Winner, Winner

In college I won crap all the time. And I say “crap” on purpose because it was never anything big, just random door prize drawings at events hosted on campus like speakers or performers, etc. The most memorable door prize was a giant tub of cheese puffs, so again, nothing of major note even though I was consistent as all get out with having my name drawn. This even continued after graduation when our family later attended alumni events and somehow I would still walk away with some little Doane swag like a foam mini-football (that became a favorite plaything of HD’s until some younger sibling literally took a bite out of it and we had to chuck it, pun intended). 

Beyond door prizes, I’ve never really entered myself in competitions. Even though my family, of origin and the one that I’ve created with Ben, is competitive, I’ve never been on a team or in an event that resulted in a nail-bitter championship moment. My favorite activities have always been more solo-based, and even when I did team sports, it was cross country which was a team, yes, but also entirely individual in terms of performance. It makes sense then that the one title I earned more than once growing up was Top Reader at our library’s Summer Reading Program.

With my mom the elementary teacher off for summers, my brother and I did a remarkable number of week-long lessons, including swim, tennis, golf, and art-based classes that she worked out for us via the giant matrix of offerings printed in the Press & Dakotan each spring. In the midst of all that, we never missed the SRP and our chance to log books read and earn little prizes in return. A lot of what we got was coupons for local fast food places: wooden chips that were good for a free taco from Taco John’s, or a slip of paper that meant a free ice cream cone at McDonald’s or Dairy Queen. I’m sure there were other items available, but to a kid who grew up in the country and didn’t have as direct of access to eating out as town kids, these were big treats. 

Also big was the list of books I put under my belt each summer. I spent so much time at the Yankton Public Library that I could probably still draw you a map of its interior, the children’s department in particular. As I aged, I had my favorite series that I loved to read which included, but was not limited to: The Sleepover FriendsSweet Valley Twins/HighNancy Drew, and some Babysitter’s Club, too. I wasn’t quite to that reading level, though, when I landed myself in the paper (along with a couple of classmates and other local kids), pictured together after a party to celebrate Top Readers. You’ve gotta love a small town that not only holds such honors but documents them in the local paper! 

These days I don’t do a good job of recording my reading through our local library (although my kids do participate in the SRP most years), but I have been keeping track of my books read for a handful of years now on the blog. More recently I also (finally) started using GoodReads, a website that helps you record titles and reviews of your books read which is super helpful for not reading titles again (a mistake I’ve made more than once). I typically set a 52 book annual goal which lands me at a book a week, but in 2021 I went wild and aimed for 100 books in 12 months time and hit it, even though it was a little dicey there at the end of the year to get all books done by deadline. 

I don’t plan to repeat that little stunt again any time soon, but I wear my Word Nerd/Top Reader status with pride and am always happy to talk books with people. Just don’t ask me for details because I am way more likely to remember how a book made me feel than I am plot points (and even character names, sometimes). Such is the life of a prolific reader! 

*Post 33/52 of year-long Writing Challenge.

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“We are the Church”

Although the venues and the denominations have changed over the years, I have been attending Christian churches my whole life. Baptized Catholic, I spend my elementary years in the Methodist Church, my Jr./Sr. High years (including confirmation) in the United Church of Christ/Congregational Church (which is also where we got married), and then eventually landed, as a parent of my own brood of children, in the Presbyterian Church. The story of that evolution is nuanced and interesting, but mostly it boils down to listening to intuition and trusting that I would land in the right spot at each given stage of my life. 

Cleary I’m biased by my own experiences, but I’ve never been one to believe that there’s just one way to God or faith. Rather, for me, that coming together with others to celebrate God in church depends greatly on the the people who make up the congregation, the people leading the charge, and the way they all put their words and faith into action. This makes our current home at First Presbyterian Church of Hastings (“Where you will always hear a message of hope proclaimed” – something our pastor says each week) such a good fit because Presbyterians are lead not by one person, but literally by committee and groups of people, and the particular groups in our church are quite active about putting their hands and hearts to work to serve others. 

During COVID, like many churches, one way our congregation served the greater good was by live-streaming services only; we continued to do so for many months as society tried to navigate both germs and misinformation. I was able to get way more out of at-home church because I’d watch them on my own while folding laundry which is much different than when I’m dripping in children in the balcony and maybe catch 1/4 of each sentence being said during the service.  We never really forced them to sit in front of the screen for at-home church, but the kids would watch a bit, especially at the beginning and the end.  

Somewhere along the way, our two pastors started ending these live-stream services by singing acapella the hymn, “We are the Church.” In case you’re not familiar, the words go like this:
“The church is not a building;
the church is not a steeple;
the church is not a resting place;
the church is a people. 
I am the church! You are the church!
We are the church together!
All who follow Jesus,
all around the world!
Yes, we’re the church together!”

The little Welschies loved it (so did their parents) and, thankfully, even once we returned to in-person services, this little COVID life habit stuck around, I think because it had a big impact on many of us. Now we sing those words from the beautiful sanctuary of our church home, but it’s the last thing we do before the organist plays out the end of the service and it’s such a sweet little benediction to take with us into the world.  Connecting to God doesn’t just happen in the church. Acting from a place of faith (and hope) isn’t just for Sunday mornings. And, if I can take it one step more, I’d add that seeing the world as a place worthy and capable of love is not just for those who call themselves Christians. 

Spirit moves through all of us and we can feel that connection in so many faceted forms. For me that manifests as feeling God’s presence in church, but also in the greater world, often through the medium of light. Maybe it’s the prairie girl in me, forever obsessed with the clouds, the sky, and how the sun paints them both, or maybe it’s the little Midwest Christian girl in me who spent Sunday after Sunday staring at the stained glass windows of her various churches, paying attention to not just the scenes and symbolism they depicted, but also the way the light – the spirit – moved through them. Probably it’s both, along with the knowledge that light and love will always prevail. 

And should we need a reminder of God’s presence, of the Spirit that brings us all together, we simply need look to the light and see how it shines for each one of us, a little church and container of faith all our own.

*Post 32/52.

Country Roads

My first car was purchased from a sketchy looking little auto pace in my hometown that was too small an operation to even consider calling it a dealership. I don’t remember much about getting it except that my mom and I went together to test drive it and the sky was cold and dirty looking, much like the little tan Mazda 323 itself. Apparently, it passed the test though because that little car became mine which meant I could finally start driving myself to and from school and activities – a pretty big deal when you live eight miles out of town and do a lot of school and lot of activities IN town. 

That said, I was a reluctant driver. In South Dakota you could get a learner’s permit at 14 and then you had to take your written and your practical driving test before your 16th birthday, but I waited until the last possible day to do my actual driving test. In fact, I waited so long, the test wasn’t even being offered again in Yankton before my temporary license would expire, so my dad had to drive me to Tindall, a tiny town in our county that apparently had DMV hours on certain days, and that was were I did the excursion with the driving examiner. I can’t remember now if we even saw another vehicle out and about that day but they did at least have four-way stops and one stop light, so I got to show off some of my “city” driving skills all the same. Actually, maybe I was a genius for waiting so long and getting to do my exam there instead of the larger and therefore busier roads of Yankton! 

If I practiced much driving in town, I don’t recall it because it certainly got overshadowed by my country road driving. Our house was on a paved (pink!) road but all around us the land was divided up into mile-sections and those cross roads/back roads were a majority of gravel. That’s where I really learned to drive. And that’s what really freaked me out at times because gravel roads are narrow as all get-out and you’ve got to learn how to drive with one side of the car basically in the ditch when you meet another car/truck/or, heaven forbid, semi or tractor, which can get pretty dicey. Throw in a few rolling hills throughout the terrain where you always have to skirt the edge because you don’t know who might be coming up the other side straight at you, and you’ve got the stuff of nightmares – literally in my case as I can still remember some bad dreams I had about meeting semis on exaggerated versions of our gravel road grid that surrounded our farm. 

Before I got the Mazda, I learned how to drive in my parent’s old (blue!) Jeep Wagoneer. It was our former family car before we got into minivan life, and because we had space on the farm, we kept it for an extra farm vehicle and learning one, too. I don’t know why I didn’t just get to drive the Jeep and went to look for a smaller car, but perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I hit stuff with the Jeep and my parents weren’t too keen to turn me loose on the open roads with it. LOL. What actually happened was one of our neighbors stopped in to chat with my dad about something farm related and I was out by the machine shed, in the driver’s seat of the Jeep. I decided I was going to back up and drive over to see them in the main yard of our place, and, in the process, show off my cool new driving skills. Instead, I showed off my ability to back up into an electrical meter outside the machine shed. Again – LOL! 

Eventually the Mazda got passed on to my brother when it was his turn, two years later, to start driving. It wasn’t the best car and was known to die on us from time-to-time but between our dad and our friends (and probably each other), we got where we needed to be. From there, I started driving a little red, two-door Ford Escort which would be my car for the remainder of high school when I would then inherit my mom’s old (blue!) Toyota Camry for college. I loved my little Escort and it served me well over the years of driving into town for school, work, and hanging out with friends, and sometimes all three on the same day. 

I was a busy kid in high school and, once I got over my slight apprehension of independent driving, my little cars did a fantastic job to taking me here, there, everywhere, and then, of course, back “home, to the place I belonged.” (Sorry/not sorry for the John Denver earworm.) 

*Post 32/52 for year-long writing challenge.

For the Love of Projects (and Hot Glue)

This is my mom’s hot glue gun. It’s possible she’s had it longer than she’s had me, but currently it’s at my house and I used it most recently to turn wooden dowels into wands for an upcoming Harry Potter-themed 11th birthday party for my current 5th grader. There’s some symbolism there because my mom was a 5th grade elementary teacher for half(+) of my life and as a kid, I loved nothing more than tagging along to her classroom to be her weekend helper.

Of course I was never the one wielding the hot glue gun back then. That was my mom as she stood on desks and window ledges once a month to do a total swap out of her classroom (maybe don’t tell my dad that). The school she taught in was this ancient (to me as a kid, anyway) elementary building in a tiny (that’s accurate, even without kid memory driving the bus) town several miles from our farm. It wasn’t in the same district as our house so I never had my mom as a teacher, but I did spend hours upon hours helping her change bulletin boards each month and changing out her window displays, too. Hence, the glue gun. 

Her room was on the second story of the building, up some serious steps and down a rather winding hallway which ended at her large and spacious classroom. There were windows on two sides and above the glass were spaces where she could hot glue laminated posters and displays to the surface of the wall. I may not have been doing the gluing, but I definitely popped a bunch of (formally) hot glue discs off posters when she would do her change out the next month and store the old ones for use again the next year. Speaking of the lamination, I helped trim those as well and learned the satisfaction of a long, smooth cut around the edges of large items pretty early in life. To this day, I still love getting my hands on a reason to laminate something, although my little at-home machine is pint-sized compared to the school’s giant one. 

Helping my mom at her school impacted me a lot as a kid because I also learned to enjoy and love a good project. She was forever coming up with a new theme or unit for her students and I got to live vicariously through that by helping her prep and prepare (I also spent a lot of time running copies in the quiet little library that also lived on the second floor of their building and I swear, it was the most peaceful place on earth, even it smelled a bit dusty and musty). She’s a very creative person who could draw her own posters if needed and could do a remarkable amount of transformation with colored paper, a stapler, and probably some more hot glue. She once helped turn their upper-elementary hallway (grades 4-6, one classroom each) into a tunnel walk through a jungle and maybe and ocean, too.  

Through her teaching, but also through our home life, my mom instilled a love of books and themes in me that clearly impacted my later undergrad and graduate work, not to mention my eventual career as a college English instructor (although I don’t get to do anything with fun bulletin boards and laminators in my career, like she did with hers). And this love of projects and creating things together has stuck with us throughout the years since I stopped being her classroom helper. 

In high school, it was letting me use her sewing machine to make scrunchies for all my friends each Christmas. Later in life we created giant barnboard signs and oversized holiday wreaths for my house. This year we made Thing One and Thing Two wigs for Dr. Seuss Day at the kids’ school (look close at the picture and you might see some blue fuzz there, still). We’ve painted numerous walls and crafts together. And none of this includes the fact that she’s made countless costumes for dress up days and such for the kids, plus she’s taken over birthday cake duty for them since she moved to Hastings, which they love and helps me out tremendously in the day-to-day hubbub of raising a big family. 

My mom has always been a goer and doer but also a reader and a thinker. I inherited a great deal of both ends of that spectrum from her and am doing what I can to pass along the love of projects and books to my own children because the creative life is a full life, and let’s face it, there is always something that you can make better with a little hot glue and, if you’re lucky, lamination and a good helper! 

*Post 30/52

The Traveling Teacher

After my freshman year at Doane, I made a decision that turned out to be pivotal for my life: I signed up to be an Orientation Leader that following August for the incoming freshman class (OLs came a few days before the start of Fall Semester to help with move-in and, well, orientation activities). Was it the program itself that changed me? Not, not at all. It was the professor assigned to our group, Dr. Betty Levitov, who made all the difference in where my life would go and how far I would travel, quite literally, in this world.

At our very first luncheon, Betty was bubbling over with enthusiasm for the semester abroad she was planning for the following year, 2002. She was all set to take a small group of students through seven different countries in Africa, teaching literature and linguistics, arranging safaris and local apprenticeships, and guiding us to learn about life, other cultures, history, and international travel, all at the same time. And the best part? She was still accepting applications for students to join the group! Also key to my life at the time? She was also still accepting students as advisees who were interested in becoming English majors, which aligned with a newly discovered goal for my undergraduate studies. 

Just as I knew I wanted Betty to become my academic advisor, I also knew instantly that I wanted to go on this incredible trip she was creating. The out-of-pocket cost wasn’t much different from the (already expensive) norm at Doane, as our tuition and room & board fees went to covering the cost of much of our traveling semester. It also wouldn’t put me behind in my studies at all as I would take enough credits to earn a normal 15+ credit hours while moving from country to country. 

My parents were not thrilled with the idea (I had never flown overseas before much less left the country for an entire semester) but eventually and reluctantly, they agreed, which was probably at a great cost to their worry, especially when 9/11 happened just weeks after giving me the green light to go and less than 12 months from when we would actually leave. Betty navigated everyone’s concerns with parent meetings and patient answering of questions; even though there were still nerves amongst the group, our trip to Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa began to take shape into a three+ month itinerary that would replace the first half of my junior year that I would have otherwise spent in Crete, Nebraska. 

The memories from that semester spent halfway around the world are too vast and varied to record here (that’s what the 2 1/2 inch-think scrapbook I made my senior year of college is for), even though much of the trip remains fresh enough that I probably could write a book about it. In fact, Betty already did write one that I later got to help promote through the University of Nebraska Press (as a former grad student who once did TA hours for them); you can find a copy of Africa on Six Wheels: A Semester on Safari on my shelves where it will have a home for the rest of my days. However, for a quick glimpse into life as an undergrad on the foreign road, consider the following: blowing as many of our van tires as countries we visited, practicing Swahili vocabulary lessons whilst standing in the Indian Ocean, wandering open stall markets for everything from souvenirs to clothes to fresh food, falling in love with all the animals we got to see on safari, poking my nose over the edge of Victoria Falls (dumb; don’t do stuff like that, except maybe do because it was amazing), creating a found-family with 16 other people (13 students, 1 professor, 2 adult helpers, and 1 Australian chef/driver), and a million other little moments that added up to the most incredible semester of my life. 

Of course it wasn’t just the overseas travel that impacted me. Having Betty agree to take me on as an advisee brought me other connections once we were back stateside such as an internship my senior year with the Prairie Schooner, the literary mag published by the UNL English Department. A year later I would begin my own graduate studies in that same department. Although I never took an entry-level writing course with Dr. Levitov while I was at Doane, her teaching and her love for her subject matter encouraged me to pursue my own love of words in that grad program which is what landed me teaching experience and the degree necessary to start my own career as a college-level English instructor in the years that followed our world travels. 

In the two decades since that first trip to Africa, Betty has remained a source of love and support in my life. She got to know Ben when we were fortunate enough, prior to starting our family, to travel to Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda for three weeks in 2008 with an alumni group from Doane (hello, bonus passport stamp and gorilla trek!). Even that trip feels dated now, but over the years, thanks to the beauty of the internet, Betty has observed my family grow and has always made it clear how proud she is of me and the paths I have traveled in this world. How fortunate I am that one of them crossed hers when it did and lead me to great adventure both abroad and at home. 

This is us: Fall, 2002 and Spring, 2019. 

  • Post 29/52

To My 20-yr-old Self

To My Dear 20-yr-old Jenni,

Darling, right now is a confusing time. You are both grown and yet so young, with so many questions about the world and yourself. In fact, you are literally exploring the great wide world this fall as you travel through Africa for three months – an experience that will forever touch your heart and shape your worldview. But I know there are inward-facing questions about your heart, too, and coming to you exactly 20 years later, at double the life you have currently lived, I am happy to say I have some insight.

1) The one you are with now is not The One. It’s a fine love but it’s not the life or the person for you; even though you can’t imagine starting over with someone else (you’ll say these exact words to someone else during the early days of your semester abroad), that’s exactly what you need to do when the time comes. You’ve learned this lesson before, at the end of high school, but it bears repeating: it’s OK to strike out on your own, to follow your own next right steps, not those dictated to you by your relationship/partner. The right person is out there who will be a true partner and friend, in addition to loving you to no end.

2) Binaries are not the way. You don’t have language for this yet, which isn’t to say it doesn’t exist (it does), you just don’t realize yet that people don’t have to pick a lane when it comes to sexual orientation/attraction. Or rather, you don’t yet know that there are more than two lanes, but guess what – there are and it’s OK to fall into one of those other ones because that’s what lies at the center of your heart. You see people as people and are attracted to people, not just one kind or gender of people. That might sound scary and overwhelming and it is going to take years for all of this to bubble out of you, but just know that at the center of you is love and love is never wrong. Plus, that right person who is out there for you? He gets it, won’t shame or run away from it, and just wants you to feel safe in expressing your whole self, to him and to the world.

3) Sweetheart, you have anxiety. I know it’s not fun to hear that something may be “wrong” with you, but that’s society’s mental health shaming bullshit making you think that, not an inherent badness in you. Anxiety is something that can be managed with therapy (spoiler alert: you will love therapy and be eternally grateful for it) and coping skills. Sometimes it requires medication. And it’s just something that is. You don’t have to call anxiety your BFF and be super pumped to have it be part of your life, but you can find your way forward, and your skills + medication can serve you very well in navigating this life as an Anxious Bunny.

4) Friendship is fluid. Even though it’s going to seem super hard, you’re going to have to try not to take it personally when friendships fall apart or fade away. Your life and your world are going to shift so much over time, so of course it makes sense that your friendships would, too; but this is one of those tough lessons to learn, in part because it never really stops happening and it can sometimes feel crushing when it does. Please don’t internalize this. Don’t let it make you think you are bad or unworthy of such relationships in this world. Your heart and mind crave authentic connection and you will find these qualities in others and your friendships with them. Keep seeking and keep trying; it’s worth the bumps and bruises along the way.

5) You’re going to go through some Hard Shit. If I could change this, I would. In fact, if I could erase this from all of humanity, I would. Strong as I am (and trust me, that strength has always been there; the Hard Shit does not come your way because you are or ever were weak), I’m not that powerful. Talk to people. Get help. Go to therapy. The Hard Shit does not define or dictate your life – you do. You’ve got your words and your writing but you also need people, which, I know – see above – can be a hard thing to trust, but the people who will hold you up, support you, and love you for all of you are out there. Let them in when they come.

Young One, as you continue your travels, both of the great, wide world and your own inner landscape, remain forever open to learning…about others, about the world, about yourself. You have so much beauty and blessing on the road in front of you; stay open to receive it and grow, knowing that you’ve got this because you’ve got yourself and that’s a damn miraculous gift.

Love,
JW, Age 40yrs.

*Post 27/52

RBG + Me

I can’t tell you for sure when the RBG obsession began, but it’s possible that it picked up in earnest after the 2015 publication of the Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg book by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik (I still can’t read that title without singing it to the rapper’s name it’s inspired by; listen to the opening of “Notorious B.I.G. featuring Lil’ Kim & Puff Daddy” by The Notorious B.I.G. if you want to know the tune). I listened to the book via one of our library apps and loved it, enough so to ask for a copy of it for my 40th birthday book extravaganza. More so, I adored Ginsberg, her life story, and her career; from there, the fangirl status was solidified. 

Thanks to the power and beauty (it does exist) of social media, others picked up on my feelings for/hero worship of the legendary Supreme Court Justice. People started tagging me in posts related to RBG or sending me links for gear like shirts and jewelry to show off my love for Ginsberg’s spirit and tenacity. I didn’t always jump at the opportunity for RBG retail therapy, but I also didn’t always pass on it, either. This seemed fitting since Ginsberg herself used her own wardrobe to express her positions when SCOTUS decisions were announced, most famously with her jabots/collars that came in so many styles, colors, and meanings. Her Dissent Collar quickly became a symbol, to me and the multitudes, of standing up for what you believe in, even in the face of oppression and confining court rulings. 

Over the years I collected, on my own and from others, the following: a WWRBGD sweatshirt (a riff on the 90’s WWJD bracelets); multiple t-shirts; a face mask; a “leopard” print blouse that is actually little RBG faces; a small, metal Dissent replica necklace; earrings of the same design that I had to give away because my holes closed years ago, but I appreciated the gesture; an actual, full-sized Dissent Collar replica from Banana Republic; an RBG superhero figurine; a “Supreme” coaster; an artist rendition drawing (cartoon style) of her; multiple books both kid- and adult-geared; and, most recently, an RBG pendant of which 100% of the proceeds went to Planned Parenthood which is in desperate need of support given our country’s current backslide on body autonomy rights concerning Roe, something we feared might happen via the Court after losing her in 2020. 

Several of my purchases from this list have gone to organizations/causes like this which, again, seems appropriate. Not only do I get to use my own clothing and accessories to highlight my ideas and opinions as she did on the Supreme Court, they sometimes directly fund and support the same causes she believed in concerning freedom and equity for all. Plus my “armor” naturally showcases my love for my hero who has been gone for two years now.

Learning about RBG’s death is one of those moments that remains seared in my brain and probably always will. I was in our kitchen, cleaning up after supper, when my mom called to tell me RBG had passed. While this wasn’t shocking given Ginsberg’s many health scares in the last years of her life, it still caught me off guard because she had always pulled through in the past. It also felt like such a turbulent time in our country given the impending 2020 election, but that’s my hero worship failing me; of course she was human and deserved to be in a place of peace, not physical suffering from illness, and of course she didn’t owe any of us a darn thing to hold on any longer just because the political climate was difficult with the potential to become more so after her death. 

While my tears didn’t come right away, I later settled in at the computer to read the news and scan social media for posts about her passing and that’s when the gravity and loss of my hero being earth side first hit. She broke the mold in so many ways and did at times seem beyond the limits of other humans, so how could she really be gone? 

In the days that followed, I learned that Jewish tradition, which was RBG’s faith, does not say, “Rest in peace” after passing. Instead, tradition states, “May her memory be for blessing,” which essentially means it is up to us to keep the goodness of a person alive in our own lives, through our words and our actions that embody those we have lost. Fortunately I have a wealth of her words and lessons to continue learning from and will spend the rest of my life following in my hero’s footsteps. Not in law or the court, but in teaching my children to stand up for what is right, and in supporting causes, organizations, and people who are forever working to move the needle toward justice, just like my favorite SCOTUS Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

*Post 26/52 – Halfway!!

Five Little Presidents

When I was quite (quite) pregnant with the baby that turned out to be Wilson, our family was interviewed on the local news about our unique Presidential naming scheme. To be fair, it wasn’t so much that we were special as it was that we had a connection to the news station through a friend, but for our kids, it certainly felt special at the time. And five years later (and with our fifth little POTUS in tow), one of the most received comments/compliments we still get is that people love our kids’ names.

Raegan was the name I picked first because it allowed me to incorporate my middle name into my child’s name, but of course we didn’t find out genders before births, so we went in with two names each time. It just so happened that I had heard the name Harrison shortly before we first got pregnant and quickly became obsessed. This meant that before a baby arrived, a theme was born – totally by accident – and it stuck.

After Harrison claimed the opening spot, the dominos continued to fall with Raegan and Lincoln being our next two name choices and then our next two babies. It was after Lincoln’s birth (on the 4th of July, no less) that people outside our families and closer circles started to say, “Ohhhhhhh, I see what you’re doing there!” which was pretty funny because we’d never kept it a secret, but yes – once you have a Raegan and a Lincoln, people take notice (and also probably assume you’re a Republican which is quite (quite) wrong). 

I honestly don’t remember what girl name we had on deck for Lincoln or Truman, so perhaps it was good that we didn’t need to use whatever it was because clearly I was not sold on it. I know Roosevelt was kind of in the running, but I thought a someday-teenager named Roosevelt might disown me for being so theme-adherent, so that was probably a bluff all along. Since people had by then picked up on our narrow POTUS list, they started chiming in with ideas, two of which were the most popular girl names in the overall category – Madison and Kennedy. While I didn’t explain this to most people at the time, both were out because one of those is a family name and the other was the last name of not one but two of my ex-boyfriends, so nope – was never going to happen! 

Truman was a fun one to pick because it landed me – finally – with a Democrat on the docket. Of course we never actually named any of our children after these specific men; it has always been theme over person. That said, it was still nice to bring a little balance to the scales; however, oddly enough, we then landed with another accidental theme that became extra problematic when I got pregnant with Baby No.5 – alllll of our children’s names end in “n” which was by no means intentional and ended up making an already tight list super short.

My aunt had some funny ideas for Baby No.5 and pushed Buchannan for a boy (she said, “Call the baby “Buck” for short”) and Nixon for a girl (“Call her Nicki”). While I chuckled at both of those, neither one seemed right and we ended up going with Clinton and Wilson, although we definitely did not tell anyone that because we never did. After hearing horror stories of relatives weighing in on people’s baby name selections, there was no way I was going to let anyone other than Ben and I have a say in that, so we were 100% tight lipped the entire time for each pregnancy. I wouldn’t even tell my family what our opposite sex name choices were that didn’t get used, because what if we used them next time?! (which, see above – we totally did!). 

The other happy accident in baby naming is that several of the kids’ initials, which I refer to each of them by constantly in my writing and life in general, flow directly from one to the next: HD, RL, LT, TJ, WA. And I call HD & WA our bookends, which they do for that list, too; it is just so perfect. 

Those middle initials are all family names, by the way. So even though our POTUS picks don’t have a lick of personal attachment to them, our kids are anchored deeply in family connection and names. 

Did I let my English Major nerd side show by picking a theme and sticking with it for five babies over the course of eight years? Yes, yes I did. But I love our little presidents so much. And even though I don’t want to be on the news again, I agree with all the comments that they are such a cool grouping.

*Post 25/52

What Makes a Saturday?

You would think after all the staying home we had to do during COVID shutdowns and beyond, I would want to be anywhere else, but my favorite place to be on a Saturday is still at home with no plans. Perhaps I crave this because of the season of life we’re in with kids coming and going and doing at all hours of the day, each day of the week; this naturally makes me long for quite Saturdays where no one has to be anywhere at a certain time and instead we can just be. 

Or, maybe I’m just an introvert.

But seriously, I love me a good Saturday that involves the wide open possibility of just about anything that might also turn into a whole lot of nothing. Give me no reason to put on mascara or bra unless I want to, the option for a walk or jog, and my best zero-gravity lawn chair (or couch) where I can park my butt and read a book while I drink various fake-coffee and non-soda or non-alcoholic beverages, and I’ll be just fine for the entire day. (40, I tell ya – it’s a wild time!)

As it is, our Saturdays are mostly scheduled out by whatever current sport season we happen to be experiencing. Spring means baseball and occasionally soccer or flag football (but I detest the weather for spring Y sports, so often we rebel and just skip signing up for those, at least for the youngest kids). Summer also means travel ball in June and then all the going and doing that comes with July and early August, trying to squeeze in family fun and trips before the next school year begins. Fall means soccer and flag football (and now swim team, too!). And then in Winter we actually do slow the heck down and, so far anyway, avoid organized sports so we can have more time to cozy up after we all navigate our long weeks of school and teaching. 

Special events pop up on a Saturday here and there such as birthdays or book club gatherings or volunteer opportunities at our church. Once in a blue moon, we’ll go out for a meal, but all of that has been extra slow to return for us post-COVID, so really, I get my way a lot and we just stay home. That looks like a lot of home-cooked suppers, watching something together as a full family on Disney+, and then, after the kids are in bed, maybe doing some yoga or taking an Epsom salt bath before crawling into bed to read some more before finally shutting off the light for the night.

See? Introvert to the max!

And then sometimes an open weekend leads to the height of productivity when we actually have a moment to catch our breath and tackle something that’s been sitting around the house, waiting for us to deal with it. In 2022 that’s looked like a giant cleaning out of our basement store room (finally!), selling baby and toddler/kid clothes, building me a cloffice, and on Labor Day Weekend, fixing our busted-from-hail-damage fence and doing a massive cleaning of our garage that was probably a solid year overdue. Part of said cleanup resulted in saying goodbye to our first-ever baby stroller that every single one of our babes used (well and lot; the thing was shot!), well beyond their baby years, too. But the kids took it all in stride and were such good helpers getting all the junk, dust, and debris out of there. We also learned that Lincoln is a big fan of power tools (and likes them so much that he was willing to give up the extra screen time that his sibs got while we were working in the yard), and that Raegan doesn’t like it when her mama makes up her own rules for crossing streets during a mid-afternoon walk downtown to run errands and grab a quick dish of sherbet. 

I had no idea we were going to take on such tasks on this particular weekend, but that’s the beauty of an unscheduled Saturday (and a Sunday that feels like a Saturday) when you can just get after it. Although I did not make much (read: any) progress in my book, it was fabulous to get some big projects done while dreaming up plans for what might be next all in the midst of low-key, just roll with it Family Time. 

I think that’s exactly what makes the magic of a good Saturday. 

*Post 24/52.

Small Spaces

Small spaces have always been my jam. When I was little, I would empty the toy chest that we had and then turn it into my own personal cave. It was perfect for doing so because it was as tall as a small bookshelf and deep enough to hold a small person, but it also had the best feature ever, a.k.a, an angled door/lid combo that would slide close. This was a win for my parents because, if we actually put our toys away, you could shut the slide-behind top and not see the chaos it contained. Those same magic doors had chalkboard tops so we could draw and practice handwriting on them which was super cool, but again, the really beauty was that I could then crawl inside this masterpiece along with some blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals to make my own little contained nest by sliding the doors shut from the inside.

As I got older and too big for the toy chest, I turned the floor of my closet into my go-to small space and would do the same thing, just on a slightly larger scale (but not much; I grew up in a beautiful old farm house, but one in which it sort of seemed like closets were an after-thought, not a main feature of the bedrooms which were big and airy (yay!) but without a whole lot of built-in storage (bummer)). I would again pilfer pillows and blankets from my bed, grab my latest library book or book order acquirement and settle in to read as long as I could. In hindsight, I have no idea if this bothered my parents or if there were ever concerned about where I was when I was holed up in these small spaces, but I’m guessing they probably knew I had my nose stuck in a book and weren’t too worried about my choice of reading locale. Also, there was no light in my closet, so….how did I do this exactly?! 

Since early childhood, I haven’t had a reading nook or nest. Eventually I stopped shutting myself in the closet and chose to read just in my room or the car or wherever we were/I wanted. As I added more activities and homework in middle school and high school, there wasn’t really the time or need for such a space. Same for college and early adulthood; even though I may have wished very much to have a space of my own (I had some great roommates in college and grad school, but also, communal living was never easy for me), that wasn’t really something I could create in a dorm. Even living in a shared apartment with my own room still didn’t give me a little hideaway like I had as a kid.

Then, after motherhood began, my time and space really shifted from being my own to being constantly shared entities. I spent nine years growing and nursing babies, with a combined total of about five months off from both of those things entirely mixed in there, which meant next to no time for curating my own space. That or I was just too tired to do so, which is also understandable given all the growing, feeding, and raising of children happening during that time!

As we grew our family (and then, after Wilson was born, shifted focus only to raising our crew), we played around with space in our house a lot. In the nearly 11 years (at the time of writing) we’ve been in this house, we have moved bedrooms and furniture more times than I can count as we are always trying to make the space work just a little bit better for us than it had previously.  As a result, I’ve had many spaces in our home that have been useful to me that I have also loved, but it was just this summer that I accidentally came full circle and finally created my own small space (in part because it was the only place left in the house in which to do so!) in a closet. 

The driving need? A work space where I could organize and lay out my adjunct/teaching materials, but also organize PTO and personal files and papers, too. For several years I’d had a standing desk in our living room but that corner always bugged me because it meant I could always see my work. The sunporch was also a sort-of office space for me, but again, without a door to keep my stuff safe from the kids plus the lack of consistent temperature control, it never worked as a long-term solution. 

Enter: The Cloffice. A.K.A. Closet + Office which is an idea I totally stole from the internet and one my favorite writers/moms, Glennon Doyle, who started her writing career from her very own cloffice back in the day.

Because our current home is like the one I grew up in (i.e. old but with lots of character that we love), closets are again kinda hard to come by and not very big when you do. That left me all of one space left to create the cloffice of my dreams – our front entryway coat closet. Naturally, it also required giving the boot to a bunch of winter coats, lunch bags, canvas totes, and random shoes and sports gear (not the boot as in getting rid of, but rather, had to relocate which was tricky but possible). Then all that was left to do was paint, put up some pretty peel-and-stick wallpaper (spoiler alert: that stuff doesn’t work with old lath and plaster walls so we had to buy some adhesive less than 48 hours later to make the stuff actually stay on the wall), install a little countertop remnant turned into desk top, and hang some shelves/filing devices/pretty things, and Ta Da! It’s a Cloffice!!! Thankfully it also comes with an overhead light run by a light switch, the bonus of a window for true natural light, and adorable pocket doors that I can just about close completely (minus where the extension cord needs to squeak through since the one thing the cloffice lacks is an actual electrical outlet). 

And just like that, I’ve turned back into a small child, finding great joy in small things and in particular, small spaces that are just mine. I may not have pillows and blankets in my cloffice just yet, but I love that this little nook is a space just for me where I can work and write and think, which I now do, even when I have the rare moment that no one else is home and I technically have the run of the whole house. Turns out it’s the cozy little spots from childhood that I’ve missed the most and still like the best. 

*Post 23/52.