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When we moved to this house, there was a very precocious little boy a few houses down and an infant at a house in the opposite direction.  Everyone else on the street was elderly or a college renter.

But we've been here for 11 years now and the little boy is a young man who likes to collect cars that need work, are loud, and proudly sport confederate flags.  You know the type. The baby is now a middle schooler who wears untied shoes and fashionably ripped jeans.  You know the type.

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And the rest of the street?  The demographic makeup has waxed and waned through the years, but at the moment, kids are plentiful.  Obviously this is most apparent in the summer when there is no school and the sun sets late. In June, the kids from our closest neighbor were practicing gymnastics moves and the volume of their voices until 11 pm. The kids down the street - sometimes numbering more than a dozen - could be heard outside the screen door well past 10 most evenings, driving Monday crazy.

Our kids don't know the neighbors.  The homeschool weirdo in them is hesitant and a little judgemental.  You know the type. They've rolled their eyes, complained about the late night noise, and questioned the parenting choices of their energetic peers.

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Last night, as I put Penny to sleep, the boys on the corner were playing basketball as if their life depended on it.  It was late and they were loud but it was a perfect summer evening.  Tonight, however, the neighborhood was and is quiet.  Tomorrow school will start and it was clear that routines were being followed, care-free evenings brought into check.

Except for our yard.  Here there was shrieking and yelling and laughter.  The four eldest gave the tramp a workout through the dusk and into the night.  The little girls played in their cozy coupe and rode bikes.  I'm doing my best to hang on to summer and all that it is because I know how long winter can be. The kids know it, too, but because of times like tonight, they don't really understand how fleeting summer can be.  They will carry on with our routine the same as (most) any other day around here when they wake up tomorrow.  They'll soon realize that Elizabeth won't be available during the day and that they cant take to the streets on their bikes at any time.  But tonight?  Tonight they just did summer, unaware of the difference between them and their neighbors. And for that I was thankful.

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It started with Passover.

While we prepped and readied during Holy Week, the kids discussed the food and drink. They planned ahead for whether or not they would be drinking wine or not for the night unlike any other night. And while Gemma was uncertain about what she would do, she opted for a taste that evening. Then, when we returned home to dregs left in the carafe, she asked if she could have it.

"Sleepy time!" I thought! I'm kidding. Or AM I?

Then there was a lovely evening at the lake when I must've been drinking because I strapped Penny to me, put Monday on a leash and set out to walk around the lake with 4 of the 7 on foot and slippy, slide-y sandals on 2 of those feet.


I'll let you guess whose feet they were.

I'll give you a hint, they weren't mine.

After having negotiated the footwear choices, we set off. We had not made it past the first corner when Ellie and Gem began to lag behind. I uttered a rather impatient, "Jesus, give me patience!" sort of prayer and waited for them to catch up, sure they would complain of fatigue so early on. Instead I over heard them discussing weddings.

Ellie was giving her sister a lesson on all the things needed for a wedding. 

"It's not just about a pretty dress, Gemma. If you're called to marriage, there is A LOT you have to do for a wedding." 

Gemma challenged this assertion and asked for examples. 

"Well, first you have to make sure you're old enough, then you have to ask a priest when he's free so you can choose a date, decide on outfits for other people, buyyyyy food, MAAAKE food, decide on decoraaaaations, write invitaaaaations. . . "

And then, as Ellie continued to list the rather impressive amount of knowledge about weddings, Gemma started to interject and interrupt.

"And wine. And wine! Aaaaand WINE!" Then,

"No, seriously Ellie, you need A LOT of wine."


Kudos to Ellie for clarifying that you only needed it if you wanted it. After all, Chelsey and Roman chose not to. . . 

A few weeks later, we visited the Hofer's for supper and to discuss wedding photograph details. Gemma followed me inside to find a beverage. 

"Well, what is there? What are my choices?"

"There's water, and lemonade. . . You want some lemonade?"

"Hmmm. . . What are you having?" she wanted to know.

"I'm having wine."

"Oh! I'll have that. I'm fine with wine."

I couldn't not laugh. I couldn't. In sure you understand. And no, I did not allow any spirits for the spirited 4-year-old. She'll have to wait a good many years until she can freely choose the booze for herself.

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My relationship with my mom's dad, Papa Bill, is woven around cars. Some of my earliest memories are being strapped into the front seat of his dune buggy-the dune buggy he designed and built himself-in my car seat to head out on camping trips. I was his "best co-pilot" and was in charge of the horn and the CB radio. He smoked a pipe then but for driving only a cigar would do and even now the smell of a stogie brings to mind a Volkswagen engine and the wind in my hair.


When I had my permit, it was the ultimate test to have Papa ride along and say you did good. He watched for smoothness in shifting, care for the car, attentiveness. I failed miserably, taking a downhill corner on a dirt road far too fast. The centrifugal force of the turn shook my cousin Esther physically but his hand on the emergency brake shook me mentally. I was thankful and embarrassed all at once. Later, after I had gotten my license and worked hard refinishing a Volkswagen bug (his beloved car of choice), he brought down a car care kit, showed me how to properly wash and chamois a car and gifted me an airplant for the dashboard. I had arrived.

Papa turns 88 today. He came for a visit this summer, a visit that began and ended with him in the hospital and not feeling well. Before he left for home, it was decided to take him to the lake. It was my responsibility to pick him up and drive him to Iron Creek. This time I drove around to get as close as possible to the exit. I loaded oxygen tanks and handed him up into the van. I buckled the seatbelt and checked for oxygen flow. I took it slow and easy up the rough dirt roads, not wanting to jostle the man who had raced around corners with me in the passenger seat.


It was bittersweet, that drive. I was happy and honored to be his chauffeur but all too aware of how the tables had turned. So I tucked it away as another precious memory to add to all the others of him beside me, teaching me as we drove.

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Someone (it really is a matter of serious debate) left a lid unscrewed on a nail polish bottle and the whole bottle spilled over the other nail polish and through the basket. That's why I have a rather unfortunate brown color of nail polish smeared on my nails (and on the bathroom vanity). Of course the nail polish remover is MIA.

Penny is teething. This makes for a cranky babe, sleepy parents, and frightening diapers. Every single onesie she owns is currently being stain treated. Really, if the diaper she is wearing doesn't hold, she will be a naked, teething baby.

The girls got out their new paint set, the one with acrylics. They made beautiful pictures with the abundant paint they poured into multiple palettes. Then Lucy found it. So Ellie poured the paint into (and down the sides) of the trashcan. It dripped on the ground and she stepped in it. This is to be expected, really it is. But then she tracked the paint over the floor and onto Penny's new quilt. All FIVE girls and I have blue paint somewhere on our bodies and Lu is sporting some around her mouth.

No one napped. Well, Jac and Penny got 40 winks in, upright in his office chair. Lucy and Gemma, though, who are volatile without being sleep deprived, I am frankly terrified of. So let's take them to scouts and keep them up late!

All this is to say, if you see me weeping into a margarita later, you'll know why.

Things are piling up. Like the coats we are hopeful we won't have to don again, things are turning into mounds around our ears. Events to record here, celebrations to have, things to do before we leave for California.

I feel badly about it and then, it never fails, I drive by The House. The one with the manicured lawn and seasonally appropriate flag out front and a fully lit Christmas tree in their bay window. 

A Christmas tree. In May. 

It may be their thing, but seeing it makes me feel better about my back log.

Anyway, Ellie turned seven. Something about that transitions her from a little to big kid in my mind. It must do the same for her because she woke up and weighed herself. Then she measured herself against my arm, wanting to prove she'd sprouted overnight. The day before she cried because we told her she wasn't big enough to mow the lawn.

She's reaching and stretching, that girl.

On her big day we made pancakes and enjoyed them under some Spartan Alice in Wonderland decor. We followed that up with delivering May Day baskets a day late. As we drove near the base, we watched B-1s do touch and gos and oohed and ahhed in between singing along the Backyardigans soundtrack. 


Elizabeth took the birthday girl to lunch and while Ellie wasn't pleased about having to take a rest upon returning home, she did and was better for it. The crew that loves our kids well showed up for enchiladas and cake and the boys delivered in the 'connect the dots' treasure hunt. (Yes, connect the dots. 100% Ellie.)


Alice in Wonderland was the movie de jour- the old Disney version that made the kids laugh and freaked the adults out. So much fun! Lucy crashed and Gem and Ellie weren't far behind her. I guess she's not such a big girl after all. Not yet.



When the Bishop repeated that there were 50 days of Easter during Easter Vigil, we took heart and took the message to heart. At the time, we weren't sure what our Easter celebration would entail as Philip had dragged himself to the Vigil and Max seemed to be fading fast. 


We reminded ourselves of the Bishop's words when we didn't have Jello eggs or cascaronés made and an egg hunt didn't take place.

Our kids didn't hunt for eggs on Easter this year. 


But you know what? We didn't die, no one cried about it (except me, of course) and we are still in those 50 days so you never know what can happen! 

It's a little thrilling to think about springing the eventual hunt on them. . . 


Baskets were enjoyed and ham was eaten even if we didn't get pictures to prove it. The meal was rather slap dash actually but Mama Syd and Papa Chris made it happen and didn't complain about the less than Martha quality table. We were together, we feasted and remembered the reason for our celebration. It was hard for me to let go of expectations but once I did, I sure was happier.

Max and Phil spent most of the day in bed. We moved slow and rocked the babe and enjoyed jelly beans. And serrated well in the Alleluia and truth of a Savior risen, making us an Easter people all through the year.


Sometime during Holy Week, Lucy began replacing "my" with "me." It resulted in her sounding like a saucy sailor or irate Irishman.

"Where's me boots?!" she'd yell. Or, "Where's me bottle?!" she would demand, always loudly and forcefully but usually with a smile. When it was, "Get in me pants!" I totally lost it and laughed until I cried, causing her to say it over and over between her own deep belly laughs.

That kid.

Last weekend, the season's first thunderstorm rolled in. The crew was readying for bed and I rocked Penny in the dark living room, Lucy on a stool at me feet, happily chatting away. A flash of lightening lit up the windows and Lu stopped, mid sentence.

"Oh mah gooooodness, Mama! Wuuus zat? A pitcher?!" She drawled it out, eyes wide, fingers pointing.

Again, I laughed until tears came. It was so cute how surprised she was by the light show in the sky and how she reasoned that it must be a giant camera flash. But the drawl! 

The rest of the crew came running when they heard my laughter. I repeated what she had said to each question and each of them joined in with their own giggles and asking her to say it again. 

She refused but we've all been saying it just like she did ever since.

"So Lucy. . . she's either a leprechaun or a southern belle, huh?" was Jac's insight. Indeed. A distinct combo, to be sure, but we'll take it if it keeps yielding these comedic gems.

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We play fast and loose around here with our names. There are no hard rules about the hows and whys of titles.

Max is Max except when his sisters lovingly call him Maxi or we call him Maximilian (it doesn't have to be just when he's in trouble. We just like it.)

Philip is Phil and Felipe and Philip Augustine. There's Tessie and El-Belle and Gem or Gem-Gem.

Lu most often goes by Luce and Luce-a. 

And Penelope. . . Well, we're still working on it. Lucy is the trail blazer in this department. She started during Holy Week to call her Neppy. Sometimes it came out as Nempy or Nappy, but I really loved Neppy. I didn't think there was much room for improvement but then, then, she started using Lumpy. I know it's because of the final two syllables in Penelope but good golly, it's the cutest thing ever. And I hope with all my heart that it sticks because Lumpy is a great nickname. It's a character builder, unique and slightly outrageous. What more could she ask for? Lumpy forever!


It has begun.

With 5 - FIVE! - sisters it was bound to happen sooner or later. However, I was really hoping for the later option.

The girls are fighting over clothes. Accusations are tossed, yelling has occurred and there have been tears- actual tears - over Gemma wearing Tess's tank tops to bed. Of  course now Gem does it just to rile her sister and I have little to no sympathy when Tess stands howling whilst wearing one of my t-shirts that she did not ask to borrow.

Girls.

The most dramatic of the bunch? Lucy. She likes to pour over the photo books Mama Syd has made for the kids and her favorite is the one in which Ellie is three. EVERYTIME we have the same conversation:

"Dat me, mama? Right dere?"

"No, that's Ellie."

"Oh! Ellie!" 

Her excitement slowly turns to anger. 

"Dat's Ellie? Ellie wearing my shirt!" 

(Or dress, or jammies, or what have you.)

This quickly turns to blind fury.

"ELLIE! You wear MY shirt! MINE!" 

Sometimes she finds her sister to give her a shove and usually it ends with her crying. I have yet to convince her that the clothes she claims as hers were actually Ellie's first and even if that wasn't the case, the statute of limitations applies. Or at least the natural laws of time and reason.

Yes, it has begun. And I shudder to think of when it might end. 

Dear Max,

Today you turn thirteen. Thirteen! Because you're the eldest, I'm pretty sure every birthday you have and will celebrate will hit me as a rather shocking reality.

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How can you be that old? How can I be that old?!

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You've had it drilled into your head that we don't intend to have teenagers in our house because we are expecting young men and women. And yet, technically, you are a teenager.

I'm not gonna lie, it has me a little scared.

As a youth minister with you a tiny babe in my arms, I'd roll my eyes and laugh at the stark fear on parents faces when speaking of their teens. "They can't eat you!" I'd scoff.

But now I know. I know they can't eat you but they can make you burst with pride, break your heart, make you sick with worry, and your stomach hurt with laughter. I know because you've done all of those things and you will do them again. And while I grieve the knowledge of being unaware the last time you would hold my hand, or sit on my lap, or ask to be held, I am more than aware of the firsts you will experiencing in the next months and years- girls, cars, jobs, and pride and heartbreak of your own.

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That is mighty terrifying.

And so very exciting! We are constantly amazed by the young man you are becoming and can't wait to see the great things God has planned. Did you catch that? God has a plan for YOU. Run towards it with all your might and the years to come will be sure and steady in Him.

So bring on the eye rolling, the difference in music, the angst filled shopping trips (yes, we will have many more of those). Each one brings you closer to the man you will become. Bring it on.

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Happy Birthday, Maximilian. And many more!

We  celebrated an extravaganza a few days early due to busy schedules. The man of the hour requested stir fry and potstickers. Philip and Elizabeth took care of the treasure hunt and the best clue to date was unbeknownst to Lu, stashed in her diaper. There were sparklers inside after clues outside. Max began planning when he was ten how he would watch the Lord of the Rings for his thirteenth birthday so the chocolate cake was decorated like the eye of Sauron and the movie was enjoyed by Max and Phil even though Jac and I both fell asleep. Party animals up in here!

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