Life With Nine Kids

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!

Monday, November 30, 2015

November 2015

Penelope got a darling new prairie dress in November. I told my friend Molly that I hope Penelope never outgrows her prairie stage. Molly told me she only had one bonnet as a child but has three now. That made me smile.

Penelope (9) is so amazing as a big sister. She wanted to learn to hold Madeline alone, pick her up, change her diaper, and be able to walk around with her (to rock her or bring her to me). I was a bit nervous at first but the child is a natural mother. When Madeline wakes up from a nap I can rarely make it to my bedroom before Penelope scoops her up. Not even a poopy diaper scares Penelope off. She's so caring and loves to help out.

Penelope and I were talking about how Beatrice loves to sing and how sweet it is that she sings to Madeline. Bea heard this and started singing Rock-a-bye baby to Madeline, but it went like this: Rock-a-bye baby in the tree top when the wind blows the baby will...die. We looked at each other in horror and then couldn't stop laughing. That so belongs on that online list of 'creepiest things kids have said.' lol

In the most super cute things ever, Beatrice came up to Madeline today rubbed her head over and over and in a high pitched sweet toddler baby-talking voice said, "You are, aren't you? You are, aren't you?" without saying what she was first. So funny and cute.

Beatrice says things to me that are very unusual and amazing. Beatrice is very verbal (she has been talking well since at least 18 months old!) and she is not just verbal, but very expressive and articulate as well. She walked right up to me on at least a half a dozen different days, rubbed her baby sisters head, then pressed her head to her baby sister's head and closed her eyes, then she actually said to me, "Thank you for my baby sister, Mom." I could die from the sweetness and cuteness!

Everett asked me to teach him how to sew...
Everett (5 years old): Do you know why I want to learn to sew? So I can make a soft gun.
Penelope (9 years old): He means a stuffed gun, like a stuffed animal.
Everett: Yeah! That's why I want to learn!
I wrote this for Madeline at one month:
Gained 2 pounds, can turn head in my direction to look for me, big, dark navy blue eyes, wakes every 3-4 hours like perfect clockwork to nurse, loves to snuggle up, loves being swaddled, likes baths. I am in awe. I have been trying to pay extra attention to how she changes. From newborn to infant it's stunning how fast it goes.
I took the kids to our first homeschool meet up since Madeline was born. It was really fun having my mom friends coo over my baby. A circle of very motherful, sweet women gathered around me asking how I am, how our family is, and marveling at the wonder of such newness. It was sooooo sweet. Many echoed what Ricky and I keep saying each time... "How can we forget how tiny they are?" and "Why doesn't the newborn stage last longer." Oh newborn babies, what absolute love and hope you bring to the world.

Postpartum thoughts I wrote down in November:

November 10, 2015
Whether I like it or not I'm back in full swing mom mode. The world keeps turning even when you'd rather it stop a while and let you rejoice your new baby.  Ricky has the time off to take right now (paid), he just can't use more days right now when he has so many responsibilities to tend to at work. He took off a week in September for our beach vacation and then a handful of postpartum days. I can't imagine the stress he has been under. I'm sure it has been hard juggling so much. He has done amazing and I'm so grateful. In life there is always sacrifice. You will swap having family time for money or money for family time. It's the truth. The past two weeks play out like a month -or more-  in my head. I almost feel like I've been walking around outside of my body, or in a long dream where everything is muddled together. I don't say this as a bad thing per say, it's just weird.

November 19, 2015
Ricky is so loving and kind and tries to help me so much. He offered to take the day off tomorrow if it would help with the busy day I will have running kids to two appointments. He is swamped at know "real work" the kind that pays bills. He doesn't think I have all the time in the world because I stay home, and he doesn't tell me to get on with life as usual with a newborn. I am so glad he doesn't act like three weeks postpartum should be long enough for me to buck up and get out of the house regularly, even though most people probably do start to think that. I feel so fragile still.

I actually wanted him to help me tomorrow but I didn't want to ask... and then he just offered. Now I'm feeling more capable and able. Sometimes it is just enough for someone to offer, to sympathize, to hear you, to see you and your challenges... and then like magic things seem easier because you feel so loved. (This reminded me of this amazing cartoon video about empathy)
^ After I wrote that Ricky was able to take that Friday off plus two more in a row. He surprised me with two of them too! This leads me to the obvious conclusion that four day work weeks rule, and they should be the standard. Now that's not to say it came easy. He got home at 8pm some nights in order to swing his responsibilities at work. I appreciated his efforts to help me SO much. Sebastian has eye therapy appointments on Fridays. It is a 45 minute drive one-way. Ricky taking him to those on Fridays is a huge welcomed help.

Butchering the Thanksgiving bird
Thanksgiving was quiet, peaceful, and easy going. I prepped almost everything in advance.  I went easy on myself and only made pumpkin pies. The lemon meringue store-bought pie was hideously disappointing. I had to tell myself I just had a baby many times to keep myself stress free.

It was hard because my extended family is far away now. It was our first Thanksgiving without Aunt Sharon being here. I was really sad in the morning, shed my tears, and moved on. By afternoon Charlotte was weepy. When she told me I was like, "Oh no, I was already there! Don't bring me your weepiness over to me. I'm over it!" (It was funny, but I didn't really listen to the awesome empathy movie link I shared above!)

It was fun to have our fresh home grown Thanksgiving turkey. The kids helped prepare it. We butchered it a week before so the meat could rest. This makes it more tender. The kids all wanted to be involved and they were actually a ton of help. They all pitched in on feather plucking which can take quite a while.
35 pounds of bird
The weather in November was positively wonderful. We got lots of outside days. It really helped refresh me. I wasn't ready to plunge into the cold. (I never am!) I loved having Beatrice in June because the weather was so beautiful and the air so sweet. November being mild and sunny was a unexpected joy.
Sunny November morning nursing Madeline on the front porch

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Her Name is Madeline

Born at home October 28, 2015 at 11:31 pm 7 lbs 1 oz  18.5 inches long, Baby Madeline joined our family

Charlotte (19) drew me the above picture and I absolutely LOVE it with all my heart. It's so SWEET! It's our family drawn in the style of this page in the 1939 original story of Madeline:

Page from Ludwig Bemelman's book Madeline
It's not Madelyn, It's Madeline (Mad-ah-line). Like the little girl in the books.

Instantly I'm transformed into whoever I need to be for her. Late nights, early mornings, patting, rocking, swaying, humming, food on demand...a sore back.  I'll do anything for her. Anything at all. 
Ricky wanted the name Madeline at least three kids ago. I loved the name but shied away from it repeatedly because of the spelling and pronunciation confusion of Madelyn and Madeline. I never wanted to name a child something that would have to be corrected all of the time.

When Beatrice was born the kids and I pushed for the name Beatrice. We wanted our little "Baby Bee." It just fit her and the sunny June week she was born. I always liked the name Joy, because my children bring me so much Joy, but Ricky doesn't like it.  I loved the name Beatrice even more when I learned it meant bringer of joy and many blessings. That just fit so perfectly for how I feel about my children and motherhood. None of us can imagine her being anyone else. She is a vibrant free spirited, talkative, happy, joyful baby and child...with a gaggle of sunny / bee themed nicknames too. Ricky of course also loves Beatrice's name, but I clearly remember and will never forget Ricky saying that we could name her Beatrice but the next baby WILL BE Madeline. I even remember where he was standing outside and how he said it. I promised him Madeline. I could tell he was slightly disappointed that the kids wouldn't give up on Beatrice. I finally caved but couldn't talk Penelope into changing Beatrice's name to Madeline. She would have sobbed. And I'm so glad we kept Bea! It all worked out for the better. Beatrice fits our little Bea so wonderfully and Madeline SO fits our new baby! I really love saying it and it came to us all really naturally to call her Madeline. We however do not have a middle name yet. We have ideas but we need to see what feels right, and if something else jumps out to us. Even though we named this baby girl Madeline years ago we still tried out the name for over a week before announcing it officially. Beatrice called her Madeline for the first time a couple days ago and it was so precious. The trial period is over: we adore our baby Madeline.

Everett (5)  is still devoted to the name Blueberry. I told him that is fine. I asked Ricky about naming her Madeline Blueberry. He said no. Penelope and Aunt Sharon love it though. :)
Here's the funny conversation I had with Layla:
Layla (11): You can't name her middle name BLUEBERRY!
Me: Why not? Just imagine this sweet little girl with a basket in the woods or a meadow...she's picking wild flowers and her name is Madeline's SO PRETTY.
Layla: Eh, that's not real life Mom.


And for the record: I see our very own Penelope Juliet happily frolicking and picking tomatoes, strawberries, flowers, and plantain all summer long in her prairie dress and bonnet and she is just darling. So there. Real life. :)

Most of the time when we name our children something that's the name we want to use exclusively. The exception is Bea. We knew we would call her Bea and Beatrice. We were asked about Penny as a nickname for Penelope. It never crossed our mind. We named her Penelope. Penelope is called Nellie within our family but it's a casually used family nickname (given to her totally by Layla when Layla was three because she couldn't say Penelope very well). Near 99% of the time we all call her Penelope. To our surprise we were asked what Sebastian would go by when we named him. Well, he will go by Sebastian of course! The same happened with Charlotte. People asked if she would go by Charlie or Lottie. Um no. Charlotte is her name! We spend way too much time naming our babies to call them something other than what we actually name them. So no nicknames for Madeline, please.

We love her like this.

Penelope (9) and Beatrice (2) with baby Madeline (7 days)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

We decided to stay in for Halloween ...and I love my family so much.

The kids trick or treated twice before Halloween so we introduced the idea of staying in on Halloween. It was drizzly out and we just had a baby. We told them we could have fun with carving pumpkins, some games, and a pizza/ice cream/movie party instead. Thankfully they were all fine with it. Still, we know how much they love trick or treating (we do too!), and of course the candy sorting and candy trading that goes with it. The kids have been trading and sorting their candy all week long from other Halloween events and Trunk or Treat. It keeps them so busy! Even though they were fine with staying in we still felt a little bummed about not actually taking them out. Ricky had a great idea though... he bought a bunch of Halloween candy (like oh my goodness a ton of it) and he surprised the kids with indoor trick or treating. We have a lot of family members around here and he armed everyone age eleven and over with candy for their bedroom or bathroom station. (Layla wanted to help hand out candy.)

The younger three kids got dressed up (Beatrice was asleep). When they knocked at the first "house"  Ricky opened the bathroom door and I about died laughing when I saw he had put on the kids' shark towel last minute to be dressed up. Then he asked the kids questions like he didn't know them. I fell in love with him all over again. I love that after a really crazy and busy three days of postpartum craziness he still made Halloween so uniquely special for all of us.

I love this man.
Then we went upstairs to trick or treat Layla's bathroom door. We had all the lights off upstairs and the kids called it Dark Street.
We started calling the various rooms neighbors. They all got scared at Charlotte's room when she played some creepy Halloween sound maker with the lights off. Sebastian (7) wasn't expecting the creepy noises and screamed and fell down flailing around like a goofball. It was hilarious.

Then Sage's room, I mean house, was next.
 Sage opened the door and asked the kids to tell him their joke. We all laughed so hard at this. (It is a St Louis tradition to ask kids to tell you a joke when they Trick or Treat to your house. We are not from St Louis and do not embrace this tradition at all. In fact we find it super annoying and time consuming, though we participate grudgingly when we have to .)

Then at Ethan's door he had sat out a pumpkin on his "porch." Super clever and cute. Their older siblings are the best for trying to make it so fun and memorable for the kids!
Ethan's room
The kids went around to the "houses" again and Ricky opens up this time like this:

I am seriously amused by all of this. 

And the candy trading and sorting fun begins...

Updatey Stuff...
Day 4 postpartum ~ Sunday Nov 1, 2015
The weather is beautiful and so good for the soul! I am so thankful it will be in the 70's this week. What a treat to have the kids be able to go out and for me to be able to get some fresh air. I cried three times since the baby was born and that's not like me. The house is a little loud (ya think?) and between our busy month, birthday parties, our anniversary, Ricky working 12-14 hour days, crazy amounts of errands/appointments, the holidays coming, and finally a new baby ... I have been zapped. I was able to take several naps the past few days and they have been super beneficial. Ricky has been busy and so great taking care of kids and me, grocery shopping, errand running, Etc. It's been a really hard time actually! We were not very ready for baby yet. We have all done great overall though. Beatrice is really settling in now and sleeping better. She doesn't mind me caring for her baby sister and she is fawning all over her. This is still such a new time! The broken up sleep the kids had the night of the birth really whacked things out around here.

Day 5 postpartum ~ Monday Nov 2, 2015
Things are better and *almost* feeling normal again.

Bea was having a hard time but is now doing amazing! She was just sleep deprived and also missing my baby-belly which she rubbed every night to fall asleep! I woke up to her this morning cuddling with me and the baby. She stroked the baby's head for a half hour. As I nursed the baby and fell in and out of sleep Bea jabbered on and on to her baby sister in our dark bedroom. It was very sweet! 

Everett is extra, extra spazy and wild and that is the current challenge. Still so thankful for nice weather this week. Ricky has been really busy taking care of everyone and helping his weepy wife. He has been a trooper and everything I need. I love him SO much! I'm feel so much better now that I am caught up on sleep, not sore, and Bea is doing better. I was so exhausted and emotional about her being exhausted and emotional. 

I am really looking forward to a nice November and December where we slow down a bit and focus on family time and fun school days! In hindsight I was way too busy in Sept. and Oct.! But at least we enjoyed the fall! Ricky had to go into work today but I am feeling brave and rested. I can't wait for him to take more days off though. Now I need to go write up a plan for the day and chore list. I have loads of help but I have to go assemble my troops.
Sisters Bonding