Friday, May 31, 2013

Arsenic and Old Lace

I have a nice little post running around the inside my head about the idea of experts, but it's running too fast and I can't quite catch it yet. So, I'll take the easy way out and post pictures from yesterday's full dress rehearsal. Here are some of the shots of B. playing Jonathon. A. has been helping backstage and reported that he was really scary. (We won't be taking G. and L. to see the show. They wouldn't understand it and it would be far too traumatic to see their much adored B. being scary. It was traumatic enough that he dyed his hair. G. took a little bit to decide he was her same big brother when she saw it.) You can find more pictures on the Thin Ice website.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

One month post-op

OK, I think the swelling has gone down enough that I am comfortable starting to post some pictures again. But be warned... there is still quite a bit of swelling. The only way I can really tell how much swelling is still in her cheek is to look at her eye. We're so used to seeing that side of her face slightly larger that it is very difficult for us to read it as swelling instead of excess tissue. Also, the places where her sutures were are still healing so they are raised and still pretty red. I just didn't want to get anyone's expectations up as to what they are about to see. First I'll show the a picture I took previous to her surgery.

And now I'll show you a picture I took yesterday.

Most importantly, H. is liking the result. She keeps referring to her cheek as 'so little'. We have a long way to go, but there is definite improvement.

Here is a close up of the left side of her face. You can see more clearly just how swollen everything is and how much healing the suture lines have. H. really does not enjoy me massaging them, but we need to in order to help break down scar tissue.

Now to go tackle my to-do list. My parents come into town this afternoon so they can see B.'s show. Don't forget to come and see Arsenic and Old Lace this weekend... Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It's going to be great. Call me for details... or email me if you can wait a day to get them.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Appointments, appointments

There are very few downsides (in my opinion) to having a large family, but keeping up with and taking children to various doctor's appointments is definitely one of them. I am usually a little bit behind with keeping up with what everyone needs. This has been mentioned to me more than once in the past few months, especially in regards to eye appointments.

We do not have the best genes where vision is concerned. Many of us are very near-sighted and some of us are so near-sighted that we have additional issues that go along with it. Plus, it's just no fun to not be able to see clearly... as quite a few of my children have kept reminding me. I had been hesitant to pick-up the phone to make the appointments, though, because dollar signs times at least 5 started to float through my head. Refraction fees and the cost of eye glasses and contacts add up. So, I kept putting them off by saying we needed to wait for the tax refund to come.

And it came, so I needed to call.

A half an hour later, six children now have eye appointments, and two of those will also try-out wearing contacts. Good mom, huh? But wait... you'll think I'm an even better mom (or possibly insane) when I tell you that all six appointments happen within the same week. On three different days. And it takes a half hour to get to the eye doctor. It turns out that the doctor is leaving on maternity leave at the end of June so we had to squeeze in all the appointments before she left, plus half of the children who needed appointments had church camp that month, so we had to work around that as well. I'll just write the entire week off now and plan for a lot of documentaries to come for those who are at home.

The receptionist was quite curious after we made all the appointments and jokingly asked if I wanted one as well. She was a bit surprised when I told her I already had one earlier in the month. (I like my retinas and am diligent about making the appointments I need to keep them healthy.) She then mentioned that she was really looking forward to meeting me when I came in. (I'll have to make sure the second and third heads are well concealed that morning.) And then said, "Well, that should just about take care of the whole family."
"Um, some of them at least," I said.
"There can't be many more!" she chirpily replied, possibly thinking that only my husband was left.
I gave a half-hearted, slightly uncomfortable laugh and said good-bye. I didn't want to be on the phone for another half an hour explaining who was left.

I had other doctor's offices to call.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Can you stand a little more about technology?

I realized that I was about to miss out on a great opportunity to combine one of my long-standing hobby horses with one of my new ones. How can I let writing about the intersection of family meals and technology slip by?

As you know, our family has been having a sort of internet fast. (Well, at least for the family computer. J. and M. are still using theirs during the day. That whole work-thing and all.) And it's been relaxing and pleasant and helping me to get up in the mornings. I don't plan on going back anytime soon. I also mentioned that our already comparatively limited use of technology has made the transition much easier. No computer use on Sundays has been a rather recent rule, but a very long-standing rule has been related to our use of any technology during dinner.

And when I say 'use' I really mean disuse. When we eat dinner together, and that would be every night, we do not invite technology to join us. Early on, that meant no television and no getting up to answer the phone. (That's why we [still] have an answering machine.) Dinner was the time we set aside to be with each other, not an electrical device nor someone who wasn't in front of us.

We humans are pretty distractable. And no matter what anyone says, our brains are not really capable of multi-tasking. Brain science backs it up. When people say they are good at multi-tasking they really are just better at changing their focus faster, they are not thinking about two things at once. Why is this important? Because if one of the purposes to having dinner together is to spend time with the other people at the table, it is actually impossible to pay attention to both the person across from you and the electronic device in your hand or on the wall. Someone or thing will be short-changed, and that's very often the live person and not the device.

I am particularly aware of this when on the very rare occasions we are at a restaurant and that restaurant has TV's scattered about, (I really hate this, by the way.) My family tries to have our usual dinner table conversation, but even without being aware of it, I can watch people at different times be lured away by what they see on the screen, myself included. Then you'll watch them realize they were watching the screen and bring themselves back to the conversation only to have it happen again a few minutes later. They are just distracting... even without the sound.

But dealing with a TV and a land-line phone seems easy when compared to the host of items today that want to join you at the dinner table. Phones are the worst. Because it is much more than people calling you,  it is the incessant need to 'keep up' with the outside world. It is so easy to fall into the trap that reading the latest text from a friend is more important and more immediate than the people in front of you. That is why it is doubly important to have space where you do not check your phone (or whatever it is that you constantly check) and go back to living your life again without the interface of a screen. Screens are addictive whether people like to hear that or not and it is good to remove yourself from them on a regular basis.

Now if adults have difficulty with this, think how much more difficult it is for our children whose brains are still developing. It is vitally important that we model for them appropriate technology use. It is important that we help set parameters that will instill good habits, but we cannot do this if we are misusing it ourselves.

Dinner is the perfect time to begin. Not only is it a limited amount of time (which is important especially if the idea of not checking texts and fb statuses makes you a bit twitchy), but it is doing a couple of really good things. First it forces you to focus on the people before you, without distractions. (Remember you cannot multi-task even if you would really, really like to.) Without distractions, you will be able to communicate with these people better. You can remember what it is like to have a real conversation. You can model having a real conversation for your children. Second, but putting the people first and the technology a long second, you communicate love and importance. You want your spouse and children to feel as though you love them and think they are important, right? Well, put down the phone and turn off the TV and let your actions communicate that.

We don't allow our older children with phones to use them at the table, either. Why allow them to develop bad habits? Why give them an easy out from communicating with their parents and family because they're so involved with the little virtual world in their phone that they don't have to do the hard work of being an involved part of the family? Why create habits that will not benefit their future relationships?

So put the phones away... in another room in necessary. Close the computer. Turn on the answering machine. Turn off the TV. Look the people sitting across from you at the table and actually talk with them. And laugh. And enjoy each other while they are here in front of you.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Oldest and youngest

One of the absolutely best things about having a large family is having such a large age range of children. Not only do I have older ones who are interesting and fun and great company, but I have younger ones that are just a joy to have around. And I get them all at the same time!

Yesterday afternoon, J. took 5 of the middles out for a bike ride (joined by some of the H-S family). It was quite an event getting everyone's bikes ready to go and every on their bikes and so on. Here's the line up as they were ready to head out.

That would be 9 children and two fathers that you are seeing in that picture. Once they left, B. and A. headed back to church for youth group which left me with just my oldest (M.) and youngest (G. and L.) children at home. This combination by themselves rarely happens. It was fun.

Do you remember those stumps that B. pulled out a couple of weeks ago, and my wish that someone would do something with them? Well, M. spotted one of them and decided that it was so cool looking that she would make something with it. (I think it is going to become a miniature tree house.) In order to really work with it, though, she had to clean off all the dirt from the root ball. This involved a great amount of water which made a nice lake/stream to play in. This was where G. and L. occupied themselves. They would throw things in while asking out loud, "Does it sink or does it float?" (We had borrowed a box about volcanoes from the Field Museum and when we did the activities last week, one of the questions asked if each of the volcanic rock samples was able to sink or float. I didn't think the little girls were paying that much attention, but I guess they were.) Then they moved onto using sticks in the water followed by wanting to stomp in the water which I had to put a stop to because they were still in their Sunday School shoes. It was getting a little too chilly by this point, so it was time to go in anyway.

It was a lovely afternoon spent with my three girls. Here are some pictures. L. is in purple, G. is in pink, and M. is one with blue hair. (It's never dull around here. B. now has very dark brown hair. I'll have to share a picture later. It's for Arsenic and Old Lace. Which is this weekend, by the way. You all should see it.)

Busy, busy, busy

Yes, that's the evil chair in the background. The little girls won't go near it.

Not all blue, there's several other colors there as well.

Playing with sticks

Is there anything cuter than anklet socks and Mary Janes on little girl legs?

Unless it's very baggy tights on little girls legs?

And, if you see a comment that you made on a previous post missing, please don't take it personally. I was feeling a little energetic about deleting spam this morning and I think I accidentally deleted some real comments, too. Sorry about that.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Oatmeal, here I come

It's bulk order pick-up day! Hooray! Hooray! It is most inconvenient to start running out of things you need a week or so before the pick-up. I mean, who wants to buy things when you know in a week five pound cans and fifty pound bags of those same items will appear in your kitchen. It's been a lot of making up and doing without for a week or so.

And "appear" makes it sound as though it does the Star Trek-thing and after some sparkly lines appear, my bulk order does to. If only. No, in a few minutes I need to get ready to make the two hour trek outside of the city (because it takes about that long to really leave the city behind) to the farm where we pick-up the bulk order.

Don't feel too badly for me. Two other friends are going as well and we make a morning of it. We have child-free visiting time in the car and then after we pick up our pounds and pounds of stuff we have lunch together. It's rather a nice morning. Except for the leaving really early part. Which I'll be doing in my bathrobe if I don't hit publish right now and go get dressed.

In the meantime, pray for little Brandi.

She still doesn't have a family and it looks as though the good news I thought might be coming didn't pan out. Please don't give up on her! And do contact me if you think she might be your daughter.

Friday, May 24, 2013


It has been over a week since we have instituted our new computer policy around here. Pretty much it involves me getting up early (yes, I have been pretty good about doing this), using the computer until 8 or 8:30 am, then turning it off for the day. No, I do not have a smart phone, so that really means that from 8 am on, we have no internet access live in our house. It feels a little radical, which is crazy because up until about ten years ago, this is how just about how everyone lived all the time.

So how is it working? I actually love it. Really. And it hasn't been as difficult as I expected it to be. What I have discovered is that when the computer is on, my tendency is to take a "quick" look at it throughout the day. Well, I don't know about you, but sometimes those "quick" looks aren't all that quick. But it was important to see if I had any email that needed answering, right? Don't we all tell ourselves that? I know I did.

Guess what I discovered. I'm not all that important. At least not to the outside world. My family thinks I'm very important, but then, they aren't sending me emails. It's a little humbling to realize that there are very few important emails that arrive in my inbox and even fewer that require immediate attention. (OK, full disclosure, there were no emails that were so important that replying to them couldn't wait for the next morning.) Really, each morning, there wasn't a whole lot new to look at. Having the computer on all the time gave me a mistaken sense of importance to the greater world and made me forgetful of the where I am truly important.

By turning the computer off during the day, I have also discovered a wee bit more time in my day. This was particularly noticeable the first few days of our new policy. I was hyper-aware of my impulse to head over and check the computer every time I finished something and was wondering what to do. This was also humbling. I did check the computer too much, and nothing makes you aware of this as quickly as when there is no computer to check. I read a statistic that if you watch four hours of television a day, by the end of the year you will have spent the equivalent of two months of your life in front of the set. Well, TV is not my area of personal challenge, but I think I can say the computer is. I don't want to have spent months of my life in front of it at the end of the year. The time really does add up.

A couple of other benefits. I don't have to argue with my older children about how much time they were on the computer. This is a constant battle that I DO NOT miss. A couple of times B. and A. have asked to turn it on because they have specific tasks to complete and that's fine. It goes off immediately afterward and it is not left unattended. You probably won't believe me, but I have had no grief from them about the new policy. It probably helps that we had a pretty limited policy to begin with and our only computer is in the kitchen area of our house. There was not an extreme level of connectedness to begin with. And I've been going to bed at a more reasonable time. (Unless I'm in the middle of a particularly engaging book.) That check the email one more time-thing was never quick.

I do have to be a little more purposeful in knowing what I want to accomplish when the computer is on. I have taken to making lists throughout the day of things I either want to look up, or need to write, or people to contact so I don't forget when my early morning brain isn't fully functioning. I still do a quick check-in with my favorite bloggers, but it's a smaller list.

The internet and its accompanying technology does have some really positive benefits, I don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water. But is also has the ability to creep into our lives and give the illusion that it is far more important than it is. It can very easily blind us what is important. I know not everyone is going to be willing to cut back in the same way that we have done, but I would highly encourage at least a brief experiment to see what it is like. Probably I was able to make the jump a little easier because we had already instituted a policy of no computers on Sunday. Even that little break was enough to remind me that it is possible to live without the computer on.

The most surprising thing about this whole thing has been to realize how much more relaxed I have been without the computer on. It seems that having access to it all the time did more to contribute to an overall feeling of anxiety than anything else. Too much information is not necessarily good. Try it. Even if you don't think you can manage (or maybe particularly if you think you can't manage), give it a try.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

When it's hard to not take it personally

I received a comment on Tuesday's post about taking things personally that I wanted to respond to. Well, I actually tried to respond in the comments, but evidently Blogger has a character limit for comments. Who knew? Figures that I, who prefer to say something in 20 words that can be said 5 would find that out. So what follows is what I tried to post in the comments.

Dear Reader,

I agree, it's terribly difficult to not take things personally, especially when the words are so toxic. I wish I could say I always manage to do it, but sometimes I just don't succeed.

I do find there are a couple of different things going on. First, if it is a child who is just being rude, then I need to clarify that we are responsible with our words and we must use them respectfully. In this case, a loss of privileges if they can't meet my request for respect is forthcoming. Anytime I hand out a loss of privileges it is always so much better if I can do so matter-of-factly and not with drama.

If the child who is spewing is in melt down, and this usually means that child has completely disassociated from reality, then there is only so much I can do. That child cannot hear me or comply with anything I ask. Just absolutely cannot. The spewing is symptomatic of the pain and ugliness that the child is experiencing inside. I find it helpful to think of it all in terms of physical health. A child in a coma cannot do what is requested. A child with a broken arm cannot use that arm. A child in the throws of a rage is not functional and we have unrealistic expectation is we think they can be. At the point of melt down, the only thing we can do is keep the child, ourselves, and others safe. The verbal spewing is more akin to infected puss seeping out of a wound than to anything meaningful. And at least in my experience, what is spewed is nearly always the exact opposite of what the child really means.

Now, intellectually knowing this and being able to rein in our own emotions are two very different things. Because the words sound sooo personal, they do hit at a very deep level. I find it especially difficult if I am feeling a little less than adequate that day mainly because the words hit where I am feeling most vulnerable. It can hurt. Sometimes we can't help but feel hurt, but what we need to do is not to act on that hurt. It is the action that escalates the situation.

Some of the things I have done to help me overcome my tendency to react and take it personally:

-Disengage. Sometimes I just can't trust myself to say something that wouldn't add fuel to the fire. Sometimes I just have to walk away. Removing myself from the situation can give me space to think a little more clearly. (As an aside, this is also my main melt-downer's way of diffusing a situation. He has taken to leaving the room and if I give him enough space he can now usually regain control. [Hallelujah!] I used to follow him, thinking that his leaving was yet more rudeness and disrespect, but now we see it as a way he is trying to regain equilibrium.)

-Pray, pray, pray and praise, praise, praise. Sometimes all I can do is pray, "Help me Jesus" over and over. This is usually at the point where everything has gone beyond my capabilities and only Jesus can get me through it. He always does. Also, if I find myself wanting to wound back, focusing on praising God puts other words in my head that are not harmful. It's nearly impossibly to praise God and think black thoughts at the same time.

-Think critically about why this is so hurtful. (This can only happen later in quiet moments.) What was touched on that caused me such pain. Obviously it was hitting me in a place where I feel vulnerable. Why do I feel vulnerable there? Is this an accurate perception of myself? What work do I need to do in order to bring myself to a healthier place? Am I really believing that I have worth and value in God's eyes? Do I really believe that God wants what's best for me and my child? What fears do I currently harbor that need to be addressed? Usually I discover that the hurt has more to do with what I am believing about myself than what my child said to me. The child's words are merely confirming my worst fears that I had never really addressed. Being emotionally secure in who I am, in my role as a parent, and in my place as a child of God goes a long way toward putting me in a place where I can weather the ugliness coming out of my child's mouth.

These things are not something we do naturally, but take practice. In order to practice them you have to have a plan, because in the moment of yuckiness, chances are the parent isn't really thinking much either. Success won't be 100% and you will fail. Probably more than you want. But you also have to give yourself permission to try again. Progress will eventually be made.

Parenting can be a tough, tough road sometimes. I'll be praying for you.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Nobody mentions the mess

Some of my favorite books and plays when I was growing up were about large, crazy families with lots of people doing lots of interesting things. I couldn't get enough of them. (I, one of two children, also fantasized about living in a large family, but that's another post all together.) Think You Can't Take it With You. Even as an adult I am still drawn to the same genre. One of my favorite books to read aloud is Surviving the Applewhites. I love reading about a family (albeit a slightly dysfunctional one) where everyone has special interests and pursues them with abandon. It's very similar in fact to You Can't Take it With You, except that everyone is competent in their pursuits. (And it also has the "let's put a play on in the barn" theme. Someday I'm going to have a get a barn so my older children and their friends can put on a play.) I'm pretty sure that all of this reading has strongly influenced my parenting.

I do love to see my children engaged in activities that they find interesting, and usually I'm happy to support them. I also love that usually they are able to entertain themselves in unique and creative ways. I consider it a good day when children have been busy doing things they find interesting. However... at no point in any of the books I read growing up did they mention the wreckage left in the wake of people intently engaged on pursuing their interests. It's as if in the fictional world, there is an invisible mess fairy which follows everyone around cleaning up after each of the characters. And I want one.

Because the trouble is, children who are engaged and interested in play and projects leave a trail of flotsam and jetsam behind them that is fairly significant. And then when you multiply that by 10, well... where's that mess fairy?

I don't really think I would trade a pristine house for all of the projects and activities. I find them all too interesting. (And truthfully, I am in a little part responsible for some of it.) Some day the messes will get picked up... I hope.

What are some things going on around here? Well, there has been the gardening, of course, with the piles of brush and the very large stumps. I have hopes that someone will be inspired by those stumps, make some fantastic piece of art with them, and we can sell them for great gobs of money. I hint, but this is not a project anyone has taken on. So they sit in the driveway. M. is home for the summer and with her comes big projects. She is once again creating large-scale dinosaur puppets for a local theater's production of Jurassic Park. This is mostly confined to her room, but it does spill over a bit in that whatever M. is making is exactly what TM wants to be making. (He admires her greatly and bases a lot of his own projects on hers.) I have set aside a large piece of cardboard for one of my own projects and he is starting to badger for it... because he really needs to make a dinosaur with it. I've cut a deal that he can have whatever I have left over. I better get on with it soon, or I may lose the cardboard battle.

Yesterday found me vacuuming up huge piles of sand from the front hall. Several children yesterday morning were suddenly overcome with the need to fly kites. This involved rummaging through the house searching for various kites and then taking them down to the beach to fly them. A terrific activity until later in the day I realized that when the kites came home, so did half the beach.

Add to that the usual prolific drawings created by L., Legos, the piles of cars that K. leaves everywhere, more Legos, piles of books, science experiments in varying states of completion including a tooth in vinegar sitting on my windowsill, still more Legos, much dirt (or mud) tracked into the house because the bare spots where the grass has stopped growing is really terrific for driving all those cars in, boxes of games that were never returned to the cupboard, pieces of pretend games that K. has made so that he can play games like the big people do, large sticks that have been turned into slingshots and bows and arrows with varying rates of success, but which can all stand in for swords in a pinch despite the fact that I have stated that all sticks must live outside, A.'s weather alarm which goes off every time the weather changes, yet more Legos, dirty baking things strewn around the kitchen from impromptu cookie making sessions. And that's just the past several days.

I realize it probably sounds like most families homes. At least I hope it does and that we're not just an aberration. Yet I will admit that sometimes I wish everyone would sit quietly and not get anything out once in a while. I mentioned this to J. last night and then said that if I plunked them down in front of the TV all the time they couldn't make a mess. He replied that the mess would be in their heads and would be a lot more difficult to sweep out. He's right. I just have to focus on the happy and busy and try to pretend we're a family in one of the fictional stories that I love so much.

And if we're a fictional family that means I get the mess fairy, right?
This post is linked-up at:
The Homeschool Village

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

You can't take it personally

One reason it is good to have friends and mentors who are ahead of you in their parenting journey is that you can reap some of their wisdom. The title of this post is my good friend's favorite tip for surviving parenthood, especially as children get older. It is also great advice for parenting adopted, trauma-injured children. You just can't take what they do personally.

Because 99.9% of the time what your children do or say or how they act really has nothing to do with you and everything to do with what is going on inside their head at any given moment. When we take personal offense at whatever rudeness or misbehavior or upset we are seeing, we have put ourselves in the center of something where we don't belong. Usually the upset child was not even thinking about the parent, but was thinking about something else. The parent comes along and BAM! receives the unpleasantness because they are convenient and safe.

But each of us lives in our own little world inside our own heads and it is terribly difficult to get over ourselves. Everything is about each of us, isn't it? At least it often feels that way. And the minute we do this, we invite misunderstanding and hurt feelings and a lot more drama into our lives. (I truly do not need more drama in my life, I don't know about any of you.) If I have learned one thing from parenting a child from a very difficult place it is to curb my default knee-jerk reacting. It doesn't help anyone, including myself.

Instead of assuming that the child wants to irritate me or is angry at me or want to somehow 'get back' at me, it is far better to stop for a moment and remember a couple of things. First, I am not the center of the universe. (It is somewhat embarrassing to admit how many times a day I do need to remind myself of this fact.) Just because I may be in the same room or even the same house as another person, that doesn't mean that the other person was thinking about me at all. Second, take a deep breath. Or two. Or ten. Really do it. I am not speaking figuratively here. Deep breathing releases serotonin which is the chemical that helps you feel calm and relaxed, plus it gives you some thinking room. If you're doing deep breathing, you can't say anything that you will later regret or that will escalate the situation. Third, now that you are somewhat calmer you can think rationally.

That rational thought needs to be employed as if you were solving a mystery. (Because, really, you are.) What has been going on in your child's life that could have led to this little unpleasantness (or not so little depending)? Children in their teen years need a lot of sleep. A lot. Has the child slept enough? Fatigue can make for unpleasant attitudes. (Trust me on this.) In this case, your only job is to remind the child that fatigue is no excuse for rudeness, point out that they are fatigued (they don't always know), and if you can, send them for a nap. The rudeness didn't have anything to do with you, yet if you respond as if it did, you escalate a problem that wasn't really there. This could be true for any number of scenarios. Did the child have a fight with a friend? Did they get their feelings hurt? Are they worried about something?

Even if it does have to do with you, such as a child who is angry that you have said no to an activity, it is still nothing to take personally. The child is angry and disappointed at not being allowed to go, but this anger says nothing about who you are as a person or a parent except perhaps that you are a responsible one and capable or making hard decisions in the face of disappointment. There is no need to enter the arena of upset and join in. Because it is not personal. And because it is not personal you can offer sympathy that the decision is disappointing, remind the child of your love, and walk away from the situation.

Now, if you are parenting a child injured from trauma, all of this becomes doubly difficult and doubly important, mainly because it really can seem very, very personal. But even if it seems this way, it still is not. This is one reason why therapeutic parenting can be exhausting. It is tiring to constantly remind yourself that what you are seeing really has nothing to do with you and to act (not react) accordingly. It is treating and loving a child the way he or she needs to be treated and loved and not they way their outward behavior would suggest. It is counter-intuitive. Because the child screaming they hate you is really the child who loves you and is so desperately scared by that they don't know what to do. Because the child throwing a(nother) temper tantrum on the floor is really the child who still does not have language to process what is going on and is scared and frustrated. Because the child who steals is really the child who feels so empty they try to fill it with something. Because the child who hoards is afraid of not having enough and running out. Because the child who is difficult to love has lost someone important already and it hurt too much. Nothing, and I repeat nothing about any of this has anything to do with the new adoptive parent. But they are handy and present. The behavior may be ugly or hurtful or painful, but it's root had nothing to do with you. It's hard. Really, really hard to not take it personally, but in order for your child to heal, it has to be done.

Remember, not the center of the universe, breath, think. And sometimes I just need to walk away to get some more coffee (or chocolate) every now and then, too. By the way, this is just really good for dealing with people in general, your spouse, your parents, your friends, your co-workers. Practice not taking offense, and your life will be lighter as a result.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Woefully lacking in pictures

I think it's been a week or two since I posted a single picture. Since my mother may start getting complaints from her friends, I need to remedy that.

Here is a big reason why there have been so few picture.

This is L. She does not like to have her picture taken at the moment. (If she is true to form, like other children in the family, this could last for the next 10 years or so.) I was trying to get a picture of G. and L. together in their new dresses that a friend gave them. Instead I got this.

G. is quite cooperative, though. A little too cooperative perhaps, because she has entered the 'fake smile stage' where the child tried to smile on purpose and ends up grimacing. Like this. (Click on it to see it bigger.)

This one is a little better because A. was making her laugh. Don't you think the two of them would have been cute standing together in their matching dresses?

I had mentioned that we have been doing a little gardening over here. I wanted to show you some results. Results that are still a work in progress, but still progress. Here is a picture of some of the brush we created from removing some of the ugly bushes. You'll notice that there are still some large bushes in the background that we hadn't yet hacked down in the picture, but they are no longer there. Multiply this pile by three more large bushes, add several yews, and two evergreens to the pile, transport it to my backyard and you can then imagine the pile of brush sitting there waiting to be chipped.

Here is the same section of yard, taken at almost the same place as the one above. All the bushes are out and our two new apple tress are planted. We still need to think about what we are doing with the plantings around them, but we'll get to that.

And here is one side of the front steps. That tree is called a Seven Sons tree (there is a matching one on the other side) and they are supposed to get flowers in late summer and then have really interesting back/seed color in the fall and winter. Now we need to decide about some shrubs to plant around them, but I'm really enjoying not looking at the overgrown evergreen bushes that used to live here.

In other house puttering, I cleaned off the side porch and made it look habitable again. I love this porch. It is one of the nicest places to sit outside.

And another view.

I've also been adding flowers to various spots. I'm tired of ugly, ugly, ugly and think flowers always help with that. Here's the playhouse (which I intend to paint this summer to freshen it up).

And the back steps.

We also cleaned the back porch and washed the windows on it. It helps some, in that it doesn't look like squatters have been living on it, but this part of the house is so ugly that really nothing short of demolition will help it. (Yes, I know the stairs look nice, but they are new. One of the carpenters who worked on the kitchen built them because he was so offended by the ugly steps that were there before.)

Of course, now that I have planted all of these flowers, I must water them. This has not historically been a great strength of mine... this watering business. I'm hoping that my miserly tendencies will kick in and I will water them just because of the amount of money I paid for them. This method of thinking has worked for me in other areas, I hope it will work for me in this one as well.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

How Pictures Work

I wanted to share with you a little about the book, How Pictures Work by Molly Bang. It was one of many I checked out of the library when we began reading about writing books. I hadn't heard of it before, but it was in the right section, looked vaguely interesting, so on the stack it went.

A few days later, after having read the more straight-forward of the books, I decided to look at this one. I will admit that at first, I wasn't really sure about it. There were a lot of pages at the beginning about shape and color, which was vaguely interesting, but not really compelling. And then we got to the fairy tale. The author then takes some of the concepts she outlined at the beginning of the book and uses them to tell Little Red Riding Hood... using just shapes and colors. So Red Riding Hood was a triangle and her mother was an oval, for example. You have to trust me that it works. (I really wasn't quite sure myself when we started on that section.) What became fascinating to me and D. and TM (the only ones who could really follow what was going on), was how each shape and color changed how we 'read' and felt about the picture and the story. I recommend it if you have older grade schoolers on up and they are interested in drawing.

I didn't think much about it after that until I started to think about fairy tales and the quote from Vivian Paly. And I remembered something that I thought was interesting at the time, but was now seeing it through a new lens. In the section about Little Red Riding Hood in How Pictures Work, there is a page where the author takes the wolf (which she had made fairly scary on the page before) and showed how by changing one element (his eyes) she could make him look ridiculous instead. All of us enjoyed looking that the change, but TM really liked it. Really liked it as in he had to keep flipping the page from the scary wolf to the ridiculous wolf more than a few times. There was something that struck him as deeply satisfying about the change and even after we had put the book away, he would get it out again just to look at the transformation.

At the time, I thought it was just appealing to his color and design sense (which is very strong), I'm sure it was, but I also think it satisfied something deep inside of him. It was as if it was the glimmer of the idea that scary doesn't have to stay scary beginning to grow in him. I want to encourage this idea as much as possible.

We've been busy gardening this past week, so we haven't done a lot with well, much of anything else. We need to get back up on that horse in the coming week. I'll keep you posted.

There. One blog post written before 8:30 am, though I was really hoping for 8. It's a work in progress. It's been interesting to see how much real working time on the computer I need. If I want to write as well as delete/reply to emails, it is looking as though I will need to schedule an hour and a half each morning. I will say this whole no-computer-on-during-the-day-thing has had many positive benefits. I will need to blog about it soon. Don't be surprised if I start recommending the same level of unconnectedness to you. Which is slightly ironic since I write a blog which I will essentially be telling you not to read. A conundrum.

Enjoy your weekend.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Checking in

Things are fine here, but I know that some people start to worry if I go more than a day without posting. For a variety of reasons, we are completely revamping when the computer is turned on and I haven't quite figured out how to fit blogging into the new routine. Ultimately this will be a good thing for everyone, and a secure way to keep everyone safe as well, but it makes me realize how un-purposeful I have been about my own computer time. It also makes me realize how much of life... communicating with people, doing volunteer work, organizing people's activities, etc... takes place online. Long story short, if you want to reach me in a timely manner for the foreseeable future, use the phone. (And that would be my land line, not my cell phone which I rarely have charge and have a pay-per-minute plan.) Old-fashioned, I know, but there it is.

So, not to fear, life is fine, but it will take me a few days to work out the kinks in my plan. In the meantime, I'm kind of enjoying my unconnected life and the weather is too nice to sit inside anyway.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A little compulsive gardening

I might have mentioned that I am just a wee bit single-minded about projects when I gen an idea in my head. I don't think compulsive would be an over-statement. Often these projects involve things around the house. And when I do get a bee in my bonnet about something I want to do it RIGHT NOW. This is where you need to start pitying my husband, because these fits of mine are unpredictable. There has been more than a couple times when arrives home to major changes that weren't there when he left in the morning. Often when he left, there was no indication that these major changes were going to occur. For instance, there was the time that I decided that I absolutely could not live with the carpet which was in our front hall a minute longer, so I ripped it out. J. was a little surprised to arrive home to bare wood in the entryway and piles of hideous carpet decorating the edges.

Well, I mentioned yesterday that we are going to do something about the way our front yard looks and to that end, bought several trees. What I may have neglected to mention is that some fairly large and overgrown bushes needed to be cut down and their stumps dug out before the trees could go in. So that is what has been happening around here. It works out well that B. is as compulsive as I about pet projects and this is a project he can be interested in. He has worked like a dog today, planting the blueberry bushes, digging out two or three stumps, and taking down several bushes. I worked, too. Planting flowers in pots. But then, as I was looking at several of the large, overgrown bushes and noticing that the stump of one (which has yet to be removed), was already sprouting new growth (a good plant for me, as it seems unkillable). This got me to thinking that if we took down the entire row of scraggly, overgrown, and very ugly bushes to their stumps, then they could grow back and look better and be more manageable. And so we (TM and I) started. He is now pacing the kitchen waiting for me to get back outside while I write this and cook rice for dinner at the same time. We have managed to take down almost all of them, with one left which I think we can get done before dinner. The whole thing has created a crazy amount of branches, and I fear now we will have to rent a chipper to get rid of it all. It does really help the look of the front yard, though. At least it will once we drag the mountain of branches littering it to the back.

And, did you know that gardening is terribly dangerous? I nearly put my eye out and I didn't even have a Red Ryder BB gun. I was pruning back some smaller branches, leaned in to reach one, didn't see the pokey end of the branch and ran it straight into my eye. I was wearing sun glasses, though, and that deflected the branch a bit. For a moment I thought it had knocked out my contact lens, until B. started looking at me funny and I realized it was still there and after some blinking it moved back to the right side of my eye. I'm pretty sure that I will be sporting a nice black eye for a day or two. Maybe G.'s idea of wearing safety goggles as a fashion statement (they have them at Sunday School and she puts them on the second she enters the room) isn't such a bad idea.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Plant your garden

The front yard of the Big Ugly House has never been, um, beautiful. In fact, it fits under the 'big and ugly' category rather nicely. There are some things about it that I have detested for the 12+ years we've lived here, yet we still haven't done anything about them. Well, this is the year that we start to work on it.

There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that there are no new babies or children in the house this summer. I can actually think about it and have the energy to help. Next is that we had a little money left over from our tax refund (after spending the rest of it on glamorous things such as insurance and eye appointments and more insurance) and we decided that investing in our yard would be a good use of this money. (I am finding out that gardening is a very expensive hobby. I'm still suffering a bit from sticker shock.) Finally, I didn't want another 12 years to go by and still not have done anything.

This is a little silly, really, because the odds of us being in this house in 12 years are incredibly slim. The truth is, we just can't afford the taxes. (And trust me, they're a lot. When I tell people not from the area what they are, the stunned silence lasts for a good long time.) Yet we still don't have a really good plan in place as to what we should do. We've been in this limbo for several years and we are hopeful that it won't last another several years before we are able to formulate a workable plan.

I don't like living in limbo... that feeling of not wanting to do or start something on the house because we just aren't sure what the future holds. So I've decided to just live in the present and not try to figure out what is worth doing based on the amount of time I imagine we will have left in this house. To that end, we went to the local nursery this morning to pick out some fruit trees and plants. (I've wanted to grow fruit for a long time now.) We purchased some blueberry bushes, two apple trees, and two ornamental trees for either side of the front steps. (There is a lot of digging in B.'s future.)

Buying and planting fruit trees feels like a pretty significant investment in the future. I have no idea how many of those apples and blueberries we will be able to enjoy. But if we are still here in two years, I won't have to look back and kick myself for not planting earlier. And the whole thing is pretty Biblical as well. When the Israelites went into exile in Babylon, God instructed them to plant their gardens. Even though it was promised  they would return to Israel in the future, God wanted them to live in their current place without a temporary mindset.

We have no idea what our future holds, but for now, we're going to focus on the present and do things which are pleasing and good for our family. Such as planting trees.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Story telling

One of the ideas that spurred my thinking the most when I read The Boy Who Would be a Helicopter came out of the section where Ms. Paly discusses the use of fairy tales. Here is one of the quotes I copied,

"Perhaps these issues [relating to fairy tales] appear so urgent because they are substitutes for the real thing. The fairy tales, in one way or another, hit squarely at the single most important issue for any child: will I be abandoned? Will it happen to me as it does to the pigs [as in the Three Little Pigs, when there mother sends them off to build their own houses]? How will I recognize when it's about to occur? What can I do to forestall the inevitable?"

Does this strike you as powerfully as it did me? You see, I am the parent to children for whom the worst thing that could happen to them already has. And for one at least, it has happened not once, not twice, but three times. Three times he has experienced the thing that frightens children the most. The questions of 'Will I be abandoned?' and 'How will I recognize when it's about to occur?' and 'What can I do to forestall the inevitable?' are not the hypothetical worryings of a child in a stable environment, but are based in reality. It has happened so many times, what is to stop it from happening again? He doesn't need fairy tales to substitute as the real thing, he has experienced it first hand.

This is not new news for me, but it still has the power to stop me in my tracks every time I really think about it. Yet this is not where my thinking stopped. I couldn't get the connection to fairy tales out of my head. I think this is because out of all my children, this child is the only one who doesn't tell stories. He doesn't make up little dialogues to go along with his play. He does not just come up with stories. (This is including H. whom I overheard the other day playing with little toys and narrating a story, which was obviously working out some recent events, as she played by herself. I wanted to cheer, but I kept quiet because I didn't want to know that I was listening.) As we were working on our book writing these past few months, the only thing he could really do was to repeat back a story we had read together changing minor details to make it his. Since this imitation-phase is on the path to learning originality, I didn't worry about it too much, but it has made me think.

I have watched enough children narrate their play to know that there is much processing that happens through it. I have watched children turn scary stories into ones they can handle. What if you do not have the capacity to turn a scary story into a manageable one? It remains scary and because it is too much to handle it is stuffed down inside a place where you don't have to think about it.

I think this is an important skill because it does two things. First, our stories are really the only way we have in thinking about what happens to us. We communicate by sharing stories. Pay attention and see if I'm not right. For instance, someone mentions something, and another person will chime in with a story they know that relates to that, then another person will share another story, and so on and so on. Using stories is even how God chooses to communicate with us. The Bible is just one really long story with a lot of different parts. We use stories to make sense of life. How many times when in the midst of some crisis or unpleasantness do you think in the back of your head, "Well, at least it will make a good story at some point"? It is the stories we tell about ourselves that shape how we view ourselves. If you are disconnected from your own stories because they are too scary, then you are disconnected from yourself.

Second, if you are adept at handling stories, you can take on the role of author and reframe them into something that is better, or at least is something that is manageable. This isn't lying, but thinking about things from a different perspective... there is always more than one point of view to a story. But this is a skill and it often needs to be practiced on things a little less personal than one's own story.

So where am I going with all of this? I have decided that this summer we are going to have a 'fairy tale boot camp' around here. Fairy tales really do deal with the scary things of life. I think it's why adults do not tend to like them or at least feel the need to water them down. Some of them really are horrifying. But they also give children the chance to deal with these scary things in a form that is controllable and very separate from their experiences. If you can have practice fooling around with endings and plot and scene of fairy tales, then it gives you the practice to reframe the scary experiences of your own life.

We're starting with one of the most benign fairy tales, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. (If you're looking for a copy of this from my library, you may be out of luck. I think I checked out every version they have.) I thought first we would look at all the different ways various authors have told the story; how each of them are a little different, but it's still the same story. Then I'm going to make use of my printer and laminater (Yeah) and copy various characters and objects from the books and practice telling the story with them. I may make figures for each fairy tale, I'll have to see how things go. I also may also make laminated shapes in various colors to practice telling the story with those as well. (I'll blog more about this later this week. It's based on a fascinating book called, Pictures This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang.)

I want to give a lot of practice with stories. We won't write them down. We'll pretty much read and play. Sounds like a great summer activity, huh?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

All sorts of things

This is going to be a fairly random post, partially because I'm writing it in between steps in the canning process, and partially because I just don't have a whole lot to say on any one thing.

First, I have had quite a few people ask about how H. is doing. I am happy to report that she is recovering very, very well. I was able to stop giving pain medication less than a week after surgery. She just didn't need it. The swelling is still fairly significant, though her eye can open a little bit now. But her face is still so swollen that I don't want to put her glasses on her yet. It means that her eyesight is still not terrific. When we are ready to use the glasses again, I will have to take her in and have them refitted because her profile will have changed so much.

We were back at the plastic surgeon's on Friday. Everyone is thrilled with how she is healing and in another week, she will be considered sufficiently healed that she can start being more active again. That is also when we will start so fairly intensive massage along each of the incisions. Massaging them helps to break up the scar tissue and stops it from becoming the kind of scar that is bumpy and unsightly. Not something you want and certainly not on your face. I'm not entirely sure she is going to be really excited about the process, though.

She is starting to believe us when we say that her face will be smaller when it is all better. We are starting to hear her say that her cheek is little. I still see a lot of swelling, but she is beginning to perceive it as being smaller. It must feel very different. I'm still not quite ready to share a photo yet, but we're getting closer. Most remarkable is that she continues to be pleasant and happy and ready to roll with whatever life gives her. We could all stand to take a lesson from her.

Next, I'm not going to blog about Mother's Day. We celebrate it by me not making dinner, other than that, it is kind of non event. (Well, in full disclosure, the fact I don't have to get up early, direct a children's choir all morning, and strong arm mother's into singing a duet with them, is really all the celebration I need. It's just a matter of perspective.) Truly, everyday is Mother's Day. I get hugs from my children every day. I can love and take care of my children every day. I have the luxury of staying home and being their main teacher and care giver every day. These are not small things, and not to be taken for granted. The minute we create a special holiday where we are supposed to communicate all that a person means to us, we are doomed. There is no way that we can really successfully do this; someone is going to end up feeling badly or unappreciated. (And that would be both the mother and the people celebrating her. What if you do your best and it doesn't seem enough?) The whole thing is rife with misunderstanding. Wouldn't it be better if everyone just tried to show the people in their life that they care about how they appreciate them (in both big and little ways) throughout the year? Really, take the pressure off, people.

And now what everyone has been dying to hear about... the canning. (Where's that sarcasm emoticon?) I was more successful. I have just taken 7 pints out of the canner. That would be 4 pints of mango chutney, 2 pints of straight mangoes, and one mixture of the two. I had some chutney left and some fresh mango left, so decided to combine them together and see what happened. It will probably end up being a lighter tasting chutney. I was pretty happy with the mango chutney recipe I used this time around. Though instead of using ginger paste, I diced some fresh ginger. I would probably also add a chopped apple or two the next time I make it, just because the pectin in the apples will help the chutney to thicken up a little more. I may also play around with the spices a little bit. The previous recipe used curry powder, nutmeg, and cinnamon. It smelled wonderful and J. tried some and declared he could continue to eat the rest of the jar straight. This recipe didn't smell quite so good as it cooked. The previous recipe also added some chopped red pepper, so that might go in next time as well.

Still, this was a much successful venture, We'll be set for several dinners of chicken curry during the winter, plus I can now rest easily knowing that 3 boxes of mangoes are not sitting on my counter rotting away. There are still five mangoes left, but they weren't ripe enough to use and I have no doubt that the mango-eating children will make short work of them the second they are ripe.

One last thought about canning. (Really, I promise... at least until strawberries are ripe.) If you are new to it, be aware that there is a fairly steep learning curve. I find that even at the beginning of each canning season that the first couple of times, it all feels awkward and takes longer than it does after you've been doing it a bit. So, if it is a new skill, hang in there. It does get easier and it does go faster.

And now, it is time to end this post. If you wonder how I know when to stop writing, well, at least this time it's because the dog is throwing up.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Frugal large family meals: Beef and cabbage turnovers

I used to make these all the time, but at some point I guess it started to seem like too much effort, so I stopped. As I was planning our dinners last week, I decided to pull out the recipe again and give it another try. It wasn't as much work as I imagined, though it is a little fussy to feel each turnover. They were pretty popular, though. And for the most party, they are pretty inexpensive, so I decided to share the recipe with you.

I'm giving you the reasonable sized recipe. I realize that not everyone needs to make 30 turnovers, nor does everyone have the giant frying pan needed to cook the doubled filling in. (I doubled the filling and multiplied my biscuit recipe by 2 1/2.)

Beef and Cabbage Turnovers (If I made 30+ turnovers with the doubled amounts, I bet this would fill at least 15 turnovers.)

1 lb ground beef
1/2 head of green cabbage, shredded
1/2 onion, chopped

Brown the ground beef. As it is cooking add the onion to cook it also. When the meat is cooked and the onion translucent, add the cabbage. Turn your heat down to medium and cook ~15 minutes (or more) until the cabbage is cooked, stirring occasionally

While this is cooking, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and make a batch of your favorite biscuit recipe. (What? You don't have one? Never fear, I'll share my mother's down below.). Cut out the biscuits. When the filling is ready, roll each biscuit into a ~6 inch diameter circle. Put some of the filling in the center, fold the dough over and use a fork to seal the edges.  Place the unbaked turnovers on a foil-lined baking sheet and when they're all ready, bake for ~15 minutes or until golden brown.

My mother's biscuit recipe

I never make a single batch, but this is for the original amount - makes ~16 biscuits

2 C flour (I use all whole wheat flour when I make them, but you can also use white or a combination)
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp sugar
1/2 C shortening (I use lard, though you could also use butter or vegetable shortening)
2/3 C milk

Stir together the first 5 ingredients; cut in shortening until the mixture resembles course crumbs. Add milk and stir until a dough forms. Turn out on a lightly floured surface and knead gently 5 or 6 times. Pat or roll out dough to a 1/2 thickness (I tend to make thicker biscuits, they just have to bake a bit longer.) Cut out with a biscuit cutter (or with the rim of a glass if you don't have a biscuit cutter). Bake on an ungreased baking sheet for 10-12 minutes at 450 degrees.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

The grumpy cure

I think one of the best life skills a mother can have (well, anyone really) is the ability to get out of the grumps. We all know that when a mother in unhappy, the chances are certainly better than winning the lottery that the rest of the household will be unhappy as well. A grumpy mother is not a fun person to be and not a nice person to be around. The trouble is, at least in my experience, that the longer one is in a grumpy mood, the more difficult it is to get out of it. This is partly because our fallen human nature has a slight quirk to it. We tend to like to stay in the negative place that we are in. You've felt it haven't you? That feeling of wallowing a bit in your own discomfort? As if it shouldn't be up to us to be responsible for our own mood and we should wait until the world is sufficiently punished and has made it up to us before we begin to change. That somehow taking measures to improve our mental state is somehow like giving up something we deserve.

It's crazy and makes no sense because we would be happier if we didn't wallow, but it can be very difficult to convince ourselves of that in the middle of a good snit. Now, I don't know about you, but my snits are very often in direct correlation to the state of my house. (Or the state of my house is in direct correlation to my snits, I don't know which is more accurate.) If you look around my house, particularly my kitchen, and see that it looks more than a little bit out of control, there is a good chance that my mental state is just a wee bit out of control as well. Now sometimes the house looks as it does (that would be un-perfect) for perfectly good reasons, but at other times it looks that way because I have lost the gumption to stand up and do something about it. Or the gumption to stand up and encourage the others in the household to do something about it... that sometimes takes more effort. And in that moment, my self-esteem and confidence in my ability to cope with life heads downward into a yucky spiral.

This morning, I wasn't feeling too excited by life... nothing in particular, just feeling a little blah. And it was actually no surprise that my kitchen was looking fairly chaotic. So I decided to stop the wallowing in its tracks and do something about. I decided before I did anything else, I needed to clean up the kitchen. It is always most difficult to start (doesn't Mary Poppins say, "Just begun is half done, " or something like that?), but it felt good once I had. And it felt even better when I was done. I felt competent. I could look at my kitchen and not be bothered by it. I felt as though I could tackle explaining reducing fractions to a child.

This is not the first time that cleaning my kitchen has elevated my spirits. There is nearly a 100% correlation between the two activities. So here's my suggestion to you. Are you feeling a little blah about life? Take a look around you. We are highly affected by our environment, especially if we supposedly have control over that environment. Is it looking a little chaotic and out-of-control? Is it starting to mirror how you feel on the inside? Well, try my experiment. Take a small part of the chaos and clean and organize it. I suppose any place could work, but there is something about a clean kitchen that makes you feel life can continue a little more pleasantly. Do give it a try... even if you have to bribe yourself with a little piece of chocolate to get you started.
Do you recognize this little person? Yes, it's Brandi! Isn't this just the sweetest picture of her. Pray for her now more than every before. There just may be a family out there for this sweet little one. Pray, pray, pray! Imagine her no longer having to spend every single moment of her life in a crib. Imagine her surrounded by people who love her. Oh, do pray!

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

More is easier

By now I'm sure that most of you have heard about or seen the recent survey results which were published about how having three children seems to create the most stress in parents. I think what is surprising to the majority of people is that the parents with four or more children reported the least levels of stress compared with parents of smaller amounts of children.

I don't know about the exact number '3', but I do know that my experience has been that more is certainly easier. As you add more children to your family, there are certain things that you learn, most of which go a long way to reducing parental stress. I think there is a lot more to it than the repeated reasoning of having learned zone defense once you are outnumbered.

I tell people all the time that having 7 or 9 or 10 is easier than my experience with 2 or 3. No one believes me, but I tell them anyway. It does make me wonder if I secretly enjoy being looked at as if I had three heads, though. This impression is not just me being delusional, but because of some real, explainable reasons.

What are they?

1. With the addition of each child, your sense of what is 'normal' is broadened.

With two children, you have an 'either-or' situation. You deal in opposites. Because children will find their own niche in a family, often the second child will fill the gap not occupied by the older sibling. It is easy for parents to get into thinking that these are the only possibilities for behavior and personality.

There is a reason that three throws so many. That third child is going to be an unique individual and often that little personality is going to be completely unexpected and seemingly to come from left field. If Child A is like Mom and Child B is like Dad, who does that leave Child C to be like? Their own person.

By the time #4 comes along, Mom and Dad have begun to figure out that the possibilities are wide open as to whom this little person is going to be.Instead of trying to find the expected, they begin to wait with expectancy to watch the unfolding of personality.

2. As parents, you are just more experienced.

The more children you have, the more parenting experiences you have. Bodily fluids do not hold the same ick factor anymore. (They're still not enjoyable, but instead are just a fact of life.) Doctors are already lined up. After three children, someone was probably not hitting developmental milestones exactly, yet is still growing and maturing. You may not have seen it all, but you have a wider sampling of children's development, so that it is easier to just enjoy subsequent babies. There is a lot of worry with the first couple that one just doesn't have with later babies. Perhaps even, one of your older children has had some sort of crisis, medical or otherwise, and you have made it through (or are making it through), enlarging your sense of what you are able to handle. Experience can often bring with it a sense of calm.

3. With more than three children, you learn that something has to give in the schedule.

Parents with more children are often more relaxed simply because they are not chauffeur, maid, coach, cook, and cruise director for their children. They just cannot be everything to everyone and that's OK. Parents of larger families learn to prioritize, to sign up for limited sports and activities, to expect children's help with household chores, and not feel the need to give children every latest gadget. Realizing that we just can't do it all is incredibly freeing... and relaxing.  With two children, you can still run the car ferry and make it work, even if it does add some stress. With three, it becomes just that much trickier and the parents still have yet to give themselves permission to let some of it drop. (Please, I'm not saying every parent of three children does this, but I've certainly seen quite a few.) I think the single biggest way a family can reduce their stress level immediately is to cut back on outside activities and commitments.

4. Many hands makes light work.

This is very true. As children are added, the oldest are reaching an age where they can be helpful. A house gets clean much faster with 5 people cleaning than with just one. There are more people who are capable of doing things to help. Of course, this is assuming the children have been trained to help, and the parents need to let go of having everything perfect. Which leads me to my last point,

5. By the time child number four has arrives, parental delusions of perfection have been pretty much decimated.

Perfect house. Perfectly clothed children. Perfect yard. Idealize notion of what leisure looks like. The first three children have often done the hard work of reordering their parents expectations and principles. The younger children reap the rewards of more relaxed parents with more accurate expectations of what life can and should look like. With child number three, especially if those three children are still young, the process of reordering is still in progress. It can be painful (at least for the parents) as they are forced to either reassess what is important and what life is going to look like or they can continue to fight against these forces of nature.

There are always times in a family when life is stressful... either due to a new child being added or money problems or other crises. Having a certain number of children is no guarantee to having a stress-less life. But really that is just life; it is completely separate from how many children you have. And just because you are feeling stress with 2 or 3 children it doesn't follow that with the addition of another child a certain amount of stress is added accordingly. It's not. In fact, because of all the reasons I've mentioned, it might even make for a more relaxed family.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Just doing a little bragging

Since I have yet to share what B.'s plans are for the fall, I guess the novelty has worn off of having my homeschooled-all-along children be accepted into college. It's certainly not because I'm any less proud of him. The second heading to college does seem a little less earth-shattering, mainly because having sent one to college already (where she's doing very well), had gone a long way to convincing me that we hadn't ruined our children with our crazy lifestyle choices.

But B. is quickly coming to the end of his high school career, so I guess I should brag about that a little bit, huh? He was accepted into the same college that M. has been attending, complete with academic scholarship. He had been taking classes there this year and had enjoyed it (M. enjoyed it, too) and decided that it was where he wanted to go. The benefit is that having become friends with quite a few people already, he is set up with a roommate and feels quite comfortable there. I think he is looking forward to moving onto campus in the fall. (Am I looking forward to it? No, I do not think I am.)

B. still has a couple of things to finish before he can call himself done with high school. First he has some paper/final stuff this week to finish for his college level classes, then he has his last show with Thin Ice Theater. Here's their very cool flyer designed by a Chicago artist:

B. will be playing Jonathan, the insane and scary brother in the play. He is enjoying the rehearsals and I'm looking forward to seeing it. Please come if you are in the area... it should be a fabulous show and not your typical youth theater. But it will be hard. I remember the mixture of emotions I felt for M.'s last show and it doesn't get any easier. I will probably cry a little bit. (P21, you and I can sit together and share a box of tissues.) I've warned B., so he is prepared.

Since so far we haven't had any really extroverted children who relish the thought of a graduation party, we do something a little different. The graduate gets to choose a restaurant and we (those of us in high school and up) go out to dinner together. It is really lovely to have a meal with just our oldest children and be able to enjoy their company without a lot of interruptions. Cute interruptions, but interruptions none the less.

I am so proud of my son. He is smart and kind and funny and thoughtful and caring. I enjoy his company and love to watch him dote on G. and L. And I will miss him terribly when he is at school next fall, even if it is only 25 minutes away.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Why I should be America's (real life) test kitchen

I've the decided the problem with the idea behind America's Test Kitchen is that it is solely populated with adults. Sure, you can do amazing things and try out 59 ways to cook the same dish to discover which is better without any distractions. But I bet what mothers really want to know is what items can be prepared while being distracted with any number of things, including small children. I'm sure you've all discovered recipes that do not follow through on their claims, either for amount or time or how good it is supposed to taste. The real question is not which is the best way to prepare something, but can it be prepared in less than ideal circumstances, be served at a reasonable time, and be edible.

So why should I be the test kitchen? Well, first, I have a really workable kitchen. Lots of counters, big stove, double-ovens. All the stuff that a test kitchen would need. But even better, I have distractions galore. It's not every test kitchen that also has three year old twins who routinely do NOT make it to the toilet. It's not every test kitchen that is also home to a 10 month old puppy for whom learning manners is, ahem, a developing skill. (And who really likes food. And to bark. And to chew up stuff.) As if this isn't enough I also have the grade school aged child whose super power is to ask questions. And it's not just asking questions in a normal voice, but questions aimed at you as if from a weapon. Loud and never ceasing, yet somewhat erratic (in both type and amount) so as to keep you off your guard. As a bonus there is also the bundle-of-energy boy who, at odd moments, careens through the kitchen causing walking hazards along the way. This normally occurs when a very hot pot must be transported between surfaces. (And you thought cooking wasn't exciting.)

These are just the extra distractions. My kitchen is also populated with children who like to talk to (at?) you about whatever book they are reading at the moment. This one is fairly easy because it often takes the form of a monologue and as long as appropriate noises are made every so often, the cooking can continue. And there are the children who like to ask important questions regarding calendars and schedules, particularly while something must be counted. Plus the children who must eat something immediately or they will die right there on the kitchen floor, thus creating another obstacle to step over.

Having navigated these distractions, I successfully did some canning today. After ~four hours of chopping and cooking and washing and filling and processing (a midst other distractions -- see above), I now have the sum total of TWO pints of mango chutney cooling on my counter. (If you don't can, let's just say this is a disappointing amount.) This was from a recipe that promised me 9 pints when I began it. It smelled good, and it tastes good, but little else about the recipe worked as stated. It took longer to cook than stated, I managed to burn it on both pots I was using (it happened at exactly the same moment -- a moment I was distracted -- so a warning would have been appreciated), and the end quantity was far, far off.

On the plus side, I did manage to use up the six ripe mangoes out of the cases so I have a couple days break to work out plan 2 while the rest ripen. And I do have two pints of chutney. It wasn't a complete bust.

Thus ends this installment of America's real life test kitchen. Where we burn the chutney so you don't have to.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

The beginning of canning season...

is not actually starting today, but sometime this week, I hope. Two summers ago I was very diligent about preserving food. I ended up with quarts and quarts of canned fruit and pickles and jam and applesauce. I also had plenty of frozen fruit in my freezer that we had picked. It felt good and I didn't buy any canned fruit or jam or applesauce or pickles at all the next year. That felt really, really good. 

Last summer? Well, not much canning happened. Actually the only preserving that went on was to freeze the flat of cherries I bought at the farmer's market and can the case of pears I bought at the grocery store when they were less than 30 cents a pound. It was meager effort. In my defense there were mitigating circumstances. First, we had just brought home H. and I was completely unprepared for exactly how taxing, both mentally and physically, that would be. I had very little energy left over to do much of anything, much less can. The other factor that didn't help was the drought. There just wasn't a whole lot growing to pick and preserve. It either ripened at an odd time and we couldn't get to picking it or there just wasn't anything to pick. Even if I had had the energy, there wouldn't have been a lot to work with. 

I'm hopeful that this summer will be different. I've missed having a full pantry and don't like to have to rely on what I get in the grocery store. (I usually prefer the taste of what I've made at home, aside from the fact I know what went in it all.) It also keeps that rogue prepper streak which I usually keep fairly well in check satisfied. I have pretty big plans.

For this week, I plan on starting with canning some mango chutney. I wish I could say that I came up with this brilliant idea on my own, but must give credit to the H-S family mom. We had been discussing that mangoes are $3.99 a case this week and she said she was going to get an extra case and try making chutney.  I know when I hear a good idea and am completely stealing this one. We really like chutney, but I really don't like the cost of the little jars. So I, too, bought an extra case and plan on turning them into chutney. I've been investigating recipes, trying to decide how to make it. The trick is that not all chutney recipes can be canned, either because they contain ingredients which cannot be canned safely or they are not acidic enough to preserve. This may be my experimental year and I end up doing small batches of a couple recipes. I'll let you know what works.

I also hope to finally get the cherries I froze last summer turned into jam. That was my intention originally, but the whole lack of energy-thing took its toll and I ended up just throwing them in the freezer. We need some good jam, so cherry jam is also on the docket. Along with canning and freezing, I also hope to invest in a dehydrator and try drying my own fruit as well.

So my questions for all of you are.... does anyone have a really good mango chutney recipe appropriate for canning that they like and which will save me a whole bunch of experimenting? And, if you own a dehydrator, what kind do you have, do you like it, and what do you tend to use it for? Really, I guess I'm asking is it worth it?
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