Thursday, May 26, 2016

Random Round Up {phfr}

A round up of some of the random pieces of life around here...


The lilac season is just about over but the bush near our house had a lot to give this year.  They don't last long cut but they make the house smell amazing!


Sunshine and babies and bubbles

The three older boys are part of a cross country team with our homeschool group.  The older ones run 1.8 miles and the littler group runs one.  It's really relaxed and low key which I appreciate.  They've been getting better and better at each race and we were so proud when David finished the whole thing last race after not being able to the first two races!

Happy baby loves a swing (hence that birthday gift the boys made for him!)


And loves playing in the grass and discovering all the new things.  Also doesn't mind wearing 14 year old hand me downed hats.  (Was 2002 really that long ago??)

Michael and David are both playing baseball this year and David lives up to his namesake.  He is small but fierce.  Seriously, he is like the tiniest thing out there but he more than makes up for it in his enthusiasm.  It's hysterical.  He dives at each base whether or not the ball is anywhere near him.

We've also reached the stage with this one of diaper changes being a wrestling match.  I grab the closest thing I can to give him something to distract from grabbing parts or writhing away.  Last change I grabbed this Mary statue I got in Africa that was nearby and kissed it and handed it to him.  He then started kissing her, too <3 


For Mother's Day I asked that if possible the boys and Brian mulch the front and side beds.  That's all I really wanted and they did it for me the day before.  It was so nice and freeing to be real, just say plainly what I was hoping for, have them do it the day before, and then not have any unrealistic expectations or pressure for Mother's Day.  I don't much care for some of the ways that Mother's Day has morphed, maybe I'm a weirdo, but it was really a grace to just have it simple and to truly appreciate the gift.

Hope you're having a beautiful day!  

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

New Carpet Smells Like Kindness

We got our first ever carpeting installed today in two bedrooms.  I know.  Carpet is definitely not my thing.  In the three houses we've owned, we spent many hours ripping out carpet, much preferring the look and farmhouse authenticity and cleanability of wood floor.  But we'd like this house to be marketable and while we have no immediate plans to move, there is a freedom I feel when a house feels "ready" to go should God give us a nudge.   And while *I* thought the painted (extra extra) rustic subfloor was quaint and Pottery Barnesque (or at the very least tolerable), most other people probably wouldn't agree.  So after much angst and sticker shock and hemming and hawing I finally picked one out and it was (finally) installed today in about an hour.  

Once the crew left the boys dropped to the floor and rolled and tackled and did carpet angels and marveled in what seemed to their virgin carpet skin as the most decadent luxury despite my cheap lower grade selection.  And as soon as I inhaled that new carpet smell that filled our upstairs (even before wondering just how toxic it might probably be) a strong memory of my childhood triggered and filled my mind and heart.

We lived in an old farmhouse.  Like old old.  When we moved in there was still an outhouse in the backyard.  My parents had gotten a deal because it was such a fixer upper and needed to be completely rehabbed.  But it enabled them to move their current five kids from the city to the suburbs where there were yards and gardens and safer places to play.  I was one year old and don't remember much of the beginning years.  But I do remember something that happened at about eight or nine years old.  The floors of that place were rough rough unfinished old wood.  I remember the slivers we would get and the weekly needle surgeries on tiny punctured feet.  I remember how cold the house was and how tight the money with now seven kids on a truck driver's salary.  We made it okay and we certainly weren't in poverty (though I bet we would now be considered so) but things like new floors or carpet were never even thought of as an option.  

But then someone somewhere anonymously gifted our family with a certificate to cover brand new carpeting for our downstairs.  Anonymously.  Hundreds of dollars worth of carpet.  For some reason it was installed late at night which is really weird now that I type that out but it certainly added to the mysteriousness of the whole situation.  My mom had picked out a variegated brown sculpted number (eighties) and as the crew unrolled and measured and stapled, the distinct strong smell of new carpet filled the house.  And the first thing we did when the crew left late in the night was to roll and tackle and do carpet angels and marvel at how luxurious (and mysterious!) it was.  It's amazing how a smell can bring you right back.

I'm not sure what my point is in writing this all out except that I'm grateful for that anonymous person who wanted to do something kind for a struggling family with seven kids in an old cold sliver-filled farmhouse.  We never did find out who it was but their act of kindness and generosity left an impression on that young girl's heart.  She learned a little bit about what it means to love, to be kind, and to give without expecting anything in return.  The warmer and less wounded feet were a gift but even more so was the lesson in generosity and in true "do not let your left hand know what your right is doing" charity.

Today I said a prayer for that person.  Whoever they are, wherever they are, I hope they felt it.  Their generous selfless gift that they probably don't even remember lives on some thirty years later in the heart of a little girl who experienced their kindness.  As I inhaled that new carpet smell again, I remembered the joy of such a gift and the beautiful lesson in love we received that night.  I remembered that beautiful generous people in the world have always been around and that the purest gifts of all are the ones without any strings attached.  I hope and pray I can live the same way.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Just Because We Can

We needed a day off.  As much as I felt compelled to go all hard hammer mom and push more lessons and make sure all the chores were done (they never ever seem to be done lately) and drill sergeant them into submission, I fought the urge.  We haven't been enjoying each other these last few days and while my first instinct is to try to fine tune and problem fix, there are times when I've learned that the answer (or at least a coping mechanism) is to take a step back and have the day off and remember, at least a little, why I'm doing this all in the first place.  Besides, these glorious May days when the sun is shining and the parks are virtually empty can't go unused.  That's one of the best perks of homeschooling, I say I believe.  The freedom to seize the better even if it's not in the plans.  So instead we had a just because we can sort of day.  

We went to Mass and then headed to one of our favorite local parks.

There were only a few other people and the boys had a ball climbing the rocks and playing chase and throwing rocks in the pond and trying to lure the ducks.

I could hear them squealing and playing and saw them running full speed down hills and climbing tall ravines and resisted the urge to tame them.

The sun shone down and it was good.

This guy hung back with me and soaked it all in.

It's prooobably not all that virtuous that May is one of my favorite months as a homeschooler because the weather is (or should be) glorious and (if I can peel myself away from the tasks) we get the parks and neighborhood to ourselves.  The schools don't get out here until late June.  

The other things and tasks are important, yes, but so is this.  Playing, wading, climbing, yelling, exploring, being free.

I wish I had all the time and energy in the world to give to each one of these boys.  But God makes up for what I can't give.  I trust in that.

We snacked at the park and then I found out that my brother-in-law's food truck was right in the area which was clearly divinely inspired for our just because we can day.

But first I forced them casually took some pictures of all of them.  If I give you a day off of lessons, you can give me a few smiles...

"No knowing where we're headed next until you smile like you mean it!"

A better spot and you can barely see the coercion ;)  Kinda kidding.  They're not too bad but I definitely don't feel guilty about using the promise of fried wontons to get them to smile for a nice picture.  That's totally not bribing.  Not at all.  It's incentive.

We stopped and shared some treats from the truck before heading home.  Then later I got to visit with a friend before we ate dinner and headed back out to a baseball game for Michael.  We may or may not have used up some of the saved concession tokens we had for an ice cream splurge.  (May.)  

I know now that it's naive to think that one simple little splurge of a day will make everyone's attitudes perfect and vices disappear (not that I still don't hope) but at the very least these days give us a bit of a break from the grind.  If I let them, they remind me why I put in the work and time that I do with these little people that I've been loaned.  They give all of us a chance to take a step back and realize that while lessons and school have their place, so do waterfalls and parks and soaking in the sun and simply taking a day off to just embrace the gifts and freedom we've chosen.
Just because we can.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Ben Babe Is One!

I know everyone says it, but it's flown.  Our Ben baby turned one yesterday on Trinity Sunday!  I can hardly believe that it's been a full year since that crazy day when we met this beautiful boy.  What a gift he's been to our family.  We were blessed with a sunny day and we celebrated simply.  

Brian and the boys put together a little swing for him as his gift which he's going to love this summer.

And we all decided that his cake should have a smiley face so I made it a simple smiley sunshine cake.

We sang and he did what every other one of my boys has done when their first cake was put in front of them - pick at it somewhat confusedly, take a small bite, and just kinda play with the rest.  But tradition, right?

Crazy post nap hair don't care

Two of the older boys also made him some cards that he really appreciated and treasured (or tried to crumple up and eat) ;)

I'll save the excessive emoting for now but suffice it to say that it is there, filling my heart and mind with confusion and wonder and gratitude and bittersweetness and joy that this little man is ours and that he's already so big.  Just a few weeks ago I referred to him as a newborn...sooo yeah.  Clearly, this time thing does move faster the older you get.

We love you, sweet baby.  I hope you always know what a gift you are to our family.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Can a Child Outgrow Hirschsprung's?

This is kind of a niche post, I know.  But I write it for that person who may be dealing with a possible Hirschsprung's diagnosis for their child and who may be googling just this question desperately looking for an answer as they try to figure out what to do.  

If you're new here (or just don't remember), our third born David was diagnosed with Hirschsprung's Disease when he was two years old, confirmed by two separate biopsies.  Put simply, part of his intestines lack ganglion cells that are responsible for moving things along the digestive tract.  I won't write out his whole story here since I've written it all out before.  You can read it all in these posts:

And now?  Now I get the absolute joy to report back that at the age of just-turned-7, I think it's safe to say that David has "outgrown" his Hirschsprung's!!  Our instincts were right that if we continued on the course of medicating the least amount possible that his body would gradually be able to compensate for the cells that are not there.  You guys.  He has not had a dose of medicine in three months.  I gradually cut down doses and spaced them more and more apart until we were giving him 1/4 of a dose every few days.  Then we just stopped.  We're monitoring him to make sure he is going regularly and all is healthy and he's able to go on his own without any medication and without surgery.  We are so so thankful and thrilled.  He's still very tiny for his age but from everything we've read that is not related to Hirschsprung's.  All our kids are gifted with genes that put them in the low percentiles for height and weight (20-25%) but he's in the fifth percentile.  (We did get him tested for endocrine issues just in case and all results came back normal.)  He's got a huge appetite and is often a bigger eater than his older brothers.  It seems he's just a small kid.  Someone's got to be that percentile, I guess!

My hunch as he was going through the diagnosis and we were handling it was that as he grew, his body might have the potential to make up for the lack of cells, either because the affected segment of intestine remained the same size (while the rest grew) or because his muscles grew stronger and therefore able to push better.  Or possibly both.  My guess is that were he to have a biopsy now that there would still be a segment without ganglion cells but that maybe it hasn't grown with the rest of the intestines.  So, I can't say officially he's outgrown Hirschsprung's itself but if he's outgrown the symptoms does it really matter??  We do know that he will have to just be a bit more aware as he gets older that he is eliminating regularly but, like anyone, I'm sure he'll be able to tell quickly if he's not.

Now, of course, not everyone with Hirschsprung's Disease will be able to outgrow it in this way.  For those with more severe HD where a greater portion of the intestines is affected, pull-through surgery may be immediately necessary after birth (although I do think medications should be tried first to prolong surgery as long as possible).  But I am absolutely convinced that because he was exclusively breastfed (breastmilk is much easier to digest and passes much more easily through the newborn's digestive system) AND because it appears that his segment was shorter he avoided major life-altering surgery as a newborn.  I am so very very grateful that I sought a second opinion and we made the call not to do surgery that had the very real potential of major lifelong complications.  (Think lifetime incontinence and diapers, not to mention the colostomy bag that he would have required for 6 months prior to surgery and as he healed.)  I'm so so grateful that I'm so stubborn about nursing and God has allowed me the ability to do it.  It was that that kept symptoms from appearing until he was four months old giving us more options to consider for treatment.  Had he been given formula or anything else as a newborn, his symptoms would have appeared immediately and he would have been immediately brought in for the pull-through surgery to remove intestine with who knows what complications and lifelong implications on such a tiny body.  

My hope is that researchers will some day investigate and report on other ways to successfully treat Hirschsprung's without surgery.  We were told and read that for a Hirschsprung's diagnosis, the ONLY treatment was surgery when clearly that is not the case.  For those who have a child that has been diagnosed, I would do everything possible to exclusively breastfeed any future babies right away and as long as possible.  Since we know that HD can run in families it would make sense that should a new baby be affected doing so could mitigate symptoms for him or her, potentially eliminating the 'need' for surgery as it did for us.  (Does that make sense?  I hope so!)  If you are dealing with a Hirschsprung's diagnosis, know that surgery does not necessarily have to be your only option.  It *may* be the best option for your child but it may not.  It certainly wasn't for us.  I'm happy to answer any questions as best I can!  I'm certainly no doctor, just a mom who asked questions and wasn't satisfied with the answers I was getting.  If sharing our experience can help someone else, I'm happy to do so.

And finally, thanks and praise ultimately go to God who answered our prayers for guidance in making the best decisions possible for our little boy and for giving his little body the strength and ability to overcome this disease.  Thank you, Jesus.  He's Yours first anyway, Lord.  Thank you for letting us have him and please keep helping us to raise him.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Dinosaurs for David

Nearly twelve years of parenting boys and we finally have had our first little dinosaur phase.  It was bound to happen, sooner or later!  Earlier this week our David turned seven (what?!) and decided on dinosaurs to help him celebrate the big event.  This theme seems pretty...normal for him.  After all, this was the boy who requested the papal shield cake last year.  He had the idea for a volcano cake with dinosaurs around it which I loved because big mountain of cake?  I can do that. 

For the cake I cobbled together a volcano shape using various pans in the cupboard.  I ended up using a 9 inch circle pan, a 6 inch circle pan, half of the ball pan, and two little ramekin dishes and used a recipe and a half of chocolate cake.  If I was a good blogger I would have gotten a picture of them stacked and prefrosted but I didn't.  It came out a little bit more narrow than I would have liked but whatever.  Still cool.  They're glued together with frosting and shaped a bit with the knife.  I filled in any holes or spots where things didn't line up well with pieces of cake trimmed from other places smooshed in and/or copious amounts of frosting.  

The frosting is my simple (chocolate) buttercream and the dirt is crushed Joe Joe's (i.e. Trader Joe's Oreos).  The lava is white frosting colored with India Tree natural dyes.  A friend lent us the dino figurines.  

I'm getting pretty good at guiding my kids' cake dreams into designs that look cool and are special for them but that aren't that time or design intensive.  (Relatively speaking, of course.)

The volcano makes candle placement pretty apropos and dramatic, right?
I was struck with the idea of turning the bottom (ground) of the scene into a fossil site so that the kids could dig out dinosaur bones from the dirt!

I used this fossil ice mold and melted white chocolate chips to form the fossils that I carefully stuck into the bottom of the cake before frosting.  I surprised David with this and he loved it.

So the cake was fun.  The decorations were my norm - simple, last minute, and mostly shopped from the house. 

We scattered dino figurines around the table.  We also decorated with fossils using old chicken bones that David insisted on saving and various finds scavenged finds from the nature shelf.  

I also brought out some prehistoric plants (kalanchoe and Christmas cactus) from other parts of the house.

Why yes, that is an antler and a skull on our dinner table...
The boys colored and cut out some volcano and dinosaur pictures to hang in random places as well.

To add to the ambiance, David also insisted on bringing the sound machine down and setting it at high volume on the "heartbeat" mode.  "Because doesn't it sound like dinosaurs stomping???"  It was quite dramatic.

Guacamole became swamp dip, red pepper hummus became lava sauce, and Magic Bean candy from Trader Joe's became dinosaur eggs.

And steaks from the freezer became dinosaur meat.  (Getting a half cow from a local farm for the year means that steak is the same price as ground beef and we have to work to use it up!)

The boys came up with a few games literally a few hours before our guests came. 
My oldest did a volcano demonstration outside using the "elephant's toothpaste" trick that he's been experimenting with.  Buuuttt I didn't get a picture of that.  

They cut out some cardboard bones and my oldest hid them all over the yard for the kids to go on a fossil hunt.

(He and his brothers all dressed in green and tan because apparently those are dinosaur colors.)

And my dad was super fun and brought his paintball gun and some dinosaur balloons so the kids could each take turns hunting dinosaurs!

Lots of generous gifts and some appropriately themed ones as well!

We actually only had one Little Golden Book about dinosaurs that is more aimed at the toddler crowd so we asked for this one which is packed with all sorts of dino info and things to learn.

I love making their birthdays special for them and working with them to come up with ways to fit their theme!  It's simple but special all at the same time.

Happy birthday, buddy.  I'm so glad we get to celebrate you!

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