Thursday, April 23, 2015

Breakfast Time With Mr. Blue Eyes - My Morning Cup of Sunshine!

Today I'm blogging from Disaster Zone 5, also known as the guest bedroom/office/school supply overflow room/"if you don't know where it goes, just throw it in there" room.  (Do you have one of those?) Our house is a battle field. Total wreckage every day.  And I know it will all get better just as soon as I grow a third arm and no longer require sleep. So, basically never.  

Okay, super.

How am I handling my opposite of Pinterest life? Welp, first there's wine (of course), but also I'm really just striving to embrace *says between grit teeth* the chaos, to soak in all the laughter and joy that raising six robust boys brings.

Really, how can you even worry about the six inch crack in the wall or bacterial formations taking shape in the bathroom when you've got Mr. Blue Eyes gazing at you from across the room??
Joey has made the early morning hours a much less painful time of day for all of us night owls. His rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes have a way of making the weight of the world light as a feather.  
Check out my pearly whites. They're new. Cute, huh?
Every day the boys and I look forward to breakfast time with Fofalicious, because he really loves to eat, as you can see by the adorable addition of the second chin. (More to smooch!)
Shhh...I'm contemplating making a move for mom's bacon.
Joseph has completely fallen out of love with baby food, and prefers instead to play "I spy with my little eye" everyone else's munchies. Thankfully, his wittle tummy impedes the the extent of his grasp by a good six inches, giving us all just enough reaction time to move any choking hazards or allergy-inducing succulents away from his quick little grasp.

Feeding our babies has always brought me so much joy.  I love to cook, and even though filling eight hungry tummies three times a day can sometimes be tedious, for the most part, I really do enjoy nourishing not just the bodies but the souls of everyone who sits around our table.
Currently on the 10 month old's breakfast menu is Rice Krispies and bananas.  
I love to watch him focus in on the exact piece of cereal he wants and try over and over to pick it up with his chubby little pinchers. 

After about five minutes, feeding himself with the "chopsticks" is obviously not getting the hungry job done.  That's when he throws all cuteness out the window and takes the shove it in by the fist full approach.
Do not try this at home.  Or, on a date.
Oopsie daisy.  Too much, too much.  I think I might gag.  Keep it in, keep it in.
Whoa.  Boys.  That was a close one.
Yeah, baby! Two more months and I'll be ready for cake!

You might think that the baby feeding routine surely gets a little old after having six children, but I can't tell you with enough virtual emphasis that it truly never does.  I love it.  Every time our babies reach a milestone it's special.  To be able to spend my life with our children, watching them grow and develop is a privilege.  Within the sometimes overwhelming challenges that come with raising a big family, thanks to an outpouring of grace, my heart swells with joy and thanksgiving each and every day for these little moments.  They really are the two scoops in the feast of life.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Restoration of the Summer Lounge Room, Also Known as the Deck

Oh, blessed Friday!!

I've been waking up these past few days to the sound of the birds chattering outside my window. They get cranked up about fifteen minutes before my alarm goes off (grrrrr). My son, George, has offered to apply his bb gun skills to the "problem," but I don't think the neighbors would appreciate the carnage being strung all over the yard.

Anyway, since the tweeting fowl aren't loud enough to break any of the other seven members of the household out of a snore, I'm getting in some good quiet time before the troops arise in hunger. I was thinking this morning about the post I wrote yesterday on suffering and the deep gratitude Steve and I have for those who have helped us out in so many ways throughout the past year.

One act of generosity that truly touched our hearts came from Steve's family.  They gave up two entire Saturdays to help us rebuild our deck.  In the past year, due severe weather, our home has taken quite a beating. Last spring a massive hail storm tore up our roof, garage doors and the screen that wraps around our deck.  Then, just a few weeks ago, a wind storm came through and blew a huge portion of our fence down.

I am convinced that Lyme disease's BFF is Mother Nature, and they are camping out with all of their drama and hostility in our back yard. But we are fighting back, and we've got an army of family and friends who are marching right beside us to help!
Last summer, the floor to our deck began to crumble, and was no longer safe for us to use.  Steve insisted that he do the work himself, but good golly, just Google "neurological Lyme Disease symptoms" and tell me if you think he be a little cray-cray.
Despite my best efforts, I couldn't convince Steve to hire someone to rebuild the deck (the mounting medical bills sitting on the desk, didn't exactly help my cause). Well, when Mr. Fix It's family heard about his plans to rebuild the summer lounge room, they jumped right in and helped him get the job done.

And, get it done they did!
Steve's sister, Jennifer, and her husband, Doug, helped us with the construction and painting, and their kiddos jumped in to lend a hand, too!
Joseph is right at home in Brianna's arms.  She's a natural with the babies, that girl!

The boys were right in the middle of the action and were amazingly helpful.  Any time they are able to work along side their dad, I am so thankful.  Steve taught them how to use the table saw to cut some of the lumber, and each of them took a turn with the drill.
I was so proud of Benedict.  Sometimes I can't believe how capable he is when he's working with Steve.  He can take on a lot of the work that adults do on the farm, including running the equipment and wrenching in the shop.  He handled the variety of tools needed to build the deck with confidence and ease.  He is really going to bless his own family and community one day with all of the skills he has learned from his father.
Of course it wasn't all nose-to-the-grindstone all day long. There was time in between tasks for a few creative projects to be built on the side...
In addition to the deck, I also gained some lovely home accessories including a hat rack, a coat rack, and a gun rack (which is funny, because our boys NEVER hang up ANYTHING, which means they won't get used, and are purely decorative).  
Charlie was quality control master.  For those two days, he ran around the yard and the deck making sure that everything was working properly, the ladder, the tool belts, the saw-horses, the paint brushes.  No one needed to give him a job, because he just put himself in charge of everything and everyone.  

Cutest foreman ever!
I think the paint fumes started getting to George.  Little did he know that doing multiple flips on the trampoline would only make him more dizzy. Or did he know....

Oh, Jorge!!

Now that the work is over, it's time to thank our family properly with some good times on the beautiful deck that they helped us build.  I hope, hope, hope that one of those "good times" is a celebratory toast of Steve being healed from Lyme.  Please keep up the prayers, they are working!!

Pictures of the finished product to come....

Until then, have a great weekend, my friends!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Just When You Think You Can't Handle Any More...Being Robbed Reminds You That You Can

Last week Steve and I traveled to Kansas City so that he could see a neurologist and hopefully receive some answers to the many questions we have about some of his Lyme-related symptoms. By noon, the appointment was over and we were prepared to head home when Steve suggested that we stay for the rest of the day and enjoy some one-on-one time together.

No one had to twist my arm to get me to say Y.E.S. and Amen! The day before we left, I had truly reached a point where I rolled my eyes so hard at life's trials that I swear I could see the sad crusty pony tail that hadn't felt a good shampoo in days sticking out of the back of my stressed out head.

We both needed a break.  Even if it was only for a few hours.

One thing I've always treasured about our relationship is that Steve and I can literally be up to our armpits in the crapstorms of life, and the very second we shake loose from all of the stress and worries, we are able to really let go, to laugh and have so much fun together.

After a blissful lunch at our favorite BBQ joint, we worked off the slab of ribs and fries with a nice long run and some CrossFit.  To top the afternoon off, the NCAA tournament finals were on.  Right next to Jesus, the second two pillars of strength in our marriage are a mutual love for sports and good beer. (Okay, maybe not right next to Jesus, but pretty close.)

We bellied right up to the bar with our favorite snacks and a couple of pints to enjoy the game. It was heavenly.  But, as soon as the game was over, so was our good-time.  As we approached the suburban, happiness was torn from my heart, and I felt it slowly sinking back into the deep.

I couldn't believe my eyes.  Standing in a sea of broken glass, I stared in shock through shattered windows into the empty darkness of our car.

I knew immediately that my purse had been stolen, but I felt somewhat relieved knowing that there were no valuables or cash inside, just a couple of credit cards which could easily be cancelled. But, what I didn't realize, until I returned to our hotel room hours later, was that the thieves had also stolen my laptop.  Steve thought that I had carried into the hotel room earlier in the day, I thought that he had.

That was when I lost it. Really, really lost it.

The sudden rush of anger that flooded my emotions was driven by grief over the loss of hundreds of photos that I would never get back, and also supreme frustration at myself for not taking the time to back them up.

I didn't realize it, but all of the struggles and challenges that life has thrown our way over the past year had been building pressure inside my heart, and being robbed was the final force that broke open the flood gates.

I buried my face in the pillow that night and wept for what felt like hours. I would be lying if I said I didn't wish with all my might for the hammer of justice to slam down upon the person responsible for my misery, because I felt just that.

But one can only be disgusted at another person's sin for so long. I was empty, and when you're empty and completely at the end of your rope, there is nothing that can fill you back up but Christ. (I've tried a variety of substitutes.  Trust me, no es bueno.)

After tossing back and forth in the discomfort of anger and self-pity, I finally submitted my pathetic little heart to the Healer. I begged the Lord over and over again for the grace to forgive the person who had hurt us. I begged him more for the grace to carry with deeper courage and trust all of the burdens and concerns for our family that weighed so heavily on my shoulders.

The next day, we were blessed by a very generous and kind business that was able to fix our windows in a timely fashion so that we could return home to our boys.  While I was on the phone with the bank, credit card companies, and police, trying to take care of serious business, Steve was avoiding chaos by trying his best to get me to laugh at the ridiculousness of our predicament.

Of course he succeeded.
Even though we were only gone for about 24 hours, those hours felt like an eternity.  When we finally arrived home, seeing the boys' beautiful faces and reaching out to hold them tightly in my arms was such a comfort.  Over and over I said to myself, this right here, this is what matters.

That night, unable to sleep, I sat up on the edge of the bed contemplating what Netflix episode and snack was going to help take my mind off of the former days' events.  Exhaling, I stared up at the crucifix on the wall, looking to the Lord for one tiny consolation, anything that would guide my weary, calloused heart, back to a place of trust and confidence.
I felt Him press these words upon my heart:
"Can you not see that it is only in your poorest, weakest moments that the depths of My love and generosity can truly be known?"

At that very moment, I was able to recall every single act of generosity that had been bestowed upon our family, particularly over the past few months....
Holy hours in the middle of the night offered up,
Meals lovingly prepared for our family,
Offers to shuttle our children to and from music lessons and sports practices,
Countless texts, phone calls and e-mails from family and friends who are praying, fasting, or making sacrifices for Steve,  
Hours upon hours of assistance with household chores and child care from family which has made it possible for me to accompany Steve at his doctor appointments.

At that middle-of-the-night hour, my heart was filled with deep thanksgiving, and I was blessed with a fresh perspective on life.  For months I had been so blinded by the anxiety I carried over the problems and challenges that life had dealt our family, that I could not see the Lord loving us all in spite of them.

I understood, more clearly than ever, that the trials of this world will indeed pass, and soon be forgotten. But, what will live on from now into eternity is the way we respond to those trials, and the way that others love us through them.

We are the living, breathing, mystical body of Christ, you and I.  I can barely begin to understand what that means, but I know that I want to be a part of it.

We are His love, His mercy, His generosity in the flesh, and when we give, when we love, when we serve and even humbly receive, His presence here on Earth is not only felt, it is made known to the world, and that is something that cannot be taken from us

Every single hardship, setback, disappointment, loss, grief, injustice and brokenness that we experience is, in a way, a gift.  A gift wrapped up in the opportunity for others to LOVE us, for Christ to love us through others.  

No one wishes for hard times.  It is not in our nature to run toward the cross, toward suffering. Yet, if we can, but for a moment embrace those sufferings, no matter how big or how small they may be, then truly in those terrible moments of poverty, God's GREAT mercy and generosity can be known, if only we will place our trust in Him and allow Him to love us in this way.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Ben and Charlie Party, High School Drama, and a Trip to the E.R. ~ 7 QTFriday

Oh, Friday, how did you get here so soon??? 

Maybe, it's because Monday and Tuesday were party days in our house, and party days always go by much too quickly. Then, Wednesday, all of the fun and games came to a screeching halt when a hefty combo of stomach pain and heart ache hit our house all at once. Thursday was spent recovering from the whirlwind whiplash, and Friday, well, TGIF!!

Let me break it all down for ya with a little 7 Quick Takes...

{By request, a Barnyard Dance themed cake.} 
On Monday our sweet lil' Charlie graduated to the rank of four year oldness.  I really love writing long, loving posts of each child's birthday, but since the time and energy I have to blog has been seriously derailed over the past year due to family circumstances, I'm going to have to settle for squeezing all that love in right here.
What a fun day we had with our little prince.  He must have asked me a hundred times.  "Is today my special birthday?" To which I would respond with a very enthusiastic,"Yes!" To which he would shout with glee, "Oh, thank you, Mommy, thank you for my birthday!" He slays me with his sweetness every day.  Speaking of sweetness...Red, red frosting blob on the chandelier, how you git up dare??? (Toddler parties are wild 'round here!)

{Concentrating on the wish.  You're never to old to make one, right?}
On Tuesday, we "celebrated" Ben's 14th birthday.  I say "celebrated" because, really, while I'm good at dishing out heaps of hugs and cake and ice cream with a smile, my heart is really curled up in a sobbing ball of denial. You are NOT 14, you are NOT 14.... If our children could stay little forever, I'd be okay with that (I think?).

Nothing yanks you out of a post-party high like the wrath of a kidney stone.  Wednesday morning, just as I was about to caffeinate myself for the sake of the rest of the family, I found my poor husband doubled over on the bathroom floor, pale, sweating, and gripping his right side in terrible pain.  Seven years ago he had a kidney stone and everything about the present situation was a repeat of his first experience, so I knew exactly where we were headed....straight to the E.R.

Thankfully, Steve's mom was able to rush over and take care of the kids so that I could get Steve to the emergency room. I prayed over him the entire way, offering up his suffering for every single intention I could think of.

Suffering is never easy to accept, but always a great opportunity for grace to abound.  Later that afternoon as I was caring for him at home, I shared with Steve how, as we were traveling to the hospital, I sensed that he was too weak to pray, that the pain was too intense for him to focus, so I was praying for him. When I expressed to him that I had asked the Lord to grant him the courage to suffer like the saints, and that I called upon a litany of saints to pray for him, he just looked at me with disbelief.  He had been praying for the grace to suffer like the saints, like Christ, too.  And, he had especially felt a strong call to ask for Padre Pio's intercession. We learned, later that evening, that Padre Pio suffered frequent kidney stones as well.

Throw the intercessory prayers of the Church Triumphant and a little Percoset at those stones and it's all good! Hallelujah!

If watching my husband suffer the agony of kidney a la stone wasn't enough to fill my cup of anxiety, seeing Benedict enroll in high school really topped it off.  Holy cow, I was not expecting a little class schedule paperwork to make me so emotional! I have wished so many times in my life that I wasn't such a blubber pants.  At one point during the enrollment lecture Ben actually asked me if I was crying. Why do boys do that??? They KNOW we're crying.  It's like asking your child after they haven't eaten for 7 hours, "Are you hungry?" DUH. Of course I'm crying! You're practically 30, and I do. not. like. it!

Because I can be a very unrealistic person sometimes, and my family lets me carry on like that until reality slaps me in the face, I tend to experience mountains of failures in life.  For example, I'm "training" for two half marathons in May (the quotes are necessary, because really, pretending to train would be more accurate). Squeezing in daily training runs to our crazy schedule has been challenging to say the least.  And, I wish I were a 5 a.m. runner, but with Joseph still trying to sanctify his mother with random middle of the night rah-rah's, I haven't a pulse before sunrise.
Over spring break, I took the boys to see McFarland U.S.A. If you haven't seen it already, go.  Take your kids.  You will love it.  They will love it. When I head out the door on Saturdays for my long run, barely alive, the troops cheer me on with, "McFarland, baby!" or "If Danny Diaz can do it, you can do it!"

/6. & 7./
In the past, I've always tried to write a little something in honor of the season of Lent, but this year I haven't written anything. Over the past few weeks, I've discovered a deep, yet quiet strength during the difficult days, especially while caring for Steve, in three things:
1.  The sacrifice of the moment. 
Instead of giving up things for Lent, I've tried to be more aware of what I can offer up moment-to-moment on a daily basis.  Sometimes it's the cream in my coffee, watching television at night, or refraining from speaking my mind, or even willing a little cheerfulness when I'd rather grumble over the menial tasks that I dread tackling from day-to-day.  Whatever it is, there's always some small sacrifice to be made, and those frequent, spontaneous offerings are, for me, stretching my capacity to love.  
2.  This book.  
3. This song:
Have a blessed and beautiful weekend, friends!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Don't Miss Out on the Oranges, Moms. Trust Me On This One...

HELLO SPRING BREAK!!  We are three days in, and I must say how delighted I am that the laundry and k.p. duties are significantly less challenging to my emotional well-being, since I don't have to conquer them while trying to teach at the same time! Yippee! (It's the little things.)

I'm also delighted to have our oldest son, Benedict, home for the week. I can hear him entertaining Joseph in the living room as I type this. I love to hear them laughing together.
{Ben is Steve's right hand man during our deck building project.}

Steve and I refuse to believe that our biggest boy is going to be in high school next year.  We were in denial until yesterday when his acceptance letter to our school of choice came in the mail. Paper always makes things seem so official.  Dammit.  

As a mother I can look at Ben and, in seconds, see every beautiful stage of his life up to this point. It's a super-power, really.  I'm sure you have felt the same about your own babies.

I wish, so very much, that I could click my heels together and go back to the early years I had with him, especially the days before school and sports began.

What a treasure those days were....the ones that began with, "What should we do today?"

I remember having so much more energy back then! I felt like I could do all of the crafty-exploration-story-time-playground-games-and-snack stuff and still tackle all of the chores during nap time.

Good golly.

I squirm with the discomfort that comes from confessing this hindsight is 20/20 truth:
I wasn't just doing the normal things that every new mom does (hello, homemade baby food).  I was doing everything I thought I should be doing (mostly) for the sake of proving 

You know, in case the check-out lady asked what I was up to today, I could nonchalantly rattle off something Martha Stewartish about organizing the house, weeding the garden, crafting x10 with the kids and topping it all off with a little five miler around town with the boys in the jogging stroller.

Something in my pea-size brain thought that proof of productivity was also proof of motherly competence, or worse yet, motherly love. 

That is a lie.  If you are a mama at home with little ones, do not fall for that big fat falsehood. Love isn't always demonstrated by doing.  To a child, love is most sincerely communicated through being. When we take an undistracted moment to be with them.
Listening to them.
Watching them.
Holding them.
These are the little BIG moments that count.

Even though my list of responsibilities, when it comes to the care of my family, is longer now than ever, I feel not one bit compelled to prove to anyone just how productive I can be.  Circumstances often dictate a necessary obedience on my part to responsibilities and chores.  Neat. What mom in America isn't in the same shoes?

What I do find myself wanting to share with others are the moments in between productivity.

Moments like this, for example:
The other day, I waded through trails of Legos and cracker crumbs just to sit and watch Charlie peel an orange.  It was quite an accomplishment and, even though he mastered the process a while back, it's one that he's very proud of every single time.

He proudly uses his three year old muscles to maneuver a chair over to the fridge, crawls up upon the seat, swings the door that is twice his size open and reaches in for his favorite snack.  I could watch him do this all day.
I pulled up a chair beside him and listened intently as he explained just how to peel the orange.  You have to pull off the stwings, mom, because they are too chewy.
I really admire how children do the simplest things with such great intention.  They take their time and are not hurried or rushed.  He was just so proud of himself. The delight in his eyes, in his smile, said it all.
What a joy to experience, on a daily basis, the spectrum of ages in our family. While the oldest is sinking threes on the court and typing research papers, this guy is pretty happy to be peeling oranges.

What a joy.

Don't miss the oranges, moms. You know, we'll never get this special time back with our children.

Trust me when I say, you will one day long to live these precious moments with your little ones again.

Savor this season while it's here.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Mr. Blue Eyes and His Latest Wonders ~ Joseph is almost Nine Months!

While the boys sit at the table, grunting and whining in cranial agony over the final pages of copywork I assigned them (copying poetry is my punishment of choice when they assault my nerves with relentless fighting before I've finished my morning coffee), I thought I would bask in the glory of the one child who is all love and peace.  Behold:
I know, I know, his innocence is only due to the fact that his vocabulary is limited to drooly babbling, but that's beside the point. Joseph really is so beautifully gentle and cute, and because he's basically a sweet lump of sugar, I BELIEVE he will stay sweet and gentle forever, and he will never (like his elders) drive his mama to the brink of insanity (fingers crossed).

Anyway, back to the sugar! In less that two weeks, Joey will be 9 months.  Can you believe it?
{I spy a tater chip. Prepare to army crawl into the kitchen.}
{Head and shoulders buns and toes, buns and toes...because knees are boring}

It seems like yesterday that these pages were splattered with all the self pity of my overly emotional, overly squishy state of expanding pregnant being.  Thanks for hanging in there with me through all of that, because hello, isn't every single baby worth the swollen toes and, well, other unmentionable pains? YES! Yes a thousand times! I mean, just look at this little love!
If by any chance you are one of the rare and precious gems who actually loves being pregnant (jealous, jealous, jealous) then, you're probably wondering what in blazes I'm even talking about. Pain, sacrifice, stretch marks and hemorrhoids, what? If that's you, please, feel free to ignore the verbiage and scroll through the delicious photos of Mr. Blue Eyes!
So do you wanna know what's up with our littlest man? Well, beside the fact that he officially has four pearly white chompers and is completely over rice cereal, preferring to move on to more exciting noshings such as pizza and chips (who can blame him?), he's also crawling at the speed of light and loves to pull himself up anywhere and everywhere to get a better view of the world around him.

I wasn't going to let you guys in on this, but Steve and I are detecting some pretty serious supernatural gifts in him as well.  We believe he has the gift of omniscience. Not kidding. Those big blue eyes can see all things at all times, all things meaning, me.

No matter where I am in the house, he can find me. I seriously cannot hide from the boy.  He's Daniel Boone. Not that I would want to hide, I mean, look at those blue eyes, would you run away from those? His brothers, maybe, him? Nope!

I know what you're thinking.  Maybe he just has a keen sense of smell, right? Well, given the fact that, ever since his birth, I'm sadly only averaging about 2.1 showers per week, so I wouldn't bet on the fact that he's drawn to the faded scent of my tropical shampoo or lavender lotion.

We can also confidently rule out a super-sharp sense of hearing, because after all, he is of the male species and, well, you know where I'm going with this.
Thus, I conclude that his gift must be supernatural in nature.  Even if I'm scurrying around the house trying to keep life in a somewhat ordered state of being, he just follows me around like it's his job. Just yesterday, I was quietly picking up dirty laundry behind Charlie's bedroom door, and just as I turned around, boom! There he was, staring right up at me!

Unfortunately, one of these days his little "gift" is gonna throw a wrench in my chocolate sneaking schemes.  But, for now, his desire to keep an eye on his mama adorable, and so is he!