Friday, December 1, 2017

On Life and Loss and Being Myself

I lost a baby this week.

I've said it so many times now, as I've called and e-mailed and sent texts to various friends and family, and it still seems surreal. And it's not exactly true, even: technically, I lost the baby four weeks ago, mere days after I found out that I was carrying our sixth child. It just took three and a half weeks for my body to figure it out and respond.

We had just told the kids on Sunday. It might have been a bit premature, but I've never struggled to carry a baby before. Levi requested to do another Thanksgiving alphabet this year. It was so fun to write BABY in the B section and watch their confused little faces: "but we already have Calvin on the list!"

Levi was the first to comprehend, of course, and his skeptical, "wait a minute; are you getting pregnant again?" ushered in a cacophony of "are we getting a new car?" and "where will he sleep?" and "is it a boy or a girl baby?" and immediate clamoring for naming rights. So much joy in such a tiny cluster of cells, just a whiff of potentiality, really; it brings me to tears.

Twenty-four hours later, I knew.

But the ultrasound to confirm what I knew wasn't until Tuesday afternoon, and Tuesday morning Toby happily told strangers in Walmart that Mommy had another baby in her belly. (Funny. I assumed it would be Silas telling strangers.)

Also on Tuesday morning, after a mostly-sleepness night of pain, physical and emotional, God granted me some space to spend time with him. (What that really means is, I woke up early, couldn't get back to sleep, and had the sense to open up my prayer app and my BSF homework instead of Facebook.) I was reading in Ephesians 1. It's all one long sentence, so it doesn't really make sense to pull out one verse, but the phrase that stuck with me was in verse 19: the immeasurable greatness of his power to those who believe. It was a weighty truth that sank into my bones in that moment and made them strong. God can save this baby. He might not, but he can, and that fact alone makes him worthy of my worship. I have seen my share of heartbreak in my few decades on this earth -- not as much as some, for sure, but enough to provide perspective and maybe even a little bit of wisdom -- and if there is one thing I know for sure, it is this: the more I know about who God is, the better able I am to withstand the sorrows of this life.

 . . . which is not to say that I am not grieving. It has been a week of tension: I don't want to go on like nothing has happened, but life does, in fact, go on. The middle days of the week were spent fighting the start of a sinus infection and slaying fussy dragons and coming down hard on a sulky attitude and reading one more story and everything else I do on a daily basis. And then skipping out on the bedtime routine to take a bath or just hide in my room for a while, regroup. Call a new set of folks who need to know. Gratefully receive dinner from someone who wanted to lighten the load. Remember, again, that I'm trying to give up grumbling (Phil 2:14), and wonder anew how I'm supposed to feel sad and not grumble at the same time. More grace for everyone.

I won't forget Silas (yes, Silas this time, as expected) babbling away to a sweet friend at small group: "And we have another baby! Well, we HAD another baby, but it stopped growing." The simple truth.

Friday morning we did the only thing we could think of to do and planted a bulb in the backyard. (Thanks, God, for the unseasonably warm fall.) Chances of its survival are pretty slim -- we are no gardeners, my husband and I -- but there was good symbolism in returning something to the earth nonetheless. We prayed and we wept and then we gathered the children to show them, for maybe the first time in such a way, how we find hope and peace within the pages of Scripture.

Levi reading Psalm 139:7-18.

By nature, I am not one to argue with God's decisions. He has proven himself faithful to me, and I have no cause to mistrust his sovereignty. Still, there is an empty space in our house, in my thoughts, in my womb, where a week ago there was hope and promise and excitement for what was to be. I know how quick the journey is from that positive pregnancy test to this:

. . . and I mourn that, in the words of a dear friend, "I did not get to keep one of my people."

But God is keeping him.* And me, too.

*Or her. The masculine pronoun is just sits so much more comfortably on the tip of my tongue . . . :)

Silas Turns Five

This sat in my drafts folder for six months. I never finished it, but I'm going to post it anyway for my own future self to read at some later date. :)

I realized I haven't posted a blog in over four months, and truthfully, I don't foresee having time to do it again any time soon. But I couldn't let a birthday go by without taking a few minutes to record a bit about my middle son!

Silas has been reading proficiently for over a year, though I haven't taken the time to determine his actual reading level. He most often has a Magic School Bus book in his hands. He's been carrying around some chapter books and staring intently at the pages, but I honestly have no idea how much he comprehends. (I really ought to figure that out at some point.)

This spring, Silas asked to do math "like Levi and Owen," so I pulled out Saxon. We're not super consistent -- maybe two or three days a week -- but he enjoys it. Right now we're working on doubles facts and not writing numbers backwards. :)

When you're almost five, sometimes it's better to do math on Mommy's lap.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Morning High Five

I am in the beginning stages of creatinv systems to help my kids be more independently responsible. With so many little people underfoot, I'm finding it very difficult to check up on kids in a timely fashion to make sure they've completed assigned jobs. I don't have an answer for that yet (except, perhaps, just give everyone another year to get older before I stress out over it), but I do have one system in place for Levi that seems to be working.

Several years ago, I followed a blog called Life as Mom. (I don't regularly read blogs anymore, except for this one.) I vaguely remembered her posting about their "morning high five" -- five chores to be completed before their homeschooling day began.Without even referring to the original blog to see what hers contained, I made Levi his own "morning high five" chart with the five responsibilities he needs to take care of before coming downstairs in the morning.

Nothing fancy: just the two minutes it took me to trace my hand and jot down his chores. It's taped to the wall above his lightswitch.

Levi's morning responsibilities include:

1. Make bed (I don't make the other kids make their beds yet, a combination of being too short and bunk beds. But if he doesn't make his, then his blankets are falling onto Toby's trundle bed and in the way during nap time. Also, he's the only kid whose blankets end up in a huge ball every morning!)

2. Get dressed. I set clothes out every night (or sometimes I do a week at a time in an organizer in his closet). None of my children are interested in choosing their own clothes yet, which is fine by me.

3. Brush teeth. He has his toothbrush and kid-friendly toothpaste [my kids hate mint] in a jar in my bathroom for this purpose. It only took me seven years to get ONE of my children brushing his teeth twice a day. Nobody else is self-sufficient in this, and I can't seem to get myself downstairs after breakfast to do the others!

4. Gather clothes (out of the bathroom). Levi shares a room with Toby, who goes to bed 45 minutes earlier. When Levi goes to bed, he changes in to jammies in my bathroom, but can't really put away his clothes because Toby's sleeping. So he's responsible for getting yesterday's clothes off the floor of my bathroom in the morning.

5. Turn off white noise machine. We started using this to help Toby sleep, but in reality it helps Levi sleep through Toby's nighttime awakenings. Levi's always the last person up, so it's his job to turn it off.

After one particularly grumpy morning, I added "cheerful attitude" to the palm. Levi is not a morning person any more than I am (as in, NOT AT ALL), so I've allowed him the option to stay in his room a little longer if he needs to be alone before facing the day. It helps (him AND me).

The best part about this, besides getting the jobs done, is that all I have to do every morning is say, "high five?" And he answers "high five!" and we high five and then I know he's done his morning jobs without having to nag or investigate. Sometimes he'll say "oops" and scurry back upstairs, but I didn't have to remind him of anything in particular. It's a small step for the household, but a good solid first step for the first kid!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Baking Powder Biscuits

Do you all make baking powder biscuits? They were a staple in my house growing up, and I love them. They're SO easy, and this is the recipe I turn to any time I'm making a pot of soup or something that needs a little bread on the side:

Sift together:
2 cups flour (I use freshly ground white whole wheat)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cut in 1/3 cup butter. (Actually, I don't "cut in" butter anymore. I pulse the dry ingredients in my food processor, then pulse in chunks of butter until pebbly. Transfer to bowl, if you used the food processor.

Add 3/4 cup milk and stir to moisten.

Roll out dough on floured surface, knead 2-3 times, and use juice glass or biscuit cutter to cut out biscuits. Or, plop it all on a baking sheet, pat into a rectangle, and use a flat spatula to cut into squares/rectangles/triangles/whatever shape you end up with. (Because really, who cares about having round biscuits?)

Bake for 12 minutes at 450 degrees.

I meant to take a picture before dinner and never got to it. After dinner, this is all that was left! Makes about ten, depending on size.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Weekend Check-in: January 22

Okay, this is going to be more of a monthly recap than weekly, because I haven't done one for a while. So don't think I did nothing but cook and read this week. ;)

What I'm Cooking
Oven "fried" pork chops. Isaac doesn't love pork, so I don't make it often, but periodically I get tired of chicken and beef and want something different. I actually ended up making this three times this month, because once I've bought a family pack of pork chops and a box of cornflakes, I might as well use them up!

Skillet lasagna. I make a few changes to this, to keep it simple with pantry items I usually have. I use ground beef seasoned with sausage seasoning, skip the fresh parsely altogether, swap cottage cheese in for the ricotta (it's cheaper, and my kids will eat the leftovers), and stir the cottage cheese right into the skillet instead of dolloping on top. This is one of Owen's favorite meals.

Creamy green chili beef. I make this any time I have leftover sour cream in the fridge. I use more like 1/2 to 1 cup of sour cream, much less than the recipe calls for, and serve over rice with peas. My kids don't love it, but I do.

Chicken parmesan casserole. This was better than I thought it was going to be, actually. Don't skip the toasted bread crumbs.

Chicken bacon lasagna . . . only I made it in manicotti shells instead. I used exactly one box of manicotti shells for the recipe as written.

Roasted chicken and veggies (sweet potatoes, red potatoes, carrots, red onion). I'm never satisfied with the veggies when I roast it all together. This time I added the onion about halfway through cooking time, and for once it didn't all burn to a crisp. I think next time I'll start the chicken and potatoes first, then add the sweet potatoes (which also burnt this time) and onion later. I'm not giving up on the recipe, though -- the chicken turns out perfectly every time.

No-bake chocolate cake (really more of a sliceable truffle). I left out the optional ingredients, added just a splash of orange extract, and served with raspberries and freshly whipped cream. This, preceded by the roasted chicken and veggies, makes a fairly simple and thoroughly satisfactory meal when you're entertaining gluten-free friends!

Quick cinnamon biscuits. These aren't fancy, but I like them. Very easy to whip up in the evening and pop in the oven the next morning. So much faster than cinnamon rolls!

Crepes. It's been a while since I made them last, and the kids have been asking. It's a Friday morning treat for us, the only day of the week when we're all home for a leisurely breakfast together. I'm making 1-1/2 times the recipe now: Isaac and I generally eat two crepes each, but the boys have been known to down four in one sitting. At least they're healthy (before the chocolate chips and whipped cream, anyway)!

What We're Reading
Matilda. I understand the purpose -- creating larger-than-life, memorable characters -- but I wish Roald Dahl would tone down his angry adults just a little. I think Levi would enjoy this story, but I'm not crazy about him reading the word "idiot" (and others like it) over and over just yet. Maybe I'm still being too conservative on this . . .

The Jungle Book. This is maybe only the second or third time I've ever given up on a book before finishing it. It's hard reading: hard vocabulary, hard poetry, hard sequencing (random flashbacks), and, quite frankly, I'm just not enjoying it all that much.

Heidi. Sweet, simple (if a little lengthy) classic. We'll have to watch the Shirley Temple movie after Levi reads it.

Smart but Scattered. The title says it all. Doing a little research on my second son (and learning a bit about my first son's brain in the process, too). ;)

Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates. I don't remember ever having read this, but I generally assume classics like this are safe reading for him. He seemed to enjoy the storyline.

Jason's Miracle: A Hanukkah Story. We studied the origin of Hanukkah in history this week, and this was suggested extra reading from the curriculum.

Bible on one leg, Jason's Miracle on the other

Imagination Station. We spotted one at the library last week, about David and Goliath, and the boys are hooked. Owen claims to hate reading, so when I suggested maybe he should read this one, he protested that he was only going to read one chapter a day . . . and then he finished it in one sitting. There was a lot of spontaneous David-and-Goliath play in our house this week, including this battlefield set-up:

I'm told that the bean bags (dark blue) are tents. The line of Kapla blocks across the center is dividing the Israelites from the Philistines. There are various groups of Duplo soldiers, hard to see in the busy solar system rug. 

Silas and Toby
Toot and Puddle books. Not my favorite, but the boys love them.
Four Stories for Four Seasons. This one cycles around in our house: we don't always read it, but when we do, we read it multiple times a day for days on end. Can't go wrong with Tomie dePaola, really.
Also resurfacing as favorites in the past few weeks:

Honey Honey Lion (love Jan Brett!)

We do more than eat and read around here, but I think it's safe to say we eat and read more than anything else we do! Not a bad way of life, in my opinion. :D

Friday, January 20, 2017

New Year's Fun 2017

See past years here: 2015, 2013, 2012

I can't even begin to describe the ripple of excitement that went through me when I got the text message from my college BFF Jenny saying that they might be willing to make the trip up here to do our mostly-annual New Year's Eve celebration. She has a carseat-hating two-year-old, so I really thought it was out of the question, and we were in no position to travel there with a three-month-old. But when you've been best friends for almost half your lives (we'll hit that milestone in 2019), what's a few hours of screaming toddler?!

This year boasted eight kids under eight years old: two sevens, one six, two fours, two twos (though Toby was just days away from his third birthday), and baby Calvin. We let Caleb (their seven-year-old) have Toby's bed so that he and Levi could share a room, and that alone was worth the trip. It was a "first sleepover" for both of them, and we couldn't hardly stand hearing them whisper in their room after lights out -- so fun! Even more fun when they told us the next morning that they'd stayed up for exactly 16 minutes talking about books. Two peas in a pod (as long as it's okay for one pea to be a full three clothing sizes bigger than the other).

The whole crew, minus me behind the camera.

We started off our weekend with these delicious strawberry cream cheese rolls.

After baking and glazing. Giant, scrumptious, sticky-sweet.

Then our bravest-of-brave husbands took the oldest five to an indoor play area (we had a Groupon) while the moms and the three littles took in the mall play area, lunch, and nap time. It was very sweet to watch the two-year-olds interact, and I was reminded of my days four years ago of having three under three. 

Reading with the two-year-olds.

Inside the coin-operated car at the mall.

While the littles napped, Jenny and I planned out our New Year's Eve activities. We try to do something every hour to celebrate, and the longer kids are awake, the more time we have to fill! This year, my kids were obsessed with their Advent calendars, so we played on that theme and cut doors into a box. I say "we," but I really mean that I suggested an idea, handed Jenny a box, and she used her fantastically creative brain to come up with this:

Covered in wrapping paper, with construction paper behind the doors.

Each number represents a time on the clock, and behind each door is an activity. The kids loved taking turns opening up the doors to see what was next! Here's a snapshot-view of our day:

We started by making sugar cookie dough (everyone helped dump in ingredients), then played for an hour before coming back to roll out cookies. Bells (to ring in the new year) and circles (to be clocks).

We had GIRLS in our house!!

Toby would not surrender his rolling pin to anyone.

Lunch was grilled cheese (standard for the kids, fancy for the adults), tomato soup, and a veggie platter. (Not quite as impressive as two years ago.)

To (attempt to) calm down before nap time, we did this fireworks in a jar experiment. Nothing fancy, but we learned a thing or two about density. 

Watching the colors swirl.

While the littles napped, the big boys played games and colored NYE pictures. Also, their four-year-old girl and Levi played "house" a lot of the time, which was a new phenomenon in this boys-only family!

After nap time, we decorated the baked cookies--and then ate one for a snack.

Methodical Owen.

So. Many. Sprinkles.

Toby, worshiping his cookie.

Then, while the table was a mess anyway, we made these toilet paper tube confetti poppers.

The moms did the duct-taping part.

As a bonus (unplanned) activity, Jenny brought along some really fun tie-dye balloons, which Silas and Toby had a blast chasing around the living room (while Isaac got in some last-minute sermon prep in the background).

The balloon didn't make it into the picture.

Since it got dark so early, before dinner we sent the dads out with the kids and a pile of glow sticks. Given how cold it was, we were amazed that they stayed out for as long as they did! (Maybe twenty whole minutes!) Owen told me later it was his favorite part of the day.

Meanwhile, I finished up some crockpot chili and two loaves of bacon cornbread. (The second loaf turned out to be unnecessary. Also, by this point in the day I was so tired that I had to take the loaves back out of the oven TWICE -- once because I forgot the bacon, and again because I forgot the cheese!)

After dinner, we cleaned up the play areas, got everyone in jammies, then settled the littles down to watch The Snowy Day while the bigs played minute-to-win-it New Year's games.

Silas and Toby

Abby and Leah

Kisses Countdown: rearranging numbered chocolate kisses hidden under the numbered cups to be in the correct clock order

Levi and Owen insisted that Isaac give it a try, too.

Tick Tock Tic Tacs: move 17 tic-tacs from one plate to another using tweezers.

Never mind the basket of clean laundry in every one of these photos.

A Toss Through Time: "tossing" (or dropping) giant marshmallows through each hour on the clock. It helps to have two youth leaders (Jon is, Isaac was) around to organize games like these! They've had lots of practice!

While the kids finished up their show, Jenny and I set out our final celebration activities: noisemakers, the confetti poppers, and milk-and-cookie toasts (using the cookies they decorated earlier).

Milk in plastic champagne glasses. :)

We turned on the Puffin Rock countdown on Netflix . . .

Then blew our noisemakers and popped our poppers with glee! Yes, there was paper confetti (all hole-punched and/or ripped by Jenny and me) all over the floor. That's why we own a vacuum. We were very pleased with how well they worked!

Back to the dining room to toast the new year. (It was 8:00pm at this point.)


At long last, the grown-ups were left alone to play our traditional NYE game of Catan. For the first time ever, the game lasted less than an hour: Jenny destroyed us. Also as usual, I had a discussion question at the ready (because I'm not about to waste good quality time with good friends!): What do you want to do when the kids are gone? 

We woke up to a meaty breakfast skillet (I threw in some cranberries and pecans, inspired by this wonderful recipe) and chocolate zucchini muffins (not that great, but I overbaked them). Church, lunch at Granite City, one more afternoon of games, dinner at Pizza Ranch, and the visit came sadly to a close. Oh, how I love these dear people!

We have kids old enough for a "kids' table!"

Happy 2017, all!