The Poppy House

June 5, 2021

“We pass an abandoned house on our daily walks. It’s a mess, but I am drawn to it.   

Bright California poppies burst to life in the yard every spring, their blooms pushing through the overgrowth and tangled vines. We call it the “poppy house” and talk about it frequently.

‘It looks like it was well-loved once,’ I say.  

One day my husband and I send an email. ‘Please consider selling us this house. We want to make it our home, and walk our daughters to the school down the street.’

Our realtor says it’s a long shot.

But, what if?”

This “100-word story” was the first assignment I turned in to a writing workshop. Among the feedback on dialogue and sentence structure were several notes of encouragement.

“I hope whoever owns the house decides to sell it to you!”

“What a great story it would be if you got the house!”

I smiled as I read the well wishes. I hoped we would get the house too. It would be an incredible story—one of those I pulled out anytime I needed an anecdote about taking a bold step of faith.

For weeks nothing happened. We continued to pass the house daily. The grass and weeds continued to grow higher thanks to the summer sun and prolonged neglect. Each time we walked by the house it felt more like ours. Surely it would be our home eventually.

July 2, 2021

11:00pm

I shrieked loudly, interrupting David mid-guitar strum. He looked up from his practice in a panic, and found me with my face buried in my phone.

“The poppy house! It’s for sale!”

Now I waved my phone, opened to the Realtor.com app, wildly in his direction.

“It was listed 45 minutes ago!”

“You scared me, I thought something was wrong,” David sighed.

I ignored him, continuing with my frantic antics. “I’m serious, come look!”

We scrolled through pictures, trying to figure out if the place had been ransacked during its vacancy or if our former neighbor had a hoarding problem. The house had a similar layout to our current rental with some key changes.

“The fireplace is in a different spot than ours! It’s not in the playroom—I would have the long, uninterrupted stretch of wall in there I’ve always wanted,” I exclaimed.

David scrolled to a picture of the kitchen and zoomed in to see past the layer of junk that covered everything. “Hey, and the stove is a gas range!” he added.

“It’s a gas range and located where I always say ours should be,” I chimed in. “The upper cabinets blocking the view into the playroom have also been removed.”

“But the door between the garage and the kitchen is missing,” David pointed out. “How many critters do you think are hiding in those piles?”

We continued to scroll and the pictures quickly transformed in my mind. I saw a gallery wall of our family photos above a midcentury modern credenza in the living room, an expanded art and preschool area off of the kitchen, evenings snuggled up with David in front of the centrally located fireplace. The more I looked, the deeper I fell in love.

David interrupted my thoughts. “It’s priced astronomically low. Either something is really wrong with the property or we’ll be outbid by an all-cash offer.”

“Probably both,” I conceded. “But we have to try, right?”

At David’s insistence, I texted our realtor that night.

“Hi Chris, I know it’s late so I hope you don’t see this until tomorrow, but the property we sent the email about is on the market…”

July 3, 2021

I woke up to a reply text.

“That is quite a project! Are you and David interested in scheduling a showing?”

“I know, it’s a huge mess! We are very interested in a showing.”

David and I fed the girls breakfast while we finished up the last details of our mortgage pre-approval application. By 9:00am we had an appointment to see the house on the calendar and 100% of our paperwork turned in. The quick pace of everything made me dizzy. At the same time, I felt peace. If we got the house, it would be a sure sign we were supposed to be there. While I repeatedly reminded myself it was a long shot, I also couldn’t help but think we could beat the impossible odds. The inkling I felt to cold-call the homeowners a month prior had to mean something. Could we really come out empty-handed when I felt such a strong, inexplicable pull to the house?

At 10:30am, a call from Chris gave us our answer. After 12 hours on the market the sellers received and accepted a single offer. They wouldn’t even allow us to submit a sight unseen backup offer. The house was under contract.

Still whirling from the events of the morning, I declared that a few of our kitchen cabinets needed to be reorganized and set off on a solo trip to Target. I joked it was retail therapy, though the disappointment hadn’t had a chance to sink in yet. I browsed the aisles in the kitchen section, weighing equally the pros and cons of different sized OXO POP containers and the pros and cons of what we had just gone through.

Weeks later, I’m still left with more questions than answers. Why didn’t the homeowners respond to our email before putting the house on the market? Why did we feel such a strong call to put ourselves out there if it wasn’t going to work out? Why do I still feel like it should be our home?

Sometimes we don’t get a reward for being bold, other than the satisfaction of having tried.

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “Bold”.

Proof of Toddler

Haiku + Photo Essay

Pictures collected.

Moments in time that span months,

glimpses of her days.

A mess to some, but

a different perspective will

remind that it’s play.

Imagination;

traces of it everywhere.

Momentary joy.

I give silent thanks

for a house filled with Ellie

radiating light.

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Make A Mess”.

His Words Are Just Enough

“Do you want to sit outside?” my then boyfriend David asked. A combination of the delta breeze and a much too large cup of frozen yogurt made the heat of this particular summer evening bearable, so I agreed and we wandered around the corner to a small set of stairs just off one of midtown’s main streets.

A handful of months prior, on our first date, David told me he had previously been engaged to be married. He introduced the topic by acknowledging it was a little early to talk about previous relationships, but he assumed I had been in at least one.

“Actually,” I drew out the word with a big gulp, looking straight ahead. “I’ve never dated anyone before.”

I peeked at David out of the corner of my eye, taking in his stunned face. “Well,” came his slow, methodical response, “that makes what I’m about to tell you a little awkward.”

Poor guy, if I had known he was using that as a lead up to tell me about his ex-fiancé, I might have saved my news until after he had finished talking.

He went on to tell me he felt I should know this because, while he “really liked” me (his exact words), he was committed to avoiding a rebound relationship.

Inspired by his bravery, I further admitted he was currently taking me on not just our first date, but my very first date ever. I think he found that revelation more terrifying than brave, but to his credit, instead of walking me home and never calling again, he suggested we keep seeing each other.

So, there we were, sitting on stairs in front of a closed boutique with our frozen yogurt, months into a new relationship. One party had zero dating experience; one party had more experience than he cared for. Both parties were awkwardly fumbling through the get to know you stage with a commitment to the kind of open communication established with those first confessions.

I perched on the top step facing forward, while David made himself comfortable a few steps below, choosing to face sideways with his back against the railing so he could look up at me. In the interest of taking things slow, we left plenty of space. I don’t remember exactly what he said to make me smile so much that evening, but I do remember one seemed to be constantly forming on my lips.

“I like your smile,” he quipped as he took a bite of vanilla yogurt, a small smile of his own starting. “It’s pretty and it lights up your whole face.”

Emboldened, and in the mood for some cheesy romance, I felt my smile grow even wider as I replied, “I like your blue eyes. They’re piercing, and they are the first thing I noticed about you.” 

This began a string of hours where we traded compliments and observations back and forth; a move that cemented our openness with each other. As the night wore on, we shifted on the steps, eventually landing on the same one. The physical space between us shrunk, and a safe space between us formed. A space where we could be vulnerable and love well with words. I sighed as I nestled my head on his shoulder. I knew our fledgling relationship had taken a monumental step forward, despite our best intentions to play it safe.


My mom leafed through the wedding program mock-up I handed her, studying the text I had written with a careful editing eye. For the better part of a year, she had helped David and I plan our wedding long distance. Now I sat with her in the living room of my childhood home with my wedding a week away. We assembled paper cones for a petal toss, the wording of the programs the last thing we needed to finalize.

“Are you sure this is all you want to say? I thought you and David would want to talk about each other.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, tying sheer grey ribbon into a bow. “I wrote about how we met and told a little bit of our dating story.”

“I meant more like letters, so everyone can read why you love each other and want to get married,” she clarified.

I understand why she made the suggestion. When David asked for my parents’ blessing to propose my mom asked what he loved about me. I didn’t witness the conversation, but I’m told his answer made her cry. He’s good with his words.

I can be somewhat prolific with what I say, but David speaks with a quiet steadiness. He’s consistent, not showy.

I thought about this, and I smiled.

“I already know why he loves me; he tells me all time. It doesn’t need to be written in a program.”


While pregnant with our oldest daughter, David and I took one of those multi-week birth courses—the kind that go over all the painstaking details. We faced our journey into parenthood the same way we face everything else as type-A planners. Prepared.

A big portion of the course centered around coping mechanisms to help us persevere through labor. We were asked to identify a place we loved and could imagine visiting as an escape, a favorite picture or comfort object, songs we would like to have playing, anything that would allow us to relax as much as possible.

I had no idea about the rough labor and delivery ahead of me. However, I did know myself well enough to understand mentally “escaping” to a beach would not be helpful in any way. A dancer since the age of three, I requested music from Swan Lake play in our birthing suite, but mostly I knew I would need to hear David’s voice. I asked him to talk to me.

As the adrenaline waned, the pain set in, and his own words ran out, David borrowed words from someone else. He grabbed a book he had pre-selected and began to read out loud. He read himself hoarse through 21 hours of labor, keeping one eye on the page, one eye on the clock, and his hand on my back. His voice carried me through the epidural that barely took the edge off, the panic around our daughter’s decelerating heartrate, and the moments where my life hung just as much in the balance as hers.

His voice continued to carry us through the jarring transition of two becoming three; when lovers turned into parents and all of a sudden everything seemed uncertain and hard. His voice directed us in prayer, suggested others to speak with when we couldn’t solve our problems on our own, and served as a constant reminder to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

We rediscovered the safe space we created during our dating days, our hard-fought ability to be open with each other. Once again, vulnerability found a home with us. Once again, we loved each other well with our words.


The other night after we put our daughters to bed, David suggested we spend the evening snuggled up with a movie, and even agreed when I asked to watch the live action version of Beauty and the Beast.

Right about the time Gaston ties Maurice up and leaves him for the wolves, David started whispering to me. Sweet nothings—the kind compliments that always feel like the most important somethings—spoken softly as he buried his face in the top of my head. I uncurled myself from his arms just long enough to look him in the eye.

“Do you know what night I think about a lot?”

Without having to say anything more, he knew exactly what I meant.   

Ten years, two babies, and a busy legal career have filled our lives since that night in midtown. These days, entangled by young children and surrounded by a pandemic, soft words often serve as our only lifeline to romance. The one tie we have to those days long ago when our friendship began and love blossomed quickly. They have turned into a haven, one of the truly redeeming aspects of our marriage—an example of how he loves me best.

On Hope in the Unknown

In our early dating days, David and I took full advantage of working just down the hall from each other. Lunches, when we could afford the time (and quick coffee breaks when we couldn’t), often found us in Capitol Park. We’d walk to a group of benches far away from the building where we could hold hands and talk without too many lobbyists or legislators passing by.  

“I’m often eager to know exactly where I’m going in life,” David confessed one afternoon when a breather from a hectic day took a philosophical turn. “But I’ve found God only makes things clear to me one step at a time.”

“Mmmm,” I mumbled, secretly thankful my mouth was full of the cookie I had purchased from the bakery across the street, allowing me to mask the slight terror flooding my type-A mind. Who doesn’t have the next five steps of their life planned?

“How does that affect your ability to make decisions?”

“Each time there is a big step to take, God gives me faith to make it. But he withholds what comes after that,” David continued. “I just have to be faithful in what God has given me to do right now, in this step, and trust that he will let me know when it is time for the next step.”

Having swallowed the last bite of cookie, I had nothing to hide behind.

“I think it’s great you have so much faith,” I ventured. “Thankfully God doesn’t work with me that way. I’m too much of a planner; I always know what’s coming next.”


I glanced over at my phone as I put the last swipe of peanut butter on Ellie’s sandwich. A notification for my personal email flashed across the screen with a subject line about termination paperwork. “That’s obviously a mistake,” I murmured to myself.  

The guestroom door popped open and David, three months into full-time working from home, ventured out to make his lunch.

I met him with a furrowed brow, “I just got a weird email from work that I’m pretty sure wasn’t meant for me. Can you watch the girls for a second?”  

I ran into what used to be my workspace before the pandemic, pushed David’s paper’s aside, and opened my laptop.

“WHAT?” I shrieked.

The company I worked for had plans to move my part-time, remote position out of state.

My mind raced. I could almost physically feel the goals we made over New Year’s slip through my fingers. The ones we carefully crafted with naive excitement, before we knew 2020 would be the year to end all years.  

I had done well so far. The pandemic, stay-at-home orders, everything closing, food flying off the shelves, my mom and mother-in-law simultaneously fighting cancer through all of it. I had handled myself just fine. But this? This broke me.

I was at my worst, anxiety gripping so tight I felt as though I couldn’t breathe.

I attempted to assuage the feeling by powering through with brute force – using my own two hands to pry each metaphorical finger from around my midsection. When that didn’t make me feel better, I withdrew far into myself.

Then, one day, came the still, silent knowing.

*Just breathe. You don’t know what comes next, but I do.*


“I thought these matched your Christmas décor and would look beautiful hanging in a window,” my mom said when I opened a set of Christmas-themed antique glass pendants.

At the time, we lived in a 1920s duplex that came with charm and gorgeous built-ins, but also a landlord who didn’t care enough to keep the dense landscaping trimmed away from the original windows. Our apartment had very little natural light.

I decided to use the pendants as ornaments on our Christmas tree instead and while the colorful strand lights didn’t show off their full beauty the way light streaming through a window would, it was a fine alternative.

We haven’t lived in that duplex for three Christmases now, but I have continued placing the pendants on our Christmas tree. This year, as I was unpacking our boxes of decorations, long-stifled inspiration finally hit, and they found a new home hanging from the gorgeous picture window in our living room.

I find myself staring at them often. There’s that slow stretch of time when we are done with breakfast but haven’t quite gotten ready for the day yet. Giggles come from imaginary worlds sprawled across our floor while the pendants sparkle in the mid-morning light. Then there’s the evenings when their soft glow catches my eye as I step away from making dinner to check on the girls watching Daniel Tiger.

You see, this house is a next step I didn’t see coming. The result of a series of events that worked together so perfectly, in my mind they can only be God’s leading.


The very thing that used to scare me now serves as my lifeline during this season of so much hopelessness. The waiting on bated breath, wondering what step God will give me the faith and bravery to take next.

I think about a dark, cramped duplex where I yearned for a bright, airy space that better met our family’s needs, painfully aware I couldn’t make it happen with my own strength. I think about being powerless to stop the loss of a job I loved and the refinement that came next. I think about the twenty-something version of myself sitting on a bench, unwilling to face the idea of not being in complete control over my own life.

We don’t know what is to come, but he does. This is the tension of where we sit. It’s a mystery that makes life hard and thrilling; it’s a warm comfort that makes it safe and beautiful.  

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Tethered to Hope”.

Things I Think About

For Larry

Ten years ago today, my father-in-law died.

He wasn’t my father-in-law then, but the dad of my relatively new boyfriend. The boyfriend I knew I loved, but hadn’t discussed marriage with yet. It was too soon for that.

I didn’t know if I would hold David’s hand forever, but I knew I had the privilege of holding it through that season. I met half of David’s relatives for the first time while they sat with Larry during his last night on earth. I stopped by to drop off food, trying to be as helpful as possible while not intruding. I met the other half of David’s family at Larry’s memorial service.

Being the new girlfriend during such a raw time produced a unique struggle – a funny push and pull of wanting to be supportive of my best friend, but also knowing I didn’t have a permanent place in the family.

Those feelings from a decade ago still sit with me, but they’ve morphed slightly. Now I feel the unique struggle of not actually knowing someone whose life played such a key role in mine. Without Larry, the three people I love most would not exist, yet I never had a real conversation with him. It’s something I think about a lot.


Picture for a minute a long, skinny room. A sky bursting with all the colors of a glorious sunrise and brilliant sunset comprises the ceiling. Soft mounds of pure white clouds make up the ground. Does it sound heavenly? Because that’s exactly where I am describing. At least in my mind.

There’s something special about the tufts of clouds on the ground, though. They aren’t just clouds, but a way for those in heaven to check in with earth periodically – to tune-in and watch special events: birthdays, weddings, graduations, new babies entering the world.

I have absolutely no idea what first put this image in my head; it’s likely a response of my childhood imagination to the well-meaning platitude that those who die are watching over us. I’m sure it’s not biblical, but for as long as I can remember I have pictured these Cloud TVs.

Many people I love dearly are in heaven, and visualizing them watching small snippets of my life like I watch my favorite movies always brings a smile to my face. I most often think of Larry in front of his Cloud TV. I can’t say exactly what his opinion of our family would be, but I bet he smiles a lot. 

Right now, we live in a city where he never visited us, in a house he’s never seen, with two little girls he’s never met. Yet there are traces of him everywhere.

A wooden cross he made hangs on the wall by our family wedding pictures, a symbol that he was such an important part of the celebration, even though he wasn’t physically there. I walk past it an immeasurable number of times a day and think of him.

He built the desk David works at. First owned by David’s older brother, it moved its way through a few other family members before landing in our home.

There’s the tools David uses for projects around the house and the bible he reads, all of which used to belong to Larry.

And then there are those little girls. Ellie has his smile and Lauren has his name.

It seems wrong he never got to meet them. That Grandpa Larry exists only in pictures and conversations about what it must be like to live in heaven. 

The other day, after one such conversation, Ellie told me she was going to play “heaven” during her quiet time, but she couldn’t figure out what stuffed animal could be God and what stuffed animal could be Grandpa Larry. Unable to find the perfect fit for them, she abandoned her plan and moved on to coloring.

Her musings left me glowing with the realization that even though she doesn’t know him, she knows him. Just how I feel as though I know him, too.

This is no one’s first choice, but it’s good enough until heaven isn’t an afternoon game to play, but home.   


Dear Larry,

You’ve been gone a long time, but you are thought of daily. That probably doesn’t matter to you, considering you’re in the presence of God, but to my human mind it’s comforting, so I thought you should know.

There are just a few things I want to thank you for publicly today, since I can’t tell you in person.

Thank you for my family.

Thank you for letting me spend an hour of your last days with you, watching NASCAR and holding your hand.

Thank you for helping to raise David to be the most amazing husband and father. He is incredible and his hard work makes him excel at so many things. I hear he gets that hard-working trait from you. I hope you really do have a Cloud TV and that you watch him from time to time; I know you would be so proud.

Today I’ll play with your granddaughters and we’ll talk about Grandpa Larry who lives in heaven. I’d like to think you’re having a big party.

I miss you, I love you, and I’m excited to really get to know you for myself someday. 

Love,

Kendra

The One With All the Canceled Plans

Since 2020 is moving us right along into our first and hopefully only pandemic holiday season, I have been doing quite a bit of reflecting. How do I make these upcoming celebrations special, yet safe? What traditions are the most important?

This landed me on November of last year and, let me tell you, the perfect storm of events surrounding Thanksgiving 2019 promise to make even a COVID Thanksgiving happy and calm in comparison.

So, journey back with me to those pre-COVID days when we could run around sans masks and buy plane tickets and plan group holiday get-togethers with abandon. It was approximately 100 years ago; do you remember?

Lauren was barely two months old, and my side of the family had been planning to spend Thanksgiving with us in Sacramento for months. I was absolutely thrilled. I couldn’t wait to show off our house and new baby; to have my parents, brothers, sister-in-law, and grandmother sitting around my living room; to go for walks together and enjoy the bright fall colors that Northern California bursts into each November.

I even had the Del Taco location picked out for our annual Thanksgiving feast. (I can hear you now, reader who is unaware of this beautiful tradition. “What? You eat Thanksgiving dinner at Del Taco?” Yes, we do; and yes, it is just as amazing as it sounds. But, that’s another story for another time.)

If you have been following along with my life this past year, you already know that in early November 2019 my mom received a breast cancer diagnosis. At this point, it’s not a new plot twist, but in the moment, it was heartbreaking. A few days after the diagnosis we found out she needed to start chemotherapy the week before Thanksgiving. Her doctor was adamant. There would be no Northern California holiday that year.

“I know not being able to host everyone is small compared to cancer,” I cried to David that night. “This disappointment feels so selfish, but right now I’m sad.”

I didn’t sit in the sadness for long, however, and within days everyone had either changed their flights or purchased new ones. We would spend Thanksgiving in Southern California with my parents. The location didn’t matter, really. Being together was our top priority.

I wish I could stop right here and wrap this story up with a sweet little anecdote about the importance of family time, but Thanksgiving 2019 had a few more tricks up its sleeve.

As is prone to happen to toddlers during cold and flu season, Ellie came down with croup, and we pushed our flights back to give her more time to get better. We wouldn’t be with my family on Thanksgiving, but we would be there the next day. That was good enough.

Ellie felt much better by Thanksgiving Day, so we decided, rather than put all celebrating on hold until we reached Southern California, we would find a few ways to make the day our own. We watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in our jammies and David made “pancake balls” (that’s ableskivers for anyone over the age of three), declaring them our new official breakfast for any and all holidays.

“Do you still want to go to Del Taco for dinner?” David asked later in the afternoon.

I decided I would feel sad without the rest of my family so, despite David’s sweet attempts to convince me otherwise, I snagged a last-minute reservation at a restaurant that served actual Thanksgiving food.

Here’s where things get weird.

We waited in an absolute sea of humanity for what felt like ages to be seated, David trying to keep Ellie entertained while I tried to keep the crowd from breathing on tiny Lauren. We finally reached our table and, to my horror, the middle-aged woman seated next to us had taken off her shoes AND socks and had one foot propped up on the table leg while she used every last wet wipe the restaurant had to clean her face. Ellie refused to eat a single thing, including the snacks we brought, and the meal ended with Lauren projectile vomiting all over me, the table, and the floor.

Unfortunately, she missed our table neighbor’s bare feet. That would have been some poetic justice.

I should have gone with drive-thru bean and cheese burritos.

At 5:00am Friday morning, Lauren woke us up coughing. It was her turn to come down with croup. We canceled our flight.

I ended up with a Northern California holiday after all, just not the one I wanted.


I don’t know what the upcoming holidays will look like.

I know we won’t be traveling and will miss out on seeing family.

(I pray there are no barefooted strangers.)

I also know we’ll eat ableskivers. There will be pod dinners, giggling sisters, and quiet evenings at home. We’ll give thanks to God for his abundant blessings.

If last Thanksgiving taught me anything, it’s that you can feel absolute deep, guttural disappointment and, in your grief, still celebrate.

There will always be moments to savor. Sometimes, it just takes a little bit of creativity and a unique perspective to find them.

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Savor”.

Joyful Cabin Fever

Only a few people know the story I am about to tell.

We were in the middle of a very hard phase of life. A relatively new lawyer, David was putting in long, long hours at his firm. A relatively new stay at home mom, I was not adjusting to the role with the ease and grace I thought I would. At seven months old, Ellie still woke up three or four times a night. Exhausted doesn’t seem a strong enough word to sum things up.

On an almost-whim we decided we needed a vacation and booked a quaint Airbnb in Pacific Grove that boasted views of the ocean and two free tickets to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. David took a week off of work and I was giddy over the thought of Ellie and I having him all to ourselves for seven days in a row. We planned to go over David’s birthday and bring our dog, Delaney, along for the ride.

Our third morning there, I sat on a daybed in the corner of our room trying to squeeze in a quick pumping session before we headed out to take advantage of those free aquarium tickets. I stared out the sliding glass doors into our host’s beautiful garden, the Pacific Ocean in the background, while David played on the floor with Ellie and Delaney. A short bark from the dog and a sudden, swift movement from David caught my attention. He lifted Delaney up off the ground and said with urgency in his voice, “I need you to come pick up Ellie. Now.”

“I’m a little tied up at the moment,” I laughed back. “What even happened that was so bad? It’s not like the dog bit her.”

His pointed stare told me all I needed to know. 

There was a small wound on Ellie’s cheek that we knew would heal quickly, but also deserved to be looked at by a doctor. Sea otters and the kelp forest exhibit were replaced with a 45-minute drive to the nearest Kaiser medical office.

We eventually made it to the aquarium later that week and discussed the possibility of finding our dog a new home, one without kids, as we weaved in and out of the exhibits. It was something we knew we needed, but didn’t want, to do.

On the way out I spotted the gift shop.

“I just want one small thing, I promise.”

David gave me a smile and amused eye roll as I plucked a bright, almost obnoxious red coffee mug off the shelf and handed it to the cashier.


I have this thing with mugs.

Our kitchen has an entire cabinet filled with them and David often teases me about it. It’s partially because they are my favorite souvenir to purchase, but really there is a deeper meaning. Many remind me of a specific person or time in my life, and I often decide which one to use in the morning based on how I feel or who I want to pray for that day.

In March, when the world came to a sudden halt, I found myself reaching for that Monterey Bay Aquarium mug several mornings in a row. It reminds me I can do hard things and make necessary decisions, even if those decisions make everything feel off kilter for a while.

In our house, the kitchen is adjacent to the playroom. The two spaces flow seamlessly together in a design I can only imagine was dreamed up by a mom once upon a time. From my perch at the coffee maker one spring 2020 morning, I could see pajama-clad Ellie lost in one of her imaginative games, Lauren batting at the toys hanging from her play gym, and David starting breakfast for me.

I looked around as a churning, fluttering sensation that had become all too familiar rose up within me. Taking deep breaths to soothe the butterflies, I wondered for what seemed like the 500th time how I was going to do this. In my fog, I completely tuned out the most important parts of my little world. I had become so obsessed with not being able to leave our four walls that I forgot to appreciate all they contained.  

Inspired by that trusty red mug, I decided this was not how the next few months would go.

I declared we were in a season of “joyful cabin fever,” adamant each day would hold enough joy to see us through.

I was defiant.

I created a hashtag for my all of 200 Instagram followers.

I determined to will joy into existence one prayer and small moment at a time.

For many reasons, 2020 threatened to be the hardest year of my life, but it was not going to win. I simply wouldn’t let it.

When food disappeared off the grocery store shelves, creating a false sense of panic almost impossible to keep at bay, our neighbor found us eggs and Ellie’s favorite “chocolate cat cookies” at Trader Joe’s. 

When drinking the news through a fire hose became too much to handle, I found Ellie and Lauren cuddled up on the floor holding hands and chose to focus on that instead.

Trips to the playground stopped, but as I sat in our backyard and watched Ellie run around, I allowed myself to remember a mere year and a half prior when we lived in a duplex with no outside space of our own and felt immense gratitude for our current home.

When the pandemic prevented me from traveling to Southern California for my mom’s mastectomy, Lauren made me laugh out loud with her lunchtime antics and Ellie and I baked the stress away.

I was very unexpectedly laid off from my job; my mom and mother-in-law both continued to struggle through their cancer related health problems; wildfire season began and smoke rolled into our city, bringing ash and hazardous air quality that lasted for weeks.

But also…

Ellie started choosing her own clothes and each day brought a new creative and off-the-wall outfit; Lauren taught herself to climb the steps out of our kitchen and could not have been more proud of her accomplishment; David hung string lights over our back patio; a dear friend I hadn’t heard from in years contacted me out of the blue, picking our friendship back up right where we left off.

When life knocked the wind out of me, this small daily discipline brought me back to myself, time and time again. Joyful cabin fever; small joys in unexpected places.


I will admit, when I started this practice, I assumed it would come with an end date.

We would stay home for a couple of months, and then I would have something I could point to. A phase in my life tied up with a neat little bow. See how I found joy when it was hard? What a helpful thing to get me through a crazy time.

Maybe it’s for the best that I don’t have my concrete ending. Life is filled with difficult stages and inevitably many future seasons will give me cabin fever, even if just in my own head.

This practice is lifelong.

The quarantine won’t always be so literal, but I plan on being delighted by small moments of joy wherever I find myself.

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Unexpected Joy”.

For My Hero

As I pushed Lauren’s stroller through the Kaiser parking garage on my way home from a postpartum appointment, I heard my phone ding.

“I got a text from your dad. He and your mom want to talk to us tonight when we are all together.”

My stomach immediately sank. My parents had news, and they thought it was so important that David be with me when I heard it that they went to him first.

A couple of hours later, I sat on the couch, phone in hand, with eight-week-old Lauren fast asleep on my lap and David’s arm wrapped protectively around me.

My mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

I was very calm and painfully clear-headed. I asked a lot of factual questions. I asked about timelines. I asked my mom and dad how they were feeling, and when it was ok to call and check on my brothers.

Surprisingly, I did not cry.

We hung up the phone and as Ellie scampered into the room David said with a sweet smile, “You might want to give Mama a hug right now, she is feeling a little sad.”

I squeezed Ellie with my free arm and set a smile on my face. “Mama just heard some hard news, but I promise it will be fine.”

The tears didn’t come that night. They didn’t come the next morning as I nursed Lauren or ate breakfast with Ellie. It wasn’t until I was loading the girls up in the car for a morning of errands that the floodgates opened.

I cried on the way to Target. I cried all through Target, and just as I had myself under control something random like the frozen food aisle would make me cry again. I cried driving home from Target. I cried as I unloaded the car.

I texted friends, panicked a little, gave myself permission to do nothing but snuggle the girls and watch feel-good TV. I prayed. I thought about how my mom is the single biggest influence behind how I parent.  

All the while, a sole question plagued my thoughts over and over.

How would I do this without her?


I flew to Southern California for my mom’s second chemo treatment, leaving Lauren for the first time, David armed with a freezer full of pumped milk. It was a day I didn’t realize I desperately needed until I was there. It sounds strange to describe hours of doctor appointments and chemotherapy as fun, but my mom and I managed to make it just that.

I was gone approximately 12 hours and Lauren rewarded me with constant comfort nursing for days after, staying on my breast for up to two hours at a time, her desperation to hold on to me matching my desperation to spend time with my own mom.

There literally weren’t enough hours in the day to nurse her and take care of everything else. It was also Christmas time and I was trying hard to squeeze in some magic, despite feeling out of control.

I know my mom must have had days like these too, but when I think back on my childhood, I just remember feeling safe and happy. My mom could do anything and make any situation wonderful.

She still does.

How would I do this without her?


The baby’s cries faded over the monitor, and as she drifted off to sleep, I sat on the couch and pulled Ellie onto my lap. Every morning during Lauren’s first nap of the day we have “Mama and Ellie time” and today we were reading a very special book.

My mom’s hair was gone, bravely shaven off between her second and third chemo treatments. We had talked to Ellie about the cancer, telling her that Gammy has to have a lot of check-ups at the doctor and they were going to help her feel all the way better very soon. I had kept my tone light and Ellie wasn’t worried at all. But, I could not for the life of me figure out how to explain my mom’s hair loss.

Then a box came in the mail with a children’s book about a rabbit who gets sick and has to take medicine that makes her fur fall out. Of course there’s a children’s book on that subject, and of course my mom thought to find it and send it to us. That kind of thoughtfulness is just one of the reasons we still need her so much.

That morning we read the book over and over, talking about how Gammy’s medicine also made her hair fall out, but it’s making her feel better. There were assurances that Gammy’s hair would grow back and I threw in a Daniel Tiger song for good measure, “You can change your hair or what you wear, but no matter what you do, you’re still you.”

The book ends with the rabbit, aptly named Hope, fully healed and realizing her dream of jumping over the moon. “Mama,” Ellie piped up, “When Gammy feels better she will jump over the moon and I will jump with her! Can I, Mama? Can I?”

“Yes baby,” I replied holding back tears. “You absolutely can.”

How would I do this without her?


On chemo days I found myself anxious and preoccupied, with less patience for Ellie and Lauren than they deserve. If the days were hard for me, I can’t even imagine how hard they must have been for her, the one actually going through chemotherapy.

The funny thing is, you would never know it. She sent us upbeat texts from the hospital detailing the latest news from her doctor and always took a smiling selfie with whomever her chemo buddy was that day, showing whatever number treatment she was on with her fingers.

I marveled to one of my friends about how my mom had handled the whole situation, recounting that she spent a week with us shortly after Lauren was born. She cooked us dinner, played with Ellie, helped me get out of the house with both girls, changed countless diapers… all while waiting for the results of her biopsy. She suspected she might have cancer, but she didn’t say a thing. How’s that for strength?

My friend smiled and simply said, “That’s what moms do.”

How would I do this without her?


My mom’s sixth round of chemo came the day after Ellie’s third birthday. At 6:30 a.m. I sat in the “Mother’s Lounge” at the Sacramento airport simultaneously pumping and leaking everywhere. I joined the group of others waiting to board the flight down to Southern California – them in their crisp business suits and faces full of makeup, me with my messy bun and chambray shirt covered in breast milk.

There was a news story on the terminal TV about a relatively new disease called COVID-19 that seemed like it might be spreading. I hoped I wouldn’t catch anything on the plane and thought about how I almost canceled this trip down, reasoning that it was hard for David to take the day off of work to be with the girls and I would see my mom in another month for her surgery. But I didn’t cancel, thank goodness.

A few hours later my mom and I sat in the infusion center laughing until we cried about trashy TV and Super Bowl commercials while my sweet dad sat in the waiting room, giving my mom and I time together we cherished. We ate Oreos and endured dirty looks from a man in the corner. I giggled to my mom that I thought we were the rowdy chair as a nurse stopped by to discuss the latest episode of “Below Deck.”

It was a perfect day, besides the cancer.

How would I do this without her?


March 2020.

My brothers and I had it all figured out. We booked flights into town for surgery day and planned to show up at the hospital wearing funny matching shirts emblazoned with the motto our family had adopted during the cancer fight. We wanted my mom and dad to know how much we love them and would do anything to support them. Mostly, we needed to be together.

Willie was the first one to cancel, when the COVID outbreak started getting really bad in Seattle. I canceled next, when Northern California appeared to be on its way to becoming the next epicenter. Stephen held out a little bit longer, but finally decided he needed to cancel his flight from Tucson a few days before the surgery. None of us were willing to risk any chance of getting my mom sick, even if it meant we had to ride out surgery day alone and she had to go with a few less hugs and smiling faces cheering her on.

Never in a million years did we think my mom would have to ride out the day alone as well.

COVID protocols were getting stricter by the minute, it seemed. First, my mom was only going to be able to have one visitor with her. Then, the night before her surgery she let us know that she wasn’t allowed to bring anyone. My dad gave her a hug in front of the surgery center and that was it.

“I only cried once!” she told me over Facetime the next day after she had been discharged and made it home.

She is my hero. 

How would I do this without her?


Radiation started and radiation ended, just like that. Well, it seemed “just like that” to those of us not experiencing it. I know it was a grueling 20 sessions to endure.

The week she finished radiation, my mom had a follow-up appointment with her oncologist to go over how effective her treatment had been and figure out the next steps. I felt very apprehensive about it and I couldn’t figure out why, but I prayed like crazy and I know many others did too.

The day of the appointment came and my mom called me in the early afternoon.

“Hey sweetie, we’re leaving the hospital and I just wanted to let you know it went really well. I’m done!”

DONE.

“Mom, that’s amazing!” I said in between bouncing Lauren on my hip and trying to keep Ellie’s persistent interruptions to a minimum.

“So, no further treatments at all? (Yes, Ellie, I see those bell peppers in your kitchen. Go play, please.)”

We talked about the medicine she will take for the next several years. We talked about how her reoccurrence rate is only 15%, the same odds of anyone being diagnosed with cancer in the first place. We talked about answered prayer.

A few minutes after we hung up, it hit me.

Relief.

I was making Ellie a sandwich when I started to shake. I suddenly realized that I had not taken a full breath in seven months. I had been taking care of my family and trying to cultivate joy in a season of quarantine all with restricted capacity – part of my brain always distracted, my lungs constantly tight with the fear of “what if?”

I was brought out of my stupor by Lauren crawling in front of me at lightning speed, making a beeline for the steps she wanted to climb. I scooped her up and smiled because doesn’t life always have a way of doing that? It continues on in the most special and mundane ways, no matter what we are going through or what kind of revelation we just had.

Yes, life goes on and I get to continue living it while taking deep, full breaths.

She does, too.

Lauren’s Birth Story

Alternative titles for this post include “I’m not Sure These are Actually Contractions” and “A Redemptive Birth Experience.”

Allow me to set the scene: On Saturday, September 14th, David’s godparents came into town to take us to dinner. I was 37 weeks and two days along. I felt extremely uncomfortable and looked like I had swallowed the world’s largest watermelon. However, baby girl was still sitting pretty high and I had been told at my doctor’s appointment just days before that I still had a ways to go.

“Who knows?” David’s sweet godmother quipped during our meal, “This could be your last dinner without the baby!”

We all laughed and I felt certain that wouldn’t be the case. I had weeks to go! Besides, didn’t my doctor just tell me that she wasn’t anywhere close to being in position yet?

Plot twist: that was, in fact, our last dinner without the baby.

Saturday night as we were putting Ellie to bed, I started feeling a lot of pelvic pain. It felt like someone was taking my hip bones and ripping them apart while baby girl was forcefully using my ribs as leverage to shove herself downward. She had always been a strong, active baby so I just assumed these were normal pregnancy aches and pains.

Later on that night I did start to feel funny–like I just needed to stop and take in everything as it was right at that moment. I asked David to stop what he was doing and sit quietly with me for a little while. I remember having a fleeting thought that maybe this was my body’s way of telling me I was about to go into labor, but I quickly dismissed it. I went to bed early to prepare myself for a full Sunday of church, a baby celebration lunch with a few of my dear friends, and dinner with one of David’s co-workers and her family.

4:30am Sunday morning, my eyes opened. I lay there in the dark for a few minutes trying to figure out why I was awake.

Is Ellie up? No.

Do I need to go to the bathroom? No.

Do I need to roll over? No.

Am I thirsty? No.

Alright, mental checklist complete, I guess I can fall back asleep. But… ouch! What is that annoying abdominal cramp? Oh ok, it’s gone. Time to go back to sleep.

Five minutes later…

Ouch! There it is again!

Five minutes later…

You get the drill. Needless to say, it took me an embarrassing amount of contractions to start suspecting I was probably having contractions. They weren’t intense at all, but they were definitely there and definitely coming every five minutes like clockwork. I assumed they were Braxton Hicks contractions, so I got up and started walking around the house in the hopes that they would go away. They only got stronger. At that point, I decided the best thing to do was go back to bed and try to get as much rest as possible. You know, just in case. I obviously wasn’t in labor.

David’s alarm went off at 7:00am.

“Good morning! Um, let me know when you are awake enough to talk, I have a few things to tell you.”

That right there was enough to wake him up; I’m not usually that conversant first thing in the morning.

“Ok… well… I’ve been having contractions… at least I think they’re contractions… since 4:30am. They are coming every five minutes. But they are so mild! I’m sure they aren’t really contractions. I’m only 37 weeks!”

I answered his barrage of questions.

“Yes, since 4:30 this morning.”

“No, I haven’t called labor and delivery.”

“Well, I figured one of us should sleep, so I didn’t want to wake you up.”

“Ok, ok, fine. I will call the hospital.”

The nurse who answered in labor and delivery gave me strict orders to take a shower, eat some breakfast, drink a ton of water, and put my feet up. I was to call them back in a few hours if the contractions were still coming.

Late in the morning I finally gave in to the fact that, yes, these were actual contractions. I was in the early stages of labor! We canceled all of our plans, asked my parents to get on the road so they could be here with Ellie, and settled in for the day. I spent most of my time laboring on the couch listening to David and Ellie play in the playroom behind me. Every few minutes or so I would call to David that a contraction was about to begin and he would start timing. Talk about multi-tasking at its finest.

Right after we got Ellie down for her afternoon nap, the contractions picked up in intensity. David said he thought we needed to go to the hospital, but I wasn’t convinced. I could still talk just fine in between contractions, and my parents had barely made it past Los Angeles; it would be hours before they made it to our house.

I called labor and delivery again and they asked me to come in. The nurse said they likely wouldn’t admit me, but since I was late pre-term and had already been laboring for more than ten hours, they wanted to monitor the baby for a bit. So, we left Ellie in the care of friends and neighbors and headed out.

We pulled into the hospital around 3:30pm. I got out of the car and felt a contraction coming on. All of a sudden I heard a *pop* and doubled over in pain. The baby had kicked me so hard it felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I stood up and told David everything was fine but as I took a few steps I could feel something leaking.

“Um, this is awkward. I think my water broke? Maybe? It can’t really be that, right?”

The next thing I know I was hit with an incredibly intense contraction. They started coming one right on top of the other, making it impossible to walk and nearly impossible to breathe. Thankfully, by that point, we had made it halfway through the emergency department lobby and a nurse brought us a wheelchair. By the time we were in the labor and delivery ward a few minutes later, I was leaning over the side of the chair in extreme pain. Up until this point, my labor had been much easier and far less painful than Ellie’s, but I was starting to have flashbacks and zone out from the pain. I stood up in the triage room and felt a huge gush. Yup, that episode in the parking lot had been my water breaking.

A very upbeat midwife entered the room and asked me what I “envisioned” for my labor. I managed to gasp out “epidural” and that was about it. She checked me, discovered I was dilated four centimeters and sent us off to our room with a promise to call the anesthesiologist right away. The 30 minutes or so I was waiting for the epidural are a little fuzzy. I remember searing pain, shaking, sweating profusely. Our nurse set about getting me hooked up to everything and running the necessary tests. I turned on my side and gripped the bed rail for dear life. All I could do was breathe and repeat “this too shall pass” over and over in my head. Somehow I answered all the nurse’s questions, while David sweetly coached me through each contraction, telling me constantly what a great job I was doing.

Mercifully, the anesthesiologist finally came and my epidural was placed! It was almost instant relief and I settled happily and comfortably into my bed to wait out what I assumed was quite a bit more time before we met our girl. It was about 4:30pm.

Less than two hours later, I told David I thought I wanted to take a nap. I had been up since 4:30am and laboring for almost 14 hours at this point. I was starting to feel tired. The nurse gave me a funny look and asked, “Do you feel the urge to push?” I did not feel the urge to push at all, I felt the urge to sleep. “I want them to check you, first. The baby is really, really low.”

The midwife came in and checked me. “Yup, you are at a ten! I can feel the baby’s head, try a practice push for me during this next contraction.”

I complied and baby girl started moving.

“Ok,” the midwife said. “It’s definitely time to push, I’ll get the doctor. Are you ready to meet your baby?”

David and I stared at each other in disbelief. Were we ready to meet our baby? Of course, but couldn’t we slow this thing down a little? I had barely gotten used to the idea that I was having real contractions, and wasn’t I just four centimeters a mere two hours ago?

Ready or not, she was coming!

They got the room set up and the doctor came in, the same one who delivered Ellie two and a half years ago. Ten minutes later, at 6:24pm, less than three hours after we arrived at the hospital, Lauren Poppy Kruckenberg was in my arms.

I felt blissfully aware and in control the entire time. I held my own legs when I pushed. I watched as they lifted her up and placed her on my chest. I even cut the umbilical cord myself. It was a beautiful process from start to finish and a moment I will cherish as long as I live.

When we first decided we were ready to think about welcoming a second child into our family, I prayed a rather bold prayer. I asked the Lord for a redemptive conception experience, a redemptive pregnancy, and a redemptive birth story. I wanted to look back on this time with peace and joy, not as something I needed to emotionally heal from. Nothing, and I mean nothing, on any of those fronts went according to what my plan for a “redemptive” experience would have been. But looking back on it now I see that in His infinite wisdom the Lord gave me abundantly more than I could have imagined.

Our Lauren is exactly who we needed in our family and she came exactly when we needed her. What a sweet testament to God’s grace.


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For This Child I Have Bled

“Oh wow!” the nurse processing the new pregnancy paperwork after my eight-week appointment exclaimed. “Your daughter was quite a big baby!” I laughed and glanced over at my tall, now extremely lanky, toddler carefully pulling the pamphlets out of the basket in the corner of the nurse’s office one by one. “Yup! 9 pounds, 11 ounces. Apparently, my husband’s side of the family has big babies.”

The conversation continued, “Ok, so I’m going to need you to complete your glucose screening before your next appointment. Having a baby over nine pounds in a previous pregnancy puts you at an increased risk for gestational diabetes, so we need to test you early.”

At this point, my internal dialogue started going crazy. Um, excuse me? Drink that nasty stuff during my first trimester? Does she want me to throw up all over the poor unsuspecting lab tech?

Unfortunately, no amount of exclamations on my part about how I didn’t have gestational diabetes in my previous pregnancy, I was sure I was perfectly healthy, and really I just have big babies would get me out of it. I (once again, internally) rolled my eyes and thought at least I would get the test over with early on.

What’s that saying? Pride cometh before the fall?

Much to my dismay a mere three weeks later, at only 11 weeks along, I found myself sitting in a “So, you have gestational diabetes” type class learning all about my diet restrictions and how to use my new glucose meter.


Every night after dinner for months of this pregnancy, until the triple-digit summer heat made it unbearable, I took a walk. It’s one of the best things you can do to regulate your blood sugar. Sometimes Ellie and David joined, but many evenings I walked by myself. I put one foot in front of the other, circling our block multiple times, first legitimately walking and then waddling as my belly grew.

The walks gave me a lot of time to think.

I often wondered what our neighbors thought and if any of them felt oddly invested in my pregnancy, even if they don’t personally know me, as they watched my belly expand night after night as I passed by their houses.

Mostly, I just thought a lot about the baby inside of me and prayed.

It’s ironic, really. If you were to ask me which pregnancy was easier I would answer this one without missing a beat even though I’m technically high risk, because physically it has been. It’s been largely free of the nausea that plagued me during Ellie’s entire pregnancy and required medication. For the most part, I’ve had energy and been able to keep up with all my normal activities. I even got used to the unwelcome diet changes pretty quickly. But in its own way, it has been harder this time around.

With Ellie, I had complete peace and confidence that my body was the safest place for her to be. She was literally created for me; I knew I was the only one who could provide her with what she needed during those 40 weeks. As sick as I was, I never had a doubt that she was going to stay ours and come out healthy at the end.

This pregnancy has been one giant mental battle.

It’s the extreme weight loss early on and my inability to gain the weight back because I can’t have sugar or simple carbohydrates; the constant checking of my blood sugar; the phone calls from nurses that come every Wednesday evening like clockwork to record said blood sugar numbers and ask me questions about my diet; the “supervised high risk pregnancy” label that shows up on all of my paperwork. I’m so thankful that she is healthy, but I can’t shake the nagging feeling that my body isn’t the safest place for her to grow. I just want her on the outside where I can actually take care of her.


700. That’s how many times I have pricked my finger this pregnancy and squeezed out a drop of blood to test my sugar levels. I’ll have to do it 112 more times if she goes to full term. I know this won’t be the last time I physically bleed because of her, and I also know that my anxiety for her wellbeing won’t end when she finally exits my body. In fact, it will be the beginning of a lifetime of concern, worry, and prayer over the sweet soul I have been entrusted with.

For this child I have bled, and will continue to bleed, and pray over, and love and protect with everything I have in me. I am so lucky to be her Mama.

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