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Coughs and Sniffles

It’s nearly eleven p.m. and all of the children fell asleep by eight, tucked into sleeping bags at the foot of my bed. We transformed the bedroom into sick bay as one child after another came down with a hacking cough and an aching body. Charlie got sick on Sunday night and by Monday afternoon all five children and Stuart were coughing and shivering and aching. I alone remain healthy. Now it’s Thursday and the coughing continues.

The humidifier breathes out steam into the darkened room. The children inhale moisture and cough on the exhale. My last few days have been spent distributing lemon water, saline spray, and homemade chicken soup. The kids thank me for this by coughing into their dinners…and mine. Mountains of soggy tissues decorate the livingroom. Well, not exactly tissues. Toilet paper. They blew through the two family-sized boxes of tissues three days ago.

Stuart is curled into a ball on the bed beside me, alternately throwing off his covers and reaching for them again. His he…

Heads Up: Get in on this Awesome Christmas Contest

In ten days, Christy's husband will return from Iraq where he has been on a tour of duty for months leaving Christy and their three beautiful little ones behind. You can read their story at After A Cup of Coffee...Or Two. I am so excited for her. She is hosting a contest. She wants to make a creative welcome home banner and is looking for suggestions. If you have any ideas pop over and contribute. Who knows, you might win a $25 dollar Starbucks gift certificate. But even better, you can get behind the scenes and help to welcome Isaac home.

Thank you Christy and Isaac. Your enormous personal sacrifice has weighed heavily on my heart throughout this fall. Merry Christmas to you both!

Sleep Well

I’ve been blogging less over the past few months in favor of sleep and exercise. We women have a tendency to put sleep at the end of our long to-do lists. We spend our days nurturing others and meeting deadlines (real or self-imposed) and the nurturing of self goes by the wayside. We don’t do ourselves or our families any favors by living this way.

Getting enough sleep is crucial to our health. Did you know that quality sleep boosts your memory, helps you fight cancer, diabetes, obesity, and is good for your heart? Sleep also reduces your risk for depression, reduces stress levels and reduces inflammation. If you are a woman who hates to waste a minute, look at sleep this way: Your body is hard at work rebuilding and restoring itself during those hours that you lie cozy under the covers. This translates into healthier skin, greater immunity, more energy and a more positive outlook on life. Who doesn’t want that?

“But, I’ve never been much for sleep, I do my best thinking at night, I nee…

Cousins and Chaos

All of the people in all of these photos are family. Lots and lots of family. Not everyone is represented in these pictures but what's here will give you a good idea of what Thanksgiving week looked like. We were so busy with visiting and crowd control that we never thought to capture a photo of the whole group.












Snapshots

And now we drive south in cold, crisp Sunday morning sunshine. Charlie fusses in the back seat and the children snap, tired from a hectic week. Chapter One, Book Two of the Merlin series fills the car in surround sound but it is a distant drone to me. Instead, snatches of conversation roll through my head. Bits and pieces that people shared of themselves, strands of kindness and talents and strengths all woven together to make a blanket of memories that I wrap myself in here in the passenger seat.

Clink. Clink. “I have a toast to make.” She stood up at the table and we all burst into laughter at the sight of her with a beer bottle in each hand. She’s not much of a drinker. “I just want to thank you Mr and Mrs. M. for bringing me here to spend this week with you. You have no idea how special you all are to me and how much I needed you.” She said this through laughter and tears. Both emotions spill from her simultaneously, always.

“It’s no harder raising nine children than it is to raise …

Under a Starry Sky

Thanksgiving week has come and gone. All emotions found their place and presented themselves at the appropriate time as they always do. Excitement and anticipation came early in the week. Enjoyment and connection stretched from end to end. Exhaustion and eagerness to return to familiar routine showed up toward the end along with incongruent regret. Regret that the curtain must come down on seven days of delight and surprises. So predictable are these emotions with their entrances and exits, are they not?

The goodbyes rang out at regular intervals in the last hours of our last night together. So many goodbyes. Farewells made of hugs and tears and laughter... and more tears. The house wren, who marks twelfth hour on the kitchen clock, chirped midnight and the small party of eight laughed at the aviary announcement and then disbanded.

The last goodbyes were the teariest and most heartbreaking...and most beautiful. Three went to bed and five went out into the frosty night under a black velv…

Going Home

Two suburbans rumble toward New York. One shivers its way down out of the Cascade Mountains. My sister is at the wheel. Four kids play “Cows in the Cemetary” and “Scavenger Hunt” in the back seat. The fifth rides shotgun with an atlas and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in her lap. They sing along to Willie Nelson and Taj Mahal as they drive among the western pines and out into the fields of brown grass under the wide open prarie sky.
My sister tossed a few changes of clothes, a cooler and some dishes behind the back seat. The kids grabbed a handful of books and toys to keep themselves on their forty hour trip eastward. They press across the country. Each night, for three nights, after the sun sets, nine-year-old Maddie thumbs through the Hitchhiker’s Guide in search of somewhere to lay six sleepy heads.

The second suburban is ours. We head north from Smallville through nearly empty countryside in an autumn just past it’s prime. Gold and red leaves, bare branches and evergreens bru…

"B" Good to Yourself

I became serious about health early this summer while on a quest for more energy. (Falling asleep in the middle of the day is a recipe for disaster with a houseful of kids!) I was excited to find out that Darlene is hosting Live Well Wednesdays. I will be sharing what I have been learning from time to time.I was at the doctors last week for a physical and was shocked by the health of the people sitting in the waiting room with me. Men and women came in carrying LARGE ziplock bags FULL of prescription bottles. They shuffled in, their weight pressing down on canes and walkers. They squeezed in. I live in a state that boasts one of the highest rates of obesity in our nation. The size of the patients in the waiting room did not dispute this statistic. We are a nation weighed down by crippling, degenerative health problems brought on largely, I believe, by what we eat.

Coronary heart disease, allergies, exhaustion, anorexia, depression, anxiety…Do any of these sound familiar? They all have …

Bible Time: How it works at Our House

Janelle asked me weeks ago to write a post about what our Bible time looks like. Here it is.

I think too often Christian moms cling to a perfect picture of how Bible time should play out and feel a sense of failure if expectations are not met. Dad should lead. The children should be quiet but enthusiastic. Devotions should happen every day. I was one of those. I waited for years for Stuart to take the initiative in this area. It hasn't happened yet. He's a great living example of a godly man, husband and father but Bible study is not his strong suit. I have learned to be content with this. So instead I read Bible with the kids Monday through Friday and it looks like this:

It’s eleven o’clock. I’ve done my morning workout and spent time preparing for our Bible lesson. I’ve read through the portion of Matthew that we are covering today and thought about it but honestly a whole lot doesn’t come to me. Then I spend some time at Bible.org and study sermons and commentaries. The Bible…

Homeschooler of the Week

Today I am at The Heart of the Matter talking about what homeschooling looks like for my family. Stop over for a visit.

Please ignore the fact that the picture accompanying the post is over two years old. It's the last relatively decent picture that we have with all of us together. It's hard to get a photo of seven people with everyone's eyes open! (Now I know you'll head over to visit, if only out of curiosity.)

Backyard Habitat

Tiny living things we've found in our backyard in the last few weeks.

"Look Mom! There's a tree frog.""Where? I don't see it.""Right there."Can you find it?
Toads LOVE our backyard."Mom! Mom! Come quick! We found these insect eggs under a leaf on a vine!"

We brought the leaf in and set it on the window sill in the kitchen. We spritzed it with water from time to time. The egg cases turned orange and a few days later we watched little red and black bugs hatch. They look like tiny lady bugs but I don't think they are. Any experts out there who can identify these?

Rediscovering Traditions in the Kitchen

We are on a quest to eat food that nourishes. This is a hard thing to accomplish given the fifteen aisles in the grocery store that offer soybean oil, red # 40, high fructose corn syrup and enriched wheat flour in two thousand brightly packaged varieties. I’ve stiffened my resolve and we skirt around the edges of the store dashing into the middle for dog food and olive oil. The kids and I are turning this into a challenge. How many aisles can we bypass? How many things can we make ourselves with whole, healthy ingredients?

It’s busy in my kitchen tonight. The food processor whirrs and shreds. Charlie feeds the hungry machine zucchini that Claire has cut into slices. Faith writes ZUCCHINI on a freezer bag and tucks one cup packages of the shredded veggie into the bag and carries it out to the freezer. Lauren rinses cranberries and we chop and add them to our colorful pile in the freezer. I slice and process onions. Claire tries to stay and watch because she doesn’t like to miss a thing …

Entomology Artwork

Predacious Diving Larva and Beetle by John
Lots and Lots of Ladybugs by Claire
Mrs. Mosquito by Faith
Atlas Fritillary by Lauren

Seven Pairs of Shoes

This weekend we went shoe shopping. Click over to 4 OR MORE for the story that goes along with these pictures.


Not Quite Like the Pumpkin Patch

The Pumpkin Patch sits on top of Signal Mountain tucked safely behind Walden Town Hall just outside of Chattanooga. It’s our favorite playground. Ever. There are zip wires, little slides, bigger slides and the daddy of all slides. There are four or five swing sets, play places for little ones and big ones, a covered picnic area, drinking fountains and a bathroom. It was forty-five minutes from our house when we lived in Tennessee and we scaled the mountain from time to time to play under the shady trees. We miss it.

We had been scouring the land for a good playground somewhere near Smallville for about nine months when an acquaintance asked me if we had discovered the wooden playground just a few miles from Stuart’s work. We hadn’t due to the intricate road layout in the Land Flowing With Milk and Honey.

"You should definitely take the kids there. It's a great playground."

I had her repeat the directions a few times and on the next grocery day we traveled a few minutes off …

The Transformation of John: Part Two

John calls himself the disciple whom Jesus loved in the Gospel that he penned. For years I thought this was perhaps false modesty on John’s part. Why couldn’t he refer to himself in the first person like some of the Greats before him? Men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Why choose such a wordy title when I, me and my would suffice. But do they?

The disciple whom Jesus loved are words that have been weighing on my mind for the last week. John writes the best known verse in all the Bible, For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever shall believe in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. As he stood at the foot of the cross John was the only disciple to actually see how much God loved the world, to recognize how much Jesus loved not only the whole world, but more personally John himself. He couldn’t help but call himself the disciple whom Jesus loved and to be changed because of his certainty of Christ's love.

JOHN: NEW AND IMPROVED

GENTLE:

Reflecting on John

We turned the final page of the Gospel of John this week. We’ve been traveling with him since mid-July and I am sad to part ways. The kids and I have discussed in detail how John didn’t tell everything he knew. He relayed only what was important. The kids have been writing bug stories this week and we have edited ruthlessly so that only the ideas that tell the clearest story and create the best word pictures have remained. They get it. They have enjoyed the richness of John’s writing and they see the value in emulating his style.

This is my first time studying John in depth and the beauty of this book and the genius of his writing have overwhelmed me. He writes tightly. He writes with a purpose and must leave much of what he witnessed in his time with Jesus out of his work. This enables him to pack a solid punch. All that is included in the twenty-one chapters supports the first sentence: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John is a book of s…

Writing for 4 or More

In the midst of this writer's block, I received an e-mail from lotsofkids.com asking me to write for their new blog 4 or More. I had sent them a link to my blog several months ago to be considered for this writing opportunity. Little did I know that when the time actually came to participate, my mind would be frozen solid! I'm still waiting for the thaw.

So I wrote an introduction about our family for 4 or More. It took me three hours! Three hours to write a few simple sentences about people that I spend every waking minute with.

Here it is:

Stuart and I were married fifteen years ago today in front of God and family and an entire class of balloon-clutching kindergarteners. Looking back, I guess it's appropriate we started our married life with a church full of kids as witnesses because our lives have since been overflowing with children...

The story continues here if you care to read further.

We Interrupt this Program...

It's been quiet here on this blog. Boring even. I want to write but not about chores and laundry. I want the ideas to flow freely from my brain to my fingertips but they will not come. There is an inky blackness. An overwhelming lack of creativity and coherent thought. God is teaching me in this. All that is good here in this space comes from Him. He is the generator of my ideas. He puts my words together. Now He chooses to be quiet and so must I. When I hear His still, small voice once again, I will be back.

Waiting For Lauren

We went to a local craft fair where Lauren was lured into spending two hours sewing a tiny leather pouch. While we waited for her to finish, the rest of us took turns with the dulcimers.



Charlie and the Cheesecake Filling

"Would you like to try some?" asked the smiling lady in grocery aisle. She held out a tiny plastic cup with two graham cracker sticks and a scoop of chocolate cheesecake filling.

It's cheesecake, lady! Of course we want to try some.

"Yes please. We would love to try it. Wouldn't we, kids?"

"Yes please, Mama."

We walked away dipping our two little crackers in that tasty filling. We dipped until we ran out of cracker. I being a rational adult made the chocolate and the filling come out even. Charlie ran short of cracker and resorted to using his tongue and a good deal of his face to get at the rest of the chocolate goodness. He worked quietly as we trekked down three whole aisles. Then he looked up. Brown sweet goo covered his face from the nose down, ear to ear. But Charlie is resourceful. He used his shirt to take care of the damage as I scanned the aisle in vain for a box of wipes.

Laundry Nightmares

I have nightmares about the washing machine breaking down.

This is about how much laundry we wash every single day!
The crew folded and put it away in about twenty minutes on this particular day. Most days they dawdle.

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Stuart and I went on a crash diet this weekend and lost a couple hundred pounds. Our waistlines are not trimmer but the garage is no longer stuffed to the gills. It had to be done. Especially after I posted a picture of the disaster for all the world to see. It's one thing to admit that I'm a slacker. But what if somebody sent me an e-mail a month from now and asked, "Do the kids still have to wrestle with painting equipment and footstools to get at their bikes?" If I had to admit that they were, what kind of mother would I be? So we cleaned the garage.

My favorite box was filled with joy sticks to a Nintendo game. We don't own Nintendo. Remote controls. Lots of them. We pushed buttons. Maybe we were turning on the ceiling fan to our last house? "Hey! Remember the TV that caught on fire. I think this was the remote that went to it."

Cordless phones without their base units. A rechargable battery. To what? More head scratching. Enough! "Tip the whole …

I'd Rather Blog

Last week Janelle wrote a responsible post about blogging and Alana posted a humorous response. I give you the photo essay about how things tend to slide...

...when one blogs.
Plants begin to escape their borders.
Doors lean next to the closet they belong to two months after they have been painted.
Stuart needs the Army Corps of Engineers to help extract his motorcycle from the garage.
And this sympathy card has been sitting on the shelf in my kitchen for months. Sometimes when I dust around it, I feel guilty but apparently not guilty enough to either mail it or put it in a drawer.

After I put all of these pictures up, I felt like I needed to tackle one of these projects so I turned on the flood lights and went out into the night to tackle the garden. I dug up shoots of crepe myrtle and gave the lantana a giant haircut. When the need to accomplish something passed, I dumped everything in a pile and went back into the house. So I guess I really can't cross that gardening thing off m…

Straw-Hatted Geezers

Writing has become therapeutic. When something annoying begins to happen, I think There’s potential for a story in this and the more annoying it gets the better the story. Such was our drive into The Land Flowing With Milk and Honey this afternoon.

The roads between Smallville and The Land Flowing With Milk and Honey are twisting, bumpy and covered with deer carcasses this time of year. The people who travel to and from Smallville are the retired type. Why drive slow when you can drive slower? is the town motto. Most of the time I get lucky because I drive on the back country roads with just butterflies and dragonflies for company. But today it was me and the butterflies and dragonflies and one faded red pickup. The pickup was in the lead and my Suburban trailed behind. Closely.

There is really no good place to pass on these narrow country lanes so we went twenty, forty, twenty, forty for ten miles. I noticed many things during those ten miles. The pickup windows were rolled down to all…

Reading Lessons

Charlie and I sit together on the sofa, close, close. The way we always sit. Charlie likes close. His little head is bent over the paper I am writing on.

"What's this, Charlie?" I draw m on the paper.

"mmmm for Mama!" He grins up at me.

"What's this one?" f

Charlie puts the palms of his chubby hands together and wiggles them back and forth through imaginary waves. "fffff for fishy!"

"And this one?" s

"ssss for sword!" I duck out of the way as he brandishes an imaginary weapon.

Now there are five. Five kids in school. This is how we start, with a piece of paper and a pencil, lowercase letters and letter sounds. (Uppercase letters and letter names will come in a few years when Charlie learns how to write. ) It takes a couple of minutes each day and in a few months my last child will know his letters. When we pull into Wal-Mart, he will start yelling, "There's a wuh for water! There's a tuh for tickle!"

After l…

Redecorating

Have you ever lived in a house that doesn’t match your stuff? A house full of flooring and light fixtures and cupboards that are outdated and worn and ugly? That’s my house. It’s was built in the seventies and retains some of the charm of that era: a Jack and Jill bathroom in the playroom, gold carpet on the floor, dark shelving and trim in the living room.

And the paint! Oh my word! I do not long for fall. It’s colors are spread out majestically over my walls. Pumpkin. Caramel. Hunter Green. Gold. I love light and these colors drink in the sun in big thirsty gulps, covering me in shade and shadows.

So we work. All the changes that we have made in the house so far have been with an eye to creating more light. Heavy drapes came down. Stuart is preparing to install French doors leading out to the sunroom. I paint. Cameo blue and white cover the gold hallway. Blue and white comforters do not pop against a pumpkin background, so bedroom walls are coated in layers and layers of white.

The hou…

Correction

I just checked my blog profile and discovered that I am an accountant living in Afghanistan. News to me! So for all of you who were wondering about that, I'm still in Smallville, and I'm still really bad with numbers. I am not, never have been and do not aspire to be an accountant. Go check your profiles. Maybe you'll discover you're a dog trainer in Mozambique.

4-H Exhibits-Updated

Update: Blue ribbons all around! 4 of our projects will go onto the state fair. John's headboard exceeds size limitations and so we will lug it home tomorrow. We are relieved. That thing is heavy! ************* For the past few weeks we have been busy sewing, sawing, quilling and painting 4-H projects. The kids have been in 4-H for about a month and they started with a bang. The annual 4-H fair is tomorrow. So this morning we loaded these projects and four kids wearing slippers into the car. The fifth one had sense enough to wear flip-flops. (The other four complained as we pulled out of the driveway that their feet were sweating.)
John reclining against the headboard that he built with Stuart. He wrote the 10 Commandments of Table Saw Safety to accompany this project.

Claire's quilling project.

Lauren modeling the apron that she sewed.
Lauren and the dog painting she has been working on in art class for the past few months.


Faith and her quilling project.
So now, I guess we can g…

So Long Summer

Two swim noodles will support one mama quite easily.
They will also support five children...
...but not for long.
This was my last day in the pool as the temperature of the water has dipped below 95°. That's just too cold for me. But, it will still be awhile before we have to trade flip flops and shorts for long pants and tennis shoes. I love the South! Wordless Wednesday

A Doubting Time

“Mama. This isn’t true.” Faith has a Magic Tree House book open to the last few pages. She is pointing to the heading, The Rainbow Serpent, an Aboriginal myth about the role the Rainbow Serpent played in creating the world. “It’s not true. I don’t think that the author should write about things that aren’t true like they are true! Indignation leaves it’s mark on her little face.

John has been watching the Discovery Channel with Stuart. He comes out in the middle of a program to let me know, “It’s another one of those the Bible can’t be true so here’s what happened instead shows. This week it’s about how Noah’s ark would have sunk. Last week, it was about how they found Jesus’ bones. Where do they come up with this stuff?”

These conversations are heartening. My children are learning to evaluate the reasoning of others using the Bible as a plumb line. An incredible skill for ones so young.

Just a few years ago, planes flew into the Twin Towers and scattered glass, concrete and human flesh,…

Band-Aids and The Kissing Hand

A crowd instantly collected. Yells are very unusual at bazaars, and every one was intensely interested. It was several seconds before the three free children could make Mrs. Biddle understand that what she was walking on was not a schoolroom floor, or even, as she presently supposed, a dropped pin-cushion, but the living hand of a suffering child. When she became aware that she really had hurt him, she grew very angry indeed. When people have hurt other people by accident, the one who does the hurting is always much the angriest. I wonder why.

The children were gathered around the coffee table with coloring books and draped across the floor and the sofas in the evening lamplight as I read these words aloud from E. Nesbit's book, The Phoenix and the Carpet. I read on to the end of the chapter but my mind stayed on these words…when people have hurt other people by accident, the one who does the hurting is always much the angriest.

I don’t know about you, but for me this is true. I tak…

Raccoons

It was a running around kind of day today. An eat in the park, errand, exercise, wash the dog day. The kids were swimming right before dinner and I had Henrie in the rinse cycle when Miss Linda popped over. She's stealthy, Miss Linda is, and I startled when I looked up from Henrie's tail to Miss Linda's face.

"I came over to tell you that I have a happy for you over at the house. I just wanted you to know how much we appreciate you."

I twisted off the hose and leaned in close to hear. Cigarette smoke has erased a good deal of her voice. It's deep and gravelly and almost a whisper. We talked for a while over a wet dog leashed to the fence about vitamins and minerals. We're both subscribers to their medicinal value.

"Thanks. I'll pop over sometime after dinner. We miss thekids."

"So do I. The house feels empty. Well, be sure to come by."

Then it was showers for the kids and dinner and dishes."

"Get your shoes on. I have to pick s…

Aviary Amphitheater (Wordless? Wednesday)

We're slow starters in the morning. The children lie on the sofas and read. Charlie sits and eats a graham cracker and a bowl of yogurt at the table before breakfast. Lauren and I take turn cooking oatmeal, or muffins, or scones... We eat somewhere between ten and eleven. Today, in the midst of all this leisure, the house became exceptionally quiet and I went to figure out why because "too quiet" is never a good thing. Except that it was today. I peeked out the living room window into the backyard and found five chairs and five children lined up on the patio. I opened the door and everybody shushed me.

"Hush, Mama. We're watching the birds. Come sit with us"

Six or seven hummingbirds were zipping around the feeder, frantic to fill their little gas tanks before they migrate. The children were silent, heads tipped up, eyes squinting against the morning light. I went in to get the camera. I took a few pictures of the children but could not capture the hyperactiv…