On walking and waking together

I was just a month past my teens and freshly turned twenty, sixteen long years ago.  He’d won my heart years before, when I wasn’t even old enough to drive a car.  Against all odds, we were still an inseparable pair and despite the long distance of college, he asked me to share the rest of life with him.  I asked him first if he’d asked my dad (he had!) and then I said yes.  A few weeks later we went on a walk with a friend and her camera and she snapped this photo:

The beginning of the journey

A year of planning and dreaming and anticipating what life together would look like.  Quiet walks and plenty of time to talk.  Coffee dates whenever we pleased and the occasional jump into the lake on a sun-setting summer night.  Both with two years of university remaining, we studied hard, worked hard and served hard on staff part time at church.  Money in short supply but not lacking in the burning-with-love-for-each-other- department.  Oh the waiting, it felt like we would never make it to that altar!

It was easy.  The saying yes.  The beginning of the journey.  That uncharacteristically warm summer May afternoon with 427 people sitting watching.  Its the staying in yes that isn’t the easy part.  No one tells you that.  Years without babies with hearts full of ministry life then the years with babies, one after another.  The quaint little college apartment with organized everything gave way to a cute and crowded condo by the lake which gave way to the darling rambler where we would welcome our fifth baby blessing on our bedroom floor on a cold February evening.

There were scars by then.  The kind you see, that tell of a body swollen beyond capacity time and again.  And the kind you don’t see, the ones that tell of losses and disappointments that rend the heart all sorts of broken.  There were all the months I spent sure that no other married ones who loved Jesus this much could possibly find life this hard.  Whatever of “happily ever after”?

Just when it seemed the heart was plum full and how could I possibly learn to love more, deeper, softer….there was always more.  Room for more.  Growing, changing, forgiving, learning, CHOOSING.  It was always that that was hardest for me.  That it wasn’t always going to feel lovely and beautiful.  It was going to be a falling apart mess sometimes and I would always have to choose.  Choose to be steadfast.  Choose to forgive.  Choose to stay present.  Choose to love extravagantly.  All in the midst of a culture that says marriage isn’t forever and I should do what makes me feel good, despite the cost.

I booked a babysitter days ago, chose the nicest restaurant in our country town for us to share dinner and anticipated what two hours off alone together would be like.  Life is full and loud and some face time is such a rare gift.  Just five hours before our to-be anniversary dinner I heard these infamous words “I think I’m going to throw up mom!”  And I dropped everything, ran to the kitchen and ushered her to the bathroom.  I cancelled the sitter and texted the sad news of our dashed dinner plans.  An hour later as Finn joked about “choking up” as he calls it, and playing with the bowls I had put out, he turned sheet white and lost his lunch all over the kitchen floor.  The hubby texted back and offered to pick up dinner and I mopped up nastiness one batch after another.

He brought take out and we sat on the back deck so we could eat sans vomit-smell.  Liberty kept us company and we mused about our state of affairs while eating out of a box with plastic forks.

We exchanged gifts, which was hysterical because we both shopped at Costco for each other, obviously because the boxes were identical.  We agreed on many accounts but especially this…the sharing of the journey, in all its imperfection and mess, the walking together instead of alone, the waking up in the same bed with the same person day after day after day…it is profoundly precious.  It is not overrated.  It is nothing less than amazing in all its “ordinary-ness”.

As I took bites of food on the deck in between rounds of running in to empty full puke-bowls, I could only smile.  This is it.  This is real life.  This is our life.  An unexpected end to our fifteenth wedding anniversary to be sure.  But then most of our life together has been unexpected and beyond what I’d dreamed of.  I could not ask for a better someone to share it all with.  Our walks may be slower and louder these days, but they are rich and brimming with love and laughter and all sorts of sweetness we are crazy thankful for.

walking together_2


All in the family

One of the challenges that I’d never really thought much about that we would face as our family grew was that we would have choices to be made about what sorts of things we would say yes to outside the things we do at home.  Not that we spend our days here in a bubble not engaging with the outside world.  Not at all so.  We love having a steady stream of people here for one thing or another.

Some of our friends are highly involved and committed to year around sports.  While for certain families this works great, it also has the potential to fragment the family quite a bit.  Dinners together are the exception instead of the rule.  The costs for kids who move beyond recreation-level sports are into the many hundreds of dollars per season.  However, even for just 6 weeks of YMCA level, “for fun” soccer for our kids it would have cost us almost $500.

When one child excels in a sport, it’s easy to get excited and put others on the sidelines (literally and figuratively).  We’ve watched this play out just this past year in fact.  It is harder than I’d have guessed to find things that a family with several children can be involved in together.

Two years ago this fall we happened upon a county wide 4-H meeting near us.  We stopped and talked with each club leader for any animals we were interested in.  The commitment levels varied a great deal.  The personality and “feel” of the groups did as well.  We still lived in our tiny rambler with our five children, mostly quite happily.  We had chickens and a dog and a cat.  We were far from anything that resembled any sort of country, agricultural life.  But we signed up anyway.  Figuring we could just learn about animals, make some friends and have some fun.

We had no idea what we were in for.  We spent that first year learning all sorts of interesting things about dairy goats.  But better than that we made some great friends.  Grown up ones as well as kid ones.  Each of our children were challenged to give presentations to the group.  Learning to stand up in front of your peers and share about something is such a helpful lifelong skill.

When we had the opportunity to move part way through that year we found ourselves living at the end of an unmaintained county road with a small pasture already in place.  And it happened to be just about kidding season.  Three baby goats quickly found their way to our little family farm and into our hearts.

Of course fair season is the culmination of the 4-H year.  We didn’t really “get” that the first year.  Last year we showed up at one small community fair and had a ball.  This year we did the same fair (pictures below!) but had anticipated all year long that we would do the Big One.  The full Monty of the fair world around these parts.  But it requires its own post which I promise to work on this week.  For now, here are some snapshots of us enjoying our time at Silvana together.  Even just a one-day, all day event for seven people isn’t a small affair….but it was insanely fun for all of us.  Finn included!

Finn getting ready to take on the show ring with the Tiny Tots
Audrey getting Little Su ready
Finn and Kodiak
Audrey and Little Su in the ring
Finn showing Kodiak
Finn with the (lovely) judge
Kyler with Posey
Caleb with Wyatt
Rylee with Blanchette
the lineup!
lovin' us some cousins who came to watch!
our little goat show-girl
the fantastic Finn
sweetest Kyler face ever
going for a sno-cone run
taking a snooze wearing his show ribbon - hard work wrangling goats when you're two!

Farm baby

It’s been exactly one year since we moved out here. Since I told the kids this bedtime story.  To the big yellow house at the end of the road.  The one I’d bookmarked as a “dream” on my computer that for a year I would compare every other house to and come up lacking.  The one with space for kids to run and gardens to grow and goats to graze.  The one with the “revolving” front door that welcomes a couple dozen people on a weekly basis.  Not into perfection or Martha Stewart life but into our mess.   On our knees as we scrubbed blueberries out of the off-white carpet two weeks ago, he said to me with a smile “You know, not too many places could withstand this…”.  True.  But that’s our life in a picture….loving people and blueberry stained carpet instead of pristine spaces and no one to share them with.

I don’t know when I won’t drive down our county road and not marvel at the mountains God moved to get us here.  Hopefully never.  Forgetting the goodness is a such critical piece of what makes me forget to be thankful.

There have been countless “firsts” here.  Today was our first farm picnic next to a big John Deere tractor:


And the first time we watched posts get slammed into the ground for our fence:


As well as the first time I caught all five of our kids on a tractor…


But the favorite first of all is this one:


First farm baby, due mid-September!


Someday my couch will have all its cushions on it and it will not perpetually look like this:

Someday my kitchen counters will actually feel smooth when I run my hands across them, they might actually be clean for more than 5 minutes.

Someday there will not be a giant pile of dirties next to my washer, there will be no muddy little people to accumulate said dirties.

Someday there will be quiet and calm here.

Someday the kids bathroom won’t smell like pee.

Someday I will have the time to sit and drink whole cups of coffee before they are cold.

Someday there won’t be a shoe around every single corner or permanent marker art on my wood floor.

Someday I won’t shop at Costco anymore or buy 500 pounds of beef at one time.

Someday I will (maybe) think about my outfits, my style and actually wear something not from Costco or the Goodwill – and it will stay clean on me for the whole day.

Someday I won’t find my hairbrush in the toilet because there will be no one here who would think to put it there.

Someday I will go for long walks, have time for daily Pilates and have time to exercise.

Someday I might drive a small, zippy, efficient vehicle.

Someday I will go weeks without uttering phrases like “show kindness please” and “take the craziness outside”.

Every season at least once, I ponder what my days will look like in a few years time.  How this place will change and how different the issues and challenges will be that we each face.  This season of training many littles is exhausting.  But I am foolish to think that someday I won’t miss the loud, chaotic, crazy LOVE that spills from this home.  Oh yes, love will still live here.  But it won’t look the same, sound the same or feel quite the same as having my brood here, under my roof.  So every morning I wake up and remind myself to live in the moment that is today – my chance to impact and imprint upon real, live people is today.  Tomorrow is never guaranteed.

Honestly every day I am ridiculously thankful for my present, for my today.  From the outside looking in I know it may seem nuts, this life, this way that we walk.  And that’s okay.  I would not trade it for any convenience, any comfort, any dose of ‘easy’.  The riches are immeasurable,

Finding order – with a houseful of kids

Yes, I realize that five kids between 18 months and 9 years of age is not a houseful to some, but it is to most.  And I most certainly have felt a big pull to make some strides in the area of organization and planning our days to work better.  When we moved this spring I thought I had this great chance to implement 52 grand ideas on ‘how-we-can-do-things-better’.  Turned out we actually had this great chance to clean out, give away and somehow survive moving.  That was about it.  And it was plenty.

I emailed a few veteran mama friends towards the end of May.  We were (barely) crawling to the finish line and may or may not have finished our grammar work before calling it ‘summer’.  My email went something like this:

I have a lot of small people at my house.  I love them.  They are messy and loud and imperfect (darn it!).  I am feeling pretty overwhelmed.  I want to be able to manage my home better, spend more time doing fun stuff with my kids, train them to help more efficiently and effectively and to PUT THINGS AWAY AFTER GETTING THEM OUT.

So those may be the main bullet points but in reality my honest email was much longer and was a plea for some direction, inspiration and encouragement.  This stage with young ones is just plain hard.  No way around it only one way, through.  I trudged forward and packed our years school materials away for summer and took a deep breath.  There was so much I loved and I am ever so thankful to get to have them with me instead of sending them off every morning.

There were several approaches to getting organized but some basic principles, that I’d seen pay great dividends even when I merely dabbled in them, continued to surface as I searched for ideas and help.  Themes like:

  • get up before your kids and get ready for your day before it gets away from you
  • assign chores to your children, stick with the same ones so they get in a groove and do them well – to learn a good work ethic, everyone needs to learn to help out
  • expect EXCELLENCE – show them what a good job looks like and challenge them to greatness
  • children thrive on structure and routine, it makes them feel safe
  • mom’s need to model discipline and self-control (and sitting on the couch/computer/facebook on a smart phone/etc need serious boundaries)
  • one can schedule and still cultivate free play, creativity and other lovely things (I did not know this, really!)

Early June I wrote a friend (who I knew was struggling in the same ways) and suggested we read and brainstorm how we could plan better and make our life at home with our kids run more smoothly.  She said a quick yes.  We read and made lists and bounced ideas off each other and our husbands and made more lists.  Our goal was to, by summer’s end, have a workable schedule for our entire days during the (home)schooling year.  We would meet up late August and spend a few hours (celebrating her birthday) and hashing out all the details to form our many lists and thoughts into a master family schedule.

Today was the big day.  We woke with the sun and I drove a long ways while she took a ferry across the water to get to our meeting place.  After a hearty breakfast we broke out the gelly roll pens, the mechanical pencils, the plethora of lists, big erasers and a lot of determination.  We spent hours working and planning (and talking).  I think I drank 4 cups of coffee and 6 glasses of ice water and 2 mugs of tea.

We interrupted each other a few dozen times and erased what we’d written more times than that.  Though this part seemed hard, it was easy compared to the work ahead.  We have patterns that need changing, habits that need breaking and it won’t be a piece of cake for sure.  In a few weeks, I’ll be sure to post again and update on how the implementation all went down.  I expect it to be more than rocky.  But we will persevere and adjust when needed.  For now, we’re soaking in these summer days and spending every extra minute at the fair and in the sun!

The best question asker

Rylee.  She is uniquely wired to ask more than the average amount of questions.  While this does pose a patience-challenge sometimes, it is a wonderful quality and I do my best to affirm it.  Every now and then I do ask for a ten minute question-asking timeout.  To which she usually asks “Why?” and I have to laugh.

This morning while we had breakfast together before church we got to talking about Finn and she was saying how he was too cute and we were gushing over him as we tend to.  We talked about how glad we were that he’d been given to our family. The lingo we use whenever we talk about children is always intentional and always positive.  So it was natural for her to frame her question the way she did, but it still surprised me:

If God gives a baby to someone and they didn’t really want to have kids, then what happens?

Um, wow.  She is only 8 and though we’ve talked abortion in broad terms I didn’t really want to go there in our short time at the breakfast table.  She actually asked the question in regards to someone we know that recently got married.  And they do want kids, I made sure she knew that.

But still, the question loomed and was such a big one.  I stumbled for words as I ate my pancakes and told her that maybe people might not think they did but once they’d been given a new life to love, they might change their minds.  This prompted a whole new thread of thought for her, and more questions. I told her:

Well, just like animals get surgery (like our cat and dog did) so that they don’t have babies, people can do the same thing.  And to be honest, after Kyler was born we thought our family was full and perfect.  We really did.  But God spoke deeply to my heart and to daddy’s.  We listened.  He told us that His plans for our family were different than ours.  If we had said ‘no thank you’ to what He was asking of us, you wouldn’t have the sister you prayed for.  And we wouldn’t have squishy, smiling Finny here today.  Can you even imagine?

She said no way!  And I agreed, I can’t imagine.  Though there are chaotic moments, the bottom line is we are abundantly grateful for the path we’re on and the way God has shaped our family.

What I wish I’d said but thought about later was the way that God grows and opens our hearts if we let Him.  I really didn’t think there was room for more little people for me to love in my very early years of mothering.  But the most amazing things happen when Love abides in an open heart.  Though I run out of love regularly, the Love Giver Himself is always overflowing with more than I could ever need.

That love is amazing, unwavering and extravagant.  And it is always, always enough.



How to surprise yourself

On a mundane Monday morning after a week of the hubby being with family 24/7 for his vacation, ponder how you can get some more time with him because, well, you miss him already.

Text beloved babysitter to see if she can babysit Friday night for a date night.  Grin when she says yes.  Vow to not tell hubby and surprise him.

Promptly erase calendar and start with next weeks date just to be efficient.

Brim thankfulness for a mother who offers out of the blue to watch all kids but the baby for a half a day so the mama can get life/home/self ready for the new homeschool year.

Spend nap times and night times organizing, planning, mapping out how to make one favorite quote from Charlotte Mason about education become reality:

Education is atmosphere.

Shop and think and rearrange and prepare.  Rearrange again.

Get lost in the details of everyday life.  Clean up spit up 8 times every day.  Feed small, hungry army.  Ponder why one child is not coping with life well this week.

Wake early on aforementioned Friday after broken and little sleep.

Wish I drank full caffeinated coffee.  Or Red Bull.  Or something.  Settle for home brewed Kombucha instead.

Ready kids to go with Nana.  Slightly embarrassed at the state the minivan, apologize for the mess.

Ready self to paint a large family/school room in 4 hours with a baby to tend to and a 7 year old enlisted at the last minute to help.

Work crazy hard and come close to finishing when kids rush back in the front door.

Chat with hubby throughout the work day.  Plan on taco tostadas for dinner.  Start cooking.

Still wearing jammies (now deemed ‘painting jammies’) from last night and smelling a lot less than fresh after the days labors, cook dinner, hold baby and supervise crew as husband rolls in.

Quietly think about how to get the paint dog paw prints off the carpet.  Wonder why she had to walk through the paint tray instead of around it.

Smile proud when he sees the paint job (anything was better than the key lime green he’s pleasantly put up with for two years now).

He dons pj pants and grabs a paint brush to pick up the rest of the job.

Puzzled at a dinner time door knock, figure its a neighbor and head to door in jammies with babe in arms.

A babysitter.  OUR babysitter.  But why I ask myself?  I look inquisitive and wonder.

She sees my confusion and asks, “Did you forget?”

Yes.  I completely, totally forgot my ‘surprise’.  And in the most delightful way, managed to plan my very own surprise date night, for myself.  Truly, I could not have pulled it off if I’d tried.

I holler that she’s here and say “Throw some clothes on, let’s go!”.  We all laugh, a lot.

“Hope you like tacos!” I quip to our sweet sitter.  I ask how she is and eyes well instantly, “Not so great…”.  All the kids hover in the kitchen and though my better judgement says don’t subject her to a hug give my jammie-clad-smelly state, I can’t do anything but.  Baby Finn gets squished pleasantly and I apologize for being sweaty.  Plain old, pure love may not always smell good, but it always feels good.

We clean up quick, the four-days-since-getting-washed hair stays in a pony tail.  The green paint stain I can’t get off my arm remains. No time for makeup or anything really, we hightail it to the restaurant where we have a great coupon I’ve been saving, you know, for this well-planned date night.

I giggle.  And we relish the time.  We talk goals and ideas for the new year at hand.  He makes sense of what I can’t figure out.  Love how he can do that when I just let him.

Daily snapshot

Last week I glanced around and realized someday I’m not going to remember this moment.  So many little moments combine themselves to make each day and lack of sleep leaves me foggy at best many days.  I’m usually thinking of the next thing that needs to be done or even the next five things that need doing.  It’s hard for me to slow down enough to enter into simple, sweet moments with my children.  But I am certain that the times I do are what make okay days into great days or bad days into tolerable ones.

So I grabbed my camera and took just one picture of my five all just doing what they do one rainy morning in June:

I realize its not going to win any awards in photo journalism.  Totally fine with me.  I just want to remember the candid, messy moments that I know are fleeting and will give way to grown children sooner than I’d like.  I loved it so much, just looking at it later that night, pondering all the little nuances of it, that I might do it every week.  Just aim to capture them all living out their sweet days doing what they do….

  • Phineas in his bouncy, where he only likes to be if there are siblings busy around to watch and listen to
  • Boys reading in their zones on the couch, careful not to cross the ‘middle line’ of the book pile
  • Toys on the floor
  • Rylee getting books for her little sis then sitting to read to her
  • what a nice chance it is for me when they are all happy like this to grab a cup of coffee or change the laundry real quick!

Today as I thought about this picture and just the idea that time will just keep on moving and its up to me how I spend it, I opted to play UNO with the 7 year old who has asked me to play every day for 5 days.  I built a lego duplo set with the 3 year old who was lonely in her room and needed help.  It doesn’t really matter that UNO drives me nuts, his whole face lit up when he beat me, fair and square.  And listening to Audrey explain the exciting lives of the lego horses to me, pretty sure it was the sweetest thing I’ll hear all day.

Entertaining with children

I have read many a lovely blog posts about this topic and they are often inspiring and wonderful even if they feel out of reach.  Before Phineas was born I told Christopher we ought to plan to have a meal in the crock pot every Sunday and have someone come home from church with us to eat lunch.  He said that sounded great.  I wasn’t sure just everyone would WANT to come eat at our house with our large brood but we could at least offer right?

I figured we’d have a few weeks off for getting settled with baby (our fifth, how hard could it be?) and then implement my new idea.  Ha!  Who knew we’d still be settling in after 10 weeks and that life had basically stood still since he was born, certainly not me.  I kept trying to pull it together to just get dinner for my own family on the table until he was over 6 weeks old-and even then it wasn’t normal dinner fare.  The mere thought of having people over didn’t even enter my mind.

Last weekend we hosted a birthday party with 20 people here, it went off without a hitch except for the pretty-close-to-bonafide panic attack I had the night prior.  Couldn’t stop my head from shaking and twitching or find my breath when I needed it.  The only way it came together was what I think is the pillar of hosting parties, dinners or anything when you have small children:

EVERYONE has to pitch in and help.  EVERYONE has to be on board with having people over and wanting them to feel welcome and at home.

So, we all pulled up our bootstraps and doled out tasks for kids and did the hard work needed to get ready for a crazy gathering that would leave adults outnumbered by children once again.  This can be fun or totally un-fun.  It really is up to the mom and dad and their attitude toward the work.  If we act like its a good time then somehow our kids are stumped into thinking the same, 90% of the time.  Unless your name is Kyler and then you’d just really, really prefer not to work, ever.  If you were Kyler you might offer to trade a stuffed animal for someone else to do your work.  Or a pen.  Or a coloring book.  Or some money.  But not chocolate, never chocolate.

Easy meals that kids actually like is also part of our scheme for successful dining with kids and company.  If I’m going to try a new lentil stew recipe, when guests are here isn’t the time for it.  Sticking with a favorite is always easier.  Yesterday it was chicken tetrazzini.  Not my healthiest meal by any means, but certainly one that everyone is pleased to devour.

While doing what you can to make things go smoothly, there is always the chance that your day will be a disaster and you’ll be left wanting to cancel 20 minutes before your friends are due to arrive.  That was yesterday.  By 10 AM,  I’d been royally insulted and called a liar.  By noon I was in tears in my room after correcting the same behavior for the thousandth time, just sure that no one listened to anything I said.  By 3 PM I had decided my kids should just go to school because I obviously wasn’t doing any paramount job of raising and teaching them at home given the happenings of the previous 8 hours (every March or April I wind up thinking that at least once!).

By 5:30, dinner was made and cooking but everyone was fighting and I sat in my bed with the baby and cried.  Ten minutes before our guests arrived, Daddy got home, found me in my falling apart state and said our friends were here (this was the first time we’d had them in our home for dinner).

I took deep breaths in the bathroom and tried to make my eyes look less red. I wished I could present perfectly behaved children, mopped floors and a gourmet meal.

If I was really honest, I just wished I had more control over everything.

But alas, I do not.  I could not.  All I could offer was my less than clean home, my children who’d had a crummy day, my slightly burnt dinner (can’t hear the timer going off in my bedroom!), floors covered with dog hair…


a heart that loves people, hands that love cooking for others and the desire to be the me that I am today instead of the me that I would like to be or think I ought to be.  Even if that me is totally not put together.  I’d prayed that we could be a blessing and encourage our friends, which is always my heart when we have people in our home. Being the imperfect, real people we are is the best way to do that.  Even when it’s humbling and hard.

Loving others in the midst of mess, bad days and limitations is better than not loving at all.

Daddy time

One of the hardest adjustments, even two years into the ‘new’ job, is the change in flexibility, length of work days and the loss of the 4 weeks of vacation a year.  However grateful we are for steady work, as with all things, there are challenges.  One of the greatest has been still maintaining family time and carving out the individual time each of our kids needs with us.  Lately I’ve been hearing a lot more of “When’s my time with dad?” and “I can’t wait for the daddy daughter dance” (which incidentally isn’t till next fall!).  So despite being a very weary 9 months pregnant, it was clear this needed to be pulled to the front burner right away.

Caleb and his dad spent Saturday afternoon discovering the adventure of letter-boxing.  It proved a tremendously fun activity for them both.  And the girls spent a long while getting dressed up and doing their hair for a nice dinner out with their daddy.  They were beaming as they took off with him and came home with their little love tanks quite filled up.  I’m so worn out from the weekend that we’re having to take the day off school and I’ve not moved from the couch nearly all morning (and I might still be in my pj’s)…but it was worth it!