Like Father. Like Son

One of the most beautiful parts of welcoming a new baby into the family is watching her big siblings melt as they hold her. My heart melts as I watch them.

I knew the girls would love holding little Ella. They adore her. Rose already has a knack for calming her cries. It’s precious.

DSC09628-001

But I’ve been blown away with Will’s tenderness toward her, especially since he wanted another brother so badly. Despite his initial disappointment, she’s stolen a sweet spot in his heart. He will happily sit and just gaze into her eyes as she stares up at him. She even gave him a toothless baby grin. I’m not certain it was entirely involuntary.

Watching him with her fills my heart with gratitude. Not just for melt-my-heart-moments in the midst of the squabbles and diaper changes, but for their daddy who models such tenderness for them.

I missed posting sweet sentimental pictures on Father’s Day. I didn’t even write him a card. But every day he makes me grateful that he’s the father of my children.

DSC09644

I’m grateful that he comes home after a long day at work and still has patience to calm a crying baby or flip big siblings upside-down to walk on the ceilings.

I’m grateful for the hours and hours he’s spent reading to us: from Scriptures, from children’s classics like Winnie-the-Poohand from crazy long series like Lord of the Rings. 

I’m grateful for the amazing things he builds for them.

I’m grateful that he models the type of man I want my daughters to marry and the type of man I want my sons to become.

I’m so grateful we get to experience this parenting adventure together.

(On a completely unrelated note: we didn’t learn the trick to successful bottle-training, for times we want a night out without needing to nurse a baby, until our fifth child. It’s so simple. Introduce the bottle between three and four weeks. Success! Woo-hoo! Thanks, Amber!) 

Elanor Jaël

DSC03975-001

Introducing our sweet long-awaited Ella <3 

I don’t know how moms who go past their due date survive. The oldest two were born at 38 weeks, the next two at 37 weeks and we (as well as our midwives and nurses) fully expected little Ella to arrive by 37 weeks too. But the days ticked by and she seemed perfectly content to stay put.

Then contractions started, grandparents picked up the big kids, and the contractions stopped. Then started again. And stopped.

Prodromal labor. It’s bewildering, exhausting, and enough to make you question anything you thought you knew about having a baby. Funny thing is though, at least for me, that after a pregnancy that seemed to bounce from morning sickness to aching veins to insomnia to shooting joint pain (with near constant brain fog and exhaustion), whenever the contractions stopped I felt amazing and slept more soundly than I can remember for ages.

So after a couple days of whining and wishing that SHE WOULD JUST COME ALREADY, I tried to just enjoy it. Which was pretty easy because the kids were having a blast with grandparents and Josh was able to work from home for several days. Then the kids came home (because I was missing them like crazy and who knew how long it might be!) and we soaked in the last few days before adding a new baby to the family.

DSC03950

An *almost* family picture (It was nearly 11:00 p.m. when the kids came to see their new sister and Ned was sound asleep. <3 )

After a week of starts and stops, active labor finally started. Due to complications in the past, we consulted with specialists, ran numerous blood tests, and had multiple precautions in place for her birth. (Plus I took enough medications and supplements throughout the pregnancy to make me feel like I ought to be turning ninety!)

God was gracious and answered the many prayers for a smooth and uncomplicated delivery. We had an amazing birth team and Josh could write a book on how to be a perfect labor coach. Ella greeted the world with gusto and bright-eyed curiosity. We couldn’t be more blessed.

DSC04060Adoring big sisters 

The days since she arrived have been so sweet. With all four of the other kids, we either had complications or a ten-hour-trip home days after delivery. Plus, Josh either had to plunge straight back into law school classes, take the bar exam, or frantically prepare for a jury trial. This time we drove eight minutes home and Joshua got to take paternity leave. (A modern politically-correct trend I absolutely love!)
DSC04251

She is such a sweet, alert baby and has already brought so much joy to our family. The older kids can hardly get enough of holding her. One of them suggested the solution was to have quintuplets. I think we’ll just work on taking turns.

DSC04273

We’ve been so ridiculously spoiled with food and help from family and friends so that we can soak in these first fleeting days with her. It’s amazing how much change a new baby brings, and yet how quickly life without their presence is unimaginable. So grateful for our Elanor Jaël.

Becoming Poison Ivy Experts

Learn to identify this pervasive itch-inducing plant to protect yourself and your loved ones!

My poison ivy adventure began almost three years ago. The kids and I had just moved into our home. Joshua was still wrapping up his job in Alabama, while I started the unpacking process.

With a long day of unpacking ahead of me, I sent the kids outside to explore the fenced-in backyard. Twenty minutes later, Rose and Will interrupted the unpacking to show off the pretty white berries they had found.

After admiring the berries’ beauty, I warned the kids not to eat them and went back to work. But this nagging thought kept coming to mind that I ought to investigate their newfound source of berries.

The kids gladly led me to the little tree they had discovered behind the shed. Huh, I thought, leaves of three. It almost looks like poison ivy, but I don’t think poison ivy grows in trees. And I’ve never heard of it having white berries. 

Our internet wasn’t set up yet and my phone had splotchy reception, but it was enough to discover that yes, indeed, poison ivy can grow into small “trees” and it does actually have lovely white berries. Yep. My kids had just had a grand time picking poison ivy berries.

I’m paranoid about poison ivy, but tried not to panic. Unpacking stayed on pause while I scrubbed the kids in cold water and wiped down all the surfaces they might have touched with rubbing alcohol. Needless to say, they did not love this experience.

Despite my poison ivy paranoia (that is probably due to horrible reactions my mom and brother had to it), I realized just how little I actually knew about this pervasive plant. One of my homeschool goals is to explore and learn about local flora. Becoming poison ivy experts is a very important part of that goal!

Identifying poison ivy

Deer and bears nibble poison ivy leaves, goats devour them, dogs and cats roll around in them, birds eat the berries, but we humans can’t even touch touch poison ivy safely.

Sensitivity varies a lot from person to person. Often, children don’t get a rash after touching poison ivy, but repeated exposure breaks down their resistance to urushiol, the itch-inducing oil in poison ivy.

It’s not just the leaves that contain urushiol. The stems and roots do too. Even an old, dead vine can spread the oil. It’s especially dangerous if poison ivy gets mixed in with a burn pile because inhaled oils from the smoke can cause systemic reactions.

So, how can you identify this annoying plant? I’m still working on becoming a poison ivy expert, but here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Learn how to recognize this pervasive plant so you can enjoy the great outdoors safely!

Leaves of three

Let’s start with the “leaves of three” part. It can grow as a creeping ground plant, wind its way up trees, or grow into a smallish “tree”, but all its forms have leaves of three. These leaves are usually a shiny green in the spring and summer that change to vibrant shades of red in the fall. Sometimes, the emerging leaves are reddish. Sometimes they have a few toothed edges. Sometimes they don’t.

Of course, poison ivy isn’t the only plant with leaves of three. Strawberries, raspberries, fragrant sumac, and many other plants share that trait. You can usually distinguish poison by the shape of the leaves, the smooth stems (branching off from a sometimes hairy vine), and the fact that the middle leaf is usually on a slightly longer stem than the other two leaves. (If you look closely in the top right of the picture above, you can see the longer middle stem.)

This isn't poison ivy, or poison oak or poison sumac. It's Virginia Creeper, a plant that often grows near poison ivy.

Virginia creeper plant

See the five leaves? This is not poison ivy. It’s also not poison oak or poison sumac like I used to think. This is Virginia Creeper. Like poison ivy, Virginia creeper has shiny green leaves that turn red in fall. To make it even more confusing, sometimes the early leaves do have groups of three.

Even though it’s not poison ivy, Virginia creeper is a good plant to recognize because it very often grows near poison ivy. Both vines might even grow up the same tree! A small percentage of people are also allergic to Virginia creeper.

Hairy vines are another poison ivy warning sign.

photo credit 

Hairy vine

All I’d heard was the beginning of the poison ivy rhyme, “Leaves of three, let it be.” There’s more: “Hairy vine, no friend of mine.”

Not only do the leaves contain urushiol, the vines and roots do too. Even dead vines and roots can cause problems because the oil can live on dead plants for years. When the leaves are out, it’s easier to identify poison ivy, but in the winter this helpful ditty points out an easy way to spot climbing poison ivy on trees or fences: the hairy-looking aerial roots.

This hairy vine trick didn’t apply to the tree/bush growing in our yard. From what I have read, the hairy vines are only on creeping ivy where the roots aren’t all in the ground.

Berries white-- a useful poison ivy identifier

The green flowers that turn into greenish white berries (photo credit)

Berries white

The last part of the poison ivy ditty is “Berries white, run in flight.” (credit)

Judging from personal experience, this is a great line to teach your kids. Hopefully the poison ivy you encounter never gets to this stage (because birds love the berries and spread poison ivy far and wide.) But if it does, the greenish white berries are an extra warning sign to stay away!

The other poisons

Poison ivy can grow just about anywhere but the desert. It survives brackish water and nearly full shade. It springs up in forests and backyards across America. Though first christened poison ivy by Captain John Smith in 1609, it’s even more common now than it used to be.

Want some good news? Poison oak and poison sumac are rare. Like poison ivy, poison oak has leaves of three, but poison sumac has 2-7 smooth leaves that grow on a red stem.

After battling the aggressive poison ivy vine behind our shed for almost three years, I was thrilled to learn that poison sumac has never been documented in my state (it’s most common in the Northeast and swampy ares in the Southeast.) Poison oak has never been found in my county. Check your area to see whether these other poisons are a local problem.

Becoming poison ivy experts

Poison ivy forms vary slightly from region to region making it tricky to identify. But with the help of the silly little ditty “Leaves of three, let it be– Hairy vine, no friend of mine– Berries white, run in fright,” even children can start becoming poison ivy experts. Learning to recognize and avoid this annoying plant makes time spent in the great outdoors even more enjoyable.

Articles and more information, for nerds like me:

How to remove poison ivy, safely

Extracts of poison ivy studies

Steve Brill’s (beautiful) picture guide to poison ivy

MDC Most Irritating Plant

UMW Poison Ivy Guide

USDA Virginia Creeper Guide (pdf)

Jewelweed Study Abstract

Imagination: the Best Toy Ever

The grandest of all toys is free: it's simply a well-developed imagination.

“Mama! Today was one of the best days ever!” Will sang as he came running inside for dinner. What did we do that was so fun?

Nothing.

After a delightfully busy month, this week I cleared the schedule. I turned down wonderful sounding events so we could just stay home. Aside from our simple summer routine of memory work, story-time, and chores, I had nothing at all planned.

So the best-day-ever was almost exactly like yesterday, which was pretty much exactly like the day before. And yet it wasn’t, because of the best of all toys: imagination.

This morning Will was a farmer happily digging up dirt “to sell”. Then he was a king building a castle under the picnic table with Queen Rose.

When rain interrupted the castle construction, they came inside to read stories that transported us to faraway places.

After his nap, Will travelled on a Lego airplane to outer space… then he hid in a make-believe cave under the stairs. The rain kindly stopped in time for Will to emerge from his cave and build volcanos out of all the dirt he dug up this morning.

Parents spend hundreds of dollars on toys each year, but the simple fact remains, imagination is the best toy ever. (And it's totally free!)

Want to develop your child’s imagination? Here are five simple strategies.

Imagination: the Best Toy Ever

So you see, we hadn’t actually gone anywhere exciting or done anything new. But the mud-covered creature that came running in for dinner (and a shower!) with a huge grin on his face, had travelled around the world and through time. He was happy proof to me that imagination is the best of all toys.

His joy was an acknowledgment that in this fast-paced, electronics-dominated culture, it’s okay to just “do nothing” and let imaginations run wild.

When Being Quiet Would Have Saved $100s

Did you ever have a stuffed animal as a child that you loved dearly? One that you loved long after it lost its sleek new fur, its eyes fell out, and the seams started to pop open?

That same sort of attachment is what I felt toward our old van. My brother found it on Craigslist for an incredible deal while we were in law school. It may have been dented and scraped and have its seats torn apart, but after sharing a two-door Civic (and cramming two carseats into the back), I wouldn’t have traded our old beat-up Sienna for the coolest two-door car on the globe.

We travelled thousands of miles in that van and faced exciting adventures in it. It survived a terrifying tornado unscathed and just kept going and going and going.

The thought of parting with it made me sad. But there came a point when it simply wasn’t worth fixing anymore and we had to begin the search for a new-to-us van.

Be slow to speak

That proved to be more challenging that I thought. We’d set aside money for the purchase, but when it came time to look, most of the cars we found were either under $2,000 (and looked about ready to fall apart) or over $15,000. We spent hours one Saturday driving by dozens of used cars lots and found a grand total of two vans in our desired price range. I combed Craigslist for days with equally discouraging results.

Then Joshua called one day saying that he passed by a lot on his way to an appointment with a couple vans on it, one of which looked promising. The kids and I headed over to take a look and I instantly loved it. It was another Sienna, but newer and safety-inspection-passable (definitely a plus!)

Joshua came over to test drive it and we decided if we could trade-in our old van and get the price down a little, we would buy it.

Joshua told the salesman our desired price, the salesman took our van on a test drive, and came back.

When he countered with the trade-in amount for our van, I instantly blurted out, “Yes! That sounds great!” He offered us even more for the van than what we’d paid, the the total price was still several hundred more than what Joshua originally asked for.

“Can we come up with the extra money?” Joshua asked me, trying to make a little room to negotiate.

“Yes!” I answered obliviously.

He smiled at me and said, “Okay.”

We signed papers, wrote a check, and traded keys. Not until we were leaving did he say with a grin, “You know Babe, usually people negotiate when buying a car.”

Oh, right!

In the excitement of the moment I had totally forgotten. Thankfully, Joshua wasn’t the least bit upset, but I was upset with myself. What if we could have saved $100, $500, or even more if I had just been quiet for a whole two seconds?

I love the van and am so grateful we found it, but it was a good lesson for me to think before I speak. [And leave any negotiating in the future in Joshua’s much more capable hands!]

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” James 1:19

Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeWalking RedeemedGraced Simplicity, & Proverbs 31

photo credit

A Peek at Our Winter (Family Update)

After the coldest winter I remember since moving from Greenland at the age of six, the buds are swelling on the trees and the birds are singing a noisy welcome to spring. Before waving a happy farewell to winter myself, I thought I’d highlight a few memories because I forget so easily and have had requests for baby pictures.

1-2-3 Go! Cheesy faces everyone! 

We welcomed in the new year with debilitating fevers, lingering coughs, and a stomach flu. When I wasn’t sick in bed or snowed in, I spent most of my spare hours in January painting, scrubbing, and fixing up the home we bought when we where first married [and rented out to family when we moved for law school].

I naively thought that we could knock out the house in a day or two. For most of January we spent our Saturdays and free evenings over at the house as a family.

During the week, I went with the kids. I’m not sure why, but the kiddos thought hanging out in the empty house was a blast. They packed school books and a few favorite toys and spent many happy hours playing in bare rooms and building houses in empty closets while I scrubbed and painted.

By the time February rolled around, we were finally ready to list the home. We decided to try the For Sale By Owner route first. We advertised an open house on Zillow and Craigslist, stuck signs in the yard, and then we waited. A grand total of zero people showed up for the open house.

It was kind of discouraging. And funny. We decided a realtor was worth the expense. (As of St. Patrick’s Day, the house is under contract! Hurray!)

Rose, Will, and my sister Kathryn helping my Mom and me scrub the tile. Despite having her own huge projects, she spent hours helping us! <3

Teeth have also played an important part in the lives of our oldest and youngest this winter. For months, Rose has given us excited updates on the wigglyness of her teeth and has looked forward to losing her very first tooth. She finally attained this badge of growing up. The next day Edmund began cutting his first teeth. Rose was definitely more excited about losing her tooth than he is about gaining his.

Not only did Rose lose her first tooth this winter, after weeks of begging me to teach her how to make something all by herself, I let her make pancakes one evening for dinner with a little supervision. Last weekend we were treated to a delicious pile of pancakes she made all by herself (with Will’s help).

Legos made their way into our home at Christmas. Since then the Legos have provided dozens of hours of entertainment. William especially loves designing. His space ships, airplanes and hospitals are the center of many creative stories.

All the kids would love for us to get a dog, but I’ve told them that though I absolutely love having four children to care for and train, I don’t want to have to train a dog too. A few weeks later the kids were talking and Will said, “When I grow up I want to be a farmer and have lots and lots of animals,” he continued a bit sadly, “so I can’t get married and have kids.” I assured him that animals and families go very well together. just don’t have the energy or desire to train a dog right now.

(I did just find out that our city allows SIX chickens per household, not four like I thought. For some reason that makes raising them seem so much more worthwhile, since, ahem, I know it would be so much easier than having a dog. Right?)

Partly because she’s so tall and partly because she’s very independent, strangers regularly assume Meg is at least three. Sometimes even I forget she’s only two. She loves trying everything the big kids do…with varied degrees of success. Her latest obsession is puzzles and she spends hours each week building and rebuilding them.

Except when he’s teething, Edmund is one of the cheerfullest fellows around and loves the attention his big sisters and brother lavish on him. He giggles and coos and constantly thumps everything around him. He’s perfecting the art of rolling around, scooting in circles, and trapping himself in awkward positions.

There are few things like watching your children grow up to make the fleetingness sink in! I find myself forgetting things so quickly and am making a conscious effort to stop and enjoy.

How has your winter been? 

What’s Most Important to Your Child

“Mama. We don’t play with the toilet paper. Nooooo. That not good.” Meg told me in the most serious, grown-up voice she could muster, then continued enthusiastically, “Look! My didn’t play with it.”

There is so much to learn about life when you’re two. Sometimes I don’t notice all the little milestones my children pass, because I forget that when you’re two, playing with the toilet paper really is a strong temptation. So is peeking under the stalls in a public restroom and testing all the soaps to see if they’re all the same color.

In the bustle of “real life”, it’s easy to overlook the simple discoveries that lighten their world and underestimate how difficult the simple rules are to follow. (What’s wrong with playing peek-a-boo under those bathroom stalls anyway?)

“Don’t treat what’s most important to your child as the least of your concerns.” My friend Peggy mentioned this advice from Fit to Burst and the words have played over and over in my mind.

It’s so easy to gloss over my children’s troubles and dampen their joys because I’m too busy making dinner or checking Facebook to pause and look into their eyes and listen. It’s hard to drop my important grown-up-stuff to value what’s important to them because they are my children and I value them.

As I pause to appreciate what’s important to them, they’re also teaching me to stand in awe over God’s little marvels and treasure relationships over efficiency. They’re teaching me to become more child-like.

So here’s to treating what’s important to our little ones as important to us too. Here’s to taking the time to rejoice with them and weep with them. Even if it’s over toilet paper.

Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeWalking RedeemedGrace Simplicity, & Proverbs 31

[Full disclosure: Links to products in this post are my referral links.]

 photo credit 

Applesauce Making Day

One of my very favorite growing up memories was our yearly trek to a local apple orchard with some daer friends. Perched on the tree limbs, with the crisp scent of apples all around us, we held races to fill our bushels baskets or pretended like we were Laura and Mary Ingalls and their friends gathering apples to store for the winter.

After the bushels were filled, we had a picnic lunch then crammed back into the van and headed home to make applesauce.

After reading the “Little House” books, one of Rose’s favorite things to do is “get ready for winter”.

Sadly, the orchard no longer allows kids to pick apples (I’m sure we were a huge legal liability!), but applesauce making is still a fun yearly tradition.

This weekend, my Mom and youngest sister came over and helped us fill our freezer with applesauce (otherwise I would have been in the midst of stickiness till midnight.)

Will was convinced making applesauce is easy-peasy. It probably helped that he was eating his third bowl of applesauce while I cleaned up. 

It’s so fun getting to share a taste of the past with my own children. And even though I’m not six anymore, I still share Rose’s love for filling the freezer with fall’s bounty as we “get ready for winter”. It makes me feel just a wee bit like Caroline Ingalls…  though I doubt we could survive two weeks without a trip to the store.

Anyone else love the deliciously stick mess of applesauce making? 

What We Do for Chores

“Mama yook! My did it!” Meg clapped her hands and pointed with glee to the wash cloth she just folded. 

Birthday season just came to an end at our house and with it the passing of the “birthday chore batons.”

Don’t worry, I don’t assign new chores as we dish up the birthday cake. But around each birthday the kids graduate from some of their old chores and get to learn new ones. Not only do they (for the most part) enjoy the change, it helps keep me accountable to train Will and Meg and not just have Rose keep doing the same chore year after year.

My little helpers doing laundry together

As I vented said last week, running the home is my responsibility, but I desire to teach the children to be cheerful and diligent helpers now and responsible adults some day. Plus, it’s just so fun having all the kiddos around me as I clean up the kitchen or fold laundry, each doing their own little part to make the household run smoother.

Last week I shared my goals for chores. Now here’s a peek at our chore “system”. It’s very informal (there’s not single chore chart in the house) but works for us right now. 

Rose’s daily chores (just turned 6):

  • Make bed and get dressed
  • Open the living room curtains
  • Wash off the table after each meal
  • Vacuum the living room or sweep the entry way (alternates)
  • Fold and put away her and Meg’s laundry
  • Tidy up after herself

Will’s daily chores (just turned 4):

  • Get dressed and make bed (still needs some help)
  • Gather the dirty laundry
  • Sort and put away the silverware
  • Empty the compost
  • Fold and put away his laundry
  • Tidy up after himself

Meg’s daily chores (just turned 2):

  • Get dressed (with help)
  • Clear the table after each meal (she hands the dishes to me while I load the dishwasher)
  • Fold the washcloths
  • Run “errands” for me
  • Tidy up after herself

Other things they help me with that aren’t assigned (and they usually really, really want to do):

  • Play with baby Edmund
  • Bring groceries in from the van
  • Help bake or cook
  • Water the garden
  • Random deep cleaning
What do you do for chores at your house? It’s so fun to get a peek into other’s homes. 🙂 

 Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeEncourage One AnotherWalking RedeemedGraced Simplicity, & Proverbs 31 

Help Big Siblings View Baby as a Blessing

When I was expecting Meg, a wise mother of ten shared a piece of advice with me that has come to mind so many times the past few weeks, “Make sure your older children view the baby a blessing, not the source of all their miseries.” 

When we first welcome home a new little bundle, it’s hard to imagine the love and excitement wearing away for big siblings. But as the days pass by and sleepless night follows sleepless night, it’s easy to let big brother and sister feel the brunt of Mama’s exhaustion.

  • “Stop talking so loud! You might wake up the baby.”
  • “Don’t be so rough, you might hurt the baby.”
  • “I can’t hold you right now. Don’t you hear the baby crying?”

Be careful! We all want our children to view the new baby as a blessing from God. We want them to embrace a worldview that values the gift of children. But when Baby becomes the inadvertent cause of all of a big sibling’s trouble, it’s easy to see how anger or jealousy could creep in. 

Instead, this wise mother encouraged, involve big brother and sister.

  • When Baby really needs to be held and the toddler really needs attention, let the toddler hold the baby and talk about how grateful you are that God gave you these little blessings.
  • When older siblings are whooping and hollering during Baby’s nap time, pile them onto the couch with you and quietly tell stories about when they were babies. (Anyone else’s kiddos love hearing about when they were babies?)
  • If an older sibling is being too rough, of course you need to rescue the baby. But two-year-old-brothers probably aren’t trying to suffocate Baby, they just need loving training (and lots of encouragement) on the right way to love on Baby. Show them how to be gentle and praise them when they are. 

Create a home where Baby is a blessing, not a cause of constant constraint for big siblings.

Multiple times over the last few weeks I’ve been reminded of her words. I’d be lying if I said the transition from three to four has been a piece of cake. Or if I said that Meg hasn’t struggled at all the last few weeks and needed lots of extra hugs and cuddle time as she’s transitioned to being a big sister (cutting molars and catching a cold didn’t help!) But I’m so grateful that she, and the others, wake up wanting to hold and love on baby Edmund.

Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeEncourage One AnotherWalking Redeemed, Our Simple Country Life, & Proverbs 31