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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.

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I wish I could adequately describe the level of chaos that is usual during "school."

Okay, it's really not that bad but Gemma is just on the cusp of hanging with the big kids (an aside: she is trying so very, very hard to figure out what it means to be her at this moment.  "Mama?  Am I big or little?"  Mama Syd said it perfect when she told her she is smaller than Max and bigger than Lucy, but Gemma's still ironing it all out.) and that means that there is a lot of chair hopping and interruptions and loud whispers and some complaining from her siblings. It also means that there are days that give a sliver of a peek into what I think will be the very near future and that's pretty sweet.

She takes very seriously the job of beginning morning prayer by leading us in the sign of the cross.  She wants the hymnal opened to the right page and wants it to be a song she knows so that she can sing, too.  And sometimes she will join in on our studies at the table in an earnest way.  Today was one of those days.

We are learning about Christianity's arrival in England and life in the Dark Ages.  It was a great moment of pride and encouragement when I wrote "Illuminare" up on the wall and the kids guessed it meant light.  "Manus" meant hands ("Like manos," Max explained) and "scriber" meant write.  But my heart really leapt when I asked what they thought a scriptorium was and without a pause Max said "A room for writing."  He figured it out. Boom.

Anyway, they colored illuminated manuscript letters while I read aloud from our history book. Gemma laid on the table from the waist up, her toes barely reaching the chair behind her.  She scribbled line after line on her page, demanding new colors from her brothers and rolling her artwork to give to me only to take it back to "work some more."  We follow up our reading with questions about the content and, to keep bickering down to a minimum, I usually ask a specific kid a question.

Today I just happened to make eye contact with Gemma while I asked a question.

"Do you remember what they wrote on?"

Several kiddos started to answer but Gemma cut them off.

"Hey!  Stop it, guys!  Mom asked me!" she yelled.

They snickered and I raised my eyebrows.  She glared her frustration at her siblings for a second then turned back to her paper and back towards me.  "I'm ready." she said quietly, purposefully coloring away.

I held back my laughter and smiled while the other kids held their breaths.

"Gemma, do you remember what the monks wrote on?"

She stopped drawing, squinting her eyes in thought and tapping her lips with her pencil.  After a moment of thinking she said, "Yes.  Their bikes."

She went back to writing. The rest of us nearly died from suppressed joy.

The remainder of the morning, the kids kept repeating it to the same response while I pondered if she should have her hearing checked.  "Their bikes . . . " I can't wait to see what tomorrow will bring.

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To be filed under "Do Not Forget!" in the event of future guilt trips and/or the blessing of another baby.

At 11 months and a handful of days, Lucy does not sleep.  It's been this way for a while, actually, but I think her lack of sleep is compounding with my lack of sleep and therefor feels dire.  Overwhelming.  End of the world.

Is it because I boasted while she was an infant that she could sleep anywhere and through anything?  Darn me and my big mouth!

It crept in slowly, and in my sleep deprived state, I didn't have the strength/where-with-all/desire to stop it.  She began to only nurse in our room, door shut, her and I.  Secretly I think it was God's way of giving me a break from the constant NOISE of the house.  Then it was a refusal to fall asleep without nursing.  Or to sleep anywhere that wasn't the swing.  And then anywhere away from me.  That morphed into not falling asleep EVER and

here

we

are.

Ugh.  Mama Syd reminded me this summer that I once said I could handle just about anything as long as I could get them to nap together.  It's true.  Or rather, was true.  I haven't seen synchronized naps in months and I'm still hanging in there.  By a thread, admittedly, but I'm hanging!

It might be an easier pill to swallow if it wasn't for the extreme effort it takes to get her to sleep only to have ANYTHING (*a moth sneezes in a mitten* WAH!!! "Lucy's awake!") wake her up.  I can be driven to hysterics over a stray sunbeam dancing on the crib or someone dropping a water bottle on the way downstairs.  It isn't pretty.

Add to this a five-year-old who, out of sheer willfulness, is constantly exhausted and a toddler who wants to party with said 5-year-old and anyone over 7 who realizes the window a little quiet time can afford for them and mom and there is no silence or rest to be found in this joint.

Excuse me while I drink myself into a stupor . . .

Saturday Jac was away at VSI and the kids and I prepared for an evening of company.  Lucy didn't sleep and wink until she simply ran out of gas at 5 pm.  And it wasn't for a lack of trying!  Anyway, She slept 6 hours straight that night and I woke up Sunday feeling brand new.  It's amazing what a few hours will do for you!  Now if only my kids would learn that . . .

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It's that time of year - we've begun discussing All Saints costumes. It's simultaneously raising and lowering my stress level because, 1. We will now have Lucy's birthday, All Hallow's Eve, All Saints and All Souls in succession forever and ever, amen, and this mom needs a game plan so help me, Jesus! and 2. Is it that time again? When will I find the time to do what needs to be done let alone make friends with the sewing machine again? Wah!  There's a lot of emotions tied up in this . . .

Anyway, I'll leave you in suspense of the decisions that have been made except in Gemma's case.  Lord love her, while everyone else has been hauling out books to research and googling images of their favorite saints, I don't think Gemma really understands what's happening.  At least I didn't think she did.  Then Friday afternoon as everyone was LOUDLY discussing decisions and costumes, Gemma said in a little voice to no one in particular, "Yeah, and I'm gonna be an angel."

"You're gonna be an ANGEL?" I clarified over the din. A few siblings snickered.

"Mm-hmmm." she nodded. "I hungwy.  Who's my Ramen?"

This morning it was my job to get her still damp self ("I'm done with that towel!" followed by, "Mama, I need clothes!  I fweezing!!") into tights and a sweater dress.

"So . . . You want to be an angel for All Saints Day?"

She froze with big eyes.  "Yeah!  I will be an angel and fly, fly, fly up to heaven and I will say, 'Wake up, God!' and he will say, 'Oh, hi, Gemma!  I love you! You're bootiful!' and I am!"  Her brown eyes were big and earnest and brimming with joy. "And I will have wings."

Yes, I laughed.  And cried.  And thanked God for her willowy, spirited, 'bootiful' self all through mass.

An angel she will be.

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IMG_1374Every day, without fail, 11 pm rolls around and I am an entirely different woman.  I think it's important that I use that word - entirely - seeing as it has "tire" right in the middle and surely that contributes greatly to the change.  So yes, I'm tired but at 11 the house is finally quiet enough that I can think.  I can see and hear all of my many transgressions and shortcomings as a wife and mother and I sift through them carefully.

I shouldn't have snapped at Tess like that.

I should've really listened to Philip tell me about Minecraft.

I should've let Gemma splash in the bubbles/cut up the paper/have a third breakfast.

I can see and hear my children for who they really are and who they are trying to be, too.  The quiet at  11 pm allows for reflection and feelings and a soft and forgiving heart, at least towards them.

This 11 pm woman stands in stark contrast to the 11 am lady of the house.  At 11 am I am frantic and frazzled.   Usually I'm still trying to force us towards some semblance of forward motion.  I am exasperated, over-whelmed, short-tempered and rough tongued.  It is me, most often, at the edge of my worst.

And the 12 hours in between? Those are spent worrying about what is next and how to herd this passel of cats in that direction.  I am distracted and half-present, standing 50% in this moment and 50% in the next.

I like to think that the knowledge of this dual (triple?  Lord, help me!) personality is some sort of victory.  That the awareness of the difference will actually add up to some real change one day.  Most nights, after my hand-wringing and totaling up the cost of future therapy for each of my children, I make a resolution.  I promise myself that tomorrow will be better.  I'll remember to be that 11 pm mom.  I'll look them in the eye and say more yeses and fewer nos.  I'll remind myself that life isn't a race and that our days aren't dictated by anyone but us and our needs.  I'll forgive more, help more, love more.  I will be wiser, gentler, kinder.  And I will speak encouragement and hope - yes, abundant hope because that's the gift 11 pm wants so badly to give to that same hour in the am.

Hope!  It will be there tomorrow.  Let the woman I am then find it.

Tess turned eight last week.

Eight!

The day before was filled with extreme emotions because doggone it! growing up is so very hard.

She’s been stretching, this girl of ours.  Physically, yes, as her ever-present ankles can attest, but interiorly, too.  It began sometime in Lent as we began to prepare for her first Confession.  More than the boys had been, she was concerned and nervous and worried about getting it right.  Someday, I hope she will see how the Lord took such very good care of her because Fr. Christensen with all of his joy and bon vivre announcing with certainty that right then, right there in Cathedral after First Friday Mass, they should go to the confessional and ‘take care of it’ was perfect. No time to fret or worry, just dive right in.  Lordy, did that stretch us all!

After that hurdle, it was straight to what she would wear for her first communion and many sleepless nights (for both of us) wondering if the dress would get made.  The sewing machine and fabric was packed up for our trip to California and while she rested and swam and played and partied, I dove into the dress making process.  Thankfully, Mama Syd tamed the zipper and we arrived home with just days to spare and the dress was mostly  made.  And it even fit our growing girl!

She was overwhelmed with excitement and nerves the afternoon leading up to the Mass.  She was quiet and fidgety, turning pale as the time drew near.  "I'm just so excited!" she whispered to me with the tiniest of smiles. "I can't believe I'm going to receive Jesus and I want to do it right!"  TFr. Hofer presided at a gloriously beautiful Mass

The brand new Fr. Hofer presided at a gloriously beautiful Mass.  He preached (and sang!) a lovely homily about his own first communion in this same church.  He spoke with surety, love, and zeal while our girl looked small at the end of the pew.  But at the appointed time, she went up with courage and grace and received the gift of Our Lord.  "I didn't mess up!" she whispered again while she beamed.  Her relief was palpable.

This girl of ours is an extrovert through and through and measures love by the number of faces she sees.  It being the week of the ordinations and Fr. Hofer’s first Mass at Cathedral, we were sure that many of those we love best would be otherwise occupied with one of the many receptions. When it began to storm as she dressed and we prepared, Tess turned white and we prayed hard for the South Dakota hardiness to prevail.  Please, oh please, Lord, let someone show up!  He is always faithful and again provided in abundance. The Wittes came over and prepped the food for us.  Upon our return home, we were greeted at the door by a Sister and found the living room filled with others.  Rachel showed up later with Sister Refuge of Sinners and the lot of them laughed and visited and lit up the place in general.  Her godfamily came all the way from Brookings and doted on her the way only they know how. Friends came in and all the food was eaten and there was enough noise and chaos to make Tess happy for weeks.

We pray hard for this girl.  For her to know her beauty and for us to embrace her enthusiasm.  We pray for moderation, too, and for continued boundless love for our Lord.  He loves her so! May we love her as intensely as her growing body needs. We are so very glad she's ours.

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Do you say "Two Thousand Fourteen" or, the correct way, "Twenty Fourteen?"  Just wondering . . . .

Anywho, we took THE fall pictures today.  It meant cancelling plans, scrounging outfits, traveling with 3 sickies (Luce and Gemma are down for the count.  Praying they don't get it as bad as Jac.), and naps in the car but IT WAS WORTH IT.

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I woke up at 4:15 last night to Jac's violent shivering and moaning.  "I'm so cold!" he whispered as he radiated heat.  I so wanted to panic or throw a tantrum because I just don't do him being sick very well.  So I was leery when, between great bouts of coughing, he suggested heading up to the canyon today.  He heard my protestations and countered them with, "Yeah, I know, but it's supposed to be cloudy and it's only going to get hotter and I don't know if the leaves will hold." Spoken like a true photog.

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But first he had some work.  It would only take an hour and thirty.

Tess chose the color scheme and picked out outfits.  Every year it happens that it's the first time we are donning fall clothes and so it's pretty piece-meal and things tend not to fit so well.  Good Lord, Philip looked to be waiting for a flood.  I literally stuffed Lucy into her clothes.  I changed 3 times and thought I was destined for a fourth when Lucy made a nice snot trail on my hem.  You can only guess at the relief I felt when I realized I had put the dress on inside out (then buttoned it!  I have skills . . .) so I could still wear it!

So it has come to this . . .

The kids had cheered when we announced the plan for the day and had been busy and dedicated to make it happen.  By the time they leapt from the car, they were giddy and full of memories.

IMG_5947"There it is!  THERE IT IS!"

"Can I go across the bridge first?"

"Was Lucy with us last year?" Not yet. "Oh!  It must've been Gemma we fought over who was going to carry her . . . "

"It's Lucy's first time!"

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It was beautiful even though the promised clouds were absent and it was darn warm.  We struggled to get the crew to calm down, to not make faces (Max) or pose weird (Tess) and to keep their hands to themselves (Ellie and Lucy).  The riotous laughter set Jac on edge and the inability of the kids to follow his posing directions just about pushed him over.  But we persevered!  Hurray for fortitude!

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To remember -

Max.  Wow, has this kid grown since last year.  He wouldn't stop with the crazy poses and faces, much to his father's frustration.  Jac was trying to catch me walking and Max ran up with his  goofy face and bunny ears.  I think it might be my favorite of us - that as a middle schooler he still can be silly with his mom.  We couldn't coax a true smile out of him for anything.  And when I suggested he walk out on a tree over the creek he didn't hesitate.

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Philip, the boy with the legs, had the most memories about the place and noted several times the beauty of it all.  He requested, too, a return trip in the spring to paint it.  Oh, his creative heart!  He pasted a smile on and I don't think he took it off until we were done.  Again, we couldn't get a natural, real expression for anything.  He wore his Shoe-Wings because they are him and I love that they are forever captured.  He was not so brave at first but came around and balanced like a pro over the stream.

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Tess was the resident Boy Scout with her many and sundry accessories- be prepared!  She took great care to provide lip gloss for her sisters and was always thinking two steps ahead of us.  She's turned into a bit of a bean pole and her skirt kept slipping askew.  She found her spot and, placing hand on hip, shoulder toward the camera, said, "Like this, Mama?"  She's a pro even though not knowing her right from her left made instructions tricky.  She decorated everyone's hair with leaves and was desperate to weave them into wreaths for crowns.

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Ellie.  Ellie, Ellie, Ellie. Why I thought a cream dress was safe, I don't know.  By the time we got to the photo op, she had 3 large spots of 2 different food items on her front.  Thank ya, Jesus, for baby wipes.  And the boots- again, they are all her.  She tried out several smiles for me while we waited on the camera.  "Which smile should I use, Mama?  This one?  Or like this?  Or this one.  It's different from this one."  Oh, my heart.  And she never complained about Lucy pulling her hair and that's saying something.

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Poor Gemma did not want to wake up after we had arrived, but she was a trooper.  She came alive at the mention of lipstick and she quietly took everything in.  We lined them all up to throw leaves and we explained the whys and hows and she nodded and agreed.  And ev-er-y time, she held onto her leaves.  Jac would explain again what we were asking of her but she continued to smile coyly and hold tight to her leaves.  She acted the same with her portrait but for as tired and yucky as she felt, she did great.

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Lucy survived her first shoot very well.  She was dragged about by her siblings and suffered through a REALLY tight skirt and a hot turtle neck with minimal complaints.  She sampled leaves and dug in the gravel.  She tested her voice in the woods and thought it sounded fine.  And, much to her father's delight, she smiled when she was supposed to.

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Another one for the ages

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Haiku for Lu
Tired baby girl,
Wrestling is not your job.
Please just go to sleep.

Chores
It doesn't matter
When we wake up
'Cuz chores drag on 'til eleven
Some days I yell,
Some days I scream,
Lord I pray there are no chores in heaven.

Repeat
Mama can I have my paci?
No.
Mama can I have my paci?
No.
Mama can I have my paci?
Mama can I have my paci?
Mama can I have my paci?
No.

Sick
Garlic, Advil, Vitamin C
Mucinex, Claritin, oh poor me!
Fluids, rest, a handful of pills
Please let something work on these ills!
Shivering, sniffling, coughing up ick,
Life feels extra hard when Jac gets sick.

Haiku for Lu 2
Someday you will know
Glorious sleep through the night
And I will rejoice

Monday
Not the dog
Cup spilled in the hall
Sisters fighting
Daughters yelling
Feet dragging
Saturdays eggs still in the pan
Sent to rooms
Chores undone
Letters mailed
Tears cried
Escape to the library
Chasing Gemma
Then Lu
Not a game
No password for the card
Unchecked books at the car
Lawnmower won't start
Lose it off the back of the van
Rude neighbor
Good news
Gemma helps
Big kids read
Lucy destroys
Frozen songs
Chicken soup
Scout meeting
Sonic Run
Cartoon before bed
Monday

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

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

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

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Aaaaaand we're back.

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

Ta-daaaa!!! We're baaaack!

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

Hurrah!

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

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

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