Monday, May 11

In Need of Some Extra Love

Every now and then we go through a phase in our house where Ryan and I get busy, burnt out, or somehow become oblivious to the specific needs of each of the kids.  Lately, a combination of all three perhaps, has left one little boy feeling a little off.  How do I know he's off?  The usual sweet, chipper nature of this goofy little guy has disappeared, and a whining guy who has been the root of many arguments and "accidents" has appeared.

I might blame it on his age.  I might blame it on an upcoming growth spurt.  I could very easily blame it on him being a boy.  But when I start trouble-shooting bad tempers around here, I start with his basic needs and how I'm meeting them.

  1. Has he been eating well?  Well, this one has always had strong preferences for food.  He likes only a few things and I don't think I'm feeding him enough fats and proteins, so I'm going to try to let him have more control over his own diet.  (He's always been the kind of kid who needs to choose his own path in his own time- apparently he needs to fill up his own plate too.)  
  2. How has he been sleeping?  I don't think he was meant to be an early rise like his brother.  He's been sleeping in more lately (since Luke has not been waking him up!) and that seems to help.  So we need to positively encourage and remind Luke to honor his brother's sleeping habits.  (Luke's the kind of kid who responds 100x better to positive affirmation rather than correction.) 
  3. How is his health?  This I'm not positive about.  I need to get a weight on him and check his growth on the chart.  I feel like he's not as big as his brother was at this age, and that he'd a little pale and slim.  But it's been winter and he hasn't been eating well, so maybe some sun and ice cream will do him some good!
  4. What else is going on?  This year he's adjusted to having a baby sister.  Initially it wasn't a big deal, but I feel like as the first year went on I could tell he needed some extra Mommy time.  I'd try to fit in some extra cuddles, extra one-on-one reading time, and game time while the older kids are listening to an audio book.  He's still a little kid while Luke has moved up to the older kid realm in some senses.  I've pushed him through his toddlerhood and pre-k years, not intentionally, and he's probably just fine because he is a little precocious in my opinion. ;-)  But I can't push him into growing up.  He needs mama time, and I can't deny him of that.  He needs to know he's safe with me.  These past few months we've had a few incidents of him trying to be independent where he clearly still needs adult help, and it's not gone over well.  I still need to coddle him, baby him, and tell him I love him in a sappy voice- even if he giggles and says, "Mom, stop it!" with smiling eyes and his long lashes.
He's a kid who needs to forage his own path.  He has strong preferences about food, clothing, what books he likes, and when and how he will play or learn.  I really can't make him do anything- it's got to seem like it was his idea.  He likes to tuck in his shirts (even t-shirts into basketball shorts) and he likes to dip everything into mustard.  He REALLY wants a baseball-themed birthday party even though the kid has never played or really even seen a baseball game in his whole life!  He absolutely refused to ever go to Sunday School until one day he said, "I want to go today," and he's been every day since then.  I've known since the moment of his conception that God has great plans for him.  It's my job to take these traits and quirks of his and help mold and shape them into something for God's greater glory.  And right now, at 4 years and 10.5 months old, he needs to be a little boy for a bit longer.

I've re-committed myself to babying him.  To pay more attention to what he's feeling, how he's holding up when we're having long days, making sure he's getting the time and attention he needs, and making sure he's eating well and enough.  I can't put a time period on it but I think about a month of some intense Mommy attention will do this boy some good.  Then, the boy will be five years old, I'll probably cry some big fat "Where has my chunky baby gone?!" tears, we can have a fun summer, and we can start talking about kindergarten!

Swinging very high on park swings can turn anyone's day around.

Thursday, April 23

20 Things About Me

I posted this on Instagram a couple of weeks ago and decided I wanted to share it here for the sake of preservation. :-)  I did edit to clarify and add a little bit.

20 things about me... 

1. I don't have many pictures of just me on my phone, because I'm very self-conscious about myself and selfies are extremely unflattering on me. The picture of me on my blog is beautiful to me and represents me better than a photo of me probably does because frankly, if I could "be" any person who has ever been painted, it would be her. This picture spoke to me the first time I ever saw it. 

2. I could eat Tex-Mex every day for the rest of my life and die a happy woman. Because, fajitas and margaritas.

3. My love language is quality time. If we haven't spent quality time together lately, I'm probably feeling like we aren't friends. (If we live more than an hour apart, there's an exception.  Bonus points if you pursue spending time with me!)

4. When I'm with my sister, brothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins- even though we are all in different places doing different things- I feel like I'm with my "tribe." 

5. I make really good gumbo. 

6. The first time I ever really felt good at saying I was good at something was a couple of years ago when I became confident that I am a really good doula. 

7. I've dealt with postpartum depression and anxiety and I'm not embarrassed to admit it. 

8. My dream as a child was to get married to a tall dark-headed man and have babies. Pretty much living my fairy tale! 

 9. Trader Joes chocolates are my favorite desserts! 

10. I hate it when someone talks about my body. I'm not too big or too thin. All I want is to be healthy and strong. 11. It's a dream of mine to take voice lessons and sing this one beautiful song that's not even in English- it's from an opera but I don't even know what it's called, lol. 

12. All I want, more than anything, is for my extended family members to come to know the healing that is found only in Jesus, and that those who have been hurt can find peace. 

13. I lived a double life in high school and was a genuinely good kid, but wouldn't relive those years for a million dollars. 

14. I hate it when I don't serve a good meal to my family. I hate it when it's stuff that's just all thrown together. Ugh. 

15. I want to be a farm girl but if you know me in the slightest you probably already know that! 

16. I'm a behind the scenes kind of person. I like to help, so if I offer something to you, know it's completely genuine and never just to be polite.

17. I'm fiercely loyal. But I don't hold grudges.  Grudge-holding has been very hurtful to me in the past so I'm very sensitive to it and pray with all my might to forgive those who have hurt me and move on with life!

18. I hate confrontation and get my feelings hurt easily if it's something personal. 

19. I hate shopping for myself.

20. Becoming a member of the ordinariate of the chair of St. Peter- a branch of the Roman rite of the Catholic Church- has been the best thing to happen in my spiritual life since really learning to own my faith as a 16- year-old.

Monday, April 20

Waiting for Spring

This winter seemed very long.  The days were so very short and every year my body seems to crave the sunshine more and more.  I was sluggish and lazy, I just wasn't able to get myself motivated to work when my house was so dark.  The windows in our house face East and West (we have none facing North or South!) so we usually have amazing sunlight streaming into the kitchen and living room in the mornings, and the hot evening sun heats up our playroom in the evenings.  In the winter, it's overcast and dreary.  And my soul just feels uninspired.

It rained a lot too, at least it seemed that way.  Maybe because it's those rainy days when you crave the sun the most, and they just seem to slap you in the face with cold rain... and those are the nasty days you remember.  Everyone is cooped up inside the house, anxious to get out.  Everyone's a little sad and I know, just know, it's because these children were meant to be outside.

We did have some unusually warm days, and they were extra-glorious because the beauty is just so beautiful after being surrounded by the ugly.  We always took the chance to go to the park or just even play outside all day long, calling a "good weather day" off from school because when you homeschool, you get to do that!

As February ended and we had a break in the rain, I knew I had to get my plants in the ground while I had the chance.  We grabbed jackets and drove to the nursery to pick up some plants and seeds, and even though it was misty outside my heart was joyous to walk through that beautiful nursery surrounded by the lush greens and spring color that my yard lacked.  We picked some tomatoes, peppers, basil, lavender, and some seed packets of  carrots, lettuces, radishes, and summer flowers, and came home.

 We had lots of weeds to pull because those suckers start growing before anything else will, and I wanted to reposition a garden bed.  We tossed grubworms in a bucket, let earthworms wriggle in our hands before returning them to the soil, and pulled weeds to make space for our our flowers.  We even found a tiny hibernating snake! We kicked over and stomped crawfish chimneys, because we really hate those things and they make the yard look ten times worse than any weed ever could.

It's this time of year that I always feel like Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden, pulling back the overgrown to find a bit of beauty in a bit of earth.  Find something pretty fills me with hope; joy is coming.

It's always so appropriate to me that it's this time of year, when I crave green and beauty the most, that we enter into Lent.  Jesus was in a desert but I feel stuck in my own desert of sorts, searching for something to give me hope.  And then finally Easter comes, the joy of the resurrection, and all of the sudden the earth rejoices and bursts into bloom!  Everything wakes from their winterly sleep; the azaleas and lillies burst into bloom, buds linger on my rose bushes, orange and lime citrus flowers that smell of heaven, and tiny lettuces, all seem to shout with joy to the risen Christ!

 That's what I feel like I miss the most during a dreary winter.  Hope. Tiny blossoms, life buzzing around me.  I miss my hummingbirds.  I know that the spring will eventually come, but these long nights that drag one and on beat me up.  I love the way Lent is always timed with the end of winter in Texas. 

 So we worked the earth a bit, pressed some seeds into the ground, and I moaned that my back hurt from leaning over so much.  I gave my gloves to the kids because I didn't mind dirt under my fingernails.  It was worth it, just to be outside and feel the hope that I was creating something that would hide during Lent and bloom and blossom as the Spring came. 

My helpers were happy to be outside again, and anxious to see what would happen.  They're always eager to please and very hard workers, I think they are going to be excellent homesteaders one day!

Now that it's April and I can look out the window and see the green grass, small green blackberries growing larger each day, my Samuel's rose bush in full bloom and my Mother's Day yellow rose bush about to bloom, and a garden bed full of green tops of vegetables, my soul rejoices because I know that it is through Him that we will reap what we've sown.  It really feels to me like these plants are growing for Him, their Creator, and that it's my job to rid the beds of the weeds and make sure they're tenderly watered and cared for. Day by day, we watch them grow... Then one day soon, we will enjoy a feast, a beautiful salad of mixed greens and veggies, with a lemon basil chicken homegrown by us.  And I pray that in the same manner, we raise our children: eliminating the weeds that pull the life out of them, provide tender care and shelter from the unpredictable world, so that one day we can all enjoy the Heavenly feast together with our Lord, to whom we've been growing and reaching for our whole lives.

(All but one of these photos were taken by Beth!)

Sunday, April 19

The Great Chicken Experiment

I want to be a homesteader.  I want to grow my own food, get my hands dirty in the soil, and be as independent as God created me to be.  So when friend offered us free broiler chickens to raise and butcher, it was pretty easy to say yes!  As we prepared mentally for about a month beforehand, I googled how to care for them, potential issues, and lined up a butcher for the birds.  We borrowed a friend's dog run and Ryan built a little protective coop out of scrap wood from our garage.  We did have to buy a few supplies (heat lamp and bulb, feeders and watererers, pine shavings, and food) but for the most part we tried to make do with what we had.

We went to pick them up on a Wednesday, brought them home in a cardboard box and settled in to the garage.

That weekend, Ryan built the coop and we set up their outdoor living space.  The rain had settled down and they were clearly needing more space!


We started with 25 birds, gave 10 to a friend, and somehow lost one bird without a trace on their first day outside.  We didn't have a tarp on the cage so I imagine a hawk came and picked up dinner.  Finley was intrigued, but he was definitely not the culprit.

As they grew (and boy did they grow fast!) we opened the cage and gave them more space to roam around.  We never did let them free range over our entire yard as we technically aren't allowed to have chickens in our neighborhood and didn't want to get in trouble!  But we moved their cage around every couple of days to give them fresh grass to peck through.  We threw them bugs and vegetables and garden clippings, and tried to give them happy days.

These chickens are a breed that have been bred specifically to grow fast and big.  These are the kind you buy at the grocery store, expect those have been injected to mellow out the flavor and make them plumper looking.  And of course, you don't know where they came from, how they were fed and treated, and how they ultimately came to fulfill their destiny.  I felt much better about our process than from what I've seen from large breeders.  I read on one blog that she said it was her job to make sure they had only one bad day in their entire lives, and I really tried to treat our birds that way.  I had also read not to make them into "pets" so I didn't name them, but I did talk to them and treat them sweetly.  

I am a major animal lover at heart, but I also believe that God gave us dominion over the animals to use them as He created them to be used, but respectfully. I enjoyed raising them.  It was only a few short weeks, feeding and watering them twice a day, talking to them while I was gardening and watching the kids enjoy them.  It was a pleasant experience.

I was worried that the end of this task would be difficult for me, and I was right.  I raised them, but I didn't want anything to do with their demise.  This breed won't live much longer than six weeks before they develop health issues that would ultimately kill them, so once they started looking a little...large, I was ready to butcher them before any of them had the chance to die first.  They were 4 weeks and 6 days old, I would have waited another few days but it was Easter weekend and we couldn't do it then.  I  wound up hiring a friend's high-school son to come over with a friend to butcher the chickens for us in our backyard, but Ryan decided he wanted to watch.  And some of his friends wanted to watch too... So ultimately he taught Ryan and friends how to do it, and they all worked together for a few hours (they took photos but I refuse to look at them, let alone post them here!).

I left the house with the kids.  I really couldn't handle it.  I got home a little too early and heard some of it and it really shook me up that night.  A few weeks later I'm still a little uncomfortable with everything, but not because I think it was a bad decision but just because I think I have a tender heart.  I know these birds are healthier, cheaper, and happier than anything I'd buy at the grocery store, so yes I would do it again.  We've had some grilled and baked and guess what?  It tastes just like chicken!

Learning How to Sleep

I've been spending some early morning time with this sweet girl.  She's been waking up around 6 am, more or less, since we've started transitioning her to sleeping in her crib all night.  It's been a mostly peaceful process, but that's easier for me to say since it's actually Ryan who is doing most of the hard work.
That's a cute girl, and the early morning sun rising through the windows behind her.  I know exactly the time of the sunrise these days.
A few weeks ago we discussed/discerned/decided that it was time for Caeli to night wean, with the hopes that she'd start sleeping longer stretches.  Waking every two or three hours to latch and nurse back to sleep wasn't horrible, but not entirely restful for any of us anymore.  The three of us just weren't getting good sleep like we used to, and I think we just all needed our space.  So at night when she woke to nurse, I told her "No nursies right now" and patted her as she laid next to me.  The first few nights she yelled and protested, but by the third night I was able to pat her back down pretty easily.

We continued on that way for a week or two and then moved her to her crib.  (She's been going down in her crib for months now, but at night we'd bring her to bed with us when she woke up.  The best of both worlds for me- I get to have my bedroom at night and still got to cuddle with my baby all night!)  It wasn't any different for us to put her down at night, but she was used to coming to bed with us around 11 or 12 and she didn't like that we were staying in her room, trying to walk or rock her back to sleep.  This took a week or so until she realized that we weren't bringing her back down.  This became mostly Ryan's job, as anytime she was with me at night she wouldn't fall back asleep.  Well, we switched off throughout the night, taking turns going to her, but I feel like he really did the bulk of the night shifts.

On the morning I took this photo, she woke up at 5 am and promptly went back to sleep after nursing.  Luckily she's waking up closer to 6:00 these days. 
A week or so later she didn't protest not going downstairs anymore, and became rather easy for us to get back down for the most part.  And this is where we are right now, after a month.  She wakes around 12, and then 2, 4, and finally 6- but she's usually very easy to pat back down to sleep in her crib.   Most nights Ryan heads upstairs when she wakes up and sleeps on a mattress in her room for the rest of the night, just for the sake of convenience.  Which makes me sad but he sad he's totally fine with it for now because it means he's able to get her back down quickly and easily so he just passes out!  When she wakes up at 6, he brings her to me and then goes back to bed for another hour or so while she and I go cuddle on the couch, nurse, and read books and make coffee.

She's out of our bed and in her crib, but we can't figure out how to get her to actually sleep all night, for longer stretches, and I can't really remember how we helped the other kids.  Leaving in her room all night to cry is obviously not an option, and we're not picking her up so she's not cuddling back to sleep.  I just noticed today FOUR (4!) new teeth- possible five- so I'm sincerely hoping that this huge breakthrough will bring her some peace and comfort and allow her to sleep longer stretches!

We had to bring her back to bed with us for a couple of nights when we had some family members over for Easter, and it didn't go very well for any of us.  She woke up screaming and would kick and get mad if I tried to calm her- eventually she'd roll over away from me and go back to sleep on her own.  It wasn't the same peace-filled bed-sharing moments we'd shared earlier, and it made me sad to realize those days were over.  I loved bed-sharing with Caeli more than I did with any other the other kids.  It just worked really well for the three of us and her sleep was just SO much better from day one than with the other three.  She stayed in our bed longer than the other ones and I'm actually very thankful for that because I feel that it was a good thing for our relationship, good that it worked out and that once it stopped working, we were able to recognize it and make a change.  We'd love to get her to sleep all night of course, but those days will come.  That I know for sure.

Thursday, March 19

St. Joseph, pray for us!

Today is the feast day of St. Joseph, foster father of our Lord and a saint we regularly reach out to in our family.  I feel that although I don't know him as well as I know Our Lady, I was reminded in this morning's reflection of his obedience to God.

"When given instructions, Joseph unquestioningly and humbly believed and obeyed. Limited by his scope of knowledge of what was to come and regardless of the outcome, Joseph chose to obey." (from today's devotion at Blessed is She)

I woke up this morning and read this reflection before I invited the kids to come downstairs for the day. I'd already had a rough morning; Caeli woke me up violently screaming in my face for a reason unbeknownst to me, so we got off to a rough start.  (Truthfully, she's just started this new scream of hers in the past week since we've night weaned.  I'd like to think it's unrelated but part of me wonders...)

After I read the reflection, I vowed to obey today without questioning God, as a sacrifice to offer up for dear friends who are in need of prayer right now (one just diagnosed with stomach cancer, would you please pray for her and her family?).  I had also wanted to create a dinner feast for my husband, on this day, in honor of the patron of holy fathers and in honor of the wonderful father Ryan is to our children.

My intentions were good but unfortunately things didn't get better for me.  Crazy hormones left me feeling like the worst mother in the world and I felt crippled. I was not going to be productive woman I had planned to be.  Some mornings I just need to turn on an audiobook and retire to my bedroom to be as alone as possible, and this was one of those days.

But Ryan had scheduled a visit to the local parish so the three of us could receive the sacrament of penance, and we met him up there.  It took everything I had to make that happen.  After absolution and a lengthy (well-deserved) penance, the boys handed me some flowers and Ryan smiled, took me aside, and told me I had the afternoon off and handed me the keys to his truck.  He piled the kids in the car and took off, and just like that I was alone until 7 pm.  Six whole hours.

On the verge of tears I drove off and devised my plan for the day. Lunch, errand running, and some quiet time.  It all worked out perfectly and I came home to a clean house, happy kids in their pajamas, and a yummy dinner ready for me.

This guy.  On the day I wanted to honor him.  There just aren't words.

Tuesday, March 17

Flying Babies!

Beth asked me to take a picture of her while she jumped out of the swing, and this is what happened!

Wednesday, March 4

My Humanity

I've been listening to a lot of podcasts lately.  Ryan and I both recently got iPhone 6s and it's made listening to podcasts really easy because the app is already installed.  (I guess I could have figured this out on my old iPhone, a 4s, but it wasn't really something I thought to do!)  We both found a few that we like and it's been nice listening to them while I'm working in the kitchen or in the car.

I'm listening to Quiddity, The Read Aloud Revival, and Catholic Stuff You Should Know mostly, though I have Fountains of Carrots, Audio Sancto, Fr. John Riccardo, and a couple of other random homeschooling ones waiting for me.  All of these are actually for me only, the kids would be bored with them and sometimes they talk about not-so-kid-friendly topics or use a couple of words I'd rather not hear in our home. ;-)  I've yet to find any that are FOR kids- any suggestions?

Last night Ryan and I were talking about what we've been hearing and learning, and I said a few things that he thought I should blog about.  So here it goes.

I've always struggled with community, for as long as I can remember.  As an elementary student, middle school student, and especially as a high school student, I was jealous of girls who had best friends.  I attended 4 different elementary schools, and by the time I reached the fourth one in fifth grade all of the kids knew each other already and had already formed their group of friends.  I still remember struggling to find my place as we all grew into middle school students.  I did have a few good friends but... It's hard to be a group of 3 best friends- someone always gets left out and it was always me.

Moving into high school I thought would be a fresh start.  But I became a person who had a lot of friends in many different groups of people, because I was that kind of person.  Even as involved as I was in band, I never really found my close-knit group of friends because they had already been established as a group before we even entered high school.  I always felt left out. 

In college I was still sort of the same way, dipping my toes into the waters of many different ponds, but I was able to become close to two of my three roommates because we actually lived together.  They're still women to, to this day, I would be sure they'd be there for me in a heartbeat if I needed them.  I don't stay as close to them as I'd like to be but I still love them dearly!

Then I grew up and got married.  All of my friends who were guys suddenly wouldn't be my friends anymore- and I guess rightly so.  But they were some of my closest friends in college and I was up a creek without any good girlfriends.  I still remember finding out about a gathering of some girlfriends who excluded me because I was "that old married woman" now and they thought I wouldn't want to see them. I had Ryan- and really in my heart I knew that he's all I needed.

Having Beth opened up new avenues of making friends.  I then became a "young married with a kid" and that grew quickly into "kids."  I got involved at church and made friends with some new-in-town neighbors.   It was good for awhile until the neighbors moved, we moved, and I fell into a slump of postpartum depression that crippled me and basically brought my introvertedness out in full force.

Over the years as I've grown and changed, tried to find friends in a culture that I don't belong in, I've been challenged. I bring baggage of not feeling like I belong, and I've hidden the part of me that I thought were unacceptable. 

But one podcast was talking about humility.  How we have to expose our faults without gloating about them.  I feel like it's a tricky fine line because I want to expose and explore my life, my past, my feelings... But I don't want to glorify my faults to the point of making others think I only talk about me.  I've really struggled with that too, feeling too self-centered, so that's always something I think about.

But the other part talked about community, and how to have a successful community, members must be vulnerable with each other.  I like that word, because it conveys honesty.  Members- friends- must be honest and true with each other, be willing to admit our faults, because to hide them would be to lie in a way.  I think of it like when I whip my house into shape super-fast before someone arrives because I don't want them to think I'm a failure of a housewife for not having a clean toilet.  It's partly because I want them to sit on a clean toilet (haha), but also partly because it's embarrassing to admit I can't do it all.

So we have to be honest and vulnerable...But we have to be humble and make sure we're not making it all about ourselves.  This is the part that gets tricky for me.  I am currently working on being honest and vulnerable, and trying to cultivate community for the sake of my children.  But I think due to my past and problems cultivating true community, I have an unflattering quality of wanting to be pursued, otherwise feeling left out.  This is probably why so many dating relationships failed to work out, and why Ryan won my heart!  But now it's not just about me.  It's about our children.  And due to our dietary restrictions, I feel like we get left out more frequently that I'm comfortable with.  It breaks my heart to the point of tears thinking that my sweet girl may have to travel the same lonely road as me because of her diet.  It's so absurd that FOOD of all things, what usually brings people together, would bring us apart from people.  But it's happened before and I'm sure it will happen again.

I guess I'm ranting now but my heart's on fire and it kind of hurts.  Ryan pointed out that of all the people in the world, the five that need me most are here within 20 feet of me at all times.  And they pursue me around the clock. ;-)  Still, there's that desire that I can't seem to quench.  I told Ryan that in the past, I've thought this was a cross given to me to carry all the days of my life.  Or that maybe it's that God-shaped hole that I've been trying to fill with people instead of Him. 

As we prepared for bed last night, I wanted to read a quick meditation from Blessed is She, and it nearly made me cry.  It pretty much edified the entire conversation Ryan and I had that evening. 

"I try to be real, I try to be honest, but in a world where we can easily project on to people a life that is perfect, dreamy and put together, portraying the real mess of life isn’t easy and has to be intentional . . . it’s humbling. It is important that in this world full of human beings, we do not lose what truly makes us beautiful . . . our humanity."

I know I am imperfect and in need of His mercy and grace.  But all of these years, I don't think I've been allowing the same grace to others in my life.  Yes, I always try to assume the best- that the person who cut me off really has somewhere important to be, or that we didn't get invited somewhere for a good reason.  But I think I've expected everyone else to have it together and of course truly, none of us really do.   I've expected them to know what I want, but how could they if I've never articulated it? 

So here's my beautiful mess of a life, my brokenness, my insecurities.  Because it hurts to grow; muscles have to break before they become stronger.  I'm emotionally sore and I'm fine with that, because it means I'm growing.
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