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I can't decide which is more difficult: sleep training a willful baby or teaching a 5, 7, (nearly eight!  We're in the final countdown!) and 9 year old how to tell their right from their left.  Yes, they know how to make an 'L' with their left hand.  We even had tattoos on their left hands.  It just isn't clicking and it's tremendously difficult to teach "Sliiiide right!" letters when they don't know what's going on.

Perhaps finding Fresh n' Fruity toothpaste soup and art work in the bathroom right before lunch should be in the running for "Hardest Part of the Day."  Or working on social skills.  Or the fact it snowed today. You heard me.  SNOWED.

I've heard enough melt downs as of late to pitch a pretty good fit right here, right now.  But all is not lost.  We received a lovely, loving package in the mail yesterday from the Litt's.  Words of encouragement AND tasty Nebraska popcorn in a box brought by the postman.  Nothing tops a mail delivery - NOTHING.  Philip made delicious cookies which covered up the stinkiness of supper, (Pinterest - why you do me like you do? ) and filled the tummy's of those unimpressed by the menu choice. Who cares that Ellie ate so many she took a bowl to bed?  Luke was here as sous chef, Elizabeth dropped by and she brought a fantastic book in celebration of my birthday.  Celebrating a b-day with a book on a dreary day 3 months late?  Pretty awesome.  We got 2/3rds of the troops bathed, 20 fingernails trimmed and started our new drawing lessons all before bed. Life is good and messy.  We are overwhelmed and underwhelmed all at once most of the time but it's spectacular, nonetheless. I'm making a note to self to remember this tomorrow.  Oh, please Lord! Let me remember this tomorrow!

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Aaaaaand we're back.

Back to school, that is.  Yes, we tell ourselves that we never really stop schooling and that we're unschoolers so what's the big deal and we're in the school of life, baby!, we're learnin' all the time! But let's be honest: the last year has been rather light-ish in the schooling  realm and we needed a good kick-off to, well, kick off.

Ta-daaaa!!! We're baaaack!

The kids eyed the feast of St. Augustine for weeks, anxiously counting down.  I assumed they were stoked about going back to The Alpine (oh, they were!) or about their crowns (yesssss!) so I was rather taken aback when they were up early on Thursday morning and asking what we were doing for school and when were we starting?!?!!!  Ellie, now a passionate scholar because she is a kindergartner (do not forget it!) gave me the stink eye when I told her we were taking the day to celebrate so we would not be doing any history work.  Folks, she's done history with us every day for the last 2 years but suddenly it mattered.  

Hurrah!

We wore pink and the boys served Mass and then we were off.  The drive to Hill City was beautiful and quick and we arrived with time to take pictures and hand out the crowns.  I love that they were solemn and still at the bestowal of the headware all on their own. And Gemma!  Oh, she was so excited for a crown of her own and to be like a big kid.

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We were seated in the hallway of the restaurant instead of the back corner like last year so we got oodles of "Happy Birthday!"s and "*gasp!* Soo cute!"s in response to the hats and the crowd.  4 of the 5 shared hotdogs ("I'm so saving room for dessert!") and Ellie went with the Spaetzel which Lucy looooved, though truth be told, Lucy thought all of the food was the best thing ever and didn't make a peep all the way through because she was too busy eating.  Having wisely planned ahead about dessert, they actually could enjoy their much-thought-over selections.  Philip's still raving about the grasshopper pie.

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This year we chose a fruit of the Spirit for each of the kid's - a specific attribute for them to be working on, and, a bonus, something they can pray for and encourage in their siblings.  We chose individual patrons for them related to their fruit. They are as follows:

Max - Joy St. Lawrence
Philip  - Faithfulness St. Andre Bassette
Tess - Patience St. Rita of Cascia
Ellie - Kindness St. Katherine Drexel
Gemma - Self-Control St. Benedict

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We also rolled out our theme for the year which, when Jac suggested it, nearly made me weep.  That's because the girls has spent the month of August refusing to sleep EVER.  It didn't seem wise to take as our rallying cry, "Stay Awake!'  But here we are and it seems fitting and apt and we are on it.  Well, for the most part.  Friday Ellie told Val the theme was "Don't Fall Asleep! But not like sleeping sleeping but to be ready because we all need rest."

Amen.

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“Stay awake! So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."  Matthew 24:42,43

Let's do this, 2014-15!  You're gonna be great.

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The first ever mountain bike ride I attempted was on the Old Iron Creek road.  I was on a road bike with mountain bike tires.  It was a little big for me, I was uncomfortable on it, and, truthfully, did not want to be there.

It didn't end well.

There was blood, a mangled helmet and plentiful screaming on my part.

When the boys decided this summer that they wanted to attempt this ride, I hoped for better results for them.  This was mainly because I was the only adult on said ride and I knew I would not do well with blood, lost teeth, or broken bones.

I needn't have worried.

These boys, well, they're growing up.  And as they do, I get to take part in fewer and fewer of their adventures.  This ride, this beautiful afternoon, was such a treat with them. It was an excellent way to redeem the ride and make new memories. I'm hoping for at least a few more in the years to come and I'd even be glad if a few more were on this same ride.

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There was a late night grocery run this evening that overlapped bedtimes.  Gemma was pulled - sleeping - from her car seat and placed into the cart where she continued to sleep, sitting up, mouth open.  These girls and their current nap strike . . . *shakes head*

Anyway, Safeway was selling pumpkin pies.  GIANT pumpkin pies.  There were gourds in the produce section.  And little baby pumpkins.

Yesterday a magazine with pumpkins painted like black cats arrived in the mail and Max couldn't even string a sentence together to voice his outrage.

We are not ready for fall.  Not even close.  Yet, it is rushing up to us and bearing down on us at every corner and in the very air. It makes me Gemma-weaving-in-a-shopping-cart tired just thinking about it.

*sigh*

So I'll tell you this story instead:

It turns out we have been negligent in our parenting in many, many ways.  For example, our kids don't know how to flush a toilet.  Okay, okay, they know how just not when and they don't do it very often.  It's gross, I yell, nothing changes.  Se la vie and such.  Normally, it doesn't really affect them, aside from my yelling, and they go on about their business.  But sometimes, sometimes . . . 

Saturday, Tess met me in the hall.

"Well . . ." she laughed nervously, "I don't think that's very good."

"What isn't?" I asked.  Always clarify.  And this was when I realized that the toilet was filling.

"Uh . . . well . . . "  There was stammering.  A LOT of stammering.  "I think the toilet is plugged."

Then there was running and let me tell you, listless, swirling poo water rising dangerously close to the rim is NOT how one wants to start a Saturday morning.

I didn't really need to ask - though I did - to know what had happened.  Multiple uses, an abundance of TP and no flushing. Now isn't this story how YOU wanted to start the weekend?

I was rescued from a close encounter by Jac who attempted the plunger but the capacity was such that it did little aside  from sloshing aforementioned poo water all over the bathmat and floor.  Toilet water had to be ladled out and Philip and Tess were made to bear witness to the abomination that it was.  Mouths were covered, gags choked back, the works. It was traumatic.

In the end, most everyone ended up watching things unfold and Jac decided to do an overhaul on the toilet.  The kids watched as he scraped and cleaned and polished.  While it was riveting, I found other things to do.  That's where Ellie found me.

"Mom, did dad scrape the poop from the bottom of the toilet?"

"No. No, that's calcification."

Her face showed shock then confusion of the highest order.

"Cow suffication?"

In the end, I literally had to spell it out to make it clear to her.  Then she join me in my laughter because that's pure gold and so much better than poo water.

So much better. Here's to a better Saturday and soaking up summer while we can.

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I imagine that sometime down the road we will all be sitting around, nice happy family style, and we will assert that since we've all been to Yellowstone . . . and then Lucy will say, "

We've never been to Yellowstone!"

Then we will all laugh and be astounded and she will be incredulous and then mope as we prove that we have indeed all been in Yellowstone together.

We will say things like: "Yes, we did!   We went with Mama Syd and Papa Chris and pulled into Idaho late at night."photo (1)

"Yeah, and when we unpacked, Mom and Dad realized there were no sleeping bags for them!"

Cue uproarious laughter!

"Oh, man!  It was soooo coooold!  Remember?  It was snowing in Yellowstone.  In June!"

"I remember that we had the walky-talkies but ours ran out of batteries right at the entrance.  Mama Syd and Papa had Philip in the truck with them and they told us as they drove away that they were going to stop at the first potty.  We got separated and mom was getting more and more stressed out and after Max and Tess changed the walky-talky battery, dad kept saying, "Seven zero one niner, this is Yankee Bravo. Do you read me? Over."

"And they never heard us!"

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"Didn't you guys catch up to us at the Dragons Mouth or Mud Valcano or whatever it's called? We had already walked all around he trail and it stunk soo bad. I had to walk it all over again. Thanks for that."

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"That was the year Gemma fell in love with the buffalo.  'Beeyoufalo boofalo!' So cute!"

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"Mom still didn't see a bear."

"But the drive out was beautiful.  We saw that avalanche canon and so many water falls."

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"We got to Cody and unloaded in the rain.  The bathroom was so far away and we kept having to trek there in the wet!

"Papa Chris made hot dogs on the porch of the cabin."

"Dad had to work that night ordering prayer cards for Fr. Dillon."

"Fr. Dillon!  How's he doing?"

Insert tangent here.

And then by a miraculous use of technology we will pull up this post and show Lucy the pictures.

Hopefully we'll go back when it's not snowing or raining and I'll see a bear and everyone will remember it.  But in case it doesn't happen,  We love you, Lu!  

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The kids have just discovered the Slug Bug game.

Don't say it's 'cause we're home school weirdies. Say it's because we live in a northern climate or VW bugs have faded in popularity or anything else, really.

Fine . . . We're homeschool weirdies.

Anyway, as a result of the slim pickings for bugs, Max and Philip took it upon themselves to add other classifications. The how's and why's are lost to me as it happened whilst on a fishing excursion with Papa Chris. What I do know is this:

Bruiser Cruiser is multiple punches if a PT Cruiser is spotted. (Oddly, a popular choice in Rapid City!)

Flat Slap is yelled and a slap (or several) are delivered if someone sees a Kia Sol. (I don't know.  Our neighbor owns one, thereby ensuring lots of slapping.)

Round Pound is still a mystery to me.  Obviously there is an abundance of "pounding."

Tess, not to be left out, added Surburban Sherman (a hard shove to the shoulder) and Stripe Swipe (a two finger slap to the fore arm.)

These games differ from the Slug Bug of my youth in that instead of whoever spotted and called the car being the only one allowed to slug the occupants of the car, the spotter yells the car at the top of their lungs.

"I just imagine saying, 'FLAT SLAP!' and arms and hands flying everywhere.  Wouldn't 2 more rows of it be great?" came from Max. Therefor, as the leader, this is exactly what has transpired.   Someone yells and the car becomes and flurry of thrown punches or slaps accompanied by this purposeful chorus:

"Ooh!  Ah!  Eee!  Ah!  Ooh!"

So far Gemma stays out of the fray and when someone forgets, she says firmly but not unkindly, "I don't like that!"  Lucy is off limits.  Butts must stay on the seats however whoever you can reach is fair game.

Today, as we ran errands, Max developed a sore shoulder.  Turns out his mom is stronger than she looks.  Slug bug!

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We have spent our summer repeating many of the things we did last summer.  While the other kids have looked forward to the activities with excitement, these experiences seem brand new to Gemma and she has taken them in with fervor.

"Mama!" she yelled from her perch in the middle of the 'burb, "Dere's water right dere!" when we rounded the curve at the Lake.  The next day she discovered the slide - the same slide she was fearless of last summer - and had to relearn how to do it.  She is much more fearful and tentative this summer, thanks be to God!  The same with the outhouse and hand washing station and mud puddles and the Tootsie Roll Store.  It's been good for us all to look at each thing with her new eyes.

Such was the case the morning we went to Jessop Farms in CA to pick blueberries.  The kids felt like pros this year and they were anxious to start picking.  (All except Phil who had requested the trip but upon arrival at the farm, was so busy imagining what it would be like to have blueberry bushes at our home that he didn't pick a single berry.  Lord love him!) Gemma loved her bucket!  Gemma loved the run back to the bushes!  Gemma loved the fruit at her level!  It didn't matter how often I pointed out plump black berries to her, she'd say, "Yep, Mama!" and reach for the green ones.  It didn't matter. She'd roll her eyes heavenward in ecstasy and make her yummy noises.  I plunked berries into her bucket and set her loose.  She became our own little Winnie the Pooh, humming into her her bucket with the happiest of sounds, settling into the sand and contentedly munching away.

It was as sweet as those berries.

In the end, we ended up with 6 pounds picked by an industrious Max, Tess, and Ellie (Mama Syd and I helped a little).  They lasted just a few days - how we love our blue berries! - but enough memories to last us 'til next time.

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We began vetting Wyeth Adventure options right around November.  Maybe it was sooner? I can't remember what I did yesterday, so I don't know.  BUT, we settled on the newly revamped Exploratorium in San Fran.  Ivan cut or baled or loaded hay all night but still came.  Chelsey had the day off!  Allie wouldn't miss it (right, Al?!)!  The Pederson's were free so they should come, too!  And with that, 5 adults and 10 kids drove to the bay.

It wasn't until we had been exploring for over an hour that Philip looked at me and said, "Hey!  This is the place we read about in that magazine!  It is pretty fun!"  Sure enough, the kids had read all about the new place in an issue of Family Fun so experiencing it first hand was twice as nice.

Note to any potential visitors: Cindy and I assumed that the cafeteria would be a good place for lunch.  It is a very cool spot (you can eat right out on the end of the pier!  Right under the new Bay Bridge!  Boats pass by so close that you can chat with the passengers. Even inside it is comfortable and lovely.) and has things to explore even there.  However, every kid that I watched walk into the place would squint at the menu and ask, "Where are the french fries?"  Turns out kiddos are not so impressed with quinoa and organic pork on whole wheat buns.  And pricey! Be ye warned. Also, CA teachers get in free and if you have 10 kids, you can get an adult in free and the kids at a group rate.

Anyway, that was the only snag in our day.  The exploratorium is amazing.  There were a lot of visitors but I think I waited on maybe 2 displays.  We spent an entire day there but still barely scratched the surface.  There were staff ("Discoverers") in abundance and the entire feel of the place lent itself to wide-eyed wonder.  Philip and I really enjoyed the vision and light section and Gemma touched everything she could.  Some of us had no problem drinking out of the toilet while others still struggled.  We learned a lot but would gladly go back for round 2!

We closed our day with a quick trip to Flax then got out of the city and over to a Red Robin for dinner.  Unlimited french fries after none at lunch really hit the spot!

Thank you, Wyeth's for another great adventure.  Thank you to Emily for being Tess's buddy and for the many potty runs you and Anna and Allie did with the girls.  I hope someday, when you guys are old like me, you understand the blessing of bathroom runners.

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Susan's been asking since Lucy was born if she has a song yet.  After Gemma's song, we all kind of expected it for Lu. We've tried Gemma's song.  We've tried Queen.  We've tried Mumford and Sons.  Nothing has fit until now.  Alleluia!

It's been a long time coming.

Again, it happened by accident and out of desperation.  Coming back from San Fran and our Wyeth Adventure, we stopped for supper.  Lucy, exhausted though she was, proceeded to scream from that stop onward.  We were dealing with it just fine until I failed to give proper directions and Jac missed  turn and we ended up on a lengthy detour.  Nerves were fraying! Again, Jac just turned on the itunes and the song that played just made her stop.

This time it was the Lumineers' Ho Hey.

Now I've loved that song (along with everyone else) since Trisha tipped me off to the album nearly 2 years ago.  Ellie professes it's one of her favorite songs and she has quite the choreography to match it.  However, I think I've reached saturation.

It seems Lucy thinks she NEEDS the song to sleep and heaven help us if we try and turn it off!  She will wake from a dead sleep, wobble into a sitting position (especially comical in the swing!) and scream angrily.  The other night Jac came to bed asking "How many times is that song on repeat?" (It had been playing for a solid 40 minutes.) "As long as she needs to sleep!" was my answer.

I love  Lucy, I really do. So I just keep repeating right along with the song, "I belong to you, You belong to me, You're my sweetheart!" And we will invest in earplugs soon, too.

 

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Folks, let me give it to you straight:

God is good.

So very, very good.

I am a wallower.  If things are crappy, I am naturally drawn to just sinking in up to my pits in the crap and the muck and the ick and just wallowing.  It's not fun or pleasant, but there it is.  The flip side of that coin is that I can revel in the good like nobody's business.  The trip home included numerous hours of blissful smiling on my part, blessed out of my mind at the amount of love poured over us while we were in CA.  People wanted to be with us, spend time with us, actually LIKED us and we ATE. IT. UP.

It was a pipeline of grace, straight from God.  I could almost hear his voice saying, "You're good enough, you're smart enough, and doggone it!  People like you!  Chin up, kiddo!"  So California folks with all of your sunshine and warmth and generosity - thank you for the love.

And then.  THEN -

We came home and there were actual cheers in the Suburban as the yard and house came into view.  The grass wasn't a jungle!  The place looked welcoming! I brought in the first load and my whole soul smiled at the the cleanliness and orderliness of the living room and dining room.  Things smelled clean.  I came in a short time later and found Jac shaking his head.  "Those crazy kids.  Those crazy kids!"  I couldn't tell which kids he meant until he demanded that I look at the kitchen floor.

The kitchen floor that never, ever looked clean.  The kitchen floor that had bubbled up because of water damage and then cracked and split, leaving a crater in the smack-dab center.  The kitchen floor that was peeling and stained and all around gross. THAT kitchen floor was gone and in it's place was a brand-stinking shiny new one.

I couldn't speak.  I laughed. The kids whooped.  I cried.  The kids scattered.

"They cleaned our rooms!"  "She fixed the screen!  It's black now!" "Mom!  Come look at the toilet!"  "They. Sorted. Our. Legos.  All of them!"  "You should see our closet.  Your should see your closet!"

It was true.  For 24 hours we found joyful surprises.  The laundry room was clean.  Our curtains were washed.  I could eat out of the fridge - eat out of it! The pantry had been organized, the downstairs bathroom sterilized, counters cleared, shower scrubbed. ("Look at how shiny the faucet is!")  The floors were slick under our feet and the sheets on the beds were crisp and clean.  The office, admittedly a disaster, was not just tidied but filed and organized and clean. The back yard was mowed and the branches piled high since November, were gone.

People, they bathed the dog.

We were blessed but that is an understatement.  There aren't words to express the gift that this was.  The enemy lurked outside, peering in through the clean windows and hinted at my failure and the embarrassment of these friends having seen the worst of our crap.  But the blessing and the love was so big and so loud that it shut out that nagging, insecure voice and let me just revel.  And revel I did.

Randy - for organizing Operation Daniel Clean Up, I owe you some beer, peach cobbler and hours of youth office sprucing.  Thank you for everything, most especially loving us in spite of our hoarding tendencies.  Sorry about the asbestos . . . Rachel - 10,000 hugs for the W.O.R.K. you did.  My mom keeps shaking her head and saying, "That was a JOB!"  I love ya, sister.  Always have, always will.  Thank you for everything, most especially for loving Monday so well that she's been depressed since our return.  Wilhelmi fam - I love that you guys operate on an all for one, one for all code.  Thank you for the many, many hours you spent here.  And to Jackie, Jeremy, Kyle, Elisa, Stacy, Bridget, and the others of Cor Jesu who helped - you guys are amazing.  We love you.  Thank you for loving us!

It took an army.  They were slightly bigger than this.  And with mops and hammers as weapons.

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