Thursday, December 10, 2009

Home is where your story begins

Scoutie is 9 months old today!!

The prettiest little angel in the Christmas band

The cutest goat in the manger

What we wake up to every morning in our bed

We all know that our houses are simply physical structures that are made of tangible pieces - bricks, mortar, insulation, wood, nails, shingles, etc. And we've all heard "home is where the heart is." But rarely do we, or should I say, I , stop to think, really think, about what intangible things make up a home. I started thinking about it a couple nights ago.
When I was newly married, and even more so when Piper was an infant, I spent a lot of time at my parents' house. You men out there may not understand this as well as us womenfolk, but motherhood in the early days can be quite a daunting and confusing task. Its not the basic act of caring for this new life so much as your new role. Suddenly, you are supposed to fit the bill. You will not only care for this baby, but also make it seem like you've got it all together. House clean, check! Grocery shopping done, check! Laundry clean, folded and put away, check! The wonderful aroma of dinner cooking when your husband gets home, you bet! Somehow in the middle of this though, you start wondering how you went from being a little girl to someone else's MOM!! For me, I think I blinked and suddenly I was the one in charge of all the things that my mom used to be in charge of, and let me tell you that is a scary thought!! Nearly nine years later there are still days its a scary thought :) So, anyway, I think thats why I spent a lot of time at my parents' house, because it made ME feel secure, taken care of and like everything was going to be okay even when I wasnt sure what I was supposed to be doing.
Why, you ask, did I start thinking about all this now?? Tim was working late so I took the kids to Nana and Papa's for dinner. No special occasion, no birthday to celebrate, just to be together. Okay, the crockpot full of homemade meatballs and marinara played a little part. Let me rewind just a bit and tell you that my parents moved about a year and a half ago so the house we go to now wasn't the memory making house per se. But it was when I was walking to the freezer in the basement to get another loaf of garlic bread before going home (Nana's great for carryouts) that I had a moment. I realized that even though my mom and dad have lived in this house only a short time, it has their mark on it. It has that "feeling" to it - you know the one where it's like a big hug, a deep breath, a weight lifted off your shoulders.
One of my favorite things in my home is the sign about the doorway that reads, "Home is where your story begins." My sister-in-law gave it to me several years ago, and it's so true. It really doesn't matter where you live, or how long you've lived there. Your memories travel with you. It's how you treat the people you make part of your family, the times you share together. Coming back home, wherever home is at the time, is a great feeling.
I'll probably never have it all together the way my mom did. I'm still scrambling to get lunches into backpacks when the bus is rounding the corner, my daughter ate mac n cheese for breakfast this morning and I was late turning in my kids book order forms. But, those lunches were nutritious and tailored to each child's personal tastes, the mac n cheese was organic, and I read with my kids every day. It is rare that all our shoes make it into the closet at the end of the day, they often have to be located under the chair or couch and you can usually scrounge up a full ziploc baggy of Annie's cheddar bunnies under the seats in our Suburban.
Despite all this chaos, I hope that my own family feels the same way about the home we are making together that I do about the way my parents still provide emotional comfort for me. This time of year is obviously full of Christmas traditions in our home, but we also celebrate two December birthdays. Piper turns 9 on the 14th and Carter will be 5 on the 15th. (How's that for planning???) There are three things that always have to happen on birthdays in our house. Number one, the birthday child picks the dinner meal. Number two, breakfast is ALWAYS the birthday coffee cake which is a gooey concoction of butterscotch pudding mix, cherries and frozen dinner rolls. (A huge challenge for a dye-free fam, but go ahead, challenge me!!) Yummm!!! And finally, the birthday child picks their cake. This sounds simple enough, but is apparent that my children have been spoiled with an abundance of homemade treats. No simple chocolate or vanilla here. Carter has chosen carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and Piper requested a chocolate peppermint ice cream cake. The carrot cake is in the oven for Saturday's celebration and I begin the search for all-natural peppermint ice cream free of the dreaded Red 40 tonight. Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, here I come. I like to think that these simple traditions (complete with the aroma of ginger and cinnamon wafting through the house) will be part of the story I'm beginning for my kids.
Here's hoping that all my friends and family get a chance to come back home this holiday season, wherever home may be. May your holidays be filled with old memories and plenty of time to make new ones.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tis the season . . .

Tim and the kids before the Bears game they attended

The Kids' Tree

Nana, Dom and Scout

I know I probably say this every year, but this time I REALLY mean it - I can't believe it is already December!! I am in better shape than many years past though, so I can't complain. The halls have been decked (with a lot of "help" from some very eager elves.) The stockings have been hung by the chimney with care. Go with me here, okay. I realize we don't have a chimney. And we're missing a few stockings that somehow didn't make their way back into the tub of Xmas decorations. But, the tree is up and decorated. How long it will stay that way is mystery, though. Scout hasn't taken much of an interest in it yet, but given the fact that she crawls like the Energizer Bunny and is (shakily) starting to cruise along furniture, I think it will be a matter of time.
The kids were very proud to decorate their own "Kids' Tree" in the basement, complete with hot pink glitter ornaments, popsicle stick creations, twinkling multicolor lights and homemade paperchains. This is one good looking tree. Trace is very good at the "cluster method" of decorating in which he hangs several like ornaments on the tip of one poor, wobbly branch of our Charlie Brown Christmas tree. I am fairly certain this method is an offshoot of his father's present wrapping technique, the "consolidation method." What is this, pray tell? Step 1 - Find the largest, most beat-up shipping box from work and bring it home. Step 2. Dump all your wife's presents in there (mixing bowls, shower gel, hat, gloves, it's all good.) 3. If it won't shut, give it a good dose of packing tape. 4. Wrap up that bad boy!
I am admitting before the word leaks out and you are all in shock - I was among the crazies this "Black Friday." Let me just say, it was fun and I would do it again, just to have my shopping done early and get a few deals. However, I will never ever set foot in a Walmart again during Thanksgiving and Christmas. My time in there lasted a whole five minutes, and I left empty-handed. I'm still reeling from the things I saw in there. I felt dirty. We have significantly scaled back on the gift-giving this year, which made shopping that much more pleasant. Instead, we're trying to not just tell, but SHOW the kids that the time spent together looking at Xmas lights, watching a movie, decorating the tree, baking cookies, giving to others and just being together - those are the things that Christmas is about. I think they really get it . . . and in the meantime, I listen to Carter as Max & Ruby is on commercial break. Every "boy" toy that is advertised, he asks Finley, "Can you get me that?" and every girl toy he says, "Fin, I'm gonna get you that." Tis the season . . .

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Big Warm Up

Check this out. Watch to the end, and then pay it forward...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


So here we are. Where you ask? November. And I pose the question, "How the hell did we get HERE?" I am fairly certain I blinked and we went from the first day of summer to the last day of summer to Halloween and now here. This sort of crappy in between time only rivaled by the period between January 2nd and April 1st.
I managed to take down all our Halloween decorations on November 1st. And I wonder, "Now what?" I don't have a wreath for this, you see. I have an Easter wreath, a Fourth of July wreath, a Halloween wreath and a lovely Christmas wreath. I have nothing for this time, so I have two choices - I can leave my front door bare or plunge in headfirst and be like the aisles of every major retailer. You know what I am talking about - the way the Christmas decorations slowly creep in before even half of the general population has bought their Halloween costumes. Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas. I like the decorations, the festivities, the music, the baking, the catalogs and the palpable excitement within a family with 5 kids. But I just feel like I'm jumping the gun by breaking out the decorations. I'm aware Thanksgiving comes between Halloween and Christmas. I am. But I refuse to buy "harvest" decor no matter how thankful I am. And for the record, you will NEVER see the Johnson yard adorned with an inflatable turkey. So I guess the door will stay bare. I'm just warning you to not be offended by my lack of decorations, okay?
Since I'm not ready to move forward in the season just yet, I'll move backwards a bit and tell you about our Halloween. All in all, really good. Let's just say Halloween can be a bit scary (pun intended) when you're committed to certain dietary standards. I know some people think I'm nuts, but we did manage to have a festive and fun Halloween even without any candy containing any artificial ingredients. Obviously the degree of difficulty is raised here, but the kids were really good about it, and Tim was so supportive. Carter and Piper have reached the point where they know how they feel when they eat food dye, and they just won't do it. Like Tim says, "Why can't I have that kind of discipline when it comes to cheese fries or hot wings?" Finley will literally interrogate the neighbors (sorry Frank!) about whether a particular item contains dye. Trace is on the fence. He'd eat it if no one was looking, but will (begrudgingly) toss it in exchange for another "approved" candy item.
The kids' costumes were a hit this year. They were respectively, a cave girl (thanks to Nana's handiwork,) a pioneer, a dinosaur, a kitty cat and a caterpillar. Trick-or-treating didn't last very long thanks to the wind and cold, but we made up for it with a fun Halloween party the same night.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

10 years of Little Things

I have a cute little sign on my end table that reads, "Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things." (You may never have seen it, which is perfectly understandable since on any given day it is likely to be buried behind a box of kleenex, one baby shoe, half a dozen Matchbox cars, 2 pencils, a naked Barbie, a stack of catalogs and various other objects that are simply woven into the fabric of our daily lives.) But I digress...
I love that sign. I am fortunate enough to be celebrating 10 years of marriage with my wonderful husband tomorrow, and that sign got me thinking. Its funny how we focus on the little things that are negative (the empty toilet paper roll, the dirty socks on the floor, or the cap that just couldn't quite make it back on the tube of toothpaste. Love you honey!!) But the positive little things are often overlooked because they are just part of our every day life. I want to take this opportunity to say that I consider myself to be one of the luckiest people in the world because of all the little things with which I am blessed. Days get stressful and we think, "If I can just get through this day..." Well, I am lucky to have spent the last 3,650 days with Tim. Believe me, he deserves some sort of award for having the sense of humor that he does to put up with me some days (especially considering that I have been pregnant and hormonal for combined total of 3 years and 9 months during our marriage.) Each morning, my husband gets up and makes coffee and brings me a cup in bed. EVERY MORNING without fail. Then he goes to the kitchen and empties the dishwasher and washes any stray dishes. He does laundry (boys can wear pink socks. Really they can.) He changes diapers, he coaches basketball, he plays Barbies, he gives baths and cleans up vomit.
I'm not a fancy restaurant, flowers and champagne sort of girl. I'm a homebody and creature of habit. I like what is familiar. I'll take the everyday little signs of love over the grand gesture any day, because I truly believe that in the end, we look back and realize that the little things really are the big things! I tell the kids all the time that you never know how one smile, kind word or gesture can impact someone. How it can totally change the tone of their day. We've all heard the stories of the people who because of one little, seemingly insignificant thing, were late to work at the World Trade Center on September 11th. And because of that, the course of their lives were changed forever. Switching my major to communications after my sophomore of college was what caused me to cross paths with Tim (granted I now use that degree to negotiate who gets the blue cup or which bowl of yogurt has more granola sprinkled on top.) A little thing that has turned into a big thing.
Happy Anniversary to my hubby Tim (aww, mushy mushy) and to everyone else, don't forget to appreciate all the little things in your life. Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Apple of My Eye

Its fall and I find myself humming a little tune as I make my way through the day. I LOVE Fall! I love the colors outside, the cooler temperatures, the smell of leaves burning, the fact that there's no chance of it being so hot that the back of my legs stick to a lawn chair as I try to stand up. These are valid reasons, okay? With fall comes my insatiable need to create in the kitchen! I think no matter how technologically advanced we become we still have a little Flinstone in us! I'm stocking up for the winter here (Tim is a happy man when I go into this mode!) I love all foods fall - soup, chili, pumpkins, apples, cranberries, you name it! We spent a lovely 39 degree day on Saturday at our favorite orchard in Malta. After making three bottles for Scout, spilling an entire one on the floor, cleaning it up, forgetting the other two in the fridge, and making a bathroom stop halfway, we finally arrived at the orchard. We watched the temperature on the rearview mirror in the burbie drop degree by degree as we got closer. We were so unprepared for how cold it was, we put on every remotely warm article clothing we had brought along, it was reminiscent of Clark Griswold locked in the attic in Christmas Vacation, minus the turban! Our comedy of errors continued as we waited in line for tractor to take us to the pumpkin patch, got too cold, went into the "Country Store" to warm up, saw the tractor coming, ran back out (as fast as we could with five stay-puff marshmallow children, 4 pecks of apples, a gallon of apple cider, a diaper bag, a camera bag and two strollers.) You know where this is going, don't you? The tractor was filled up by the time we got back out there. So, as Finley's running nose actually began to freeze on her face, we decided to call it a day. After packing up, driving 10 miles down the road, realizing Tim forgot one of the strollers, turning around to retrieve it, and finally getting home, we just bought some pumpkins and gourds from a nice farmer in Monee. But, I did have an amazing variety of apples and a hankering to do something with them. So here is my creation . . .

Crockpot Apple Butter

Start with about 18 apples
(I used a mix of Jonathan, Ida Red and Stabrite, I like mine more on the tart side)

Core, and slice apples (Leave peel on)

Add 1/2 cup apple cider and 2 tablespoons mulling spices to crockpot. Cook on high 3 hours and you will end up with this:

Here's where you need the best kitchen tool ever - the food mill. Mine was purchased from a hardware store for under $20 dollars. Nothing fancy, but it does the job!

Working in batches, run apple mixture through food mill, you will end up with an applesauce like mixture. All the seeds, peels and whole spices remain in the food mill.

Return apple mixture to crockpot, add 1/4 sugar, 1 tablespoon good cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/8 teaspoon each of mace and cloves. Cook two more hours on high.

Now if you're a fan of apple butter, you know what makes it different from applesauce is its richness and velvety texture. If you have an immersion blender (got mine for $9.99 at Jewel,) here's where you use it. Put that bad boy right in the crockpot and make some apple butter!! This makes all the difference in texture, believe me!! Now taste your creation. If you like more sugar, now's the time to add it. Then finish cooking another hour or so, stirring occasionally.

Your house will smell so incredible when you make this (if you had a scratch-n-sniff computer screen, you'd understand!)

Crockpot Apple Butter
18 apples
1/2 cup apple cider
2 tablespoons mulling spices
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon mace
1/8 teaspoon cloves


Monday, September 28, 2009

Seasons of Change

Scoutie in Wisconsin over Labor Day

Carter not too happy on his first day of school

Trace catching a toad while we were apple picking

Piper picking apples

Nana riding her bike while Carter drives Finley in the Jeep

Finley taste-testing

Seriously, this happens several times a year, but every time I am still baffled by it. The change of seasons and the upheaval it causes still smack me right in the face. I'm left dazed wondering what the hell happened to my carefully planned routine and structure. Its dark too early to get in an entire soccer practice, the shorts we laid out the night before are being swapped for pants and hoodies, and the kids are out of their minds! Not to mention this is all happening as we go through 6 boxes of tissues a week because the kids have brought home every germ between here and Indiana. I am craving soup and pumpkin bread, yet still longing for Corona and watermelon. We are in the midst of a transition and I think we're all digging our heels in. I don't have anything particularly insightful or witty to share, perhaps due partly to the fact that I am still recovering from a nasty sinus infection and dreading a scheduled root canal tomorrow. So instead I will just share a few recent pictures and a funny story. Finley discovered last year's Easter wreath in the storage room the other day and I then overheard her telling Carter to be quiet when he was in the basement, because the birdies were getting ready to hatch. I didn't have the heart to tell her that those were fake plastic speckled eggs hot-glued to a twig wreath. So sweet!

Eliminate food dyes, artificial flavors and preservatives for healthy happy kids

Eliminate food dyes, artificial flavors and preservatives for healthy happy kids

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Teeter Totter

We've all heard that life is like a box of chocolates, but in our case I think of my life more like a teeter-totter (seesaw, whatever you want to call it - I don't want to get into the soda versus pop debate...) Its all about balance, which seems to be such an elusive goal. I suppose the more kids you have, the more difficult it becomes, simply because of the sheer amount of time it takes to accomplish simple tasks when you multiply them times 5 kids. I have been very focused on creating and implementing a routine for our family with the beginning of the new school year, and I have to say I think it is working very well. My main objectives are to create the most stress-free environment in the morning by picking out clothes/shoes, packing backpacks and lunches and at least having an idea what's for breakfast the night before. Piper now has a dry erase tile on her wall with a morning checklist, just in case somehow during her slumber she forgets that we do in fact brush our teeth and make our beds every morning. Yes, every morning. Seriously, they look at me like I'm dropping a bomb each morning and this is a completely foreign practice I'm asking them to complete. Really??? The clothes being picked out the night before was essential for everyone's sanity. Trace would wear a paper sack if I laid it out for him, while Piper has some, shall I say, very definite opinions about fashion. Backpacks need to be emptied and put away as soon as the kids get home. Homework gets done before TV viewing, and I try to have a healthy meal planned and prepped. All these components are working together well, I must say. However when you add in 4 soccer practices, religious ed, and gymnastics each week, plus the normal stuff like baths, playing with friends and taking the dog for a walk the end result is not pretty. It usually consists of Tim and I surrounded by a heaping pile of soaking wet bath towels, two baskets of folded laundry waiting to be put away, two baskets waiting to be folded, and two more baskets waiting to be washed and dried. Oliver is having a field day with the fallout from dinner under the table, and the dishes are laughing at us from the sink. And the rest of the cycle goes a little something like this: Clean up the kitchen, dive into laundry, pack the lunches, sign the papers that need to be signed, lay out clothes for tomorrow, grunt at husband as I pass him in hallway, take out dog one last time, fall into bed, get child a drink of water, put child back into bed, fall back into our bed, put another child back into bed, fall into bed again, scoot over and just let this child sleep next to me, remove child's foot from up my nose, just get up already - COFFEE!!!! and start all over again. The moral of the story being that everything is never all perfect at once, which is just fine since perfection is not really the goal here. I guess something's gotta give, which is a concept I'm definitely more comfortable with as a mother of 5 than I was as a mom of just one. I know the laundry will still be sitting there when I get done folding the "Flying Ninja" from Trace's paper airplane book. At least as I'm folding the laundry, I get to hear him and Carter cheering and laughing as they launch it off the top of the stairs. I may not have the cleanest kitchen floor in the neighborhood, but I managed to be crowned "the bestest mom in the whooooole world" when I made them spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. Yes, we fish clean socks out of the dryer, clean spoons are often housed in the dishwasher and you could probably find a few stray sippy cups under the couch, but that's just how we roll around here. We're just seeking that elusive balance between chaos and calm, but we're enjoying the ride together... (insert circus music here.)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Back To School . . . Oh Happy Day!!!

I have been nesting lately. Not in the "I'm pregnant"sense of the term - I'm not totally crazy people!! But in the "the kids are going back to school" sense. Today I am giddy with excitement at the prospect of what tomorrow brings. I can smell the crayons, freshly sharpened pencils and new school shoes (which is a much better smell than Trace's skanky 4-month old flip-flops that have covered every inch of squishy mud Crystal Springs boasts!) I can hardly wait to take the kids' pictures by the front door holding their new backpacks, er - "Messenger Bags." But what I really can't wait for is the long-lost concept of routine. Yes, I loathed my mother's routines, muttering under my breath every time she said, "Dinner (Actually she usually sung that one word in an opera voice, which stretched it to at least 6 syllables,)time for CCD, you have soccer practice tonight, time to get showered, time for bed." But now as a grown woman with 5 kids of my own, I am literally skipping through the house at the thought of this upcoming week - the start of everything falling into its rightful place. And as my girlfriend Patti so eloquently put it, "Everything has a place, and my kids' place is in school." We are looking forward to the resurgence of a clean house. Not that we don't clean over the summer, but I liken it to shoveling while its still snowing. If you blink, you miss it. Dn't get me wrong, I have enjoyed (almost) every moment of this summer with my kids. I have loved hearing about their summer camp advenures, taking them to the park, going for walks, having their friends over to play, swimming, fishing, running through the sprinkler, watching them on the swingset and seeing them struggle to keep their eyes open at the dinner table after a day playing outside. But at this point, I have probably applied sunscreen 250 times, passed out 300 popsicles, gotten 600 cups of water, swept sand off the patio 50 times, reapplied sunscreen 100 times, been to 15 different parks, bandaged 30 scraped knees or elbows and heard "I'm bored!" 400 times. As my husband would say, "Put a fork in me, I'm done!" Now I look forward to bedtimes and homework, school projects and soccer practice. Until December at least, when I'm wishing for summer again . . .

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Fin and Mom
sound asleep after her big birthday

"Nana is a really good sharer"
with Auntie Ellen and Scout

I've always felt that the term "Terrible Twos" is a complete misnomer. I personally found nothing terrible about the "twos" with any of my kids. Now the "threes" are whole different story. . .
We are currently in the throes of the "Why Age" with our newest three-year-old, Finley. I am not a patient person by nature, but like to think that I manage very well as a mother. I can take a deep breath and keep on keeping on, even when things get stressful and the kids are at their most "challenging." That being said, the "Why Age" ranks right up there with the frustration level of being ten minutes late and getting stuck behind a farm vehicle. Of course, I love the wonder and curiosity Finley possesses, but there are days I just can't answer another question. She was especially perplexed the other day when we met Nana and Auntie Ellen at the mall. Nana had picked up Auntie Ellen at the car dealer while her car was being serviced. Our conversation went something like this:
F: Is Auntie Ellen riding with Nana?
M: Yes.
F: Why?
M: Because her car's in the shop.
F: Why?
M:Because they need to fix it.
F: Why?
M:I don't know
F: Why is Nana driving?
M: Because Nana and Auntie Ellen are friends.
F: Why?
M: Because they have been friends since they were little girls.
F: Nana was a little girl?
M: Yes.
F: Why?
M: Because everyone is little before they get big.
F: Why?
M: Because that's just how it works.
F: Why?
M: Because thats how God made us.
F: Why?
(Insert deep breath here...)
M: Just because, Fin.
Then as I sat feeding Scout, I heard Finley talking to herself as she watched Auntie Ellen get into Nana's car, "Mmm hmm, Auntie Eh-wen doesn't have a car, she has to share Nana's car, Nana is a really good sharer, Mmm hmm..." So that's what she took from our conversation.
I volley back and forth between really thinking about my answers and trying to give her good, solid information to just not having the energy and saying "Because" or "I don't know." Hey, I'm only human. But Finley is a tough cookie. Tim is convinced that she would be quite an asset to our country when used in interrogations. She could wear down even the toughest person. You see, when she asks you a question and she doesn't like your answer, she will just ask again. And again. And again. You get the idea. I like to think of her as a sort of personal trainer for my brain. No free rides here, people. She definitely keeps us on our toes. She has questions and she is determined to get answers. Well, I have a few questions of my own, like "Why do two socks go in the dryer, but only one comes out?" "Why do white shirts act as a magnet for dirt, and black shirts as a magnet for spit-up?" and "Why are there 2 dozen gladware containers and only one lid?" I will never claim to have all the answers to her questions or mine, but I think as parents, when we can't give our kids the answers to their questions we need to try to give them the confidence and the tools to get out there and find their own answers.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mental Snapshots

Glamour Girl

Can't wait for the next rainy day

Look at my new wheels!

Yum Yum cupcakes!!

Sometimes I feel like my life is a movie. Each year, someone presses the fast forward button and it passes a little bit more quickly than the previous year. I feel completely powerless to this phenomenon, my only tactic the ever-increasing catalog of photos I take. I will myself to take mental snapshots as well, that focus on what the physical photos don't show. Because, the actual photos can only capture so much. They will never express the feeling of seeing your newborn baby for the first time, holding them against you and the look in their eyes telling you they know you already. They don't capture the smell of that same baby, now one, curled up against you when they wake up with tousled hair and sweet smelling milk breath. They also don't convey the way you feel when that baby turned two-year-old falls and skins her knee, and just the warmth of your arms is the only medicine she needs to soothe her pain. And then, in the blink of an eye, those photos are years old and your baby is three. Three years old. How can this be?? Birthdays are very melancholy for me as a mother. Of course, my inner Martha Stewart comes out and I feel the need to make everything over-the-top perfect for the birthday child. Both my husband and my dad are confused by this. They both grew up in families where birthdays were no big deal. It was a day not so much unlike any other, maybe a small present or a special meal, but none of the hoopla that they are in our family. I know, its just one day on the calendar, but for me its a way of dealing with the fact that my babies are one day older, and one day closer to being all grown up. I am overcome with the ferocity of my love for these little people who are growing up way too fast. So, I cook and I plan and I decorate. This is how I show my love. I try to enjoy each day with them, but lets face it, as a parent there's not endless time to dwell and enjoy when there's laundry to be done, meals to be prepared and messes to be cleaned up. From what my parents and other people their age tell me, that pure enjoyment comes as a grandparent. So in the meantime, I try hard to remember that the day I'm in right now will never happen again, so I need to LIVE it and enjoy it. I take lots of photos and mental snapshots becaue they are what let me relive the moments I swear I will never forget, and then I do.
Today I'm thinking of the day three years ago that I was handed a perfect little 6 lb 12 ounce bundle that is now a sweet giggly three year old. Happy Birthday Finley Violet! Love you.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

FREE time

You can walk down any street these days and see signs of the times. More "for sale" signs, huge houses sitting empty after bank foreclosure, strip malls nearly empty with store after store closing down. Jewel is slashing prices, car companies are offering to take back cars if you lose your job and can't make payments.
The other day after we returned from Wisconsin to find our cupboard bare, we decided to grab a quick bite to eat. After that we were driving past a pet store when Tim said, "You wanna go look at puppies?" My first reaction was to say no, and the reasons why started scrolling through my head: The baby was fussy, she'd need to be fed soon. The suitcases were still sitting in the living room. I had tons of laundry to do. I was tired. The kids were tired. We just got home, and on and on and on. But for some reason, I said "Sure."
Can I just tell you that that hour was one of the most fun hours I've spent with my family in a long time. This little Jack Russell Terrier pulling on the hem of Finley's sundress and yanking it back and forth like a chew toy as she squealed and laughed was one of the funniest things ever. Piper stroking this yellow lab with enormous paws and looking at it like it was the best friend she'd been waiting a lifetime for was so sweet. I realized several things after our trip to the pet store. Number one, we are not getting a puppy right now (not that we were even thinking about it.) Number two, we will someday get a puppy. The look on both Tim and Piper's faces when they were loving up this yellow lab made me realize that my husband loves dogs and my kids should be allowed to experience having a family pet even if I end up being the one who does most of the work. But what I ultimately took from the trip came as we left. Piper looked at Tim and asked, "Dad, did that cost anything?" It got me thinking about how the best things in life really are free. We get so hung up on bigger and better, and when the economy tanks we're left faltering. But no one can take the simple pleasures from us. So on that note, I'll share some of my favorite (Free) time activities with you and encourage you to share yours with me.
1. Go play with puppies at a pet store
2. Go on a picnic
3. Play scrabble
3. Let your kids play in the rain (and take pictures)
4. Have a bonfire
5. Play hide and seek
6. Let your kids do your hair (or if yours is short like mine, let them do your sister-in-law's.)
7. Feed your kids lunch with the samples at Costco (that one's for you Nana!)
8. Take a "nature walk"
9. Go to a new park
10. Bake something with your kids.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

System Overload

For the last several days, the kids and I, along with Aunt Paula, Nana and cousin Brody have been enjoying the peace and fresh air of the Northwoods. No obligations or appointments, playdates or pressures. Life is good. This is the Johnsons unplugged . . . or is it? Finley has been walking around with a bright purple Prevacid promotional calculator to her ear, even interrupting Nana during a lego-building session telling her, "Hold on, Nana, I'm on the phone." She is constantly "checking her voicemail," and taking calls from her friends Cassie and Dylan from school. (As I mentioned in a recent post, she does NOT go to school, nor do we know any kids named Cassie or Dylan.) She mimics the actions of the adults, sliding her finger across the surface of the calculator, like one would do to scroll through photos when checking Facebook on an iPhone. Dear God, what have I done to my child???
My mom reads a blog about "Pioneer Woman," whose life on a ranch with her kids and her Marlboro Man has become regular reading for thousands over the last couple of years. I think that the reason why is that we all deep down, long for simpler times. But we deny ourselves that, even when the opportunity arises. I am so guilty of that, practically quivering at the opportunity to check my email or Facebook notifications. God forbid I miss one comment on a photo or don't know right away that my old friend from high school is sitting in traffic at this exact moment. And I'm sure I'd be totally out of the loop without the TMZ app on my iPhone. After all, it was crucial that I knew of the deaths of Farrah, MJ and Billy Mays as soon as the news was reported.
I sit here at the laptop, breathing a sigh of relief, now that Tim, Rory and Dad have arrived. Mostly because I have really missed my husband, and realized how much I lean on him without realizing it. But also because my techno-geek (in the most loving sense of the word) brother has hacked his iPhone to function as a modem. Which means I can access the internet from my laptop without having to trek to the local townie bar to take advantage of their free WiFi. Again I say, life is good. Obviously, I say this half-joking. I am as guilty as anyone of wasting an inordinate amount of time on meaningless crap online, convincing myself that it is worthy of my time. Its when it cuts into our face-to-face personal interaction that it becomes a problem. So that means when Finley actually refuses to play legos for fear she might miss a phone call on her calculator, we have a big problem. But for now, she will still go fishing, ride her bike and play with Nana's dogs. She does have voicemail, after all.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The pecking order

I think one of the most difficult things about having a big family, or should I say being part of a big family, is finding your place. The oldest gets the most privileges and can do the most for themselves. The youngest gets the most of mom and dad's attention because they need the most care. The toddlers get the most praise because they are constantly achieving new things. But what about that age where nothing new is really happening? What happens then? This is when the "pecking order" becomes very obvious. The other day Finley started sobbing in the car. I hadn't heard what Carter said to her, but by the intensity of her wailing, you'd think it was the most horrible, unimaginable thing ever. When she finally calmed down enough to get the words out, here's what she said . . . "Am I'm the boss of Scout? Carter said I'm not the boss of Scout!" This was what had shook her little almost 3-year-old self to the core. The fear that she was not in fact in charge of someone. To think she might be the lowest of the low men on the totem pole. Horror of horrors!! So I of course explained, as any mother of many children would do that Daddy and I were the big bosses, Piper was the boss of Trace, Trace was the boss of Carter and so on. So yes, she was the boss of Scout. Obviously I say this tongue in cheek, because I want each child to respect to his/her siblings and them all to exist in harmony as equally important and contributing members of this family. (I'm still waiting for the harmony part!) But I do think that there's nothing wrong with a pecking order - that is life. My mom tells the kids all the time that they have to listen because mom is the boss, and that will never change. They of course get a real kick out of it when Nana tells them that she is still the boss of me. And her mom is still the boss of her, etc. Let's face it, there's always someone we answer to, whether its God, our parents, our employer, our children or the authorities. I don't think its a bad thing, it makes us more conscientious of how we behave and often motivates us to be better at what we do. I tell Piper all the time, if you wouldn't be proud to have me hear about something you say or do, that's probably an indication that you shouldn't be doing or saying it. Hey, I'm 32 years old and I still appreciate my Mom's approval. No, I don't need it, but I still like to know that my mom is proud of me. I don't think that will ever change. I know my kids seek that same approval from Tim and I. We have witnessed a good deal of looking for attention from the other kids since Scout's arrival, and we try to reiterate that negative attention is not better than no attention at all. However, I try to be sympathetic to the fact that sometimes being part of a big family means it's easier to get lost in the shuffle when life gets hectic. I know when Finley starts telling me stories about her teacher and the kids in her class that she might need a little extra attention from me, considering she doesn't actually have a teacher or even go to school yet. So I play along, and aske her if she had a good day at school. And for now I'll let her be the boss of Scout . . .

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Full Circle

Cousin Brody giving Scout a kiss

Piper chillin in the hammock with B-man

I have often heard the quote, "Life's a journey, not a destination." I totally agree with the idea behind that, and try to remind myself to stop and smell the roses along the road, because it isnt just about getting somewhere, but also about enjoying the ride as you go along. But it occurred to me the other day that perhaps we are not always moving forward in a straight path towards a destination, but instead constantly circling around. What, you ask, brought me to this moment of contemplative deep thought? True, these moments are rare these days, only sporadically breaking though the sleep deprived mush of my brain that is most often occupied with who has hot lunch, which permission slip needs to be signed, who's running dangerously low on clean undies, are all the Sharpies out of Finley's reach and of course the random Wonder Pets song lyrics. Anyway, Scout was in her bouncy chair in my craft room as I stood folding laundry across the hall. Piper had been given the daunting task of keeping her happy at 5 o'clock in the evening. She was really pulling out all the stops for a less than receptive audience. I looked up to see her doing some sort of interpretive dance around the room, frantically waving a length of ribbon around her, and of course all I could think was "Get In Shape Girl." If you are a woman my age (or a mother of one) you know exactly what I am talking about. This was the 80's, people! Get in Shape Girl was a video (notice I did not say DVD) complete with a mat and a baton with a long satin ribbon attached. And there I stood in my family room (wearing pink spandex of course) dancing and waving that ribbon like a little Jane Fonda. Here I am in my 30s watching an eerily similar scene unfold, and I think - "I've come full circle." This seems to be happening more often with so many things. This week Piper and Trace started their first week of summer camp at the same camp I attended as a kid. I think I was more excited than they were on Monday, because I was filled with fond memories of rope climbing, swimming, crafts and singing. (I had of course blocked out mosquito bites, sunburns, rainy days, and kickball.) They came home singing "Selfishy" and were amazed when I could sing along. These are the fun things as a parent - watching your kids experience things you so vividly remember fondly. Of course there are the experiences you remember vividly that you pray they never go through. Broken ankles, bullies, zits, big bangs, stirrup pants, etc. You get the idea!
I know its been one whole month and one day since I've actually blogged, and my head is hung in shame as I type this. (Actually I'm just trying to hide from the kids.) My days have been filled with end of the school year activities, Trace's baseball games, enjoying being outside with the kids, meeting my new nephew Dominic, having a garage sale and celebrating my SIL Paula's 28th birthday among other things. Now its summer, no more school and schedules, here's hoping the weather soon realizes its June!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Week in Review

Okay, in the spirit of full disclosure, I do need to tell all of you, my loyal readers that I have in fact crossed over to the dark side. I am now a Facebook member, and I have 53 friends to prove it. I said I would never do it, I relentlessly harassed all of my friends who love Facebook, and I am now full-bellied and bloated after eating my words!! I have to say for all the crap I doled out, I am quite enjoying this crazy Facebook phenomenon. Just wanted to get that confession out of the way.
The past two weeks have been a bit hectic to say the least. Two weeks ago began the frenzied race to "get ready." We always joke that you can go through our house and point to any picture on the wall, shelf hung, or special window treatment and date it according to some event - i.e. we hung those curtains before Finley's Christening, we painted that room before Carter's birthday party, we finished the basement in time for the Halloween party. Like suddenly, we have to make our surroundings look perfect for this one event. Even though all the people who will be there know us and know what our house normally looks like. Really, who are we trying to fool? Yet, we do it anyway, until we reach a level of stress where our heads are about to explode. In our first couple years of marriage and parenthood, that would be the point where I'd cry and scream and still keep going. Now I grab me a laundry basket and walk from room to room filling it with stray items I don't have the time or energy to put away. I then stash that laundry basket in a closet and our guests are none the wiser. I clean the stuff that needs to be cleaned and don't worry about perfection. I cook a little and cater a little, and accept every offer from friends and family to bring something. I find that I am much happier this way, my husband doesn't dread parties because I've turned into a psychotic version of Martha Stewart, and I actually enjoy the event we are celebrating. 
God was definitely smiling down on us last Saturday, we had a beautiful day for Piper's First Holy Communion. She was absolutely a vision in her dress and, of course, loved being the center of attention. We were all really excited to celebrate this milestone with her! I feel like it was just yesterday we were dressing her in her christening gown and heading to church and now we watch her walk up with her hands folded (and then usually make a face of disgust after tasting the wine. We're still working on the "poker face.") 
On Friday, we celebrated Trace's 7th birthday. Another child making me feel WAY too old. Speaking of too old, as of yesterday, I am now 32. Honestly, I've never been too hung up on age, so I am not one of those women who will not reveal her age. Though you may want to talk to me once I stop being carded. As if the five kids begging for gum at the checkout and the cart full of groceries is all just a ploy to be able to purchase that bottle of wine and 6-pack of beer. Yep, you caught me! I got the spa treatment of a lifetime at his school Friday morning at "Ma's Spa." My nails are a rainbow of beautiful colors. I'd take those few hours with my first grade guy over any spa any day!
On a final note, Happy Mothers Day to all the amazing women out there - its your day! Spend it in whatever way makes you happy. I feel very blessed to have such a wonderful mom of my own and to be Mom to 5 great kids!

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