Monthly Archives: August 2013

Death by Grape Soda

We went to bed early on our twelfth anniversary.

I was battered and bruised from the marathon of having a baby three days prior, and Josh and I were both exhausted.  We did have steak and good ice cream that evening, but when our heads hit the pillows, we promptly slept.  (For a few minutes anyway, until the baby woke up hungry again.)

Every year is an adventure, but I have a lovely marriage and a wonderful husband.  I wouldn’t trade a bit of it.

So it came as a shock to him when I nearly killed my husband in the kitchen this past week.

That sounds like something from the boardgame Clue.  “Mommy did it, in the kitchen, with a bottle of grape soda…”

I’m learning the benefits of fermenting different types of foods.  Many foods like wheat, dairy, and lots of veggies, are much more healthy and their vitamins more accessible if you give certain enzymes a chance to break down the less digestible stuff before you get to them.  Currently, I’ve got sauerkraut souring on the laundry room shelf, kombucha (a healthy tea drink) condensing on the top of the fridge, sourdough starter sleeping inside the fridge, and a ginger bug going great guns in a jar on the counter.

The ginger bug is used to make healthy homemade soda.  It’s not really an insect; just a jar of sugar water and chopped up ginger.  Enzymes from the ginger break down the sugar and release carbon dioxide.  A mix with some of this bubbly water and some juice or tea will result in a fizzy refreshing beverage.

At least in theory.

I started my jar of ginger water over a week ago and finally had it bubbling and ready.  I’m not one for measuring more than I have to, so I dumped a bunch of the liquid into a glass bottle with some grape juice and plugged it tight.  Then I left it on the counter to let the good little bacteria (bacterias? bacteriae?) eat the sugar and make lots of fizz.

Which they did.

About 9:33 p.m., according to the police report (just kidding, ha…) my husband was sitting on a kid chair in the corner of the kitchen, scrolling through the news on his handy little smart phone.  I was sweeping up the dining room and silently grumbling about the lack of time in a measly 24 hour day.  The boys were in bed; the baby was half-asleep in the living room waiting for his bedtime snack from mommy.  All was quiet.

Suddenly, a shotgun blast reverberated through the house.  Yikes!  I peeked around the corner into the kitchen.  Josh had jumped up and was feeling all over his shirt for holes.  Glass was everywhere.  Everywhere.  Purple grape blood dripped off the counter and oozed from a growing puddle toward nomansland under the fridge.  Miraculously, he hadn’t been touched by any glass shards, though they had landed all around him.  We both took a deep breath and thanked God it was only a big mess.  I shoved my bare feet into some shoes and we started sopping up the fizzy purple puddles, sweeping glass splinters, wiping walls, the fridge, the counters and all the appliances on them…  So much for going to bed early.


As I bent over the mop, late into that night, I had time to reflect on my marriage.  Those glass bits were sharp, unexpected, and quick.  Just a few minutes before the explosion, he had been leaning against the counter inches from the pressurized bottle.  I could have lost my husband in a moment.  I suppose it’s more likely he would gotten bad scratches all over his face, maybe lost an eye or gotten a literal close shave.  But it did make me appreciate the life of my husband.  I could have been widowed at age 31, with a newly-minted fifth child and a mortgage, and would suddenly have been very much alone.

One third of my life has been spent married, but I can’t imagine living without him now.

Whom else could I argue with over finances and yet he’d still want me to buy groceries with his paycheck the next day?

Who else would critique my cooking in the morning and still expect a nice dinner at night?

Whom else could I ask if these pants make me look fat?

Who else could take up three quarters of the bed most nights and yet I can’t sleep without him there?

Who else could watch me go through childbirth five times (I don’t make it look pretty) and kiss me joyfully after each birth?

Who else can occasionally leave me speechless in anger and yet still make me blush and forget my words like a giddy schoolgirl when he walks into the room?

Whom else could I blame for my kids’ tendencies and hair color?  (Hint: not their mother… 🙂 )

Who else will offer to order a pizza while I’m too busy to make dinner because I’m researching organic food?

Who else could smack the mosquito on my head and expect a thank you?

Who else knows what I’m thinking by the twitch of my mouth?

Who else could still want to hug me after being nagged for most of the day?

Who else could find me beautiful through every season, every gained curve from pregnancy and wrinkle from toddlerhood and sag from preschool and white hair from the elementary years?

Who else would show me that the place of submission is a place of rest rather than restlessness?

Who else can say that everything legally in his name is for me to freely use?

Who else will keep me up late at night just to eat ice cream and research wheelchair sports together?

My marriage isn’t perfect.  It’s real.  And I don’t always appreciate it until it is shaken.  For instance, like a bottle of grape soda.

Billy Graham’s wife, the late Ruth Graham, said, “A good marriage is simply the union of two good forgivers.”

The next morning, he caught me in the kitchen by the coffee maker.

“I’m sorry I almost killed you with my ginger bug.”  I murmured into his shirt as I hugged him.

“It’s OK; it didn’t work.”  He smiled down at me.  “I’ll buy you a new bottle.”

grape soda

Word of advice – keep your marriage free of fermentation.  Hope the next dozen years are as great an adventure as the first.



The Quiet Messenger in Aisle Four

(Disclaimer: I started this post the day before I had a baby, so all references to my pregnancy are purely intentional, but about 10 days late.  I’ve been busy…)

The grocery store cart looked like a spaceship.  It had seats for two drivers, and jet packs painted on the back plastic.

On land and laminate tile, however, spaceships are ungainly.  It is hard to brake quickly when the jets are powered by a five year old behind and a seven year old in front.  We’ve scraped past many an end cap as we tried to clear the corners of aisles without taking up the whole intergalactic space.

I’ve utilized these spaceships on a regular basis.  Joe, the grandfatherly man in a baseball cap, calls a cheerful hello from behind the deli counter as we scrape obtrusively past.  The lady in the bakery smiles appreciatively as the boys ooh and ahh over the decorated cakes on display.  But other customers are often less ecstatic about sharing the orbit around the produce section.  An older gentleman in spotless white shoes purses his lips and stares as one child pushes up on the hanging scale while another gingerly weighs the sack of grapes.  They squabble; a lone grape escapes the gravitational pull of the rest of the bunch and rolls into outer darkness below the produce display.

The five year old smacks at an overgrown watermelon and hollers loudly, “Is the baby in your tummy as big as this?”  Another customer glances over with a raised eyebrow, sizing me up along with the unlicensed spaceship drivers.  The look speaks loudly.  I’m distracted for a moment, (am I as big around as that watermelon?!?) and the cart crashes into the canning jar display.  Glass rattles.  I hiss at the little spaceship crasher, “No pushing!”  He looks crestfallen.  “I beeped when it backed up” he mumbles, justifying himself under DOT safety rules for large vehicles.  As if those should apply in space.

I grab a piece of ginger and stuff it in a plastic bag.  “Don’t tie it!”  The seven year old cries out in distress.  I look up askance.  He reveals a fistful of twist ties.  “I’ll tie it closed!”  I hold the bag while he tries for a solid minute or maybe a long day on a different planet to twist the wire around the flimsy plastic.  The five year old is smacking produce again; an eggplant tumbles to the floor.  The two drivers are impatient in neutral; the four year old gets on his knees in the cart to rock the ship loose from its holding pattern, the two year old grabs his wheel to rock the older brother’s sense of possession.  He succeeds.  I hiss another round of orders (“Stop rocking!  Sit!  Be quiet!  Pick up the eggplant!  Don’t pick your nose!).  I bend to grab the eggplant.  A contraction squeezes my midsection.  It feels like I am on the rocket myself, leaving my stomach several hundred feet behind.  Finally it catches up.  I breathe in deep, knowing from experience this will probably be the norm for the next two weeks until my due date.

The oldest two, blissfully naive to the reasons for my dawdling, are ahead of us now, staring at the lobster tank.  “That one looks like Henry!”  One teases.  Henry swings at him with a venomous four year old fist as our spaceship glides past.  “Boys!”  I holler across the aisle.  They look over, but not at me.  “Oooh, ice!”  exclaims the five year old when he notices the cold display holding packages of shrimp.  He stuffs a piece of ice in his mouth and the others follow suit.  They thoughtfully hand a chunk to the two year old on the far side of the cart.  My back is turned until I hear another customer address my cart full.  “That’s dirty, kids.  Don’t eat that!”  I turn to see her glance reprovingly at me.  “More!”  whines Ben, the two year old.  “More!”

Of course no one else I know has ever questioned their own sanity in such a moment.  What I’m doing is purposeful, powerful – this bearing and raising of children, spastic little olive plants around my sticky table, this training them in the real world everyday to be bold-hearted warriors for grace and grass-fed beef, this twenty-four hour parenting, homeschool-and-home-ec, never missing their naptime or a teachable moment type of heroine-ism I seek to aspire to – but it doesn’t feel powerful at the moment.

It’s too messy to be heroic.  Too earthly to be graceful.  Too disheveled to be purposeful.

I’m tired, I’m sore, I forgot my list, my kids aren’t angels, all these strangers think I’m either a teenage mom because  I left my heels and makeup at home (like I do everyday), or a poor hapless woman who’s never heard of birth control and is obviously the reason they have to pay taxes for welfare.  And now my kids are gonna be sick from bad ice and I will probably spend too much money and feel like a bad wife on top of being a bad mom and maybe I should just buy a package of wonderbread and a big bottle of soda and let the kids drown my misery in high fructose corn syrup comas for the afternoon. “It’s just too hard and I don’t get how to do this!”  I whine to the Maker of the Universe.

There was this one time in the Bible, when Elijah, the infamous and hairy prophet, had a similar whiny moment.  Elijah had been the pivotal character in a recent showdown of Biblical proportions.  At his word, God had sent fire before an audience of the king and every citizen of Israel.  At his word and perhaps even his own hand, all the fake and evil prophets had been killed.  At his word, rain had finally come to the land after three long years of drought.  He’d felt like a hero.  Finally, the year of the prophet was coming to Israel.  No more eating crow leftovers.  No more hiding in fear of his life.  No more obscurity.  About time.

Except it didn’t work out that way.

He’d thought people would throw him a parade for saving them from the evil prophets’ control.  He’d thought they’d give him a medal for ending the drought.  But all the notice he got was a middle aged woman turning up her nose at his body odor when he got too close to her bagel stand.  That and a text message from the godless queen of Israel warning him she planned to kill him for his heroic antics.  Elijah was fed up.  Obviously no one would even notice if he just left.  He headed out to the desert.  Way out.

“You guys want cookies?” I call to my minions.  They swarm around the free cookie box at the store, vying to find the one with the fewest crumbs and no broken edges.  They hand one to the two year old, who takes a bite and tries to grab the four year old’s cookie instead.  “Can I have his cookie since he doesn’t want it?”  The five year old asks, simultaneously swiping the two year old’s cookie from his chubby fingers and causing an immediate and loud reaction.  I shush and wipe crumbs off drooling lips.  The spaceship glides like a graceful dinosaur over my toes.  “Ugh,” I groan in pain.  “This motherhood-hero thing isn’t working for me today.”

Standing on the steep side of the mountain, Elijah felt the ground shake.  He saw chunks of the mountain crumble.  He saw the sky ripped by lightning.  He covered his ears at the booming thunder.  Trees, dust, and rocks around him were whipped into a terrifying whirlwind.  Not a pebble would touch the prophet while God still had plans for his life.  But Elijah shrank in terror into a cave in the rocks, not daring to feel the strength of his Keeper swirling around him.

But the terrifying storm must have dropped the air pressure and cleared his ears.  He blinked in the brightness as the clouds parted and the rain-drenched rocks sparkled.  Suddenly, Elijah could hear the great silence after the roaring wind passed.  In the stillness, there was a gentle whisper, almost musical.  It wasn’t what he expected after the storm.  It was a hopeful, clean feeling.  Elijah felt his insignificance.  But now it was a good smallness.  His God had plans.  It was enough.

spaceship cart

I rev the engines of my laden spaceship and careen into the canned goods aisle.  A sprightly woman looks up with a raised eyebrow as I barrel around the corner, but she doesn’t frown.  She stops stocking shelves and turns.  Her gaze softens as she takes in my spacey crew and round tummy.  A slight smile tugs the corner of her mouth and deepens the laugh lines around her eyes.  “Oh, Momma, you are blessed.”  She murmurs with a familiar pat on my shoulder.  “I had eight total, five boys.”  She sighs with satisfaction.  “We had a wedding over the weekend; all of them standing up there, so tall in their suits…”  She looks down at my children.  “It’s worth it, Momma.  You are doing a great thing.  Keep on.”

I smile, thank her, and jet off down the aisle after a little awol astronaut.  We continue our trek into the outer regions of the store, but I feel much lighter as we drive.  Almost weightless.

Maybe it hasn’t turned out to be the “year of the mommy” and I will mother on in obscurity and sleeplessness.

But the heaviness of the world’s care is off my shoulders.

Even with some other queen breathing disapproval down my back, even without government approval or support, even without public understanding, even without knowing I was doing this whole mother thing right, even with the difficult, thankless days, I will continue.

The strength of God’s power will swirl around me and sometimes I know I will feel buffeted by the winds, but the quietness of His purpose will always come.  He is not finished yet.

“You are doing a great thing, Momma.  Keep on.”

Beautiful Feet


I did it again.

I had a baby.

It didn’t go as I planned it, surprise.  (Pfft, what does?)  I wasn’t due for another two or three weeks, depending on how we measured.  First, they wanted to deliver him by c-section.  I had one the last time, to get Ben out. A c-section protected his life; I have no regrets.  Plus, I didn’t have to go through labor.  Yes, that was nice.  But our local hospital wanted to automatically repeat that surgery this time.  I didn’t; the recovery time is so much harder.  Then there  were other concerns.  First, I had placenta previa.  There was simply no natural escape if the exit was blocked, so surgery would be the only way out.  But prayer can move previas.  And it did.  Still, there were blood vessels around the opening.  Ultrasound couldn’t tell if they were coming from the placenta (his blood), or mine (like a varicose vein, but on the inside.)  If they broke during labor, and were his rather than mine, he could lose a lot of blood dangerously fast.  So even though the midwife and doctor were willing to let me try for a natural birth, several factors were stacked against it.  We finally opted for an induced labor on the operating room table with doctors standing by if an emergency c-section became necessary.  Birth was scheduled for August 17th.

Almost there

Yesterday was August 7th.  I rolled over around 4:30 a.m. and felt a gush of fluid.  Trying to process through the fog of nightbrain, I realized I’d better make sure it wasn’t blood.  That would mean an intense run to the ER… and a mess on my nice white sheets.  (Of course, you’d think I would be wiser than to have white sheets on my bed in the last weeks of pregnancy.  But I’m not.)  It was clear fluid, and it didn’t stop.  That narrowed the possible sources.  I lay down, waiting for contractions to start before waking up a husband or a doctor.  Nothing happened except that I couldn’t sleep any more.

I finally called my midwife around 7.  She said the baby would be born that day.  Whoa.  I packed a bag quickly, woke my husband, called grandma, and went to the doctor’s office to get checked out.  I haven’t been home since.  Yup.  Water broke.  If contractions didn’t start soon on their own, she wanted to get them going at the hospital.  She sent me straight there.

It felt odd to be in a delivery room while I wasn’t in labor.  They started an IV around 9 a.m. so the synthetic hormones would kickstart my own.  My husband appeared, heavy with a head cold.  Great timing.  At least he remembered to bring a box of good tissues.  (It has always surprised me that hospitals – where you often need lots of tissues – invest in such terrible ones.)  We found out that our friends, expecting their fifth child as well, were in the room next door.   An unofficial race was on.  Would their fifth girl be born before our fifth boy?

I’ve never really experienced back labor before.  Apparently, the baby had flipped around a bit since the day before, and it looked like he might try to pop out sunny side up.  As the contractions grew more intense, I felt him, hard pressure against the small of my back.  Ugh.  I tried to stand and lean forward to get him to turn around.  My midwife was prepping the area in preparation for me to start pushing when we heard the first cry from next door.  Shoot.  They beat me.  This felt like an uphill battle; as if my body was fighting against the whole process.  And I didn’t feel quite ready to push.  Still, the nurse and the midwife asked me to try.  Maybe they could get him to twist just a bit more if I did…

I pushed for about 40 minutes.  It seemed so long; I couldn’t get in a good position.  They wanted me lying down more; I felt like I wanted to be more upright.  It felt like his head was stuck in there; I couldn’t move it.  But finally, at the end, he was moving.  I must have scared all the neighbors with my grunting; but I didn’t really care what they thought at that point.  Not much else matters when you’re trying to push a baby out.  (I did wonder momentarily – if those blood vessels were my vericose veins, and I popped them, would they just go away?  Who wants those, after all?)

Finally.  Finally!  He made his blessed appearance.

Finlay, which means “fair haired warrior”, came out into the big world.  He didn’t have much hair; he certainly didn’t look very warrior-like.  All 7 pounds and 20 inches of him looked small and vulnerable.  And his head was lumpy where it got hung up along the way.  But he was out.  New life.  The hard miracle.  I was relieved.

Meeting each other on this side of the skin
Meeting each other on this side of the skin

He had his first visitors soon; his four brothers, Grandma and Grampy.  The two year old looked in wonder.  “My baby” he said.  “I am a big boy; he is my baby.”  That’s right, kid.  Own it.  It was nice to see them all together.  I lay in tired achiness, carried along by satisfied exhaustion and the surge of hormones after my morning marathon.

It wasn’t till much later, alone with the baby at last, that emotions really hit.  In the twilight stillness of the chaotic day, I unwrapped him from his swaddles.  Last I’d seen all of him, we were both covered in sweat and vernix.  Now, clean, dry, calm, he gazed at me.  His little toes stretched long when I touched them.


I started to  weep.  My last baby hadn’t felt it when I tickled his feet.  They didn’t respond to my touch.  And it was OK then; God made him different, and has different plans and purpose for him.  I know that.  I haven’t felt the agony of his differences in a long time.  But now, touching the sensitive toes of his little brother, it overwhelmed me.  This little newborn, not ten hours old, lighter than a jug of milk, had stronger feet than his big brother.  My two year old doesn’t know it.  My newborn certainly doesn’t know it.

And I don’t know where either of their feet will take them.  Will they take the high road?  Will their feet carry them to mischief?  Will they run from temptations, or along the straight and narrow?  I don’t know.  No matter my best intentions, I can’t plan their lives.

Sometimes it’s better that way.

Sometimes the most beautiful feet can’t even feel the ground beneath them; sometimes the tiniest ones leave the biggest footprints.

Sometimes your water breaks before you’re ready for labor.

Sometimes life happens when you don’t plan it.

The hard miracle.

Welcome to the world, Finlay.

Five guys
Five guys

Lord of the Flies

I was cleaning cold spaghetti worms off the floor after supper.  The boys had gone out to ride tricycles in the summer dusk.  It had been raining, but rays of sunset pierced through a few less resistant clouds. Distant thunder rumbled far on the horizon.

A cold pea gleefully skittered away from my broom.  I was debating whether to use up tupperware and fridge space on a half serving of spaghetti and meatballs when the dryer beeped that it was done.  The sound reminded me that I had towels on the clothesline.  Thunder rumbled again, closer now.  The towels had been out there twenty four hours and a solid rainstorm already.  I really couldn’t procrastinate bringing them in any longer; the neighbors would question my understanding of local weather.  That wouldn’t do.

I left the noodles to congeal on the counter and hurried out to the deck.  The five year old was standing there, gazing toward the city skyline and thunderclouds growing above it.


“Kinda pretty, huh?” I said, acknowledging his appreciation for the evening sky before us.  The clothesline hinges squeaked as I hauled damp towels toward me.    Somebody’s flip flops had been flung at the edge of the deck.  They were muddy.  I ignored them and gathered the wet towels into a pile.  The five year old was still just staring.

“Mom, can you see the flies?”  He asked, pointing just above the trees.  I bent down and squinted like an old woman.  Flies?  So what?  I thought, but tried to see what could so hold his attention.  There was a cluster of them, maybe half a dozen, black against the light gray clouds.  They moved fast, up down, around, maybe backwards, I couldn’t and didn’t bother to tell.  But he could.  “They’re dancing, Mom.  Dancing for God.”

I stared, now at my son rather than the waltzing bugs.  Of course they were.  All creation reveals the majesty of God… Every creature sings His praise.  Even these, the descendants of maggots who likely began in my garbage can, eating our leftover spaghetti, were right there to remind me of this. They were glorifying our Maker.  They were thanking Him in advance for the leftovers I was grumbling about chucking.  They couldn’t talk; they didn’t think; they would likely be dead by tomorrow.  But they praised God in their free little helter-skelter buzzing way.  And my son knew it.

Thunder rumbled once more.  I looked up at the towering clouds and hugged my young son against my side.  He pushed away from the wet towels I’d smushed into his face, but I hardly noticed.  Sometimes I get distracted, see, by the majesty of my Maker.  He deserves my praise.  Humbly, I apologized for not giving it more often.  It’s not comfortable to be put to shame by my own offspring.

Or a housefly.

Don’t let it happen to you.