Gravity + Overconfidence

At present, I am 5.5 weeks out from ankle surgery. While this last week contained some an exciting development, it also came with some setbacks and reminders of just how far I still have to go with my healing and recovery process.

On Tuesday, at PT, I was cleared to practice walking WITHOUT the boot. I knew this was coming and had been (cheating) practicing at home a bit the few days prior, just shuffling around our main floor without any boot or crutch. So that day at PT was great. Got some new stretches, did some new exercises, and left with the green light to wear the boot as much or as little as I saw fit day-to-day.

Unfortunately, the very next day, I got way ahead of myself which has now landed me back to where I felt things were a week or more ago. Wednesday morning I was getting around the house in just my Hokas (my favorite brand of athletic shoes) and felt pretty great. In the spirit of tidying the house, I was also doing multiple loads of laundry which required me to go downstairs to the basement multiple times to switch out loads, etc. Since surgery and getting cleared for weight bearing again, I’ve been doing the step-step-pause when I go up or down the stairs. In other words, I have to put both feet on each stair each time because I don’t have the range of motion in my left ankle yet to step/lift off one foot at a time.

Going to do laundry, however, and feeling super pleased with myself meant I forgot that I’m not ready for stepping down stairs, and without thinking, I lifted my left foot, placed it down on a stair and immediately rolled it through the action of lifting my right foot which was. not. good. That’s definitely a lot different than just lifting and setting my foot from one stair to the next. Thankfully I didn’t tear anything in the process, but I also didn’t do myself any favors in that moment, as I have been trying to work back from it every day since this week. As I told my physical therapist the next day, (damn) gravity and feeling a tad too confident got the best of me.

In all fairness, this is my first real set-back during my recovery. My pain after surgery was minimal and since I got rid of the Rhino Horn, I’ve been making steady progress every 2-3 days where I am suddenly able to do the next progression of movement, exercises, and get rid of aids like the crutches, and so forth. So part of me thinks, I should just be grateful that I’ve made it almost a month and a half and am already where I’m at with mobility. Another part of me, though, is super frustrated, hurting and sore, and just wants to be done with this. I miss going for walks and I miss doing yoga. I even miss being able to pop downstairs quick to check on the (damn) laundry when I want to without it taking twice as long as I step-step-pause my way down and then back up the stairs. I know all of this is going to come in time, but currently, I’m in the time where I feel like it’s been quite long (almost three months now) since I’ve been able to move my body how I want and I’m still quite far (at least another month, maybe more) before I get there.

Am I surprised that this is a legit lesson in patience or that it is hard? Not, not at all. But am I still in the thick of it? Yes, yes I am, sometimes with a boot, crutches, and all.


NPR: a Love Story

If my relationship to Public Radio was a romance novel, it would definitely be an enemies-to-lovers trope. But before we could be enemies, I still had to learn what Public Radio even was since I had no idea it existed, and wouldn’t until I was in high school.

Although my family listened to a lot of radio growing up, I never remember my parents being big on PR, even though my dad loved talk radio shows. He also loved calling in and winning stuff from the radio, like the time he got a free ride on an airplane and had the pilot take him over our marching band practice (no jokes), so he could get an aerial view of what we were doing. To be fair, I’ve inherited a bit of this trait from him (more on that soon).

Somehow, I can vividly remember the first time I was subjected to Public Radio which was in the late 90s while being driven across the state of South Dakota by a church member on a youth group ski trip to the Black Hills. I’m sure the dad of an upperclassman, a local doctor in our hometown, also let us listen to other things (or did he?!), but he for sure made us listen to *his* radio, too, which was all classical pieces and grown up news/talk stuff. My teenage, pop-loving self was not on board with this arrangement. The skiing may have been fun, but it felt like torture to be in the vehicle for so many hours coming and going (it takes a good 5.5 or 6 hours to get across SD) listening to that.

My next real encounter with all things classical music, world news, and talk-based shows, was in college, when I was once again influenced by my environment. This time it was the semester after my study-abroad in Africa, when I lived in the spare room of one of Doane’s professors; my quilting instructor. She had a radio/stereo in the center of her home and I remember it being turned on to NPR/NET Radio at any manner of time throughout any given day. Unlike the road trip/radio hostage situation, by the time I was 20/21 and living in her house, I was a tad bit more mature and less bothered by this listening choice. Also, I could leave the house or, at the very least, shut my door and put on my own music whenever I wanted, so I never felt so forced or attacked by this semester-long exposure. 

In fact, I think my host’s influence was a good one on me because I learned that classical music can make a great backdrop to learning (and especially to writing). This was a trick I used often in my early years of teaching when I gave students time to write in class – some soft instrumental music in the background to fill the void a bit while they worked on individual compositions, free writes, etc. for assignments. It was also helpful that I’d been introduced to Nebraska’s Public Radio in college because, by the time I was teaching college myself, just three short years later, I needed to know that such a station existed, just to survive my morning drive to work.

Calling my drive a commute might not be fair since the campus where I first taught, Central Community College – Hastings, is literally just outside of Hastings. Even better was that our first house on the east-ish side of town, making it even easier to get to work. However, it still took about 10 minutes to get all the way out there, onto campus, and parked, and because of my teaching schedule/arrival to campus time, I found myself running into the hour on the local radio stations where they were doing nothing but birthday wishes (oh my goodness – another thing my dad was famous for loving when we were kids!) and talky-talk, and I couldn’t stand it. So, I flipped the dial to 89.1 and started listening to NPR’s Morning Edition instead; from there, the slippery slope took hold. 

It wasn’t long before I, too, was obsessed. I listened to NPR in the car, at home, and even streamed it in my classes during the aforementioned writing times. I became a huge fan of several weekend shows including Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me! and Click and Clack – a call-in show where two brothers, both mechanics, would answer wild car-related questions (that involved a lot of funny noises made by people trying to mimic the weird sounds their vehicles were making that had prompted them to call for help). Although my NPR listening tapered off when the kids came along (we switched to more music and kid-friendly on CDs rather than listening to NET’s updates on local and world news and such), I still loved to catch my weekend shows when I could, even when the babies were super young and I had less listening time.

Once, the spring I spent driving toddler HD and baby RL around the countryside because that was the only time I could get them both to nap, I even made my own call to Click and Clack in hopes that they could identify the strange noise our own vehicle was making at the time. Alas, I never got a call back to be interviewed on the show, but see? I am my father’s daughter! 

A few years later a highlight of my NPR relationship occurred when Ben and I happened to get tickets at the Lied Center in Lincoln for a taping of Wait, Wait, which was so entertaining to witness and seems now like one of those things I can’t believe I ever got to do in this life. They literally travel the country doing the show, and for them to be in Nebraska felt like such a gift. 

Recently, I learned that Public Radio has really only been available for listening in Nebraska since the 90s – the same time my teenage-self was lamenting my PR exposure in SoDak. And the reason I have access to it in Hastings, Nebraska at all is thanks to the fundraising efforts of a local woman that I just met for the first time in late winter of 2023, which is also remarkable to me. Here is this entity that has meant so much to me over the years and it is in large part because of her efforts that such a love could even exist in my life! Without her, a tower in Central, NE would have been unlikely and I never would have had the option to become a regular listener and supporter of the cause (check out the rad socks, pictured below, that I once got for a donation gift). 

Public Radio and I may not have seen eye-to-eye early on in our relationship, and we may have had some dry spells over the years where it looked like we might be falling out, but we’re coming to the time when I once again find myself alone in the car with time to listen and think, meaning that our relationship can once again be a steady force and presence in my life. Thank goodness for that! 

*Post 51/52

The Best Advice I Can Give: Move

Of course I don’t mean move to a new house or a new city/state/country every time you have a problem. Although, to be fair, I really do believe people should move every 5-10 years so as to force our hands at sorting through and not keeping so many possessions, but I digress (and it is so not a rule we have followed).  

What I mean is, when you don’t know what to do or your feelings are too big, or you feel overwhelmed, Move. Move your body. Move your breath. Move.

Moving your body might look like running or kickboxing (lately I really want to punch things, so boxing sounds like fun). It might look like a long walk or going for a swim. Or, you might not be able to do any of those activities for a variety of reasons, but you can still move your body, even if you’re sitting on the couch. Put on some really loud music if it helps, and start shaking your limbs. Flail your arms and legs, move without any other guide than where your body takes you. Let all of that energy move through and away from you. And, if you need to, punch a pillow; that usually helps, too. Rinse and repeat every day to release the pressure value, so to speak (nothing like a good mixed metaphor to drive home an important point). 

Moving your breath might be an additional practice to the body movement or it might be its own entity. You can take deep breaths into your belly (diaphragmatic breathing), letting your inhales inflate your stomach like a big balloon; let your exhales be twice as long as you release those deep in-breaths. You can also do my personal favorite – Horsey Lips. This means taking a deep breath and then forcing your exhale out with so much oomph that your lips vibrate and shake, much like a horse does when they snort/snuff with their mouths. Will you look and sound weird? Yep. Will it help and be worth it? Also yep. And, when you’re ready, trying Ecstatic Breathwork; it is transformative and a powerful tool. 

This isn’t my wisdom alone; these are lessons learned from years of yoga training and practice as well as tried and true techniques from books I’ve read about the body, stress, and how we store emotions in our physical bodies until we learn how to process them properly. Movement, in the body and in the breath, is the way. These practices won’t always be an instant fix and they aren’t going to solve all of your problems, but they are going to help you feel better, bit by bit, and they will definitely keep you feeling more grounded. This will help you with another important fix to when life feels like too much: rest, the exact opposite of moving and something I will also be practicing the remainder of my days. 

*Post 50/52.

Coffee Connection

There is little I love more in this world than the smell of coffee. Do I love the *taste* of coffee that much? Goodness, no; not at all. But the smell? Oh my gosh, yes; sign me up every day for a big old whiff of fresh coffee grounds or coffee brewing. I freaking adore it. 

Is this because I grew up smelling the coffee pot brewing at all times of the day as a kid? That’s probably part of it. Coffee was a constant ritual for my parents, but especially for my dad. The man has been known to drink coffee at all hours of the day. Seriously; he will wake up in the middle of the night, brew a pot, drink some coffee, and then go back to bed. What?! Also, how?!?! But the real ritual I remember is him sharing coffee breaks with his farming partners, his dad and uncle (my Grandpa Tim and his twin, my Great Uncle Bill, who was my bonus fifth grandparent growing up). These would also happen at any given time of the work day when two or all three of them would park it on the high stools that surrounded our kitchen island and drink coffee out of small, white with brown stripe-detail Correlle mugs. Topics of conversation? Shooting the breeze on farming, the weather, and politics, or just sitting in silence, sipping coffee. I can see these coffee chats vividly in my mind, still, and the smell of Foldgers or Maxwell House or whatever brand of coffee was being bought at the time stays strong in my memory, too.

My own journey with coffee drinking didn’t really start until college when friends and I would travel from Crete, NE the 25-30 minutes it took us to get to Lincoln to set up camp and study at The Coffee House, located downtown in the capitol city. Except even then I didn’t really drink coffee-coffee. I loved the smell of it, sure, but the taste? Gross. So instead I ordered every fluffy drink possible on their menu, settling on an Irish Mocha as my favorite because it was mostly chocolate, flavored syrup, and whipped cream, not coffee. And maybe it was green? We would stay at the CoHo for hours, often until closing, nursing those drinks and taking in all the funky art, interesting people, and classic coffee house sounds and smells while working on essays and other homework. I loved The Coffee House dearly and was very happy to continue visiting it during grad school when I spent two years living in Lincoln. To this day, whenever I’m back in the Star City, I try to make a stop there; however, I can’t say I’ve had an Irish Mocha in close to decades at this point. 

What upped my coffee game from fluff to the real stuff? Parenthood and Keurigs. I couldn’t drink enough coffee to justify having an actual coffee maker with a full pot attached to it (I’d totally get the shakes), but a single serve coffee that I could have once or twice a day, depending on how crappy my sleep had been the previous night?! Sign! Me! Up! A K-cup or two a day became my not-so-guilty pleasure for years until the excess of waste in those dumb little cups got to me and I had to say no more. Full disclosure: I wasn’t often drinking just straight coffee during those times. I was definitely still doctoring it with some sort of creamer or another. Fuller disclosure? During those days I also loved a hot McCafe Mocha from McDonalds; so much so that toddler Harrison associated Micky D’s with coffee (for me!) more than with nuggets like most toddlers would do. In those early months of parenting two little Littles, I spent many an afternoon driving HD and RL around the countryside (it was the ONLY way to get them both to nap) only after first grabbing myself a nice hot mocha on the way out of town. 

Five kids in, though, and Ben and I both needed some caffeine to make it through the long days. We finally bit the bullet and bought our first real coffee maker. It wasn’t anything fancy but it also felt a little bit like a space ship; Ben was the one who knew how to load it and run it, not me. However, that sucker pumped out some strong stuff and as much as I wanted to keep drinking it, we eventually had to say no more to this, too. Even though I loved sticking my face in the open bag of grounds when Ben was prepping the space machine, my body was loud and clear that I couldn’t handle access to that much coffee. 

Thus began my years-long dance with no coffee, coffee, tea, and fake coffees. Add in the fact that my dietary needs shifted and I couldn’t do milk/dairy-based creamers, and it’s safe to say the process to finding what works has been, um, unique. These days I do Dirty Rasa which does contain some real coffee but is mostly mushrooms and other adaptogens that I make with a French Press. I use almond or oat-based creamers, and it satisfies my coffee needs without the shakes. And, bonus, the smell of the opened bag is just as phenomenal as regular coffee grounds! That said, I do still love a good drive-thru coffee (but not from McDonald’s) where I order, every time, an Oatmilk Caramel Latte. Because, yum.

Will I ever drink it in the middle of the night? Well, I don’t think so, but I do love a good coffee chat with friends, be at a local coffee shop or in my home, so maybe I’m channeling some of those Moore Brothers Vibes after all. Gotta get me some Correlle, though, to add to my mug collection: 

*Post 49/52.

Animal Instincts

Animals have long had a special place in my heart but it wasn’t until adulthood that I can remember having an actual favorite in this world. Traveling will do that to you, though, and I definitely came home from my semester abroad in Africa in 2002 with a new love that’s stayed with me ever since for giraffes, also known in Swahili as twiga. I find them to be both beautiful and majestic and I could watch them for hours because their unique shape and movements captivate my attention.  

Since giraffe viewing isn’t an option in Nebraska, I’ve found ways to incorporate them into my style instead. When we got married, I managed to find a giraffe cake topper of a bride and groom giraffe couple, their entwined necks in a heart shape; ridiculous and fantastic, all the same. As a new mom, it was giraffe baby toys (by the handful) and baby clothes, and even I had a pair of giraffe-print TOMS shoes at one point. But I didn’t stop there with the animal connections in motherhood, as over time, each one of my babies took on animal characteristics of their own that, well, stuck.

For Harrison, it was the monkey. He was a busy, busy toddler, all over and into everything, so it was pretty easy to give him the nickname “monkey” while he was still a singleton little Welschie. He had a plush monkey that he loved to snuggle back in the day, too, and while that particular toy never became an icon in family lore, he did have a monkey-themed first birthday because of it. Mr. Monkey, HD – not the stuffie – remains a curious kid always wanting to know more, so the quick-wit and occasional cheekiness of the monkey still fits him well. 

Raegan earned her animal assignment as an infant when she did the opposite of sleeping at night. Instead of going to bed when the sun went down, her eyes got big and her sleep was a struggle, thereby making it an obvious choice to crown her as the owl of the family. Thankfully she grew out of that nightmare non-sleeping phase, but we kept the owl association in part because she has always been one full of wisdom who also keeps an “bird’s eye view” on things. She has collected various owl lovies, art pieces, and gear over the years and lists it as one of her favorite animals alongside the cheetah (more on that soon). 

Thanks to some awfully kicky legs in utero, Lincoln had an animal association before he even had a name! That baby kicked my ribs and stomach so much for so long during that pregnancy, he was going to be the frog, no matter who he turned out to be as a person. It was totally the right choice and like the others, this animal still fits LT to a “T” as he never seems to stop moving for very long and is always quick to jump from activity to activity, especially if sports are involved. As of this writing, LT claims basically the opposite of a frog as his favorite (the lion) but he will always have those great frog vibes to me.

Truman’s animal was more of a slow-roll for development, which in hindsight, makes perfect sense for a bear…fast when they want to be, and not-so-much when they don’t-so-want. The bear was a good fit for baby TJ because he was soooo snuggly and cozy those first few months of life, but it also fit the cranky side-eye look he perfected as a new baby, too. “Don’t poke the bear” was totally a thing in his infancy (a saying stolen from my family in relation to my brother who is in part, one of Truman’s namesakes), even though his eyebrows were often more mad than the rest of him. As Truman’s gotten older, he’s got a pretty fierce growl when he’s playing, but is still soft and cuddly at times, too, so the bear he remains, even if he says “tiger” when asked his favorite animal these days. 

I thought I had Wilson’s animal determined during pregnancy, too, because I kept seeing feathers everywhere during those months, so I assumed she (or he) would be a bird like big sis Raegan. However, Wilson rewrote that story with her very unique start to earth-side life and our 22-day stay in the NICU. During that time, a friend sent me a written piece about how elephants circle together around a newborn elephant and the mama elephant right after birth to protect them; that was so spot-on for what our village did for us while Wilson was in the hospital that she quickly became (and has remained) our little elephant girl.  Always named as one of her favorite animals, she loves them in stuffie form, as jewelry, in pictures, or in any other way she can see them. 

While I still claim the giraffe as a favorite for myself, in 2020, I latched on to my own new animal connection courtesy of a story and metaphor about Tabitha the cheetah from Glennon Doyle’s third book, Untamed. The entire book is about a returning to one’s own self, be it wild in the traditional sense or not. I’ve been on a cheetah kick since my first read and have been slowly adding to the collection of visuals, clothes, shoes, art, what-have-you, to keep that gorgeous animal and all her strength front and center in my life. I love that my kids know this well enough about me to also name the cheetah amongst their list of current faves, too.

And no, it’s not lost on me that both of my favorites have a native home in Africa – just another example of how those travels have touched my heart and continue to impact the way I move in the world. 

*Post 48/52

Written in Ink

A month before I left for college, I got my first tattoo. My mom didn’t talk to me for three days after she found out but I was 18 and I had been wanting a tattoo for so long. It was a Jesus fish with blue ombre ink on my lower left back to represent my faith because even though I was young, I figured I’d never outgrow that. I went to Sioux Falls, SD with a friend from high school who also got his first ink the same afternoon, also on his back. To be honest, though, I forget it is there because I never see the thing.

A few years later I added to that original tattoo after my semester in Africa, adding the Swahili word for compassion, “imani,” above the fish. It felt like a logical addition in terms of theme and I wanted very much to document such an important and impactful trip. Even though I went to a different artist, I went with the same color fade in the letters, this time traveling with my brother who got his first tattoo that same day. Again, I hardly remember that it’s back there. 

My next tattoo, a few years down the line, was far more visible which turned out to be unfortunate because it also turned out botched. Due to sheer laziness on behalf of the artist and naïveté on behalf of me, it wasn’t the exact design I wanted. However, I signed off on the thing because I was in Lincoln with girlfriends for a getaway weekend (HD was a toddler at the time) and was desperate to get the ink done. For this tattoo, I wanted an “Om” symbol on my left wrist (with purple ombre this time, because apparently that was still a thing for me at the time) and while I technically got an “Om,” it wasn’t the beautiful script-y version I had emailed the shop (see above about lazy/naïve mistakes). It was basic and I ended up not loving it. And that’s not great when you CAN see the darn thing!

After that experience, I became MUCH pickier on selecting my tattoos and the artist to do them. Thankfully Joel, the good friend of a good friend of mine, is a stellar tattooist and he quickly became my go-to guy for the several next rounds of tattoos, which I seem to need every 4-5 years. 

The first round on me that Joel did came in 2014, just before I left for my one-month intensive yoga teacher training in Omaha, and we went big, but in actual small ways, via not one but three little tattoos at once. The first was a cover up of the lame Om with a colored mandala/flower/wheel design. He did a great job of making something unique out of that mess. On my right wrist, he did the actual, correct Om that I wanted (so much prettier than the first). And on my right foot he did a symbol for “karios” to represent the idea of looking for those glimmer moments in the long days of motherhood/the moments of God’s timing in the midst of all the chaos of day-to-day life where very little feels divine. They healed up just in time for me to do the wild ride of 5-days a week for 4 weeks that was my YTT.

In 2016, Ben and I went for a tattoo date night at Joel’s shop for our 10th anniversary. We got coordinating crown tattoos (Ben’s first and probably last ink) to represent our marriage and our respect for each other in a less obvious way than some other symbols out there. We embraced the whole masculine/feminine sides of the body with his being placed on his inner right upper arm and mine going on my inner left upper arm. As a side note, that was a stupid-sensitive part of the body to tattoo – almost worse than the top of my foot, so I don’t blame Ben for being one and done after that!

My most recent project was also by far my largest and most intensive. I always knew I wanted a mother’s tattoo, and while Joel and I started discussing ideas at one point over the years, we had to put that on hold because I ended up getting pregnant again; this meant we had to wait until a) that was no longer the case because tattooing and pregnancy don’t mix, and b) I knew exactly who this fifth little person would be so I could represent all five of them in one piece. Thankfully I landed on the best representation that also tied in one of my favorite Tom Petty songs “Wildflowers.” In the song, TP sings, “You belong among the wildflowers. You belong on a boat out at sea. You belong with your love on your arm. You belong somewhere you feel free.” And so, I put my love on my arm in the form of five different wildflowers, each with a special meaning to me (although not specifically assigned to a certain kid): a rose, lilacs, a sunflower, a peony, and a ranunculus. Because of the sheer size to fit five flowers on my forearm, it took two sessions that were both close to two hours long. The first was line work that we had to let heal for a couple weeks and then I went back in for the black and gray-scale fill (which I always prefer because I find it to be less painful). I adore how it turned out and I get compliments on it all the time. But yowzers – word to the wise: the elbow is in fact the worst place to tattoo – there’s nothing there but skin and bone!!

Based on my history and timeline, I’m due for another tattoo any day now but haven’t been able to settle on what or where to put something, and if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that (duh), you want to be really, really careful about those decisions!

*Post 47/52.

The Thick of It

My brain must be in an interesting place these days because once again I am stuck with an old kids’ song playing on a loop as I navigate this surgery recovery. Today marks One Week (another song reference) since surgery and in some ways, I am most grateful to be here at this point in the healing. Some of you may know this, but Ben likes to say, “Aren’t you glad we aren’t leaving right now?” on all of our road trips (as a way of reminding me and the kids that at least we’ve come this far/are this close to our destination and not just pulling out of the driveway), and yes, I am thrilled that today is not surgery day as was originally scheduled. Thank goodness I am a week in, but at the same time, I can’t stop singing “Into the Thick of It” from The Backyardigans because oh my gosh, It is quite thick right now.

As far as pain goes, I am doing OK. I’m still tingly but have been assured by multiple sources (medical and friends) that that is quite normal and is most likely a result of inflammation and nerve endings firing/repairing, so I guess I can be patient-ish with that. My mouth is still sore, and I learned from another friend who is surgery-familiar that it could be from the instrumentation put in my mouth for surgery; whatever the cause, good gravy, it is taking a long time to heal. Beyond the obvious physical impacts, though, there’s just a lot about this two-weeks of the Rhino Horn that makes life tricky.

Perhaps I should explain that yesterday was a Tuesday on many levels. I mean, it was also Valentine’s Day, so that’s fun I guess, but it also means my children got extra sugared up which is a challenge when I can’t sneak downstairs to get a moment of quiet which is what I tend to do with the laundry; as much as keeping up with laundry for seven is hard, I don’t mind that I can (normally) get a few moments of peace as I put in or change over a load of wash when I need a second to collect myself. But right now I can’t even leave the main floor of my house because I still don’t want to try to navigate stairs on crutches and my bandage is SO dang heavy. My left hip and leg are so tired of trying to hover it when I get around and for some reason, my ribs and side body still haven’t acclimated to the crutches, meaning I feel sore every time I do get up and go somewhere. Then, in weird balancing moments yesterday, I managed to crash my bandage into a side table and later put my foot down to keep myself from falling over which is a big no-no, all of which left me feeling so defeated and Tuesday-ish.

Pause Moment: I realize this is a whiney post and part of me thinks I should apologize for that, but it is also just real and that’s always been the goal of this space. I think it is fair to say that mobility surgery has humbled me and challenged me, and even while I think recovery is going fine, it still doesn’t mean this is a walk/hobble in the park.

While I remain grateful that we “aren’t leaving right now,” the kids’ school scheduled has been an extra element in my recovery schedule because for some reason (parent teacher conference payback time, which is totally justified and good), they had last Friday and Monday off from school, so instead of having quiet days to nap and ice and just be, we had to figure out what the heck to do with five busy kids for two extra days. Thankfully family came through on Friday and over the weekend, and then on Monday, friends were gracious enough to let me invite ALL of my children to their various homes while Ben was at work that afternoon. But now, because this is February in Nebraska, we’re facing a Winter Storm Whatever (for the life of me, I can never remember the difference between watches and warnings, nor which one was issued) that means we could have enough snow to keep the kids home from school AGAIN tomorrow. You know I love them more than life, but you must also know how that many extra days when I am confined to the living room and kitchen mean my introvert is suffering. Since all of them are occupied at the moment with school or Grandma, I am soaking up every second of quiet I can get before the literal and metaphorical storms come.

Rest assured, not all is lost and bright sides of this weird two weeks very much exist. In addition to the aforementioned help, we’ve been graced with beautiful meals for the family and for me. I’ve had friends stop by and visit while I elevate/ice my leg and I’ve had S.O.S. laundry helpers swing by, too. I binged season three of one of my favorite shows (Emily in Paris) and started the second book (Four Aunties and a Wedding) in a series I greatly enjoy. And I have even graduated from eating on the couch to getting to the island for some meals (and yes, the children still fight over who gets to sit by me even when I take up all this room with the horn and an extra stool).

I know this too shall pass and really, it’s not that bad. But it is strange and hard and messy, and that needs sharing, too. Thanks, as per usual, for being here for it all.


Through high school and college I held several part-time jobs after my initial work at the local orchard. I worked in the food, retail, and childcare industries and each one was an experience unto itself. 

My first official* part-time job was as a Sandwich Artist at Subway. No really, I still have the nametag to prove that title but absolutely cannot currently find it to offer photo evidence! Working there equaled a lot of long, late hours on my feet, as I worked nights and weekends, including the supper/closing shifts on Fridays and Saturdays when we stayed open late to accommodate the bars closing and drunk people who needed food after a night out. This was circa the same time that the movie Forest Gump came out and I can’t even tell you how many drunk guys slurred at me, “Me and Jenniiiiiiii was like peeeeeeas and carrrrrrrrots” after they read my name tag. *Insert eye roll here* Downsides of this job, besides the annoying late-night customers, included always smelling terrible after a shift (not even a shower could get that food smell out of my hair) and having to do all the odds and ends in the kitchen/stock room that go into making a place like that run. It definitely wasn’t just making sandwiches! Benefits of this job included free food. Duh! Their little frozen cookie dough pucks from the freezer were the best. 

Uniform: green polo shirts (Subway logo on left upper chest) and black shorts or pants; a visor with the Subway logo on it as well. Tennis shoes (that inevitably got food and gunk spilled on them and that stuck to the floor when someone spilled a drink in the dining area). Name tag pinned to shirt (both of which I kept, with part of the shirt ending up on my high school t-shirt quilt). 

*Funny story about this: I actually got hired at Dairy Queen first, where two of my BFFs and ton of other high schoolers worked, but then she never actually called me back to start the job, so I got sick of waiting and went out and got another job instead. Any time I went in (which was a lot given that my friends worked there) and the manager was around, I got the worst side-eye because clearly she was as frustrated by me as I was by her.

Eventually I got tired of the food service work and switched over to retail, big box style at the local Kmart. Although the store was made up of a half-dozen or so different departments that all had specific employees assigned to them, I was hired as a cashier which meant I (wo)manned a register by the front doors (which to this day is still a recurring nightmare of mine). This was also a long-on-the-feet job with plenty of eight-hour shifts that meant seven solid hours of standing and scanning/bagging items and handling payments. If memory serves correctly, we didn’t even have automatic conveyor belts to move stuff closer to us, so it was a ton of awkward stretching and reaching, too. When you’re a cashier, it’s either the best of times (a nice steady flow of people pulling into your register with carts ready to check out) or the worst of times (either nothing to do, so you straighten the candy in your aisle for the 10th time that day OR you’re sweating because your row is three carts deep and you were supposed to take your lunch break 10 minutes ago). I worked this job through the end of high school which worked out well as I got to use my employee discount to buy all the crap I needed to stock up my first dorm room at college. 

Uniform: white shirt of any design (for me it was mostly just plain white tees) and khaki pants. Red Kmart vest over that with name tag pinned to it (with blue stars under your name if a customer turned in an official compliment about you to the Service Desk). The vest also had two pockets where you could keep pens, tissues, a box cutter, or whatever else you might need during your shift; most of us kept our vests in our lockers in the employee breakroom where we also clocked in/out and took our lunches. Those of us really on top of our game took off our vests while walking through the store to get to the break room in an attempt to avoid being stopped by customers with questions. Also a must? Tennis shoes, of course, because of all the standing. 

Fast forward a couple years to the summer before my Junior year at Doane, I switched to a new food establishment in town, Pizza Ranch. This time it was a merging of my two previous jobs – some food prep but mostly running the orders and registers at the front counter. We also had a drive-thru so occasionally my shifts involved wearing an uncomfortable headset that would sound the alert whenever someone had pulled in to place an order at the squawk box. There was also a panic-inducing clock that started counting anytime someone placed a drive-thru order, so whoever was in charge of that window was always hustling to beat a super slow time. Like at Subway, I worked a lot of nights and weekends, and had a lot of late closing shifts, although never late enough for the bar crowd. A free meal during a long shift was a perk, but even pizza gets old after a while, so I hit up the salad bar a lot, too. We also served friend chicken which was an interesting combination. Fun fact: a few years later Ben and I rented the Pizza Ranch party room for our wedding rehearsal dinner and made our family and wedding party dress up in western wear for the big night. I’m just never one to pass up an opportunity for a theme!

Uniform: Khaki shorts/pants and tennis shoes, along with (really ugly) brown t-shirts that maybe had a sheriff’s star or something on them? I’ve blocked them out because, again, ugly. But, also comfy, so there’s that. 

While I spent one summer living and working as a counselor at a Methodist Church camp in Northwestern Nebraska (named NORWESCA), the last job I had before switching to professional gigs, was that as substitute daycare teacher for Cedars Daycare in Lincoln, NE, the summer before grad school. This was a bonkers job because it was literally different every day and involved covering shifts at five+ daycare centers around the city, working with children ages infant through school-age, depending on what room you were assigned to for the day. I believe we were called Relief Youth Services (RYS) and while we sometimes got put in the same place back-to-back, that wasn’t often the case. This made it hard to get to know the kids or establish a rapport with them, not to mention the other teachers we’d be working with each day. Looking back, I can’t believe I ever even did this job because it was so far out of my comfort zone (I was also scared of babies at the time and knew next to nothing about toddlers, either, so that was, um, fun).  But somehow I navigated the all-overness of it and made enough money to pay rent and such for my apartment prior to grad school starting. I only did this job one summer and I still think it’s remarkable that I went on to have children of my own after this experience!

Uniform: Whatever I wanted so long as it was appropriate and I didn’t mind it getting covered in food or kid grime. Lanyard with my photo/name on it so people would know who the heck I was/that I was allowed to be there. 

Can’t say I have a favorite out of this bunch, but I definitely have a LOT of stories from each place I worked in my teens and early 20s! 

*Post 46/52

Three Simple Steps

Growing up I never remember having to memorize Bible verses although I’m sure we did plenty of activities that would have leaned that way in Sunday School when I was little and then Youth Group and Confirmation classes in Jr. and Sr. High. And while I’m sure I had some favorites along the way, it wasn’t until my mid-thirties when I landed on my Top’o’the’List verse, Micah 6:8:

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” 

Each time I hear it, I remember how impactful it was when I first really remember it landing for me (shortly before I got pregnant with Wilson) and how it has stuck with me ever since, so much so that I got a piece of art for our walls with the gist of the verse on it. Not only did I want to see it on the daily, I wanted my kids to read it over and over until it became engrained in them, too, so they would carry these charges forward with them in the world. 

Recently, though, I heard one of our pastors say, when preaching on Micah 6:8, that sometimes people hear it as a nagging list of To Dos. That struck me as so wild because I have never heard it as such. To my ears, it has always represented a list of charges or challenges that we must do in order to bring about the good in the world that we know is possible and available to us via God’s love. I also believe you don’t have to believe in the same god as me to understand or follow these three simple steps*. I honestly think they can be for anyone and work really well as extensions of The Golden Rule about doing unto others as you’d have done unto you. 

Granted, there’s nothing really simple about any of the commands in Micah 6:8. This is probably why it appealed to me so much after I’d lived a bit more life and learned about how much injustice, cruelty, and harmful pride exists in our world, not when I was younger and more naïve. But it never occurred to me that this might be God nagging us. I know the list isn’t easy, but if humans could apply these three guiding principles on a more regular basis, I think we’d find a lot more peace and understanding in our societies and nations. And, for the record, what I was able to hear that Sunday in church (we weren’t even in our safety zone of the Balcony this time and I still managed to be distracted multiple times by kids, thereby missing out on key points and words) tells me our pastor doesn’t see this as a nagging list either. Just because something sounds hard (and is hard) doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to ask it of people, because we very much are capable of acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly (with our God). 

*there was an animated show the kids watched back in the day called OSO that had a jingle with the lyrics: “three special steps!” that I couldn’t stop singing while writing this. 

*Post 45/52

Favorite out of Four

While I’m forever glad I live in a place that has all four seasons, I will forever have a favorite of those: Fall. There’s a lot to love about this season, but the best part, of course, is the change in weather.

Nebraska and South Dakota, too, are HOT in the summer. They also carry a lot of humidity in those summer months, so there’s nothing quite as refreshing as getting to those first mornings of fall that feel crisp and cool, without a hint of steamy, sticky air that you have to wade through come afternoon. Instead, the drier, colder air makes you think you’d better grab a sweater or hoodie to keep yourself cozy until the sun warms everything up by mid-day, and of course then you’ll need those layers again later in the night, when the sun’s heat slips below the horizon for sleep. 

If I’m being honest, layers are probably another reason I love fall. Whereas in summer, you can only take so many clothes off to beat the heat, in fall you can play both ends of that spectrum as often as you need. Nothing beats adding layers via long-sleeves, blanket scarfs, and jeans, and nothing is easier to change later in the day if none of those clothing items are still deemed weather-appropriate. Granted, as a parent, this can be an absolutely maddening time because your children never know what’s acceptable to wear to school that day. Instead of trying to fit just one season into their drawers, you have to have at least two, maybe three, seasons available because that’s how many variations in weather you might have during the time they’re at school on any given fall day.

The other big bonus of fall is the beauty of all the changing leaves before they start to rain down and create the not-so-fun fall chore of raking. I’m obsessed with changing leaves and can never decide if I like the red, orange, or yellow ones best. Our long-time neighbor to the north has an apricot tree and those golden little leaves always make my heart happy, but so do the fire-red offerings on the Autumn Blaze Maple that we planted in our first few years here (which is now well above the main story of our house tall). It’s a miracle I don’t take a million photos of leaves in October because that’s how tempting the fall spread is here. Some years it lasts and lasts and others bring a sudden cold snap followed by a strong wind that takes them all away too soon; you just never know how long the gift will keep, so it must be enjoyed while it holds. 

And really, for a transitional season, that sums up life as a lover of fall in general. Sometimes summer lingers and holds on and you think you’ll never stop sweating your way through the days before a short fall pops up, followed by winter barging in cold and cruel. Other times winter gets impatient and shows up too soon, taking away not only the leaves but any chance of enjoying days without coats and nights when you can go for a late walk without freezing your face.

Perhaps it is this mysterious nature that draws me to fall; even though there are definite markers of the season and annual traditions that accompany it, the fact that each and every one is unique probably also explains why it holds my heart (and wraps it up in a comfy scarf). 

First planted. 

Eightish years later. 

*Post 44/52.