With every change of the season, I am filled with bright expectation and excitement. The transition from autumn to winter brings along an anticipation of the Christmas holidays. I annually fall in love with the segue from winter to spring--the stark, beautiful nakedness of an oak beginning to bear it's light green spring robe; the pretty blooms resting on the branches of redbuds, dogwoods and peach trees. I enjoy the life and hum of summer out here on the lake, in the woods. But my favorite is the often dramatic entrance of fall.

A cozy kind of happiness washes over me when the light shifts angles and cooler temperatures sweep in. I get excited over the first brightly hued leaf I discover in the backyard. I daydream about pumpkin bread, candy-hungry children, and my family gathering together and reflecting on our many blessings before sitting down to my favorite meal of the year. Now that I have a child and another one who will very soon be appearing, this time of year has become even more sentimental to me, and I am thrilled that Baby Sara will be born in the glorious autumn season. It feels like a tip of my hat to my favorite time of year.

I've been thinking a lot about the shifting seasons--not just of those we are blessed with if we live far enough from the equator, but the shifting seasons of life. Last night, I told Brandon how much I've enjoyed every stage in our marriage, even the parts that have held their own various kinds of heartbreak. From dating to being engaged, from being engaged to being newlyweds, from being alone to owning a dog, from owning a dog to having our first child, from being a family of three to expecting our second child, these transitions have all been challenging, but they have all held remarkable blessings. And now, as I have less than 24 hours left of the final season on the short list above, I am mentally savoring each one, as I've been doing subconsciously for the past few weeks, made evident by the following photos--
Micah on the first cool, fallish day--our first day in months to play outside

Micah helping me with our first pumpkin bread of the season

Brandon and me at a wedding of friends

Micah and Emory, enjoying the pumpkin patch at Curry Farms

Micah playing at Curry Farms

Micah feeding a goat at Curry Farms

Micah painting pumpkins

New play dough

Micah enjoying a cupcake at the Fall Festival at my Nona's church

Trick-or-treating . . . er . . . . hunting on Halloween in Mom's neighborhood

There isn't enough memory storage on my photo card to capture all the kisses and cuddles I've stolen from my red-headed firstborn in the past few days.

I have worn myself out trying eke the most out of our final days as a family of 3, and you know what? It's been worth it. This last chapter has been wonderful, covering Micah's birth, a personal rebirth in my walk with Christ, a new closeness with Brandon, the growth of community with my extended family. It's been a really good chapter, one that I wouldn't be able to leave if I didn't know that by turning the next page, even more blessings await.

Tonight, Brandon and I head to the hospital. I will be induced into to labor, and tomorrow morning, we will have a baby girl. After so many months, it feels a little surreal, but really, really good. I will actually be holding the heartbeat I heard in March, the tiny smudge on the screen. Sara Elizabeth will become more to me than a thought, a hope, a movement in my belly. She will be my daughter, and she will be her own person.

I will close by sharing a funny little post I put on Facebook this morning--

Dear Sara,
This may come as a shock, but as of tomorrow morning, I'm kicking you out . . . . cutting the cord, so to speak. I've enjoyed our time together, living within such close quarters, but it is time for you to find your own place in the world. Once you're gone, I may find that I miss our closeness, but I'm sure it's for the best. And believe me when I say, the transition will be a lot more painful for me than it is for you. I'm looking forward to witnessing and sharing the next chapter of your life!
Love and blessings,

November In Review

Due to noveling escapades, too many musical appointments and general holiday hullabaloo, I haven't blogged in . . . . like . . . . awhile. So, here is November in review. I'll have to get to December later.

Halloween was awesome. Why was Halloween awesome?

That's why. That, and the fact that Micah totally "got" Halloween this year. All Dum-Dums, peppermints and M&Ms beware--Micah knows now.
Other Halloween highlights include:

1) The twins went as two peas in a pod.

2) My studio rocked it out on their Halloween tour of the nursing and retirement homes of Union Parish. These places offer both pros and cons to young performers. On one hand, the people who live there don't really care about the quality of the performance, they just want to see the kids. On the other, nursing homes can be scary, smelly places, understandably frightening to young children and adults alike. In spite of that fact, they played well, had fun prancing around in their costumes and brought a ray of sunshine into each home that day. They are my heroes, and I love them.

3) Micah enjoyed carving pumpkins with his dad. I love that my husband loves to spend time with our son. I love the enthusiasm in Micah's voice every time he calls out, "Daddy!" I love their bond, and it is one of my dearest hopes that their bond grows thicker, richer, stronger and deeper throughout their lifetimes.

Around Halloween, something truly incredible happened--I reunited with my sister, Emily. Some of you remember her as the precious 3 year old who lived with us for a year all that time ago. Well, she isn't 3 anymore. She's beautiful, smart, witty, fun and 16 years old. I'm so excited about getting to know her again. The more time I spend with her, the more I love her, and the more sure I become that God orchestrated this whole crazy thing. He must have GREAT things in store for her, and I plan to be around to see it. More to come.

On a final note--I did it! I wrote 50,149 words during the month of November, meeting my goal. My novel is far from complete. After I finish writing the story, there is much editing to do. I'm not even sure it will be any good. However, quality wasn't my goal. My goal was to quit whining about wanting to write, and actually write. I did that, and do you know what I discovered? I can. I also discovered that if I bring my characters through all of the trouble I have brewing in my brain, I will have a series, not a single novel, on my hands. I am excited about the prospects and the adventure ahead. I will keep you all posted. As my friends, supporters and prayer warriors, you all deserve it.

God Bless Monster Cookies and Other Fall Foods

There really is something about Fall. Even when the temperatures creep back up to summer highs, the heat seems gentler somehow. The air remains crisp and light, as it should. Gone is that oppressive heat that makes your body feel twice as heavy, at least. Something about that sudden lightness has put some pep in my step, and I did something I haven't done in awhile--I cooked every single day last week. (Except Tuesday. Brandon cooked on Tuesday.)

On Monday, we had one of Brandon's favorites--meatloaf and sweet potatoes. On Tuesday--oatmeal and ham. But I was just warming up. Wednesday was Red Lentil Soup (or Esau soup, as I prefer to call it) and Monster cookies. Thursday was chili/chili dogs/Frito pies, depending upon your pleasure. Friday was Creole jambalaya and Gumbo . . . sort of . . . and a gluten-free pumpkin bread experiment. (It's interesting which foods scream, "Fall!," to different individuals, isn't it?) If our menu was all I had to tell, I would have posted it on Facebook, and left it at that. However, God decided to bless our Fall menu, leaving His fingerprints all over it. As with everything He touches, something ordinary became beautiful, extraordinary.

The first day that cool breezes returned to the South, I wanted to eat 3 things: Red Lentil Soup, Jambalaya and Monster cookies. These three foods make me feel satisfied and warm on the inside, which is the way I like to feel when it's cool and breezy on the outside. On Saturday morning, I made my first grocery list of the week. (I went to the store 3 times last week.) The premiere item on the list? Fall colored M&Ms for the Monster cookies. We don't fight food cravings here at the Keaster household.

Some of you may be thinking, "What is a Monster cookie?" Others may wonder if I should be eating a cookie of any kind. Relax. These babies are made with peanut butter (peanuts aren't tree nuts; they're legumes), oatmeal (I can have this in small amounts), butter, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, corn syrup, semi-sweet chocolate chips and M&Ms. No flour. (Yay!) Monster is my favorite cookie. M&Ms the colors of changing leaves make them Fall cookies.

At first, I was going to bake the cookies the day I bought the ingredients, but I was too tired after the trip to the grocery store. Then, the plan changed to Monday. Tuesday passed, and no Monster cookies had been made . . .

During my quiet time on Wednesday, I read a story out of the Bible study I'm doing by Priscilla Shirer. She writes about praying during a quiet time one morning, and hearing God tell her to call a friend because her friend needed her. She made the call, and it turned out that the friend needed her desperately. After my own time with the Lord that morning, I asked that He would help me to walk in His Spirit that day, even if I wasn't aware of it. That He would lead me like He led Priscilla on the day she called her friend. I went about my tasks, doing my best to be aware of God's presence. I spent quality time with Micah, enjoyed creation, and washed clothes, thanking God for a husband and son who needed me to wash their clothes. I decided I would bake the cookies that night, and that I would bring some to the people who had moved into the empty house next door.

The evening rolled around, and I was exhausted. I decided to wait on the cookies, but I knew I needed to get dinner going. I began cooking Red Lentil Soup, which, by the way, turned out orange, not red. I guess orange lentil soup is appropriate for the month of October.
Something unexpected happened as I chopped, stirred and simmered--my energy returned. I decided I would bake those cookies after all. Brandon came home, and entertained Micah. Dinner was ready about the time the first batch of cookies came out of the oven.

"Brandon?" I said. "Would you guys be okay if I ran over to the neighbors' with these cookies while they're warm? I won't be long."

"Sure," he shrugged.

On a whim, which is so very unlike me, I ran across the yard wearing my t-shirt and jeans, smelling of onions, with unkempt hair and no make-up on, carrying a batch of fall-colored cookies, piled high on a plastic plate, covered in foil. Not much of a presentation, really. I knocked on the door, and introduced myself. I found out that the couple is only a few years older than me. They have an eight year old daughter and another daughter who will be born in about a month. I exchanged phone numbers with the mom, who also stays at home, and told them to call if they needed anything. I said my farewells, and left. I was running Micah's bathwater not even 10 minutes later when the phone rings. It was the new neighbor.

I answered, "Hello?"

"Melissa? I'm sorry to bother you guys, but I just had to tell you that these are the best cookies I've ever eaten. I have been craving peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, and I was looking for some today in the store . . . "

For whatever reason, she had been unable to find them and buy them. And I had brought them right over. On the day she was craving them. When that wasn't the plan at all. And it still took me almost half an hour to realize what exactly had happened. Dude. God sees the cattle on a thousand hills, but cares when a pregnant woman is craving a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie. He answers prayers we never even thought to pray. He listens when one of His kids asks to be guided by His Spirit. You know, God didn't have to use me to bring her the cookies. She could have found some at the store or made some herself or someone else could have brought them over. But God used me, regardless of the fact that I wasn't even aware it was happening.

"for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."--Philippians 2:13

God put the desire to make the cookies inside of me and gave me the energy to pull it off because it pleased Him that we two girls should meet, and she got her cookie she'd been craving at the same time. Is God good, or what? Now I have a friend, someone who makes this end of Bear Creek Road seem a little less lonely and a lot less vulnerable. Us stay at home moms can watch each others backs, and maybe even share the occasional pot of coffee and another batch Monster cookies. Cool, huh?

On Friday, I cooked all afternoon, preparing for the guests we would have over the next two weekends. I made large portions of gumbo and Creole jambalaya. Inspired by my favorite blog, I decided to make gluten-free pumpkin bread. I used a recipe and converted it into something that wouldn't kill me. I made an original gluten-free flour blend with brown rice flour, potato flour, potato starch, baking powder and coconut flour. Everything but the gumbo came out better than expected.
Gumbo that isn't gumbo, but soup, is kind of an epic fail in Louisiana.
Even in the northern part of the state.
It made an excellent soup, though.

Into the freezer the jambalaya went to store until this weekend.
Friends, a new boyfriend and a fiance are coming to dinner.

The pumpkin bread turned out pretty well. It tasted fabulous, too.
Especially served like this.

Anyway, the gumbo, the pumpkin bread, and the left-over Monster cookie dough joined forces to help us entertain some good friends last weekend. The Blackburns and Keasters have been special family friends for a year now. On Saturday, Brandon took Drew and Nelson hunting. Ellie, Audrey, Allison, Micah and I had a tea party with real china dishes. Later, we decorated a few pumpkins. We all gathered around our little dining table that night, and enjoyed gumbo (that wasn't actually gumbo) and one another's warm and lively company. We ate. We talked. We laughed. It was simple and wonderful at the same time. And we can't wait to do it again.
My only evidence of a tea party.

Micah's pumpkin

Allison's pumpkin

Audrey's pumpkin. She used an entire jumbo sized thing of glitter on her pumpkin.

Micah managed to get as much paint on himself as he did on the pumpkin.

Me: "Say 'cheese,' Micah!"
Micah: . . . . .

God bless good food.
God bless faux gumbo.
God bless good friends.
Gold bless new friends.
God bless glittered pumpkins.
God bless painted red heads.
God bless Monster cookies.

Fields of Gold

Here's the reality--tons of writers romanticize everything. It's part of the job description. I don't place myself under their banner yet, but I hope to one day. Until I achieve something a little loftier than winning a local writing contest at the age of ten, and being published in poetry anthologies for which the published must pay, I'm still an apprentice.

I think I'm learning the ropes pretty well. I know that the topic of baking cookies with Micah is acceptable reading material, but no one really cares about the pile of dishes left in the sink afterward. Everyone likes a nice blog about the joys of summer when the season first begins, but no one wants to read about a Louisiana August, in which all of the vegetation has been obliterated by the cruel sun, in which the triple digit heat index overstays its welcome, and how the simplest tasks, even indoors, make you wonder if the shower was even worth it. If Summer had overextended its visit for one day longer, I would have rebelled. I felt so bullied by that triple digit heat index that I came "this close" to exchanging romanticism for---squeal!---realism. I would have pummeled you like a hungover John Steinbeck. Thankfully for you all, while I was involved in Curtains, something magical happened--Sir Summer surrendered to the gentler climate and richer palette of Fair Fall.

Autumn's entrance in the South is rarely distinct or official. She drifts in with a sense of serenity, and an undercurrent of humility. She has no need to announce herself. Why should she? We all know when she walks into the room. Her presence is obvious, breathtaking. She is a little frustrating in that she ambles in and out, bullied around by Sir Summer who can't seem to relinquish his rights to the year. It's no wonder that I'm not sure exactly when she was ushered in by cooler breezes and that dank, smoky smell the fallen leaves take on, but she's here now. Hopefully, she will prop up her feet, and stay awhile. I'm sorry I missed the moment the doors between one season and another flew open, but I was distracted by other good things.

Although Curtains was the dominate activity for the past 8 weeks, I was also busy with mothering, wifery, housekeeping and teaching. I know that you don't care about dirty toddler diapers, mildew growing in the shower, or that I was making dinners around the same time I made lunch every day, so I thought I would limit myself to the highlights.

I will begin with my new music discovery--Mumford and Sons. This British group creates a genius combination of folk, bluegrass, rock and piercing lyrics. I couldn't decide which song I liked best, so I thought I would share one that is pretty iconic of their work, which you can listen to on the playlist provided below if you are at a computer with speakers and no workplace firewall to block your fun.

I began teaching piano and voice lessons the last week of August, and managed to hang on by my fingernails as Curtains entered into technical rehearsals, then performances. It's always amazing to me how children grow, mature and develop over the short course of a summer. The little girls I taught last year are looking more like little women, and students who couldn't sit still for half an hour last spring are doing brilliantly in hour long lessons this fall. Brandon and I also began teaching Sunday School again at Crossroads. We are glad to be back with our class from last year, just one year older, a few inches taller and a few vocabulary words wiser!

During the weeks I was involved with the show, I worked on Micah's baby book in my precious spare time. I used to upload my images, design my book and publish it. They did a beautiful job, and I'm very pleased with the product! Shutterfly photo books are user friendly, quick, painless and reasonably priced. It provides the perfect approach to documenting memories at this time in my life. What mom doesn't like fast, cheap and awesome?

The front cover

My letter to Micah and first photo

Probably my favorite page

Back cover
One Saturday, I came home from either a rehearsal or a performance--I forget because it all runs together in my mind--to find our living space painted and redecorated . . . man's man style. You may remember the battle of wills that waged until I chose to give in, realizing that I never give in, even to the person I claim to love. I will admit that although it isn't to my taste, that it isn't the nightmare I had imagined, either. Several people have really liked it. Everyone else has found some level of appreciation for it. I just have to ignore the creep factor of having the heads of dead animals protruding from my walls. (Too much realism for you? Me, too.)

How am I doing? I'm . . . coping.

I think that pretty much says it all.

Sandwiched in between the two weekend runs of Curtains were two very important events--my first time conducting a choir in 2 years and Brandon's 31st birthday. I conducted a joint choir, which included members from Crossroads in Ruston, Christ Community Church and John Knox Presbyterian Church, for the World Communion Sunday service at John Knox. It worked out surprisingly well, but I'm not sure how much of the success can be attributed to me. I was so nervous that I was freezing for the entire service, convulsing with nervous chills and uncontrollable nervous yawning until the song was complete. I also began the piece too fast. Fortunately, the organist was very good, and followed me right into a slower tempo.

Brandon turned 31 on September 21st. His birthday was on a Tuesday. He worked all day long, and just wanted to come home and relax. He had also been working really hard for the past 4 months so I could get some stage time. Almost every day, he would come home from work, pick up Micah from the grandparent on duty, feed him dinner, bathe him, and put him to bed. That is a lot to put on a guy whose job entails holding human life in his hands on a daily basis. So, I wanted to make the evening special for him.

I cooked one of his favorite dinners . . .
went to great lengths to bake him a real, glutenous,
highly-poisonous-to-myself birthday cake . . .

bought him a video game, allowing him to unwind by mass murdering the villains . . .

and made sure he was rewarded by lots of birthday kisses,
both captured and not captured on camera.

This tightly packed bushel of events hit me line a ton of bricks. Until my third 10 hour night of sleep, I was asking questions like, "Where am I?," "What am I supposed to be doing?," "What's my name again?" because I have been so TIRED after all that has gone on. On the other hand, I had been feeling like I had missed out on quite enough Micah time. So . . . for the past few days, I have aligned my schedule with his, and basked in the sunshine, the crisp air and the glow of his tiny soul.

I remember heading outside with him the first day we were able to share alone. I wanted to etch the happiness of the moment in my memory. I knew the only way I could do it was if I provided a soundtrack to our outdoor play. I brought out my Ipod, strapped it on (no headphones, just a light buzz from the small speakers), and selected the only song that made sense to me in that moment. The breeze blew into our faces gently. Golden rays peeked down at us from the tree tops, dancing in and around Micah's curls. The smell of autumn wafted from the woods to the tips of our noses, and just like that, those precious, slow moments with my son were forever burned into my memory with the help of Eva Cassidy's "Fields of Gold." What a perfect soundtrack to that hour . . . Micah felicitously discovering the world around him, teaching me how to once again marvel at the various sizes and shapes of sticks, the indigo vastness of the sky, and the joy of holding a katydid in the palm of my hand. His squeals of delight and his baby songs of contentment are sealed in my mind and heart. I remember sighing with pleasure as I drank in creation, watching him toddle about the yard and knowing that I was living in those fields of gold.

Welcome, Fair Fall, and all of your lovely fields.

I have worn a million hats thus far this fall, but the MOM hat? It fits just right.
"Peek-a-boo, Mama!"

And I didn't even tell you that I soured three loads of laundry this week by forgetting they were in the washer. How's that for romanticism?

Where am I, again? What am I supposed to be doing?