A Surprise Valentine Breakfast

I’m glad you guys seem to love me so much, because, after blogging for 3 years, one thing is very clear: there is no rhyme or reason to this blog.

And speaking of love, while I’m plugging away at writing up some memories from Gid’s 7th birthday, I thought it would be a good time to FINALLY share the pics from our Valentine celebration.

You know, the one from last month.

Pinterest is laughing at me right now, isn’t it? Valentine’s Day is so last season.

But that’s okay because, honestly, I’m behind in every area of my life right now, and this has actually led to something GREAT.

As I usually have the house decked out for V-day on February 1st, I felt pretty much like a miserable failure when the week of love arrived and my house was not dressed for the occasion.

Rebekah was throwing up all week long, and things just weren’t working out for me; there was no possible way I could have the house cleaned up and decorated by the 14th.

Something had to be done.

If only I had a completely empty room just sitting around that I could put ALL of our Valentine stuff in…

well, I did.

The sunroom!

Recently emptied of all of its furniture and cuteness to become Jake’s temporary dog-home, it was the perfect place to hold a little party for the kids.

The sunroom is separated from our kitchen by an antique door, and what excited me the most was that, by covering the door’s large window, I could completely deck out the room and have it ready without the kids ever seeing it.

The entire day before Valentine’s Day, they had NO idea that there was a party waiting for them just beyond that door.

But I knew. And I was pretty giddy about it.

There was nothing really spectacular about this party. I already owned all the decorations, the books, and the games, and the breakfast menu was our typical pancakes and bacon.

The fun was in the surprise and in taking a moment in our day to celebrate a holiday together.

Take a look!

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I hid out in the sunroom and took pictures of the kids when they saw the party table…

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Mr. Gore pretended to be surprised, too. Please notice the completely trashed-out, non-decorated room behind him that matched the entire first floor. But NOT the sunroom. :) Sigh. I love the sunroom. And Mr. Gore.

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I say this every time, but I think this was my favorite party ever…

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We ended up our breakfast by reading our little collection of Valentine books together. (The Day It Rained Hearts is our favorite!)

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And then we opened our valentines to each other. The night before, Mr. Gore and I made handmade cards for each kid with pictures of us and them, and they were a huge hit.

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I would show a picture of Rebekah with her valentine, but she threw up on it right after this, and all over our party table.

But, still. It was a great morning.

And best of all, it completely inspired me to keep the sunroom empty, so that, during these crazy years with little ones underfoot, I’ll always have a safe place to celebrate our holidays.

Did I mention that I love the sunroom?…

~

Coming next to a sunroom near you: a Nursery Rhyme party! (maybe).

The Internet is Alive with the Sound of Critics (and it hurts my ears)

Last night, our family of six sat down in the living room, bowls of popcorn and leftover Halloween candy flanking us, to watch something rather extraordinary on our television set.

We were a day late, and so I had already seen the reviews. Most were positive and the show had been very well-received, especially by Oklahomans. But true to the cultural norm, the negative comments also abounded: “Panned” by critics (or the two critics listed in the article), repeatedly compared to the 1965 Julie Andrews film, and nit-picked on nearly every corner of the internet (I’m looking at you, facebook and Twitter); if you wanted to hear an opinion on The Sound of Music live television event, you didn’t have to look far.

Still yet, I remained unfazed in my determination to enjoy this night. I knew going in to this that Carrie Underwood was an unseasoned actress. I knew that this was a live musical, not a movie. I knew there would be possible hiccups, or lighting problems, or sound issues…

in fact, all of those things actually added to my excitement! Would one of the nun’s candles accidentally blow out? Would Carrie stumble? Would her voice break? Would one of the children forget their lines? Would a spotlight fall from the rafters and crash onto the stage?

Truth be told, I knew none of the above had happened or I would have read about it online before the movie had even ended. But still…I couldn’t help but be nervous.

But even greater than my nervousness was admiration.

Admiration for a television network planning something that the entire family could actually sit down and watch together; I have been a mom for 6 1/2 years and this is the first time we were able to sit with our kids in the living room and watch something on primetime television with no fear of profanity, adult humor, violence or lasciviousness.

Admiration for an entire cast and crew who were willing to stick out their necks to try something daring and different, knowing that the critics would be ready to pounce.

And most of all, admiration for an Oklahoma girl who must have bit down thousands and thousands of stomach butterflies, pushing herself in ways she had never done before, to bring the magic of Rodgers and Hammerstein to a new generation of viewers.

As I watched Carrie Underwood perform, I thought of all the little girls across the nation who would be tuning in to see their favorite country singer on air for 3 whole hours. And what brought tears to my eyes was imagining that they arrived to NBC that night for the name of Carrie Underwood…

but left with a beautiful redemptive story in their hearts and a new playlist of songs that will serve them for a lifetime.

Yes, indeed, the tears were flowing over here.

Several times.

And as the touching story of the Von Trapp family played in this new format before my eyes, I wasn’t thinking about Carrie’s acting, or shadows on the set, or who had the best singing voice. I wasn’t thinking about who could have played Maria or any of the other parts better. I wasn’t even thinking about Julie Andrews or the movie that first stole my heart many, many years ago.

I was swept away, thinking of my blessings, living in a land where I don’t have to kowtow to a dictator.

I was thinking of the beauty of music that brings families together.

I was praying that my daughters would have hearts like Maria.

I was thinking about Carrie Underwood’s mama and how proud she must be.

I was thinking about my children, and thanking God that, while it would be a huge deal for all six of us to scrape together enough money to attend a live musical, we had been given the opportunity to watch one of the best for free without ever leaving our home.

And I am convinced that, regardless of how much money they brought in or how good it was for ratings, NBC gave us a gift this first week of December.

Thus, today’s blog post isn’t really about my heartfelt endorsement of The Sound of Music. I don’t need for every person in America to love the same things I love. In fact, one of my favorite things about living here is that we are free to have an opinion and are free to talk about it on the corners of the street if we want to…

but what I do crave in our entertainment-saturated culture is a little more kindness.

A little more gratitude.

A little more wonder…

And I’m not just talking about the professional critics.

I’m talking about all of us, who have been blessed by so much culture and so many different venues of entertainment that we have become underwhelmed and critical about every. single. thing.

With great blessing comes great responsibility, and we would all do well to take a step back, to contemplate what life could be like, to remember what life used to be like, and to reclaim some of the more admirable attitudes that should surround events like this week’s live television event.

Thankfulness that great music and great stories are being passed down to our children.

Camaraderie with our countrymen that encourages one of our own for doing something incredibly brave and applauds them for their extraordinary talent.

Humility that abhors pretention and doesn’t even care if we know everything about everything.

Kindness that, if it cannot say something nice, says nothing.

Wisdom that discerns when opinions are needed and when they are superfluous and indulgent.

Simplicity that gets excited when entertainers put on a show for us to watch.

And awareness that those on the screens we glue our eyes to are real people, with real feelings and with mamas who have internet access.

Again, I don’t really care if you loved The Sound of Music and I don’t need for you to be a fan of Carrie Underwood.

I just want you to be nice.

You know, like Maria.

~

As ever, my first concern is for my readers. All comments will be read by me, but only those that are edifying and do not lead to further debate will be published. Thanks for understanding!

Kiss Me, Cousin

Thanksgiving week was so wonderful, and we spent every waking (and sometimes sleeping) hour at my Mama and Daddy’s house in the country with my brothers and their families, my Grandmother, and my cousin, Jon, his wife, Amanda, and their precious children. I couldn’t love that entire group of people more if I tried. Like-minded, like-hearted, we like each other. A lot.

But going through my pictures from our week together, one group of photographs stole the show, and I thought it might cheer your hearts to see them.

My brother, Pete, is a fastidious man, and he has fathered an even more fastidious son. Two-year old Brett is a model first child, clean-cut, particular, straight-laced, and very tidy.

And then there’s my Betsie. Also 2 years old, she is the polar opposite of Brett, messy, wild, free-spirited, and very sticky.

The two of them together provide endless entertainment, and while Betsie used to absolutely terrify all the firstborns in her life (she poked Brett right in the eye at his 1st birthday party), I’ve noticed that she is having a different effect on them these days, and that they find her more amusing than they do overwhelming.

But still maybe a tiny bit overwhelming…

Anyhow, we were sitting around the kitchen table one afternoon with the windows open when Betsie pushed a porch chair over to the window and started making faces at us.

Pretty soon, Brett came over to join her, and that’s when she, completely of her own inspiration, decided to try to kiss him.

Over and over and over and over and over again.

Brett would push her away, and then they’d both belly laugh before the next kiss attempt came.

We were in stitches, and I was so glad my camera happened to be sitting right there beside me when their game began.

And since they’ll probably hate these pictures someday, I thought I’d share them on the internet now while I have the opportunity…

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There is no moral to this blog post, really, only that 2-year olds are stinkin’ cute.

The world needs more of them.

And maybe a few kisses, too.

Gabbie, Pioneer Woman and Ridiculous Me: a Trilogy (Part Two)

Part 2: Pioneer Woman

(Read part one here)

~

It isn’t every morning that you’re sitting there like a deadbeat in your bamboo lounging clothes and, in between your 14th and 15th sip of coffee, you get a facebook notification from Ree Drummond, THE Pioneer Woman.

That’s right. Ree had seen Gabbie’s photograph, and she had responded:

“Oh my gosh…absolutely adorable. I might want to borrow that wig sometime. ;)”

In the span of 4 seconds, our quiet house and our uneventful day erupted like a super-happy volcano. I felt like Anne Hathaway in the Princess Diaries when she finds out she is princess of Genovia and Julie Andrews is her Grandmother…

Ree had seen Gabbie’s picture?!!

Gabbie had received a message from Ree?!!

Shut. UP!

Things only escalated from there as something phenomenal happened; once Ree commented on the photo, her droves of fans began to see it, and the ‘likes’ and comments started flying. It reminded me of that scene from Harry Potter where the letters from Hogwarts start shooting into the Dursley’s house, and Harry is dancing around, trying to catch them…

But I was Harry, and I was only mentally dancing around the room (because you know I wasn’t getting out of bed), and the notifications weren’t for me, they were for a starry-eyed little girl who likes to cook with her Mama…

and I could only think one thing: Gabbie and her mom and dad (Megan and Brian) are going to DIE.

For the rest of the morning, my husband and I were held captive by our computer screen, watching the ‘likes’ on Gabbie’s photo rise, reading all the comments, feverishly messaging Brian and Megan (both of whom were at work) with updates….

we were atwitter and my goal to catch up on homeschool was kicked to the curb. Classes were cancelled!

And if I wasn’t thrilled enough for Gabbie, my joy tripled when Mr. Gore got this text from Megan: “Gabbie is going to be so excited. She was so distraught that she didn’t win the costume contest yesterday…”

I pictured our quiet little friend, dressing up as her hero; donning her PW costume, she probably expected to be recognized by every person she passed, and would have excitedly lined up for the contest, sure that she would win because, duh…she looked like Ree Drummond! How could she not win?

I well remember those types of bitter childhood disappointments, and it made me hurt for Gabbie.

But even for little girls with childish dreams, joy comes in the morning. Any disappoinment she had felt on Halloween night was sure to be forgotten once her Mama told her the good news!

And that alone would have been a very happy ending to Gabbie’s tale…

but as it turns out, her very special day was just beginning.

~

“You know what?” I asked my husband as we continued to hang out in bed, “I think Ree Drummond is doing a book signing in Tulsa in November…”

He immediately hopped online and started looking.

“She is!” he exclaimed. “For the release of her new cookbook…”

“When?” I asked.

“Tonight.” he replied, grinning. “5:00.”

Shut. UP!

Our texts with Megan went into sonic-speed, and Megan was thinking what we were thinking, and no, it wouldn’t be weird at all, and pretty soon it was official. We were going to the signing…

and mini-Ree was going with us, red, shiny wig and all.

This day was so bizarre it was beginning to seem providential!

I decided to take Rebekah Sunday along, who, though too young to be a superfan of PW, really, really likes her cooking show and all those horses she has.

When I broke the news to her, her face lit up and she exclaimed “Are we going to bake with her?”

“No, it won’t be like that…” I informed her.

“Well then can I play with the boys?” she asked, clapping her hands.

“I doubt if they’ll be there…” I replied.

But she decided to be excited anyway, and by 3:00 that afteroon, we were all on our way to Steve’s Books in Tulsa to purchase a cookbook and meet the Pioneer Woman, Megan and her three following behind me and my Mom, Baby Shep and Rebekah.

After a slight glitch upon our 4:00 arrival when Rebekah woke up from her nap, looked out her window and, seeing a Dollar Tree rather than a sprawling ranch, began to wail “I thought we were going to her house!!”, we began unloading and scurrying toward the bookstore to get in line.

And here’s how popular Ree Drummond is. Arriving an hour early, we were still in the 9th group of 25 people to meet her.

Let’s see…that meant we had approximately 16 more hours to wait. With 5 children between us.

Cool.

But we were determined to stay, and I assured my very sweet and docile friend, Megan, that I would storm the castle before Gabbie went home without meeting PW.

The next several hours were spent in various pursuits as I mentally kicked myself for not bringing one snack, drink or distraction. (As far as celebrity book signings go, we were definitely amateurs).

First, we sat on the curb and I played guessing games with the big kids while Megan wrangled her toddler boy and my Mom kept an eye on sleeping Shep.

Then we played some more games.

Then we took pictures of our shoes.

Then we flipped through Ree’s new cookbook.

Then Rebekah started getting hungry and begging me for food…

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then I told her I didn’t have any and she started hanging on my scarf and begging harder…

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Then I started fanning myself. It was 5:00 and an ever-growing crowd was starting to swell around us, hemming me and my hormones in.

We escaped to an empty portion of the sidewalk far from the bookstore and spread out a bit. Here’s me and my Mama and Rebekah, definitely loitering in front this boutique.

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Once we had some wiggling room though (and thanks to Megan’s amazing sister, Jill, who drove over straight from work to help us with the kids), time went by a little faster, and we stayed happy and amused…

mostly by the fact that we had a little Pioneer Woman with us. Similar to the costume contest, no one really knew who Gabbie was or why she was wearing a bright red wig; it was fairly obvious from the constant sympathetic glances she received that many assumed she had a serious illness. The entire situation reminded me of my night out with Peter Pan.

And I’m sure it didn’t hurt that our giddiness about all that had happened that day made everything reach a new level of hilarity…

especially when an elderly woman stopped by Gabbie and said “Oh, there you are! That girl with the beautiful red hair.” She reached down to finger Gabbie’s obviously fake tresses. “That color!” she exclaimed, “and it is just so thick!”

We were loathe to embarass her by explaining that it was a wig, plus the backstory would have been so long, so we just thanked her, all while Rebekah was piping up “It’s fake! Her hair is fake!”

I clamped my hand over her mouth and continued to beam at the effusive woman. “It’s fake!” her words muffled against my hand.

And speaking of Rebekah, it was pretty cute…

while Gabbie is the superfan of Ree, it soon became apparent that Rebekah was the superfan of Gabbie dressed as Ree.

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“I’m taking a picture with The Pioneer Woman!” she chirped, laughing.

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By 7:00, after the kids started running in circles and we were becoming far too bold with the food truck (PW had provided snacks from her new cookbook!), I knew something had to be done. Grabbing Rebekah’s hand, I decided to go ask if we could look at children’s books in the store where Ree was signing.

Surprisingly, the answer was ‘yes’ and I was reminded of why my husband always gets good deals and free shipping: he’s not afraid to ask.

I walked tentatively in to the small store carrying Rebekah on my hip, and I couldn’t help but feel like a trespasser. It was as quiet as a library in there!

And there, at a table near the cash register at the front of the store, in all her red-headed glory, sat Ree. I stopped for a minute to look at her and, in a whisper, pointed her out to Rebekah…

big mistake. I must have forgotten who I was holding and, before I could stop her, my little girl started waving frantically and broke the silence of the store by yelling “hi!!!” to Ree.

Like a ninja, I jumped forward and ducked behind a shelf before whisking her to the back of the store where she sat happily on a stool and perused the books. It was a good distraction for both of us, tucked away into the corner, right behind the snaking line of fans. But I was antsy and needed to converse with someone.

I made eye contact with one of the ladies waiting in line.

“Do you remember what group you are in?” I asked, probably a bit pathetically.

“575-600…” she replied.

“Oh…” I sighed, “Well, we’re getting closer…”

“What number are you?” a second woman asked.

“660,” I reponded, forlornly. “And we just have so many kids here! They’re so hungry…”

I couldn’t really comprehend what I was doing as this sob story involuntarily rolled off my tongue, but this, too, seemed providential as it apparently worked in my favor. The second lady held up a ticket. “I’m not using this one,” she said, “it will help you get in a little faster.”

610. Gasp! That was the next group!

I kissed her feet (in my mind) and Rebekah and I took off to get everyone packed up. Within minutes, our group was called into the store. T’was a gloriously fun and unexpected frenzy, and a blessed turn of events.

But even in our haste, my heart stopped to recognize that this was it: Gabbie was about to have the moment of a lifetime, one she would never forget.

The little girls entered the store on our heels and I watched with glee as Gabbie craned her neck to get her first glimpse…

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and although we were at the back of the line that wound through the store, it wasn’t long at all before our turn came up. Gabbie was next!

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Ree had been notified that Gabbie was coming (apparently some nutcase had tracked her Mom down on facebook and paid a dollar to send her a private message? People these days!), and was SO sweet and welcoming to her little twinkie.

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and Gabbie was precious to watch. So tongue-tied…

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so bashful…

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but so very happy.

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I was just taking it all in, snapping pictures for Megan when I heard Rebekah’s chirpy voice once more: “I saw you on TV!” It was at this moment that I realized Miss Sunday needed to take a hike so Gabbie could have her moment with Ree.

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and here they are, Ree Drummond and her mini-me…

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matching hair, matching tunics, matching earrings, and would you look at this, even matching cheeks, chins and smiles.

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The fondest dream of Gabbie’s young heart had come true…

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and you know who it really all comes back to?

Megan.

A loving mama who made mountains of Pioneer Woman food for a 6-year old’s birthday party…

who was running all over Tulsa with 3 kids the Tuesday before Halloween looking for a red wig and a tunic…

who scrambled home during her lunchbreak to get Gabbie’s costume to wear to the signing…

who left work at 3:00 with those same 3 kids and drove staight to Tulsa to stand in line for 4 hours…

who loves her daughter, with all her heart, and lays down her life for her happiness.

Pioneer Woman might be Gabbie’s hero…

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but Gabbie’s Mama is most definitely one of mine.

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~

and, as it turns out, Pioneer Woman is ALSO one of my heroes. Stay tuned to hear the spectacle that happened when Gabbie left the store and I realized it was MY turn to meet Ree. I promise to spare no details. Go ahead and kill me now.

Gabbie, Pioneer Woman and Ridiculous Me: a Trilogy

Part 1: Gabbie

~

When I woke up on the morning of November 1st, I had simple goals for the day:

1. Recover from Halloween by drinking my coffee in bed and keeping my pajamas on all day.

2. Catch up on homeschool.

3. That’s it.

But life takes awfully funny twists and turns, and few have been quite so twisty or turny as the ones mine took today…

It all started back in August. My friend, Megan, was planning her daughter, Gabbie’s, 6th birthday, and Gabbie had made an unusual request for one so young: the dearest, darlingest desire of her little heart was to have a Pioneer Woman party. And not like, Little-House-on-the-Prairie-cowboys-and-indians-pioneer-woman-party, but Gabbie’s-favorite-person-on-the-planet-Ree-Drummond-THE-Pioneer-Woman-party.

You don’t see a lot of those on Pinterest…

But here’s what I love about Megan. While I would have taken that theme and secretly planned all the details while my daughter slept, turning it into a sunflower and basset hound affair where all the boys had to wear ranch clothes and all the girls had to wear tunics, Megan actually sat down and planned this party with her little girl.

Flipping through cookbooks, Gabbie picked out several Pioneer Woman recipes that she wanted to make with her friends, and as usual, Megan set the stage for a genuinely lovely and laidback party wherein both her daughter and her guests (and their Mamas!) would leave feeling happy and appreciated.

For Gabbie’s present, I decided to aim really high and, sitting down one afternoon, I sent a long and gushing e-mail to The Pioneer Woman herself, telling her about Gabbie and her party theme, and asking rather pathetically if a small token might be procured in time for her birthday…nothing much, just an autograph, or a video shout-out, or a spatula…a Kitchenaid mixer perhaps (or two? One for me, one for Gabbie?)…anything, really, that the Pioneer Woman had signed, touched or breathed on.

Knowing it was a major shot in the dark, I worked hard to keep my expectations in the “it-never-hurts-to-try” category rather than the oh-my-gosh-I’m-going-to-become-BFF’s-with-PW-while-making-Gabbie’s-party-the-best-ever category…

for I knew it was very unlikely that PW would even see that message, and if she did, would have her hands tied; it is common blogging knowledge, is it not, that if you send a gift to one “biggest fan ever”, you leave out 1,158,935?

Yes, Ree Drummond has that many followers on facebook.

Still yet, it was worth an attempt for our Gabbie-girl.

But as her birthday party drew near, it became apparent that my message had probably been swallowed up into a sea of PW fanmail, perhaps read, perhaps even appreciated, but understandably unanswered. My disappointment was not too keenly felt, and I had to take a minute to feel sorry for Ree Drummond who probably receives thousands upon thousands of requests from people like me who just want this “one tiny thing” from her.

And it was great; even though my dreams of the present-of-a-lifetime didn’t materialize, Gabbie’s party was a precious affair.

The children arrived to a table stacked with miniature pizza boxes that they got to decorate with fun stickers and markers before moving to another table where they put together their own pizza using PW’s homemade crust recipe.

Then, while their pizzas baked in the oven, they moved to another table and put together a Pioneer Woman fruit pizza. There was also PW’s lasagna for the grownups, as well as her beautiful (and towering!) Chocolate Strawberry Nutella Cake that served as Gabbie’s birthday cake.

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I was just so touched by that sweet party, and left that day not only realizing what an amazing woman and mother Megan is, but that Gabbie is more than your typical fan of Pioneer Woman…

She’s a superfan!

All that to say, when my friends and I were sitting around in early October discussing Halloween costumes, and Megan mentioned that she had nothing planned, I offhandedly mentioned that Gabbie should dress as Pioneer Woman, remembering her birthday party and her unprecedented adoration for Ree Drummond.

I was joking.

But apparently Gabbie heard the idea and was like, YEAH, baby.

From that night on, she was determined to wear a Pioneer Woman costume for Halloween.

(You don’t see a lot of those on Pinterest, either…)

But over the next couple of weeks, I watched in wonder and amusement as Megan did it again. Where I would have said, “You know, sweetie, that doesn’t really match Mommy’s costume”, Megan found a way to make her little girl’s dream come true and, although she was still clueless on the Sunday before Halloween about how to make this costume materalize, by the time I saw Gabbie at our town’s Trunk or Treat on Halloween night, she had been transformed into none other than Ree Drummond…

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I cracked up.

The best part of all? When Gabbie approached our “trunk” to recieve her treats, she first handed ME a treat of prettily wrapped homemade cookies. Because that’s what Pioneer Woman would do.

(Let’s all take a moment to ponder the cute/sweet/preciousness of that idea and give Gabbie and her mama a round of applause).

When our troop returned home later that night and all the sugar-laced children had been strapped into their beds, I did what every American mother does on Halloween night, edited and uploaded photographs onto facebook. It was so much fun to peruse the snapshots of what had been a truly special evening (more on that next week), and I loved looking again at the different costumes our little churchkids had come up with this year. They were all so precious.

But when I came across Gabbie’s picture in the hundreds I had taken that night, I stopped for a minute.

I smiled.

I said “eureka!”

And I decided it was worth another shot.

Going straight to Pioneer Woman’s facebook page, I posted Gabbie’s photo and left Ree a quick caption: “At our town’s trunk-or-treat, I was so happy to be visited by a little Ree Drummond. This is 6-year old Gabbie, your biggest fan!”

It took no more than a minute and, assuming it, too, had been swallowed into the blackhole of internet posts, I gave it little thought and went on to tweak and edit some more of our photos before finally calling it a night and going to sleep…

And that leads us back to the morning of November the 1st.

When I woke up, I set out to accomplish my first post-Halloween goal of staying in bed with my caffeine and pajamas. Leisurely sipping on my first cup of coffee, I opened my laptop and was perusing facebook when I got a notification.

Clicking on it, I saw with bug-eyes that this was not my typical notification.

And that’s when our day went twisty…

~

Click here to read part 2!

(and here to read part 3).

How to (Not) Keep a Lid on Breastfeeding

I’m a pretty modest person.

My exposure to doctors and hospitals was nonexistent before my first pregnancy…

My Mom and I never had “the talk”…not even the one about puberty (in her defense, I think I would plug my ears and curl up into the fetal position when she tried)…

And I cannot for the LIFE of me dig up enough maturity to use scientific terms for body parts and bodily functions. Which explains why my husband says he sometimes felt like someone was going to come and arrest him for taking advantage of me when they saw that I was with child and then heard me try to answer medical questions without squirming like a 12-year old and using phrases like “a #2″ instead of “a bowel movement”.

By the way, if you could have seen me at the hospital trying to discuss our plan for birth control with a wet-behind-the-ears and adorably awkward medical student, you would have been in stitches. I’m just so glad my husband was asleep at the time with ear-plugs in his ears.

And so having a curious little boy named Gideon in my life has posed a bit of a challenge to me, especially after an extremely awkward encounter we had when he was only two years old. I would tell you the story, but…I can’t. There are no words.

And while I was somehow able to skirt around uncomfortable discussions with him when pregnant with his sisters, I knew that my time was up this go-round. He is six years old. He has lots of questions. He notices everything...

Somehow, though, I lucked out. The “where do babies come from?” discussion didn’t come up at all when I was pregnant, only lots of questions about how the baby was going to “pop out” of me. In fact, several times, he tried to push on my belly to help me along in that process: “Here, let me help you pop that baby out!”

“I’m good, Gid!” I would insist, thanking him for his help as I retreated with my belly to a safer part of the house.

But I knew on our first day home with Baby Shepherd, when Gideon offered to go and make him a bottle, that a discussion on breastfeeding was inevitable; this became even clearer as he kept asking me, over the course of a couple of days, what his baby brother was eating. “Where is his milk?” he would ask, dumbfounded, “Where are the bottles?…”

“Yeah,” said Rebekah, “where’s his food?”

I looked at Mr. Gore. “I’m going to have to tell them,” I said. I knew, with our new family dynamic and our busy homeschooling schedule, that I couldn’t just hide out in my room for a year, nor could I carry Shepherd around under a blanket every 3 hours without them thinking I was a little off-my-rocker.

But, as Betsie would say, I was “skerred”. I had no idea how Gideon was going to react to what I told him. Would he gag? Would he crack up? Would he be mortified and flee from my presence?

I decided to give myself a head-start by talking to Rebekah first. Her calm acceptance of how I look in my birthday suit gave me confidence to know this wouldn’t be a big deal to her.

I was spot-on…

During one of the baby’s feedings, she joined me on my bed; the baby was completely hidden by covers.

“Where’s Shepherd?” she asked.

“Right here,” I said, “he’s eating.” I decided to plunge into it. “Do you want to know what he eats?”

She nodded her head, eyes alight with curiosity. I told her.

She fell over, laughing.

“That’s funny!” she exclaimed, “Can I have a drink?”

(That’s gonna be a negative, Ghost Rider).

So now it was Gideon’s turn.

His Papa had already helped me out by telling him that the baby was getting his nourishment “from Mama”, but that wasn’t enough for Gid the Kid.

He needed more details.

And so yesterday morning, I called to him from my bedroom where I was already feeding Shepherd under a blanket: “Gid, why don’t you come to my room and we’ll read while I feed the baby?”

He happily obliged, bouncing down beside me in his usual rough-and-tumble manner.

“Is he eating right now?” he asked, immediately, confirming my assumption that if I could get him to my room while I was nursing, he would naturally initiate the conversation.

I nodded, and my stomach started clenching up as I anticipated what was ahead.

“How is he eating?…” he asked.

“He just is…” I hedged, trying to find the right words.

But before I could stop him, Gideon peeked under the blanket.

“Oh!” he said, “he just gets his food from there?”

“Yes…” I replied, speechless.

There was a long pause…

and then my favorite goofy, crooked, top-front-toothless grin spread across his face.

“Really?!” he exclaimed, smiling hugely.

“Yes…” I repeated, hesitant. This was the moment I had been bracing myself for…

“Cool.” he said lightly, as if his mom being a walking milk-truck was the most natural and awesome thing in the world.

“…yep.” I replied.

And that was that.

I heaved a giant sigh of relief, and we started reading his book.

Why in the world had I waited SO long to let him in on this great mystery and miracle of life?

That was a cakewalk!…

Not so fast, Mrs. Gore.

We still had one more “talk” ahead.

Later that day, when I was feeding Shepherd yet again, Gideon joined me on my bed, a giant question written all over his face.

“So…where is the milk at?” he asked, obviously confused.

Oh geeze, I thought, here we go again…

It was obvious that I was going to have to GROW UP and be a little less vague.

I couldn’t bring myself to show him the exact source of Shepherd’s nourishment, and so in an impromptu stroke of genius, I lifted up his shirt.

“See those things right there?” I asked, bluntly.

He nodded.

“That’s where it comes from,” I said, boldly and without hesitation.

The question mark on his face was replaced with a lightbulb.

Ohhhh!” he exclaimed, understanding finally sinking in. “…so those are the lids!”

“The lids?” I asked.

“Yeah, to the milk,” he explained.

“…YES!” I said, thrilled. “The lids!”

You have no idea how happy I was, one, that our conversation about breastfeeding was finally over, two, that Gideon had given me a funny story to tell, and, three, that I now had a great word to use when referring to…you know. Those things.

I had never known what to call them before…

Home.

At approximately 1:30 on Friday afternoon, we pulled into our driveway…

They were waiting for us on the front porch, and my heart skipped a beat or two as they jumped up and clambered down the sidewalk to greet us, shouts of “Mama!” and “Papa!” causing tears to cloud my vision.

The one-hour drive home had never been longer.

The first to reach me was Gideon, freshly bathed and wearing my favorite shirt. My Mom said he was anxious to get cleaned up for us because he “smelled like a puppy”, which told me that he was as excited about seeing us as we were about seeing him. I gathered him into my arms before even leaving the passenger seat and we held on to each other for dear life. My son and I, perhaps more alike than any two people in our family, share the same struggles and the same strengths. This pregnancy has been hard on us, especially the last couple of weeks, and our reunion was what I had been living for that last day in the hospital. When we released each other, our eyes were definitely “waterin’”, our smiles almost too big for our faces.

After an extremely long journey, we were home. Both of us.

Rebekah was next, skipping towards me in the long, pink dress she never takes off, her hair in long, golden braids. She covered me with kisses and informed me that she was going to take care of me. Her cornflower blue eyes radiated happiness and contentment, warming me to my toes.

I’m always home when I’m with Rebekah Sunday.

And then came shirtless Betsie Fair, wearing nothing but pink, floral culottes and a spunky little ponytail, hopping joyfully across the cobblestones that lead to our driveway. “Mama! Mama!” she continued to exclaim, her happy little face causing me to melt into a puddle of mama goo in the floor of our minivan. Betsie was my MVP that last part of my pregnancy, keeping me entertained and distracted by her out-of-this-world cuteness and unbridled joy. Scooping her up, I hugged her tight while she manically patted me and giggled and squealed.

Home.

In a big jumble of bodies and beautiful chaos, we landed in the living room. There were presents of crayon drawings to be presented, everyone had important stories to tell all at one time, and Baby Shepherd had to be thoroughly inspected by three curious siblings.

And I?

I sat in my favorite chair and took in the blessed moment. Coming home with a new baby always brings with it a fresh perspective and for the time being, the noises weren’t grating, the responsibilities weren’t drudgerous, the to-do’s and expectations were nonexistent, and I was as happy as I have ever remembered being in my entire life.

“Mom?…” I asked, “would you mind taking a picture?”

It suddenly felt very important for me to capture this moment for my memories.

“Do you want me to put a shirt on Betsie?” she replied.

“No. I want them all just like they are…”

Like everyone else in America, sometimes our family photos are staged, and the preparation for them has left me breathless and sweaty and uptight. We might be wearing matching clothes and not a hair is out of place, but the smiles are probably not genuine and there is no story behind our photograph other than “we look nice today and our clothes are awesome“.

But this picture was different.

We stopped our reunion for the briefest of moments, we quickly gathered into a cluster, we looked at the camera, and our faces were already beaming before my Mom even had to tell us to “say cheese!”.

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The feelings I experienced at our homecoming will be impossible to hold onto. Life will eventually pick up speed and we’ll be back at the grindstone, going through our days, doing our chores, fighting negativity and frustration and cabin fever. This day was a gift, for all of us, and a sweet reminder that…

together, at home, is our very favorite place to be.

A Night to Remember (to Forget)

Friday night I had a long series of Braxton Hicks contractions that caused me to sleep fitfully, to say the least.

Saturday night I woke up so uncomfortably squished between my eldest children, I had to flee the premises and start my Sunday morning routine two hours earlier than usual.

Sunday’s afternoon nap was a bust.

And then there was Sunday night.

At 3:30 a.m. Rebekah was crying because she couldn’t find her stuffed sheep, and it was the only thing that would help her go back to sleep and now she would “never, ever be able to find it again!”

Gideon was crying because he had diarrhea.

Jake was barking because he is a puppy and he doesn’t like his crate.

Mr. Gore was helping Gideon.

I was probably whimpering and pouting as I tried to pretend like none of the above was happening.

And Betsie…what do you know? Betsie was asleep. It was obviously Opposites Day, because most usually, she is the one waking up in the middle of the night to throw the house into chaos.

And here’s how the rest of the night went:

Jake stops barking, hallelujer.

Rebekah decides Mama is just as good as sheep and snuggles into my side.

Gideon settles in next to Papa.

Five minutes pass.

Gideon starts wriggling.

Two minutes pass.

Gideon starts scratching at his mosquito bites.

Three minutes pass.

Gideon starts clawing at his mosquito bites.

Two more minutes pass.

Gideon starts tossing and turning while clawing and scratching at his mosquito bites.

One minute passes.

Gideon starts to cry because he is so itchy and he can’t sleep.

Mr. Gore whisks Gideon away to treat his mosquito bites.

Rebekah and I settle back in.

Rebekah whispers to me “Am I a good girl because I’m not crying like Gideon?”

Her breath smells like a gut-wagon.

I whisper back that Gideon is just having a hard time and to remember that she was just crying thirteen minutes ago.

Gideon and Mr. Gore return.

Everyone settles down again.

The instrumental theme song from “Castle” begins playing repeatedly in my head as images of back-to-back murder victims from the show flash through my memory.

I try to mentally change the subject.

I can’t.

I toss.

I turn.

I plump up my pillows and try to get comfortable.

Three hours go by. Or at least it feels like it. We are all still awake. The restlessness is palpable.

Mr. Gore escapes from the room to presumably sleep on the couch.

Gideon asks where Papa went.

“Why are you still awake?!” my head screams.

“He’ll be back…” I whisper.

A flash of light hits my eyes. Gideon has turned the lamp on and then off very quickly.

“Gideon!” I bark. “What are you doing?!”

“I’m sorry…” he says, starting to cry again. “I need Papa…”

I have to get some air.

I grab my pillow and my glasses and shuffle from the room.

“I’ll go find him. I’ll be right back…” I mutter as I leave the room.

Mr. Gore is hidden under twenty pillows on the couch.

I go to the bathroom next to the living room.

I sit on the tiny settee near the couch.

I lay down on the tiny settee.

This is very uncomfortable.

I sit back up and put my head in my hands.

Mr. Gore emerges from his pillow mountain to ask what I’m doing and insists I sleep on the couch.

I assure him that I’m just taking a break before returning to bed.

I hear Gideon crying now.

I shuffle back to our room.

Gideon is beside himself, asking for Papa and saying he “can’t breathe!!”

I plop down between him and Rebekah.

I try to comfort Gideon.

“I need someone to help me! I can’t breath!” he wails, “I need you to fan me! Quick!”

(The backstory to this madness would take too long to explain…)

Jake starts barking again.

“You just woke up Jake!” I accuse him.

Miraculously, he can breathe again and stops crying.

Rebekah says “Gideon, if you need help, you should ask without crying, because when you cry, you wake everybody up.”

I remind her that she did the same thing fifteen hours and thirteen minutes ago.

I gather them both up and we all cuddle together in a big mass of bodies.

When did our king-sized bed get so small?…

“Rebekah,” Gideon whispers, “Guess what?”

“What?” she asks.

“I have a pull-up on.” he replies.

They both burst into giggles.

Rebekah confides that she has a pull-up on, too.

I am SO confused by this, but I don’t even ask.

Rebekah makes a joke about poop.

They both burst into giggles.

“Okay, you guys, it is REALLY time to go to sleep…” I remind them.

We all settle down again.

Gideon starts breathing heavily.

Gideon starts snoring.

I mentally punch myself in the face.

I start writing a children’s book in my mind.

I force myself to stop because I have no way to write it down.

The baby in my tummy starts kicking, probably to remind me that tonight’s lack of sleep is nothin’ compared to what he/she has in store for me at the end of August.

Two hours go by. Or at least it feels like it.

I need some air again.

I grab my pillow and glasses and shuffle from the room.

“Mama?!” Rebekah says when I open the door…

“Why are you still awake?!” my head screams.

“I’ll be back…” I whisper.

I go to the bathroom again.

I’m hungry.

I stealthily fix a bowl of Sugar Smacks cereal, being careful not to wake up Jake in the sunroom, Mr. Gore in the living room, Betsie upstairs, and Gideon and Rebekah in our room. That leaves one room.

The office.

I sit in the creaky chair, turn down the computer brightness and get on facebook.

Funny. Nothing has happened since midnight.

I check the news.

Even worldwide, nothing has happened since midnight.

I scroll through Pinterest and finish my cereal.

Three pictures have been pinned since midnight.

I’m still hungry.

I pour another bowl of cereal.

I pull up a Desiring God article titled “The Family: God’s Litmus Test of Applied Grace”.

The words are too big and intelligent for the middle of the night.

I decide to read it in the morning.

I’m thirsty.

I fumble around in the dark kitchen until I remember the water bottle in my purse.

I find it and take a couple of swigs.

It tastes hot and old.

I want my Mommy.

I go to the bathroom again.

I lay on the settee again.

The settee seems even tinier than ever.

I sit up and rearrange the pillows so I am perfectly propped up.

The settee still seems tiny.

I mentally laugh, thinking that if I so much as sneeze, I will probably roll right off the settee and onto the floor like the meatball on top of spaghetti.

I start singing “On Top of Spaghetti” in my head.

I hate that song.

My right hand is going numb and tingly again (one of my favorite pregnancy side-effects), so I try to find the perfect position to make it come to life again.

It stops tingling.

That’s when I realize the top of my ribcage is on fire, another of my favorite pregnancy side-effects.

I cannot get comfortable.

My mind replaces “On Top of Spaghetti” with Alecia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” now, but instead of singing “this girl is on fire” I’m singing “my ribs are on fire…my ribs are on fi-err-er-er-er-er-errrr…” over and over again.

I start to manically laugh in my head and decide this night is blogworthy and that I should mentally catalogue all that has taken place since 3:30 a.m. so I won’t forget it.

I hold my glasses up to my face and squint at the VCR clock.

That’s right, I said VCR.

5:30 a.m.

“Please, God…” I beg, “I can’t be up for the day. I just can’t…”

I lay back down and tightly close my eyes.

I fall in and out of sleep, my back killing me on the tiny settee, until I hear Mr. Gore rise from the couch to take care of our barking puppy. It is 6:30 now and I know he is up for the day.

I immediately move to the couch.

I prop seven feather pillows up in the perfect position and sink down in comfort…

I close my eyes.

I open them.

I put on my glasses and squint at the clock on the VCR.

9:30 a.m.

Coffee is brewing.

Family is whispering and tiptoeing around.

Puppy is outside.

I somehow feel rested and happy.

Huh. Joy really does come in the morning!

Mostly because the night…

is finally…

over.

A Weekend Dance Camp

I love it so much when my friends pull awesome tricks out of their hats.

And my sweet friend, Megan, does so quite often, though she would insist that she has no such hat and certainly no tricks.

But that’s another reason I love her so much – a more humble and servant-hearted woman would be hard to find, and every “event” she plans and hosts with her children in mind has an extra heaping of thoughtfulness and tenderness and love…

thus, when she brought up the idea of employing two of her cousins for a two-day summer dance camp for all the little girls in our lives, I knew it would be special, for many reasons.

First of all, we live in a rural community. There are no dance studios in our town, and the closest one is quite far away. To enroll any of our daughters in a dance class would mean a lot of commitment, loading up and driving “to town” more often than any of us probably want to.

Secondly, we have a very like-minded group of mama’s in our church. We share similar thoughts on childhood, modesty, and worldview, not to mention the fact that most of us are working with pretty tiny budgets; thus, many of the more professional dance programs close to us wouldn’t necessarily be a good fit…but that doesn’t mean we don’t want our girls to experience the joy of dressing up in a tutu and twirling around like ballerinas!

And somehow, Megan was able to create the perfect scenario for all of us. Two days. Little commitment. Down the street from our houses. Laid-back. Experimental. Safe. Innocent. Inexpensive.

And the best part was, our daughters were surrounded by their best friends. What is sometimes a very uncomfortable situation for little girls (I was terrified when I took my first dance class full of strangers) became one of the sweetest bonding experiences they’ve had yet.

And at the end of the camp, all of their friends and family members joined in our church’s extension building to watch a very short – and sweet – recital. Anyone who has ever sat through a two-hour long recital to watch your child dance for 5 minutes would appreciate the 10 minutes we spent watching our own daughters dance, the entire time! And I can’t imagine what a confidence-booster this was for our girls, and all for the incredible and unheard-of price of $15.

After the recital, the girls walked down to the church’s parking lot where our friend, Kodi, treated them to free sno-cones from that morning’s Farmers Market. I hope they never forget that day, sitting with their pals after their first dance performance together, enjoying one of the best treats of summer.

And so I share ALL of the above not because I’m against a more professional dance scene – again, if we lived closer to a wholesome studio and money was no object, I would be the first in line – but because I know many of you are like us, living in small towns on small budgets. Take a cue from Megan, and find a way to bring a fun weekend of dance to all the little ballerinas in your life.

Take a look!

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A super special thanks to Megan for coordinating this camp, and for her sweet cousins, Katie and Kara, for being such amazing dance teachers and bringing their expertise to our small town at such an affordable price. You truly ministered to us, and to our daughters!

Gideon’s “Life Day” and a Puppy Named Jake (Part Two)

To read more about “Life Day” and the backstory to these photos, see Part One

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Should I go ahead and add this day to the “Top Ten Memories” file in my brain?

Yeah, I think so, too…

After spending Sunday night and all day Monday with his sisters at Grandmother and Granddaddy’s house, my parents dropped Gideon off at our shed and went driving around with the girls so we could have a moment alone with our son.

And our photographer friend.

(Told you I have a sickness).

It was a sweet reunion. Gideon was simply happy to be home. We, on the other hand, were about to burst with excitement!

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“Why can’t we go inside the house?” he kept asking.

“Just because…” I kept hedging.

Finally, we sat down with him and Mr. Gore explained all about his “life day” and that we were celebrating the gift of Gideon with a special surprise.

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Gideon likes surprises.

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We prayed and thanked God for our boy, and I somehow managed to keep from bawling like a baby…

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And then it was time for the blindfold. We wanted the puppy to be a secret until the very last minute…

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My  job was to keep him from peeking and to make SURE he couldn’t see!

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Almost there…

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Before we took his blindfold off, we let him feel his gift to see if he could guess what it was. Our calm little doggy kept so still and quiet. Good boy!

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Gideon told me later that he thought it was a stuffed animal. He still had no idea what was on the other side of that blindfold…

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When we took the blindfold off, he was, in a word, dazed. As a 4 -year-old, I distinctly remember him asking as he surveyed a pasture full of cattle, “Why did God make all these animals and not give me any?” This boy has been waiting a LONG time for a pet of his own…

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I noticed when I looked back at the pictures that his little cheeks were flushed with excitement (be still, my heart)…

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and for sure his “eyes were waterin’”.

Gideon’s eyes water a lot. He gets that from me.

p.s. I love this picture. (and all the ones after it).

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“What do you want to name him?” we asked, gently recommending the name ‘Huckleberry’, the name of his first stuffed animal, a little white puppy from FAO Schwarz, or ‘Jake’, his most favorite name for as long as we can remember.

“Jake” he said, confidently.

Even though we were secretly rooting for Huckleberry, we were pretty happy with that, especially since “Thunderfire” is his second favorite name.

In retrospect, I don’t think I can fully express how fulfilling it was to watch my son receive this gift. What a joy it is to care for someone so deeply, to know their deepest wishes, to understand their heart like no one else, and to bless them accordingly…

and so I think that experiencing this day with Gideon brought me a little bit closer to the heart of God; how our Heavenly Father must love us! We don’t give Him enough credit in our crowded, complicated, grown-up worlds.

So that just left one last thing…

After giving Gideon a moment to get acquainted with new best friend, we called my parents and told them to come back to the house. Gideon and Jake hid in the shed so he could surprise his sisters with our newest family member.

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“Close your eyes!” we told them, “Gideon has a surprise for you…”

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(Betsie ALWAYS peeks).

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I’ve never seen the whole lot of them so excited about something. It was a full-out dog party in our yard, and our household has consequently been abuzz for DAYS…

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I have so much more to talk about concerning pet ownership, about the similarities between puppies and babies, about how this little pup has stolen our hearts, but for now, I’ll just leave it at this…

Welcome to our family, Jake.

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We’ve been waiting for you for a very long time.

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I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge Benjamin Grey Photography once more for these precious, precious pictures. What a gift it is to have talented and generous friends who will wake up early to minister to your family before a long night working the late shift. You blessed our hearts, Ben and Leslie, more than you’ll ever know. Thank you.

And special thanks to the sweet family who sold us this puppy and took such good care of him for us. You were a joy to work with! (and our daughter has already put in a request for a GIRL puppy on her 6th “life day”…)

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Remember or share it on Pinterest!

Surprising a boy