Sunday, December 31, 2017

Bauer Bunch Best Of {2017}

The sparkling juice is on ice {right beside the hard stuff}, and we're ready to ring it in!

My family is more than ready to welcome 2018. While most of that eagerness comes from getting to stay up four hours past bedtime, we all love a good start. I adore the feeling that comes with tossing a calendar into the trash and cracking open a fresh one. The Christmas decor is being boxed up as I type and we'll tidy this place until the fizzy drinks flow.

I like to take "clean slate" as literal as possible.

We are busy packing and storing 2017, but I do enjoy a good glance backward. Per the tradition I created for myself several years ago, the last blog post of each year is dedicated to a Top Ten list of my favorite posts. This year I decided to go beyond my favorite experiences or journal-style entries. We shared some great memories, but the blog entries I've included below are my favorite pieces of writing. The following words mean the most to me and I suppose that's okay since I made the rules. Throughout 2017 I tried to let my voice come out more in my writing, and I plan to amp that up in 2018. Heck, I'll even make it an official resolution.

Here's to reliving the good memories, reconciling with the bad, and allowing both to propel us forward. Cheers, y'all!

{Click the title or the photo to link to each full post.}

My Home
I am from piles of laundry and forgotten toys, from discarded school papers gleaming with praise and little pink shoes left in the hallway. I am from the ordinary house at the end of the row, nestled in the quiet cow pastures. From the yellow door that welcomes visitors and chickens that do the same.

You know how they always tell you to write what you know? Well at this particular juncture in my life... I know tomatoes. As the heat index dwindled from triple digits to still-sweltering doubles yesterday, I stepped outside wearing my pickin' apron. The weekend was full of fun away from home, so it had been a few days since I'd explored. I started picking.

Their Faces
I snapped the photo above yesterday afternoon at the request of my sister-in-law. She painted these pieces for me several years ago, and may or may not be working on another set for someone else. She wanted a reminder of them, so I happily obliged. Once I shared it with her, I returned them to my bedroom wall. I didn't think anything of it until this morning when I was scrolling through my phone photos and these three images caught my eye.

Valentine's Day: Then + Now
Eleven years ago Jonathan and I celebrated our first Valentine's Day together. Sitting on the couch in a tiny one-room apartment that cost us less than $400 a month {you read that right}, I watched him cook in our meager kitchen. We were engaged and counting down to our June wedding, blissfully unaware of how easy life was.

She Is More
She's not just the fluff of blonde curls slicing through the breeze on the front yard swing. She's not just the comic relief when she hits her punch line just right. She's not just the stubborn mule who'd rather stand on the back porch from dusk to dawn than take her boots off outside. She's not just a pair of twinkly blue eyes that wash away the aforementioned scenario. She's not just a round face, short fingers, and a high-voltage smile.

The Seedling
Since the moment I ripped open this year's seed packets, I have watched. On a warm day when timing was right, we began. The seeds were put into place and watered, and our patience was tested. In the few weeks between that moment and today, I have noticed beauty in the waiting. I've also seen an incredible alignment between parenting and gardening.

Each of My Kids
Each of my kids can ride a bike. One has a hot pink flower helmet and training wheels, but she can match her brothers' pace. All of my kids can open the refrigerator door, grab a juice box, and poke in the straw without help. All of my kids can write their names and identify numbers and sit still for a whole feature film.

Always Be
Last week one of my youth group girls asked me a simple question. I was unloading my flute from its case to practice the music for our upcoming Stations of the Cross. Fun Fact: I saved for months to buy that very open-holed flute when I was 16 years old to upgrade from my standard version. It was my first eBay purchase.
{It might have been one of the original eBay purchases.}

Joy in the Mourning
There's always a bit of poetry that comes with this time of year. We watch the old turn over to new as winter threatens to leave and we bounce between short sleeves and warm coats. Buds wait patiently for the perfect temperature, and we teeter on the brink of two lives. While there's all sorts of metaphors and similes and I could weave into this time of year and this season of life, it's been a difficult few weeks.

To The Graduates
Tonight the Hope High School Class of 2017 will walk across a stage, shake a hand, and peace out. Some will leave the auditorium in tears, some will leave clueless about their next step, and some will hit those doors and never look back. Still, that school will always be their first chapter, no matter what waits in the next one. When thinking of all these teenagers making their great escape, ready or not, the thought that hits me the hardest is how old I am.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Merry Monday

My eyes blinked into the morning light on Christmas Day. Yes, you read that right: morning light.

For the first time in years, no child rushed into our bedroom on December 25 until after the sunrise. When I asked my husband what time it was as Owen impatiently shifted his weight from foot to foot, he told me 7:00. Seven?? If we had a rooster, he'd have crowed long ago. Parents across the country were already picking up wrapping paper and starting breakfast, some even going back to sleep. Heck, it even took a few minutes for the boys to rouse Nora enough to realize what day it was.

I think it was the combo of Christmas Vigil Mass, followed by an obsession with the Santa tracker app.

While there was a bit of discrepancy between me and Santa when it came to this year's nice list, everyone's stocking was full. Nathan was shocked to see a "stinking Nintendo Switch" in his pile, and had this face on, patiently waiting to get his mitts on it while his siblings finished first:

Nora was able to get the big, pink Hatchimal she requested first-hand from the big guy {he was shocked to find one on sale at Target just weeks before}. We were all excited to see what would happen, so we rubbed the egg. We carried the egg around. We shared pancakes with the egg. When it finally cracked, it revealed a surprise: twins! Had Jonathan and I looked, the packaging would have told us. More fun this way, really.

Owen's Santa present this year was a doozy. A parental-supervision-required doozy. Santa took it a step up from the Red Rider and got Owen a .22 rifle. We hooked him up with a camo jacket and camo boots and he was that much closer to his dream of a hunting trip with Dad. Once the floor was halfway clear of paper and the pancake dishes were in the sink, we trekked outside to test it.

{I'd leave out the part where I nailed the target on my first shot, but how else would you know I'm a dead-eye?}

Jonathan said Owen needs to work on his stance, but I was so impressed with the safety he showed. He took his listening very seriously and he was super proud to make the target spin several times. He's always been interested in hunting, so I can't wait to see what kind of adventures his dad takes him on this year.

We had such a blast emptying stockings with the kids this year. The night before, when we were waiting on Santa to arrive, Jonathan and I were talking about this being the most magical Christmas yet. Each kid is old enough to really get into it. Sure, they're excited about presents, but I love seeing this family unit growing its own traditions. Everyone lives for the family time. I mean, they were elated to wear matching pajamas and take self-timer photos on the living room floor.

It reminds me of Christmas mornings when I was a kid, and I pray that I'm using these years to instill the same magical memories my parents made for me. I had frequent flashbacks of me and my brother while sitting on the couch watching my own children, so I hope I'm doing it right.

I think the best Christmas parallel I saw this year, though, was a pew full of family at Mass. As I listened to the parish sing of all being calm and bright, I looked at my kids' faces. Our section was still and quiet, but the Holy Spirit sparked the air. Our priest read from the book of Matthew about the birth of Jesus Christ, when all was still and quiet, and the Holy Spirit lit into the night sky and shined in the heavens. When the Word became flesh. When a tiny baby was born and the world was changed forever.

It will always be fun to pile in the car and look at Christmas lights, to watch Elf six dozen times, and to delight in watching someone open the perfect gift, but I think my favorite Christmas tradition is to remember the first:

"All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means "God is with us."

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Holiday Medley

Just five more sleeps 'til Christmas, friends, and things have been insane.

I'm pretty sure I only have three kids, but it feels like we've been to 17 Christmas parties. There's been a class party for all, a Cub Scouts party {did I mention Owen's a Tiger Scout? Give that an "Aww" for now and I'll have more later}, and Jonathan and I hosted one epic youth group party. That's technically only five and I was merely responsible for one of those, but my goodness I'm up to my ears in holiday cheer.

On top of the parties, we've been doing a lot of hustling and bustling to holiday performances. Owen sang his first-grade set no less than four different locations this year {whew!} and Nora entertained the masses at both a local nursing home and her preschool party. Before I get to those stories though, I'll start with Nathan.

If you've been with me for a while, you already know Nathan plays the piano {and if you've been paying attention, you know he plays the piano very well}. He's taken lessons for three years, and it's incredible how quickly he's learned. His teacher had so much faith in him at this year's Christmas recital that he not only opened the show with "Silent Night," he ended the entire recital with "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," a performance that had every mom, dad, and grandparent asking about him afterward. Don't take my word for it, though. Watch his performances below:

Words cannot express how proud I am that Nathan has the dedication and motivation to enhance his talent. There's nothing like tackling a piece that looks like a foreign language at first glance. He may be naturally inclined toward music, but he puts in hard work to get it where he wants it. I am so impressed by him, and I can't wait to find out what he can play next season.

As for the little kids, their instrument of choice this year has been voice. He may not be the first to admit it, but Owen Bauer has the voice of an angel. Stop laughing, I'm serious. The primary music teacher produced a wonderful collection of songs from a rockin' reindeer melody to the gentle tones of "I Saw Three Ships." Owen's favorite was the latter. Again, I'm serious. Check him out:

He was so excited to don a button-up and fix his hair just right to join his buddies and let his voice soar. He told me he stayed focused as long as he completely forgot I was there and made zero eye contact with me. If that's what it takes, I'll never look at him again. {Small joke. Promise.}

This year was Nora's first time on the other side of the pint-sized program and she admitted to her nerves. There were so many words and hand motions she had to memorize, but she took the stage with the focus of a champ. Sure, it may look like she would rather not be there, but she's just making sure she hits every mark. And she does!

I hope your holiday season is going well and you're finding a bit of magic in what can be a hectic time. We have so much Christmas fun planned, and I am doing my best to will myself to let go of the stress and just bask in it. Here's hoping for success? Maybe I'll just run through these videos one more time to be on the safe side.

Happy Wednesday, y'all!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Santa Surprise

When the preschool Elf on the Shelf says a special guest is coming to town, you'd better watch out.

And probably skip the crying and pouting, just to be on the safe side.

Nora politely denied a chance to see Mall Santa this year. Even though she wants to tell him about her wish list and her reduction in sibling brawls, she'd rather not engage in such a public display of Christmas joy. That's why I was nervous when I heard the Big Guy himself was coming to Nora's school. Her teacher asked us to keep it a secret, so I did. Barely.

I dropped her off and, as most moms would, stalked Facebook for any sign of holiday merriment. When I was tagged in a photo and clicked to see the faces above, my heart soared! I counted the minutes to when I could hear Nora's side of the story {and crossed my fingers she’d remember what she told him}. She was super eager to tell me everything that happened, so I thought I'd share. Obviously, I was not there to prove this did or did not happen. So do with the following information what you will:

  • Twinkle Toes, Elf on the Shelf in residence, was holding a letter when the kids arrived Thursday morning.

  • Twinkle Toes is also getting ready to head back to the North Pole with his report. Nora thinks she's good to go, but she's worried about a few of her classmates.

  • Nora told me the daycare's name was on the front of his envelope, so they knew it was official.

  • In the letter, the elf said a surprise visitor was stopping by to see them. It was at this point that they all screamed "SANTA!" {"I know him!"}

  • He did not have reindeer, he had a white car. Driven by elves, apparently.

  • "Ho Ho Ho" was not how he greeted them, so he may have been a phony. His beard was fluffy, though, so he could have been the real deal.

  • Nora told him she wanted a big, pink Hatchimal and a new bike. Both of these requests were news to me.

  • The girl who went before her also wanted a big, pink Hatchimal, so he said he'll make two at the same time.

  • No one but the baby cried on his lap, which is a huge deal in a class of three- and four-year-olds.

  • He had a stocking full of candy canes and gave her one. Nora said she hopes he empties it quickly so he can fill it up with presents for himself.

  • He was very sweet and cute and gave Nora a big hug. And he was strong enough to pick her up by himself.

  • She already has plans to set up special ops to see him on Christmas.. just to make sure this guy was legit.

Were your kids willing to sit with Santa Claus this year?
And do you know where to find a Hatchimal other than the triple-priced listings on Amazon? {asking for a friend}
Happy Friday, y'all!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Tales from Timehop

Every morning my phone whisks me through space and time, drumming up memories I cherish {and others that elicit eye rolls}.

The Timehop app shows me two things: 1) my kids are growing fast and 2) I'm ancient by social media standards. I'll see a post from an entire decade ago of a friend chatting me up on my Facebook wall. This is likely a foreign concept to most these days. I'll see photos of myself that remind me how old I am and how far I've come. Just last week I saw a status along the lines of: "Does anybody else have a Twitter yet??" I was too cool. In reading through my past online habits, one thing sticks out: vague posting.

Forgive me, y'all. I didn't really know how to act on social media, as it had literally just been invented. However, one secretive post I made 11 years ago recently caught my eye and jogged my memory.

Anytime someone is "VERY happy" but they don't share why, my first thought is pregnancy. It has to be pregnancy or an engagement or some other milestone that has them on a detail-less Cloud Nine. Walk with me through time, won't you? Because that one sentence brought me back:

Jonathan and I had been married a solid five months when we decided we could be parents. We were of legal drinking age and we knew the physical mechanics, so what more did we need? I bought a how-to manual {seriously} and we jumped in. While that part was easy, I wasn't ready for the scene that quickly followed.

Starting on this journey created some of the longest days of my life. I had to wait two weeks before I could know if anything happened. Ludicrous. I remember asking my husband to buy a pregnancy test, then carefully reading the instructions because "pee on it" couldn't have been all there was to it. Spoiler Alert: It was.

At this point we lived in a cozy rental outside of Conway. It was nestled against the pines and had a white picket fence that made it easy for us newlyweds to play house. I stood in our small bathroom and waited. The wallpaper was a stark contrast of black and white stripes, and I counted them as the fancy digital test patiently blinked.

Then the room started to spin.

The black lines and white lines engaged in an awkward dance as they bent and swirled around me. The room was tilting, but my feet were glued to the floor. My cheeks began to overheat and my stomach dropped. The word pregnant stared at me. The word seemed to appear so casually, as if it didn't comprehend how its readout just changed my life. I sat down to focus, but my thoughts ran wild.

Can we afford it? Is it going to hurt? What will the nursery look like? Is it a boy or a girl? Am I allowed to be someone's mom? Do I need to go to the doctor right now? What's going to happen to my body? How can I be responsible for another human being? How can I grow a human being inside of me? Why does it feel so different now that it's real?

Even though I prayed for this to happen, I was grossly unprepared. I know some women have elaborate plans of revealing this news to their husbands, but I hadn't gotten there yet. The words spilled out with hot tears and together we sank onto the floor in bliss. I had no idea what I was doing, but he was going to do it with me.

I had never been more in love with him, and I had never felt such a strong connection to someone I didn't know.

And apparently my next move was to post on Facebook?

Seeing what I had for lunch in 2012 or that I was "bored at work" in 2009 makes me cringe, but I love that the highlights of my life, no matter how vague, are recorded.

Y'all already know the rest of the story. Nathan was born the following July to two clueless parents who have been navigating parenthood ever since. Add three more positive tests, one miscarriage, two births, and a million lessons and I still feel just as clueless. While I now know the answers to some of the questions that flooded my brain in the bathroom that morning, they've been replaced with more.

Still, Jonathan and I are in this together. And we can do anything.

So tell me, do you remember? Can you picture the scene from when you found out you were someone's parent?
Does Timehop remind you of your annoying Facebook nuances?
Let me know in the comments and have a great Thursday!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Dear December

Maybe it's just me and my anxiety, but the homestretch of anything is a bit intimidating.

Did I do everything I was supposed to do? Did I grow enough? Change enough? Learn enough? Did I leave a big enough mark to let it lie and move forward? Basically, is this project ready to turn in?

This year is just a handful of weeks from being due to the teacher and at this point {as always} I'm wondering what happened to the rest of it. While it's not over yet, I already find myself going back to check my work. Although the shocking realization of unpreparedness is part of all my Decembers, I am glad the year ends with such hope. Advent is a beautiful time {you know, after the Christmas decorating's done} and I love that we spend time remembering we're waiting for more than a simple calendar flip. It's a huge reminder/reality check for my stress levels.

While today is the beginning of the end, I'd rather not fret over making most of what's left. So I shall turn this post into a wish list. 'Tis the season, after all. Following are a few things I have written to the month of December to help make this a both holly and jolly season:

Dear December,

I wish you would bring snow! But, you know, just enough to where it looks pretty for exactly one day and then melts completely the next. Thanks in advance.

I wish the magic you put into my children's eyes could never fade. Interest in Santa and Rudolph and maybe even Buddy will wane over time, but I pray the magic stays.

I wish for the ability to help my kids realize where that magic comes from. This holiday season is not just one of merriment, but one of patience. Help us prepare as we wait for the greatest gift of all.

I wish for a little extra time, December. It's a jam-packed month, but I'd like to spend some of those frosty nights in the hot tub with my love.

I wish for long quiet mornings lit by the Christmas tree and warmed by a coffee cup.

I wish for willpower when it comes to all those holiday Ghiradelli squares. You know the ones.

I wish to actually, truly surprise my husband with a birthday gift this year. Or at least spend some QT with him if I can't keep a secret.

I wish to not be home when the UPS man comes to my house every single day this month. Amazon Prime, you and your free shipping are killing the game.

I wish to sleep until at least 6:00 on December 25. Can we this year, kids? Please?

I wish to soak in every last drop of the holidays this year. Time is doing nothing but moving and it's taking my babies with it. I want to live through their joy and hold on to the magic.

What are you wishing for this December?
Have a wonderful weekend, y'all.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Seriously!? Seriously.

{Optional Title: that one emoji with the line eyes and line mouth.}

My weekend started in the back of a law enforcement vehicle in Middle of Nowhere, Oklahoma.

You know if that is how today's story begins, you'd better buckle up. It's the law, after all.

Allow me to step back in time to paint the whole picture of our weekend debacle. Jonathan and I do whatever it takes to make room for breaks in the monotony and our parental pseudonyms. That's why we circled the weekend after Thanksgiving to spend some time in a luxurious cabin in eastern Oklahoma. It's just two hours from home, but completely hidden. The rental we chose this time was high-class, with a hot tub on the river, a state-of-the-art kitchen, and gorgeous decor that I pray magically transports to my living room.

Excitement brimmed as we made tracks west. Relaxation was so close we could taste it, but there was one more stop we needed to make. Our corner of the state does not believe in selling a fine wine to take on vacation, so we took the long way 'round to grab a couple of bottles. We made our purchase in Broken Bow and pressed forward. Shortly after that we arrived in an area of pure darkness between two towns I'd never heard of, and there was a situation.

It sounded like something exploded outside of the truck. But it also sounded like something exploded inside of the truck.


After realizing we were both intact, I quietly asked my husband what happened. A deer. A deer ran into us in the middle of nowhere. This was a much different scenario when that one deer ran me over in front of my house. Yes, friends, a buck took himself horns first into my husband's truck door as we were going 65 toward a dream weekend. It was my first experience with air bags. It turns out they produce a cloud that makes you think something's on fire. Neat.

When trying to locate help, we learned the counties in Oklahoma are enormous and the solo trooper was 60 miles away. Since we didn't need an ambulance, we simply waited for a wrecker. We weren't standing roadside looking dumbfounded too long before a game warden pulled up to check on us. Not only did he stay until the wrecker arrived, he offered a ride back into Broken Bow, where my parents came to pick us up. Hence the ride I alluded to at the beginning. I wasn't arrested, but I sure was seated beside a collection of seized materials.

Defeated and deflated, we were back home at 10:30, a smooth six hours after we left. It took all of sixty seconds for us to rally. We paid for this weekend. We deserved this weekend. We needed this weekend. We loaded up in our one vehicle that was not in a wrecker yard in Oklahoma, and pointed it back toward the state line. I'll be honest here, I'm not sure I blinked on that drive. I was on official high alert.

Nothing was going to stop us, and nothing did! We arrived after midnight and spent the next two days in total relaxation. Jonathan cooked gourmet meals, we talked for hours, we got our money's worth of the riverside hot tub, and we simply enjoyed each other. I promise you it was worth the trouble.

Sunday afternoon I was sad to close the door on luxury as we carried our bags down the front steps. We reloaded for the last time and climbed into our one working vehicle... and nothing happened when the key turned. Not a sputter, not a rumble, not even an old college try.

My battery was dead. Seriously.

We called the rental office, which was closed, and the call forwarded to the owner. Thankfully he had friends who lived close and they came and jumped it. We bought a new battery on the way home and arrived safe and sound. /End Story

The reason I've spun this tale of weekend woes is two-fold: you may be bored this morning and needed a little something to hold your attention, and there are approximately four lessons to be learned.

1) Thank God for the kindness of strangers.
2) Air bags smell weird.
3) Oklahoma deer are just as stupid as Arkansas deer.
4) I will make it through anything to relax.

Despite my moaning and groaning in this series of unfortunate events, I spent many post-wreck moments counting my blessings that we were safe, unharmed, and still able to get away. However, I once again hope your weekend was a little less eventful than ours.

Happy Tuesday, y'all!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Day of Thanks

It's a great day to be grateful, isn't it?

While thankfulness shouldn't be reserved for just one in 365, today is the official holiday of turkey and thanks. Dressing and blessings. Eating and warm greetings. Gratitude and platitudes. {Okay, I'll stop.} Today families across the country are joining together to celebrate Thanksgiving in their own ways. And no matter whether you're gathering around the table at grandma's or at Cracker Barrel, this day is earmarked for appreciating the togetherness.

We have big plans today and it's almost time to get to it, but first I'd like to focus on our reasons for the season. I am thankful that I get to spend my holiday with a table full of some of my favorite relatives, and I'm also thankful that you're taking the time today to read my words. I don't say it enough, so thank you for thinking I am interesting enough to hold your attention. Holiday high-fives all around.

Now, you and I both know it wouldn't be a proper Bauer Family Thanksgiving post if I didn't share a little Q&A session, along with more of this year's family photos from Bright Images. Following are directly quoted answers to the timely question: "What are you thankful for?

Age: 34
Thankful For: "I am thankful for a love that’s never ceasing. I am thankful for a slightly slower life this year that let me soak up a little more time with my family. I am thankful for friends to bow my head with in the morning darkness, thanking God for His grace in our lives."

Age: 33
Thankful For: "This year I am thankful for relationships. I am thankful to have beautiful relationships when it comes to my faith, both with God and with the people and places that deepen that connection. I am thankful to have an ever-changing relationship with my children. As they grow in what they need from me, they allow me room to do the same. Lastly I am thankful for the most important bond I have, with Jonathan. He gives me strength, courage, confidence, and purpose. And I sure do love him."

Age: 10
Thankful For: "I am thankful for God and family because they help me get through life. I am also thankful for my iPod touch because I get to play games on it and talk to my friends. I am mainly thankful for Owen, though, because he's my only brother so he likes boy stuff and he's the one who likes to play with me the most."

Age: 6
Thankful For: "I’m thankful for God because He made us. I am thankful for Louis because he attacks bad bugs like mosquitoes and he eats mice and likes to play on the trampoline. And he purrs when I pet him. And I’m thankful for life because nature is beautiful and my life is fun."

Age: 4
Thankful For: "I'm thank you for God because I love Him because I love His heart. I’m thank you for {points to Owen} and {points to me} because y’all are so cute! I'm thank you for Daddy and Nathan because Dad calls me Fluffy and Nathan jumps on the trampoline with me. And I like the Christmas tree because it’s almost Christmas."

Check out last year's answers here,
the post from 2015 here,
the post from 2014 here,
the post from 2013 here,
the post from 2012 here,
and the post from 2011 here.

Enjoy your holiday, friends. Notice the faces around your table and count your blessings.
Happy Thanksgiving, from my family to yours!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Early Birds

Today I'm going to give a crash course in the apologetics of premature Christmas decorating.

After all, the Early Bird puts up the tree, right? Since Halloween wrapped and many went straight for the red and green, I have read some strong Facebook opinions. There are those who decked the halls on November 1, not thinking twice about what other people thought. Good on you, Christmas lovers. I've also seen many striving to maintain the sanctity of Thanksgiving. Stockings and garlands are for the day after the bird, and not a minute sooner. I can see this point, too.

I am typically a Grinch when it comes to most things, but last year I joined the early bandwagon. If you happen to stop by and peek in our windows, you'll see I'm still on it. The bunch spent Monday afternoon decking the halls and jamming to Christmas pop from the '80s, '90s, and today. Does that make you angry?

This jumping of the gun does not involve the reasons many are shouting from social media rooftops, however. I didn't decorate because I am on the same holly-jolly level as Buddy the Elf. That could not be further from the truth {ask Jonathan}. Therefore, in the effort of both explanation and perpetuating arguments, I am listing ten reasons it was wise for me to break out the Christmas lights before Thanksgiving.

Let the debate begin.
  1. Decorating for Christmas is an awful, cluttered, glittery, and chaotic event. Future Jessica is always thankful when Past Jessica takes care of business.

  2. Coming home from a Thanksgiving feast and seeing the new holiday ready to roll is a gift in itself.

  3. We do not have a ton of Christmas decor because my brain won't allow it, but it still packs many more items into my small house. Early decorating allows my OCD extra time to adjust.

  4. The closer it gets to December 25, the less I want to do it.

  5. I don't have babies anymore. No one is going to dangle from a tree nor rearrange the ornaments in a way that makes my eye twitch.

  6. The earlier Christmas cheer arrives, the more likely I am to make a list and check it twice. This is going to be the year I don't scramble last minute! Just, you know, putting it out there...

  7. There's something cozy about a living room lit by Christmas glow and knowing I can keep it for an entire month.

  8. It takes a solid week or so to vacuum and sweep the microscopic pieces of dropped ornaments.

  9. Having it up early gives us more time to look at the ornaments and remember the memories that go with them. Even the one from 2008 that Nathan hung on the tree and recalled a time he called "the good ol' days." {I was thinking that when I grabbed 2006's Our First Christmas ornament, but don't tell him that.}

  10. My kids love it. And they have much more of a propensity toward candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup.

Also, as hardcore as I am in the belief that Epiphany is on January 6, our tree will be boxed on Boxing Day. {Hey, maybe the British have this figured out...} January starts a clean slate for me, and that is as figurative as it is literal. I shall celebrate those twelve days religiously, but not decoratively. For the record, I understand there are plenty of reasons to wait to decorate until after Thanksgiving. If I hosted the November feast at my house it would render the above points moot. But this year I am not, and you better believe that Christmas tree is already center stage.

Now, what about you?? Have I greatly offended you with this post, or are you reading it with your feet propped up on the couch, basking in the glow of Christmas? Be sure to claim your side in the comments and have a lovely Wednesday!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Dreaming of Leftovers

It's the Monday before Thanksgiving, and folks from sea to shining sea have one thing on the brain.


While obviously the actual thanks will be involved in our holiday {that post is coming soon}, today my thoughts surround an over-sized bird in a vat of oil. Is that so wrong?

Homes across the country are currently buzzing with warmth and family and tradition. Heavenly scents already permeate the air as well-rehearsed chefs have thawed the turkey and begun chopping nuts for pies and veggies for dressing. Grocery stores are packed with full carts, and the annual sale of can-shaped cranberry sauce has taken off. While I'm not the best cook, I'm a really good eater. As my taste buds tingle today, I am sharing the foods for which I am most ready:

My palate is not of the casserole-enjoying variety, which knocks off many Thanksgiving staples, but there is one that has my heart. The reasons being: A) I love green beans. B) I love crunchy onions. C) I love cheese. You put all these things in a dish with various creamy soups and the addition of mushrooms in a recipe I'm pretty sure Jonathan stole from the Pioneer Woman, and I'm going back for thirds. And also reheating days later.

When brainstorming desserts for a Thanksgiving feast, most people are thinking pumpkin or apple, right? Not me. My brain goes straight to Karo. Go big or go home. I know I've mentioned the holiday delicacy known in my family as haystacks, but it's worth another name drop. These tasty morsels rank up there with the headlining bird. It's just corn flakes and peanut butter and everyone's favorite corn syrup. My mom has been making these since I was little and each bite transports me to that cozy place of bulky sweaters, roaring fires, and absolute comfort. You know the one.

Last but certainly at the top of my list is the turkey. I don't know if having this gigantic bird on the table more than once or twice a year would lessen the excitement level, but mine is through the roof. Years ago Alton Brown taught my husband to safely fry a turkey and we haven't looked back. The delicious brown sugar brine and cooking method combine for a juicy main course. My mom cooks a second bird in a more traditional style in the oven and both get equal billing on my plate. I can already taste the tryptophan...

Honorable Mentions: All forms of bread, whole black olives, strips of extra pie crust sprinkled with cinnamon, homemade mashed potatoes, and many generous pours of wine.

Now that we're prepared to salivate through this three-day countdown, let's get to the real reason I wrote this post. I really want to know which dishes rank for y'all. When reading the foods I'm most ready to put in my mouth, what imagery and flavors popped into your head?

Please share in the comments the Thanksgiving dishes going on your plate this year, and maybe we'll add to the menu.... as long as it's still in stock at Walmart!

Happy Monday, friends.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Louis J. Bauer

A few days ago Jonathan mentioned picking up the monthly dose of flea medication for our cat.

Which is odd in itself, but then I asked what name it would be under. I let a small grin slip when I joked that he was listed under Louis Bauer. My husband deadpanned, "Of course! That's his name, isn't it?" Well, I suppose it is. {Also, ten points if you guess his middle name.}

I first mentioned this cat when he was just a feral kitty who moved in while we were in Florida this summer. We thought he was cute and tiny and fluffy, so we bought him food and let him stay. Eventually we took him to the vet, learned our feminine assumptions were off, and the rest is history. What we didn't know, however, is how quickly we'd fall in love with him. Don't tell the chickens, but I think Louis is our favorite pet.

I am no longer exaggerating when I say Owen Bauer and Louis Bauer are BEST. FRIENDS. Before school, they snag a few minutes to jump in the leaves before separating for the day. When we get home, Owen rushes through his homework {evidenced by his frequent "Be neater!" instructions...} to check on Lou. Through the kitchen window I see the pair lying on the trampoline, pondering life and enjoying each other's company. Louis is never more than a step behind Owen, so we don't worry about this one straying far from home.

One of Owen's favorite car-line games is guessing what his cat does all day. Often we'll pull into the driveway and he'll be lounging on the slowly moving porch swing. Louis knows how to live. At night he'll sleep as close to the door as possible {or the hot tub if it's chilly out}, and when he hears the morning hubbub, the scratching and meowing begins. Owen is super good about feeding Louis, but don't be late with the grub.

My husband, who is indeed allergic to cats, loves this guy so much he told me Louis is coming inside for the coldest winter nights. With regular vacuuming, of course. I'd never have guessed we would have a couch cat, but here we are.

I grew up in a house that always had cats, but the rest of my family lacks experience in the field. It's been fun to see my kids form a relationship with a pet that does more than squawk and lay eggs. You know I appreciate a pet that gives free food, but the snuggle quota is a little higher with Lou.

This, my friends, has been an entire blog post dedicated to our cat. A cat that started as a random wild animal that wouldn't leave and has become an actual member of our family. You can check his vet records for proof.

Have a happy Wednesday, y'all. Then pet a cat and make it even better!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Dear November

Last week October quietly rolled into November... when we stashed the leftover candy and started eyeing the Christmas decor.

I'm not one of the many who put their Christmas trees up the second they tossed their jack-o-lanterns, but I'm sure this month will see the Bauer halls decked. I love the holiday spirit that comes with the start of November. I'm not just talking about the commercials jam-packed with the latest and greatest toys, either. {Thanks a lot, Nick Jr.} I mean the feeling that the holidays bring. November marks a date that could easily be my favorite holiday, so we're going to kick this week off in style. Today I am going to tell the eleventh month of the year exactly how I feel about it.

Dear November,

I am thankful for you because you transform my commute. Our part of the world is at peak fall color and the splashes of orange and yellow hidden among the green is good for my soul.

I am thankful for the way your leaves show me it's good to let things go.

I am thankful for the way you bring people together, over turkey and football and memories and tradition.

I am thankful for the way you give pause to the year's end. The calendar is so close to winding down and starting over, but November asks us to stop and see the good.

I am thankful for the way you encourage us to consider the things we take for granted. There is so much I forget to count as blessings.

I am thankful for your days of cardigans, boots, and wind-swept hair.

I am thankful for your hot tub nights beneath the stars that remind us we are a tiny part of something incredible.

I am thankful for the fact that your air is often a cross between crackling fire and the crisp early signs of wintertime.

I am thankful for your early sunsets because it's a lot easier to trick kids into early bedtimes.

I am thankful for your call to appreciate what we have. While human nature is longing for what we miss, a good life is lived truly thankful for what we have. I know I have more than enough, and this month I want to steer all my focus into pouring out thanks.

To a season of both thanks and giving, here's to you, November.

May your month be filled with good food, good family, and a good focus on gratitude.
Happy Monday!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Guest Post: Being Rickie's Wife

In this little Internet space of mine, I like to give advice.

It's mostly unsolicited and always unprofessional, but sometimes I think you can relate. My advice is usually centered around parenting, but I've been known to dabble in relationships, too. I can't tell you what will work for you, but I can share the ways I'm getting things to work for me.

Someone recently approached me about offering her own words to my readers, and she has a little more experience under her belt. My mother-in-law Dianne lost her husband {you may know him as Poppy} to ALS in the spring, and since then she's been trying to translate feelings into words. She finished this piece and asked me if I could publish it on November 3, her husband's birthday. I am honored that she shared this with me and proud she wants to share it with you. This expression of love is raw and real and beautiful. Without any more backstory, these are her words:

Being Rickie's Wife

Friends and family have told me that I am spoiled.

I never really thought about it until Rickie got ALS. Things were just how they have always been since we met one January night in 1975. Our first date was at a restaurant named Sambo's, and we were married in less than six months on July 5, 1975. Rickie took care of everything, and I do mean everything. He hung pictures, did maintenance on the car, put gas in the car, and did all the yard work, even though he couldn't breathe afterward. Mostly though, he took care of me.

When he was diagnosed I had no idea what to do or how to do it, but I did know that I was not alone. God was with me. As his disease progressed and I'd think about what I would need to do for him, I would think that I'd never be able to handle it. But God said Yes, you can, and I did. I found out that I was a lot stronger than I knew.

When we were first married, I was not the person I am today and that is because of Rickie. His faith was strong, so mine was, too. We raised Bridget and Jonathan to have strong faith and to trust in Jesus. Jesus loves us so much and He shows me daily how much, just as He did when I was taking care of Rickie. He talks to me, sometimes through the children and sometimes the homily at church seems like it was written for me. As you can see, my faith is stronger and that is because I met and fell in love with Rickie.

We did not have a perfect marriage, there is no such thing, but when you pray together, go to church, raise your children in church, and work at it, a marriage is the greatest thing on Earth. I will cherish our time together and never forget how much he loved me. Now I rejoice in the knowledge that he is no longer sick and can walk and talk with anyone who has gone to Heaven ahead of him. I know for sure he has our angel grand baby in his arms every day.

I will never forget him and there is so much more to say. A lot happens in 42 years, but my job here is not done. I will listen to Jesus and let Him tell me how he wants me to live my life without Rickie. Right now there are good days and bad days and a lot of firsts that are very hard, but I will continue on. I have moved to Hope to start a new chapter in my life and it has been great.

I hope that you all know the love of a good person, but most of all I hope you know the love of Jesus.

I love each and every one of you!
- Mrs. Rickie Bauer

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Fright Night

I could tell you I didn't chase my breakfast with a Milky Way I found in the cup holder of my car...

But we would both know I'm lying.

It took more effort than normal for us to drag our feet to the floor this morning, and I know this is evidence of the dreaded Halloween hangover. While I did, in fact, treat mine with the hair of the {chocolate-covered} dog this morning, I'm already looking forward to spending the first night of November in a more low-key fashion. However, memories from the spookiest night of the year still dance in my head. Let's discuss, shall we?

The threat of Halloween rain loomed in the forecast so when the backpacks hit the floor yesterday afternoon, we rushed the kids into costume. This year's choices included everyone's favorite bookworm princess, Owen Bauer, star batter, and a throwback to the creepy masked murderer of my youth.

We started at both grandmas' houses and worked our way through the neighborhood between. Nora can be a bit timid, but I was impressed by how she opened up. With her yellow ballgown gathered in hand, she was the first to several doors. She eagerly shouted "Trick or Treat!" and was free with the manners and Halloween wishes. While we grinned back at all the little old ladies and young children smiling through their screen doors, the scary house was a different story. If you've read my Halloween posts in years past, you know the one. If not, I'll fill you in.

There's a doctor in my parents' neighborhood who can't end October without meeting his crying baby quota. He rigs up a sound system into which he shrieks and cackles and screams before opening the door. Figures dance in the windows, lights flicker on and off, and children head for the hills. My own kids have fallen victim, but not this year, my friends. Oh, not this year.

Sitting on the good doctor's stoop was a dark figure slumped forward, hidden behind his hanging deadlocks. When kids approached, his hair parted to reveal a horrifying zombie face, complete with a dangling eyeball. Nathan pulled his Scream mask into place and his brother walked up right beside him. They returned safe, proud, and richer in candy. Nora didn't want to even see this house, but her FOMO kicked in fast. She’d only go up if Jonathan would carry her, though. As she watched the scary guy fill her bucket, he looked at her and said:

”Whoa, that's a big dad you've got there!”

And that was one of my daughter's top Halloween moments: When she learned that spooks are completely powerless when she is in her Daddy's arms.

Once the damage was done and the pumpkins were heavy, we made it back to Nana and Grampa's house to check out the candy. This year's haul featured enough chocolate to make it my way and an emoji ring from the dentist down the street. We enjoyed homemade veggie soup and watched Nora scramble from the table with every doorbell ring. Still dressed like a princess, she floated across the kitchen screeching at my dad to detain the trick-or-treaters for her. I think she had just as much fun greeting as she did gathering.

We had a great night and we now have enough candy to last us all winter... or at least 'til Thanksgiving?

How was your Halloween? Do you have a trademarked Scary House in your 'hood?