flying back and forth among the four of us who entered the lottery. We ALL were waiting to hear.

And the work day ended with no word.

I called one of my running peeps on the way home and we agreed that if one got in and the other didn’t, the other would charity run it. That, my friends, means raising $2620 between now and October 1.

I got home and my evening went like it usually does with family and dinner and WHAT THE HELL IS THIS PLAN FOR MAKING UP SNOW DAYS YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME and watching something on TV. During which I finally had a chance to check my email again. It was about 8:00 at that point, and I knew they would send emails until midnight.

It had come in at 7:15.

I won the lottery

I’m in.

Holy shit I’m in. What the hell was I thinking but how freaking cool is this that I’m IN.

And one of my other peeps is too. Now we just have to make sure at least one more raises that load of money for a charity. Stay tuned for bake sale information.

The 2014 Year in Books Post

Quick while baby is sleeping…here’s the rundown from last year (since I’m a couple days late on this one. Because baby).

I set out to read 20 books in the year and got to that mark quicker than I thought. (Late night feedings and a Kindle helped propel me forward a bit before I headed back to work.) So I upped the goal to 24 and ultimately came in at 22.

Before I get to the best of what I read, let me give you a glimpse into my goal for this year.

See, I was going to shoot a little lower (read 15 books in 2015) because of baby and work and all of the things. But then I saw THIS and decided to change it up. If you look at the scavenger hunt like list, there’s a total of 52 book reading opportunities (because of reading a trilogy). I’ll just go ahead and tell you right now that I’ll be double- (maybe even triple) dipping. Because baby and work and all of the things. And I’m not even sure I’ll finish the challenge…for those reasons and because it’s damn near impossible to find an author with the same initials as me. But hey, if you’re up to a different kind of book challenge or reading goal for the year, check it out and join me on this one.

And now, without further ado, the best of what I read in 2014.

Best Thriller: Persuader by Lee Child (This one also comes in as one of the best Jack Reacher novels I’ve read so far. If you aren’t reading Jack Reacher, get on it.)

Honorable Mention: A Spy for Hire by Dan Mayland. I first read Mayland’s books as a reviewer and he’s only gotten better with time.

Other thrillers: The Midnight House (because I also love Alex Berenson’s protagonist Jonn Wells), The Enemy by Lee Child, and Stalin’s Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith

Best Nonfiction: Einstein Never Used Flash Cards by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Golinkoff, and Diane Eyer. Play is the best way for young children to learn–and they learn so much through that medium. I cannot tell you how strongly I feel about the power of play and how much it teaches children about SO MANY THINGS. Don’t underestimate it.

Other nonfiction books worth your time: Girls Will Be Girls; NurtureShock; Swagger: 10 Urgent Rules for Raising Boys in an Era of Failing Schools, Mass Joblessness, and Thug Culture; and Lean In…if you’re into that sort of thing.

I also read a lot of baby kinds of nonfiction, so if that’s up your alley this year, let me know and I’ll let you know what I thought was the best of that bunch.

Best (and only) YA Novel: Spirit’s Key by Edith Cohn. I don’t typically read YA fiction (though I have some I should get to), but when you know the author and she debuts in 2014, you buy the book and read it. So I did. And then I ordered a copy for my niece for Christmas. It was SOOOO good. Just so good.

Best Children’s Book: (not included in the total count but worth a mention) Shark vs. Train. People. It’s laugh out loud funny and I definitely bought multiple copies for the little people in my life. Buy it. Read it. Read every. single. word. All of them all over the page. Totally worth it.

Best Fiction Book: This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. I BLEW through this book, it was so good. Just so…so good. I love that it’s now a movie and, when I have a second, I’m gonna watch that too. On the whole, hands down best book I read in 2014.

Reframing Christmas…Or Why I Suck at the Occasion This Year

I caught a little bit of the Diane Rehm show today as I was on my way home from the gym. The conversation was about the holidays–specifically about the breakdown of gender roles and the effects of the stress of this time of year on individuals, their partners and their children. It got me thinking more intentionally about what I want Christmas to look like at our house and what traditions I want to stick with, what I want to create, and how to find balance in the midst of it all.

So here’s what that looks like this year.

There is no Christmas tree. There is no nativity. There are no cookie tins (because plastic containers will do). We have not even opened the attic for Christmas decorations.

Christmas cards aren’t going out…again. But if you’re interested in a birth announcement, raise your hand. I’ll send you one as soon as I make it to the post office for more stamps.

There are presents only because interwebs.

There’s no Christmas Eve service because baby and because we lost our church community earlier this year and have yet to find another.

Most of our lack of Christmas is due to having a 4 ½ month old in the house. We love him to pieces. But this whole working full time and parenting when I’m not working or sleeping is hard. And though this baby is a good baby, he is not an easy baby. And parenting is hard. And exhausting. And I can’t even bring myself to ask someone to baby-sit because it’s exhausting and I can’t do that to anyone else.

I’m sure there are parents who have had babies this year who got their Christmas tree decorated (bonus points for the whole house), presents bought and wrapped, and goodies made well before Festivus. Hell, they may have even attended a party or two by now. I’m also pretty sure many of those folks are at least 5 years younger than me (which is damn near an eternity in baby mama years) and aren’t dealing with twice daily doses of compounded liquid Prilosec with conversations of potentially making an appointment for an ultrasound and barium swallow–on top of the burp cloth/beach towel/snuggie combo we’ve employed to protect at least some part of our wardrobe…and the couch.

I am thankful for a baby who is otherwise healthy and happy and sweet and cuddly and too cute for anyone’s good. I am thankful for the interwebs and how so much of what I need to buy can just come directly to me. I am thankful for people who will come and help me make at least one type of cookie–even while I’m still in my pajamas. I am thankful for Christmas incarnated on my TV in various forms. I am thankful for being able to live vicariously through the decorating of others and that I’m not hosting Christmas at my house.

And that’s how Christmas looks this year. That’s how I’ve been able to find balance. That’s how I’ve maintained my sanity. Because there is no margin for Christmas in the way we’ve done it in years past.

But I hope against hope that next Christmas won’t look anything like this one. In the mean time, I’m working to be OK with what this one is.

Pro Tips from an Amateur Baby Pusher

I know at least half a dozen pregnant women currently. This post really is for those folks…partly because it is and partly because they may wish to stay away from the next couple of posts about Baby W’s birth…not that terrible things happened but because I know I tried to stay away from birth stories the closer I got to the end. Then again, you may wish to read about how things don’t always go as you plan for or envision and it turns out just fine.

But let’s be real, you people are going to do what you will and I’m going to be over here keeping it real like I always do.

Can’t say I didn’t warn you.

In the mean time, here’s my Top 10 Pro Tips.

  1. Food and drink during labor: If they let you have something, load up. BUT…consume things that are soft-ish and you don’t mind seeing again. Because chances are, you will. Maybe don’t pick your favorite flavor of Gatorade or a food that you absolutely LOVE. These things may be ruined for you in this process.
  2. Speaking of food, bake treats for your caregivers. I swear the Sarahs (midwife and day shift nurse) loved me more after we handed over a loaf of homemade banana bread.
  3. Clothes. Wear whatever the hell you want. If the hospital gown is your jam, go for it. I opted for a sports bra and yoga pants (because I didn’t want to feel like a patient). And then my water broke. After that it was the bra and those sexy fishnet underroos they give you until the main event. Before all that, though, I went on the futile hunt for long pajama bottoms. Well, futile unless you’re willing to cough up some change. But I decided it was worth it to have comfy bottoms to wear once I was home. I splurged on some victory pants that I kept in the closet until we got home…then I lived in those jokers for three solid days.
  4. If your mode of birth does not require a C-section, steal plenty of ice packs. And if your partner happens to walk by a cart in the hallway that has a big bag of them and offers to steal the whole lot, seriously consider this offer. The same applies to anything else they leave in your room…including the diapers. Seriously. Once that pack of diapers is opened, they can’t do anything else with it and they’ll chuck it. Might as well have extra at your house.
  5. Stop on the way home for Colace and Motrin. And probably Tucks pads.
  6. Take advantage of the sitz bath…or at least a really long shower with water running over the parts that hurt the most.
  7. Feeding your baby: stay away from Dr. Google. Period. Pick one or two trusted sites about feeding and just go there. If you are planning to breastfeed your baby, have the number to a really good (I mean REALLY good) lactation consultant programmed into your phone and call them as early and often as you need to. Seriously. I cannot emphasize this enough. Because getting started with–and even maintaining–breastfeeding can be tough. Also stock up on some type of nipple butter (or coconut oil). Trust me on this one especially. You may not need much of it, but chances are, you’ll need at least a little in the early days. If you’re planning to use formula right out of the gate, know that that mess smells awful. However, if you have an absurd addiction to Cheetos that you’d like to kick, let me recommend the Enfamil Nutramigen. Also, stock up on burp cloths. At least 45. In the short term, they’ll serve their purpose AND bulk up your laundry so you feel like you’re doing a full load. In the long term, they’ll make great rags for dusting or washing cars. And speaking of feeding, invest in The Blessed Nest pillow…screw the Boppy. This one is worth every penny.
  8. Whatever emotions you feel or however crazy you might think you are or whatever you thought you’d never do but now find yourself doing, just roll with it. And try to get some sleep. It gets better. Promise.
  9. In case no one has told you yet, the second night is hell. You just have to get through it. And high five your partner when dawn breaks because you did it. The same is true for any growth spurt (look for the first round of fun at the 2 week mark).
  10. Be ready for your plans to be 86’ed in a heartbeat. Things may not go as you envisioned or planned, but then, that’s parenting for you. This whole process requires courage–from pregnancy to emptying the nest and beyond. You can do it. You’re already doing it.

Honorable mentions:

You may want a doula. I did not use one as I felt supported throughout my pregnancy in terms of my medical care–and even more so in the birthing process. But there are women who love having that kind of support during labor and birth, and wouldn’t do it without.

Drugs. My plan was to go without. Whatever your plan, consider your options and do what works for you.

Confessions of a Still Pregnant Woman

Pregnancy can teach you many things. Things about your body, what’s important to you, your limits, your hopes, your psyche…

And the longer the pregnancy continues (and we all want a healthy full-term pregnancy), the more you learn about these things. So once again, I’m over here dropping some pregnancy truthiness.

1. Control is an illusion. I learned that from other life and work experiences. However, you may have thought you had at least a smidge, if not more. Pregnancy laughs in the face of your control needs, making you keenly aware that you really have little, if any, control whatsoever. You have control over how you care for your body as it grows new life, but that’s about it. You cannot control what is happening inside your body, how your baby will grow and develop, or the date and time at which your body and baby will work together on baby’s exit plan.

2. You will want to have on hand whatever your favorite hemorrhoid remedy happens to be. Apparently no pregnant woman escapes unscathed.

3. Be mindful of what you say to a pregnant woman. Especially as she nears–and even more so as she passes–her due date. For starters, due dates are a joke and essentially meaningless. Babies come when babies come. To that end, a woman is likely to hear from countless people asking about whether the baby is here yet. Each time she has to respond with a “no,” is a reminder that she’s still pregnant and might be forever. (We all know that being pregnant forever is not real, but when you’re in it, if feels like it.) If you’re going to ask about the baby, take care to ask about the mom, too.

4. Pregnancy is more than a physical and emotional experience. It’s a mental game, too. As a woman approaches her “due date,” she begins to get in the mindset of birthing the baby. Even more so if her plan is a natural birth. And every day the baby chooses to stay inside is another day of mental readiness then downgrading only to gear up again the next day. It’s exhausting. So if you’re going to ask anything of a woman past her due date, probably the best question is, “How are you holding up?”

5. Do a better job than I have of planning ways to fill your time while waiting for baby. Plans can be changed or broken. If they are, it’s because you’re having a baby. Who can argue or be upset by that?!

6. I still really really really really really really REALLY miss beer and working out beyond getting on the elliptical and doing a few sets of upper body exercises. And I’ll continue to wait for the day I can get back to both, just like I’m over here waiting for this baby to arrive.