Thankful for Virginia

It was the evening after Thanksgiving a few years ago. I went for a walk with my mother and brother in our family’s neighborhood. I listened vaguely to the conversation as we went, but didn’t participate much. I was captivated in the sounds and smells of the post-holiday darkness, and lost in the memories it conjured. 

Virginia has always had a particular smell to me, and so has fall, and that night, it was both combined. There was the stink of marsh mud, mingled with wood smoke and the occasional perfume of pine. A few evening insects still sang to us as we went, and I heard the far off exchange between neighborhood dogs and hunting hounds. I spent a great deal of my childhood here, playing “ship” on the hammock with my brothers, searching for easter eggs in the yard, and hunting down the monsters that hid beneath the piled pine-needles under the old trees that witnessed it all.

But it’s not only that little neighborhood where my mother grew up that I spent happy days.  There were bright summer afternoons where I sat, wind-swept and sparkling with river spray at the front of my Grandad’s boat, or behind a fishing pole on the dock, waiting expectantly for that telltale tug on the line.  I loved the historical field trips we made, to Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, and several other landmarks. There were also those weekends at theme parks, Busch Gardens or Water Country, filled with music and laughter, and the smells of sunscreen, chlorine, summer-baked pavement, and waffle cones.  There were a thousand bright colors, in flowers and painted rides, and a thousand families exploring and enjoying the parks along with us.  

Those have always been special memories to me with my family.  Waiting in lines for rides was essentially forced quality time with my brothers, the sort of open conversation time that we didn’t necessarily share otherwise, and certain traditions developed, too.  I always went to the Irish-themed section of the park with my Grandmother to see the step-dancing show.  My mom and grandmother always got vanilla soft-serve with strawberries when we visited the ice-cream parlors.  My Dad always laughed at our ridiculous pictures from the rollercoasters and had a special talent for finding live music (although that’s a talent he has everywhere he goes).  My Grandad liked the music too, but was generally a silent observer of it all.

There’s more I could write about Virginia. In more recent times, she was the home of my first job, the place I lived for a couple of summers with a dear sister and mentor, and the place I met another one of my closest sisters in Christ. In every case it has been a place of growth and blessing.

It’s Thanksgiving again, and my fourth Thanksgiving abroad. In thinking of my friends and family far away, I can’t help but think of Virginia, and thank God for all she represents in my life. God is good to give us places, to be, and remember, and treasure. 

Tummy Time with a Dog in the House

So here’s the thing, I know tummy time is important, but I have to confess I did not do it as much as recommended in the early days. Why? Well, my baby didn’t much enjoy it, so there is that, but more than that I was afraid of putting her on the floor much in general because we have a dog, a big dog, who likes to run to the door when she hears unfamiliar sounds, and I was afraid my baby might be trampled. Fortunately, there are some solutions. Here are the ones I have come up with.

1 Use a play pen 

If you have an especially hyper dog and you have space for a playpen, this seems like a good option while baby is on his belly. It is portable, so you can bring it into any room where you want to put your child on the floor for a while, and your pup can still hang out nearby without baby being in danger.

2 Use a baby gate to block a doorway  

Baby gates are handy because you can close off the room while still being able to keep an eye on your canine pal, and allow them to keep an eye on you, too. Plus, if you have stairs in your house, you will probably need a baby gate at some stage anyway, so why not get it early and put it to use for newborn tummy time?

3 Coordinate with your partner so they can take the dog for a walk while you do tummy time 

Especially in the very first few weeks, I found this was a win win solution for everyone in the home. My husband got a break from caring for mama and baby, Pup got a much-needed walk, and baby and I got to do play and tummy time on the floor undisturbed. 

4 Put your pup in their crate or on tie down 

My dog does not currently have a crate due to lack of space, but if we did have one I think I would have chosen to do this frequently in my baby’s first few months. Newborns do not do tummy time for long periods anyway, so most pups won’t mind the brief break in their crate or on tie down. Keep a special bone, treat, or other toy handy to entertain your pup while baby does their daily exercises, and soon they will eagerly anticipate this new part of your routine.

5 Practice tummy time with baby placed on your chest

This was the one way I always felt comfortable doing tummy time with my newborn. Baby was happier there, it was a sweet way to cuddle and bond with her, and there was no danger of an imprudent pups trampling paws. That said, if you do place your baby on your chest for their tummy time, be sure not to fall asleep with them there, as that can be just as hazardous as leaving them unattended in proximity to an animal.

It is always important to supervise your baby while they are practicing tummy time, especially with animals in the home. Still, you needn’t let anxiety about your pet’s behavior near your little one stop you from giving your baby time to wiggle freely on the floor. Above are a few measures you can take to make sure baby can practice tummy time safely with his canine friend close by.

If this article interested you, you can read more on my blog about raising a family with a dog in the home, or read more of my writing on dogs in general.

When Mama Is Not Enough

I was spending the afternoon at a friend’s house a couple of months ago. Her son, who was about 16 months at the time, loves books. I’d sat next to him and his mama while she read to him, but this time, he brought the book to me.

Woman reading a book to a toddler. Photo by Lina Kivaka on Pexels.com

“Uh-oh.” I said, as he put the book in my hands. I wanted to read it to him, but it was in print, and I couldn’t. My friend laughed at my expression. 

“It’s okay. Just make it up. He won’t know the difference.” 

I did, with the book upside down for a while hahaha until he went and chose another book. I kept making things up, and my friend was right, he didn’t seem to mind. Still, I shuttered to think about the moment, months or years down the road, when my child would bring me a book that I couldn’t read to her. Would I react so calmly in that situation, or would I break down because I couldn’t do it for her. 

It makes me sad that I can’t read any old book to her, that I have to have specific books brailled out or in digital formats to be able to share them with her, but that’s not going to change, and in reality, it wouldn’t be any different if I were a sighted parent. Sure, I could read books to her without a problem, but I’d have other failures, distractions, difficulties as an individual that would be challenging in other ways, a detriment to her. I know without a doubt that my blindness has shaped me as a person. Would I be as good of a mom to my baby if I hadn’t been molded so? Considering I believe in a sovereign God who shapes every one of our experiences I don’t think so. He made me the way I am for a purpose, and he chose me, out of billions, to be my daughter’s mama. 

When encountering those moments, I think it is important to remember a couple of things.

1 God will use my deficiencies to shape my daughter, just as I have been molded by them and those of my parents. He is a good God, and he will redeem every one of them for his glory and good purpose.

2 It is inevitable that I will fail my daughter, and frequently, but when she feels the weight of my failures, she has a heavenly father to run to who will never fail or forsake her. Every single time I prove inadequate in some way, there is an opportunity for her to turn to the one who lacks nothing, who gives graciously of his own perfect being to each of his children in abundant measure.

And thus, what appears to me utter insufficiency will become for her wholly sufficient, not because she has all in me or in any created thing, but because she has Christ, and in him, she has everything.

Prepping Your Dog for the Arrival of a Baby

There’s a lot to do to get ready for the birth of a child. Furniture has to be purchased, clothes and toys need to be organized, and various other things in your home may have to be discarded or rearranged in order to make room for baby’s buggy, baby’s play pen, baby’s bouncer, etc. In the flurry of activity it can be easy to forget that our dogs notice all the new goings on, and might need a little support in making the leap from family life as it is now, to life when little one is born. So, what are some things we can do to make our dogs more comfortable with their changing family environment?

1 Allow your dog to sniff and familiarize themselves with new objects and furniture 

Your life will change dramatically when baby comes home for the first time, but so will your dog’s. Help him start making the transition early by familiarizing him with all your new baby gear. This is particularly important with some of our more modern baby accessories like bouncers, swings, or the like. Your dog may never have encountered some of these objects before, so it can help to introduce them to him before baby enters the picture. 

2 Think about boundaries 

Consider what things your dog does that already drive you batty. Those things will only become more stressful when you bring your child home. Now might be a good time to work on some of those naughty behaviors, or set some new boundaries that you think may be helpful when baby arrives. For example, your dog may always have been allowed on the bed, but you may feel it would be safer for baby for furniture to be off limits. If that is the case, he will not automatically assume this when you bring your baby home. It is important to communicate any new boundaries to your pup clearly and consistently in the weeks and months leading up to your baby’s homecoming to minimize risk and frustration in that busy newborn stage.

3 Observe your dogs reactions to babies and children in general 

If you do not already have small children in your life and the life of your dog, it may be helpful to introduce your dog slowly to the idea of having littles around the place. Is your dog sensitive about his paws, tail, or face being touched? It might be a good idea to work on positive associations with body handling. How does he cope with loud crying or squeals? Does he get overexcited around children and need to work on impulse control? Even if your dog is not around children regularly, you can help him build positive associations with children from a distance in public places such as parks or town centers, and general concepts like body handling and impulse control on your own time at home.

4 Set aside time specifically to play with and cuddle your dog

Just like bringing a new sibling home to your other children, pets can feel a little left out when all of your attention is suddenly devoted to baby. Get some good quality time in with your pet or service dog while you can, and consider when you might be able to work that time into your new life when your little one joins the family. That might look like handing baby over to your partner while you and Fido go out for a walk, cuddling up with your pup beside you while you snuggle or feed your baby, putting your baby in their bouncer or cot for a few minutes while you groom or play with your dog, or, in the earliest weeks, calling your dog to the bathroom with you so that you can pet them in the few seconds you have before your newborn needs you again (haha, I’m not joking. This worked well for me, and my dog started getting very excited every time I had to take a potty break).

5 For those with service dogs, practice working with baby gear before hand 

Give your canine partner the opportunity to work with some of the new things you might be using before baby arrives. For example, wear the baby carrier or pull the buggy with a sack of sugar in it while out and about with your dog. You’ll get some strange looks, but at least you won’t be doing it for the first time ever with your tiny fragile newborn. It’s a great opportunity to work out any kinks and do some additional training with your pup if it seems necessary.

6 Consider working with a professional trainer 

Sometimes, we just need a little help. If concerns arise for you that you feel are beyond your ability as a pet-owner/handler, don’t forget that you can enlist the aid of a professional. It is hard enough to juggle being a new parent and a pet owner or service dog handler without having extra worries on your plate as you make the transition. Working with a trainer may be one way to ease those concerns. It gives you a structured time to work with your dog on any undesirable behaviors, provides an excellent opportunity for bonding, and may be an important step to ensure the health and safety of your new wee family member. 

There’s a lot to do to get ready for the birth of a child, and with a canine pal already part of the family, there may be a few more things to do than usual, but with some forethought, a little bit of effort can go a long way in making for a smoother transition to life with a baby.

If this post peaked your interest, you can check out more like it in the parenting or guide dog categories of my blog. 

Blind Mama Pregnancy Vlog | Week 36!

We are finally getting toward the end of sharing my pregnancy journey with you. I enjoyed filming these videos so much, and am glad I will have them to look bak on in the future. In this update, I share about a doctor’s visit, virtual baby shower, and our final preparations for baby. Watch my 36 week update here.

Thanks again for joining!

The Desire to Adopt as an Adopted Child of God | Reflecting on #WorldAdoptionDay

I have an adopted sister. She was adopted by her parents too, although not my parents. She was four years old when her parents adopted her as family, and 20 when I did. It’s funny when you adopt a sister apart from your parents, because there’s no legal process, no way to make the bond official to anyone else but yourselves, but the sisterhood is still there. She witnessed me grow up from a 16 year old, hot-headed kid to a 26 year old married, possibly still somewhat hot-headed mother. I have been there as she has navigated multiple college degrees, study-abroad, the loss of a parent, and marriage. God willing, we will share decades more of this life together, and she will be no less a sister when we are in our 80’s than she is now.

Maybe that’s part of the reason I’ve always had the desire to adopt a child. There has never been any doubt in my mind that the bond between parent and progeny is far more than biology. On this #WorldAdoptionDay, I can’t help thinking about that desire. In some ways it’s frightening to acknowledge. No matter how smooth the process, adoption always comes from a place of brokenness, and there are consequences for that. I know even from adopting an adopted sister that the trauma of loss from those early days of life can echo throughout the rest of a person’s adult years. We know from the Gospel that bringing such a child into your family is no easy task. Christ had to die on a cross to do it for us. Thus the adoptive parent must also take up their cross, and that daily, even hourly. 

And yet, the love that Christ has shown to us beckons me to love as he did, to share, as our father in heaven does, the love of a parent with one who would otherwise be orphaned. So the desire remains, and I struggle in prayer as I ask God to one day make it possible. I know that the desire for children is a good one, and we believe that God will place whatever children he has for us in our lives through whatever means he intends, whether through birth or adoption or otherwise. We know also that he will provide for those children, so as doubtful as it seems now that we, a year married with an infant in a tiny one-bedroom and a rather limited income, will ever be able to raise the funds to afford an adoption or have the sort of house we would need to pass a home study, we know that God is capable of far more than anything we would ask or think. It seems impossible that we, rebellious and rejected children, could ever be accepted into the family of a perfect and holy God, and yet through Jesus, that is exactly what we are. I believe it is possible in this case as well. Even if legal adoption is not in God’s plan for our family, I know that he will give us opportunities to lavish His love upon other unofficial family members, like my sister. For that,I am thankful, and will praise God as I continue to pray in hope. 

“Behold what manner of love the father has lavished unto us, that we should be called the sons of GOd.” (1 John 3:1)

A Sinner Lies Beside Me

I have written about forgiveness before on this blog. It’s one of those things we always want for ourselves, but not something we find easy to extend to others. This is true in even the most superficial relationships, but perhaps particularly true in our most intimate ones. Around this time last year, my husband and I were working through a conflict. We knew that we had promised to love one another, and even in absence of such a promise, we had a Christian calling to forgive others, no matter how difficult it was to do. I wrote this as I was reflecting on that calling, and praying for the Holy Spirit to soften my heart and make me gracious beyond my own ability. I wanted to share it here in case one of you is struggling to extend grace to someone in your life.. Perhaps someone has wronged you, and perhaps very gravely. You do not have to pretend that the person’s actions were justified in order to release them of any debt to you. Instead, trust in Christ, who extended you forgiveness in dying for your sins, who can empower you to love when you have no love, and who has an answer for every injustice ever done, either through His saving work on the cross, or in the work of judgement at the end of the age.

A Sinner Lies Beside Me 

A sinner lies beside me. A sinner in my womb, 

A sinner at the grocery. A sinner in the waiting room.

A sinner on the TV talking, a sinner in the uniform,

A sinner with the law book, writing, a sinner dead, a sinner born.

A sinner in the jail cell, a sinner in the court,

A sinner who is laughing, and a sinner who mourns.

A sinner in the window, a sinner on the street,

A sinner every man, woman, child that I meet.

A sinner lies beside me, a sinner in my womb,

A sinner in the mirror, He bled for me and you.

While I was yet a sinner, 

He humbled himself to die,

To save the souls of rebels, 

And them to justify.

And will I now forget it,

The grace I have received?

Deny to give it freely to,

A sinner just like me?

I must extend as he did,

The crimson love he poured,

To rescue me from trouble,

That I might be restored.

A sinner is beside me,

And to him must be given,

The blessing of forgiveness,

For I have been forgiven.

Today, all well and good. Tomorrow? Next week? Five years? Ten? Sixty? Only by God’s grace, and oh Lord, that you would grip my soul so powerfully with your gracious hand, that I might never be released from its holy power. Forgiveness is in and through your spirit. Seventy times seven, you said. Oh let it be so in my life.

Wooing Words — a Poetic Reflection

It didn’t come to me like a dove or a bow-kissed sky.

It came to me like a chain,

And a ball, 

And a chunk of long, hard time. 

At Christmas, it was laughter, 

Sprung out of silence 

Like birdsong in a winter field. 

But Mondays…

It was the quotidian traffic of words and syllables and letters that desperately needed an officer 

To shout, and blow his whistle, and 

Move them along.

I’m learning to shout like the officer.

I see his uniform, and the shiny buttons on his coat,

The orderly way the words obey his commands.

I want to be like that, but 

Characters are capricious creatures, and philosophies even more fickle.

Still, I’m finding there’s a knack of it.

There’s a time for harsh words and whistles that shriek above the street, 

But there’s a friendship, too. 

It’s a hospitality, 

Like old Mrs. Reyburne, who takes me in and fills my hands with tea and biscuits.

I’ve got to offer tea to even the least of these letters.

I’ve got to fill them up with sweets and let them overflow and spill out into meaning,

Word Puddles 

of reflected shapes and refracted light

That coalesce

To form the rainbow that wasn’t there before,

And brings the olive branch at last into view.

It didn’t come to me like a dove or a bow-kissed sky,

Until I asked it to come in and stay a while.

If I Could Name All the Guide Dog Puppies | A List of Names Beginning with E

Well, it’s been a while, so I thought it was about time we added another list of dog names. Here are my ideas for a litter of E’s.

Ephie (Feminine): Greek, meaning well-spoken.

Ellory (Masculine): meaning island of elder trees.

Elowen (Feminine): meaning elm tree. I think this name is gorgeous and would love to use it for a child, but am absolutely positive it would be shot down by my husband hahaha. If you’re in that situation too, maybe you can use it for your pup instead.

Esther (Feminine): Meaning star. Biblical, a heroine of the Hebrew people, chosen for her beauty to be the new queen of Babylon. Rescued the Hebrew people from geniside at the hands of the king and his adviser.

Ezrah (Masculine): Biblical, apparently means helpful person, a prophet from the old testament.

Echo (Neutral): nice and short, a similar vibe for me to the name Shadow. 

Emerald (Feminine): could go either way really but it feels more feminine to me. Emmie could serve as a sweet nickname.

Elias (Masculine): Greek and Hebrew origins, meaning “Jehovah is God”.

Everist (Masculine): for a mountain of a dog. 

Everra (Feminine): my made up feminine version of Everist. Maybe it’s a real name somewhere? If not, maybe you could make it a real name by choosing it for your pup.

Estella (Feminine): derived from the Spanish word for star.

Eragon (Masculine): okay, here’s the thing. I wanted to include Aragorn, because I am an LOTR fan, but didn’t realize Aragorn is spelled with an A, not an E… so here’s the Christopher Paolini name equivalent that does start with an E.

Elf (Neutral): here’s another E word with fantasy vibes.

Elm (Feminine): because I like nature names.

Elite (Feminine): I met a dog once with this name and I thought it was a unique option.

Elysium (Neutral): from Greek mythology, heaven, paradise.

Ember (Feminine): as in a burning ember. 

Empyrean (Masculine): paradise. 

Epic (Neutral): My dog is Epic… no really, that’s his name.

Eulalia (Feminine): the war cry of the anthropomorphized hares in Brian Jacques’ Redwall, this word also refers to a flowering ornamental grass and a patron saint of Barcelona… careful about looking up her story though… it’s not for the faint of heart.

Do you have a pet or service animal with a name beginning with E? What would you add to this list?