Saturday, September 24, 2016

Trip Education

We are getting ready to take a long family trip.  It isn't a vacation, per se, because there will be no sitting on beaches soaking in the sun and no quiet mountain cabin off the grid somewhere.  While it is getting away from our regular lives, it will be more like extended classroom time than a relaxing getaway.

With this in mind, I completed one of my giant trip prep tasks today.  I got the educational materials completed and compiled.  It was an involved undertaking because I fear wasting a moment of learning--especially because this isn't a trip that will be repeated for many, many years.

Each child will receive a personalized bag.  In the bags, they will find booklets with lots of educational materials.  There are sheets with each state bird, tree, flower, animal, flag, etc. that will require matching and (hopefully) spotting in real life.  We will be passing through 10 states and one Canadian Province and we will be learning about each of those states.  The children get points for correct answers and for correctly identifying a symbol while we are there (pointing out a sugar maple, for instance).

Because we will be covering thousands of miles, the books also have a few fun road printables such as a car scavenger hunt, tic tac toe, state license game, battleship, and many others.  I printed up six different common code ciphers that the kids could use to write secret messages.

In trying to keep the luggage to a minimum, we are avoiding toys, generally.  An entertainment tool that doesn't take up much space is a clipboard.  Each is loaded with blank paper for the most part, but everyone has a handful of drawing step-by-step tutorials, each different from one another.  If they can draw something new by the end of the drive, I will be satisfied that my time was well spent.

Everyone will have a book to read, we will have audio books, and I have some poetry to read and discuss during our long drives between sites.

In addition to all of the these prepared devices to keep seven children happy on the road, I have one device designed to help them remember the feelings, thoughts, and moments seeing all of the things;  
I am requiring journals.
More specifically, Smash Journals.
If you haven't heard of those, look them up.  They look so cool!
Sometimes I will give writing prompts, but most of the time I want everyone to fill the pages in their own way.

I have an entire bin of markers, crayons, colored pencils, glue, stickers and Washi tape to help each member of the family create their personalized book.
I cannot wait to see what they do!

My husband and I have been teaching the family about the sites we will be visiting since the beginning of the year.  Ten months worth of lessons in anticipation of this journey, pilgrimage really.  We have taught, but we have also given assignments and the kids have studied and taught the family different subjects as well.  While Dad and I keep teaching, teaching, teaching on the trip, they will each have one specific opportunity to give an oral presentation about one of our stops.  For instance, one child will teach us about the Niagara Falls, another about the Erie Canal, one about the head of the Oregon Trail and another about the Indian Mounds.  
So, you can see a little bit of how home school works around here.  I hope it is as effective as I envision.  Learning about a place, seeing it in real life, then writing or otherwise recording your personal experience about that place will stick with them.  I hope, in fact, it will change them.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Bunch of Nothing

I bought these today at Costco.
There is no way I'm going one more spring without my beloved tulips!
I will skimp on my food budget this month, but I will buy bags and bags of bulbs.

Autumn is off to a glorious start for us this year.
My Camilla girl is always quick to capture anything amazing.

 This child. She is a chubby, happy four month old.  I cry every few days as I take clothes she is quickly outgrowing and putting them in the box to donate, rather than the box to put away for the next baby.

  She rolls and pivots on her belly to get where she wants to be.  The race is on. Oh, yes, and the drool.  The drool is also on.

After too long a silence, I went in search for this little guy.  
I found him, in MY bed, laying on a bed full of sprinkles. 

Also, a sister decided this was the best way to babysit recently.

The flies have been atrocious this year.  I can't get my kids to close the doors (we're going to have to get screen doors next year).  I finally reverted to this nasty solution and it is working--rather miraculously.

Finally, our trip is close enough that we have a paper chain.
A paper chain!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Good Doctor

Today was my baby's first doctor's appointment.  The first couple of visits one would normally make were done with the midwife, so this was her first time to meet our family doctor.  Also, she is four months old and it was time to get started on those immunizations.

When the eight year old gets the baby dressed.  As fancy as possible.
He has been watching out for our family for several years now and I really like him.  He works quickly, but I never feel like he's trying to rush us out.  Isaac has had to go in several times for very specific ballet physicals and trips to far away lands.  Our doctor is always excited to help and cheers Isaac on in his unusual teen life.
Like I said, it was time to start shots.  He asked if we were ready to do that today.  I told him that I was feeling a weird trepidation about the shots for some reason. I want my baby protected, but I am also concerned about the high number of vaccinations recommended for her tiny body.  Instead of instantly judging or demanding, he heard me out, understood as I vocally grappled with the quandary of whether it was mother's intuition to hold off a bit on this baby or whether it was the louder and louder anit-vax noise from the world.  In the end, we decided to do the most essential vaccinations and will stretch out our schedule so her little body doesn't have to battle it all at once.

It is so nice to have a doctor that listens and trusts me.  He sees everyone in the family and has a pretty good sense of what is happening in our home.  He is nothing but encouraging and supportive.  And frankly, after last week, it is refreshing to have a professional with an outsider's view believe in me.

Thanks, Doc.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Summer's End

Last night was the last Friday night of the summer.  Public school starts around here on Tuesday (after Labor Day), so my kids decided it was a good time to have a party.
We had a houseful for waffles and a movie.
There are no pictures because I was running three waffle irons to try to keep up with the teenagers.
It was outrageously loud (and fun).

This little girl is obviously from a big family because she fell asleep in the middle of the cacophony.  

After everyone left, Isaac, Eliza and I sat in the living room and talked until 2 in the morning.  Isaac made the comment that this was the end of his last summer.  He turns 18 in the beginning of the new year and will likely be on his mission before next summer comes.  Tears sprang to my eyes as the reality of his statement sank in.  I also mentioned something about how my baby will be taking solid foods within a couple of months.  
Oh, it is fleeting!

How could anyone ever wish these precious days away?!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Noticing the Right

After our disastrous week at the fair, culminating a mistake-ridden summer of raising pigs, I came across a parable that caught my eye.  It goes something like this:

On the first day of school, a teacher went up to the board and wrote out
1 X 9 = 7
2 X 9 = 18
3 X 9 = 27
4 X 9 = 36
and so on through 12 X 9.  
After she had completed the list, she turned to find the students all snickering, some full out laughing at her.  She asked why they were laughing.  They pointed out her mistake.
"Even though I got eleven of the equations correct, you chose to only notice the one I got wrong."
Then came the lesson.
"The world will often completely miss all of the things you do right, to focus on the one thing you did wrong.  They may laugh and jeer, mock and ridicule because of your one mistake.  Don't let their response to your mistake overpower all of your success."

That is precisely what I let happen last week.  There were so many sweet people making comments about my beautiful family, darling baby, funny little boy, but I abandoned those kind words and instead let the one bitter person making the one cruel comment undermine my happiness.  

On the flip side, what do I notice?  What attributes do I draw out in a person?  Do I encourage and praise success or do I only see what could have been done better?  

So today, I am making sure that people around me know that I notice their "eleven things," that I am thankful for their good and their right.  

The Day We Accepted Our Total Failure

Sunday morning, we got up early to take care of our pig duties, packed up some of the our campsite and hustled off to church.  As soon as church was over, we dropped off half of the family and hustled right back to the fair.  I left the three and eight year old at home because, since I had to be there anyway, I wanted to take one afternoon to do and see what I wanted to do and see at the fair, doggone it!  I was determined to get that caramel apple (didn't happen) and not stand in line for a single balloon animal.  Just as I was pulling out of the driveway, I got a call telling me that the buyer for the bigger pig backed out.  Having lost a whole week of selling time, we had just a few hours to now sell BOTH pigs.  We did get one offer, but it was basically at cost.  I just couldn't do that to the girls.  They worked so hard all summer, it didn't seem fair that they would only earn about $50 each.

We tried and tried and tried to sell those pigs.  The girls stood in their pen for hours, talking to everyone and trying to get a lead.  I posted on Craigslist and Facebook, made calls and sent emails and texts.  No one wanted to buy a freezer full of pork.

Utterly exhausted and defeated, embarrassed and stuck with pigs we had to now had to figure out how to get home, I was a disaster.  The girls felt cheated as they watched their friends celebrate their giant checks, rewarding all of their hard work.

Justin worked the phones and finally found a friend with a horse trailer that could help us get the pigs home.

And now they are here. Still.  Not one single call on the Craigslist ad, not a response on Facebook.  At this point, we will probably feed them until we are out of food, then butcher them for our own freezer.  Not a total loss, but a total failure.

I promptly made this chocolate zucchini cake and took a picture to prove to myself that I do have some skills!

Next year.

Next year has to be better.

There is no way it could be worse . . .


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Well, That was Not Awesome

Last week was our state fair.  As you may remember, our girls raised 4-H pigs--a first on every level for us.  Besides a dog and some fish, we have never had animals. Every aspect of the venture was new for us.  We had made every mistake possible in the road to fair, and we made every mistake possible during the fair itself.  It was a disaster.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let me back up.

Dad, Isaac and Eliza all have jobs and had differing schedules throughout the week.  They would be visiting us at the fair, but the rest of us would be staying there full time.  On Monday, I worked all day on preparations for the week.  Monday night, some dear friends helped us load our pigs into their horse trailer and carted them off to the fairgrounds for us. We met them there to at least get the tent up and unload a few things while I had big kids to help.  Some of the children were super helpful, others undid all that helpfulness by their nasty attitude. After giving the pigs a quick bath, loading the feeder and waterer and getting them settled for the night, we went home to finish preparations.

I got up Tuesday at 4 AM and worked solid until it was time to leave--iron and starch six shirts for the pig showing, pack food and supplies for seven for the week, print off forgotten pages for the book, provide provisions for the three staying home, etc. I also wrote out a complicated schedule to ensure that the two cars could get us all where we needed to be:

We left for the fairgrounds and got to work.  I had to finish creating a home for us for the week and the girls had work to do in the pig barn.  We had assumed all along that our pigs were going to be super small--way below the 230 pound requirement to sell the pigs at auction.  Camilla's pig weighed in at 228#, just two pounds shy.  No big deal--everyone told us that there were always a surplus of buyers looking for underweight pigs.  The day went as smoothly as could be expected for novices.  The girls showed their pigs and got red ribbons.

 They were absolutely adorable and were excited by the experience.

The little ones and I sat in the bleachers and cheered everyone on.

After the long, hot day, the little one and I were glad for a cool bit of grass to lay down for reprieve.

Moments after I sent this picture to my husband as an update on how things were going at the fair, I sent the following text:

                   Right after I sent that picture, all hell broke loose.  Poop, crying, fighting, mad mom, the works.
                   I think we're back in control.  I'm eating, which helps.

It was, thankfully, time to sleep.  We were all exhausted.  We settled in and tried let the 2000 generators in camper village lull us to sleep. It took a while, but the sandman did eventually find us.

The next morning started at 3:55 AM.  Our club had voted to muck stalls and wash pigs at 4 in the morning so they didn't have to compete with the other 200 kids trying to tend to their pigs. The girls showed a second time (my phone battery died, so no pictures) where they each received blue ribbons, then we had some time to enjoy the fair.

Eliza found her project.
 They toured the exhibits, rode a couple of rides (and learned rides aren't worth the money), ate an elephant ear and enjoyed a frozen lemonade.

So far, so good.  Dad was able to come for awhile which was a giant help to me. 
The girls were having a great 4-H experience, the pig part of the event was going well, and they were making friends.

 The only minor tragedy was when Camilla lost her $20 fair money.  Not the end of the world, but certainly disappointing! They did enjoy barn duty, where they took turns with their club mates tending to the pigs, keeping the area clean, and greeting fair visitors.  

Lucy especially enjoyed seeing friends, answering questions, and introducing children to the pigs.

I was not getting enough sleep and couldn't get enough to drink. I had five children under the age of 12 at the fair . . . in August . . . one of them being a fearless and independent 3 year old . . . another a 3 month old who needed frequent nursing and otherwise lived in the baby bjorn. Our biggest pig was sold right away, so I spent the rest of the week sending texts and posting on Facebook trying to sell our smaller, 150 pound pig. No takers.  I also had to give up my fair money, so I didn't get a caramel apple.  

I was being brave, but was beginning to unravel.

Whatever the case, there was no stopping now!  Before the finals showing, there was a peewee pig showing.  This is where the younger siblings of the 4-H kids got to show the pigs.  Both of our younger two participated.  It was a little insane, but at least I knew right where the three year old was for a solid 10 minutes! 

In the overalls with the blue plaid shirt.
Leading the pig along like an old pro!
All three of the youngers in the frenetic peewee pig show.
They got a sucker for a prize.
My eight year old was mad that she didn't get a ribbon.  She worked hard, dang it!

I tried to keep him clean, I really did.
One night, after all of our pig duties were fulfilled, we headed to the rodeo.  It was Friday night and the place was packed.  I lined my kids up by the fence and wiggled my bum into a small spot on the front bleacher.  The kids' behavior was overall good.  They were enjoying the rodeo, clapping and having fun.  I held the baby and the toddler on my lap most of the time and was, I thought, doing my job well.  At one point, the eight year old wanted to hold her baby sister.  I handed her over and cuddled tightly with the three year old, while I pointed out things that were happening in the arena.  The two sisters were being cute together, smiling and jabbering back and forth.

This little idyllic moment was when the woman sitting behind me leaned forward and spoke into my ear.
"Get your tubes tied, B*#@*."
I was aghast.  I turned and, sure she was messing around with me, asked if she was serious.
She nodded, venom in her eyes.

I have never been so close to getting in a fist fight in my life.  If I hadn't been training myself over the last 17 years being a parent to control my temper and retrain man's natural instinct to physically lash out to offenders, I would have hit that woman.  In fact, for a couple of days after the incident, I thought I should have!  I told her she should be ashamed of herself; she flipped me off.  Blood boiling, I stood and told the kids it was time to go.

I spent the next several hours quaking with anger.  How dare she?!  She doesn't know me, she doesn't know my story!  I thought of fabulous, biting comebacks (that she wouldn't have heard).  I envisioned dramatic scenarios where she was shamed into a submissive apology and the crowd cheered (and could have ended with my arrest, but that's beside the point).

I spent the rest of the night crying.

Her comment cut me to the core.  She doesn't know how I constantly doubt my ability to effectively mother all seven of my babies.  She didn't know that I had spent nearly the whole week at the fair, trying to help two of my children develop character traits that they need to be upstanding citizens, effective mothers, and useful women of God.  She doesn't understand the physical strain I was under, the financial sacrifices I'd made and the fact that I had been at the fair all week and hadn't had a single caramel apple!

To put icing on the cake, after we got back to our tent and I was trying to get everyone settled in for the night, my little guy jumped on my air mattress and fell.  Unfortunately, the wheelbarrow the girls had been using for cleaning the pig pens was right next to the tent.  He cracked his head on the wheelbarrow and split his forehead wide open.  He would need stitches.

The woman at the rodeo was right.  I was worthless as a mother.

I threw in the towel and called my husband to come pick us up.  We needed to fix a forehead and sleep in our own beds.  I could not do anymore.

 The next morning, I was somewhat better.  We all showered, pulled our shoulders back, lifted our heads, and went back to the fair.  The girls needed to be in the pig barn and I didn't want to interact with people, so we went to the tractors.

And stood in line (again) to get faces painted (again).

Then we took a picture of every cutout at the fair (except one because the cutouts were too high).

It was actually a very nice morning. I was reminded that I am not the worst mother on the planet.  That my role is divine and that that woman was a mouthpiece for the devil himself--my God could NEVER be so cruel.

We held hands and laughed and I breathed and enjoyed them.

There was one more day of fair and one more pig to sell . . .  I will have to tell you that story tomorrow; this post is already long enough!