Tuesday, July 29, 2014

When Trying to Look Good Doesn't Look Like Jesus - Edel '14 Inspirations

God bless Texas.

No, really.

I'm serious.
 My sweet lil' traveling buddy!
I do love it there, even more so after my venture with little Joey to the Edel Gathering in Austin this past weekend. I could so very easily live in the South.  The hospitality.  The Charm. The food.  The fun. The football! Hello! Does it get any better??! Plus, in Texas I could run year-round without crunching through the ice and snow of Kansas' crazy winters. Bonus!

But, that's not the point of this post. Edel '14 is the point, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since I got back on Sunday evening. All that thinking has fueled my blogging fire, and I've tried, man have I tried to reach the computer keys, but I've got this adorable baby who eats like it's his job and sleeps like it's a hobby, a really lousy hobby. Oh, and then there's five other members of this tribe who sometimes need me, who just so happen to be needing me right now, so hold on a sec.

Okay, let's see, where was I?...

Oh, yes, I was so tired from the weekend that yesterday morning, even a barking toddler (Charlie was literally on his hands and knees barking like a dog outside my bedroom door), couldn't peel me out of bed.  When I asked him to pipe down he asked this very question:
How about if I moo like a cow, would that be better??


I was still feeling the effects of the migraine and mastitis, those "little" unexpected inconveniences that tried to derail my good-time train at Edel, but thanks to some codeine did not succeed. At least I could smell coffee brewing, coffee and the sound of the boys working the toaster over with double helpings of waffles were just enough to get me vertical and shuffling back into the trenches.

24 hours later, here I am, still trying to transfer the impressions that the Edel Gathering has left on my head, heart and soul onto this little blog page.  There's really so much to tell....the joy of meeting those "friends" that I only knew via the web, the inspiring talks from Marion, Haley and Jen, the little life chats over cocktails, the epic rap performance by one of my all time favorite bloggers, and late night chats at Kathryn's with Bonnie, Demetria, and Alisha.
Truth be told, I just can't sum all of it up.  So, what I will share is one specific conversation I had with my sweet friend, Stephanie, and how that conversation, and the Edel experience have together reminded me of where I've been, how far I've come and the great distance I have yet to go between here and the place we all hope to call home some day.....

Saturday evening, at the close of the gathering, all of the ladies were invited to a delicious Tex-Mex supper.  We sat a tables beautifully decorated by my very talented friend, Kathryn, and dined joyfully, taking full advantage of a meal which did not require us to refill sippy cups or wipe up spills.

After savoring the last bite of dinner, I was greeted by a dear sweet friend, Stephanie, whom I had been waiting all weekend to sit a visit with.  She and I are both raising boys, trying to homeschool, trying to find time to run and stay healthy so we can keep up with the wonderful men in our lives.

During our conversation, she shared with me the challenges that she faces when it comes to feeling confident in who she is as a wife and mother in particular situations which require her to work or socialize with other women, specifically within her homeschool network. Those very platforms which are meant to bring us together as women in a supportive and encouraging way can sometimes be the most challenging of all.

Crazy, isn't it? As women we really do long for community, for understanding, for friendship, but often times we're the ones who are the most critical of each other.  Why do we do this?? Why are we so hard on one another??

Stephanie's real and honest confessions hit really close to home for me. I remember when Steve and I were first married and began having children of our own.  Like many moms, I wanted so very much to do everything right, to do what was best for my children, for my husband and for myself. I looked for the ideal in everything, and that's what I was striving to achieve.

You all know that's a one way ticket to crazy town, right?.  Ever been there?? Yeah, not so fun, huh?

While my intentions to be the best wife and mother I could be may have seemed pure at the time, I really think they were rooted more in fear than in love.  Fear and a dose of pride. Fear of failure, fear of looking like I didn't know what the heck I was doing, fear of making less-than-the-best choices for my family, including everything from what we ate to what books we read.  And then there's that pride thing.  The kind of pride that chants, do not mess this motherhood thing up, because everyone is watching. Everyone.

What I didn't realize was that in seeking this good-better-best life, nearly everything I did on a daily basis was sought after for the good in and of itself, and not for the greatest good which was the heart of Christ.  I was too concerned about being good in the eyes of others - my peers, my parents, the ladies at bible study, at church, the homeschool group, etc. etc.  I was more concerned about what a good mother, a good wife, a good Catholic looks like. With fear and pride directing the disposition of my heart, there was simply no room for God to show me what goodness - what holiness really looked like, because the eyes of my soul were completely focused on what others were telling me was good and holy...

A good mom let's her kids play sports. No, wait, she doesn't.  She immunizes her kids.  No, wait, immunizations are bad.  She enrolls them in early language classes. No, wait, that's too much pressure for a two year old.

And, a good Catholic mom's kids have all their prayers memorized and then some, and in Latin. She does not own a TV and if she does only Veggie Tales are allowed. And, she doesn't wear make-up or pants - ever (I know, right? That's another story for another day, but I'm telling you, there really is a "pants are evil" gang out there. Trust me, they've ganged up on me more than once. But, ladies, you know me better than that. This girl still wears pants.).

Looking for the good Catholic mother ideals in life didn't open my eyes to Christ, but instead it closed my heart and my mind to who Christ is in others and who he wants to be in me. As my vision of what it meant to be good and what defined good narrowed, so did my openness to others. I was putting people in a box, Jesus in a box, myself in a box.

They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  But, I say also that the road to heaven isn't paved with being good for that sake of good itself, but only for the sake of seeking good in order that we may experience Christ himself.  And, that may mean that Christ looks different than the ideals we have chosen to embrace in an effort to be good. (Please know that when I talk about ideals, I am not referring to moral issues here, just to clarify.)

I was reminded of this at the Edel Gathering.  In each and every woman who attended last weekend, I saw expressions of Christ, the thoughtful purpose and plan of a good and gracious God, who makes Himself known through the very different lives of every one of us.  To one woman pearls are the best accessory, to another it's a tattoo with a story. Many moms stay home with their kids, and for some, the career path is their calling. There are those of us who homeschool and also those who would never even consider it to be an option.

Edel reminded me that when we seek goodness with the intention of finding Jesus, and not for the sake of being good or looking good for good itself, we will find that He looks like wild hair and tattoos, arms wrapped around the 10th child, a homeschooling mom who can also rap, a cradle Catholic who is just finding her faith and a convert who has known it all along.

I am amazed that God, in his wisdom and goodness, would take something so simple and so small as my desire to blog and cause it to flourish into so many new found friendships, and, thanks to the Edel Gathering, a greater understanding of what it means to see Him in the women around me.

What a mercy it has been to have the scales fall away from my eyes, to have the tethers of my heart released so that I can truly know that goodness and holiness cannot be contained within the shallow box of my neatly wrapped ideals. God is so much bigger, more beautiful than that.

I'm not keeping all of this Edel goodness to myself, though.  Tempting as it may be to mingle in my little online posse of buddies, rekindling memories of fun times, inspiring talks, and sacred moments.  No, Marion, Haley, and Jen have asked us to do so much more than that.  They have asked us to take what we've been given at Edel and to share it with others, one on one, face to face in the every day real life experience of motherhood.

So, that's where I'm at, in the trenches with you, "building Cathedrals" as Jen so eloquently expressed in her talk Saturday night. And, I see beside me Christ, who looks and sounds and lives a goodness that is different than mine, but one that is as much of an expression of Him as mine is. And, I can't think of any place I'd rather be!

“Your real, new self (which is Christ's and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom, Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ten Kids, Texas and a Salsa Emergency

Do you know how many kids ate waffles at my breakfast table this morning? Ten.  TEN!! Well, technically one ate rice cereal and another had mama's milk, so only eight ate waffles, but still, TEN KIDS AROUND MY TABLE!! 
We love us some Jim!
My sister, her husband and their cutie-tootie kiddos are visiting us from Switzerland, and we are loving every precious minute of time we get to spend together.  Yes, it's a little crowded here, I mean 14 people under this roof....whoa.  If you divide the square footage of our Hobbit hole by 14, that means each person gets about as much space as a bunny hut to make themselves cozy. But, on a positive note, the walls are still in tact (for the most part), there is beer in the fridge and the city pool and park are just around the corner should anyone happen to need a break from the closeness.  I mean, coziness.

Whenever my sis comes home, her one and only culinary request is for Mexican food. Of course, we could go out to eat, but since 10 kids 13 and under at a restaurant might be a bit much for my nervous system, I was happy to honor her request right here in mi cocina.  

I bought all of the ingredients for carne asada, fresh guacamole, cilantro lime rice and of course margaritas! True to form, I forgot ONE thing.  Salsa.  Um, hello?? This is not a minor Mexican meal ingredient! One does not simply sip a margarita without chips and salsa!  Thankfully, I had the necessary ingredients to whip up a batch of some homemade.  My forgetfullness turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because I don't think I'll ever buy salsa from the store again.  My little concoction is super easy, super simple and super delish!

Joey and I are heading to Texas this weekend for the Edel Gathering (WAHOO!!!), and I can't wait to sample some delicious Tex Mex while I'm there. After being spoiled by Austin's finest fare, I might have to tweak this recipe a bit, but for now, it's pretty darn tasty. After a couple of margaritas, I promise you, it will taste even better *wink.*

Super Simple Restaurant Style Salsa
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1/2 small yellow onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
  • fresh ground pepper (to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
  • juice of 1 large lime, or 2 small
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (more if you like)
  • 1 fist-full of fresh cilantro (about 2 heaping tablespoons chopped)
For a smooth salsa, place all of the ingredients in a blender and pulse to desired consistency.  If you're like me and a admittedly too lazy to assemble, use, disassemble and wash a blender, an immersion blender is the answer.  Serve with your favorite chips, cerveza and/or margarita!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

He Withholds No Good Thing From Us...

I wish I could explain to you, through the little pages of this place, just how beautiful rural Kansas is.  I love it. We love it. Slow drives along country roads, nothing to interrupt the peaceful view of the afternoon sun reflected off the dome of a silo standing solitary beside a barn whose peak is the perfect place for the owl to scope out his prey...

Farmhouses, old and new, full of a devotion that nourishes the working hands with family recipes passed down from generations past, a house that is more than a place to put up the weary feet after a long days work. Houses that are homes.

These are the sights that make my heart sing.
Amber waves of grain!
Canola - Isn't it lovely?
My boys are the first to notice fresh tassels topping endless rows of corn, the baby green sprouts of wheat waking up and breaking through the winter chill. They are happy to study the variety of crops as each grows steady through the seasons, changing color and shape, fulfilling their natural course of life until harvest time.

We talk about it all, again and again, a conversation that never seems to get old.
  Brothers!! Working and playing (and teasing each other) side by side since they were babes!
Then, harvest time, oh my.  Combines, tractors, swathers, balers, grain trucks - they know every make, every model and the conversations that flow from the scoping out of just one piece of equipment can last for miles and miles.  This is their time to teach, my time to listen and learn.

With the sight of every farmstead that rolls past us as we forge ahead to our destination comes the ache that presses hard an my heart, the ache to be "that place" out there, the one that perhaps others drive by and say, "Hey, look at that farm! I wonder who lives there?" The place where I stand on the porch and watch my sons in their faded wranglers and crooked caps journey out to meet all that the day holds for them.

But, the porch is not mine, not ours, not yet.

We wait.

Waiting.  The stubborn word that won't leave me alone.

So many of us are waiting, aren't we?

Waiting for a loved one to be healed, for a spouse to come home from being deployed overseas, waiting to bring a child home from the hospital, waiting to have a child of your own, waiting to find a job, a home.....waiting on the Lord.

And, in the moments of waiting don't you wonder why in the world we long for certain things so deeply? There are days when I try to wish the longing away, wish I could loosen the grip dreams have on my heart, wish I could free my mind from wondering when the dreams will be realized. Dreams we've prayed about for 14 years. Dreams to own our own dirt, to build a house on that dirt and to watch 12 feet and 30 toes make a maze of endless paths that all lead back to the front porch where I sit and savor it all.
These are the all too familiar thoughts running through my mind last week as we cruised the countryside, boys' noses pressed to window panes in search of Dad who was waiting on us to deliver lunch to a field where he was working for another farmer.

Custom work, work for others, that's what you do when you're waiting for a field of your own.
Just a couple of miles away, I try to get a grip on my feelings, try to let the intellect take charge of the will.  Will to be grateful, will to be positive, will to see what we have and not what we want to have - what we're waiting to have, will to laugh, will to hand over the sandwich with a hug and a look that says, "I love you....we can do this."

Just then, words form the song "Open My Hands" by Sara Groves pops into my head:
He withholds no good thing from us.
No good thing from us. No good thing from us.

I repeat the words over and over in my head: He withholds no good thing from us....

And, I realize that there's more good things to be had than those that we have our hearts and minds set upon, those "big" things that we're waiting for. There's good right here, right now, in the smallest parts of the most ordinary day.  And, those are the things we have to hold onto in the waiting, those are the little sparks of life that must be fanned so that the fires of our faith and our hope are not extinguished by impatience or a lack of trust while we wait.
There's beauty in those sparks.  Little as they may be.  Yes, beauty.

And joy.

And purpose.

And, if we find within the waiting the truth that our longings were never meant to be realized, then we can be content in knowing that we lived fully the life that was given to us.
There's a radio in that tractor, and Daddy discovers that Charlie loves the song Benny and the Jets by Elton John.  This is the two of them delivering their best version to me in the car while I hold Joseph. Charlie sings grinning, over and over, B-b-b-Benny!!
He withholds no good thing from us.

I believe in a blessing I don't understand
I’ve seen rain fall on wicked and the just
Rain is no measure of his faithfulness
He withholds no good thing from us
No good thing, no good thing from us

I believe in a peace that flows deeper than pain
That broken find healing in love
Pain is no measure of his faithfulness
He withholds no good thing from us
No good thing from us, no good thing from us

I will open my hands will open my heart
I will open my hands will open my heart
I will show up and play the smallest part
I am nodding my head an emphatic yes
To all that You have for me

I believe in a fountain that will never dry
Though I've thirsted and didn't have enough
Thirst is no measure of his faithfulness
He withholds no good thing from us
No good thing from us, no good thing from us


No good thing from us
No good thing from us 
He withholds no good thing from us 

Friday, July 11, 2014

The {So, So Soft and Dangerous} World According to Mr. Chuckle Pants

Hellooooo Friday!! Steve took the boys to a farm show today, so I'm just hanging out here with Joseph staring cross-eyed at my long "to do" list, which has resulted instead in me prioritizing a post for your weekend reading pleasure, just until I'm overwhelmed with enough motivation to tackle the kitchen bomb.

But....before the story, I want to say hello and welcome those of you who are new here!  My followers continue to increase bit by bit each week, which is amazing to me! Even though it really isn't possible for me to post every day, I find it truly wonderful that so many of you take precious time out of your busy days to check in with me each week, so thank you, thank you for being patient and loyal!!
Today's post is all about our 3 year old son, Charlie, whom we also humorously address with great affection as Chuckle Pants, Char-Char, Larlie, and Sugar Bear.  One of the things I absolutely love about being able to stay home with our kids is that I get to experience and enjoy each one of their individual personalities as they grow. I'll admit that sometimes their personalities are, let's just say, a bit of a challenge to embrace, but most of the time, they bring us so much joy we just can't imagine the world our our home without these wonderful people in it!

I spend a lot of time writing about the older boys' accomplishments and experiences with their various projects and activities, but I often fail to include the many special milestones of Charlie in my writing. Like the fact that he potty trained himself.  That's like winning the lottery, folks! Why did I not post that on my virtual scrapbook?? Somehow I don't think he'll let me forget about that lil' surprise gift...especially when he's a teenager and needs money or wants to borrow the car keys.

Chuckle Pants is in a particularly adorable phase, and even the older brothers admit to being smitten with his cuteness.  We get awfully distracted from our chores, school work and projects, because observing Charlie's silly mannerisms or listening to him tell us his very important stories is so much more important than mastering multiplication tables or scrubbing boogers off the walls and other interior objects that aren't a Kleenex.

Danger is Charlie's current favorite word.  Everything, everyone, and every place is either very dangerous or not dangerous at all, and he's very passionate about communicating with us on this matter.  Riding his tricycle in the street is not dangerous (so he tries to convince me), but taking a bath is (of course!).
Homemade wooden swords are also not dangerous, but taking a nap is. Boy-Moms, you know how this game is played!

Among his many slight phonetic alterations, tops on Char-Char vocabulary re-mixes are:
Pupcake (cupcake)
Chinchiladas (enchiladas)
Flick-Flocks (flip-flops)
Kimeapple (pineapple)
Topsicle (popsicle)
And the very, very best one of all?? Jophis (Joseph)
Jophis, you are going to be so dangerous when you grow up!

Like many 3 year olds, he likes to impress everyone with his independence by secretly going #2 alone (in the dark) and wiping himself, which really grosses mommy out.  However, he kind of makes up for that disgusting little maneuver by dressing himself, which he does quite well, aside from putting his underwear on backwards. But hey, I've got some older boys who also find the same approach to undergarments equally comfy, so no biggie there.
In the area of positive habits, he's given me great hope that he will be the one son who actually finds being neat and tidy a good thing. Indicators that lead me to this hope are: he puts his dirty clothes in the hamper, washes his hands (major brownie points) and he likes to place all of his fruit in a straight line before snarfing it down. I believe that skill will one day transfer to actually putting clothes on hangers or folding them up before stacking neatly in a drawer.  Too ambitious? I don't think so.  Nope.  I'm also visualizing an organized back-pack and dishwasher loading skillz that would make Martha Stewart blush in domestic embarrassment.

Before I wrap up this dedication to Larlie, I mustn't forget to mention just a few of his very important current affections:
:: Pajamas 24/7 (Raise your hand if you are also that happy to be wearing your pj's at 3:00 p.m.!):
:: Anything so, so soft - which may include the backs of my arms and my post-baby tummy which are both extra fluffy these days:
:: Snuggling and teasing with daddy:
No, you're hilarious!
No, you are!!

:: Taking his brothers' Lego creations apart (No photo evidence taken yet of this epic toddler travesty.)

:: Playing with his Hot Wheels anywhere and everywhere (note preferred attire):
:: Smuggling crackers from the pantry (or, if he's feeling reeeally dangerous, a bag of BBQ chips):
:: Playing in the sandbox at Granny's:
:: And, above and beyond all of life's pleasures are Rose's puppies:
Pure JOY!!
"Mommy, they are just so, so soft!"
Rose is very protective of her babies, but Charlie always reassures her, Don't worry Rosie, I won't drop them!
Gather 'round friends, I'm going to tell you a little story about how I potty trained myself!
We love you, Sugar Bear!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Wise Guy Who Said "Prayer Doesn't Change God, It Changes Us" Might Have Been Right

I'm sitting at the dining room table, watching Charlie cover his sweet cheeks with the last licks of a chocolate-vanilla swirl pudding cup, wondering if an extra dose of chocolate and another cup of coffee can miraculously make me as blissfully cheerful as he is.

C'mon pudding, work your magic.

At the wise ol' age of 2.5 weeks, Joseph thinks the perfect time to sleep at night is between the hours of 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., not a minute sooner, not a moment longer.  Moms, I know you feel my pain, and I truly am consoled by the fact that you understand the blinding ache behind my blood-shot eye-balls. Unfortunately, I'm getting no sympathy from the male species of our household.  This is what I got from them this morning:

Hey mom, would you take us bowling this afternoon?
I don't think so boys, mommy only slept for about 3 hours last night, and I really need to catch a nap this afternoon.
Well, how about the pool then? Would you take us to the pool? You can fall asleep there and still look normal.  
Sorry to disappoint you, boys, but I'm not going to look normal (or take this circus bowling) any time soon. I could, however, handle drive-thru Starbucks and a Redbox.

Now, it's 1 o'clock, Joseph is wide awake and the boys are outside trying to pole vault into the baby pool with the telescoping wand that I use to wash windows.  Clearly, I'm not going to nap. Thus, I shall blog.

There's so many things I want to write about, but there's one topic that's been on my heart more than the rest, and I know that if I don't write a little something about it now, I never will.
Do you guys remember back about a month ago when I asked you to share your prayer intentions with me so that I could take them to the hospital and offer them up during labor and delivery? (Thank you, Kathryn, for the beautiful idea!)  Well, somehow I want to express to you - all 96 of you - my deepest thanks for responding to the invitation to share.

In hind sight, I truly believe that those intentions most likely more necessary for my good than for yours.

I hope that doesn't sound selfish or prideful.  Those long days of waiting leading up to the Joseph's birth, were much tougher than the birth itself.  I was really tired, swollen and struggling to sleep at night for more than an hour at a time due to sciatic pain in my lower back.  Feeling exhausted, yet trying to keep up with five busy boys, handle the normal housekeeping duties, along with the mental strain of waiting for Joseph past my due date, tested my emotional strength in a way I had never experienced before.

But, every day, you all came to my rescue.
Every afternoon seemed to afford a window of time in which I could retreat into my bedroom, light my holy candle, climb into bed and sink myself into your struggles, for a while escaping my own.  For almost two weeks, taking the time to meditate on each one of your intentions became a welcome habit, and as the days passed, I became sincerely attached to dozens of people I do not know, and will most likely never meet.  People struggling with alcoholism, infertility, cancer, worry for their children, divorce, loss, grief....the list goes on.

The culmination of this experience was quite humbling for me.  Not only did the intensity of suffering that many of you shared with me keep my own little pains in perspective, it impressed upon me more deeply than ever the conviction that the words, "I'll pray for you" aren't meant to be offered lightly.

Yet, I'm afraid they sometimes are.

I am guilty of such insincerity - of earnestly desiring to console friends and family in their times of suffering with promises of prayer, of having good intentions to commit to that promise, but failing in the follow through.

Have you been there, too?

To to say what you mean and to mean what you say - and then to DO what you say you will do is honesty and integrity - it's loving our neighbor as ourselves - at its core.  Countless people so kindly reached out to me throughout my pregnancy, especially toward the end, to let me know they were praying for me, and I cannot tell you how much I clung to those words. I counted on those words. Words that offered hope in the deliverance of graces that I longed for, graces I knew would carry me through - minute by minute - every moment of the days of hurting and waiting and trying to be patient and trying to be a mom and trying to meet needs without begrudging the weight of the responsibilities, the weight of the crosses I was being asked to carry.

Someone once told me that one of the great fruits of suffering in this world is that suffering offers others the chance to pray and that prayer is unifying.  I'm a believer in that - as confounding and mysterious as suffering may be, the boldness and beauty of all that is borne from it cannot be denied or ignored.  When we share in that suffering together, through prayer, we can experience Christ and through Christ, one another.

How can we not be changed by that?
Indeed, it is in giving that we receive.

So, thank you.  Thank you for letting me pray for you - all those days prior to the birth, and of course during labor and delivery as well. You'll never know the blessing you've been to me!  I'm still holding on to your intentions.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Independence Day!! 7 QT Friday

A very quick 7 QT Friday today, because there's cupcakes to bake, salads to make, crafts to create and drinks to partake!! Tonight we're heading over to Steve's parents for all the fun and festivities.  I've got 6 squirrely boys who absolutely cannot wait!

Happy Fourth of July from the "birth" day buddies!!  This is a shot from their 2 week photo session, which did not go a smoothly as I had hoped it would - squirming pups and  a fussy baby don't make for optimal footage.  But, despite all the wriggling and sleepy stretching, I did manage to capture a little bit o' sweetness!

Mmmmm....summer salads! I've had my eye on this roasted corn and avocado salad since last summer and thought today would be the perfect day to whip it up! Fresh, healthy and delish!

You guys probably already knew this, but Pinterest is a great place to find fun cocktail recipes. We made a red, white and blue sipper last year that was really yummy, but decided to go for something a little less sweet, but equally jazzy this year.  We'll be shaking it up with Hendricks gin - my favorite!

Firecracker cupcakes?? Yes, please! What makes these cupcakes so fun are the Pop Rocks and sprinkles combo on top of the frosting.  The cupcakes pictured here are made from scratch with a blueberry pie filling.  We simplified them *read* boxed cake mix, zero pie filling, canned frosting. All the glory goes to the Pop Rocks!

Fireworks. Lots of fireworks. "We're going to put on an awesome show for you, mom!" Sweet, I'll be front and center, fire extinguisher in hand.

I love a good military movie, so when one of our friends recommended that Steve and I watch the HBO series, Band of Brothers, I was all in.  I am up late at night doing the rocking, nursing, walking routine with Joseph, so it's a perfect time for mommy to be entertained. We are really enjoying it so far!

I really believe that every high school history class should be required to watch Saving Private Ryan and to read the book, When Hell Was in Session, Admiral Jeremiah Denton's account of his experience as a POW in North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.  If we don't know what has been sacrificed in order that our freedoms might be preserved, how can we truly appreciate them, uphold them, and fight for them when they are being compromised??

This book hit close to home for me since my dad is a Vietnam veteran.  I will never know or understand the depths or meaning of his experience of war.  But, I do know that I am eternally grateful for the patriotism and love for our nation that he has instilled in our family.

We owe our military, past and present, a huge debt of gratitude.  I think we them best by living in such a way that demonstrates a sincere patriotism: respecting and supporting our military, learning and knowing American history, teaching it to our children and being willing to contribute to our communities by helping others as generously as the armed services have contributed to our nation in such an exemplary fashion.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Joseph's Birth Story - All That and a Litter of Puppies

Every pregnancy and every birth has added new and memorable pages to our family story. While some of our birth stories have been somewhat smooth sailing, others have been a bit more eventful.

With Henry it was the hospital mix-up coupled with a "no room at the inn" scenario.  Our doctor's office called us the day before I was scheduled to be induced only to relay the fabulous news that we couldn't deliver at our chosen hospital due to insurance restrictions (whee!!).  When we arrived for check-in at the "approved" hospital, the maternity ward was under construction and they wouldn't have a room available for us for 24 hours - super convenient. Needless to say everything worked out peachy.

With Charlie, 7 days before my due date, I was browsing through a book store with the boys when *surprise!* my water broke. Driving myself to the hospital with contractions 3 minutes apart was all sorts of fun. All I remember about the drive was Beethoven was playing on the Symphony Hall radio station that morning, but even his melancholic melodies couldn't slow my contractions or the speedometer down.

I didn't think that story could be topped, but oh, boy was I ever wrong! Joseph was not about to be outdone by his older brothers...

For days leading up to Joseph's birth, I felt a slow decline in enthusiasm and hope that our child would ever decide to make an appearance.  Out of frustration, I decided to abandon all efforts to keep the house clean, laundry baskets empty or to rest whenever possible. Instead, I rebelliously decided that giving Charlie's room a make-over (which turned out so cute, and I promise pics soon!), baking unnecessary amounts of sweet things and hauling kids all over creation to football camps and swimming lessons would keep my mind off of my uncooperative midsection.
On the Morning of June 19, I woke up with more of those ho-hum contractions and went about ignoring them as usual.  Before loading up the troops for swimming lessons, I stepped outside for just a moment of fresh air, and that's when I heard a faint whimpering coming from below the deck.  I knew instantly that Rose had finally had her puppies.

(We had been quite the pair during the previous months, shuffling around with our bulging bellies, trying not to look miserable.)

The morning was chilly and overcast, the air damp from the night's rain showers.  Sure enough, I found Rose beneath the deck, curled up tightly with three of her newborn puppies.  I had been remarking sarcastically all week that if Rose gave birth before I did, I was going take her to the pound. Kidding, of course! (Hormones can make a girl say the ca-raziest things!) I will admit, however, to being slightly jealous.

We had prepared a little nest for Rose in the garage, hoping she would bed down and give birth there, but animals will do as they please and apparently she thought laboring on a pile of rocks on the cold damp earth was a better option. Whatever.  I waddled back into the house to grab Benedict who helped me gather the puppies and relocate them to the garage where it was dry and warm.

Off to swimming lessons I went, still contracting, still in denial that the little clinchers would actually get with it any time soon.  I mingled with friends, snapped a few pics of the boys and headed back to the ranchero for lunch. And, that's when the belly started getting busy.  Could it be? After 10 days of on/off contractions, could this really be the day we'd been waiting for?

Trying to contain my excitement - I didn't want to jinx anything - I made lunch for the crew, including Steve who was in a field just a few miles away bailing wheat straw and waiting for me to arrive with his lunch. I pulled up to the field, handed him his cooler, and shouted out over the roar of the tractor, "Keep your phone close, we're going to the hospital today!"

After such an eventful morning, I was ready for everything to slow down, to find some quiet and relax until it was time to go to the hospital.  But, first, I knew I needed to check on Rose.  To my great surprise, she had given birth to 4 more squealing pups!  After a long night and morning, it was evident that she was exhausted, as she struggled to lift her head to reach her babies.

Before I was finished assessing the newborns, she began delivering another pup, but this one was taking a long time, and I could tell that without assistance, the pup may not survive.  I spent the next 20 minutes helping Rose through the final stages of labor, moving the newborns close to her so she could lick them until they were clean and ready to nurse.  The boys came eagerly in and out of the garage to count Rose's progress.  They were completely enthralled with the whole event, but had no idea I was in labor too!

During this entire episode, my contractions were definitely in full swing.  I kept thinking to myself, c'mon Rose, can you finish up here so I can go have my baby? I'm sure the situation would have made for some sweet reality show footage.  Mother of 5 helps golden retriever deliver 8 puppies just moments before sprinting to the hospital to give birth to her own baby.

By this time, my contractions were serious.  Rose, baby, you're on your own.  I called Steve and, in a semi-desperate voice, told him to put that tractor in park and bust it home, because it was time to go have a baby!  Before I knew it, we were in the car narrowing the 30 mile distance between hospital and home.

When we arrived, I just kept thinking about how quickly Charlie came, so I was very eager to get changed and settled into my room.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten about having to go through the "preliminary evaluation" station where they determine whether or not you're actually in labor.

Really.  Really??? Don't 5 time deliverees get a pass on that one??  Can't you just take our experienced word for it?? Steve and I didn't know whether to laugh out loud or scream when, after 45 minutes of being strapped to monitors, a quiet, young (did I mention young?) doctor casually sauntered in, looked at the rolls of paper spilling out of the beeping machine and declared, "Well, it looks as though you're having contractions!"

These are the times when I kick myself for never having mastered a foreign language.  Being able to let my feelings flow freely in Gaelic would have been super handy in that moment without offending doctor what's-her-name. Anyway, somehow, I managed to charitably (although I'm sure my eyeballs were blazing from lack of sleep and frustration all in one pretty little look) to convince her to call my OB for the "OK" for me to stay.  I was not. going. home!

Thanks to Dr. Jensen, within minutes I was out cruising the halls, stopping every couple of minutes to grip Steve's hand as the pain became more and more intense. (This is where having your prayer intentions to meditate on became an even greater blessing to me, but more on that later.)  In just a little more than an hour, I was surrounded by a team of fantastic nurses, my doctor and Steve, ready to push.

That very moment, when the doc announces that I'm fully dilated and can push is my favorite time in the birth process. With every single baby, Steve and I cry tears of joy and hold each other tight, knowing we are just moments away from meeting the very soul our love has created and been longing for for months.

Joseph William Karol was born at 6:58 p.m.  He weighed exactly 8 pounds, and measured 21.25 inches long.
Immediately, the nurses lifted him into my arms and I was able to hold him for the longest time (Steve got to hold him too!) before they measured, weighed and bathed him.  It was wonderful having that precious bonding time alone together.
The next day, Steve's parents brought the boys in to meet their little brother.  Words cannot express just how much I look forward to and treasure the moment we get to introduce a new sibling to the family.  I treasure this first encounter so very much - the looks of love, of surprise, of wonder, of joy. Some of them have so much to say, others are content to ponder the beauty of new life silently.
Charlie was the first big bro on the scene.  He walked right up to Joseph and with a huge grin asked, "Is this our baby??" He was so delighted! We've been in stitches with him since day one, because he cannot say Joseph.  To Charlie, it's Jo-phis.  Jophis has become his most affectionate nickname.
George, who is wildly enthusiastic about life, takes on a very sweet and calm disposition when he holds Joseph.  It's really neat to see them together in this way.
Out of all the boys, Henry was the most connected to Joseph during my pregnancy.  He hugged my tummy many times each day and would whisper, "I love you!" to the baby.  He proudly tells everyone, "Jospeh loves me the best, because I hugged him lots when he was in mommy's tummy. That's how he knows me!"
Andrew is always the quiet one with newborns.  The look in his eyes and his tender embrace expresses loud and clear that he is truly in awe of new life.
Benedict and Joseph, the oldest and the youngest.  Benedict held Joseph the longest at the hospital.  He already has that innate desire to protect, to comfort, and to care for his youngest brother. Seeing Benedict grow and mature in this way is so beautiful!

Father and Sons...
On Father's Day, I shared a photo of Steve with the boys, along with this verse from scripture, on my Facebook page.  The verse has been on my heart each day since, as I continue to contemplate God's goodness and abundant blessings upon our family:

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth.  
How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.
~ Psalm 127:4-5