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Cheveux Blancs

Yesterday we went to an auction for the kids’ school.  It was full of incredible things to buy and I found myself more than once getting caught up in the heart-pounding adventure of raising my little number and making eye contact with the auctioneer.  A quick nod to stay in the running.  Swifter and less complicated than figuring out if a credit card is facing the right way and much faster than signing my name.  Then the words, “SOLD!” and a nod to my trembling little self as I REALLY hoped I followed the auctioneer’s sing-song voice correctly.  Yes, I paid twenty dollars for two homemade pizzas.  Not one-hundred and twenty.  Big sigh of relief.  A few times I wasn’t positive.  Or I was sure the number was at fifteen when it in fact had soared to FIFTY.  I didn’t walk away with a few of the items I had my eye on, but some delicious pizzas and a home-cooked chicken BBQ dinner to be picked up in a couple of weeks, were some of my claims.  Harry fell asleep on my chest, lulled by the smooth cadence of the auctioneer’s voice.  I found myself toe-tapping a few times because it was just that catchy.

Speaking of school, Nadine and Elijah absolutely love it.  They are making friends and growing deeper in their own personal ways.  It is a joy to watch.  Their teachers are incredible and it’s very evident they love what they do.  The bus comes bright and early for them, and that’s been a nice break for me to not have to drive them each morning, but I still pick them up occasionally, because it’s a consensus that the drive home is one of our favorite parts of school.  To hear about their day, talk about deep teenager things and debrief about life.  In a year someone will be practicing to get their driver’s license, and I know this job won’t be mine anymore.  My stomach kind of does a weird flip flop when I think about that.

Nadine is playing junior varsity soccer after school every day.  She is a fantastic babysitter on the weekends, and is an incredible big sister.  She knows how to make her little sisters feel loved, whether it means asking Elsie to help her with her homework (which is her cup of sweet tea!) or reading Betty a story.

Elijah has a natural bent towards photography, and is enjoying taking a class about it in school.  He is even acting as a pinch-hitter for the toothfairy… who kind of retired about five years ago.  And he’s much more creative too, leaving teeny tiny fairy-sized notes.  Last month we had the privilege of having my dear sweet childhood friend, Nadine, for a night.  It was a joy-filled 24 hours.2017-08-06 17.33.19

Jack practices his math skills, then works on flips.  He reads through his spelling list, then works on flips.  He plays with legos, then works on flips.  He eats an apple, then works on flips.  About half of his day is spent in flipping motion. IMG_4048[1] His hand is all healed from the last break, and he promptly did the trick which broke it in the first place.  A living breathing example of not letting our fears of past failures paralyze us from action.  Wrestling started up again, and it’s a privilege to have this one-on-one time with him when I drive him to practice.  He has a favorite play list of songs and I can guess which ones he will pick for our drive.  The other night he told me he wanted to treat me to a coffee after practice.  So we drove through Starbucks and he bought me a drink with his own money.  He’s practically my size, but how did it happen so fast?  I’m sitting here on our living room couch with his baby blanket wrapped around my legs.

Elsie had her hair cut this week for the first time in a long while.  She also got new specs, which make her look older.  It’s hard to believe in only 6 months we will have FOUR children in double digits.  Right now we’re sitting at half and half, but the ratios are changing and our tribe is maturing.  Elsie keeps me inspired.  She loves order and neatness and has always had an eye for design.  She rearranges furniture like a pro, and I’m not sure between the two of us, who is more excited for our living room renovation to be completed.  2017-09-21 22.30.51

Betty keeps our world going around, with her practical no-nonsense self and sage-like wisdom.  She can’t be intimidated by a messy diaper, a blood-gushing wound, or a stomach bug.  However, keep her up past her bedtime and things can unwind rather quickly.  2017-09-12 17.07.20-2She cracks us up with her dry sense of humor.  The other day I remarked about Elsie being my right hand girl, since she had been cleaning all day.  Betty replied in her dry way, “She’s a lefty.  I’m a righty.”  I about died.  She snaps her fingers too.  This morning she woke up with a smudged rainbow sneaking out from under her bangs from the fair yesterday at school.  She’s trying to “collect money” which is why she is “trying to loose teeth”.  2017-09-20 13.56.36

Harry.  Just saying his name makes me smile and chuckle and wonder what he will learn and pick up today.  Every day it’s something different.  He can communicate when he’s hungry, say please and thank you in sign language, and blows us kisses.  When he says thank you, he swings his arm vigorously against his cheek or ear.  He knows so many words!  Banana, bath, ball, bus, hot, and can mimic everyone’s names… although most of them sound like “Elijah”.  He is a huge fan of Alexa, the Amazon Bluetooth speaker.  Sometimes he yells at it with a smile: “A-le-le!” and when we tell it to say, “Hello, Harry,” he can hardly contain himself.  He loves to purse his lips and whistle.  I’ve never had a baby who can whistle, and he surprises himself every time.

He loves to eat everything.  Enchiladas, chili, curry, sweet potato pancakes, guacamole, African food, bagels, yogurt, kefir, crepes, fruit, peppers, lemons… he loves to eat.

And all the praise hands: he is sleeping through the night now, for about 11 hours.  Not exactly sure how it happened, but about a month ago he just did.  Right around the time when I started weaning him.  He nurses once a day now.

Matthew’s work is going very well.  He has had a lot of doctor’s visits as well.  We’re actually excited about having another surgery at the end of October to dilate his epiglottis which will hopefully help his breathing improve!  We had a lovely experience this month called Dîner en Blanc.  It was a magical night in a cleared out section of someone’s backyard forest, with long wooden tables and white lights strung throughout the trees.  Everyone brought a picnic supper and we shared our table with friends dressed in white.  2017-09-14 09.15.40That’s not the only thing that’s white around here.  As I type, Betty is brushing my hair.  She keeps me humble with her honest chatter: “I just saw a GREY HAIR!”
I asked her: “What do you think about it?”
“Weird.” Then she yelled across the room:  “Elsie! Mom’s growing white hair.  What if dad is??  You’re both getting OLD!”  It is our motto, after all. Grow old with me.  Old and white-haired and better by the day.  I’ll hold up my number to that every day, heart pounding, until my dying breath.


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This is Not a Normal Life

“This is NOT a normal life!” she exclaimed from the back seat.  I glanced back at the stop sign to see what she was doing.  She had a small notebook and pencil.  Her legs were crossed, the tips of her fuzzy boots sticking up almost to her knees.  “This is NOT a normal life.”  She was playing MASH. With herself.  I laughed out loud while Betty told me how she was living in a mansion with THREE children and driving a Ford.  Oh, and she was married to Toby Mac.  When something is interesting or exciting for her and she wants me to listen she will say, “Hear this!”  Such a herald.  She is doing fabulously in school, reading sentences like, “The path led to the shed.”  She recently celebrated her 6th birthday.

Elsie is a great teacher and when she’s not DOING school, she is PLAYING school.  She has a vim and vigor for life.  A shaker and a mover.  Literally.  The other day she and Betty rearranged their room.  A girl after her mama’s own heart.  She is our pancake-maker, and does a fine job of it!

Jack is back into wrestling season full swing.  When he’s not wrestling, he is doing pushups.  Hundreds of pushups.  I’m excited when I do 30 in one day.  He’s not satisfied until he does 300.  We also recently discovered a Ninja Warrior gym not too far from us.  He conquered the warped wall the first day there, and loves to challenge himself with the other obstacles.

Elijah is my right-hand man in the kitchen.  We can throw together supper in less than half an hour.  I love teaching him stuff in the kitchen.  He gets my style of cooking, which doesn’t lean on recipes as much as a hunch on how different flavors will work together.  Having an instant pot has made dinner prep SO easy.  He is a geometry whiz, and we are looking in to some sort of coding class, as he is bent in this direction.  Sometimes he explains things to me and I have no clue what he’s talking about.  He’s also doing daily pushups and slowly inching closer to my height.

Nadine is our baby-whisperer.  Harry and her have a special bond.  She is convinced he can say her name, and it does sound pretty close.  I honestly don’t know how I could manage this house without her.

Harry adds the most perfect element of sweetness, joy and delight to our home.  When he starts to talk, everyone comes running.  He smiles and the sun comes out.  He is two months old already!  He is the king of expressions, and makes so many faces.  2017-01-12-10-21-55-2We’re slowly getting onto a sleeping schedule.

Though we often pass like ships in the night (literally), Matthew is my biggest support.  Between coaching, working, and being an amazing dad to these six… 2017-01-09-19-12-48
He is also the one whom my soul loves.  2017-01-21-15-35-34-1
It’s not hard to love him, but sometimes lack of sleep and the demands of being needed by 6 people can sometimes push me over the edge.  He is so patient with me.  It’s not tear-free, anger-free, frustration-free or hardship-free.  But it is full of joy, forgiveness, humor, and faith.  Had we been thrown the life we are living now, I might have also exclaimed: “This is NOT a normal life!”  But it’s the perfect life for me.

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Horses, Blue Hair, Kisses, Fashion & Fall

“When will this stop?!” I exclaimed, as I peered at the sweet little ankles of our youngest daughter, no longer covered up by her pant legs.  As the weather has cooled, all of the jeans have come out of hibernation, and reveal what we all know is going to be true, but is still surprising year after year.  About three inches too short.  High-water pants, without the water.  The funniest part of this observation was when she came over to me, threw her hands up in the air and returned my comment with: “It will NEVER end!”  I just stared at her, both amused and surprised at her accuracy and hilarity.  My old soul of a daughter, who knows a bit more about life than I do sometimes.

Indeed, fall is upon us.  I spied frost this morning, and I think not being able to perform my usual putting our garden to sleep for the winter, has made me feel like it can’t possibly be here already.  Thirty-seven weeks pregnant,  gardening is an activity that has been scratched from my fall to-do list.  Baby Chip is strong and low and starting to make me long for the end.  I want to see these strong legs that make sweeping movements even yet, across my belly, and make me wonder if he has six legs, they are so active and everywhere.  I can hardly wait to see if his hair is straight or curly, and what color eyes he will inherit.  Will he have that joker smile Nadine was born with, or dimples and a cleft in his chin?  So much about which to wonder and wait.

The children have been incredible as they have a lot more on their plates than normal.  Keeping this nesting mama happy with a clean house, washed dishes, and delving into their schoolwork each day.

Nadine has been back in the saddle and doing such an incredible job riding!  She is learning to jump and is almost to a canter.   The other day at her lesson, this horse kept me in very close company!
She is really into puzzles, and spends hours doing them in her room.  We’re also working on a big one on our dining room table right now.  So yesterday we were sorting through pieces, and I was messing around with a pile of similarities.  She sat down, grabbed a piece out of the box of a thousand pieces, and put it in a spot, first try.  Five seconds later, same thing.  By the fifth time of doing this, I looked up and possibly glared.  How on earth?  She just laughed and shrugged.  Talent, I tell you.

We’re all taking bets as to whether or not we will have another teenager or a new baby first, since both events are due to happen the same week.  Elijah hopes Chip comes first so we’re all home together, and I agree.  Recently, he had the urge to dye his hair blue.  With permission (while I wasn’t home, because that’s just easier on my nerves), he gave it a go.  It was pretty hilarious, because his hair didn’t turn blue as much as his scalp and forehead did.  Eventually it all washed out.  During our family vacation, he was so much fun to photograph, jumping off the pier into the lake.  He is also such a patient teacher and helps me a lot with the younger kiddos during school.

Jack continues to grow like a weed.  He is involved in a pretty intense wrestling league twice a week.  A few weeks ago he got work out with and meet his favorite wrestler of all time: Olympic champion, Jordan Burroughs.  He inspires me to not quit, and I told him he will need to coach me back into shape after baby is born!  I love watching him and Elijah interact.  Elijah recently converted Jack to the love of hot sauce.  Now we will probably go through two bottles a week instead of just one.  This past night at wrestling practice, I stayed to watch him until Matthew could meet me there after work.  It was especially packed out, with more than thirty kids practicing.  I was just leaving and almost to the door when Jack came running up to me and gave me a kiss goodbye.  I think I left part of myself melted on the floor right there.  I don’t take it for granted that my ten-year-old son wouldn’t be the least bit ashamed to show his mama some love in a room full of tough boys and adults.  That’s the type of guy he is.  And yes, he still eats lots of apples.

Sometimes I forget that Elsie is just eight.  She’s incredibly capable and strong.  Her love for life and new adventures is hauntingly familiar.  She loves fashion, and I’m always amazed at the outfits she comes up with, because she certainly never asks my opinion about them.  She dreams of gymnastics, and we hope to be able to say yes to this soon, now that her arm is fully healed.  When she’s not doing her schoolwork, she is playing school with Betty.  She told Nadine the other day that she wants to be in eighth grade.  I realize I don’t take enough pictures of her.

Betty loves school.  She is reading and doing math.  The other day she was writing words with “X” in them.  She wrote “Tax”, then drew a picture of money and a sad face.  When I asked her what it was, she said, “The person has a sad face because they have to pay tax.”  Where does she come up with these things?  She is such a good sleeper, and fell asleep on the stairs the other night.  A dress, hole in the knees of her leggings, and sweetly crossed ankles describes her pretty well.  She brings us so much joy!

Tomorrow is a big day for us!  Matthew and I leave bright and early for a quick trip to Texas!  I’m pretending like our suitcase is being packed, when in reality my bed is unmade, the suitcase is just there, and I’m seriously pondering a second cup of hot tea.  We are so excited to get away and be with some dear sweet friends.  It is a business trip, yet also a retreat.  We need this time to connect and dream and plan before our lives completely change the next month.  God is so gracious to gift this to us, and yes, I’m praying we do not have a Texan baby.  2016-09-02-22-34-52
Stay tuned for more!


The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (In A Nutshell)

The past month has been epic.  I forgot my camera for the first big event, but snagged a few of my sisters’ photos.  My brother-in-law planned a fabulous surprise birthday for my oldest sister.  The day before, my brother hatched a plan to fly up here for a couple of hours to surprise her.  It worked.  I picked him, my nephew, and niece up from the local airport an hour before the party started.  I felt like a little girl, back in the middle of Africa, waiting for him and my sister to fly home from boarding school.  My other sister and I would listen for the sound of the small Cessna flying in from where they went to school.  First a distant hum, then louder until we could see the plane circling over our station.  This was slightly different, since he was the actual pilot this time, and his son was texting me from the airplane.  But those distant memories were stirred from the corners of my brain, and I actually jumped up and down and screamed just like I did when I was Betty’s age.  From our house, I heard the airplane and saw it coming in for landing.  We raced to the van to drive the mile to the airport to pick them up and head over to the surprise party.
surprise siblings  siblings3 siblings2
Here we are, youngest to oldest.  It was such a treat to be together, even if it was only for a couple of hours.
My nephews, the oldest and youngest of my parent’s 18 grand-kids, spanning 18 years apart.  So precious.
A few weeks ago, the kids and I took a secret drive to Valley Forge for a Christmas photo shoot.  I was excited at the forecast of snow flurries that day, and was imagining their white little selves falling on our noses and eyelashes in picture perfect clarity.  What really happened was a lot of this:
Also a lot of shivering and red noses.  DSC_6083-2
Eventually we came up with a winner, where everyone was looking, no one was doing peace signs behind anyone’s back, no one was saying, “I’m freezing!” and no one was sticking out their tongue.
Although, they’re all pretty fun.  We did one more shoot outside because the flurries were starting.  Everyone sat down and this happened:
But then this happened, which is pretty sweet. DSC_6149-2
Oh, and the flurries stopped once they sat down.  Go figure.  DSC_6147-2
This month there has been a lot of this as well:
The Sunday before Christmas there was another attempted photo shoot of the kids.  This one turned out great.
The rest pretty much followed this pattern: DSC_6393-2
Christmas Eve was spent at the Weldon’s house with family.  After many attempts at getting a picture with Matthew, 99% of them being blurry, like this: DSC_6431-2
One finally turned out crisp and clear.
Our yearly tradition of Santa coming to town was a success.  All of our kids know it’s really Uncle Jon, but they still play along for the most part.
DSC_6483-2 DSC_6493-2 DSC_6551-2
Christmas was a lovely day here at home.  We didn’t have to be anywhere and spent the day at home by ourselves for the first time ever.   We had monkey bread for breakfast, but I  pretty much left my camera on the shelf for the rest of the day.  DSC_6650-2
I have some treasured memories of squeals and hugs by appreciative hearts.  It was a beautiful day.  That evening for supper Matthew’s parents, sister and brother, and my parents came for dinner.  DSC_6645-2
We enjoyed a fun evening together and the Weldons spent the night.
The next day we went rock climbing.  This girl right here is a natural.  The boots.  The green tights.  The pony-tail.  I couldn’t stop smiling.
DSC_6675-2 DSC_6701-2
All the girls were smoking it to the top over and over.  DSC_6686-2 DSC_6726-3
The next day was interesting.  We went to Jack’s wrestling tournament.  We had expectations of hanging out together for a few hours in the afternoon, cheering him on, then getting home in plenty of time for supper.  We can laugh now, but we weren’t laughing then.  I had thoughts like this going through my head:  “It won’t be long,” he said.  “It’ll be fun,” he said.  Looking back, it was fun.  The kids brought their walkie-talkies, and were able to get lots of fresh air, running around outside and testing them out while we waited for 130 matches until Jack’s first match.  The worst part of the day was right before Jack went onto the mat for the last time.  I glanced around and couldn’t see Betty anywhere.  I got a sickening feeling in my stomach as I looked all around the people-filled gym.  We had just walked from another mat to this one, and somewhere along the way, Betty got lost in the shuffle.  Jack was up to wrestle.  I didn’t want to panic in front of him and mess up his concentration.  I grabbed one of the walkie-talkies while Elijah and Nadine grabbed two more and we set off to find her.  All in all, it was about five minutes total before I walked down the hallway and saw her huddled behind the door to the gym.  She had her little stuffed puppy and was crying.  I scooped her up, emotions spilling out of every pore.  Jack was wrestling by then, and I just held her and we cried happy tears while we yelled encouragements to Jack.  My entire body was shaking.  I praise the Lord for watching over Betty.  We figured that as we walked to the mat and stopped, she must have kept walking until she got to the hall and didn’t see us anymore.  I told her what a good girl she was to stop and wait for me to find her.  It was a long day that started and ended about three hours later than we expected.  Jack won his matches and got a first place trophy.  His eyes said it all:
2014-12-27 18.40.52-2DSC_6753-3
After getting to bed close to midnight, our plans for the next day somewhat unraveled.  We were supposed to leave at ten o’clock in the morning.  Around ten thirty, the last of our five sleepy heads stumbled downstairs from their cozy bed.  Pancakes started.  Someone else desperately needed a shower, especially since they couldn’t remember the last time they did so.  At last, everyone was fed, so I headed upstairs for my own shower.  On the way, I met a special six-year old girl who was staring at herself in the mirror and said to me in a puzzled voice: “It’s like someone cut my hair!” as she fiddled with her brown silky mop.  I was about to just say, “Uh-huh”, but something stopped me in my tracks.  “Elsie, why is your hair so short?  Did you cut your hair?”  Her eyes showed a slight mixture of fear and debate about her answer.  The truth won out, and she told me she was just curious about how it would feel to cut it off.  I think she found out pretty quickly.  So, my shower was delayed for a bit longer while I opened up the hair salon in the bathroom.  By noon we were ready to leave, but we didn’t actually leave until one-thirty.  And THAT is how we roll some mornings in our house.

We arrived at Matt’s brother’s house a couple of hours late, but enjoyed time together and another visit from Santa.  Here’s Elsie with her new haircut:DSC_6761-2
If I could summarize the entire month of December into one photo collage, it would look like this:
December 2014
Joyous New Year!