Life With Nine Kids

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Christmas Gift Ideas for Big Families

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

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

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

Time to get Creative!

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

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

Sigh. Stress. Sad face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Kid Snippets: 

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

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


(Oh goodness, I LOVE HER!)

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


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


Monday, October 31, 2016

October, the Good and the Bad




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Helping People

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

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

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

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

We split the bill.

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


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

Monday, June 27, 2016

Summer Romance in a 15 Passenger Van

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Spring 2016

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

Dumpster Rental for spring cleaning, downsizing, and garage cleaning most of all
I have learned over the years that there is usually a really difficult time (even several) throughout the year. Usually it has to do with various age transitions of kids. I used to get burnt out by it, but now I think I am so used to it I just let it flow. I know better days will come. I fight it less. It does not last forever.  Raising kids is like climbing a mountain. At first it's fun and you are all prepared and pumped, and then it becomes rough. Stuff you aren't prepared for can overwhelm you; situations you didn't pack for. Sometimes you even feel lost or stranded. Eventually you get your second (and then third) wind, and you pick up some speed. You eventually make it over. It just takes a bit more effort than those first steps! I see the pattern now. Right now it is loud and Ricky and I have trouble just talking over the noise! But it wont always be like this. It gets better. They get bigger. Things smooth over. (And then it will get hard again. Life is like this!) Having Madeline join the gang is really fun. She is just plunked right in the middle of all the chaos and she loves it.
 
It's always like that I suppose. Each amazing one of them right in the middle of crazy-everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Digging for worms with PawPaw


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

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

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

The Kids: A Rundown
The Teens

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Everett (5)

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

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

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

Madeline is six months old and wobbly when sitting up.
   
Her real accomplishment is crawling. She can get across the floor already! She loves her siblings and loves watching them. When she watches them run around she will yell out baby talk and flap her arms up and down in excitement towards them. She loves her daddy and gives him the sweetest starry eyed smiles.

She is perfectly fun and sweet like the rest. She is a good sleeper, but prefers to be home for sleeping. She is a good car rider though which is a great thing for this busy bunch! 

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

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

Everett Finally Broke Something

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

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

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

He tried to break open a rock with a screwdriver.

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

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

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

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