Madness and sadness

When I woke up this morning, I had troubling thoughts on my mind. Todd and I had had a disappointing realization the night before that still weighed heavily as I got ready for the day. In addition to that issue, other things clouded my thoughts: Christmas was looming and only eleven short days away, but our shopping was far from done; our trip to my parents’ house was coming soon and I hadn’t even begun to prepare; the day was already filled with problems to tackle and a schedule to work through. Kids, finances, health, anxiety, etc. I was feeling what I thought the weight of the world would probably feel like–and considered myself justified in feeling a bit sorry for the situation I woke up to find myself in.

But then….I got a breaking news text about a shooting in Connecticut. I will admit, at first, I disregarded it. There’s too much to do, and I’ll read about it later, I thought flippantly. Some time passed before I saw another headline from some social media source that caused me to look into it further. What I learned is what we all know now: the senseless massacre of children and adults in a school. Massacre. 20 children. It doesn’t seem real. Who does this, really? These are movie headlines, fictional tales. Not real life. Could someone be that evil? There was no sense coming from the reports.

I went for a walk–something that has become a habit over the past week or so, a break in my day that allows me to clear my head in the crisp December air. But today, no amount of cold air could bring clarity to the unimaginable. Just confusion, anger, sadness.

Slowly, I began to realize that for the many, many families affected directly by this tragedy (and the ripple effect of countless others), nothing would ever be the same. As I passed houses decorated for Christmas, I thought about how the parents of the slain children (ages 5 to 10!) would have had undoubtedly picked out gifts for these children that may have already been wrapped, perhaps even under their tree. Those gifts would be an unopened reminder of the Christmas they would never get to share with their child. Perhaps one or several of the children left for school that morning and didn’t pick up their laundry, or left their breakfast dishes on the table as they rushed off to catch the bus. What a devastating scene to return to after learning that your beloved son or daughter, some not yet even old enough to have learned how to read, was gone. Gone. Gone. And as difficult as it will be, it is still all so trivial. Gifts? Laundry? A messy room? These things would mean NOTHING if the parents could just hold their babies again. See them smile and laugh. Hug them. All the dreams, hopes, and future plans for the children: ended. While most of us plan the next few weeks of the holiday season, these families will have to plan funerals.

Absolutely unfathomable.

For me, one of the worst parts about movies where the lead characters go through unbelievable situations and somehow survive is wondering how these people, though not real, could possibly go back to real life. How could they wake up the next morning after all the chaos in the plot and just go about their lives? Was that even possible?

It will be reality for the families and others affected by the tragedy at Sandy Hook–and also the similar massacre at another school in China. How will they wake up tomorrow, get out of bed, or do any of the things that they have to do to survive? How can they possibly put one foot in front of the other for a long, long time? May God have mercy upon them all and offer them a comfort that only He can give. May He surround them with a peace that can only come from Him. May the One who works all things together for good somehow, somehow work good out of pure evil.

My kids behaved terribly today. They were at each others’ throats most of the day, it seemed. Patience was nowhere to be found. Hollering, squawking, and arguing was apparently the order of the day. Despite all that mess, they all came to dinner. They hugged Todd and me goodnight before bed. They are still here with us. And for that, I am so unspeakably grateful. None of us knows how much time we have on this Earth and with the ones we love, so, in the words of one of the dearest friends I know, “What can we do, but cherish every moment we have?”

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“Are all those YOURS?!”

Without wanting to discourage anyone from having kids–because children are a blessing beyond all others–I will say that life in a full house is probably nothing like I could have ever expected. Then again, what can you possibly expect from six kids? Perhaps it was ignorant bliss as we added one, then another, then a third, and then more, more, more to think it would be anything *but* crazy. Truth is, I never stopped to think about it, really. I mean, at one point, we had four children: the youngest was the newest of newborn (as in, he came home from the hospital that day) and the oldest had turned five one short month earlier. No one can really prepare you for that. The best they can do is feebly exclaim, “Grab something heavy and HOLD ON!! You might just make it if you survive the first six weeks!!! GOTTA GO!!!” followed by a hasty exit to their own, quieter house.

I have called that my Midway, my turning point, that newborn period with baby #4. We had found a house we couldn’t walk away from in August, moved in the last week of September, and still had unpacked boxes when baby arrived in early November. I remember feeling such helplessness as I looked at my “living room” (really, there was no living going on in that room; it was the ‘avert eyes and quickly pass by’ room), wondering when that room was going to transform from a warehouse. With the short winter days (in those days, I don’t recall having 60 degree days in December like we do now), I felt like the older kids and I went a little stir crazy being stuck in the house except for those joyous days when I had the car and got to take all four of them grocery shopping, strategically planning to leave the second the baby had been fed, burped, and changed, so that we could actually get through the shopping list before the next feeding rolled around. Oh, the days of dragging–er, accompanying, sorry–four kids (or more!) to the store. I recall if it was shopping day, by the time I got the groceries into the cart, assured one of the boys that they actually wouldn’t die if they didn’t bring home candy that day, took the groceries out of the cart and onto the checkout belt, put the bags of groceries back into the cart, took the full cart and tired kids to the car, emptied the cart and filled up the trunk with the bags, transported aforementioned items and people home, carried the bags out of the car and into the house once we arrived home, and put away the groceries, I was shocked to find that I was pretty much useless the rest of the day. Why? It was only grocery shopping, by the way! HA.

And by most standards, my kids were good shoppers. We practiced role playing before shopping so they would know not to touch everything they saw. “Look with your eyes, not with your hands,” was my go-to phrase to remind them. For a short while, I cut out the pictures of the things we needed and glued them to a shopping list so my non-readers could still help me. We didn’t have meltdowns, although there were times when I wondered if one of them was going to escalate to that point. A loud “NO!” here or there I can handle; it’s the all-out throwing one’s self around and hollering like you’ve lost a limb in Aisle 9 that I just can’t go along with. (Thankfully I think it took having a redhead for us to have one of those. That redhead, she’s pushed a lot of envelopes in her young life. Good thing she’s cute.) Even with the relatively good behavior, it’s just difficult to shop and stay on track when there is almost a constant stream of “Look at that!” or “MOM!! We NEEEEEEED this!” or my favorite: “But it’s on saaaaAAAAaaale!!! You like that, right?!” I’m easily distracted as it is, so even with a list, these little helpers could really set me off track. Amazingly, the shopping got completed and we had food to eat.

And I slept goooood at night.

I distinctly remember one night at dinner, when baby #4 was probably between four and six months old, having a surreal moment where time appeared to stop, all Matrix-style. I looked at Todd and tried really hard to communicate with just my eyes. “I don’t know if I can even consider having any more of these little creatures around our house,” I wanted him to see from my stare. In reality, he glanced over at me and probably said, “Can you pass the salt and pepper?” Is it OK for me to admit that?  I really thought I couldn’t handle even one more thing, let alone another baby.  I’m so glad, though, that it was a passing thought borne out of probable exhaustion and overwhelm. It did not last long.

Then we had #5. And #6. He really didn’t catch the meaning of that glance, huh? HA. Our family was meant for more than four! Despite the detractors and rude comments regarding our burgeoning family size, I am so glad we kept on keeping on.

And with the arrival of #5, I felt we had crossed some unspoken threshold. I’m not sure if there is documentation on the subject, but in our experience, it became the phenomenon of “what’s one more?” in many areas. Laundry is crazy with six people. What’s one more? Cooking for six people requires larger portions. What’s one more? (apparently a lot, as our four boys are g-r-o-w-i-n-g!) By six, I felt a little like the Jim Gaffigan joke that he tells about his parents going slightly crazy after the sixth child. “Our first child was named after a relative….our sixth child was named after a sandwich I liked…” Maybe we’re not crazy yet, but there are days when I feel that it must be right around the corner.

There are many things I have had to give up in order to mother a large family, but they may not be the first things that come to mind. I never felt slighted because I had to give up a potential career–being a homeschooling mom has been the hardest work I’ve ever done and would personally classify as a career (though it’s missing the almighty W-2 to “prove” it). No, the things I’m talking about are….different.  I have had to give up the notion of a Martha Stewart home, and although I’m not sure I would have ever chosen to have that kind of home, not sticking to my kitchen floor every now and again has to be a nice feeling. (I’ve heard it is from others, anyway.)  There is also this constant struggle between my dream and my reality that all blankets will be folded, throw pillows will sit on the couch and not be…well, thrown, and shoes will be put in the shoe basket as soon as they come off of a foot.  NOT HAPPENING.  Blankets seem to unfold and fling themselves upon the ground multiple times a day, as if to mock me.  Don’t get me started on little scraps of paper that magically appear all over the floor and clothes from little (and big!) bodies that remain in the shape that they fell off the wearers’ forms. Those are the things I’ve had to work on adjusting my attitude. There is paint chipped out of the walls in various places, most likely as the result of a Nerf gun war gone awry or wrestling boys who learned the hard way about Newton’s First Law of Motion: “Hey, Mom! The wall was my outside force!! It acted upon me!! And stopped me from moving in a straight line at a constant speed!” (Yeah, they would be my outside force if they ever actually said that. And then I would fall over.)  And, yes, the bathrooms. Oh, the bathrooms. It is truly a dirty little secret that I’m slowly realizing many other moms with boys have. The bathroom. It’s like pee physically canNOT make it to the toilet water at a percentage over .0003 with any consistency. I may just consider it my highest accomplishment if one day, I walk into that bathroom and am not knocked over by the smell. That smell. (For those of you with clean bathrooms, feel free to insert your condescension here. I once felt that I could keep all things clean all the time. Maybe one day in the far future, I will have that clean bathroom again, but it will mean that my boys no longer live here, and that makes my heart hurt.)

Don’t forget the dream of having a clean kitchen floor for more than 2.7 minutes.   I think it takes longer to dry after I clean it than it actually stays clean.

But then again, the things I’ve had to give up are far smaller in comparison to the benefits we have received in our journey so far.  Despite the exasperation of every bedtime feeling like a sleepover in the boys’ room (“PLEASE SETTLE DOWN AND STOP YOUR TOMFOOLERY!!!”  These are the same kids that may have been at each other’s throats up until the moment of bedtime, but as soon as they’re tucked in for the night, they become the best of friends and giggle and cause trouble back there like they haven’t seen each other in years.   Baffling.  Oft times exasperating to the nth degree.),  every bedtime includes hugs times six.  I love you’s times six.

We’ve had the joy of lots of laughter in every room in the house–even if it means the troops are scheming for mischief.   The sound of feet pitter pattering (and galloping and scampering loudly) through the house is almost constant–even if it means those feet just came in from the muddy outside and transported said outside inside and onto my kitchen floor.   Surveying our full dinner table and the memories we’ve created there most nights are ones you can’t buy in a store.  Most nights I try to take mental pictures so I can remember forever.   Watching them grow (one of them taller than me and almost taller than Todd!) and mature from babies to children to teenagers is a humbling experience.   Realizing that they have been chosen for our family is a responsibility that sometimes all but crushes me, and yet I’m so grateful that out of all the possible moms and dads in the history of the world, God saw fit to bless us with these six.   They are amazing.   We have a serious job of doing our very best to raise them to be responsible adults who contribute to society and bring glory to God.   It’s not easy, and we don’t get time off (except that one day in 2009;  I think we took a day off in 2009.  It wasn’t pretty and the memory of the aftermath still lingers…), but it’s a bit like the Peace Corps’ motto:  The toughest job you’ll ever love.

I love these kids, even with their faults.   Lord knows I still have a multitude of them.   But we’re doing this life together, and for that, I’m forever humbled and grateful.

Now….about that bathroom…..

 

‘Tis the season for treats and sweets

I’m happy to say that Hannah has taken after me in her love for baking. How fun it has been to discuss recipes for yummy treats with each other and share what we’ve found. She has a Pinterest account and has come up with so many more delectable ideas than me (who uses a boring old, so last millennium cookbook). But that’s OK. I know my weaknesses. My kryptonite may as well be the internet (Curse you, Al Gore, and your ingenious invention!), and I realize that it can be quite the time sapper already. I must resist Pinterest.

On the other hand, anything that she finds on there and shares with me, I’m more than happy to check out. Is that dipping my toe in the pool to test the waters? I don’t know.

In any case, Hannah’s Challenge class has been the happy recipient of her baking experiments, as she and another classmate have taken turns this year and part of last year bringing treats for the group. We have all watched wistfully as she prepares something tasty almost every other week…for someone else! It is rare that she prepares extra or brings any leftovers home, but it’s probably for the best. We all know we need more sweets like we need a hole in the head…or the tooth!

Her latest attempt, homemade peppermint patties, took a few steps, but are overall quite easy to make. They are not a super-quick recipe only because they require freezing between each step, but in the end the recipe is not overly labor intensive. Although I cannot vouch for the end result’s taste (see above comment about not making extras), the appearance is quite beautiful! Here they are:

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So, without further ado, let’s get to the good stuff: the recipe. Just how can you make these bad boys–er, dainty delicacies for your family, friends, or next Christmas gathering?

Peppermint Patties

2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup

2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon peppermint extract

1 tablespoon vegetable shortening

8 ounces 70% cacao bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/4 cup peppermint candies, crushed

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat 2 1/4 cups of confectioners sugar together with corn syrup, water, peppermint extract and vegetable shortening until just combined. The mixture will be very crumbly. Dust a work surface with remaining 1/4 cup of confectioners sugar. Empty contents of bowl onto work surface and knead until smooth Be prepared for this to take a few minutes. Hannah also found she had to add a bit more powdered sugar to make it “shapeable.” It didn’t seem to affect the end product adversely, though, so I think it was OK. Shape dough into a log, about 2 inches by 8 inches long. Wrap tightly in parchment paper and freeze until very firm, about 20 minutes, or overnight if you’re going to a Christmas festival in Wilmore, but you’re on top of your game and have planned ahead, as my daughter had.

Remove dough and slice into rounds using a sharp knife. Place rounds onto a parchment lined cookie sheet and freeze again until firm, for at least 15 minutes.

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While dough is chilling, melt chocolate in a microwave safe bowl in 30 second intervals. Cool slightly. Chocolate should be warm but not so hot that you cannot put your finger into it.

Cover another baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove patties from freezer one at a time and submerge into melted chocolate (Hannah used a fork with good success. It still made a big mess on the counter…and the floor, but there wasn’t an observable better way. Counters and floors clean, too). Coat quickly and allow excess chocolate to drip off. It was important to take one out at time because they really started to get soft very quickly.

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Place on parchment paper lined pan and sprinkle with crushed candies. Repeat, covering all patties with chocolate and candy.

 

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(Isn’t she cute? Such a hard worker for sure!)

Let patties stand until chocolate is set, about 1 hour. Store in fridge, between wax paper in an airtight container. Bring to room temperature before serving.

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Chloe peeking over the edge to check out her big sissy’s handiwork.

I’m anxious to hear the reviews that she received from her class when she gets home later this afternoon. Happy candy making!

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Old Fashioned Christmas

Last night we had the opportunity to travel less than 15 short miles to the small town of Wilmore, Kentucky, a place that has quickly grown to be near and dear to our hearts. Though it’s close in distance, it may as well be light years away from the busy bigger city. For the second year in a row, we participated in their Old Fashioned Christmas, an all-day affair that celebrates the beginning of the season and heralds the small-town feel. Our first time to the festival was sort of a bust. Despite our friends’ urging, we got there almost too late to join in on the fun. They had already lit the tree, given out the free food, and sent away the petting zoo. Even so, we all had such a fun–though truncated–time that we vowed to be more prepared in future years. So this year we made a point to be in Wilmore for the tree lighting (not Rockefellar, but exciting nonetheless), as well as all the other events we planned to see and do. One of the best things about Christmasing in Mayberry, USA, is that it’s easy to get a parking space! You don’t have to park a mile away or pay in a garage. (Am I getting old?) We met up with our friends the Hagans (who we recently found out that we’re more likely than not related to!) near the still-darkened tree. Everyone had a pair of 3D glasses, but not just any 3D glasses. These special spectacles allowed the wearer to see either a snowman or a star when he or she looked at tree or other bright lights. You’d be surprised how long the kids were entertained by them!

Brendan caught this shot through the glasses to show the snowman.

Brendan caught this shot through the glasses to show the snowman.

"You laughing at my glasses, eh?"

“You laughing at my glasses, eh?”

Light that tree! Light that tree!

Light that tree! Light that tree!

"Like my new glasses?"

“Like my new glasses?”

They LOVED the glasses!

They LOVED the glasses!

Allie's looking hard to see the snowman!

Allie’s looking hard to see the snowman!

The serious Brendan shows off his new accessory.

The serious Brendan shows off his new accessory.

After the tree lit up, with the Salvation Army band playing O Christmas Tree, we waved hello to the big guy–that’s right, Santa Claus himself, riding in a John Deere tractor. With the holiday mood firmly established, we did something we could only let happen in small town America: we let our kids wander off to check out the sights themselves. Chloe came with us while the older kids went out in search of some good eats and sugary treats. Of course, Wilmore isn’t that big, either, so we kept running into each other, but….the kids had some freedom. Our first stop was the IGA, where they are notarious for yummy ham biscuits and soup beans. They did not disappoint. I must have been so busy munching away that I forgot to take any pictures! After that, we crossed the parking lot to The Great Wall, the Chinese restaurant with the bluegrass band. The bluegrass was worth sitting down for to listen for more than just a song.

Bluegrass in the Great Wall.  I love Kentucky!

Bluegrass in the Great Wall. I love Kentucky!

Chloe enjoyed a Chinese restaurant treat while we all enjoyed the bluegrass music you see in the background.

Chloe enjoyed a Chinese restaurant treat while we all enjoyed the bluegrass music you see in the background.

From then on we got some cotton candy from the guy in the kilt. (Don’t ask, just say thank you and smile!) I believe Andrew circled around this line several times, based on how he was jumping around and almost vibrating later in the evening…

Andrew's favorite part: COTTON CANDY!! This year's flavor was Sassy Apple.

Andrew’s favorite part: COTTON CANDY!! This year’s flavor was Sassy Apple.

Yum, yum, cotton candy treat!

Yum, yum, cotton candy treat!

Chloe being silly on Todd's shoulders.

Chloe being silly on Todd’s shoulders.

We meandered over to the petting zoo, complete with a real camel, where Chloe could have stayed all night. She loved seeing the alpacas, donkey, and of course, the camel. One of the best things about Wilmore’s shindig is running into people we know. Many of the couples who have come through my class lived in Wilmore, and I love catching up with them and seeing how much their baby has grown. Last night was no exception, and we visited with several of them, along with friends we saw from CC. Chloe especially benefitted from these chance meetings, as it meant she got to hang out with the animals even longer.

Hands down Chloe's favorite part of the evening: the animals at the petting zoo!

Hands down Chloe’s favorite part of the evening: the animals at the petting zoo!

We ran into the kids again on our way down the road to check out the rest of the town, and stopped to snap a few shots. It’s hard to get all…how many? 748?…to stand still for a simple picture.

A serious shot for the older set, but for Drewbie, it's all about the cotton candy!

A serious shot for the older set, but for Drewbie, it’s all about the cotton candy!

The happy group.

The happy group.

The rest of the evening we spent walking the streets, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather, and relishing the atmosohere. On the way home later that night, we all agreed it was worth going out to Wilmore to spend time with family and friends as we welcome December and the frivolity that goes along with it.

The crowd and the flag.

The crowd and the flag.

Chloe and I pose for a shot.

Chloe and I pose for a shot.

Near the end of the evening, Andrew just stared longingly into the Subway.

Near the end of the evening, Andrew just stared longingly into the Subway.

;

;

Welcome, December!

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