On Christmas Day (but really before that because we couldn’t wait so we just did the whole shebang two days early), we brought home a baby Labrador Retriever and named her Penny.IMG_1986

I’m a new labmom, and I want to offer you some ways to know if you are ready to be a labmom too.


I’m just trying to help you. I didn’t know this before I became a labmom, but there are ways to tell if you’re ready.  I’ve compiled them into a handy dandy list. Refer to it often as you ponder the possibility of bringing home your own furry friend. There are six tell-tale signs that can help you to make your decision about becoming a labmom:

  1. You have too many shoes. I know this is a problem for some of you. But I’m telling you, a labrador puppy will help you with your collecting hoarding obsession in a jiffy. Not only will she destroy the laces and soles, she’ll start with the most expensive pair and work her way down. Labs keep you from becoming too materialistic.
  2. Your shoes are too easily located. When you put your shoes in an organizer, it’s probably to quickly locate them the next time you need to wear them. But that’s kind of lazy, don’t you think? I’m not sure you realize the calorie burning potential of locating a lost shoe. Labs provide exactly that. Think of it as the squats and lunges you didn’t get to yesterday. You’ll look under the couch, the bed, behind the toilet, in the yard, in the trash… And then you’ll find it – under her bed. And chewed in half. By the time you locate it, your heart rate will have been up for the standard daily 20 minutes. Labs keep you in shape.
  3. Your carpets are too clean. No one likes that new carpet look. ‘Lived in’ is really so much more fashionable these days. Why do you think consignment stores, vintage items, and antiques are so sought after? It’s all the rage. I mean, you could go to one of those places and get an overpriced consigned rug, OR you could get a lab! She won’t let that ‘new’ look hang around at all. She’ll be especially good at rounding off the corners. Labs keep you in style.FullSizeRender                                         I call to witness: Bathroom rug #1
  4. You are getting too much sleep. This is problem for most of you, I’m sure. You just slip into bed around 10, and ease out at around 6. That’s 8 uninterrupted hours.  WAAAAAAAY too many. Suppose the zombie apocalypse happens and the zombies only keep you alive if you can stay awake for a SOLID 24-hour stretch, a stretch that involves traipsing through the mud at 2 a.m.? Owning a lab is really about your own safety.IMG_2136           This is how a 24-hour labmom shift leaves you… #deadonyourfeet 
  5. Your papers are too neatly stacked. Perhaps you’re living into your OCD tendencies. You know who you are. If things are slightly askew, do you start to feel a bit queasy? I say – get a lab. Not only will she wreck any chance of order, she’ll save you tons of electricity by not having to operate that pesky paper shredder. Labs basically cure your OCD while saving the environment. Win win.IMG_2046
  6. Your house is too quiet. We have three boys, and when our miniature schnauzer of 12 years died in October, our house became too quiet. Grief is a strange animal. It’s sneaky and unpredictable and just so terribly quiet at times. A few weeks after Prancer’s death, when I caught a glimpse of my eldest holding the empty dog collar and wiping silent tears from his cheeks, I knew we were a family that belonged to a dog. My formerly reluctant husband agreed, and is now completely smitten with our furry little girl. Things are boisterous and loud and filled up once again. The silence has been traded for laughter and gnawing and chasing and chewed up shoes. It’s been traded for walks in the woods, walks up the stairs, snuggles by the fire, and after dinner doggie dance parties.IMG_1994

If  you’re too orderly, too clean, too rested, have too many shoes, or are too silent, it may be time for you to get a puppy too. You’ll lose silence, order, and sleep, but you certainly won’t regret it. Because as Nolan often says, our little Penny is worth more than gold.




A few months ago I was talking to a friend of mine. She said this to me:

“You just always seem like you’ve got it together.”



And then today a co-worker said the exact same thing.

I am beyond befuddlement. I do not know who they see. So let me set the record straight.

No. I. Don’t.

Every single day is a monumental struggle. Last night, for example, Michael made dinner early because sports make life impossible, and then had gone outside to put something something fluid something something necessary something something vehicle, leaving the children with my portion of the dinner. When I walked through the door 20 minutes later, they had obviously eaten it. And then the deprived ones cried of extreme hunger pangs less than an hour later while I was trying to eat my off-brand Cinnamon Life sitting on the toilet overseeing bath time while another complained about homework requirements for a solid hour.

This is my life. NOT together.

Every morning I intend, set my alarm for, and plan to wake up 45 minutes before the rest of the family to have my devotions and quiet time.   Every morning, I program my alarm to say things like, “You need to wash your hair today. GET UP!”, or “You have to pack for your trip to Kentucky, GET UP!!”, or “Nolan has a math test and needs extra protein at breakfast, GET UP and make him an egg!!” Every morning, the coffee maker is programmed to fill the air with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee by 5:30 am. And lately, every morning, I tell the alarm to stop it. And I snooze my way through the 45 minutes of quiet that I desperately needed before the day begins.

And then it does.

Waking up is not only hard on me. Every morning Zachary claims that he has woken up both blind and lame and is unable to proceed with any task. He dramatically army crawls up the stairs, lays prostrate at the top, and waits for mercy from a parent. Josiah lectures us about not having put him to bed early enough the evening prior. And Nolan begins each day with a proposal to restructure the education system to suit his personal needs. Michael and I have an unspoken agreement not to speak before at least a half cup of coffee. We typically stumble towards each other and acknowledge that the day has begun with an armless embrace.

The flurry ensues and though we have been technically awake for 2 solid hours, we are ALWAYS rushed to get out the door. And IF we manage to get out the door without forgetting the reading book that was last read ‘while I was jumping on the trampoline’, it is always later than I had originally intended. Then, while dropping them off, I am writing a check for a fundraiser/school lunch/field trip/school picture that I didn’t order but they sent anyway and that my son cut out and framed before I could tell them I didn’t want their manipulative forty-five dollar ‘proof set’ thank you very much/school carnival. At this point, I typically spill coffee somewhere because I can’t drive, put on makeup, write checks, and manage the coffee simultaneously.

And my whole life smells like a wet soccer cleat. It’s all the vehicles, the closets, the bathrooms, everywhere. There is this demonic spongy layer between the inner and outer lining of the cleat that absorbs sweat and dew and makes a mixture of death that hovers and spreads and lasts. I’ve tried to kill it with every Pinterest plan there is. NO. It is the devil himself manifest in an odor. And if your Pinterest plan worked, it’s because you are desensitized. My nose is my superpower and THE SMELL PERSISTS.

We recently had family pictures made. I have posted them on social media.


We look like we have it together, don’t we? BUT LET ME BE CLEAR. Behind every single perfect family photo is an argument about adjustable waist corduroy pants. And underwear. And smiling. And all the things that make family pictures family pictures. Remember, we post the HIGHLIGHTS.

No, I don’t have it all together. And I regret projecting that I do. Because moms, let’s stop looking around and finding our faults in other peoples’ momentary glimpses of perceived perfection. Her perfect pig-tailed daughter probably eats her boogers when no one is looking, and her son does not enjoy the Ralph Lauren seersucker shorts with argyle socks…no matter what the picture projects. He doesn’t. She gave him candy to keep him from tantruming in public. I know because I have put my kids in that stuff. And they looked great…

The only thing I have together is a group of girlfriends that really know me and tell me to hang the cleats out the car window, forge the homework packet, and let him go commando to relieve myself of at least one argument. It’s my fellow soldiers  in the trenches that keep it real with me. Next time you see her, and are wondering about how she has it ‘all together’, ask her to have a cup of coffee with you. I bet she tells you about her struggles. I bet she is grateful someone asked. I bet you find a friend and start to bear one another’s burdens. And perhaps you will live out the incredibly cheesy, although true, cliché…

We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.



I grew up in a really, really small town in rural Indiana. Really small. So small, that when my family moved away in 1998, the population dropped a full percentage point.  Our ‘community days’ festival consisted of between 4-6 venders down Main Street, which, when blocked, made absolutely zero difference in the traffic. During said festival, the highlight was the casket race.  This is, essentially, where pallbearers would carry a (living) person in an open casket.  The person would carry a plate of water.  Whosever plate still held the most water at the end of the race, won. (Why didn’t the person crossing the finish line win? I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine.) This might sound morbid, but it makes perfect sense when you learn that there were exactly 2 possibilities for employment in Lynn, that is if you didn’t own a gas station or work at the school.  They were casket factory worker and farmer.

Truth be told, it was a wonderful place to grow up.  Because there was nothing to entertain us, and nowhere to go, we spent most of our time cultivating relationships on the front porches of one another’s homes.  Although my extended family was 500 miles away, we were surrounded by loving surrogate aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

Which leads me to the Ice Storm of 1995.

In rural Indiana, we could handle quite a bit of snow and still function.  But ice is a whole other monster.  Ice = no power = no school/no nothing.  In 1995, I was the horrible awkward age of 15.  Too cool for school, too old for babysitter, but too young to drive.

When the ice storm came, my mother was working as the director of nursing at a nursing home 30 minutes away.  If you don’t know my mother, just imagine Sally Field with the enthusiasm/personality/optimism of Richard Simmons.  Imagine she’s your boss.  Imagine telling her “I can’t make it to work because of weather.” Imagine her driving to your house in her ’92 Pontiac Grand Am and picking you up, because…yeah ya can. So my mother stayed at the nursing home, caring for the elderly (because Jesus), making sure people got to work and picking up the slack of those who refused.

My brothers both (somehow) landed in hotels in the quasi-neighboring city of Richmond with friends.  I, and my best friend, Erin (whose mom was also a nurse and was keeping vigil at the hospital), were stuck in Lynn. Because of those close relationships, Erin’s family was my family and we spent a few days with her grandmother because she had a generator. We pretty much felt abandoned, jealous of our brothers, and IN.CRED.IBLY. bored.  But, eventually, when flushing (and misery) became an issue, we somehow convinced our moms to let us stay home.  So Erin and I, in some sort of mid 90s survivor-style adventure, stayed at our house which had a gas fireplace and ‘city’ water, thank God.  At the time we were both boyfriendless, but obsessing about our crushes.  Which is the worst possible scenario for two teenage girls.  We sang “Always Be My Baby” 1,434,345 times.  Conversations went like this:

Do you think he’ll drive by here on his moped/bike/with his mom/permit?

Probably not. The ice storm.

Oh yeah.

Do you think he’s thinking about me right now?

Do you think mine’s thinking about me?

Let’s get our makeup on in case there’s a fire on the other side of town, and this is the only house that is left standing, and all the boys have to come here!

Uhmygosh! Kay!!

It went on like this for days.  We were like wondering souls in the desert imagining scenarios of otherness.  No one came. We ended up playing cards.  We built a giant snowman in my front yard.


 (see my hair with no electricity!  And what was I looking at?? There was literally…NO ONE else to look at!)

We kept warm under hundreds of blankets. We resented our mothers.

Can you believe them?

I’d never do this to my children.

Me either. I can’t believe they didn’t get us our own hotel room. With room service.

We burned candles and talked and talked and talked.  She told me she wanted to be a professional beach rater.  I decided on physical therapist.  After the storm passed, my mom said, ‘One day, you’ll look back on this and laugh. You may even thank me.’

‘Ha!’ Was my reply for the rest of high school.

But today, when I saw that it is going to be -14 with tons of snow in Indiana next week, I texted Erin (in Arizona) from my home in North Carolina (we probably moved to milder climates as a direct result of the trauma we endured).  We chatted about our endless ordeal together.  Secretly, of course, we loved every second of it.  Secretly, I would love to spend 4 days my best friend with nothing more than time to kill and snowmen to build and dreams to dream.

So, my dear Indiana friends, if your forecast is correct and you get snowed in next week, enjoy it, even if you’re 15.  Let the lights be out, put the fireplace on, wrap up tight, and dream dreams and play games and enjoy one another.

One day you’ll (really) be so glad you did.

I just hope your toilets work. 😉


I remember being in the concrete driveway of your old house. You had effortlessly set up an entire play land of activities with hula hoops, giant homemade bubble wands, a crazy sprinkler, and a little kiddy pool. You were quietly keeping order while sun bathing, and eventually you stood up, picked up a hula hoop, and began to hula. You had managed to get at least 4 hoops going simultaneously. One was around your waist, one on each arm, and one around your neck! Suddenly, we all wanted to hula too!

‘I want a turn, I want a turn!!’ we yelled impatiently.

‘These hula hoops have been laying here all morning, and no one has paid them any attention,’ you responded in your calm, firm way, which we didn’t dare question.

Those hula hoops were boring rings of plastic before they were set in perpetual motion, at which point they became the most fascinating things in the driveway. The same scenario played out with the bubbles, as you took the rope and dipped it into the homemade solution and created the most giant bubble circle I’ve (still) ever seen.

And we’ve been watching you quietly create a life full of beautiful masterpieces with your gifted hands ever since.

I can’t express what your constant presence in my life has meant. For sisters, you and my mother couldn’t be two more different people. She with her exuberance, you with your calm spirit. She with her everyone, you with your each one. She with her drive, you with your patience.

But you have the same Joy, the same Peace, the same Love. Because you know the same Savior. And it is invaluable to behold the wisdom you both possess and to see the manifestation of the Word through both your unique lives. She with her vision, you with your voice. She with her unwavering encouragement in a culture of despair, you with your unwavering testimony to Truth in a culture strife with lies. To witness what God can do no matter your personality, no matter your size (you’re so tiny), no matter what.

What if you had never used your gifts? What if you had never sung your songs? Made your cakes? Painted your masterpieces? Written your children’s books? What if you had never become what God created you to become?

The little 8-year old girl who gave her life to Jesus while reading The Merriest Christmas Ever wouldn’t be who she is. And so many others who have been touched through your music and your art wouldn’t understand our Savior the way you have helped them to understand Him.

And I wouldn’t be who I am either. I’ve needed to see you stand for Truth. I’ve needed to see you take a risk to follow a dream. I’ve needed to see you pay attention to things. I’ve needed to watch you patiently hold up your hand so still and so high, a sea gull would brave the decent for a morsel of food. I’ve needed to see you watch the animals in wonder and in awe. I’ve needed to see you create something wonderful from something plain. (Lord knows I needed you at my wedding. The dress, the flowers, the cake, the music, is there anything you cannot do??) The lessons you continue to instill in my life are plentiful and precious. The hours we get to spend over coffee, over Russian Tea, over the driveway, over nothing, are some of the sweetest moments I’ll know.

Grandmother once told a nine-year-old Jonathan to fix a mistake on his picture by making it into something new. She said, “Gaye always just makes something new out of a mistake. That squiggly line can become anything you want it to be. That’s what Gaye would say.”

Thank you for allowing Him to make beauty from ashes. For becoming the beautiful, wise, amazing, artistic woman God created you to be, despite being a merely a human in fallen world.

I love you.




We have a new pet fish.  

It all started 6 years and 6 weeks ago.  I know exactly because this was the first time I took my 20 month old and 3 week old babies out in public, alone.  I decided to brave the 9 minute drive for the 22 minute story time at the local library.  I had showered. I had dressed. I had timed Josiah’s feedings such that he shouldn’t have needed to eat or poop.  I gave myself a nice 9 minute long pep talk on the way.  ‘If Nolan strips or acts like it’s a big deal to have to wear shoes in public, I’ll just grab the kids and leave and never return.’ I had planned for this monumental event.  

I wish I could tell you it was to stimulate my children with the world of literacy.  But that would be a lie.  First of all, my kids are not the kind of kids who need a whole lot of extra stimulation created for them.  (They chased each other with pool noodles for a solid hour today.  We don’t have a pool, just the noodles.)  And secondly, if I have done anything on a regular basis it is read to my children.  I have missed baths, blown the schedule, skipped tooth brushing, forgotten checkups, fed them processed food, and didn’t teach them baby sign language.  But I wore the daylights out my rocking chair reading to my kids.  The coils actually busted through the bottom.  

 They didn’t need story time.  I needed story time. 

Story time was cancelled that day.

I was so heartbroken.

I had showered.  I had planned! Though I had every blessing imaginable with 2 healthy children, I was so lonely. I was really missing my Indiana friends.  We had recently moved to the area, and although my entire family was here, none of them had small children (yet).  Since I didn’t work outside the home, I had little opportunity to communicate with adults.  Well, to communicate with anyone.  Nolan was only saying 2 words at a time and Josiah and Facebook were both infants. Pinterest wasn’t even born.  My days were long.  Long.  

Which is why I was so determined to get to story time.  I needed friends.

By the abundant and amazing grace of our Living God, another mother walked in that day.  She (of course) knew that story time had been cancelled and she was just stopping in to return her library books (on time).  And at second glance, I realized I knew her.  She was good friends with my cousin in high school and I had met her then.  And she had two boys.  And the thought that entered my mind was as sophisticated as a 6 year-old grade schooler,

‘I wonder if she could be my friend?’

The next several years were full of play-dates, field trips, story-times, and all-the-free-stuff-for-toddlers in the triad (and sometimes beyond).  Josiah crawled for the first time on her living room floor.  We’ve had family slumber parties just for fun.  We’ve roasted marshmallows, milked pretend cows, and been kicked out of the library for ‘being a little loud’ with our (then) five boys (she’s got a little girl in the mix now too).  Her children were the first friends my children knew.  There aren’t words for those memories. There are tears.  But there are no words.  I can’t articulate how she has shaped my mothering and how God used that particular friendship to fill such a void in my life.

Which is the only reason I took home a fish from her son’s “county fair” themed birthday party last weekend.

I spotted those 3 little fish immediately, and immediately I asked, “what are those for?”

“They’re prizes!” she exclaimed.

“You’re giving pets? As prizes?”

“Yes, and if your kid wins one, you’ll take it home!”

“I’m not taking home a fish! I can’t feed or keep alive one more….”

And off she was.  Onto organizing the games.  For which the kids won tickets.  And then the tickets had numbers.  And my kids had done usually well (cheated) because they had like…100 tickets or something.  

Well, I thought, there is no way in this world Michael Coats would allow another pet in our house, so if by chance they call a number on our kids’ tickets, I’ll just defer to him.  He will not bring home a fish.


“ME!” shouted someone else’s kid.  

Ha ha. Sucker.


“ME!” shouted my kid.

“You NOLAN??  IS that YOUR number?!?!?  YOU GET YOUR VERY OWN GOLDFISH!!!!”

NOOOOOOOOOOO………..I screamed in my head.

And my husband turned to me with his giant blue puppy dog eyes and a smile that begged, “Aren’t we going to let our kid have a pet goldfish?”

And it was in his hand, with a smile that stretched from here to Australia and eyes as big as saucers he said, “Mom!! Meet Michelangelo! He’s my new fish!”

For crying out loud, he’d named it.  I can’t refuse something with a name.

And so that is how Michelangelo/Mikey/Leo (so, apparently we haven’t exactly landed on a name) came to be the 7th member of the Coats family. And how it was that I spent the entire morning preparing his new habitat with appropriately temperatured well water that I brought gallon by gallon from my mother’s house.  And why I have spent an embarrassing amount of time reading blogs like “how to keep your 38 cent gold fish from dying the first week”.  I’m considering it a win if he makes it to Christmas.

And I’m dropping off a kitten on my friend’s porch next week, as a thank-you card.

I’m that thankful for her. 



Love you, friend.  You have blessed me more than you know.  Image




Growing up I saw my mom invest in her friendships.  She was never too busy for a cup of coffee with a friend.  Sometimes they would laugh together, sometimes they would cry.  Sometimes they would walk, or ask me to leave the room.  (That was actually a little hard, because I have thought of myself as a grown up since I was 3…when I started drinking coffee with my mom and planning my wedding.)  I did not realize the value in seeing those friendships firsthand, until I really did grow up.

Below are a list of friend types everyone should be so lucky to have:

 5 a.m. friend – This is the friend you can text at 5 am, and hear back from within minutes.  You probably texted to complain about the perils of having to drive in the rain (rain because it is literally 1 degree above freezing) and therefore no 2-hour delay.

Commuter friend – The friend you talk to while driving to work.  You talk about work, husbands, children, and all of life.  The conversation never, ever ends (often you have to hangup mid-thought…she understands), just gets interrupted briefly for the things of life.

Long-distance friend – This is your longest running friendship.  You’re no longer near one another, but can pick up right where you left off – no awkward silences.

Hero friend – this is the person you call when you need inspiration.  She’s usually dusting while you talk, discussing how she sent her children to school eating homemade Belgium waffles and organic turkey bacon and ‘cage-free’ eggs.  Then, instead of feeling inspiration, you feel guilt and call friend #1.  She doesn’t dust.

Family friend – This is the friend that is in your family.  Thank God.  No, literally, THANK HIM.  You look forward to family functions because she will be there.  With her, you talk about everything from bacne to the omnipotence of God. (I am uniquely blessed in this category.)

Prayer warrior friend – This is the friend that can bring you to tears with just a “how are you doing”?  It’s not just a regular “how are you”, it’s a “how are you, really?  It’s said with such sincerity and concern, you know your answer is safe with her.  And boy will she pray….

Coffee friend – This is the friend who understands your need for coffee.  Talks happen after work over coffee, or after kids are in bed and we sneak over to each other’s house for a late night cup of decaf (I know…party animals…)

Friendships have never been more important to me in my life than right now, as a young mother.  When I was little, I prayed for a sister.  God answered my prayer by blessing me with more soul sisters than I could have asked for or imagined.  So glad His ways are not our ways.  I am richly blessed beyond measure, and so incredibly grateful for the gift of friendship.