Life With Nine Kids

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

April 2017

April showers bring May flowers! The grass gets green, the birds get busy building nests, bees visit patches of dandelions and clover, and bright tulips push up toward the sun.... Andddd....I was born!

April is a great time of year, unless you are a financial analyst like my dear husband is. My birthday lands at a pretty bad time of year for Ricky. He used to take my birthday off. But, since quarter end is the first week of April, and we have collected nine kids over the years (lol) it's gotten increasingly hard for him to spend the day or evening with me on April 4th. We do get to sneak away from time to time, but it's NOT usually during the first week of April. Every year he tries to at least get home early, and most years as of recent it just doesn't work out. I had a feeling this year would be tough too, so I planned my own party! Bea wrapped a bunch of flower bulbs that I picked out last week and she had the best time giving them to me. I acted like I had never seen them before. I hadn't looked at them since I bought them, and I was delighted at all the cheery color and fun of them as my gift!

Beatrice also made me a window frame out of Popsicle sticks. When Bea gave me the window she lamented in the sweetest concerned three year old squeaky voice that it was crooked. She even hung her head down sadly! I told her I love crooked windows. Her whole sweet face lit up and her smile beamed. It was precious and I adore my Popsicle stick window!
First thing after breakfast I took the teens to their finance class, but before we left we found a dead chicken and a very wounded one. That was a hectic start to the morning. I was just going to to kill the wounded one but it was wiggling around a bunch. I was too hasty and rushed (AND IN A DRESS) to take it over to the killing cone for slaughtering. I stopped and examined it more...what if she's just real hurt but not mortally wounded? Its eyes were swollen shut. But, sometimes people look pretty darn bad at the hospital after a severe injury. (Then again, they are AT AN ACTUAL HOSPITAL.) Reluctantly, I put away the hatchet and stuck the hen in a box with pine shavings until I could get back home and care for her. While I drove I thought about all the miracle animals I've seen and the compassionate people who saved them. A special floating "wheel chair" for a disabled fish and a wounded turtle with tiny wheels for front legs. Dogs with two legs. Realistically, chickens have a pretty low survival rate once badly injured or ill. Over the years you lose wayyy more than you save. I'll just stop the suspense and tell ya now: Cupcake (I quickly and aptly named her since it was my birthday) didn't make it. I should have put her out of misery after all. I once found a floppy, cold and drenched chicken after a bad rainstorm. I brought her inside and warmed her in a sink bath and blow dried her feathers. That girl made it. (Just fell like adding a happy chicken story here for good measure.)

Back to my Birthday...
I told the younger kids I'd take them to Target to get cake decorating supplies. I browsed the birthday section and found a unicorn headband and super cute plates.

It dawned on me that I had never had a unicorn birthday party, probably because I was so into unicorns as a child that it never crossed my mind. Unicorns weren't on my radar as a once over birthday thing. Unicorns were something I did everyday. But now I'm a grown up. A really big grown up, I'm now at level 39 and it is unicorn party time, because it's been ages since I've unicorned! 

Back at home after Target I made an electrolyte solution for Cupcake, the hurt and probably dying chicken, I packed its wounds with an antibiotic ointment, and then it was time to help Bea (3) and Everett (6) make cakes. It was around this time I realized throwing your own birthday party is a lot of work. 

I quipped on my Facebook: 
"I am juggling four kids making each their OWN cakes for me (it's for me right?), two of which want to make them from scratch, them also fighting, a broken bowl, a one year old playing in dog food, and a hurt chicken I'm trying to nurse back to health. (A very hurt chicken. Blood, everything.) And I'm doing it all with a unicorn horn on my head because I am having a unicorn party. Wild day."

Penelope and Sebastian were not thrilled they had to wait all day to make their cakes. I am only ONE person though and they want to make theirs from scratch. I heard a good bit of complaining about them having to wait. As the other cakes cooled Charlotte got home from college. She enthusiastically, because she's the best adult-kiddo ever, whipped out her cake airbrush supplies and started whipping up frosting. Thank God for Charlotte. 

She got busy with the kids decorating and letting them do list the work while still helping them create. I was off to pick up the teen boys from class. I had to hurry because I had a 3:00 birthday massage appointment. On the way to get the boys I knew I should get gas (gas light has been on all day) but guess what kind of person I am?

However, on the way home I was chatting away so happily with my teens about my crazy day that I forgot to stop for gas on the way home. Nearly home the van made a couple of slower weird feeling jerks only detectable by me. My van was thirsty. I was nervous there for a sec, but we made it home. I promptly got a big gas can out of the garage. (Ricky could be reading this thinking, so that's why I don't always have as much gas as I think we have on hand for the lawn mower... Heehe.)  I quickly put some gas in (no actually I stood there forever because it's not fast pouring gas in from a gas can into a huge van) and I felt like a dork and laughed at myself. As I'm gassing up the kids walked out and show me UNICORN CAKES because they couldn't wait any longer!!!!  I loved them!! They had edible sparkle glitter and star candy embellishments you can't even see as well in photos. Very magical!

Then I took off in my van again. I made it to my birthday massage appointment (and got gas from a real station), a big thanks to all my lovely kids at home holding down the fort. When I got home the LAST thing I wanted to do was make more cakes! However, Sebastian and Penelope had their turn of cakes to still do. I didn't have to do a lot, they could mostly do it, but I'm still needed to help. As they finished up Layla and I decorated outside and took pictures, we enjoyed some cake, too. Bea and Everett couldn't wait for cake so we had cake before dinner. I actually do cake before dinner a lot. They leave me alone to do dinner that way. Besides, after dinner is cleaned up the last thing any mom wants to hear about is getting more food out!
I actually had no dinner planned and it was 5:30 or so. I kinda thought dinner plans would just fall into place. I had going out or ordering pizza in my head. Ricky soon texted me a sincere message about how sorry he was he wasn't home yet. He also joked that we should move my birth date. I texted him back: You are an amazing husband and you love me unconditionally everyday of your life. You always think of me first and I have everything I could need and you always strive to give me more. You don't have to be sorry.

I ordered pizza around 6pm. I had wanted to go get Mexican with Ricky and ALL the kids but I was certain he would be too pooped from work, plus I was way too exhausted, and Madeline is at a very hard restaurant age anyway. I ordered pizza and had everyone help me pick up the house before dinner. Ricky walked in as we got the couch bed out and we all ate in the living room watching something family friendly (AFV probably), I don't remember because Ricky and I fell fast asleep nearly immediately after dinner. Couch beds are the best thing ever.
 Aside from my massage and flowers to plant, I also got nice new rain boots, better clips I wanted for my hot rollers, and a book: Mrs. Dunwoody's Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping: Timeless Wisdom and Practical Advice .
I have spent the last few days doing yard work. I love yard work. I love gardening. I love the kids playing outside all day. I love flowers. I love rain boots. I love spring. I love baby chicks and kids that love them, too. I love the world I'm in when everything turns green. I love fresh air and blue skies. I love warmth. I love little voices next to me asking me questions about earthworms, grubs, and gardening. I love seeing tightly wound Hostas pop up from the ground. I love teaching a kid how to mow. I love my husband. I love spring. Life is so good. Thirty-nine is amazing.

 In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. -Margaret Atwood

Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems. Rainer Maria Rilke
Read more at:

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. Margaret Atwood
Read more at:

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

January at the Park

I needed today. It was full of nature and children.

It was full of the outdoors and free play. It was full of my favorite young people and it was a much needed break from the indoors and my own brain. The sun cracked through the clouds as we inched towards 70 degrees in January! The sky stayed blue for several hours. Clouds rolled indecisively in and out. The sky, clouds, and bare trees made a beautiful backdrop for photography. I love how in the winter the tippy tops of the tree branches look like nothing more than little sticks reaching far into the sky. The trees are so exposed.

I don't like a lot about winter. So it's a big deal when I find something I do like. It's an exercise I need to implement and embrace because I whine every single darn day about winter. Our thoughts shape our moods and actions, so I know this incessant complaining is really bad. This winter is dreadfully dull and I feel awfully uninspired. Today I took time to hear my little ones. I took a break from my complaining about winter and the chatter in my head (my to-do list) and I just let myself be myself with them. I rediscovered a lot.

Madeline was darling as she explored and loved every minute of it. She's been very needy (as I've written about in past posts) and I have neglected to realize that she is probably going through similar outdoor withdrawals just as I am. She spent all spring, summer, and fall outdoors. She loved the outdoors and when the weather finally turned cold she became whiny.

Sure, shes been teething. But seriously, I am realizing she is literally climbing up the window because she wants to be outside. She stares out the window and asks to go out all the time. How confusing for her! I hate the cold so I don't take her out. The kids do a little but not much. Realizing this will definitely help me help her.

Bea and I talked about seeds, trees and moss. She asked me about trails and the posted signs as we waked on trails at the park. I pushed Madeline in the stroller and we had a great time. I really loved just listening to Bea chatter on. We took some moss home and Bea made a moss garden. It's been forever since I just enjoyed them without being rushed or thinking about the house. I miss that.

At bedtime it was still 68 degrees. Bea and I went outside to tell the moon goodnight. She always calls the moon her moon. I told her she could touch the moon and I took a picture of her. She ran inside so excited to show everyone her picture. Her excitement was amazing.
I'm telling her, "Keep reaching! Keep reaching! Hold it! You are holding it right now!"

Today at the park, Everett (6) tripped on some branches on the way to the car, he exclaimed that he "found nature." It made me laugh as he came up with a tiny acorn cap in his hand and a big smile on his face. He loved it, however, he ended up losing it on the way to the car. He wailed over his loss. I walked him over to a random tree and we gathered black walnut shells that looked like little boats and the nut meat that resembles owl faces. This delighted him and he no longer wanted an acorn hat. The ones I found to replace his were too big anyway he said.

The kids swung on vines with their friends. It was just a fabulous day. I feel so inspired and refreshed.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Christmas Gift Ideas for Big Families

A woman in a large family group that I follow asked for advice and support about announcing her seventh pregnancy. She said her mother complained about all their kids and how expensive buying gifts for all of them was becoming. Her mother didn't want her having any more children. She actually said gift-giving expense was one reason why.

People with large families have made a lifestyle choice. We have accepted loud cramped homes, hand-me-down clothes (with MASSIVE clothes storage organization by age group), shared bedrooms, and shared toys. We have shrinking kitchen tables, lines at our bathroom doors, and lots, and lots of laundry. I can't speak for everyone, but I'm pretty sure the majority of super-sized families don't expect extravagant, if any, gifts for their children.

When a family grows so large that gifts start to get uncomfortable for the gift-giver I feel very simply people need to either stop gifting or they need to get creative. Both of those are acceptable solutions to the gift giving dilemma. Gift giving should be meaningful and fun. It should be out of true desire to do something for somebody. It shouldn't be forced and it shouldn't be required. I decided to share some ideas on creative gift giving for big groups. This could be for any size family but I had large sized groups especially in mind. Younger kids can be hard to include in some of the outings. For babies or young children a small toy or other younger themed outing may be more appropriate.

Time to get Creative!

Family Dining
Large families tend to eat out less due to cost. Eating out is special! Taking a family out to eat is a fun idea and let's everyone spend some fun time together. Alternately, gift certificates can be given.

Pizza (or Chinese take out) and a Movie at Home
Dinner and some popcorn make such fun movie night evenings!

Movie Theater Outing or Gift Certificates
It's expensive to go to the movies, but some theaters have early morning weekend movies at even deeper discounts than the matinees. Pair this morning outing with a box of donuts and some milk for lots more fun! There are also cheap movie houses that play last months titles for just a few bucks. If you are lucky enough to have an old theater in your area they may be playing old fashioned Christmas movies like It's a Wonderful Life. I saw even local big name theaters had a special showing of Home Alone this month.

Plays and other Shows 
Tickets to a play or other show is a very fun and memorable idea. Most areas offer low cost options to do this. Community plays are often lower in cost than bigger traveling shows. High school or college plays can be a great resource too. Taking advantage of matinee performances can be a big money saver. Around the holidays there is usually something for everyone if you just check your cities events. If needed, different aged kids could attend different shows. Magic shows, children's musicians, and other local talent could also be explored!

A Christmas Pageant
Know of an old fashioned Christmas Pageant being held? Or, what about a living nativity event with real animals? These yearly events are often held at churches and are usually free for the community. Take the special people in your life to an event like this and then top off the evening with a ice cream or some other special thing. I know one church that serves hamburgers, hot dogs, and hot cocoa for free at their living nativity!  

Advent Calendar Tradition
Every year my cousin Michelle mails our kids advent calendars. Over the years we have had five, six, seven... and now this year makes nine calendars mailed to us -one for every child (and now an adult child, too). This is a very fun family tradition and one that is very thoughtful. We open them all together at 6:30 pm each night. It's a huge, loved, sweet tradition and gift. Look at their faces! They will never forget this at Christmas time!
December 1, 2016
Rec Center Passes or Membership
Swimming passes for indoor winter-time sessions, or a family pool pass to use in the coming summer months are great gifts! My Grandma Smith sent the kids some Christmas money a few years ago and we all spent some of it to buy a six month family membership to the YMCA.

Children's Museum or other Family Membership
Memberships are often a great value for large families. It's often cheaper for us to just get a membership than to pay admission for 8-11 people. Our children's museum (where there is something for all ages) would cost over $100 for us to get in one time, or we can get a yearly membership for as low as $80 and use it all year long.

Skating, Ice Skating, laser tag, indoor rock climbing, indoor trampoline park... or any other other indoor place
These types of places are all great outings for a group. For the most they part can cover a wide age range. All of these places usually have gift certificates. Mini-golf and paint ball are largely outdoor activities, but they still make good gifts and can be used when the weather warms up! 

We love family game gifts and have gotten many over the years! Most big families can be covered age-wise with just two various aged board games.

Family Hobby Ideas or Seasonal Ideas
A family that camps might enjoy some new gear or supplies like tents, lanterns, sleeping bags, and so on. A family that fishes might enjoy some new fishing supplies. Think of how the family enjoys their free time and consider gifts that may be useful and enjoyed by them together. Wintertime ideas might include sleds or other snow play items. A hammock , all ages tree swing, or moveable outdoor fire pit are fun ideas. We have this platform swing, it's amazing and holds 250 lbs!

Art Supplies
A great group gift than can reach all ages. Ideas: crayons, markers, gel pens, paper, tracing paper, googly eyes, yarn, small canvas, paint, paint brushes, scissors, pencils, erasers, a pencil sharpener (we go through electric ones like crazy!!), pens, rulers, stencils, and drawing books. (Draw-Write-Now are such cute, fun, and educational books.)

I've had a few family members gift us blankets over the years. Some have been bought and some handmade. I have kept nearly every blanket ever given to us dating back YEARS ago. In fact, I got a unicorn blanket from one of my mom's sisters when I was eight years old and I still have it. Blankets are very personal, cozy, thoughtful gifts. My step-mom Kathie made us all Christmas gift blankets a few years ago (and hats and scarves another year!) and we all still use every single one. In fact, Everett's covered up with one such blanket right now. Over a decade ago Kathie gifted the kids fleece blankets and most of them are still around here. Blankets do not have to be specially made or expensive either. Walmart sells soft fleece blankets for $5.00 or less every year around Christmas time! This year they had huge ones too (adult size) for only $7 and they seemed really nice! Blankets are great gifts. (My mom made two baby blankets for Madeline, my friend Beth made a beautiful blanket for Everett when he was a baby. My cousin Michelle made us a tie blanket for Penelope, and my friend Karen made a tiny newborn blanket for Everett when I was pregnant with him. I have them all!)

Pajamas for everyone
PJ's, like blankets, are good gifts.

A Box of Fun and Umbrellas Make a great Gift
My sister, Christy, sent the kids a bunch of games to share along with sunglasses and umbrellas for the whole family! Umbrellas for everyone?! What a FUN gift!
December 2015

Throw a Gingerbread (Graham Cracker) House Decorating Party or a Hot Cocoa Bar party
This is a fun way to spend time with loved ones, and a fairly cheap activity! Could turn into a fun tradition, too. 

Paint Your Own Pottery
At many paint your own pottery places you get free studio time if your group is a party of 10 or more people. You just buy your pottery pieces and the studio time/glaze is free. We did this one year with the kids. We brought food trays and drinks and had a ball in the private party room! Most pottery pieces start around $5.00 and go up from there. We actually used Christmas gift money from family to help fund our pottery party! I blogged about it over here.

Light Display Outing.
Almost every area has a drive through light display within driving distance. We have one that has great Groupon deals every year too. We take our whole family loaded in the passenger van and not only do we get admission to drive through, but we get a 8x10 printed picture taken with Santa too. All for under $20.00. (Price is normally just over $40.00, which isn't that bad either for a huge group outing.) Something similar would make a great festive gift!

Gourmet Apples or Toffee (or other gift basket of goodies, Sherries Berries, fruit arrangement, Etc.)
Ricky's parents have sent us many lovely baskets, popcorn, and fruit over the years and it is always the best time! It's such a great big family gift idea! We huddle around the kitchen savoring and enjoying, talking and having a ball together! Last year they sent us this Toffee. They are not kidding when they say it's the best toffee on the planet. You have NO IDEA. We had the most fun devouring it! It's made by a small family-run business. Another best ever: Aunt Sharon sent us Mrs. Prindable's Apples  HOW can these apples be that delicious? They are so fantastic. These are all such fun group gifts to get! Not to mention perfect for people who really don't need more "stuff."

Build A Bear
Build A Bear is such a fun family gift idea. If necessary, this could also work for the young kids while the older ones do a different outing. Ricky's parents did this for the kids one year and it was SO much fun!

Magazines are great gift. Ricky's Grandma, Meme Goode, gifted us with Country Magazine for years and we adored it. It was full of beautiful pictures and stories from long ago. We loved it.  Grandma Smith has gifted our kids with years of Ranger Rick Magazines and we still have most of them. They now get National Geographic for kids from her. It's really a neat magazine that spans many ages! Here's a picture of Layla reading it to the kids at bedtime one night.
New Moon, American Girl, and anything from the Cricket Publishing Company are great magazines to check out as well. Cricket has magazines for all ages and are ad free. I can't even begin to tell you how great their publications are!

Something to remember: Gifts Often Keep on Giving in Large Families
When gift giving to a large family most of the time one gift lasts for many, many years, because it can be enjoyed by so many other children later. Nobody knew that when Ricky's sister gifted this adorable coat from Baby Gap to Layla that we'd be putting it on Madeline 11 years later! Now that's a lasting gift!

Remember it's not the gift, it's the love behind the gift!!! Gifts come in all shapes, sizes, and can just be in the form of time spent together! 
Merry Christmas!!!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

I stood sobbing over two bowls of marshmallow salad. It started with just two tears streaming down my face but by the time I was folding whipped topping into the fluffy marshmallows and fruit I was sobbing. Making Thanksgiving dinner is a joy to me but the stress of October lingered and Thanksgiving was starting to feel like another thing I had to do. I just wanted a shower. The kids had been wild and restless for weeks. Madeline had also been a monkey for weeks. She's so wild!
Minutes before the tears fell I yelled at Ricky for basically nothing. He irritated me about something dumb and I got snappy. He told me he wasn't going to hang out in the kitchen with me if I was going to yell at him. So then I did yell at him, "I'm not yelling at you, THIS is yelling at you!" I was feeling tired (it was nearing midnight) and I was so grumpy. (Or at this point totally pissed off.) I continued on, "And don't be in the kitchen then! I don't care because "everything's" ruined now anyway."

Sigh. Stress. Sad face.

I had a hard week, and when I really think about it, this has also been a bit of a hard year for various reasons that I don't want to spell out.

Madeline has been so demanding this week and really this month. She is into everything. All day long we chase her around. She also chases me around wanting to be held. She is very needy but so very sweet. She's not a hard baby in actuality, but she keeps us very busy. This week she's been pulling cans out of the cupboard. She's wrapped the vacuum cord around her neck. She also just wants to tear massive amounts of stuff up. She's constantly wiggling from her high chair and then standing up in her high chair. When you get her down she just climbs up the kitchen chairs and the kitchen table. She falls off the chairs regularly and yesterday she fell off the table. She basically landed head first on the wood floor. I was running over to her when it happened. In almost slow motion, before I could reach her, there she toppled feet over her head just as she peeked over the edge of the table in a squat. Insane child! Most people, the kind without nine kids, probably would have rushed their child to the hospital. After only a few minutes of crying and nursing and then a half hour of playing I gave mine a car ride to make her fall asleep.I have no idea why she STILL climbs up chairs. She falls of them frequently. Kids are amazing and resilient. The human species in general is too. Also, genetics. Ricky's head and his children's heads are like bricks! I've never seen anything like it. One time Beatrice fell out of the van while we were loading it up. She was around two and I was right next to her. She talked in full paragraphs very young and insisted I did NOT have to help her up! She toppled out on her head. She still has an actual dent on her head from it. That actually scared me very badly. The sound of head hitting black top is horrid. She was totally fine. Her head dented though! Their skulls are all part metal or brick, I'm sure of it.
Picture from December 2016 (which hasn't even happened yet because this is a NOVEMBER 2016 post, remember. lol) See, told you. She's nuts. She tries to run down the slide.

You know when someone's kid gets hurt or dies from drowning, or an equally horrible thing, and everyone lashes out at the parents and calls them the worst ever? The holier than thou parents (and grandparents) come out in hoards on online comment sections preaching about how they never take their eyes off their kids ever, and this would never happen to them. Yeah whatever. Parenting is hard and kids do stuff. Not only do accidents happen, but sometimes you have these really freaking crazy kids (like Everett the bull riding fire fighter and adventurous Madeline especially) and nearly every time you turn around they are being totally insane.

So, Thanksgiving...
I sobbed while folding the marshmallows and fruit together. The small gluten free pizza I was baking for us as a late dinner was done. I cut it and solemnly brought Ricky half. He ate quietly in the dark bedroom while he finished watching TV. Afterwards he came in the kitchen and asked me if I wanted help. I had stopped crying but started again as I blurted out, "I'm so sorry I was mean to you." Tears. Lots of tears fell as big man arms wrapped all the way around my sobbing body. He's the best. This is marriage, the raw stuff. The I'd do anything for you no matter what stuff. The best stuff: like bringing your husband pizza because he needs to eat even if you are snappy and annoyed, or offering help and giving bear hugs to your wife even when she was being the mean one. No grudges or grievances to be had.

"For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish..."

Does anyone really think about what "for worse" means? I didn't really. I always just assumed it meant during hard times or illness --pretty similar to the 'poorer' and 'in sickness' thing actually. Turns out it probably means more like when your partner is suddenly a grouchy jerk to you and you show them grace and humility. When we show our worst sides we need to still work towards loving and cherishing each other. (Note: This should not extend itself into abuse.)

He forgave me. He apologized. (He didn't need to.) I cried. I felt better. Release.

We finished making marshmallow salad, jello, stuffing, and pumpkin pie together until our eyes were drooping closed. We had a nice Thanksgiving. I'm always thankful for him and for who we are together. We truly bring out the best in each other.
1 year ago~ Newborn Madeline

I was pretty busy, but I finally got my shower at 2pm Thanksgiving day after everything was almost ready. I told my family that no one eats until I shower!  Barely squeezed that in!

I was very pleased with my braided pie crusts! I LOVE making homemade pie.
 We played Pie Face (kids loved it!) and ate and ate and ate.
We all ate around the kitchen table. Big family life!

Reminds me of this gem of a movie, Cheaper By the Dozen

And that's a wrap! My calendar is cleared. I am looking forward to hibernation time. Usually in the winter we stay in a lot. We hunker down like bears. So very thankful for that.

Kid Snippets: 

November 10th
Bea (3) was looking closely at the bushes and flowers outside the library....
Bea: "Mom are these flowers all out of bees?"
Me: That's so cute Bea. You know so much stuff, like how flowers are supposed to have bees on them.
Bea: Yeah cause I know everything! Just like I know about doggies in the road and old leaves and bees in flowers! Cause I am sooo big and sooo smart, too.
And so cute too! She is great. (I have no idea what doggies in the road meant! I love it though!) Picture below is outside of the library next to the flowers. Bea decided to crawl through the bike racks, Penelope is following.

Always stop to smell the flowers...and crawl through make-shift tunnels
November 7
Bea (3) a few minutes ago at 4-freaking-am...
Bea: Mom, is it almost Christmas?
Me: No honey, not yet.
Bea: Mom is it almost Christmas?
Me: No, it's almost Thanksgiving.
Bea: Mom, is it almost Christmas?
Me: No!
Bea: Mom, is it almost Christmas?
Me: Bea, NO! You've asked me four times!! Stop asking!
Bea says nothing for 10 minutes, then she says, "Mom, I talk a lot when I talk."

(Oh goodness, I LOVE HER!)

November 3
“The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.” –Plato

November 28 
Everett age (6) loves to try to cook things in front of the space heater in the kitchen. "I want perfect ham" he tells me quite seriously as he places lunch meat in front of the heater.  It actually cooked to my surprise! He was thrilled. He's been obsessed with freezing things for years. It's actually comical. If he has two cookies he'll freeze one. He freezes milk and all kinds of things. It drives me crazy but it is also super adorable and interesting how much he loves freezing things. Now he has taken a fancy with the space heater. 
Last summer he kept trying to freeze our blackberries from our bushes. We didn't have enough to freeze though! We wanted to eat them fresh. If I wanted frozen blackberries I would buy some from Costco. He would beat us to the bushes sometimes and we'd go crazy because he'd have the ripe ones frozen already without us knowing. It's pretty hilarious even though we were also not happy he was doing it. He LOVES freezing stuff to see how it changes.

Monday, October 31, 2016

October, the Good and the Bad

Madeline turned one on the 28th.
  Happy Birthday Madeline
Every morning Madeline sits on my hip as I wash the stove. On this morning, I handed Layla (12) my camera and asked her to take a picture of what I thought would happen. I handed Madeline the rag for the first time ever and just looked her. She blinked twice, looked at the rag, and then went to work right away. I LOVE watching these amazing moments of development!! And of course, she felt proud of herself! I figured she'd mimic what she saw me always doing.
Madeline is such an interesting child with a cute personality. She is very watchful and determined.  She loves to snuggle with everyone. She looks at us sometimes and just lets out a little laugh of delight for no apparent reason. (She's happy with her family I think!) She has made up her own language using the word mom. She says either "mom-mom!" or "maam" or "ma" depending on what she wants. "Mom-mom!" means get this for me. Sometimes she pats me while saying "mom-mom!" If she pats me on the chest repeatedly and urgently saying "mom-mom" it means she wants a drink of water. A drawn out and sharp "maam!" is an urgent call for help. A very simple "ma" is usually a more laid back casual call for me to look her way. It's also been her way of asking my permission. As I typed this she just did it! She just sweetly and curiously said, "Ma?" as she looked at my empty coffee cup next to the couch. She was very pleased that I handed it to her so she could see it. She recently went down the toddler size slide all by herself. She climbs everything. All of our chairs are outside on the porch because we gave up taking her off of them and the table. She's wild and sweet. We have no idea what life was like without her. If someone is crying she will go right to them and place her head on them and hug them. She has showed empathy well before a year old. A baby showing empathy at that young of an age is very powerful thing. Babies are so smart; this is especially true when they are nurtured and cared for. Deep neurological pathways are laid in the brain with more positive stimulation (less occurs with less stimulation) and they quickly become capable of amazing, amazing things. All babies are amazing and hold remarkable abilities. Nurture them, teach them, watch them! They are capable of so very much. The older kids marvel at the way she communicates with us. I tell them it's because we all show her love and constant attention. She knows we hear her!

October's end wrapped up six kiddo birthdays in three months! Phew! Madeline and Penelope are our October babies.
Penelope's 10!
New pioneer clothes
Our Penelope turned 10. She loves the Little House series still and I'm so glad. She's so helpful and kind. She's happy to follow the rules and eager to please, funny that this makes her a very perfect fit in regards to what being a pioneer-child was most like! She makes parenting easy. She has a tender soul. She loves tomatoes and farm animals. She will sign up for any class, go to any event, and meet up with any friend. She is very social and happy. I love the way her eyes light up and her smile beams. She loves to bake. Family and fun is her life. She's a sweetheart in everything she does and is so much fun and also funny. I'm really proud to be her mom. I have so much fun with her. She has her father's outstanding memory, clever wit, and attention to detail and problem solving. She has her mother's silliness, restlessness, and love for baby and toddler care. A cute recent funny thing occurred at the grocery store. I asked her to grab two packages of ham. Aldi always has their ham shoved high and wildly stacked on the shelf. When she grabbed one package a bunch tumbled down. She caught most of them with two hands and without missing a beat hollered, "Ahhh help! Ham-alache!" I will always LOVE that! I was cracking up as we restocked the shelf.

Yesterday Beatrice asked us if we knew why she loved squirrels. She replied to us sweetly, "Because I am a fairy girl!" That child is SO full of sunshine. Recently she has really started talking about how she is a bee. She likes honey just like bees and she is a bee too. It's very cute. She recently made friends with the statues at the store. I told her it was time to go but she told me she was talking with her friends. Luckily daddy was at home with the kiddos so I let Bea have her time.

Madeline got a broom and mop cleaning set for her birthday. She loves playing with my broom, which is obviously gigantic to her and not easy or very safe. We bought her the Melissa and Doug cleaning set that has a stand. It came with other supplies too (duster, mini broom, dust pan). It's super fabulous and great quality. Bea loves it too. I thought the stand wouldn't work out. I thought Madeline would knock it over or try to carry it around. She thankfully gets its purpose and leaves it alone. If she can't get her cleaning supplies off of it she hollers at me in the absolute cutest alarmist way, "Maam! Maam!" as she tugs at it and looks at me. It's SO cute!

Bea (3) told me in delight that she was a real girl now because she can sweep the floor. (And she asked me, "Right, mom? I'm a real girl!" for extra conformation.) I told her she was a real girl and a very good sweeper-girl. Ricky and I were so amused and laughed at how cute it was. Children are so sweet. One of the things I love about children is how they hold so much innocence and inner happiness. I wrote in another post about when Madeline was really little and how she said to me, "Mommy, you are a really big girl nursing the baby and putting me on the potty."

Children remind me to not take such little day to day things for granted. Sweeping is a chore (one we do in the kitchen 4x a day here because of all the kids and dogs) and fumbling with a small baby one-handed while lifting a two year old onto the potty is not glamorous or easy. Her view reminds me to be so grateful for the small things.

Weird & Wild October
The only key to our van key got misplaced this month. It was so lost that I had to have a locksmith come to our house and make me a new one.

September and October were months of so much running around: homeschool co op , Halloween parties, the zoo, homeschool homecoming dance, MANY other kid and teen events, giving Charlotte rides to college, gymnastics, lots of gorgeous weather and park days, lots of gas to get around, and tons of unexpected 'life happens' problems. All that running around is normal for some, but it's not my thing. I like being home more. Hauling so many kids around wears on me and the littlest kids who have frequent bathroom and food needs. It was wild! Also, doing the household chores is impossible if I'm not home to do them!

In an attempt to cut back on our crazy life, we got rid of all of our chickens in September. They were not staying in their designated areas. We had too many inbred, too many old hens, too many super wild ones. They also wandered to the neighbors frequently because they put cat food out for their cats. It was a mess. We actually began hating our chickens. As many of you know, I love chickens! We never had problems until this past year and a half, so we need to start over with a clean slate. We can easily go through five dozen eggs a week, so we kinda have to have chickens!

Our back fence for the goats needs repair. Ricky has been trying to work on it for weeks. Every weekend something else comes up. So the goats are in our yard eating everything. It's seriously crazy right now.

Goats and ducks and turkeys and dogs and cats everywhere. And they poop and eat and make noise making constant work to juggle along with the kids. (Whom also poop and eat and make noise. Ha!)
I am trying not to say it, I'm trying not to think it, but the fact remains: We need more space. Well, and more time! Time would be great.

Plumbing "Fun"
We have been enduring a six week septic problem with the main line to our home's plumbing. We had two companies out and they didn't help much. We rented an electric snake machine from Home Depot three times and now we finally think we have it done. Every week we would get backed up again and every weekend our life was consumed with having to fix it. Twice we had 3-5 days where we siphoned water from the bathtub after bathing and did the same for the kitchen sink in order to do the dishes. Our anniversary was spent cleaning crap from the basement drain and snaking the line together. Better than being apart at least! 

During one particularly long week of broken-ness Ricky fixed me up a make-shift way to do laundry for the week. I kinda freak out if I can't do laundry. I hate getting behind on laundry. The three hardest things for many families, but especially big family life, is laundry, dishes, and feeding everyone. (The three runner up things I'd say are keeping bathrooms clean, driving everyone around to events/appointments, and the noise level inside.)

If I can't do chores, like laundry, I start to whine about it. It just freaks me out to get behind. It's too hard to get caught up. Plus, we have a lot of wet laundry that simply cannot sit around: cloth diapers, bibs, dirty kid clothes (with food on them which can mold if sitting around!), dish towels, bath towels, rags.

We've had three major power outages and a couple septic problems over the years. Ricky always finds creative ways to keep our household running. He's a modern pioneer. He grew up on a farm and farmers can do anything (he reminds me of this). So, he made a way for me to do laundry without resorting to a washboard, which he at first actually suggested.
Doing laundry without using the pipes via a submersible pump, garden hose drain, and a storage bin.
We worked on our septic problem nearly every weekend for six weeks. It was on again off again. Improvement was made most weekends but by the time Thursday rolled around water started backing up into the basement drain again. It was finally suggested by our septic company that we camera the line. This was as we hit week four. It costs $299.00 just to look in there! On a gut decision we kept spending money on fixing it ourselves. We almost rented a plumbing camera ourselves but thankfully didn't end up needing to. In the end, we probably came out ahead money wise for all our efforts!

We have a main line outdoor access point below our porch. It's an odd shaped half moon inlet. It's never had a good cover. A long time ago the make-shift existing cover that came with this old house actually went missing. Near this area we also had some concrete steps/walkway start to break apart. We put off fixing it for a realllly long time. Crazy thing is that Ricky finally bought the stuff to repair the concrete right before our clog. We discovered that for who knows for how long, little tiny bits of gritty concrete, dog hair, and other outdoor debris had been falling in our main line pipe from the outside access! Also, we have kids that do stuff too.  For example, I actually dug this skeleton Halloween decoration out of the indoor (basement floor) access line.
I found this week three of septic clog fiasco 2016. We're a little bit Brady Bunch and a little bit Adam's Family around here.
The day our septic was finally (we think now for good) fixed our washing machine's timer broke. The washing machine we were using was given to us and intended to be a temporary solution to our old big front loader needing a complicated new pump. We never got around to ordering the parts to fix our front loader up, and a couple of procrastinating years later here we are. We browsed Home Depot  not expecting to find anything when we saw a floor model top loader with the biggest basin I have ever seen. It's a washer that retails for $799 and it was on clearance for $500. I am now in love! I soon decided I didn't want to fix up our old washer after all. I just want to sell it or give it away. We bought the new washer but not the matching dryer because our big dryer still works (but has some issues). I used the new washer for a week and fell more in love with it! I loved it so much I wanted to go back and buy the matching dryer. Luckily they still had the matching dryer on clearance. My new machines make me very happy. There are chimes and songs and lights; it's a total magical overload of sounds and lights. I'm not big into electronic things but I'm telling you, this is the most sensory pleasing appliance I have ever had! (It plays a little cute chimey tune instead of having a buzzer when a load is done) Life is made so much better by the simplest joys. Like new washing machines that make life easier!

So finally things seemed better. I have a key to my van. Septic is going well now. We didn't exactly want to buy a new washer and dryer right before the holidays, but such is life, and they are awesome at least. I'm a lucky lady! Not so crazy times anymore now for a while... Right?

Trader Joe's
I went to Trader Joe's last week and after ringing up an entire cart full of groceries I realized I had no money or debit card on me. Bea and Everett came in the store with me wearing no shoes (somehow they were forgotten at home).  We had just spent the afternoon at the rainy park. (Yep with no shoes on them, don't judge me.) So, I'm standing there with no money and homely, damp, shoe-less kids.

I was tasked with prying confused and barefooted kids out of the store without their cookies just as they started to cry. Sage (teenager) who was waiting in the van offered me twenty dollars upon hearing their sorrowful cries for cookies. I didn't really want to go back in and buy cookies. I wanted to tell them to get a hold of themselves. I wanted to not care about cookies when I had a missing debit card out in the world somewhere. But I did care. (But also I mostly just wanted a quiet ride home. If they get cookies then I get peace! ) They love those cookies and we only go to Trader Joe's about three times a year. I went in and bought the cookies.

Before pulling out of the parking lot I left a message for Ricky to ask him if he could pick up our abandoned groceries after work. Trader Joe's was holding them for me. Then I was almost run off the road during rush hour traffic. The lane was ending and traffic was at capacity. Soon my lane was totally gone and traffic to the left of me was at a stand still. I was driving along a narrowing shoulder and it was going to end. I sped up very quickly because I can do some serious Fast and Furious in that 15 passenger van of mine. I managed to get in front of a truck just as I was going to get wedged between traffic and a guardrail. I guess to him it looked like I gunned it in front of all the traffic purposely just to cut everyone and him off, but that's not my side of the story. Later down the road he showed me he is a big tough man as he gave me a huge one finger salute far extended into to the air as he exited the interstate. Really cool, dude. I hope you feel big and empowered flipping off a woman and a van full of kids. I told the kids if they ever do stuff like that they need anger management. And then that just left me with a 'what is wrong with people' feeling.

Thirty seconds later my gas light came on. I had no money but I had the money Sage loaned me. I used the leftover change from buying the cookies to get gas. Inside the gas station I say, "Thirteen dollars on pump thirteen please." I'm a little superstitious, it's been a bad day, and this is beyond fitting. Plus it's October!

Ricky thankfully picked up our abandoned groceries that evening. Trader Joe's had them in their cooler. So all-in-all I got my groceries! It feels like life has an extra slice of "humor" for me lately and I'm not really laughing.

I sure wasn't laughing a few days later as I was dragging all the kids to the bank to report my debit card missing and to get a new one. I wasn't loving the complaining that ensued about the right flavor of bank sucker afterward.We were in the car and there was a shortage of reasonably good flavored choices at hand. I don't even care they complained though.

Suckers are important. I remember this from childhood. (As are cookies too I suppose?)
So instead of totally losing my mind I thought to myself: Let the kids have a little hissy over suckers and don't say a thing about it because one day all this similar SUCKY stuff will happen to them and they'll have to suck it up like I am right now. Right now they get to be self absorbed kids. Getting the unwanted flavor of sucker is just preparation for adult life anyway.

Halloween is one of our favorite holidays second only to Christmas. It's a fun kick-off to the most magical time of year. Despite the craziness we had a beautiful month overall. This year we are having a warm and gorgeously long fall! I now am looking forward to hibernating for most of November and December! Time for some serious down time. It is hard balancing everything when we are so busy. I find it very hard to keep home cooked meals on the table. It's hard to get kids to eat veggies when I'm too busy balancing my budget and our social calendar to even make them. I want to bake again. I want us to do home based activities again. For a while I am ready for the kids to be bored and for me to have the house back in order. I'm ready to read to them more. I'm ready to do crafts again. My time is squeezed extra thin. I am so exhausted at the end of the day of running around that I fall asleep with the kids. I also want to appreciate and enjoy our new chickens!

Our chicken-less lifestyle didn't last very long at all. By the months end we bought fall chicks so they will lay this spring. It was Ricky who brought them home. We were trying to decide if we should get some to over-winter or not. We talked about it and both of us kept changing our minds. The huge advantage is that by the time spring is here they will be laying. By the time spring is here they will also be on free pasture. If we get feeding and raising out of the way in the winter we enjoy the biggest cost benefit of laying hens in the spring. If we were to instead get them in the spring they would eat starter feed all spring into summer and not the free pasture. The spring chicks won't lay until the fall. Once winter hits, if it is very cold, they lay less too. Winter can throw them into an early molt also, and if that happens they won't lay anything all winter long. As soon as the septic problem was fixed I suggested we get chicks again. Ricky hesitated and stated the obvious: it was a bad idea because we are so crazy as it is. Then I reminded him how I do better the busier I am and so maybe if things get too boring I'll not do as well. I was half joking. (But staying busy is better for me, that's true.) Well, two days later Ricky went to the feed store to get animal feed and he brought home surprise chicks. I was shocked! I did not see that coming! He called my bluff. I gulped a little. Aw, crap!

I have carved out some time for them. I used to spend more time to doing animal things with the kids. So Bea and I sit down together and visit with the chickens. We hold them and laugh at them nearly everyday. It's something that I realized I didn't do anymore... enjoying the little things is important. Instead of rushing to feed them and pushing them aside as another thing on my to-do list I promised myself that I would take the time with Bea raising them and socializing them. They both benefit from the one on one time! We are also firmly committed to keeping the chickens on pasture in chicken tractors instead of roaming. This will help if any decide to roam and teach the others bad habits as well as keep them on a mostly pasture diet. We never used to feed our chickens this much feed. It's gotten totally out of hand! When we lived on more land we hardly ever fed our chickens. I miss that! They are amazing foragers if you do not spoil them too much!

A few Halloween Pictures:
 Bo Peep and sheep
My sheep!

 Madeline LOVED Trick or Treating. Bea walked the WHOLE time and was serious about candy collecting.
That's October! For better or worse, and for Tricks and Treats!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Helping People

At the pediatric dentist office today I noticed a woman looking at me. She saw me bustling between my kids and their dental chairs.  I'm used to being stared at. With between 6 to 9 kids in tow at any given time we get stared at just about everywhere we go. She was with her three year old boy and I presumed the man with her was her husband. She looked like life might be hard right now.

As I was checking out with one of the receptionists the woman and her husband were reviewing a treatment plan near me. Apparently our dentist said he could do their child's dental work right then. It appeared this was their first time there. The front desk had printed up the paperwork for them and went over fees. The man had zoned out. His wife yelled at him, "Are you paying attention?! Are you listening? This is important!" It was me staring at them this time. I noticed he was totally not paying attention. He looked as if he was in a trance. He said he was listening but that it didn't matter because they couldn't afford it anyway. He curtly told the front desk they couldn't do it and he told his wife they needed to leave. The mom desperately persisted, "The infection is almost to the tooth pulp!" He again insisted that they didn't have the money. Then they began to argue. It got louder and louder. They loudly discussed credit options but he quickly shut those down for various reasons. Everything got awkward. The other receptionist who was scheduling a handful of future appointments for me didn't pause whatsoever. She talked loudly over them. I couldn't focus at all. I felt myself getting warm and flushed. My heart started to race. A voice inside me told me to do something.

Ricky had told me to watch what I spent this month. We are so tight this month. We will be pretty tight for the next few months. We replaced our central air and heat this spring. Our passenger van needed a new transmission. Ricky needed a new vehicle shortly thereafter. He bought a gem of a used 1995 truck with hardly any miles on it. (We always buy used.) We have five kids enrolled in gymnastics (one is in competitive gymnastics). I am having a little trouble putting gas in my van this month because we are SO busy and my van is fairly expensive to drive. We have six kid birthdays in three months. Charlotte just started college. (Though she pays that, she still lives at home and we help her with incidentals and medical/dental of course.) We have a clogged main line to our septic tank. (I just discovered that this morning!!) I have no idea what it will cost or what the real issue is. But one thing I do know: this month, next month, and the month after, I know for pretty much certain that our kids will all have fixed teeth and food on the table. They will probably still go to gymnastics unless something really, really bad happens, and then toward the end of this year they will wake up to presents under the Christmas tree.
God, we are so blessed. Seriously. 

"Do something, it will be okay" is what I kept hearing in my head. I walked over to them and said I'd pay for it. I had previously overheard it probably was around $200.00. I asked the front desk how much it was total. The mom dropped her jaw and quickly said, "Thank you!" She really sounded relieved. The dad was quiet for a moment and then said thank you while introducing himself to me. I suddenly felt like I was a guardian angel. Like God spoke to me to help them. Something told me deep down everything would work out. The amount scared me a little, $230.00. I said it was fine. I knew I'd figure something out. I knew Ricky would understand. The man then said he could pay half of the cost and that was fair to me because he could pay that much. This was an amazing gesture. He did the right thing to meet me halfway. I was so relieved. Had it been seven months ago I would have insisted I just help them with the full amount. Right now though we're a little tight, but certainly not 'we can't fix our child's teeth' tight. 

We split the bill.

I took my receipt and the family thanked me again as they then paid their portion. I gathered up my crew of kids who had all been either watching me or ransacking the prize bins. As I was walking out the door the hygienist came out and said she needed to talk to me for a second. Our dentist wanted to help out. He heard what I had done and wanted us to be refunded. He would instead cover the portion that I paid for them. I was given a new receipt that said my bank account had now been refunded! Wow.

I believe guardian angels can be beings on Earth. We all hold the power to watch over people, change lives, and bless people. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Summer Romance in a 15 Passenger Van

It's been a long week. Bea is going though some tough times. Suddenly she is clingy and whiny. I've had to switch gears on how patient I am with her. I feel snappy and annoyed. She is not usually high needs. It's hard when a child becomes difficult all of the sudden. It's like everything stops to a screeching halt. It's been unexpected and so my expectations for her have to catch up with reality. Madeline gets loads of attention of course, and I think Bea needs some lifting up right now. She just turned three, so her development and her way of understanding the world around her is changing dramatically. It's extra hard because Everett (5) has been in a super hard wild boy stage for what seems like forever. He's difficult and wild. He hits. He climbs. He broke his arm. He explores non stop. He screams in disappointment when he has to get ready for bed. (He has always had a hard time with switching gears.) Bea has picked up on some of  Everett's five year old defiant behavior. Double whammy! Having that sweet as pie baby girl scream 'no' to me is such a pain right now.

 You know when your child has a birthday and you wonder where the time went? With Everett each birthday we feel like the year in between has lasted forever. That child is high impact. He is very sweet and happy go lucky, but also very high speed. It seems like he should be ten by now. The years crawl on very slowly with him. They have since he was two. He's young at heart. He's smart, and focused when he wants to be, but he's young and impulsive. It's not terrible, it's kinda sweet, but it's freaking exhausting. When he's upset he has trouble with self regulation. He's the kid that loves everything though. He loves girls and babies and guns and butterflies. He loves super heroes and Lalaloopsys. He loves mud and art. He doesn't see pink and purple as too girly.  He's sensitive and tough. He's a great kid.

I called Ricky on his way home Friday afternoon and told him I had to get out of the house. He said we should meet up for dinner if I could escape. I loaded up the baby and left everyone else at home with a movie and popcorn. We had an impromptu sushi date night. I didn't feel like juggling the baby between us during dinner though. Since she was asleep in her car seat Ricky got our sushi to go. We drove our 15 passenger van over to Walmart just to park and people watch while we ate. The sun was just going down over Kohl's. Talk about romantic!!! :)

 Romance is what you make of it. When you are with somebody you love it doesn't matter what you are doing! Madeline slept the entire time so that was seriously lucky! It's hard to find the time when you have nine kids so you have to get creative and appreciate what you have.