The Project of Pregnancy

Shortly after Thanksgiving, 2008, I found out I was pregnant with the baby that would turn out to be, on July 22, 2009, Harrison David. And just two days before Thanksgiving, 2017, I went into labor with the baby that would turn out to be, on November 22, 2017, Wilson Ann. So, you know, for roughly nine years straight, I was pregnant. 

OK, that’s an exaggeration, but when you add in nursing, which I did for at least a year for each baby, I really was growing, feeding, or both-ing babies for over 10 years. When I was trying to get pregnant for the second time, I thought I was one of those rare birds that couldn’t get pregnant while nursing a baby, even though they warn you it can happen. We tried for months and months but didn’t actually have success with Baby No. 2, who would turn out to be, on November 4, 2011, Raegan Leigh, until after I quit breastfeeding her big brother. 

Imagine my surprise, then, on November 4, 2012, RL’s first birthday – a day I was very much still nursing her – when I took a pregnancy test just because I was feeling “funny” and it said “PREGNANT!” Shocked really doesn’t begin to cover it. I legit thought that couldn’t happen for me, but guess I was wrong. I kept up the dual growing/feeding gig until going in for my first OB appointment when my doctor explained that part of why I felt so miserable (beyond the fact that my first three pregnancies all just made me quite, quite sick) was that my body was taking care of the fetus first, the baby on the boob second, and last of all, me, the actual human of said body. So, I weened Raegan and focused on “just” growing the baby that would turn out to be, on July 4, 2013, Lincoln Thomas.

Did you catch that date overlap? Two babies born on the 4 of the month. One girl, one boy. One in July, one in November. Total accident, total alignment, and exactly 20 months apart in age. 

As with Harrison, the trend once again became “can’t get pregnant while nursing” and it wasn’t until after I kicked LT off the boob that I learned Baby No. 4, who would turn out to be, on September 6, 2015, Truman John, was on his way. Ironically he was due on September 4, but like his big sis, he was a stinker and made me wait a couple extra days to meet him. I mean, totally worth it, but going past a due date can be tough. Somehow, though, my pregnancy with Truman was the easiest and the one in which I felt, by far, the most human, so if I had to do it a little bit longer, so be it. I was far less sick than with any of the previous babies (thank goodness since I was chasing those three while growing him); since that helped me see the “other side” that some women experienced, and because we still wanted everyone to have a brother and a sister, we decided to go for one more. 

This time, though, I wasn’t willing to give up nursing because Truman didn’t seem ready yet and we took a “if it’s meant to be, it will be” mentality with the trying for No.5. Luckily for us, my body cooperated and eventually I was, once again, with child. However, it wasn’t until I, once again, confirmed the at-home test at the OB office that I was willing to ween TJ off nursing so I could “just” grow one more babe while trying to take care of the other four and my own self. 

Unlike the two who came early (HD by 12 days and LT by 6) and the two who came late, Wilson came right on time – on her actual due date. My OB joked in the delivery room that if you have enough babies, you eventually will get one right on the dot, and there’s something to that. Of course you also have to take into consideration that I’m one stubborn mother who labored extra long at home just so she could go in after midnight (putting us there on the due date) to give birth and save an extra day in the hospital. Another irony given that WA had to be flown to Omaha for surgery on Day 2 of life and we spent 22 days in the NICU at Children’s Hospital before we could bring her home to her anxiously awaiting siblings. 

So if you can’t tell by their faces, each one unique but clearly connected and related, too, you can look at the numbers and the patterns and see that growing my not-so-little crew was the longest and the bestest project I’ve ever worked on in this life. Of course the project of parenting them will last the rest of my days but those 9 years (or 10+ when you count nursing) were unlike any others.

*Post 42/52 – just 10 to go!

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Go, Go Graduate School

Maybe it’s because “English major” doesn’t exactly lead to clear path forward for an undergraduate, but somehow I knew that I wanted to pursue graduate school right after completing my undergrad degree at Doane College (now University, but forever DC in my brain and heart). My senior year I started making plans, applying to four different university’s graduate programs: University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Minnesota, Iowa State University, and somewhere else (lol – I honestly can’t remember the fourth one now). 

The spring I graduated, I received rejections from two and acceptance to two – UNL and ISU. Although ISU invited me to visit the campus, something about it didn’t sit right with me, so I ended up accepting UNL, even though I was not awarded a Teaching Assistant position which meant I would have to take out more student loans to complete this second degree. Their initial letter did say I was an alternate for a TA job, but I assumed they said that to everyone and I would be stuck with the loans and whatever odd jobs I could squeeze in around classes. Imagine my surprise the summer after graduation when I got another letter telling me I was in fact being offered TA employment and would essentially have all of my grad costs covered! To this day, I thank my lucky stars for that person who said “no” so I could say “yes” for my much more affordable two years of grad school that followed in Lincoln, NE. 

For a Word Nerd like me, grad school was a wonderful place. As an ENGL grad student, life was even more right up my alley, with tons of books to be read and papers to be written. That said, it was far from all fun and games as the majority of it was not novels which meant for dense lectures to consume and essays to produce, not to mention the prep that went into becoming a teacher for UNL my second year of grad school. TAs were all assigned one section of Freshman Composition to teach both semesters of their second year, as a way to cover that general ed class which helped out the full-time faculty by freeing them up for other classes. As a 23-yr-old young woman, teaching those two classes to kids just a few tiny years younger than me felt a bit like getting myself tossed directly into the fire, but I guess that is in fact one way to learn. And hey – almost twenty years later and I am in fact still teaching that very same class, so I guess it didn’t turn out all that bad. 

While I was at UNL, I didn’t just teach as part of my TA gig; I also worked in various English-related offices around campus. It was a bit like being Inspector Gadget because you had to have about that many tricks, bells, and whistles up your selves to accomplish all the various grad student tasks. I worked directly under an ENGL professor, proofreading his newest book on Shakespeare; I spent a handful of hours each week reading/rejecting poetry and short stories submitted to the UNL lit mag, The Prairie Schooner; I also lucked my way into hours spent working for the University of Nebraska Press; I digitized content for various projects at the Digital Archives; and I worked on the Cather Journalism Project, coding dozens upon dozens of periodical publications from Cather’s undergrad days at UNL. Those weren’t all simultaneous tasks but there we definitely days when I wished I had go-go gadget arms (and legs) to get me all over campus and through my lengthy To Do list, for sure. 

While my TA work was varied and remarkable, as an extra bonus, I was surrounded by some really fabulous humans and scholars during that time, too. My supervisors, my thesis committee, my office mate, my classmates – all provided support both professional and personal during my two year program. When I ultimately made the call NOT to do a Ph. D., a handful of them still traveled to South Dakota to celebrate our wedding the following summer. I also chose that spring not to attend the three-hour graduate programs graduation so it was special to have some of my UNL favorites with me on my other Big Day that year. 

I may not totally have understood what I was getting myself into by applying and attending grad school at such a young age, but it’s afforded me the work and career I’ve had since and I’m grateful for all the pieces that went into that component of my educational journey.

*Post 41/52.  

Miles to Go

Prior to our holiday travels to Texas to end 2022, I totally thought I would do a little travel blog of our adventure. Then the actual trip happened and I did not have the capacity to pull that off on top of all the other things, in part because of a bum ankle (I know; doesn’t keep you from typing, but troublesome and time-consuming all the same). I mention that now because, had I been able to keep that travel blog, you’d already know about the ankle and how I hurt it the night before we left (Christmas Eve Eve) and was in a brace the whole time we were there and for a week and a half after we got home, too. I didn’t exactly twist it or roll it but I seemed to sprain it while packing and had a mighty mad tendon in my left ankle as a result.

Then, last week, I would have told you things were feeling better and that maybe all was on the road to being well because that was also seemed to be true. At least until Saturday night when I got another zinger of pain that told me, nope; not OK. And since that was all I knew, I decided it was time to seek out a professional opinion because treating ankles is definitely not in my wheelhouse.

Even though it was my idea to go, at first I thought it was going to be totally pointless, that the doctor would tell me that I just needed to be patient (also not in my wheelhouse) and give it more time. Except then that is not at all what the doctor told me. He said that I have a torn ligament in my left ankle and to avoid ending up with an arthritic ankle (yikes; I am only 40!), surgery to repair it is the best path forward.

You should have seen my face after that appointment. Total shock I tell you. But I guess I am glad I didn’t just brush it off as no big deal just because I couldn’t point to an exact moment of injury. This is probably built up from years of various activity, but the good news is, I’ll be able to return to yoga and walking just like normal once I get through this and my recovery period which will take at least four weeks.

I have about a month before the procedure which I guess gives me plenty of time to wrap my brain around this latest development and prepare the family, house, and our freezer for me being sort of out of commission for a bit in late Feb/early March. But I’m glad to know what is going on now and to have answers about what can and should be done to fix it. There’s great comfort in that alone. It is also reassuring to know that once I get through this, I’ll be back to myself and my normal activities, just like before because my goodness, this ankle and I have many, many miles to go and we want that journey to be as peaceful and pain-free as possible!

Friendship Over Time

One facet of life that’s taken me a long time to get to a healthy working definition of is friendship, and trust me – that definition has changed and grown a lot over time. That’s not to say that I haven’t had very strong, wonderful friendships over the years, but that just now, at the start of my 40s, am I really beginning to understand what kind of friend I am and what friendship looks like in *my* life.

I’ve written about friendship before and talked about how the self-doubt that creeps in is false and how it is OK for friendships to come and go. Those lessons remain the same, but what I’ve learned since is that friendship is one of those cycles that will continue to play out and evolve for the rest of my life. Because, obviously, so will I. It makes sense that some connections will end, others will strengthen, and some will begin (repeat, repeat, repeat) as our own needs and selves change over time. And there is nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t mean you can’t maintain lasting friendships or are a bad friend; it just means that as you navigate the different seasons of life, friendship will present itself with different ways and means, if you allow it.

One element of friendship that I have for sure changed my mind about is the notion that I need to have one core group to carry me through this world. I feel like I see that modeled in other people’s lives on social media but that might just be an Internet “Gotcha!” because it doesn’t reflect the life I’ve built for myself in recent years when it comes to friendship, a life that I find quite full and satisfying. 

Instead of putting all my proverbial friendship eggs into one basket, I’ve spread those baddies out all over the place. But please note, I do not mean in a spread-too-thin kind of way because a lot of those friendships are rock solid, rooted in my heart center strong. But they don’t all overlap and they don’t all make sense on paper (more on that in a bit). I mean that I have diversified my friendships with various circles and groups, some being large and boisterous, and others being small and contemplative. Life breathes into these relationships via social gatherings, coffee dates, Marco Polos, text threads, quick chats with kids pulling at our arms, and playdates where, again, we try to mother while also tending to each other as women, too. 

So I don’t have the IG-worthy Squad that I once thought I needed. But I wonder, needed for what? So others could be envious of my life and friends? I really don’t know where that thought came from originally, but it was a stuck one that took me some time to work through. What I have now is an understanding of myself and that my heart works really well with different little pockets of friendship. Those unique relationships accurately reflect all the different pieces of life that make me who I am. And it turns out, I’m really here for it with the people who return that same energy to me. 

What also holds true is that my friends do not have to be exactly like me to be considered My People. I have been blessed with love, acceptance, and friendship from some women over the years that might not make sense to the outside world based on our backgrounds (or our voting records). But I believe that when we see people for who they are beyond the labels society gives, we can foster real, authentic connection and carry a lot of grace for one another. I can’t think of a better definition of friendship than someone who does exactly those things for their people, in whatever form they present themselves.

*Post 40/52.

My Room of Requirement

As an introvert, it’s no big surprise that my favorite simple pleasures in life revolve around quiet things I can do by myself. It’s not that I don’t want to be around my people, I just need to be around just myself a lot, too; naturally, my hobbies and “me time” over the years have gravitated toward activities that perpetuate solitude. My tops are: reading (duh), writing (double duh), yoga (this can be done in groups, of course, but your practice is really only ever a you thing and doesn’t require outsiders to be present), drinking coffee (keep trying to quit; keep coming back to it), and burning incense (some days are two- or even three-stick days). 

As it just so happens, our house has a room attached to it that affords me the perfect amount of space for me to do all of my favorite simple solos: the sun porch. This room is two walls of windows and two walls of old exterior siding painted a soft buttery yellow, capped off with wood floors and a stunning stained glass window that was left here by the previous owners (for which I am forever grateful because it faces the east and catches the best morning sun). In the 11 years that we’ve been in this house, the sun porch has housed all of my simple pleasures, along with a whole lot of parenting, too.

In that time, this space has seen multiple trampolines come and go (fabulous for busting that pent-up winter energy), various tables, chairs, rockers, and papasan seats rotate through it, a hand-me-down foosball table take up residence, kid toys get kicked around, and an art easel that doesn’t always contain its masterpieces set up shop. It has also been a makeshift office for me where I grade papers or Zoom with students. It’s been the backdrop for multiple photo shoots (newborn, toddler, family, and professional). And it’s been my yoga studio – both publicly and privately. Most often it serves as a makeshift storage room for, well, anything. Yesterday I read a book out here. Currently it is where I am writing this very post (while burning incense, of course). Come to think of it, it’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a Room of Requirement, and while the room itself doesn’t take the exact shape I need, it is clearly very skilled at giving me what I seek at various ages and stages of both myself, my family, and my career. 

Over the years we’ve looked at other houses, and while there were ultimately many factors that went into us deciding not to buy, leaving this room behind was in fact probably one of them. The sun porch has been where I have nurtured my self and my babies and the thought of it no longer being a part of our world just doesn’t compute for me. Maybe it would be possible to find another house with a gorgeous room that provides tons of natural light and the feel of air moving (but with the benefit of screens to keep the bugs away and heaters to keep the cold at bay). Or maybe there would be some other magical room that would draw me away from this one. Until I see that, though, I’m going to keep thanking my lucky stars that I can read, write, practice, and just be in this unique and shifty (in the best way) space. 

*Post 39/52

Pixie No-No

For years I flirted with the idea of going super short with my hair. I’d had plenty of bobs over the years (including after our wedding when I chopped off something like 12 inches of the longest hair I’d ever had because I was so sick of growing it out), but had never gone pixie short. Then I entered the years of motherhood which messes with your hair on so many levels.

If you didn’t know, hair grows and grows and gets super lush and thick whilst pregnant and then about four months after baby arrives, it all decides to leave your head at once. Great fun, I tell you. I mean, thankfully mine always came back, but in the oddest growth pattern on my scalp that, according to my hair dresser, was like this strange halo of baby hairs on the crown of my head. That actually worked to my advantage with some of my new-mom bobs I rocked over the years because it gave a pretty decent amount of volume, but heaven forbid I actually try to do anything with my hair because the little fly-away, wispy baby hairs (on my head, not the actual baby at the time) were impossible to tame (actually, just like babies!). 

After four rounds of mass hair exodus, I decided to get ahead of the curve after Wilson was born and scheduled an appointment to get my hair CHOPPED when she was just a couple months old. My hair dresser knew I’d been thinking of this in the past so she knew it wasn’t a rash, totally hormonal decision, but I did keep it entirely secret from anyone but her until after the deed was done. 

Like some kind of fool, this meant going from hair eight inches past my shoulders to next-to-nothing left on my head in Nebraska in the dead of winter when it is freaking cold, cold, cold. I was not prepared for how miserable I was going to feel based on temperature alone (which turned out to be a LOT), but what also caught me way off guard was how much I hated pixie-short hair on me and the emotional reaction I had to the cut. 

Don’t get me wrong – I love women who rock short hair. I have plenty of friends who have done this over the years and they look like badasses. Who knows – maybe I also looked like a badass, but the problem was, I didn’t feel like I looked like me anymore. 

Back in the day, I loved watching America’s Next Top Model and I always marveled at the women during the makeover episode who lost their shit when the producers made them get a massive haircut as part of their new model look. What was their problem? But you know what happened when Ben walked in the door that day after school and I popped out from behind a kitchen cabinet to surprise him with my new lewk? I burst into tears! I instantly hated it and there was not a damn thing I could do about it but wait (for months and months and months) for it to get back to a comfortable length that felt more like myself than that shorty short look ever did in my eyes.

The funny thing was, the majority of people loved it. I had people stop me at church and exclaim over it and I had plenty of friends and acquaintances compliment the cut. But man, I just couldn’t ever rectify how it looked with how I felt about it. To this day, I look at pictures – both professional and snapshots – from that time and think, “Whoa. WTH was I thinking?” 

In the five years since, I’ve been growing, growing, growing my hair and for the foreseeable future, that’s still the plan. I suppose I shouldn’t say I’ll never go back to a pixie because maybe someday that will fit with how I see myself, but back then it definitely did not. So I can’t say never get a pixie, but I can tell you, don’t go from scarf-like hair length to a pixie during a Midwest Winter; that’s just stupid cold making!

*Post 38/52.

25 Things in 2022

Normally I give myself a few weeks or at least a few days to work on this list, but here I am, on Dec. 30 just starting it. Yikes. Here’s hoping I can figure out my 25 Things in quick succession!

  1. Came out publicly as bisexual. Doing that was an important step in showing my authentic self to the world, which is a primary motivator for me in this life.
  2. Tried a food sensitivity test and, as a result, gave up not just gluten, but eggs, peanut butter, and dairy, too. Had to learn a whole new approach to food but it has made a huge and welcome improvement in my health, so I’ll keep it.
  3. Started anti anxiety meds for the first time and after an adverse reaction to one, found the one that makes a big helpful difference to my overall world.
  4. Gave up black tea this Spring and did just coffee alternative except for special occasion emotional support coffees. Later in the year, lots more weeks required lots more emotional support. Starbucks instant coffee packets are a winner on those days.
  5. Finished up my Writing Center gig with BU, taught another handful of classes for them throughout the year, and taught one section of online Composition for CCC this fall. Dual institution work is a lot at times.
  6. Had my first mammogram. And then my second and then a biopsy which turned out to be OK, but required another mammogram six months later in September; now good for a whole year! Thank goodness.
  7. Read 67 books. My first and last of the year were total stinkers but there in the middle I read some really beautiful books.
  8. Wrote 47 blog posts, including this one. This was enhanced greatly by a year-long challenge I started after my birthday to write a post each week. Sometimes I write none in a week and sometimes I write three, but overall it is going fine.
  9. Became the Secretary on my first Board of Directors, the Hastings Community Music Academy – love the mission and programming associated with this new nonprofit in town!
  10. Turned 40. I don’t usually count my birthday on this list but 40 seems like a big freaking deal, so it seems worth mentioning here.
  11. Finished my first-ever Longfellow Elementary Year Book. Makes up for never participating in PTO while HD was there for six years, I think – yes? Yes.
  12. Took Harrison to see his first (off) Broadway show, Hamilton, in DesMoines, IA. My second time seeing it and once again, it did not disappoint!
  13. Completed a 5-week course in Ecstatic Breathwork (online, of course) with Scott Schwenk via Commune.
  14. Went to my first Pride with my family, all seven of us decked out in rainbows.
  15. Participated in a Sign Language Choir (see above about HCMA) – learned three songs in one week of morning sessions and performed them at the church on our final morning. Ben and the Big 3 all did the class as well.
  16. Saw Brandi Carlile perform at Red Rocks. Holy. Sh!t. Fantastic concert.
  17. Designed and executed the turning of our front coat closet into a Cloffice – my very own tiny but loved space in the house.
  18. Made time to nurture friendships, old and new. Coffee dates, scheduled phone calls, interstate meet-ups, evening gatherings, playdates with the kids, and a handful of other ways to stay connected with my people – grateful for each and every one of these humans and our efforts to be in each other’s lives.
  19. Got my ears re-pierced. Went along with RL as she got her first holes and had my old ones reopened. Wearing earrings again feels so novel and fun.
  20. Started a daily yoga practice in late October. Haven’t missed a day since.
  21. Navigated multiple stints of solo parenting while Ben was off on various trips around the country for his temporary job with NEA/NSEA. I realize some people do that literally all the time or even on a regular basis but it has been new for us and challenging for me at times.
  22. Helped direct a Christmas musical at our church. You can call me the Assistant to the Regional Director, if you like.
  23. Watched 8.5 seasons of The Office with HD (we got so close to finishing entirely but that will have to be a 2023 accomplishment), hence the reference in the previous Thing.
  24. Sprained my ankle just before Christmas; means I now do my daily yoga on my bed each night and with very little difficulty of or movement invovled in the postures.
  25. Took the children on a week-long trip to Texas for the holidays. First time we have been to Houston since 2016. Lots of walking and tourist attractions. This was both wonderful and tricky (see above about ankle and the timing of all that). Also, sooooo imany hours in the car. Holy moly cow. But also, saw my first professional ballet with the Houston Ballet, performing The Nutcracker!
Work!

That Baseball Life

Starting in early elementary and all the way through middle school, I played summer softball. I never tried out for a travel team (that also wasn’t really a thing back then like it is now), but instead just played the city rec league with fellow classmates and other girls my age for a couple months each summer. I liked it but it wasn’t never my end all/be all and I eventually gave it up for other sports (cross country) and activities (band) by high school. However, as my group of friends solidified in high school, I found myself hanging out with my best girlfriends and a whole bunch of guy friends who all happened to be baseball players as well. And so began a trend that would continue, well, the rest of my life. 

We spent so much time watching the guys at their Legion ball games and even traveled to watch them play some tournaments. I have never been a fan of watching baseball on TV but there is something great about being there live to see the exciting moments (and getting good snacks and having talk-time in the sometimes long stretches between said exciting parts). We were good fans and Post 12 was a fun team to root for during those years. 

Oddly enough, in college, I ended up once again being really good friends with a group of girls that was equally matched with guy friends who played baseball for Doane. So once again, I found myself parking my butt in the bleachers and on blankets in the grass to watch the Tigers take on their various division opponents. I don’t know that we traveled much/if ever to watch them play, but the baseball guys were our guys. The irony of this is that Ben was supposed to play ball in college but tore both hamstrings the summer before his freshman year, playing baseball, and didn’t get to become part of that team. Maybe if he had, we could have met earlier (or maybe not since we were in choir together for a year and had no clue – lol)! 

As it was, I didn’t have to know Ben for very long to know that he loves baseball and that the Kansas City Royals have long been his favorite team. This was an easy fandom to share with him and over the years I even, sometimes, acquiesced on my rule of not watching baseball on TV. This became especially true in 2015, also known as the year Truman was born, the October the Royals took the World Series crown, AND the one time we had a sports-themed Christmas card photo! I was up nursing a baby every few hours anyway, so staying up to watch nail-biter games with Ben was a fun way to pass the time; plus, by that point, I was a pretty committed Royals fan myself. 

Our family stayed #ForeverRoyal until shortly after Wilson was born when LT went rogue on us and became an Aaron Judge/NY Yankees super fan. While I attended my first ever MLB game while pregnant with Wilson, the kids all got to attend their first one two summers later when the Royals played at home versus the Yankees. Ben’s parents joined us in Kansas City for the game which was full of excitement (including a lost tooth for Raegan) and extra innings for the Royals to eek out the win (poor LT!). 
Though we are still a house divided when it comes to MLB teams, we are Welschies all the way when it come to our own kids. That means that these days, I’m still in the bleachers (okay, more like a bag chair) but now watching as a committed Baseball Mom with three boys who have played city league and two of those three also doing/starting travel ball. It makes for long evenings and wonky meal times, not to mention an absolute ton of scrubbing/laundry, but I love it (not the laundry; that’s for the birds). It is so fun to watch them out on the field, playing a game our whole family loves (the sisters do a good job of tolerating these long nights and get in on plenty of backyard ball sessions with Dad and the boys, too). I don’t always do the best job breathing when one of them is pitching, but I clap and cheer and jump for joy whenever something exciting happens, which is really what makes the baseball life so great – you just never know when one of those moments will occur! 

*Post 37/52

Quilter

Whether I picked it up at home or school (probably both), I could sew with basic skills as a teen. In high school I started making scrunchies (hello, it was the 90s) and it became an annual tradition for a few years when I would make a large batch of the same fabric/design and gift that to as many friends as possible for that Christmas. I also made pillows both for myself and for my friends over the years, including large oversized ones for several of my closest guy friends when we graduated from YHS. It wasn’t until college that I upped my game and took my needle and thread skills to the whole next level by learning how to quilt during Interterm one January.

Called J-Term at some institutions, Doane used Interterm to describe the one-month hyper-focused classes you could take for 2.5 weeks prior to the start of second semester. These were often fun or kooky classes that still counted for credits but were a nice way to ease back into the college grind after the winter break. My sophomore year was when I decided, Lord only knows why, to sign up for Introduction to Quilting. Had I known how much work went into making a full-sized quilt in less than three weeks, I might have said pass; but as it was, I spent all day every day (most Interterm classes were just morning or just afternoon) getting it done.  

From start to finish, I used every minute of those three weeks (no kidding; one weekend I actually hauled the quilt frame to my dorm room so I could keep working on it there) to make my very first quilt – a Christmas colored Log Cabin design that I picked out with my mom’s help prior to the start of class. If you look at it closely, you can see that the stitching is terribly uneven but I pieced that entire top and then hand quilted the entire thing. In. Three. Weeks! By. My. Self! I’m insanely proud of it but have kept it hidden from the children all these years because I don’t want them to test the quality of the quilt (i.e. I don’t want anyone to break it!). 

Beyond the beauty of completing my very own project, that class opened me up to some other beautiful connections in my life, too. For one, it gave me another activity I could do with my Grandma Gert, a long time crochet fiend and hand-quilter herself, who was then on a quest to make quilts for all of her grandchildren by the time they graduated high school. When I was back from college that summer, I helped her between my busy social and part-time job schedules to complete the top stitching on my cousin Ashley’s quilt that she had already pieced together on her own. We spent plenty of hours at her quilt frame that was set up in my grandparent’s bedroom, talking and probably swearing from time to time when we inevitably pricked our fingers, even when using thimbles and finger guards. I didn’t get to help Gertie with all of her graduation projects but that time together holds a precious place in my heart and I am thankful the class provided me with that. 

Also special from that class was the teacher herself, Kay Hegler, who was then a faculty member of the Education Department at Doane and, obviously, an avid quilter. Kay and I learned that we had Yankton/SoDak connections and she was in general a delightful human being who also turned out to be a generous one, as she let me rent a room in her house during my Junior year when I had nowhere else to stay. The first half of Junior year was my travel abroad to Africa but we had no guarantee of a spot on our residential campus upon return, so several of us were granted special permission to live off-campus and it just so happened that Kay had a room for me. Ever since then we’ve kept in touch through Christmas letters, social media, and the practice of yoga, which we both became big fans and teachers of in later years. Any time I bump into Kay when I’m back in Eastern Nebraska is a special moment with a great hug attached to it as she wraps me up just like the quilts she taught me to make.

I haven’t tackled a quilt project since becoming a wife or a mom but perhaps it will be something that I revisit with age (and maybe more free-time?!) later in life. Either way, I’m thrilled that I took the time and effort to learn this skill when I did as it is one that has returned greatly on its investment. 

  • Post 36/52

The Bowls and Books of Christmas

Until high school, I don’t remember set holiday traditions in our family. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have them, but they just weren’t on my radar like the routines we adopted in my teens. I was probably too distracted by Santa, snow, and visiting our family at both sets of grandparents to be too wrapped up in the actual details that went into making those holidays magical. 

As I matured, though, two particular Christmas Eve traditions took hold in our world and in my heart: soups and opening one present of our own choosing from under the tree. The latter probably sticks in my brain because of the year my brother got an egg pan (that he asked for!) and all he could do was look at it in disbelief, saying, “I got a pan.” I don’t remember any of my CE gifts in particular because none were quite that funny; the soups, however, are still one of my favorite parts of the holiday, in part because we weren’t afraid to take it over the top with soup production.

Growing up I mostly remember two soups in rotation at our house – potato and chili. As a kid I didn’t care for chili (too spicy for me then) but loved potato soup so much (cheesy, creamy, and so delicious!). When we started the Christmas Eve Soups, it was probably just those two. But then, with time and advancing taste buds, we expanded our soup world and started making not just two soups for our family of four but FOUR soups on one night, because, why not? Ham & Bean, Chicken and Wild Rice, and the Christmas Soup (our name for it based on the colors of tomatoes, spinach, and cannellini beans) all got brought into the mix. I mean, why not, right? Leftovers are great and then each one of us got to pick our favorite. To this day we still make soup on Christmas Eve and it’s the perfect dish to warm you up before our other holiday routines of attending a candlelight church service, opening one gift, or setting out a plate of cookies for Santa. 

Seeing as we still soup it up each Christmas, that tradition is one my own kids will know and hopefully remember for years to come (we make just plain tomato for most of them still). The other holiday tradition that we’ve started in our own house that I know will stand out for them is our Christmas Book Countdown. Also over the top, this is another idea I found on Pinterest in 2013 (thank goodness for the blog to tell me that). That year, for advanced Christmas gifts from relatives, we asked for a collection of Christmas-themed books that totaled 25 in number so the kids could take turns (minus Lincoln who was still an itty bitty baby that winter) unwrapping a book from under the tree on each day of December  with the final one being opened Christmas Day. It was an instant hit and we’ve continued it ever since. The kids will tell you that the strangest thing that ever happened was the two years in a row that they opened Merry Christmas, Curious George! as the final book. Even funnier is when they engineered it being opened for a third year in a row by guessing and trying not to pick it until the very end to keep the streak going!

Now that we have five kids and our Christmas book collection has expanded over the years to a few beyond 25, we have each one of them select five titles, taking turns in doing so. Then I wrap them so they can again take turns each day picking and opening from youngest to oldest. The math on that works out great and keeps things nice and even, and the kids do a good job of remembering whose day it is. 2022 was the first time any of them asked to help with the wrapping, so while they were at school, I did the initial covering (so they couldn’t see what book it was) and then the kids helped fold and tape the edges which was great wrapping practice for them. 

Even though these are simple traditions, they’ve meant a lot to us over the years and we hope to continue them for years and years to come. 

*Post 35/52.