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Ellie turned 6.  (Can we all just take a moment to point out that Philip turned TEN in FEBRUARY and I didn't breathe a word about it here?  I am that mom.)

She plotted and planned the perfect execution for her entry in Club Big Kid.

Before you ask, no, it's not a real thing.  Not really.  But the transition to 6 and all the things she would get to do because of a change in her age was very real and important to her.

So Club Big Kid induction. . . Mama Syd gave the boys and then the girls their own CD players for Christmas.  It was my idea.  I thought it was brilliant but failed to take into account Boom Box Battles (wherein each room plays a song of choice at full volume simultaneously and then they decide who 'won'.  That of course spirals into a battle of words and wills.  It's SO MUCH FUN.) or how the Annie soundtrack played for hours on end would make me wish I had never been born. Oy. Anyway, Ellie had decided before Christmas that she would watch the new Annie for her birthday so the soundtrack only fueled the fire.

An Annie Extravaganza!  Hurray!

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She wanted invitations and she wanted to make them and deliver them.  And there were red velvet cupcakes to make and their decoration to delegate and supervise.  And a red dress to wear of course.

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Before she even got to the party there was monkey bread for breakfast and Pottery to Paint to visit.  Everything was choreographed according to her plan and executed with her help.

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I have no idea where she gets that from.

She was a very tired, very happy, Club Big Kid member when she headed to bed that night. And they haven't played the Annie Soundtrack once since! God is good.

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I've said it before, and I'll say it again, nothing can save a day like tea.

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The last few weeks, round about lunchtime is the time I'm ready  to cash in the chips instead of serve them. Lunch after a morning of screeching, screaming and squabbling seems like too much work especially when no one can agree on anything.

Enter tea!  There is something trans-formative about putting on the kettle.  When it begins to whistle, someone invariably says, "Wait!  Are we having tea?!" and life is worth living again. Having tea means serving up finger foods that can be as mish-mash as you want them to be.  It is soothing to set out a plate with toast spread with Nutella and topped with sprinkles.  Healthy?  Probably not.  Magical? You betcha. Instead of trying to make a cohesive meal, the surprise of choices seems whimsical. And then they serve themselves which seems like sheer genius.

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We probably won't do tea for lunch for much longer as I don't want it to lose it's luster.  But we're all enjoying the respite it's currently providing. We are flying through our read-alouds and lingering with each other.  We've been sampling the latest teas Aunt Cristie sent from Columbia Kate's - San Francisco Blend and Gold Rush.  I must admit, I feel a certain pride hearing the kids debate the merits of their favorite teas and watching them eagerly try out new blends.

Do the kids still leave their plates on the table at the end of the meal? Yes.  Do they still resist the afternoon siesta? Of course. But the occasion of tea seems to set our hearts aright and that allows me to be okay with all the rest.  It's worth it every single time.

Practically speaking: We started with very subtle teas (subtleties . . . get it?!) to allow the kids to gain a palate.  Tension Tamer steeped around 3 minutes went over big with this crowd.  Mint followed and remains a favorite.  Of course, I always allow a certain amount of sugar and honey because I do. Milk in a creamer is all sorts of fun and a healthy and tasty addition.

Every day lunch service is made and put onto specific plates that belong to the kids.  But when we do tea, I fill plates and bowls with the offerings while they set small plates at their spots and pull out their tea cups.  Then they pass the food to each other providing a chance to work on manners. (Or not . . .)  Some things we serve for tea (I usually have 3-4 things on the table) include: scones (when I'm daring), popcorn, sliced apples, sliced strawberries, frozen blueberries, baby carrots, sugar-snap peas, pretzels, toast fingers or triangles with Nutella or jelly or peanut butter, tiny crustless pb&j, sliced cucumbers, orange wedges, left over ham, gingerbread cookies, cinnamon toast, mini muffins from breakfast, cheese cubes or sliced cheese sticks on toothpicks (trust me, tooth picks are FANCY), left over waffles from breakfast dusted with powdered sugar, cheese and crackers, melon cubes, rolled lunch meat on toothpicks,etc.

Writing it out it seems silly - there is probably more effort that goes into tea than into regular lunch.  But the difference is my heart.  Making tea and the food to serve with it is creating an event and that is fun and a cause for joy.  That in turn flows out to the crowd and that turns the day around.

Well, that and the Nutella.  Ain't nobody hating the Nutella . . .

 

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I've been stewing for the last week.  Reading status updates of people hating on Mother's Day has riled me up.  The sentiments behind the posts were legitimate - grieving a mother, the hurt of infertility, dreams deferred, rough relationships, and everything in between.  I wasn't sure why I would get worked up because I'm certainly not attached to the day myself.  Then, it dawned on me- it felt like those voices were raining on my parade.

I know they're not, I really do.  But let's be honest, mothering is my thing. I desired and chose it, ill-prepared and naive as I was, and I have been finessing it for 12 years.  I have willingly been stripped of and let other things go for the sake of this call and I own it.  My motherhood isn't clean or soft or even pretty, but it's hard-fought and determined and passionate.  The chorus of what I'm doing wrong and failing at is always droning in my mind and at times it can be deafening so don't think for one moment that I think I have it together or that I'm perfect.  I don't feel the warm, fuzzy "I heart being their mom!  They are my world!" vibe, but this pack of rapscallions?  They made me ME and are plowing my way to heaven, THANK YA JESUS.

So I will take the day.  The recognition.  The honor of being noticed for what I am doing and will do for the rest of my life. My motherhood, my pride in saying, "I brought forth that life," doesn't make me better than anyone else but it does define me. Being a mother means your body is never, ever yours alone ever again. My biology, my very self at a cellular level, has been changed by my children. My mind, too, is different as a result of this call. If they gave medals for it, I'd take one for each of my babes because mothering is HARD. First with the puking and fatigue, then the pinched nerves and hernias, labors, births, nursing, fatigue, post-partum depression, fatigue, mom brain, hormone roller coasters . . . did I mention fatigue?  For the love of Pete, isn't it okay to give these hard working ladies a brunch and sparkly cards?

Sheesh.

In the end, I wonder if we women aren't just afraid.  Afraid that we won't be remembered and noticed for who we are.  I'm just a stay-at-home mom, after all.  Others worry no one will recall or recognize the empty arms and aching heart because of infertility or a life lived unmarried. Others worry their loss of a baby will be forgotten.  Or that no one will want to mention the mom who is no longer here or who abandoned you or was abusive.

Woman, you are seen.  You are important because God made you and he has a plan for you.  It is wild and crazy and doesn't seem logical, but if you follow where he leads, that plan will yield joy upon joy. Alleluia, glory be, God. Is. GOOD.

Today that meant breakfast in bed, homemade cards and lilacs rescued from the snow.  It meant less than an hour to get ready for mass and wearing cowboy boots with fancy dresses because we couldn't find the right shoes.

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It meant braving the snow on the roads to go to a sparsely attended mass. It meant carnations from birthright clutched in hands of various sizes.

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It meant second day makeup and tights poking out of shoes that I didn't notice until we were back home.

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It meant lunch from Taco Bell, naps three to a bed, and sharing my water bottle with a thirsty girl so she would just go to sleep.  It meant Jac cooking supper and celebrating with 3 godmothers because we realize their spiritual motherhood is as valuable as my physical presence in the life of the kids.

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It meant phone calls and texts to the ladies I love and admire.  It meant crying over a letter and gifts from Jac because he notices me.

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It meant shaking off the funk and annoyance and noticing God's goodness.  And it was great.

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"Children of mine!" I said.

This is our call to arms, our Revelee, our 'Circle the Wagons'.  They know it and, usually, respond.

Today they lagged.  I was trying to get out the door to a meeting and I rolled my eyes to Max.  I could hear the crazies, but, evidently, they couldn't hear me.  "What are those girls doing?"  I wondered aloud.

"I know what we should do!"  Ellie lit up.  "I think we should do what Miss Gleeson does and you should clap softly twice and then WE can clap back in answer three times."

I stared confused for a moment.  "Who is Miss Gleeson?"

"She's Jigsaw Jones' teacher," she and Max said together.  We take our reading seriously and literally, obviously.

"Riiiight.  You know what I like to do? I like to say, 'If you can hear my voice, clap once.  Iiiif you can hear my voice, clap twice -"

Laughing, Max interupted, "If you can hear my voice, clap thrice!"

Laughter all around!

"What about, 'If you can hear my voice, clap uno!'?" I suggested, getting into the spirit of things.

Laughs!

"How do you count in Latin?" I asked Max.  This caught him off guard and he answered mid-laugh with a

"Duh . . . " And THAT made us laugh even harder.

"I know . . . " Ellie was quiet, earnest, and thinking hard.

"I . . . II . . . III. . . IV. . . "

Max and I rolled with mirth.  Luckily Ellie joined in and we all had a good laugh.  I left without giving my instructions but not without feeling like there was a little victory in that mix up.  And I love me a win.

To round out our Tour of Horrors a la the Dentist was a scheduled surgery for Gemma.

Lord have mercy.

To say I was a nervous wreck was an understatement.  I was worried about her pain, her experience, a traumatic post op, recovery . . . and then I got a visit from the same day surgery center.

"Blah, blah, blaaaah . . . tube through her nose . .  . blah, blah, blah . . . heart monitor . . . Blaaah, blah-blah, blah . . . oxygen levels. . . risks."

That's when the fear began to gnaw.

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We woke up very early to get her and her empty belly to the appointment on time.  On went the Elsa dress and tights and high heels because it gives her courage and was familiar. I carried her through the doors and onto the pleather couch for check in, hyper aware of how tiny and light she felt in my arms.

Waiting in the pre-op room, we opened the crayons they had given her.  "Oh, Mama, look!  They're all my favorite colors!"  Clearly, she was oblivious to any stress.

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Her silliness seeped from her pores to such an extent that when they came in to check after they administered the first sleep-inducer, I wasn't sure what was her and what was the meds talking.

Then her eyes started to roll.  "I'm getting sleeeee-peeeee!" she giggled and tossed herself back in my arms.  I told her she could close her eyes and I rocked her.

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"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine . . . "

Her eyes opened and she attempted to sing along, "You make me blue, blue! Bluh, bluh, blue, bluuuee." She tried to talk, but only more of the same came out so she nestled into my arms.

I thought she was asleep when her eyes opened wide.  "The angels are going to fly, fly, fly me up to heaven to see Jesus!" Her arm fluttered up to the tiled ceiling.

No one should let a mama's heart hear such craziness at such an hour because, come on!

"Can you see the angels?" I asked her, her eyes intently focused above us.

"NO!" she looked at me as if I had lost my mind.  Then her eyes sparked with mischief.  "Not yet!" she sing-songed.

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After a few moments, she gathered herself to ask for 'Rolling in the Deep,' her long ago song.  But after just a few seconds, she sat back up.  "Actually, can you play me 'Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord?"

She doesn't remember the nurses carrying her back.

I attempted to read, but mainly watched the clock and tried to piece together prayer.

When the doctor came to tell me everything went great and they "wiggled the front teeth!" I kind of wanted to push her.  Wiggled? Really?  They had just stitched up holes in the perfect gums that we had kept watch over for weeks waiting for those very teeth to make their debut when she was a baby. But how do you explain mourning to a dentist?

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I met Gem as she was wheeled to her room.  Her cry was hoarse and so very sad, but not the ear piercing scream I had steeled myself against.  3 seconds later they told me I could hold her and as soon as I sat down, she quieted and stilled.  Her eyelids fluttered but didn't open and in a very slurred, very raspy voice she asked, "Can I play on your phone?" I suggested after a little nap and played her new song on repeat for thirty minutes instead.

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I dressed her groggy body, opting for the skid proof socks over the high heels and headed home.  It was a testament to the army of folks praying for us that she didn't scream or cry until she was safely tucked into our bed.  And - thank ya, Jesus! - there was no puking, either.

We miss her teeth but agree she's still just as cute.  And she's as spunky as ever, so there's that.  Fingers crossed, this is the last of the dentist for a really long time.  Please, Lord, make it so!

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We have a twelve-year-old.

Max is TWELVE.  Twelve!

Saying it out loud makes Jac and I feel it in our bones but it was Max who said to Lucy on the morning of his golden birthday,

"I'm an old man, Lu!"

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Then he starts saying things like,

"I can't believe I can drive in 2 years!"

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This afternoon he was itching to go to the bank to deposit some of his birthday cash and we were waiting for Lu to wake up.  I was folding laundry when we heard her stirring so he went to fetch her.  He came back to the living room with a diaper and wipes and changed a truly awful diaper (masterfully) with constant chatter and giggling aimed at his sister and nary a complaint.

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Last week, on the way to piano, he told me how he's taken to starting his mornings.  "I do like the bishop suggested.  I say what St. Joan of Arc said to God: I don't know if I'll be here in a year, so do with me as you will.  Then I pray the consecration prayer and just think about my day."

Really.

He's a keeper, that one! Pretty glad he's ours.

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Parenting, as it turns out, is a giant crap shoot.

The thing is, you pour your heart and soul and very life into your kids and then just hold your breath, hoping something, anything, sticks.  Results may vary.  And seeing how each person grows and develops at their own pace, it may take many, many decades to see how you did.

In the trenches, it can be overwhelming and, at times, discouraging.

A few weeks ago, after Jac and Max were away on camp out, they came back, took some showers and we prepared for Mass.  Lucy did her level best to let everyone in Cathedral know that she was being tortured.  Trying to stand, in heels, and keep a 25 pound willful toddler in my arms while she thrashed and pitched and bucked. . . it was exhausting.  Then we bolted from there to a holy hour out at Terra Sancta.  By that time, Lucy had perfected her escape tactics and Gemma had spent her patience.  I hustled them into the hallway.

I meant to just let them stretch their legs (and allow everyone else the chance to pray uninterrupted), but the Lord had other plans.  Following her sister down the hall, Gemma came upon the larger than life Pieta statue.  For a moment she stood transfixed, staring up, head back, onto the anguish of Mary cradling the body of Christ.

"Mama," Gemma breathed, tenderly reaching out to caress Our Lord's chest, "THIS is my favorite friend."

I had been standing back, watching her from the periphery, so I couldn't hear her well.

"What did you say, Gemma."

"I said this is my favorite friend." Her eyes studied his face, slowly moving down, taking it all in.  She traced his ribs with her tiny fingers and outlined the hole in his side, sticking her hand in like a little Thomas.  "Jesus is my favorite friend."

For 20 minutes she visited with Jesus.  She told me about him.  She talked about Mary. She asked countless questions.  She began by facing him, reaching up to 'soft' his beard, remarking how it was bigger than Daddy's and that she liked it.  She was sad he was so sad. . . She was praying for him. . . She tried to sit on his lap but found that sitting beside him, she could place her hand in his.  It was a good fit.  Why did they bam his hands. . .?  She could make him feel better. . .  When she was big, she would stop them so he wouldn't die. . .  She switched sides and gently pet his other hand.  She leaned down, resting her cheek on the cool plaster.  Jesus is big. . . Bigger than you, right mama . . .?  And his mama is, too. . .  She is sad that Jesus is dead. . .  I am sad, too. . .  Then she stood and reached up and up until I asked her what she needed.

"I can't reach Mary's tears and I need to."

I lifted her up and she felt each drop, outlining them softly and holding Mary's cheeks in her hands.

"Gemma, do you know why Jesus died?" I whispered into her ear.

She froze.

"Because he loves you so much and wants to be with you in heaven forever. Your his favorite friend."

Her head whipped around to look upon Jesus' face again.

"Yeah, I am.  And I love him, too. Do you, Mama? Even when you're big?"

She was assured that I did and dad did and all her siblings and Bridget and Elizabeth and Randy and Susan and . . . everyone she knows and loves, they all love Jesus. He's our favorite friend and we love him because he first loved us.

Before we headed back into the chapel, she lingered for a second before she announced, "Jesus isn't dead because he's my friend."  Then she skipped off and my heart skipped a beat.  Somewhere, she picked it up and it was sticking.  Yes, there are many years and choices to go, but right there, right then, it felt like we were winning.  With an abundance of grace, we are winning.

 

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Let's remember 2015 as the Seder That Nearly Wasn't.

About a week before Holy Thursday I had a moment where the bickering and whining and complaining and all around nastiness pushed me over the edge.  There was yelling.  Awkward sideways glances shot from kid to kid.  I announced I wasn't going to a Seder if they "kept it up." (Oh, hello dreaded words my parent's used that I said I never would!  Welcome back!) I threatened no Easter baskets.  I put the read aloud up. That got Philip's attention.

"What can we do to make sure we actually do those things?" he quietly asked.

Then there came the puking sickness.  Lucy being sick was rough and on Sunday when she refused to walk or hold up her head and cried the little she was awake and sweated through her sleep - well, that about did us all in.  Then Gemma was hit and had a hard time bouncing back (insert joke about food and bouncing here). But when Mama Syd came down with it, well, that was terrible.  EVERYTHING was suspended.

I thought long and hard about cancelling.

The thing about traditions, though, is that they don't care what is happening.  They will be observed! The kids wondered about the matza.  They asked over and over who was attending.  Why couldn't Susan come?  No, but why? Tentatively, I started to prepare.

Mama Syd took a turn for the worse. Guests backed out.  We had bought a roast instead of a brisket, for the love of Pete!

I thought back on years past and the prep work we did in the week leading up to the Seder as we began prep around 7 pm the night before.  Philip took care of the marinade.  Ellie trimmed parsley and Gemma and Lucy supervised the slicing of the radishes.  Papa Chris came up in time to peel and grate apples and help Tess put together the charoset.  Around the table, the girls chattered excitedly.

Remember this?  Remember that?  Mom, don't forget!  Oh, that year!  What about. . . ?

They were busy and intense and filled with excitement.

"I'm so excited, I don't think I'll be able to sleep!" Ellie giggled. My throat grew tight.  This was what it was about.

The next day brought frenzied cleaning, Max manning the mop and Tess ironing the linens.  While Jac and I Easter shopped (a luxury with the grandparents in house), the crew made name cards complete with drawings of the Ten Plagues. (Some were more impressed by this than others.)  They researched napkin folds and all tried to get some mandated rest.  We tested our new lamb cake pan (some adjustments need to be made but I didn't cry!) and rinsed goblets.  Soon, I looked over to see all busy at work setting the table and doing the real work required and it was beautiful.

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In the end, it was a calm and lovely Seder.  The roast was delicious.  Lucy sat in a big chair and participated like a big kid.  The eldest read scriptures and Ellie did a fantastic reprise of the question reading.  Gemma only asked once if we'd buy her some Frozen flip flops and we were done in time to clear the table and load the dishwasher before Mass.  It really was a beautiful night.

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Here's hoping the kids remember the Saving of the Seder over my tantrum and that I'll remember that it's never as hard as I make it out to be.

Next year in Jerusalem!

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Holy Week 2015 - The Year Mama Syd and Papa Chris Came and Lucy and Gemma and Mama Syd Had the Puking Sickness.

It's been nothing but fun up in here, I assure you!

There have been some bright spots (Gemma singing, "I have to goooo pooooooo!" as she skips to the bathroom instead of freezing in terror and crying is certainly high on my list). Among them for Ellie was the download of a new game on Mama Syd's iPad.  She came in to our room first thing Monday morning to tell me all about it.

". . . and I wish it had more doctor-y stuff, actually because even though the boys say they hate blood and guts and lampshades, I actually really like it because I want to be a doctor."

I searched her face for the joke and found none.

"What did you say?" I asked incredulously. She giggled.

"Um, 'blood and guts and lampshades'?"  Another giggle.  "Yeah, I don't know what it means either but that's what the boys say they hate about doctors so . . . " Smile, chuckle, and she was gone.

No, I haven't clarified anything for her or with the boys.  I've just giggled about it myself and enjoyed the mental picture it provides. It has almost made up for the sickness.  ALMOST.

 

It really does take a village, this raising a kid business.

Did I just reference a Hillary Clinton quote?  

Multiply that by the number of kids we've got and, well, we end up needing a healthy metropolis.  Good thing we seem to have one!

Elizabeth has faithfully come on the Sundays of Lent to bring gum to the girls who are fasting from it and to visit with them.  Luke and Randy and Michael and Kyle hold kids, wrestle kids and toss kids.  The Scout Master picks Max up and drops him off as if it's his job and Gail glides into the house like the sun beam that she is and takes the helm effortlessly.  Allie teaches new slang and (some might say annoying) phrases.  Bridget reads, Shawna screens, Susan quizes, Fr. Mark cheers, and on and on and on . . .

In short, we are abundantly blessed by our friends.

Even over miles and miles, we are blessed.

The first week of March, the mailman brought a small manila envelope addressed to the Daniel Kids.  Oh, the frothing!  Oh, the guessing!  The return address told me it was from Chrisa but the bulk and heft of the package added to the mystery. What could it be?!

An Epic Pi Day Family Fun Pack!

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It was as if they had won the lottery.  We quickly glanced at the contents but decided together that to put it away would make actual Pi Day that much more epic.

"I like how she always remembers us on Pi Day." Philip mused.  My homeschooling heart agreed.

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Now Chrisa is to her very fiber a teacher.  And how she can light up at a teachable moment is distilled joy. So I rejoiced with and for her forethought in utilizing the Epic Pi Day as one for us.  Lord knows (and Chrisa, too, evidently) that I would've mentioned it and moved on because math is not my strong suit.  I need that village!

We watched the clock and rang in March 14, 2015 at 9:26 and 53 seconds. 
Then it was on to the other fun activities!  Jac read the pi trivia sheet while the kids colored the symbol for pi (she sent new crayons=BEST. DAY. EVER.) Next came the beaded bracelets coordinating colors to numbers thereby creating a wearable symbol of the number.  This was great fun and Max and Ellie proved particularly adept at translating the given code.

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There was a challenge to measure circles and find pi.  Jac and Max worked hard to get exact measurements in an attempt to arrive at the tricky number.  Another challenge was given to see how many digits you could memorize.  Max took this seriously and is currently up to 15 (and continues to work on it).    Over lunch, we worked through the Pi quiz and followed that up with the procuring of actual pies because those were the instructions sent with a generous envelope.

Jac and I had a talk to give that evening so the pie and kids and remaining activities were left with 3 joyful villagers who came to watch the kids.  Josiah found the suggested video (and others!) on youtube and they all worked together to make a pi story. And by the ruins present when we got home, they enjoyed the delicious pies thoroughly.

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I could write to the many decimal points of pi thanking all of those who we love and love us well.  But for today, this meager offering must suffice.  And to Chrisa, math teacher and friend extraordinaire, our infinite thanks and appreciation are given.  You made our once in a lifetime Pi Day truly epic.  In the words of Tess, "If I live to see the next Epic Pi Day, I will still remember this one!"  Lots of love from our village to yours!