The New Year.

I just love a the beginning of a new year, to me there is nothing better than a fresh start.  And to be honest, 2013 just about did me in.  Of course there were plenty of highlights – hello Caroline – but the year was not without its challenges.  So for 2014 I’m carefully thinking through all the possibilities this new year might hold for myself and for our entire family.

I have this elusive dream that this year includes calmer days that are loosely planned, with lots of wiggle room.  {It’s ok to laugh but this is my goal, perhaps not my reality.}  Because let’s be honest, this ship {aka our family of six} doesn’t exactly shift gears on a dime.  Plus, I’m a gal who needs lots of margin and white space to function on all cylinders.  {I know, the irony, right?}

While dreaming about this next year words like simple, mundane, calm and peaceful keep floating up to the surface.  Probably not exactly words that describe this stage of life, but they seem to be what my soul is craving.  I’d like my focus to settle on creating a safe haven for our family to rest in the midst of the storms of this life.   Oh and not to be forgotten, there’s the elusive goal of balance.  We’re learning how to balance this very full life.  Life with two kids in elementary school.  A preschooler.  A baby.  It’s a fun and crazy mix that no doubt always keeps us on our toes.

Alex and I have also talked a bit about our big dreams and long-term goals and it’s exciting.  I think we both feel like we’re in such a great place right now as a family and we just can’t stop counting our lucky stars.    We have both big plans and little plans and lots of perspective.  {And while we may have lost a bit of momentum coming out of the new year gate, I have yet to find a rule that says you can’t start fresh on the 15th of January.}

All in all, I think it’s going to be a good one.  So Happy New Year to you.  On January 15th.

Oh and the word that comes to mind most often as I’m looking ahead?  Hopeful.  I’m feeling very hopeful and I can’t think of anything better.

P.S. Thank you Jimmy for snapping these pics.

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My beautiful children. Right now.

More often, and at what always feels like the last-minute, I try to grab my camera to get some shots of the kiddos in action.  And always, always I’m so glad I did.  Looking back, my favorite photos are the spontaneous, in the moment shots.  But a good old-fashioned posed picture is just as precious.  I love pictures so much because they capture what sometimes words can’t express.  You can’t help but see the distinct personalities, feelings and features of each child.  And isn’t it amazing just how different each sibling is?  Together I’m certain that these four make up the sweetest little family I could have ever imagined.

Henry.  At eight he no longer sees himself as a little boy, but isn’t quite as grown-up as he’d like to be either.  He still finds so much comfort in the safe cocoon of our family but is just starting to spread his wings and establish an identity separate from us.  It is both heartbreaking and lovely.  He is so, so brave and I know that this school year has not been easy for him.  His days are a swirl of love, responsibility, the need to distance himself and the pull to protect his brother.  It is a lot to ask of one little boy.

Charlie.  This has been such a year of growth for Charlie.  His speech is taking off and if all else fails there is no doubt that Charlie could beat anyone in a game of charades.  He will pull out all the stops to make his opinion/wants/needs known.  He has also become so aware of his limitations.  His frustration is real but his tenacity is greater.  Those traits serve him well.  Little dude is also mastering scissors and getting pretty darn good with his colors.  Oh and he’s never met a sweet treat that he didn’t like.

William.  He is healthy, praise God.  He is all spunk and sweetness.  He is smart as a whip and stubborn as a mule.  And funny, he’s really funny.  He is my little buddy, afternoons are ours – eating lunch, doing chores, and puttering around the house together.  He’s obviously not the baby of the house anymore but in a way I think he will always be my baby.  I sort of wish I could freeze him in time right now.

And Caroline.  My daughter.  Daughter.  Someone spoke that word to me the other day and for some reason it just hit me.  We have a daughter.  Isn’t she lovely?  And she squeals!  High-pitched little girl squeals.  And she talks and smiles and coos.  She also knows how to wear a serious expression.  She is alert as can be and always on the look-out.  With three boys flying through the house who can blame her?  She is sweet and she is spicy.  She is opinionated yet laid back.  She just might be the most relaxed of all our children.  This is something I never would have said four months ago.  Go figure.

The more I write and ramble I realize that it’s difficult to separate my story from the story of my children, or at least the story of their childhood.  My hope is that through all of these photos and ramblings my children will one day look back and see how grateful I was for each one of them.  I hope they see a mom who loved them unconditionally, stumbled right alongside them, prayed over their mistakes, laughed often with them and did her best to hand her mountain of worries over to the Lord.  I hope they see a mom who was far from perfect, but loved them so much.

Birthday Weekend.

Our weekend was filled to the brim with family and friends all gathered to celebrate Alex’s birthday.  We’ve sort of been living under a social rock lately, but after four months of colic-induced survival mode there’s nothing like a birthday to force you to fling open the front door and welcome in your dearest family and friends.

Friday evening we had friends over for a fancy dinner of KFC and store-bought ice cream cake.  The kids ran amuck, Coco was super-happy, easy-going baby, and so we opened up a bunch of wine and beer and celebrated that we were all together.  Saturday we had doughnuts and coffee with Alex’s family.  It was super-simple but so lovely to just relax and catch up – no one was rushing about.  Sunday we had a family dinner and I even tried out a few new recipes and baked a birthday cake for my love.

It’s almost like we sort of rediscovered how awesome our life really is and how much fun it is to have people over – even if all you’re serving is a bucket of fried-chicken.

I love our family and our friends.  But I especially love Alex.  He’s the best ever, so a whole weekend of celebrating him felt just right.

Today, the big kids are off to school and Caroline is taking an extra long morning nap.  As I write this I’m looking around our silent house so grateful for this life of mine.  I love to have our house filled to the brim with people we love and equally I love these pockets of peace and quiet.  Really and truly I’m living the life I always dreamt for myself. {Which is sort of funny for a girl who craves order, quiet and neatness, to end up with such a busy house that is filled to the brim with people to love.}

But for more reasons than I can count, I realize that this life is a great blessing, bumps in the road and all.  And I am so thankful for Alex, who so willingly leads our family.

In the midst of all of our celebrating we took a family field trip to one of Alex’s favorite places – his duck hunting club.

There is nothing better than watching Alex with our children.  The boys adore him and I’m pretty sure that Caroline thinks the same.

And now with all that said, I have not one, but TWO leftover birthday cakes as well as a box of doughnuts sitting on the kitchen counter taunting me.

Boo.

Pretty sure we nailed Halloween this year.

Oh, and Halloween is still three days away.

Boom.

I’ve never been one to hide that fact that Halloween just isn’t my gig but somehow, someway, we pulled things together at the last-minute.  And by last-minute I mean that we were 30 {45?} minutes late to the pre-school Harvest Festival because we were still trying to figure out who was wearing what.  Henry was all set with his Uncle Si costume.  And since the manly men around our house have been duck hunting long before it was all the rage, we had almost all the key pieces.  Charlie was a cowboy.  Again, we were pretty much set in that department.  William was the wild card.  First he was going to be John McEnroe.  {Possibly the only time I’ve ever tried to put together a real costume.}  Alex nixed the idea – too cold and really would anyone get it?  Next he was going to be a package delivery man.  Then he changed his mind and put on a monkey costume that was at least three sizes too small.  Finally he acquiesced and went as Willy {Willie?}, side-kick to Henry’s Uncle Si.

My total lameness was solidified upon arriving at the event only to realize that I had forgotten to put Caroline in her costume.  Oops.  Honestly it didn’t matter – we were just thrilled that we made it to the party {along with a plus-one} no one was crying and we were almost able to carry on a conversation or two.  A total success in my book.

Total side note.  The last few weeks we have had a running rotation of extra kiddos at our house.  Granted, the kiddos have all been elementary aged, but honestly I’m thinking that four kids is the tipping point.  Five kiddos?  Six?  No problem-o!  And it’s been so much fun!  However, I should also point out that we are all set with four.  It’s OK mom, take a deep breath.

Oh, and a pretty funny story.  William changed his costume about 20-ish times before we left for the Harvest Festival and in the process kept various layers and pieces of each costume on or with him.  Apparently a key part of his “package-man” costume was a stack of envelopes.  Immediately, upon our arrival at his school festival he went to work passing out the envelopes.  Come to find out they were his offering envelopes from church, each with a picture and scripture boldly printed across the front.  Kiddo was preaching it and asking for donations.  We didn’t even realize what he was up to until one {concerned?} mom handed me a card with a burning bush and scripture asked what William was doing.

“Why he’s just trying to add a little Jesus to your pagan holiday ma’am.”  {Don’t worry, I didn’t respond this way, but it would have been pretty funny right?}

Perspective

Leading up to our weekend away I’m certain that had my head not been attached to my body I probably would have forgotten to pack it.  Just days ago all I could see was where things were going wrong.  God seemed far off and while all I wanted to do was feel His peace, I was also wishing He would just cut me some slack already.  It’s sort of embarrassing to admit to such icky feelings now.

Which is probably why the timing was perfect for a getaway to one of my favorite places with some of my favorite gals – my mom, Caroline, and Aunts Maribeth and Kimberly – to help gather some perspective and get my wits about me.

It was such a blessing to just be.  To be taken care of and to be heard.  To listen to others and to offer support and encouragement.  To feel like your head is screwed on just a wee bit tighter.  Of course my mom spoiled us with her hospitality and ability to always have a meal ready and a bottle of wine open.

somebody got new cozy boots…somebody else got a cozy stripy sweatshirt…sue me, we’re predictable.

p.s. Coco you are a dream baby.

And while all of this restorative and life-giving magic was taking place, back on the home front, Super Dad pretty much earned lifetime superhero status.  In between, loving, feeding, and shuttling them to and fro, he took the boys bowling, to the movies, to church and to a friend’s house for a game of apple baseball.  He navigated playdates and handled bedtime like an old pro.  And not only did the boys have an amazing weekend with their super dad, but my hubby who knows me oh so well and gave his wife the welcome home gift of a spotless house, a freshly mowed yard, a garage cleaned out and – for the win – all the laundry was done.  Amazing!

My only complaint* is that now mom is going to seem super lame.

But really, I’m OK with that.

*really I’m not complaining…remember I keep the bar set very low. Free suckers at the bank and the kiddos think I’m a rock-star.  And if I use that sucky, tube-y thing to make a deposit?  Well then I’m just too cool for words.

Anyhow.  Life is good.  Mama’s refreshed and I even have a handful of grainy pictures of me with my baby girl.  How could things get any better than that?

PS – Somehow I don’t have any close-up photos of mom or Kim…perhaps they planned it that way?  No matter I’m sneaky, see that pretty picture up there with two people walking in the distance?  There they are!

Smiley baby.

Someone was all smiles the other day so I dusted off the camera and snapped some photos of our sweet Caroline.

Sometimes she is so serious.

Her “Do you have any idea what you’re doing?” stare.  She makes this face often.

Sometimes she just laughs and smiles when I walk into the room.  My heart melts every single time.

These early months with a new baby are nothing to joke about.

Here’s the truth of it, and probably a little more than you’d like to know about me.  I tend to go through some rough patches during that dreamy {ha} postpartum period.  It’s sooo fun.  Especially for Alex.  And my mom.  Add into the already hormonal mix a colicky baby and voila!  You have one fun mother.

During this particular postpartum ride I’ve felt especially vulnerable.  I simply couldn’t do it all by myself.  And so I had to rely on our amazing circle of family and friends to help shuttle kids to and from activities, bring over a meal, or take the boys for a playdate.  And sometimes at the end of the day instead of basking in the blessing of those helping our family, I felt guilty that I couldn’t pull it all together myself.

Writing this out probably makes me sound ridiculous.

So yes, it was an easy sell, this vulnerability.  And sometimes it all seems magnified because you have completely isolated yourself in your home because your baby cries all the time and you fear taking her anywhere.  {hypothetically of course.}  Which only then magnifies everything even more because you never get out and instead live in your own little bubble of worry and trials.  {again, purely hypothetical…}

And sometimes you just need a swift kick in the {stretchy} pants {and a good night sleep and a smiley baby and a date night} to remind yourself that this life is pretty darn good.

“…always remember that, nine times out of ten, you probably aren’t having a full-on nervous breakdown – you just need a cup of tea and a biscuit.  You’d be amazed at how easily and repeatedly you can confuse the two…”

source…oddly this quote struck a chord… ;)

Lucky stars.

We had the best, low-key, unplanned weekend.  It was just what we needed as we gear-up for all the busy-ness the end of the school year brings.

Oh, yes and as we prepare for baby.

Even with the grey and rainy weather we had no major meltdowns. We played board games and read books aloud.  We stomped outside in the rain.  I drank a full cup of hot coffee each morning after finishing up breakfast in bed.  For real.  Alex and the boys surprised me by serving breakfast in bed not once, but twice.  Spoiled alert.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune.  Certainly I had planned on lollygagging in bed a little each morning.  You know, giving the kids the freedom to snack on Cheerios and bananas while arguing over which PBS kids vs. Disney Junior cartoon to watch.  That’s what weekend mornings are all about right?  But I think it was the combination of some early contractions and exhaustion, my looming birthday, plus the fact that Charlie has started to boldly pull out frying pans and eggs that made Alex jump out of bed each morning.  Nothing like the fear of early labor or bedrest, coupled with a small child turning on the stove to get the day started.

Don’t be totally fooled by all this low-key talk.  Alex was a champ checking things off of our {my} to-do list.  Things that MUST be completed by the time baby arrives.  Like cleaning out the garage.  Getting the yard in order.  Clearing out over 30 balls from our gutters.  And while I learned the art? skill? of relaxing we still managed to have a pretty social weekend.  We had friends over for dinner and hosted a long-time friend of Alex’s one afternoon.  We celebrated my birthday one evening with my parents, grandparents and brother.  And then we wrapped up the weekend with an impromptu playdate with some dear out-of-town friends.

It was a successful weekend for sure.

Yet even after all of this low-keyness I’ll admit that by Monday afternoon I was exhausted.  So I did what any good mama would do, I fed the kiddos an early dinner {4:30!} loaded them up for a quick ice cream stop, and headed back home for baths and an early bedtime.  As in lights-out by 7pm.  And in my defense, I don’t think I was that far off because we only had one round of “I have to go potty” before everyone was out cold.  But as for getting myself to bed at a decent hour?  Total fail.  Oh well, that’s what coffee is for right?

So much is happening around here.  Sometimes it seems impossible to keep up, but it’s really all so wonderful.  I mean holy smokes, we’re about to have another BABY.  And we have three thriving boys already.  And I’m married to a guy who quite possibly might be the most patient and loving husband around. {I know this because he has to live with me.}

I can’t help but thank my lucky stars.

Well-rounded.

Last Sunday Henry participated in his first piano recital.  I couldn’t have been more proud or nervous.  Henry told me that he was nervous too, but followed up explaining “but that’s totally normal to be nervous before a performance.”  Of course it is.

There were seven girls participating in the recital and Henry was the only boy.  I don’t think he even noticed.  I love that about him.  He was so proud to “play in the same church that great-grandma played the organ, {for 30+ years!}”

catching…

Only a week or two left and it will be time to wrap-up baseball season.  It probably sounds like bragging {and well, it is} but Henry is a pretty darn good baseball player.  As a 7 year-old for a majority of the season he’s been playing *up*, going against 8, 9 and even 10 year-olds.   And there is no doubt that he has held his own both at-bat and on the field.  He typically plays shortstop or third base, but has also given first base, pitching and catching a go.

He just loves it and I don’t think we could ask for more than that.

For the most part Alex and I are learning to take this whole parenting thing day-by-day.  A couple of weeks ago we were both frustrated and confused, wondering what we were doing wrong.  And then suddenly we’re back on track.  As much as I would love to take credit for all the amazing things my kiddos do, then I would also have to accept that I’ve helped to contribute to their negative traits too.  Yikes.

Sometimes I look way too far into the future and panic.  Are we doing enough?  Are we raising up our boys to become strong, independent individuals who will contribute positively back to society?  Who love the Lord, their family and friends?  Who value and respect themselves and others?  That can all sound so intimidating and impossible.  And yet when I step back and watch my boys in action, taking things day by day – Henry helping Charlie to buckle his seat-belt, three happy boys running around the house doing who-knows-what, holding little hands at the dinner table while saying grace and yes, *one-more kissandahug* – it’s heartbreakingly beautiful to see the amazing people they are and are growing up to be.