Monday, September 23, 2013


Sometimes kids come up with the craziest ideas.

Can I clean out the gutters?
Can I jump off the roof into the 1/2 inch of snow?
Can I build a house out of cardboard around the kitchen set?
Can I create a giant functioning clock out of paper to hang on my wall?

A lot of these ideas that they come up with are amazing.  However more often than not, what I actually hear is:

Can I
- make a mess?
-use all the construction paper up in one afternoon?
-use all the tape in the house on this one piece of paper?
-completely dry out all of your dry erase markers in one hour?

That makes saying "yes" hard.  I want to let them create, have fun, and explore.

  But it doesn't come without pain.  The pain of the money wasted, time cleaning up, and knowing that eventually they will need me to help them with part of it and I will have to stop whatever task I am doing, however noble, and come to their aid.  I will discover things they have done that I had not anticipated. Sometimes I'll get mad about it.  And often I'll discover that something I liked is ruined or gone as a result of their creativity.

But oh the fun of exploring!  Of creating and imagining and enjoying it together.   As much as the mess drives me bonkers, the joy of their play makes me say yes again another time after just enough time has past to dull the nerves from the last venture.  Sleep in a rocket in outer space?  Yes. 

Today was different though. I got to have my cake and eat it to and I just relished it.  Mariah is here staying with us this year as a live-in helper.  I keep pinching myself to see if I'll wake up from this dream world of assistance, but so far the dreaminess continues.  One way she helps is to facilitate some of these crazy ideas and help make them happen.  It still uses supplies, sometimes things get torn, and things get a little messy, but then there is a grown up there to help clean up, watch out for safety issues, and take joy in their ideas.  Ah!  And I get to come in and say, YAY! This is amazing.

Mariah and I were talking recently about the kids and I mentioned that I think I say no a lot.  I mean, playdough, paint, cutting and pasting giant poster board, etc. is a lot of time and money!  It also means investing a space to the project.  But she said, "Mary, I think you say yes more that you think you do."  It got me to thinking about it.  I do say yes a good bit- otherwise there wouldn't be MARKER ALL OVER MY FURNITURE! But every time I say no, a little guilt pang stabs me and says, "Maybe you aren't a very good mom."  Now that I'm noticing more of the times I say yes and the times I say no, I think maybe I do say yes a good bit. 

For example,
Rachel fell in love with the computer room of Flint Lockwood from the movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and gradually taped notebook paper with colored buttons all over her walls.  I think it's hideous, but she loves it and plays in there.  Certainly wasn't the vision I had for her pink room with hand-painted butterflies.

Jefferson took a green room that I intended to make a tractor and cars themed room and gradually added more and more space stuff until the entire room is covered in planets, stars, and rockets.

James has a collection of sticks that he uses for various weapons.  And he's allowed a big pile of them.

They come up with all sorts of crazy things, from jumping on the trampoline with their blankets to taking a bath with their Legos. Many things have gotten a yes.

But they are enjoying life.  I fight against wanting to keep my house cute and picture perfect.  I want things to match and coordinate and stay organized.  There are some places in my house that look cute- I just fixed them last week. :)  But I want them to live and create and feel at home in this space too and that means letting go of some of my grand plans for the cuteness in their rooms and even some of my visions of having furniture that is well polished, clean, and shining.  All too soon, they will be grown, out of the house, and moving on.  I hope they leave with a love for exploring rather than sitting in front of video games all day.  I hope they leave with a firm conviction that they can try anything and that I support them.  And I hope they leave feeling like they can come back and feel loved and comfortable in our home. 

The only way to get there is to say yes to the messy sometimes.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


Real life has it's ways of making things interesting. 

This morning I knew the kids were feeling icky.  They snorted and sniffed and coughed periodically through their breakfast.  They are grouchy and hard to get along with.  But today is the day for Church.  And no one has fevers and all of them have gobs of energy.  So into the church clothes they went.

Half way through, Jonathon reminded me of the last time I took the family to church with a cold.  Let's just say it was VERY obvious that the people in front of us were convinced we would send them to an early death.  It was so obvious and distracting that I picked the whole family up and we left half way through the service.

This morning Jonathon pleaded, "Mama, please let's not do that again.  It was awful."

I agreed.

We stayed home.

Real life comes whether we are ready for it or not.  I was expecting to see people, teach Sunday School, visit, get out of the house, but today, instead, I'm at home.  Sort of resting.  Keeping a finger on the pulse of their attitudes and behavior.  Paying attention to needs- our needs rather than my desires.

It catches me off guard sometimes, the way my desires play out.  They become evident in places I don't expect to find them.  Glad I had a chance to stop and notice today.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Vacation Planning- The Little Things

It's vacation time again and I feel compelled to document some travel ideas I've been working on for this years trip.  Traveling with kids is stressful and traveling with 7 kids while on a budget and trying to relax is downright impossible without some significant planning.  So, I figured I'd hit some high points in my packing tips at the beginning of the summer for anyone out there wanting new or fresh ideas for ways to be frugal, pack light, or be prepared for anything.

I'll start my series of traveling with kids posts with a fun couple of cheap and small ways to entertain children that are great for trips.

 First, I scored a great yard sale find last week!  I absolutely LOVE putting a small bag of surprises together for each child for a long car ride.  Our car ride from NH to FL will be 24+ hours straight and so it's important to have some things that will hold their interest.  For my artsy kids a small pad of paper and some colored pencils are a perfect addition to the bag.  But keeping things compact is key, so this fun trick worked wonders and I can't wait to try it out. 

At the sale I found this box of regular Prismacolor colored pencils.  Those of you in the art world know that these are really nice.  $1 for the set!  I also picked up this cute little blue pouch for 50 cents knowing it would come in handy for something.  I wanted to stretch the pencils a little for my larger quantity of people so I took each pencil and cut it in half with a bread knife and sharpened each half.  That gave me two sets of nice mini pencils and with a small white pad creates a perfect way for kids to color a picture in the car or during a rainy day.  I think a white post-it note pad could be awesome with this idea as well.  They would be able to easily hang their artwork on the car window or in your hotel room or cabin, or wherever.  The small tin that houses the other pencils was some random little metal tin I had laying around, but I was quite tickles at how well the pencils fit inside.  So, these are going in a couple of car bags for my kiddos next week.

 Next budget friendly idea is go to the library!  The children love to read books at night before bed, or during rest times and I enjoy having new things to read on a trip because it holds their interest longer.  But seriously, who has money to go out and buy a slew of new books just for a trip these days?  When I had one or two kids, I could spring for a couple of books each, but with seven- no way!  So, to the library I went.  Took my handy purple milk crate and loaded up with some goodies.  Picked up a couple of audio books for the car ride as well.  Good news? We can check out books for a whole month at our library!  So, I was able to check them out a week and a half before the trip and not wait till the last minute.  Then I still have plenty of time to return them when we get home.  Only trick is we have to make sure we bring them all back.  Some of you probably have tablets, or whatever that your kids read books on, but I'm telling you, there's nothing like a good paper copy of Calvin & Hobbes to keep my kids entertained for hours!  All for free!

I found this trick online several places and have tried it at home.  It's painter's tape and cars.  This is a great activity for a rainy day backup plan- especially for boys.  Simply put your tape down wherever you want a road and let them drive all over.  I recommend trying a small piece of tape on various surfaces before you go haywire with it- especially on other people's property- for instance, we discovered that when applied to microfiber covered furniture it leaves a very obvious line when removed.  But for floors and hardwood you should be good to go.  You can also use a permanent marker to draw lines, stop signs,  and all sorts of traffic things on the tape, making it as interesting as you want.  This takes almost no space in your packing, but can provide a fun last minute activity at a moment when you desperately need a distraction.

 This year we are headed to the beach and that means sand and that means castles and building.  I grabbed a pile of these cheap sand pails at the Dollar Tree in our area and love that they stack together very efficiently.  But those little shovels that come with them?  They last about 30 seconds before breaking and scoop only about a tablespoon of sand at a time!  For those mega builders, skip the baby scoop and go to the kitchen section and get a flour scoop.  Much sturdier and will be far better for digging trenches, filling pails, and flinging random sand into the ocean.

This is another part of a car bag I'm working on.  My Grandmama picked up these adorable bumblebee pouches that have zipper openings for the kids several months ago and I am excited about putting them to better use.  In several of them I put three little action figures and a couple of dragons.  This one has a deck of cards from our games at home as well.  I think this little pile cost me about $5 as I had more than half of it already at home and just put it to better use.  The action figures are new and the boys love to have little wars in the back seat of the van.  We don't do a lot of reading in the car- too much car sickness, but this and some audio stories solves worlds of issues.

So, those are some of the little things that are going along to keep things fun this year.  I'd love to hear from you! What things keep your kids entertained while they are waiting, riding, or resting?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Chores for the year- for Lisa

For chores this year I can give you a run down of what we are doing. Keep in mind though that we have been working on this for about 4 years now, so we have built up gradually. In the beginning I tried to keep it to about 5 items total and we just did them 2 times a day- things like clean room, dress or pjs, brush teeth, put clothes away and one family chore like "empty dishwasher". Now we only have "chores" in the morning and then we have an all family clean up time in the evening that isn't assigned to individuals but we all help. So, here are our lists:

Everyone does these: dress, make bed, clean room, brush teeth, read Bible, pray, put away clean and dirty laundry, tidy one room in the house (each child has an assigned room- like living room). Then after that they each have an "assistant" job and weekly chores that rotate- one chore each day- usually related to the assistant that they are. So, for example-

Jonathon-11, is my kitchen prep assistant. That means he comes to me and I assign him something to help with in the kitchen, like yesterday he mixed up some zucchini bread and today he cooked some pasta for a cold salad for lunch. The chores he rotates through are: M- mix up muffin batter, T- mop kitchen, W- take out recyclables and trash, H- wipe tables, chairs, and stools, and F- sharpen knives (we have had extensive knife training with him- I wouldn't recommend this one right off unless proper respect has already been developed)

James (10) is laundry assistant- He usually does something like switch over the laundry for me and start a new load, then his weekly is: change 2 beds of sheets, put away all hanging clothes and linens, tidy laundry hall and gather hangers, washer off washer and dryer and sweep laundry room, and straighten the linen closet.

Jeff (8) is bathroom assistant this year (I rotate by year to give them plenty of time to learn and own the responsibility.) He usually cleans the toilets and sinks in one bathroom each day. Weeklys are: mop bathrooms, stick diapers and organize toothbrush drawer, clean bathtubs, clean walls and floor around all toilets, and change towels & stock toilet paper. (Keep in mind that when an 8 yr. old has a chore I expect an 8 yr. old level of work while always trying to help him improve.)

Rachel (7) is Vacuum Assistant so she vacuums one room every day- which, in our house of mostly hardwood floors covers all the rooms once and the living room twice. Weeklys are: vacuum Daddy's office, decobweb the house, gather all house trash, straighten the bookcase, wipe stair rails and walls.

Joseph (5) has chores, but I expect a very low quality of work from him. He's just learning weekly jobs this year. He is kitchen cleaning assistant which usually means he unloads the dishwasher once a day unless it's done already and then I give him something else. Weekly chores: clean kitchen sink, wipe stove and oven, clean out microwave and toaster oven, wipe cabinet fronts and fridge, wash out one shelf of the refrigerator.

Renna (3) only has stuff to keep her busy while the others are working and to feel included, so if she tries, I don't really care too much how thorough she is with anything (but I don't tell her that. :) She is toy cleanup assistant, so I usually tell her some particular spot to clean up of toys. When her weeklys are: wipe under counter where the kids eat breakfast, straighten movies, tidy jackets on hooks, empty pencil sharpener, wipe door knobs and light switches.

The biggest thing that I have found about chores in making them effective is to oversee them- every time, every day, for every person. So during chores, I usually have the master list and stay in the general area checking on them, answering questions, helping them be successful and checking each one to be sure they get done. I have a time in the morning set aside for chores for all of us and I DO NOT plan to do anything else during that time except maybe drink my coffee. This is the only way I have found to make it successful for everyone, satisfied myself with the work they are doing, and not exasperate them by giving them so much to do and then not making sure they can do it. THIS IS THE KEY TO SUCCESSFUL CHORES! And once they fall into the routine, they can usually do everything they have in about 30 minutes or so.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Travel Food for Kids

It’s summer time!

And this calls for road trips for our massive family, this year being no exception. With road trips comes the need for food and I always spend a fair amount of time figuring out what we are going to eat. For our family of 9- even if we all eat off the $1 menu at McDonald’s we still spend close to $50! So, we keep our restraint eating to a minimum, but that means a whole lot of lunch packing! That can get overwhelming too if you don’t have a plan that works well.

We also like to keep our kids healthy as so often our travel times become sick times, so eating food that is good for us is important. So, just in case any of you are traveling, whether with young kids or just want some ideas for yourself and how to keep the cost low, here are some ways our family eats cheaply on the road and yet still make it enjoyable.

One thing I enjoy doing is packing up at night and then leaving before breakfast in the morning. This gets everyone out of the house without having to spend the time cleaning up the kitchen one more time. Plus it gets a good start on the traveling for the day. On long trips up and down the East coast, we’ve left at every hour of the day or night and I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter when you leave- it’s still a LONG drive! Some times for leaving seem to work better than others though and early morning is one of them- especially if you are planning to stop somewhere that evening. This gives the kids plenty of time to run and stretch their legs before they have to go to bed that night. But leaving then means taking breakfast with us.

So, here’s my first favorite meals on the road.
Breakfast: Bagels and cucumber sandwiches- Brandon and I picked up this habit in Israel when we were traveling over there- yummy and easy and contained. You can also make a pile of them the night before, bag them up and then hand them out in the morning when you are half awake. I prefer the thin bagels myself- just because they are smaller and the kids don’t often eat a whole one, but otherwise you can cut them in half for the children and give them a half at a time. TO MAKE: spread cream cheese on both halves of a bagel, layer thin slices of cucumber on top, close up like a sandwich. If you want to make it more sophisticated, you can add tomato, red onion, avocado, smoked salmon, jalapenos, pickles, or other things to really round out a hearty sandwich- but we usually keep to just cucumbers on the road and save the other stuff for home treats.

Fruit is really good for breakfast too- bananas, strawberries, apples. But little stuff can get messy. For the kids, I either give them the food on a plastic sectioned plate (not disposable) or in a Ziploc baggie- something to contain it. We have also done apples and peanut butter. If you want to make it ahead, you can take the core out of the middle of the apple with an apple corer and then stuff the middle with peanut butter. It keeps the apple from turning brown in the center, keeps all the seeds out for little ones, and provides just enough peanut butter for the whole thing. I generally don’t do this for little kids though just because they have a hard time eating a whole apple anyway. I stick to other fruits for them or cut it up and put slices on the plate. Other fruit ideas we use: the individual fruit cups of mixed fruit , mandarin oranges, or applesauce- these are a big hit! Don’t forget to pack some plastic forks or spoons though.

Cheese- We pack string cheese or sliced cheddar. I get the big block of cheddar and then slice up the whole thing with my cheese slicer at home and then wrap it up. This makes for easier handling in the car.

Other breakfast items we have used: Granola bars, individual yogurt (I don’t like the squeeze tubes, the little kids have trouble with them.) Hard boiled eggs, or slices of cooked meat are good options as well.

For drinks, we try to stick to water unless the driver needs a pick-me-up. This is what our kids are familiar with and we have had some unfortunate tummy aches as a result of too much juice on a road trip before. Occasionally we will serve them milk, but most of the time, just water- in a container that doesn’t spill even if turned over. They all have bottles with some sort of sports top or sippy cup or something.

So, to recap here are some sample breakfast menus be have used:
1: Cucumber Bagel sandwich, strawberries, peanuts
2: Yogurt, strawberries, hardboiled egg, granola bar
3: Rolled up deli meat, string cheese, fruit cup, baggie of fun dry cereal

Lunch: We use similar techniques of serving, but just change up the options. I love making our own lunchables! The kids really enjoy the choices and I like the option of choosing what meat and cheese it is and paying less for it! I buy a pound or two of deli meat, sliced thick, ½ a pound of deli cheese, sliced thick or use the sliced cheddar I mentioned above, and some crackers. Then before the trip, I pull out the meat and cheese and cut the whole stack into small squares and stick it back in the bag. Then when I serve it in the car, I pull out my plates and put about 8 squares of each on the plate, more for older kids, less for younger. Serve this with one of my fruit options or maybe some cucumber slices and we are good to go! Sometimes I take some small cookies or something for lunch as well, but as with the drinks, I try to keep sweets to a minimum, so 2 small cookies is all I would serve and if I did something sweet at lunch, then no dessert option for any other meal that day.

You can do traditional sandwiches, obviously, for lunch as well. But sometimes we eat that so many times that some family members get bored with it (read: me). So, we also do meat and cheese roll-ups, or lunch in a bag.

Meat and cheese roll-ups: Lay out a piece of thinly sliced deli meat, lay on cheese, honey mustard, cucumbers, thinly sliced carrot, or whatever you like and roll up into a log.

Lunch in a bag: toss into a small sandwich baggie; nuts, raisins, banana chips, and crackers. Just before serving, stick in a few slices of cheese, and a piece of fruit or some berries. Hand the bag to the child to eat.

Other lunch suggestions:
1.Turkey cheese roll-ups, baby carrot sticks and dip (I use condiment cups for dip), mixed fruit cup, 2 small cookies
2. Homemade lunchables, applesauce, 2 cookies
3. Sandwiches, cucumber sticks, mandarin oranges

For dinner, I like to sometimes have something different, or even hot-even if we are in the car. So here are some of the things we have done for that.
Sandwich for a Crowd- this is a Taste of Home Recipe that we have found is a good travel meal. Easy to make ahead and then very easy to serve. It’s basically a sandwich spread with a mix of cream cheese, cheddar cheese, green onions and Worcestershire sauce and then layered with roast beef, and cheese. I generally try to serve all my dinner meals with some sort of vegetable sticks and a fruit option.

If you want something hot and don’t want to pay tons, consider just ordering hamburgers from the dollar menu and eating sides in your car.

Another favorite idea is we have taken whole grain wraps, lettuce, cheese, onions, and mustard with us and then pulled through the drive-thru and ordered just hot chicken strips and placed them into our own wraps in the car. Yummy, hot, and the ingredients for the wraps and such are so much better than the little thing you would get in the restaurant.

We’ve done something similar with Subway subs- the kids like the hot meatball sandwiches, so we get one 6” sandwich for each kid and then supplement with our own stuff for sides- avoiding the potato chip option, or just eating cheaper. Hot and less expensive than what you would pay if you ate everything from the restaurant.

Other tips for serving in the car, because we eat while driving and save our rest stops for running around:
-I take a thin lap board and keep it next to my seat for meal times when I am trying to set up people’s food. -I have an older child sit near the front of the van to help pass out food.
-Take a roll of paper towels to keep under my seat, but stuff the middle with grocery bags for trash.
- The cooler we have fits perfectly between the driver and passenger seat. This provides easy access, but also another table top for me to work when I’m prepping meals.
- Take baby wipes, Clorox wipes, or even just cut up paper towels wet in a sealed bag for wiping off plates and things after each meal is over.
- I either feed the baby his food or have one of the older kids feed him. I do not let the 18 month old have his own yogurt in the car!
- If you do have kids that get sick in the car, a grocery bag lining a container makes a great vomit receptacle. This allows the child to have a stiff container- which is easier to hit, but the bag creates easier cleanup. Plus the container is fresh again fairly quickly for another round. We won’t go into all the reasons why I know this works, but just know that we’ve had plenty of opportunities to work this concept to perfection.
-All trash leaves the car at EVERY gas station! This ensures that things don’t completely get gross by the end of the trip and also helps the kids keep their space somewhat tidy. This is even more critical for a long trip unless you want kids to be sitting on food the second day in the car that they were eating the first day.

I’m sure there are other tricks too, but these are some of the major ones our family uses to get from Point A to Point B. Hope they help you too. Happy to answer any questions for other travel issues, or if you have other suggestions that work for your family I’d love to hear about them.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Had a discussion with Jonathon today about why he was feeling miserable. He has his mother's tendency to go from the top of the mountain to the bottom of a pit in less than 60 seconds on the emotional roller coaster and at this moment he was near the bottom of the pit.

We talked about how he wasn't having any fun- mostly because other people wanted to play with this things and he didn't want them to and so he was spending so much of his time hoarding, protecting, and fighting about whether things were his or not that he wasn't able to enjoy doing anything.

As usual I found that our subsequent discussion was good advice for young and old alike. In fact, it's amazing how often I get preached to in the conversations I have with my children.

Another side note is that I've been working on drawing out Biblical conclusions from him rather than lecturing them at him and that seems to be helpful in our talks. I wish I did it more often. Remembering is helpful.

Anyway, we finally landed on the possibility that he would be happier if he spent more time helping others be happy and less time hoarding and saving. We discussed wisdom- knowing that it's ok to keep a few nice things from a person that he knows will just destroy it. And we discussed generosity being something voluntary with personal property.

Most things in our house are "owned" by someone. The buck stops with them. We don't have tons of group toys. From time to time we have even assigned things to different kids even if it wasn't all theirs- like the box of generic cars or blocks. This way someone is responsible. But it also means that it's theirs and they can share or not.

I found it interesting that Jonathon honestly said he really didn't feel like sharing very often and that he was waiting until he felt like sharing to do so. That led in to a good talk on emotion versus choice- I can choose to share even if I feel differently. After our discussion I left him to think and later he came to play again.

I didn't really have any more trouble with him fighting today. That was a relief, but more importantly, tonight as he was helping Renna dress for bed and entertaining her with his Playmobil Dragon, he said, "You know Mama, you were right. I do have more fun helping others have a good time."

And that, my friends, makes even the most miserable day immediately glorious! Not that today was miserable- it wasn't, but that was a treasure.

Among other things, today I had some quality time with my brother, Frank. He's up visiting and it's nice to have a good long while to talk about all sorts of stuff. Conversations take a different turn after the first 24-48 hours. Some more casual, some more serious and a nice balance of the two.

Well, it's that time again- the moment when I get to tuck in all my precious energy balls for the night. Better go set them to recharge!

Monday, December 26, 2011

This Mother's Holiday Impressions

I've been moving in slow motion lately it seems. I think I have enough time to accomplish say five items and I barely get through with one. It's not bad though because it's made me rethink what item is most important on my list. Generally spending time with the kids or something food related ends up being at the top.

I'm glad that quality time wins out over other stuff. I won't be sorry I chose that tomorrow.

And speaking of tomorrow reminds me of yesterday. Christmas. We don't do a huge Christmas- not tons of stuff and parties, but we did do more this year than some we've done. I'm glad it's not any bigger. It means that I get to enjoy it rather than rush through it in a crazed fashion and that is what it's all about for a mom- being able to enjoy others happiness in the moments.

It's exciting to be able to see them connect with the story of the birth of Jesus. It's fun to see them experience giving gifts and the delight and satisfaction on their faces from the chance to do something for others. And the moments when they are getting along and having a good time are precious as well. Give me those things over presents any day! So worth it!

Now on to the week of ending Hanukkah and planning for school to begin again and some more normal activities. I'll be back to balancing all the things that need to "get done" with being sweet and kind and consistent. Oh, and perhaps some exercise thrown in there, too.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Morning Thoughts.

Christmas is here and I find a thousand thoughts floating through my mind. We are finished with our gift giving- did that yesterday, so no presents in our house this morning. We had planned to go out and deliver meals to others this year, but the people that did it last year didn't get the funding to do that so here we are. The concept was an attempt to help the children consider some one else other than themselves. Apparently that's not possible...haha, no- we just have to figure out something else to do. We have a couple of other ideas up our sleeve- make some cards to mail to some people, give some gifts to other people- I'm not sure that we can get in on community stuff at this late date. We'll see if there is something we can do, but it's probably going to mean doing something in January or something instead.

In the meanwhile, it's lightly snowing. The kids are munching on their breakfast, Brandon is sleeping and it seems to be the beginning of a fairly peaceful morning. That is- as long as peaceful can include snorting noises and giggling and slurping sounds.

I'm sure later today we'll break out the Christmas story and read it again. And probably the story of Hanukkah also. Perhaps the best way to spend the day is with a focus on quality time with the children.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Sabbath Musings

October 8, 2011
Last night I found myself wishing that I was married with NO children...again. The idea of cleaning the house and having it stay that way, the thought of eating a nice dinner with my husband from beginning to end without interruption was like imagining cheesecake. And being able to afford decent pajamas and a clean couch and some sort of cozy slippers or socks or whatever to relax in. It was all too great.

Perhaps I would have worked out yesterday instead of teaching school for four hours. Perhaps I would have put out some cute fall decorations in the house instead of scrubbing the smashed broccoli off the chair. I could have found my pumpkin candles and lit them instead of file school papers, baked a pie instead of retaping the latest drawing of Jeff's back to the wall so that the scotch tape wasn't partially over the window glass. I would be in a smaller space, of course, since we wouldn't need such a large house, so HOORAY!- less to clean! I'd still have most of my glass dishes unbroken and perhaps I would have finally gotten myself out of the "sunflower" decade with my china pattern by now! I'd be 50 lbs lighter because of no babies, have a gym membership, and have time to use it. I'd eat very different because I'd have the emotional energy to THINK about the food I put in my mouth. I'd be able to SEE the fall leaves outside so much more clearly out the window because Brandon isn't in the habit of licking the glass like some other people are.
My kitchen floor would smell more like pine and less like the urine deposited there from constant potty training. The radiators in the bathroom would be more white instead of rust due to the countless "misses" at the toilet bowl.

I could have dainty, quiet, fancy meals, head up countless projects, and sleep all night long- regularly!

For some strange reason I gave all that up. Actually, perhaps it was more like gradually having it pulled out of my grasp. I didn't have my first child and immediately agree to a trade: child for soul. I didn't plan on getting rid of all those things at all, in fact I still desperately try to imagine the day I will get my hair cut, nails done, eyebrows waxed, and take a shower in all the same day. If I'm really lucky- I'd imagine it a peaceful day as well.

Instead, I'm drinking my lukewarm coffee with 1% milk because that was my best effort at choosing a healthy breakfast today. I'm writing in my journal as far away from me as I can reach because Justin, in my lap, has this attraction to all things in his grasp and they MUST be chewed on. All of them.

He squirms in my lap- with the hiccups. It's 8:20am on a Saturday morning. Sane people would either be in bed or doing something invigorating like watching the sunrise atop the mountain. I'm sitting here in my 5 year old maternity pajama pants and a long sleeve, too big for me hot pink t-shirt complete with baby spit, a large grease stain, and countless wrinkles cause I wore it yesterday and then slept in it last night and I've already been up for 2 hours in an attempt to let Brandon get some extra rest.
I sigh and shake my head at various sights:
-the floor that I just mopped yesterday afternoon that 2 hours later boasts a large, fresh, milk puddle.
-the cute decoration I placed in the hallway of a small shelf unit with a couple of trinkets that are non-breakable but meaningful to me that are now overwhelmed by a pile of K'Nex because it has now become the dumping grounds for toys that belong in the attic.
-the spider webs and their makers that I can't seem to find the time to get rid of and so we have made a truce: Don't climb on me in my sleep and I will only attempt to kill some of you once every 3 months.

Yes, sometimes the picture seems a little ridiculous- piles of laundry, the dirt, the GRASS, the nasty toilets, the odor, the clutter...

Some people might would say, "Yuck! Such a messy housekeeper!", not understanding that I DID clean that bathroom yesterday or I DIDN'T wash the tub because I chose to scrub the mud off the floor just inside the door instead.

Others who have children come in and say, "How do you do it?" and have this notion that the level of cleanliness in my house is somehow next to godliness and I did it all by myself. HA! Some think I did it all by pleasantly asking my children to do this or that and then immediately responding appropriately- even bigger HA!

Sometimes I just long for the days when I only had 2 kids and people were still brave enough to have us to dinner or even babysit so Brandon and I could have a date. Or even more shocking- take them overnight! and let us have an entire weekend alone.

Much of that is gone now. There are still a couple of brave souls out there- you know who you are and are life lines for me!

Kids are hard work! They are a complete dying to self- unless you want to be miserable trying to stay selfish and make everyone around you miserable too. It's humbling- I'm not the cute dresser, or the one with even last year's fashions. I don't have a cute house with perfect landscape. I don't know about all the current events because when I get a chance to read something I choose another article on surviving parenting or learning new herbal remedies for skin irritations, or saving money while eating healthy. I'll just vote for the president based on who complicates my parenting the least!

Some days my devotions and Bible reading consist of this sentence, "God, help me be what I need to be today and cannot be myself." Awfully pious and spiritual there!

Thanks to exhaustion, I've learned just how many days I can go without a shower and still not hate my own smell. I've discovered that even I can absentmindedly wipe my nose on my sleeve because I'm too tired to get a tissue, and some days, regardless of healthy eating efforts, brown sugar Pop Tarts really ARE the answer!

People say, "How do you do it?" as though I am a juggler that keeps 20 balls in the air at the same time! Ha! I wish. I, instead, have this picture of a tireless clown running around a field picking up balls that are on the ground and throwing them back into the air, one at a time, so that each one at least gets some amount of air, but none really stay off the ground for long. Truth is, I DON'T do it. I've learned to live with more grossness than any single person- bachelor's included- would think reasonable. I've gotten used to trusting God to take care of some things like finding Jeff cleaning out the gutters, and then just desperately hang on for the ride in situations like the baby deciding his favorite time to eat it 3AM- exactly 1 hour after Renna has decided that 2 AM is her traditional "wake Mommy up to go potty" hour.

Just now Renna is sitting on her potty chair, which will have to be dumped, Jeff is playing with the broken pencil sharpener he took apart, Jonathon is raking Pop Tart crumbs off the couch and onto the floor I just vacuumed last night, Rachel is lounged across the desk in clothes she has worn for at least 36 hours, Joseph is beating a pencil on the already badly scarred coffee table and James is watching a movie on a laptop that, honestly, I don't know how they can see the picture since so many sticky fingers have touched the screen.

People sometimes judge and say, "You should have thought of that before..."- yeah cause that's REAL helpful today.

Really, though the question comes down to this: Can I survive and is it worth it?
While some days the answer gets a little blurry, it's never different- always YES!

Just like in exercise you learn that you can push yourself further than you ever thought possible or in the military you discover you can deal with things that you never imagined you could, or a doctor can function on much less sleep than he thought possible- so it is with parenting. It's a gradual thing- a breaking in of sorts that we look at in the beginning and say, "I could never...". But once we've been pushed to that limit and have little option in the matter, we find we CAN- that we are stronger than we thought, that God helps to make it possible and when we really CAN'T, Jesus is there to meet the need in another way. Thus we can survive- just as we have in all sorts of other situations.

Then I'm left with the part of the question, "Is it worth it?" Well, perhaps what my goal is determines the answer. If my goal is to be rich, successful, live life to the extreme, or become the best at some sport, talent or something else, then the answer would be an obvious NO! To have a cute house, look put together, be popular, or even super social? NO.

But if it's about eternity, about pointing my children to Jesus, about dying to self, putting aside the things of the world and becoming more like Him- If it's about encouraging others and serving others and drawing them towards the love of Jesus, then YES!

I'm not saying everyone should HAVE a bazillion kids to be more like Christ, though children is the best way of learning it that I've experienced so far! I'm just talking about laying down your life for the one(s) you've got.

It's not always obvious, but when I see hard work ethics developing, I know they will grow into good employees and be a blessing to others. I see a sensitivity to spiritual things as a result of our constant focus on God meeting out needs and know that they are developing the habit of trusting Him. I see the nights Brandon and I have to have "in house" dates and know that as a result we have to talk about reality more often and it's probably the lack of fluff that keeps us as well connected as we are. I see the children forced to get along with each other because they don't have school to escape to and know they will probably be life long friends.

And there is some magical thing that happens when I'm worn out, tired, or weary from "well doing". This little sparkle of satisfaction and happiness twinkles down deep inside. Many times it's VERY tiny- almost unnoticeable, but it's this steady stream of spectacular fire in the depths of me.

Perhaps it's love, perhaps it's contentment or courage, or a sense of reward- I don't know, but it's a feeling that comes when I've poured out all of me without an expectation of return.

It seems strange that this small magical twinkle would be worth so much, but it's an addiction. As powerful as drugs, it drives me to want more, to keep it alive. Sometimes it explodes into a furnace of warm fire when there is some connection made or I see a child take initiative or do something on their own for the first time.

People who have never been addicted to something won't understand why one goes to such extremes to possess a thing, to feel something for a moment, however small and as soon as it's over have such an appetite for more that one will go to the greatest measure to gain the experience again.

Love is like that. If you keep self love and thought for one's rights on the back burner, the satisfaction gained from pouring out unconditional love to others is delicious. It can be heart wrenching too. It comes with great risk, but the smallest payoff is worth trying 100 more times.

Granted, during the hard times of the day, the hardest ones- I can forget that there is any reward at all. But eventually it all comes around again and I taste that sweetness and it hooks me once more.

Then there's the "gravy". The hugs and kisses, the sweet cuddly moments, the endearing comments.

I will endure 20 rounds of nursing in the middle of the night, occasionally being bitten for even one of those times when the baby reaches up and places his tiny hand on my cheek, rubs, and stops to give me a grin, then eagerly goes back to his food as though it will disappear if he hesitates too long.

I'll tuck a child in bed 500 nights to experience one night where my boy says, "You know, Mama, I'm not afraid of the dark anymore."

There is great reward in the small things- delicious, satisfying reward. Just like any other addiction, I wish I wasn't so hooked sometimes. I wish I didn't care so much. Other times, I can never get enough! In the end, it keeps me coming back for more. That's the way God's love is. Completely irrational, hard to explain- impossible really, difficult to balance with the world's values- but worth it? Absolutely.

I wrote most of this several months ago but never posted it. Today I have not been in the place where it's obvious that it's worth it. Mess, depression, sickness, fighting, lots of emotions and learning happening. But I reread it and was reminded that what I'm doing is valuable, worth doing, and really what I WANT to be doing.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Passover Pics

Just wanted to put these on here. Sorry for people who have already seen them elsewhere.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Good Reminders

Lately I've been working on a project. One that I truly love...decorating cake. I really enjoy the creative outlet and there are so few opportunities for me to pull out my artistic side when life revolves around diapers and late night feedings.

But it takes its toll. Everything must fit into a space somewhere and I'm reminded again of why I don't do hardly ANYTHING besides take care of children. There's not time for it and then someone suffers. I feel like the child who can't keep his hand out of the candy jar even though he knows that one more treat is going to make his stomach sick.

Cake decorating is relaxing to me. My insides smile. Especially when I'm learning a new technique or concept. This year's cake has been no different. I entered a completely new world to me: gumpaste. I saturated myself on YouTube tutorials, got the supplies that were relatively necessary, came up with alternatives for buying thousands of extra supplies, and sat down to figure out how people make these gorgeous creations. It's utterly fascinating! I'm hooked! And it takes HOURS! Days even.

While I knew it would take a lot of time, I generally figured on working on it after the children went to bed. Unfortunately I forgot that I have children on different schedules- namely, a baby that likes to eat on the schedule of "as soon as everything else has settled down and you think you have time to get something done." Justin is really a good little baby, but honestly, sometimes I think he conspires in his crib to get me as soon as I sit or lay down. I think he perhaps hears the sigh of relief and knows that's his cue for food.

So here I am, two weeks into flowers, loving it and while I've tried really hard not to let it affect my attention to my kids, I suppose it has. Generally when I get to this point, I think the children are too stressful and I need a break from them. More and more I realize though that as much as the cake stuff is an "outlet" for me, it's also what is causing the stress. Not the children. They are the God given responsibility. They are that which God is pouring out his grace and mercy and giving me energy for. The cake...

*Case and point...interruption to deal with misbehavior. Not handled well...sigh...Calm down, apologies, move forward.*

...the cake is the extra that I added in. I think God led me to do the cake and I think he gave me a vision for it, but perhaps I...I really don't know where the Holy Spirit's leading left off and my own enthusiasm and excitement took over. I think I do that a lot. I get excited about a vision God hands me- and then I jump in head first, with both feet following and I've got my package of ideas tucked under my arm to make it great. Then when I can't swim with my package I think either that God didn't want me to swim in the first place, or He's not helping me enough. Most of the time though, I think he just asked me to jump in- maybe with a floatie and I see the floaties and go to pick which one I want and walk out with eight, cause I get the idea that swimming with all the colors of the rainbow would be really even MORE fun!

And it's not just cake that does this to me over and over again. Really it's any outside thing that I volunteer for. I get inspired, as I should, but then I allow the desire to make it great and my vision to cloud my hearing the Holy Spirit and all the while he's probably in the back ground saying, "Wait! I only meant..." But I'm gone. Leaving dust behind to follow the exciting path that God pointed out to me.

It makes me just want to never volunteer for anything. Ever. And no one did it to me. No one over committed me. No one expected me to conquer such a huge mountain. I'm sure some of this is pride. I want it to be great! I want it to bless other people. But if it blesses other people at the expense of "unblessing" my family what good is it?

I heard someone say, "I can get the house clean or I can be nice, but I can't do both." I can relate to that statement and I strive to make it my measuring stick. Whatever God gives me to do, I should be able to be nice. If it's too much to stay nice, something is off.

So now what? Well...I can't cancel the cake. I'm committed. But I can try to use my time more wisely and keep it in the line of priorities where it should be. Yesterday I realized that I was exhausted and ignoring my kids. So I dropped all the cake stuff. I realized that it would be fine. Even if it turned out less glorious that I planned, it would still be fine. I put it aside, didn't really even clean up my mess, and went up and crawled in the toddler bed with Renna and we sang together. Joseph came over and crawled on top of me with a big grin lay down on my leg. Rachel stayed in her bed, but sang with us. It was a sweet moment of remembering that my kids come first over my other interests- even when the other interests are what seem like the "fun" thing. If it's too much to do, then the other interests have to go first- in spite of their "relaxation" or "stress release factor" or "service to others" or "ministry value". Even when I would rather just farm out the kids to a babysitter or give that responsibility away for a while instead. God called me to the children. First my husband, then my children. Cakes and other stuff, regardless of my love for them are so much further down the list.

So, while I'm desperately hoping that I will be able to pull this cake off this week. I'm reminded again where it fits in line. For the husband to be first means that I can't be calling him to bail me out of my over ambitiousness. It means his priorities must be my priorities. It means that my children can't suffer from lack of attention because I need to "get this done". They come first. And the cake will just have to be what it is. I'm sure it will be fine. But I'm done trying to tackle the world this week.

One of these days I hope I learn this lesson for the last time. This has got to be at least the 50th time we've been around this circle. And yet, I'm thankful God took me around it again, really. In fact, it's a good reminder before we enter the summer and I get all inspired about the vast amounts of things I will conquer while I'm not teaching school. I think this will motivate me to change my priorities to do whatever I can do AND experience my family at the same time.

If I'm not week I'll get excited about something and forget this whole lesson entirely in the momentum of the next great thing. God help me!

Until then, I think I'll go settle up with the kids for my misbehavior this morning, spend some time praying with them for all of our attitudes, and see how I can meet their needs best this morning. And I'll trust God to redeem the time for what I need to accomplish on that cake business.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Back in the Saddle

We’ve hit a groove! I’m still have spouts of roller coaster hormones that cause me to want to ball my eyes out for no reason occasionally and unfortunately I can usually come up with some reason to make it seem necessary. For the most part though, I’m doing well.
I’ve had the opportunity to regularly attend some physical therapy sessions and have been very pleased with the progress my body is making towards physical recovery. For several weeks after the birth I had trouble even walking around. After procuring a fancy belt contraption to wear and doing some regular core strengthening exercise, I’m happy to say that I can walk without pain now and am gradually strengthening my core. Every once in a while I’ll do something new and be surprised by the soreness- like weeding in the flower bed, or pushing the full grocery cart, but overall I’m seeing progress and I’m encouraged.
The kids are doing really well in school. Jonathon and James just finished their yearly testing torture and did well. This is the first year that they have been able to read well enough to avoid becoming frustrated on the test. It gives me courage for the younger ones and their reading. We’ve postponed some studies for them- like science and art in hopes of really conquering their math and reading in a timely manner this year. It’s been tough staying on track what with all the ailments Brandon and I have had this school year, but they are doing well considering. They will complete their reading and math by the end of the year and then I’m hoping we can throw some science and art in throughout the summer. I’m realizing that having a routine in the morning is really helpful- regardless of what time of year it is. Thankfully, as a result of all the bed rest I’ve been on, they have learned how to do their work mostly independently. I can usually just check on them a couple of times and expect them to complete their work.
Jeff and Rachel have really started to soar in their schooling. Both of them are doing the My Father’s World 1st grade level. At first it was very slow going and I wasn’t sure I would be able to make it through the year, but thanks to Jane’s help in November and then again this spring, they have had the consistency they needed to really progress and get into a routine. So now even though we are behind and still have about 45 “days” to go before the end of their year, we are able to cover 5 days of work in about 2 and they are catching up fast. There is nothing like having the children know how to read well enough to move through the story at a reasonable rate.
I find bits and pieces of time to tuck in other things here and there- finding various counters again, making dinner, planning cakes for May, and going through the kids clothes. Of course, these don’t all happen on the same days,(dinner generally happens every day I suppose) but other things get done. I don’t think I ever accomplish all that I want to, but I think I do accomplish all that is realistic- so that’s nice. It’s wonderful to feel energy again and to be able to be up and about. It’s easy to take it for granted until it’s taken away. I’m glad I can work and play again.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Waiting Game

I find myself in a state of continual limbo these days.

I feel like I’m a month over due for this baby. Mostly because I had so many signs of premature labor and we worked so hard to keep the baby in. Now that he’s been given permission to arrive- for over a week now- he seems content to stay there forever. I’m so relieved that isn’t an option. In reality, the worst case scenario is that I’d have to be like this 3 more weeks or so. That would make him a week late.
My due date is the 22nd. Oh how I hope he arrives before then. If any of you are familiar with the relay game where you carry a basketball from one end of the court to the other between your knees, I would totally beat you at that right now. I’m getting very acquainted with the penguin waddle and my children are getting the “walk” down as well.
Every day I think perhaps this is THE DAY. I mean, I’ve had contractions almost every day for a good 6-8 hours and several nights I have been unable to sleep because of them. But then just as I think perhaps we will go somewhere this time, they fade away and I find myself thinking that perhaps I just made it all up and have wasted another perfectly good day squatting, waddling, and thinking that I should wipe that last bit of dust off those bathroom shades so it won’t get the baby sick.
It would be different if I had no signs of labor at all. I think I’d have a better idea that I should wait.
Then there is the baby- this baby took forever to move. I think he was my longest yet as I didn’t start feeling him wiggle until I was over 21 weeks pregnant. But he has made up for it. Completely. In fact, I think he’s going to be an aerobics instructor. It’s his calling. It must be- either that or I see “Olympic gymnast” in his future.
In the end, there isn’t much I can do but wait, and relax, and clean, and walk, and stretch, and take naps, and herbs, and a hundred other things to prepare and help the baby snuggle down…and yet…it still remains that I must wait.

Oh…and I can’t think worth beans! That boy stole every ounce of DHA I had last week. Seriously I think I felt it get sucked out of my brain and now I feel an empty space between questions and answers, between thoughts and talking, between “Eat no carbs” and avoiding chocolate chip cookies. It has grave consequences. Well…hope he enjoys his brain power! It’ll take me months to get back what he just swiped overnight.
Thankfully, my brain doesn’t have to operate to make dinner tonight- thanks to a friend who brought beef stew, cornbread, and cherry turnovers. I’ll just have to use my brain to eat!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Benefits of the Unexpected

It seems easy sometimes to come up with so many reasons why things are terrible, why a thing won't work out, why it would have been better if it had gone my way. Really, this whole thing lately has been that way for me starting a year ago.

I kept my grandmother, to visit with her and earn some money. We were going to buy a second car! Finally, no more driving the big huge bus of a van EVERYWHERE watching the gas go guzzling out at an astonishing rate of 2 gas stations per mile! It was going to be awesome! The first week she was here, the van engine went and we were without any vehicle. AND, guess we got to fix that one instead of buy a second car.

Then during the early summer our family went camping. We planned an awesome trip where we went up to Bar Harbor, ME and actually camped inside Acadia National Park for a week. I was all up for it! In fact, I'm probably the most enthusiastic camper in our family! Hiking, bike riding, fishing, swimming, looking at the wildlife, and the general thrill of outdoor cooking and living in a tent. We broke a second van while ours was still in the shop. (Thankfully we did not have to pay for all the repairs) We spent a good deal of our time riding in a taxi, getting the van repaired, and just dealing with that in general. Not what I would have considered ideal. had been a year since Renna was born...I was getting back in shape. I found my ab muscles again, I could go for a trot, and even made it through the mile run on July 4th without collapsing, all under the excuse of running with James who wanted to participate. Getting into shape is a good thing! SO when I discovered that I needed foot surgery because of a massive bunion on my left foot, we planned it for August with the idea that we would get it over with. And I paid a boat load of money in preparation for the surgery for a cool hands free crutch so I wouldn't be a complete invalid during the 3 months of NO WEIGHT BEARING that I was supposed to do. Not what I planned, but I was excited to get rid of the pain and get it over with and move on.

Oh...but not so fast...we thought we'd have a baby instead. I found out just before my preop visit that I was pregnant. That throws monkey wrenches all over the garage. What was going on? I was trying to be positive here, but goodness? It seemed like everything just kept going differently that what it was supposed to.

We actually didn't have our van back for most of the summer. Spent additional money trying to fix the AC only to find that after pouring close to $1000 into it, there was a leak in the back and in order to actually fix the thing it was going to take another $1000! So, we basically burned the first grand and never did anything with the AC.

I started off this pregnancy more discouraged than any of the others. Not because I wasn't haply to have another little one added to our family, but because I didn't feel like my body was ready to do that. And selfish me, I wanted my foot fixed and now they wouldn't do it because of all the x-rays involved.

Then things started happening to make this entire winter crazy. I had been excited about teaching school this year, instead I started the year with morning sickness and just wanted to die most days. I was thrilled about canning so much from our garden, but I found myself, once again, depending on other people to put through my grand schemes. I set up new chore systems to get the kids more involved in the house work, but I couldn't feel good and keep up with them long enough to help them learn the new system. I also had some complications that put me resting on the couch right in the first trimester.

I pulled out a little during the second trimester and though I might survive. But Brandon took a turn in the sick department and things were so busy that while I had energy, I was using every ounce of it to hold the family together while he was recovering. We made it through November and December and I was feeling good. Early January I was motivated to clean house, make freezer meals for Feb, planned to make some for April and all sorts of other things knowing that I'd want to be prepared for after the baby arrived.

By mid January I was forced to sit on the couch and watch others work around me and all those freezer meals started coming out and being used. Instead of helping be stability during Brandon's busiest time of the year, I was another part of his job that he had to take care of. I cried more about that than anything else.

February seemed almost a complete loss. I went from thinking I might get better to being required to lay on the bed in a horizontal position as much as I could possibly stand it. And stayed in that situation until just last week. Again, not the most convenient thing. I can think of many ways things could have been done differently. I mean hasn't God ever hear of efficient use of time???

Brandon took a turn at the so busy he can't see straight- and really is still there. So many deadlines, so little time. This week I can be up and he was hoping to get caught up on work. That seems reasonable. So, I got some stomach bug Sunday night that kept me in bed all Monday morning, and he had a meeting Monday night- not much work time in his office for that. I think sometimes people think that if he's just home, he can get his work done. But really, if I'm off laying about on the bed upstairs, he's getting nothing accomplished! So what that his office is in the house! Tuesday I felt better, so good day for him to work? Nope...not on your life. He had to make bank deposits, run errands, get more salt for the water softener system, etc. He was back by lunch, but then while changing a water filter one of the pipes broke and we suddenly had no water in the house. Of course we needed the right supplies to fix it and those were in town. He got the pipes repaired and the water back on just at dinner time. (Thankfully a friend made dinner for us.)

I encouraged him to do some work after dinner, but things were so messy and I'm so much like a blob of Jell-o these days after being on bed rest for 5 weeks that I move slower than a slug! I worked on cleaning up the kitchen while he got the kids to clean up toys, get them ready for bed and then did the bedtime routine thing. So, at 7:45pm he can start his day of work. He'll get a little over 2 hours before he has to go to bed in order to make it through the next day.

The point is: We've been going in circles of our expected perfect world crashing down around us for quite some time. I can't begin to explain what this has done to our finances, our communication as a married couple, and our exhaustion level. It's just been one thing after another. However, it's interesting how our reactions have changed somewhat.

I can recall being frustrated about the van breaking down, about not being able to get the car. Then as I began to yield to these things that were out of my control, it became sadness instead.

It makes me picture a child who has seen that it's a sunny day outside and is excited to go and play. He has been anxiously waiting to take his new bike out for a spin and this is the day! Helmet- check, bathroom break- check, shoes and socks- check, water- check, parental permission- check. He runs to the door, throws it open and finds a sudden dark cloud has covered the sky. He hears the sound of thunder and in 3 minutes there is rain cascading down in little rivers all over. There's nothing he can do, but turn around, close the door and I can see him with tears welling up in his eyes. Mom and Dad didn't say no, so he can't be mad at them. All his stuff was there, so he couldn't be mad at siblings for misplacing it. Nope, there's no one to blame except God. Why did God decide that it had to rain right then? He must have known that somewhere something needed rain, but not here. It just brings sadness.

That's where I got stuck- not in the angry mode, but in the sad mode. The mode of why can't I get on the same page as God here? If I had known it was going to rain, I wouldn't have bothered getting ready to go outside. I would have spent my time wisely doing something more productive. All that effort, wasted.

Gradually, I'm learning that the effort is not wasted though. I haven't been able to see the entire picture, but I see some of it. I have no idea why we needed to spend money on the van AC only to quit in the middle. I really don't know why it seemed like God prompted us to by a $300 hands free crutch that now resides in my attic hoping for the day that it gets some use. But there are other things I've seen that I wouldn't change at all.

The van breaking down caused me to slow down and really take time to visit with both of my Grandmothers in ways I wouldn't have otherwise. We would have been busy going places and seeing things- but instead I heard stories and listened to days when they were younger and got to enjoy puttering around the house with them.

Same thing on the camping trip. It slowed us way down. AND I've always loved camping for it's ability to help us learn how to deal with the unexpected. Haha! I wasn't expecting to figure out how to keep tons of van gear dry at a campsite with only one picnic table and two tarps duct taped together! But it was an experience in dealing with the unexpected!

In fact, that happened most of the summer. I had planned to take the kids swimming more, to the library more, just anywhere more. Instead, we worked in the garden together. Jonathon learned how to take care of his portion pretty independently. We were able to minister to a foreign missionary family that came and stayed for several weeks. We finished off our garage into a guest room that has already been a blessing numerous times for people coming to visit us.

When Brandon had a hard time, I learned just exactly how much I COULD keep going when I got tired. I found ways I could enjoy little moments- like walking to get the mail, or just walking in circles around in the driveway while talking on the phone to a friend.

November came and we went to GA for a month and I discovered the value of being positive when Brandon comes "in from work" as our roles were reversed for 4 weeks and he was marvelous at maintaining peace and order when I came back home. I learned what a great teacher he is and his consistency with the children is the backbone of success in our family.

Then January hit and I was on the couch. I learned just how much I could expect my children to help. I would tell Jonathon to pull the casserole out of the oven. He'd say, "It's too hot! I can't!" I'd look at him and say, "Jonathon, I'm not supposed to get up. Either you have to get it out, or it's going to burn and we won't be able to eat it for dinner." I didn't have the option of doing it for him. Guess what- the casserole came out of the oven and he survived!

That boy is a new kid now- thanks to my weeks of bed rest. Where he was very whiny, now he's usually cheerful about helping. Renna loves him as her main defender, entertainment, and helper and he takes her on like it's his responsibility. No one has to ask him to help her. Mama getting out of the way has developed initiative in him like nothing else could have. I'm too much of a control freak! The other day, he took a phone call, took the message, looked at Brandon and me, explained the request, and then said, "I'll got take care of it." He's 9! And he responded in a way that many adults wouldn't have. When he starts running out of clothes, I've seen him go put some in the washing machine! When he sees the playroom dirty, I've seen him go clean it up so that everyone can watch a movie sooner. One day, he knew everyone needed to do school, but I was still in bed and he motivated all his siblings to do all of their independent work without even waking me up. Math, reading, handwriting, Bible- all done. The younger kids could read their math word problems, so he read to them!

James has begun to notice needs and take care of them himself. He has been most observant to my water bottle- refilling it every time it gets low. I've watched him open up and discuss observations and ask questions about things that I never would have taken time for before. He takes more time to open up, and as a result of me having to sit all the time, he comes in and talks- about dreams, about life, about babies. It's wonderful!

Jeff has discovered that he can make my coffee. I wasn't there to train him, so he got Jonathon to teach him. Talk about training in delegating- I know lots of adults who can't do that! He's asserted some independence in some unexpected ways. While I've been immobile, he's discovered that he likes to fix his hair and takes pride in spiking it up at least once a day if not several!

Brandon has them on a system for unloading groceries now that never would have happened with me in the way. They all haul them in and then each child has a different section he's in charge of. Jonathon and Joseph get fridge items. James gets pantry things. Jeff takes the freezer stuff down to the chest freezer and Rachel puts away the fresh fruit. This past Sunday, I watched my children completely put away all the groceries with almost no assistance from me. One didn't know where the diapers went and another wasn't sure if the potatoes were a pantry item or a fresh fruit item. We took care of that and off they went.

As a rule they used to complain every time we cleaned up. No more. I think much of this is Brandon's consistent discipline, but I love it! I come in and say the living room is messy and it needs to be cleaned up and they all say, "Ok, Mama." and do it. Sometimes they still need help getting the dregs of the job done, but it's nothing like it used to be.

So, kids and their independence! They are becoming hard workers, with good attitudes! I'd go back on bed rest for a month to see that happen in a heart beat!

We've learned to save money as a family too. I pay them for other jobs and half goes to them and half goes in a family fun jar. Right now we are saving to build a tree house. There's team work in that- everyone is helping and everyone will benefit, but they get some individual reward out of it as well.

I've had time to read more, study more, craft more, keep up to date with people more, plan a Bible Study and lead it, and pray more for those that are on my heart. I've had time to pray for my husband more often, praise his good qualities, and see ways that he is a blessing to our family that I don't normally notice.

I've had time to concoct new visions for ways to deal with things, research other school ideas, and clean out nooks and crannies of my bedroom- in the name of decluttering.

I've had time to ponder over some of the new ways God has met me, changed me, and molded me in the last 10 years and put some of it into thoughts that might make sense to someone else.

I've had some precious quality time with Renna, who has been my bed rest cuddle bug and comes in to keep me company on a regular basis. We talk, play, or often she just sits with me while I read, type, or watch something. Sometimes we both fall asleep.

All in all, there have been benefits- big ones- to our turned upside down circumstances. There are more coming around each new corner- I just know it. I will forever make my plans, I just have to. I can't live life unprepared, but I'm gradually figuring out that when things get turned aside, or upside down, or completely swept off the table, I can live each day at a time and trust that this will be good too. Most of all, I'm finding that no matter how much excitement and adventure I plan into my ideal life, God is going to one-up me every time. I can see it as a one-up or I can look at it as a little kid that is mad because he didn't get the flavor ice cream that he wanted- even if he wanted vanilla and what he got was Ben and Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk.

My prayer going forward is that I will learn to embrace the unexpected with joy. To see it as an opportunity for God to bless me and to live life cheerfully and thriving in the adventure. I'll make my tentative plans in case God decides to take a day off and have a dull day, but after that, I hope to work on loving the stories that He writes in my life- the unbelievable, ridiculous ones.

I recently heard the quote again, "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death." Why? because they can't see that the food right in front of them, though it isn't what they requested, is the most delicious thing they could have hoped for if they would just taste it with positive expectation. I, for one, do not have any intention of starving to death at such a feast!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Little Different Swing on that Virtuous Woman

Disclaimer:I know I'm going to "catch-it" from at least one person for my illustration of this subject, but I'm betting that there is ONLY one person out there who would disagree. Thus, with a hypothetical vote of everybody to 1...the "everybodys" have it! :-) (I love you- 1!) I can't help but have this image in my mind for almost all of this passage!

I had a Bible Study on Proverbs 31 recently and we discussed ideas of how to make each verse more meaningful to us in our lives now. So I got this idea to write up a modern day application of the passage and what it means to me- and use the acrostic idea that is present in the Hebrew that you can’t appreciate in English.

10. Are there any women out there who are capable, unflappable, strong and kind? If so, she must be so amazing as to be unbelievable! Let me tell you what I think she is really like:
11. Being her husband does not bring any worry or anxiety. He trusts her completely and is confident in her decision making and knows she will be wise.
12. Continually she is kind and pleasant to him and avoids anything that is not in his best interest or would hurt him.
13. Diligently she takes pleasure in her hard work and delights in new ways to be resourceful.
14. Everything she feeds her family is selected with care to find the healthiest, most frugal, and freshest ingredients knowing that the extra time spent in getting the best will be worth it.
15. Family needs come first and she is motivated and energetic about meeting them. She is a self-starter and unselfish.
16. Gradually she makes wise long term investments knowing that her extra work now will benefit her family for years to come.
17. Her body is kept strong and in good shape. She considers it a priority to be in a healthy state so that she can keep up with the demands of her job.
18. In the night she is always available for her children’s needs- be they practical or spiritual. She’s also willing to put forth extra effort to make good quality products.
19. Just as quickly as she can, she increases her knowledge to benefit her family with her new skills. She’s willing to do repetitive work and can be depended on to take care of mundane tasks.
20. Kindness flows from her to everyone she meets. She ministers to others in need, shows hospitality and is generous.
21. Living prepared, the unexpected is not feared. She plans for emergencies, prepares for the seasons ahead of time, and maintains her household calmly rather than jumping from one disaster to another.
22. Most days she keeps her own appearance and clothing a priority as well, knowing that it is a positive influence and reflection on her family for her to appear “put together”. But she is frugal about it and can be creative with what she has in her wardrobe already.
23. Now her husband is a leader and is well respected, so she encourages him in his role and does not complain that he is gone extra hours of the day.
24. Often she is found creatively subsidizing the family income. She is organized, managerial, and can run a business with confidence and leadership.
25. Physical strength as well as emotional stability are immediately obvious in her. She stays mentally ready and spiritually in tune to things around her. Stability and cheerfulness will pay off for her in the long run.
26. Quietly she considers those she listens to and when she speaks from her vast wisdom, experience, and insight, it is without judgment and contains the utmost gentleness.
27. Reliability is her trademark and she is forever keeping watch for what to work on next. There is no place in her life for procrastination for she loves her work and has plenty of it.
28. Such an energy giver she is that her children and husband rave about her to others.
29. There are many women who have become great, but this woman is better than all the others.
30. Understand that greatness and beauty will fade with time, but a woman who loves God and shows that love unconditionally to others will be valued all her life.
31. Virtually everything she does and everyone who comes in contact with her will speak for her so clearly that she will never need to defend herself.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Light at the end of the Hallway

(My faithful bed rest partener and her "gibit")
We’re on to week “I’ve-lost-count” of bed rest. I’ve been in my bedroom, on my bed for two full weeks now. I was on the couch before that for at least 3 weeks. Before that, everything is a little fuzzy in my brain. Of course when you are horizontal for that length of time I think it makes everything in life a little fuzzy, not to mention sideways.

Remarkably, I think things have gone fairly well. I’ve had plenty of support from wonderful friends, my fabulous husband has kept me fed and my needs met, the children have been supportive and understanding, and I’ve had many phone calls, visits, and cards from friends. Overall, I couldn’t ask for a better situation considering the needs.

Some of the things that have made bed rest tolerable have been the unexpected items: doing some sort of school each day with the children, preparing and leading a Women’s Bible Study on Wednesday nights in my bedroom, and taking time to write thank-you notes. These things have kept me thinking of all the love people have poured out and help me avoid selfishly complaining. I have very few moments to think about myself and feel pitiful. I did not expect encouragement to come this way, but it has been my lifeline.

Brandon has faithfully awakened me each morning at 8am with breakfast in bed. He doesn’t have high expectations of what I will do after that, but he expects me to start my day. That’s been surprisingly helpful as well. It’s hard enough to keep my days and nights straight when I’m in the bed every day, but if I have a set time to be up and start- even if I nap later- it keeps me from getting completely switched around and greatly helps with emotional stability.

Then there is the wonderful change that has taken place over the last week. If I can be bold, I will say that I’m confident the change happened this past Sunday. You see, last Monday I went into the hospital with regular contractions, three minutes apart. Hospital experiences are always a story in themselves, but I’ll cut it short and say that they managed to drug me enough to cause the contractions and sent me home with the minor wounds of four attempts at starting an IV. Wednesday night I had regular contractions again and took my medicine with successful results. We repeated the scenario Thursday night and then again Saturday night, only each time it took longer to work. By Sunday morning I was tired of being up in the night wondering if I was going to have to head to the hospital and as things seemed to keep progressing in a less than desirable way, I call my family for prayer. I know that MANY people were praying for me on Sunday- for things to change, for the baby to stay put, for a miracle to happen! And I am confident that God heard and answered that prayer!

Monday morning, I felt like things were different. I can’t really explain it. It was a gradual feeling and not really something I can put my finger on, except that the more I thought about it this week, the more I was sure that God had done something to settle things down that Sunday. Just to really test things out, I started sitting up in bed more to see if things would be ok. Tuesday I sat on the bed for most of the day instead of lying down. I actually decorated Joseph’s birthday cake that day- on the bed, but enjoyed sitting up to do a number of other things as well. I had no negative repercussions.

Wednesday, I continued with the same thing. While I didn’t decorate a cake that day, I did sit up most of the day and also did a couple of things that required puttering around my room for a few minutes. Thursday I had my hair cut by a wonderful friend and even walked to the top of the stairs and sat there during lunch. Again I had a little more activity and no contractions or spotting. Friday has been similar. I moved to the couch in my room for a while today while someone changed the sheets on the bed and enjoyed having my lunch in a completely upright position. I also rearranged some flowers, watered a couple of plants, and put away a few things that belonged other places upstairs. Then when I felt like I was pushing the limits too much I would come back and recline on the bed for a while. I’d say I’m at about 1/8 capacity for full activity right now. That may not seem like much, but it was virtually at zero! And things continue to stay stable.
I also had a good conversation with my midwife earlier this week, giving me much more information, and clearing up some questions we had about the seriousness of my condition. For one, she is 99% sure I don’t have a placental abruption! Thanks to some other things being clarified, both Brandon and I are fairly confident that this baby is going to hang on at least until 37 weeks and we can also deliver at home. The risks are fewer every day for premature labor and we are encouraged that we can perhaps go back to our original plan, which for our family is much more sensible for a number of reasons.
All in all, I see God’s hand in it- thoroughly. He’s kept me upbeat for most of the time, he’s answer prayer for my physical needs to be met, He’s sent people and the perfect time and met practical needs in perfect ways. We’ve been blessed so much by the generosity of others! He has proved himself faithful. I am encouraged that He is on the job in our home and with our family.

In a less spiritual, more everyday amusement sort of way, here are some things going on:
- Jonathon and Jeff are learning to style their hair- with actual hair products. Jeff has been in the bathroom to fix his hair at least 6 times today. They are perfecting the looks of “messy” and “spike” respectively. I never thought I would have a seven year old that WANTED to style his hair! Look out teenage years!

- Jeff came in with an amusing comment today. He declared that his thumb wasn’t working because every time he pushed it down on the table it went like this:

A very terrible problem, as you can see.

-The popular tune heard around our house lately, thanks to our decision to name the baby, “Justin Alexander” is “Just-in Obey. For there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to Just-in obey.” I’m sure he’s going to hate that song his whole life at this rate! Joseph is the one that sings the tune most faithfully.

- I finally finished a project I began last April. I made Rachel some coat hangers for her doll clothes. A certain expensive company sells doll clothes hangers for a whopping 3 for $10. Since I can’t choke up enough nerve to even think about spending $50 for hangers, I had Brandon pick up some heavy duty wire at the hardware store last year and with a good set of needle nose pliers, I’ve just bent some into shape. They are nearly as cute or uniform, but they do the trick and Rachel was quick to put them to good use!

All this brings me to today- Tuesday. I’m officially 36 weeks along today and I can begin getting up. It will have to be gradual as the earliest the baby can come here at home is Sunday. So, we don’t want to get things going too quickly. Today’s extra event will be sitting on the couch this afternoon to supervise the children while Jeff goes to the orthodontist. That will be enough activity I think- mostly due to the fact that I have to go up and down the stairs to get there.

Jeff’s appointment at the orthodontist is to discuss widening his upper jaw to eliminate his massive cross bite problem. This is a symptom that comes with the ear problem he’s had since birth, but we are hoping to correct the mouth issue while we can- which is apparently sometime between now and the time he turns 10-12. We took him in last year, but he didn’t have his six-year molars, which are apparently necessary anchor points for the contraptions he will have to wear in his mouth. I’m pretty sure they are present now, so we’ll see.

Ok…I suppose I have to stop talking here or this will never get published to my blog. And the longer I type the less likely people are to sit down and read it… Happy Tuesday.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Nitty Gritty

Ok, so after attempting several posts, writing, adding to, undoing, writing again, I’m finally committed to putting an update together. Here’s what’s going on- for all of you who are interested.
Ever since the 20th of January I have been on bed rest. Or couch rest to be more precise. In the morning I get up, get dressed (sort of) and meander down to the couch where I spend the majority of my day sitting or lying on my side and telling other people what to do.
I have a plethora of entertainment possibilities while I sit. I have a Bible Study I’m leading each Wednesday for the Bible School Women. So I get plenty of time to prepare. I have my daily Bible reading, some videos to watch, and some craft things I’m working on to keep my fingers busy.

There’s always the laptop to keep me distracted with things like blog posts or Facebook and most of my time is taken up with telling the children what to do. We have done some school almost every day and I am grateful for the forced focus that required down time lends to school.
Thanks to a special someone, I have money with which to bribe pay my kids and others to do extra chores. I’m not paying them to get dressed and clean their room. Nor am I paying for the regular work they are supposed to help with- cleaning up toys, emptying the dishwasher, and wiping the bathroom. But I have been paying for the times when I need one child to do an extra job or something. Jonathon has been taking advantage of this new business opportunity and has earned several dollars making dinner, cleaning up from meals, and doing the younger kids jobs when they are outside playing. James has gotten in on the action as well and Rachel just a tiny bit. It’s been nice to be able to give them some reward for the extra effort they are putting out. They really have been cheerful workers overall and I have been blessed by their diligence and initiative numerous times. One thing we have going is a deal to pay half of what they earn to them to spend and the other half to put into a jar we keep on top of the fridge for some family fun. Right now we are saving up to build some sort of tree house in the spring or summer and hope to have a little left over for something else fun like a day trip to the ocean or out for ice cream. Since it’s such a family effort to keep things going around here, I thought that everyone should benefit in some way of the team work they are exhibiting. Overall they seem to like this arrangement, especially since I have been fairly generous in the payment for certain jobs. This plan is working and I’m thrilled. So, a big thank you to my “fairy godmother” for meeting a need in a creative way!

Now for what’s actually going on. (PHYSICAL DETAILS- BEWARE) For the last four weeks I’ve been spotting- just barely bleeding. Some days it’s so barely there that I have to be in good light to see it. Other days it’s been obvious, but never bright red- just a little pink. There are a lot of things that can cause this to happen in later pregnancy, but unfortunately we’ve managed to rule out all the normal excuses. I have no detectable infections, no sores or abrasions, no kidney problems or other problems relating to elimination. Through a number of observations and testing we’ve managed to rule out all the easy answers that would make it possible to just ignore it and move on. This leaves me with the risk of placental abruption. For those of you not up on your pregnancy risk vocabulary, this is when there is a slight to large detachment of the placenta from the uterine wall, causing bleeding between the placenta and the uterine lining. With a small abruption a woman can easily go through pregnancy and labor and everything be fine, however if the abruption increases and the placenta decides it’s time to separate completely or becomes more fully separated then the baby looses oxygen and it can mean a premature delivery. We don’t know for sure if this is the problem or not, but it’s the next thing to suspect and with the minimal bleeding it seems that it is probably on the minimal side of abruption. If I make it to 37 weeks, the delivery would not be premature at that point but the risk will still exist for the baby’s stability during labor to be compromised. Bed rest helps keep things from moving around and becoming dislodged further- if that is in fact the problem. So, here I am- at least until Feb 21st, when I’m close enough to my due date that I can safely go into labor. I might end up on bed rest until March 10th however, just because that’s when our help (Jane the Wonderful) arrives. If at all possible we want to avoid having the baby and trying to supervise all the kids at the same time. So, we’ll do what we can to help things out that way and be trusting God to meet our needs both the practical ones and the timing of things.
We are also considering having this child at the hospital. It sounds crazy to most of you probably, but I’m a little nervous. I know the risk factors would be greatly reduced if we had this baby at the hospital, but I haven’t had a child outside of my own bedroom for 10 years! Jonathon has been the only hospital birth and since then we’ve been blessed to be able to have all the others naturally and at home with the help of a wonderful midwife. I’ve come to love the peacefulness of being at home, the comfort of laboring in my own house around my family, with all my own comforts. And when the baby is here, I lay down in my own bed and there are no monitors to be hooked to, no noises from a nurse’s station, no two hour checks for 24 hours after the baby is born. No one tells me I can’t let the baby sleep on my chest, no one takes him out for tests and such without my consent, noone gets paranoid and feeds him formula without asking me first. It’s just me and him and my wonderful family all around. AND I can have all the company I want as soon as I want it- which is one of the biggest things I’ll miss about a hospital delivery. After the baby is born and things are cleaned up, I’m usually ready to have everyone in the nearby vicinity come and ogle over the baby. Don’t believe me? Some of you know. Some of you have been here an hour after the birth. I eat it up- it’s one of the best things about the whole process! How many people can I get to come and see me and the baby as soon as possible? Hold him! Rejoice with me! It’s a new life! Let’s celebrate! And I don’t want to do it alone. The hospital is almost two hours away- the good one, that is. And regardless of efforts made, it just won’t be the same. I’ll miss having the entire Bible School in my room two hours after the delivery.
The safety and help from the doctors and being in a place where we will have help is worth it. I know that. I’ll trade all of the people time for the knowledge that if something goes wrong I’m in the best place I could be.
So, that’s where I am, what I’m doing and why. I’ve been tremendously blessed by supportive family and friends. I’ve got wonderful people helping keep up with laundry and child care and have loads of freezer meals- some people have brought and some I made with a friend just before I went on bed rest. Others have brought over hot meals- which are a welcome change up. I have gotten cards, videos, a Netflix subscription, money to pay the kids and others, and visitors (one of my favorites!) have come to chat and let me know they care. While, I’m still occasionally an emotional wreck, all the support has left me confident that others love me and my family and are there for us. When both my parents and Brandon’s parents live so far away, that is a treasure I don’t take for granted.
If you find yourself praying for our family, I’d appreciate all the help I can get for emotional stability and clear communication with Brandon. You can pray for the physical needs too, but also for my self control to stay put and eat correctly. I have to be even more cautious about my diet while I’m sitting around doing nothing.
God is good- all the time. He is meeting our needs and leading us each and every day. I find myself asking him for help sometimes in the silliest ways it seems, and yet I continue to find him faithful in answering my childish cries for attention and help. He hears my, “Daddy, I can’t do this” and seems to smile and say, “Yes, you can but I will help you anyway.” I’m so thankful for his mercy.