Happy June everybody!  Only two days left until our baby girl is visible to the naked eye!  (I don't count today; then there's Monday and Tuesday, and I don't count Wednesday because we have to be at the hospital by 5:30 IN THE MORNING.  I won't even have the mental capability of counting that early anyway, so Wednesday is definitely out.  Therefore: only TWO days until our baby is born!!!)

WHOOP!  WHOOP!

I'm determined to finish that challenge from way back in March, so, ahem, I now present to you the JUNE CHALLENGE!  I'm on day 27, lucky you.  We're close to being finished.

Day 27 wants me to tell you about three online friends whom I have never met.  I'm not big on online friendships.  At least, I didn't think I was until I considered this question.  Last year, when I weeded out my facebook friends - who were only people I know in real life - I had a few rules.  1. The ones I kept were family.  2. Or friends whom I interacted with through facebook on a regular basis.  If there was no regular interaction, they were weeded out - not because I didn't like them, but because there was no reason for me to keep them as a name on a list.  That's when I realized something that surprised me:  I did have a few "online friends" in my facebook list whom I had never met.  Somehow, my online vs. real life lines have blurred. 

So, who have I never met but feel like I have?  Let me tell you. 

1.  Tiffany from In Pursuit.  I've told this story before on my blog, but way back in 2006 or 2007 when I was still new at blogging, I clicked the "next" button at the top of my page.  It took me to someone else's blog.  I read a few posts, and then clicked "next" again.  Several blogs later, I ran into Tiffany's and enjoyed what she had to say.  Back then her blog had a different name.  In fact, she's been through a few names and genres.  When I first "met" her, she was single and hoping to start college.  Now she is married and a model/professional photographer among other revenue enhancersThe Farmbell which hooks up local food growers and raisers to local consumers.  (Which I am totally thrilled over.  I can't wait for his site to grow big enough that it affects MY area!)  Through it all, Tiff's heart to follow God in her everyday life shone and enticed me.  I don't remember this, but at some point, I must have been brave enough to stop stalking and start commenting, and she began reading and commenting back on my posts.  One thing led to another.  We emailed each other through some difficult times.  We prayed for each other through ups and downs.  I feel like I have met her.  She even mailed me a present from her Etsy shop (back when she had an Etsy shop) just because I seemed down.  See?  That's the kind of friend she is. 
.  She and her husband, Mike, have bought and renovated their own home, and Mike has recently started a website called

2. Donette from Our Corner of the World who rarely posts anymore, but I still love her!  I'm trying to remember how we "met."  I'm pretty sure it was through the blog posts of a girl named Callie who went to the same college I did.  I then started reading Gretchen's blog, because Gretchen commented on Callie's blog, and then I read Donette's because Donette commented on Gretchen's.  Did you follow all that?  Because it might not have been like that at all.  I don't remember.  I no longer read either Callie or Gretchen, but somehow, Donette and I became friends.  We went through some similar life experiences around the same times (switching over to more natural food, baby experiences, family things, and right now a desire to garden/landscape combined with a serious lack of knowledge), and we enjoy similar thought patterns.  Just like with Tiff, Donette and I have emailed and prayed for each other quite a bit, and somehow we became facebook friends.  I really don't know how that happened because we are both very careful about letting "strangers" into our lives, but I sure am glad.  She'd be hard to stay in touch with otherwise!  :-)

3.  Beth from Beth's By Grace.  Let's see.  Beth and I "met" in quite an interesting fashion.  My parents were very good friends (in real life) of a couple named Roger and Sheryl when I was a child.  We spent quite a few evenings at each others' houses, and I played with their children.  After a few years, our families moved to different states but always kept a warm spot in our hearts for each other.  Our lovely Sheryl has since gone home to Heaven, and Roger married Beth.  Now, you all know how facebook is.  It suggested a few years ago that I become friends with someone named Roger, and when I followed the link I discovered it was our old family friend!  Hooray!  Roger and I did friend each other on facebook, and that's how I began communicating with his wife Beth.  Well.  Beth and I, our hearts beat the same, you know?  We laugh at the same things.  We cry at the same things.  We pray at the same things.  We're kindred spirits with the same extremely quirky sense of humor (which comes in mighty handy).  Someday, I am going to meet Beth for real - we only live two hours from each other - but in the meantime, I just love reading her status updates and blog posts, and laughing together over all the fun and tragic complexities of life.
I'm totally cracking up over the subject matter for today's March May Challenge post.  Favorite food?  Seriously?  My favorite food has been changing second by second during the last nine months, and sometimes my favorite food is non-existent.  Food?  Nasty stuff!

In the past, tacos have been my favorite, but they have to be homemade tacos.  I'm picky.  Any traditional breakfast food has always been a safe bet as well.  Eggs, bacon, biscuits, hashbrowns...yum! 

In fact, is it lunchtime yet?  Cause I just made myself hungry.

Hmm, upon further analysis, never mind.  I am NOT hungry.  Blech.

I've been thinking about my pregnancies, and how different they all were in food cravings.  With Liberty, I craved only raw fruits and vegetables, and the thought of meat made my stomach turn.  I never could fit an entire meal into my tummy while she was in there, so I ended up snacking every couple hours.  I lost close to fifty pounds while I was pregnant with Liberty, and I felt so energetic and full of vitality. 

With Mercy, I craved meat and potatoes and all manner of desserts, mostly chocolate (which was highly unusual because prior to Mercy's gestation I hated chocolate of all sorts).  The smell of salad or any type of vegetation sent me running for the nearest receptacle.  I paid the price for my eating habits, too.  I ended up with gestational diabetes with Mercy Jane, and I gained thirty pounds.

This little girl, on the other hand...well, I've been all over the board with her.  Most of the time, I don't want to eat ANYTHING.  And when I do, it just comes back up again anyway.  Then there are times when all I want is a plate full of deep green crunchy vegetables full of refreshing, watery goodness.  Some days I cannot get enough sugar, and I've lived on drive-thru milkshakes for every meal of the day.  Other days, potatoes in any form take control of my brain.  But I'd have to say chips and queso have been my number one craving throughout this entire pregnancy.  Chips and queso and fast food breakfast sandwiches.  Don't judge!

And I've only gained six pounds so far.

Now, why can't that happen when I'm not pregnant?



"What is queso?" you ask before thinking yourself bilingual, "Oh you mean cheese."
"NO!" I shout with bitter indignation, "Queso is the golden currency of heaven above,

flown down to us by nude cherubs so that we might find a small plot of happiness in our lifetime."
This photo and quote are both from www.dishola.com created by Dano
who is dedicated to finding the best and most wonderful queso alive in Austin, TX.
He is clearly a man after my own heart.
I saw a woman the other day.  She was about my age, in her early thirties.  She hobbled slowly as she walked because she was probably close to eight and a half months pregnant.  I saw her take a step and wince, one hand putting pressure on her lower back, presumably trying to alleviate an angry sciatic nerve in her left leg.  She wore a wrinkled turquoise maternity top and stained khaki shorts - most likely because the waistband on those shorts was the only waistband left in her closet that fits around her tummy.  Her brown hair hung limply waving of its own accord in various directions.  Her bangs were pulled back with a metal barrette away from her face in an unflattering way.  I wondered if her pregnancy hormones were getting the best of her wayward bangs, too, thus prompting the desperate barrette move.  Another glance at her face confirmed this presumption on my part because I noticed a large red zit to the left of her chin.  Yep.  Score another point for the hormones.  Poor lady.  She looked miserable and downhearted.

I wondered if waiting the final weeks for her baby's arrival was causing her a slight depression the way it does for me?  I've never been good at waiting.  I wondered if she felt as unattractive and unnecessary as I do?  Eight and a half months of inability will do that to a person's psyche. 

As I watched her attempting to put on a brave front and walk without too much wincing, an older gentleman approached her from the opposite direction.  He glanced at her face as he approached, and she glanced at his.  She halfway smiled/grimaced at him while once again her left foot touched the floor.  She self-consciously took her hand from her back and held it loosely at her side, attempting to look normal.  Then her smile brightened perceptibly.  It became genuine and lost most of the grimace.  I'm not sure what caused the change, but I wonder if it stemmed from her desire not to look so pathetic to others?  A desire to spread joy rather than misery?  Or maybe even a realization that she wasn't representing her true state of mind to someone who needed to see God with her?

Whatever the cause, it had a dramatic impact on the white-haired man.  He did a double-take just as he passed her and said, "What a beautiful smile!" 

"Thank you!" she responded.  Her voice reflected appreciation and surprise.

The two of them continued on their opposite paths.  I could no longer see his face, but the pregnant woman's reflected equal parts pleasure, surprise, and pondering.  I have no idea what she was thinking, but the misery and downheartedness I had noticed earlier was erased even though her left hand returned to supporting her back at each step.  She glanced in a nearby shop window and smiled big.  At first I thought she was checking out her own "beautiful smile" reflection, but then I realized she was smiling at two people inside the store.  I watched them.  They did not seem to know her, but one hesitantly returned the smile.

The lady passed from my sight, and I was left pondering the difference a gentleman made with four words, and the difference the lady made in her own life with her choice to truly smile despite her feelings.
Day 25 of the March May Challenge asks me to describe my location for you.  Well, that's boring.  I'm sitting at my computer, typing a blog post.  I suppose I could go into great detail about my surroundings.  But really.  I'm tired. 

I could take the assignment up to a higher plane and describe my mental location, but that's way too introspective for my mood today.  And besides, don't I do that almost every day on this blog?  That gets old!

So what other kinds of locations are there to tell you about? 

Go, go, Creative Juices.

....

It didn't work.

So...uh, how about I tell you something else.  Like...

Now, see?  I had so many posts written in my head a few weeks ago, and they were all amusing.  Speaking of amusing, I got bored on my way home from dropping the girls off at school this morning, and I started scanning through the radio stations.  I landed on one where a whiney sounding guy was singing about how sad he was that "you" were gone.  He said, "Every time I think of you, it feels like this," and he proceeded to howl mournfully into the microphone.  "Ooooooooooooooooooooooh." 

I couldn't help it.  I laughed so hard I couldn't see through the slits my eyelids had created.  The song sounded like something Liberty and Mercy would make up if they were into the dating scene.  (Which will be never.)  Thankfully, for my driving skills we were close to the end of the song, but the next song that came on caused me to cry with laughter.

I'm Sexy And I Know It

Seriously, you guys!  Who wrote this song?  A thirteen-year-old?  I've heard parts of the song before while I've been out shopping or as a montage in a cheesy movie, but I've never heard the entire thing start to finish.  Here are just some of the amazing lyrics.

I'm sexy and I know it.
(I work out.)

Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, Yeah!
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, yeah!

When I go out with no shoes and no shirt, I still get service.
I'm sexy, and I know it.
(I work out.)

Oh my goodness!  I had tears dripping down my cheeks!  Forget about who wrote the song.  I want to know what major recording studio decided it was good enough to be made into a real song and then broadcast to people who might accidentally hear it on the radio? 

Has anyone ever paid cash to own that song?

Um, never mind.  Strike that last question, because I know people who have paid cash to own The Pants Song by Five Iron Frenzy.  See lyrics below.

Aieee....I love my pantalones.
They fit me oh so tight.
They make me smile with delight.
Do you.....?

(Track 10 - Easy Listening style)
I'll never forget when I saw you standin' there wearin' pants.

You were all alone, and I thought to myself "Man I wish I had those pants!"
But the problem was
Those wearn't my pants.
I dunno whose pants they are
But I want 'em.
I only know that I want 'em.
So why don't you come over here
And rock baby.
Oh hold on to me tight, and keep wearin' them pants.
Cause I love you....

(Track 11 - Country/Western style)
These are not my pants.

I don't know whose they are.
They smell a lot like Bobby's
Cause he likes to fart.
These are not my pants.
How did they get here?
And I'm fillin up with fear
Cause these are not my pants.
Thank you, I'll be at the grand ol' opry tonite.

(Track 12 - Rock style)
WWWWWWWWWWAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

These are not my pants!
Whose pants are these anyways?
These are not my pants!
Whose pants are these anyways?
Are these Bobby's, or Timmy's, or Billy's pants?
No, NOOOO!!!!!
These are not my pants!

WOOOOOHHHHHHHHH!
BBBLLLLAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!
GAAAAHHHHH!!!
Are you listening to what I say?

(Track 13 - Sorta Rap style)
Pants.

Don't a look at my pants.
Now I got my pants on.
An' I'm chillin, but they aren't my pants,
These are not my pants.
That's what I gotta say.
I ain't wearin' no pants.
I got Billy, Bobby, Jerry, Filly, Illy, Ooh, Chilly, mmmm pantsooh....little bit o' oooohhh
Hhmmmm ah my pants.
Whose pants are these?  They're not my pants.  They're not your pants.
They're not Billy's pants, or Bobby's, or Timmy's.  What's goin on? Whose pants? Ohhmmm (door)
That's what I'm tryin' to say, but yo don't step this way cause I got my pants on yeah.

(Track 14 - Inspirational Interlude style)
C'mon people now

This is the time to unite
A little revolution of the pants.
Right now is the time.
Now who hold the pants,
And whose are these pants?
Will we ever found the home for the pants?
C'mon now....unite a little revolution of the pants.
Yes...right now.

(Track 15 - Bert & Ernie style)
These are not my pants.

These are not my pants.
These are not my pants.
Bobby....BOBBY! Bobby's pants!
Woohoohoo!
These are not my....PANTS!

(Track 16 - Censored Rap style)
---Check one check ----

Uh, Yo! Bobby and Billy, You out ---- what's up?----
Yo me and Bobby we was walkin' down the----
And yo we didn't have nothin' to ----
But we had our pants on
But yo these ain't my pants
Uh, I get 'em off now-----
Um, tight, oh they so tight-----
------Ouch, ooie, ooie eee -----
Um, Billy, Timmy, ah, hello there.
Yeah....cause we in the street ----
Uh Talkin' bout the Bobbys and the Billys out there
And they tight pants on
Ya to loosen ------ loosen 'em up----- Know what I'm sayin'?
Wassup?
-----HUUUU HUUUUU ------WASSUUUU ------
Hey wassuuuu this is Bobby and Billy
-----uuuuuuuuuuu ------- --- --- --- --- wassuuuuu!!!
(too high-pitched to understand)


But maybe all those lyrics were too much for you?  Here is a seven minute YouTube video of The Pants Song.  (Warning: you might hate me after this, but it is appropriate for children of all ages.) 

(It was probably written by children of all ages.)

 
 
See?  Now do you see why I'm Sexy And I Know It was able to become a song that actually played on the radio?

It all makes sense now.

And maybe, just maybe, this post WAS all about my mental location these days. 

Hmm.  Deep...
Remember the March Challenge?  Yeah, let's just call it the May Challenge, shall we?

I let this post sit for days months because I couldn't figure out how to narrow my embarrassing moments down and pick just one.  Then I read my friend Donette's post, and realized I don't have to limit my embarrassment to just one moment. 

Lucky me.

Prepare to have my life flash before your eyes.

Moment #1:  Youth Group Picnic
The summer after sixth grade, I started attending youth group activities.  The first one was a parent/teen picnic.  My fellow formerly-sixth-grade friends and I filled our paper plates with food from the outdoor buffet line and boldly found empty chairs in the circle under a huge tree where all the "real" teens were sitting.  Our parents also filled their plates and found spots somewhere else where all the other parents were gathering to talk about how unbelievable it was for their darling children to be old enough for youth group already.  The heat and humidity were somewhat relieved in the shade created by the spreading branches of the giant tree over us, but I still sweatily wished for a cool breeze to start up as I picked up a ruffled potato chip and brought it to my mouth regretting that I had forgotten to scoop any dip onto my plate.  My friends, Kristin and April, sat beside me quietly nibbling their food, slightly intimidated like I was by the new group of teens we had joined. 

Just then, I felt a large bug smack into my forehead, right where my hairline started.  The impact must have startled me because at the same time I felt my paper plate jump in my hand, and I looked down to see if I had spilled any food.  I hadn't.  But I did notice a tablespoon-sized glob of chip dip on my plate, and I stared at it, not remembering putting it there.  Hesitantly, I used my half-eaten chip to scoop some up.  It was white with black specks.  Was it ranch dip?  French-onion?  I racked my brain trying to remember the various dips that had been on the buffet table so I could determine which kind I must have scooped onto my plate.  I raised the dip-laden chip to my lips, but my friend's high-pitched squeak stopped me.  She pointed with wide eyes to my forehead.  I set the chip carefully down on my plate, wiped the grease and salt from my fingers with a napkin, and gingerly touched the spot where I had earlier felt the bug hit my forehead.

My fingers encountered something wet and smooshy.  Gross!  I thought, Bug guts!  I pulled my hand away and inspected my fingers.  They were covered in chip dip.  The same dip that I had just contemplated on my plate.  How had I gotten dip in my hair?  I wondered.  Then horrified, I thought about which teen boys had been near me in the buffet line.  Had any of them seen me smear dip into my hair and walk around like that?  I was so embarrassed.

I set my plate down on my chair and rushed into the church bathroom.  The mirror showed me a massive glop of dip starting in my hair and running down my forehead.  I couldn't believe my friends hadn't pointed it out to me sooner! 

Then I realized.

That was no dip.

It was bird poop.

I remembered the tree.  I remembered the impact on my head.  I remembered the plate jump.  I had been pooped on.

AND HAD ALMOST EATEN IT.
flickr photo by Ferran Pastana

Can your embarrassing moment top that? 

(Because if it can, I have more moments to tell you about.  I'm just too tired to type them out right now.)
I received a confirmation phone call this morning from the hospital where our C-section will be done.  They scheduled all the details with me, and after I got off the phone, I sent the following email to Jeremy.


Hi, Daddy!

Your daughter is scheduled to be delivered on Wednesday,
June 5th at 7:30 am.  We are required to be at the hospital at 5:30
in the morning because there are insane people in this world. 

I am not allowed to eat that morning, so I will be extremely mad at you
if you get something amazing to eat.  Plan to suffer with a bowl of
plain oatmeal.

I'm totally kidding.  A granola bar would also be acceptable.

I love you!
Missy



Then I waited in anticipation of whatever hilarious response he would send back detailing all of his scrumptious breakfast plans for that morning.


Missy,

YAY!!!!!!

I look forward to it!  HAPPY US!!!!

Love, Jeremy


Either he was afraid that assuming I was joking would do to him what assuming usually does to people, or he is so excited about the baby that my joke was secondary in his thought processes. 

Maybe both?
This is a post that has been rumbling around in my heart since the middle of February.  I started writing my February pregnancy posts with the intention of leading up to this post, then the March Challenge took over my blog, and since then I've been too sick to type.  However, if you'll bear with me, hopefully I'll come up with a few words that adequately communicate what is in my heart.  We'll see.

It all started in early September when I thought I had the flu.  I didn't.  I just had the world's worst pregnancy.  (Why yes, I do tend to exaggerate.  Why do you ask?)  After five months of vomiting (seriously, how many times can I fit that word into my blog posts lately, I wonder?) and general nausea and passing out and extreme weakness, along with all the crazy emotions I described working through in my February posts, all I wanted was to be able to enjoy being pregnant. 

One Sunday in February, I forced myself to get ready for church, knowing that it probably wasn't the smartest move on my part.  I mean, no one enjoys sitting in church wondering if the person behind them is going to upchuck into their hair.  But lying around the house wishing you were dead gets old after a while, and I needed to see the outside world.  So I stumbled around, shakily getting dressed.  Of course, the moment we were all ready to walk out, I began throwing up.  Daddy and the girls rushed to the car to avoid all the lovely noises, and I stood in the bathroom vomiting into the sink while feeling hot urine trickle down my right leg.  TMI?

While I stood there experiencing heave after heave after heave and fresh bursts of warm liquid on my leg each time, I became very angry.  Not just a little annoyed.  Not just mad.  Big Hot Anger.  You know, I had spent the last several months surrendering and making peace with all the living and dying my babies had been doing around me, and I was finally ready to fully embrace being pregnant and enjoy it to its fullest extent.  And here I was, five months into it with still nothing enjoyable about it. 

I stood there in the aftermath, shaking, wiping my mouth, legs spread wide over the damp bathroom rug and crying loud angry tears.  "God!  I'm finally happy about this pregnancy.  So why can't I just enjoy this good thing You have done for me?!"  I would have yelled if I'd had the energy.

Jeremy came in from the car while I leaned unsteadily against the shower wall, steaming water mixing with my tears and washing my skin.  "Are you okay?" he asked carefully. 

"No," I barely uttered, my throat hoarse from choking sobs.  "You guys should go to church without me."  They were already going to be late.

He silently picked up the pretty clothes that I had been wearing fifteen minutes before which were now angrily discarded all over the bathroom floor.  He took them and the now soiled rug by the bathroom sink to the laundry room and started a fresh load of laundry.  Then he returned to the muggy bathroom and said, "We'll wait for you."

I didn't have the energy to respond.  I continued crying in the shower, pouring out my frustration to my God Who already knew, Who already felt it all, Who already held me in His arms and cried with me. 

By the time I was ready again and dressed in a new outfit, my family had completely missed the first hour of church which for us is Sunday School.  We'd be there in time for the main service, though.  I still felt shaky, and Jeremy tried to get me to eat something.  I'd learned my lesson though -- I wasn't about to reenact the bathroom scene from earlier that morning!  I dully got into the car, pasted a smile on my face for Liberty and Mercy's sake, and we all headed to church.

Our pastor, Clare, asked us to open our Bibles to Exodus chapters 32 and 33 where the Israelites chose to make and worship a calf made out of gold instead of God.  God, of course, was angry, and told them that He was still going to give them the promised land with all its wonderfulness and blessings, but He was sick of them and would no longer go with them to the wonderfulness.  They could still have all the good -- just without God.

Then Clare asked us to think of the one thing we wanted most in the whole world.  Well, at that moment, that was very easy for me -- I just wanted to enjoy this pregnancy.  No more sickness, no more emotional crazy, no more weakness.  Just fun, and happiness.  After all, I'd already worked through the emotional crazy, all I needed was for God to take away the physical pathetic-ness that I had no control over.  Next Clare asked, "Would you be willing to trade God's daily presence in your life for this thing that you desire?"  He paused while we thought that question over.  At least, I think he paused.  I know I didn't hear anything more that he said after that because my heart turned that question over and over and kept coming to the same conclusion:  Yes!  I would trade God's presence for some physical strength and joyfulness in this pregnancy.  I would let go of God, if He would just give me relief from this constant nausea, vomiting, passing out, weakness.  If He would just give me the energy to enjoy the gestation of this longed-for baby, I would part ways with Him. 

I don't know how long I pondered that, but eventually I started talking to God about it.  Would You? Please, God?  I just want to enjoy this pregnancy.  I really, really do.  I'm so happy about the baby now.  Finally!  I want to enjoy being pregnant like I did with Liberty and Mercy.  I'll let go of You if You'll do this for me.

What a bargaining tool, right?  Offering God something that would break His heart in exchange for a temporary happiness that would end up breaking my heart?  I suddenly realized how sad God would be to let me go.  Especially after He'd gone to such lengths to establish a relationship with me.  He left Heaven.  Lived life on earth as a lowly human.  Suffered rejection, humiliation, and torture.  Took my sins into His own absolutely perfect body.  Separated Himself from His own trinity and holy nature to pay for my sins with His death.  Fought Satan and the grave to rise again!  And now that I've chosen to trust Him to cover my sins, He's declared me clean and forgiven without me having anything to do with it!  And since I'm clean now, He in His holiness can hang out with me all the time.  He did all that, suffered all that, just to hang out with me because He likes me!

What a slap in the face, that I would be willing to write all that off as insignificant so that I can have a nausea-free pregnancy.

Then I started thinking about my end of that bargain.  I thought about how God had surrounded me in the shower that morning while I cried and prayed.  About how He had loved me and cried with me and just been there.  I thought about the emptiness I'd feel inside without Him in my life.  I thought about who in the world would I smile and joke with when no one else was around and who would I marvel with when I felt the baby kick in the middle of the night while everyone else was asleep?  Sure, I'd feel great, but I'd also be so alone.

Alone.

The barrenness of going through the rest of my life with wonderful people by my side -- Jeremy, Liberty, Mercy, my family and friends -- but without God in me and around me at all times, felt so empty and lonely.  How would that possibly be worth the trade?

Nevermind!  I told God while I sat there in the church service.  I changed my mind!  And He and I laughed together inside at my foolishness. 

But you know what?  Something amazing happened because of all that.  I never have gotten better physically -- I still vomit usually more than once a day and feel miserable the rest of the day.  I still pass out sporadically.  I still get frustrated when I have to change my clothes at the last minute because I've soiled my current outfit -- but my appreciation of God's presence has drastically increased.  A few weeks ago, I came back to consciousness on the cold tiles of my kitchen floor, and my first thought was a happy exclamation of our inside joke, But You're still with me!

On days when my energy level has dropped so low that I can barely speak above a whisper, and people ask me innocently, "How are you feeling today?"  Inside I'm laughing joyfully, God is WITH me!  Outside, I nod, try to smile, and figure out the shortest truth I can muster past my un-cooperating lips.  Which is usually a naming of the countdown day.  (Today I have 41 days left till the baby is born.)  But underneath it all, there is constant VICTORIOUS JOY! 

I've learned to enjoy this pregnancy whole-heartedly even while vomiting into the closest sink.  It's not really something I can adequately describe to you, but it is certainly concrete and amazing.  What a wonderful gift -- GOD IS WITH ME! 

And I once thought about bargaining Him away from me.  Silly me!
So.  We visited the hospital on Thursday.

That was not on my list of things to do in my spare time.

I started feeling strangely at work, and on my way home, I called my mommy and described the odd sensations in my uterus.  Cramping, contractions, a general feeling of desperately needing to have a bowel movement...and she said, "How far apart are the feelings?"

"Oh just off and on throughout the day.  More on than off recently, I guess."

"Uh-huh.  How far apart?"

So I started timing them.  "About six minutes."

"Call Jeremy and then call your doctor," she told me. 

But you know me.  I march to the beat of my own drum.  I called Jeremy and told him I may or may not be in labor.  "Don't rush home.  Just thought I'd let you know."

He told me to lie down once I got home.  Relax.  Breathe deeply.  Let the kids watch a movie or something.  He was going to finish things up at work and come home.

Two hours later, Jeremy still wasn't home.  The cramping/contractions were about three minutes apart.  And I'd been lying flat on my back the whole time.

I called Jeremy again.  He was driving home.  I called my friend Trina who told me to call my doctor.  My doctor's answering machine told me to go straight to the hospital if I thought I was in labor, and the hospital would let him know that I was there.  The trouble was, it didn't feel like labor.  At least, not like the labor I'd had with Liberty.  (Mercy was a scheduled C-section, so I never had labor with her.)  I wasn't sure what to do.  Trina called me back to see what was happening.  I filled her in, and she volunteered to watch Liberty and Mercy while I went to the hospital.  The only problem was, she was out of town for the next hour or longer.  I called my friend Michelle who lives two houses away.  She was also out of town, but would be back in about fifteen minutes which was perfect because the girls had time to pack their overnight bags, I had time to chat with them about the plan for the evening, and Jeremy had time to arrive home from work.

We told the girls that it MIGHT be time for the baby to be born, and we were going to go see the doctor so he could help.  If it was time, they would get to sleep over at Michelle's house, but if it wasn't time, the doctor would tell us to go back home, and they would come back home to sleep here.  Either way, it was a win for them because they would get to spend the evening playing with their friend Stephen who is Michelle's son.  They were so excited, and they rushed off to pack their overnight bags.

*Note to self: I need to get a special bag prepared for them in case this happens unexpectedly again.

Jeremy arrived.  Michelle arrived.  The kids left, and Jeremy, the baby and I got into the car.

It took several hours, but the nurse and doctor at the hospital determined that I was not in actual labor.  I was dehydrated to the point that my body was mimicking labor -- with real contractions and everything.  These were not Braxton Hicks.  They were the real thing.  The only difference was the labor hormone was not being secreted, so I was not dilating. 

So, my mission -- and I choose to accept it -- is not to vomit any more.  Thus ensuring that I do not dehydrate that badly again.  I'm on a strong prescription that seems to be helping.  And I'm drowning this poor baby in water. 

Seriously, if I never have to drink another glass of water again, I will be so happy.
You guys.  I have so many, many things to tell you about and posts writing themselves in my head, and I can't keep track of them all.  I've been so very sick that I haven't even been able to sit at the computer and think in a straight line.  Only seven weeks left!  And if I'm still sick after this baby girl is born...well, sometimes it feels like that might be possible.  Like the vomiting will never end.

Oh well.

On to more fun and interesting things.  What to tell you first?

Well, first, I HAVE to brag on my two girls.  Liberty and Mercy have been amazing little kids these past nine months.  I mentioned in this post about how they are on alert all the time for ways to serve me.  They've figured out that when my body suddenly goes very still and I have a certain look on my face they'd better run for a bucket.  I don't have to say a word.  One girl tells the other girl, "Hurry!  Mommy needs a bucket!"  And they both take off running.  Whoever gets to the cabinet first grabs the bucket and runs back with it.  Whoever is second grabs a cup and fills it with water and runs it back to me.  Then they both get out of the room so they can't hear the sound effects, and the whole time they're running, they're praying out loud, "God, please help Mommy not throw up!  Please help her tummy to feel better!" 

A few mornings ago we were getting ready for school and work.  We were almost late, not quite, but I decided we'd better eat in the car.  So I dropped three bread slices into the toaster, and grabbed the egg carton out of the fridge.  In a cereal bowl, I scrambled one egg, microwaved it for 50 seconds, dumped the cooked egg onto a piece of toast and called it breakfast.  I scrambled a second egg into the bowl and pulled on the microwave door.  The door swung wide, knocking the glass cereal bowl out of my hand.  The bowl bounced off my belly, ricocheted into the stove top, flipped end over end until it shattered into tiny pieces on the stone tile floor.  I stood there in my work clothes staring dumbly down at the dripping, glassy mess on me and surrounding me and couldn't figure out what to do. 

At this point, two little girls came running into the kitchen to see what all the noise was about.  Four-year-old Mercy surveyed the damage and looked up at me with great compassion.  She reached one hand out to touch my arm and comfortingly said, "It's okay, Mommy.  Sometimes, things like this happen at my school, too."

"Yes," six-year-old Liberty agreed.  "Mommy, we'll clean this up.  You're not supposed to bend down.  Okay, here's what we'll do.  Mercy, you pick up the glass, and I'll wipe up the eggs."

"I don't want to pick up the glass," Mercy calmly stated.

"Okay, I'll pick up the glass and you wipe up the eggs."

"I don't want to wipe up the eggs."

"Here's the deal, Mercy," Liberty actually used those words, and if I hadn't been about to cry at that moment I would have had trouble keeping my laughter to myself, "someone HAS to pick up the glass, and someone HAS to wipe up the eggs.  Now which one are you going to do?"

Mercy decided to pick up the glass, but she would only touch pieces that were not completely slimy with egg.  While the girls worked on the floor, I worked on cleaning myself and my clothing.  After a few minutes, I realized this huge job would not be finished for quite a while, and so I told the girls that we would have to leave the mess to get to school and work on time.  "But Mom," Liberty said incredulously, "the germs!"

"I know, honey, but there's nothing we can do right now.  We'll work on it when we get home this afternoon."

"Okay, but first let me cover it with a towel in case Daddy gets home first so he won't accidently walk on it."

I had no energy to respond, and covering it all with a towel seemed like a reasonable idea.  Liberty sped off to the linen closet and came back with about 45 tiny towels.  She then proceeded to cover the entire floor with itty bitty towels like a patchwork quilt.  I thought about stopping her, but she was being so helpful and so independent.  What's another load of laundry, anyway?  A small price to pay for the happiness serving brought to my daughter.

We drove to school with two girls discussing the pros and cons of various cleaning ideas to employ in the afternoon.

That afternoon, they picked up their conversation just where they'd left off in the morning, and when we pulled to a stop inside the garage, they both jumped out and headed to the kitchen without me.  Liberty found that the towels stuck to the floor but by pulling hard she could pry up the dried egg and the glass too.

I had them place all the towels into a large bowl for Daddy to inspect and decide on when he got home from work because I just wanted to throw them all away but didn't want to trust my own judgment at the moment.  Then we swept all the remaining dried egg and glass shards into the dust pan and emptied them into the garbage.  When Daddy got home, he made the executive decision to toss the towels into the garbage.  Thankfully, Liberty had chosen all of our "spill towels" to clean this mess -- we keep a collection of towels that have all but disintegrated into rags to be used whenever something spills.  Then Daddy mopped the floor with steaming hot soapy water, and everything was back to normal.

Everything, that is, except for my respect for my daughters which had increased considerably (as you can plainly see by the photo below).

So March is officially over, and I got to about 21 out of 31 possible posts in the month.  I am extremely proud of that record considering I only posted 13 times during the entire year of 2012.  Go me!  Besides, I decided years ago that if blogging were ever to stress me out, then I was doing it wrong.  When deciding to participate in the March Challenge, I determined ahead of time that I wouldn't stress over meeting the posting deadlines and instead enjoy the fun (and sometimes dreadful) topics listed.  I've had so much fun that now that March is over, I'm going to continue on with the topics as though it were still March.  Days 22 and 23 ask "What do you do when you're home alone?" and "Do you have a hobby?"

Well, I'm combining those topics because what I do when I'm home alone is usually also my hobby.  SLEEP!

No, not really.

Yes, really.  I do sleep frequently when I'm home alone, but that's just been these last seven and half months.  (ONLY 65 DAYS LEFT, YOU GUYS!!!)  Sleeping, however, is not my hobby.  (Although what a glorious hobby to have.  Yes?)

Cleaning is also not a hobby but still is something I usually do when I'm home alone.  How sad is that?

I used to read.  You know, back when my brain would stay awake and actually process the letters on the page into meaningful sentences.

However, (get to the point, Missy -- I can hear you saying it right now, Marcela!) my hobby is writing.  I haven't written any fiction recently (see crippled brain), but I have been blogging, and that revelation, ladies and gentlemen, is the information you wasted five minutes of your life reading this post for. 

Wasn't it worth it?
This post is totally creeping me out right now, you guys.  Day 21 of the March Challenge asks what my biggest fear is, and I have to tell you that before I started writing, I shivered a little knowing my subject matter.  Then I did a tiny itty bitty bit of research so that I could show you a picture and tell my story accurately, and I learned something tonight that has forever scarred me.

Ugh.

I don't know if I can continue.

Really.

I have to keep taking my fingers off the keyboard and fling my hands back and forth to rid my body of pent up creepiness.  This is not good.

I may as well plunge in and get it over with.  Hopefully, I'll be able to sleep tonight.

....

Oh, I can't do it!

....

Okay, I'm afraid of crickets.

There, I said it.  Had to stop and shake my hands.

You see, when I was in high school, my bedroom was in the basement.  The basement was finished, but when it rained, the carpet got damp.  The basement had crickets.  Not lots of them, but some.  Enough.  Too many!

They scared me because if I tried to step on them while wearing my school uniform, they would jump and there was always the potential that they might jump inside my skirt and be trapped closer to me.  That thought freaked me out.  Then there was the fact that crickets jump really, really high when they're scared.  Did you know that?  There is no way to predict the trajectory or height of their leap, and so there is no way to protect yourself when you don't know where they're headed next.

I used to beg my brother not to stomp at crickets when I was in the same room.

He never listened.

One Saturday

Sorry, had to stop and shake my hands.

One Saturday morning, I was sleeping peacefully on my pillow, when an unusually harsh chirping very close by nudged me out of deep sleep.  I wasn't all the way awake, but I wasn't all the way asleep anymore either.  My brain registered some strange movements on my face, and that combined with the different-than-normal chirp right at my ear drum brought me fully awake.

Oh, you guys, I can't do this!

It was terrible.  That realization that there was a cricket and possibly even TWO crickets ON MY FACE terrified me.  I couldn't even scream because they were right by my mouth.  I couldn't see them clearly, only a black blur from the slits I had allowed my eyes to open to.  I felt a strange zinging sensation in my upper lip about two centimeters to the left of center.  To this day, I cannot exactly describe it.  It was almost like a cold burning. 

I sat straight up in bed as soon as this processed in my brain.  One cricket fell or jumped away immediately, but the other stayed dangling from my lip, its four legs kicking wildly like it was stuck and couldn't get away.  Something physically snapped inside my brain.  I could feel it happen -- all that pressure building inside my head.  I started slapping crazily sideways at the cricket trying hard not to smash it into my mouth.  It just kept dangling and scrambling, swinging when I connected with it.
Cricket drawing by R.E. Snodgrass from Wikimedia in the public domain

Then along with the four distinct cold legs moving on my lips, I also felt a movement beneath the skin of my upper lip, as strange burning/numbing/tingling sensation spread in a small circle, and the cricket fell away and casually (I promise you!) casually walk-hopped off my bed.  I watched carefully as it departed, and I realized that long stick protruding from the back of its body must have been what I felt inserted into the skin on my lip.

With my mouth closed and still sitting straight up in bed, I screamed and screamed and screamed.  MMMMMM!!!!!   MMMMMMM!!!!!  MMMMMMM!!!!!!  I kicked my blankets violently off, stood on my bed and shook the pillow, the blankets, bent over and stripped the sheet off all while standing on my bed and screaming with my mouth closed.  My head pounded from the stress.  I kept checking the walls and the ceiling above and behind me for crickets trying to ambush me.  I watched the floor in case one wanted to jump back up on my bed, but my two bedmates had completely disappeared during my fit.

Finally, I jumped from the bed and ran with long leaping steps in order to minimize my contact with the floor out of the room and up the stairs to the kitchen where my family were all in the process of making or waiting for breakfast.  My lip still felt strange.  It didn't exactly sting, and it wasn't exactly numb.  It was a combination of those things plus something else I couldn't identify.  I was afraid to open my mouth, but when I finally did to tell my mom and brother what had happened, my words were all jumbled and my voice wouldn't stay in a regular pitch.

Of course, they thought I had just dreamed it all, but I had not.  I promise you every single little bit of this story is NOT a dream.  NOT made up.  NOT exaggerated.  Nothing!  It is the 100% truth, and I hate every bit of it.

I pointed to the spot on my lip that felt strange, and they examined it closely.  Nate and my mom thought maybe there might be a tiny hole, but they couldn't really tell.  My face was all red.  Well, yeah!  I checked the bathroom mirror and could not see anything unusual about my lip, but it definitely felt strange.  Unidentifiably so.

When I finally calmed down enough to tell the story completely, they still seemed unmoved.  Well, not exactly unmoved, my mom's lips kept twitching in smothered amusement and my brother started teasing me.  I was not in the mood.

And speaking of in the mood, I firmly believed that male cricket had been having sex with my lip.  Up until tonight for the past twenty years, I have believed that.  But tonight, I did a tiny bit of research like I mentioned in the beginning.  It turns out that long stick protruding from the back of that cricket is only located on a girl.  And it is called an OVIPOSITOR.

Now, I am not a student of bugs.  Nor am I a scholar of Latin or Greek or whatever language bugs' body parts are named in.  However, I recognize roots of words and prefixes and suffixes when I see them, so the designation ovipositor bothered me quite a bit.  I didn't really want to know, but I checked anyway.  I was right.

That mama cricket was inserting her baby eggs into my lip.

I'm not joking.

I wish I was.

Oh, I hate this story!

I hope Jeremy will massage all the stress out of my muscles when I go to bed tonight, or I'm going to be incredibly stiff in the morning.

And now you know my biggest fear.
Illustration by
Harrison Fisher
Day 20 of the March Challenge (I'm speeding right through these, now, huh?) asks me if I collect anything.  Well, the short answer is yes, I collect old books.  I have specific criteria, but it's too random and "you have to be here" for me to describe to you.

The more entertaining answer is this post from January 2007.
Since I'm behind in the March Challenge, I'm going to combine days 18 and 19 into one post.  Mainly because I don't have a whole lot to say about them.

Day 18's writing prompt is "Where are you the happiest?"  And my answer is very simple.  In the WARM SUNSHINE.

That is why some day I will live on the equator after Jeremy passes on to his eternal home.  (He wants to live in Antarctica if I pass first.)

Day 19's writing prompt is "Five blogs I read on a regular basis."  Well, regular might be pushing it a bit, but a few of the blogs I read when I have time are  *drum roll please*

Vitafamiliae by a lady I've never met but feel like I know

Femininely Conservative by one of my real life closest friends

Enjoying My Family by another real life great friend

Big Mama by the funniest girl on earth

Beth's By Grace by someone I have never met, but we know a lot of the same people (plus, we kind of ARE the same people, if you know what I mean)
Why do I blog?  That's a very good question. I'm glad Tiffany asked for day 17 of the March Challenge.  (Yes, I know it's the 24th.  Cut me some slack, okay?)  In 2006, two very big events changed our family forever.  Jeremy and I became the guardians of a 15 year old girl named Kimmie, and we became the parents of a newborn girl named Liberty.  Suddenly, relatives wanted to keep in touch with us.  Family and friends called every day to see how our two girls were doing and what new happenings had happened.  In addition to that, our days stopped consisting of The Usual:  get up, go to work, come home, figure out what enjoyable/worthy event to spend time on that weekend.  Instead, new, silly, dramatic, tragic, hilarious happenings were happening to us every day. 

Kimmie and Liberty in 2007
I'm a story-teller at heart.  I always have been, and so these new happenings gave me great joy.  I loved telling and retelling them at every phone call.  But after telling the same story fifty times, it started to lose it's zip.  I felt so bad for the person who happened to be my fifty-first caller that week, because they got some lame version of "Kimmie got an A on her test, and Liberty rolled over for the first time."  Rather than the first fifty callers who found out all about how hard Kimmie had studied and the laughs and tears we'd shared over her studies and the exuberant joy when she found out her grade, and about the gas that was released from Liberty's tummy in the middle of the quiet library when she rolled over and our stifled, slightly embarrassed giggles when we heard it.

Possibly the first fifty callers would have appreciated that shortened version?

My friend Rachel advised me to start a blog.  A blog?  I'd never heard of that before, so I resisted for most of the year.  But Rachel blogged and loved it, and she insisted that I would love it as well.  She wouldn't let it rest.  "You'd be so good at blogging!" she told me.  "I can't wait to read your stories," she told me.  "You would brighten my day," she told me.

But a blog?  That means that anybody could read my stories.  It feels kind of creepy.

"No!  Not creepy!  Wonderful!  You'll make so many new friends!" she told me.

Eventually, I caved to peer pressure and started this blog.  My first few posts were pretty lame.  I didn't know what to say, but after a while I found my "voice."

And Rachel was right.  Blogging did help me make wonderful new friends!  But that's a post for another day.
Last night, I had the most vivid dream, and lucky you, you get to read all about it. 

Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

I was sitting on the floor of the Capitol Building late one evening surrounded by hundreds of senators and congressmen and women listening to President Obama give a speech.  One row behind me and a few chairs down on my right, sat two members of the President's cabinet.  Their slight fidgeting had caught my attention a few minutes earlier and with only a slight turn of my head, I could see the two of them clearly in my peripheral vision.  Their faces were twisted into a grimace of disgust, presumably at something the President had just said.  Then one man turned to the other and said, "That's enough.  We have to bump him off."

I couldn't believe my ears.  It seemed like they were discussing assassinating the president of the United States!  The rustling of the people around me and the ongoing speech of the President faded into oblivion as I strained to hear the conversation.  Bits and pieces that I caught only confirmed my guess that someone's life was in danger, but I couldn't determine whose.

After some cryptic sentences back and forth, the second man asked, "Okay, how?"

The first man responded, "Call O'Sullivan's.  They'll take care of it."

Man Two nodded once and left the meeting.

I sat, thinking over everything I had just heard and feeling like Mordecai.  What should I do with this information?  Somebody certainly was going to die if I said nothing, but what could I say?  I didn't know who was going to be killed, or how or when or where.  I knew nothing.  I didn't even know the names of the two men who had been plotting. 

I couldn't sit there any longer.  I had to do something.  I stood as casually as possible and climbed from the center of the row over legs and laps to the aisle.  I willed myself not to turn my head or make eye contact with Man One still sitting in the row behind me even though I wanted desperately to know if he was taking note of my departure.  I tried to look like I was simply heading to the restroom.  Question:  how does a sophisticated person look when they need to leave an important presidential speech to go to the bathroom?  Answer: they try to look like they do NOT need to pee terribly badly.  So, I tried to look like a person who had to pee but who was trying to hide it, but I didn't want to hide it so well and give the impression that I might be leaving for any other purpose besides relieving myself.  Tell me that's not a tricky act to put on.

The huge wooden doors closed soundlessly behind me shutting out the President's words and the general movement of the crowd.  I looked up and down the corridor and found Man Two about thirty paces ahead on my right.  I turned and followed him, trying to keep my high-heeled shoes from clicking on the richly tiled floor, and thinking frantically all the way.  I needed to get to where ever he was going before he got there, but I didn't know where he was going.  I needed to stop a murder, but I didn't know whose.  "God!" I began praying, "Help me!  Show me what to do!"

O'Sullivan's

The name echoed in my brain as I hurried to keep up with Man Two.

Who is O'Sullivan?  Correction: O'Sullivan's.  That makes it sound like a business of some sort.  Maybe a restaurant?  My brain quickly conjured an image of O'Reilly's from Return to Me, and Dean Martin music began playing in my head. 

At this point, the corridor took a sharp turn and office doorways opened up on either side.  Is O'Sullivan in one of these offices?  Is he or she someone employed in the Capitol Building?  Glimpses of rich mahogany desks, black telephones, and the backs of computer screens greeted my eyes as I glanced in every open door that I passed.  That's when a thick phone book resting on top of a desk caught my attention.  My steps stumbled, and I checked Man Two ahead.  He continued at his fast/casual pace, not noticing that anyone followed.  I turned into the office, grabbed the book from the desk, and returned to pursue.

The wall on my right changed to clear glass, and I saw that several flights of stairs reached down to the bottom floor.  Maybe I could get ahead of Man Two somehow by using the stairs.  I still didn't have any idea where he was heading, but taking the stairs seemed like a good thing to do for some reason.  I rushed to the glass door and entered the stairwell, running down the first flight.  That's when I realized that the glass walls surrounding the stairs did nothing to protect me from Man Two's sight if he noticed movement and looked my way.  What could I do?

Well, the only logical thing of course, would be to run in slow motion down those eight flights of stairs.  That way if Man Two did happen to look over, he would see someone who appeared to be moving very slowly, not in a hurry at all as someone intent on stopping a murder would be.  Yes, that made sense.  So I began running down the stairs in slow motion, wearing high-heels, while flipping quickly through the phone book looking for O'Sullivan's.  Talent, my friends, sheer talent.

At about the third floor mark, I found a listing for O'Sullivan's in the yellow pages.  It was a furniture store.  The address across town was too far to risk taking a cab and showing up in person.  Man Two might easily beat me there with DC traffic the way it would be at this hour.  I decided to call them.

But what would I say?  What if there is some secret code that not repeating would alert the person on the other end of the line?  What if I accidentally got the wrong person killed?

"God!  Guide my words!  Show me what to say!"

At the bottom of the stairs, a pay phone stood.  I rummaged in my skirt pocket for spare change, plunged it into the slot, and dialed the number listed in the book.

"Hello, O'Sullivan's.  How may I help you?" a pleasant-voiced young woman answered.

I cleared my throat and tried to sound confident.  "I'd like to place an order for the White House."

"Certainly," she replied.  "Lenny handles all of our White House orders.  I will connect you."

Lenny also sounded pleasant when he answered.  "Hello, this is Lenny.  How may I help you?"

"I need to place an order for the White House," I repeated, having no idea what I would say next.

"Okay.  Who do you want me to kill and with what furniture?" he asked brusquely.

I blinked.  I hadn't expected it to be this easy.  This meant that Lenny was one of the bad guys.  I finally had some solid information.  I knew that a man named Lenny who worked at O'Sullivan's could be turned in to the police. 

Then newspaper headlines from recent years began flashing in my memory.  Headlines describing accidental deaths of political figures like:  "John McCain was killed early this morning when his recently purchased grandfather clock fell on him."  So this furniture hit-man operation had been going on for some time now, I realized.  Well, there wasn't time to investigate all that.  I needed to stop this next murder from happening, but I still didn't know who the target was.

"Lenny, someone is on to us," I told him.  "We're not sure who, yet, but when we find out, they will be dealt with."  I tried to make my voice sound menacing and mad.  "All I can tell you is that you are about to receive a furniture delivery request, but don't believe it.  It is a trap!  However, I need you to play along and get all the information so we can track them down.  Once you have all the information, call me back so I can do more work from my end."

He obviously bought my whole story.  "Okay," he agreed, "what number do you want me to call you back on?"

Oops.  I hadn't thought of that.  I couldn't give him my cell number.  Up until now I had remained completely anonymous and that's the way I wanted to remain.  If I gave my cell number, I would easily be traced.  I also could not give him my email or facebook info for the same reasons.  I thought about giving him this pay phone number, but I wasn't sure I wanted to stand around waiting for a phone call since I didn't know when the hit request would come through to him.  I searched my mind frantically for a good idea.

And that's when Jeremy's alarm clock went off.
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The blogging prompt for day 16 of the March challenge (and yes, I do know it is now March 19th, but if I stop to play catch up, I'll never really catch up) asks me to tell you about my greatest accomplishment.  Well, in the thirty-three years that I have been alive, I have accomplished only two items that I consider great.

I should probably be sadder about that fact.

My first great accomplishment happened in high school.  Academics have always come easily for me, unlike sports, and I've never had to try very hard to memorize facts or to learn how things work.  I always received high grades in school without studying, to the chagrin of some of my friends.  These traits, as well as the fact that I am not in general a driven person have resulted in the sorry truth that I have rarely pushed myself to excellence.  I've rarely tried hard to do something hard for me.  I suppose that is why this particular accomplishment is one that I treasure.

Somewhere between 8th and 10th grade, I decided (quite contrary to my normal comfort-zone-oriented personality) to sign up for a state-wide school competition in the area of Dramatic Interpretation of Poetry.  My school participated in the state-wide competition every year with students competing in many different academic and artistic categories.  My friends had won awards in areas like Original Photography (Kristin, I'm remembering your mighty oak tree with it's unique perspective), and Amazing Artwork (I totally made that category up, but Drew's pointillism pictures totally WERE amazing, and he earned first prize year after year to prove it).  Anyway, most of the kids in my school had their own niches that they competed in each year, but I never did.  Of course, I participated in the choir competition, which we either took first place or placed highly in every year, but that wasn't something I had to work hard for or something that *I* myself earned. 

(On that note [haha], I do remember one year when I competed in a solo competition.  That was early on when I was na├»ve and optimistic -- must have been 7th or 8th grade.  When I performed my song in front of a live audience consisting mainly of concerned parents before we went to competition, I forgot the words, and ended up humming the entire second verse until the words to the chorus finally popped back into my mind.  And I distinctly remember realizing while in the middle of singing to the judges during the real competition that everyone in the room, including me, was wondering WHEN THIS SONG WOULD EVER END.  I never entered another solo competition.)

After a year or two of watching from the sidelines while my school-mates performed, I decided I needed to find something to compete in.  There must be something I might be good at.  Right?  Anything?  I examined every category possible, and realized they all would demand hard work from me.  That held no appeal.  But somewhere along the line, I got motivated to DO SOMETHING.  (It was a miracle.)

I don't remember how I picked the category of Dramatic Interpretation of Poetry, most likely some adult recommended that I try it, and my love of all things dramatic took over.  I remember pouring over photocopied poem after photocopied poem, rejecting them all because they were either too long to memorize or too complicated to read aloud or did not have a good storyline.  I'm all about the storyline -- always have been -- so that's why most poems got rejected.  Finally, the deadline arrived, and I had to choose one.  I don't even remember who was supplying me with photocopied poems to choose from.  Was it Mr. H, or Mr. S, or Mrs. B, or Mrs. F?  They were all teachers of mine at the time.  They must have been frustrated at my constant rejection of their suggestions.  On that last day when I was feeling the pressure of HAVING TO CHOOSE SOMETHING, one of the photocopied poems "Home Burial" by Robert Frost finally told a heart-wrenching enough story to delight my teenaged soul.  Although the length of it frightened me, I signed up to dramatically interpret it from memory at the statewide competition in a few months.

(If you follow the link above to read the poem itself, you will find that Mr. Frost wrote all about a husband and wife who were struggling to reconnect after their child died.  Definitely something a 14 year old could relate to.  [Sarcasm dripping.]  But, hey, it met the dramatic storyline qualification, which was my number one priority.)

In the beginning, I worked at memorizing, but without anyone to push me along, my motivation quickly plummeted, and my memorization stopped somewhere after the tenth line of the 120-line poem.  That's when Mrs. DeGeneste stepped in.  She had been my Sunday School teacher in sixth and seventh grade, but now that I was a few years past her class, she had appointed herself as sort of a mentor/friend/companion to me, and that I desperately needed. 

Seriously, Mrs. Stephanie DeGeneste needs to have a post all her own because she has made such an impact on my life, but that is a subject for another day.

I don't remember how Mrs. D. came to know about my poem, most likely I told her about it during one of our frequent talks, but somehow she decided to be my speaking coach.  She met with me about once a week and expected me to arrive with a certain number of lines memorized, and so I worked hard during the weeks so that I could meet or exceed her expectations.  Her opinion was very important to me.  When I finally had the poem fluently memorized, she drilled me hard on tone of voice, facial expressions, expressing different characters through body language, communicating with hand movements, etc.

The day of the competition arrived, and I looked at the list of students from all over the state who were scheduled to dramatically interpret.  The entire day was filled from 8:00 am to 3:15 pm in 15 minute time blocks!  That shocked me.  I assumed Dramatic Interpretation of Poetry would be one of those little-known categories with only five competitors signed up.  At least that way I'd be assured of a fifth-place finish.  I set such lofty goals for myself, you know.

My name filled the 2:15 time slot, and by lunchtime I felt so sick that I couldn't enjoy the nachos and cheese or the cheesy tator tots that all my friends flocked around at the concession stand.  My voice cracked during the choir competition due to my dry throat, and I ended up lip synching most of the last two stanzas of the song we were singing.  In the crowded hallway outside the Dramatic Interpretation competition room, I stood with my rear end against the cold concrete block wall, put my head between my knees, and begged God to let me pass out so I wouldn't have to walk into the room.  Mrs. DeGeneste, who had been unable to take time off work to travel to the competition, had assured me that she would be praying for me at this moment, and I knew she was asking God to calm my nerves and allow all my hard work to bear fruit. 

I just asked Him to keep me from vomiting in front of everyone when I stood up there.

The dark-haired boy who performed before me had a booming speaking voice and commanding arm gestures.  He was cute too, and I remember being slightly sad that I was too distracted to drool over him properly.  When he finished his poem, I couldn't stop myself from applauding whole-heartedly along with the rest of the standing-room-only crowd, and I felt like a traitor to myself.  But he truly had been so good!

The judges took their time marking their sheets and writing comments, but finally my name was called and I knew I had only five seconds to be on stage and introducing myself ahead of the interpretation.  My knees shook as I stumbled to the front of the room and turned to face the crowd.

I smiled at the judges and made eye contact with each one, just as friendly as can be like Mrs. DeGeneste had taught me, and I felt my spine strengthen and energy overflow in my bones.  "Hello!  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die."

(Not really.  I didn't really say that.  I just couldn't resist typing it.)

What I really said was, "Hello!  My name is Melissa (last name).  I represent (my school) located in (my city), and I will be performing 'Home Burial' by Robert Frost."

I took one infinitesimal step backwards to give me more room to move into the poem later on and dramatically dropped my head, arms at my sides, counted to five and then peered intently up at a 45 degree angle towards something ahead and above me.  "He saw her from the bottom of the stairs before she saw him. She was starting down, looking back over her shoulder at some fear..."

I remember holding back real tears when Amy cried, "Don't, don't, don't, don't!" and when she described, "Making the gravel leap and leap in air, leap up, like that, like that, and land so lightly..."  The whole scene unfolded in front of my eyes, and I was really there.  Really and truly THERE, in anguish with these two people who wanted to love, who wanted comfort, but couldn't get past their own interpretation of how the other should be grieving.

When the poem finally finished, my head sunk down towards my chest, my body relaxed back from the husband's tense forward-leaning posture, and my right leg returned from the threatening step outward it had automatically made and rejoined my left leg directly underneath me.  My arms dropped to my sides while I inhaled a simple, calming, five-count breath before I raised my head and made sedate eye-contact with the judges again. 

I waited, not quite realizing I was standing in a hot, crowded classroom filled with classmates, parents, and teens from schools around the state all staring at me.  I heard the applause dimly as my surroundings slowly came back to me and I watched carefully for body-language from the oh-so-stern-looking judges.  The sternest-looking one lowered her bi-focals and smiled at me in approval, but the other two remained with heads bowed over the judging sheets their pencils flying.  I knew I was to stand there until dismissed, and suddenly I felt a line of sweat trickle slowly down my backbone and into the elastic band on my underwear.

Finally, the small, gray-haired man in the center rumbled, "Thank you."

That was it? 

I hesitated just a tad before dipping my head in a nod at him and the others and confidently walking all the long way towards the very back of the large rectangular room pressing against hot bodies the whole way there.  My school group was somewhere in the center of the room, but I couldn't get my feet to stop walking.  I hit the back wall and turned left, walking along that wall until I reached the corner, then I turned left again now heading back towards the front of the room.  Finally, I came to a door on my right leading out into the corridor, and I slowly opened it being careful not to disturb the next performer as she squeaked out her introduction.  By that time, my brain had whirred to a halt enough that I knew I wanted to hear how my competition performed, but my body's autopilot had kicked in, and I just needed to get. out. of. that. room.

The air in the hallway felt fresher and cooler even though bodies lined the walls waiting for their turn to get into the competition room.  I pushed my way into a spot against the cold concrete blocks and leaned back letting the sweaty rivulets run freely where they might.  I'm sure the people on either side must have wished they could plug their noses.  I waited out there for the next ten minutes until the girl inside finished her poem and my school group could push their way out of the room while other groups tried to push their way into it.  Some adult handed me a water bottle and congratulated me on an excellent performance.  Other people came around and said nice things, too, but I just wanted to get to a restroom where I could strip down and towel off.  I smiled and said thank you over and over until we finally began moving down the hall towards our next designated spot to compete.

Later that afternoon, all the schools gathered in the gigantic auditorium for the awards ceremony.  My nervousness had completely subsided, and my stomach growled about the lunch and snacks I had foregone during the day.  Even though the rules clearly stated no food or drinks in the auditorium, someone in my group secretly passed out those packets of crackers and spreadable cheese dip that are attached to each other and come with a red plastic stick for spreading.  Rule-follower that I was, I dared to sneakily accept a packet and even open it and try to eat it surreptitiously while the speaker droned on and on before giving out first through fifth place awards in lo, those many categories.

I hadn't really thought about my chances of winning anything up until that time.  My goal had always been to-remember-all-the-words-and-to-not-throw-up-in-front-of-anyone, so when an hour or so later the time came to hand out awards in the Dramatic Interpretation of Poetry category, I simply watched as the fifth and fourth place people walked way up onto the high stage to accept their ribbons and the papers with the judges comments.  I wished with all my heart that I could have been in the room to hear their speeches and to see what they had done so wonderfully in order to get awarded.  I was very curious, but not at all jealous.  Third place was called, and he accepted his award. 

Then the announcer paused.  It was the small, gray-haired man who had been the center judge in the competition room, and he looked up from his notes.  "We have had a most unusual turn of events this year.  For the first time ever, our three judges could not agree on a clear winner.  After all the performances had been heard and evaluated, we had two students who clearly stood far above all the rest, but the three of us had a hard time choosing between the two.  I would like to call the following two people to the stage, please."  He called a boy's name first, and I watched as that same dark-haired boy who I had not been able to fully appreciate earlier step-step-stepped up the long stairs to the stage and stood by the man.  This time, I could fully appreciate the boy's gorgeousness, and I took time to melt into a little puddle in my heart.

Then I heard my name called.

I looked around, not quite sure why my name had come over the speaker system, and a few of my classmates nudged me to get up and go.  Ever the people-pleaser, I slowly lifted my bottom from the chair, still not sure why they wanted me to get up.  The judge called my name again, and I looked up at him startled.

Oh!  He wants me to go up there.

Oh.  OH!  That means...

No way.  That's not possible.

I stood and walked as quickly as I could to keep the auditorium full of people from waiting for me for so long, but I was careful to walk not so quickly that I looked ridiculous, and I climbed the stairs to the stage.  Then I had to stand next to that gorgeous boy.  He grinned at me in greeting before staring straight ahead into the crowd again, and I hope I smiled back.  I really have no idea.

The judge was speaking again.  "...finally decided.  Only a tenth of a point separated the two from first and second place.  And now I present the second place ribbon, which may as well have been the first place ribbon to...Melissa (last name)."

Well.

I smiled and stepped towards him to accept my ribbon and judges comment sheets, and I truly was grateful and humbled and amazed that I had won anything.  But seriously, why didn't they just skip the second place ribbon and give us both first place ribbons? I thought.  My usually dormant competitive side awoke as I picked my way down the stairs hoping not to fall flat on my face in front of everyone in the state and returned to my seat.

Back with my school, people leaned forward to pat my shoulders and congratulate me in whispers while the categories changed and announcers switched at the podium.  I leafed through the judges papers, wondering what they thought of my poem.  All three papers had a one-to-five scale in different categories on the first sheet, and then the following stapled sheets gave space to write comments about each of the categories.  All three judges rated fives for me in every category and proceeded to write things like "excellent," "amazing," "wonderful," in the comments sections.  Only one judge on one paper had written, "Could use more side to side movement when switching between characters."

What does that mean?  When I returned home, and met up with Mrs. DeGeneste, I asked her that question.  It means that when I was the man, I should have turned my body slightly towards the left, and when I was the woman, I should have turned by body slightly towards the right to differentiate between the characters.  I thought about that carefully, but then I realized my poem took place on a set of stairs.  Instead of turning right and left for my characters, I had tilted my head and my body up or down depending on who was speaking and where they were standing at the time.  I had even imitated taking a step up or down and raising or lowering my head level slightly at times.  I felt unfairly commented against, let me tell you.

But the truth is, it felt really good to know that I had earned second place in the entire state, and that I had worked HARD to do it.  (For maybe the first time in my academic career.)

(And it felt really bad to know that I had missed first place by a tenth of a point, when the judges couldn't even agree on that tenth.)

It also felt really good to earn my place beside that gorgeous boy who my brain is trying to name Tim for some reason.  I wonder if that was his name and I really am remembering that accurately?  If so, that should gain me a tenth of a point right there, because I guarantee you he wouldn't be able to accurately remember my name today if you asked him!

I hung that second place ribbon proudly in my room and vowed to earn first place next year.  I started flipping through poetry books at the local library in search of my next heart-wrenching tale.  But I never got another chance to compete against His Gorgeousness because the following year this happened.  Suddenly, first and second place ribbons didn't seem so important to me anymore, and I think my school may have even stopped attending those state competitions?  I don't remember ever going to one after that. 

However, the lesson I learned about how good it feels to work hard at something and be rewarded for it stuck with me enough so that when I am faced with a blog prompt asking about my greatest accomplishment, my brain instantly goes back to a time when I accidentally won second place for reciting a poem.