Sunday, December 30, 2012

Snow

It has been snowing for days.  People are complaining on facebook and at the FedEx store.  But I love it.  The past few winters brought but a little snow and most of the cold months were dry and bitter and brown.  Being outside was depressing; being inside was more so.

This year is different.  White blankets of dusty flakes have descended from the heavens and muffled the typical noise of bustling human life. The cold is wet, energizing, and romantic. The sky is bright and reflective.  Between the glittering crystals covering the ground and the heavy clouds hiding the stars, there is a pool of light that remains illuminated even after the sun has gone down.  When I venture into this world so reminiscent of fairytale lands, Andrea often follows shuffling behind me in her purple boots.  She stops intermittently to search for the source of the snow but struggles to keep her eyes open as winter tickles and kisses her rosy cheeks.  I catch myself staring at her curiosity and unapologetic passion for this white world I brought her into two years ago.

The snow has brought back all of the energy this semester/trimester have drained from me.  I feel like sewing, baking, singing, shoveling, and drinking warm things.  I love bundling in layers of shirts, scarves, wool socks, coats, hats, and gloves so I can enjoy the beauty around me in a cocoon of warmth.  I don't mind the puddles by the front door from wet boots and dripping coats.  When she doesn't protest, I even enjoy dressing Andrea is her sweet Elmo coat and trying to get only one digit into the thumb of her mittens.

How I'll miss the white roads and frosted trees with the sun once again warms the earth to reveal dead grass and empty branches.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The onion

I stared at the onion for a good minute before I sunk the knife deep into the white flesh.  The smell drifted past my nose and settled into my tear ducts.  As I sniffed, I sliced another set of rings, then another, and another, until the onion was in bite-sized pieces.  I slipped the vegetable into my iron skillet to cook while Andrea inquired as to what I was fixing her for lunch.  "Do you want some onions?"  I asked.  She looked at me blankly and then begged for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

After situating her with her a "sammy," I returned to my sweet, sweet onion.  The once burning smell transformed into a nutty, caramely fragrance that sent my senses into overdrive.  I singed the tips of my fingers sneaking bites from the pan.  When the onion was finally done cooking I ate the rest right out of the pan too.  With peanut butter covering the right side of her face, Andrea returned to the kitchen to see what mommy was eating and why I hadn't begged her to try any.  She told me she was very hungry still so I told her to finish her sandwich.  "No!"  She yelled.  "Annie eat onions!"

I slipped an onion into what appeared to be her hand (it was hard to tell beneath all of the pb&j), and she shoved it into her mouth.  Her eyes scrunched uncomfortably as her tongue tried to make sense of the slimy wedge.  She yummed, turned her back to me, and promptly spit the half-masticated onion into her palm.  "All done," she told me as she handed me the contents of that peanut-buttery hand.  I chuckled the first time. The third time I wondered why I kept casing my onion pearls before, well, Andrea.

After consuming most of the onion (my sister showed up and finished it off for me, onion sisters unite!) I was too full to eat anything else, so I had a tall drink of water and went in search of Miss Peanut Butter Hands to see what extra thing I'd been cleaning before noon.

Once she (and her play beads) were whipped down, and Andrea was put down for a nap, I sat in my bedroom wondering how I would explain to Paul that I ate an onion for lunch, especially since there was leek soup in the fridge from the night before.  When he sauntered through the front door around seven o'clock, I presented him with a cheese quesadilla and a bowl of black bean and onion soup.  I hoped the soup would mask the smell of my lunchtime indulgence.  I had eaten with Andrea thirty minutes before but the aroma of onion wafting from Paul's bowl was beginning to overwhelm me.  I reached over and stuck a finger in his soup.  I could tell by the baffled look on his face that I had to come clean.

After my confession Paul gave me half-smile.  "You didn't eat it raw, did you?"

"No, it was cooked." I replied.

"Well, then it sounds like a good lunch."  And with that he scooted his bowl away from me.

Strangest pregnancy craving ever.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Unsung hero of the semester

This semester was pretty crazy for me.  So crazy I'm in shock that it's over and I'm still alive.  Not only did I get called to be first counselor in the Primary Presidency in my ward a week before school started, but, due to some unexplainable bouts of nausea, I discovered I was pregnant just before midterms.  On top of that, Andrea managed to get sick every other week or so for a month, making studying and sleeping difficult.  Had it not been for some divine intervention I don't think I would have survived.  Divine intervention and Paul.

He is the unsung hero of this semester.  Before my first day of class in August, I told him that I would need help around the house and with Andrea if I was to go to school, be a housewife, mother, and fulfill my calling.  He nodded calmly, and I worried he overestimated my abilities and would therefore under-perform where I needed the most compensation.  So, when I came home from Philosophy class to find the living room tidied, the dishwasher loaded, and Andrea sleeping in her bed, I was pleasantly surprised at the service he rendered that night.  As the month wore on, the kitchen got messier, the house got more cluttered, and Andrea wasn't always in bed when I got home, but he kept trying to at least take the edge off some of my household duties.

Then October hit like a Mack truck.  First, Paul became sick.  Then Andrea.  Then me.  Except I seemed to be experiencing some rather different symptoms that weren't going away with rest and time.  On the twentieth of October I told Paul I thought I was pregnant.  Five minutes later, a positive sign proved it.  We anxiously kissed each other and said a prayer asking Heavenly Father (if it was His will) to let us keep this one.  Detailed miscarriage dreams seemed to occur almost weekly, and there were several mornings I ran to the bathroom expecting to see blood.  Sometimes I would wake in tears and lay in bed shaking as Paul held and reassured me that all was well.

After going through the miscarriage, Paul and I wanted to wait until we were out of the first trimester to make any announcements.  The last thing I wanted was a "we're pregnant" facebook announcement only to be followed by a "just kidding" a week later.  However, I was feeling pretty horrible-- so much sicker than I had been with Andrea.  I had to eat hourly to keep from puking (most of the time it worked), but even that could not alleviate the constant nauseous feeling in the back of my throat. Andrea did not understand why mommy was always laying down or hunched over a bowl.  She would poke my face and beg me to get up.  When Paul was home he did his best to distract her.  He'd take her over to her grandparent's house so I could finally rest.  He'd distract her with food, toys, Dora. . . so much Dora, or even his cell phone if he was desperate.

When I  fell behind on my school work because I was too sick in the evening to comprehend opening a text book, Paul would spend his entire Saturday reading an exorbitant amount of board books and playing dress-up, the chasing game, blocks, and coloring so I could slip away in the wee hours of the morn to write papers on Islam and vaccines until evening.

When I couldn't cook, Paul bore the burden of starvation quietly.  One week passed that he ate three meals at his parent's house and survived on crackers at home.  When I realized I was no longer compatible with the smell of food and the look of food and feel of food and, heck, even the thought of food, we packed up and drove to Costco to buy provisions for the rest of the family.  Paul spent the next three weeks eating frozen waffles and Jimmy Dean sandwiches which, I guess, was a step up from crackers.  His coworkers pitied his lack of lunches (that I so lovingly use to pack from leftover homemade goodies) and donated food (a.k.a. granola bars) for his starving belly.  Slowly, but surely, some of my nausea began to subside, and I was able to start cooking again (mostly just soup).  Paul's ribcage and third-world stomach are finally becoming less noticeable.  He still does not complain.

I admit, I've told Paul he was lucky to be a boy.  And one morning while shaking and holding back the urge to vomit I even told him he had it easy.  But he didn't really.  He has been more helpful this pregnancy than he was with Andrea's; he had to do more and give up more.  And I am so so so so grateful.  Thanks for diving in the trenches with me, Paul!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Me

Before Andrea was born, I was working 30 hours a week, going to school full-time, and anxiously busy at perfecting my homemaking skills.  Four weeks before my due date I quit my job.  Five days after her birth I wrapped up my finals, and when she was just a week old I discovered I had no energy for homemaking.  I was a full-time, milk-making machine.

Because the birth of my daughter marked a dramatic time of change in my life, I struggled to redefine myself.  I was a mom, I suppose, but the gift of taking care of Andrea didn't feel very natural to me.  Hours of second guessing and worry sometimes overshadowed any instincts that could have sprouted through, and I wondered if I was normal.  However, the more time I spent with that sweet little girl, the more comfortable I became, and I stopped caring about that quest to find the real me, and focused on the me Andrea required: I was a nurser.

When Andrea was a year old she stopped nursing, and I was flung into midlife-crisis mode all over again.  That thing with which I'd come to identify myself with for 366 days was gone, and I could no longer hide behind it's title to define who I was.  Once again, I found myself alone in the shower or walking the aisles of the grocery store wondering how to respond to the question: "Who are you?"  After months of pontificating and soul-searching, the conclusion I came to was: It doesn't matter.  Did I need a label to be happy?  Couldn't being myself just be enough?

The problem with my conclusion was I so rarely felt like myself.  When I wasn't being Paul's wife, I was being Andrea's mother.  When I wasn't mothering, I was someone's daughter, or sister, or friend.  And I loved being those things!  But I didn't know how to be alone, and be myself.

A couple months ago I pulled out my old clarinet, the instrument that saved my adolescent years from too much heartache and stagnation, and I carefully polished and assembled it's plastic shafts.  I slipped the mouthpiece between my lips, closed my eyes, and blew a long, vibrating note.  My fingertips tingled with desire for more.  I blew out a memorized hymn, full of crescendos and accents.  The familiarity of the keys, my ambresure, and scales began to slowly manifest themselves in the muscles that controlled them for so long.  I pulled out my old music bag and felt my heart break to find all of my books damaged and moldy from a hidden leak deep in the back of Andrea's closet.  After shuffling through the deformed paper, my eyes caught hold of one book that was still useable.  Christmas carols.  I played through two or three before my lack of stamina got the better of me.  With sore cheeks and a raw thumb, I swabbed the instrument and put it away.  Feeling so fresh and full of joy, I slipped that old clarinet into my room to be played another day.  And I have been playing.

You see, when that triangular mouthpiece is beneath my teeth and those silver keys tickle my fingers. . . . I feel the most like me.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What I'm thankful for

Andrea's whines and whimpers oozed out of the monitor and snaked across my nightstand.  They wrapped themselves around my throat and constricted my airways while the muscles in my back tensed uncomfortable.  "Paul," I squeaked.  "What do I do?"  I looked to him desperately as if he were a child-rearing oracle.  He shrugged nonchalantly.  I looked toward the monitor once again as Andrea sputtered and coughed, wondering if I'd be cleaning up mucus puke before midnight.  Soon I could hear her binky squeaking between sniffles, so I sunk back into my bed.  My eyes closed and I said my one thousandth prayer for her to sleep, or at least for some parental clarity for myself.  Do I go into her room and the risk of a hysterical reaction, or do I let her whine alone?  Do I insist she sleep in her bed where she's most likely to fall asleep, or do I risk her being awake all night by trying to let her rest on the couch with me?  Do I rub more essential oils on her feverish skin, or do I concede to a small dose of ibuprofen?  I waited for an epiphany and as dumbfounded silence filled my head I wondered if I was even asking the right questions.

Paul shut down his computer and informed me the best thing I can do for Andrea is turn off the monitor.  I looked at him like he was crazy as he stepped toward the bed and swiped his pillow.  "I'll sleep on the couch and listen for her.  Just turn off the monitor in here and try to get some rest."  Hesitantly, I kissed him good night and allowed him to leave me alone in the bed.  Guilt slipped in between the sheets to cuddle me as I wrestled my exhaustion.  I hated my weakness.  I yearned to be stronger.  I fought the urge march into the living room and relieve that man I love of his nightly watch.  Heaven answered my prayers with the strength of my husband, and it seemed a little ungrateful to decline such an offering.  And sometimes it's okay to not be the strong one all the time, right?

Sleep finally overtook me and my dreams consisted of holiday commercials and things that smell like pine.  I woke up around seven, feeling more rested than I've felt in months probably because Paul wasn't elbowing me in the face all night, so I tiptoed into the living room to check on my manly nightwatchman.  He was already awake, and his report was relatively good.  Andrea was alive, didn't cough up a mucus surprise, and was chattering happily in her crib.  Paul metaphorically handed me the care-giving baton as he dressed for work and I retrieved the child.  After such a solid night of sleep, I found wrestling a cranky and feverish toddler to be much more tolerable than usual, and my mental clarity was vastly more acute.  When I felt prompted to allow Andrea to nap on the couch, which usually ends in no nap at all, I acted upon the impression.  She "cwimb cwimbed" up onto the couch and happily curled up against me.  In the dark of my basement living room, I laid in complete shock as she quickly fell asleep.

For an hour and a half I held her warm and wheezing body, overwhelmed with love for her little soul, for the man who helped me bring her into the world, and for a loving Heavenly Father, who gave me both of them.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Happy

You know, there haven't been many moments that I've thought ‘I'm happy’ in the last year. Not because I've been unhappy necessarily, but because life has been so crazy that I haven't had time to really think about what I'm feeling in general. When there is housework, homework, motheringwork, churchwork, and wifework to be done, I find very little time to sit and ponder how it all makes me feel.

On Tuesday, I had a particularly productive day. I cleaned and vacuumed the living room, loaded and unloaded the dishwasher, hand-washed dirty knives and large pots, washed and dried a load of laundry, and wrote a research paper. Whilst I toiled, Andrea skipped alongside me singing and observing. As I stood at the sink scrubbing onion bits off metal surfaces, my little daughter called out my name.

"Mama! Maaama!! Mammaaaa! MAAAMMAA!!"

"What, Andrea?" I said, rather exasperated.

"Mama, Annie eh happy!" She smiled at me and wrapped her arms around my leg. I returned the smile and told her that I was happy too. And I was. Seeing her happy for all the right reasons fills me with unspeakable joy. Hearing her express her feelings and thoughts-- getting a glimpse into her mysterious mind-- brings me indescribable feelings of wonder and delight. But her declaration of happiness also provoked some self-examination. Am I taking enough time in my life to feel? I don’t think so.

I took Andrea’s unintentional challenge to heart and have spent the last several days feeling. You know what I discovered? I really am happy. There were ugly moments, and frustrating days, and times when my little Andrea was less prolific and more. . . persistent. . . but overall, I uncovered handfuls of suppressed happiness for the blessings that surround me. It was a priceless discovery.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Andrea's first real Halloween

It's not much of a secret to anyone who's ever seen me that I struggle with my weight.  Giving birth to a girl was one of the most terrifying things I ever did.  With all of the messages in the media about women's bodies and my own insecurities and imperfections, I worried about instilling in her an unhealthy relationship with her own image.  I've tried to teach her to eat healthy.  We limit sugar, except fruit, but allow her an occasional treat to help her learn moderation.  This year as the prospect of Halloween approached, I was quite opposed to the idea of her eating a bunch of candy, and because I would be in class that night and not available to take her trick-or-treating, I didn't even get Andrea a costume.  She won't remember this Halloween a few years from now anyway, right?  Mom-of-the-year.

On Halloween, Andrea spent the evening with Paul and his parents while I was at school.  When it came time for her cousins to go trick-or-treating Andrea wanted in on the action.  She insisted Paul wear a rainbow clown wig as his costume.  Her grandmother tried to convince Andrea to wear a little clown suit, but was promptly shot down by the willful (almost) two year old.  Andrea did concede to wearing a hat which she promptly removed at the first house she came to because. . . we didn't even have a bucket for her candy.  Parents-of-the-year.

So there she was, no costume or bucket, being escorted by an accountant in a clown wig, marching down the street dragging a hat full of candy for her father to eat that probably weighed more than her.  And being at school I missed the whole thing!  Did Paul take pictures of this important first/comical scene?  No!  Not a single one!  Father-of-the-year.

I suppose there's always next year to redeem ourselves.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hiatus

Sorry it's been a while.  We've been sick around here.  Andrea is finally better and Paul is too, but I seem to be dragging up the the rear.  I don't mind though.  I'd rather be sick by myself than be sick while cleaning up another person's vomit.  Amiright?  However, with sickness and lack of nap times (aka mommy's homework time) I seem to have fallen behind in my studies.  I finished my last midterm this afternoon, so no more tests till December.  But I have six papers to write in November.  So. . . I best get on that.  But when I get a little time, remind me to write about the test I took yesterday.  Funny story. . .

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fall

In the garden beside my house, the sun beams down on the canopied swing, illuminating the earth in a cheerful glow. Bees hum amidst the surrounding flowers and tinkling sounds sing from the waterfall and dance through my ears. The water glistens as it meanders down the smooth stones and splashes into the pond of golden koi at the end. The petite, white rapids rise and fall like foam on ocean waves. Chickens bob and peck in their pen just beside me. They beg for bread crumbs with whirs and bocks. My daughter’s blonde hair dances in the chilly wind as I help her re-zip her boots. Running along the stream and pond she imitates the chickens’ cries and points with her tiny index finger to those fish she cannot touch. “Owange fish,” She tells me.

The mailman pulls up to the mailbox and distributes the packaged paper as he rocks out to Slash. I feel the corners of my mouth raise to a smile because the guitar music reminds me of trips to Salt Lake City with my husband. I wave to the mailman as he pulls away and sing my daughter’s name. She comes running, declaring her intentions to help me carry the heavy advertisements. We lie in the cool grass and point out colors in the clippings. She loves the meat section and informs me in her tiny voice that she sees her favorite color pink. I kiss her drool-streaked cheek and run my fingers through the white wisps atop her head. My face lifts to the sun, and I allow the warmth to sink into my skin. Its contrast to the brisk breeze comforts me somehow and reminds me that these fall days, like the childhood years of my daughter’s life, are precious.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The day before May 4th

On May 4th, 2012, my husband walked across the stage and received his master's diploma at the University of Utah.  It had been an event we had been greatly anticipating and made many sacrifices for.  It was not only the graduation from classes, but the graduation from impoverished student life, constant business, late night paper writing, studying, and hectic and ever-changing schedules.  I began preparing for it weeks in advanced.  In February I bought red cups.  In March I started planning Ute themed confections.  In April I sewed a dress for Andrea.  I didn't think there was anything that could take away from my excitement.

But. . . twenty four hours before I sat in that hard red chair high above Paul in the Huntsman Center I was sitting in the hospital losing the baby I'd been growing for eight weeks.  I went through waves of shock, despair, and acceptance.  I had a feeling when I saw the positive pregnancy test three weeks before that this would not end in a baby.  I assumed the feeling came from my own insecurities about my relationship with the Lord.  We'd been through some rocky times, He and I, and I wondered after denying me so many heartfelt desires if this was one more too-good-to-be-true blessing that would not come to fruition.  I was ashamed of these thoughts and decided to tell immediate family and some close friends that we were expecting.  It was my way of showing the Lord I would trust Him this time.  But when I saw the blood on May 3rd, I knew that feeling wasn't insecurity at all.  It was revelation from my Heavenly Father preparing me for what was coming.

As I sat in the hospital waiting room, holding Paul's hand, I felt the most amazing feelings of love, comfort, and peace come over me.  I think that moment is when I really knew, without any uncertainty, the reality of my Heavenly Father and Savior. For I had never in my life felt them so near.

The next day I put on my brave face and Ute outfit for Paul's graduation.  That morning he received a job offer, which was an answer to our prayers.  That afternoon I sat with his parents for the commencement ceremony, and in the evening we congregated at their house for a celebratory dinner.  Someone asked Paul if he felt any different today.  He replied with a shoulder shrug.  "But, Paul," his mom said.  "Yesterday morning when you woke up you didn't have a Master's degree or a job!"  But he still had a baby, I thought.  I began to cry and tried to hide my face behind my husband, but not before my little niece saw my tears.  "Oh! Do you miss your baby?"  She asked as she touched my arm tenderly.  I could not speak, but I nodded.  Because I really really did.

Life was hard for a while. It's difficult to describe the emptiness one feels after a miscarriage.  It was hard to tell my family and friends that I wasn't going to having another little December baby after all.  I hated that I  had to put on maternity jeans because I bought them just days before the incident to replace my worn out pre-pregnancy pairs.  I hated that I still had to take prenatal vitamins when there was nothing inside me to benefit from those nasty yellow pills.

The passage of time healed some wounds, but I'd occasionally have a little breakdown when I tried to make sense of what happened on May 3rd.  Gradually, the time between mourning moments grew longer until I felt generally happy with life, happier than I had been in years actually, and I thought I was healed. But during the second week of school my philosophy teacher had us analyze a trial we recently went through and why it needed to happen in our life.  I wrote about the miscarriage and was surprised to find myself crying in class.  The truth was I still didn't know why that had to happen.  Why did I have to lose that baby?

As I philosophized, scenes from my new happy life were brought to my attention.  Since the miscarriage Paul and I grew closer together than we'd ever been before.  For the first time in my life I allowed myself to lean on him and share my burdens.  He, intern, opened himself up to me and allowed me to support and care for him in way I'd never been able to do.  Our strengthened relationship allowed us to love Andrea more fervently and feel joy in the family we'd created.  I felt like that impromptu philosophy lesson, not scheduled on the syllabus, was Heavenly Father's continual reassurance that He knows what I need.

Wednesday night I had miscarriage dream that darkened my mood on Thursday.  That afternoon, when my academic reading was completed, I spent some time on Pinterest as I waited for Andrea to wake up from her nap.  I stumbled upon a board of beautiful infant photography.  One particular picture caught my eye.  It was a little girl holding her new baby brother beneath the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree.  I was overwhelmed with sadness because just six months ago I thought I'd have a new baby in my arms just in time for Christmas.  I took a little time for a pity moment, but tried to move on with my day.  Last night I had another miscarriage dream.  This one was vivid, intense, and filled my heart with foreboding.  I awoke with tears streaming down my cheeks.  Heavenly Father came to my rescue again in the form of Elder Bowen's talk.

'I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also' (John 14:18-19).

Sunday, September 30, 2012

W. O. M. A. N.

Andrea threw up this morning forty minutes before church.  It was suppose to be my second Sunday conducting in Primary, and I was determined to get it right this time.  Two weeks ago I butchered my first time conducting and had to hide in the Primary closet for some hormonal tears.  Being a girl is awesome.

I told Paul the other day that I never wanted to be a man.  I like that my sensitive parts are tucked away deep in my belly and not exposed for the occasional fetal-position inducing injury men so commonly demonstrate in comedy films and during impromptu football games.  I also like how. . . um. . . spontaneous my emotions are.  How boring would life be if you always went to the grocery store knowing you would never tear up at the sight of a toddler potty seat?  Life would be complete drudgery if it weren't for some sudden sobs for Eugene Fitzherburt at the end of Tangled.

But I think my favorite part of being a girl is my attention to detail.  If I ask Paul to clean the kitchen he will stand in front of the sink and stair blankly into the mass of dirty dishes.  I have learned to be more specific.  Please load the dishwasher.  There.  Now he looks less ruffled.  Wipe the counters please?  He's so sexy wielding a dish cloth.  Empty the dish drainer hand wash the knives and large pots wipe out the microwave remove burners from stove wipe down stove don't forget the knobs for the oven and the side of the fridge.  I can see in his eyes that he's shutting down, he eventually abandons the task completely.  He had it easy though.  I didn't even mention the floors.

Most of the time it's easier if I handle these tasks myself and when he occasionally pitches in I ignore the things he missed because I'm blinded by gratitude and love.  And probably tears too.  Spontaneous.

A few months ago I noticed some of these qualities manifesting themselves in Andrea.  One of her favorite pastimes is helping unload the dishwasher.  Her little hands want to touch every clean dish and hand them to mommy to put away as she declares herself my helper.  Sometimes she insists of having her hands cleaned during meal, and she almost always wants to wipe off her tray while proclaiming, "Messy!"  On Monday while Paul and I snuggled on the couch watching an action show, Andrea continuously pointed out how messy the explosions were.  That's my girl.

Yesterday while I spent the day at my parent's house working on a paper for school.  Daddy got her up in the morning, fed her all her meals, and put her down for the nap.  She started to notice late in the evening that Daddy doesn't do things the same as Mommy, and she took a video to show me how messy things became, specifically in regards to my unmade bed.

video

Paul.  Busted. By. A. Toddler.
That's my girl. *Sniff* Spontaneous!

Monday, September 17, 2012

That awkward moment

I really enjoy my classes so far.  There is too much reading, but my teachers are all darling, and the subjects are making me think, which I love.  But I am occasionally reminded that I am not a typical college student.  I don't hang out with other college students and didn't live in the college scene pre-marriage, so I'm not exactly fluent in college cool.

Not to mention my bestious friend is 15.

So naturally when my Pre-1500 A.D. History classmate wondered aloud why we weren't attacking Canada for oil my first thought was. . . well. . . Justin Bieber.  Unfortunately, the thought spilled from my mouth, and I audibly heard every head in the class turn in my direction.  The palpable silence could have been cut with a knife until one blessed girl piped up, "I didn't know Justin Beiber was from Canada."  Chuckles of polite laughter broke through the awkward moment and the boy in front of me gave me an alien look.

"I have a 15 year old sister. . ." I muttered.

Of course, this boy was already learning about my weirdness.  He corrected my quiz earlier, and when asked the topic of the chapter we were assigned I answered:  As the Europeans domesticated animals, they were introduced to animal diseases.  They built up immunities to these infections and virus.  When founding the Americas, they introduced the indigenous people to these diseases and without hundreds of years of genetic immunities nearly 90% were eradicated.  Apparently, the quick answer was farming, which was also the name of the chapter.  I did read the chapter, just not the heading. . . so he gave me the point because I clearly demonstrated some comprehension, if not in a more roundabout way.

I, in turn, corrected his paper.  He wrote farming which earned him full credit.  However, in the confusion of trying to explain my odd answer, I missed how many points the quiz was worth.  I wrote a smiley face on the top of his and passed it up.  As the teacher collected the papers he looked down at my neighbor's and then up at me.  I tried not to focus on his lazy eye while he wondered aloud, "So, do smiley faces mean four points now?"  I felt blood rush to my cheeks as more awkward chuckles resonated throughout the room.

I'm so glad I held back from making a Star Trek comment during our discussion of Indian Regimes because I don't think the class could have thought me any weirder.  And I'd hate to prove them wrong.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Daddy's girl

Every morning as Paul gets ready Andrea acts as his helper.  She picks out his socks and his shoes, but most importantly, she picks out his tie.  In fact, she picks the same blue and purple tie every day. On Thursday she was helping me put some clothes away in my closet.  While I sorted and folded she became particularly preoccupied with Paul's tie rack.  She picked out her favorite, wrapped her arms around it, and gave it snuggles.  "Ahhh!  Daddy's tie!"  She exclaimed.

On Friday, Andrea and I were talking about marriage.  She was looking at pictures of me and Paul on our wedding day, and I was describing the flowers and the weather and how happy we were.  She looked up at me with a twinkle of new understanding in her eyes and said, "Mommy Daddy maaweed?"

I nodding my head. "Yes, Mommy and Daddy are married."

"Oh," she replied. "Mommy Daddy maaweed.  Daddy Annie maaweed?"

I started laughing and explained that Daddy and Annie weren't married because Daddy was already married to Mommy.  She kept insisting that Daddy and Annie were married, and I just kept laughing. . . until I realized she never suggested that she and I were married.  How rude.

I explained to Andrea that she was Daddy's daughter.  She seemed to like that idea because she repeated it 2,541 times.  "Daughter! Daughter! Daughter! Daughter! Daughter! Daughter! Daughter! Daughter! Daughter! Daughter! Daughter! Annie daughter! Annie daughter!"


I love how much she loves him and how desperately she wants to be involved in his daily activities.  I can't think of a more beautiful sight than watching her snuggle on his lap while he reads to her.  He makes her giggle by making silly faces, and he teaches her new words like "calculator" and "angry birdie."  She calls him by his first name when she calls him in for prayers. "Paaaawww!"  And when he doesn't answer she reminds me he's at work.

But after she's put to bed and the house is quiet, he's mine.  I'll always be his number one.

Monday, September 3, 2012

First day of school

Day one of school proved to be overwhelming.  Sunday Andrea started showing some suspicious symptoms so Paul kept her out of the nursery and took her home early.  By the time I got home she was feverish and miserable.  She woke up from her nap screaming and threw up when I went to check on her.  Waterfalls of snot poured from her nostrils and her sniffs to relieve the constant dripping sent the mucus down her throat, upsetting her stomach.  What a great start to such a pivotal week.

I asked Paul for a priesthood blessing.  I was told to be comforted and was promised I could accomplish what I've set out to do.  Andrea's fever broke the next morning but the snoterfalls did not.  Monday night was my second night on the couch listening to my daughter's sick moans and coughs.  Naturally, I also started to show symptoms, and Andrea decided to skip some afternoon naps.  Tuesday evening as I drove to school, I tried hard to stay awake.  The setting sun streamed into my car at eye level, and squinting only proved to be a reminder of how desperately my eyes wanted to close.  I turned on some loud music and began to sing as robustly as I could muster.

Sitting at a stop light belting One Thing by One Direction, I realized that with my broken A/C and rolled down windows the car beside me (also with rolled down windows) could hear every off-pitch note.  Not to mention they could see my snoterfalls and I suspect a few rogue mustache hairs.  Great.

But upon arriving to class I realized how amazing my philosophy teacher was.  He told us we wouldn't write any papers, our tests would be open note-open book, and the weekly quizzes are impossible to fail if you've done the reading.  I left class on a scholastic high until approached the end of the sidewalk and faced the parking lot.  In my delirium on the drive to school I forgot to pay attention to where I put my car. . .

I called Paul and talked to him for about fifteen minutes before I realized how bad my situation was.  I told him if I wasn't home by ten o'clock he needed to call the police.  I hung up my phone and tried to focus as I walked down each row of cars scanning for my little white clunker.  I could feel drips threatening to rain from my nose and my eyes.  I was going to die in that parking lot of old age looking for my car.  Then I realized if I waited long enough all of the cars would go home but one.  I wondered how long that would take because I was out of tissues, and the vast concrete wasteland was lacking some emergency foliage. . . if you know what I mean.

As the hours minutes passed, the parking lot began to empty, and (as if illuminate by the heavens) my car came into view.  I had already passed it FOUR rows of cars ago!  I think it's safe to assume I meticulously counted the exact coordinates of my vehicle on day two and three.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A little reminder

I'm all signed up for classes, and today I ordered my parking pass.  My fears and anxieties are beginning to fade as excitement builds in my chest.  It's all I can do to not tell the cashier at the grocery store that I'm going back to school.  I only feel guilty at the burden I'm placing on Paul to be mommy and daddy Tuesday through Thursday evenings.  But I've been an education widow to a full-time student for the past three years.  Now it's Paul's turn.

Saturday one of my best friends got married.  As Paul and I pulled out of the driveway to attend the blessed event, we discovered my car had a flat tire.  Thank heavens we have two vehicles.  We loaded the car seat into Paul's Honda and took it up to Salt Lake.  As we merged on the freeway and the temperature in the car began to rise (both of our cars have broken A/C), anger began to bubble beneath my skin.  Sweet Paul tried to make sense of my sudden shift in mood as I tried to explain without crying, though I hardly understood it myself.  As the words left my lips, however, it became clear what my frustration was all about.

I wish I could say that day was atypical, but it wasn't.  Cars breaking down left and right is normal for us.  And as Paul sped down I-15, I could not imagine a world any different.  That's what made me so mad.  I felt doomed to starving student life, driving clunkers in constant disrepair, and having to make homemade wedding gifts because I can't afford something on the registry. .  I am ashamed of those feelings, but they were real.  Miraculously, God gifted my bitter heart with a tender mercy.  The air conditioning choked out enough puffs of cold air to keep us from showing up to the wedding dripping in sweat.  I probably didn't deserve it, but I'm glad to have received it.

This Sunday I got a new calling in my ward that has to do with scouting.  Scouting!  I know literally nothing about scouting except they decorate bland-colored shirts and carve pinewood derby cars.  Oh, and pee in camp fires.  I called my mom who told me I needed training and certification.  I'll have Pack Meetings, Round Table, and some kind of committee meeting.  I was completely overwhelmed.  How was I supposed to fit all this in to my school, family, and housekeeping schedule?  Thankfully, I was given a blessing on Sunday setting me apart for the job.  In the blessing I was told that I'd be able to find balance and my burdens would be made easy.  It was exactly what I needed to hear.

Sometimes I forget that the Lord is aware of me and that I matter.  But I do.  We all do.  This weekend it was nice to be reminded.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Brobee birthday

Last Thursday my little nephew turned two. As I listened to the plans for his special day I noticed a cake was not mentioned. I asked if I could make one.  His mother consented, giving one simple instruction. It had to be chocolate. My nephew loves chocolate!

My sister-in-law was throwing a Yo Gabba Gabba party, complete with hats, napkins, figurines, noise makers, and other Gabba paraphernalia.  I've done a lot of cupcakes lately, and I immediately formed some ideas for Brobee cupcakes.  He seems to be Jax's favorite.

Here's a video of him in action in case you don't know who he is.

Andrea prefers Foofa.

But the more I thought about it, the more I felt a full-sized cake would make a much bigger impact on a two year old.  Around 3:00 P.M. I mixed up my first batter, and just before 11:00 P.M. I slipped the finished product in the fridge.  It was a record for me.  Layers of chocolate cake, whipped ganache, and fresh raspberries marinated over night whilst I awaited the big reveal of my. . . .

Brobee cake!


 Jax saw the cake and said, "Oh!  Brobee!"  I was so excited that he could actually recognize him.

We sang to Jax and he blew out the candle so well we lit it again and let him blow it out a second time.  While we cleared a spot on the counter for cake cutting, Jax examined the smooth fondant.  He poked, stroked, wiggled, and walked his fingers along the cake until we had to rush it away after his finger went up his nose.  He was served a piece and after each bite exclaimed, "Yummy!"  It was worth every minute spent on that cake for his reaction.

Unfortunatly. . . Brobee went to a party. . . a party in our tummy. . .

Saturday, August 11, 2012

My first love

I don't think I can remember many times in my life where I've lack more confidence than I do now. At the end of this month I am going back to school, hoping to complete my degree by 2015.  It's been less than two years since I've walked the musky halls of an old college building, but it feels as though I'm stepping out of the 1800's to a new bizarre world of learning.  My last semester was during my third trimester.  Andrea was born the first day of finals week, and just 3 days postpartum I waddled on to campus for my exams.  Sitting in the JSB testing center, tears streamed down my face.  Each chair that squeaked sounded just like my precious newborn cuddled in the arms of another human seven miles away.  I feel as though a decade has past since I was that young mom, and I'm full of fear.

Because the feeling of youth has generally left me, I find myself worrying if my feeble mind is up to the task of educational rigor.  Will my rate of retention be equal to that of my younger self?  How will it feel to be the old mom on the class of eighteen year old whipper-snappers?  How will I keep up with my household responsibilities or cope with not being home to lay my daughter down to sleep every night?  I've already made a lengthy mental list of all the reasons I shouldn't do this.

But a fire of learning burns in my soul and yearns to prove itself.  My inner voice tells me school will only be more difficult the longer I wait.  My husband supports me and wants me to know what it feels like to stare at that embossed diploma.  After all, he has two.  So I've signed up for classes, readied my work station, and prayed hard, so hard the tension of my words being forced to heaven have pushed me prostrate on the floor night after night.

The upcoming back-to-school date has become my new deadline.  Sewing projects, cleaning assignments, and copious amounts of socializing must be completed now to fill the void I will create myself as I withdraw from society a bit for the sake of essays and assignments.  And I find it somewhat amusing that the rhythm of life I resisted for so long is being so disrupted just as I've come to love it so dearly.

So, please, if you see me at the grocery store and I burst into tears, know it's how I fight away insanity.  And if you see me on campus and I'm glowing, know it's because as hard as this next chapter may prove to be, learning was that first love I never got over.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Binky

I've never really wanted Andrea to stay a baby forever.  I was always excited when she developed a new skill or met another milestone.  Even though I've often marveled at how quickly time passes with her running circles around my ankles I've never wished it backwards.  But today I caught myself crying as I faced the decision to wean my little munchkin off her pacifier (a.k.a. binky).

My mother told me her children were binky-free by the age of one, and the pressure to keep up with that standard had been weighing on me.  In May I began planning the event.  In June we went to Illinois; I felt she still needed it for comfort and familiarity as she slept in many new places.  After our return home I thought it might be time.  However, I've spent the last month subconsciously delaying this process, not because of the potential sleepless nights, but because that binky, in conjunction to diapers, is the last evidence of her infancy.  Taking away binky means no more baby.  For the first time, I'm finding myself wishing she could just stay my baby for a little longer.

Despite my emotional protest, I began operation "Binky Wean" this afternoon by snipping a tiny hole in the tip of Andrea's binky.  My mother used this method with her children-- each day the binky gets a tiny snip.  As the binky grows increasingly uncomfortable in the child's mouth, the child decides to reject it.  Andrea, however, didn't need days of snipping.  She noticed right away.  At nap time she nestled into her comfy place in her bed, wrapped her arms around the neck of her bear, and plopped in her binky.  It took less than two seconds for her to feel a difference and pull it out for inspection.  I ran from the room, afraid to witness the scene.  But from the comfort of my bed, I listened to her reaction on the monitor.

"Oh no!"  She cried.  "Where it go?  Nanananan binky?  Binky!"  She wailed.  The new thing I'd handed her clearly wasn't her binky, and she wanted hers back.  The whining continued as she wondered aloud what fate could have possible befallen her little rubber friend.  I googled whilst she jabbered, hoping to find a way to handle my complete lack of resolve.  She eventually drifted off, sans binky.

Tonight I bathed her.  I let her play until she was pruney as I put off bedtime, but bedtime could only be delayed so long before she'd start to get cranky.  Fussy, no binky, dark room. . . Yeah, perhaps not the best equation for weaning, so when the floor of the bathroom was sufficiently soaked I drained the tub and plucked out her dripping body.  Jammies, brushed teeth, and a bedtime story later I walk into her room, holding the being I once carried in my womb.  I lifted her tiny body over the threshold of her crib and handed her that mutilated binky.  The ceremony ending her infancy was complete.  She refused the binky, and I left the room.  But from that cursed monitor I again heard her little voice, "Binky?  Where binky?  Where it go?  Mama!  Binky? Oh no."

I felt my heart fall from my chest to the floor and each step from her room was trampling the broken pieces that trailed behind me.  "Paul," I whispered.  "I'm not ready."

He smiled that beautifully permissive smile.  "Then don't do it."  He said, and those words freed me from the drudgery of the situation as I ran back to her room, retrieved an untouched binky, and gave it to my little baby.  She took it in her mouth happily and wrapped an arm around her bear.

Maybe next month.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Primary

Sorry that last post was such a downer.  It wasn't meant to be a pity post, rather a little glimpse of a weak moment and the strength I found on this site.  Ever since I was called into Primary I've had trouble feeling close to my Savior.  I used to worry I was broken.  I watched men and women stand on Sundays and bear testimony of all the things they'd learned from the little children, and there I sat feeling disjointed somehow.  I even resented my calling a bit.

Through that trial I found comfort in two things.  The first was my limited interaction with the children. I'm mostly running around with armfuls of rolls and paperwork, not teaching.  How could I possibly gather bushels of humble, childlike insight when I’m not spending so much time with the children?

Even with that new attitude I desired adult Sunday School and Relief Society.  Between Andrea and “singing time” I didn’t feel like I was getting much in-depth instruction.  It took me almost a year to discover that my lack of spiritual progression was not because I wrestled a baby all through Sacrament Meeting.  It was not because I was in Primary and not an environment geared toward adult learning.  It was because I wasn't putting in my effort at home.  I was praying and reading my scriptures, but I wasn’t pouring my heart out to the Lord or feasting on the words of Christ.

I’m trying to do better, and in doing better I’ve not only found comfort in times of difficulty, but I’ve learned to not resent Primary.  In this more open state I allowed myself to be exposed to some amazingly funny things.

Most Sundays our resident super hero, Captain CTR, pays a visit to our Primary.  He spotlights children who’ve been choosing the right in their homes, at school, or in church.  As children move in to our ward I try to collect some spotlight-worthy information about the newcomers.  One little boy when asked what he did to choose the right said, “Spiderman!”  I asked him again, trying to prompt a different answer.  “Spiderman!” He said.
“Do you share your Spiderman?” I coaxed.
He smiled.  “Spiderman!”
I wrote it down.  Spiderman chooses the right. . . right?

Today I asked a little girl how she’s chosen the right.  She said, “I get rid of hiccups.”  I asked for another example and she said, “I visit my daddy’s work for a party.”  Good enough for me.

Last week Captain CTR said he was going to spotlight a boy.  A little four year old shouted, “I’m a boy!  I’m a boy!!”  Then he grabbed his pants to show us.  Awkward.

I spend so much time sitting in the back of the Primary room laughing that I should probably be paying the parents for this entertainment.

Friday, July 20, 2012

They come

Tuesday was just one of those days that I felt completely alone.  I woke up with tears in my eyes that seemed to linger for hours.  I did my best to ignore it.  I cleaned the kitchen, did a load of laundry, read books to Andrea, built towers, tore them down, picked up bath toys, and made the final edits to a wedding invitation for a friend.  But the moment I laid my little girl in her bed the distractions disappeared, and I found myself alone in my room facing the feelings head on.

The first emotion to rise to the surface was that loneliness. Not because I was the only one in the room, but because I had feelings of insecurity and fear I felt uncomfortable sharing with anyone.  Without a confidante to throw ideas around with I set in the computer chair fidgeting and staring at my e-mail.  I wished Andrea would have restless dreams and call for me, distracting me once more.  But she didn't call.  She slept soundly for three hours whilst I wrestled with the unsettled feeling in my soul.

As time passed the loneliness turned into sorrow.  After two silent hours fighting back tears, my creased forehead gave way to the dam waiting to explode from my eyes.  Streams if sadness morphed into heavy sobs that sounded so comical I almost forgot what they were for.  In my state of embarrassing blubbering I remembered a video I'd once seen.



"Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come." -Jeffery R. Holland

Monday, July 16, 2012

House projects

I have a love/hate relationship with renting.  I love that if something breaks the landlord fairy comes and fixes it, but ever since I've been married I've never truly unpacked and completely settled in to either apartment we've lived in.  I always have this temporary feeling that's kept me from really making my space homey.  However, our two year anniversary of moving into this apartment is right around the corner and I've decided some of my hesitations are just silly.  Therefore, some little projects have taken place to hopefully get me out of this rut.

Here was my living room before with large baron walls.

And here was project number one.  Using scrapbook pater I bought at Wal-Mart for $5.00, I created a collage matching the color pallet of our hand-me-down couches.

 Then I found this little baby at a yard sale, also for $5.00, and I thought it had a lot of potential.

Using some spray paint I already had, I painted the gold and red base a lovely shade of neutral grey.

I eventually would like to replace the shade with a white drum

Like this one.

 I think the changes, although small (and cheap) have already made my living room more homey.  The day I added the lamp Paul and I put Andrea to bed and then stood in the kitchen admiring how different our space felt. It made me wonder why it took me so long.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Small town nowhere

I can honestly say that being back in Illinois has been a significant boost for me.  I've been home for just over a week and I can't stop thinking about it.  If I could record the time I've spent retracing the steps I took on the drought-stricken brown grass of the Midwest I might embarrass myself by the hours I've accumulated.  In jest, I addressed the podunk activities available in the region, but the truth is I've fallen in love all over again with the quiet, simple ways of the small towns and Paul too.  Seeing him rolling hay bales with his feet and watching him drive on dirt roads to cemeteries opened my eyes, and it was like I was seeing him for the first time.


He is a small town.  Quiet, simple, unassuming, and completely set in a motion of life that makes him steady.  Because I grew up in a place so similar, Paul has always felt familiar somehow.

I think that's why I love him.

And away from the stress of work, school, laundry, and Utah's obsession with homemade wreaths, the two of us were fee to be our true selves.  In Southern Illinois if you want to have a southwestern themed house you do, and if you want to paint a bathroom fuchsia you break out a brush.  The Jones' live far enough away that keeping in touch replaces keeping up.  Listening to my grandmother talk about her fun Friday nights at the auction in Ina was such a jarring contrast from the frantic soccer, scouts, dance, football, drama club, band concert schedules of the women I'm accustomed to listening to here.  And I could feel Paul humming like a tuning fork, and the tones of this new world resonated notes I'd never heard from him.  "I like it here," he said.  "I can see myself here."

And just as I discovered a new him, he discovered a new me.  On Sunday, we drove to my old house, the one my parents built, guided completely by my memories.  "Look!  There's Dee's Pet Shop!  Turn here.  There's the place were we fed the horses.  Turn here.  There's the pond we use to fish in, turn!  There's the house. . . There was my home. . ."  And sitting in front of that one story house with white siding he looked at me and peered into the vulnerable spot I'd been hiding for so long.  The normal girl from small town nowhere.  The girl who moved away and was bullied for her accent, out of style clothes, and love of country music.  And I was afraid. . . afraid he'd wouldn't like that girl either.

He did.  Thank heavens, he did.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Illinois highlights

 
Four years ago I traveled back to land of my childhood for a family reunion.  The week prior was the week I realized, after all the time Paul spent trying to impress me and capture my attention, I was starting to develop feelings for him.  The day before my scheduled departure I almost backed out the trip because I feared he'd move on to another girl once I left.  That night he called the house phone and asked for my cell number.  Two days later he began to text me.  I spent the whole trip with my face in my little green phone like the picture above on the steps of the Saint Louis Basilica.  Ever since that trip we've been together, and I have wanted to take him there and show him this place that I love.

Last Monday we finally had the opportunity to go on our first family vacation with Andrea to Southern Illinois.  I have to say, it was exhausting, but once Andrea quick puking in the car she was actually a pretty adaptive little traveler.  So as to not bore you too much, I'll just post some highlights from the trip.  I'll also point out some major tourist attractions in case you ever decide to visit Southern Illinois as your next vacation destination.

Because my mom had had surgery 19 days before we left we had to stop every 2-3 hours.  During this time Andrea and my mom would walk a bit.  This was our first stop.  Andrea wanted to just sit on these bumps.  When we told her it was time to get back in the car. . . you can imagine the meltdown.

Paul and I found some disguise glasses in the toy box at my grandma's house.  Te he.

Sleeping arrangements.  Andrea did really well sharing a room with us.  I was afraid that the crinkly plastic mattress covers my grandmother put on our beds would wake her up, but she didn't seem to notice any tossing and turning.

Southern Illinois tourist attraction: Hay bails.


Perfect for planking.  Just saying.

Southern Illinois tourist attraction: Bug infested trees.

Southern Illinois tourist attraction: Cemeteries.  We visited quite a few, and drove by at least 15 in all of our wanderings.

Southern Illinois tourist attraction: Custard Stand in Sesser, Illinois (population: 2,300).  This place was where my mom worked in high school.  Paul enjoyed an upside down banana split and Andrea enjoyed tasting it.

Southern Illinois tourist attraction: Old houses.  This is the house my grandmother grew up in. . .  not looking so good.

Southern Illinois tourist attraction: Beach.

On Thursday we went to Rend Lake.  It's a man-made reservoir with a rocky little beach.  This was a first beach experience for Paul and Andrea

She was a little unsure and nervous at first.

But by the end she didn't want to get out of the water.
I love her grin in the picture.  If you tell her to smile and say cheese, this is what you get.


I love this girl!

We built a sand castle around Paul.

Southern Illinois tourist attraction: Bowling.  (Wearing our matching family reunion T-shirts)

Family picture with happy Andrea.

This is what most of the pictures looked like. . .  with screaming Andrea.

Andrea loved this basketball, much to the grand dismay of the Hatchett men.

Kitty kitty staring contest.

Southern Illinois tourist attraction: This is the water tower in Giant City.  When we got to Missouri and saw a water tower I asked Paul if he knew what it was.  He guessed it was some sort of sign.  I couldn't believe he'd never seen a real water tower.

So, the Saturday before we left we drove to Giant City to climb a real water tower.
 
The view was amazing.  Green as far as the eye could see.

Southern Illinois tourist attraction: Dead animals.  Not only did we see some taxidermy masterpieces, but we also saw lots and lots and lots of roadkill.  Yum.

This has to be a riveting magazine.

Southern Illinois tourist attraction: Chiggers.  (These are not my legs, fyi.)  Someone, who has asked to remain anonymous to maintain his dignity, got chiggers.  Compliments of the Midwest.

I overflowed my grandma's dishwasher.  This was the fifth towel we had to put under that mess.

Andrea looking off my grandmother's front porch.  I have so many memories playing there.

Southern Illinois tourist attraction: Lots of small towns!  There was a sign on the highway for Benton (the town where my grandma lives, population: just over 7,000) that read, "Tourist Attractions: Craft/Quilting Shop and Antiques."  Who wouldn't want to vacation here?

On the way home we stopped in St. Louis so Paul could go in The Arch  This is "technically" a Missouri tourist attraction, but it's only two hours from my home town, so I count it.. 

I personally believe it's one of the most beautiful sights in the country.

Memorial Park.


Bug splats.

View of Saint Louis from inside The Arch.

Southern Illinois tourist attraction: The Mighty Mississippi River.

The top of the arch.

In the pod leaving The Arch.  Andrea didn't like this part very much.

Southern Illinois tourist attraction: Beautiful sunsets.