how we do christmas gifts in a large family.

I made my first Christmas purchase yesterday.  Online.  If you know me at all, you know this is a major feat, since I find clicking the 'checkout' button inexplicably paralyzing when internet shopping. It doesn't matter that I know for a fact I will be buying that exact item eventually; it doesn't matter if the item is a genuine need.  For instance, one of the kids has been dealing with a legitimate health concern for the last week and a half, and the supplements for treating it are still sitting in my amazon cart because I JUST CAN'T EVEN CHECKOUT.  I'm terrible at millennial-ing.

However, there will occasionally be some kind of major catalyst powerful enough to finalize an online purchase.  And yesterday the stars aligned, and there was 40% off at Burt's Bees on coordinating Christmas jammies in all the kids' sizes, and I just had to go for it.  And, with it being the first Christmas purchase of the season, it was simultaneously freeing and sickening.

Don't get me wrong; I love the fact that I can do all my shopping from the comfort of my own couch, and from the womb of my own jammies.  But we're not really in the habit of throwing money around willy-nilly like we live in some kind of casino cash machine.  Online shopping is already hard for me, and Christmas is especially disorienting.

So to cushion the blow, we are really intentional with gifts for the kids each year.  For instance, this year, the kids will each get one present for under the tree, one pair of jammies, a fair trade tree ornament, and a small gift for their stocking.  I'll round the stockings out with small treats and maybe a dollar bill or two, but that's really it.  That's all we do for gifts each year.  And believe me, it's plenty.  By the end of the gift-opening, the kids are all foaming at the mouth and Todd is pre-stroke.  Any more than this, and I'm pretty sure someone would end up in a coma by the end of the day.

The nice thing about keeping it simple is that each gift can be pretty well thought-out.  There are no flippant gifts in this system.  Throughout the year, I jot down gift ideas for each kid on a list I keep in the back of my planner, then I spend a couple weeks around Thanksgiving really noodling on what to get.  Then between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I watch the online sales and pounce when I can.  Our checking account doesn't make it through the holiday season completely unscathed, especially since we're giving gifts to about one million kids, but it's definitely not as bad as it could be, and I at least take comfort knowing that each gift was an intentional choice.

So anyway.  That's the system that's currently allowing us to keep gift-giving alive at Christmastime without breaking the single-income bank, or watching the kids' brains peel out over too much stuff.  What works for you guys?

what's up? (it's hardly weekly anymore.)

I hope everyone had an awesome Thanksgiving yesterday!  We are celebrating with family today, so yesterday was really low-key for us at home.  I had Lucky Charms for lunch and nachos for dinner.  Viva America.

But let's back up, shall we?  Let's back waaaay up.  I didn't post last Friday, because let's face it, I haven't posted most days in the last few weeks.  For the eight of you remaining readers, thank you for your steadfastness, grace and lack of expectation.  It will be richly rewarded with a likelihood of continued sporadic posting.  Sorry the prize isn't better.

We have started Term 2 of school, and have already taken two weeks to complete the first week's worth of work.  It's not even Christmas and I'm losing steam.  It's like the planets are aligned against me; also, I'm partly to blame.  But that's usually the case.

In order to pick up some of the slack, Todd has instituted bedtimebooktime.  Basically, the little kids get put to bed and the big two get to stay up and read for a half an hour.  Not only does it help me rack up loggable core hours, but the kids love it, and Atticus' reading skills have grown so much just over the last few weeks.

Last week, a friend texted and asked if I had checked the mail yet.  I hadn't, since I'm incredibly outside-averse, and a veritable hermit, and 99% likely at any given moment to be wearing "pajamas" (old boxers and giant, holey tshirts), so I threw on some clothes and walked the fourteen steps "in public" to the mailbox, and BEHOLD WHAT AWAITED ME.....

That, friends, is Abe Lincoln.  A GOLD Abe Lincoln.  For the CHRISTMAS TREE.  Historically, my favorite Christmas ornament has been this weird, shiny glass pickle that Todd and I bought as our first 'joint' ornament.  This Golden Lincoln is a close second to that.  My Christmas tree is full of oddities, if you can't tell.  SHINY ones.  Just how I like it.

Because of a generous early Christmas gift from my in-laws (a TV! We own a TV!  That actually mounts to the wall and everything!  We're quite the modern family), we have been reinstating family movie nights on Sundays.  The kids had been watching movies on Sundays on the regular, but between the fact that we don't all fit on the living room couch, and the fact that we only had the laptop screen to squint at, and if a single child moved their head wrong, the rest of us lost our line of vision to it, Todd and I had been making a habit of sitting at the dining room table, dinking around on social media while the kids watched their movie.  Familytastic.

So anyway.  Check it out.  We now have a basement family room - with a sofa AND a TV that are both appropriately-sized for our family.  I mean, look:  THERE IS SO MUCH COUCH THERE.  (Please ignore the rest of my spartan basement.)

Ummm, what else?

Penelope and Rocco are thick as thieves.

Laurelai has begun insisting on dressing herself, which is always a treat for the eyes.

Rocco is eating hearty and growing quickly.  I'm going to weigh him when he turns thirteen months to see just how much poundage he's gained over the last month.  He's killing it.

My hair reached noteworthy heights.  I NEED A HAIRCUT SO BAD.  Rocco clearly agrees.

Rocco can now say the word "hat," which sounds like "tuh," but I'll take it.  He loves putting anything and everything on his head and pretending it's a hat.  He struts around and makes all kinds of 'look at me' noises when he's wearing one, to make sure the hilarity never goes unnoticed.

The big kids helped me bake some Thanksgiving treats yesterday.  Every time I bake with just the big kids, I think, "We should really do this more often.  It's not that complicated!"  And then I have to load the dishwasher afterwards and I'm like, NEVAH AH-GAYYYYN.  Yesterday was no different, although at the end of it all, we had a maple-bourbon apple crisp (humminah-humminah-humminah), two pumpkin pies (regular and GF), and a whole thinger of homemade cranberry sauce.  (I'm pretty sure I'm the only one in my extended family who even likes that stuff, but it's SO GOOD.  Plus, it makes your plate so pretty and breaks up all the brown that every.single.other Thanksgiving food lends to the meal.  PLUS it's so excellent on a turkey grilled cheese the next day.  Or a Turkey Sandwich With The Moist-Maker.)

Now, off to gorge myself on the fatted calf.  I mean, turkey.  You suckers that got impatient and ate your big meal yesterday have only yourselves to blame.  I'll say a prayer for you and your lonely leftovers before I dig in today.


the redcoats are coming! the redcoats are coming! (i mean, winter. winter is coming.)

Well, it's getting to be that time of year when I need to pull out the extra blankets for the beds, and switch out the kids' summer clothes for winter clothes.  I always get bummed when the weather starts turning, since I know we're in for six months of misery before spring comes, but this year it's been a little different.  I've been tracking the difference in temperatures between here and Cedar Falls, and I'm liking what I'm seeing.  Do you want to know what the typical difference is?  Ten to fifteen degrees on any given day.  Ten to fifteen degrees.  Today's projected high is fourteen degrees warmer here than in Cedar Falls.  This is a life I could get very, very used to.

So, here it is, November 22, two days before Thanksgiving, and Atticus is wearing shorts.  Is it a good choice in mid-fifties weather?  No.  But it's a do-able choice.  It's at least possible.  He won't die of exposure.  Eat that, Iowa.

That being said, though, while it might not get as cold here, or stay cold for quite as long, I can no longer deny the fact that winter is actually coming.  I really do need to finally pull out their winter stuff.  I really, really hate this part of seasonal changes - with so many kids, it takes forever and makes a huge mess.  I do one kid at a time: I go through all the clothes they currently have in their dresser, and separate the things I want to leave in there (currently, there are a few hoodies and pairs of jeans in each kid's drawer that will stay) and I put the rest of the clothes into the laundry.  

I know it seems like overkill to wash clothing that was just in the dresser, but I'm not always able to make sure every item of clothing in there is clean.  Some things, like jeans, get worn more than once (on principle), and put back in the drawers in between wearings.  But then also the kids' shirts and socks and even undies somehow make it back in there after being worn, even though they're not supposed to.  Gross, I know, but what can I say?  This is my life right now.

So I wash their entire summer wardrobes before putting them away, because far be it from me to put unwashed clothing into a semi-airtight plastic bin to stew for the next couple of years until some subsequent kid has need of them.   Gah, can you even imagine the gore that would assault my eyes the next time I opened that bin??  So I wash and re-fold everything first.  (As though I'm not already perpetually behind on laundry as it is.)  Then I go through their appropriate bin to pull out what needs to make it into the drawer, which seems simple enough, but sometimes they're in between sizes so multiple bins are out, and I'm having them try on fourteen bajillion pairs of jeans to see which ones fit this year.  I'll also make a list of items that we still need to buy.

Now, multiply that whole process by five, and you'll see why this project will finally be done in late February, at which point I'll finally have time to pull out the warm blankets.

Whew.  We have definitely made a move in the right direction in terms of weather, but I think we just need to live someplace where it's 75 and sunny year-round.  Then I wouldn't have to deal with any of this ever.  Plus, I won't turn into a cave troll around late January like I usually do, which would also be a win.  I think the next church plant should be in Hawaii.  Who's in?

these are a few of my favorite things.

aaaaaaggggh, I'm the least productive person on the planet.  My house is a wreck, I've been a no-show around the blog, and even right this second, I'm debating whether or not I should even continue writing this post because typing and eating Lucky Charms are, by nature, mutually exclusive activities and the Lucky Charms seem to be winning the battle for my heart.

Anyway.  Let me tell you what some of my current favorites are, to hopefully stave off Lucky Charms binge for another five minutes.  And, because I like lists, here's a list of some of my (current) favorite things:

1. Children over the age of five.  Helpful, funny, more helpful.  There is no downside to a child over the age of five.  

2.  Lucky Charms.  (Well, that embargo didn't last long.)

3.  Teddy Roosevelt.  I have this terrible habit of developing crushes on dead, unattractive presidents.  Abraham Lincoln will always be my primary obsession, but a few well-written biographies on John Adams and Theodore Roosevelt have really given him a run for his money.  Sidenote, who would you say has been our best looking President to date?  Just curious.

4.   CRISSMISS.  It's coming you guys, and I'm not in denial this year.  I'm all about it.  I'm thinking about buying a knife for someone on my list.  Cross your fingers that it's you.

5.  The Parenthood series finale.  I'm a tough nut to crack.  I hate crying about dumb stuff; I don't like to get emotionally invested in fictional stories (or even real life stuff, really, because I'm not a feeler. Todd lovingly calls me a black hole of emotion).  BUT.  But but but.  The Parenthood finale kills me every time.  And I weirdly like that about it.

6.  My Vidalia Onion Chopper.  I got this as a housewarming gift when we moved into our Story City house, and I use it pretty much every time I cook because I hate cutting onions (they make me cry, and we already covered how I feel about that in #5).  It has been my lifesaver.  It finally bit the dust a couple months ago, so I had to order a new one.  I love this thing.

7.  The Barak Obama/Joe Biden memes floating around.  Almost as funny as the #mormonmafia ones going around before the election.  I love me a good political meme.

And, hands down, my least favorite thing right now:

1. Aldi keeps changing up their toilet paper.  For years, it was awesome toilet paper - soft, without being linty and gross.  But idk if they're trying to cut costs or what, but lately it keeps changing.  Sometimes it's semi-soft, sometimes it's pretty rough, and this last batch I bought is so rough it is literally stiff.  You basically have to score it with a box cutter just to fold it into a manageable size.  It's like ripping printer paper to just get a piece off the roll.  And I'm all, GET YOUR CRAP TOGETHER, ALDI.  I NEED YOU TO BE BETTER.

And that's what's hot and what's not at Chez V.V. right now.  What presidents or other favorites are you crushing on?

weekly 'what's up.'

I didn't post a weekly update last week, which means I didn't get to post photos of the kids' Halloween costumes, which means I have two weeks to catch up on today, because I can't, in good conscience, deprive you of Halloween photos of the kids.  They were SO cute.

This year totally got away from me, so we mainly recycled past years' costumes.  Atticus was a soldier, Penelope was a fairy princess, Finneas was the Hamburglar, Laurelai was a nurse (look at those tiny, adorable scrubs!), and Rocco was a tiger.

Our neighborhood is a great trick-or-treat neighborhood: very little through-traffic, and right next to a new subdivision of cul-de-sacs.  Most of the houses were incredible - handfuls of the good candy (honestly, I think we got one tootsie roll and one dum dum the entire night.  Between five kids), and the people were so friendly.  One couple even dressed up as pirates and only spoke Pirate-Talk to the kids, which they found hilarious.  

Everything was hunkydory until... this house.  From afar, I thought it was pretty cool, with pretty purple lights and music playing.  But once we got closer to the door, it was outright gory.  Bloody, dismembered bodies littered the porch, and they had this animatronic zombie demon child singing to us from the porch swing.  The yard was strewn with mutilated dummies being run over by a lawn mower.  The kids were terrified.  I asked them if they wanted to turn around and just move on to the next house (admittedly, I personally just wanted to get out of there), but they didn't want to miss out on the candy.  So then they ended up with nightmares, all in the name of a Kit Kat bar.  I hate this part of Halloween.  Why on earth do people think that's appropriate for children young enough to trick-or-treat?!  gah.  We will not be returning to this house next year.

Luckily, that was toward the beginning of the night, and everything thereafter was just fine.  The weather was beautiful - I was sweating, wearing a cardigan and leggings.  Sweating.  On Halloween.  I'll take it.

In other news, Penelope turned six-and-a-half.  She is growing up so fast, and she is so enjoyable to be around.  Seriously.  She's helpful, and funny, and full of really great songs and stories she's made up.

Rocco has started taking a bottle for some feedings.  I'm still nursing as much as I can, but it's definitely on a steep decline.  So I'm nursing and then feeding him real-food meals about three times a day, and once or twice in between he'll get a bottle of raw cow's milk.  He is bottomless.  (Though I weighed him on his birthday, and he weighed in at a whopping 16.8 pounds and is still in 3-6 month clothes.  I'm not sure where all the calories go.)

This is our last documented photo of family movie night around the tiny laptop screen.  Todd's parents were in town last weekend, and they surprised us with a TV for our basement.  It was such a thoughtful gift.  Now we have a sectional down there, which is big enough to seat all of us at once (such a novelty!), and an appropriately-sized TV that is big enough for us all to see while we're on said sectional.  We have not had a TV since we moved out of the Story City house, and our technically-three-seater couch has been outgrown for a while.  We feel like kings.  I'll post pictures soon!

Speaking of Todd's parents visiting, it was great to see them.  They spent Friday-Sunday here last weekend, partying it up for Rocco's birthday, hearing Todd preach, and hanging out.  We always love having them, and appreciate the time we get to spend with them.

The kids learned how to rake.  We have six very prolific trees in our yard, and I am markedly unmotivated to do anything about the cleanup.  So when our families were here for Rocco's party, my sister and brother-in-law headed outside with the kids and they raked the entire back yard.  The kids had a blast, and I was grateful I didn't have to do it.  This whole having-a-million-kids thing is really starting to pay off.

Penelope wrote this card for Rocco's birthday: "Dear Rocco, I hope you have a Goo Goo Ga Ga Birthday, Love Penelope."

And as a matter of fact, he DID have a goo goo ga ga birthday; thanks for asking!

And that has been our last couple of weeks!

we're on break!!

We made it!!! We finished Term 1 of our school year, and we're on break this week.  It feels good.  Actually, it feels great.  The kids have spent their extra time playing (and fighting), and I've spent my extra time working on Atticus' portfolio, getting next term's stuff printed and organized, and watching too much Parenthood.

The portfolio thing has been more overwhelming than I'd anticipated - it's just sticking a bunch of papers in a binder, right?  Well, wrong.  Not when you're Paige Van Voorst: Stickler for Organization.  I just mentally feel so mucky until there is a clear order to things.  So I have spent the large majority of this week trial-running binder divider configurations.  Yes, really.

But I think I have a workable system in place now, and it was fun to get all the pertinent stuff in there, and then sit with Atticus and go through it all.  It's only twelve weeks' worth of work, so none of it is totally ancient by any means, but it was still fun to go through and reminisce about it all.  I think I'm really going to appreciate the fact that I have to keep this kind of record for the kids.

I'm still trying to decide what to do about Penelope - whether to keep a portfolio for her this year or not.  Legally speaking, I'm not required to until next year, and it's actually a legal liability in some (weird, nonsensical) regards to have records of school work before age seven.  But she has worked so hard this year, and would love to see her work in a binder, too, so I'm thinking I might risk the liability and put one together for her.

Anyway, there's still a lot to do this week - I need to write up our weekly schedules for the next six weeks, print everything off, go through photos from the last term and send them to be printed, figure out what library books we need and put them on hold, etc. etc.  I also need to video record Atticus' verbal evaluations for Term 1 before we start up next week.

Also: Christmas shopping.  That's a different thing, I realize, but it all kind of bleeds together on the To-Do list.  I'm really hoping to get all of it done by the end of November.

And just like that, our break week is almost gone.  That was fast.

rocco's first birthday.

Our weekend was full, with lots of family coming into town to celebrate Rocco's first birthday!

Doesn't he look so much older?  It's like decades have passed before my eyes.

Apparently all the boys were in the mood to steal stuff from their grandpas.

Here's how he felt about his first bite of birthday ice cream.

Still unsure.

He came around eventually.

I was so proud of my Penelope girl.  She wanted to buy Rocco a present with the money she has earned from chores.  She had $15, which took her a long time to save, and she spent $13 of it on these outfits for him.  She was so thoughtful about her gift as we walked through Target - she didn't want to get him a toy, because she 'didn't want the usefulness to wear off as quickly,' so she chose clothes he will grow into.  Such a sweet sister.

Finneas, inspired by his sister's generosity (and the simple opportunity to experience the novelty of spending money), chose to spend his last $5 getting Rocco this toy helicopter.

In all, it was such a great day, and Rocco is so loved by so many!

happy birthday, rocco!

YOU. GUYS.  My baby is a year old today.  He is a year old.  I can't believe it.  I am shocked at how quickly the time goes.

He is brave and strong and funny.  He stands.  He takes steps.  He makes the most pathetic growling noise when he's fake-crying.  He is into EVERTHANG.  He is fast, he is smart, he is adored.

To recap for you, he was born while we were still in Cedar Falls.  He weighed a whopping NINE POUNDS, ELEVEN OUNCES.  He came out nursing well and sleeping well and just generally being the sweetest thing on God's green earth.

that is so. much. newborn.

Well, he's still the sweetest thing on God's green earth.  I am so, so grateful for him and his funny, adorable ears and his awesome dance moves.  I am so proud of everything he's already accomplished, and so excited to see what else God has in store for his life.

Happy birthday, Rocco!  We all love you so much, buddy!

"carving" "munkins."

So, like I've said before, almost every year since Todd's 27th birthday, we've carved pumpkins together as part of the birthday festivities.  Of the twelve birthdays we've celebrated together for him, there have only been one or two years that we've missed!  It's the first tradition we established as a couple, and it's been so fun to include the kids as our family has grown.

Obviously carving pumpkins with small kids around poses its own hazards: sharp carving tools + millions of curious fingers = new 'yearly trip to the ER' tradition.  So we decided instead to let the kids paint their pumpkins, while we still carve our own after the kids go to bed.

This year, I got the kids white pumpkins.  It wasn't really planned, it was just that I purchased our pumpkins on a grocery shopping trip, and I realized I wouldn't be able to fit seven huge, orange pumpkins PLUS groceries into the cart, so I opted to get Todd and myself orange ones, and got smaller white ones for the kids.  But it ended up being perfect for painting - no orange to compete or clash with the paint.  The white pumpkins look a million times better.  Lesson learned: get the white ones.

To prep for painting the pumpkins, I laid a big sheet outside, for a couple reasons: 1) our house gets very little natural light, so if we want photos to turn out well, we need to take them outside, and 2) to protect the pumpkins from getting leaves and junk stuck in the paint.

We don't have specific painting clothes for the kids.  I usually have them put an old jammy shirt on inside out, and then turn their pants inside out and call it good.  Even when I'm painting the walls in the house or something, I'm usually just wearing inside out normal-people-clothes, rather than dedicated painting clothes.  Then you just pull them off in such a way that they turn right-side-out again, trapping the paint inside, and throw them in the hamper.  Mess averted.

I mean, mess almost averted.

For the paint, I just put a few colors of tempera paint on a box lid and gave the kids generic craft paintbrushes to work with.  I don't like the sponge ones for pumpkin painting, so they used some bristle ones we had on hand.

Even Rocco got to paint his very first pumpkin!  He didn't really get super into it though, so after a few brushstrokes he was done-zo.  So Atticus finished his for him.

After that, everyone got baths (because doy) and the pumpkins got to sit outside and 'cure' overnight... in the rain.  They looked remarkably less glorious the next morning, but really, no one cares what they actually look like.  The real fun is in the actual painting, so no one got too upset to see their drippy, crackly pumpkins sitting all sad outside.  They're now sitting in front of our house, sadly greeting any and all who come visit us, and we're already looking forward to getting to do this again next year!