Life With Seven Kids

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Family Photos With Kids

Getting everyone to look at the same time in a photo has been more challenging than ever lately, and by lately I mean for at least a year. Not every photo needs to be perfect, the quirky off beat ones are great too, but I really do love a "perfect" photo at least twice a year.

I have wanted to do one of those kids in a circle photos for quite a while but hadn't yet tried it. Stock photo example:

At the botanical gardens I see this way cool yin and yang rock mosaic. I gather everyone up and explain what kind of picture I have been wanting and how this would be a cool spot.
They agree to try...

I don't take into account how hard the ground is, or that I am asking them to basically lay on rocks, or that I have nothing to stand on to even take an overhead shot. Oops. The younger kids are in swimwear because they were playing in water. So not only can they not lay down well, I would also really prefer a clothed picture anyway.
Layla's face is hilarious and she wails in discomfort, not even facing the right way. Everett has enough and leaves. I can't get Beatrice to lay down at all, she ran away a long time ago. I tell everyone to get up and that it's not going to work...

Once we admit defeat and give up Beatrice finally comes and lays down. Of course. haha.

There is this amazing bridge in the Japanese Garden that would be amazing for any photo occasion...

This would have been almost perfect if I hadn't had to tell Sebastian (6) to stop waving his hands around ...just as Everett (4) said, "I'm going to jump." Bhahaha. If you knew Everett this is totally him. And he was pretty much totally serious about jumping.
Big brothers spring into action and tell Everett not to jump, trying to get him to look at the camera. Meanwhile I actually holler to them not to move and "Everett won't jump." Which is actually only a 50/50 shot. He could jump... lol.
Big brothers know better and hold onto Everett. The moment has passed, Everett wiggles, and we have now lost Beatrice's attention. I say, "Why did everyone move apart so much?" And Charlotte's (18) expression and shrug is just.so.priceless. I love this.You can tell with her body language she is thinking, "Mom you have eight kids that's why..." LOL.

Next we found some sheep...
And that's a wrap.



Wednesday, July 1, 2015

All Things With Faith and Love

When we were expecting baby Penelope (kiddo #5) Ricky was accepted into an intensive graduate program for finance at Washington University.

When we were expecting baby Sebastian Ricky graduated from the intensive graduate program and got his first job using his degree.

When we were expecting baby Everett Ricky changed jobs within the firm he worked for. He earned himself a position that was more fitting for him (but still not exactly what fit him best.) His new boss, who had six kids of his own, helped Ricky with his career in ways that we will always be truly thankful. He helped introduce him to people and recommend him to another department because he wanted to see Ricky use his full potential.

When we were expecting Baby Beatrice another job opportunity came along. Remarkably, his next new boss also had a large family...seven kids. Very fun to meet so many others with a large families.

We have joked that good things happen to us when we have babies. We have joked off and on over the years that we should just have another baby so he can further his career. We joked, and not really joked, because it is true. It kept happening. Remarkable things happen to us when we have babies. We grow as a family, as a couple, as parents, and in other ways. Everything aligns: faith, luck, hard work...it all seems to come together. As we began our journey to large family living I often heard other very large families with 10, 12, 14 kids say that God always provides. Over the years I started to understand what they meant.

We are expecting a new baby this fall, the ninth blessing to join our home and lives, and Ricky is yet AGAIN going through a transformational period in his life related to his career. Staying within same firm that has been such a blessing to our lives, he recently had an amazing career opportunity. He starts his "new" job today. He gives 100% of himself at work and 100% of himself to us at home and I am so very thankful every single day of my life for such a passionate and hardworking man. I love him so much and know how much he loves us because he shows me everyday. I am truly blessed. I hope the children read this someday and know that their mother and father truly do support, love, honor, and cherish each other everyday. I hope Ricky reads this and knows that I know how hard he works, and that he does it for us, and that I am grateful for his dedication. Some people have told me that we make having so many kids look easy. I know what they mean, because so often Ricky makes taking care of us look easy too. It's not so much that it's easy. He works very hard. I of course work very hard too. We both get worn down, we get stressed, we get tired...really tired. I suddenly realized one day that it's not that it's easy, it's that we do all things with faith and love.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Magical Land of Trader Joe's

Yesterday I spent more money at Trader Joe's than I ever have at one time before. Dang you Trader Joe's with all your no hydrogenated, no preservatives, mostly natural bread, prepackaged biscuits, cinnamon rolls, sauces, rbGH-free creamy yogurt, and all that other food too that tastes so good... including the ever so random mahi-mahi burger samples with tartar sauce that tastes homemade!! I feel like I've stepped into another dimension of food when I enter that store. Much of it is fairly affordable, but then mahi-mai burgers happen their way into my cart. They have magical food I don't have to make from scratch because theirs is already that good. I even slowly flirt over the stuff I don't intend to buy, because most of their stuff won't feed a family of ten...even if I bought two packages! (Have you seen the size of their peanut butter jars? We would use that up in one day!

I used so much restraint yesterday putting down the lemon curd and stepping away.
This is like lemon pie in a jar. Or at least that's the fantasy I have.
And this:
This store makes me lose my freaking mind. I have to try this next time. I'm just too curious.
Their employees are also the best in all the land. They are always so friendly and helpful and HAPPY. Yesterday the guy checking me out was totally turning on the Trader Joe's charm and then asked me what I had going on as he hoisted 8 packages of British Muffins, 7 cans of all natural bake at home cinnamon rolls, 4 packages of mini bagels, and 3 gallons out milk of my cart (among many other things). I told him I have a lot of kids at home, and also some family coming to town too. He said that sounded fun and asked me how many kids I have. I told him eight with one on the way. He was super enthusiastic and friendly and said that was so cool. I only had Layla with me yesterday so he asked where the rest of the kids were and told me I need to bring them all with me next time so he can meet them. He asked if we homeschooled and then told me that he used to have a customer from St. Charles with 9 kids and he got a picture with the family one day and has it at his house.

Seriously, where do they find Trader Joe workers? They must have the best hiring and training in the world. I always love the people who check me out! They become my new BFF every time I shop. lol.

My new checker friend sees me shuffling around in my chicken purse to get out my wallet and asks me if I have a farm. (I have this big ridiculous chicken purse, like it's literally a rubber hen with a zipper. It tipped him off that I just might have farm animals haha.) I tell him yes we have an acre "farm" and we are currently looking for more land for us and our animals. He thinks that is so cool and wants to know about all our animals and if we butcher our own turkeys.

Then he calls his coworker over to meet me, "You have to meet this lady. She has eight kids, homeschools, and they have a farm with 11 turkeys, 2 goats, 35 chickens, geese, this lady is super mom right here..."

LOL. :) Before leaving he made sure to tell me again to bring ALL the kids back next time to see him. Too fun! I have actually been meaning to set up a homeschool field trip there for a while (they do school trip tours). This reminds me that I'll have to organize that for later this summer/early fall.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Life With Nine Kids!

Announcing *drum roll* ...ANOTHER BABY! I'm due October 31, 2015 (On Halloween, how fun!) He or she will likely be our first November born baby, but you never know until they get here. If born in November, we'll have six months of back to back kiddo birthdays (Aug. through Jan.)! Beatrice is the only child not born in one of those months.



This is shaping up to be an interesting year with many, many adventures and changes for us!
 Beatrice is head over heels for babies. She will be two in five days and we are having SO MUCH fun with her. I remember all too well our other toddlers joyfully welcoming newborn babies into the family. Knowing her spunky, sweet, caring personality makes me extra excited she will be a big sister! She is a load of fun and totally acting two.
She is so full of life, love, and curiosity. And, she also screams. :)
She says "Mommy, Mommy pleeeease" in an amazingly sweet toddler voice when she wants something and it's pretty killer-cute.

Life in a Big Family
 All of the kids are so excited about the new baby. When I told Charlotte she jumped up and threw her arms around me hugging me excitedly. I was really, really touched that this 18 year old "kid" didn't see her mom and dad as being too overextended to have another baby to love and cherish. I actually cried I was SO touched and it was also reassuring that we are doing a good job. Our days are filled with a lot of love, but also a lot of work. Living in a large family is quite a lesson in selflessness for all of us. Meal times are hectic, groceries disappear three days after they arrive, showers turn cold if not staggered, dishes are washed around the clock, gas is expensive wherever we go. Someone always needs me. Someone is always running through the house. Depending on the kids' ages and stages we'll go through periods of time where it seems like somebody is always crying. The youngest kids are always in the fridge, running around, or asking somebody to play something with them. Everyone shares almost everything. We sweep floors 3-4x daily. We raise our hands if there's too much talking going on and another person needs to say something. (Beatrice has seen her siblings hand raise and started raising her hand and walking up to me to show me she is doing it too! It's very, very cute!)

I'm an experienced mother (which makes things easier each time), I'm a good mother, I'm a confident and empowered mother, but I'm still very much human. I still question, doubt, and struggle. I still have good days and bad days. I still learn. I still worry about if I'm doing a good job. There isn't a time that we aren't expecting a baby that I don't ask my husband why I think I'm good enough to do this again, and if we are taking care of the kids well enough to spread ourselves thinner. He says it's probably really good moms that worry and wonder if they are good enough.

I am of course busy, so I sometimes forget to do things I say I'll do: sew something for someone, make an appointment, mail something, or give someone a hair cut that has been asking. Our kids are so patient and forgiving though. One of the negative implying questions you might get with a big family is: How can you have time for ALL of them? Besides the obvious fact that we love them and don't have any other option other than to take care of them and make time for them, we also all roll with the punches. It's understood that we all do our best and we have to have patience. We know there is a bigger world in front of us than just ourselves. We respect each other. We make the time if we have to, and we get creative with it too. Homeschooling helps a lot. The kids are actually always around me. Most of all, Ricky and I structure our life around our kids -not them around us.

It's neat to to see that the kids are totally happy to add another love-bug of a baby to this life of ours, even if it means we all have to think of another little person sometimes instead of ourselves. I remember when it was Everett, Sebastian, and Penelope who were the babies. They could melt tears away from sad siblings with a goofy smile or dance, they could change bad moods in cranky preschoolers or moody teenagers, and oh how they make us laugh! Beatrice is constantly making everyone laugh and smile. It is really special how much love she adds to our life. All of the children and teens add such specialness. Seeing the children and teens interact with each other, play together, share together, work together, problem solve together, and dream together is a priceless gift. We feel like we haven't just given them the gift of family though, we feel like we have taught them to cherish children and that children are worth the work. Kids come first. Kids matter a lot.

When you break it down we only have: three big kids, two medium kids, and three small kids. Easy enough. ;)
It's not always that simple, beautiful, and easy; it's also really quite expensive, exhausting, messy and hard. What is amazing is that when each new baby arrives it's like they never weren't with us. I don't know why it amazes me each time but it does! You'd have to be crazy to have so many kids, but for us, it's a good kinda crazy.

There was a special nostalgic moment early this spring I had been wanting to write about. I was at the park with the five youngest kids. When it was time to leave I was loading up a toddler, preschooler, and the elementary aged kids into our van. I was being asked for: snacks, water, what was for dinner, when will daddy would be home, could we have ice cream, and I heard someone say they dropped their toy. It was chaos, everything happening at once. I fetched water from the front seat because some of them were certain they were going to die of thirst. After I had the littlest kids buckled into their seats I just looked at everyone and froze. I took in the craziness as kid voices filled every space of the van. I just stared at them for a moment. My heart rate was up from chasing Everett into his seat, loading up kids, a stroller, a picnic basket, a diaper bag. My heart thumped on, I felt tired but accomplished. I had a sudden and totally nostalgic feeling of when I was doing this with these five guys:
2008~ When there was five~
I became overwhelmed with gratitude that Ricky and I had the bravery, faith, craziness, and riskiness to keep growing our family. I looked at the young faces in the back of my van that day at the park, a van that now held more than twice as many people as our past mini vans did. I had such an amazing flashback of the kids in the picture above from 2008. I actually whispered to myself aloud as I climbed into the drivers seat, "I am so lucky I still get to do this. I cannot imagine not doing this still." I felt amazing gratitude.

I saved the following comment a while back from a dad of seven about large families. My heart smiled when I read it. I thought this post would be a nice place to keep it:
"I had 7 and loved every minute of it. Oh sure, we shopped at only the most exclusive garage sales, drove 5 year old vans, and built large utilitarian homes with 3-6 bathrooms, but it lasted so briefly and now they are all gone with many children of their own.  The flashlights work, the car has gas every time, there's milk; the house is clean; and I'm bored. What a riot it was..."


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

My First Turkey Tractor...I made it myself!

My poor husband is swamped at work and then swamped at home with us. He's the best. I don't know how he does it. Something I am impressed with is how he comes home every day completely happy to see us...I told him I'd run away if I had such a demanding job AND wife AND kids (we are pretty demanding too) at my heels at the end of a 12 hour work day. He just laughs at me and looks at me sweetly. I seriously love that man. :)
But he can't do everything. The list of home repairs we have around here is insane. Many of them pretty important, like how he just fixed our air conditioner last weekend.  I have been trying to find some things that I could do for him to help his load. One thing on his ever growing to-do list is building a chicken/turkey tractor. It's a moveable pen so that they can be on pasture. Some birds aren't a problem but young ones especially can be. We have been having increasing problems with our farm animals wandering over to neighboring houses. It's something we are working on. It's tough having a 1 acre mini farm -we so need to move but that's a whole other bag of worms. We have three Standard Bronze turkeys that have been living in the chicken pen and now are big enough to be let out in the bigger grassy area. I'm afraid they could fly over the fence though, and the one smallest one could definitely slip through the woven wire fence. Once these three are fatter they won't be able to fly and they can be out of the turkey tractor full-time. This is the breed I love the most, they waddle over to you so happy like puppy dogs.

So yesterday afternoon I tried my hand at building our very first small tractor. Everything I used we already had. Some of the kids even helped out making it a learning adventure for all of us. Ricky came home last night when it was a little more than half done and he was SO IMPRESSED! I was so thrilled at his reaction. He also marveled at how sturdy and light (but not too light) it was. I am NOT a builder at all. While I am crafty and creative (especially with kid stuff) I have a really hard time building something from scratch. My brain does not work that way at all. Over the years I have learned a lot from watching him build stuff so I had some idea of how he puts stuff together. I looked online for simple inspiration and then I TOTALLY DID IT! I have gotten much better at constructing over the years I must say.

We had everything on hand. Everything we used was re-purposed from another project. (The only thing that was new was the staples in the staple gun.) The frame is thin so it is light, we re-purposed plastic garden fence, we used old screws from old wood fencing, the shade/rain tarp is an old table cloth. The teens are so happy it is lightweight. The chain link dog kennel we used last year was brutally heavy! (But it was bigger so we had to move it less often!)





Salad bar!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Prayers for Nepal

The loss of life, homes, and historic architecture in Nepal is nothing short of heartbreaking. I am very sad for the entire area. I hate suffering and it shakes me to my core. It humbles me every single time something horrible like this happens. These people are truly suffering.

 Yesterday I made prayer flags for Nepal with the kids.

Prayer flags are a beautiful and meaningful way to spread prayers, peace, and good wishes. They can be found hanging throughout the Himalayas. As the wind blows the flags the essence of your prayer travels. As the flags tatter the threads blow away and are carried into the world. You can make specific prayers and tailor handmade flags to a specific cause as we did, or flags can also be simply hung as a symbol of luck, peace, happiness, compassion, prosperity, health, and longevity. 

You can make your own or buy traditionally symbolic ones. The 5 colors of prayer flags represent the 5 basic elements: yellow-earth, green–water, red-fire, white-air, blue-space. Balancing these elements externally brings harmony to the environment. Balancing the elements internally brings health to the body and the mind.

Learning about geography and history works best when you can connect to the lesson in some  meaningful way. Now is a good time for us to start a unit study on the area.
It was lovely seeing the kids working on the prayer flags together. Penelope drew Mt. Everest with a rescue helicopter. When I was going through the flags admiring them that's the one that made me instantly tear up. She really gets it, and she prayed for rescue. 

It is a really great helicopter too! I thought all the flags turned out beautiful and I am proud of the kids. We pray for peace, rescue, shelter, food, helping hands, and healing.

Much love to Nepal, from a tiny blip on the map American family.

How to help: 7 vetted charities doing relief work following the earthquake

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day, Big Family Overpopulation Myth, and Simplifying

Happy Earth Day!

For those of us who enjoy sharing our lives and good homes with lots of kids, we sure wish people would quit saying we are overpopulating the Earth! Many people call big families selfish. I have directly been told I was overpopulating the Earth before. (Yes, the Earth's problems are all my fault!) I also witness lots of parents who contribute on blogs admitting that they feel guilty for having or wanting three or four children! The overpopulation myth holds on strong.

More info:
Debunking the Myth of Overpopulation

About That Overpopulation Problem : Research suggests we may actually face a declining world population in the coming years.

In defense, not that I need one...
Never-mind the fact that big families are huge re-users from clothes to cars to beds to dishes and more, but many of the big families I know also enjoy various sustainable ventures like: hobby farming, canning, gardening, raising chickens (for meat or eggs), sewing, etc. Many of us also breastfeed and cloth diaper. I had some cloth diapers for over a decade before turning them into household rags. I have several dresses Beatrice now wears at 22 months old that once belonged to Charlotte! (Charlotte's 18!) We often utilize: the outdoors, local museums, rivers, community pools, state parks, conservation centers, rec centers, and other types of thrifty low-cost low-waste entertainment. We definitely eat out less which is a huge source of consumer waste. When food is disposed into landfills it rots and becomes a significant source of methane. Food waste is a major source of methane, accounting for more than 20 percent of all methane emissions. Large families buy in bulk. For us personally, much of our meat is raised nearby and we buy the whole animal. Large families also tend to consume less than the average person's meat consumption. Meals that feed a crowd stretch meat: casseroles of all kinds, stews, soups, pot pies, and various other meals made with beans and/or rice to add some bulk.
 Now, I am not saying I'm the poster child for Earth friendliness! Case in point: I have a heater and a fan going at the same time right now. ;) However, a lot can still be said for large families and how they cut costs and waste when it comes to raising a large group of future wage earners for less than three or four separate households. It's interesting to me how some may scorn others for having 'too many kids' but never realize the reality that is smaller family modern life: bigger houses filled with less people and more stuff, new cars, vacations, new phones and computers every couple years, and the consumption of "stuff" including indulgent amounts of entertainment, restaurants, and prepackaged food products. Personally, I judge neither. I fully support people to live the happiest lifestyle possible in the most responsible and kindest way that fits them.

One Child
I think having a big family is great, but I fully support and see value in all families. As big families are dealing with judgement of one kind, there are people with no children or one child being judged and asked questions about their situation. I don't understand why people care or are so nosy! It's rude. I would never say that you "just have one" as this woman describes:

“Yep. Only one.” I smiled without offering further explanation.
Our decision to have an only child invites speculation from family, friends, and strangers. There is an accompanying look to their question. Shoulders slumped, sad eyes, and disappointment manifests on their faces even before the inquiry has a chance to land. The regret boomerangs to the person who poses the question. My husband and I do not harbor sorrow because we parent an only child; we celebrate our complete family.
“Only” is a word that carries an array of assumptions. Some may conclude that my daughter is lonely and plays in her room without little interaction from the outside world. Words like “spoiled,” “weird,” and “difficult” are hurled in her direction. To exist as one appears to invite a stigma that I fail to understand, but my backstory is not maligned with regret.

I just read that today and really wanted share it. I have lots of friends and family with one or two kids and they always celebrate my happiness for having a big family. I feel the same happiness for them about their family too. Even when I post something in the benefit of a large family I don't have to hear a rebuttal, because there are pros and cons about ALL aspects of life (including family size) and they know that. I have a friend with one child by intention and they "liked" an article I shared on Facebook last year that related to positive attributes of having many siblings. How is that for support!? Yup, my friends are rad.

As a recap:
1. Happy Earth Day! Thanks Earth!
2. Large families are not overpopulating the Earth. It's a huge myth.
3. Big families rock! And so do little families! And so do child-free families! (As long as they are kind families.)

This Years Simplifying Mission is Underway~ (Good for the Earth and Me)
This year I felt weighed down by things and so I began downsizing. I felt like my house was dirty and I couldn't keep up with it. I also got so sick of the effort it took. That meant even things I really, really, really liked, even some of my vintage collectible things, needed to go. This year I have started a mission to live more mindfully and simply. Bonus: when you make an effort to own less you buy less! It saves money, cleaning, resources, and time. I am in no hurry to buy clutter again now that my eyes are open to it. I have been sharing this lesson around our home lately as I sort through a lifetime worth of crap. Some of that "crap" is good stuff, but I am sick of cleaning it up, hauling it around, and stuffing it into boxes or onto shelves. Almost everything that is sitting unused is going away. I stripped almost everything off of our living room walls. It looked so bare for about a week. Soon I saw a new room unfold. I saw less clutter and dusting that needed to be done. I saw less things we would have to move if/when we move. I have a long way to go but it's a start. I keep cutting our unused homeschool stuff in half too. We just don't need it. I am donating some loved but still new birth and homeschool books to the library. Slowly I am freeing up my space and mind. It was incredibility overwhelming at first but then it got easier. I am even parting with my Mothering Magazines.

I browsed the internet for inspiration about living simply and more minimally. Sentimental stuff is the hardest! I read this lovely piece a man wrote when going through his late mother's worldly possessions and his struggle to keep everything. It made me cry! Reading it helped me a lot and he had some great tips and a neat realization for himself.
An excerpt: "And yet Mom had held on to these things because she was trying to hold on to pieces of me, pieces of the past, much like I was attempting to hold on to pieces of her and her past."

Months ago, when I was content with my storage and life's collections, this is what I wrote to a friend about how sentimental my Mothering Magazine collection is to me:

I have to keep mine for now... they are stored away in a plastic tub in the basement. I always thought I'd pass them to Charlotte, but now with the internet at everyone's fingertips will she really scour through 60 magazines to find out about co sleeping or how to make garlic ear oil? lol. Nope. Not to mention she already knows about natural parenting and baby care, home birth, co sleeping, etc because she grew up with it. :) It really makes me think back to a time when that WAS how I got my info. It's amazing. I had no one back then. There was not one soul in my life that was an "AP" parent until I joined homeschool groups in 2004. That's a long lonely time.

I first found Mothering at Wild Oats in 1997 when Charlotte was a little baby. I was still healing from the hospital birth induction that I was misled and lied towards, and on top of it all I was coping with failing at breastfeeding with zero support or knowledge. I ventured out to learn what I could and make things different in my life and raise my baby as healthy as possible. I picked up Mothering Magazine and How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor in the same store visit. I can't fully describe the relief and excitement. I was already doing everything "weird" compared to everyone else: cloth diapers, co sleeping, nurturing/gentle parenting, and other lifestyle/health choices (incl. no "well baby" visits for an already well baby!) that no one else was doing. It was all so underground to me, a brand new world opened up from those pages. I wasn't alone. I also learned what I started calling instinctual or primal parenting had a trending word already: attachment parenting. Those magazines just hold too much sentimental value to me.

Well, the magazines are still in the basement by the way. So, baby-steps.
Like the man who wrote about his mother in his blog, I am holding onto a memory and a feeling when I could write about it or take a picture. Maybe the first step is having wrote about it.:)

Simplifying has taken on other forms as well 
We decided not to get rabbits or bees this year. We downsized our chickens. We re-homed our guinea pigs. We loved them dearly and re-homed them because Layla was very allergic to them. We had been keeping them upstairs away from her but it was a difficult situation. We didn't get to see them as much. It made life difficult. If something is making our life difficult I want us to look at it and consider doing something different.

Not in line with being Earth friendly, but one way we are simplifying our life/time is that we have decided that we will not have the time or effort to refinish our wood floors in the living room and main floor bedrooms so we are putting carpet down. I crave the ease of vacuuming again and so much need to simplify the household tasks. This was one way we could help me save time and stress. The main wood floors in our home are in horrendous shape now and are even splintering in some places, so regardless we needed to do something. I'm surprised I want to go back to some carpeted surfaces but I have to admit defeat. I can't keep these floors clean. I can vacuum easier than sweeping and mopping when kids underfoot or hanging off my hip.

I am picking up other interesting ideas along the way and will continue to as I transform my way of thinking!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Fighting Winter Blah and Raising Turkey

Winter Wears On
I have been really, really, really unmotivated lately. When Ricky went back to work after having twelve days off I knew things were going to be hard. So, I jumped right in feet first and started cleaning, putting away Christmas stuff, and getting laundry caught up again. Things were going well until suddenly overnight I became tired, weak, and lacked motivation. My health seemed okay. I just felt so blah. I upped my vit D and held on. Winter can be so hard but I am usually SUCH a trooper! I let school stuff slide and I let the laundry slide and I just felt so blah! I haven't even wanted to cook anything much lately. We are also going through one of those 'everything is breaking' spells which is always hard on the spirit! 

I felt really bad for the kids. I felt bad I was slacking off and that they were/are bored. Then I reminded myself that a lot of kids get bored in the summer. Some kids spend summer in front of the tv, sometimes without parents at home for 6-10 hours at a time. It is just reversed for us. It's our bored time. Love it or hate it is our isolation time. Last winter was the worst cold in at least 20 years, yet I did better last winter than I am doing this winter! (Because there was loads of snow last winter!) We go and go and go all spring, summer and fall. Even at home we keep very busy during those seasons, so this too shall pass.

I know the winter isn't just bumming me out because one of the little kids said, "I wish it was summer, I wish there were fireflies." Then we talked about how much fun we all have in the spring/summer. Sebastian just six years old said, "Summer is so fun with our family." Awe! How sweet that was to hear. The weather has now been between 45-58 degrees and that has helped a ton with my spirits! At least there is sun, too! I have some energy restored, my creative side feels back, and the next few weeks should be better, I think. Soon we will start tomato plants indoors and incubate some of our own fertile chicken eggs. I hear about my garden friends pouring over their seed catalogs this time of year, Ricky and are pouring over the cackle hatchery website.

A New Animal?!
The winter brings on boredom and with it a drive to get something new and exciting! So far this month I have said no to (but wanted to say yes!): a mini donkey, a St Bernard Pyrenees puppy mix, two more bourbon red female turkeys, and rabbits. I knew we "needed" a new critter anyway though. Still, it needed to be easy to care for and beneficial. (Even if I really did want all those other animals!) So, I found an inexpensive low maintenance critter project for us...

We are starting a mealworm treat farm for the chickens!!!
It is not super exciting, but it's new and interesting. We are raising our own chicken treats/food! Mealworms are a yummy treat for chickens, a good source of protein, and especially great during molting because protein gives chickens the nutrients needed to re-grow feathers. So we bought 1000 worms. (They turn into beetles, reproduce, make baby mealworms, etc.)

Everett and Beatrice helped pour the baby cereal and wheat germ into the tub (that's the worm food) and shake the worms from their mailing package. The worms came to the post office from California and we had to pick them up. (We made jokes about surfer worms! And sang Beach Boys song worm parodies. I know- so sorry you missed it lol!) We placed carrots and potato in with them and that is their water source.


We can do a whole unit study on beetles now! BOOM! There's some animal science, kids.

In two months our mealworm farm should be stocked enough to start feeding some to our chickens and turkeys!

 The best is when Ricky casually asked me over the weekend, "So at some point are we going to have beetles flying around our house?" (I laughed!) The answer is probably not. We will eventually move them to an enclosed tub (with air circulation) were they reproduce their little hearts out.

Eye Pillows! 
We made eye pillows with the kids. I bought big bags of organic chamomile and lavender flowers (dual purpose use for tea, too) and we had everything else on hand: rice, fabric, thread, sewing machine. I thought of the idea because Penelope (8) has a hard time falling asleep, scares easily, and even sleeps with a flashlight. She often likes me to put a dab of lavender oil on her at bedtime to relax. So I thought the eye pillow could be a way to gain a bit of comfortableness with darkness, have something special an useful she made, and have the herbs she likes for comfort and relaxation. Everyone had a great time making them! The kids love sticking them in the freezer and having the cold pressed on their eyes. Beatrice had a fever last night and we used hers for her head, it worked so great! Awesome idea for cooling hot heads! And the coolness even helped cool me, as her hot face was plastered to me nursing and sleeping.


The Weekend
The weekend was great and warm and sunny for January. We butchered turkey, picked up the yard, stayed up late and visited with the teens/talked about college options, had a BBQ one day, smoked ribs another day, I drank a margarita (or perhaps a few), the kids got to play outside (so muddy), I snuggled in bed late at night watching tv with Ricky (we rarely get to watch tv!)...and now we thrust ourselves into a brand new week. Come on spring, we are waiting for you...
Spring 2011

Turkey Farming!
We butchered our first turkey! It was exciting and worrisome and fun all at the same time. We had only butchered our own chickens and they do fine with a head chop. Chickens seem easier and less violent to kill. You grab one, put it on a block, chop its head, it flops, and it is done. With turkeys the preferred method is to cut their neck arteries on each side and bleed them out while they hang upside down by their feet. Blood does not make me feel sick or ill at all and I obviously am okay with eating humanely raised animals, but I can't watch anything suffer. I can't even watch television that shows violence. If too much violence or any kind of torture comes on a movie or show I get up and leave the room. I whined a bit about the turkey suffering because killing a turkey like this takes more time than killing chickens, but Ricky didn't think he was suffering and everything did go well. I appreciated that Ricky was very patient and kind with my whining and worry throughout it. Overall I was really impressed with the whole event. I was a little bummed to see our huge tom go, but he was bought for food and he was getting too large. We actually thought we had bought heritage bronze turkeys (they were labeled as such) but as they grew fast and started to waddle it became very apparent we have standard bronze broad breasted turkeys, meaning they are bred for meat production not for keeping as livestock or pet. We also have heritage bourbon red turkeys pictured below:
Heritage turkey breeds are endangered because they are no longer raised on large scale. Farm enthusiasts like us raise them and help to preserve them. We have two toms and one hen we are keeping for breeding. We like them a lot, but they are not as friendly and affectionate as the ones we have to butcher.

After the kill Ricky saying "WOAH!" as he is having trouble scalding the bird (for feather plucking) with one hand. The turkey was very large and we obviously couldn't get all the feathers scalded.
After plucking and cleaning our bird he weighs at least 34 lbs. We need a better scale though. I joked in the kitchen how our methods for weighing newborn babies and poultry are the same: old scales, not super reliable, weighing our self first and then our self with the baby - in this case the bird. Haha. I think it is time after all these kids and several chickens that we invest in a reasonably nice scale!
It fits! Sort of.
Future Homesteaders
This was our trial run with turkey (we will do it again asap) and Ricky has hopes for duck, geese, and rabbit as well. I hear a lot of people say they couldn't kill an animal they raised. For me though, I see them being raised by me and butchered by me as a honest and healthy way of eating. I know if I raise them myself I know how they lived. Ricky and I love having homesteading skills. It makes us feel really happy and fulfilled, I also love the time Ricky and I spend together on our common goal of self sufficiency. When I said butchering the turkey was fun, it is not because the actual act is fun. The collaboration, time, and energy spent with my husband is fun. We love working together. Homesteaders see value in working at the home for the home instead of depending on others as much. That is the path we have been headed down for a long time. I love that we keep learning skills and planning out the home life we want. For now we are practicing it on a small scale...one day we will be able to do it on a large scale! And that is super, super, super exciting!

What we learned raising turkey -
-Keep the babies WARM. They need it much warmer than chickens and get a thermometer or you will surely lose birds. I thought I was good enough at raising chicks and that turkeys just needed "a little" more heat. I was wrong.
-Consider buying a couple or few week old turkey chicks from the feed store. This gives them a big head start health wise, especially if they already have feathers.
-They train very easy if you put in the effort. And it's not very hard! I trained them to stay in the backyard by feeding them a little bit 4x a day and hand feeding them some. Worked great.
-They really are, like everyone says, a joy to have around. You do enjoy them and they aren't that dumb.
-They make the best sounds, chirps, gobbles, they talk to each other and you, too!
-They drink a lot of water
-As expected, they handle the cold weather like a pro. They didn't need or want a real shelter, but if we had severe ice or below zero temps we would have forced them into housing.
-We would have never tried raising the standard bronze turkey because we hate raising the broiler chickens who are also bred to grow super fast for meat. But, we accidentally bought five of them and we loved them! They were super, super friendly and really nice, fun birds. It is unfortunate we couldn't keep some and a shame that we can't breed them. They can technically reproduce, but they can't mate very well because of their size. We would have to learn how to 'milk' our tom and inseminate our female ourselves. Most normal people wouldn't even consider this and I don't know anyone who does this (besides factory farms), but I'm just weird enough that I went online and looked it up to see how. lol. :)
-Killing them bothers me more than the chickens (but it's okay), but processing them is a cooler lesson in anatomy than with the chickens.They take longer to pluck, but I like them better than chickens and I thought the plucking went fast.
- Home raised turkey is phenomenal in taste and texture. Delicious, wonderful, perfect, phenomenal meat.

Monday, December 22, 2014

You Have to Love Four Year Olds

Today we were unwrapping Hershey's Kisses to make peanut butter blossoms. As little four year old Everett helped he soon noticed there was a paper with writing attached to each one. He started asking us what his "fortune" said. It took me a minute to realize that he thinks they are similar to fortune cookies!

Ricky and I are just beaming with grins on our faces now and just laugh at the cuteness. The other kids thought it was so funny and cute too.  So I start the game... I read him some of the "fortunes" he handed me. I tell him different things like:
Your family is special
Siblings are friends
Soon you will bake cookies for holiday fun

Each one I "read" he smiles at and full of pleased excitement yells "yay!" at whatever I say. He is having a total blast.

He hands me yet another paper and this time I say: "Cookies bring sweetness to life"
Everett: Yay!!! WAIT. Wait. So my cookies will come ALIVE?
Ricky: No, cookies will bring SWEETNESS to our life.
Everett: Oh phew, I thought mom said they would come alive.

Then Everett gets in on the fun. He tells us he will read us some fortunes now. 
Everett made up the following great fortunes off the top of his head:
When someone wears a hat they are a dad.
When snowflakes fall Santa will come to your house.
When you wear a firefighter hat then you have to help the firefighter put out the fire. 

We had such a great laugh. He is so cute!

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We had quite the surprise today when Santa and his mother were across the street visiting loved ones at the cemetery! I went outside with Everett as they were leaving and Everett yelled, "Santa! Merry Christmas Santa!" then Santa came over! Santa got a teddy bear out of his car and gave it to Everett! Everett gave it a big ol' hug and was so, so happy! It was just great. Charlotte is the one who thought to run out with the camera! (Thanks Charlotte!) Everett didn't ask, but Santa told him he didn't have his Santa hat on because it falls off when he is driving. We know it was the real Santa because 1. He obviously loved children 2. He had toys with him 3. He had real beard and number 4 is the weirdest of all... Layla pointed out that the dogs did not bark at him! Our dogs bark like crazy at everyone. Merry Christmas to all! 
Everett clutching the teddy bear

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 Everett, like most kids, likes to play with tape. He got a hold of some tape and taped his plate to the table and taped his banana back together. This pleased him so much I had to congratulate him on his ingenuity. I have never had a kid tape a banana back together before. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Adventures & Fun With Our Baby Bea

Yesterday just as we were next in line for a picture with Santa, Beatrice grabbed her diaper and loudly said, "Uh-Oh!" She gets the most funny expression on her face when she is concerned. Charlotte, Layla, and I were cracking up so hard as we looked around to see if anyone heard. She was able to get in the picture with Santa just fine. Lucky for us and Santa it was not that urgent and we made it for the picture first. Sometimes her uh-oh's are urgent, sometimes false alarms.

Beatrice stared at Santa long and hard before deciding she was then done with him. She just looked at me reaching out and whimpered when she was ready after a minute. Everett's face was priceless. He looked right at Beatrice watching, enjoying her, and smiling at her reaction. I thought it was really cute.

Beatrice has been such a joyous little baby. Time has been spinning out of control as it often does. I thought this month she turned sixteen months old. Ricky told me nope...18 months. My mind was blown.

The way she interacts with our family is amazing. She lights up all of our lives in ways I can barely put into words. When she was about nine months old she started getting up with Layla (10) in the mornings. She would wake up and crawl around our bed jabbering at her tired mom and dad until Layla would hear her and reach her arms out to her. Little Bea would reach out to Layla and off she would go. Layla would change her diaper and play with her. (And we got to sleep a little more!) Soon Bea started letting Penelope get her out of bed too. It didn't take long for Beatrice to expect her sisters to get her every morning. Between 6 and 7am Bea would wake up and shout jabbery words and sounds towards our door waiting for her sisters to hear her and get her up. It was beyond precious. As she started eating more solid foods Layla would pop Bea into her highchair and get her some breakfast and the three of them (or five of them if Everett and Sebastian got up) would eat breakfast all together without any help from us. When her sisters get her out of our bed each morning or after nap time Beatrice sometimes rests her head on their shoulder as she wakes up fully. If she pulls at her diaper and says uh-oh like in the Santa story above the girls rush her off to the bathroom.

Layla and Penelope pay attention to so many little things that her baby sister likes. Like how Beatrice is more likely to go pee on the potty if the bathroom door is closed. Beatrice is more vocal of her bathroom needs than most babies her age because we practice part-time elimination communication (EC) with our babies at most stages. We have had varying degrees of success. One thing has remained consistent, though. Our babies are aware and vocal about their bathroom or diaper needs at very young ages and tend to get out of diapers between 13- 20 months old. I do attribute it to EC.She has been telling us "uh-oh" about her diaper for a while now and the funny-cute factor is still not getting old. Everett was nine months old when he would wake at night wiggling and fussing half asleep. He would not settle down until I took him to the toilet to pee.  Babies are so smart! He was our one child out of diapers the earliest at around 13 months old.

Charlotte taught Layla how to use the potty when Layla was a baby. And now Layla, without any prompting from us, is teaching Beatrice. It's really sweet to see. Layla lines up stuffed animals on little pretend potties on the bathroom floor and Beatrice is so amused. See how adorable:

Beatrice is a feisty independent sweetie.  Her siblings are very close to her and drag her around everywhere with them. They were all playing outside and Beatrice was running along like she was the baby wolf cub after her pack. She held a stick in her fist and was having a ball.

She has felt like one of the little kids for a very long time, but now she is finding her voice and lets her preferences be known. She's getting that spark of independence and willpower. She is starting to pinch at people if they are bothering her, and she yells "HEY!" when someone takes her toy or food away. She also says "Hey!" when she sees something she wants. We might get a drink and she exclaims, "Hey!" to us. It's so funny. She loves a colorful crocheted blanket her Grandma Kathie made for her and she has to sleep and nap with it. When I am ready to nurse her asleep she looks for it and makes cute gasping noises and shakes her head from side to side looking for it and as if to be worried and fretting about finding it. It is her way of saying 'where is it?!' When she sees it she exclaims "dare-uh-is!" which sounds like jumbled baby talk words saying "there-it-is!" She says I love you now and it's so cute, too. It sounds like "agg-yeah-you." She counts with the kids but says two over and over again no matter what number they are on, it's so funny and sweet!

She has picked up on the words "mine" and "stop." Two words that you will hear non stop with a large amount of young kids. She waits at the kitchen table just like the rest of the kids for her food. She sits there so pleased with her place in the world, she almost rocks back and forth, kicking her feet ever so slightly with a pleased grin on her face waiting patiently. We have always sat her up at the table with us ever since she could sit up. She also sits at the table and plays Legos with the kids. After a while we have to rescue Penelope's Lego set-up when Beatrice becomes too destructive but it's adorable while it lasts and teaches her so much. Beatrice dances a lot too. We have dance parties and have great fun.

She colors, decorates candy houses, and in general does anything else we do.

A few weeks ago I taught her how to unlock the bathroom door. We live in an 88 year old house with cool solid wood doors that have crystal or porcelain doorknobs throughout. All the doors have ancient cool locks too, some with skeleton keys. Once locked, our bathroom door cannot be opened from the outside. There is no key, no hole, and no door hinges on the outside. Nothing. You could take the outside crystal doorknob off, but the porcelain one on the inside of the bathroom would remain screwed in. If a baby or toddler were to lock themselves in the bathroom I would be in a panic. We would potentially have to break the door frame away from the bolted door lock or break a window. Either process could hurt her and she would surely be frighted and crying. Bathrooms are horrendous places for babies to be trapped in for so many reasons. As soon as we see a baby fidget with the lock we start worrying and try teaching them how it works. It is a very loose and swift lock with a simple left and right motion. She had been unscrewing lids for quite a while so I knew she could learn this. One day in the bathroom with me she locked it and I told her to unlock it. She looked at me confused and I said the words again. "Unlock." I then showed her how. She looked at me and smiled and locked it again. I said "unlock!" and she unlocked it. I was SO happy. She did it back and forth with me and I told her the words lock and unlock.

On a Saturday morning I was still in bed and I could hear Ricky up with the five youngest kids. I didn't want to pry myself out of bed so I stayed a bit longer drifting in and out of sleep despite the rowdy noises coming from the other room. Suddenly I heard a loud slam and then all was very quiet. Deeper and deeper I drifted off again but suddenly I heard Bea's jabbering voice distinctly muffled behind a door. I jumped out of my bed in an instant. Moms total intuition and my brain put all the sounds together. I jumped up and ran to the bathroom door. Ricky was there and worried, he told me she was locked in alone, I said I could hear it happen. The kids gathered around and I shushed everyone. Ricky started to speak, he seemed like he was going to tell me what he was planning to do, but I interrupted him and told him to shush too. Ricky was somewhat surprised when I rushed to the door crack and said, "Beatrice, unlock! Unlock the door for mommy." In one little click she unlocked it!!!! I was already turning the doorknob to get in, just in case she swiftly locked it up again. Proud mom moment! My little one year old baby girl did it! So proud of her and proud of my forethought too! I scooped her up and celebrated how good she did and hugged her to bits feeling so relieved. I excitedly told Ricky how I had just worked with her mere days earlier trying to teach her the lock.

Right now I'm in the bathroom typing the rest of this on my laptop while Beatrice is in the tub. The  girls just came over to me to ask me something. Before they could speak Bea started patting the water and jabbering to Layla and Penelope to get in with her. I can tell a few stories and examples about how they all interact with each other, but it's hard to capture the real beauty of it. I get to live it everyday though and watch how close these kids all are with each other. The teens included. She smiles, waves, reaches up for them to pick her up. They talk to her and include her in everyday things. I have seen her put her head on each siblings shoulder for comfort or rest. It's very special that she feels so safe and loved by all of us. It's got to be amazing to be our Baby Bea. It's amazing being her mom, and the mom of all her sweet siblings.
Tired baby eyes, Layla just got her up from her nap
Nicknames are so fun! And our Baby Bee has lots of them. Nicknames she has that we use regularly:
Bea, Bee, Bumble Bee, Bumble, Stinky face (It's a cute children's book), Bea-tree, Bebe, Stink Bee, Killer Bee (When she is throwing a fit or is mad at us), Sweet Bee, Honey comb, Honey Bee, Baby Girl.