Thursday, December 19, 2013

Self Portrait as Mother


When I looked at this candid shot, the seventeenth in line during our second attempt at a family picture, clinging to dear hope that we might just be able to get something, anything, nice enough to send with our Christmas card, it struck me: Self Portrait. Mother of Four.

So many boys.  Surrounded by action.  Slinging a baby.  Body aligned with the trunk of a tree, arms outstretched and mirroring its many limbs, showing me to myself, seeing the multitude of "what I do", weighty and important, often mundane, but always there, needing to be done.

But of course, it wasn't that at all.  Self portraits?  Who has time for that?  The camera was on a tripod after taking sixteen pictures together in the freezing cold, as our previous attempt had flopped hard (with someone looking doofy in every. last. picture).  Seventeen pictures and oh, the irony . . . we ended up deciding on the very first shot.  And actually, I should define things even further: I decided on it, as Blaine was ready to go with whatever ring-a-ling-a-ding-dong picture we had.  I am the family archivist, not him.

So what it really was is this: in the 10 seconds after hitting the auto-timer, I knew we had all had it and stood in front, giggling, as some kind of shield, while Blaine started walking toward his skis and the boys dashed after him.  No "deep thoughts" or purposeful intent whatsoever.

Nevertheless, it gave me pause for a few moments for self-reflection.  And perhaps that is what candids are best at: showing us to ourselves.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A very miscellaneous list post

I defer to ye olde list-post yet again....
  • We bought Jamie cross-country skis when we were in the Twin Cities over Thanksgiving.  They are the cutest little things and he was so very excited about them.  "My skis!" he kept saying, over and over again.  It was a main topic of conversation for him both before and after the trip.
  • It snowed last week, so all my fellas were able to hit the snow together this past weekend.  Blaine said that Jamie was a complete natural, much better than his brudders were last year their first time out.  He was strong and had a good sense of things.
  • They went up our driveway and all along the trails that Blaine made in the grove last summer.  A long way for such a little guy.  He'll be three in a few weeks.
  • I wasn't able to go out, as it was 5 degrees F and too cold for the baby.  Though I needed to be inside anyway . . . Baby Eliah needed to nap and I had a disaster in the kitchen waiting to be subdued.  
  • Oh well.  Next time.  It actually felt good to be able to work in the quiet.  And honestly . . . it just isn't fun to spend "leisure" time doing what I want to do when there is such a load of work waiting for me.  Sometimes it is better to just work; it becomes "what I want to do" because that evening or the next day or coming week will be easier because of it.
  • I must be maturing.
  • Life right now feels like it is always on the brink of breakdown.  I feel very tender and susceptible to panic and the "Now what??" syndrome.  I'm sick of kids breaking things.  I'm tired of breaking up fights.  I exhausted from trying to keep this place together.  The noise level is driving me bonks.  
  • Furthermore, I'm very tired of always, always having to be on top of things.  If I let anything, and I mean anything, slide, there is hell to pay.  Kids bounce off the walls and an entire room is torn apart.  Kids bounce off the walls and one or two come screaming to me with yet another injury.  That kind of thing.  There is no rest.
  • All that being said, I have to stand back and look at everything and realize that things are fine.  Just fine.  I am stretched thin and the feelings of stress are very near the surface, but it just "is".  I am working at keeping things as sane as possible.
  • Quiet Time is a MUST.  It only works some (maybe most?) of the time, but that hour is vital.  I need a break from the demands.
  • I have also finally normalized daily pick-up.  I've been working at this for quite some time, but it has finally clicked within the last few weeks.  I'm not sure why.  
  • I have the fellas pick up the entire downstairs twice a day: before lunch and before Blaine comes home for the night.  What a difference it is making!  Oh my goodness, what a difference.  This place is less of a pit.  And my stress levels are down because of it.
  • We have also banished two-thirds of our toy mess to boxes upstairs.  It is unfortunately not in any order like I would have liked, but beggars can't be choosers.  Blaine boxed up the first round and the boys bagged (then Blaine boxed) up the second round in a fit of inspiration.
  • The play table and toy boxes underneath it have been severely neglected for the past 7 months.  I've realized how much of a handle I actually had on it (though I always felt like it was spiraling in chaos before this whole fiasco).  
  • I kept order to the table by insisting the boys store toys in the boxes below, then hitting it hard every few months . . . sorting out the trash and recycling (I know, I know), snack cups, stray socks and underwear, you name it, and organizing the toys by like kind.  
  • But I haven't had the ability to do that since before the babe was born.  And my, but did it show.  The play table turned into a literal DUMPSTER with toys piled up so high that nobody knew what-was-where or could even play with the toys or the use the table itself.  It was sick.
  • Things are much better now.  Eventually I'll sort through the bagged stuff upstairs and reabsorb it into the main play area, but for now . . . I'm enjoying the sweet bliss of a clear play table.  It is much easier to get a handle on the mess without a mountain-heap of trash (ahem, toys) weighing everyone down.
But don't think about that . . . think about this
  •  Baby Eliah is SIX MONTHS OLD.  Actually, I think he's six and a half months old.  Ay.  Time.  It doesn't quit.
  • He's the sweetest little guy.  Everyone is just wild about him.  He has an entire family of adoring fans.  We all love making him laugh and there are regular conversations between him and any one of us, ggggw'ing and ah-goooing.  He lights up and wiggles with any kind of interaction.  It's the cutest.
  • Diego regularly mourns, "I wish he could be a baby forever!"  He says he's going to miss him when he's not a baby anymore.  I know how he feels (my tender mama's heart).
  • Though . . . how is this for some perspective . . . while bemoaning the fact that Truen was turning six this past October, and saying, "My baby is six!", my dad responded, "I know!  My baby is thirty-six."
The boys with their Great-Grands
  • How is THAT for some perspective?  Blaine's grandparents are now 98 and 91, living at home, taking care of themselves, making their weekly trip to McDonalds, and his grandpa still hauls, splits, stacks, and burns firewood for their wood furnace.  Wow.  I have so much affection and admiration for these two.
  • Switching gears . . . . to homeschooling.
  • It is going great.  I finally feel like we've normalized our schedule.  I'm in the swing of things.
  • I make sure to do the morning board before we eat in the morning, or it is like trying to lasso wild bison gone bezerk to get it done after breakfast.  They hit the ground running and play hard.
  • I do a little bit of our reading or table work in the mornings after they've played a bit, then in the afternoons (after Quiet Time), we read more and do math or reading activities.  I'm so pleased with how it has turned out.
  • Though I will say . . . the next thing I need to work on is balancing housework with schoolwork.  Picking up twice a day helps.  But I still need to gain my footing in weekly chores like vacuuming, folding laundry, and cleaning the bathroom.  I have them help with all of these to some extent, but in between free play, schoolwork, kitchen prep and clean-up, etc., it seems like there isn't much time left.
  • We are really enjoying our reading material.  The boys seem to enjoy The Burgess Animal Book (science), Tree in the Trail (geography), The Story of the World (history), and Bible stories the most.  
  • Though now that I think about it, I've noticed they've really enjoyed the Shakespeare stories we've read as well (we're working on Romeo and Juliet right now).
  • Another book we're reading, called Understood Betsy, has been less enjoyed by all.  We are getting towards the middle-end and they are finally interested enough to ask to read more, but it was quite unpleasant at the beginning.  I find reading it aloud tedious.  It was written as if someone were explaining the story to you and over-explaining it at that.  I've appreciated the story, but feel bogged down and displeased by the writing.
  • Diego has started learning to read (and I was right . . . he took to it lickety-split) and Truen is starting to work on letter recognition, letter sounds, number recognition and counting.  It has been fun to see their progress in each area.
  • Blaine started working with Diego on reading after I thrifted a copy of Margaret Hillert's The Yellow Boat last month.  Diego literally started reading it right off the bat, not unlike my earlier description of "hitting the ground running".  There was no confusion, it just happened.  We're still going slow, but he's conquered The Yellow Boat and we've moved on to The Magic Beans.  I remember to work on it a few times a week and I would imagine he'll be reading totally on his own in due time.  Yay!
 Jamie painting exuberantly

 Truby-ruby counting out buttons

 The biggest and littlest brudders snuggling

Just look at these fellas.  I can hardly believe I've got four of 'em.  I can hardly believe I've had an entire two hours to sort through pictures and post on my blog.  So it DOES happen . . . I need to remember that the other 90% of the time.  The youngest two have been sleeping this entire time and the older two are playing the Leapster in the sunroom, giving me an extended and blissful Quiet Time.  Awesome.  I feel so relieved.

I think I'm posting every couple weeks now, so . . . see yeh in a few.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Poor Spidey


Post title: Justice League
Picture caption: They ran out of money right before they got to Spiderman.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Counting with Jamie

This morning, Jamie and I counted four squirrels and three birds in one of our favorite books, Raindrop Plop!.  He was so enthusiastic and so wrong, it warmed this mama's heart.  It was like a little ray of light in my brain, leaving me smiling.

:: Mama: Let's count the squirrels.  One . . . two . . . three . . . four.

::: Jamie (with me): One . . . two . . . five . . . five!

:: Mama: Okay, now the birds.  One . . . two . . . three.

::: Jamie (together again): One . . . two . . .  five!!

He's been running with the big boys for so long that I sometimes forget how little he is.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Root Cellar: 2013

So pretty!  This year's hard work --
Top shelf: Blaine's wines
2nd shelf: jams, lemon curd, BBQ sauce, apple butters, tomato sauce
3rd shelf: tomatillo salsa, pickled green tomatoes, lemon cuke pickles, salsa, apple sauce
Bottom shelf: pickled onions, sour pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut
Some of the shelves are already getting picked over.  Can you tell?

Behind the shelf --
Celery in sand, cabbages in bins.
Bottom shelf: sauerkraut, sour pickles, pickled onions.
And evidence that the root cellar doubles 
as a refrigerator in winter month with a big pot of soup.

I somehow managed to out-do myself this year with a 4 month old and three older brudders.  Un-un-un-un.  Accumulated experience certainly plays a role in this; however, my mind is still blown.  And of course, without the dedication of my husband taking care of the fellas, it just wouldn't happen.

As a sidenote: these pictures don't include the root cellared potatoes, carrots, tomatillos, or the remnants of the collards and kale waiting to be blanched and frozen.  Boxes and bags just aren't as pretty.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Streaming

It's time for a list post to get all caught up......
  • Blaine was home from work three days this week, giving us five days at home.  It was such sweet relief for both of us.  He's been working OT for maybe a month now?  We are both burnt to a crisp from a lack of down-time.  It felt so good to be together.
  • We can now put swollen lymph nodes and a second degree burn under our parenting belt.  Both Jamie, within a week of each other.
  • The lymph nodes: right under the left side of his chin and creeping up his cheek.  Red, tender, inflamed and hot to the touch.  The only other sign of sickness was intermittent green goo from his nose and swollen tonsils.  Other than that, the boy was raring to go.  We weren't even sure if he was sick for awhile at the beginning (Truen waking up with a sore throat confirmed that it had to be something).
  • The burn: on the back of his right hand and pointer finger, burnt on a hot stove pipe.  The poor little fella.  We immediately ran his hand until cold water and then applied lavender oil, which took the heat and sting out.  He's been mostly fine ever since.  Since it is at an odd angle, I've fashioned a bandage with non-stick pads and duct tape.  He had two big blisters which have since broken.  Things are tender, but we are amazed at how fast it is healing.
  • I am mid-process in healing another cavity.  Strange, but true.
  • It was a deep crevasse in my lower-left back molar; the deep part down below was black.  When I first noticed it, it was just a crack but then it got progressively darker and sensitive while eating until I eventually realized it was a cavity.  (It sounds so dumb, but it is the second cavity I've ever had so it took me awhile to catch on.)
  • When I healed my first cavity (a brown, tender smudge on an inside molar), I followed Ramiel Nagel's advice: limit sugars, limit carbs, increase good fats, cod liver oil and butter oil (otherwise known as grassfed ghee), grassfed or wild meat, etc.
  • This time 'round, I am generally eating like that anyway, so all I did was double my calcium supplement and more than double my cod liver oil intake (I also intermittently remember to use magnesium oil and just got some grassfed ghee to start taking butter oil again).  
  •  I know I don't usually take enough cod liver oil (I base my recommendations off the WAPF guidelines) and I have been pregnant or nursing now for the last NINE YEARS.  Holy smokes.  That is a whole lotta output.  My teeth are showing the signs.  I've been taking, seriously, probably a couple of tablespoons per day.
  • I don't know if teeth can regenerate, or what . . . but I am so serious . . . the crack is closing.  The black has lightened until is barely even noticeable and the crevasse in the tooth . . . is almost gone.  Un-un-un-un.  I feel so relieved.
 
Four brudders
  • I realized last week that I don't have a pumpkin picture for you this year.  We didn't even carve anything!  Oh dear.  Our own pumpkins were a bust this year and we weren't able to go to the pumpkin fest at Blaine's parents' church (they did it on the last weekend of September this year and Sept. is out for us due to food preservation).
  • The picture above was taken at Falls Park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  We make the trek down there once a year to pick up our beef quarter (or twice a year, if we fly out of FSD) and I swear, we are like tourists.
  • Last year we did the Sculpture Walk downtown and this year we went to see "the falls".  The boys beg for me to take pictures wherever we go.  It's kind of embarrassing, but I oblige them with a tender heart.
  • I was out in the garden yesterday, picking the last of our collards, kale, parsley, and celeriac.  We had a night down to 4 degrees F and all these hardy specimens were still alive and edible.  Amazing.
  • Jamie, Eliah and Blaine were napping while I was outside, but Diego and Truen came out with me (I made them, heh) and I noticed that they hovered and bounced around me wherever I was.  The sweetness, it hurts.  They literally want to be with us at all times.  I hope I am good enough for them.
 Halloween this year:
Diego was a frog, Jamie a bumble bee, Truen a lizard

 And the cutest little baby schicken ever.
  • I'm really feeling the burn of four children and the intensity of the baby year.  I'm trying to remember that time is fleeting and to savor the days, but it is very difficult at times.  And that is putting it lightly.  I realized this morning that I feel like calling uncle.  UNCLE!!  This is hard.
  • The biggest reason is the lack of down-time.  We all go to bed together, so that is out.  Nap and Quiet Times usually correspond, but a good number of the days my meager hour is diminished to 20-30 minutes, usually due to one kid or another waking up and needing me.  I also usually like to get up earlier than the boys to assure a quiet morning, but at the beginning I needed to sleep in with the baby to ensure adequate rest.  And now....?
  • .......Eliah is waking up anywhere from 5:45 AM - 6:45 AM.  In other words, TOO EARLY.  Holy smokes.  He's bright-eyed and bushy-tailed too, totally happy and bursting with energy, ready to bounce out of bed for the day.  So lounging around and nursing for, say, an hour or so while I doze is out of the question.
  • UNCLE.....!
  • I'm working on cultivating happiness and gratitude though.  I've just accepted my "quiet mornings" with Eliah.  I know I will look back at them with a certain fondness.
  • I am also working at maintaining a happy home.  I don't want my own selfishness to color my children's memories of home.  Stress or discontent or irritation.  They all exist, but I want the outcroppings of those feelings minimized so as not to allow them a foothold in our lives.
  • Say it and think it and live it.  That's the way it happens.  It is a constant process of working and re-working.
QT is over, so I'm done for the day.  Word from the mutha.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Wookie at dis

 Eliah: five months old

 and working on sitting up

with big brudder Truen's help.
Ooooooooweeeeeghh

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Another quick wink

I never thought I'd get to a place in life where I would be exceedingly pleased with a gift of holiday-themed kitchen towels.  But here I am, and there it is.  I suppose I'll probably be wearing collared sweatshirts with chickadees on them before I know it.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Because I really want to know

Does a houseful of girls involve as much wrestling, screaming, war-whoops, hollering, running, fighting and jumping as a houseful of boys?

Friday, October 18, 2013

A few notes

I'm posting with a babe snoozing in my sling and three brudders playing beautifully together by my side (knock on wood!).  Loudly, with lots of screeching and bombing noises, but playing together nicely nonetheless.

I divert to a list-post:
  • Eliah is the sweetest thing ever.
  • He loves his big brudders.  He watches them and is extremely entertained by their activity, whether they are specifically paying attention to him or not.
  • Diego has become extremely re-interested in Eliah in the past couple of weeks, probably due to his increased interaction and interest in his surroundings.  He loves to hold him and play with him and would cart him all over the house if I allowed it.
  • I was definitely calling Jamie "Schtinky" by 4 months due to my inability to keep the funk out of his neck rolls.  I couldn't keep up with it.  But Baby Eliah?  No problem at all.  Every time I check his little neck rolls, they are as dry and sweet-smelling as ever.  I wonder what the difference is?
  • Diego's current obsessions include Legos, ancient Egyptian history, and the 1991 cartoon series of Tintin.
  • Truen's new favorite "snee-ack" is eggnog.  He makes it himself with my loose supervision and assistance, eyeballing the ingredients.  The other brothers are big fans too.
  • Blaine has been on a reading binge the last few years.  Recent titles include The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, and The Undiscovered Self: With Symbols and the Interpretation of Dreams.  He's reading 'em cover-to-cover.
  • I get book reports every night, which is extra super-duper wonderful given the fact that I have very little time to read at this point in life.  It is so nice to have some fresh ideas to ponder.
  • I've been very moved by poetry of late.  The snippets of time I do get to read are very far and few between and poetry is the perfect remedy for a starved soul.  It packs a literary punch, with big ideas and emotion in such a small and beautifully composed package.  I am savoring it.
  • Annnnnnnnnnd . . . . Jamie got a haircut.  Surprise!

Truby made a magnet monster
and Jamie got a haircut.

I know he's an aside in this picture, but it will just have to do.  I haven't any time to take anything off my camera, if I even had something adequate.

 At 3 months shy of 3 years old, this is the latest "first haircut" we've ever given.  Even so, I was very sad as I lopped off that pony-tail, much more mournful than either of the other first haircuts, and realized it was because of the blonde.  It still shines light in the sun, but it is nothing like that that blonde shaggy mane.

I cut it a couple of weeks ago now and I must say, he was downright tame compared to Truen even last year.  He did very well.  My tactics?  Plop them down in front of the television and offer sweet treats for sitting still.  I've also learned to do an overview of the clippers to familiarize them with their benign-but-scary loud buzz.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Staying present

Dare I try to post something?

The days are full.  The older boys are outside with the neighbor boys right now, playing.  The younger ones are sleeping.  Mt. Saint Laundry Pile sits in a giant heap behind me, a remnant of September madness.  You should see the kitchen floor.  It is, literally, quite disgusting.  Toy piles in the living room.  Book and magazine piles in the sunroom.  The never-ending mess.

As for me, I'm doing fairly well.  I'm focusing on being a calmer, more "present" mother.  I need to revisit this every so often, to remind myself that "the days are long, but the years are short".  All I need to do is scroll through our screensaver slideshow to get a handle on that.  Yeesh.

I want my fellas to remember a mom that helped them work through their troubles (whether "just" getting along with each other or "just" the frustration of getting a shirt stuck on their head while trying to put it on).

"Just" because it isn't an issue for me doesn't mean that it isn't a big problem (and thus a big learning opportunity) for them.  I can help them work through it, especially if I am not distracted or irritated.  And most importantly, when I recognize it for what it is worth: the opportunity to learn.

Examples:

Question: "What do we say instead of hitting/biting/kicking/screaming....?"
Answer: "Please stop.  I don't like that."

Question: "If he is hurting/bugging/irritating you, what is the best choice?"
First answer: "Say, 'please stop'!"
Second answer: "Walk away."

Question: "When I ask you to do something, what do you do?"
Answer: "Say, 'Yes, Mama', and do it."

Question: "If you want something and another brother has it, what do you say?"
Answer: "Can it be my turn next?"

These are the question-and-answer games that I spiral through all day long on a daily basis.  It is amazing.  They know the answers and how to do it, but in the heat of the moment it is hard to remember.  The best times are when I hear them doing and saying exactly what they need to, without my supervision.  That is when I know there is hope, that they are slowly gaining the skills to make it happen without a director (me) standing over them.  And it does happen.

More often than not, they need my guidance to work through these issues.  I can do that, very well indeed, but not when I am not "present".  When my mind is not here.  When I am struggling to remember why I am doing this.  When I give credence to the idea that my life is a swirling eddy of child-induced irritation and pay more attention to the burn than the bright-eyed boys all around me (and it does burn).  All the typical "grass is greener" crap.  And what it worse, their troubles tend to downhill fast when I am not fully present.  It's like putting another log on the fire.

Can I do it?  Yes I can!  (I'm my very own "Bob the Builder" cheerleader.)  How will I do it?  Through habit and attention.  And I am doing it.  Sometimes it is hard, sometimes isn't.  All that matters is that I keep on track and remember.

Remember.  The days are long, but the years are short.

And I don't want to miss any of it.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Read, read again, stare, then read again

The Happiest Day

It was early May, I think
a moment of lilac or dogwood
when so many promises are made
it hardly matters if a few are broken.
My mother and father still hovered
in the background, part of the scenery
like the houses I had grown up in,
and if they would be torn down later
that was something I knew
but didn't believe. Our children were asleep
or playing, the youngest as new
as the new smell of the lilacs,
and how could I have guessed
their roots were shallow
and would be easily transplanted.
I didn't even guess that I was happy.
The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.
So we sat on the porch
in the cool morning, sipping
hot coffee. Behind the news of the day--
strikes and small wars, a fire somewhere--
I could see the top of your dark head
and thought not of public conflagrations
but of how it would feel on my bare shoulder.
If someone could stop the camera then...
if someone could only stop the camera
and ask me: are you happy?
perhaps I would have noticed
how the morning shone in the reflected
color of lilac. Yes, I might have said
and offered a steaming cup of coffee. 


~ Linda Pastan
   Good Poems for Hard Times
   2005

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Wiped

Mid-September root cellar

I bet you can't imagine what I've been up to.  Eh?  Oh my.  Oh my goodness.

Approximately a quarter on these shelves is from last year.  The rest?  This summer.  I know.  Un-un-un-un.  And that doesn't even include the frozen or dried goods (for which I had to clear out another corner shelf).

This past weekend I canned 17.5 pints of BBQ sauce, 9-ish big and small jelly jars of crabapple butter, dried 3 crabapple leathers, and decanted 9 quarts of sauerkraut.  I ran out of time and still have about half of the cabbage to go for this week's batch of sauerkraut.  On Friday, my friend Lindsay came again and we canned 16 quarts of salsa, put 5 trays of paste tomatoes in the dehydrator, and cut up all those crabapples.

Honestly....?  I'm starting to run out of steam.  All this combined with the lack of any personal reflection or down-time has me schnookered.

Meanwhile, life goes on.

 Diego in the schoolhouse portion of his favorite museum

 Fun with 'Tatohead

 Version 3.0 of Truen's summer farmers' market table

 Our first summer with the sandbox --
How did we ever survive before??

 Jamie and I built this together --
That coy smile was the calm before the storm of a major smashfest.

 TouchĂ©!
Eliah has started clunking into things with his hands now.
He was mighty interested in this book
and patted it until it fell off the armrest. 

Ee-yi-ya.
(This is what Truen and I have been calling him)
What a dumplin'.

Finally, I have some explaining to do.  Eons ago, my SIL asked me why I have been labeling Eliah under the name "Elias Ashmole".  I kept on thinking I would do an actual post on this explanation, but after 3 months I see that it probably isn't going to happen.  Heh.

Elias Ashmole was a fifteenth century antiquarian and alchemist.  He showed up in a book that Blaine was reading around the time we were struggling to find a name for Ee-yi-ya (Blaine calls him "Peach").  I woke up the morning of the 4th day with Blaine telling me that he had found a name and said, "I think it was Elias Buttcheek?"  Because really.  What kind of a last name is Ashmole?

We sat on it for a day and the name eventually morphed into Eliah.  And that was that.  

Telling this story had dredged my mind for the memory that I still haven't posted Eliah's birth story.  Nor have I contemplated birth announcements longer than a few seconds.  And his baby calendar is still hanging on the wall in the month of August.  Will I ever catch up with life?  No wonder why my parents were a decade behind in developing and sorting through pictures.  It was just too hard.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Feeling optimistic again

The saints came marching in

My good friend and neighbor, Lindsay, came for a full day of food preservation this morning: 13 quarts tomato sauce, 10 trays of plum tomatoes in the dehydrator, all the green beans snapped, and tomato soup simmering on the stove.  Together we were able to accomplish what would have taken me two days to do by myself.

I am beyond grateful.  It is such a weight off my shoulders.  And!  She's going to come back and help when Mt. Saint Tomato-Table starts rumbling again.  Awesome.  Next time we are going to do salsa.

In other good news, Blaine is taking a three-day weekend to give me more time in the kitchen.  It will be apples up the wazoo: apple sauce, apple leather, apple chutney.  All added to the apple sauce and apple butter I did last weekend.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The horror

 The tomato table is feeling a bit more 
like the plague this year rather than excitement or a blessing.
It niggles and mocks me every time I walk by.

Can I do it?  Can I really conquer THIS??
It remains to be seen (and makes me feel a little woozy).
Every time I make a dent in it, the darn thing just fills right back up.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Big Brudders, Little Brudders

Jamie and Baby Eliah 
August 2013

Diego and Baby Truen
January 2008

How can I resist comparing these two sets of brothers?  Situations crop up all the time that remind me of times past.  In this case, 2 year old Diego and 2 year old Jamie have both just awakened.  Diego from his afternoon nap, Jamie on a weekend morning.  Baby Eliah and Baby Truen are both around 3 months old (and Eliah is just as wild about sucking on his little fist, the cuteness).  Same loveseat, but with quite a bit more wear and tear (the sadness), and the little brudders were also snuggling with their Daddy.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My very own swirling eddy

Swinging back from buoyant to overloaded . . . .

Today my "mother's helper", the 18 year old who has been helping me for a few hours each week, was here.  (It is also coincidentally her last time helping, as she is moving to Maryland in three days.)  Over the month she was able to come, I whittled my expectations down from SPECTACULAR to survival with each passing week.  No grand projects.  Just maintenance.

So today I washed sheets and made sure the beds were made before she left.  I also washed a load of towels, hung them out to dry along with the sheets, and hand-washed Jamie's woolen night diaper cover.  And by golly, I finally got up the baby calendars to compare and contrast my first three babies' development and personalities with my fourth little cherub.  I've been meaning to do this for more than two months.

You should see these calendars.  Diego's is perfect.  It is loaded with pictures and every month is filled out to a 'T'. Truen's calendar has pictures, but they aren't pasted in yet.  April 2008 is still blank with a folded piece of paper shoved in, the notes I took that month while at my parents' house.  Yeah.  I haven't actually written it in yet.

I also haven't even finished the physical calendar, and by that I mean binding it and hole-punching the top of each month, as I had the grand inspiration of a handmade baby calendar for my second child. Oh dear.

Jamie's baby calendar is complete other than his first two months, which was written on a bank calendar and not transferred over yet.  I was smart enough to not attempt a "from-scratch" baby calendar again but not intelligent enough to actually get a baby calendar before the babe was born.  Ahem.

Also, Jamie's calendar does not have any pictures.  I did order them in early 2012, but made the mistake of deciding that it would be a good idea to order pictures from the entire year that 1) I really liked, and 2) would be an accurate representation for the year.

Let's just say that when the four pound box arrived, my knees turned to jelly.  It was beyond overwhelming.  And so . . . the box was banished to the abyss of our bedroom closet.  It was too much.  I couldn't even face it.

But now.  But now!  But now I want to see the pictures of my sweet little Baby Jamie during each particular month.  I want a visual to go along with the information.  Cue gut-wrenching groans and a head-slap or two.

At least with Truen's calendar I can flip to each specific month, even if it is laying atop the chest of drawers instead of on the wall like Diego's.  Jamie's is hanging nicely on the wall, but there's a hole in my heart where the pictures should be.

So dramatic, I know.

And so, today during my hour-long Quiet Time which was interrupted 3-4 times by baby burps and a boy's bathroom break, I tackled that gargantuan box.  Ugh.

The first task was to refamiliarize myself with my purpose and intent when I first made the order.  I realized that the pictures were sorted by title instead of date, so the second priority was to sort by date.  All bazillion pictures.

I conquered, but then my time was up.  Tomorrow?  Only time will tell, but my will is set.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Buoyant


As I pulled this sweet little fella out of bed this morning, I thought to myself, "I am so lucky to have a baby again" as I nuzzled him and smelled his sweet scent.  It is worth all the life-rearranging and added work.  It just feels so good.

(I should also note that this was a morning that he slept later than usual, combined with me getting up at a more normal time, which allowed me to be free-wheeling and kicking booty before he woke up.  Times like these help keep me buoyant.)

He is 10 weeks today.  I just love 2 month olds.  They are so sweet.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A summer full of food preservation

I can't believe August is almost half-way over.  Where has the summer gone?

All along the way I've been preserving food every weekend, working mostly on Sundays.  Freezing, drying and fermenting are my modes of transportation thus far.  September seems to be the "canning month".  It'll come, and too soon if you ask me.

We've had a bumper crop of broccoli this year for the first time ever.  Blaine finally found a variety that actually produces.  Interestingly, while the heads are huge, it is a major sacrifice on taste.  It tastes like normal, grocery store broccoli.  So . . . fairly boring.  The thumb-sized broccoli (no joke) that we have been used to growing, while small, packs a punch on flavor.  They're spicy and significantly more tasty.

In the past we've grown 50-ish plants just to get a reasonable amount to eat along the way.  Definitely not enough to put up.  But this year, think 50 plants of store-sized broccoli and you'll get the picture.  Inundation!  We've been eating as much as we can, giving it away, loading the freezer with bags and bags of it, etc.

Now that I think of it, I'm also dehydrating the chopped stems for vegetable soup this winter with "waste not, want not" as my mantra.  Besides, I like the stems.

* * * * * * * * 

This weekend I busted out all seven Pickl-Its -- the Bundle of Five and the Condiment Duo.  Oh yeah, baby.  I worked on the onions this weekend.  On-ions.  I'm drooling.  So tasty.  And they are just so beautiful.  Blaine pulled all of them last week, then sorted out the little fellas for fermenting.

 Pickled pearl onions --
with thyme, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, 
mustard seed, juniper berries, and cloves
I know.  Rockin'.

 Sliced onions for sandwiches and salads --
with celery seed in the little guy and nothing in the big'un.

And then there are the pickles.  Classic crock pickles.  Kosher pickles.  Pickle barrel pickles.  Sour pickles.  Whatever you want to call them.  I just say, "DELICIOUS".  We have always seemed to let our cucumbers get away from us every year, but after the solo batch of pickles I made last year, the ones we devoured with great satisfied squawks and howls this winter, we decided to get serious this year.

Blaine has been closely monitoring the cucumbers this season, picking them at just the right size, then bringing them in and storing them in the refrige for my mini-blitz over the weekend.  After a week of counter-top fermentation magic, we've got the beginnings of something gorgeous.

 Pickkkkkkles --
with cardomom, peppercorns, celery seed,
bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cloves, dill heads, and garlic.
The grape leaves are to keep them crunchy with natural tannins and
the water is murky because I used some of the leftover liquid from last week's batch.

This was last week's batch --
I decanted them into half-gallon jars and
brought them down into the root cellar for a nice, slow ferment.
They'll be ready this winter (and already smelled sooooo good).

The ground I've covered this summer includes --
  • Dried celery
  • Dried broccoli stems/stalks
  • Dried peas
  • Dried green beans
  • Frozen parsley & cilantro "herbcicles"
  • Frozen broccoli
  • Frozen chard
  • Frozen spinach
  • Frozen collards
  • Frozen rhubarb (for Blaine's wine)
  • Fermented kimchi
  • Fermented dill pickles
  • Fermented pearl onions
  • Fermented onion slices

Food preservation notes.

Not bad for a mother of four with a new baby.  Though let's keep it real: I wouldn't have been able to do any of this without my fella.  Blaine.  He is always such a huge help: slinging baby, hanging with the boys, dealing with conflicts, covering snacks, fetching ingredients, transporting jars up and down, picking the produce, heck - GROWING the produce, and this year, he's even helped in the kitchen.  What a man.

Today marks 13 years of marriage, giving us a total of almost 17 years of back-history together.  I couldn't be happier.  And it just keeps on getting better.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Awesome

Blaine works with a guy who is the king of all stooges.  He's our age and a great talker, but reality proves to be much different.  Seriously.  Working with this guy is like mining gold for prime sitcom material.  He could easily be on Seinfeld.

Story #1: 

He is very proud of his yard.  Very proud.

A year or so ago, his neighbor made some comment to him about "keeping up with the Joneses" in reference to his yard.  I can't remember why.  The next day he came into work and told Blaine the story, totally pooh-pooh-ing his neighbor and said, "I don't know who these Joneses are, but I know my yard is way better than theirs".

Huah!  Smackdown.

Story #2:

He loves comedians and will listen to their acts over and over again in the office.  He also loves to flirt with women in their mid-twenties that come into the warehouse.  And yes, he's married.

Just yesterday, he recited a comedy routine verbatim to one such lady visitor.  It was a routine about "unsweetened tea" and why on earth companies market tea as unsweetened when they don't have to take the sweetener out; why don't they just call it "plain tea" instead of using a polysyllabic descriptor in their tagline?

Verbatim.  Blaine has heard the routine 10-15 times and this guy recited it word for word.  He can't even come up with his own material.

The woman laughed throughout his "routine" and afterwards giggled, "tee-hee-hee . . . what does polysyllabic even mean??"

And his response my friends, is gold.  Pure gold.  He stuttered and said, "Ehhhhh . . . errrrrrrr . . . . uhhhhhhhh . . . . why don't they just call it plain tea?!"

Oh yes, he did.  Or should I say, "Oh no, he didn't".  Un-un-un-un.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Blow-out nature post

This is a strange re-entry from a week without posting, but it can't be helped.  I've been meaning to post on all this for more than a month, detailing some of the excitement at our house.  But, you know.  Life gets in the way.  We've been up to all kinds of things.

And so, while the baby is taking a much-needed "mega nap" and the boys are playing peacefully after nap/quiet time . . . the inspiration hits.

(Nevermind the house, which looks like a hurricane hit it.)

Both Blaine and I are intrigued by the intricacies of the natural world, both flora and fauna, and enjoy introducing its varied pleasures to our boys.  So with that in mind, here are some of the highlights from the last couple of months:

Last August Diego found an enormous green caterpillar with a brown face,
crawling in the grass under the basswood in our front yard.
We put it in a jar with a twig and basswood leaves and
after a few days it curled itself up into a cocoon, wrapped in leaves.
We kept it in the root cellar over the winter,
brought it out this spring,
and THIS is what it hatched into: 

It was HUGE, close to the size of my hand.
It was in the cocoon from August 2012 until June 2013.
It came out of its cocoon a few days after Eliah was born --
We had no idea what exactly it was until that point.

That night we put it on a rotted log alongside the garage.
It sat there for a good hour before it finally up-and-fluttered-away.
I actually got to see it happen --
It buzzed its wings a couple of times before it took off.
The boys were out and about on the acreage with Blaine,
but I was still sticking close to the house at that point in time
during my postpartum recovery period.  So lucky.

 The #2 amazing thing: morel mushrooms in our grove!
What the??  We were amazed.
This was the second week after Eliah was born.
Blaine went mushroom hunting on the first warm day after significant rainfall,
and bada-bing-bada-boom, there they were.
Tons of them.

 They were beautiful, just gorgeous --
I felt strong enough that I went out into the trees to see them.
(Still recovering from childbirth at the time, you'll remember.)
We had no idea that we could find morels in SW Minnesota.
My parents were here that week and since
I was obviously not up to kitchen work, we dried them --
They needed to be used/stored within 24 hours for peak flavor.
Un-un-un-un.  So exciting.

 Then there was our "pond life" aquarium 
and garter snake terrerium.
We had 2 varieties of snails, 2 crayfish, 2 fish, 
all kinds of water bugs, a leech, and 8-10 tadpoles in the aquarium.
Blaine and the boys dug up mud in the shallows of a nearby creek.
We had so much fun observing all the activity in the morning sun,
particularly the cranky crayfish tending their burrows.
We also realized this year that we have a garter snake den on our property,
under a cement slab near our quonset.  It was wild --
The boys were catching 7-10 snakes a day,
feeding them worms and even "basking" with them in the sun.

Finally . . . a baby praying mantis.
Truen got a bit obsessed with mantises this June,
and we indulged him by ordering mantis egg sacs off ebay.
We released them into the garden after they hatched by the hundreds.
(They are a tropical variety that dies with the cold weather hits.)
This particular little fella is living in the chard,
hopefully wreaking havoc with this year's grasshopper explosion.
We are hoping to catch a mantis and keep it as a pet this winter.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Happy Birthday Diego

 Two months old
Just look at that belly --
oochie-coochie-coo . . . gggggweee

8 years old
Polly was biting his ear --
Seriously, they were made for each other.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Our other baby, the furry one

 Introducing our newest little darling:
Polly Sparkle
Blaine and Diego made a kitten house for her together,
after Diego's idealistic solo attempt
went up in a puff of smoke (AKA 'reality') and tears.
As you can see, she actually uses it.

 Diego and Polly are the sweetest of friends.
She mews piteously for him at the back door when he's inside
and he carries her around like his own little baby.
They wrestle a lot too (kitten vs. hand).

 
 "She's already grown so much", but seriously, she has.
Babies are babies, no matter what kind.  It is amazing.
She really is "the perfect kitten".
She's playful, affectionate, friendly and likes to snuggle.
What more could a kid want?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Tsunami

This morning for the first time I thought, "I don't know how I'm going to do this".

It was in the middle of my attempt at helping Diego make a pricing sign for their farmers' market stand.  (Diego and Truen are teaming up this year and have made $12 selling to household visitors, mostly their Gramma and Great-Aunts.  The rural version of the proverbial neighborhood lemonade stand!)

Not surprisingly, Jamie tired of his coloring after a few minutes and was running amok.  The baby, who had been asleep in the swing, woke up and started crabbing (very unusual).  Truen was immersed in hole-punching a piece of paper but wasn't letting Jamie use the other two or three hole-punchers.  Diego was getting frustrated over his mistake of using a blue crayon to color his scallion instead of the intended green.

And that is when I thought it.  How am I going to do this, with this spread of ages?  I was definitely thinking about homeschooling, yes -- but it was a more base thought than that.  Even a smidgeon of directed focus towards the oldest child in this family seems to be impossible.  It seems like I can't do anything that involves more attention than a passing conversation, inquiry, or direction.  Unless Jamie is asleep.

And that is it.  One of the major disruption forces working against household peace: the two year old.  It is hard for me to do much of anything with the older two, again, unless he's asleep, because one of three things is happening: 1) everything is blissfully quiet, but he's off destroying something, 2) he's talking or hollering over whatever I'm trying to do or say, or 3) he's attempting to rip the game pieces or book right out of our hands.

Add a baby to the mix and it is a recipe for complete chaos.  Of course, unless I am actively interacting and directing and attending to the littlest ones.  But then I don't even feel like I'm able to pay attention to them either.  It isn't just Jamie.  Someone is always fighting or crying or hollering or asking a question or playing loudly or needing a snack.

I know I'll be fine and things will eventually iron out, but wow.  How is it done?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Flashback

 3 years old in 2008
The apple of my eye...

8 years old in 2013
Time flies with the speed of the wind
(though I do understand the irony of "you ain't seen nothin' yet")

Sunday, July 14, 2013

"I see you're very busy," they say.

Six weeks postpartum and I have yet to post my birth story.  Or even start the post.  Dah.

I'm honestly almost to the point of not caring.  Which kind of makes me sad, but it can't be helped.  'Tis the season.  Of year and life.  It's summer-time.  The garden is putting out and I have four boys that keep me hopping.  The little "down-time" I do have (oh the irony) dissipates elsewhere.

But I'm happy.  Very happy.

One of my goals this summer is to take the boys swimming once a week.

We've gone to the kiddie pool once and the lake twice.
Two out of the three times, Jamie took a nap on his own volition.
Once in the stroller, once on the blanket under a towel.
So wonderful, because he's actually cheerful at the end of the day.

 The nice thing about this lake is the waves on a windy day --
Almost as good as the seashore.
They had so much fun jumping the waves.
They were also battling the waves (of course).
 
 I had Jamie in a little floaty-thing because 
the waves were so strong it was knocking him over.
Thank goodness I brought it (a dumpster-diving treasure, btw).

 I just love this picture of Peg-Leg Dieg --
It gives such a great view of his changing teeth,
not to mention how adorable and happy he is in the water.

 And here's what me and the Little Mister were doing on the beach.
He was snoozing and I was soaking in the maternal bliss.
No one was fighting, everyone was entertained and happy --
It was beautiful, warm, pleasant, relaxing.
It was so bloody satisfying.

Life carries on in other ways too.  Like newborns turning into plump little babies.  Eliah is six weeks old now.  Un-un-un-un.  I can hardly remember life without him.  It seems like he's always been here.  

He loves being held upright, looking over my right shoulder.  He's starting to make little baby noises more and more, still so softly, like he's just trying them out.  We snuggle together all night long, which feels so. good.  I still don't mind waking up to nurse him throughout the night.  The only bugger is when I can't get a burp out, but then I just prop him up across my chest while laying down, pat his back and doze.

 He started smiling on Saturday morning.
I could tell it was coming soon --
I saw one side of his mouth turn up on Friday night.
He's a big hit with his new skill and it makes everyone laugh and feel happy.
(The picture is blurry from me gggggwa-ing to get him to grin.)

 But I still love seeing that serious little face --
He was ooooooo-ing in this picture.

The composition in this picture pleases me.
Not to mention the little feller, gettin' plump.

It's hard getting work done with a little one though.  Very hard.  Especially now that there are three older brudders who still need me.  It is inevitable that someone needs something at pretty much all times.  I've kept on track with maintaining an hour of Quiet Time for the older boys during Jamie's nap, but Eliah's long nap isn't always reliable in coinciding in conjunction with this designated down-time.

There are piles everywhere.  Many tasks are on the back-burner, waiting to be done.  Paperwork and my very important task of recording life ("special notebooks", calendars, picture emails, blog, etc.) is piling up.  All the boys' winter clothes is sitting in a big stack downstairs.  Not to mention trying to keep a good supply of food in regular rotation.  Not so easy when you cook from scratch and have only a smidgen of time.  

Blaine and I are working as a team on food preservation, and he is spending a lot of time doing inside work I usually have covered in addition to his outside work, which is so wonderful . . . but the weekends just aren't enough.  There is just too much to get at.  We are working in survival-mode only.

 Cilantro
("herbcicles" frozen in ice cube trays)

 Peas and beans
(blanched and dehydrated)

I have been brainstorming solutions for the past couple of weeks and realized what I need: HELP.  I need help.  Hilarious and overly obvious, but dude.  I need help.  

Then I remembered a conversation I had with the 18 year old daughter of my friend (the one who wants to be a doula and came to observe Eliah's birth)It was on the way to a prenatal appointment; she said that she loves children and would be more than happy to help if I needed it (she also loves babies).  

At the time I didn't need any assistance, so I thanked her and said I would keep that in mind.  But two months later . . . I remembered.  Yo.  That hit the spot.  Help.  I need help.

So she'll be coming for a couple hours once a week to help out.  All I need her to do is hold the baby or play with the boys while I do a blitz on what-have-you.  I already made a list and it is mighty-long, believe me.  We are bartering her help for garden produce.  I am so pleased.  I've been literally daydreaming of all the potential.


 And we're still all loving to snuggle with our newest little guy.
This was taken after his first bath a couple weeks ago.
Awwwwww . . . the dimple. 

Truen still regularly asks to hold him,
which inevitably triggers Jamie to hold him next.
This was taken Saturday morning.  
Look how much fatter he looks in this picture!