what's up weekly.

I feel like I've already tipped my hand this week and told you about pretty much everything we've done:  ChristmasSnow dayCallista moving to her own room.

I guess there were a few other things we fit in, if I'm scrounging for more stuff to mention.

On Friday, Penelope finished weaving her first loom project, and together we turned it into a purse.  She is so very proud!  It contains one item: an index card with our address and phone number, so she doesn't have to memorize them in order to feel better about getting lost in a store.  I have so many concerns about this whole line of reasoning, but at the end of the day, there are worse things she could keep in there.

On Saturday, I got my hair cut.  It's basically the same as it was but with a few more layers in there.  Thrilling stuff.  I'd show you a picture, but it never occurs to me to take photos of stuff like this.  So this is really titillating news, obviously.  Eventually I'll need to get a replacement straightener for the one that died a year ago, and a set of hot rollers, so that I have styling options other than just Messy Bun or Church Hair.  Why am I thirty-one years old and still gimping my way through looking presentable?

Once I got home from my hair appointment, my little Christmas Elf and I cleaned the house.  Said elf had only five dollars more to earn for the Christmas gift they were wanting to get for their siblings, so I gave them a list of over twenty jobs to help me with throughout the day to warrant such a large allowance payout.  And the work was done so well, and without a single complaint!  It was a good, productive day.

In the evening, we made soap to finish up some gift projects before we all snuggled on the couch to watch the Nativity Story.  Watching this movie together is our Christmas Eve tradition every year, though this year it got bumped up to Christmas Adam since we had guests staying the night on Christmas Eve.

Sunday morning was our Miss-Out-On-Church-Slash-House-Church-Slash-Snow-Day Day.  My family arrived in the afternoon, so we got to spend the evening eating, chatting, sewing last-minute projects, and stuffing the kids' stockings.

Then, Christmas in all its high-falutin' glory.

We took a break from school this week, so we've had ample free time.  Tuesday, Penelope busted into the Doodle Crate Atticus had gotten her for Christmas.  This girl can spend hours and hours and hours crafting.

Wednesday was fah-reezing, and we spent the morning up at the Amish, where it is consistently about three degrees colder with a higher wind chill than in town.  It was literally zero degrees out when I got to my friend Irene's house, and she was outside hanging wet laundry on the clothesline.  That is a commitment to laundry I have never been able to muster in myself.  I can barely rouse myself from the couch to go move a load from the washer to the dryer when the basement is below seventy because it's 'too cold' down there.  I apparently live a pretty cushy life.  (The acknowledgement of which doesn't change the fact that I still refuse to get a handle on the laundry.)

At least I redeemed my lazy self on Wednesday night by making homemade ham and bean soup out of the leftover Christmas ham and ham bone.  I soaked beans.  I made broth.  The soup was made entirely from scratch the way Ma Ingalls would have made it.  (Minus the fact that I used my pressure cooker.)  And all I had to show for it was a feisty kid who kept telling me it stunk too bad to eat it.  People don't tell you this, but sometimes mothers aren't appreciated as much as they feel they ought to be.

Yesterday morning, a friend of mine watched the kids in order to give me a morning to myself as a 'Secret Santa' gift.  (Since it wasn't really secret that she was my secret Santa, she ended up just being my Santa.  Which sounds way more awkward.)  I chose to spend the morning hitting up the library and the grocery store all by myself!  It was glorious.  (If you want to see what all I get on a grocery run, I did a quick Facebook video of it all.)

And that brings us to today!  I'm planning on hunkering down in our snug little house and finishing the AMAZING book I'm reading, "The Vanishing American Adult" by Ben Sasse.  I'm considering doing a whole separate post on this, but for now let me say this:  Every. Single. Person. On. The. Planet. should read this book.  Especially if you're a parent.  Or an educator.  Or a Parent-Educator.  Or an educator of parents.  But really, I'm just going to generalize and say all people on Planet Earth would be better off in life having read this book.

And that brings us into the weekend.  Play me home, Laurelai.


Well, Christmas miracles abound: we got our first snow of the season on Christmas Eve.  Everyone was pretty enamored.  At first, Rocco was relatively enthusiastic, yelling, "COAT?! Ah-SIDE?! SOCKS?! Ah-SIDE?!" when he saw the big kids getting their coats and boots on to go outside.

But then he realized that he, in fact, was not a fan of the snow.

Since that morning, he keeps looking out the window and accusing the ground of "WATER.  WATER.  WATER."  When I try to correct him and tell him it's snow, he just keeps repeating, "WATERRRRRR!"  Well, okay, sure.  I can see why you would find it scary if you think the face of the earth is covered with white water.  That's the kind of stuff plagues are made of.

The rest of the kids were big fans, though.

Finn was the first to come in, after his doggone glasses wouldn't stop doggone fogging up.  Doggonit.  That's okay.  He was comforted with a big mug of tea (read: a mug full of some warm honey that had the vague recollection of having met green tea at one point in its college days).  And then another mug of tea.  He was feeling pretty good about life at that point.

And that was our token snow day.  We are now fully ready for spring.

callista at six months. (and a big move!)

This gal turned six months old yesterday.  An entire half a year.  How on earth has it been that long already?

This is the mile marker I most look forward to during the newborn days: six months is the age where they are finally predictable.  They're well on their way to being a full-fledged adult.

Except she isn't predictable yet.  I mean, she's predictably difficult to predict, if that's a thing.  Just last week, I wrote about the fact that she finally started actually sleeping at nighttime, rather than taking play shifts like she'd been doing for months.  Well, I should have seen it coming after putting something like that in black and white, but the very next night she was up playing and chatting and wanting company from 3:30 a.m. to 7:15 a.m.  Last night, she was up at 3:30, 4:30, 5:30 and 6:30 to snack, and then up for the day at that point.  I'm worn out.

Her head is more often up than down, it seems.

So.  She is moving to her own room.  Rocco moved into the girls' room last night, and Callista moved into the nursery and spent her first night in a'big girl' bed.  (Meaning an actual crib, instead of just the bassinet insert in the pack and play.)  Todd got the nursery all cozy for me last night, setting up the monitor and moving the salt lamp in there so I have some warm, cozy light to sit by when I go in to nurse her overnight.  I'm hoping to decorate the room soon with some fresh paint, some pretty curtains, and a few things hung on the walls.

It is time for this change.  Sleep is so necessary for all of us, including her, and it's a learned skill.  It's time to start teaching her how to sleep better, so that her little mind and body have time to rest and develop, so I'm going to jump in to a bit more of a concerted effort toward sleep training. 

I'll still get up to feed her through the night, but we'll be working on stretching those feedings to happen no more often than I feed her during the day.  If she wants to cluster feed, she's going to need to do it during the day shift.  And our buttcrack-of-dawn chat sessions will be coming to an end; she's free to talk to herself, but I won't be participating in the conversation.

Anyway.  I'm all very principled about it in theory.  But like with any milestone my kiddos reach, it's a bit bittersweet.  I'm going to miss having her close by in the pack and play while we sleep.  I'm going to miss getting to doze in bed while I feed her overnight.  But there are other things I'm ready to leave behind us, and I'm looking forward to an upcoming season of a bit more sleep.

And other than sleep news, there's not much else to tell.  She is still ridiculously happy, and ridiculously beautiful, and ridiculously wonderful.  Nursing is still going really well, though she is still tiny.  She eats twice in a sleep cycle - once when she gets up from a nap, and again an hour and a half to two hours later when she's ready to go back to sleep.  Then she sleeps for 2-3 hours and starts the cycle again.  She is so alert and playful and is starting to really pay attention to toys.  Her favorite activity is kicking in the bouncy seat, and she still takes three solid naps a day.  I seriously could not be more in love with her!  And can you blame me?  LOOK HOW ADORABLE SHE IS.

Oh, LissaLou.  How we love you!

christmas weekend.

Merry (Day After) Christmas, y'all!  This weekend was so fun!

Once I finally got all the presents wrapped, that is.  Holy smokes, was that an undertaking!  And it's not even like we go overboard on gifts - each of the kids got a pair of new jammies, a book, and one other gift.  But because there are so many people in this house to give gifts to, the presents were totally out of control.  I have spent a lot of time over the course of the last few weeks wondering how moms of larger families than mine handle the chaos of gift-giving.

At least the presents looked cute!  Long live the Buffalo Check.

We woke up Sunday morning to snow, snow, lots of snow.  (Well, lots of snow for Missouri.)  As we were headed out the door to church, a gal was spinning out in her attempts to drive up our hill, so Todd went out to help push her car.  We determined at that point that it would probably be best to stay home from church - granted, it may have just been the fact that people in Missouri have no idea how to drive in the snow, but we didn't like the idea of potentially getting stuck ourselves.

So we had 'house church' by ourselves on Christmas Eve morning, singing worship songs and listening to a sermon together.  Then the kids went outside to play in the snow.

My family arrived in the afternoon and made prime rib for dinner.  After dinner, my mom helped me sew stockings for Rocco and Callista.  I would classify my own sewing skills as Slipshod and Mediocre, but my mom is a pro.  And she's gracious: I never saw her wince even once as she watched me gimp my way through the planning and execution of said stockings.

We let the kids open their jammies, according to our long-standing Christmas Eve tradition.

When they woke up the next morning, they were ready for pictures.  (Except Rocco, who took the first opportunity available to pee all over his new jammies.  So, there was that.  Imagine him in grey-and-white striped thermals.)

And then there was this festive lady in her own new jammies.

After our breakfast of bagels and locks (and discussing with my mom the merits of adding mimosas to the mix next year), the kids got down to business opening their gifts.

Atticus got Laurelai this amazing unicorn headband, which she did not remove all day.

To say there was a lot of activity there for a while is an understatement.  There was also a bit of crying, as Rocco didn't quite get the concept of more than one present: he kept getting mad at me as I tried to hand him fresh presents, as the stupid new boxes kept getting in the way of him enjoying the last present he opened.  Honestly, if only my heart was the same way: content to remain enamored with what I've already been given rather than constantly looking for the next new thing.  Either way, whether his intentions in it were noble or not, it resulted in a lot of growling at me for a bit.

Our living room is not large, and between cramming thirteen people and all the gift shrapnel, it was a bit claustrophobic there for a while.

Callista was an enthusiastic fan of the hat my mom made her.

Then we all sat down for lunch.

After lunch, the menfolk finished assembling the trampoline my mom got for the kids.  I am so in love with this thing.  After only two minutes spent jumping, Finneas was full-on breathless.  I think I'm going to like his blurry little form having an indoor outlet for all the winter wiggles.

And that was our very merry Christmas weekend!  What was the best part of Christmas at your house?

what's up weekly.

Well, for once in my life, I can say there's virtually nothing to report this week!  We have done zilch-o.  I mean, as much as we're capable of doing zilch-o and still being alive.

We're all finally healthy, so we actually got to go to church together!  I was a little skittish putting the kids in nursery and taking the risk of bringing fresh new germs home with us, so we all sat in service together.  (That is, until Rocco just got downright loud, so I did take him up there eventually.)

Last weekend, I finished making the last Christmas gifts on my list - and while I have photos of me making them, I can't share yet for obvious reasons.  I still have to sew stockings for Rocco and Callista, so those are still on the 'To Make' list in the next couple of days.

I also finished wrapping gifts, which was a major feat.  First of all, my kids are always here, so there's never an entirely safe time to work on getting everything wrapped up.  Second of all, there were so many presents to deal with.  Not that we're into giving inordinate numbers of gifts; each kid only received three to put under the tree, but still - that ends up being a lot of presents to wrap.  So I'm grateful that part of Christmas prep is over.

Beyond that, we've had very few out-of-the-ordinary events.  The college students are all home on break, so I didn't have any of my regular meet-ups.  We did have a friend over for dinner one night, and a gal from my Connection Group came over for the afternoon yesterday.  We also attended the Christmas party for Anthem staff and elders.

Otherwise, it's been chill and normal.  We've gotten a decent amount of school in, which I'm grateful for, and we've been keeping up with the house for the most part, even though Christmas detritus is everywhere.  One of the kids has been working extra jobs to pay for Christmas gifts, so the house is actually less dusty and sticky than it normally is, which I consider a win.  And best of all, Callista did not spend any nights awake for no reason! While she still woke up to eat, there was not a single stretch of unnecessary middle-of-the-night playtime, which makes this the first week in probably four or five months that that has been the case.  Knock on wood for me that this pattern hangs around!

four things to give your kids if they're driving you crazy.

I'm going to shoot you straight: parenting is hard.  Shocker, right?  I'm going to shoot you straighter: we have a lot more power over how hard parenting actually is than we sometimes like to admit. 

First of all, we can make things harder on ourselves by actively doing things to shoot ourselves in the foot, like talking negatively about our kids or our circumstances.  Granted, I'm no proponent of being fake (which should be apparent if you've read the blog for any length of time), but I also am concerned with how readily many parents will air their kids' annoying quirks, habits or sin struggles as though they are somehow a victim of having to deal with their kids' behaviors. 

I have a whole blog post stewing in my head about this, but for now I'll leave it at this: you may have to choose to stop allowing a victim mindset to steal joy (and ease) from your parenting.

Second of all, we can make things harder on ourselves by avoiding or forgetting about a few simple things we can give our kids that make it easier for our sinful hearts to love them.

1. Give them a bath.

Clean kids are easier to love, it's scientific fact.  No one wants to get snuggly with a kid with a crusted-over nose, or a poopy diaper.  If you're finding yourself wanting a little space from your kid, ask yourself if they could be cleaner.  Could their hair stand to be brushed (or cut better)?  Could their popsicle-stained shirt stand to get thrown away and replaced?  Could their teeth stand a good brushing?  A clean, relatively well-kempt kid is so much easier to love.  Do them a favor and give them a bath.

2.  Give them a hug.

Some kids act like turds when they need a hug.  Frequently, the last thing on the radar is to try snuggling with a prickly little porcupine, but sometimes they're least huggable when they're most in need of a hug.  If you're finding yourself wanting a bit of distance from a wily kid, ask yourself when the last time was that you got down on their level, looked in their face, and gave them a hug.  You could save yourself so many discipline issues by just hugging them more.

3.  Give them a spank.*

Not as a cure-all across the board, obviously.  Be discerning and compassionate.  But I find that I get most exasperated with my kids when I haven't been diligent or consistent enough in disciplining them.  I think I'm doing them a favor by overlooking their sin issues, or saving myself the headache of having to train them yet again, but those little things become more frequent and more glaring the longer they go unchecked.  It is no favor to anyone to ignore things that should be addressed.

4.  Give them a nap.

An exhausted kid is an exasperating kid.  In fact, my main parenting goal up through age six is to provide them as much opportunity for playtime and sleep as possible.  Playing and sleeping are a kid's main jobs when they're that little.  They can be trusted to play as much as they need to if given free rein in their own lives, but providing ample opportunities to sleep is a parent's job to navigate.  If a kid is being super annoying or losing his mind, he might need a nap.  Even if he's 'too old.'  Even if he 'won't sleep.'  Stick him in his bed anyway - the rest and the quiet are good for him, even if he doesn't fall asleep.

There you go.  Four things we as parents can be doing more to make our jobs easier.  It is not on our kids to be less frustrating, it is on us to set them up for success.

*Encouraging spanking is controversial.  I know this.  If you recoil at the word 'spank,' you are likely not calling to mind an interaction like the one I'm referring to.  Just to be clear: I am not condoning or promoting thoughtless bullying on the part of parents that flies under the banner of 'spanking.'  That's lazy parenting, and it's wicked, and it has no place in a God-fearing, Christ-honoring household.  For further clarification on what I mean, please watch this video in which I detail what discipline looks like at our house and why we discipline this way, or pick up the following books:

wrapping their gifts.

(I apologize in advance for the terrible lighting.)

The kids spent some time the other night wrapping their gifts for one another.

Four of the kids bought presents for everyone, which meant a lot of gifts to wrap.  I was a little overwhelmed with the idea of wrapping them all - to use paper meant so. much. work.  To use individual gift bags meant so. much. money.

So we used brown paper lunch bags with some mini bows I found at Target.  They were able to assemble them with a little help.  First, they put each present in a bag, followed by a sheet of tissue paper.   Then, I stapled the bag closed.  (I'm a realist: these things will be sitting under the tree for the next week, and it's really only a matter of time before someone tries to peek.)  Then the kids wrote out tags and stuck on a bow - each kid has their own color of bow, which will make things much less confusing on Christmas morning!

Since we picked everything out online instead of trying to venture into the store to do our shopping, I just ordered it all in one big order, which meant the kids needed to pay me for the gifts they purchased, so we spent some time counting money and making change.

I am just loving the excitement I'm seeing develop in them as they discover the joy of giving.  They're so excited for their siblings to receive the gifts they've chosen and wrapped and worked hard to save up for.  They are finding genuine delight in being generous, and I get the privilege of a front-row seat!

has mothering six kids made me an expert? (full disclosure on my life right now.)

I'm not going to lie to you; I'm floundering a bit.  Maybe this feeling happens to me every December, and maybe it's just weather-related or busyness-related, but maybe, too, this is different.  I'm not sure.

Over the last six months, I've just felt like I'm in over my head.  Six kids is a lot of kids.  It definitely feels like more than five kids.  (I had assumed it wouldn't, really.)  I can't just glance down and immediately know whether I have them all, for one thing.  I have to do constant head-counts, but by the time I get to #6, someone has wandered off and I have to start all over again.

What's more, the older kids are getting older.  I don't know how to parent older kids!  I barely know how to parent little kids.  So I find myself second-guessing myself constantly - how do I handle this situation?  How do I discipline for that?  How do I encourage them to see this through a Biblical lens - and how often do I have the same conversation over and over and over before I can feel justified in getting exasperated?  Do kids in other families this size fight this often?  At what point will I ever get a handle on yelling at them?  And how can I possibly expect them to control their anger when I can't control mine?

And then, with Callista still being so young, there are the old questions that have to be answered afresh with every baby:  When do I move her to her own room?  Will she feel anxious when I do?  Am I emotionally ready?  When do I start inserting myself into her feeding schedule more forcefully and putting a kaibosh on the every-two-hours routine we have going through the middle of the night?  Is she getting enough to eat?  How would I know if she wasn't?  How hard to I feel like working to keep my milk supply up if it drops, and how will I know if it does?  Do I spend enough time with her?


What makes all of this harder is the fact that I figured I'd have all the answers by now.  I assumed that, by the time I had six kids, I'd know my way around parenting well enough.  But lately I find myself with more questions than I've had since Atticus was born and I was brand new at this.  I find myself feeling just as overwhelmed and confused as I felt then.

There are a few major differences between then and now: first of all, when I first became a parent, everyone knew I was clueless.  No one was looking to me for answers.  Now, I sometimes feel like a fake: I have so few answers.  I don't have anything figured out.  How can I possibly dole out parenting advice when I'm really just learning as I go, and honestly feeling like many days' successes are more a result of crossed fingers than anything else?  The questions are there, and I do my best to field them if I can, but I feel like anything but an expert.

Second of all, I don't know personally know many women who have gone before me in this way.  When Atticus was first born, I literally knew hundreds of women who had had a baby before.  If I had humbled myself more at the time, I could have received wisdom and advice from countless moms who were farther along in the exact same journey I was in.  Now, I feel like the pool has shrunk. 

I'm grateful for the friends I have with older children than mine, and I'm trying my hardest to lean in and learn.  But I personally know only three moms with at least as many kids as I have, none of whom live closer than four hours away.  It seems like the actual number of kids someone has shouldn't matter to me, but it does.  First, in terms of solidarity.  They 'get' this life.  Second, in terms of logistics.  I have so many questions about how to deal with certain discipline issues or personality combinations, or how to juggle the weight of appointments and track curriculum loads and balance one-on-one time on this scale.  Just like in those early new-mom days, I wish I had someone to just walk me through all of this step-by-step, like a real, live YouTube tutorial on Parenting the Large Family.  But obviously, that can't exist, because anyone with that many kids doesn't have the time to parent me, too!

So I would say this season has been marked by a distinct feeling of incompetence, which is probably, if I'm being honest, my deepest fear and strongest aversion.  I just hate not knowing what I'm doing.  I am finding God's grace in this place, and the humility that he is teaching me is so good, and so necessary, and so freeing, but it isn't easy for me to simply take things one day at a time and hope it is all enough when it feels nowhere close to enough.

So, really, at the end of the day, I feel mostly confused, and I'm learning to feel grateful.  Confused by every single stinking thing parenting throws my way each day, and so grateful that I have a Heavenly Father with all the answers.  A Father who's juggling tons of kids.  A Father who promises me wisdom and rest when I come to him for these things.  A Father who guarantees I will never be enough - and that I was never meant to be.  He has everything in his good, capable, competent hands, and the only thing he wants me to know is humility.  It's so good to be a child in his household.

who was down for the count this week. ly. (and atticus' ninth birthday party.)

Well, I'm going to shoot you straight: this week was basically a bust.  Everyone's been sick, we've been laying low, and I'm glad it's Friday.  I'm ready for next week's fresh start!

We were planning on heading up to Iowa last Friday to spend the weekend celebrating Atticus' birthday with my family.  But Friday morning, Callista was running a high fever and had a deep chest cough.  Once she projectile vomited all over me, I knew we couldn't make the four-hour drive.  So we stayed home.

Unfortunately, Atticus missed out on a birthday party last year, so all our eggs were in the basket of this year's party.  There was some major disappointment we had to wade through (mostly on Penelope's part, for some reason), but eventually everyone saw the advantage of staying home.  So we put out the camo tablecloth, picked up tacos and cupcakes, and made a day of it.  It actually ended up being really fun, not including the fact that Rocco and Callista were sick and pretty miserable all day.

Sunday, the kids and I stayed home from our church's Christmas production, which ended up being a good thing, since I started puking around lunchtime.  Then Callista and I stayed up all night long while I rocked her in the Ergo and watched hours and hours of Netflix to stay awake.

Monday, the kids had a doctor's appointment and Callista started her first-ever round of antibiotics, which broke my heart a little.  We had to cancel dinner plans with friends that night, and the next night we missed out on Anthem's Member Celebration, which would have been a bummer on a normal night, but especially this week - a sweet couple we love got engaged at the event! 

Wednesday seemed like a relatively good day:  Everyone seemed to be on the mend, health-wise, so we did our normal Wednesday stuff: Amish in the morning, college gal in the afternoon.  I even got a chance to walk on the treadmill for a bit and take a shower before we had dinner guests over.  Wednesday was definitely the high point of the week.

But then Todd came down with a cold, and a friend who was going to watch the kids for us last night so we could go on a date also came down with a cold, so our date was canceled.  And now my neck is spasming and I have what seems to be a developing ear infection.  So Todd and I spent last night candling my ear.  Sexy.

Luckily these kids are cute and a total bright spot in my life.

Penelope's been saving up her money to buy Christmas gifts later this month, so she hand-made a paper police officer as a birthday gift.

I would apologize for how blurry this photo is, but most photos of Finneas are blurry, since he's always on the move.  I'm actually surprised he's this in-focus for once.

Well, there you have it.  If ever there was a morale-crushing week, this was it.  Luckily, I have a nail appointment (re)scheduled for tomorrow morning, so there's at least a prize waiting for me at the end of it all!  Here's to hoping next week shapes up to be a bit easier, and that we all stay healthy from here on out, or this could shape up to be a loooong winter.