Monday, August 29, 2016

School Years Flashback

   I love a new school year. The smell of new school supplies, lesson pages fresh and crisp, and little people eager to start a new grade all thrill me. I know. I'm not normal. Or maybe I'm just a teacher through and through.
   I never intended to homeschool. Did I ever mention that? It's true. I was homeschooled to 8th grade and didn't particularly like it, but going to public school from 8th through graduation was a whole other level of awful. I was an excellent student that never left the high honor roll, played basketball year round and was a starter all five years(and would end up going to college on a basketball scholarship), but for an introvert to go from homeschooling to public school was culture shock and produced massive anxiety, which added to my other struggles. Fast forward to college. I really enjoyed it far more than high school. People largely left you alone, you could choose your friends yourself because you weren't shoved into the same peer group for multiple classes every day, and there was far more freedom to come and go as you pleased. I studied education(and American Sign Language), because I had always just wanted to be a mom so I figured that until I was a mom I would nurture other peoples' kids. It worked out well! Before I had kids, I loved teaching. My classes were my pseudo-children, and I doted on them, taking a deeply personal interest in their experience which made teaching so fun and engaging. Then I had my oldest. I went back to teaching when she was 6 weeks old because we could not afford for me to take more time off. From that point forward, I was a horrible teacher. I was just so miserable, fighting Postpartum Depression and just wanting desperately to be home with my baby. I cried all day. During class, while I pumped on my breaks, and I did not have much patience. It was awful. I put in my resignation within weeks.
PreK and 1.5 years
   When my oldest was 3, she and her 1-year-old brother would sit at the front window and watch the school bus go by twice every day, picking up and dropping off neighbor kids. She begged to go to school. I looked into local nursery schools, but none would take her because her late December birthday was after the cut-off for 3-year-olds. She persisted, so I decided to do preschool work with her at home. Nothing intensive, just some fun flashcards, and I found the awesome free resource for PreK(and up) curriculum online at Brightly Beaming Resources called Letter of the Week. One letter, shape, number, and color every week was the focus, and it was learned through free printables, and a fun list of kid songs, library books, nursery rhymes, and games. PreK was a hit.
Kindergarten, 2.5 years, and 10 months

   The next year she was 4, and try as I might to keep her busy with more preK work, she was bored-bored-bored. Because of her age, I was worried to start kindergarten lest it be too much, but eventually we took the plunge. She did amazingly well. It surprised me how well she did, but I was so grateful for the validation that we were on the right track.
   An added bonus to our little bit of structured schooling every day was to be able to connect with her. She was a sweet, calm kiddo, and was easily overshadowed by the demands of her special needs brother and his therapy several times a week, and her infant sister who just needed loads of attention on-demand because she was an infant. School was a time I could set aside for us. There were distractions and interruptions galore, but schoolwork gave us time to work together, hear and be heard, and I learned so much more about her developing personality, strengths, and struggles, by working with her.
   In first grade, her younger brother was doing better(his amazing Occupational Therapist saved our family. That's in no way an exaggeration.) and moving into preK using the same Letter of the Week program we used for our first, her younger sister was interactive and enjoyed sitting at the table and coloring with them to pretend to do schoolwork. It was a lot of fun, most days. I was pregnant with #4 and had severe Hyperemesis Gravidarum, but we pushed through.
   It was in first grade that we considered putting her in public school. She had some real struggles with learning to read and I was so sick I thought I couldn't do her justice. Unfortunately, if we had sent her to school at 5(not turning 6 until half-way through their year), they'd have insisted she be in kindergarten and both my husband and I felt this would be to her detriment since she so clearly already had a great grasp on the first grade work we were going through. So we continued. Eventually, we figured out what helped the reading struggles and #4 was born so I stopped being so sick all the time. My first year homeschooling more than one student was largely a success.
   Our 2013-2014 school year was full of change. #1 was in second grade and had spent the whole summer reading constantly(her choice!), so she was completely caught up and beyond. #2 was doing very well on his third year of twice-weekly OT, and was moving on to kindergarten. #3 could not be fooled by coloring books any longer, so we moved her up to preK, and #4 was a rolly-polly menace of distraction. Just like that, I had three little pupils, all while I was packing our house and preparing to move to southern Virginia from Upstate New York(think the shores of lake Ontario and Canadian neighbors, people. Not the Hudson Valley.). We moved in November. It was a trying year. Lots of struggles and behavior-based issues from the huge changes. So much adjustment for everyone.
   The 2014-2015 school year was also really difficult. Shortly after the school year began, I started having heart problems that needed medical attention, and that tipped us into a slide of epic proportions into unexpected medical issues, like my husband being hospitalized for cellulitis in his eye socket, the heartbreaking surgical second trimester miscarriage of our fifth child, a bad car accident that left my husband with life-long spinal injuries, and more. It was... hard. But I had a 3rd grader, 1st grader, and kindergartner as well as a toddler, so we kept trucking. My husband also started back to school working on his Masters.
   This was our first full year homeschooling in Virginia, and I really appreciated the differences in the state's demands on homeschoolers compared to New York. I wrote a bit about the differences in one of last fall's posts, The Trap of Imaginary Enemies.
   Our 2015-2016 school year started off with more change. We'd just bought and moved into our new house, brought our awesome Aussie, Cooper, into the family, and had just found out we were expecting our rainbow, baby #6. Additionally, I went back to school myself, studying to be a birth and bereavement doula through Stillbirthday. #1 was in fourth grade and reading every spare second she could. #2 was in second grade and teaching me how to be a more creative teacher while learning to incorporate dragons into any and every aspect of teaching in order to make it interesting to him and keep his attention. #3 was in what we called kindergarten-and-a-half. She wasn't quite grasping a couple of key kindergarten concepts, which was fine because she was just turning 5. For her that year, we did a kindy-first hybrid. #4 was still just doing his best to distract everyone and wreck havoc at everything with Cooper, his partner in crime. The school year ended in the end of April, the day our rainbow was born. Perfect timing, Little One.
   That brings us to the present: the 2016-2017 school year. Hooray! We're off on another great adventure, and this year I am just beside myself. I have an incredibly sweet, intelligent, fast-maturing fifth grader. HOW THE HECK DID THAT HAPPEN?! My wild child is amazing, challenging, precocious, and insanely distractable. My work is cut out for me here. My third is in full-on first grade and about to have her 6th birthday. She's very excited to work her pony, Buttercup, into everything possible. #4 is cute, wild, 3.5-years-old, and desperate to be a big kid like the rest so we're starting Letter of the Week pre-k with him, too. #6 and Cooper are my Master Distractors, and already on day one doing a superb job at throwing a wrench in everything they can. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Blessed Journey- What's In A Name?

   I first mentioned my new venture back in December, in, "Hey Again, and REAL Clean Eating for 6 On A Budget." I really expressed more of my heart, though, in "The Last Year." If you haven't read it, please do. It's so much my heart on this journey. And finally, after much studying, reading, re-reading, writing, re-writing, tears of both joy and anguish, phone calls, meetings, mentoring, and experiences(and still more I'm positive I have missed), I am a trained Stillbirthday Birth and Bereavement Doula. This makes my heart feel so super-happy.
   Long before I knew this thing existed, my heart was being molded for it. You see, I'm a rainbow. The term "rainbow baby" is becoming more and more understood as the topic of pregnancy and infant loss becomes less and less taboo. A rainbow baby is a subsequent child born after a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss in a family. In weather, a rainbow often comes after the most intense storms, and are historically the symbol of hope, that a trial was borne and you survived. Symbolically, a rainbow baby is one that comes after the intense life journey of bereavement has begun. I have always had a very sensitive soul toward pregnancy, infant, and child loss. I have always been a nurturer, and I truly believe that comes from the spiritual connection I share with my brother, Gabriel, who was two days old when he died, 16 months before I was born.
   Over my years as an adult, I have watched multiple friends begin to walk this path of loss before my own, and I have felt especially grieved and broken, especially connected to them. I have always wanted to be a mother, but before I did that I was a teacher, so I could nurture little loves until I had my own. When I became a mother, I felt so blessed and in awe. This is my dream. This is what my soul was made for. As I've continued this journey, I have taken on various roles that I have enjoyed to various extents, but when I discovered Stillbirthday last year, it was like my soul cried out, "YES! THIS IS THE MISSION I WAS MEANT FOR!" Teaching is wonderful and something I still enjoy, motherhood is intense and wonderful and my heart's desire, and I now know that being an SBD doula is a powerful role God has intended for me to serve. I am so excited about it.
   Now about the name. During my training, the business side of things was also discussed, and it was often asked what name people had chosen for their doula role/business. I pondered things, hesitated, then one day asked my husband via Gmail messenger, "What about Blessed Journey? Because this journey will never end, but whether it's as a birth doula, a bereavement doula, a speaker, or just in life, I'm so blessed to be on the way. The journey." He liked it. I ran it by two of my oldest and most trusted lady friends. They loved it. I felt validated but still not totally sure when I went to bed that night. Then I had a dream. I don't remember the detail, but I remember "Blessed and Happy" kept reverberating in my head. Blessed and Happy. That's what Asher means. Asher is who put me on this path. Asher's precious, short, yet profoundly changing and meaningful life put me on this journey. A Blessed Journey. It stuck. That's the name. God knew. He put Blessed Journey in my head before I even knew why, then confirmed it in my heart with a dream. Blessed Journey Birth Services, born from the irreplaceable role of a little boy the size of my palm who never took a breath outside the womb. I'm blessed to be his mama. I'm blessed to be a doula. I'm blessed to be so expertly and uniquely trained to come along side ALL families as they give birth in any trimester, no matter the outcome. A Blessed Journey indeed.

Want to follow my Blessed Journey page on Facebook? The link is HERE. I'm just getting it up and running and my full website is still in editing, but would love for you to come on the journey with me. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Homemade Fruit and Nut Bars

   Snacks. Pretty much a staple of successful parenthood, right? I'm one of those mean moms who hates snacks. Honestly, they're all but banned here. Here's why: Most snacks are easy things you can throw at your kid to get them to quit whining at you. In our family, though, snacks are a bad habit. That's because either A- you didn't eat a decent meal or you wouldn't be hungry again, or B- we're about to eat and yes, you're obviously hungry. I don't like giving my kids snacks because it turns into a self-perpetuating cycle of poor eating habits. Not eating a good meal at meal time = eat a snack between meals = not hungry enough to eat a good meal at meal time = legitimately hungry between meals and need a snack = ...... You see what I mean? So we just don't do. Most of the time. I pay close attention to nutrients and work hard, cooking everything from scratch, and make sure my kids are getting wholesome meals, jam-packed with the nutrients they need every day for growth and good health. Snacks? They're more of, "Look. There's a banana on the counter. Eat it and stop whining, please." Potassium =  good. Constipation =  bad. Sometimes, though, snacks are necessary for various reasons, so I have a few key items I like to make for easy and nutrient-rich quick-grabs. One of our favorites: fruit and nut bars. They're like make-at-home LARA bars. We've tried these with all sorts of recipes, variations on nuts, fruits, and proportions. In the end, here's what we prefer(and it's all organic and inexpensive at our local bulk foods store or Costco):

Unsalted Cashews(seeds like sunflower and pumpkin can be added or substituted as well. We've tried almonds, too. They're alright, but a lot harder and drier)
Dried fruit(apricots and blueberries are our favorites)

Using equal parts of each ingredient, start with the cashews in the food processor. Pulse a couple times until they're in smaller pieces, then turn it on constant for a minute as they get smaller(but not to powder). While it's still going, add the dates to the food processor. When it's clear there are no longer large chunks of dates whipping around in there, add the dried fruit. If you have a drier fruit like blueberries, you will want to add a little water, a tablespoon at a time to get the right texture. After adding the fruit, it shouldn't take long- maybe 1 to 2 minutes- to get the right texture. The mixture will be wet enough that as it pushes up the walls it will collapse on itself, or it might even turn into a moist ball spinning around inside the food processor. Dump the mixture into an ungreased 9x9 casserole dish, and press it out into an even layer. It will be moist, but it shouldn't be too sticky. Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes to let it firm up.
   You can leave it in the dish, covered, for as long as you like, or for convenience's sake(as I do especially for trips in the car and husband's lunch box) you can cut it into even squares and wrap them in saran wrap. They're perfectly shelf stable(they are made with all dry, shelf-stable ingredients, after all), but we keep them in the fridge just to keep them nice and fresh. Make it in a pie dish for novel triangles to teach your toddler more hands-on shapes, or double the recipe and use a 9x13 pan for eight good size bars. Whatever you want to do. Make it work for you. Just watch out for the vultures. They smell it when you're slicing these up, and come begging for a snack even when they devoured two dozen pancakes and half dozen eggs an hour prior.

...And just because he's too stinkin' adorable while he watches me cut and wrap:

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Good Gummies

   I'm not keen on daily vitamins or supplements. Too much filler, too many synthetic forms of natural substances that are hard on the body- sometimes even toxic in the long term. There are few exceptions to my reservations aside from short-term herbs and other remedies for issues, and those are really high quality, filler-free, no-gimmick, high potency probiotics, and food-based supplements. When we utilize the nutrients from foods to purposefully supplement our diet, we're taking the nutrients at their most natural, readily-absorbed state so they do the best good for the body.
   One of my favorite food-based daily supplements for my family's health is elderberry syrup(This is my favorite recipe, but I use an organic cinnamon stick and a 1" chunk of raw ginger instead of the dry forms). September through March, I always have a quart jar of it in the fridge, and try to remember to give them a dose every day. When some is feeling low, a fever starts somewhere, some one vomits, sniffles, or seems in any way sick, we triple up the syrup dosage for everyone. It's a great immune-boosting remedy that keeps us healthier and helps shorten the duration of illness when we do catch something. One way to improve the odds I'll remember to give the kiddos their daily dose and increase the immune-boosting nutrient value is to make them gummies. Ever seen the benefits of organic, flavor-free, grass-fed beef gelatin? Check it out HERE. I love THIS kind. I've tried lots of different recipes, tweaked to our liking, and settled on our version(recipe's coming! Hold your horses!).
   Another way to boost our immunities with food-based supplements is vitamin C. ALSO IN GUMMY FORM! Who woulda' guessed? I have always been a die-hard Emergen-C drinker, but am increasingly disenchanted by the highly processed ascorbic acid form of vitamin C and large amount of sugar it contains. The vitamin C gummy we're hooked on now is far superior in absorbable nutrients and wholesome ingredients. I choose to use Alive! purely food-based vitamin C powder. One of these a day is a great vitamin C supplement, and increasing it to three times daily helps fight illness when you catch something.
   Wait.... it's not September yet. And yet we have strep and scarlet fever. Getting on my regiment early this year, because my people clearly need a better boost already. Stupid germy playgrounds.

   So here's how we make them:

1.5 cups pineapple/orange juice(or elderberry syrup)
4 Tbsp unflavored grass-fed beef gelatin(5 Tbsp for the Vitamin C gummies)
2 Tbsp raw honey(for the Vitamin C gummies only!)
2 Tbsp food-based vitamin C powder(for the Vitamin C gummies only!)

Pour 1/2 cup of the juice/syrup into a small sauce pan. Add the gelatin, and gently whisk it until there are no more white clumps visible. Let the mixture stand for 5-7 minute while the gelatin 'blooms.' This is vital! Don't skip it! Once the gelatin blooms, the mixture will feel almost firm.

Put the saucepan on the stove over medium heat, and warm it just until the mixture becomes liquid.

For the Vitamin C gummies only- while the gelatin  mixture melts, mix the honey, vitamin C powder, and remaining juice, and whisk until it's all combined.

Once the gelatin mixture has melted, remove the saucepan from the heat and pour the remaining juice(juice mixture for Vit C gummies) into the pan, and whisk gently to combine it all. 

Pour the liquid into silicone candy molds(I have THESE and love them) and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes until they're soft but firm. If you don't have silicone molds, pour the mixture into a glass 9x13 pan. Once it's firm, cut into squares instead. 

Once finished, these will keep fresh in a sealed package in the refrigerator for 2 or so weeks. They may very well keep longer. They've never lasted longer in ours because people gobble them up. 

Elderberry syrup gummies

Vitamin C gummies

Forgive the disjointed manner of this post. We've been dealing with sickness for our whole family all week. Hence the mass gummy-making in our house, which prompted the 100+, "Oooh, can I have the recipe?!" posts to my facebook and Instagram. My. Brain. Is. FRIED. But now you have the recipes. Enjoy! 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Banana Chia Muffins

   It has come to my attention that despite being called "Muffins Fest and KCW Day 1," I said nothing in my last post about muffins. Whoops. What can I say? I'm easily distracted. So this morning I woke up and, when mulling over breakfast options, I spotted the brown bananas in the produce basket and thought, "Aha! Banana Muffins!" And set to work.
   When it comes to me and cooking, it pretty much goes without saying that I make things up as I go. When I find a recipe that looks intriguing, I try it once, alter if we need to for allergy issues, but otherwise make it as-written. Unless it is savory and calls for only 1 or 2 cloves of garlic. Seriously? Triple it, at least. Because garlic. Then I start to change. And change and change and change. In the end, I usually have a really different recipe that started with the bones of something else. My go-to banana bread recipe of almost a decade now was from Allrecipes originally, and called The Very Best Banana Bread. Intriguing, right? Now you know why I tried it to begin with. Now it looks like this, is egg-free, dairy-free(vegan by default), meets our allergy needs, and makes 3 dozen standard size muffins.

1/4 cup Chia seeds
1 cup warm water
1 cup sugar
1 cup coconut oil(or butter if you aren't dairy-free)
1 Tbsp real vanilla extract
3.5 cups(approx. 7-8) brown bananas
4 cups flour
1/2 Tbsp baking soda

Preheat the oven to 375F. Mix the water and chia seeds in a large mixing bowl, and let them stand for 5-10 minutes while you gather the remaining ingredients. Add the coconut oil and sugar, and whip on high(the whisk attachment on my stand mixer is great for this) for about 2 minutes until the mixture is white and 'fluffed.' Add the vanilla and bananas, and combine thoroughly. Add the flour and baking soda, stirring just until combined. Fill greased muffin tins(or paper cups) 3/4's full, and bake for 18-20 minutes, until the tops of the muffins are no longer 'gooey.' Eat 'em up.
   If your people are anything like my people, there won't be much left in a hurry. I have to repeatedly scold my kids to keep them away from the muffins so they have sufficient time to cool and my people aren't screaming about burned mouths while continuing to eat. Skin on my tongue, or a banana muffin? Hmmm. Touch choice, clearly. You can add 1 cup walnuts if that's your thing, too. It's actually my thing, but not my husband's, so not walnuts unless he's traveling for work. The kid get no say. I'm cruel like that.
   I'd love to show you lots of pretty pictures like I usually do for my recipe/cooking posts, but alas all I have for you is this:

People eating while watching Jurassic Park. Yes, at 7am.

Then this:

Oh, the romance of empty paper muffin cups. On the bright side, it means the seven of us(mostly the four big kids) demolished three dozen faster than I could take pictures. So try it. See if yours transform into a pile of garbage, too. 

Muffin Fest and KCW Day 1

   Ever since he hit 3 months old a couple weeks ago, my Smooshy has decided he doesn't sleep. Correction: He sleeps only when he wants to. Every once in a while he sleeps GREAT! He naps well, falls asleep for the night at a decent hour, and only wakes 3-4 times in a night to eat. Usually he would rather spend hours every day screaming and flailing to keep himself from falling asleep, biting me when I try to nurse him to sleep because he's smart enough to know what I know: The moment he latches on he will fall asleep, and he just cannot have that on those days. I am so sore. SO sore. By night he's usually so exhausted from fighting it that he falls asleep early, but wakes 7-8 times to eat during the night. Not exaggerating. 7-8. On those days I have spent most of the day holding and rocking a screaming baby, so as soon as he's asleep for the night I set to work with my mountain of work, and end up going to bed very late. OF COURSE those are always the nights he's up almost hourly, too. It's just a bad-bad-bad mix. But I cannot even be annoyed. He's so sweet! He doesn't cry during the night. He nurses, he smiles, he coos, he plays with my hair, strokes my face, grabs my cheeks with both chubby hands and kisses all over my face in the dark. So I am exhausted- so very exhausted- but so blessed, and so loved by this little source of exhaustion.
   Last night was a night I stayed up late to get stuff done. Midnight, to be exact. Because I'd been busy with him all day, and really just needed to do something I enjoyed. I love my children desperately, and I am so blessed I have the honor of being a WAHM, but I still need to do things for me. I still need "mama things." I need my cup filled. A couple weeks ago a sweet friend asked me to Target for a 'walk around drinking Starbucks and looking for all the red stickers kid-free' date after church, and while we walked she said that she could tell being Mama had been rough for me lately, so she was glad she was able to get me out of the house for a little break. I so love sweet friends like this. But I digress. Yesterday was the first day of the summer edition Kids Clothes Week! The gist of KCW: crafty mamas spend so much time making things for others, that during KCW we purpose to set side one hour every day for one week to sew for our own children. There's a fun theme, encouraging and inspirational blog posts leading up to and during each KCW, and we post our projects to try and encourage and inspire one another. It's run every season, and a fun thing I try to allow myself a couple times a year. Last night I decided to start with my oldest. She is about to turn 10, and fast becoming a 'tween.' She appreciates everything I knit and sew for her, but on the rare occasion that we stop by shops with such goods, she is increasingly drawn to the more grown-up styles than the sparkles and ruffles she's liked since toddlerhood. I looked through my fabrics and decided to go with something that, to me, said, "I'm a teenager," in a fun way. I had no idea if she'd like it or if the fabric combination would even look good, but I set to work with high hopes, enjoying the silence of five sleeping children for an extended period of time. I used the size 12 of the BIMAA pattern by Lou Bee Clothing on Etsy, with the hoody option, and extended the sleeve cuffs by twice as much as the pattern called for. My girl has long arms like her mama. I put it in her room when I was finished so she'd see it in the morning. When I came out of my bedroom this morning, bleary-eyed and covered in white curdles of dried baby vomit, she stood in the living room wearing the hoody, beaming from ear to ear. SUCCESS! She said she felt so grown up. Her 7-year-old brother said she looked way older than 9. He thought she looked like an adult. That made her smile bigger, if that was even possible.

It's perfect. The black and purple polka dots fabric is Doodles cotton interlock from JoAnn's, and the lime chevron is a thin cotton/lycra blend I bought from a fellow WAHM who was destashing some fabrics she wasn't using. SO glad I made the sleeve cuffs longer, or it'd be too short for a long, lanky girl. Now everyone else is begging for a BIMAA. Not sure I can handle three more all-nighters like Smooshy and I pulled last night, but I'll try. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

You Make Me Brave

   I've read more in the last calendar year than I have in the last decade. It has been such a nice change, even if it's meant my knitting time took a direct hit. Right now, I'm reading I Will Carry You by Angie Smith for the third time. It is such a good book. In a doula group I am a member of, I mentioned it and said I thought it should be a requisite for anyone entering the obstetrical field in any capacity. Another doula responded that she thought it should be a requisite for adulting. Spot on. 
   I Will Carry You talks about a lot of things, but the major point is the journey of this mother from the start of motherhood through the start of her journey dealing with the loss of her daughter, Audrey, who was born with numerous congenital defects that resulted in her only surviving for 2 hours after birth. It is such a really real, raw portrayal of the feelings very commonly experienced through such a loss, and how she and her family began learning to walk with this pain. There are numerous spots I'd love to quote from every chapter, because they're such... such zingers that cut right to the heart of what many experience on this journey. But today, this one really got to the heart of the part of the journey I am currently on. 
In so many ways, [Audrey] has made me be brave. She made me want to be a better mommy, a better wife, a better daughter to the King who holds her in His arms.
In the last year, I have done so much that has always been so out-of-character for me, but I did it because of Asher. Because he makes me brave. Because I am his voice in this world. His life was so short, but the impact he left on us as his family was profound, and I will not let that voice be silent. I CANnot. I have felt from the moment we lost him that it had happened for a reason, and that it was important. In the last 1.5 years, I as a person have been transformed. If you knew me before, the person I am now is completely different. I know I've said it before, but it is so completely true. Angie says it several times in her book, and I have found that in my life it is true: There is the person I was before I lost my child, and there is the person I am now. Those two are irreconcilably different. I am stronger, but my heart breaks more easily because it constantly carries a much heavier load of love and pain. I feel deeper, think more, and am perfectly comfortable in silence. I am more drawn to other people, wanting to connect more deeply and widely. As a life-long introvert, these things are huge. HUGE.
   As soon as I began my training to become an SBD doula, my typical character decided I was going to be the most thorough student and become the best darn SBD doula that ever walked the planet. Because I do nothing half-way, y'all. I don't fail. I don't try. I do and I do well. Then the coursework hit me like a load of bricks and I found there was no way to 'brain' through this stuff. There's technical stuff, to be sure, and that all came very easily to me, but by and large it has to be slow, feeling, reflecting. I even took on a second session of coursework, because when my first one came to a close I felt like I needed to dig in more, and dig deeper. Now that my training is done and I am preparing to work with families, I feel overwhelmingly like I need to focus on introspection. On developing my personal character in order to be worthy of walking this hallowed ground with these families, no matter the trimester or the outcome. I am fully trained to walk through pregnancy, birth, and postpartum with completely "normal," live births, as well as the complicated, the too early, the lost, the still, the sick, the NICU, and the heartbreaking journeys, too. The privilege of being asked to enter into that space, those experiences with families just awes me. I feel overwhelmingly like I need to dwell in the place of being the "love-bringer" to all. To my children, to my husband, to my friends, to the families I will serve. Like I need to live that title so completely in every aspect of my life in order to be genuine in these spaces with families I will serve. It's hard. And it's an immense privilege. And I have the courage to do it all because of the little boy that set me on this path. The little boy who was no bigger than the palm of my hand, whose name means Blessed and Happy, and whose 'after' completely altered the course of my life.