For weeks now, Max has been saying a few times a day, "Mom, you should write a post about this."  or, "Mom!  You should blog about that!"

I get the hint, boy.

Alas, 'tis the season of late nights and too many projects already.  And where to begin? But if I keep putting it off, what would that look like?

So I jump in, like we have been doing all through Advent.  Little has been planned or done all at once but it's happening, no matter what.  The same can happen here, right?

Tree hunt 2014 occurred a week later than anticipated due to cold weather and a dead Suburban.  Even then, we took the busty van out to our usual spot on a warmish sort of day.

The popcorn and cranberry string garlands were replaced by cheerios (easier to string and I didn't have time to pop the corn) and cranberries and strung together on the way.  Hurray!  No one got car sick in the process!  We carried those with some dried oranges to decorate the tree for the 'aminals' along with Lu on Jac's back, a hatchet and a saw.

We started out and somehow I brought up the rear with Monday on the leash, a tentative Ellie and a fiercely independent Gemma.  "Gem, can I help you?"  "No, I dot it, Mama.  I dot it."  Aaaaand repeat.  She made it down the hill, over the creek (a Christmas Miracle that there was a frozen patch and we didn't have to toss anyone or balance on a log!), but ran out of gas when we hit the woods.  From then on I carried her "free style" while pulling Ellie along at the same time. Oh, what fun!

The boys - and dog - took off in search of a tree to cut while we ladies found a tree to trim.  They worked quickly and carefully and took just a moment to admire their work before they went in search of the guys.  On our trek, we noticed a little tree with two blackened pine cones and recognized them as the remainders of the 'aminal' tree, 2013. I got teary at the hardiness of tradition.

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I take full credit for the finding of this year's tree, which it must be admitted is a beaut.  "The best one yet!" Jac declared.  High five, me.  Too bad we walked a long ways dooooown a path to find the boy's choices only to walk all the way back UP to where I saw the winner.  And up some more through some brambles.

By then, folks started to fall apart.  Gemma and Ellie were cold.  Lu decided the backpack was torture and Philip got his feelings hurt but the real fun happened when Tess accidentally broke the saw blade.  Oh, the waterworks!  To be fair, her brothers had shown her to do whatever it was she was doing when the blade broke and us laughing over it only made matters worse.  It couldn't be helped as Jac had spent the morning telling me how great the blade was and "Who cares that it only cost $2?"  It seemed so funny to me in the midst of all the crying.

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Luckily, Max had the hatchet and everyone got to take a swing or 20.  Turns out being a lumberjack is harder than it looks!  Gemma will tell you that she was the one that "hit the tree down with Daddy" because she was.  So then it was time to get grouchy kids AND the tree AND the Aspen branches I requested (that were larger than the tree. . . ) down and across and back up.

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We made good time.

Up the tree went onto the van and we managed to lash it down amid the bickering and complaining.  That all stopped right quick, though, when we couldn't get the van back onto the road.  There were some tense and exciting minutes but Jac sweet talked the sickly vehicle into compliance and we were on our way without any more tears.

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Ellie and Lu slept all the way home while Tess kept Gemma entertained.  We got the tree in place and relatively straight very easily and it's doing great.  We were all plenty sore the next day but this lovely tree was worth it.

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For weeks now the kids have been reminding me about the arrival of Advent.  Sometimes they're subtle - "I can't wait to be St. Lucy this year.  During Advent." and "Maybe we should make a schedule for who gets to open things like the books, and the bags, and the calendar.  I love the calendar." - and sometimes they've been blunt - "Mom.  Have you worked on Advent."

Yeesh. I get it!

I have been bogged down with immediate needs and haven't desired or allowed my mind to travel down the road to Christmas.  But then Fr. Dillon gave a beautiful and rousing homily to kick off the season and it was just the "Pull yourself together!" that I needed.

So what if the kids lost another chunk of faith in their mom when they woke to find no wrapped book or treat or calendar?  Each moment is a fresh beginning! And we've got 24 more days to go.  I'm praying we can make a full recovery.

My first step, in order to make restitution for my grinchy ways, is to share some of my favorite ways we celebrate the season.  Because sharing is caring!

1. Remember it isn't Christmas. . . YET
This is the season of longing and waiting.  We like to build anticipation and excitement.  The tree doesn't get decorated completely and we don't bust out the red and green for a few more weeks. Which brings me to this:

2. Enter into the liturgical season
It's purple!  Go all out and see how it feels to deck the halls with that as opposed to rojo and verde.  We use purple because this is a time of penance - just like Lent.

3. Sacrifice is fun!
Speaking of Lent . . . Fasting helps us strip away the excess, the unnecessary, the cumbersome.  It helps us realign and recalibrate so we can focus on the Sustainer.  It is hard, yes, to fast from cookies and cocoa and peppermint anything (come to mama!) when it's ev-er-y-where.  But what about adding something?  Or waking up early (on my list!)?  Or taking more time for silence?

4. Can the carols
Ooorrr . . . You can fast from Christmas music.  Now, of course, you can't go anywhere without hearing Christmas carols and by all means don't act like my children who fear for their salvation when Joy to the World is blaring in Safeway.  I mean at home.  In the car.  On your run play list.  Wait for the holly, jolly tunes for the 12 days of Christmas, or, in the tradition of some of the Huron Jesuit missions, play them up until Easter. But in these few weeks, sample the great Advent songs.  This is my spotify list. When I turned it on for our decorating on Sunday the kids greeted each tune like a long lost friend.

5. Prepare the way of the Lord
Are you a long lost friend of God's?  I've been feeling that way as of late.  Take Advent to juice your prayer life (or create one!), read scriptures - this site has the readings of the day.  Good stuff. - go to Confession.  It's all about getting the space ready for the coming of the King.  Clean it out and spiff it up!

Really, I'm just preaching to myself, giving the pep talk my weary, worn-out heart needs.  Let's do this season right.  And together would be pretty sweet.  Happy Advent!

Some other posts about the season and it's available fun found here, here, here.

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Lucy was super helpful in the set up process.

Lu's First Birthday:

To Remember:

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- That afternoon she mastered climbing onto the pew so she could look out on the wide, wide world.

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- She thought she was so smart being able to climb the pew that she decided to give the step stool a try.  I was up to my pits in spaghetti sauce when a big sister yelled.  Lu had climbed to the top, stood on her tip toes and helped herself to a birthday cupcake.  Bright blue drool ran down her chin and onto her chest, the remnants of a piece of chalk she had found.  I put her on the floor and told Ellie to put the dog's food and water dishes outside while I put the stool away.  I turned around to find Lu in a massive puddle, soaked to the bone.

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- Randy brought the NET team to supper - 25 folks sat down to break bread and slurp spaghetti together.  (The sauce scorched while I monitored the facetime call from Mama Syd and Papa Chris and then there was entirely too much oregano.  Not the best show.)

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- The birthday song with all of those voices - and many of them real singers - was perhaps the most beautiful I've ever heard.  She was pleased with the attention but downright stoked at the prospect of frosting.

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- She was loved on by her godparents while the Team took care of pumpkin carving with the older kiddos.  A deathstar, a mini figure head, a cat, a cross, and a cross and fish graced our gourds this year.

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- Her siblings shared their memories of the day she arrived and treated her like the little princess they think she is.

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- It was a great kick off of a solid 4 days of partying.  I think we will need some endurance training before next year!

We love you, Lu!  So glad you're ours!

 

Lu is a year and some change and this morning I put her in a 24 month onesie.  This girl . . .

Max walked in just as I stood her up and she yelled out a greeting.

"Lu!  We match!"

She jumped into his arms and they took off down the hall chatting and laughing together.  Those two . . .

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We've done the math a lot.  There are 10.5 years between them.  When he's 16, she will be six.  When she's ten, he'll be twenty.  I hope they can keep the love they have for each other now alive and well through all the changes they are bound to encounter.

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No one can raise six kids, we are well aware.  But I am more and more aware with each passing day that the greatest gift we have or will ever give our children is their siblings. Do they fight? Absolutely. Are there rivalries and jealousies and hurts of all kinds?  Sure.  But under that and over that and around it all is the gift of the other, the training in charity, the bonds of love.  And that is worth it all.

Man.  This life . . . !

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Last August when I was a stew of pregnancy induced hormones and anxiety the midwife suggested one on one time with each of the kids for an hour each day, every day.  She wrote it down like a prescription.

"And whispering only, too.  Make them do it, Annie.  I mean it."

We whispered for a week and my mind was reset.  The noise level climbed again and today you'd be lucky to hear yourself shouting above the din the majority of the time.

The individual time, though . . . that has stuck with a few minor tweaks.  It never worked for hour stretches because 60 minutes during which 4 children were unsupervised in this house was begging for a disaster.  We began with 20 and have worked up to 30 minutes.  Also, every day made it less special and anticipated and we weren't getting the school in that we liked to.

This year we moved the times to Wednesdays and dubbed them ITs (said Eye-Tees). The kids love their "Individual Times" and we all look forward to the change of pace in the middle of the week.  They're starting to learn to wait to ask me for special projects or privileges during those precious half hours.  We have played Minecraft, arm-knitted, painted, made cookies, played cards, drawn, read, crafted, built Legos, given manicures - the choices are all theirs.

Ground rules are simple: follow the Golden Rule.  Would you like your IT to be interupted?  No?  Then don't interrupt your sibling's!  Keep an eye on Gemma and find something to do that will not destroy anything or bother anyone else until it is your turn.  The person who finishes their chores fastest usually gets to go first but sometimes there can be bickering.  Today they drew cards out of a regular deck to see which order the middle three would go.  No tears or arguing followed - praised be Jesus!

We are all about learning and practicing virtue all the time but ITs provide opportunities to practice patience and generosity and charity and experience an immediate benefit from it.  They are also learning to think ahead and prepare.  If they have all the parts and pieces ready for a project, we will get so much more done in the time we have than if we are trying to track down a full deck of cards or the supplies for a craft. Some Wednesdays I set a timer and some I just stay right with them until they are done.  It's funny how the girls want to do things WITH me but the boys want me to watch them do things or read aloud while they do as they like.   The best part of it all is that the concentrated time with just me seems to fill them up and I try very hard to look and listen for ways to encourage them specifically during their time.  It's like a mini stay-at-home speed date.  With my kids.  It works for us!

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I secretly love winter.

Sure, I can crab and complain about it with the best of them and come February I'm over it but now, right this very moment, I love it.

I loved it Friday when I decided form over function in my shoe choice and wore my flats on my bare feet and had snow seeping into my shoes.  Not my smartest decision ever but the snow was  so fluffy and sparkly and squeaked in the perfect way when you walked that nothing else mattered.

I loved it Sunday when the air was so cold and the wind was so fierce that the branches of the poop tree actually creaked and groaned, naked against the sky.

I loved it last night when it was so cold in our room that we piled on the blankets and snuggled down in a nest for the night.

I love winter for the way it makes everything sharper.  The stars shine brighter, noises are clearer, smells are more potent.  The world comes into focus in the starkness of it all.

I mulled all of this over while leaving the radiology office this morning.  I had sat with a dry mouth and an empty mind while waiting to be called back, waiting through the exam, waiting for the doctors expertise.  In the end, things were positive and as I walked back to the car I thought about how that felt like winter - the sharpness, the nearness, the bleak.  And yet the sunshine broke through and it was dazzling and full of splendor that was almost painful.  The hopeful news seemed that much more so because of the still emptiness that surrounded it.

The good news was nearly eclipsed by the grind of the every day.  The Suburban is dead and Jac has been stressed and while reminding each other that God will provide is helpful, the moment the words leave our lips we doubt.  This afternoon I sat asking for God to show his love (as if a doctor's smile wasn't enough . . . ) when a card with an extremely generous gift from virtual strangers arrived. There were tears where the doubt had just been and again I considered winter.  How God can lead us to baren, empty, chilly places only to dazzle us with the sparkle of his shining love.  It's clearer and easier to see when things are stripped away and you feel naked against the sky.

Tonight we laughed and reminisced with Randy and Elizabeth (Randibeth? Elizandy? Hoffette? It's a work in progress. . .) around the table.  Yes, the thumbs up on my health and a large check were great but that - the company of friends and their contagious joy- was the high point of the day. They are on the other side of winter in their relationship and the growth and heady fragrances of spring are all around them.  It makes us all excited and hopeful of what is to come and reminds us that this season we are in will come to an end and turn into other things, figuratively and literally.

God is good, wherever we are. Right now that is winter and I love it.

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Ellie celebrated her feast day today.  There were waffles for breakfast, tea in fancy dresses with a lunch time visit from her godmother (I am kicking myself for not getting a photo of them together.  Elizabeth taught about St. Elizabeth to all six of her classes dressed as St. Elizabeth.  Beautifully epic!), donuts, a necklace and nail polish from Elizabeth, Susan joined us for the requested stroganoff for supper, lots of ipad and wii time and a delicious cake Susan brought.  She went to bed exhausted and happy. It was a good day.

Really though, every day since Halloween has been a good day for her.  Yes, she has been the image of eager anticipation for weeks as she counted down to today.  But just knowing Halloween was over brought an abundance of relief.

Right around the time we were birthday shopping for Tess, she saw some Halloween decor in a store.

"Well," she said with a a sigh of resignation, "Guess I won't be shopping for a while."

I took the bait and asked for the reason why.

"Because of all the creepy stuff." she said.  If she was like her sister or just a leetle older she would have followed it with an "Obviously." and an eye roll.

Oh, riiiiiight!

It was a long month of hood-wearing, eyes-shut stumbling, walking-right-in-front-of-mom-and-in-between-the-shopping-cart trips for groceries and birthday presents.  We praised her for her bravery and thanked the Lord that there were no screaming hysterics this year. She would eagerly offer to stay in the car or stay home as long as she didn't have to go inside a store and chance a large hanging spider or billowing ghosts.

Then she began to notice the yard decor and then she was more than happy to remain house bound.

Her relief on the first of November was palpable and I have heard on numerous occasions, "I'm SOO glad Halloween is over!"

Me, too!  Except that means that the stores are now full out Christmas and that sends me into the same hood-wearing, eyes-shut avoidance.  Can I just stay home 'til it's over?

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It's cold here.  Like freeze your snot cold.  It snowed Monday and our sidewalk has yet to be shoveled because the subzero temps make it hard to breathe and are a danger to your skin.  And after 4 housebound days the crew has caught a nasty case of cabin fever.

Yaaaay, winter.

It makes me pine for warmer days and better times.  Oh, take me back . . .

Sometime in the spring I ran across an ad on Facebook (yes I did.  Ain't no shame.) hawking Rapid Pursuit, an urban adventure race.  It said it was a team competition, family friendly, and could be done running, on bikes or meandering.  It had me at meandering!  There was also mention of challenges that required wit.  What was not to love?!

I sent out a jovial message to the college ladies along the lines of "Wouldn't this be fun?!" wink, wink, nudge, nudge, chortle, chortle.

Let me tell you, I was NOT chortling when Lace called my bluff and wanted to know who was in.  Maybe no one else was available . . . But then Chrisa was available and so was Lace and I had no real excuse so I had to say yes.  HAD to.  Then Chrisa went and registered us and it was official.

I started to sweat about 4 days before the race. My nightmares were haunting.  I'm not exaggerating - I dreamed that one of the challenges required us to hit a baseball and we couldn't move on until we did.  I woke up with my heart racing and wishing I had actually tried in middle school P.E..

The morning of the race, I was sick to my stomach. Problem was, so was Lu.  She puked and puked and puked some more.  There was choking and dry heaves and all sorts of suffering.

I cried.

Lacey and Chrisa said it wasn't a big deal and to worry about my baby.  Jac thought she'd be fine but he wasn't around.  In the end I asked our sitter (the rest of the crew was at the lake) what she thought.  She watched Lu toss her cookies, shrugged her shoulders and cuddled Lu to her.  "We'll be fine, right Lucy?  You go do your thing and get lots of ideas for Totus Tuus.  You deserve this!"  I was torn but I also knew that Rose's dad is a doctor and if anything was off, she was in good hands at their house.

We gathered in Main Street Square with plaid shirts, bandanas and straw hats to fit our Dakota Girls team name.  But the lean bodies with their gps watches and such were all sorts of intimidating.  What had we done?!

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Lace was our team captain and received our packet with map, blindfold and clues.  Team after team ran out of the square while we worked through the clues, hoping our minds would help us out.  Then we were off.

About a block in, I wondered if I would make it out alive.  I didn't want to be the weak link but it wasn't looking good!

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We pulled a sled.  We used a punching bag (AFTER we ripped off 15 push ups but before I humiliated myself by being unable to complete a single sit up, let alone 15.). There was a boat to row around a fountain whilst blindfolded.  We had to fish out rubber duckies and thanked the Lord that Chrisa the math teacher was on our team to add up the duck numbers to get the total we needed.

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Then there was a "secret" challenge.  Everyone gathered about very excited like.  There was an assortment of condiments and a stack of cards.  Pull a card, they said, and eat whatever was on it.

I nearly quit.

Lace pulled a cricket and I got a silk worm. "Try the ranch!" the lady said.  "NOTHING will make this better." I informed her.

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In the end, I opted for chocolate frosting and tried to swallow it as whole as possible.  I only picked worm bits from my teach for a little while . . .

The day was full of fun and laughter.  We had a ball shocking the volunteers who ran the Quarters and Beer Pong stations.  How could we have gone to college and not ever played these games?! Turns out Chrisa is very talented at Quarters. I trusted the girls to lead me blindfolded thru a minefield of dog poo. It wasn't until I was through that it was revealed that it was chocolate pudding.

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And then came the basketball.  Make one basket with a water balloon shot from a sling shot.  10 tries but if we didn't make it, each of us would have to make a basket.

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We didn't make it with the balloons.

And I made shot after shot after shot.  I think I cried and if my face hadn't been sunburned and red from effort, everyone would've seen how mightily I blushed.  My nightmare was coming true.

In the end, the volunteers let us go because they felt sorry for me and my suffering team.  That and we had barely any time to make it back to the starting point.

We ran until I couldn't any more then we'd walk.  Then we'd run again.  We laughed and encouraged each other and dodged in and out of traffic.

I couldn't do it.  We showed up in the square 30 seconds too late.  It was embarrassing and heartbreaking.  I cried then for sure.  I didn't want to let the girls down but I had.

But those sisters of mine?  They hugged me and prayed over me and reminded me that I had had a baby 9 months earlier which was amazing. They really are the best kind of friends.  We laughed some more and divided our chips and vowed that, barring pregnancies or babies, we'd be back again in 2015.  We'd train a little perhaps because 10 miles unprepared is pretty brutal.

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And Lu? She fell asleep shortly after I left her, slept well and ate a large lunch, none the worse for wear.

Rapid Pursuit, it was real fun.  Hope to see you again but let's leave the edible bugs at home, hmmm?  And I'll work on my free throw.  And frisbee toss.  And my baseball skills just to be safe.

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I spent my first Friday mass this morning pondering hidden image pictures.  Don't tell Fr. Mike.

The thing is, I looked upon Max, holding open the prayer book, waiting ever so patiently beside Father while we sang through the 7 verses of the opening hymn and he looked so little.  Could this be the same boy who I couldn't help staring at while I combed the girls' hair because he was soo stinkin' lanky and tall?

Hence the thoughts about hidden images - the ones where you can't be sure if it's a hag or a beautiful woman you're looking at, a frog or a horse, because one moment it's one and the next, the other.

So it is with my man child.  He asks deep and maturing questions yet brings himself to tears of laughter over the newest joke book.  He raps along to Righteous B in the car but plays the theme to Lego Ninjago on the piano.  He craves the independent thrill riding his bike to piano lessons brings yet asks to sit on my lap during prayer.  It's dizzying and good but like those optical illusions, it makes my head ache ever so slightly. I just can't look away.  Who would want to?

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This may come as a surprise, but I'm not a huge fan of facial hair. But Jac can rock a sweet beard so he does and I'm okay with that.  Given the choice, however, I prefer a clean shave.

Lucy on the other hand . . .

"Daddy" to her means a nice full beard that she can pull on or "soft" (that's kid for caress) whenever she likes (often in her sleep when she's stretched out between us). At the end of the summer Jac shaved one day while she and I were out running errands.  When he came out to unload the car, she cried.

Tonight Jac shaved again (probably the first time since the crying episode) and came out to the table with his collar pulled over his nose.  We watched in anticipation of the "big reveal."

"Lucy!  Lu! LU LU!  Look at me!"

She looked around at each of us and laughed.  She pointed at Jac and smiled.  "Da!"

Then the shirt was pulled down and we held our breaths.  Lu's smile melted - I can say I have never seen a person's face fall until tonight. She checked her sibling's reactions and tried not to cry.  Jac tried to get her to touch his face and she pulled back, none to pleased at his assumption that she wanted him that close.

It took 20 minutes or so for her to build up her confidence in him and for his beard to start coming back.  She and I were both relieved, just for different reasons.

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Mama Syd has claimed they look alike from the start! The night we tortured her with this, she promptly ripped the 'stache from her face and tore it in half.  Then she turned towards Jac and spent a minute trying to pull his moustache off, too.