It seems right, fitting even, that since we took our fall photos before it was officially "autumn" that I should finally get around to posting them on a frigid day in December.

Yes, I am rolling my eyes. Yes, I am disappointed in myself, too.

The lot of us were struck down with a stomach bug the third week of September. Jac and I both kept telling ourselves that surely we were not really sick. Surely it was all in our heads.

We woke on Jac's Birthday determined to power through, but by 12, admitted that our sweating, lethargic selves were, indeed, sick. We allowed ourselves a moment to mourn and grieve and then Jac suggested a run for the canyon.

Because driving those curvy roads with a van full of nauseous kids and people is living on the edge! And then coaxing photo worthy smiles out of them all?! Who doesn't love a challenge?

I kept glancing over at Jac all the way up wondering what we had done.

But God is good and no one got sick and no one yelled (Lu did cry but she was 2 and she takes her roll of being obstinate and difficult very, very seriously.

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As we edited them at home later, Max couldn't get over how old he looked. "I look like I'm 15 or something!" We laughed over grumpy/crazy/confused faces and compared Jac's running shots to those of years passed.

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It was another one for the books. "2016-the year we felt like puking." Nice!

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A long time ago a friend shared how some of their friends had a laundry and letters Friday evening tradition. After this week, I thought why not combine the idea to air my dirty laundry in letter form? Sounds fun!

Dear New Neighbors,

So they probably didn't disclose that you'd be sharing a fence with seven kids and a crazy dog. I'm betting you are wishing they had! But since it's too late to back out, know Gemma is just going through a dramatic stage and the screaming you hear is just for show. Thanks for being cool and not calling CPS on us!

Beloved Children of Mine,

I know I've said it before, but In case you need a reminder:

Don't toss your clean, folded clothes on the floor. It makes me crazy and prone to yell.

Dear Child's Future Spouse,

Your beloved is probably going to throw their clothes on the floor along with everything else. I apologize. I tried.

Dear Parents Everywhere,

A word of advice- if you cannot get your children to come when you call and you need them, use the restroom, sweep up a dust pile or mop the floor.  Works like a charm. They will come running.

Penny's Teeth,

Listen up, punks. It's high time you showed up already. We've all waited long enough and you're making our girl miserable. She hasn't napped all week, for crying out loud! Give us a break, okay?

Love of my life,

The London fog you brought this morning and the bagel with the cream cheese I like? Incredible. Even better? The way you talked me down from the yelling over the clothes on the floor. (See above) You da real MVP.

Self,

Advent is supposed to be exciting so just relax. And think about and pray over any grand ideas of traditions before you start them, okay? Because seriously, you're exhausted. (See above) I guess you can take comfort in knowing you don't have an elf to move around. Let's celebrate the small victories, shall we? ...continue reading

A month ago, Lucy turned three.

It was all she could talk about for weeks leading up to it. And heaven forbid anyone mentioned the word "birthday" as she would start to yell in an extremely territorial way, "It's MY birthday!  MINE!"

She didn't have many requests for what she wanted to do so much as what she wanted to get.

"I want a pink cake.  And a monkey to whack."

Translation: Strawberry cake and a monkey pinata.

She was very insistent about the whacking part. . .

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We all trooped out to divide and conquer the extravaganza prep and riding in the cart, she was an empress inspecting her dominion.  EVERYTHING was on her wish list.  I wheeled her away from Jac and her siblings and each aisle we passed held some wonder for her.

"Oooh!  Red trees!  I need those for my birthday, mama!"

"Look at that!  I need that for my birthday."

"Mama! Those things are for my birthday!  Let's get them!"

I made the mistake of wandering down the candy aisle in search of Runts (none could be found) and she locked in on the gum.

"Mom!  There's pink gum right there!  I need it. Get it for my birthday."

I laughed at her demanding tone but only because it was so shocking.

"You don't  NEED any gum." I assured her.

"Well, I called the hospible and they said I needed pink gum and you're not giving it to me so. . ." She shook her head sadly and gave me a piteous and guilt inducing look. This kid, who hasn't been to the hospital IN HER LIFE (not even to be born) was pulling the doctor as authority over me?  How did this happen?!

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I pushed her through the home goods, figuring it was safe.  Instead, she gasped at the vacuums.

"Wow! These would be great for my birthday!" she gestured grandly with her arms.

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When we didn't find a monkey (to whack) she admitted that a pirate ship could work just as well because while she is entitled, she is not unreasonable.

At least not about pinatas.

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Her godparents came along with "Biliff" (Elizabeth) and Susan and Jordan who brought 16 pumpkins.

SIXTEEN!!!

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She balked at the thought of taking a knife to the pumpkins but then her mind was blown when she saw what a jack-o-lantern really was. so we gutted the gourds in her honor. She was embarassed by the demand she skip around the room even though she had practiced that part for a week. But she soaked up the celebratory feel of the night and turned three without a hitch.

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When I give thanks for Jac who is more and better than I ever planned on or could have asked for in a husband, right near the top of my list is that he uses Pinterest.

Okay, maybe not that specifically . . . But he communicates.  And in a house where I don't know what the majority of people are saying at any given time, it is a precious commodity.

On Pinterest, he has a board that he made and then shared with me titled "Things Jacques Wants to Eat,"and that makes my heart sing. It makes meal planning and trying new things easier.

Okay, maybe not entirely as we have 7 picky children . . . But it helps!

This week I made steak with gorgonzola butter from a recipe that was pinned.  I baked up a sweet potato for Jac and good ol' russets for the kids and me (the kids take after me in the picky department) and asked the kids 15 times to set the table.

Okay, maybe not that many . . . But it was close.

And then as we waited for Jac to come up and try it out, Lucy yelled.

"Blech!  What smells so stinky? It smells like cowboy poop!"

If you were unaware of what cowboy poop smells like, as I was, now you know. A mixture of grilled steak, gorgonzola, fresh parsley, and carmelized sugar.

Okay, probably not really. . . but it sure was funny.

Jac's board of things he wants to eat is pretty appetizing.  And the steak was delish even if it did smell a little funky.

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“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” Isaiah 11:1

While shopping for Lucy's birthday, the kids were appalled to find themselves walking in a winter wonderland.  "Why is the Christmas stuff out?!" Philip was near panic.  "We haven't even gotten through All Hallow's Eve!"  Seeing the Christmas trees and sparkling decor convinced Gemma that her birthday had to be happening in the next few days.  The girls have begun to repeatedly casually mention gift suggestions for Christmas and Jac asked while out and about what color we should we wear for Christmas this year.  Philip is on countdown for Advent songs and facebook keeps reminding me that there are only 9 Fridays Until Christmas!!! All that is to say IT IS COMING.

I wrote last year  about our Jesse tree and got to thinking that I'd love to share that tradition with even more folks.  How about an ornament swap?!

A Jesse Tree ornament swap works like this- each participant who registers will be assigned one symbol to make. The total number of ornaments each participant will make of their symbol will depend on the number of those participating, but the maximum number required is 28. All ornaments will be turned in to the swap organizer and they will combine all of the ornaments into full sets of the 28 ornaments. You will receive a PDF booklet containing scriptures for each ornament and the order in which they are displayed.

Think and pray about if you would like to participate this year and tell your friends! Please look over the dates below as meeting these deadlines are the way we can insure to get the sets back to you in time to begin Advent!

Click here to see some example ornaments

Click here to see some Pinterest ideas


Dates:

Sign Up Deadline - 11/9
Receive your symbol and assigned number you will make - 11/10
Turn in all your ornaments - 11/22
Receive your full sets - 11/25


Questions

How can I receive more than one set?  - Sign up to make more than one symbol!

What sort of ornaments or materials are okay?  - It is good to keep in mind that the ornaments will hopefully be handled by little hands so durable is good! Foam, craft foam, sculpey or air dry clay, crochet/knit, fabric, felt, shrinky-dink, metal, wood, craft sticks, clothespins, leather, salt/cornstarch dough, etc., are all excellent ideas!

But I'm not very crafty. Can I still do it? – Absolutely! Pinterest has a wealth of ideas! Plus, you are made in the image and likeness of the great Creator so you've got creativity in there somewhere!

How do I sign up? Fill out the form below:

Fill out my online form.

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Our school kick-off was moved off the feast of St. Augustine due to a scheduling conflict.  Then it was postponed because of sickness.  The kids got mighty nervous that we would skip over it all together, the way we did with our anniversary.

It's fine.  I'm over it.

They were so relieved and excited when they saw me making crowns.  They double and triple checked that it really was okay that they wear whatever they wanted and didn't need to match.  They planned and strategized their meals, drinks, and desserts. They were beside themselves.

We were, too, really.  This begins our eighth year.  There is some weight and seriousness to that number.  It feels like we should know what we're doing.

It's fine. I'm dealing with it.

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Max is an 8th grader this year.  He's taller than I am, is ridiculously organized and fastidious and is currently only interested in WWII. He is serious about his work out regimen and his studies.

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Philip is in 6th grade and sat us down to tell us all the things he wanted to learn this year.  The list includes things like work on programming skills, Physics and Newton's Laws, improve sewing skills, memorize all of the prayers and mysteries of the rosary, and work on Parkor skills.  He is equal parts serious and silly and while he still can be utterly distracted by his own ideas, he is more and more attentive making enjoying the current moment really great.

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Tess is in 4th grade.  She dresses and accessorizes every day as if it were a special occasion.  She also thrives on switching things up and keeping things new and novel. She is learning that sh can do hard things and how delicious victory tastes when it is hard fought.

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Ellie is in second grade this year and that means she is preparing for first reconciliation and first communion.  She's decided that green is her new favorite color and ravels back in forth between the big kids and the littles in all things.  She is thoughtful and imaginative.

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Oh, Gemma.  She has a few months left before she turns 5 but she acts "like a teenage!" according to her siblings.  She's just starting in this school business, wanting to be at the table with her siblings and focusing on what she's doing.  She also is "all about fashion which means the best stuff and looking the best,, which I'm really good at." Hence her Tom's on the wrong feet with her red dress.

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Lu was so very excited about her crown this year and, along with Gem, thought she was BIG STUFF.  Her main job during school is to serve as a distraction. Or to wake up Penny. She takes seriously her role as Max's weight during his workouts and ensures she gets read to every day.

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Penny doesn't even look like this baby anymore!  That evening she smiled for her rapt audience/entertainers that are her siblings and then had her first 'real' food, eating baked potato and filet mignon.

Before we know it, she'll be the one wearing the 8th grade crown.

It's fine.  I'll get over it.

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In the words of Papa Bill, Sally Ho and Tally Forth!

October has been so very lovely in the weather department.  We have been to the downtown fountains to play several times and have tried to soak up the mellowness of a lovely, lasting autumn.

For Tess's feast day I told the kids I'd take them downtown to the fountains.  We had to search high and low for suits because some girls like to wear them just for fun and some girls like to pee in them while other girls like to shirk their laundry duties.

There was some yelling.  I apologized.  We got through it.

ANYWAY . . .

I loaded up kids in their swimsuits and headed downtown only to find Oktoberfest underway in Main Street Square.

"Oooooohhhhh!" Was the disappointed sigh as we drove past.

"What about Dinosaur Park?!" I tried to sound enthusiastic though I knew darn well that I would have to carry Penny up and down the hill in my arms as I didn't have the backpack.

"Yes!!!" They all yelled. Even Lucy who has not been in her recent memory.

So up we went.

Philip obliged my request to see if someone's head would fit in the dinosaur mouth.  Everyone else was too creeped out.

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We were "those kids" who kept pushing the music button on the mechanical ride, causing the obnoxious song to be played so loudly it could be heard clearly from the top of the hill.

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They took off up the hill, opting to climb up the side walls instead of taking the steps. Ellie went up on her hands and knees, claiming she was afraid of heights.

"Um. . . you don't HAVE to walk there.  Come on the steps if that makes you feel safer."

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She didn't need to be asked twice which was good because with that crisis averted, another cropped up. Lucy stood frozen on the narrow steps. I felt her shrinking within herself and I started to sweat from more than the heat of the day.  People were coming up behind us and Lu and I were to have a confrontation, well, things could get ugly.

I played it cool.  "Hey, Lu!  What's going on?"

"That is a dragon. Right there." Fear rimmed her words.

"It's not a dragon!" Ellie hollered down to her.

"Oh!  Yeah, it's an elephant!" And with that decided, she kept climbing.

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Note to self: teach Lucy about Dinosaurs.

By the time we made it to the Stegosaurus, she was over any hesitating and went up and down the back of the dinosaur even with her slippery Salt Waters.

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Turns out hot, painted concrete and swimsuit clad bodies aren't the best mix.

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And Gemma wanted to know the dinosaurs names.

"Their names?  I don't think they have any.  Would you like to give them some names?"

"Yes!" she was eager and decisive. "This one is Isabelle." She pointed to the Tricerotops. "And thiiiiis one?" She concidered the T-Rex, "I think it's Sparkle."

Best. Name. Ever.

Penny spent her time trying to lunge out of my arms so she could explore the dinos on her own. So we tried to sit her down at Sparkle's feet, but her kicking, anxious legs wanted to dance with joy instead.  So cute.

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It was a great trip with much laughter and enjoyment. And then it ended with a full body press to get a screaming, enraged Lucy into her car seat.

Oh, the memories!

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I lamented more than once that I doubted Lu would ever be out of diapers. The fits and starts we had! It made me question my ability to be a parent.

Before Penny was born Mama Syd scoffed at my claim that I had never dealt with one like Lu before. "You say that about every kid!" she laughed. Then she came at Easter and with wide eyes said, "That Lucy. . . She's something else! Boy, is she stubborn!" Rest assured, if I had been able to drink I would have simply poured a tall one and raised it in an acknowledging toast before slamming it back.

The thing is, the kid cannot be convinced of something that isn't her idea. Or be distracted or swayed. She knows what she wants and she absolutely did NOT want to be potty trained.

One day in June she stood up mid-lunch. "My skirt is wet!" she announced matter-of-fact like. I was up to my elbows in dish water but went on high alert. "What?! Why? Did you spill your water?" "No. I peed." "Luce! Where are you supposed to pee?" "In the potty chair." she replied. And then, "Yeah, you keep saying that. . . "

A week later she ran to the dining room-AWAY from the bathroom-and hollered, "I'M POOPING!" Again I was at the sink. "Okay! Let's go! Quick, quick, quick!" was my enthusiastic reply. "No." was her flat response. "I already did." And then, "Oh! And I'm peeing." she said as she watched a puddle form on the floor.

No words. None.

When Mama Syd and Papa arrived for the summer and found out Lu was still in diapers, my utter lack in potty-training prowess was laughed off. "We'll do it up at the lake, won't we Lu? It will be easy up there!"So it was with no little joy that I pointed out how she remained in diapers the last week they were here. "Yeaaaah," Mama Syd sighed, "I didn't get that done either. We'll work on it this week though, right Lucy?"

The look that she gave could be summed up as, 'Do. Your. Best.'

But then, seemingly without any real trying, she just up and decided that that was what she was doing.

It may have helped that Mama Syd offered to take her to the Outhouse in style.


I observed that it was a little Silence of the Lamb-y but it got the job done, so who am I to judge?


Really, once she set her mind to it, there has been no turning back. Well, except for 6 days in when I found her happily playing in a Pull-up. "Hey Lu? You need to get some chonies on and go potty in the potty chair." "Yeah," she said, not even bothering to look at me, "I don't do that anymore. I just wear diapers."

I am drinking heavily, friends. Heavily.


So, this was written and SUPPOSED to be posted in August.  But WordPress and I haven't been getting along very well so I just realized that it was never put up.  I'm shaking my fist and imbibing as I type.


When we told the lady at the candy shop that it was Tess's birthday she asked which birthday it was.

"Ten?! Double digits! Wow! Well, that means you're officially a tween!"

My heart leapt straight into my throat and the world pitched because while ten is a milestone, to hint around the edges of "teen"? Well, let's take things one day at a time!

Tess planned and planned and planned out her day. She requested to make a skirt for herself and it kept getting put off so we stayed up late last night putting it together. 


It seemed like the proper kind of introduction to ten.

She requested crepes by Jac and lunch out with me. Tess, like all of our girls, is a lass of big feelings. Today, though the weather was stormy, she was nothing but sunshiny joy and grace.


We giggled over cat videos while we are our Sonic in the car. We switched seats and followed every distracted thought at Yo Yo Beeri. We conquered levels in Candy Crish and went to Zoom downtown just to "check things out," and came away with glass bottled pop, a few little treats and a large bag of her favorite candy gifted by the generous and friendly store owner.


All that before the extravaganza. 

She is loved best by people and attention and the new and novel. We had 4 guests join us for her favorite food and they brought laughter and fun with them. Elizabeth brought a hat and a coupon book promising future fun. There was a singing card from Randy and more candy.


Jacques remembered she wanted popcorn for the movie she's been talking about for a month so he brought some home. She was so excited to watch Open Season just so she could hear all of us laugh with her.

She's growing up, yes, and often she wants to race ahead. "Only 5 more years until I'm 15! I can't wait! I'll be able to drive, it will be my golden birthday AND my quinceñara!" Again with the lurching of my heart! 


"Isn't it crazy that I was 8 once? I can't even remember that. Or when I was 4." I think it hit her then, this getting older business. But then she started laughing over something I said and she couldn't stop and their was shreiking about peeing in pants and 10 seemed absolutely perfect, tween and all.

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I used to read in history books about the fighting Italian City States would do and I would be confused. Sure, fighting for over land made sense but over honor? Who's Saint or town flag was better? I didn't get it.

Now I understand.

I love South Dakota. I used to be biased about the Hills, but the truth is, as I've traveled the state, every trip has shown me something to take my breath away. I-90 isn't exactly picturesque, but it has its appeal. I love the Hills, obviously because they're The Hills, and the beauty of the scenery is only rivaled by the character of the communities. But Rapid. . . I heart Rapid.

For the first 20 years of my life I rather disliked it. It was hot and sticky while the lake was cool. It involved awkward family visits or fighting through crowds at the tourist spots. But then I got to know the city and it won me over.

There are problems, of course, with policy and infrastructure. It lacks in true diversity and there is a tightly drawn cord of racial tension that is always strumming just beneath the surface. Love does not keep a record of wrongs I say! And how can someone hope for change if they don't first love?

For all of her flaws, I love Rapid for the friendliness of people. Today it was woman at the neighborhood drugstore who remarked, "Well! Your face is sure healing nicely!" I was taken off guard as I'm not in there with great frequency and it's been at least a months since I looked rough. When I, laughing, told her it was in fact much better, she went on to tell me all about her dad who has Alzheimer's and who went to the dermatologist yesterday. It's not the first time she and I have chatted but I wouldn't know her if I saw her at the grocery store or in a restaurant. She didn't have to enter in or open up like that. But it happens and happens often in this lovely city.

I came away saying a prayer of thanks for her, for this place that we live with its great faces and great places and our place in it. I'd champion this city's goodness any day!
* The bumper sticker above Jac gave me for my birthday after I raved about it. The shop is a local designer from Sturgis. If you're a fan of the Dakotas, Minnesota or any of the lovely western places, check out her great stuff! Oh Geez Design