Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Happy Birthday!

I have two sisters-in-law who remember everyone's birthdays.  Everyone.  That is no small feat in a large extended family.  I figured that this year I could at least send a birthday card to all of my siblings-in-law.  And my brothers.  And my parent-in-laws.  Whew - we're up to 16, but I should be able to handle that many.  We've got a lot when you factor in my family, Jay's family, and now Trent's, too.  I thought it might be fun lettering practice, too, and it was.  

I say "was" in the past tense because I did really well at sending out cards (February was a killer!) until the summer, then I just forgot.  I think it had something to do with getting a new planner so I didn't have my birthday list to remind me.  But mostly I just got summer-busy and forgot.  Mea culpa.  I'll try to finish out the year better!

I didn't forget my own children's birthdays though, because that would be mother demerits and I have enough of those.  Today, I'm celebrating the birthday of my first daughter-in-law.  I wasn't in a good place when she came into our lives.  I desperately wanted to be warm and welcoming, but I was so wrapped up in a big wad of anxiety that I didn't always reach out like I should have.  Regrets.  I wish I would have been warmer and welcoming-er.  

I still love her to bits, though.  She has the most beautiful smile, and I love the sparkle in her eyes when she's excited about something.  I love how my son loves her, and how she makes him happy.  It was so fun to see him get excited/stressed about getting her just the right engagement ring.  He had a hard time even holding still when he got it, and it wasn't but a moment later that he popped the question.  Happy memories.

Happy birthday, my dear.  Thank you for bringing some light into this corner of our family.  May your day be as lovely as you are, and many more to come!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Funny Family Faux Talent Show

We were in charge of the talent show for the family reunion.  We have so many talented people in the family, and a few with fabulous talents (I'm looking at you, boys who perform on Broadway!).  We all love to hear them sing and play the piano, but it does make some of the others a little bashful about sharing their talents.  No.  We need all the talents.

A couple of weeks before the reunion, I got all the volunteers I could, and then set out to find talents for the others.  Everyone has talents!  You just might not know about them yet.  So anyone who didn't offer a talent would get assigned one, and I let them know.  Too many people gave the wimpy, "I'm not really good at anything." Maybe this is how they would find out that they were good at something, after all.  Ha!

When everyone knew that I was serious about having a variety of talents, we got some pretty good volunteers.  We had a grocery guru share the secrets of picking produce.  We saw coin collections and home-made arrowheads.  We had singing and piano-playing, knock-knock jokes and skits.  We had a few art displays, as well.  But for the other folks, we had to draw them out and help them find their hidden talents.  

Between the volunteers, I called up family members and had them show us a talent that I picked from a list of possible talents.  They were impressive.  Here are the ideas I came up with, if you want to have your own faux talent show:

Sing a song from a Disney movie (we had soundtracks and props for several)
Yodel (with accompanying music)
Do a rain dance
Do a hula dance (wearing a grass skirt) (or tap dance, belly dance, riverdance, haka...)
Perform a magic trick (we brought a top had, gloves, a magic wand, and cards)
Dance the Can Can (with the appropriate accompaniment)
Play a song on a plastic recorder (of course we had a cheap plastic recorder!)
Walk down the runway (with large heels and a feather boa)
Impersonate a famous person
Pick something up with your toes
Breakdance or do the limbo
Do a puppet show (with socks)
Be a mime
Paint your best Bob Ross happy trees
Do a yoga demonstration / teach a yoga class
Do a dramatic reading from Dr. Seuss (we brought Hop on Pop)
Do a superhero demonstration (with cape)
"Whistle While You Work" while pantomiming chores
Yo a yo-yo
Snap all your fingers at once
Perform a kazoo duet
Do a cartwheel

We did have a bucket full of props (like a long red wig for "Ariel" to sing "Part of Your World," wooden spoons for the Swedish Chef) and soundtrack music for all the accompaniments.  Yes, it was a very long talent show.  But I've never laughed so hard!  Everyone had a great time and we did discover some impressive new talents.  Dr. Suess has never sounded more... impressive than the day Grandpa read it out loud.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Sailing by Ash Breeze

I was up in the night last night.  I like that "up in the night" means that you are not thinking straight, or are just plain crazy, as well as literally being awake in the middle of the night.  It is admittedly harder to think straight when you haven't had enough sleep.

I go to bed at a reasonable hour, think for a long while as my body calms down and relaxes, then finally drift off into a peaceful slumber.  About half an hour later, I'm awake; eye-poppingly awake.  Thank you, menopause.  I realize that my sleep hygiene could be better, but my currently-shifting hormones require that I have an absolutely perfect blend of vitamins, exercise, calm environments, good food absolutely devoid of sugar, no evening screen time, and zero stress before I can sleep well.  The irony is that carefully tweaking so many variables just makes me tired.  Thus, I don't usually sleep well.

Lying in bed becomes increasingly uncomfortable, and boring, so I do what any self-respecting bibliophile does when presented with unexpected spare time: I read a book.  I've been cleaning out my bookshelves recently, and re-reading all our books to make sure I love them and want to keep them.  I have been wanting to make sure that my bookshelves contain friends, like Anne Shirley Blythe would say.  Every book needs to "belong to the race of Joseph" in order to justify its dusting.

Last night, I re-read one of my favorites, "Carry on, Mr. Bowditch."  It is an historical fiction novel based on the life of Nathaniel Bowditch, a renowned mathematician, astronomer, and expert on ocean navigation in early American history.  He was self-taught due to being an indentured servant during his schooling years and not having the opportunity to attend classes.  When others mocked him and said he was "becalmed" and had no further room for growth, he roared, "Only a weakling gives up when he is becalmed!  A strong man sails by ash breeze!"

Of course, we would love to have our sails always full of just the right amount of wind, blowing us effortlessly into a calm and prosperous harbor.  But when the wind dies, or is going the wrong way, we break out the oars and row.  Oars were usually made of ash wood, so by paddling you can make your own "wind," or "ash breeze."  It's a good reminder that you can make your own path, no matter what your outside circumstances are.  Now excuse me while I go take a nap.  I mean, ponder this.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Family Funnies

We hear the funniest things at our house.  I only wish I could remember half of them!

Freddie: Dad, do you get backscratches?
Dad: No, sometimes I scratch my own back though.
Freddie: Doesn't Mom give you a backscratch?
Dad:  Not really.  She did give me a good backscratcher though, so I do it myself.
Freddie: Oh.  That must be why your life is so sad.

Heard at dinner: that was so lit-astic!  Loving books as I do, I will insist that the "lit" comes from "literary," and not "literal" or "lit" as used at the turn of the last century to mean someone who is drunk.  Nor will I assume that the speaker was referring to a library that was on fire.  Maybe I should stop.

Angel: there is a dead rat just outside my window and its really gross.  On the bright side, the flies and the bugs are doing a really good job of decomposing it.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Just a Minute

I made the world's ugliest bagels today.  Georgie and I watched a little video yesterday about how bagels are made, and he got all excited about it.  Of course, we make some.

I made the dough and let it rise overnight.  This morning, I shaped the way-too-sticky globules into round-ish shapes and pretended they looked appetizing.  I preheated the oven and set a pot of water to boil.  Checked the instructions again.  I was supposed to boil them, a couple at a time, for one minute.  Flip and boil for another minute.  Easy.

When the water came to a good boil, I slid the first couple of bagels into the bubbling water, hoping they would fill out and look less like grandpa raisin when they came out.  I set the timer and waited.  I have to tell you that 60 seconds is a long time to wait when you are just watching the clock.  Flip.  Wait.  Wait.  Wait.  Want to scream.

It feels so long, but a minute is way too short to actually do anything.  I can't leave the room.  I can't start anything else.  Forget about a quick bathroom break.  After a few exhaustingly long minutes of staring at bursting bubbles in the pot, I was ready to try a different path.  How much could I get done in a minute?

Turns out that a minute is just right for lots of kitchen chores.  I can clean out a sink in a minute.  Sweep one area of my kitchen floor.  Chop a handful of walnuts.  Unload one rack of the dishwasher.  Clean one counter.  It became a game of beat the clock and by the time all the bagels were boiled, my kitchen was looking pretty clean!  I learned not to underestimate one minute, and not to wait to start a project until I have a big block of free minutes.

And I learned that even ugly bagels can be tasty.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Angel Wings

This cutie just had a birthday, and I'm amazed.  After 5 boys, I thought I was getting the hang of the whole "child growing up" thing.  But then Heaven sends me this... girl... and everything is different.  For starters, she's taller than her older brothers were at this age (except for the one brother who is honestly closer to 7 feet tall than 6 feet).  She thinks differently.  She still hates having her hair brushed. She is more gentle.  She goes through a range of emotions at lightening speed, and lands gracefully back at her usual plucky.  The boys didn't go on crying jags.  The boys didn't get offended when someone else would talk over them.  The boys didn't begin puberty until junior high!

So here I am, a mother of boys, a sister of brothers, trying to navigate these growing up girl waters.  They are occasionally choppy.  Mostly, however, it has been a delight.  I didn't expect our "your body is changing" talks to be so heart-felt.  I didn't expect her fierce hugs.  I am loving watching her grow into fierce young lady.  And as she walks down the sidewalk, I marvel.  The metamorphosis from child to woman is beginning, and I am fascinated to watch.

Happy birthday, dear little caterpillar.  May this year be full of growth and adventure for you.  I have no doubt that it will.  I'm looking forward to seeing your wings!

Friday, August 9, 2019


There have been a bunch of things tearing at my heart lately.  A bunch of little things, and several solidly heart-rending Really Big Things.  I've felt unheard, rejected, and abandoned.  It hurts to know that your love - the only thing you really have to give - isn't wanted.  It's devastating to see that people you care about don't care to be with you.  I've cried and stayed up all night and moped about the house.  It didn't help.  If anything, I felt more unloved, more unwanted.  I've been a little lost.

I'm not sure where we were when I took this snapshot of  a white flower.  Plants and nature scenes bring me such peace, and I keep thinking I'll learn to draw them.  My kids laugh at me for taking pictures of "every leaf" as we go for walks through verdant places.  I got this shot because I wanted the head-on perspective so I could see the shape of the leaves.  As I examined the photo later, I noticed the little bug on the top petal.  Can you see him, the tan-colored bug close to the center there?  I have to admit that I'm not fond of creepy-crawlies, and I wished I had seen it before I took the shot so I could pick a different bloom.  But if I had been paying attention that closely, it might have been too close!  

It took me a while to realize that in focusing on the bug, I missed the whole flower.  It is a gorgeous blossom!  So it is with life.  There is so much good and heaps of beautiful.  And some hard and a bitter dose of hurt.  Focusing on one part does not make any other part go away.  I'm not pretending that those hurts are less than they are.  But remembering the goodness of the whole will help us to cope better.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Summer Reading

This is how our summer has been so far - piles of books, frequent trips to the library, lots and lots of reading, and shaggy haircuts.  I'll trade a nice hairdo for a good book any day!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

We're All Immigrants

I was looking at our family history and wondering "how much" of us were from different countries.  I realize this is very nearly impossible to completely figure out.  To simplify, I looked at our great-grandparents and their family's country of origin.  Since we have a blended family, our numbers are all a bit different.

I'm half German, 3/8 British, and 1/8 Scottish.

Jay is half British, 1/4 Danish, 1/8 Canadian, and 1/8 German

So then our older boys are 3/8 German, 1/4 Scottish, 1/4 British, and 1/8 Danish.

Trent's makeup is more homogenous: 5/8 British, 1/4 Swedish, and 1/8 Swiss.

The makes our small fry a little bit more scattered: 3/8 British, 1/4 German, and 1/8 of each Scottish, Swedish, and Swiss.

We're pretty northern European around here, but all of them had to come to America at some point.  None of them had very much when they came over.  My grandmother had to slip some money to her husband-to-be so he could even get off the boat in New York.  I'm grateful to those pioneers, those immigrants, who settled here and paved the way for us.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Letting Go

My dad's hands are cold, the skin blotching pink and white, and I want to take them in mine and rub them until the color comes back and the cold leaves.  His thin legs look like they need to be gently stretched and take a short walk.  I'd like to give him a cold chocolate shake to sip on and moisten his dry mouth.  His eyelids are heavy - I'm sure he just needs a nice afternoon nap.  The skin on his feet is stretched thin and dry, crying out for a little foot rub with smooth lotion.  There are thing that beg to be done - I need to get on them and go.

I'm his daughter, a caregiver, a mother.  It's my job to soothe and set right and heal and nurture.  But now, as I sit by his bedside, all I can do is listen to his raspy breathing.  He's not long for this world and there isn't anything I can do to change that.  I have to let go.

I let go of my role as caregiver.  I let go of my role as chief information-gatherer.  I let go of my role as worrier supreme.  I let go of the reins I've struggled with for so long, and hand them over to God. Hand Dad over, hand my heart over.  It's hard, but I'm learning to let go. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Happy Valentine's Day

We started the day by whipping up seven servings of breakfast, three Valentine boxes, nearly 100 valentines, and an emergency trip to the orthodontist to fix a broken bracket.  After the last kids straggled out the door, I took a deep breath, then a nap.  But wait, there was no time for a nap!

I scurried up to the high school in time to find Eddie before he went into his next class.  Or rather, he found me.  He saw the car through the window and came out to see what was going on.  I opened the door and asked him if he wanted to play hooky for the day.  His face lit up and he jumped in the car.  I wanted to take him out to lunch for his birthday, but the next couple of weeks will be so crazy.  This day was the closest we could get to his actual birthday, but a surprise day off school is fun anytime, isn't it?

We went home so he could have second breakfast. Then we packed up a few Valentine's Day things for our older kids and set off to do deliveries.  A bouquet of carnations and a bottle of sparkling apple cider for our first boy and his wife; a matching bunch of carnations for the next boy and his fiancee, another carnation taped to the apartment door of the third boy.  The carnations are our little Valentine's Day tradition, started by their dad over 25 years ago.  That was the how I first started falling in love with him.

After that was done, we hit the bookstore for a good browse and difficult selection.  We want all the books!  We had time for lunch in the food court before heading back to school for a calculus test.  He had the test, not me.  That's the stuff of my nightmares!

It was a busy, full day, filled with family and love.  Oh, and sugar.  But that's not a happy part of the day, so we son't go into that!  And that's how Valentine's Day should be.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Flu Deodorant - a New Recipe

We all got the flu a few weeks ago.  Thankfully, I have a family full of strong, robust children (and husband), and they are all doing much better. Some of them didn't even get sick.  Some were only sick for two or three days.  And then, me.  Still sick.  I have this nasty cough and I'm still so, so tired.

I got up this morning at the usual way-too-early-in-my-opinion hour, had a nice discussion over breakfast with my high school boys, snuggled my elementary boys, helped the girl brush her hair, and got them all off to school on time.  I'm trying to do all the mom stuff, but it just wears me out.  So I went back to bed.  And I stayed there.

A couple of hours later, my phone decided to go bananas with texts (Trent's dad had surgery this morning, and his family is great to keep each other posted).  But I was stubborn and wanted to stay in bed.  I was still tired!  So I stayed and stayed, read Facebook, scrolled Instagram, got caught up on the news, perused a few favorite blogs...

And finally, when I felt like the laziest human being that wasn't walking the earth and doing productive things, I got up.  I should get dressed, but I'm out of deodorant and I can't possibly pull on a shirt that will get stinky.  So I stayed in my house dress and wandered into the kitchen for breakfast.  I think it was past noon.  I had a nice bowl of granola and bananas because my nice husband made a batch of granola and I found the jar.  I picked out all the rock-hard raisins and sat down in the sunshiny spot at the table.  Felt nice to go so slowly.

I got my phone and looked up natural deodorant recipes while I chewed.  I can't use the store-bought ones because I'm too sensitive to all the chemicals they put in them.  Fortunately, deodorant is one of the simplest recipes ever, so even I can make it.  One little batch lasts me for months, and keeps me smelling like a daisy.  Except that I'm not sure off the top of my head what exactly a daisy smells like.

I got out the coconut oil, the non-organic corn starch, and the baking soda.  See, I told you it was an easy recipe!  I use this one from Wellness Mama.   I'm getting going on this day, I tell ya.  And then I proceeded to carefully spoon that good powdery stuff into my bowl of granola.

Maybe I should go back to bed after all.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Wanted: a Better Narrator

When I was a little girl, I read a lot.  I mean, A LOT.  I read every book in my parent's library - multiple times.  I read the "A" encyclopedia dozens of times - because that was the only volume we had.  I practically lived in the school library.  My grandmother was an elementary school teacher and I remember spending many hot, sticky summer days in her cool basement, reading books from her bookshelves.  Maybe that's I walked around with a narrator.

My narrator lived in my head, and gave me a play-by-play of everything going on.  When I walked through the kitchen, the narrator explained that "she glided effortlessly across the cool linoleum, her eyes flitting around the sunbeams slanting in through the southern window."  It made life a lot more interesting to have a narrator, I'll tell you that.

My narrator also told me that one day, when I was walking around singing, a talent scout would hear me, marvel at my pure, clear voice, and make me a star.  I don't remember that actually happening, though I imagined it many times.  Maybe my narrator was better at telling stories than predicting the future.

As I think about picking up my writing here, I wonder what happened to my narrator.  She's gone.  Maybe my life is interesting enough?  No, I doubt it.  Maybe I just don't listen to her, or maybe I haven't listened for so long that she doesn't bother saying anything anymore.

I think I'd better find her, or get myself a new one.  I need that spark of imagination as I go through my days.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

I Missed This!

The kids were giving me a hard time about the pictures in our living room.  Specifically, our family pictures.  We have a larger picture of the whole family, surrounded by smaller individual pictures.  What?  They are the faces of the people I love most in the world!  I see no problem with them.  But Mom, they protested, the pictures are more than 5 years old.

They are?  I looked at them again, harder this time.  Yes, the twins were adorably chubby in their toddlerhood.  There were cute little boy faces of David and Eddie grinning at me.  Those two boys have lost their round cheeks and are in high school now.  The pictures were taken in our backyard - two houses ago.  It was a different time for our family, when they all lived at home and things seemed to move a trifle slower.

Maybe I'm a little bit nostalgic for that time when I made dinner for ten people every night.  I liked having them all home, with me.  It's easy to forget the hard parts and just remember the happy smiles that hang on my living room wall.  I know I should get some new, more current pictures.  I just don't want to forget these ones.

I realized that I remember the happy parts of those times because I wrote about them.  I don't have to write about all the parts, but whatever I do write is what I remember.  And not writing for the past few years has meant that I'm not remembering.  Big swaths of our lives have happened, ended, and are now being forgotten.  That makes me sad.  Especially now that they are growing up and leaving home at a frighteningly fast speed, I want to hang on to the happy things a little bit tighter.  I need to fill my mother-heart with all the good of today, and be able to remember it tomorrow.

And so I'll start writing again.  My family is worth it.  Our memories are worth it.  All the good we can add to the world by just pointing it out is worth it.