Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Bits and Pieces #16

School is out for me and my grade schoolers, and my high schoolers have just one day left of finals tomorrow.  Woohoo!  Being at home so much has been AWE. SOME.  We have had some family in town and have been visiting, wrapping, baking and shopping.  It's been great so far and I can't wait to enjoy the rest of our two weeks with a slower pace!  

  • I have been playing a game of Toilet Paper Russian Roulette this week.  I noticed we were perilously low about two days ago, then forgot for about maybe 12 hours, then remembered again.  I quickly got onto Amazon and upped my subscribe and save shipment (what - you don't use subscribe and save?  Give it a whirl!  I use it for all sorts of sundry items!), and was informed it would arrive on Thursday.  Could I make it until then without buying any more?  I wanted to gamble, but thought I should buy just a small package today while at Walmart.  But as luck would have it, just as I was about to steer my two boys down the TP aisle, they noticed the Lunchables, asked for one for lunch, and I promptly forgot about our urgent need.  Tonight I have assessed that we have one half-ish roll per bathroom.  The delivery will not be here until Thursday.  We have seven people in our house (and will have two overnight guests tomorrow night).  I fear the odds are not with me. 
  • Two nights ago, I was in a gift wrapping frenzy.  Santa brings three gifts per child to our house and we give three gifts, and that equals a lot of wrapping.  But I was on a roll and knocking out this dreaded delightful job.  I remembered I should get out a gift my in-laws are giving our kids but that I had purchased for them.  It is a relatively expensive gift, since they are buying it for all the boys (but it was purchased on Black Friday with multiple discounts at Kohls, so it was practically like we stole it).  Anyway, it is kind of a big deal gift and I wanted to give it to my in-laws so they could take it home and wrap it. Aaaaannndd - I couldn't find it.  For about an hour, I looked in the basement, my room, the dining room. . .I retraced my steps and walked through the day I got it. . .and couldn't find it.  I forced myself to stop thinking about it, knowing I would find it eventually.  About half an hour later, I went to the basement again for another check and this time found it.  Whew!  I am so good at hiding gifts!  I could hide my own presents from myself - skillz!
  • I recently bought a wood sign with the words "Do small things with great love".  I believe it was Mother Theresa who first said this phrase, and I have loved it ever since I heard it.  Oh the number of small things I do in our house -- often without great love and instead with great grumbling.  What a wonderful reminder that loving others needn't always involve a grand gesture, but instead can be many small things added together.  And as I handle the minutiae of family life, I need to be reminded of that sentiment often.  What a gift it is to be able to serve the people in my home!
  • The kids have been watching old Christmas video clips on the computer and they are fabulous.  I adore watching the kids open their presents and remembering how sweet and little they used to be!  We all are oohing and ahing over how cute they all were.  Watching them is such a good reminder of the value of pictures and videos!  These will be treasured for years to come!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Laundry with a Side of Awesome

Last Saturday, after all of our Thanksgiving company left, the belt on our dryer broke.  I was standing amid a laundry room full of sheets, towels and general clothing, and no dryer to make it all disappear.  I was frustrated and tired from the weekend and not really wanting a major expense/hassle/pain in the rear broken dryer.

Enter my husband.  He also did not want any of those things, but regardless, began youtubing (is that a word?) how to replace the dryer belt.  He ordered the belt on Amazon (and new roller thingies and another part too) and over the weekend commenced to taking the whole thing apart (and down from on top of the washer) in preparation for repairing it when the new parts came in.

Let me tell you some things about my husband.  He is not the kind of person who grew up taking things apart and fixing things.  He doesn't have a "natural" inclination to repair items.  He also has little to no free time.  But -- he is very smart and has a let's-get-it-done-attitude, and is not afraid of a challenge.  He has an ability to look at a task and break it down to get it figured out.  And of course, he has youtube!

So that's what he did.  I emptied the laundry room into the dining room (it was a good time to clean the laundry room anyway), and he took the whole dryer apart.  When the parts came in from Amazon, they were not all the correct ones, so we had to make another order from a local place.  By Wednesday night (after Advent worship), he had all the pieces he needed, and by midnight, he had it all put together and had cleaned out the dryer vent in the basement.  By Thursday morning, I was back in the laundry business.

The upside to not doing laundry for seven people all week is not doing laundry all week, but the downside is the ginormous amounts of laundry awaiting me.  I started the laundry on Thursday, but by Thursday night wasn't feeling well and ended up staying home sick on Friday, and doing no laundry whatsoever until today.  Therefore, I have done very little laundry in a week (save a few loads I air-dried and a few loads I ran to the laundromat to dry on Sunday).  When I don't do laundry for that long, my kitchen island looks like this:

So.  We all have clean clothes now and will not be scantily clad this week.  And I have a husband who is awesome, and once again saved the day.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Top Ten Thankfulness List

In no particular order:

  • IKEA.  Oh. my.  I was driving through Chicago on Sunday and the interstate I was on went literally right by an IKEA store. As in, I could have thrown a rock at it from my fast moving vehicle.  But instead of defacing such an amazing store, I decided rather to enter into its glorious walls and give them my money.  I spent only an hour there (are you impressed, dear reader?) and got many a fabulous deal.  That store is the best.  Ten out of ten would recommend, as my 16-year-old daughter would say.  
  • Old friends.  And by old friends, I don't mean old friends, but simply long-time friends.  I got together with my college girlfriends for our 13 annual Girls' Weekend, and it was wonderful.  Lots of laughs, memories, rest and good catching up.  It did my heart good.
  • Staff meetings.  Does that sound like a strange thing to be thankful for? Well, I actually mean the part directly after our meetings, where we gather in the church to pray Evening Prayer together.  We sing the litany and the Magnificat, and it wows me every time.  To be surrounded by my coworkers, all singing together to our God is nothing short of an immense blessing which I take for granted far too often.  
  • Grandparent's Day.  Both my high schoolers and my grade schoolers have Grandparent's Day this week, and all four grandparents are here and able to attend!  Another blessing I often take for granted.  Praise God for amazing parents who are so very involved in their grandchildren's lives!
  • Peanut clusters.  I make them in the crock pot every Thanksgiving and Christmas and they're the best.  We hide them from ourselves in the freezer, but we are super smart and find them anyway and eat them frozen.
  • Fall scents.  I adore all the cinnamon, apple, spice and holiday scents from Bath and Body Works, Yankee and the like.  My house smells like I'm baking something amazing all the time, when in reality the oven is empty.  Delicious smells don't have any calories! (of course, peanut clusters do, see above. . .)
  • My bathroom-cleaning husband.  I've probably blogged about this before, but when I went back to teaching 2 years ago, my husband asked me how he could help shoulder some of my household burden (as he doesn't have enough on his plate already - the man is busy 24/7).  He suggested he take over the bathroom cleaning chore, and for the past 2.5 years, I have barely cleaned a bathroom.  He faithfully cleans them thoroughly each week without complaint.  I am so grateful for his loving heart.
  • Older siblings.  My younger children are so blessed to have their older siblings.  They help each other with their homework (especially the harder math - score for mommy!), they explain how to navigate high school and create excitement for when they get there, they read Harry Potter (so I don't have to - blech!) and help me decide when their siblings are old enough to read each book, and they have shown their younger siblings how to grow up gracefully.  I am thankful for each stage of growing I have enjoyed with my kids, and the older years have not failed to disappoint!
  • Doggies.  Shadow often is the fodder for my blogging, but truly, I love him.  No one gets more excited at my arrival home each day than that puppy.  It's nice to be loved!
  • Faith and family.  What a blessing to worship with my children (and husband from afar) this holiday season.  Every day is a gift from God - precious and worthy of thanks.  Thank you God, for your many gifts to us! 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Spin Master

Have you ever seen a video of a performer spinning plates?  The person is moving constantly, keeping the plates spinning on top of the little poles.  If he is good at the act, the plates never come crashing to the floor:

Dear reader, sometimes I am this guy.  Sometimes, I am rocking the plate spinning.  Sometimes it is my jam and I'm all like, "Look at me world!  I have 3,495 details to remember today, and I am remembering them all.  I have delivered all the people on time to all the places, I signed all the forms, remembered all the payments, picked up all my kids on time, answered all the emails, prepared for teaching, fed my family, and washed all their laundry!"  -- and the list goes on.  I recently told my husband, during one of these I'm-rocking-the plate-spinning-moments, that I think I needed a medal for all the details I was taking care of.

My friends, I should never have said that.  Apparently I momentarily forgot that the majority of the time, all my plates are wobbling, dangerously close to falling off their little poles.  And that often, very often, fall off they do.  And when they fall off, they fall off with a thunderous crash.  In the last three weeks, I have: attempted to pick a child up at the wrong time (and had to return an hour later), forgotten to pick a child up completely (don't worry, he was fine), neglected to answer an email to a friend in a timely manner, and signed up to take a meal to a new mother, but registered the wrong day in my brain, thereby causing confusion.

Man, I hate forgetting details and dropping the ball on things.  I really can't stand missing things or letting people down.  But you know what I've noticed when I can't spin all the plates all the time?  The world actually keeps on spinning.  My errors might cause a blip in my life (and sometimes others' lives), but the world doesn't end. And people usually give me grace.  No one seems to hate me when I don't do all of the things.  It's a lesson learned in humility and accepting the kindness of others.

One of my favorite (though overused) quotes is "Life is what happens when you're making other plans".  Spinning all the plates is my season of life right now, and I don't want to wish it away.  Life is super full, but it's also very, very good.

And a falling plate now and then isn't going to ruin it all.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

On Growing Up

Over the last couple of weeks, we have been trying to sort through/clean out our basement playroom and our storage room.  I've been trying to squeeze in a few minutes here and there whenever I have time, and today I asked my husband and older sons to help me haul out some large items for a large trash pick up on Monday.

My husband and sons first carried up a big chest freezer that is at least 35 years old (I remember it when I was pretty young at my parents' house).  The freezer hasn't worked in several years and I have been using it for Christmas present storage (note to self - figure out a new plan this year!) and it needed to go.  

Next, they started hauling up multiple crib parts.  Since our first two kids were only 18 months apart, we had two cribs. I was never in any hurry to move my kids out of their cribs (I might have been a control freak about that!).  Two cribs have lots of parts when disassembled!  So my large sons began making treks up and down the stairs carrying the very cribs they had spent the first three years of their lives sleeping in. I was in utilitarian mode - getting rid of stuff feels great and I was super pumped to get all that space free in the back of the storage room.  

Until I rounded the corner to grab a load myself and found my husband moving a crib rail with two musical stuffed animal pull toys firmly tied to the top.  And I rather lost it.  Suddenly I was teary, with absolutely no warning.  Obviously I had to pull the tails of the animals and hear the lullabies, making me weep with more fervor.  How could my baby years be past already?  How could those strapping boys be the same babies who pulled those tails to hear night-night songs?  How could those days, which often felt so long, be past tense already?  How could my oldest child be leaving the house in 1 1/2 years?

The family years are passing at an alarming speed.  Just this morning, my daughter and I were talking about how many children she might have.  With heartfelt zeal, I told her how glorious it was for me to be mom to her and her siblings.  How when I look at our family pictures, my heart bursts with joy at what God has given us.  God has called us to be parents to these five children and I love it.  Moments like tonight remind me how much I miss those early years, but moments like the one with my daughter this morning underscore the beauty parenting older children brings as well. 

The passage of time and accepting change has never been my strong suit.  But after I had my little cry in the basement, I came upstairs and within minutes was laughing with a teenager, talking in a goofy accent and discussing the etiquette of opposite-gender texting.  And in a few minutes I'm going to play a game with a grade-schooler, and then tell them all to shower (on their own) and say prayers and give blessings and kiss them all good night.

While it's not quite the same as tucking babies into cribs, it's equally awesome.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Bits and Pieces #15

  • The other day after naptime in my classroom, we were putting away the children's nap things, and I found a lone sock by the sink.  I asked all the kids of they were missing a sock.  Everyone appeared to examine their feet and reported that all was fine; no socks were missing.  I was puzzled.  I gave it the sniff test (this sniff test has burned me in the past in my own laundry room, yet I continue to use it). I determined via the sniff test that it had been worn, but since no one said they were missing a sock, I thought perhaps it had somehow resurfaced from another class that uses our room.  I put it aside to handle later.  A few minutes later, we sat down on the circle rug to sing some songs and close out the day.  I sat on the rug next to one of my students and looked down to notice that he had on tennis shoes. . .with no socks.  I asked him where his socks were, and he reported he did not know.  I got up and grabbed the sock I had found, and he said it was indeed his, but he didn't know where the other one was.  I looked in his nap bin and the area where he had napped, but no sock.  About this time, I hear him, still sitting at the circle, sort of quietly saying, ". . .pants. . .pants. . .maybe, it might be in my pants. . ." And then he reached behind his back and pulled his sock out of the back of his pants!  This.  This is among the many reasons I love teaching preschool. 
  • I was prepping for my Mommy and Me class the other night, and several of my kids were in the room with me.  They all get annoyed when I start surfing Pinterest for new songs to sing, which only makes me want to sing them louder and more often.  This is what makes me a great mom!  But this time, one of my kids was standing right next to me, listening.  After a few moments of joining in a bit and remembering songs he sang when he was little, my son said, "I don't want to listen to these songs anymore, Mom!  They're gonna make me cry!"  My heart ached a bit.  I understood my boy.  Sometimes those memories are so fond, so dear that the passage of time just feels painful.  I gave him a big squeeze and kiss and soaked up the moment with him, knowing in several years I would remember that very moment with a fond pang as well.  
  • Dear readers, I don't know how to prepare you for the picture below.  I'm sure you've glanced at it already, and you see how terrifying it is.  Yes, that is a bamboo skewer sticking out from the nerf dart.  I discovered this archaic torture weapon last night and rethought my parenting strategies.  I disassembled it carefully so as not to harm myself or others, and then asked my boys about it this morning.  I had a suspect in mind as the creator, but I was wrong.  And the boy who made it felt it was perfectly acceptable to be in our home. He even told me that "dad was right there when I made it!". When I gently said that there must be a mistake, and dad would not indeed want our children to be maimed via a souped-up nerf bow and arrow and that I never wanted to see such a weapon again, he responded with, "But it was dad!  And he's the head of the household!".  As we circled up for morning prayer before everyone went their separate ways, I asked my husband about the weapon.  As I suspected, he was completely misrepresented, and shockingly, did not in fact think a skewer being shot through our house was a good idea.  Your takeaway here:  Never accept an invitation to have a nerf war in my house (or maybe you can now, since we have intercepted this near-miss).

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Pregnancy Loss Day

A few days ago was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day.  I didn't realize there was an official day to commemorate babies lost to miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss.  But when I read there was such a day, it caused me to ponder again the two babies we lost to miscarriage.

I remember so vividly finding out that we lost our first baby -- our first pregnancy, our first child.  I had had some spotting and so had to go in for an ultrasound.  The tech did indeed find a heartbeat, so we were greatly reassured, went home and thought all was well.  But about a week later, while I was at work, I got a call that a follow up ultrasound had been ordered.  No one I spoke to sounded terribly concerned, and not knowing any better, we were not worried.  I don't remember the details prior to that appointment, but my husband wasn't able to go to it with me (I'm sure that wasn't a concern to me, because we thought nothing was wrong and this was just protocol).

So there I was, alone with the tech in the ultrasound room, when I got the news.  There was no heartbeat, and the baby had passed away.  I recall changing back into my regular clothes (I can picture the very shirt and jeans I had on) and looking at my neck and face - red and splotchy, like I had broken out in hives.  I was trying to hold it together to tell my husband, and struggling to do so.  I remember going to his office and waiting for him there, and then trying to find the words to tell him.  I remember sobbing with him later that night, feeling so bereft and heartbroken -- and scared.  Not only was I grieving the very real loss of this child, but I was also afraid that maybe I wouldn't be able to carry a child to term at all.

This all happened almost 18 years ago, which is hard to believe.  Much of that time is still etched in my mind, but a lot of those emotions and details are lost to me now.  I had a friend who had just miscarried ask me once, "Were you able to move on eventually?  Do you ever have days when you aren't thinking about it?".

I told her yes.  That I hurt a very long time, and I still ache for those children at times now, but I was able to move on.   I met a gal several years ago while we were on vacation in the Tetons.  She and her husband were devout Catholics and were aching for more children.  They had one beautiful daughter, and had suffered many, many miscarriages.  Her pain was deep, real, and raw.  Yet her faith amazed me.  Among many things she said, this thought has stuck with me all this time: "Isn't our primary prayer for our children that they live with their Savior in heaven?  My miscarried children are in heaven with Jesus", she said.  "That's ultimately what we want for them! These souls we have created have experienced little to no suffering and are now in the presence of God."

Wow, I thought.  Yes -- I do want my children in heaven.  As parents, that's our first and foremost prayer for our children.  We want them to have the gift of eternal life.  We pray for that, we live our lives and shape theirs to reflect that -- it is our end goal!

But oh-- when our timing is not the same as God's!  How hard it is!  This isn't what I meant God - not yet, not now.  I know this pain to a small degree through miscarriage.  I cannot imagine the pain of a stillborn birth, or a child who died in infancy or childhood.  My prayer at the times of my miscarriages was simply for strength to go on, and for peace in the knowledge that God would work all things (even these terribly hard and painful times) for good.

When I think of my two babies in heaven, I find such comfort in knowing they are with their Savior.  When I lost our babies, I heard many well-meaning comments.  But the one which truly comforted me the most was that our baby was in the arms of Jesus. I wanted my baby to be in in my arms, but oh, how much solace it gave me that my baby was instead in his or her Savior's arms.  That my prayer for my child had been answered already.

Someday, my husband and I will be reunited with the two babies we lost.  Our children here on earth know about their siblings and think a heavenly introduction will be nothing short of amazing.  So though here on earth we are a family of seven, truly, we are a family of nine.  Two of our family members are just living in their heavenly home.  And that knowledge brings me such hope and joy.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Bits and Pieces #14

  • Out of the mouths of my preschoolers:     Teacher:  Which animals didn't actually have to get on the ark when the earth flooded?  Preschoolers:  Pitbulls?  Unicorns?

  • Out of the mouths of (one of my) babes:   "I know why God gave us two legs!!  So our underwear would fit!"

  • "I'm super good at eavesdropping!" sayeth one of my children, rather nonchalantly.  "Seriously!  I should teach Eavesdropping 101!"  Note to self:  Speak softly and watch out for hovering children.

  • Today was superhero day at school.  I decided to take this opportunity to dress as I normally would and be the best super hero ever. . .a mom!  My youngest son dressed up like Harry Potter (though he told me was in fact, NOT Harry, but a random heroic Griffindor character -- I have no idea, having no desire to read the books), and my little daughter dressed up as 'KK! -- to the rescue!'  My husband has been saying this phrase to my daughter since she was little.  Last night when we started to think about costumes (you didn't think we thought about this sort of thing in advance, did you, dear reader?), I suggested a T shirt in her closet. . .bing, bang, done.  I'm the practical sort of lame super hero mommy.  But Daddy thought of KK!, and proceeded to help her find a leotard, leggings, and then make a shield which said KK!.  We pinned it to her leotard and KK!- to the rescue was ready for action. Daddy for the win!

  • I have noticed something about myself:  When we are getting ready to leave the house, I tend to walk through the house yelling out the remaining time until our departure, rather like a town crier.  "25 minutes!", I yell to anyone within earshot.  "15 minutes till we leave!", I bellow as I tie a shoe, finish packing a lunch, flush a random toilet.  I continue this way until the urgency increases and it's down to: "1 minute! We need to be ready to go now!".  I turn off enough lights to put the electric company employees' children through college, pet the dog and say in a morose voice,"Mommy go bye-bye" to send him packing up to my bed, and then hustle all the children out the door, continuing to shout out various directives to various people.  I feel fairly certain no one in our house would be capable of leaving without my town crier efforts.  I could be wrong, but I'm too afraid to risk it by stopping.  

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Bits and Pieces #13

  • My teenage daughter still doesn't have her driver's license.  This is not entirely her fault, since we are only allowing her to drive our beater van, which is my husband's primary car and is rarely here.  So, though she is 16.5, she has very few hours logged and is still awhile away from getting her license.  As this school year started, we became more committed to getting those hours in and working toward her license.  With that commitment came the realization that we just need to let her drive.  On real streets.  With real cars and stoplights and speed limits higher than 30 mph.  So we have.  And it's been nerve-wracking.  I sit on the edge of my seat, talking non-stop (which I'm sure she thoroughly enjoys), and praying we live.  I'm only half-kidding.  Truly, she's doing just fine, but there are so many details she just needs to experience before feeling comfortable.  So if you see us on the street in the Astro and I have a look of fierce determination on my face, please say a little prayer as you snicker.
  • My eldest son wants to be a lawyer when he grows up, and is interested in politics as well.  It is a family joke that he will run for president in 2036.  So I was so excited to find a shirt for his birthday that said "Vote Me for President".  But he politely asked me to return it, saying that he felt it was too lofty and arrogant since he really has political aspirations. I was disappointed, but I understood and respected his viewpoint.  Still - I'd vote for him in 2016!!
  • The other night, I was awakened at about 11:30 by a ruckus in the hallway.  I quickly got up to find one of our children in obvious distress.  My husband was with the child and we pulled the child into our bedroom to assess the situation.  The child was making continuous, loud anguished wails, so much so that another child woke up because of it.  When asked, the child thought that yes, an ER trip was in order, so bad was the pain.  The child was struggling to take in a full breath, but I have to admit, I was vacillating between two emotions:  that there was something severely wrong and my child might be in real danger, or that nothing was really wrong and the child needed to fart or poop.  But we couldn't take any chances, so my husband started to get dressed and I helped the child get some clothes on.  At about this moment, the child let out a burp heard 'round the world.  My dear readers, for realsies.  This burp was epic.  All rapid movement toward the ER slowed as we asked the child if the ailment had subsided.  While the child still didn't feel well, the child admitted that, indeed, the pain was not quite as severe.  We decided that we would perhaps save our $150(!) ER copay, and see if the child would be okay to live through the night.  Good news - the child is fine.
  • My 10-year-old son is still wearing his cast on his broken arm.  He is doing pretty well and is able to get along with most of his activities as normal.  But his bed is a top bunk, and we haven't wanted to risk him climbing up (and more importantly, climbing down) one-armed.  So he has been bouncing from room to room, sleeping in different beds and displacing their occupants.  For the last several days, he has been sleeping on an air mattress in our eldest daughter's room.  Though last night she reported that the bed was "messing with her mojo" by sticking out from under her loft into the room, she has been incredibly accommodating of her little brother-turned-roommate. She did request, however, that he please, oh please pick up his random clothing items that had accumulated around the air mattress (dirty socks, shirts, shoes. . .). He complied and everyone thinks they can hang on for the nine more days until normalcy.  Not that we're counting. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Things I Don't Understand. . .

Among many other things, the following things perplex me:

  • Kleenex in the bathroom.  Why, oh why, do you need a box of Kleenex in a room where there are rolls upon rolls of toilet paper right there at your disposal?  If you have a runny nose, simply reach over to the roll and blow your nose! A box of Kleenex for the bathroom is just one thing I'll leave off my list!
  • Middle names on Facebook.  I understand maiden names for all those people wanting to be findable for people they knew in 1985, but how do middle names fit in?  
  • Fragments and cliffhangers on social media. ". . .When your boyfriend buys you flowers for no reason. . .""They laughed at her song choice. . .until she started to sing. . .",  etc.  Do the youth of America have no idea how to form a proper full sentence?  It seems every other post from young people is a fragment, often beginning with 'when'.  And in the same vein, why must so many websites twist the truth of the article in the title?  I realize it's to get you to click through, thinking something completely opposite of reality, but it drives me crazy.  Simply state (in a catchy way), what the article is about!  Are we, the readers, unable to recognize things that interest us without false advertising?
  • Dogs.  In particular, the peculiar desire Shadow has for rolling like a mad dog in the grass to get a scent on his fur.  He will go outside and sniff the ground slowly and carefully, and then quickly shove his snout into the ground and roll wildly in the grass, getting as much as his back and head rubbed on the grass as possible.  It's hysterical to watch, although markedly less so right after he's had a bath. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Bits and Pieces #12

  • Said by a child of mine:  "I breathed out of my ears once!  I did!  And my brother said it could happen!  Although. . .then he said you'd die."
  • My youngest daughter had a field trip this week at an animal farm.  She loved all the animals -- the zee-donks, the camels, the sheep etc.  She especially adored holding all the baby bunnies.  Yet, on the wagon ride out into the field to see all the animals, she leaned into me with a huge smile and said "You know what the best part of this whole day is, mommy?  YOU!"  Ah, that girl.  It's a love fest day in and day out.  I hope she never grows out of it.
  • Our dear doggie, Shadow, loves to ride in the car with us.  The other day I let him hitch a ride with me to pick up my teens from high school.  Their school is just across the street from a pet food manufacturing plant.  Often, the whole area has the distinctive (and largely unappealing) odor of dog food.  This particular day, I had the windows open and the smell was quite overpowering.  I looked over to Shadow, as it occurred to me that he might be salivating at the smell of his kibble in the air.  But I was not rewarded with any sort of reaction on his part.  He looked rather morose as usual, in spite of what had to be a glorious odor wafting over his nose.  #disappointing
  • My children have noticed a strange phenomenon.  Whenever I am asked a numerical question I can't answer (such as "How much longer till Dad gets home?" or "How much does it cost to go to Disney World?"), apparently my answers always include a seven.  I don't consciously do this, but any sort of number I have to make up on the spot always includes a seven.  Since seven is the biblical number of perfection, I informed the children I must do it because I am perfect.  Though they looked skeptical at this information, I'm sure deep down they agree.
  • My youngest daughter's baptismal birthday was recognized in chapel this week.  What a beautiful moment, to watch her standing among the other Aug/Sept anniversaries as we sang "I Was Baptized Happy Day".  Seven years ago, she entered into God's family through the waters of baptism.  ". . .God looked down on me and smiled!  I became His own dear child." Praise God for His gift of baptism!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Less is More

Recently I watched an episode of Tiny House Hunters on Netflix.  I love watching HGTV while I fold laundry.  It's (mostly) ok to have on while the kids are in the room (unlike my other faves -- Law and Order, Blue Bloods or Call the Midwife), and all the home improvement shows are fascinating to me.  My favorite HGTV show is Fixer Upper, but alas, I have watched all the episodes (I do a LOT of laundry).

Anyway, back to this episodes of Tiny House Hunters.  This episode was about a family of six (2 parents, 4 kids), who lived in LA and were moving to upstate New York.  They had a 2500 square ft house in LA and wanted to find a house about 600 square ft in NY.  They wanted to buy the house with cash and live debt-free so they would have more opportunity to travel etc.  It made good fiscal sense, but that is not what really grabbed my attention about the family.

Early in the episode, the wife talked about taking a cross-country road trip with her kids which had spanned several weeks.  When she returned home, she told her husband her interest in buying a smaller home.  For the togetherness. Instead of running far away from her kids on the heels of such a long trip in close quarters, she was craving more family time.   She saw her oldest daughter spending more and more time away from the family -- texting instead of coming downstairs and the like, and she wanted to circumvent that kind of activity as much as possible.

It really resonated with me.  While I doubt we will be moving anytime soon (for a variety of reasons), I really understood what she was saying.  My family has taken many a long cross-county trip in the pop-up and spent a lot of time together in the suburban (and Astro before that!).  And those trips are full of good memories!  Of time spent laughing, sharing, talking, singing, and just plain being together.

Even though our house is not big by American standards , it is huge compared to the pop-up, and we can spread out fairly well.  But I would go out on a limb and say that we don't really need a house even as big as ours!  People in the 1950s lived in 2 bedroom houses with 10 kids and somehow managed just fine!  This subject came up when I blogged about large families (you can read it here), and one of the first things that comes to mind about owning a bigger house is -- who's going to clean it?  A cleaning lady isn't exactly in our budget, so why would I want to take all that on?

I guess my rambling point in all of this is, why do we crave such huge houses?  If a house is big enough to give refuge and quiet when needed, do we really need all that extra space?  I'm leaning toward no.  The family years are fleeting, and daily time together doesn't last forever. Maybe 600 square ft for a family of 6 is a little extreme, but then again, maybe not.  Maybe that family is getting it right -- that talking and sitting and working and eating together is more important than everyone having their own sacred space where they spend all their time.  Maybe that family understands that compromising and sharing is a more valuable skill than retreating.  Maybe that family is sitting in upstate New York right now in their close quarters and enjoying each other.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Broken Bones and Beautiful Beaches

Thursday morning was glorious.  My husband and I kissed and hugged the kids goodbye, and after a few little tears from me, we headed out for a long weekend together.  Almost four hours into our drive, which was full of sentences that were able to be completed and conversation that didn't revolve around Nerf guns and potty words, we got a phone call from my mother-in-law.

"I hate to be the bearer of bad news. . ." she began, and my heart sank.  My sweet 10-year-old son had fallen on the playground and it was suspected his arm was broken.

We pulled over to talk to people involved and decided to wait at a nearby Panera.  We didn't want to go any further in case he needed surgery or there were complications, but we didn't think we needed to necessarily turn right around at that point either.

So there we sat, in the Panera, for about two hours, before we heard the verdict:  broken, and needed to be set before being casted. My mother-in-law, who is ever calm in a crisis told me that all was fine and we indeed did not need to come home.  She also reported that my son had said right away, "Mom and Dad don't need to come home!  I will be fine with you and Papa."  My heart was so torn. . .I was so proud of my boy for his bravery, but not to be with him in the hospital seemed hard to bear.

Turns out we wouldn't have made it home in time for the procedure anyway, and he did great through it all.  He got to go home with an awesome Sonic-blue cast, and some good pain meds.  We talked and texted often during the weekend and, save for a few minor ups and downs, he did very well.  Everyone was very proud of his bravery and calm attitude though it all.

So, while my in-laws (and then later my parents), took care of all the kids, my husband and I relaxed.  We sat on the beach (a lot), read, talked, ate well, slept in, and generally had a wonderful time.  We take this long weekend together every year, and it recharges us each time.  My identity is so tied into being a mother, and these weekends away remind my with such joy that I am a wife first.

As we came into town today, we knew we would hit the ground running.  Tomorrow is packed from 6:50 am to 8:30 pm with little break between activity, and today had its own share of business as well.  But we felt ready to tackle all that was in front of us, having been rejuvenated by the time together. We hugged and squeezed the kids and my heart was full of love for my family.

**As further proof of all the togetherness we enjoyed:  I needed to text my husband when we got home and went our separate ways.  I scrolled down my texts, looking for our last exchange. . .and I scrolled and scrolled and kept scrolling, and still hadn't gotten to my husband's name.  I went down thirty-four people before I found his name (I attribute the higher number of texts to my son's injury).  I loved what that signified!  I hadn't needed to text my husband in days and days, because we had been together!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Happiness Is, Part Two

Happiness Is (part two -- part one is here). . .

Climbing into bed when the sheets have just been washed.  There is something glorious about stretching out between the fresh, crisp sheets.  Going to sleep is already one of my absolutely favorite things, and on a clean-sheet night, the joy is multiplied!

Listening to the beat of the basketball on the driveway as my husband and all three sons shoot hoops together.  The laughter, the trash talk, the crazy grunts and unique boy-noises is music to my ears.

Meeting my new little students.  We just finished our first week and I loved getting to know the little ones in my class.  Their sweet, inquisitive personalities will be such fun to watch blossom and grow this year.  I printed all their pictures out for a little project, and as I looked over each one, I smiled and thanked God for the gift they already are in my lives.

Laughing with my family.  Yesterday after dinner our house was loud and crazy (nothing new there!), and we were all laughing together.  I read somewhere that laughing makes you live longer.  I think I increased my life span a bit last night.

Being thankful for the little things.  Yesterday was full of challenges (a stalled van and a lengthy wait for my husband for a tow, a leaky gutter/facia board during our torrential downpours this week, a dryer with a horrific squeaky sound), yet amidst these challenges and frustrations, little glimpses of joy and answered prayers.

A good start to the school year.  My eldest son started high school and seems to be adjusting well.  He is very concerned about getting stellar grades and is working super hard. My youngest daughter started first grade and loves every second of it.  All the kids are well-adjusted and content in their schools and classes, and I am thankful for that.

Texting with my mom, dad and sister all afternoon as my parents organize old pictures.  We've laughed over my poodle hair of the 80s (I resembled our red poodle, Rusty, in many of the pictures), smiled at pictures of my parents as newlyweds, and of my daughter as a baby in the tub.  It was a great walk down memory lane with the people who've known me longer than anyone else.

Watching Shadow freak out.  Ok, maybe it's not happiness exactly, but it was hilarious (and it scared us all too!).  Every time the dishwasher is open, Shadow likes to help himself to a second dinner by licking all the plates and silverware as we load it.  I figure the dishwasher gets super hot so his doggie germs won't cause any harm.  The other day his collar must have gotten caught on the bottom rack during his binge-fest, because when he moved away from the dishwasher, he pulled the entire rack off and onto the floor, causing dishes to go flying and making a terrible racket. He was terrified and it took me a few moments to calm him down.  We all had a good laugh after our blood pressure returned to normal.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

On High School

Tonight is the last official night of summer at our house**.  Tomorrow morning my two eldest start high school, and the rest of us follow on Wednesday.  There are a bit of mixed emotions about that fact:

My daughter is starting her junior year and knows it will be a tough year academically.  Lots of AP classes and taking the ACT and the SAT.  She will also start visiting colleges and thinking much more about college readiness.  She's ready to see her friends, but not chomping at the bit to dive into all the work.

My son is starting high school and doesn't know anyone in his class.  There are lots of grand experiences on the horizon for him, but right now it's all just brand new.  Tomorrow is a short orientation, so hopefully he can ease his way into it all a bit. I was thrilled to hear the two of them share a class together -- first period!  They professed to be horrified by this fact, but I'm going to believe that deep down they were happy. :)

Andas I contemplate tomorrow, I am in a bit of shock.  I found a picture of the two of them on their first day of school together (A's kindergarten year, M in preschool), and there was a little lump in my throat. It's hard to fully remember those two little ones, so much have they morphed into these mini adult people I love so. Though they are smiling in the picture, I know they were nervous that day about what was ahead for them, just as they will be tomorrow.

I can't wait to watch high school continue playing out (and beginning) for these two.  There are many memories to come, countless things to learn, friends to make and growing up to happen.  I know it will have hardships, but I pray the good outweighs the bad, and that in a few years, I'll pull out tomorrow morning's picture and remember that day -- when they were on the cusp of something new and exciting, just waiting for that chapter of their lives to be written.

**Well, actually, summer break for my teens ended on Friday at 3:00 pm.  I reminded them of this fact, just as my father reminded my sister and I at the end of every school break we ever had.  'You always get the weekend', he would say.  'Your vacation is over on Friday!' My commentary had the same effect my dad had hoped for with me -- groaning and general despondency.  You can thank grandpa, kids.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Summer Days

It's August 2nd already.  Summer has flown by, as it is wont to do.  We are gearing up for school to start in a couple weeks, and for me to go back to my classroom in the next week.  It's a blur of emotions - excitement for the new school year -- with two high schoolers (how is THAT possible?), and sadness about the loss of lots of family time and sleeping in. It's been a good summer so far, and we're still soaking up the time we have left.  A few thoughts:

Over the summer, my teenage daughter discovered just how little I wear/use/have abilities to apply makeup.  She was horrified at my methods, disgusted by my lack of nice products, and shocked at the speed at which I applied what little I wore.  I'm sure I would look better if I wore more makeup, but really?  I'm 43.  I've worn little makeup my whole life, and I highly doubt I'm going to change my MO now.  Love me or leave me, baby.

My two middle boys are at camp all week.  It is sooo much quieter around here with just three kids.  It's not quiet by any means, but it's definitely different.  I'm missing them quite a bit.  I know they are having the time of their lives and hopefully not thinking of home at all.  But this mamma's heart is a bit lonesome for my handsome 10- and 12-year-olds.  I can't wait to see them on Friday and hear all their stories.  And perhaps, fill up the coasters, which are also looking a bit lonely this week:

for those of you who know my husband and are
curious about the Dunkin Donuts coffee, don't
be confused - it is my daughter's. 😊

But as I said, it's not quiet around here. No sir, that is rare.  And with the two teenagers and my little K, there is still plenty going on.  The number one thing happening is laughter.   I swear, having teens thus far has simply meant more hysterical-to-the-point-of-tears laughter.  They crack me up during almost every conversation we have.  I don't think I had any idea when all my kids were little just how much fun they would grow up to be.  Serious conversations, different perspectives, and laughter.  It's really, really good stuff. 

Speaking of little K, she is not so little anymore.  She is 7 now, and going into 1st grade.  While we were camping and doing lots of hikes and walks, I had many opportunities to watch her run and play.  And this girl is growing quickly!  Her legs seem to have grown 6 inches overnight, and her face is that of a girl instead of a chubby preschooler.  I'm trying really hard not to say things like "Time is going by too quickly" and "My heart hurts!", but it's hard not to!  

At the end of every summer, I take the kids out one at a time to have dinner and shop for school supplies.  We call them Mommy's Nights (see here and here), and I treasure them.  I have taken two kids out so far with another scheduled this week.  We work hard to carve out time with the kids one-on-one, and this is a favorite of mine.  The time spent together almost takes the sting out of the gigantic totals at the register - does our house really need two very expensive graphing calculators?  Apparently it does.

Soon it's back to homework and 5:30 alarms and sports and musicals and lesson planning.  But for the next two weeks, it's still family time and rest and togetherness.  I'll take it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Box of Memories

Sometime in the 80s, my dad decided to build a box we could use for camping.  A special box with shelves we could store our dishes in and a fold out counter top so we could prep our meals.  It was given the (rather uninspired) name of Camp Kitchen.  

Camping has been a big part of my whole life, (and now our kids' lives) and the Camp Kitchen chronicles much of it.  Throughout the years, we have added stickers from the places we've camped (we haven't always been diligent about it, so there are many, many places not represented), and looking at it is like taking a little journey back in time.  

The Camp Kitchen conjures up many childhood memories. . .

  • Loading it (carefully) into the back of the '78 station wagon in the 80s
  • Hikes in the hot dunes and through cool fall foliage
  • When the tent flew off the top of the station wagon (on the interstate!) on our drive home
  • Singing songs at the campfire with our big group of church friends
as well as many memories made by my husband and me, with our new family. . .

  • Our first camping trip a few weeks after our wedding, using a borrowed tent
  • Our excursions into the mountains of Colorado, complete with snow on top of the tent
  • Our first trips with our kids in our pop-up, cramming two play pens into the open floor space
  • Trips with grandparents and cousins
  • Wild adventures out west, up north, down south and out east, creating priceless family time
The Camp Kitchen hasn't gone on all of these adventures with us, but it has traveled many, many miles with us - even internationally (Canada counts!)

The Camp Kitchen isn't long for this world, I fear, having been repaired and shored up many times along the way.  But it still hangs on, even these 30+ years later.  I bet my dad had no idea when he built it the mileage it would see.  I'm hoping it has a few more years left -- we still have more camping adventures planned!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Family Adventure ala the Great White North!

I have finally clawed my way out from under a mountain of dirty laundry from our vacation and have caught my breath slightly.  We got back from two weeks in Canada, Maine and New Hampshire last week and then I took the three younger kids to a family reunion on Saturday.  My older two kids are in New Orleans at the youth gathering, and I left my middle two boys with my parents for a few days.  So it's just me and my newly-minted 7-year-old girl in the house.  And it is QUIET.  Weirdly, strangely quiet.  Our house is never quiet, unless everyone is asleep or the kids are up to no good.  But today my girl and I got home and she's playing with her new set of miniature horses (whispering her story line), and there is no other sound.  I'm not sure I like it.  I'm looking forward to the time just with her, but I gotta say, I'm kinda missing the hustle and bustle a bit.  I'm sure when everyone gets home I'll be wishing for a little peace.  Always greener on the other side.

Here are a few highlights from our travels:

  • The night before we were leaving, as we were about to go to bed, my husband opened the fridge.  And he found it full of grape lemonade.  The drawers were half full of lemonade, the shelves had standing lemonade. . .it was everywhere.  So, instead of going to bed after a full day of packing, we completely cleaned the refrigerator (and cursed the dog and all of his dog hair which seems to get everywhere).  We quickly ascertained that the spigot on the lemonade dispenser had been left on after someone (we had our guesses) filled his cup.   But, as we assumed, when we questioned the children the next morning, the culprit was the elusive family member NotMe.  

  • Just as we were about to leave Niagra Falls, one of our children (in a tousle with another), whacked his head on the headboard of the hotel bed, cutting it open, complete with blood all over his hair.  Commence quick shower and direct pressure.  He wasn't in much pain and the cut seemed okay.  But all I could think of was Massive Head Wound Harry.  I'm a terrible person.
  • We have many "discussions" about who sits next to whom on our long vacation drives.  After one such heated discussion, one boy proclaimed "I'd rather sit next to Hillary Clinton" (than next to his brother).  1) That was highly undesirable to him , and 2) he's been listening to his brother discuss politics too much.
  • Quebec is awesome.  Everything is in French, and I mean everything.  Every now and then we would find things that might also have English printed underneath, but not often.  None of us speak French, but we managed just fine.  It was like being in Europe, truly it was.  We could have spent much more time there.  We ate well (poutine, crepes, pastries, Tim Horton's, McDonald's (they are waaaaaay better in Canada!) and we saw beautiful scenery and old city streets.  It was amazing.  My youngest daughter kept practicing her "French" by saying over and over and over "Cinco de Mayo!"  We didn't burst her bubble.  But one son had had just about enough of the French culture and was longing for his homeland.  On our last day there, he proclaimed, "I'll be glad to get back into America and be done with all this French monkey business!"
can you guess which store this sign is in?
  • Wildlife seen:  Loon (rare sighting and he played hide and seek with us while we were in a canoe), eagle, foxes. . .but no moose.  We looked the whole vacay, but never found one.
  • Each major adventure seems to create its own soundtrack, and this year was no different.  But I'm sorry to report that the soundtrack for this vacation was. . .T Swizzle!  Yep, a few of the kids are obsessed with her, and we heard Taylor Swift songs over and over.  I'm pretty sure she is never, ever, ever, getting back together with her boyfriend.  Good to know.
  • In Acadia, we spent $7 and got two crabbing nets for the boys and they spent many an hour on the dock catching and releasing scores of crabs.  Seriously, the best $7 ever spent!  When we left, the boys passed our nets onto another family to keep the fun going.
  • Camping isn't quite what it used to be in our family, and multiple electronic devices traveled with us.  Every night, this was the sight on the camper floor:

  • We ate lobster (rather, I tried it once and never again).  My husband and some of the kids loved it, but the whole process was disgusting to me.  I couldn't even watch him embracing his inner caveman as he pulled the thing apart.  I'll stick to meat that keeps some of the mystery alive by not looking like it did in the wild, thank you very much.  
  • We ended the trip with some major outlet shopping (no tax in New Hampshire = one happy mamma!), and three feverish children.  We all powered through, however, and made it home in my aforementioned 19 hour driving day.  Another family adventure in the books! 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

True Love

Yesterday, my husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary.  We were just finishing up a two week camping trip in Canada, Maine and New Hampshire (I'll blog more about our trip when I resurface from under the laundry pile), and decided to push the whole way home in one day.

And so our special way of celebrating our 20 years of wedded bliss was driving 929 miles with all our kids and the camper in tow.  All told, it took 19 hours, due to general stops for eating and potty, aaaand a blown tire on the pop-up.

The tire blew on interstate 90 just outside of Buffalo, New York.  It was about 4:00 in the blazing 93 degree sun as my eyes moved between the roaring traffic, the suburban full of our children, and my husband efficiently changing the tire.  As I watched, I prayed continually.  I prayed that the drivers flying by would be cautious, that our children would be calm, safe and cool enough, and that my husband would be able to change the tire without incident.  And I also gave thanks that the tire was on the passenger side and my husband wasn't right next to the 70+ mph traffic.  I thanked God for a hundred things - no rain, no darkness, no freezing temperatures, no desolate road with no cell signal.  And I also gave thanks, repeatedly, for my husband's calm, capable, can-do attitude.

At 4:00 20 years prior, my husband and I had been standing in the cool church, dressed in our finest, exchanging our vows.  We stood there, at ages 23 and 24, pledging our lives to one another. . .for better or worse, in sickness and in health, till death parts us.

And we had no real idea what the heck we were saying.  Sure, our intentions were good, our love was real and solid, but no one has any idea exactly what life will bring.  As I stood on the side of the road, watching him take care of what I most certainly would not have been able to do, I was reminded just what marriage is about.  It is these things, these shared moments, this journey together.  A quote from a favorite movie of mine, Yours, Mine and Ours (1968 version) suddenly came to mind.  In the movie, a man and a woman marry (he with 10 kids and she with 8), and in this scene, the wife is about to give birth to their first child together, while the wife's eldest daughter is pleading for advice about "proving" her love to her boyfriend.  Her new stepfather gives her this advice:

 I've got a message for Larry. You tell him this is what it's all about. This is the real happening. If you want to know what love really is, take a look around you(...)
It's giving life that counts. Until you're ready for it, all the rest is just a big fraud. All the crazy haircuts in the world won't keep it turning. Life isn't a love in, it's the dishes and the orthodontist and the shoe repairman and... ground round instead of roast beef. And I'll tell you something else: it isn't going to a bed with a man that proves you're in love with him; it's getting up in the morning and facing the drab, miserable, wonderful everyday world with him that counts.

I stood there, watching my husband take care of what needed to be done, and I was struck with the gloriousness of our shared life together.  While we weren't filled with the same kind of angst as the teenage daughter, the father's words apply to us, and all married couples as well.  Love is a choice.  A choosing to get up together each day and face life -- the good, the hard, the beautiful, the exhausting, the journey together.

And it's amazing.  God's blessings in marriage are countless. With each passing year, my husband and I are more intertwined as we share our lives with each other.   That's true love.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Super Important Stuff

Summertime so far has meant that mommy is a taxi driver.  Baseball, basketball, swim lessons, VBS, doctor appointments, camp, open houses. . .it has been cray to the cray.  And all that ferrying around means a LOT of time listening to the radio (which thankfully is Sirius, which I manage to get for a song (haha!) every time I call to cancel).  Depending on whose week it is in the front seat, we listen to vastly different stations, but many of the children want to listen to the pop stations.  Which means I have to be constantly on red alert, flipping over inappropriate songs and basically all talking segments on those stations.  It's exhausting.  But every now and then a song makes the cut, and then we hear it a ridiculous number of times each day.  A few stats:  We heard T. Swizzle's "New Romantics" five times in one day, and a stupid Justin Timberlake song seven times in one day. It's horrifying.  We obviously need more Chicago, Beatles and the like in our repertoire.  It appears I need to flex my veto muscles more often.

In other news, my teenage daughter was recently on a trip to Chicago with her acting group.  After she left she texted me and told me she would be posting more on snapchat than on instagram or texting me.  She suggested I get a snapchat account and follow her story.

Lemme tell you guys something.

Snapchat is stoopid.

I hated it instantly and never got over it.  It is ridiculously hard to use, annoying, and laborious.  I tried to send her selfies of me (usually with double chins in bad lighting), with little success.  I then began to send her texts telling her how much I hated snapchat.  She suggested filters (!), and later showed me all sorts of crazy things you can do to your face (who doesn't want a dog face superimposed on her face?  duh!).  I still have the app, but as my daughter would say, I'm gonna give snapchat a hard pass.  I'll stick to Facebook for old people.

And last but not least, my almost 7-year-old daughter has learned to text.  It was only a matter of time.  She has been using her big sister's old ipad, and stumbled upon my picture in the texting app.  She was in the other room and texted that she loved mommy.  She came flying into the room, immensely proud of herself and has been texting her siblings and daddy nonstop since.  She has also learned how to facetime and calls all of us from the next room several times a day.
We got our iphones when she had just turned one, so she knows no life without that kind of technology.  Parenting this generation of kids is full of new challenges.  The first one being -- how do I put an end to the use of the poop emoji?  Oh, just kidding!  It always cracks me up.   💩

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Stepping up to the Plate

I'm blogging twice in one day!

So, as I said earlier, tonight my middle son played his first baseball game of the season.  He did just fine, and I was so proud of him for getting back out there, even though he was a little concerned about his leg being hit by the ball.  It was a great game, and I sat in the bleachers and watched the whole thing.

And that alone was a big deal.

I had scheduled myself to do concessions duty months ago, before I realized that tonight would be my son's first game of the season.  I called a friend yesterday and asked if she knew of anyone I could call to sub for me, but there weren't many subs to be found.

So I made a plan to have my daughter come with me and tag team: I would duck out if my son was at bat and she would cover for me.  But just before I was ready to leave, my eldest son's coach called me and said he would cover the shift for me, if I could just take the first few minutes until he could get there (and his wife offered to cover my shift next week!). I was really touched - these games are long, and they were willing to sacrifice their time so I could watch my son play.

When I arrived at the concessions to start the shift, another mom from the park told me right away, "You don't have to work!  It's his first game back.  I'll start it off and my son will cover your shift for the rest of the night.  We love your family! Go out and watch the game!"

Two people selflessly jumped in so I could watch my son's game.  This is our third year of baseball and many times we have seen examples of kindness and encouragement and care such as this.  In a world so full of selfishness, what a joy to be a part of this group of people who really care for each other.

I know there's no crying in baseball, but I felt a little teary tonight.

Bits and Pieces #10

It's summertime, and the living is crazy!  We are running at full tilt over here, which is equal parts fun and exhausting.  One thing a busy schedule does not afford me is time to blog, and also time to sweep the tumbleweeds of dog hair out of my home.  So here, a few little bits of life ala mammamilk:

An example of my son's loyalty to his favorite baseball team:

Son:  Mom, can I be in Boy Scouts?
Me:  I'm not sure, son.
Son:  I just can't call it the other name. . .but I could call it the sox scouts!

One of my older kids put a picture of my middle son on my phone as my screensaver.  This son is almost 12 (!!!), and the picture is when he was about four (in fact, taken the day I blogged about the elections here).  And I am not kidding you, every time I open my phone (about 5,438 times a day), I smile and feel nostalgic.  He is so adorable, and that time seems like so long ago.   I simply love looking at his cheeks and grin.  This picture makes me so happy.  :)

Doggie REM is a hilarious thing to behold.  Shadow wakes me up every now then (from his second-best sleeping locale - his bed on the floor next to me.  His favorite place is, of course, in our bed, right where our legs would like to be) with a low woof-woof-woof or a grrrr.  The other night I awoke to a strangled bark which ended in a pathetic whimpering.  I'm not sure if he's having doggie nightmares or if he's joyously dreaming of an all-day kibble buffet.  Either way it's pretty funny, even if it does wake me up.

My middle son (re: cute one above on my screensaver) was cleared (two months to the day of his surgery) to get back into regular activity.  That means baseball!  He can't wait to get out there and try it, and I must say I'm pretty excited to see him go for it!  Praise God for healing!

And. . . I currently have a child who just finished up at the dentist office, wailing upstairs.  "They lied!" he is moaning.  "They said it wouldn't hurt!".  Sigh.  He did so well with the numbing procedure but apparently the wearing-off process isn't too pleasant.  Cheers for beautiful teeth!

This is all I can eke out today, gotta go sweep up some tumbleweeds before baseball.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

True Blue, Part II

One of my dearest friends in the world is moving far away tomorrow.

And it really hurts.

Truly.  I'm crying as I even type this post.  This friend is everything I wrote about here when I blogged about friendship.  She is very, very dear, and she and her family (also awesome, close friends) will be missed by many, many people.

Though our children went to the same Lutheran school, four years ago I first met D when she and I were cast in The Sound of Music.  Perhaps if you've known me for awhile, dear reader, you'll recall that SOM was an awesome experience, but also terrifying and nerve-wracking.  Our friendship was new, but I found comfort in her encouraging words during my anxious moments.

Over the next four years, we got together often, having lunch -- first with my little K in tow, and then later just the two of us.  My family joined the small group her family was in, giving us even more time to connect as friends and families.  They are active, positive members of our church and school, and loved by everyone who knows them.

Here are a few of the many reasons I love her so:

She is selfless.  She will happily help someone out at a moment's notice and help anyone in need.

She is faithful.  To her God, her husband, her family, her church, her friends, her commitments.

She is a loving wife and mother.  She loves her family fiercely and is a positive example of how to raise fine young people.

She is loyal and an encourager.  I cannot imagine D saying an unkind word about anyone, certainly not a friend.  She will always put the best construction on any situation.

She is generous and thoughtful.  She offers prayers, hugs, dinner (when I hurt my back and was out for a few days), and a shoulder to cry on when needed.

She is confidential.  Without a doubt, I would trust her be a sounding board.

She is fun.  She is quick with a smile and laugh, always positive no matter what.

Oh dear readers, my heart is heavy to say goodbye.  In fact, I'm having trouble seeing my screen at the moment.  Perhaps many of you reading this post know her and know just what I'm talking about.  Or maybe you've had a good friend you've had to part with.  It hurts.

But I am thankful to have had her as a part of my life, and though she will be far away, I am very grateful that we will easily be able to stay in touch no matter how many miles separate us.

Thank you, Lord, for blessing me with her friendship!

Truly great friends are hard to find, difficult to leave, 
and impossible to forget.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Reflections on my 8th grader, Vol 2

Two years ago, I blogged some reflections about my daughter, who was graduating from 8th grade.  I thought perhaps I would make it a tradition (oh, the pressure is on now!  sorry, future self!), and jot down some reflections about my first-born son, who just graduated from 8th grade on Saturday.

  • It's hard to reconcile my tall, handsome man-child with the tiny baby I so vividly recall from 14.5 years ago.  M was born on Sept, 21, 2001, just 10 days after 9/11.  I remember praying fervently on Sept. 11 that God would give my child a birthday other than 9/11, and He did.  Our son brought joy to our lives that year, in a time that was full of sadness and fear.  
  • When he was little, M had more energy than he (or we!) knew what to do with.  He often ran away from me in parking lots, stores, church. . .you name it.  He was a ball of fire, in every way the stereotypical boy.  He was obsessed with Thomas the tank engine and knew countless engine names by heart, often regaling guests with his knowledge of Sodor Station.  
  • As he grew, he began to love video games, and still enjoys them often.  He does not, however, like violent games.  When I thanked him for not ever asking us about playing that kind of game with a Mature rating, he told me he doesn't like how those games have affected some of the people he knows. 
  • I am enjoying immensely watching M grow in maturity.  He is a huge role model to his younger brothers, and one brother in particular thinks he is amazing.  He is black and white to a fault, wanting to do the right thing at all costs.  He is shouldering more and more responsibility and is very helpful to us around the house. 
  • He's funny and goofy!  He has crazy names for all of his siblings and us at times too.  He makes me laugh all the time.  (Example:  when he was little he used to call me Little Mommy.  I LOVED it then, and I asked him recently to call me Little Mommy "just one more time".  Instead of complying, he grinned and called me Big Mamma.  Ummm - that does not exactly bring on the warm fuzzies!  But it did make me laugh.)
  • He was co-salutatorian for his 8th grade class and was one of several who gave a speech at the ceremony.  I was so incredibly proud of him.  He was well-spoken and spoke all about doing what is right.  He encouraged his classmates not to think they couldn't make a difference because they were young, but to go out and change the world by helping those around them.  
  • He wants to be a politician/lawyer when he grows up.  I can't say that would exactly be my first choice (I might have voted pastor), but if that is indeed what he does, I think he will use his skills to succeed in either career.
Today was the closing chapel for the school year.  All my children went over to their teachers at the end of chapel to receive a blessing.  The teacher made a cross on the forehead of each of my children and prayed a blessing over them.  It is a wonderful sight to watch your children be blessed by the teacher who has cared for them all year.  My son's teacher is a gentle, kind gal who shapes her students and prepares them well for high school.  I watched as she reached up quite a bit to bless my son.  And as she did, I got a little teary (full disclosure: I was already weepy).  My son is leaving this Lutheran school armed with academic knowledge, strong friendships, firm morals and a personal relationship with his Savior.  I can't think of anything else I want for my children.  It's hard for me to watch this season come to close (he has been here since he was 2!), but I do know there are many amazing things to come for this boy.  And he is ready!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Letter to the Parents of my Preschoolers

Dear Moms and Dads of my preschoolers,

The school year is drawing to a close and my time with your children is almost over.  I hope and pray I will see you and your children next year, but I know sometimes that isn't possible.  I have grown to love and care for your children this year, and I will miss them!

So as the time nears for us to say goodbye, I wanted to take a moment to tell you something.

You're doing a great job.

I have kids myself and know that you might not always feel that way.  But I am here to assure you that you are indeed raising fine young people.

Your children are funny.  They make me laugh every day.  They crack themselves up; big belly laughs and hysterical giggles.  I can't help but join in.  They tell me jokes with punchlines only a 4-year-old could create.  They often think I am hilarious, which is not a character trait other age groups especially notice in me.

Your children are good friends. They love the friends they have made this year in school.  They play together, they hug each other, they share with one another.  True, it's not always roses and butterflies, but when they have a disagreement with a friend, they apologize and offer forgiveness.  They truly care about the friends they have made this year.

Your children are loved.  Daily I hear stories about how Mommy took me to the playground, or Daddy loves to wrestle with me.  These are the things that they treasure - memories with you.  You love them with a fierce love, and they know it and flourish because of it.

Your children are well fed.  I help the children unpack their lunches each day and I see the healthy food you prepared with TLC.  Sure, I know preparing lunches isn't anyone's favorite task, but their lunches show that you rose to the occasion and gave them good choices each day.

Your children are well dressed.  I don't mean wearing the cutest fashions with this one, although that is often the case too!  No, I mean you took a moment to listen to the weather forecast and properly dress your child.  You also made sure your child had mittens, a hat, boots, snow pants. . .the exhausting list of items children need in the winter months.  You made sure they were well prepared for the elements so they could enjoy recess time.

Your children are happy.  Ok, maybe not all the time, but for the most part, your children relish life and bounce happily into school with a smile and hug goodbye to you.  And if your children are a little sad to say goodbye, you know to give them one last kiss and hug and send them in promptly, knowing they will be fine before you make it down the hallway.

Your children are secure.  They are secure in their knowledge of your love, of who they are and their place in your family.  They feel safe, knowing Mommy and Daddy love them enormously.

Your children know Jesus.  I am always blown away by how much your children know about the Bible and their Savior.  They know how much He loves them, even when they might make choices that don't please Him.  They know He loves them so much that He died on the cross for them, and they can tell you the whole story.  You teach them about Jesus, and they, therefore, know Jesus.

I won't get to see your little ones every day after this week.  But I know they have big things ahead of them.  So keep up the good work, Moms and Dads.  You're doing a great job.


Your child's teacher

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Not Just Another Suit

I spent the morning scouting out stores that have good deals on suits for my teenage son.  In two weeks he will be graduating from 8th grade and it occurred to me last week that he probably shouldn't wear Adidas shorts and a Star Wars sweatshirt to the service.

So off I went to the mall in search of a suit that wouldn't break the bank for a boy who would soon outgrow it.  My friends, I love to shop, truly I do, but this isn't my kind of shopping.  I know nothing of suits and ties - my husband rarely wears either one.  His daily attire consists of clericals which we buy online (and for which there are no good deals to be had!), and black dress pants I buy with coupons at Kohl's.

Suffice it to say, this was simply a chore to me. A friend texted me and asked me what I was up to today, and I typed a snarky reply, finishing up with an "ugh".  And then I re-read my text.  And erased it.

Because I remembered it was a privilege to be shopping for a son who needs a suit.  To have the money to buy a suit.  To have a son who has two younger brothers who can hopefully wear the suit someday.  To have a son who is smart, funny and talented and will look handsome for his graduation.  To have a son who is healthy and strong.  To have a son who has grown so much that all of the hand-me-down suits we own are too small on him.  To have a son who wants to wear a red tie and an American flag on his lapel because he loves his country.  To have a son who is getting more mature by the day.  To have a son who has strong moral and ethical convictions and fiercely loves his Lord.

I remembered it was a privilege and a blessing to have a son.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Wait, what?

Recently, we had our whole family together.  Both sets of grandparents, all the aunts and uncles and cousins and our seven were gathered.  My sister and my sister-in-law, who went to college together but don't get to see each other very often, were having a conversation that went something like this:

Sis:  I've always said I could be a marine! If I had tried when I was 18, I really think I could have done it!

Sis-in-law: (looking puzzled) Hhhhmmm. . .

Sis: (feeling she should explain further) Seriously!  Dad never thought I could do it and always scoffed at it.  I know the training is rigorous, but I could have made it when I was younger.

Sis-in-law:  (looking perplexed) Umm, ok. . .

Sis:  (taking her confusion for doubt).  Well, I really think when I was about 18 I could have managed it if I had worked hard enough.

Turns out, my sis-in-law did not hear my sister say she could be a marine, but instead thought she had said she could be a mermaid.

Hey - she totally could have been a mermaid if she tried hard enough.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Bedtime Stories

Every evening, a glorious thing occurs.  I finish all my chores for the day, I brush my teeth and get ready for bed, and then I Lie Down.   What is it that is so marvelous about lying down in one's bed after a long and tiring day? Often a small sigh escapes my lips as I revel in the beauty of simply lying down and resting.  It has always been a wonder to me how the children do not enjoy this sensation as I do.  They fight and whine and thoroughly dislike this very thing that brings me so much happiness.  Children are curious creatures.

But back to climbing into bed.  The other day, I bought new sheets (at Kohl's of course, with two coupons). After I washed them, I was making the bed and I had a ridiculous amount of excitement just thinking about sleeping on them.  They are gray (one of my favorite decor colors), with a tiny quatrefoil pattern.  They are beautiful and crisp and cool and delicious.

They are the best kind of sheets manufactured - percale.  A few years ago, I did a scientific research study (re: I polled my Facebook friends and did a google search) on which kinds of sheets were best. I knew what I wanted, but I didn't know what they were called.  The answer is percale.

Some of you might like your sheets to be soft or silky or flannel or satin.  You may like them to have an astronomically high thread count.  I'm sorry to inform you, though, that you're missing out.  Cool and crisp is the way to go.

My new sheets didn't disappoint.  As I crawled into bed that first night, I smiled a little.  It's the little things in life, dear reader.

Like percale.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

I live to serve!

"I live to serve."

These words were muttered under my breath without the faintest sincerity about serving.  I had spent the entire Sunday fluttering between laundry, paperwork, cleaning up, dishes, cleaning the house, online shopping, taxi driving, disciplining and the like.

I had been serving all day, and frankly I was getting tired of serving.

But as I said those words to a child who had asked for my assistance, I pondered my calling for a moment.  Serving my family often feels thankless.  Do this, mom. . . help me, mom. . .drive me here, mom. . . the list goes on and on.  But whether or not I am validated in my calling on a daily basis doesn't negate my calling.  I am nonetheless still called to serve my family - my children and my husband, and even further, my extended family, friends and church family.

But wow - sometimes it's mighty hard to do.  I often just want to serve myself, thankyouverymuch! If I had had my druthers this particular Sunday, I would have spent the entire day in the sunshine, reading a book and snoozing. Instead it was filled with all sorts of mundane bits of domesticity.  And I felt weary from it.

But one of my tasks that day was to reach out to someone who had lost a child.  And even amidst the weariness I was feeling that evening, the juxtaposition of my feelings of frustration against the feelings of a grieving mother was not lost on me.  The very things that were chafing at me that day were the very things that were taken from her because of her loss.  She longs to serve that child once more, but must wait now until they are reunited in heaven.

May I no longer mutter the words "I live to serve".  May I rejoice in them, thankful for the blessing of having the opportunity to do so.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

True Wealth

I recently saw a picture on Facebook.  The picture was of an older, distinguished gentleman, standing on a New York street.  The caption was this:

"I've been working for 45 years, and so has my wife.  But we have no money.  You know why?  Because my five kids have two bachelor's, a master's, and two doctorate degrees.  They are my wealth."

I was really touched by this quote.  My husband and I will likely never have much money to speak of.  We are careful with our finances (remember my Budgetary Smackdown and the Freedom Budget?), but still, two church workers raising five kids doesn't a wealthy lifestyle create.  We will probably pay as much as we can toward our children's college educations, with them working to cover the rest. We and the kids will probably have loans too.

But as I read this quote, I read more into it.  It wasn't just about money.  It was the true wealth that children afford a couple.  With each child we had, we knew our discretionary income would be decrease.  But we also knew that our blessings would blossom thousandfold!  Our children are our true wealth - worth far more than expensive vacations, designer clothes or a big fancy house.

The kids sometime say things like "Why don't we ever get to stay in a hotel on our vacations?  Why can't we go out to dinner?  I really, really want _____ like so-and-so has.  Why is our van such a piece of poo?"  A friend of mine, who has three siblings and is the daughter of a Lutheran pastor and teacher, said her parents often told her, "We are rich in God's love".  I often give the children this answer when they moan and groan about being "poor" (they don't know what poor is!).  It has become a bit of an inside joke now, but the meaning is not lost on them.  God's love, shown to us in this instance through family, is our true wealth.

Behold, children are a heritage of the Lord
Psalm 127:3a

Sunday, April 24, 2016

How to Score a Free Lunch

1.  Have a meeting and lots of errands to run.
2.  Decide to grab lunch and take it home.
3.  Go to new Qdoba because you hear it's awesome.
4.  Park car, enter building and realize there are 20+ people in line.
5.  Go back to car and head next door to Panda Express drive thru.
6.  See a longish line at Panda Express but decide to stay anyway.
7.  Because orange chicken.
8.  Watch two people ahead of you pull out of the end of the line.
9.  Truly commit to the actual drive thru, which has curbs and therefore no escape options.
10. Surf Facebook.
11. Answer a couple emails.
12. Place order for orange chicken.
13. Feel guilty for ordering such a junky lunch.
14. Text two friends.
15. Get annoyed that you have been in line for so long.
16. Realize that you have been sitting in the Panda Express drive thru for 25 minutes of your life.
17. Use iPhone to look up Panda Express' phone number.
18. Plan to ask the good folks at PE if they are experiencing a natural disaster inside.
19. Or perhaps a medical crisis, rendering them unable to slop fried chicken and rice into a bowl.
20. Marvel over how simple it should be to fill an order at this particular establishment.
21. Finally see the person in front of you move.
22. Decide how to phrase your thoughts. "What the heck is happening in there?" doesn't seem nice.
23. Pull up to window and start to hand the very animated cashier your debit card.
24. See her hand out your order and hear her say with a smile, "No charge since you had to wait!"
25. Feel suddenly validated with restaurant choice.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

True Confession Time

If you know me at all, or knew me when I was younger, or read my blog ever, you know that I love my children.  I love my children so much that my heart might explode.  I love them with a voracity that surprises me and even at times scares me.  I cannot in any way, fathom a life in which I do not have these precious beings - these gifts that God has entrusted me with.

I love them to the depths of my soul.

From the time I was very young, I always wanted to be a mother.  I also wanted to be a teacher, but that was secondary to my desire to be a mother.  I thought I might teach in the years before and after having children, but the real career drive was to be a wife and mother - a mother to many children in fact.

After being married a few years, my dream of being a mother was about to be realized.  I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and I cried and I loved her and I held her in the hospital and I looked at her tiny precious face and thought I had never seen anything more beautiful.

Then I went home.  And perhaps it was a bit of the baby blues, or hormones or a whacked out world in which I was now in charge of this human being, but I felt a little off.   Life was not the same anymore, and while it was wonderful and I still thought this child was the most amazing gift to me EVER, I felt disoriented.

Three days after I had my baby, I was at home, struggling with nursing and pain and some lingering medical issues from childbirth.  My mother-in-law, mother to two boys, was staying with us to help out.  The following picture is incredibly vivid in my mind:  The three (four, actually - my little babe was there too!) of us were sitting in our family room talking.  And my husband said these words to my mother-in-law: "Now I know how people feel when they say they would run into a burning building for their child!"

The conversation went on, but I was left behind.  I looked at them blankly and thought, "What is wrong with me?  Would I really risk my life for this child? What kind of mother am I? This is my life long dream - my entire life's wish, and I am failing already?  My baby's only 3 days old!  How is this possible?"

It was a bit of an earth shattering moment for me.  On the one hand, I was already desperately in love with my child.  But on the other hand, my brain, my crazed post-pregnancy hormones, the pre-baby version of me, something, some part of my subconscious apparently didn't realize that I should be willing to risk my life for her.

Blessedly, my body evened out quickly and in the next few days, I began to feel more like myself, and I realized what had always been true, from the moment she was born:  I would indeed risk my life for this child.  But it was the first in a series of on-going lessons about motherhood.

That was my first dose of reality that motherhood was not this blissfully wonderful experience all of the time.  It was hard and emotionally draining and exhausting and I felt like I was failing much of the time.  Even now, 16 years later, I still battle those same anxieties and fears and worries.  Parenting is unbelievably rewarding one moment, and unbelievably heart wrenching the next.

And so now, 16 years later, and 5 kids in, do I have it all figured out?  Not even close.  I have learned a lot of practical things along the way, but that is a list for another post.  The most important thing I have learned about parenting is that it's all grace.  We pray, and we pray and we pray some more.  We do our best with the abilities we are given and then we have to trust that God will take these souls and work amazing things in them.  And you know what?  He does!  In spite of my many, many failures as a mom, God has created some incredible people in our children.  These children are ours for just a short time, His for eternity.

I'm thankful He knows I was the best one to mother them, faults and all.