Happiness Is…

…four cars, all lined up in a row on our plain gravel drive, Three of those cars belong to three of our daughters, our eldest daughters who have learned and grown and are ready to fly.  Some of them are seldom here any more, between school and work, but this is a golden week or two right here: the busyness of preparing for Christmas is done, and they’re on break from school, so we only have work schedules to manage, and you know what?  Lots of times, we’re all home.  So I’m soaking up my big girls as much as I can this week or two.  Classes will be starting up again soon, and there will be homework, and friends, and work and back we’ll go to hit and run conversations squeezed in to odd pockets of mutual availability.  But for right now, there are sometimes four cars parked all in a row in our plain gravel drive, and if there are, I’ll be happily enjoying the company of my girls.

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Desperate Times

First, I just want to say that I am loving the Jesus Storybook Bible.  Loving!  It is so sweet, with a lot of illustrations that keep the wee ones engaged and an energetic style that both entertains and illuminates.  The focus is on the bible as a love story, and it just sings with joy.  I would say it’s most suitable for preschool to maybe 8 year olds.  They have a curriculum kit (I don’t have it) which is for upper elementary ages, but I would expect older children to be reading a more challenging bible storybook, so l’m not sure about their expectations.  This is definitely for younger children, but truly delightful.  And truth be told, most of my older children paused in their work to listen in from the next room.  Anyway, highly recommended!

Two cuties in the tub.

Two cuties in the tub.

Now, here’s a sad story for you.

I’ve been warning my people about this for several weeks.  I’ve been stressing about this for a long time.  I’ve got six adults in my household, and yet almost all of the work is falling onto me.  No one person has a lot of chores, but few of them are doing them without being reminded/cajoled/threatened.  All day long, I’m scrambling to care for my wee ones, prepare food for eleven people, two on a restricted diet, manage the household and the farm, and keep up with the never ending pile of laundry.

On Monday afternoon, Evie wet my bed while napping.  I had to strip the whole thing and rewash the sheets I’d just changed and the comforter, too.  Then I had to get the bed remade.  At this time of year, I end up trying to make dinner and milk the cows at the same time, and now I had to deal with the bedding on top of the regular crazy, and I was stressed.  The following morning was our Saint Nicholas celebration, so a special effort had to be put forth there, plus we usually watch Saturday Night Lights on Monday evening.  And I’d asked one of the (adult) children to make sure that there is firewood in the box in the mornings so that I can build their fire without having to go to extraordinary lengths.

But Tuesday morning, I woke at five, as usual, to a messy kitchen full of unwashed dishes from the evening before, an overflowing trash can, laundry and pillows and blankets tossed all over the living room, and no firewood.  I was pretty steamed.  And then my barn buddy never showed, so I headed out for milking and manure shoveling alone.  When I got back, one daughter had set the table and arranged the donuts, but she was sitting in front of a dying fire doing a crossword puzzle.  The others still hadn’t come down, even though it was 7:30.  I was just about boiling over.

A neighbor's barn at sunrise.

A neighbor’s barn at sunrise.

“Good morning, mama!” they each said as they traipsed into the room.

“I don’t want to talk to you right now,” I said back.

That is extremely alarming, when mama can’t even talk to you.

I would have waited till much later in the day to discuss my issues.  I would have waited until I had time to cool down and come up with a reasonable plan of action.  But after a while, somebody asked, “What is the matter, mama?” and that was that.

Mama went on strike.

Making Room

The other day, I was pretty annoyed with the family at large for not doing their share, or any share, really, of the housework. I’d spent the whole day working, and the whole lot of them were gone. Disappeared. Two of them cp-henry-play-blockshad an acceptable reason: they were at work! But the rest of them? Not so much. And they heard about it.  Later that evening, as we went about our Advent devotions, I suggested the song “People Look East”.  The older children got the message right away, but the younger ones were cheerfully oblivious.

Actually, I really like that song, don’t you?  It’s hopefully expectant.  We make time to prepare our hearts and our homes for the coming of our Lord, and why not?  I would tidy up the house for any other expected guest!  Maybe we shouldn’t go quite so far as Old Befana, who is so focused on cleaning that she misses the Lord entirely, but a little prudent cleaning, I think, will not go amiss.cp-tommy-play-living-room Our hearts are very much influenced by our environments. It’s a challenge to feel at peace when the home is cluttered and messy. It’s easier to be calm and recollected when one’s spaces are well-ordered and attractive.  At least, I think so.

It’s a constant battle for me to keep things neat, partly because I have a very large family, and partly because I have a bit of my father’s propensity to collect and save things.  I go through cycles of accumulating and purging, and my desk is almost always covered with books and papers and the detritus of my daily life.  If you want to know what’s going on with me, just glance at my desk! img_4945

This Advent, I’m looking for breathing room. I’m trying to work around the challenges and find space to be the me that doesn’t just spend her days taking care of an active family. There’s a me who loves to write, to photograph, to make art, useful and otherwise. There’s a me who makes home nice and enjoys it as a creative activity. There’s a me who reads and takes bubble baths, sometimes simultaneously. And there’s a me who has time to spend in quiet prayer with my Lord.  I’ve been missing this version of me.

Today, my desk is tidy and stocked with art supplies. My camera battery is charged. The main areas of the house are actually pretty neat.  There’s room to think and create and be.  And this is just where I want to be.  Today and always.

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Loving Henry

It was really hard to be Henry’s mother.  From the moment he was born, he cried.  He cried because he was hungry and my milk hadn’t come in yet.  He cried because it had been twenty minutes since his last nursing and he was hungry again.  He cried because I wasn’t holding him.  And, increasingly, he cried even when I was.  For a while, when he was very young, he slept through the night, and I actually had to wake him to nurse, but as the months slipped by, he was waking more and more frequently.  Every three hours.  Every two hours.  Every 90 minutes.  Every hour.  When I hit the end of my rope, he was waking every 45 minutes, all night long.

It is hard to love when you are exhausted.  It is hard to love when nothing you do can make this baby happy.  It’s hard to love when the size of your world has shrunk to the circle of your arms.  It is hard to love when there is never any relief.  I tended to his needs as well as I could without knowing why he cried, and I prayed that genuine affection would grow out of that faithfulness.  It hurts to admit that.

henry-eats-his-toastIt’s been two weeks now since Henry and I began our tomatoes-and-peppers fast, and he is an entirely different child.  He’s happy, and he’s a joy to be around.  He’s clever and affectionate and busy, just like a baby is supposed to be.  He naps a couple of times a day for a couple of hours at a stretch.  He still wakes too often at night, but not as often, and I think genuine discomfort has been replaced by just bad habits.

He is seven months old, and I am only just now falling for this little guy.  I wish it hadn’t taken so long, and I will forever feel some guilt for not feeling that affection, and that he suffered for so long when I could have spared him, but right now, I’m just loving Henry.

 

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We got new patio furniture last week.  We’ve been squeezing around one table meant for four, and, well, we stopped fitting there years ago.  I’d been looking for two rectangular tables, but couldn’t find anything in the material I wanted that didn’t cost an arm and a leg.  One day, I stopped in at Walmart to see if they had anything.  Nope!  Nothing.  So I sat down to nurse the baby, and as I was looking around, I spied these up on a shelf.  Excitedly, I sped across the garden center, nursing baby and all, just to make sure.  Sure enough, they were exactly what we wanted!  Well, except for being round.  They didn’t have any on the floor, and there wasn’t a price, so, Walmart employees being notoriously unhelpful, I went home to check.  The price was too good to pass up, so round is what we’ve got!

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This furniture is made of a powder-coated metal mesh, and they are indestructible.  We’ve had our old set for 10ish years, our swing and two other chairs for eighteen, and they have just a little rust where parts rub.  A fresh coat of paint would completely solve whatever minor problems they have after all those years and multiple moves, some international!  We thought about going with something cheaper, just to save some cash, but when you factor in how long these will actually last, the price is just unbeatable.

This isn’t their final home, though.

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This is.  We have high hopes that it will be done soon.  (We had a minor setback regarding concrete and are now switching to paving stones.  Stay tuned!)

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bread

I just tried baking my go-to quick-and-easy bread on my favorite bread pan in my new roaster oven, and it worked great! The bread came out even better than it does in the oven, crustier on the outside, and more tender on the inside. If you try it, there’s no need to add any hot water to the roaster pan; the roaster holds in moisture so well that the bread itself makes its own steam, producing a most wonderful crust. I’ve only had my roaster a few days and I’ve used it to cook breakfast casseroles and bake potatoes, too.  Everything has turned out even better than in the oven.  It’s big enough to hold a regular 9×13 baking pan, or two loaf pans, so very versatile! I’m loving it.

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I’m especially loving it because that roaster pan means I don’t have to cook inside. If you’re cheap like me, that means less heat in the house, and less chance of succumbing to the allure of the air conditioner.  The AC consumes vast quantities of discretionary monies, which, of course, I’d rather spend on books.

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Speaking of which, this is where I’ve been hanging out most of the time since Henry’s been born. It’s actually looking pretty good today. Usually, the book piles are higher. There are also often pens, notebooks, and glasses of water scattered about. But there are always books.

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These are my current and just-finished reads.  The Green Ember and The Black Star of Kingston I just finished reading aloud to the kids – simultaneously, though that wasn’t my intention.  See, I started the Green Ember one night, and as I’d already read it myself, I thought I’d start The Black Star.  Well, I was reading them both from the Kindle, and they were both on Chapter 2, and they are both about rabbits with swords, so the next night, I was several chapters into Black Star before I thought to wonder aloud, “What happened to Heather and Picket?!”  And that’s when I realized my mistake.  We were already hooked, though, so I read them both.  Now we’re reading On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, and I’m not sure how I feel about this one.  Too many made up words, but silly made up words.  I like my humor a little more sophisticated, and so do the kids. (They take after me.)

I’m mostly reading Moby Dick on the Kindle, though I have a hard copy someplace.  I’ve got all the kids reading it, too.  (Actually, I bribed them.  Melville was inspired by this real life event, which is now a movie starring Chris Hemsworth, and who doesn’t like Chris Hemsworth? I’m just saying.) Also, Ishmael kinda cracks me up.  I’ve shown up in the girls’ bedroom in tears to read them a passage I found too hilarious to keep to myself!  But I have commitment troubles, and so I’m also reading After the Prophet, The Waste Free Kitchen (from the library) and The Living Page (thanks to Anne).  All are good.

See you over at Like Mother, Like Daughter for more {p,h,f,r}!

All black and white images are part of my Real Life series, and you can see more by scrolling down the homepage.  The patio sets can be found here (several people have asked already, so I’m linking for your convenience!) and this is my huge roaster.  I’m also using an 8-quart slow cooker, though not as often.  It is sufficiently huge to feed this family of eleven, though!

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A Post About Nothing

A pile of flannel blankets used to catch the plentiful volume of spit-up [produced by Henry. Looking forward to the end of this particular stage!

A pile of flannel blankets used to catch the plentiful volume of spit-up [produced by Henry. Looking forward to the end of this particular stage!

This morning, I awoke to a still-quiet house, and I slipped out of bed and into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee. The sky was just beginning to lighten, a few low clouds on the horizon catching the first rays of red, orange and gold, the pond reflecting the glorious scene back up toward the heavens. I poured my coffee and paused for a moment, undecided. Should I go out and sit on the patio, and enjoy these minutes, or wait indoors for the baby to waken and cry for me? I chose the patio, near an open window, and I watched the sun rise over the distant trees, sitting in companionable silence with a large toad. In that moment, feeling my soul reaching outward in solidarity with all of creation, the stress melting away, I realized that I have passed the point of needing sleep more than solitude. It’s time to reset my alarm for an earlier hour. I need time alone with my own self and my God. I need time upon which nobody else has any claims.

Home and farm projects in the works, and menfolk to do the heavy lifting.

Home and farm projects in the works, and menfolk to do the heavy lifting.

Facing the twin trials of a potty-training toddler and a newborn has been wearing on me.  I’m not usually prone to long bouts of discontent, but not having any time to call my own is negatively affecting my mood.  Little Henry rightly enjoys my arms above all other places, but I miss writing and sketching and painting and even cooking anything even slightly complicated. I see some small signs of him settling in a little, maybe taking a longish nap without my help soon. He sleeps well at night, from 8 or 9 to around 6, with a mid-night nursing around 3, so I’m not complaining too much.  Just a little.

A rare photograph of our Brenna, deploying a patio umbrella.

A rare photograph of our Brenna, deploying a patio umbrella.

On the home front, we are moving along with some projects, namely a patio kitchen that David has been working on for quite a while. I think he’s going to get it finished soon! Or, if not finished, at least not muddy. I haven’t had any say in this particular project, and it’s really not like me to mind my own business, but I think he’s having fun working on this, and I know it’s a gift for me. Sweet, yes? And while he’s doing that, I have to build two more chicken crates, one because he accidentally ran one over in the field with the tractor and it’s just limping along, and another because we have more chickens than we intended to have. I have all the materials now; we just need to cut and glue. Each takes about two hours to build.

Children messing around on a long, lazy summer evening.

Children messing around on a long, lazy summer evening.

The other night, I walked in on Evie in the bathroom. “You forgot to knock!” she scolded. Back out I went, to knock, knock, knock on the door. “Who is it?” she called.
“It’s Mama,” I replied.”
“Oh! Come in, Mama!”
Silly girl.

After dinner last night, out on the patio, Delaney asked, “Why is it that when we eat out here, we’re never in a hurry? We just sit here long after the dinner hour is over and never notice.” It’s true, isn’t it? There are no clocks, no humming appliances, no messes to clean up or chores to finish – just lawn and trees and sky and food and children jumping up from the table to play in the sunshine while the older folks chat about life and love. Good stuff.

So how are you doing?

{p,h,f,r} Welcome, Baby!

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Meet our newest child! Henry David, born April 18, 10 lbs 15 oz and 22 inches long. That should do it for the vital statistics! Henry is our ninth child and third son, and made his debut nine days past his due date. Most of my babies have been late, several as late as ten days, so I didn’t think anything of it, really. I’ve already delivered several nine pounders without incident. Henry was a bit of a shock. 🙂

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The children are head-over-heels in love, just like I knew they’d be. Of course, for a few days there, I was feeling a bit unloved myself, as each morning they’d greet me with a disappointed, “Oh, you’re still here? We were hoping you’d be at the doctor having the baby.” (photo credit: Delaney)

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Evie has been absolutely hilarious. This morning, when he spit up, she scowled at him and announced, “That’s bisgusting.” Last night, she ran away in horror as he latched on for a nursing. “Ah! He’s eating you breast!” She’s still not quite convinced that I survive the ordeal whole and intact, but she’s coming around, I think. She’s loves him anyway!

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So. Birthing an eleven pound baby. I don’t really recommend that! We escaped without a c-section, but his head was almost too big, and his shoulders did not deliver easily, and I pushed harder than I’ve ever had to push in my life to get that baby born. I’ve never been so sore after childbirth! Poor Henry’s face was bruised and swollen, and he was only able to open his eyelids Tuesday night. They’re bloodshot still from the trauma. I needed all the help I got, from the doctor to the nurses to my husband to my beloved prayer warriors, most of whom I’ve never even met!  (I love you ladies so.)   And Davey now feels quite vindicated in his insistence on hospital births. 🙂 Not that I ever quarreled over it; his peace of mind has been worth it, even if I’d rather be home.

Visit Like Mother, Like Daughter for more {p,h,f,r}!

Confirmed in the Holy Spirit

Newly Confirmed!

Newly Confirmed!

And some family photos, which never come out quite as good as I’d like them to. 🙂

The happy (and expectant) parents...

The happy (and expectant) parents…

Just the boys!

Just the boys!

Just the girls!

Just the girls!

All the kids together. :-)

All the kids together. 🙂

The archbishop used so much chrism oil this morning, the confirmandi were fairly dripping with it!

Our small parish shares a priest with another nearby, and the Confirmation Mass today was held at our sister church.  Therefore, we ran into lots of people who either don’t know us at all or see us only occasionally, and so there was a lot of, “When is the baby due?!” At eight days late, we’re long past worrying about due dates, though.  So when will the baby arrive?  Some theories:

All of my babies have been born on either Wednesday or Saturday, with the exception of Tommy, who is generally acknowledged to have a special destiny.  He was born into the darkest period of our family life, and he was a bond and a bridge between two people who had forgotten how to love each other.  He has exhibited his whole life a gentle compassion and empathy for people.  I think it’s safe to consider his Thursday birthday a special case.  So, Wednesday, April 20 is a good option.  Hopefully not Saturday the 23rd, because two weeks is overkill, yes?

Another good option is Tuesday, April 19.  I was born on the 19th, as was my mother, and her mother, and her mother, so there is a tradition there.  We considered the fact that it may not be a girl, and have decided that there is a possibility that gender is not a concern, even though this birthday phenomenon has occurred along the female line thus far.  But!  My mother had only one sister, and her mother, if I recall, was one of three girls.  I’m not sure about my great-grandmother, but it appears that there may not have been any boys in these families, so the fact that it has generally passed along from mother to daughter may be irrelevant.  Therefore, we consider that, boy or girl, the 19th would be a good day.  Also, I have been ten days late three times, but never later, so that’s another boon for Tuesday.

Then again, we’re talking about a baby here, and they are generally unpredictable little creatures, so none of our theories or guesses matter in the slightest.  We’ll just have to keep watching and waiting, and whatever will be will be.  🙂

37+ Weeks and Counting

They smell like fish, but the bees are just in heaven.  There are all kinds buzzing around up there, from honey bees to bumble bees.

They smell like fish, but the bees are just in heaven. There are all kinds buzzing around up there, from honey bees to bumble bees.

Brenna took advantage of a sunny Spring Break day to catch up on her reading.

Brenna took advantage of a sunny Spring Break day to catch up on her reading.

She'd disagree, but I think she's beautiful.  I mean, look at this hair!  The color, the thickness, the shine, the curls at the ends.... Just lovely.

She’d disagree, but I think she’s beautiful. I mean, look at this hair! The color, the thickness, the shine, the curls at the ends…. Just lovely.

Grape hyacinths - so tiny, yet so fragrant, and they remind me of home.  The only other place I've ever seen them is growing alongside my mother's house in New Jersey.  I don't think you can buy seeds or bulbs for these.  :-)

Grape hyacinths – so tiny, yet so fragrant, and they remind me of home. The only other place I’ve ever seen them is growing alongside my mother’s house in New Jersey. I don’t think you can buy seeds or bulbs for these. 🙂

I don’t blog much these days, and for one simple reason, really: one isn’t able to muster much energy for non-baby related things in late pregnancy!  What energy I have goes toward maintaining home and home school as much as possible, and preparing for the little one to come.  I’m at the Weekly Visit To the OB stage, which is always a bit annoying to me.  BUT, baby is doing well, and my midwife seems satisfied with my health, except that I’ve quit gaining weight.  I, personally, am okay with that. 🙂  My diet right now relies heavily on raw fruits and veggies, and I make an effort to keep plenty of good fats and proteins on my plate.  I wish apples, carrots, and heads of lettuce were more filling!

I only have one last thing to do to get ready, and that is to adjust the car seats and install the baby’s.  Easy-peasy, right?  And maybe pack a hospital bag.  But there’s plenty of time for that once the contractions start.  No sense getting ahead of myself.

I told the midwife the other day that I was looking forward to an early delivery.  “Oh,” she wondered, “how early do you usually go?”

“Actually,” I clarified, “I’ve never been early.  Mostly late.”  But a girl has got to have something to hope for!

A Certain Saturday in March

The Evie, so much not a baby anymore.

The Evie, so much not a baby anymore.

I planted two of our garden beds this week: peas and lettuce, spinach and radishes, and a few carrots, too.  I couldn’t resist.  Who could?  Bright sun, warm temperatures… Oh, I know it’ll probably freeze again, though there’s no sign of it in the forecast, but I wanted something in the ground.  Even if it doesn’t pan out, it was worth it to dig in the dirt.

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The Thirty-Six-Week belly. It took quite an effort to hoist it back up off the floor!

Today is Saturday, and that means another week has gone and there are only four left till baby’s due date!  Some days, I feel great and get lots done, but other days, this big ole, worn out belly is tired and achy, and I just rest.  Yesterday was a rest day.  Happily, though, I have figured out how to stream youtube programs to our roku stick (very cool little device for us cable-averse folks!) so we can get some education couch potato-ing in.  Yesterday, we watched a documentary about the building of the Hoover Dam, and another about dam failures, as the vast majority of these structures are past their useful lifespan and have been, in many cases, poorly maintained.

The Ooey-Gooey Chocolate Cake, courtesy of Delaney.  She's up next, though, so we'll need a new cake baker!

The Ooey-Gooey Chocolate Cake, courtesy of Delaney. She’s up next, though, so we’ll need a new cake baker!

And today is Double Decker Birthday Day!  We like to group all of our birthdays as close together as possible, and we have done a remarkable job with the month of March.  Evie is on Feb. 26, which is almost March, followed in rapid succession by Brenna (Mar. 9) and Penelope (Mar. 10).  Delaney is just two weeks away on the 28th, and then, of course, the new baby is due in early April, which is also almost March.  Then we’ll have a little breather till June, but goodness!  Early summer must make us feel particularly, um, frisky around here. 😉

Group Hug, while we wait for the rest of our friends to arrive.

Group Hug, while we wait for the rest of our friends to arrive.

Brenna is 20 years old already!  I can’t believe she’s not my baby anymore, and I’m so proud of her.  She’s an amazing young woman.  And Penelope!  She’s nine, and as my friend Anne reminded me, the first of my blog babies.  🙂  How time flies, my friends.  Sometimes, I wish I could just freeze them, in this moment, right where they are.  But then again, watching their becoming is one of the most joyous and beautiful things in life, and I sure wouldn’t want to miss out on that!

IMG_2668aAnd for no particular reason, except that he’s my favorite, you get a photograph of my beloved.  He’s working on the wiring on his tractor, and I just love his smile.  And him.  Can you believe so many people get tired of being married?  My mother always said we should marry our best friends.  Best advice she ever gave us.