We may not have clean fingernails…

…but we sure know how to catch frogs.

and we can gently hold a bee flower for a long time and watch its tiny parts move

we love to share frogs with our little sis

and dig for carrots in the garden then peel them for Mama

and disappear with baby brother to snuggle him in a chair while Mama cooks

and delight in setting tea tables with mom’s wedding china and a flannel pillow case for a table cloth (can you see the flower petals they put in the sugar cubes?!?)

and share…because what else can you do when there are five kids in this cozy place?

# 501 – 508 on my thankful list this week

Time for lovely

Yesterday afternoon the boys were playing and the girls asked to have a tea party.  Rylee found a little pad of paper and wrote down their order and handed it to me.  Usually she runs her own tea party but this time she wanted to be waited on.  I could have told her I wasn’t a waitress (it’s been said before!) but instead I told them to wait at their table.  I donned my grandma’s old ruffled apron and rummaged around finding snacks and crystal bowls (that haven’t been used in years) and my wedding china.

It was the end of the week so options were slim for food but I decided it was more about presentation.  Rice crackers in a beautiful glass dish with a lid would be perfect.  I used the tray they’d set out for me and filled it up with fun things.

Oh their delight when they saw me in my apron at their door with a tray full of love!

It doesn’t come natural to me, this slowing down, but oh the sweetness that comes when I do.  And my goodness are children ever so good at helping me practice this discipline!

Homeschool: What we’ve loved this year

**I just found this in my drafts from JUNE! – I’ll post it anyways even though my next post about what we’re doing for school this year is just about finished.  And ps – I’m technically NOT out of the new baby fog – he still gets up every two hours!**

As I come out of the new baby fog and am fresh from an all day trip to the local homeschool convention, there is oh-so-much I could say about this.  But I’ll keep my focus narrow and just share some of the things we’ve most loved this year in our home learning.

  • Freedom to work at the pace each child needs in each subject area – this piece is core to our reasons for homeschooling.  While kids have worked through reading at lightning bolt speed, math has been slower and more challenging.
  • Time to read and be read to – every single day.  When we’re able to get most of our focused work time done early in the day (always the goal) each child has the freedom to read their own choice of quality books.  In fact as I type this Caleb just interrupted me and said:
    “Did you know that the water they are traveling over in my book right now is fathoms deep?  They are crossing the Atlantic with three ships none of which have been destroyed but they did lose valuable equipment.”  He’s reading a biography of Captain John Smith and is absolutely captivated.
  • Time outside.  Especially with boys, coop them up indoors for days in a row and its a sure recipe for craziness.  They thrive on meaningful work (read: not loads of busywork and worksheets), outdoor time and the chance to be physical.  I’m still learning how to do this but our days at home offer again a great deal of freedom to figure it out.
  • Relationships – though our kids of course argue and bicker as any kids do, all in all they are forging amazing relationships with one another and with me.  I know we could still facilitate this if they were gone all day, but its simply easier to do when we’re together most days.
  • Practical life skills – once we’re done with our work (which takes a lot less than a 7 hour school day for many reasons) we can learn to preserve food, we tend our garden and harvest veggies, we catch bugs and marvel at them, we learn how to read recipes and help prepare dinner, we try our hand at various crafts like sewing, knitting and woodwork, we write letters to friends and family, we get out art supplies and make beautiful things, we snuggle up in a blanket for an hour and read quietly.

Those are just the first that come to mind.  The main theme I think is freedom.  We are totally, amazingly blessed in this nation to have the freedom we do to worship as we choose and to teach our children in the way we see best for our family.

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.

The tale of a little sister

Once upon a time there were three little girls.  The older two were more shy and would make the youngest one redeem their tokens for ice cream at the local Dairy Queen.  She wore a constant smile that young one and was a most darling little thing.  These three grew older and fought over clothes and other silly things.  They forged their own paths and discovered who they were.  The oldest sister and her boyfriend used to hang out often with the four years younger sister, great times were had and a friendship was forged that would last forever.

Youngest sister meandered into some circles of friends that were older and shared very different values.  Their pull was strong.  The temptation of a different life drew her far and fast away.  Hearts broke and the prodigal one wandered far.

Oldest sister started to journal and pray (parents did too, for certain) about the little sister.  Pages were covered with tears and words poured out.  Years passed.  Agonizing choices were made, truly things you might not be able to imagine.  Life’s consequences followed.

Love was given in the ways everyone knew how to give it.  Hope ebbed and waned.  The way the heart hurts watching one you love so much walk away burns a deep pain.

A slow, lengthy journey home began.  It has taken years for Redemption to weave His way back into her life.  The ones closest to her watched and loved and waited under what sometimes felt like unbearable weariness.

The oldest one often wrote letters to that youngest one.  The journey was a foreign one to her but she had, literally, seen the scars and sometimes didn’t know how to choke out the right words.  So she just wrote.

The young one let sleeping dreams awaken and pursued her hopes of becoming a nurse.  She pressed on, though academics were not her strongest suit and all the family (minus two brother in laws) was there across the country when she walked across that stage and received her diploma. The oldest gave her an engraved butterfly necklace that day.  It said simply, dream. Because she had.  And we got to watch.

After a couple of jobs in her field that were less than she’d hoped, she landed one at a local, excellent hospital where she has been stretched beyond her imagination.  But she’s done it.

Her story isn’t finished.  There were times those close ones thought it might be.  The ways her Father has sheltered her and saved her might be a forever mystery.

And now? She’s finding Love and she fell in love. Last week, that baby sister (though she’s almost 30, still a baby sis) married a sweet, strong, genuine man.  There were a few moments when middle sister and oldest sister shared a glance and tears brimmed.  Hard to believe it was really happening and in such a beautiful way.

My list continues…

#489 – the God ordained concept of marriage

#490 – a dry, sunshine filled evening for a wedding after weeks of summer rain

#491 – grass stains on ring bearer knees

#492 – how it feels to dress fancy and get gorgeous

#493 – a heart full that just wants to keep saying ‘thank you’

#494 – tiny baby Ruby toes painted cherry red

#495 – our mama extraordinaire without whom the wedding could not have come together

#496 – the look on his face when he saw her first

#497 – the children that surrounded my legs and covered my lumpy parts for wedding photos (and how much I wouldn’t trade them for a more lovely figure!)

#498 – the story God’s still writing

#499 – a front-pack-clad daddy who went way above the call of duty this day

#500 – a littlest sister that I love more than words could ever say

We have today

Its an early Friday morning and I wish I could press fast forward and skip the emotions that I know are coming my way.  I feel like the day is going to take me and probably kicking and screaming (inside).

I’ve planned every detail, lined up a new babysitter to help us, said yes to my mom’s offer to help and packed snacks and lunch.  I wake them up early and we get on the road.  It’s not like we haven’t done the drive before, the one to Grammy and Grampy’s.

But we haven’t done it enough.  And that’s the reality that grinding into my heart.  Though it isn’t really sudden, more like a year in the making since Grampy didn’t come home from hunting last January, it feels like it came out of no where.

As we make the hour-long drive, Rylee asks out of the blue “Why didn’t we ever walk on the trail with Grammy and Grampy?  You know, the one that goes behind their house?”.  I can almost hear my own heart break and wait to speak until I can trust that my voice will work.

“We didn’t ever find a time – it never worked out.  We figured we’d do it eventually but then…”  My words trail off and choke out because I can’t find the right ones and there are no words just tears.  Silent ones as I hold it together while the babysitter sits next to me in the van and probably wonders what on earth I’m talking about.

Grammy moved across the country last week.  The house is bare and empty when I walk in alone to feed baby Finn.  Its a shell that used to hold our family.  Our memories.  I sit on the carpet and snuggle the only baby we’ve had that he never met, never kissed, never held.

And now all I see is how the walls are white and I never noticed that before.  A view of the mountain that I swear I hadn’t fully taken in until today.  More trees for boy climbing than I remember.

We sort through the last loads of belongings and put them all where they need to go.  Kids find treasures, climb trees and go for a walk.  I just keep breathing.  Until I find something that takes my breath away, which happens more than once.  Is he really gone?  Do we really not get another chance to talk, to laugh, to eat, to love?

We don’t.  And the sting of death, of loss and of I-wish-we-would-have________, presses hard on my heart and I literally feel like I’m gasping for air.  I was sure we had dozens more Christmas Eve’s to spend there drinking endless sparkling cider and sharing gifts.  But this December someone else will live there and make those memories with their own family.  And ours will be spread out over a couple thousand miles.

Pat phrases and empty lines don’t seem to really cut it.  Chin up, press on, don’t waste your time looking back.  Can’t change the past.  Only thing you can change is the future.  Make the most of today. While they may be true, they don’t fill in the empty places.

I know its not lovely to say, but sometimes I think we’re supposed to hurt.  We’re supposed to look back and grieve that we didn’t do something just right.  That we missed a chance to love.  It’s the hurt that changes our today. We get another chance today to do life just a bit different even if we can’t go back and make yesterday better.

It truly is utterly beautiful the way it works.  God is so good, inherently, completely good in the way he orchestrates all of life.  But there are days like my Friday that force me to look hard for that truth.  And I think that’s okay.

It’s been hard to keep counting.  But even if the list is small, I’m still trying…

#473 – beautiful berries

#474 – the privilege of carrying someone else’s burden

#475 – rain and water and green everywhere…even though its supposed to be summer

#476 – today

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.

Little hands

Its not every Sunday we make it to church together.  Saturday night emergency room trips that last till 2 AM, sick ones who are still sound asleep when its time to go, pride-filled mama who chooses to hold a grudge and opts for a pity party alone at home instead of communion with others….these are all recent Sunday morning happenings around here.

And even when we do make it, I’ve been known to utter under my breath “this has got to be more trouble than its worth” while kids run down church halls, a baby cries out when all is silent, one more person says something less than kind about our large family.  Though I probably don’t really mean it, it is undoubtedly hard getting 5 children out the door without major crisis or marital conflict.  Perhaps its just me but we’ve just not got it quite down yet.

Yesterday as I stood next to our oldest son and Audrey twirled around on my other side, I happened to feel her brush against me so I opened my eyes during worship and looked down.  Her little hands were lifted up just like her mama’s were.  She had clapped when I’d clapped, sat when I’d sat and then she figured she’d raise up her tiny arms when I did the same.  Made my eyes well up and was instantly a powerful reminder of the gravity of my actions, attitudes and words on the lives of my children.  Oh that it was always something beautiful that she was learning from me but the truth is it isn’t.

Though she doesn’t understand just what it means, I get the chance to tell her later.  But really, she doesn’t care much – she just looks up and sees me and its as simple as that for her little three year old self.  I am growing into a belief that children should not be sequestered to fancy kids programs and left completely, purposefully out of the corporate worship service.  I believe there is something powerful and crucial when families can worship and experience God together.  Of course this can happen in homes but that doesn’t have to be the only place.

So come next weekend, we’ll do it again.  We may not have the perfectly dressed kids or the best mannered ones or even be on time.  But we’re learning how to be a part of a church family in the midst of our total imperfectness.  And it feels good.

Back on the gratitude bandwagon…

#431 – silly sister moments

#432 – silly sibling moments (love the relationship these two have most days)

#433 – impromptu brother sister tea parties by candlelight (they rumaged all the snacks they could…even vitamins!)

#434 – sleep (the bits I’m getting are pretty darn sweet!)

#435 – making a CD mix for my love….my ploy to remind him of me while he spends oh-so-long days driving and working

#436 – date night – 2 1/2 hours of face to face time with no children = absolute sweetness

#437 – perfect, yummy baby skin

#438 – a hot meal, not prepared by me, and the joy of eating it all while its still hot (did I already mention date night?)

#439 – common ground, sharing dreams, having ideals

#440 – sisters (a good one of my middle sis, just so she doesn’t kill me for posting the goofy one above!)

#441 – new favorite song – Matthew West “Hold You Up” – what it is about a girls’ heart that wants to hear the words “You are worth fighting for”?

#442 – garden boxes and all the little tiny seedlings poking out of the ground despite the COLD spring!

#443 -pins and needles waiting to hear about the birth of my best friends’ SIXTH blessing!!!

#444 – how good it feels to let things go and really, truly let. them. GO.

#445 – celebrating twelve years married to the love of my life

Testify

Twelve years ago today we walked down the aisle to these words:

For as long as I shall live
I will testify to love
I’ll be a witness in the silences when words are not enough
With every breath I take I will give thanks to God above
For as long as I shall live
I will testify to love
(Avalon “Testify”)

We didn’t give it much thought, love was easy and simple.  We’d waited 4 years to marry, dated through our last two years of high school, been through lots of ups and downs and at the time our very union was testimony to God’s faithfulness.  It really was.

We were idealistic and hope-filled 21 year olds.  All of life spanned before us and it seemed so very grand.  We made plans, dreamed dreams and forged ahead together.  We paid $427 a month to rent a tiny campus apartment that overlooked a lake while we finished college.  I think I threatened once or twice to go back to my parents.  Oh how young I was.   I made coffee and he made disciples as he led the youth group at our church.  He thrived and I watched his passion explode.  We studied hard and graduated together.

While on a missions trip to El Salvador using pit toilets and doing manual labor every day, a pink line rocked our world and we grinned all week as we kept our little secret.  We bought a tiny pair of brown sandals there and flew home on our own cloud as we pondered the parenthood journey we were about to embark on.

Years passed, more babies entered our world and the thriving, passion-filled man faced a lot of challenges and work became something different.  I filled my heart and my life with a job that I loved.  Church life wasn’t all sunshine and roses.  People weren’t perfect, we weren’t perfect.

We walked out our days and our lives in the best ways we could.  But we hurt each other.  A lot.  At the bottom of a spiral that seemed to last forever, we realized a choice had to be made and we chose each other.

Hard work.  So much of it.  So many words and tears.  We found little things to love together.  Like music.  And somehow these words came to be true…

And I don’t care if everyone knows what we’re going through
‘Cause all the roads lead back to you

On and on and on we pray, we can break into a brighter day
Nothing worth anything ever goes down easy
On and on and on we go, I don’t understand this windy road
Nothing worth anything ever goes down easy

And we’ll keep on, keep on climbing on down this narrow line
So we can see the other side, the other side
(Mat Kearney “On and On”)

Weeks, months passed and the ‘other side’ ever so slowly found its way onto the horizon.  We vowed without words really, that what we had was worth it.  And we walked the hard road of healing.

Now we testify to something different.  Not just to an ideal we call love.  Not just to a dreamy something that is nice to sing about.  To the ultimate, radical power of God to change lives and the most stubborn, broken hearts into something beautiful.  To the unchanging, unceasing grace that He gives when we can’t even muster up the ability to ask for it.  To the reality of restoration and the gift of forgiveness.

We testify to love.  But not to our own imperfect, never-enough kind of love.  To the Love Giver Himself and the way He makes all things new.