Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Gray Lining

This is where we spent last week:
That's Mark in the orange shorts with Roscoe next to him. Haley's in the pink shirt on the middle right.
When we stepped off our back porch, we were literally in the sand, on the beach. And no one was on the beach but me and my extended family.

Too bad I was sick the whole time.

I tried to be a good sport, but I coughed constantly, was in bed every night by ten, and was in an impaired fog the whole time. It's pretty tragic because I think family reunions are the highlights of life, and I more or less missed this one.

More pics from my sister Nancy here.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Feliz Navidad

In a few hours we're supposed to drive off, trailer packed with clean clothes, Christmas gifts, sand toys, and board games, for a week in Puerto Penasco, Mexico. It's a family reunion, and for months I've been dreaming of lounging on the beach with my fam.

But now, I'm sick as a dog and can't rally to do my usual pack-the-car routine.

Will we have sandwiches and baggies of treats? Will I remember all phones and cords and chargers? Will the laundry ever get finished so we can pack some clothes? Will I be a fun and gracious Mom as we drive for 13 hours?

Oh dear.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Careful what you wish for

I stood at the top of the stairs listening as Roscoe came in the door from school this afternoon. The door slammed opened and I listened to an amazing array of thumps and crashes before he came into view. How is it even possible to make that much noise walking through a doorway? Part of me expected to see him carrying some kind of metal scaffolding.

Sometimes it feels like my kids' exuberance is the bane of my existence. They grab a gallon of milk with a gusto that sends milk sloshing. They send papers skittering to the floor as they speed past my desk. Many times I wish they could just walk through a room without stomping and spilling and crashing.

But then, on a day like today, I repent of all that. Jess woke up with a fever and all day our little superhero has been quiet and subdued. He has walked softly, moved slowly, spoken quietly. He hasn't made any meses at all.

It's been a peaceful day, but no, it's not what I want.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Sad Tale

Friday morning I stood in the bathroom, filling the sink with my tears. All week long--despite ear plugs, Tylenol PM, and extra pillows propped around my body--I was kept from a good night's sleep by a combination of jumpy legs, sore hips, and overly active family members.

After my worst night yet, I faced Friday morning filled with exhaustion- and hormone-fueled despair. After I got the kids off to school, I pep-talked myself into just taking the first step of putting my contacts in--then at least the world wouldn't be vague and blurry. I got one contact in before I had to stop to weep some more. Pitiful.

And that, my friends, was when I realized I was really not okay. But what could I do? I was too sore and jumpy and uncomfortable to even take a nap. There was nothing doing but to keep on keepin' on. So that's what I tried to do.

The day was not a great success.

Friday night we got out the air mattress. Everything you normally hate about an air mattress, how it hammocks your hips, was great for me. I lay there and realized that for the first time in recent memory I actually felt comfortable. After a decent night's sleep, I tell you I was a different woman. Not superwoman, not ready for a jog. But functional. Competent.

I didn't cry once all day.

Friday, December 10, 2010

On Mark's Birthday

Reason 7,842 to Love Mark McGee:
He is the Good Samaritan of public transportation

Mark has ridden trains and busses to work and school for years. He’s passed out Book of Mormons. He’s given rides from the train station to various people in need. Once he made an alliance with a fellow passenger to come to the aid of a young woman being harassed by punks. Once he gave a car to someone he met on the road. (It wasn’t much of a car, but still.)

A few weeks ago, Mark was riding the train to work in the morning and couldn’t help but overhear the phone conversation of the man sitting across the aisle. The man was recounting how he and his family had recently moved to Utah only to find that the apartment they had rented and been sublet to someone else. They checked into a hotel until they could find another apartment. But in the meantime, one of the man’s children was hospitalized with RSV and his wallet was stolen. The child was to be released from the hospital today, and the new apartment would be available tomorrow, but with no wallet, the man had no way to pay the $60 he needed for one more night at the hotel. “I think we’re going to have to sleep in the car tonight,” Mark heard him say.

When the man got off the phone, Mark leaned over and said, “If you’ll ride the train downtown with me, I’ll take you to an ATM and give you $60.” Mark watched the man’s face work through shock and relief. “You will?” he asked.

The pair rode downtown and Mark gave the man far more than $60. When he arrived at his office he called me and said, “I have good news and bad news.” The bad news being that our budget for weekend festivities was gone. The good news being that my husband is a true disciple, a true gem.

Happy birthday, Mark. You’re my favorite.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

You know, stuff

Little Miss Haley turned 7 yesterday. She shared her birthday party with Mark, whose birthday is tomorrow. I wish I had been there on the day Haley was born.

The first time this year we've had this:

 Poor sick Levi started out draped over the heater vent, and then segued into a two-hour nap with the front door mat as his pillow.
I love, love when kids play like this. Jesse made a careful selection of guys and creatures and lined them all up along the toy cubbies.
Who remembers getting horsie rides from their Daddy? Our intrepid horsie carries children to bed after family prayer. He even goes up stairs! Trying to stay in the saddle is part of the fun.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sister Weekend

I have six fantastic sister-in-laws. But that doesn't mean I didn't love my weekend away with the two sisters I've loved since they were born. Plus our mommy!

We spent plenty of time gazing at Nancy's new baby and playing with her three other children. The highlight was our trip to the National Cathedral to hear Handel's Messiah.

It was beautiful and amazing. For me it was a meditation on my faith and I felt sorry for anyone who was just a spectator at a Christmas tradition.

After the performance, we went to this tapas restaurant. Don't worry, Ruth had to explain to concept of tapas to us as well. We ordered 10 little dishes of all kinds of Spanish treats. The favorites were the bacon-wrapped dates, salad with fennel and pomegranate, and lamb chops with rosemary.

We four love our home families and day jobs, but it was such a wonderful treat to get away from it all and just be together.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Loose Ends

Yesterday morning at 8:30 everyone but Jesse was off to school and we had an hour before Jesse needed to be at preschool. I agreed he could watch a show on PBS, thinking that would leave us a half hour for the both of us to get dressed and out the door. I turned on the TV for Jesse, went upstairs to lie down for a moment...and woke from a deep sleep a full hour later. If Jesse hadn't come to wake me, who knows how long I would have been there.

Which is related to the post I've been meaning to get to all week--the one cataloging the fruits of my Season of Projects (which I announced in August but didn't really get rolling until October). And the clear fact that said season has now ended. I made a goal to feel energetic until Thanksgiving and I (pretty much) achieved that goal. But clearly I'm now slowing down and turning inward.

Which may be related to how many of my projects are dangling loose ends. *sigh* Nevertheless, here are some of the things ticked off the list:

New Front Room Curtains



These are made from tablecloths from Target and clearance bedsheets from WalMart.


Dresser and Chair
You've already seen these dressers. But here's the finishing touch of a reupholstered desk chair. (Mom, remember when you bought this fabric for a wall hanging? It finally has a home!)


White Trim and Doors
I've painted trim and interior doors both upstairs and down. I think it makes everything look shiny and bright. This is a tricky job just because it must be done when no one is home--can't have kids brushing through wet doorways. There are still three more doors I'd love to do. Let's see if the opportunity ever arises.

Laundry Room


This is way more than a loose end. Over Thanksgiving Mark and I painted the walls sunrise yellow and he installed a big countertop to go over the top of the washer and dryer--thus preventing stray socks and Spray'n Wash bottles from falling behind. (If there had been any doubt of the need for this, it was all erased once Mark moved the appliances and we saw the shocking accumulation back there.) Now I have this lovely surface for sorting and folding.
 
Next steps: New shelves on the facing wall and a new system of 10 clean laundry buckets and 6 dirty laundry bins.

Outside Hardware

Our outside carriage lights and porch railings were a classy combination of shiny gold, white, and rust (the corrosion, not the color.) Mark and I painted it all with a fancy spray paint that gives it a lovely matte sheen and mottled texture. (Carriage lights still not reinstalled.)


This afternoon I'm off for a weekend visit to my sister in Virginia. My mom and other sister will also be there--along with 4 nephews and nieces. But at this point what I'm really looking forward to is sitting quietly, alone on the plane. When I get back, we have a week of birthdays, a week to pack and organize, and then we're off to a Mexico beach for Christmas!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Betsy, 24 weeks

Here's the current belly shot:

Don't I look great for someone who's seven months pregnant? 

Too bad I'm actually a week shy of six months. 

Last week was Betsy's 24-week appointment. I never actually saw the doctor but heard Betsy's vibrant little heart chugging along, which was all I needed to happily sign on for another month. I love that sound. It's so energetic and sincere.
Every week in my body makes Betsy a happier, healthier girl. So I'll chug along too.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Infrastructure

This week I stopped by Home Depot and casually bought myself one of these:


I cannot tell you how excited I am about this fridge. Our current fridge is a horror we inherited when we bought this house. Some kind of oily goo seeps from the pores on the door handle, so it's always black and sticky. The shelves are held on with packing tape. The tiny freezer is largely occupied by an ice maker that doesn't work. So I've been recreationally fridge shopping for years and finally found a deal we couldn't refuse.

This year has been the year of capital spending on large-family infrastructure. A new (to us) car, AC, furnace, fridge, and sod. (Not to mention the two sets of braces.) On Thanksgiving weekend, Mark and I are going to upgrade our laundry room, with new paint and additional shelving. This is becoming a house that serves eight people--and many of those are big people, with big laundry and food needs. I'm grateful to Mark for recognizing how a well-organized system of laundry bins and a freezer that actually accomodates a week's worth of food is such a blessing and help to me.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Enter the Maladies

The history of my pregnancy so far:

June: Waiting for news
July: Slog of Nausea
August: Aaah, better.
September: Soporific
October: Fantastic!
November: Enter Maladies (cue ominous music)

The last couple weeks have been a bit dicey. Last week I wrote but did not publish (largely due to the scorn it would receive from my brother Joe) a post introducing the Cast of Characters of the maladies that have beset me: Swollen ankles, jumpy legs that keep me awake all night, itchy skin, false contractions. You girls know the drill. (Except maybe the always-itchy skin on my neck. Anyone ever had that one?) And to be honest, I ought to add hormone-induced emotions to the list, because every setback seems to feel a bit more ominous, difficult, and bleak than it ought. These maladies seem more than a girl only 5-1/2 months pregnant should endure, and March seems very far away.

This week, I have decreed, will be better.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Joy of Marriage

Me: Are you awake?
Mark: I'm Mark. No, I'm Mike.

Later I'm still awake when Mark gets up for a potty break. "Did you know you just told me you're Mike?" I ask. Turns out he heard the conversation like this:

Me: Hey Mike.
Mark: I'm Mark. Not Mike.

Since me calling out another man's name in bed at night elicited no more response than a tired correction, I'm thinking he was indeed more or less asleep.

Still later, I'm still not asleep. Sometime after midnight I go down to the kitchen and do some computer work. By the time I tiptoe back upstairs, Mark is awake for another potty break. (He's always had a strangely porous relationship with sleep.) As I join him in the darkened bathroom, I give him a friendly, "Hey Mike."

And that, my friends, is the joy of marriage. Good times.

Almost as good as the time when, returning to the husband who had been lying in bed listening to me puke in the bathroom, I asked, "You wanna make out?"

He declined.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Teenagers

For some reason, it’s now, with a 15 1/2-year-old and an almost 13-year-old, that we’re finally feeling that the teens have hit us. We’re definitely in a whole new ballgame and needing to develop whole new skills.

Mark and I working on seeing our teens' issues as teaching moments. Here are some of the lessons we've been working on:

We are part of your life. One of our children is feeling that since he’s now a big teenager, his life should not concern us. He feels he should be on his own and that we should just stay out of his way. We agree that teens should receive more independence and less micro-management. But we’re teaching that 1.) Privileges and freedom are contingent on trust, which you must earn through trustworthy behavior, and 2.) As your parents, we are engaged, interested, relevant, and involved. And will be for years to come, even as your independence grows.

You live your consequences. Mark’s dad says that when you putt cattle in a new field they walk the fence, checking where the boundaries are. We’ve had a lot of walking the fence here, where Mark and I establish a rule, and a teen chooses to violate it. We’d like to grab them by the shoulders and scream, “That is stupid! You’ll regret it later! Listen to me and stop it now!” (And of course, if we were talking about recreational drug use or launching a new career as cult follower, that’s exactly what we’d do.) Instead we watch the stupid choice unfold, then deliver the appropriate consequence. Trying to do so with a mix of compassion and dispassion. Our lesson is that Mom and Dad’s standards, limits, and boundaries stand, even if you don’t like them.

We communicate. Sometimes your parents ask you questions or tell you stuff. That’s our job. It’s your job to listen and respond respectfully, even if you don’t want to. We listen and respond respectfully to you as well. No matter how teenagery you may be feeling, we are always here, ready to listen, support, and help.

We are honest, consistent, and value-driven. There’s no fit you can throw that knocks us off track. We’ll do what we said we’d do. Our family standards will stand. We love you and respect you, and we believe you'll grow into a fantastic man.

We have the big talks. Oh thank the stars above for husbands on this one. Poor Mark actually calendars time to take the boys aside for private chats about all those crazy boy pubescent things. Things with words I don’t even want to write. He is awesome. He starts from the beginning and tells the boys what those big, bad words really mean and how if the boys handle themselves correctly, those scary crazy things will later become the foundation of their love of a lifetime. These talks happen every few months, because even if Mark has covered the topic before, the boy has changed, and things that weren’t an issue may now have become so. I am very, very grateful for these talks. They let Mark teach our values on important topics, they give him a chance to build relationship with the boys through his honesty and engagement, they help the boys establish their goals and standards proactively.              

Friday, November 5, 2010

Jesse

I know you've seen plenty of pictures of Jesse in his crazy get-ups. But here are some more from the past few weeks. 

Because here's the thing: One day Jesse won't spend his days in full superhero regalia, with "weapons" bristling from his "utility belt."

As predicted, the horrible season of whining, clinging, and screaming as the school year started has given way to a Jesse who is much more cooperative, pleasant, and independent. He does things like eat meals, sleep in his bed at the required hour, and leave his mother alone for minutes at a time.

This week I got Jesse's preschool "report card." On paper, he's not much of a genius. He's recorded as being able to count only to two. But what's really going on is that Jesse feels that things like "What comes after two?" and "What shape is this?" are boring questions. So he answers that a triangle is a tent and a rectangle is a bounce house. When asked how old he is, he says, "grown up." At this point, Jesse doesn't see much value or interest in rote learning; it's all about imagination.

I predict that in some ways Jesse will always march to the beat of his own drum. He'll toe the line when necessary, but always value imagination over convention. And maybe he'll be like his Uncle Mark and turn his current flair for costume into a lifelong adoration of gear. But still, the days will come when he wears a predictable combination of shirt and pants every day. When he'll tell people his real name (as opposed to a superhero one) and his real age (as opposed to that of one of his older siblings). When he and I won't chat our way through the day on topics such as the relative sizes of snails and whether the skeletons inside of us are alive or dead or how Batman would handle a burning house.


Those days may be more peaceful, but not necessarily better.

* Am I worried about Jesse's near-total lack of academic knowledge? Not at all. See here. It's certainly possible that Jesse will turn out to have a learning disability. In which case, we'll handle it. It's much more likely that one day he'll decide he's ready to learn to read and will do so in about ten minutes flat.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Weekend Pics

Logan the zombie performs in the percussion section. You know, at the back of the room where the cool guys hang.
You can see that Jesse has the perfect BFF.

Note from Levi on his birthday present to me. What a charmer.
The elementary schoolers ready for school.

Jesse ready for his preschool party. What Halloween meant for him was that he didn't have to change clothes to go to school--he just went as he was. Also I gave him a fancy hair-do.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Milestone

This weekend I turn 39. In the fine tradition of my Grandpa Benac, I've managed to arrange for birthday festivities to last at least three days. (Who can tell me where Grandpa's birthday issues began? Something about different dates recorded on church/state/immigration documents?) The real day is Saturday, but we'll be trick-or-treating that  night so we'll have cake with the kids, but Mark and I have moved our birthday date to Friday. And then Mark came home from with tickets for the Jazz home opener tonight. (Whoo!) So of course that's now part of the birthday fete.

But here's an even bigger milestone: I have now lived with Mark longer than I lived with my parents. (I went to BYU two months shy of my 18th birthday, and Mark and I are less than two months from our 18th anniversary.) We like this fact. I loved living with my parents, but it feels right that the scale has shifted and now the bulk of my life has been here, raising up this family with Mark.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hot Cocoa & Tuna Sandwiches

Yesterday we came out of church to find a dreary, wet day with gusty winds and gray skies. In my family, that's the perfect time to make hot cocoa and tuna salad sandwiches.

You may think this sounds like an unlikely combination, but think again. I believe even my last hold-out SIL has finally been converted. Make the tuna salad kind of like potato salad with finely diced onions and celery and mayo, mustard, and a bit of pickle relish. Make the cocoa in a big pot on the stove, with 1 tablespoon of cocoa and 1 tablespoon of sugar for each cup of milk. Mmmm. Dip the crusty corner of your sandwich into the cocoa*. For us, this is the ultimate comfort food.

Happily, the perfect person was here to enjoy our Sunday lunch with us: My dad. Turns out tuna and cocoa is a three-generation Ashurst tradition. Dad remembers his mother making it almost every Sunday for dinner. Dad showed us some pictures of his childhood in Fillmore, Utah, where he grew up surrounded by four brothers and three sisters.

Earl and Jim with bows they got for Christmas; baby Barb in front. In the Ashurst family, it's all about the weapons.


The pictures show groups of adorable, fat-cheeked kids and a mother who looks like she's enjoying the show. In one, my Dad is a baby sitting on his mother's lap, with a brother in jeans but no shirt sitting on either side. In another, little Dad stands beaming next to his baby sister's crib.
Dad on lap, with John on left, Jim on right.
I'm grateful that Mark and I, and our parents, all come from (literally) big, happy families. Each family has had its own brand of challenges and set-backs. But I believe each generation has felt that their large family was a joy, a blessing, and a strength. Mark and I are so happy to be plowing our way down the same row.
Playing in lake mud on vacation.
*Just realized I typed this entire thing with coca instead of cocoa. Which is an entirely different family tradition.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Betsy, 20 weeks

I saw more of Betsy today than I may ever again. Measured her kidneys and ventricles and blood vessels. Made sure her spine tapers to a tailbone, made sure no fluids leaked where they shouldn't. All in all, she's perfect and healthy. Also cute.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Foster parents no more

Next week our foster parent license will expire and we will not renew it. We've been foster parents for seven years, although we weren't accepting new placements for all that time. In all, we had four foster children, who stayed with us from six days to forever.

We didn't foster very many children for very long. We never fostered a child with severe issues. There are families who foster dozens of children, many with mind-numbingly difficult challenges. Compared to them, what we contributed is less than peanuts.

Really we gained much more from being foster parents than we gave. For one thing, the intensive training we completed to earn our initial license, and the ongoing training we've done every year since, taught us a higher level of parenting overall. The skills we began to learn for dealing with damaged and traumatized children have helped us be more conscientious, aware parents. It's hard for me to describe the huge paradigm shift Mark and I experienced in our understanding of what it means to parent a child.

Also, our children have changed in some essential ways from being foster siblings. We always told the kids that the best thing our family has to offer a foster child is healthy, supportive siblings. The kids really internalized their role in loving and helping our foster children. On occasion they may have groused a little about the chaos and stress of a hypothetical foster child, but when the real child arrived their hearts opened wide. They've grown up feeling that if any child in the world is in trouble, they should just come to our house.

Other awesome things about being a foster parent: We saw the much-maligned "system" and the good people who work within it do amazing things for families with children in foster care. Our parents and extended families opened up to all our foster children with as much love and support as any of our other children. We got go to Boondocks for free one day every year. God definitely guided us to become foster parents (story here), and we felt buoyed and supported each time we had a placement. On a selfish note, I enjoyed feeling that no matter what bad things the world might contain, we were contributing a little something for the good side.

Though I'm grateful for our family's new direction, I'm sad to see all that go. It was great. It was kinda cosmic. Maybe you should try it. We're very glad we did.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Seasons and tipping points

Autumn in Salt Lake is bittersweet. Almost everyone agrees it's our best season of the year. The sun shines and the temperature hovers right around 70. The air is clean and clear (unlike our summers and winters). The colored leaves make the world look alight.

But the joy is always tinged with doom. Fall means winter is right around the corner, and our winters are gray, polluted, and loooong. One of these days a storm will blow in and that'll be the end of sunshine and balmy breezes. A few more weeks, and everything from earth to sky will be a uniform gray, the ground covered with piles of dirty slush. All the way til March.

That ebullience tinged with doom is kind of how I feel about my life right now. I'm not tired, not nauseous, not sore, not bloated, not having contractions. It's so great! I'm working my way through all sorts of deep-clean tasks, like touch-up painting all the bedrooms and hallways, organizing closets, canning fruit, making new drapes, dusting all the bookcases, cleaning the oven...I'm leaving all these little nooks of beauty and order so that in a few months when I'm too [fill in the blank from the list above] to be productive I can rest on my laurels in a well-organized home.

Hence the doom. One of these days, my hormones and body mass will hit a tipping point, and everything will change. Tired, bloated, and gray. All the way til March.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Toy Story

The first Toy Story movie came out the year Roscoe was born. I remember taking baby Logan and toddler Roscoe to see Toy Story 2 in the little theater in downtown Logan. First we had a lame, soft-body Buzz. Then Levi was lucky enough to get an awesome new Woody and a Buzz whose buttons really worked. Each boy has gone through a long phase of watching (parts of) Toy Story every day and holding Buzz and Woody as their very favorite toys. Unlike all other toys in our household, Buzz and Woody never go out of rotation in the closet or furnace room. Buzz and Woody do not have to be shared.

Last night I took the kids to see Toy Story 3, including a big Roscoe who looks a lot like the grown-up Andy in the movie. Little Jess was enraptured. I kept poking Logan in the side so he'd turn and see Jesse with his smiling face turned up to the screen. Whenever someone in the movie would disparage the toys, Jesse would say, "My toys are not junk!" "Don't call my toys trash!" and (my favorite) "My toys are not plastic!"

I realize it's just a movie, but Pixar so gets what toys mean to children, and what childhood means to children and adults. Childhood doesn't last. Neither--no matter how hard they try--do the toys of childhood. We honor it and serve it while it lasts, then we put away the toys and let the children go.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dressers!

Remember these dressers I thrifted for Levi and Jesse's room way back in August? They're finally installed.

The cabinets seemed sturdy but were a terrible shiny laminate. I primed them with Zinsser primer, which is touted to stick to even glossy surfaces without sanding.
It totally worked. Rolled on thick and covered with no problems at all. I had Home Depot tint the white primer to a medium gray so the primer would already be giving color coverage and hopefully save on paint.
I sprayed the shiny gold pulls with this in "oil rubbed bronze."


Mark screwed the bookshelves to the bottom dressers, then bolted the whole thing to the wall for security. (Cuz have you heard about Jesse?)

The boys are already creating their own little tableaux of treasured objects.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Activities

Roscoe is in Cedar City this weekend to compete with his high school Shakespeare Team in the Utah Shakespearean Festival. He was very excited to win his audition for this competitive group and he's been rehearsing a lot. He's staying with friends in a hotel room for two nights, performing, and attending workshops.

Logan recently passed his First Ban Bu at karate, meaning he's a big step closer to his black belt. He ran a mile; did sit-ups, pull-ups, and several styles of push-ups; and tested on dozens of forms and defense techniques. The test lasted about four hours. It was grueling just to watch.



Mark and I always had the idea that children should do one sports/physical activity and one musical/artistic activity. But we've learned that this strategy doesn't work well for big kids. Roscoe and Logan have both reached the point where their activities are higher stakes, higher skill, and they really only have time for one thing aside from church and Scouts.

Levi, however, is happily doing both piano and soccer, which I think is a great combination. We're lucky to have a fantastic piano teacher living just around the corner. Levi came home very excited and motivated after his very first lesson and treated us to this sweet little melody as I made dinner that night.

video

Little Miss Haley is lucky enough to have had two sisters move into the house next door. She can almost always organize a playdate for the afternoon. It's such a blessing to have lovely friends in the neighborhood. Friends are so tricky. When to acquiesce, when to stand up for yourself; when to ask for what you want, when to defer to show good manners. Haley is getting lots of practice on these important skills.

Jesse is the Student of the Month in his preschool. Very prestigious. We made him this poster, complete with baby pictures, cartoons of his siblings, and an array of superheroes. Just a few weeks ago I suffered through what I think is my third round of I-cannot-manage-this-Jesse-kid-any-longer. I knew from historical evidence that he'd probably snap out of that hellish little phase soon, and thank the heavens he has.

Betsy and I suffered through quite a growth spurt last month. We gained two pounds a week for four weeks straight. We both found it very exhausting. Happily, we seem to have leveled out, and for now this pregnancy is riding pretty lightly on me. 

I'm enjoying getting to know Betsy through her wiggles. For example, she always wakes up and gets frisky when I get up to use the bathroom at night. I crawl back into bed and just feel her little thumps and bumps as I fall back to sleep. 

Last night she floated up to the top of my belly, where Mark could easily feel her. Finally his prodding bounced her away to the nether regions, where she stayed until he lost interest, then she bobbed her way back to the top again. A boring story, I know. But a very fun bedtime for Mark and me.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Zones

You've been suffering, I know, without information on how I've structured our chore system for this school year. Is it clipboards? Is it jewels? Oh, no. We're onto something new this year: ZONES.

The idea behind this is that I would like the kids to take more ownership and pride in their work. So instead of outlining micro-tasks, I've divided the house into zones and they take turns being responsible for one zone each week.

Each zone comes with a few daily responsibilities (like pick everything up off the floor) and a few once-a-week duties (like dust or vacuum). They choose when to do their work, including when to do the daily deep cleaning.

Levi the third-grader marks off his chores by practicing cursive. So cute!
So far, it's taking a lot of reminders from me, which I'm trying to wean us from. I'm waiting for someone to do an awesome job on their zone without being asked so I can praise them and shower them with gifts. Hasn't happened yet. But I will prevail!

p.s. The jewels systems worked fine for the summer. I enjoyed not giving instructions and letting the kids go free-form on their chores. The tactical error I made was making the list of possible jobs so long. Since there were so many options, kids weren't competing to finish tasks first. The dishwasher would sit full all day while kids trimmed bushes or washed baseboards. Which isn't all bad. But I think next time 'round I might list only the necessary daily jobs.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right..

The morning begins peacefully enough. Mark wakes us for scripture study. I answer emails and read headlines at the kitchen table while the kids make their lunches. Haley drops something and looks worriedly my way. Not wanting to add to her anxiety, I say nothing as she swipes at the floor with a dish towel. I'll handle it later.

Then Jesse wakes up. (This is often the point when peaceful morning go awry.) He decides to get dressed. Moments later, he's screaming. Only the underpants with the blue stripe on the waistband are available. He prefers the ones with the black stripe.

Once the kids are out the door to school I investigate the kitchen. Apparently Haley dropped an entire jar of jelly. And everyone else walked on it as they made their lunches. Nice.

And the screaming continues. I have decreed that Jesse must wear the available underpants. Finally I put him in his room and kindly tell him I'll be happy to see him when he is wearing underpants.

Serenaded by screams and thumps, I dress, start a load of laundry and work on resumes. Preschool starts in 45 minutes. Now 20 minutes. I really must take Jesse to preschool since I'm scheduled to teach resume writing at Logan's school this morning.

T-minus- 5. After brainstorming session with Nancy on the phone, I stage an intervention. I burst into Jesse's room and loudly exclaim, "Have I told you about Santa Claus?" He sits up and asks, "What?" I launch into unbroken chatter, "He lives in the North Pole. Oh, you say he's a ninja? Well, yes he is, and so are the elves. They make toys and also they're ninjas." This continues--without any mention of clothing or preschool--as I dress him, put him in the car, and unload him at school. As he begins to walk up the sidewalk--just in case he suddenly notices his own compliance--I throw out, "And what about the Easter Bunny? Is HE a ninja?" Jesse chatters to himself as he walks to the door. Phew.

Rush back home to mop kitchen, apply make-up, and finish a resume before my appointment at Logan's school. On time to teach two classes on resume writing.

After preschool and lunch, I nap a bit, Jesse crawls on my head, finally I wake up. We drive out to Roscoe's high school to pick him up for an orthodontist appointment. The school cannot locate Roscoe. For 30 minutes. They say, "We cannot find him." I say, "Well, what are you going to do?" Jesse entertains secretarial staff by standing on his head. Finally Roscoe is paged over the schoolwide intercom and appears promptly. He says he was in his class the whole time. Now we're late for the orthodontist. Rush to pick up Logan, also for said appointment. Arrive 30 minutes late. Entertain Jesse in waiting room while boys get braces tightened.

Home late to greet Haley and Levi. Homework. Screen-time negotiations. Early choretime. Early--and lame--dinner of pasta salad and tortilla chips. Then a divide-and-conquer scheme in which Levi attends soccer game, Logan attends karate, and Roscoe and Mark attend parent-teacher conferences.

This day was particularly crazy, what with the jelly and tantrums and missing high schoolers. But mostly, this was a normal day. I'm dealing with big boys and their appointments and activities, as well as little boy tantrums, plus baby fatigue. Here I am, stuck in the middle.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fun with Babies

Around here we've been thinking about the fun of babies.

In yoga, one of the chakras is the right to see and be seen. Mark and I love to just look into the eyes of a baby. Watch this baby connect with a dog.



This baby was born deaf. In this clip, you see what happens when its cochlear implant is turned on for the first time and the baby hears his mother's voice.



Oh my goodness, Daddy--stop for a minute and let this baby catch his breath!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

My Girl

We're still hardly able to believe it ourselves, but it's a girl. I know! Who really believed it could happen?

I have to admit, we're very pleased. Mark and I both wanted a girl. We've loved all our boys, and we've loved having Haley. But it definitely feels like this family could use another girl, and I've never, ever had a baby girl--not even a foster baby girl. In fact, I can hardly remember even holding a baby girl. My sister Nancy observed, "They're like mythological creatures to you." And they have been. But not anymore.

Roscoe, Logan, and Haley (of course) were also pleased. Jesse was skeptical--I think he can't picture a baby girl, either. Levi literally fell onto the ground in dismay. "I really just need another brother!" he claimed, though I can't imagine why.

She looked great on the ultrasound. An adorable little nose in profile. A spine like a string of pearls. Leg bones and arm bones and toes in all the right places.

Don't hold me to it, but as we drove away from the office it really felt like this girl's name is Elizabeth Gold. Elizabeth is my mother's name. Gold is Mark's mother's maiden name. I think we'll call her Betsy.
Me and my girl, 16 weeks