How NOT to make my mom’s holiday fudge

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Merry day after Christmas. It’s going to take me a good week or two to scrape the Christmas off my floors,

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but it was a truly special holiday for so many reasons, the main being that we are all here together, happy and healthy.

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And we all survived the fudge making debacle of 2018.

 

Coming Home: How not to make my mother’s mouthwatering holiday fudge

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Brought to you by Carnation evaporated milk, which is NOT Carnation sweetened condensed milk, even though they basically come in the exact same packaging.

First, go to Las Vegas for three or four days in the middle of December, just long enough to get good and sleep-deprived so that when you return home you are utterly exhausted and unprepared for Christmas, which you realize is in, like, 24 hours.

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Then, after falling asleep putting the kids to bed at 7 p.m., wake up the next morning determined to give everyone you’ve ever encountered in your life a container of homemade fudge, because that’s what your mom would do.

Now make a list:

  • 8 bags of chocolate chips
  • 1 (or probably 2) giant bags of sugar
  • Vanilla
  • 4 pounds of butter (you heard me)
  • 4 cans of evaporated milk

After waking up at 5:30 a.m. to get you and the kids out the door for the day, make sure you use your allotted lunch time to take your baby to a doctor’s appointment that lasts a good two hours and ends with a screaming child. Only then will you be in desperate need of a potty break and the perfect amount of discombobulated and starving to really tackle the grocery store and that list that didn’t include a giant Red Bull, a bag of M&M’s and Cool Ranch Doritos, but dang it, you have baking to do.

And bake you shall, but don’t start until around 9:30 p.m. when the baby is sleeping and the toddler will likely only emerge from her room three or four more times, the last just in time to witness you dumping an entire can of rotten evaporated milk across the kitchen and onto your Crocs as you attempt to check the expiration date. (And yes, wear Crocs because it’s what chefs wear and now you know why.)

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Because, to do this right, you should buy sweetened condensed milk and pour it in the bowl with four and a half cups of sugar before realizing that you bought four cans of the wrong kind of milk.

Then, you should try to use it anyway and burn the sugar to the bottom of the pan before abandoning that idea and digging through your kitchen cabinets for a can of the right kind of milk, which you will find and wonder about when it pours out in chunks into another four and a half cups of sugar.

Then, and only then, should you call your mother, who will have three extra cans. Send your husband over there. While he’s gone, break into the emergency basement wine and the bag of Doritos and call your sister.

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And when your husband returns, he should return with the milk, two new Christmas outfits for the grandkids, leftovers and a partridge in a pear tree. Kiss him and tell him he’s the best husband in the world, and then get into the longest story in the world while you gather your ingredients, measure, mix and pour, so that by 11 p.m. your fudge pans are cooling and he’s elbow-deep in a sink full of dishes and he doesn’t even know what hit him.

Make sure to save him a piece or two before delivering the fudge to co-workers, daycare providers and that lady who once told you about the toilet paper sticking out the back of your skirt.

And when they say, “You shouldn’t have,” make sure to reply, “Oh, it was nothing! Such a simple recipe.”

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Click here for the real, full fudge recipe. If you’re not me, it’s so easy and delicious.

 

Like a spider mother

Rosie and Me

Coming Home: Not that different from a spider mom

On a long, late night drive last week, I stumbled upon a radio program that aims to explore the topic of love and how it unfolds, beats, bends and connects us.

It’s a big task, telling love’s story. I wasn’t convinced I was up for a bunch of sappy romances, if that’s how it was going to roll out, but I put in a lot of road time and good radio has the potential to save my sanity, so I gave it a try.

How did they kick it off? With a story about a common spider — the kind that is likely spinning a web in my basement right now — that spends the majority of her lifespan spinning an unexceptional but practical web in which to lay her sack of eggs that will hatch and feed on another set of eggs she’s laid specifically for that purpose. And when they’ve run out of other options for nourishment in the web, the mother taps on her silk, summoning her babies, and then, well, I didn’t really see this one coming… They eat her.

And in that moment, driving 65 mph down the highway after a late night of work and a long and challenging week with my children, I cried.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Jessie Veeder’s Coming Home columns

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Last night, I was leaving my mom and dad’s house when I remembered I needed to make a dish to bring to a party I had the next evening. I forgot about it, so I didn’t have any ingredients for the promised festive appetizer, and a trip to the grocery store with two kids is a good three-hour extravaganza that I didn’t have time for the next day.

I swore.

And my mom went to her freezer and gathered all the ingredients I needed for a dip and she sent me on my way, just another small act in a lifetime of having a mother who would just as easily give me her life as she does her frozen bread bowl.

It sounds silly saying it that way, too trite for the magnitude of the sum of all of motherhood’s parts, but in that moment, driving down the highway with the vision of that spider’s sacrifice, it felt like I was allowed to feel the true weight of my children on my body.

Your heart forever walking around in the world? Yes. We’ve all heard that one. But this spider’s story resonated more with me.

Piece by piece by piece, we give — our time, our milk, our lessons, our worry, our words, our sleep, our hopes, our songs, our bodies, our space, our home. Our freezer bread.

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And it may not be a big, grand finale gesture like our sister in the web weaves, but if she could see beyond where she sits in the corner with the dust and her life’s mission — if she could see you up there at 3 a.m. laying on the hardwood floor outside your toddler’s bedroom door, because it’s the only way she’ll quiet down now — she would nod her spider head and admit we’re not that different.

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Click here to listen to the spider episode, which is the introduction to the great podcast “This is Love.” I recommend it for heartwarming and unconventional stories about what it means to love

Do you have a favorite podcast? I want to hear it! Seriously,  a good podcast saves my sanity!

And the sparkle of childhood followed us home…

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The light of childhood reminds us to embrace life
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It’s no secret there are things in this life that are ruined by adulthood.

I remember thinking this as a kid when I was jumping into the cold water of Lake Sakakawea on a hot summer day. The water couldn’t be too cold. The sky too gray. The wind too wild. None of those elements existed to me at 7 or 8 because there was the water and I needed to swim. And so I did. And when I emerged and looked over at my parents visiting with friends on dry land, I wondered how anyone could be so close to a lake and keep their hair dry.

When does it shift in us? When does that water become too cold? The sky too gray? The wind too wild? When do we decide that in order to have fun, the sun must be shining in the most optimal way?

I wondered this again as I watched my 3-year-old daughter put her nose down to the freshly fallen snow, stick her tongue out and lick it up. I laughed as her little sister mimicked her, sitting up to look at me with pink cheeks and a kiss of frosting on her lips, and I remembered then how fresh snow tasted, although it hadn’t hit my lips for years.

And neither had an icicle, even though every time I see one hanging sharp and crystal clear off the eaves of a house, I think about pulling it down and having a taste. But I never do it.

At least I hadn’t for years, until I became a mother, and then slowly, the magic of the world that seemed to have faded out to dull tones of beiges and grays started to glimmer and pop and shine again in the little fluffs of light and sparkle that follow in my daughters’ wakes.

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Last weekend, I wrestled my girls into their snowsuits and loaded them up in the pickup for a drive out into the pastures of our place, determined to get our Christmas tree cut, in the house, thawed out and decorated before the weekend was over. I was on a deadline. My husband was on a deadline.

But that morning, we stepped out into the bright sunshine after days of fog to find our whole world sparkling. We couldn’t make out a cedar tree from an oak tree in the hills because of the glare, so we got out and walked into the hills to take a closer look, to lift Edie on her daddy’s shoulders, to let Rosie eat snow. To come up for air.

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And when we were trying to find a way to get us all back to the pickup with a tree just a little too big for the space, looking down at a steep icy slope of a hill, I think it was the 8-year-old version of me that whispered, “Let Edie ride on its branches, like a sled! Her daddy will pull her down!”

And so that’s what we did. We stepped off the shore and let the fluffy, glimmering light of childhood follow us home.

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If I’m Being Honest: A Christmas Letter

Coming Home: An honest Christmas letter from my family to yours
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It’s Christmas card season. And while the World Wide Web might make the whole concept a little obsolete these days, I’m still camp Christmas card.

All my friends and family are getting the photo, because we can fake it in the photo.

A Christmas letter? Well, I’m afraid it would read something like this:

Warm winter greetings from the Scofields,

And when I say warm, I don’t mean like the stream of pee that baby Rosie just showered me in right before I plopped her in the tub next to the threenager who didn’t appreciate the “scatter-style poop” Rosie surprised us all with. Not familiar with the term? Come over tomorrow night at bath time because there’s a 90 percent chance it will happen again tomorrow, and so on and so forth, because this is our life now.

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But really, it’s been such a blessing watching our daughters reach and conquer new milestones this year. I think Rosie’s now surpassed some sort of child record of how much Play-Doh a small child can consume and how many stairs she can climb before her parents notice. Her sister Edie changes her outfit 37 to 50 times a day, and survives solely on buttered toast, so we’re thinking that has to be some sort of record, too. We’re so over-the-moon excited to be sharing a home with baby geniuses.

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In other news, one of our family members taught baby Rosie to wink at Thanksgiving, and it’s so cute it’s all my husband and I talk about over late night cereal supper after we get the 3,000 bath toys sanitized and the threenager negotiated out of wearing her mermaid costume to bed.

It’s romantic work, the business of raising small children. So romantic, the two of us are headed to Vegas together in a few weeks so that we might relearn how to talk about something other than bathtub poop. Don’t get too jealous: It’s also a work trip.

But all in all, friends, we have it together at the ranch, really. Just this morning, I walked down the stairs to find my 3-year-old sleeping facedown on the hardwood floor after sneaking out of her room last night, proving she’s stubborn enough to never give in to the fight, but smart enough to know to be quiet. So we’re doing something right.

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Wasn’t the first time…won’t be the last.

Anyway, thank you for your friendship and support this year, and we’re sorry we didn’t make it to more church services/social gatherings/fundraisers/concerts/birthday parties and the grocery store all those times we ran clean out of milk and toilet paper. Also, we’re sorry we’re always late now. Or, erhm, later than we were before kids.

Please don’t give up on us. We’d love to have you over for a visit. But unless you don’t mind a counter full of Goldfish crackers, crusty grapes and craft supplies, maybe call first? If you really don’t mind, then skip the knocking (because naps) and come right on in!

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Peace, Love and I’m eating Edie’s leftover Halloween candy as I write this,

The Scofield Family

Jessie (getting older), Chad (even older), Edie (3 going on 23) & Rosie (1 and holding forever because I’m not sure I’m ready for another baby just yet).

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The making of me

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Last weekend I had thirteen hours in the car alone to trick myself into thinking that I might have time to resurrect and revisit parts of my old life. It happens every time I’m in the car alone with my guitar in the back and whatever I want loud on the radio. Snacking without having to send a handful to the back seat. I feel like I did three years ago, ten years ago, fifteen years ago, on the road to a different town with time to think and plan and scheme for my life. A little free. A little nervous. Sometimes a little later than I want to be.  A lot myself.

Then I returned home and was reminded that while in the quiet moments there are parts of me that are who I’ve always been, my life will never be what it was yesterday…or two minutes ago.

Because I have children.

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And we have calves to sell this week.

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And a dog that went missing only to be found 60 miles away three days, which meant I spent my Sunday driving (thankfully) 120 miles with a toddler in the back to get her.

And a job that I can’t quite get done because I discovered last night that those children I now have, well they now have hand, foot and mouth…or something that looks and acts a lot like it.

And I want to say that I miss it, the alone time. The time to think, to create, to just be me. If I’m being honest, I will admit it. Being a mother to two young kids is not just physically draining, you can get lost in it. I miss the freedom I used to have to just walk out my door and up to the hills without calling in reinforcements, coordinating schedules or negotiating time. I didn’t know that would become so far out of reach when I became a mother.

I didn’t know I would feel so guilty and ungrateful saying that out loud, but I’m certain I’m not the only one.

Fall in the Horse Pasture

As I type this in the quite of my room, my almost-three-year-old found her way out of her bed and to the bottom of the steps, a last ditch effort to avoid bedtime. My husband is driving home from the big town with a load of sheet rock. I probably won’t see him much this week as we get ready to roundup and ship.

But that’s life and the reality of all these little dreams coming true…no one ever said all these little dreams would be easy to get or hold on to…but I think I might have heard someone somewhere say it’s worth it.

We’re the lucky ones.

Maybe that’s me, whispering to myself as I lay my daughters down at night.

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So I get up a lot earlier these days so I can have the morning for my thoughts. And one day, when I’m an older woman and I have regained the freedom to walk out my door on a whim and up to the top of my favorite hill,  I will tell a younger woman to take it all in, to not be so hard on herself, to love every minute because it all goes so fast. I will say that, because it’s true. But I hope I also remember to tell her to do what she can to keep her passions ignited in the middle of the Legos and Fruit Loops on the floor, even if she can only manage a flicker. Because we need that little fire in us, for the moments we get to breathe, but especially when the wind blows hard…

This week’s column…

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Coming Home: The Making of Me

I made a trip down to South Dakota last weekend to perform. In the early morning, before the sun burned off the cold fog, I sneaked quietly out of the house to make sure my family stayed sleeping while I took on the miles of road.

In a different time in my life, a six-hour trip alone was just another workday. These days it’s empty car seats, my guitar in the back of my SUV and the strange feeling I get when no one’s demanding I hand them pretzels. I turn up my music and let my mind wander, something it used to do so much of before my children stole half of it.

In my other life, I might have taken my time and stopped to see friends along the way. These days, it’s there and back quickly because the babies are at home, and the last time I called, my husband thought Rosie might have eaten a Band-Aid.

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“What am I doing?” That was the question that came up in the 13-plus hours I spent alone behind the wheel. “Is it worth it to go this far? Am I doing it for the money? Is this selfish? Maybe I should act more like a normal mother. Are the kids OK?”

After my concert on Saturday evening, a man came up to me to talk about the value of recognizing the sacrifices and struggles of our ancestors. My great-grandma Gudrun, an immigrant from Norway, comes up in my stories and songs, and he wanted to relate.

“When I was a kid, I found a little welder at a garage sale,” he said, remembering how he worked on lighting it over and over again before, frustrated, he declared it a rip-off.

“Then, my mother came over and grabbed it out of my hands,” he recalled. “And just like that, she had it lit up and running. She wrote my name on a piece of metal, straight and perfect, and I just stood there, sort of baffled.”

It turns out in his mother’s other life, she had been a welder who worked on ships during the war. And at 10 years old, watching his mom who wore nothing but dresses expertly handle his garage-sale purchase made the boy wonder how he had missed it. He didn’t want to miss it.

“It was like she had a secret life!” he declared.

I’ve never met this woman, but I can’t stop thinking about her. Because her story carried with it a little lift on the weight of my doubts.

I was a woman before I was a mother. And I am a mother and a woman still. A mother to daughters who will want to do things, see things. Be things. Travel. Maybe sing songs. Or write books. Invent. Or advocate. Haul horses. Plow up fields. Sit at a desk in a high-rise in New York. Maybe weld ships.

And the only way I can show them that they can be who they want to be is to show them who I was.

And who I am.

And, every day, how they’ve been the making of me.

The “good days” are a mess

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Happy Halloween.

Whew. October 31st, I think I’m happy to see you. Not just because I’m looking forward to dressing up as a mermaid with the toddler and trying to convince my baby to keep the fishy bonnet on her head as we traipse around town this afternoon, but also because this is the last day of what has been a month that’s been chaos.

Chaos with a month-long chest cold on top.

Chaos as in working nights and every weekend.

Chaos as in a house addition project that’s not going swimmingly.

Chaos as in I thought I filed my column last week but got distracted by something (Lord can only guess) and I forgot to hit send, which marks the first time since I started this gig that I missed a plan for the column.

Oh well. We’ll try again next week.

Next month.

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And we’re getting by on coffee and granola bars and trying to go with the flow even when the flow looks like dragging my meltdown-mode toddler out of gymnastics and negotiating every holiday and birthday and gymnastics class in her little life to get good behavior out of her for the pumpkin painting event at the Nursing Home we were headed to. It was likely the fact that the kid likes grammas and would do anything to paint and not my threats that made that experience more lovely than stripping her out her leotard while she swung at me and I pretended to be one of those calm moms who wasn’t going to get to the car and threaten to take away all her birthdays.

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And right now it’s 8:45 am and she’s asking for candy…soooo…we’ll see if we survive today.

We will survive today. Because, as dad reminded me in one of my long “trying to figure out my life” discussions: “These are the good days.”

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And the good days are messy. Perpetually messy, like my toddler’s hair and our bedroom.

Messy like the bed and the floor under Rosie’s highchair.

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Messy like the best laid plans and the never finished dishes and the bathroom floor with every drawer emptied by the baby in the name of keeping her occupied so I can finish my makeup.

Messy like the seats and the dashboard and the cubbies of my car.

Messy like the desktop of my computer. And my desk for that matter, because I have projects going on and little people who don’t take very long naps.

Messy like my closet full of things I wear too much and things I used to wear in a life that looked different. Less complicated.

Not as sticky.

I feel like I’m never going to get caught up. Does anyone ever feel like they’re caught up?

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Last weekend I spent the entire Sunday morning cleaning the main floor of my house, sweeping, scrubbing and vacuuming while my toddler followed me around telling me that it hurt her ears, only to watch it all unravel as almost every member of my extended family made their way through the door to play with the kids and encourage them to walk around eating crackers.

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I looked around at the crumbs and the toys and the laughing people and realized what my problem was. I can’t seem to get caught up on things like the landscaping or the window washing, not necessarily because I can’t find the time, but because I am using that time for other things.

Like trips to the playground outside with the kids.

Trying to do a good job and my work. Driving to town to go to the doctor to get the girls’ flu shots and make sure I don’t have pneumonia. Daily phone calls to my little sister. Constructing my baby’s Halloween costume out of felt and hot glue.

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Cookie decorating with Edie while my baby unloads the Tupperwear cabinet.

Staying up too late catching up with my husband while we ignore putting away the laundry. Visits to the pool and to the horses and to the nursing home and to gymnastics and Sunday family visits and crafting projects and pumpkin painting and all the things that make messes…

So I guess I will get to the mess when I get to the mess. Because the absence of crumbs must not be that important to me. If it were, I would spend more time on exterminating them. Because in my life there has never been enough time available to fit in all of the things I think would be fun or important to do.

And I guess fun or important to me doesn’t always include getting to the dishes first.

Oh, sometimes it does. Like when I know company is coming.

But mostly, I’m just a little embarrassed by the sticky spot on my floor when someone unexpectedly drops by, but I always let them in.

Of course I always let them in.

Because one day these girls will be old enough to help me dust the shelves and unload the dishwasher and make their beds and I fully intend on teaching them the importance of taking care of our things and our house and our ranch, but maybe sometimes not at the expense of a good ride or a trip to the pool on a hot sunny day.

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Because I like to do stuff. To keep busy and engaged and sometimes that makes us all crazy, our kitchen countertops cluttery, and my toddler collapse in a pile in the middle of the parking lot while I try to make her hold my hand and walk with me so she doesn’t get hit by a car. So then sometimes I need to learn to step back and chill it out and give us all a minute so that we can continue on with the “good days.”

Happy Wednesday Halloween. Here’s to candy and chaos and surviving the rest of the week!

Mermaid Edie

Back to school can make us wonder if we’ve done enough


If you’ve missed it along the way, for the past couple years I’ve had the privilege (and fun) of developing and acting as the editor of Prairie Parent, a parenting magazine in Western North Dakota.

This month’s issue tackled the fun, worry, stress and excitement of back to school. And while I don’t have kids in school yet, I know with time flying the way it does it’s just around the corner.

and so is driving…

After a conversation with my friend up the road who is raising four kids, with only one left at home now that school has started, I started reflecting on that time and what we do with it.

And why, as parents, do we feel like we’re never doing enough.

Back to school can make us wonder if we’ve done enough
Prairie Parent

Have a read on the site and then browse the rest of our contributors take on the season at www.prairieparent.com. I’m pretty proud of the thoughtful and heartfelt material these parents put out into the world each month.

Because at the end of the day, as parents, sometimes we just need each other to get through it. (I say this as I’m in a one hour, going on three week and counting bedtime battle with my two-year-old…Lord help me)

 

The moon’s named Carlile

The moon’s named Carlile
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If you see my almost 3-year-old daughter bouncing around, following behind me at the grocery store or at an event, playing at the park or with toys in Gramma’s store in town, she will likely ask you for your name.

She’s really into names. And who belongs to whom in this world.

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Like Great-Gramma Ginny is Gramma Beth’s mommy, and Gramma Beth is Mommy’s mommy, and Edie is Mommy’s daughter, and it gets a little blurry to her about how the rest works.

Somehow, the chain collapses there and Papa Gene becomes her granddaughter. Papa Gene almost always becomes her granddaughter by the end of these conversations.

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But it’s fun to hear her try to figure out how the world works in this way and how she understands that the people who love her are connected in some special way.

One day as we were driving home from town, Edie noticed the moon. It was big and bright and hanging in a darkening sky like a lone bulb in an empty room.

“The moon! Mommy! Look at the moon!” She exclaimed from her perch in her seat in the back. I said yes, yes, it’s so beautiful. Look at that. And then, for fun, because just minutes before she was giving the hills and the trees and the deer grazing in the fields names of their own, I asked her what she thought the moon’s name was.

“Carlile,” she responded, almost immediately, as if the two are old familiar friends who talk on a tin-can phone with a long line up to outer space every night before bed. “His name is Carlile.”

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Carlile the Moon. I laughed at the thought of it, picturing what Carlile might look like way up there in the lonely sky, surrounded by quiet, twinkling stars. Maybe he wears a fedora and tiny glasses that sit on the tip of a big, bumpy moon rock nose.

He’d adjust them a bit and clear his throat when he heard the little girl’s voice shouting, “Carlile, Are you there!?” from the tin-can phone, taking a deep breath before tackling the thousand questions about the universe that his tiny Earth friend was about to fire at him.

I imagine they would spend a lot of time discussing the names of the stars.

And then I pulled into our driveway and put the car in park, my little moon story coming quickly to a halt as I tackled the task of unloading my babies and getting them bathed, fed and ready for bed under a moon that suddenly felt a little more like a friend to me.

“Mommy, is your name Jessica Blain?” Edie asked as I finished our lullabies and I went in for a hug.

“Yes, that’s my name!” I agreed.

A hundred times a day, I can’t believe these tiny humans are my children. In quiet moments, the weight of what it means to belong to one another often overwhelms me…

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“Mommy, you are my mommy,” my daughter confirmed with pride.

“Yes, and you’re my baby,” I replied.

“No, I’m your big girl.”

“Good night then, big girl.”

And good night, Carlile.

Night Sky

Things I used to be…

Things I used to be
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There are things I used to be.

I used to be more careless. I used to be flexible. I used to be able to say “yes” loud and clear without worrying what “yes” would cost me.

I used to be OK in a bikini, stretched out across the front lawn with a magazine and an endless afternoon in front of me. Because I used to be younger.

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I used to be younger, and thinner and less affected by the one margarita I ordered with supper. I used to order two and then sing into a long night without worrying about the morning and the thin thread attaching me to the little bodies breathing in and out, eyes closed tight in their beds without me.

I used to have spare time that I didn’t spend on searching for sippy cup lids or calculating the coupon cost per diaper.

In my other life, I never once uttered the words, “Don’t lick the doorknob!” and I certainly never made 37 negotiations a day that involved two more bites or five more minutes and no, you can’t put the puppy in your purse.

And I certainly didn’t use the phrase “be careful” as often.

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There are things that are buried in me now under these new layers of motherhood. I think about peeling them back only when I’m looking through old photographs of myself toasting to the sky or in the rare quiet moments that last long enough that I’m almost convinced I could be her again, before the creak of the door or the cry out of the lungs of the fresh soul in her crib in the dark calling for her momma.

I am momma.

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Last week, I was driving the ribbon of Interstate 94 that stretched out west for home. My babies were tucked in the back as the landscape zoomed by their windows and my eyes were heavy with the weight of exhaustion my new body holds. It overwhelmed me.

I signaled, parked in a rest stop and found a shady spot to take a break. I used to be unprepared, but this new version of me had blankets to spread out under our bodies and so we all laid down in a big pile under clouds rolling slowly, slowly, slowly across a blue sky.

And I want to say it before it absorbs into my skin and gets lost in the bigger, more urgent stories of a life…

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If I died tomorrow, this 20 minutes at a rest stop along I-94 with the baby navigating the lines of my tired face, my husband lifting the toddler to the sky, her squeals, our laughter, all four of our bodies touching one another, touching the earth, looking up at the trees and the fact that we simply couldn’t be anywhere else in the world if we wanted to, will make the highlight reel when I close my eyes at the end of my life.

Because I used to be so many things, but now I have these layers attached to this wonderfully agonizing winding and unwinding thread, and I will never be who I used to be because now I am a mother.

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Garden wars continued…

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In case you’re wondering about the state of landscaping we’re in around here. ‘Tis the season.

Gardening season means secret manure stashes, friendly father-daughter rivalry
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Well, it’s officially gardening season around here, which means the friendly competition I have with my dad about who is better at keeping the cows from eating the bean plants and pooping on the radishes has begun.

And it seems we’ve both stepped up our game a bit. Turns out Dad’s had his eye on a big pile of old manure in the barnyard that he failed to mention until it was beautifully spread on his newly tilled and leveled garden spot. Which made me nervous because at the time he was planting his tomatoes in that fresh and fertile soil, my garden was quickly becoming a graveyard of seeded-out dandelions and Canadian thistle. And because Dad is still recovering from his illness, he’s home more… and restless… which means he’ll be in his garden. A lot.

So I decided to ignore the dead patches in my lawn, the retaining wall that desperately needs to be built and the deck that needs to be finished and focus on what was really important — growing better vegetables than my father.

It was time to get serious. I made plans to move my front yard garden into the spot below my house where we used to feed cows every winter, the spot that my little sister still calls “Cow Pie Heaven.”

The ground is more level, the soil is more fertile and I could just imagine the bounty of tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, beans and peas overflowing from the borders of the $400 fence I loaded up in the back of my pickup while my mother-in-law watched the babies.

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Yeah, that’s right, I called in the troops. This garden is gonna require child care. Which became even more evident in my 75 attempts to actually plant the thing over Memorial Day weekend.

Turns out it takes about two hours to get the girls fed, clothed, sunscreened and bug-sprayed, and another hour to find their shoes and sun hats scattered across my patchy lawn before I haul them out to my new little slice of vegetable heaven.

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And while in my dreams I imagined the three of us sun-kissed and laughing in that garden for hours, what it really looks like is 20 frantic minutes of me planting three seeds at a time between picking up the toys the baby tossed, shooing away the gnats from her chubby cheeks and trying (and failing) to keep the toddler from drowning the carrots we just planted and shoveling dirt on top of her own head.

How she did that more than once can only be explained by the fact that she’s my daughter.

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Three days and six baby baths later, I got the thing planted thanks to the help of Dad, who decided to show a little mercy and wrangle the kids while I made my cucumber mounds and he made sure to tell me his are up already.

So yeah, if you need me, I’ll be out looking for that secret manure pile (because only my dad would have a secret manure pile) and not giving any thought to the fact that I can get perfectly good tomatoes at the market…

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