When Can I Decorate For Christmas?

Everyone I know shares the same meme in the tenth month of the year: a beautiful scene of fall leaves with the Anne of Green Gables quote, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

Courtesy of Pixabay.com

And as much as I agree with the sentiment and think October is beautiful, at least in my neck of the woods where we do experience a true change of seasons, I otherwise hate October. (Don’t gasp, I’ll elaborate in a moment).

So today, on the first day of November, I’m facing a bit of a conundrum.

Christmas is my favorite. Twinkly lights are my favorite. But it is not yet Thanksgiving. And decorating for Christmas and removing all the orange and brown accents from my home feels wrong this early.

But I think I’ve found the answer.

I’m going to put up my Christmas tree and add Thanksgiving décor.

Since I typically have no less than four trees decorated for Christmas, as well as wreaths and tchotchkes all over the house, this isn’t an extreme solution, and just thinking about it has me excited for the coming holidays.

Technically, it doesn’t fit into my current goals of buying only what I need, ridding of what I already own that is no longer useful, and moving toward minimalism.

But look at this pumpkin pie ornament and tell me this isn’t a good idea.

We’ve always waited until the day after Thanksgiving to decorate for Christmas. If you celebrate, when do you decorate?


*Why do I hate October? This one in particular has been filled with illness and loss, but I just generally dislike the month. My husband is a football coach and I am a sports writer, and by October, we are worn out. I pick up both kids every day until football is over, and the trip to get just one child kills an hour of my day. My household projects, which had been progressing in late summer, are once again chaos. My kids love Halloween but it always coincides with either games or deadlines and as a homebody, trick-or-treating stresses me out. I guess I feel about October as most feel about February; it’s when I most notice the loss of summer and freedom and the thrill of a new school year has worn off.

It’s Okay To Feel How You Feel

Life will be good again.

But right now, maybe it doesn’t feel like it.

I once was despairing. I had been through years of health issues, fertility treatments, and frustration with my lot in life. I came home from work every day and cried. I drove to my doctor’s office and cried. I had consistently bad news from my doctor and cried harder on the long drive home. I was drained and life didn’t look like it would improve any time soon.

One night, I chatted with my high school friend Sadie, whom I had not seen in at least a decade but had kept up with online. I opened up to her a bit, which was huge for me because I had spoken to almost no one about my current struggles. She gave no unsolicited advice others had offered (“Have you considered adoption?” “I think you should just give up and then you will get pregnant.”) Instead, she told me she thought what I was going through must be terrible, and she listened. But I will never forget Sadie’s words to me:

“It’s okay to feel how you feel.”

Her words were a balm to my aching soul. I was angry, but I had never admitted I was angry. When I had tried to speak to my friends about my struggles, I felt guilty and as though I was burdening them. They were uncomfortable, not having any idea what to tell me and not wanting to say the wrong thing. I had wanted to be heard but not to feel more awkward, so I stuffed away my emotions and my anger grew.

Life went on and my struggles continued, but for the first time I gave myself permission to mourn my losses and to admit how I was feeling. I wanted children, I wanted a job I was passionate about, and I wanted peace and order and a place that felt like home. None of those things were happening despite my best efforts, and it was impacting my entire life. To pretend it wasn’t happening wasn’t helping anyone. I was adding stress upon stress upon stress and the cork was about to pop.

During that time, I wrote this: “I got a call this week that another friend is pregnant, and everyone is rejoicing. Truthfully, I just feel like someone jumped in line in front of me again. Another friend started trying to conceive after me, already has two children, and is finished. In the scheme of things, I know it doesn’t matter. But it hurts, and I’m sick of acting like it doesn’t.”

Sadie told me my admission didn’t make me a bitter person, it just made me a person. “Sometimes things just suck and no amount of rainbows and sunshine change that,” she said.

And so, I gave myself permission to be frustrated when I was frustrated.

I understood how to be happy when I was happy.

I learned it was okay to tell God I was angry with Him, that I didn’t understand the plan, and that I was fed up with hearing there was a plan. And I learned it wasn’t showing a lack of faith to admit something felt wrong in my life.

If you know someone who is struggling, you don’t have to try to solve their problem. Listen, and give them permission to accept their emotions.

Because it is okay to feel how you feel.

Quick, Easy and Perfect Cashew Chicken

My husband comes from a family of excellent cooks. Every family gathering means a feast of just about every food imaginable, but one of my favorite occasions they host each year is Halloween. Matt’s grandparents throw a party, and his grandmother cooks up enough cashew chicken to feed a crowd. I asked for the recipe years ago and was surprised at how simple it really is. So without further ado, here is the perfect cashew chicken!

The first step is to find a cook.

Don’t hate him because he’s beautiful. Hate him because he loves the Pats.

The directions suggest marinating chicken breasts in soy sauce, but ain’t nobody got time for that. So Matt combines steps by adding soy sauce and salt and pepper to two eggs.

Whisk the mixture and add your chicken. We like to use chicken tenderloins cut into bites with kitchen shears. Add the chicken to a bag of flour and corn starch and any seasonings you may like – this time he just used salt and pepper, but he often will add garlic salt and paprika. Shake to coat.  (Shake and bake, baby).

While the oil heats, he likes to make the cashew sauce. Bring chicken bouillon, sugar,  oyster sauce, and water to a boil.

In a small bowl, mix corn starch with cold water. When smooth, add a bit to the cashew mixture. Cook until it reaches desired thickness.

Cool a bite of the sauce. Taste. Make frowny faces. Declare it good.

Fry the chicken with your preferred method. We are currently using vegetable oil, but I have also used shortening. He cooked these on high heat for about 7 minutes.

Side note: The Food Network taught us to buy one bunch of green onions and to place the bulbs in a jar of water. Voila, you’ll always have green onions growing, and so we do.

When the chicken is fried, serve with rice, green onions, and cashews.

Here’s the actual recipe:

Enjoy!


 

I’ve Loved You Best

I started eliminating all kinds of unneeded items in my home earlier this year, and I’m still investing time in that process. Yesterday, I was sorting through a stack of forgotten papers and found something I wanted to share. I’m not sure where this paper came from (I recall it first surfacing by falling out of a hand-me-down book that went out of print in the ’80s) or the author, but this writing from a fellow mother of three resonated with me. It also brought back memories of hearing my husband’s grandfather telling him he couldn’t choose a favorite, but if he could, he would choose Matt. Matt didn’t realize until adulthood that Grandpa told every grandchild the same. 

I’ve Loved You Best, Because…

Dear First Born,

I’ve always loved you best because you were our first miracle. You were the genesis of a marriage and the fulfillment of young love. You sustained us through the hamburger years, the first apartment (furnished in early poverty), our first mode of transportation (the “Junker”), and the 7-inch tv we paid on for 36 months.

You were new, had un-used grandparents, and enough clothes for a set of triplets. You were the original model for a mom and a dad who were trying to work the bugs out. You got the strained lamb, the open safety pins and three-hour naps.

You were the beginning.

Dear Middle Child,

I’ve always loved you best because you drew a tough spot in the family and it made you stronger for it. You cried less, had more patience, wore faded hand-me-downs, and never in your life did anything first. But it only made you more special.

You were the one we relaxed with and realized a dog could kiss you and you wouldn’t get sick. You could cross a street by yourself long before you were old enough to get married. And you helped us understand the world wouldn’t collapse if you went to bed with dirty feet.

You were the child of our busy, ambitious years. Without you, we never could have survived the job changes and the tedium and routine that is marriage.


To The Baby,

I’ve always loved you best because while endings are generally sad, you are such a joy. You readily accepted the milk-stained bibs, the lower bunk, the cracked baseball bat, the baby book that had nothing written in it except a recipe for graham cracker pie crust that someone had jammed between the pages.

You are the one we hold on to so tightly. You are the link with our past, a reason for tomorrow. You darken our hair, quicken our steps, square our shoulders, restore our vision, and give us a sense of humor that security, maturity, and durability can’t provide.

When your hairline takes on the shape of Lake Huron and your own children tower over you, you will still be our baby.

-A Mother

 

A Few of My Favorite Things, On Sale!

Amazon Prime is my jam. I’ll do almost anything to avoid dragging three kids to the store, but I’m also thrifty. I noticed some of my favorite products are currently on sale, so I wanted to alert you, too!

Oh, and by the way, it’s double earnings week at Ebates, and that includes some categories at Amazon. If you haven’t signed up, do it here, and get $10 just for getting started! https://www.ebates.com/r/RINGOJ8?eeid=28187

The New Fire Tablet with Alexa is on sale today ($10 off!)

I’m picky about pens, but I love these for my planner. My kids try to steal them all the time, so at this price, I might get them their own set! We gave sets of these pens for teacher gifts this year (see my Instagram @Listlemon for a photo).

Speaking of planners, I use the Day Designer. This coordinating notebook is a great place for my various lists.

If you have kids who love mac and cheese, or if you’re like me and can quickly put away a box yourself, my fave Annie’s Organic Mac & Cheese is currently $5.00 off, whether you choose to subscribe and save or not. You can also add the classic Annie’s mac and cheese to a Prime Pantry box (which isn’t totally organic but has organic pasta) for $1.00 per box.

I ordered this set for my son (yes, I said son) today after watching for a price drop for a while. We recently went to a play place where they sold this set for much more, and he adored it. Perhaps I’m raising a master gardener.

I’ve been researching fairy lights to include in my holiday decorating this year, and these are part of the daily deals.

I’m a baker, so this has been on my wish list for a long time and the price just dropped:

That’s all for now. Happy shopping!

This post contains affiliate links.

Are Meal Delivery Services Worth It?

If you had asked me a few months ago if my family ever ate fish, or sweet potatoes, or even roasted veggies with any type of consistency or enthusiasm, I would have laughed.

My kids would choose macaroni and cheese for every meal if allowed, and my husband, Matt, would eat steak or pork. I am Team Pasta and Dairy. We do consume a large quantity of fruit and chicken, but while the other members of my household adore carrots and eat bags and bags of them weekly (weirdos), we admittedly don’t add many veggies into our diet.

So when a friend asked me if I wanted to try Hello Fresh, I hesitated. What would be the point, really, if we just trashed the meals? There was no way anyone under my roof would consume anything in the sample menu plan I perused.

Nevertheless, I had another friend who raved about her meal subscription services and I was intrigued, so I bit. (Literally! Haha!)

The first box arrived on the doorstep filled with ingredients for three meals, everything divided out and labeled so we knew what to grab when it was time to cook, and recipe cards were included. We began to prep for our first meal: pistachio-crusted chicken with quinoa and chopped cucumber–jalapeno salad. The only thing in that recipe title I knew my crew would eat was chicken, and with a pistachio coating, I wasn’t sure that would even fly (not literally).

I followed the step-by-step directions and was surprised at not only how quickly I threw dinner together, but also at the generous portion sizes. I was simultaneously making a pot of mac and cheese for my kids, but we had enough of the chicken and quinoa dinner for everyone.


And, shock of all shocks, every last one of us loved the meal (although I’m anti-jalapeno, so we omitted that ingredient for everyone but Matt). Last week, my daughter asked me if I could make that chicken again, which we tried three months ago.

My son likes to watch me chop tomatillos and squash. I don’t typically consume tomatillos and squash. Who knew such a thing was edible?

And so we continued to subscribe to Hello Fresh and also Blue Apron, skipping weeks when they didn’t suit us for whatever reason. Here’s why we’ve loved the boxes:

1. We were in a major food rut, and it wasn’t always a healthy one. Now, instead of plain old taco Tuesday, we have sesame beef tacos with quick-pickled veggies and spicy crema. Instead of tired steak and fries, we have steak with a mint chive dressing and veggie succotash. It’s like I’ve stepped into an episode of Chopped with some of these titles! We’re cooking with mirin and sesame oil and sweet potatoes and tomatillos, jasmine rice and polenta, and it is delicious.

2. Speaking of health, we are eating better in every way. My husband came home from the store today with a haul of veggies, fruit, couscous, quinoa, farro, fresh herbs, and fish (our kids NEVER ate fish before we tried this – and now we eat it at least once per week and love it). Although udon noodles may be my favorite thing discovered so far and I don’t know if they are super healthy or not.

3. As aforementioned, portion sizes are generous. They are meant for two people, but we usually have enough to feed our crew of four (the baby isn’t into these deliveries just yet). We sometimes stock extra protein to cook just to be sure we have enough for everyone, but that is the only way we have leftovers.

4. I hate meal planning. I hate plotting what to make, what ingredients I need, shopping for ingredients with three kids along for the ride, the entire thing. Meal planning for half of my week (we already have a “fend for yourself” or breakfast for dinner night once per week) is done by opening an app, choosing what looks best, and clicking it. Done-zo.

5. This one was really unexpected: we have saved money. We were eating at restaurants maybe twice per month, and have instead allocated that money to our subscription boxes. Our store trips are much less frequent because again, half of our dinners for the week are already planned for us, and now our purchases are much more streamlined. We have saved all of the recipe cards for meals we have liked and we buy the ingredients we need to recreate them. Because meal planning is now much simpler and fresher, we aren’t making mindless trips for fast food at the last minute or buying filler foods to snack on while we try to figure out what to eat.

6. We are cooking meals together and doing so quickly. Everything has been carefully planned and prepped for us, which saves a lot of time. Who doesn’t want more family time in their busy lives?

7. It’s easy to skip meals using the apps or to cancel altogether. And if I forget? The only downside is that I’ve spent money I didn’t plan on spending. I still receive food!

I’m still actually kind of shocked at how much I have appreciated these services. I didn’t expect for cod with a peach and corn salsa from a delivery box to be one of my favorite meals of the summer – especially considering we had fresh fish and seafood at the beach! – but it was!

Have you tried delivery services such as these? What did you think?

While this is not a sponsored post, I will link you to my referral code for Hello Fresh. It will give you a discount on your first box (under $20 for three meals for two!)

To try Hello Fresh: https://www.hellofresh.com/?c=RINGOJ&utm_source=raf-share&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=clipboard

Happy eating!

 

Striving For Simplicity

Simple living really appeals to me.

I like watching shows about people living in tiny homes. They have rid of most of their possessions and are choosing to dwell in a small space, now physically and financially free to pursue their dreams.

My favorite Instagram feeds feature beautiful spaces: uncluttered marble cabinets highlighting a vase of fresh flowers, steaming cups of coffee on a clear workspace, perfectly made beds with perfect children playing with their perfectly neat toys on the perfect rug below.

Yum! Courtesy of Foodiesfeed.com

I used to just assume anyone taking such photos would be carefully shoving their “piles of crap,” as my daughter likes to call my messes, out of the frame. And perhaps they are. But I’m sick of our own, um, crap piles.

In the past year in particular, beginning upon the birth of my third child, I’ve realized how deeply I’m tethered to my stuff and just how much of it I really have.

More specifically, I’ve realized how much my ownership has stopped me from enjoying life.

I follow a popular blogger called Momma’s Gone City, and last week she shared a photo of her infant – her youngest of her five children – napping alongside the family pup. Her caption simply read, “The best things in life aren’t complicated.”

It resonated with me. Unfortunately, I tend to complicate things just by being who I am. I’m a hoarder of photos, papers, digital files, baby clothes, anything that I think could hold some meaningful memory. And I’m missing some of the better parts of life because of it.

Instead of spending chunks of my days shuffling through stuff – washing clothes I don’t like, sorting papers I don’t need, organizing toys we don’t use, looking for that thing I lost among the piles – I want to enjoy more time with my family doing memorable things.

I want to:

  • Play Barbies with my daughters
  • Blow bubbles
  • Learn how to make macarons
  • Go for meaningless drives
  • Run through sprinklers
  • Make a shade garden
  • Plant rose bushes
  • Read a book
  • Write more often
  • Create memory books for my kids

These goals aren’t exactly lofty, but they do require elimination of what I’m currently using to fill my time. I began purging some of our belongings earlier in the year, and I already can breathe a little easier in my bid to take back the life stuff has been stealing from me. So far, I’ve:

  • Sold all the baby gear I no longer can use.
  • Sold most of the clothes my kids have outgrown (and am still working on selling and donating more).
  • Hosted a garage sale and joined in two more with friends and family. We rid ourselves of a lot of knick-knacks and larger household items we no longer needed (example: the multiple sets of dishes we had for nearly 14 years of marriage, all of which I hated, finally had to go).
  • Sorted through the stacks of magazines and catalogs I’ve hoarded (why do I even do that?). I used to only subscribe to one magazine, but I kept every issue. I now have zero subscriptions and have sent several bags to the recycling center.
  • Printed photos, framed them, and have started to organize the rest on my computer for online albums and storage.
  • Filed away papers I actually need, tossing the rest. (I used to keep every single drawing my kids made).

I can’t pretend I’m Marie Kondo over here – I can probably still pick up any item in my closet, tell you it doesn’t actually spark joy, yet decide I have to wear something, joy or not. I’ll keep working on that one.

But my spaces are becoming clearer, my laundry loads lighter, and my thoughts less filled with what to do with my possessions.

I’ll keep updating as I make my way through the mess. But for now, I have a Lego playdate with my girls.


This post contains an affiliate link. See it?

 

Dat Side Hustle, Tho

Ahh, the side hustle.

As much as I hate that term, I’m well acquainted with the art of the side gig, the extra work, whatever you’re doing for pay when you’re not at your 9-5. I come from a line of people working a variety of jobs at one time. My great uncle and grandfather each had full-time jobs and large families and simultaneously were market gardeners. My Dad has done the same. My grandmother grew flowers and operated as a florist and peddled her wares alongside my grandfather – and at age 87, she’s still at it, taking veggies and flowers to market and fulfilling orders for her long-time customers.

When I worked full-time, I also sold scrapbooking supplies through a company and hosted events for my customers to work on their albums. Additionally, I took sports photos for a local newspaper.

So when I see posts popping up from popular money-saving sites about the side hustle, I often click on them for inspiration. I’ve been left deflated most of the time. Suggestions range from opening a new bank account for a bonus – a one-time action – to opening my home on airbnb, something I don’t think any traveler would be interested in at the moment. Therefore, I’ll share with you some of the ways I’ve made extra money that are doable.

This is a stock photo. I don’t have man-hands.

First of all, I suggest you learn about shipping to maximize your earning potential. It isn’t difficult, just something I never really knew anything about until I bothered to learn. I bought a cheap scale on Amazon (scroll to the bottom for a link to the one I have – I’m a big fan) and found a chart that tells me how much it will cost to mail per ounce. I also familiarized myself with flat-rate boxes. It took a bit of trial and error, but now I think it is simple. Of course, you can also package your item and head to the post office for a quote, but I find it easier (and cheaper) to print my own labels at home. I usually hit the post office at the same time as a local elderly etsy seller, so I’m confident you can figure it out with a little googling.

  1. Amazon Selling. This is much easier than you might think. I recently took a magazine I had no use for, an architectural digest I perused while planning to build a home. I took a photo of the cover, listed the details on the website, and when it sold, Amazon sent me an email letting me know it was time to ship. Because it was a magazine, I shipped inexpensively via media mail and netted a decent profit for something I would have otherwise recycled.
  2. Ebay Selling. This may be something you’ve considered and wrote it off as too difficult. The app has been my favorite thing. Every Sunday, I locate something in my home I no longer want, snap a few pictures, and list on ebay. I might start with a search in the app for similar products and shipping prices. I might weigh my object on my scale to get an idea of what it will cost to ship. But the entire process takes minimal time, and by the next Sunday, if my item sells, I prepare it to ship the next day. Easy peasy.
  3. Instagram Selling. My sister and I both have resale “stores” on Instagram where we list our outgrown children’s clothes and adult clothing. We simply name our price for what we list and if someone wants it, they contact us. By networking with other shops doing the same thing, I’ve made several sales so far. I’ve also worked to build myself a good reputation by shipping quickly and by making sure the items are as described (much like on ebay). We invoice them through paypal (go to “send and request” and “create invoice” and enter your details there). When they pay, we ship, which is also handled through paypal. Because I’m cheap, I save my old packaging materials in a box and use them to ship, so I’m only out the cost of my packing tape.
  4. Garage Sales. As rudimentary as this sounds, if you have a lot of stuff to rid of, it can be worth the time it takes to commandeer one of these. My friend hosted a garage sale last month, and I joined. My sister is in the process of moving, so we hosted a garage sale together last weekend. Those sales not only netted me a bit of extra cash, but rid of items I had deemed no longer useful. Additionally, I had several large baby items, which my local charity shops won’t accept, and instead I was able to help out fellow moms looking for a good deal. If you have a sale with friends, it can be fun, too!
  5. Lionbridge or Leapforce. These companies are real and legit. I worked for Lionbridge until I was no longer able to meet the requirements thanks to a difficult pregnancy. They pay well and the work is somewhat entertaining, and all from home. All it takes is studying the requirements and testing into the program, and you work a minimum of hours per week. You can also earn bonuses for the quality of your work. Openings are listed on their respective websites. I remember reading that someone made “only” $800 per month through Lionbridge, and I thought of all the things I could buy here in rural USA with that amount. It was worth it for me.
  6. Ibotta. I downloaded ibotta onto my phone a year or two ago, but never really did anything with it. But a few months ago, I hit Target pretty hard and opened the app. I simply chose the items I was interested in buying, then took a photo of my receipt when I was finished and submitted it. I got a message back saying it was received, and there was money in my account. Even though I primarily shop at Aldi, I have earned over $100 this year with almost zero effort. You get $10 just to sign up! Here is my link: https://ibotta.com/r/nkqvbau
  7. Ebates. This app (or website) is even easier than Ibotta. Let’s say I want to buy something at Old Navy. I just open Ebates and click on the Old Navy icon and shop as usual. When I’ve placed my order, I’ll receive cash back in my account. I especially like to do this with Kohl’s when they already have 30% off and free shipping. I often forget I have this link, and I don’t do a ton of online shopping anymore. However, I’ve still made $30 this year from items I would have purchased anyway. Sign up through my link: https://www.ebates.com/r/RINGOJ8?eeid=28187
  8. The part-time gig. I’ve worked as a sports photographer for about 12 years now in a part-time, freelance capacity. I currently work for a television station, and the position also allows me to stay home with my babies. But this spring, I asked a local restaurant if they ever hired someone for a night or two per week. I had never worked as a server before, but I was interested in netting a bit of extra cash to send my husband back to finish his grad degree, as he only lacks a class or two. Anyway, they said yes, and asked me to start the next day. I’m only filling in there every now and then at this point, but it was a rewarding (although tough!) way to make an extra buck.

Those are the top eight ways I’ve added some extra cash to my family’s budget while I’m a stay-at-home mom of three. My middle daughter heads to school this fall and I have a few more ideas in the works, so stay tuned!

What have you done to add to your income?

Here’s the scale I own and love:

Prime Day

For the past several months, my husband and I have done our best to refrain from spending money. Instead, we’ve been doing our best to rid of unnecessary belongings and we’ve picked up some side work (but more on that later).

Enter Prime Day.

We are Amazon Prime subscribers. We have watched a few series through Amazon video streaming (Justified!) and enjoy Kindle services, and of course the two-day shipping. I have a long Amazon wish list, as do my children and my husband. But since I’m trying to save and not spend, I’ll stick to browsing for items I use regularly or that I’ve been waiting for a good deal to buy.

Here’s what I’m pondering:

Seagate External Hard Drives, because I have a Mac and a PC and only one hard drive, and that’s no bueno:

Papermate Inkjoy Gel Pens, because these are my jam and my kids won’t stop stealing mine: 

Prime Pantry Items. My introversion and love for a deal at my doorstep could really be satisfied if I take advantage of the $10 off a $60 pantry purchase. I love this Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day soap (although this link isn’t for Prime Pantry soap – it won’t let me share that for some reason – you should check out Prime Pantry if you haven’t).

Baby Cage, because my baby fell and bloodied his lip right next to me while I tried to write this. 

I think that’s all I’ll consider for today, although I would really like this item from my wish list, even though it’s not a prime deal today:

What have you bought or what will you buy on Prime Day?

*Update: I actually bought a desktop fan with USB port for my husband for work, a book for my nephew, and an American Girl mini Addy doll and book for my daughter for her birthday. Now I’ll try to abstain from Amazon purchasing for a while.

 

To Fielder Luke, On His First Birthday

Dear Fielder,

I can write now because I snuck you into your own bed, but I know you will not stay there for long. We just brought in the first moments of your first birthday doing what we do best: cuddling.

My sweet son, I don’t know where the year went, but I do know how we spent it, and we spent it well. You have rarely left my side.

Your first day in the world was one of the few you didn’t spend with me. After your tumultuous birth, your Daddy quickly brought you into my line of sight. I sobbed and declared you to be perfect. Then I was whisked into surgery and spent the next twenty-four hours unconscious. I didn’t witness your sisters meeting you. I’m not actually sure if I nursed you for the first time or if you received donor breastmilk for your first feeding. I heard tales from the nurses of how you charmed them despite coating one with your first poop, and how family and friends were happy to finally meet you. Oddly enough, knowing I missed your first day doesn’t make me very sad, because I was so grateful you were finally here. My mission had been accomplished.

We spent a lot of the summer with you napping on my chest. We flew through three seasons of Fixer Upper, we let the dishes pile up, we let the sisters trash their rooms with dress up clothes and dolls. Daddy would come home from work and steal you briefly, but Mama was your person.

In the fall, I had to give you up for a few hours per week to do my job. You became acquainted with Grandma and Gramps, but as soon as I came home, back to my arms you went, greeting me with your dimpled smile that melts me. We made it through football season and picking up sister from school every day. The hour trip always interrupted your nap. Almost nothing made you cranky, except for missing a nap. You cried for the entire journey every school day for three months, but you always sighed and fell asleep in my arms when we arrived home.

We snuggled our way through the winter that wasn’t really wintery. You graduated from the bassinet but we couldn’t bear to kick you out of our room, so you started sleeping in the Pack & Play at the foot of our bed. You slept there briefly, at least. You almost always ended up in mama’s arms through the night, thanks to your Owlet sock that monitored your vital signs and reduced our worry.

We took your first road trip in the spring, and you were happy just to be with us. You started accompanying me on work assignments, nestled in your baby carrier on my chest as I tried to shoot sports photos around your noggin. I cooked meals with you on my hip, I rocked with you in my lap, and I tried to keep your sisters from mauling you when you did venture away from me.

I’m still in awe of how perfect you were on our long drive to the beach to kick off this summer. I recall you crying once on the drive down, when your Daddy was stopped by a Mississippi state trooper (Dad failed to make a complete stop at a stop sign). Your cry came at an opportune time. The trooper was speaking to your Dad about his infraction, but upon hearing you the trooper understood the reason for it, apologized for waking the baby, and wished us well. On the twelve-hour drive home, we never stopped because you demanded it, but because we knew you probably needed to eat and be changed. You spent the week at the beach in my lap (of course) under our umbrella, watching the ocean between snoozes. We were the only pale people to leave the beach still pale, but it was perfect.

You are affectionate, giggly, fun, and always happy. You just started to walk this week after observing your cousin running. The mood at our house is much more light-hearted with your giant smile and easy-going personality.

Fielder, you arrived in my life at a time when I needed to stop and consider everything around me that was good, and you made it easier to do that. You forced me to stop my busyness for busyness’ sake and I learned to let things go that didn’t matter. I had never really been late to pay a bill or forgotten to do something major on my list until this year. I had never ignored piles of papers for months at a time and let the laundry accumulate so much that I hid it in the bathtub – not that I’m super proud of these things – but the world kept turning anyhow, all while we were happily joined at the hip. I knew from experience that these baby days were fleeting. We were focused on our family time, and I don’t regret that.

When I desperately wanted to conceive a child, I used to dream about a baby boy with blue eyes and dark hair. I would wake, so sad to realize it was only a dream. Your dark hair quickly faded to blonde, but you are the embodiment of my dreams. You are the missing piece we didn’t know was missing. Thanks for one of the best years of our lives.