"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in."

-- Robert Frost

Monday, February 27, 2012

to room alone or not to room alone ...

that's always been a question.

Our bedroom capacity is not huge.  We moved to this house trading indoor space for outdoor space.  When we transitioned to four girls, we wondered if we should squeeze or finally give into Celia's wildest dream ... her own room.

Our master is on the main level and there are three moderate sized bedrooms upstairs.  The basement is finished and we'd turned it into a movie viewing area for our Friday family movie nights as I preferred not to have a television commanding attention in our living room.

We decided to make the switch.  Upstairs bedrooms:  three girls in one, one in the other, and two boys in the third.

This is the only picture I have of the three girl arrangement and none of Celia's room as the set up did not last very long.

She was unhappy. 

It was a funny thing.  She had everything she wanted.  But now, there was irritation and ownership and disengagement.  She's an avid reader ... I couldn't keep up with her if I tried... and she just — disappeared with her books.  With her permission, I tell this experience from a little over a year ago.

I stepped into her room one night to say my good nights and a book lay across the end of her bed.  It was popular literature that friends had recommended at school but a book that I knew to be highly adult themed.  I asked her about it and she burst into tears and said she'd been so disturbed in chapter one but it had been too hard to put down until chapter two.  She expressed how difficult living alone made making certain decisions.  Like actually having the discipline to turn out the light, putting down a "good" or "not so good" book, getting up in the morning, keeping her space uncluttered ... and on and on.

We talked at length and among other things, it came to light that there were good points about having the responsibility of one's own space ... but sometimes, the not so good can be out-weighing.

I stewed over what to do as a mother with so little space available.  

I lay awake remembering life as the oldest daughter and listening to the laughter of the other girls off in the room they shared. I recalled coming home from college as an engaged-to-be-married-in-the-morning gal, and stopping by that bedroom that had always been shared.  I stood outside the door listening to the companionable conversation over the excitement toward the next day's wedding festivities.  I'm certain the camaraderie wasn't always there but it had, in the long run, created an unbreakable bond.  A bond I felt a slight sad little tug of outsider "ness" in the presence of, most probably because I'd had my "own space" for longer than I had not. 

In the light of dawn, I spoke with Celia again relating my memories and she asked to be moved back in.

And Newel created an office of her abandoned room to which I have decided every man should have his own space in a home for sanity's sake :)  But that's another line of thinking for another day.

I don't have a picture of all four of my girls cramming into that little bedroom for the last year, but they have made it work.  Yes, there were plenty of adjustments and moments of wound licking, but they all seemed generally happier.  They managed Eliza's transition from crib to bed flawlessly and listening to Eliza tell each sister goodnight in the darkness was well worth the switch.

And of course, with baby #7 on the way, I'm once again looking at re-arrangement.

Everyone has to shift to make room for one more body.  I've faced the only solution.  Move the girls to the finished basement. Since we know we'll be 5:2, baby girl #5 has prompted Project Dormitory.  That's what I've been working on and I wish we'd done this so much sooner. It's heaven.

The television has been moved up to the living room.  Not my favorite but more monitor-able. Especially with teens who want weekend movie night gatherings with friends without feeling silly over motherly interruptions in a basement every few minutes :)

These guys, the couches and television stand, are going the way of Craig's list.  And my finished basement is quickly accommodating four beds and one crib — for as long as it is needed.

And if the bright beach-y fabric selections for bedding don't warm my heart a little here at the end of February ... Stepping down the stairs to kiss each head goodnight down the line and finding girls big and small, braiding each other's hair last night ...

Well, that warmed me more than a little. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012


I feel complainey and nasty and out of breath and fatigued in this body that still has a long way to go.

That's not a very good opener but it's where I'm at right now.  A long term wracking chest cough that leaves me certain I'll expel a baby at any moment, isn't helping ... though on the bright side, I might be the first ever to come out of pregnancy with abs of steel?

I found myself tonight, sweeping every one's stuff into one giant pile in the center of the room with a warning to retrieve & home it or I'd use my one and only bend-over for the day to bag & chuck it ... at the same time repeating "Rise above yourself" over and over in my mind.  It's become my mantra when I just can't seem to muster another ounce of energy lately.

Back in December, an evening found me and all of the kids over in town, reveling in Ikea's Tuesday "kids eat free regardless of an adult meal" — special.  I couldn't help but feel like I'd won the lottery because in case you haven't noticed ... I've got a lotta kids :) Between mouthfuls of Swedish meatballs, Christian gazed at the overhead fixtures and then declared that I could "totally make one of those".  All the kids chimed in, bless them, and I humbly grinned and silently marveled at their expectations of me.

And spent a lot of time thinking about expectations ever since. (My friends and family will note that no one received a handmade origamied light fixture from me for Christmas ;)

I do seem to hold myself to some level of expectation and when I fail to meet those, I feel insufficient.  Maybe we all do.

A couple of Sundays ago, a friend balanced her way into the meeting herding a reluctant toddler while maneuvering a new born complete with luggage and accessorized by a precautionary oxygen tank.  We chatted briefly and she asked me how in the world she should find balance with two.

I fumbled with no good answer because realistically, two was probably when all my expectations dumped headfirst into the trash. And right now?  As lumbering cumbersome as I feel, I'm afraid my expectations of myself just got swept up into that selfsame pile with all the kids stuff.

But on reflection, what I'd like to tell her is that there really are times where we have to let go of our expectations of ourselves a little and just bathe in the unexpected pleasures of living life.  Her questions were a much needed reminder of that as I've struggle to keep my usual pace whilst inwardly grumping at my super-slow state.  In the not too distant future, I too will easily catch myself feeling guilty that my newborn sits far longer than I'd like in a baby seat while I scramble to put back the pieces of a too long neglected life.  Or, I can shift my focus to dwelling on the fact that I'm doing all I can do and utterly soak in the pleasures of a quiet afternoon, toddler and newborn tucked under each arm, stack of picture books and sleepy path to a rejuvenating nap. 

The same goes for my here and now.

Newel's been traveling lately and that leaves me shuffling with the morning rush. Needing to make every second count in the turn around of leaving my early morning seminary girl at the church and jr. higher's at the middle school, it's a blitz back home to get round 2 out the door to the elementary bus.  Every single morning, Christian meanders the entire distance to the school door and then turns to wave furiously one last time before crossing that threshold to face his day. I can feel the clock ticking and know I might be too late to make the schedule work, but I just can't bring myself to move knowing he needs my reassuring wave.  And I think I've grown to need his every bit as much.

Janie's eyes just light up when I take the time to try a new hair-do on her rather than throwing out my usual, "I want to know you can do this for yourself."  Funny how letting everything take a back burner for just a sec, can feed her whole day and bring her home still chattering of the exciting newness of a simple braid.

I'm certain Grant's second and third hugs hold up Mr. Mike the Bus Driver longer than he cares to wait.  Sorry, Mike, sometimes buses have to wait, too.

Just like a mom soaking away the day's tiredness in a warm bath, can feel a small inevitable rise in irritation as the voices of children long since sent to bed, seep through the vents interrupting her peace.  Yet, when I actually listen to the words of their conversation ... Annie's inquisitive request of what moving into the young women's group at church will be like in the next months, or girls camp, or high school ... followed by Celia's response of fond memories and exciting experiences .... the tiredness of the day magically melts away even more and irritation can no longer exist.

Maybe I'm not all that I expect myself to be right now, but as long as the light in these people's eyes tell me that they at least think I can origami my way through it all ... well perhaps I'll I need do is enjoy the unexpectedness of life.  The neatness of a home can't compare to the neatness of the moments and balance is in the shift as I try to rise above me while I focus on them.

Even when I feel complainey and nasty and out of breath and fatigued.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

valentine lessons learned

Celia calls this "Single Awareness Day".  I remember those years of walking by the high school main office brimming with Hallmark paraphernalia on Valentine's day ... none of which was for me because there was nary a boyfriend in sight.  

It's okay, I tell her.  One day, you'll find one to be your Valentine every day, even when he's miles away on a business trip :)

There are a lot of lessons to be learned surrounding this one holiday.

First and foremost, we celebrate relationships.  My dad used to dislike the fact that there was one day on the calendar proclaiming when he must profess his undying love. I thought that pretty practical reasoning once.  However, since growing a family, I've loved turning this holiday into a time to gather all my favorite people to celebrate our family ties.  I love making it a special day for them because "the world" doesn't always make them feel special. 

Next, I like to think of Valentine's Day like Christmas.  It really is about giving and not receiving.  Isn't that the way love works?  It doesn't work very well on a first person basis. Love always crumbles the minute my focus shifts inwardly.  

And that's why, though I was sighing at 11:00 last night as every last teen in my house was scrambling to pull together their little gifts for friends ... cookies baking, bracelet making, gum bagging, — a craft paper, glue, ribbon, wrapper explosion atop an exhausted mother — I couldn't help but feel my heart swell up at their excitement to give to their friends.  Even though they might really be considered "too old" for Valentine's, they don't see it.  There was genuine excitement at making someone else's day and not one word about who might be reciprocating or what other's might think. 

Lastly, this is also a holiday about gratitude and kindness and I've tried to drum this into both my boys and my girls. 

Christian loves Valentine's Day more than anyone.  In his later elementary years, he would purchase a bouquet of daisies with his own money and ask me to separate them into individual tissue and ribbon wrappings for all of the girls he knew.  We'd shake our heads and hide our smiles at the 3rd and then 4th and then 5th grader, who excitedly headed to school with his cupid under arm wares.

And then the school boys teased him about being a "player" which rubbed me wrongly and induced a lecture about future (and I stress future) dating comparing to a trip to an ice cream store.  That little taster spoon allows you to sample all flavors and decide what you like in the end.  The current dating trends are to zone in on one and only one much too early and won't allow for much learning.

I'm sure he internally rolled his eyes at me, because last year for Valentine's day, he decided to put all of his eggs in one basket despite my "old fashioned" ideals.

Unable to change his mind, I helped him think outside of the box and do something cute, non-romantic for his early age, and just plain fun to make this girl feel special on what can otherwise be a lonely day.

We made a candy gram together.

And he took it to school and she ridiculed and turned up her nose .. in front of her friends.

And he got burned and resolved to never do anything again.

You can bet I boiled up another lecture to all of my girls about being appreciative of whatever comes their way by whomever, regardless of personal feelings.  It sometimes takes every ounce of courage that a young man has, to ask a girl to dance, to call a girl on the phone, to give a girl a gift.  Hide those feelings if you're not interested and work on that "let down" privately later, but always. deal. kindly.   And show your gratitude in the moment.  A smile and thank you will do.  You don't have to love him.  But remember, there will come a time when no one will notice you at all.  Best savor the moments when someone does.

To Christian, I bit back my "I told you so".  And spent the last year convincing him that the time is not now for choosing just one flavor.  For every one girl who turns up her nose, there's a dozen who just wish he'd pay attention and make her feel a little special today.  Regardless of current trends or what other's might say, every young girl just wants to go somewhere fun and have a great time.  Now ... he's still not dating age.  Not for another three years at least.  But it never hurts for him to see, that by dealing respectfully and genuinely interested, he can make each girl feel like she's on top of the world today when she's with him.  The time for narrowing will come ... just not yet.

And so this morning, he left with a bag full of homemade Valentine's for every girl he knows, in the hopes that she feels special today. 

That's my boy.

And that's my Valentine soapbox.

And it's teachings to a not too distant future houseful of dating teens.

And these are the Valentine mailboxes.  I thought Grant was going to be sick with excitement.  

Here's hoping your Valentine's day is full of celebration for the one's you love and gratitude for the blessing of family relationships.  Happy Valentine's day!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cheesy Ground Beef Chili

This one was brought to me by a friend while I was recuperating here.  I don't know if it was the twenty four hour restriction on eating due to the anesthesia or what, but it was The. Best. Meal. Ever.  For both myself and my family.

And easy.  We're not big ground beef eaters unless it's spaghetti .... which is rare ... or a hamburger on the grill in the summer.  But this was undeniably fantastic.

Cheesy Ground Beef Chili
(30 min)

1 1/2 lb ground beef 
1 onion diced
large can of tomato sauce
2 cans of enchilada sauce (we like mild)
1 can of kidney beans (rinsed)
1 can of great northern beans (rinsed)
1 can of corn (drained)
1 can of fire roasted tomatoes
1 Tbs. ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt

Cheese, Frito's, olives and sour cream for topping

Brown the ground beef in a large stock pot, add onion while browning, add the salt and cumin.  After browning add all rinsed beans and tomatoes, sauce and corn.  Simmer about 20 minutes.  Top each bowl with the good stuff.

Friday, February 10, 2012

whatcha got cooking?

Sugar and spice and everything nice.

Or an alien, my kids say.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Citizenship in the community

I don't talk politics.  And this is not a political post.  But last night Newel asked me to accompany him to something he felt important.

And I was in awe watching people speaking so passionately about things they seriously believe in.

Trying to make a difference in their worlds.

Regardless of sides, it was fun to see folks enrapture themselves in American dreams.  And it was inspiring to watch Newel voice his thoughts and run for a position as a county delegate.

Christian came along, too, as part of his "citizenship in the community" merit badge requirement. I thought he would be bored.  He was as enthralled as I was over the processes of our great country and the delivery of devoted opinion.  When he walked into the caucus wearing his scout shirt, the chairman was so excited he asked him to lead the group in the Pledge and from there out, Christian was a celebrity. I think every senior gentleman wanted to take him home.


It made my heart swell in so many ways.  And then, he and I sat whispering about the goings on and determined that politics is a very difficult business.  There's never any way of making everyone happy.  And no matter what you say or do, someone won't be pleased.

Huh, I thought .... not much different than being the mom.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pimp my ride

The night that Newel and I went off to sleep stunned that we were going to have another baby, was interrupted by a bathroom break around 3 am.  I'm pretty good at lurking around in the dark so as not to overly wake myself ... and others ... so's nobody can get back to sleep.

My trusty sidekick woke up for a sympathy bathroom break and turned on every light in the house.

So in the end, we were both awake and and staring into the darkness.  No breathing deepened telling me that sleep was immanent so I said to the silence,



"We'll be like the Von Trapps," I said, "Except without the singing ... and the governess."

"Seven," I heard him whisper over there in the black.

"So much for those ski passes this year ... and I guess I won't be joining y'all for the next few either."

"Yeah, ... sorry about that." he said.

"That's okay.  I've hit the point where I really just like to watch them follow you anyway."

More silence.

"We won't be able to fit around our kitchen table." says I.

"We won't be able to fit in this house." says he.

"We'll just have to shuffle ... and squeeze a bit." I said softly.

"Se...vvvv...ennnn", I heard sighed into the pitch, "That's an army ... or a team."


More contemplative quiet and then I said ...

"That's a lot of bodies in a Christmas card picture."

Wait for it.

"That's a lot of bodies in a Suburban."

"Wait," he perked up, "We won't all fit into the car!"

And that's where the wheels started spinning.  Now, I like big vans.  Don't get me wrong.  Every year that we go to the beach, we rent an airport van so large each child can have their own bench seat. Somehow, we are still pelted with cries of "he's touching me" but that's beside the point.  It is a comfortable ride for a family our size.

But ... he's got his heart set on the most monstrous of all vehicles.  The Sprinter Van.

It's not bad enough that the gal loading my groceries asked if I was running a daycare last time I took everyone to the store with me.  And believe me, I bit down hard not to ask politely if she really thought I'd take my daycare to the grocery store.  That's right.  What I should do is run errands in a bus.

Just in case you have no idea what a Sprinter Van is ... here's a mental image, and a story.  Think FedEx truck.

Newel takes Christian with him to help someone move in our church.  He calls me on the way home sounding like a kid in a candy shop. "Get your boots on and wait for me on the driveway.  I've got a present for you!"  That's not generally what a wife wants to hear after an elders quorum move.  It could mean anything.

But I complied.

And he came circling the driveway, both of them hanging out the window waving and honking and yelling, "Look what I got for YOU!", in this:

Complete with emergency exits on the windows and rows upon rows of seats — and that removable wrapper that Christian claimed made the thing cooler.

I'm pretty sure I yelled some choice words into the woods accompanied by "You did NOT!"

And he let me fume until morning that he would make such a purchase before he told me he'd just borrowed it from a friend to get my goat.

And the kids all piled in and buckled up for a joy ride.

And Celia exclaimed she would NEVER get into the car if we pulled up to the curb at the high school while moments later, she whispered that it would be awesome to cart the entire youth to the stake dances in.

And I said take it back.

And crushed his hopes and dreams.

And if you drive one of these, you are amazing. Though you can't go through a car wash or find parking near the door to haul your army across a parking lot, I applaud your apathy to public impression.  I'm just not ready to make that leap yet.

I think I'd rather publicly unload from a tiny car like clowns in a circus.

Besides ... it's just seven.  Not eight.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Beyond spaghetti

When it comes to mealtimes, I get bored really easily.  And ... I get burned out making meals that everyone walks away from with a sub par attitude.

I used to try all sorts of cool new things and then little kids would turn up their noses at marsala sauce with mushrooms, of all things.  I totally quit and vowed that once Newel and I were old folks, I'd make us fat cooking up a gourmet storm.

Then I let convenience slip in because I'm not great at spending a lifetime preparing one meal regardless if it's the pinnacle gathering time of our day.  And some evenings, time is short and the mom is stretched thin, regardless.

But things change, I guess, and nowadays I've got starved teens and little kids who understand that a turned up nose results in going without rather than a peanut butter alternative.  I'm still not good at slaving over food.  I like ease but I like quality ... and so do my customers.

Their only complaint?  There's a rumor goin' round that if they say they like something, they'll never see it again.  And if they say they don't ... they'll see it forever.

So, making sure my memory retains our favorites, I thought I'd post winning recipes on quiet Sunday evenings, to eventually be compiled into a family fave cookbook.  Fast, easy, uncomplicated, good ...

French Dip Sandwiches
(20 minutes max)

French bread loaf
Olive oil
Cheese of choice
"Carving Board" roast beef from the pre-packaged lunch meat grocery section
Onion soup mix
Raw veg with ranch dip or fruit salad on the side

Split the french bread loaf down the middle horizontally.  Brush both sides with olive oil and toast under the broiler.  Remove when toasted.  Layer both halves with cheese (kids love white american or munster, dad loves provolone or swiss).  Then top one side with the carving board roast beast. This is not the deli roast beef but a more rustic cut hanging in the boxed lunch meat section.  Hey ... I say, if you've got the time and a slicer, by all means make your own but this short cut was gourmet enough for us. Salt, pepper and put back in to melt the cheese to bubbly.

While all this toasting is going on, I boil four cups of water and a packet of onion soup mix.  Pour hot soup into individual ramekins (or bowls, cups, whatever).  Slice up some veggies (or fruit) on a tray. Set out dip.  Remove melted sandwich halves.  Put them together and slice into 6-8 pieces. 

This is a great one for Wednesday nights when you're trying to bust six kids out the door to church activities :) 

And ... be still my southern heart.  The new "everything in a jar" trend.  And don't I have dozens of these jam jars lining my storage room shelves!

Banana Puddin' in a Jar, ya'll
(15 minutes + 1 hour chill)

Vanilla Pudding made to package instructions
Sliced bananas
Vanilla waffers
Real whip cream (or that canned stuff if you're desparate)

Layer bananas, cookies and pudding in a jar x 2.  'Nuff said.  Top with real whip cream (small carton of whipping cream and sugar to taste -- whipped together).  Chill in the fridge for an hour.  I'm thinking these would also go great lidded and in lunch boxes to make a day really special.  But then, they might just eat the pudding and throw out the pb&j. Guess I'd best think this through.  After dinner however, they were a hit making each kid feel grown up with their own serving size.

I can't claim the origin of any of the recipes I'll be posting for my compilation.  They're just gathered over time.  But they're the ones that bring the kids to the table just a little faster than before.  Now let it not be whispered in hushed tones, "Don't say you like it or we'll never see it again."

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Jacked by a Groundhog

Spring temps and confused song birds have been really misleading ... even though we know it's only February. I should know better than to get that warm weather itch.

But the electrical charge in our home on Thursday night over anticipation of the snow day a fore casted blizzard might bring, was certainly the real deal.  We woke up to snow mounding from the door.

And no school but chores still needing to be done

And a lot of "I've fallen and I can't get up".

And sled dogs making runs in over two feet of snow

And a treasure hunt to find the sled we left out there the night before the snow began
 ... though I warned 'em.

And big kids throwing their blankets over their heads in hallelujahs of canceled everything who haven't even emerged yet.

And my "snow is romantic" side telling me that perhaps the most perfect of days filled with baking, hot chocolate, napping, movies, and a front hall brimming with a continuous stream of wet boots, coats, gloves and laughter ... are these.