Thursday, October 23, 2014

Guest Posting at Ripped Jeans and Bifocals

Its official.  Somebody other than my mother thinks I occasionally write something worth sharing.

My foster-in-law (Does Hallmark make cards for that?) Jill asked me to guest post on her blog "Ripped Jeans and Bifocals" for a series she put together asking others "What they wish they knew".  How lucky am I that I get to be featured on a wildly popular blog written by a super funny lady?  There may be some nepotism involved, but I'll take it.

While you're over there, you will want to check out some of her other posts.  Warning - they can be addicting.  Be sure you have fed and watered your children because you'll most likely binge-read it to the neglect of home and family.

Here's the link to the blog post:   Ripped Jeans and Bifocals

photo credit:
Photo credit:

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Mommy Badges

A few weeks ago, I ran into a mommy friend at the library.  I was driving my van.  I don't mean I ran into her literally, like a potentially lethal bump, but the figurative ran into.

Side note - I had seen this particular friend several times in the course of a few weeks at the library and Target.  I think she might be stalking me.  I'm sure she is reading this, confirming the stalking.  Its a good thing she would be a nice stalker to have or I might have to run into her with my van literally. 

Anyway, I bragged to her about how my 15-passenger van parking has improved and I was able to pull into the parking space perfectly, on the first try.  Perhaps I felt the need to talk-up my Driving 101 accomplishments because nobody else sees them except a few kids who don't know how tough it is.

That got us talking about how many awesome things moms do that never get any recognition.  In light of this, I have decided that we parents need the opportunity to earn Mommy Badges in the same tradition as scouting badges.

Perhaps there would be a monthly award ceremony (alcohol optional) where we mommies could get together to congratulate each other for all the skills we have learned and all the hard work we have put into parenting, most of which is unseen and unappreciated.  Let's encourage each other.

I think I still have my Brownie sash somewhere.  I considered searching through a box or two looking for it so I could post the picture here, but then it seemed like too much work.  I think I deserve a badge for lowering my standards.

Here are some of my suggestions:

The "We arrived on Time" badge - Did you successfully get all of your brood someplace on time?  Did each child have matching footwear?  Bonus points if you arrived after getting everyone in snow boats, coats, mittens, hats, etc.  You can use more than one motivational technique - bribery, threats, yelling, pleading, angry face, physically carrying child, etc. 

The "Completely Caught up on Laundry" badge - This badge has rarely been earned by anyone with children.  This badge is inevitably and ironically followed up with the following badge.

The "Vomit in the Bed Clean Up" Badge - Criteria for this badge requires that the vomit affect at least a half dozen stuffed animals, too.  Be prepared for your child to cry hysterically enough for the puked on animals that you have the opportunity to earn the badge a second time.

The "I Listened to a Retelling of a Television Show that Lasted Longer than the Show Itself" Badge - There is flexibility in the earning of this badge.  Whether your child describes in excruciating, monotonous detail a television show, movie, or video game you must listen with a vague impression of interest on your face.  Encouraging your child to act out the scenes results in extra credit.

The "I only bought what was on my list at Target" Badge - You only planned on going in for diapers and didn't ended up with a half cart full of groceries, superhero undies and several packs of light bulbs?  Well done.  This badge cannot be used with a trip to Wal-Mart because there is more of a temptation to exit the facility immediately as that is where hopes and dreams go to die.

The "Anti-Pintrest Birthday Party" Badge - You must not follow a theme.  You must not make heirloom quality decorations that will be ruined as soon as little Johnny throws his carefully selected goody bag at the wall in a fit of rage induced by any cowboy/clown/princess/Elvis impersonator professionals hired for the event's entertainment.  Food must contain high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, and artificial colors, however a token bowl of baby carrots may be offered.  Food must be served on disposable plates.  You may not spend the equivalent of a semester of college on any aspect of the festivities. And for heaven's sake, you may not post any crafts involved on Pintrest to increase expectations for other parents.

The "Unapologetic Trashing of Artwork" Badge - This badge is recommended for seasoned parents only.  Have you stuck your child's eighty-thousandth scribbled craft in the recycling in front of your child?  It takes a certain amount of steeled nerves to show appropriate appreciation for the half-hearted, 20 second effort your child put into the art project and still let them know the recycling man will be hauling it away.

The "I'm Good Enough" Badge - This is the badge I hope all my Mom friends get.  To earn it, you must be willing to laugh at your parenting flubs and ideally share them with me on Mom's Night Out.  (Yes, you need to prioritize yourself enough to take time out for yourself and your grown-up friends.)   You will have learned that nobody's life is as amazing as Facebook makes it out to be.  You will contribute to the betterment of all Moms by stopping trying to portray a perfect family life on social media or in person.  You will know that your best effort is all that can be asked.  You will know that a disappointed child does not mean you fail as a parent.  And you will learn that your children will thrive when you stop trying to be perfect and settle into the lower pressure goal of "Good Enough".

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fitbit Fans?

My sweet hubby Ben got a free Fitbit through his work a couple of weeks ago.  After he had it a couple of days, I asked if I could borrow it, just to see what it was like. 

I'm glad he hasn't asked for it back yet.

Most of you know I am fairly technology averse.  I don't need gizmos doing things for me.  So when he got this Fitbit, I didn't even know what it was.  I am apparently that uncool.

Turns out (for any of you readers who are also uncool) Fitbit is like a fancy pedometer.  It calculates your steps, very active minutes, calories burned, and distance covered.  It tracks your sleep, too, calculating how many times and when you were restless or awake.

Magically, the Fitbit syncs up to your computer whenever you are nearby and uses this data to compile graphs and keep track of your data.

Now all this is well and good.  But here is the evil-genius beauty of it:  online Fitbit communities.  You can compete against other people in online communities.  There is no lying about how many steps you take, because the Fitbit enters all the information. You can see where you are ranked in the group and how many steps other people have taken.  You can see how many more steps you need to pass the next person.

Ooh.  The competitive person in me loves this.  Ben is much more self-motivated.  I used to be, but after seven kids I need a little more to get me out of bed at 6 AM to exercise. 

Here's my question - are any of you, dear readers, part of an online Fitbit community?  I'd love to creepily stalk your steps have the chance to encourage each others.

*  I am not sponsored in any way by Fitbit.  I just think it is cool.

This isn't actually my arm.  I am charging my Fitbit and am not going to walk up the stairs to get the camera if my Fitbit overlord isn't going to count it.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Why do Family Pictures Have to be So Hard?

When people think about the challenges of big families, they often think some thing are really difficult that aren't so much for us (getting all the kids to bed, cooking for a crowd).  But they often don't consider how hard other aspects are.  

Let me share something that is extraordinarily difficult for a large family - taking a group picture where everyone looks good.  Or even okay.  Why does it have to be so stinkin' hard?

We recently had our family picture taken for our church directory by the professional photographer they supplied.  Before we reviewed the photos to choose from, the photographer admonished us not to expect a picture where everyone looks great.  He basically told us to lower our expectations.  I let him know they were already sufficiently low and that I just wanted everyone looking in the general direction of the camera.

Because of copyrights, I can't scan in the picture to show you how it turned out. 

But I can share a sample photo session we did at home after church one day with just 6 of the 7 kids.  There were a dozen others equally entertaining.  And no, these were not intended to be silly.  These were suppose to be the "nice" pictures.

Finally, the best we are going to hope for.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

My Date With Sir Paul (and Ben)

Best.  Date.  Ever. 

For an early birthday present, Ben got us tickets to see Paul McCartney in concert in Minneapolis on Saturday.   I won't invoke your envy by describing all the awesome songs he sang (just to me, I am sure) on a perfect summer evening.

Yes, this photo was taken with a flip phone.  Ben was so embarrassed to use it he tried to talk me out of taking a picture of ourselves when we were there.  Finally, during the encore he relented.

A big part of a concert experience is the crowd surrounding you.  And we had some characters around us that added to the amusement of the evening.  The demographics for the concert were all over the map.  They ranged in age from the pre-pubescent to those with white hair, white athletic shoes, and white fanny packs.

Within an arm's reach of us, we had the 20-something weeper.  She cried through Blackbird (understandable).   She also cried through Lovely Rita, Helter Skelter, and Day Tripper. 

There was the sweet guy sitting in the row in front of us who shouted encouragement between every song.  "Great job, Paul!"  "You can do it, Paul!"  "Keep it up, Paul!"  His enthusiasm was infectious and he added to my joy of the evening.

We also had the hipster who really, really liked the Wings songs.  Sure he was polite during the  Beatles songs and Paul's most recent songs.  But once those Wing songs came up he hopped the entire time.  His vertical was impressive while holding his beverage of choice. 

But the most memorable audience member of the night was the, for want of better word, slutty dancer beside me.  She spent the first half of the concert taking selfie after selfie on her phone while posing in what I  assume she thought were alluring poses.   She wore what can only be generously described as a fringed sports bra and floppy hat.  When she wasn't taking her own picture, she kept asking others to take her picture, sometimes with her boyfriend, sometimes alone.  I avoided eye contact to prevent being trapped like the poor couple who spent two whole songs taking her picture for her.

Toward the end of the evening, she grew tired of documenting the evening and flipping through the selfies.  As the alcohol either wore off or kicked in, she grew slightly belligerent with Boyfriend.  Then at one point she grabbed a socially awkward, middle age man heading toward the bathroom and began doing a provocative dance while holding his hands.  He clearly did not know how to disengage.  I was equally parts horrified and amused. 

I was close enough to look up Paul's nose if I wanted to.  Not that I would.  That is weird and gross.  But I could have if I wanted to. 

One of my biggest concerns for the night turned out to be nearly a non-issue.  You see, I hate the part where the audience is suppose to clap in unison.  I dread that part because I can never find or stay on the beat.  I end up feeling extraordinarily awkward either from clapping at the wrong time or from looking like I am not enjoying myself by not clapping at all.  I had discussed it ahead of time, letting Ben know that my lack of rhythmic clapping is in no way an indication of my enjoyment of the concert.  Fortunately, we were only prompted to clap together for half of a song. 

I left with my little crush on Paul intact.  No, I don't want to do anything really inappropriate. I just maybe want to hug him for a moment too long - just when it gets to that slightly uncomfortable phase.  That's all.  Ben seems to be okay with my little crush on the 72 year old man - who to be fair, looks and acts like a man a couple of decades younger.

The only down side I can think of from this evening is knowing that I am not going to see a better concert.  How could anyone be better in concert than the cute Beatle?  Thanks Sir Paul and Ben for the best date ever.

Friday, July 18, 2014

You might have a big family if...

30 Signs You Might Have a Big Family...

1.  You realize that you have to get to get going planning your next grocery trip because you are down to only three gallons of milk in your fridge.

2.  You have multiples of major appliances - extra clothes washers, refrigerators, furnaces, etc.

3.  You drive a vehicle that sometimes requires having a special driver's license.  You hear multiple references to a "clown car" when you exit your vehicle.

4.  You have to attach extra paper to forms because there is not enough room to list all your children.

5.  You can't eat together in a restaurant unless you shove multiple tables together - on one of those rare occasions each year when you can afford to take the whole family out to eat.

6.  People count your children out loud when you pass them in public.  They assume your family is a daycare or church group.

7.   Unless you want to start baths before supper, you need to have a morning and night shift schedule for baths and showers.

8.   You seriously question the wisdom of purchasing a new toy, piece of equipment, etc. if "only" two or three kids will end up using it.

9.  Hand-me-down clothes don't get stored away, they just travel from one dresser to the next, to the next.

10.  Many people are afraid to have your family over for a meal (Hint - You can make pasta, its cheap.  And the kids can eat sitting on the floor with place mats or a towel picnic-style.)
11.  You can't legally stay in one hotel room - even a suite.

12.  Anytime you find cheap shoes, you buy them, regardless of the size.  Somebody will end up wearing them within the year.

13.  You fill an entire pew at church.

14. Your family qualifies for school group pricing at attractions.  You always feel cheated when family passes are limited to two adults and two children.

15.  You can easily meet your insurance deductible in the first half of the year.

16.  You truly believe your house is so quiet with "only" three or four kids home. 

17.  You have had at least one child in diapers for a dozen years or more.

18.  You start purchasing the industrial sized canned food - and you aren't having a party.  You see "family sized" packages of food and know you will still have to buy two or three.

19.  Keeping scrapbooks for each individual child up to date makes you break out in a sweat. 

20.  When trying to remember when an event occurred, you rely on the visualizing how many children were in the family at the time to narrow down the year.

21.  You have your children count off before traveling.

22.  Your grocery shopping is done not when you get everything on your list, but when your cart is too full to fit anything else.  Then cashier regularly shuts down the lane when you begin unloading your groceries.

23.  You have never actually converted that fancy crib into a toddler bed or twin bed, but instead just pass it down to the next child.  You constantly scan Craig's List for bunk beds and dressers - you can always use more.

24.  You think its cute when people say they have to wait to run the dishwasher because they don't have a full load.

25.   You really don't notice an extra two or three or ten neighborhood kids in your yard.

26.   You don't have room to sign every one's name on greeting cards.

27.  You need a heavier chain for your mother's necklace with all the miniature children represented.

28.  You run out of room on your kids' growth chart.

29.  You have to write down your kids' birthdays so you don't blank out when scheduling doctor, dentist, orthodontist, etc. appointments.  Bonus points if you have spent over an hour scheduling 15 or more separate appointments.

30.  Scheduling parent-teacher conferences requires military precision.

**Bonus sign - There is always somebody to snuggle with, talk to, fight with, play a game with, share secrets with, daydream

All of these accurately describe my family.  Have I missed any?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Pop! Pop! Pop!

Sometimes our family eats popcorn and fruit for supper.  Not mixed together, that would gross.   But we will all sit on our big sectional couch (yes, we all fit) and eat popcorn and watch a movie.  Or like lots of families, we'll just pop some popcorn for a snack in the evening.  Mmmm. Popcorn.  Yummy and cheap.

We have a very well used air popper that we use.  Unfortunately, it takes forever and a half to pop enough popcorn for all of us.  And one of us - admittedly usually Ben - will have stand over the popcorn popper making batch after batch after batch, dodging scalding hot kernels that fly out of the machine un-popped..  This means he either misses part of the show and the rest of us don't really hear much while he is popping, or it we have to push bedtime back because we are waiting to start watching the show.

What to do? 

Why buy an enormous popcorn popper of course!  I finally broke down and bought Ben this monstrosity of a machine for his birthday/Father's Day present.  It was advertised as appropriate for a commercial setting.  Good heavens.  It is sitting, all tacky-like in our dining room because there is no other place to put it.

But boy does that thing make some good popcorn.  In just a couple of batches, we are done. This is yet another mega-sized addition to our lives (along with our sweet 15-passenger van shown here , our huge couch, our huge pots and pans, our huge table, and our huge menagerie of additional appliances.)

This is the exact model we got.  Look at all that buttery goodness.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Laundry Redux

Laundry has been the bane of my existence for several years now.  Some of you might recall my self-incriminating photos of laundry pile-up on this blog post .  After adding two children to the mix since these photos were taken, shockingly the laundry needing to be done has only increased. 

We have finally, officially given up on laundry.  At least laundry done correctly and thoroughly.  After seeing several laundry baskets piled up in the dining room waiting to be folded, sorted and put away, Ben just dumped all the clothes onto the floor.  Then he had the kids sort out the laundry, putting each person's clothes into individual baskets and the children (age 6 and up) were instructed to fold their own laundry and put it away.

Its things like this that make me so frustrated with my husband.  No, not out of his change to the system, but because he had the audacity to implement it first.  I wish I could claim credit for this organized chaos, but he beat me to it.  And jealousy rears its ugly head again.

Here is where the beauty of the system comes in.  We didn't check to see how well they folded the laundry or if they even did.  Without actually looking, slacker parents can "assume" their children are just really, really fast folders and did not, in fact, just shove clothes into random drawer and slam it shut.

Laundry today was finished in record time.  I think I'm going to love this new system.

If I don't check my kids' dresser drawers, I am going going to have to assume this is what they look like.  

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Now You See It, Now You Don't

I want you to look closely at the following pictures and see if you can see the difference.  Look carefully beyond her cuteness.  Notice anything?

Notice the stylish tights wound behind her back and on her hands?  This was my brilliant idea to keep her from pulling out her tube again.  She was able to pull off the socks we put on her hands.  I think I should patent this and make a bajillion dollars.  Or at least enough to pay some of her medical bills.  The tube tucked behind bows also helps keep it from being tugged out.

Look at that cute baby.  You can't tell me that she looks like she is suffering from "Failure to Thrive" anymore.

Well done!  You are right.  Her ng tube is now out.  My baby girl is now able to drink out of a bottle. 

Juliet partially passed her latest swallow study.  She still aspirates on regular liquids, but she can now tolerate thickened liquids without any going into her lungs.  She will be on thickened liquids for the next one and a half to two months for sure and then we will reevaluate to see if she can tolerate regular liquids.

What does this mean?

Remember how all of our mothers put rice cereal in our bottles to make us sleep better at night?  And do you also remember how mothers today are told to never put rice cereal in a bottle and don't start introducing anything other then formula or milk for the first four to six months or your child will grow up fat with food allergies, diabetes, eczema, and celiac disease if they are lucky enough to avoid (ironically enough) choking  on the bottle of death first. 

Goodbye feeding tube!

Well, we were told by medical professionals to put rice cereal in her bottle to make it easier for her to swallow without aspirating.  And not just a little either.  We have to put over 3 tablespoons in each 4 ounce bottle. The sludge is about the thickness of a smoothie.

Unfortunately, breast milk has an enzyme in it that causes the liquid to not thicken properly, so Juliet is on formula now.  And since I am hopeful that she will eventually be able to drink normally, I have to continue to pump to maintain my supply.  My freezer is being overrun with an apocalypse ready supply of milk - assuming that electricity is still running during the apocalypse.

Ironically, my schedule hasn't changed too much with this development.  Juliet throws up her whole bottle if she is laid down right after she eats, so we have to keep her fairly vertical for 15-20 minutes after she eats, and I am still pumping several times a day.  But, unequivocal progress is a wonderful thing.

Monday, June 23, 2014

How Many Emergencies Can I Cram Into 24 Hours?

Crapola!  Did I really just see that happen?

I was pulling into the grocery store parking lot and a lady rolled out of the driver's side door of the truck driving in front of me!  She scraped her side and bumped her head.  I immediately pulled over to see how she was (thank goodness I was driving slowly so I didn't run her over).   I assumed she had been pushed out due to some sort of domestic violence situation because, really, have you ever seen an adult roll out of a moving vehicle?

She was conscious, and the first thing she said was, " Did the truck stop?"

What?!?  She was in the truck alone and fell out?  I assumed there was a driver who would be taking off, but no.  I watched the truck continue through the parking lot and crash into another vehicle.  Thank heaven it didn't hit a pedestrian or an occupied vehicle.

I called 911 and tried to keep her calm.  Her head wasn't bleeding, but she also wasn't overly coherent.  I didn't know if it was because of a concussion, the fright of falling out of a moving vehicle, a cognitive issue, or a combo.  When the police and ambulance arrived, they also thought something was off and started asking about any alcohol or drugs, prescription medication, epilepsy, etc.  Then they saw a hospital band on her wrist and started asking about that while taking her to the ambulance.

I don't know what was going on with that situation, but she was so blessed to not have had more intensive injuries.  I'm hoping she'll be getting whatever help it is she needs.

Oh, and then to top off one of the most crazy 24 hours of my life, in the wee morning hours my baby girl ripped out her feeding tube, necessitating a call to the home health nurse to come to our home asap.

And then a few hours after that, my Veronica tripped in the church nursery and bashed her head by her eye on the table in there.  We took the blood-gushing girl to urgent care.  They decided to glue instead of stitches, but recommended a trip to the plastic surgeon in 6 months.

At this point, I am too exhausted to freak out.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Unexpected Feeding Glitches for Juliet

So our new baby adventures have not quite turned out the way we thought they would.  Juliet has been having some struggles, hence the lack of time to post updates.

A basic summary of our first month with our sweet baby girl.  She was unable to gain weight initially.  Her three week weigh in showed that she was still significantly below her birth weight.  After several doctor and lactation appointments, the decision was made to switch to bottle feeding.  You know its not a great situation when the lactation consultant tells you to stop nursing.

Then from week 3 to week 4, she made huge progress when being bottle fed.  She gained one pound in a week.  We figured the main problem was over, we'd let her gain some weight, and switch back to nursing.  However the parenting roller coaster had a few more unexpected twists and hills.

She had a swallow study the day after we learned of her great weight gain.  This is a test where the baby drinks from a bottle with barium so specialists can watch the child in a live-action kind of x-ray.  It was immediately detected that Juliet has been aspirating many times every feeding, meaning she has been inhaling milk along with swallowing it.  We knew she choked sometimes, but it turns out she was also silently aspirating - meaning she was aspirating with no outward signs.

We were admitted to the hospital that day and an ng feeding tube was placed.  This is a feeding tube that runs from her nose to her stomach.  She seems to be tolerating the tube feedings and has been gaining weight.  The goal is that using the tube will give her throat and lungs a chance to heal and eventually she will be able to switch to thickened liquid from a bottle to nursing.

Since we can't confirm what is causing these issues, we don't know when she will no longer need the tube.  It could be weeks, months, or longer. 

The uncertainty is tough.  So is the round-the-clock pumping to provide her milk and maintain my supply in addition to the time spent on her feedings.  So is the triple-check system to make sure her tube is still properly placed every time before she eats to be sure that we don't accidentally pump her lungs full of fluid during exhausted middle-of-the-night feedings.

But, at least we have a game plan and a goal.  We know why she wasn't gaining weight and have a plan to address it.   We have a way of keeping her safe.  We have insurance.  We have access to excellent medical care.  We have family and friends that have been outstanding supports through all of this. 

And not to be overshadowed by these unexpected challenges, God has given us this incredibly sweet baby to love. 

My goodness that is one of the seven cutest kids I have ever seen.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Kid's Day

It is Kids' Day at our house.  What?  You don't know about that made-up holiday?  My children have been eagerly talking about it and looking forward to it for weeks.

I established Kids' Day a few years ago in celebration of the last day of school.  Yesterday was the last day of school for our older kids (Veronica still has one more day to make up for all the weather cancelled ones this winter.)  And the day after the last day of school is Kids' Day.

Kids' Day is the one day of the year where I put minimal limits on the kids.   If they want to wear jammies all day, fine.  If they want to watch TV and play video games, (both of which I normally place fairly strict limits on) I let them.  If they want to snack on pre-sweetened cereal and eat too much candy - great.  If they want to spend the day reading, getting filthy in the mud, sleeping, or just about any other morally appropriate activity, I let them.

Why did I institute Kids' Day when, according to the old adage, every day is Kids' Day?  Well, sometimes it is just nice to be the "fun" parent for a change.  And one day of being the "fun" parent is about all I can handle.  I thought about how nice it would have been when I was a child to have had one day in the year where I could do just about whatever I wanted.  And I also think it gets the laziness out of their system.

During summer, I expect my kids to be outside.  A lot.  I expect them to run around, get filthy, and keep the TV and Wii turned off.  I expect them to draw, read, and daydream.  I expect them to create alternate worlds with the neighbors and build inexplicable, yet intricate crafts that they need to decipher for me.

And having one overindulgent day, I think, gets the laziness out of them.  By the end of the day, they are sick of electronics (but maybe not the special treats) and ready to really start the summer.

And as they get older, they will have nostalgic memories of a made-up family holiday that nobody else celebrates, but helps solidify their sense of belonging to our family.

No, not our TV, but it reminds me of the TV we upgraded to when I was young.  I remember how incredibly cool I thought it was to have push buttons for the channel instead of a turn dial.  We still only had 4 stations, but we could change them in style.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Our Sweet New Baby

Between lack of sleep, end-of-the-school-year craziness, trying to keep seven (Gasp!  That sounds like a lot!) kids alive, and C-section recovery, this post has been a long time coming.  Nine days.  Actually nine months and nine days to be technical.

But, here she is.  The newest member of our family:

Juliet Claire
Weight - 8 lbs. 1 oz.
Length - 21 inches

Don't you dare try to convince me her smiles are just gas. 

She is a very smiley girl who loves to be held.  All. The. Time.  Thus the sleep deprivation I mentioned earlier.

This delivery was another C-section - my fourth.  During the delivery, I heard the doctor's surprised voice announcing that she was breech.  That explains a lot of the discomfort during this pregnancy.  Connor was also breech, so in retrospect, I recognize what I was feeling.  Having a kid's head shoved in my ribcage for months does not make for a comfortable pregnancy.

Fortunately this time around, I actually got to see the birth.  Well, I got to see it after the fact at least.  I talked Ben into video taping the surgery.  He just peeked the camera over the sheet they hang up to separate the mom from a gaping view of her innards.  He was also able to take some still pictures from the surgery, too.

I am grateful I did not marry a squeamish man.  He did amazingly well.

The craziest picture he took was a picture of me with my smiling face on one side of the curtain and my innards displayed in my wide open abdomen on the other side.  Because some of my dear readers might not have as strong of a constitution as my husband, I will refrain from posting either the video or the graphic pictures.  But trust me, they are awesome.

I'm excited to share more stories of our newly expanded family.  But after I get a little more sleep.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Sign of Spring

It is a sure sign of Spring when you start to see garden gnomes.

Come on - you see it too, don't you?

The boy loves to wear this hat.

Hoping all you dedicated readers stop surfing useless blogs like this and get a chance to enjoy the weather!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Four Days is a Long Time

I'm nearing the end of this pregnancy and it can't come soon enough.  I just had my appointment with the doctor who will be performing my C-section to schedule the date.

I've had both traditional and C-section births, and let me tell you.  C-sections are much tougher.  The recovery sucks.  Other than obvious safety issues, the only advantage I can see to having a C-section is that you get to have the baby 1 week before your due date.  My oldest was two weeks late, so I don't take lightly that one special perk.

So when I went to the doctor to schedule my C-section yesterday, I had the exact day in mind.  The day that I had been counting down to.  For the last 100 days or so, I could tell you exactly how many days till my expected delivery date.  And the doctor confirmed that yes, Friday, May 9th was the date he would "typically" schedule the c-section. 

Did you catch that?  Typically.  But not this time.

Because Mr. Doctor is going to be on vacation that I helped pay for with my 3 prior C-sections.  Friday. Saturday.  Sunday AND Monday.  So, of course I won't mind scheduling for the following Tuesday, right?  It wouldn't be bad for baby to have a little more time to mature, either.  How does that sound? 

Let me tell you how that sounds.  Sucky.  Awful.  Crap-a-roni.  Four days is a stinkin' long time when I am already waddling around because my four previous pregnancies have stretched my ligaments and muscles past the point of recognition.  96 extra hours is a long time to grunt when I get up from the couch or try to roll over in bed.  5,760 minutes more is a long time to wait to find out if the bald, squirming baby smooshing my bladder is a boy or a girl. 

I am sure I gave my best deer-in-the headlights look to the doctor as I tried to calmly refrain from weeping openly in his office.  After the casual way he described it, I would have sounded like a horrible, selfish parent for wanting this creature out of my abdomen sooner.  And I am still saddled with the personal shortcoming of caring what other people think of me. 

I am to the point where I am just about ready for any OB, general surgeon, nurse, or even someone who has watched a doctor show on TV to scrub up and cut the kid out.  Any takers out there?

Otherwise I am left here.  Waiting.  For 39 more days.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Mighty Fisherman Has Returned

Sawyer had recently informed (who knows how many people) that "My dad left home for a long time."  For anyone who may be questioning the state of my marriage, let me reassure you.  The "long time" Sawyer was referring to was several days last week when Ben went up to the Minnesota-Canada border for a winter camping trip.

Did you notice that I said "Canada" and "winter" and "camping" in the same sentence?

My husband, whom I dearly love but sometimes just don't understand, finds it fun to cross country ski into the Boundary Waters wilderness and waste spend his vacation days ice fishing in sub-zero temperatures.

Ben going all alpha-male, holding a ginormous lake trout. 

Here are some of the perks of such a vacation if you are ever inclined to try this insanity:

   *  Sleeping on a tarp in the snow in sub-zero weather (occasionally with 20 mile-per-hour winds)
   *  Going potty in a plastic lined bucket.
   *  Dragging 80 pound sleds loaded with your gear for hours into the wilderness.
   *  The joy of dealing with any life-threatening situation (hello potential hypothermia) without possible contact with the outside world.
   *  Not being able to heat yourself by a campfire because you want to sleep on top of the frozen lake on top of the fishies instead of near potential firewood.
   *  Not showering for days on end.
   *  Nothing to do but sit around and fish.  And eat.  Then fish more. 

As enticing as this type of vacation sounds, I opted to not go along on this adventure.  Now I can pee in the woods as well as the next gal, but I would prefer to do that when I won't get frostbite on my butt.  However, I am grateful that Ben has family and friends who do like this type frozen wilderness survival stuff.

You may be wondering what I was doing all the while Ben was Grizzly Adams in the woods.  I was, in fact, carrying on with the day-to-day life of raising six kids (age 11 and under) while dealing with the joys of being 7 1/2 months pregnant.  I took kids to school and sports practices.  I went to a parent-teacher conference and child's doctor appointment.  I got us to church and a child to speech therapy.  I did laundry, cooked, cleaned, and kissed boo-boos all on my own.

Come to think of it, maybe sleeping in the frozen wilderness might not have been so tough after all.  I guess we can both be proud of our survival skills.

These are the sleds that were dragged through the snow with all their gear.

This was base camp.  Ben wimped out this year and brought along an ice house (which, unlike a tent has no floor).  In past years, he has slept in a tarp-lined snow trench for a few days. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Check Out My Sweet Ride

 Check out that sweet, sweet van.

Sure I can haul the whole sports team.  No problem.

Most of you who know me in real life, you will know that I have been obsessed interested in getting a van for our family for a while now.  With the arrival of Baby #7 in May, we will officially outgrow our Expedition.  If we ever again want the luxury of both parents listening to the simultaneous whining, fighting, and crying of all our children at the same time, we need a vehicle that was big enough to hold us all.

We found the behemoth in Chicago.  While I was content with pretty much any used 15 passenger van, my husband was on a quest to find a "cool" one.  I realize, Dear Reader, that many people profess that "cool" and "passenger van" cannot be accurately used in one sentence.  But I think that those people are wrong.  Actually, I think they are secretly jealous of the coolness possibilities of being able to haul everyone and everything they own at the same time. 

Let's face it.  Some of the coolest people ever have had big vehicles -  Mr. T, Llyod Christmas from Dumb and Dumber, the Partridge Family, whatever character Dom Deluise played in Cannonball Run, and Fred (who is obviously way cooler than Shaggy) to name a few.

Lethal Coolness Exhibit A

Furry Coolness Exhibit B

Giant Singing Family Coolness Exhibit C
Pretending to Save Your Life Coolness Exhibit D

Groovy, Neck Scarf Coolness Exhibit E

Anyway, the van specifics.  Its a 2011 GMC Savanah conversion van.  And shockingly enough, it was a church van.  First - the most unexpected discovery once we arrived in Chicago and saw the van for the first time:

Limo-style party lights.

Let that sink in for a moment.  This church van was retrofitted with party lights.  Did I mention that this van had come from a church in New Jersey?

I'd love to hear that discussion going on at my church.  "I think the Lord wants us to put in some of those sparkly party lights in the church van.  That will give us one sweet ride." Said no Minnesota Lutheran church committee ever.

When I first saw the lights I thought, "Those are so tacky.  I hate them."  Then, after about 5 miles into the test drive I thought, "Those are so tacky.  I love them.  I want them.  I must have them."  I am not sure if I have some hidden Jersey girl in me or maybe it was God talking.  Or maybe I am willing to overlook poor taste for a good joke.

No kids.  You may NOT take the van for prom.

Don't think this van is exactly what I wanted, though.  There is one feature that I am not pleased about.  It comes wired with a TV/DVD player.  Many of you loyal readers were subject to my anti-tv-in-vehicles rant blog post a while back.  I will not bore you with it again. 

I do not intend to turn that stupid TV on for any car trip less than six hours.  I think Ben will cave after two or three hours.

Another notable feature of our new palace on wheels is the that we have kidnapper style handy built-in window shades.  This will help because it will deter anyone who was even considering parking next to the scary white van in the parking lot.  As if we could actually fit into a normal sized parking space.

Ooh.  Creepy.

The only thing scarier than a big white van with curtains is a big white van with curtains and no license plate.  I'm looking forward to getting that on the vehicle.

It feels like our life has graduated into a new level of crazy with the purchase of this passenger van.  Actually, the crazy thing is how joyful I feel about it.  If you had asked me a decade ago if I would be happily carting a truck full of kids around I would have laughed.  But I am so blessed.  I have so many kids to love that I need a super-sized vehicle to haul them around.  Life is good.

And if you are nice to me, maybe I'll let you ride in my sweet, sweet van.  But only in a non felonious way, with your parent's permission.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

First Family Day Anniversary!

Levi has been with our family for a year now.  Our family just wouldn't be right without our Sweet  Boy.  He is truly a blessing.

When I think back on the first three months together, though, I cannot believe how far our relationship has come.  We knew going into Levi's adoption that the family transition doesn't always go as smoothly as it did with Veronica.  But reading about struggles children can have and experiencing them are two completely different things.

Don't get me wrong.  Some families have extreme difficulties.  Some children have RAD and other severe attachment issues that can take year to remedy.  Fortunately we knew Levi could attach to people because of how quickly he bonded with Ben.

It was me he hated.

Yes, hate is a strong word, but I think it is accurate.  This poor child was taken away from everything he ever knew without any control over the situation.  He was not happy about this and needed to take out his anger and frustration on somebody.  And that somebody was me.  I was not the Mama he wanted.  His reactions and emotions were completely justified.  Although his behavior was completely unacceptable, it was also completely understandable. 

My relationship with Levi is so completely changed now that I have a difficult time believing things were ever as challenging as they were in the first few months.

For example, the first two words Levi could say were "No!" and "Mama!"  He picked up the shame sign from another child and would greet me every morning rubbing his pointer fingers together in the "shame" sign and shouting, "No, Mama!  No, Mama!"  Then he would hit me and scream.  Yes, that started my day for weeks. 

Then the rest of the day would be an endless loop of him hitting me, pinching me and pulling my hair.  When he was not in striking distance, he would grab a metal truck and bang it against a window, the China hutch, etc.  He managed to find time to run away from me, too.  Then there would be "nap time" and "bedtime" which were apparently just suggestions.  I would stay in his room and attempt to comfort him as he continued to push me away - both figuratively and literally.

However, when Ben came home Levi would run to him.  Levi would put his chubby arms around Ben and smile big smiles.  All the games and songs he detested when I attempted, he laughed at when Ben did them.  He was a delightful child - as long as I wasn't near him.

Perhaps this is a slight exaggeration. Sometimes I think he resigned himself to my presence or just wore himself out with his fits.  He did tend to behave better in public (except for his shrieking in the grocery store).  In unfamiliar environments he knew he had to rely on me and that being stuck with me was better than being with strangers in a new place.

There was a lot of prayer in those early days.  This experience convinced me that love is a choice.  I made the conscious decision every day to love this child.  Whether he was pleasant or not.  Whether he deserved it or not.  Whether I wanted to or not.

Look how far this boy has come. 

First time holding Levi - We were in a governmental office in Taiyuan, Shanxi, China.  My sweet boy was so scared and sad.  This was two minutes before he began to cry uncontrollably and would only calm down for Ben.

That's a happier boy.  Taken exactly one year after the first picture.

By about 3 months home life changed dramatically. I realized that Levi listened to me most of the time.  He had stopped hitting me, pinching me, and pulling my hair.  He was not altogether happy with me, but gave the impression that he was accepting this new life.  He continued to love Ben completely. 

From about 6 months home till now, Levi has settled in remarkably well.  I think he's come to the conclusion that I'm a pretty okay Mom.  He likes to snuggle with me.  He seeks out my approval and company.  He is unguarded with his affections.  He accepts my love and gives me love in return.  Basically, my relationship with Levi feels as normal and natural as my relationship with the all my other kids.

What a remarkably fantastic place to be.  What a truly, wonderfully ordinary place to be.

Happy Family Day to my Sweet Boy.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

List Maker Extraordinaire

There are two kinds of people in the world.  People who make lists and people I cannot understand.

Seriously, who can survive without lists?  And no, those fancy apps that let you schedule your life and beep at you to remind you to breathe do not count.  I mean a good, old fashioned, paper and pen, feel the thrill of ink scribbling out an item listed on actual tree pulp list. I love lists - with virtually any kind of subject matter.

Grocery lists are my personal favorites.  I make an initial list of things I intend to buy.  Then I recopy the list in the order of the aisle in the grocery store.  If they had an Olympics of grocery store lists, I'd definitely at least make the podium.  It is one of my few stellar talents in life - sad though it is.   Which is why I almost wept in Cub Foods during one of my pregnancies when they rearranged the store and I could not find the peanut butter.  No, that is not a figurative weeping.  I literally leaned against my shopping cart with a lump in my throat and came home to complain to a my sweet husband for nearly a half an hour.  He was slightly bewildered at my reaction, but was a trooper in giving me the condolence I thought I needed.  I will definitely blame pregnancy hormones for that. 

To-do lists always seem to me to be the height of optimism.  I can start the day picturing myself briskly and efficiently moving from one task to another.  While still in my jammies, I can envision the competent me, organizing my life into some sort of disinfected utopia.

Of course the reality is that I list entirely too many things on my list than can be completed without a backup team of babysitters, housekeepers, fitness proxies and zen masters.  However, several consecutive days of too few things crossed of the list can avalanche into apathy and soul crushing disappointment with myself.

The only real remedy for for this is another list, of course.  But this failure remedying list is not a to-do list.  Instead I make an "I did it" list.  Instead of writing down dream goals of cleaning the garage and baking a souffle on the same day, I write down everything I actually do accomplish.  Even (especially) the mundane things that are never acknowledged.

A list like this might include the following:
     *  Get up (might as well start with the basics)
     *  Make bed
     *  Brush teeth
     *  Shower
     *  Get dressed
     *  Hair, make-up, contacts
     *  Pack kids' lunches
     *  Unload dishwasher
     *  Load dishwasher
     *  Put in load of laundry

Look at that.  I've listed off 10 accomplishments completed before I even wake the kids up for school.  That is enough to give a good ol' ego boost on the days when I feel like I have been busy,but look around and everything looks the same as it did when I woke up.

I think that is one of the hardest things about at raising children and at-home work.  Unless I set aside some time to work on a long-term project, most of the things I do are an attempt to maintain the status quo - keep dishes clean, keep clothes clean, keep kids alive - that sort of thing.  Whatever I do gets undone in a day, an hour, or a determined toddler minute.  Except the keep kids alive part.  I've done pretty well maintaining that.

How ironic, then, that the days when I don't accomplish maintenance that running a home and family requires, it is painfully, glaringly obvious.

Perhaps I should instead take a cue from the child's to-do list I recently came across:

Picture credit:  Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Ultrasound Done - Its a...


Nope, we don't find out the gender of our children ahead of time.  I believe endless speculation keeps the pregnancy interesting during the last half of making a person.

And more importantly, it appears that everything is healthy and progressing as it should although Baby wasn't overly cooperative during the ultrasound. So we didn't get a clear picture of his/her spine or face.

I arrived for the ultrasound with a bladder filled to capacity per the radiology department instructions.  Baby decided it was more important to cower behind the placenta than pose for a close up, so the diligent ultrasound tech pushed and squished that imaging wand thing all over my extra-inflated abdomen.  She even commented that I was an overachiever in attaining the full bladder as she pressed firmly on it. 

I consider it one of my crowning achievements of motherhood that I didn't pee myself in the process.

Eventually she said that my bladder could be too full and that I should just go potty and come back.  Whew!  It didn't change Baby's position, but I felt better. 

I am so relieved - no, not in the full-bladder way. I've moved off that topic. 

You see, I love watching the Duggars on TV.  And permanently etched in my brain is the episode where Michele went for a routine ultrasound and discovered that the baby was no longer alive.  That is all I could think of when I went to my appointment.  That and the fact that a dear friend had recently lost a child late in the pregnancy.

I remember nearly everything about the 19 Kids and Counting episode.  As soon as Michele found out the tragic news (on camera, too, poor thing) she immediately said, "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord." 

Most of you don't know this, but before my oldest was born, I had a miscarriage early in the pregnancy.  I can tell you that I didn't handle it quite as well as Mrs. Duggar.  I hadn't told people that we were even trying to get pregnant, much less that I actually was pregnant.

We had a wedding to go to the day that I realized I was miscarrying.  Instead of quoting Bible verses, I got embarrassingly drunk at the wedding.  I can count on one hand how many times I have overindulged like that, and I have not done it since. 

Anyway, I share this story with you not to embarrass myself further with how poorly I handled the miscarriage situation a dozen years ago, but to let you know that seeing  a heartbeat on the monitor is not something I take for granted.  Every life is precious - even those that never draw breath. 

And I am so incredibly grateful to see squirmy little baby on the ultrasound. 

Boy?  Girl?  I'll be thrilled with either.

But for those that wonder what our guess is - Ben thinks girl.  I think boy.  We'll see whose right in a few more months.

Friday, January 3, 2014

To Test or Not to Test. That is the Question

Okay folks.  I'm officially at 21 weeks in this pregnancy.  I've never been overly nervous in pregnancies before, but this time I feel a little more apprehensive.

Here's why.  I've sort-of become brainwashed by the "Oh no you're over 35 and at risk for a gazillion things to go wrong" mentality.  Even the official names the medical community uses are (although slightly offensive and funny) kind of alarmist.

The nicer phrase used is:  Advanced Maternal Age.  That at least sounds a little positive.  Advanced is better than beginner, right?

The more ridiculous phrase is:  Geriatric Pregnancy.  Oh dear heavens, bring me my walker and bifocals right now.  I can't help imagining a very special Golden Girls episode with this title.

If I had more ambition, I'd Photoshop myself in this picture.

Another title I'll acquired in this pregnancy:  Grand Multipara.   That sounds more impressive and respectful.  This is the medical definition of a woman who has delivered five or more children who were over 20 weeks at delivery.  Unfortunately, some doctors consider this "high risk".  Fortunately some other doctors only consider it "higher risk", and those are the doctors I am going to listen to.

And to top it all off, I've got three C-sections under my belt (literally) and this next one will also be a C-section.  4 Big ones also qualifies for "high risk", too.

Google maternal mortality, and you'd stay awake at night, too.

Now, none of these factors are actually a surprise to me and I made an informed decision before this pregnancy that there are risks in life and I am willing to accept the risk of this pregnancy.  That doesn't mean I can't have a few freak out sessions.

And that isn't even factoring in the risk to baby.  Yes, I am referring to the increase risk of genetic issues a baby can have once a mother is an ancient 37 like I am.  Which is why it is standard procedure to have genetic testing done in the first trimester.

Every mother has to make the decision to test or not to test.  My choice has never been to test.  The initial tests can be inconclusive, requiring more invasive tests that have a small chance of harming the baby.  That is not a risk I am willing to take.

I can see the appeal of mentally preparing yourself for a child who may face additional challenges in life.  Honestly, I'd rather know ahead of time, too.  But not at the expense of potentially hurting the baby.  And having inconclusive results would drive me crazy the whole pregnancy.

And now that I have been in the special needs adoptive community for years, I sometimes forget that most babies are born without additional medical needs.  Even to old women like me.  

Today I have my ultrasound.  Like every mother, I am praying that my child won't face additional challenges in life.

But my biggest prayer isn't that my child is born "perfectly healthy".  I know there are so very many children who may have medical needs and conditions and are still a tremendous, immeasurable blessing.  My child will be a blessing, no matter what - fearfully and wonderfully made.

So, my prayer is more for my benefit than my child's.  Whatever our child's health status, I pray that God will help me to rise to the challenge of raising this blessing.  Whether there are physical issues or not.  Whether there are mental issues or not.  Whether the child is temperamental or easy going.  Whether the child is a good sleeper or not.

I am just hoping God will equip me to be the mother this child needs.