Life With Nine Kids

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. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Spring 2016

This spring we got a new baby! This is Gunnar. 

Our  new puppy dog is a super model. No, not really. But he could totally, totally be!
Dumpster Rental for spring cleaning, downsizing, and garage cleaning most of all
I have learned over the years that there is usually a really difficult time (even several) throughout the year. Usually it has to do with various age transitions of kids. I used to get burnt out by it, but now I think I am so used to it I just let it flow. I know better days will come. I fight it less. It does not last forever.  Raising kids is like climbing a mountain. At first it's fun and you are all prepared and pumped, and then it becomes rough. Stuff you aren't prepared for can overwhelm you; situations you didn't pack for. Sometimes you even feel lost or stranded. Eventually you get your second (and then third) wind, and you pick up some speed. You eventually make it over. It just takes a bit more effort than those first steps! I see the pattern now. Right now it is loud and Ricky and I have trouble just talking over the noise! But it wont always be like this. It gets better. They get bigger. Things smooth over. (And then it will get hard again. Life is like this!) Having Madeline join the gang is really fun. She is just plunked right in the middle of all the chaos and she loves it.
It's always like that I suppose. Each amazing one of them right in the middle of crazy-everything.

Nine kids is hard...but is it really that different than six? (It's not, both are hard.) Really though, I am scrambling at trying to find ways to cut back. We have way too much going on! We butchered a bunch of turkeys and chickens to thin the population. I have spent hours and hours planting, training, staking, and admiring my tomato plants. I love working in the garden. It makes me so happy. But every time I'm out there working my house is being wrecked, someone is probably watching too much tv, laundry is piling up, and the bathroom probably has an un-flushed toilet (from Everett age 5 most usually lol). I ignore my family to garden, and it's a slice of heaven on earth. My free time is a premium! And that's how I love to spend it.

Spring has been filled with new critters. We are struggling to keep our one acre farm actually ON our one acre. It's not easy. Ricky got ducks! We have a lot going on! LOL.
Beatrice holds a new chick hatched by a friendly and patient barred rock mama hen

We like our home a lot and we have put a tremendous amount of hard work into it (and continue to do so), but we have been looking for a new place with more land to move to for a long time. We haven't found anything perfect yet. (Oh, you can try telling me perfect doesn't exist. I won't listen though.) We obsessively looked for the fourth year in a row this winter and into the spring. It is now feeling ridiculous at this point. We have a nice place to live now, which makes me feel so bad that I am often obsessed with moving. We can't shake it though. We want more land for a multitude of reasons. I have some boxes packed already and we have even put offers on places but they didn't work out. I am fighting staying here with my best possible efforts, yet here we stay firmly planted. There is a reason. Part of my lesson, I believe, is finding peace and contentment within. I am trying to master that. The other related lesson is faith and patience. 

Something I learned recently was how much I was ruining my children by constantly talking about what we were looking for and why we didn't like here. They have no idea our property is less than ideal to us until we tell them about it. This is the only home most of them know. This is their sacred childhoods. It really helps to see things through a child's eyes. They see things differently, or perhaps not at all. For example: Kids don't see the jelly they smeared all over the side of the jar, nor do they feel the peanut butter creeping up the knife handle making them sticky. They are too focused on their sandwich. That's annoying to grown ups but not to kids. Kids don't see things in the less than perfect way adults do. They don't dwell as much as adults. Kids have fun with what they do have. Kids are resourceful. Kids live in the moment. Kids are awesome. I want to be more awesome. I have been undoing the negative thoughts that I accidentally fed them about moving. When I open my eyes  I make sure I see blessings instead of shortcomings. How spoiled and accustomed we all become when we don't have to go without. Now I take a deep breath and look around at what we have. I have talks with myself. Human nature is to strive for more and better, it's part of survival and self perseverance. That can clash hard when we mesh that instinct with modern life. My mantra lately is 'be content.' I also tell myself, 'Teach your children well. They will follow you into to happiness or despair. It's my choice.'

And that's the kind of thoughts, mixed with some property hunting and soul searching that I have been up too. I looked at my garden the other day and asked myself what my 16 or 20 year old self would have thought of this place. I grew up in the desert, and while I can appreciate the desert as a nostalgic and unique habitat all on its own, I always loved woods, rivers, trees, and fireflies growing up. When I was visiting family or going camping, the smell of the farms and forests was so fresh and full of life. I can't imagine being anywhere else but the Midwest. I remember how much I just loved the Midwest the times I visited it before I moved. As a child I learned to swim and canoe in Missouri. As a young lady I played in the corn fields of Iowa. In my 20's I took jaw-dropping photos of sunflower fields in Kansas. The first time I drove through a small Midwest town my face was literally pressed to the car window. I recall thinking "This is why it's called God's country." I really do remember the total awe. Driving through small towns I had no idea houses were really different than the stucco ones I was used to. When I was a kid I wanted a family and an old house with a basement. When I was a teenager I adored sunflowers and couldn't get enough of them. Here I am in my thirties typing this in the 90 year old home Ricky and I bought together. The love of my life and blessed with all these children. Right outside my window are sunflowers. Twenty minutes ago I went down to my cool basement to do laundry.

Out my window June 2016
How stupid it is that sometimes it becomes hard to see what's right in front of us?

That's why I am writing this. Writing always provides clarity for me. Moving is just not what we are supposed to be doing right now. I would venture to guess that living happily, teaching the kids, and enjoying our life in little and big ways is what we are supposed to be doing right now! It's not that we can't plan to move, but maybe I can just let it unfold. Maybe it will take time.
The Farm
Two months ago we started visiting the farm more (Ricky's family farm). The drive is long with the kids and it's hard packing up. Each trip exhausts us but it's worth it. The kids love it so much, too. We want them to connect with the farm and our family there. We are actively overcoming feeling that we are always too busy to go to the farm. Ricky and I have lamented to each other about how we will always be too tired, and too busy, and it will always be too far. Always. Either we let that stop us or we don't. Are the rewards worth it? If they are then we do it. Just power through and just do it. 
So we have! It is glorious.
See how worth it it is:

Digging for worms with PawPaw

Madeline 6 months old
After we fulfill our promise to slowly spend more time at the farm we are going to fix up the old farm house there so that we have a part time place! We are very excited. So instead of focusing all our energy on moving right now we are trying to redirect that desire into something special. And something with more family time!!

Little Kids
I was wondering last month how I can forget how hard having a two (almost three) year old and an infant is?! And there lies the real dilemma: It is hard to get anything done with little kids! How do I forget this!? I never used to pay attention. Now I know why people stop having's hard! lol!

She is sweet and amazing. Her intense eyes and watchful personality is starting to become more apparent. I see that I'm actually building a trust with her. She's not as free spirited and silly as the other girls. She observes differently than some of the other kids did. It's subtle, but I know it! I can tell. If you are not into astrology you won't understand, but I can tell I lighten her mood. I can tell I'm unfolding pages in her personality. I didn't know much about Scorpios, but occasionally I read about them since I had her... and so much I am experiencing with her is so true. Her happy and secure babyhood, because of gentle hands-on mothering and parenting, will help serve her for a lifetime. This of course is true with all babies and children. Perhaps though, the ones with the more difficult or secretive personalizes gain the most.  
Watchful Sisters 
When we get home from an outing Layla and/or Penelope stay with any little kids if I leave the van unattended. I don't ask them to. They just always have. Day-to-day Penelope and Layla will also often ask where various little kids are randomly. If it has been a while since they have seen a sibling they will check and see if they are napping or outside. Especially they check on under 5 year old aged kids. We have been home an hour and just now Penelope stopped playing with playdoh and causally walked over to me in the living room. She asked, "Did you get Madeline out of the car?" It's quiet in the house and she knows it shouldn't be. I can't even explain how much I appreciate and adore their watchful eyes. They have heard me say that kids can die in cars. We do kid counts. Their awareness speaks volumes about what good sisters they are. Something else I love is that they don't just think about themselves. There is something bigger than just them. They watch. They love. They take care of each other. 

The Kids: A Rundown
The Teens
 Charlotte (19) was decorating cakes for a local store and got quite good. She's extremely artistic and found a way to use her creative side on cakes! Wither her positive work ethic she worked her way into an unofficial bakery management position at only 19 years old. She was in charge of managing the daily bakery operations, baking, decorating, ordering, inventory, Etc. She was the sole person in the bakery for quite a while, often working overtime while trying to complete highschool! She is now focusing on college courses. She may go into business management with aspirations to manage a high end bakery. She is not sure though. She likes decorating cakes so much so she is trying to get more experience with wedding cakes.

There are so, so many things that Charlotte does for us. Charlotte is so amazing, and she is so fun to her siblings. She bought and filled mini piƱatas for each of them for Christmas, she bakes with Everett every time I go some place he can't because of his broken arm, she watches the baby and Bea so I can garden, which is serious therapy for my soul. She helps all the time around the house. She is a hard worker. And she's so cheerful!

Sage (16) is a typical teenage boy that keeps to himself and doesn't rock the boat he is sailing on. He is tall at a whopping 6'3.  Poor kid hits his head on everything. He has friends that are into some various card games and chess. He is teaching himself guitar. He likes to work with his hands and is currently building a rabbit hutch for his rabbit. His white rabbit is named Shakespeare. It is cute when Bea says it. She says Shakes-beard. Sage is our super helpful outdoors farm kid and he helps with the animals a lot and doesn't mind heavy lifting. He's good at catching our turkeys and chickens. Sage hates indoor chores. All the kids are friends but he has a special bond with Bea. He loves weapons, fires, and self defense books. He knows a lot about history and conspiracy theories. He might already be a spy, but probably he just has lock picks, night vision goggles, and a mysterious personality all  for the fun of it. He doesn't like making his bed. It's my mission in life to convince him that it's worth the effort.

Ethan (16) is an extremely talented artist. It's not just a hobby to him. He draws for hours every day like it's air to him. Ethan and Sage have the same friends. Ethan is a bit less farm oriented than Sage, but he still loves animals and eagerly helps out. He likes mammals over the birds. He hangs out with our goats. He loves dogs most of all. Ethan nearly always picks indoor chores over outdoor. He can mow a yard fast and straight, which sounds silly to mention, but it is awesome! His handwriting is amazing! His room is almost always clean. He is so helpful around the house and never complains. He is super nice to his little brothers who want to play constantly with him. He is calm with Everett (and all the younger kids) when they throw tantrums and I appreciate it so much. Ethan is composing music and singing a bit with the keyboard we got for Christmas! He's very talented! He is young at heart and still runs around and plays with the kids.

Layla (11) taught herself gymnastics over the past year by watching videos online. She's very talented.

Her dad bought her a gymnastics mat last summer because she was so dedicated. There were many weeks that she practiced five hours a day doing gymnastics, watching tutorials, and stretching. We were stunned. We finally enrolled her in a gymnastics program at an amazing place. They were super impressed with her and moved her from beginner to advanced intermediate after two classes. I loved every time I heard them mention how impressive it was she was self taught. She then tried out for team and made it. She will be competing four times this year locally. She is advanced in floor work because that is all she had to train with at home. She is now trying to get better at bar, beam, and vault. As you can figure, gymnastics is her life right now. Layla is a very helpful and such is great sister. She goes everywhere with me even when kids are allowed to stay home. I often call her my personal assistant. She is extremely organized. This child could dress herself at 18 months old so...
Layla is always making up games for her siblings and is a natural with young kids. Ricky just laughs and laughs, like real laughter, to me in private because when she's being a stinker and moody to me he says she sounds just like me when I'm pissed off. He thinks it's hilarious.

Penelope (9) loves everything. She loves, art, cooking, farm animals, her siblings, games, and the list goes on and on. She is always up for anything. She loves the Little House books and dressing up like a prairie girl. I adore it and wished she'd never grow up! She's a natural at mothering and scoops up this baby in an instant. She is very smart and very advanced at child and baby care for her age.
She plays a lot with Bea and Everett. She is interested in gymnastics and has followed in Layla's footsteps a bit with that. She is gaining quickly in strength and balance from her gymnastics classes. Her favorite food is tomatoes. We just planted 40 plants. She has planted tomatoes with me every spring for her whole entire life! 

Sebastian (7) draws almost as much as Ethan.
He is really quiet and thoughtful, but also has a wild boy side that comes out especially when playing with Everett. Sebastian is tough and strong. Sebastian has quite a temper. His feelings can also get hurt very easily. He is a very tender soul with a very tough exterior. Sebastian loves playing chess and Magic the Gathering. He collects wolves. If he was an animal he would be a wolf. He's loyal, private, and fierce. If you upset him he doesn't forget. He enjoys running around and playing chase games. He loves babies. Bea and Madeline, with their giggles and fun, will often lighten his mood and crack his frown into a smile when times are emotionally tough for him.

Everett (5)

This kid has the most free spirit we have ever known. He loves babies and says Madeline is is favorite person. He loves to laugh and be silly. He will wrestle, play-fight, and run around almost non stop with anybody. He is very rough and he is sensory seeking. He seeks out textures, noise, and lots of stimulation. He has an above average pain tolerance. He is wild; Ricky and I always said that he was going to be our first ER visit with a kid, and we were right! None of the other kids ever have had an emergency room warranted injury. He climbs trees, to the top of our van, the pillars on our porch, up the walls, and a couple times he has stood still hiding in the frame of a window inside the house.  His new and tamer life is very hard on him due to the cast but he is really happy and positive most days. It is hard for us to get him to be careful with it! He smashes anything he can with the cast.

Bea (2) is really sweet and cute. When showing me her pine cone she said, "This is my best pineapple!" with a lot of ADORABLE enthusiasm.

She is a dainty little girl, and all girl in every way. She is tough and mighty, but mostly she is made of sugar and spice. She loves talking and is very good with expressing herself. She tells us Madeline is the best present she ever got. We never told her anything like that. She just came up with it. She says cute stuff like that all the time. She goes to gymnastics too. The teacher is amazing. There is a big foam pit the kids can jump in. They have in-ground trampolines. They play color games, learn balance, use beans and bars. It teaches a lot of great skills and they are so amazing with kids. Bea loves playing with play food, baby dolls, and her siblings. She also likes to call us Mother and Father. Cutest thing EVER? When she hugs us and says sweetly, "You are my mother." "You are my father." She closes her eyes and gives us big hugs when she says that. She's a doll.

Madeline is six months old and wobbly when sitting up.
Her real accomplishment is crawling. She can get across the floor already! She loves her siblings and loves watching them. When she watches them run around she will yell out baby talk and flap her arms up and down in excitement towards them. She loves her daddy and gives him the sweetest starry eyed smiles.
She is perfectly fun and sweet like the rest. She is a good sleeper, but prefers to be home for sleeping. She is a good car rider though which is a great thing for this busy bunch! 

Gymnastics is a huge part of our lives, this picture taken when Madeline is tiny bit older (7 months)

The kids had a fun spring with gymnastics classes, a project fair, and an art show. We do most things together and things that are nearly all ages together.

Everett Finally Broke Something

We were gone all day running errands and got home for an afternoon of beautiful weather, family time, and grilling. As soon as the car was unloaded and Ricky got the coals on the grill hot for kabobs, Everett (5) fell off the playground in the backyard. He was climbing up and down the monkey bar ladder and he fell landing backwards hard on his left arm. Sage (16) scooped him up and brought him to me. Sage calmly told me Everett was hurt and that he broke his arm. I looked at his arm thinking he was probably fine...a split second later I realized that my wishful thinking was not going to get us out of this one. I have never seen a broken arm before but everything about his arm looked very wrong and broken. It looked like rubber, had very little tone, and his wrist bowed upward and bent funny.  His arm was deflated looking and it was floppy. He fell from about three and a half feet, which is usually nothing for that rambunctious tree climbing kid, but he fell backwards and tried to catch himself backwards.

When Everett cries he is usually really hurt. He has an amazing pain tolerance. I yelled out to my family random things, "We are going to the hospital NOW! Keys? I need diapers. Where are my shoes? Oh my God, where are the keys!?" Ricky asked me if he should stay or go with me. I told him he's going for sure. A huge bonus of having many older kids is that we actually had that option. The teens were at my side asking what they could do and assuring me they had things at home covered. We had just unloaded over $600 worth of bulk shopping from Costco. Everything was a mess. Boxes everywhere. I had no idea where the keys ended up. I deal well with stress unless one of the kids is hurt. I almost can't see straight when there is a kid crisis. I was wandering around with Everett crying in my arms. He's five and so heavy. I was trying to get him to take deep breaths and he tried. He wailed that he didn't want to go to the hospital. He told me in all seriousness his arm wasn't broken and he just needed to rest it a little while. That's right. My five year old has an obvious broken arm and he stopped crying long enough to say he just needs to rest it. I told him there would be popsicles at the hospital and he became more accepting of the hospital. I couldn't cradle hold him anymore as it was getting me no closer to leaving. I was literally walking in circles around the house. I laid him on the couch. I had no idea where Ricky had gone. I assumed he was getting ready and dousing out the coals on the grill. Layla (11) was in the shower as all this was going on. She goes everywhere with me. She got dressed in a flash. I was still frantically searching for keys and telling the other kids to put away all the food. I was still pacing frantically. I didn't know where to look for the keys and my brain was in overload mode. I soon switched from yelling "where are the keys?!" to yelling about not being able to find my phone. It was taking me too long to get my head together. I had to tell myself to NOT call 911. I was wanting somebody else to take over. I felt like I was in a dream where I was being chased but unable to move. Everett sat crying on the couch.

Sage (16) scooped up Everett from the couch and held him until Ricky got him. Layla found the keys (she finds everything) and I now somehow had my phone in my hand. Love my kids! Layla toted little Madeline out to the car and put her in her car seat. I have no normal 11 year old, I assure you. She's amazing. We loaded up and left. Ricky rode with Everett in the backseat and held his arm. On the way I called information to get the hospital's number. I had the most insane experience with 411. I said the city and state and then I said "Hospital" and it couldn't give me a listing. I said the hospital name and it still said there was no listing. I said the city and state and the word HOSPITAL loudly. It told me no listing. I asked for an operator and it said it was an automated service. I did this four times. I was incredulous as my mouth dropped open. My attention turned to Everett's cries. He cried out that his arm hurt and I was close to crying. I held it together and found focus. I told Ricky to start asking Everett what happened in hopes it would distract him. Everett's crying slowed as he told us. Meanwhile, I decided I could be an ambulance driver. I was now super focused, cool and collected. Since I had no siren I was speeding only when 'safe' and changing lanes as I could without being jerk. I now had way more focus than back at home. I'm still laughing that my thoughts as I sped to the hospital consisted of worry and that I could totally handle being an ambulance driver. Haha.
We ended up being gone 10 hours after two different hospitals. It seemed an insane amount of time for a broken arm. (You should see the bills. It's a long story and I'm stopping there.) Overall we had amazing care. Everett is such a wild kid that we knew his cast was going to be a huge problem for everyone:
First day at home birth a broken arm:
He was running outside and when I called him to stop he says, "I am not Everett I am Johnny Mountain Climber. I fell down a 300ft mountain and broke my arm." For an hour he wouldn't answer to his real name and only Johnny Mountain Climber.

He tried to brake open a rock with a screwdriver.

I had to get him off the swing outside. Twice.

In the middle of the day Everett casually asked Layla if it is time for his next trampoline gymnastics lesson yet. 

Day two
I looked to my left and he is sitting on top of our vintage living room dresser eating a bowl of dry cereal. What in the world. 

Everett, you are fantastic and free and brave. I hope you know your spirit is strong and your will is mighty.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Postpartum Depression, Thyroid Issues, and Gluten

When Everett (5) was a baby it took me at least eight months to feel back to normal. It was by far the most challenging postpartum and mothering time of my life. I was eventually found to have hypothyroidism. At first I didn't realize that I was feeling depressed. Most people don't understand that postpartum depression doesn't always manifest itself in a few weeks or a month. It can happen suddenly or gradually after several months. The postpartum period actually lasts a year.

Postpartum thyroiditis is an often undetected thyroid problem that can develop in the first year postpartum and may be responsible for a large number of women suffering from mild to severe postnatal depression. Sometimes it resolves itself, but for others it can cause lifelong thyroid problems. I have reason to believe that I may have had hyperthyroidism (low thyroid hormone) before I had Everett and that it got worse thereafter. I'll never really know for sure. I mention postpartum hypothyroidism anyway because of its prevalence and the fact that it is not given the attention it deserves. 

My problems after having Everett in 2011 crept over me slowly: I slept a ton, I felt ill, I quit caring about the house and clutter build up. I noticed that the kids got on my nerves for no reason. My memory was super bad. I noted to myself that I just wasn't fun anymore. My hair fell out in handfuls. I was moody. I ignored Ricky. He was busy at work, super busy, and says he didn't notice my problems that much. He said he just thought I needed space. During that difficult time I eventually started caring about the house again, except I became hyper obsessed with the house being clean. I am generally strict about the housekeeping, but my depression manifested itself into a serious obsession. I couldn't keep the house clean enough and I hollered at everyone about messes. I have learned through research that the rule of thumb for depression seems to be if you aren't doing "better" after two weeks of feeling bad then something is probably wrong.

Grocery shopping was also too overwhelming for me. I had an inability to cope with the task. For a while after Everett was born Ricky and I went grocery shopping together (or he went for us). I felt bad about it but I just couldn't cope with shopping alone. I dreaded it in an extreme way. Every week I would tell myself I was going to get the shopping done so we could enjoy the weekend...and then everyday I made an excuse about why I couldn't run errands or shop. It was seriously weird. It was like I was paralyzed from going. I would overthink the whole thing and dread it. When I would plan to go I would watch the hours tick by at home until it was too late to go. Looking back I now see I had anxiety. There are many layers of postpartum depression and it can cause various mood disorders. I think unless you have gone through it or understand the elements behind them it is nearly impossible to understand. This link helps with explaining many symptoms in detail.

Since I didn't write about it back then I only somewhat remember what it was like for me. I hope talking about it now might help others. I remember telling Ricky I was not doing okay. I remember telling him I could not cope (in a general day-to-day sense). I remember telling him that I yelled at the kids and was being a bad mother because I felt burnt out. Like a lot of spouses he didn't know what to do about it. He asked me what he should do to help me and I really didn't know either. On the hardest days or weeks I remember telling myself that I will and can get by one day at a time. And if that was too much (and sometimes it totally was) then I would get by one hour at a time. Sometimes I actually had to get by one minute at a time.

Why didn't I ask for outside help when Everett was a small baby?
 The first reason, and most women can relate to this: I didn't want others to know I wasn't doing well. For a long time I honestly did not understand that it was even depression. I kept wondering if I was even really depressed. I was actually happy a lot of the time overall. I was super in love with my baby. I was happy and in love with being a wife and mom. My husband was good to me.  So, it was hard for me to understand.
 The second reason: If I were to go to the doctor I was afraid I'd be prescribed antidepressants. That's the quick fix that so many people get. It can overlook and avoid the root problem that needs to be addressed. (This was before I found a caregiver I trust. I now have a doctor I could go to.)
 The third reason most other women with larger families can relate to: I didn't want anyone to say or think that I had too many kids and that we shouldn't have had them. My inability to cope at the time was not related to having too many children. Did it make things harder? Sure, of course it did. Having a lot of kids, or any kids for that matter, makes a lot of things harder! (duh) But it was not the reason. Large families tend to face scrutiny and I wanted none of it.

I went untreated for months. It was also winter, dreary, and very cold. Finally my hips and pelvis hurt so bad that I thought I had bone cancer (or something awful). It hurt to walk. I went to the doctor and they did vitamin D and thyroid tests. Turns out I had a vitamin D deficiency and an under active thyroid. Within mere days of vitamin D supplementation all my pain was going away. I was right to think something was wrong with my bones. I had adult rickets, which is recoverable thank goodness. My thyroid started getting regulated with medication (Armour natural thyroid) and that only took a couple of weeks. I was myself again! Every time I have a baby I now do more to prepare to stay healthy. 

Ways I Stay Healthy Postpartum
-Remind my family the physical and mental toll childbirth can take on a woman, and give them ideas of how they can help me get off to a good start. A good start equals a healthy mom and baby!
-Eat well, drink plenty of water
-Take a whole food multi-vitamin, fish oil, calcium, + extra vit d and selenium for thyroid health
-Take a shower every single day. Have some favorite pampering and self-care items on hand (Shea Moisture!)
-Go easy on myself. Wear pajamas for six weeks if that makes me comfortable. (But I shower and wear light make-up/hair done lightly so I don't feel like a bed-head all day)
-Keep the laundry up. This comes easy for me because I like getting it done. I feel accomplished. But even if I get in a slump, I make sure that I have at least one load per day washed, folded, and put away. That is doable. And asking for family help doing it is encouraged!
-I use disposable diapers and paper plates the first month or longer if I need to. I'm a huge cloth diaper fan, but I make things easy on myself for a while.
- Have my thyroid tested at some point and closely watch for symptoms of a out of whack thyroid.
-Know my triggers. What upsets my body and aggravates my body, what can I do about it, how can I reduce stress, how much sleep do I need to aim for, what do I need to eliminate from my diet, Etc.

The Thyroid
There is evidence via blood testing that I am slowly following a path towards a thyroid disease called Hashimoto's. It is an autoimmune disease where antibodies see my thyroid as bad and attack it, literally destroying it over time. It is widely believed that people with thyroid problems are up to 95% likley to develop Hashimoto's over time. Thyroid problems are serious and can get more serious.  One more "fun" thing about the thyroid: You will probably develop develop one or more autoimmune disorders once you have a thyroid disease.

Gluten Connection
There is strong evidence that gluten is a trigger for most people with thyroid issues. It is highly recommended to eliminate gluten when you have an under active thyroid problem. Those whose thyroid medicines don't seem to be working still struggle with feeling normal, depression, fatigue, Etc.. People like this often notice profound results after eliminating gluten. If you want to try to get off your medication, as I do, finding triggers that aggravate your thyroid's well being is very important. I take Armour thyroid which is a "natural" thyroid medicine derived from pigs. With special attention it is possible for many people to stop thyroid damage through lifestyle change. There is not a shortage of information online about the thyroid-gluten connection.

"What explains the connection? It’s a case of mistaken identity. The molecular structure of gliadin, the protein portion of gluten, closely resembles that of the thyroid gland. When gliadin breaches the protective barrier of the gut, and enters the bloodstream, the immune system tags it for destruction. These antibodies to gliadin also cause the body to attack thyroid tissue. This means if you have AITD and you eat foods containing gluten, your immune system will attack your thyroid." Read more at this link.

My doctor recommended I cut gluten out of my diet to improve my thyroid health even before I started having antibodies that suggest I have early signs of Hashimoto's. I didn't listen at first. I also have mild rosacea (red/pink dry patches on face). Rosacea is an inflammatory autoimmune response on the face. Remember what I said earlier? You are more likley to develop other autoimmune disorders once you have a thyroid disease.

But, cutting the gluten out is/was hard, stressful, and depressing.

It's not just missing the gluten that is hard. The time and energy it takes to prepare special meals when I am already preparing meals for my very large family is very hard. 

Cheating on a gluten free diet isn't allowed. It is quite important to be 100% gluten free. That's what 'they' say anyway.  For me personally, even my first wish-washy attempts at being gluten free garnered some promising results. I think my rosacea gets worse when I eat gluten. (It also gets worse if I put anything on my face that has rubbing alcohol in it.) I noticed by toying with being gluten free that I feel better when off of gluten for at least two weeks. I found myself thinking that I might have more energy and more patience. I found myself thinking that I might feel better. But after a bit I still cheated and ate these donuts. It was hard.

Alcohol ~The hits kept on coming. 
First my gluten then my weekend cocktails?
Drinking alcohol inhibits thyroid function and stresses the adrenals. I noticed over a year ago I felt really bad after drinking just a little bit. It was especially prevalent if the alcohol had additives in it. (i.e. Food coloring, flavoring, who knows what else.) I also got emotional after drinking (not normal for me). I started wondering if I had a sudden weird sensitivity. I soon became Pregnant with Madeline and stopped drinking altogether anyway.

Fast forward 11 1/2 months later now that Madeline had been born: I had one and a half drinks and felt oddly hungover the next day. The following week I had one large margarita and it made me feel very hungover and sick the next day. Even weirder, a day later I still felt weird and foggy, and later in the day on edge. It was really a strong reaction. I was also sensitive to noise. I was reacting poorly to normal situations (irritable). When Ricky just simply looked at me I flipped out. I don't remember what happened fully. Loud kid noise triggered me and I blew up a little, ranting or something. I remember saying I needed space. I sent the kids outside. All I wanted was to be left alone. I felt flushed and irritable. Ricky looked at me and then I literally yelled at him, "Why are you looking at me!?!" I got up and pushed the vacuum down when it was in my way and I ran to the bedroom angry. (Look up thyroid rage, it's very real.) The kids were not around, thank goodness. Ricky told me he felt bad for me and wanted to help me and I just yelled that I wanted to be alone. That's not a normal thing for me at all. I don't yell at him and I always want him to help me when something is wrong. My regulatory systems were whacked. I have been afraid to have a small drink ever since. I found other people online describing similar reactions.

Since thyroid levels can change frequently, especially after pregnancy, balancing the hormone in your body and finding negative triggers can be very challenging. Sounds to me like alcohol is a trigger for me. It didn't take me long to wonder if the very rare but serious illness postpartum psychosis has been linked to thyroid problems. It has. It's easy for me to see why a malfunctioning thyroid can masquerade as a mental health problem. I have read in many places that people can actually be medicated for mental health problems, even as severe as schizophrenia, when they really just have an undetected thyroid problem! To make matters worse, many doctors, even specialists, only test TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). There are many more tests that help determine total function/malfunction. Your TSH can be in the normal range while you still suffer from a thyroid problem. Let your head begin spinning by reading about ALL the tests here. Most of which aren't used and should be. Here you can read further: The Big Lie Your Doctor is Telling You About Thyroid Treatment.
Gluten Free ~ I actually did do it 
They say it takes around 21 days to create a new habit. For months I toyed with being gluten free and I slowly weaned, and weaned, and weaned off of it. Now I am off gluten... and my life sucks. Haha. No seriously, it's not that bad now. But it totally was.

This is pretty much how it went down for months: 
I whined. I bitched. I complained. I was hungry. So flipping HUNGRY. Some of that hunger is withdrawal from sugar, because your body processes wheat as such. I cried. No really, I seriously cried real tears. It was mentally and physically exhausting trying to find things to eat. I cheated off and on like I had mentioned above. I had brief "I just don't care anymore" gluten eating binges. But even worse, I would be off gluten for a while and then totally forget and pop something into my mouth that I was not supposed to have! I accidentally ate gluten all of the time. The worst offense: one night after weeks of being gluten free I literally honked down three organic hog dogs at our back yard weenie roast and ate the buns with them. About four hours later it suddenly dawned on me that I ate wheat buns. I know that sounds amazingly ridiculous but also understand I was helping at least three kids roast marshmallows and hot dogs and I was nursing a newborn strapped to me in a wrap while bundled up in blankets in 40 degree weather. Madeline was just three weeks old! So I was extra distracted. But yeah, ridiculous.

It is so hard to cook for your family when you can't have gluten. I can't taste noodles to see if they are done. I can't lick batter off of spoons. I can't have fun at birthday parties (cake!), I can't eat left over cereal from the kids. I used to get half my breakfast eating cold soggy cereal left from a kid. (I oddly like it.) Now it gets wasted. I am a huge lover of pies, donuts, and cinnamon rolls. I love pies and spent years learning how to make various pie dough. I won 1st place in a pie contest. Yes, I could learn how to make gluten free pie crust. It is just not the same at the moment though and I am horribly sad about pie. It took me a long time to learn all the various tricks of regular pie crust. I don't want to start over and learn again. Maybe someday I guess, but today is not that day and either is tomorrow. For some people it is pasta and pizza they miss...for me it is the pastries. Gluten free pizza is not bad but not the same. It helps that I load up on lots of toppings anyway. I don't like pasta so that one is easy at least. I tried lots of gluten free bread (Costco has the best deal on large size Udi's bread). I found a pancake mix I enjoy (Trader Joe's or Pamela's brand). I bought lots of Amy's organic frozen dinners for when I get in a jam (very decent food). When I buy the kids donuts I make them eat them ALL up so they won't be in the house. I found gluten free cake at a local store bakery! And it is great! 

I don't think I have to be so strict that I need a separate toaster and jar of peanut butter from the rest of the family. Thank goodness. If I am pretty sure it is wheat free I eat it. Some people have to avoid ALL wheat like the plague. If something says it was prepared on machines that may also process wheat I still eat it.When we went for sushi I forgot my wheat free soy sauce and I used theirs anyway. I don't want to do that weekly, but occasionally so far I am. I do not partake in big splurges though. I cannot have anything that is fully wheat (like pastries).

Silver Lining
After I gained some momentum with the gluten free lifestyle I realized I can eat loads of my favorite foods that I never get to eat. Bring on the yummy Thai, Indian, and Ethiopian foods I love! I am already a huge Mexican food fan. I am focusing on other sweets I enjoy for now. I don't like pretzels and I rarely eat crackers so I luck out there. I made it past the hardest hump now; it has been more than 21 days and I made it long enough that I see real results.

Real Results
My rosacea faded dramatically. Each week it faded more and now it is gone. I was amazed! I am not tired the next day when I stay up late. My medicine seems to work better. The goal here is to be able to wean off it completely though. I can also now have a couple of alcoholic drinks without feeling crazy or hungover. It hasn't been an issue. I rarely drink, but when I do I feel fine.
Oh and my hair! How can I forget my hair!? I have battled with my hair falling out and horrible split ends for years. I started having drab, split, discolored, unhealthy hair. These are symptoms of a thyroid problem. I have been trying so hard to get my hair healthy again. I have been keeping it cut slightly above my shoulders for years because of its condition. Suddenly my hair has not looked this good in years. It doesn't look all split up and dull. It looks way more shiny and more colorful. It doesn't look like somebody has chewed up my ends. This makes me so happy. Any time I see a gluten treat that I want I tell Ricky, "I can have my face and hair better or I can have the treat...I pick beauty over wheat!" My hair is still shedding a lot and my medication dosage has not changed, but I sure seem a lot better. 

A list of unexpected Pros to being gluten free (besides the obvious thyroid health related ones I outlined above)
-My kids can't steal my food! Well they can technically, but because it is special, limited, and more expensive it is just reserved for me. It's special and it is mine!
-I get special things. I mean besides gluten free meals. I buy extra Naked Juice smoothies and berries just for me. I have my own cookies. I have more incentive to treat myself with fun, healthy, or treaty foods because all I get is specially bought stuff.
-My kids see sacrifice and perseverance in action.
-I am better off because wheat isn't great for you anyway. I eat more veggies, more fruits, more wholesome gluten free grains. I eat way more organic.
-I decided I wanted to learn how to cook more ethnic! Who knows maybe I'll find a new niche.

The 9 steps it took me to be gluten free
-Grouchiness... "This is bull-crap and I don't want to do it."
-Denial... I had gluten sensitivity testing done and I came back not sensitive. My Dr. recommend gluten free anyway.
-Trial.... Okay I'll try.
-Anger... I hate this.
-Failure... I cannot do it. It is impossible. I quit.
-More anger... I hate this.
-Trying again... Try harder this time, keep going. Even if you slip up try again right away.
-Acceptance...  Nothing worth doing is easy. I'm going shopping for food I can eat. I can do this.
-Victory... This is working! I am taking care of myself in the best way possible. I now have a chance at not only saving my thyroid but also at getting off medication.

 If any of the above resonates with you then read everything you can from Hypothyroid Mom and Mary Shoman.

Hypothyroid Mom:
Most Common Questions and Myths about Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s 

Mary's links that are particularly helpful:

Thyroid Self-Tests / Ordering Your Own Thyroid Tests
Top Ten Signs That You May Have a Thyroid Problem
My TSH Test Results Are Normal, But I Still Have Symptoms

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Christmas Magic and Memories of 2015

My Grandma Smith had some elves when I was a kid. I loved them. She also had the best old fashioned decorations and putz houses. For years I kept telling myself I would buy some vintage putz houses (also called glitter houses) and some elves. I love old fashioned decorations. I also miss these 'plastic-popcorn' ones from childhood too.

Grandma Smith gave us our Elf on the Shelf with the accompanying book nine years ago and we have loved him dearly ever since. The kids named him Smith-wick. 

The elf thing is super special in our house. The kids tell Smith-wick what they want for Christmas. Lately Everett threatens to touch him just to try and get a reaction out of us. The touching the elf thing is FOR REAL SERIOUS in our house. Which is why I found this so funny:

You don't touch the elf. We are aghast if we see a picture online where someone is touching their elf, or if the elf is someplace where he would have to be touched. So for example, if the elf was on the sewing machine and you needed to use the sewing machine. Or in the blender. Or on the toothbrushes. If he hung out on any of those places we would NOT TOUCH HIM no matter what.

This year I decided to finally buy a vintage elf. The prices on ebay were excellent. I ended up with a winning bid on two elves. One elf I have tucked away for a rainy day. He's cute and nice and worn around the edges just a little bit. I have not named him yet. The other elf rides a white magical reindeer. I felt this was the most perfect thing ever to add to our fun! The deer and elf were in a vintage package and in mint condition. They needed to be introduced properly, so I patiently waited for the perfect time.
December 14th Morton the elf rode in on his reindeer, Fancy Lady. They are perfect and they brought a note and a treat.
The note reads:
Howdy Family,
I am a friend of Smith-wick. My name is Morton. My sidekick and pet here is Fancy Lady. Fancy flies like the wind. She is a nice girl. You can make paper carrots for her and at night Christmas Magic turns them real. She eats them before flying me back to the North Pole. I was hoping I could visit for a while. If you like me visiting just make Fancy a carrot every night and I will come back. We bring holiday cheer, good wishes, and good luck. You can pet Fancy, but please don't pick us up.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It scares the livin' elf daylights out of us. We brought you a treat from the North Pole...enjoy some Elf Cocoa!

Later in the day: Morton with Fancy Lady and all the darling handmade paper carrots scattered at their feet.
Morton was a lovely and fun addition to our home. It's fun to see the kids respect Morton and Fancy Lady's boundaries of being petted but not picked up. Even Everett has joined in and follows the rules. Bea is just two and already knows the game. Every morning they delight in the fun.

An old post from 2011 about our elf and Christmas tradition here 

More Thoughts and Traditions of the Holiday Season

Big Family Outings
No surprise here, but some outings can be too expensive for big families. We have found several holiday traditions in our area that are affordable or free: Pay by the car holiday light displays, ice skating Groupons for half off ice skating, and library holiday crafts. We also have several chances to sit on Santa's lap for free at the feed store and library. (Bring your own camera.) In the city there are free horse carriage rides on certain days but we have never done them. Some churches also host living nativities with live animals, hot cocoa and plenty of community fun. There's lots to do!

We utilize the local library to check out Christmas story books and winter story books. Almost every year I also read aloud our well loved and worn copy if The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, just like my mom read to me. We also read The Polar Express, just like my mom read to me. Those books were my childhood favorites!

Penelope (9) and Sebastian (7) listened to me read The Best Chrstmas Pageant Ever for the first time this year. They enjoyed it a lot. There are seven chapters in the book and we read a chapter a night. When it was time to read the last chapter Penelope said she would rather wait because she didn't want the book to be over. It was adorable and we've all been there. It's hard when a good book ends. Such a sign she is growing up, savoring moments in time like that. On Christmas Eve I remembered that there was a made for TV movie of it. I looked on YouTube and found it! So fun! Penelope and Sebastian really enjoyed watching the book come alive. In many ways it's just not Christmas Until Gladys Herdmen yells, "Hey! Unto you a child is born!" I'm so glad I'll be reading it yearly to young children for many, many years to come. I hide that I tear up at the end. I'm just so happy I get to pass reading this great story on to my kids.

Nearly every year we make rosette cookies.

photo borrowed from link above
They are Scandinavian cookies made with a fancy looking hot cookie iron.  They are crisp, light and dusted with powder sugar. The sugar falls all over you like snow as you bite into them. They are so much fun and still seem so magical to me. They are very similar to funnel cakes, but seriously taste so much better. My mom and grandma taught me how to make them when I was little. We haven't had the time to make them this year yet but I have high hopes that we will soon. I rendered some pork lard right smack in the middle of busy Christmas week in hopes that we can find time to make them during Ricky's holiday break from work. (Maybe for New Year's Eve!) Nothing fries up crisp and beautiful as with real lard. I can't wait to try rosettes fried in real lard! Interested in lard? Read this: 10 Reasons to Bring Lard Back

We make graham cracker candy houses every year. This year we had a homeschool group decorating party at a friends house. It was a lot of fun and easy for me since I just had to bring some candy to share. I appreciated the ease of it this year!

I have a Santa collection I started nine years ago. It began around the time my Aunt Sharon bought me some Santa ornaments that were pirate themed. I cannot believe it has been nine years! My how my collection has grown! As it grows I have noticed that I get more excited every year to get my Santa collection out. It is such a neat collection to have because it is only out for a month and then it is carefully stored away until the next year. I noticed that it never needs dusting as it doesn't sit around long enough. It's also not out long enough for me to lose interest or ignore it, and it only takes up space for a little while. It is the perfect collection for me. (Putz houses collection here I come someday!)

This year Aunt Sharon sent me a new and unique item for my collection: a nesting doll Santa. It is so pretty and hand painted. Ricky bought me a talking nutcracker Santa. Also Ricky got me a Feliz Navidad Santa!
I love my new 'Feliz Navidad' Santa! He holds a reindeer pinata! Love him! He is so well made and pretty.
I played with the talking nutcracker Santa for hours, it's ridiculous how much I like love it.
                                                                   He says:
"There's lots of work to do before Christmas gets here, so let's get cracking!"
"All this cracking is making me nuts!"
"You open presents, I open nuts! We make a great team!"
"He's going to find out whose nutty or nice!"
"Santa put me on the Nutty list"

Winter Solstice
We always watch  Little Bear Winter Solstice and Little Bear Gingerbread Cookies . We make bird feeders and hang treats for the snow angels. We bake cookies, especially we bake our well loved gingerbread cookies! We actually bake those off and on year round. I have been using the same recipe for 17 years and the kids just love them. Depending on what we have going on we do other crafts and games to fill the day too.
Hollowed out oranges hung with wire, filled with peanut butter, flax, and cereal inside
 Gingerbread Cookies Recipe (no refined sugar!)
Cream together: 1 egg, 1 cup molasses, 1 cup maple syrup, 1 cup butter (I use melted)
(Tip: Lightly rub olive oil all over the inside of your measuring cup before you pour in the sticky syrups. They will slide right out.)
Mix dry ingredients separately: 5 cups flour, 1.5 teaspoons baking soda, cinnamon to taste (around 1-2 T is good, I just give the kids the shaker), ginger to taste or 2-3 T
Optional: We also add some fresh grated ginger too. At least 1-2 T in addition to the powdered ginger. It's so good! (Tip: keep some frozen ginger root in the freezer and grate it as needed! It lasts near forever.)
Mix dry into wet until well combined, add a little extra flour if needed (it is usually needed). Chill dough for a little bit. On floured surface take hunks and pat or roll out flat. Use cookie cutters to make cookies. The thinner the more crisp, the thicker the more fluffy/cake like.
Bake on 350 until they are desired crispness or until golden brown.

Ricky and I stayed up until 2am making creative additions for the stockings we started two years ago. The stockings have something made by us out of craft felt to represent each child. We work hard on these and we have a lot of fun. We try to add a handmade felt picture of something meaningful or memorable about each child. Sage got a lock because he likes to figure out/pick locks. Penelope got a prairie girl because she loves Little House books and dressing up in her prairie clothes. Layla loves gymnastics and practices nearly all day long, so clearly a gymnast was in order for her. Ethan likes to draw and make comic books so he got a "POW!" Charlotte is a professional cake decorator and therefore got a cake. Madeline got a "M" for her first year. Beatrice got a bee hive to go with her bee from a previous year, but she also loves swings so I made a swing hanging from a tree. Sebastian loves nice sharpened pencils for drawing. He draws most of the time so he got a pencil. Last but not least, Everett got a Pea shooter and cone-head zombie from his favorite computer game Plants VS Zombies. Ricky and I did a cute job on them I think!
The kids had their gift exchange with each other on Christmas Eve morning. I love how they really think of each other and take time thinking of what to get! Everett was all smiles especially. Nice to see him be so into giving.
Christmas Eve
Many years ago the kids wanted to shop for each other but of course taking them to get each other gifts would be insanely expensive. After a couple of years of them asking we realized that telling them they didn't need to get each other anything was only dismissing their desire to give to the people they love the most. Of course they didn't need to give presents.They want to, and they do it with such joy! Christmas is about giving.

We started taking them to the dollar store a few years back to pick each others presents out. It has been a great and well anticipated addition to our holiday traditions. They now start asking when we will go shopping when November hits. The dollar store doesn't sound all that exciting but there is a lot to choose from. The dollar store has to sometimes make you super creative, especially if you are buying for older siblings. Sebastian (7) couldn't find a pocket knife for his brother Sage (16), so he used his creative brain and got him paperclips instead. Why paperclips? Because Sage likes to try and pick locks. What a smart thinking kid! Sage really appreciated the thoughtfulness and how cute that was. Penelope (9) got Charlotte a calendar. Charlotte was thrilled to get one, she hadn't gotten one for 2015 yet. Beatrice (2) got Sage (16) some silly string. It was a random gift she just picked up and told me it was for Sage. She didn't even know what it was. Sage later took her outside and sprayed it with her. They had a load of fun. It was so cute.
Christmas Eve 8 weeks old
Ricky was home Christmas Eve and we had a lovely day of family and fun, so much so that I didn't get much else done (or presents wrapped) all day. Aunt Christy (my sister) sent us a big package of goodies. I never thought about it before, but a package of fun items to play with on Christmas Eve is such a good idea! We also especially loved our sunglasses and umbrellas Aunt Christy sent.

The beautiful assortment of playful toys to share kept us busy for hours. We love group gifts and this had an assortment of awesome fun! We did some spin art, snap circuits, made crazy straws and more!

The kids went to bed pretty easily knowing the fastest way to get to Christmas morning is to just go to bed! So they had their last advent Chocolate, brushed teeth, and said goodbye to Fancy Lady, Morton, and Smith-wick until next year, then they went to bed.

We were sad that elf season is now over. I asked Ricky why I feel like I'll miss the elves so much. The pressure is now off and I can stop waking up at 1am and thinking 'oh no I forgot, I have to move the elf!' (Three times I forgot and Layla (11) moved them for me!) He said it is because our kids love it so much. It's true. Which reminds me, things have been insane lately (mostly with Everett) and I don't know how we do it or sometimes how we'll keep doing it. I asked Ricky when life will quit being so crazy and he said, "Someday. But then we'll just miss this." I'm glad he knows that. 

So, on Christmas Eve everyone went to bed easily except five year old Everett and baby Madeline. Everett wanted to wait up for Santa. He was the most adamant kid we've ever had about it. Finally at 11pm he fell asleep. Very unlike him! While he is a busy, wild, hyper nut most of the day, he at least is usually a good sleeper. Madeline, who is in the middle of a 8 week growth spurt (which means extra nursing, extra awake time, and extra fussy at times) was up and down a lot but checked out around 11pm too. Thank goodness! We didn't get done with everything until 2:30am. Every year I am adamant about not having to wrap a million presents on Christmas Eve, but every year we have to anyway. I would love to have it done early one of these years!

Speaking of Madeline:
Baby's first Christmas 6 weeks old
She is so precious and she is such a perfect addition to our home. I know, I know, I say that every time! But only because it is true every time! We love them so much. Thankfully I am getting enough sleep. She has been easy to care for and is so laid back. She is smiling and recognizing her family a little bit more each day. Everything is fine and some what the same except I have a baby in my hands and I have to juggle making meals around her sleeping schedule. We thought Bea was easy, but this peach is really easy. So far. They all get hard at some point!

Christmas Day 
Christmas morning Charlotte (19) kept most of the little kids quiet while we dozed off a little more. She is the best! Most of the kids stayed upstairs with Charlotte, peering down in excitement. If that's not one of the most exciting times of childhood I don't know what is. I was the oldest of five siblings. The waiting on the stairs together is firmly planted in my head as one of the childhood bests. Around 6:45am Everett woke up and there was no stopping him. We had a fun morning of presents and then a lazy, play-filled day. I needed a nap with the baby after presents and skipped breakfast. I was later awoken by my husband with breakfast in bed. He made me a delicious breakfast casserole. (He brought me breakfast in bed three days in a row actually! He is the best ever! One day he made me Eggs Benedict! I must have been really good this year!)

I got five new vintage style dresses, new shoes, some snow gloves, and the cute Santa figures already mentioned above. I got Ricky some new beer brewing supplies, snow gloves, and a vintage dictionary that is SO cool. (He likes reading dictionaries.) He loved it a lot!
Huge 1940's vintage dictionary filled with tons of cool stuff!

We got the teen boys (16) lovely Carhartt coats and some other goodies.

Charlotte (19) got a cell phone and some other goodies. (We use basic cell phones without a lot of frills. But it's still nice and it is her first phone!) Santa brought the family a keyboard and Layla has already learned how to play "America The Beautiful" on it! The kids have all really, really enjoyed it already! We also got a new castle for the kids. We have a huge assortment of Schleich and Papo castle toys, knights, mutant animals, mythical beasts, and fairies. We have been adding on to our collection for at least nine years. Our wooden castle finally broke a couple of years ago and the little boys have been asking for a new one. We bought them a Schleich castle this time and it is even better than the pictures show! We are very happy with it and so are they. Schleich doesn't make junk, and their toys are a softer plastic. The teens said they wish their castle growing up was as cool as this one. Sorry teens! :)
Beatrice got a new soft dolly we named Mary and it so so cute to hear her say, "Where's my Mary?" and "Oh there is my Mary." She even will say "Hi my Mary." I just love that she calls her 'my Mary.' She also got a new baby doll stroller. She loves them and played with her other one so much last year that it wore out.

Penelope got some magnets she enjoys building with, a prairie doll outfit for her doll (it is SO cute!), a new bonnet, some Lego friends and some other goodies. Layla got gymnastics stuff galore...

cute shirts, a hair band, some gymnastic rings to hang off our playground, support gloves and a hand grip to strengthen her hands and wrists. She is entirely self taught in gymnastics and completely obsessed with it. It is not unusual for her to spend two hours watching instructional videos online and four hours a day practicing. She's passionate and it is amazing to watch. She has taught herself and trained herself to do: the splits, back flips. handsprings, back walkovers, some scorpion thing, and many other things with gymnastic sounding words thrown around in them that I can't remember. She uses hand weights daily. This kid is athletic! We are very impressed! She will be starting much anticipated classes at a gymnastics place in the next several weeks. (We wanted to wait until spring but we may get her in before then.) Sebastian's favorite thing he got is a magic set he loves and has been watching a DVD to learn the tricks. He is really taking to it! It's great to see him learn something new, follow the script they teach to be entertaining, and use multitasking to perform tricks! Really cool! This is very good for him. Everett got a some Legos, a fishing game, a magic hat to perform with his brother if he wants to, and some other goodies. He got a white knight and says it is his favorite toy. Everett also got a whole bag of Plants VS Zombies toys and Charlotte colored him a game board for him.

Weird thoughts in the middle of the night
There are really cute ideas online for making a crafty  edible Nativity.  I was thinking we should do something like that with the kids, but we were all done shopping and staying home through Christmas. No more store trips! Half asleep I was brainstorming in the middle of the night thinking and wondering what we could make one out of...and so the half-awake dream began. I have plenty of potatoes I thought to myself. We could use potatoes. Three wise men lined up as potatoes, a Joseph and Mary Potato... and a very small baby Jesus potato. In my sleep I thought this was the best idea. Then I wondered how we would get the potatoes to stand up right. I dozed off and came up with a piece of cardboard with nails or screws poked up through it. We could stick the potatoes down on them. I woke up the next morning laughing at myself. How do I come up with such things? The kids thought it was funny and weird when I told them. We didn't have time to make our potato nativity this year. But there's always next year...

Since every idea has already been done by somebody my curious mind looked online. And sure enough... well, see for yourself.

Merry Christmas!