Pause

Tuesday accidentally turned into “everything in a day” on the calendar. After an early breakfast I ran Annie to the hospital for blood work. That child is strong; it took four people. Then we handed off keys in the driveway so The Man could take Jack to therapy, then handed off again so I could take Annie to a different therapy, all before lunch.

In between appointments I helped the girls make a tent under the crabapple trees, then pulled out some colored pencils and paper for them.

After half an hour Daddy and Jack pulled into the driveway, the biting gnats found us, and we were back to our busy day. If this photo had audio there’d be a toddler chanting “WIW YOU DWAW ME A PINK BABY?” over and over as the other kids begin to scatter and she senses an unattended parent. Our life is rarely as serene as the photos look but it’s a good one.

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Eating Outdoors

Winters here are long and hard. In summer, we soak up the good weather.

We try to live seasonally as a family. One way we embrace summer is by eating outdoors. However, it’s time-consuming to haul booster chairs and trays in and out for every meal, and squeezing into the kids’ picnic table or balancing plates on our laps gets old. A few weeks back we found a nice outdoor table, chairs, and bench for a steal on a local Facebook sale page. Our house has a nice deep porch on a hill that always catches a breeze so we’ve been eating out there rain or shine for three meals a day ever since.

Berries from our woods, basil and zucchini from the garden, mititei, and juicy summer tomatoes with fresh mozzarella.

Picnics are also working well for us this summer. Last summer picnics were still…not remotely fun. Little children constantly slipped off the benches or kicked over dishes on the picnic blanket, food went flying, toddlers dumped drinks on themselves, preschoolers bolted toward danger, and the parents longed for home. What a difference a year makes. We grab something easy like good thick bread, butter, cold cuts, fruit, and cheese, then head to a park after naps. There’s time for the kids to play, a supper with no cooking and easy cleanup, a walk, then home to put tired children to bed. Another easy picnic option when we’re unprepared is packing water bottles then pulling through the grocery store for some fruit and a pre-made sub sandwich to split. It’s cheaper and healthier than takeout but prep-free on our end.

Martha Stewart is so jealous right now.

Eventually cold weather will come again. On bitter days when darkness falls by mid-afternoon we’ll be happy to eat inside by candlelight. For now, we’ll revel in summer.

Jenny Turns Three

Jenny turned three earlier this month. Barnes & Noble sent her a coupon for a free birthday cupcake so we kicked off her celebration early with a mother-daughter trip to the bookstore. She was a little bewildered at first but warmed up to the idea after her first bite of chocolate cupcake. Reading (and her shoes) are her great loves so we gulped down stacks of books in the children’s area along with time at the train table. She basked in the undivided attention and beamed the whole time.

In our house the birthday kid picks the food for the day and wakes up to a decorated dining room. We started her actual birthday with donuts for breakfast plus squeezie packs of applesauce. Individually packaged anything is a big treat around here because Mom and Dad are cheap! After breakfast we hit a favorite park to burn off all that sugar energy.

We ordered pizza for lunch on the way home, and at the last minute called my Mom and asked if she wanted to stop by for lunch with us. Annie does not do well with crazy days or big events but we were glad Grandma could stop in for an hour to make things a little bit extra special. Jenny loves Thomas the Train so we had Thomas plates and some of our trains out on the table for decorations. Easy-peasy. Our oven’s been on the blink so the cake came from a local French bakery. It was fabulous. I hope our oven breaks again for the next birthday to give me an excuse! Unlike last year, when she couldn’t yet chew, she knew exactly what to do with her cake and ice cream this time!

Jenny loved her gifts – her new schoolbus and Daniel Tiger trolley were big hits. This is the first time we’ve done party favors. We’d hoped they would distract the siblings from the birthday kid’s toys but not surprisingly, since they’re only four, four, and one, they were hard to pull away. We eventually shooed them up to nap to give Jenny a little predator-free time with her new toys before bed.

After the kids’ naps, afternoon snack, and a little time playing in the yard we took a long family walk. The Man and I actually had a dinner to attend that night (we forgot that date was Jenny’s birthday when we penciled it into the calendar) but it’s just as well since at that point all four kids had taken in just about all the birthday excitement they could handle.

We left a screen-less window open during our walk and came back to a surprise: a chickadee in the house.

A few days after Jenny’s birthday some relatives were able to meet up at a local ice cream shop for a last-minute low-key family party. It was the simplest party – singing Happy Birthday and eating ice cream. Completely relaxing and fun. The kids ran around in the warm weather, the adults got to talk, and who doesn’t love ice cream? It’s an ideal birthday celebration for Annie to attend, too, as she (and her parents) didn’t have to deal with the stress of gifts. She has a hard time even when the gifts are for her. Skipping them at Jenny’s party let all of us relax.

We loved our time in the Army, but after so many years away it’s a treat to have so much family nearby – the Man’s dad and step-mom, his sisters, two sets of my grandparents, my parents, and one of my brother’s with his wife and son all live with an hour and a half of our home. We even get to see the Man’s mom from Canada more frequently since she’s only one flight away now instead of an extended trip with two flights and layover. The Man’s side of the family was too busy with school and work to be able to meet up during Jenny’s birthday week (his own twin sisters had their birthday that week too) but it’s still great to have them close enough for afternoon visits, holidays, or quick weekend trips.

Our sweet Jenny had a great birthday week. What a joy this kid is! We’ve loved watching her growth and emerging personality this year. She is the easiest, sweetest, most happy-go-lucky kid and completely skipped the terrible twos. We often joke that it’s a good thing she wasn’t our first child; we’d have thought we were wonderful parents, not realizing that if you’ve had one child you’ve…had one child. I think the results of parenting are about 25% parenting effort and 75% whatever personality your kid popped out of the womb with! This year Jenny has progressed from a very quiet laid-back baby into a more boisterously cheerful toddler with a zany personality. She likes to crack jokes and run in circles around the house singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite!” at the top of her lungs. I could count her tantrums on one hand. While she’s a sinner like the rest of us and sometimes tries to snatch a sibling’s toy she’s also incredibly kind and tender-hearted. When she sees a sibling crying she’ll often take off like a shot and return with their favorite toy. She’ll hug and pat her baby sister when she’s upset (a gesture the baby sister does not always appreciate!) and is quick to share. She’s very sensitive to other’s emotional distress – even a sad page in a picture book will make her cry or bury her face. She’s also very sensitive to correction from us and will sometimes burst into tears when we tell her “no” – not because she’s mad, but because she’s sad to have displeased us. Her favorite things on earth are her shoes and reading books, closely followed by cars, bikes and strollers, slides and swings, puzzles, baby dolls, and Daniel Tiger. She graduated from feeding therapy two months ago. After almost three years of therapy she can finally eat normal foods and drink from a cup like the rest of the family. That was her last therapy, and she’s otherwise very healthy and completely typical for her adjusted age – pretty amazing for a kid born 3.5 months early! She’s started hiking on her own legs a lot this year and is incredibly wiry and strong. She’ll do pullups on the park equipment for fun, and is constantly climbing up the fridge or onto the counter to get at the (forbidden sink) or swinging from the underside of the table. We call her the tree frog. She’s a snuggler and especially loves cuddling in on my lap with Josie for the little girls’ end of day story time. She loves playing with her big brother and sister, especially riding bikes around the house with Jack and reading books or singing with Annie. She’s highly social after an initial burst of shyness and often makes friends at the playground and charms guests. What a gift this sweet girl is to all who know her!

 

Campfire Nights

The Man often comes up with fun variations on our regular routine. I can get into “systems mode” where I keep doing things the same way just because change sounds exhausting. Habits are helpful, but only when they don’t keep our family from better things. Case in point, The Man came home from the grocery store a couple of weeks ago with hot dogs and fixings and suggested we let the kids roast hot dogs over a campfire for dinner. My internal monologue went “Gah! It’s so much extra work! We have to haul everything outdoors. We have to build a fire. The kids always try to climb into the fire so it’s stressful for the parents. They’ll smell smoky and need baths. I just want to have a routine dinner and put the kids to bed so I can get some rest!” Externally I said “Okay.” He was right, of course. The kids were over the moon with joy, and we all had a great time. They’ve matured a great deal since last fall, so we did not spend the entire time chasing children off the edges of our fire pit.

After dinner we invited our next door neighbors over for s’mores. Like us they are Christians, have four kids and do a mix of private school and homeschooling. We love chatting with the parents. Their teenage son mows our lawn, their teenage daughter sometimes babysits for us, and their younger two happen to be adopted just like our kids. The twins worship the ground they walk on. Jack (4) frequently tells us that he will marry their youngest daughter when he grows up.

Asking folks over for s’mores by the campfire is my favorite form of hosting friends. There’s no advance tidying, no food to prep, and after you gather up the chocolate wrappers and put away the chairs cleanup is done. My other favorite easy hosting option is breakfast or brunch. We stick with a simple meal like waffles cooked at the table, fruit salad, and bacon or sausage cooked in the oven (switched to eggs when we had Muslim friends over, of course!). Baked french toast would be another great option. Our kids are often in their best moods in the morning, and everyone likes breakfast foods. In addition, guests don’t have to wait around for an hour and a half when we transition straight from dinner to bedtimes for cranky little kids. Welcoming a mom for tea or coffee is another easy one. This summer we’d like to make a big batch of lemonade and cookies or watermelon and just have neighbors over to chat on the porch. What are your favorite simple ways to be hospitable without over-complicating things?

We repeated the meal a week later and plan to continue the fun over the summer. We’d like to add in other campfire cooking options like dutch oven/foil packet meals or bratwurst.

Fireside

It may be spring, but most days are still gray and drizzly with a blustery chill that seeps in around the windows. We’re making frequent fires in the fireplace to cozy up the house before the nights become too warm. Last night the Man suggested pushing back the couches and moving the table into the living room for a fireside dinner.

Our vent fan is out of order so dinner itself was all simple oven-friendly or raw foods – salad, roasted chicken thighs, and quick homemade biscuits. Bless whichever previous owner planted daffodils all through our yard and woods. I’m forcing forsythia blossoms on the mantel and keeping cheery daffodil bunches on the table for meals. As soon as the marauders  kids are released after dinner the flowers go back up to a safe high shelf. Decorating magazine dreams and small children are not easy friends.

Our current read-aloud is Charlotte’s Web. I usually try to keep a chapter book going with the kids. Last night we read a bit more after dinner. It’s largely over the little ones’ heads, but the twins are at the age where they can track with chapter books and enjoy stories with fewer pictures. Jack, especially, listens closely and leads his siblings through all kinds of imaginative play scenarios inspired by our reading. Little House on the Prairie led to lots of wagon rides and playing in the cabin. We’re also reading through a children’s Bible with the kids right now. The other week, Jack announced he was going hunting, disappeared into the mudroom, then emerged with an imaginary bowl of soup for me a la Jacob and Esau. I’m not sure what birthright he was trying to trick out of me; he’s already the eldest.

I’m eager for warm weather, hiking, and swimming but I’ll miss cozy evenings cuddling babies by the fire and reading with the Man after the kids are in bed.

The saying “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” originated in New England and became popular during World War II. In theory I believe in it. However, we live in a disposable culture. Replacements are cheap and easy to obtain. Often, I don’t take the time to fix something myself. Sometimes that’s based on a dollars-time analysis. For example, my kids wear through their pants at a spectacular rate. Do I patch the knees on four pairs of pants for an hour, or do I spend that hour grabbing four more $2 pairs of kids’ jeans from the thrift store? Usually my instinct is to mend more expensive long-term adult clothes, and replace the kids’ clothes I bought for fifty cents with new (used) fifty cent items. The blog Thrift at Home has me rethinking that approach lately. Even if it hadn’t, there are certain things that are irreplaceable. Exhibit A: Annie’s beloved and tattered bear.

We give each of our kids a stuffed Jellycat animal and a board book for their first Christmas. Annie’s bear has led a rough and tumble life since then. She chews on his nose and paws for comfort, drags him from room to room, and pillows her head on him every night and nap. He’s been rolled in the mud, splattered with food and hair products, crammed in small spaces, poked with sharp instruments, and dropped in the tub, toilet, and sink.

One evening last week Annie let loose a howl of despair followed by wails of “Mommy! Mommy! MOMMMMMYYYY!” Bear’s much chewed paw had finally given way, followed by a significant chunk of stuffing. Somewhere between our last home and this house my box of scraps went missing so I let Annie pick between The Man’s ink-stained khaki pants and an old stained and fraying shirt from the outgrown basket. She picked the floral shirt. I restuffed bear with old pantyhose and handstitched a new paw in place. I also grabbed a skein of brown embroidery thread and restitched Bear’s chewed-off nose. I had to make it a little wider than the old nose thanks to the width of the chewed off area.

I haven’t done any significant sewing since the move. It was fun to do a little something with my hands. And, of course, Annie is delighted to have her best buddy back in her arms.

 

Toddler-ing

“Did you make a big mess?”

“No!”

It’s hard to claim plausible deniability when the evidence is still trickling in a steady oatmeal waterfall off your shoulder.

Luckily the floor had just been mopped and oatmeal requires cooking anyhow so we were able to salvage most of it. Also luckily, she’s cute. Less luckily, she’s developing a mullet.

This bad picture thrown in only to demonstrate that we’ve finally found a solution for Little Baby No Pants. Her ditch-the-pants hobby wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t still chilly out. As it is she yanks them off, then starts crying because she’s cold. All. Day. Long. We finally put leggings on under her onesie, then snapped it over them. Let’s just pretend it’s an intentional ballerina in a (mismatched) leotard look. I don’t know what we’ll do if she figures out how to unsnap her onesie – duct tape?