Saturday, January 30, 2010

Pink Cloud Blanket

Last night I completed a new blanket for Mariam.
It is a beautiful, thick pile of pink fluffy clouds.

It's just like the one I made when I was expecting her,
only this one is large enough for a twin-sized bed.

She doesn't want the new one.
She wants the old, worn out one.
Figures, doesn't it? 
I made Mariam (age 2) a beautiful new blanket.  It is the softest of soft, a thick pile of pink clouds.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Why do I do the things I do?

Mommy:  Um, Mariam...WHAT are you DOING?

Mariam (aka Queen of the One Liners):  I...DON'T...KNOW.

What she is doing is this:  Self-stripped half-haked.  Sitting on a kitchen chair, coloring her doll's head green.  I think she knows what she's doing.  Maybe she just doesn't know WHY she's doing it.  I get that.  Really, I do.  How many times have I asked myself..."WHY am I doing this?"  But for the record, I've never done...specifically....this. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

They danced, and God was with us.

They danced.

Julia inserted the Celtic cd, cranked the stereo knob, then held out her hand.  Twice Sam's size and twice his age, she grasped his hands with sincere intensity.  He measured her intent, then mustered his shirtless, skinny shoulders, and flung himself into the rhythm with abandon.

They twirled, they leapt, she lifted him onto the coffee table then flew him into another round.  Fingers touched, she bent backwards and he strained as high as he could, as she spun and spun and spun.  They paused only long enough for her to race up the stairs to fly into a red and green plaid twirly skirt.  The cd was re-started, and the dance began again.

Other brothers could not hold back the dance.  The seven year old danced with the three year old.  Josiah lifted Ben, and danced him from sofa to coffee table to carpet.  It was a beautiful, wild, joyful rumpus.

I lay on the couch, exhausted from the day.  My littlest dancer grabbed her ever present blankie and crawled up to be with me.  The others begged her to dance with them, bending down for her sweet kisses.  "Come and dance with me, Mae Mae!"

She kissed them back, but said, "No.  I holding mama."  Then she threw her ratty blanket over my shoulder so that it covered us both, kissed me tenderly, flashed me her dimpliest grin, and settled her kitten-soft hair into my chin.  We watched the joy as it consumed the room, smiled at the fulness this shabby old house contained.

The children forgot their January crankiness and their petty arguments that seem to have no end.  They wrapped fingers together, threw back heads, and kicked up heels.  Joy came, love won, and holiness happened.  God dwells here, in all the mess, and glory, and trials and beauty of a family.  He sat in the room and smiled with us, washed away the acrid scent of all dissent and lifted our tired hearts.  Emmanuel - God with us.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Photos by Jake

Hello!  This is Jake, Holly's eldest son.

Mom wanted me to post some of the pictures I took a few nights ago.  I was on my way home from my college class, and I found a big Catholic church.  I decided to find a parking place and take some pictures.

The photos that have me in them were taken with a tripod and a remote.

Click on the photo to see the rest of the album.

Click here to view these pictures larger

Monday, January 18, 2010

Changing me

You know, I sit back and I think about blogging.  Blogging from the heart is actually a difficult thing for me to do sometimes.  I think, "Well, this story is already all over the web, I won't be saying anything new."  Or, in this instance, I think, "People can only handle so much grief.  Can anyone read anything more about Haiti?"

I am determined, however, to do my best to be as real as I can, to blog from the heart whether in joy or in sorrow.

And I want to tell you that my heart is just desperately broken over Haiti.  Why now?  Why this tragedy?  Why not Sudan, or Myanmar, or a thousand previous tragedies?

I don't know.  I have been heartbroken in the past, for sure.  I think more than anything God has been working in my heart over the past few years, warming it until it is waking up and becoming fully functional.

I think that coming home to live near my parents has, in some ways, required that I deal with many things that have to do with how I was raised.  Be strong, be firm, be logical, not emotional.  Those are the easy things to deal with.  There are many things that I won't talk about now, that fed into a harsh and judgemental way of looking at the world. 

I am dealing with those things, and I must say that I have changed a lot.  God has crumbled a few of my very favorite idols, idols that I equated with my faith. Among these idols were politics, politicians, patriotism, right behavior, and in some cases, religion or theology.  I did not let them go easily - they gave me a strong sense of identity, of security.  There is a lot of security in being sure that you are right.  I enjoyed my idols, a lot.

I am not saying that politics, politicians, patriotism, right behavior, religion or theology are always idols.  I don't think that they are, so please don't feel that I am pointing fingers at anyone.  I am telling my story, and that is all.  I only know how God has dealt with me.  If you really know me in real life, you will recognize that this has been a huge change.  Sometimes when you have been taught to be tough, it is very hard to be tender, but I am trying.

As those idols have been swept aside, I feel as if God has slowly been waking me up.  I am awakening to see mistaken priorities, along with lost time and resources, and I grieve this. 

I have changed; the Lord is continuing to change me.  There was a time I would not watch the difficult coverage online or on television.  It was overwhelming to see such pain and know that I couldn't do anything, or at least not very much to change the situation.  I would turn the channel, sad, but unwilling to "go there."

Not any more.  I will "go there."  I will watch, I will pray, I will find more ways to give to people in need.  It really doesn't feel very good to eat richly when people are actually starving.  I will "go there" emotionally, holding their hands via prayer as they suffer.  If we are called to share each other's burdens - and we are - then this is something I must gladly do.  I think this willingness to share  - to pray for another's provision and blessing and healing - I think this is what God wants from us.  I think He wants to change us all. 

Here is an article and a video that I want to share with you:

Perspective - from my friend April.  She tells how God is changing her and her family through this tragedy.

And below, a video from Danita's Children, with a haunting and beautiful song called "This is an Emergency."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

If you give a child a hamster....

Actually, if you give your children permission to go and pick up a free baby hamster...

And before they walk out of the door you acknowledge that yes, the boys could have a baby hamster and the girls could have a baby hamster....

Even if you feel that you have clearly articulated your point of view and your boundaries....

Be aware that they will come home with........

FIVE of them.  And there is no way to give them back.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Scrapbooking our beginnings, part 3

Here I am, showing off my engagement ring to my parents.  Jeff, king of the funny faces, is looking rather glum.  I don't think he meant it...but I also don't imagine he was all that comfortable.  :)

This was rehearsal day.  We're standing at my parent's back door.  It was a little parsonage of a United Methodist Church in Southern Illinois.  Notice the looks on our faces.  He's giving his, "whatever," look, which says that he was humoring me.  I'm giving my "mildly put out" look. 

Rehearsal.  Neither one of us likes to be the center of attention, so it was an awkward time for us.  We really just couldn't wait to get the ceremony over with, and just be married, already.

My brother was supposed to walk me down the aisle.  For the rehearsal, he carried me instead.

Here we are, with a cheesy self portrait on our honeymoon.
I think we look very happy.  :)  We were married at ages 20 and 21, but we both have always felt
that we could have married even younger.  We've never looked back.

I won't post wedding pictures here, because I've posted them before.
Jeff was in a wedding a week before ours, and a week afterwards. 
This was taken the week following our wedding.  I loved that dress, bow and all.
I had originally planned that it would be my wedding dress, but most people voted for a full-length traditional style wedding gown.  I still wish I'd worn this one.

We lived in married student housing.  It was so very small, a loft apartment. 
I still felt overwhelmed by ALL OF THE WORK I HAD TO DO.  (I look on that in restrospect and almost laugh myself silly.  What, exactly, did I have to clean?)  The water heater was so small that it would only heat enough for one very short shower, the bathroom was so small that one could rest on the commode and reach the sink at the same time.  This...thing, upon which Jeff is reclining, was our "couch."  I don't know for sure what was under the blanket.  Maybe some cushions  Eventually we got a better couch and we STILL had to prop it up with old commentaries.

I worked days as a Publications Coordinator for the college.  I wrote a newspaper column, wrote press releases, and designed the college magazine.  In the afternoons, I answered the college switchboard.  I took a few more college classes, just for fun.  Jeff finished his senior year, worked in the shop, and worked as night security, locking up the buildings.  We ran a little miniature golf course for a summer.  I loved planting the flowers that year, I'm sure that's what I'm supposed to be displaying here.  You might notice that I cut my hair short.  I'm pretty sure that I am wearing what is called "mom jeans," even though I was a long way from being a mom.  :)  For sure,we never dreamed that I'd be a mom of eight kids.

This is inside our apartment.  Obviously, it was Christmas time.  Jeff was working on homework...or maybe it was baseball stats.  Who knows.  :)

Thanks for coming along as I've scrapbooked this weekend.  I'm really glad that I started back in.  I'm making good progress already, and the kids are enjoying watching as I go.  I will probably continue to share some pictures over this winter as the process continues.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Scrapbooking our early years, part 2

We met at a little Bible college in Iowa.  It was a very strict, conservative place.  For daily classes and daily chapel, men wore suit coats and ties, and women wore dresses.  Many ministers and missionaries were trained there, and many matches were made as well.  :)

I was on a singing group one year.  We travelled on weekends and all summer.  Many of these girls are now my facebook friends.  :)  And if they aren't, they should be!

Jeff was on a singing group, too, but for a different year.  We spent our summers apart.  I thought I might die, and still have our letters from those times.

I had this picture made into a poster and it hung on my dorm room wall.  Sunday afternoon at the local lake.  Ah, young love.

This is our engagement picture.  I guess that I was 19 and he was 20.

Again, in Minnesota.  I don't remember making that trip so often, but I guess that we did.  Oh, to be so "liftable" again.

(Last set of pictures tomorrow.)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Scrapbooking our early years, part 1

It has been a few years since I've scrapbooked.  I tend to go in blitzes and cycles.  I am hoping to spend the remainder of winter scrappin'.  I am working on an album for Jeff and I, of our dating, wedding, and early years.  If I finish that, I need to do a couple of baby albums.

Here's some of the pictures I'm working with this weekend.  Some of them are such poor quality, but I treasure them.  I don't even remember what we used for a camera in those days, possibly a cheap 110.  Anyway, here are the memories:

He worked in the college shop.  I thought he was adorable.  I used to watch him mow the yard from my dorm window.  He liked cats, back then.  Now, he has kids.  Cats don't rate so high.

I held his hand first, one rainy October day.  (October 23, 1986, kids, if you're reading this some day.)  After that, he was history.  Mine.  I could tell you grand stories of courtship, but we didn' know nuttin' about that.  We just belonged together.  We dated for 2.5 years before getting married.  I had promised my Dad I'd finish college prior to marriage, so I worked really hard and finished college in 3 years.  (Jeff was a Minnesota boy.  He came to college in Iowa with his only coat - which he wore all through the cold Minnesota winters in high school.  It was a jean jacket with a green/brown hooded sweatshirt inside.  I don't know how he survived with only that jacket to keep him warm.)

He soon took me home to meet his mom and dad.  You may thank me for the lovely colors in the background.  The seventies never did leave Pine River, Minnesota.

Minnesota, in front of the stand of trees in his parent's front yard. Brr.  I was 17, he was 18 when we met.  I bought him the green shaker sweater for his birthday.  They were very popular at the time.

Romantic, right?  Lots of trees in the North Woods, soft snowfall...

Yeah.  Cold, too.  No mercy.  That's why I don't go outside much in the wintertime.

(more pictures tomorrow.) 

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Remains of the day - 1

I am hereby instituting a blog genre I call "Remains of the Day."

Too often, the days are simply too busy to write a coherent post.  That bugs me, and yet, I don't want to forget the crazy-business of these days.  Yes, I could be more efficient if I didn't "waste time on the computer," and yet, someday I do want to read back and see just what we did cram into a typical day.

I suspect that you'll learn that I'm not very organized.  I am okay with that.  There are definitely reasons why I have never been asked to teach organizational seminars at the local homeschool conventions.

In other words, blogging will at times be more "stream-of consciousness" rather than polished.  Again - I am at peace.  :)

My kids are outside playing in the freshly fallen snow.  When I awoke this morning and saw that the anticipated snowfall had indeed arrived, I groaned.  Sure, it is pretty, but there is nothing like that first snow flurry of locating boots and mittens and hats and snowpants.  My children LITERALLY stood outside of the bathroom door while I showered, calling hopefully everyonceinawhile "Can we go out yet?"  "Are you done yet?"  "Are my snowpants purple?" "Do we have any boots that fit me?"  (Answers:  Absolutely NOT.  Please, go away and give me five minutes of peace, no, and no.  Add the last two to the TO BUY list.)

Emily has a swollen lymph node that is getting larger and larger and causing her some pain, so we will fit a doctor's visit in at noon today.  This involves rearranging schedules and vehicles.  Jeff had to drive me up to get the car from Jake at work at the library, as I will need it to take Em to the doctor.  The office is almost an hour away.  That means that as soon as I log off I need to make stew for lunch (from the leftover roast that needs using) so that Nick can feed the little ones while we are away.  Jake will need to walk home from work at 12:30 - but it is only about 8 blocks.  Fortunately I brought him a hat.

After the doctor's visit, we will need to come home and trade kids.  Jake and Nick will drive with me an hour the other direction, to scoop snow off of my parent's stairs and sidewalks and driveway.

I am thinking of my parents and the elderly lady I sit with.  Should I scoop her snow too?   Take her and them some stew tonight?  What about those cookies Emily made last night?  (Peanut butter with kisses.  I bet they would like those.)

And what about supper?  What can I throw together?  Somewhere, I need to try to cram in a little bit of exercise.  It is what keeps me feeling healthy and energetic.  School?  The kids have doubled up some days, so we are fine to focus on other things than academics for today.

Snow and sickness always present challenges to work around in our days.  For some of us, the snow brings much merriment and delight.  For others of us, it means coats, boots, melting snow and mud to clean up and craziness.  I'll take their joy, stir it into a cup of hot cocoa, and top it with marshmallows.  I'll rejoice in their winter joy.  They have enough for all of us.

*Bonus:  Shoveling snow for an hour or so IS exercise.  Cross one thing off the list!  Hope you all had a great day!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Our Year's Letter

Well, hello there, everyone!  It is such a pleasure to see you all again.  You should say hi more often!  :)

I know that many of you recently received our family's "Christmas" letter.  I say that in quotation marks, because it was not sent out until after Christmas.  That's me, right on top of things, never missing a beat, never walking in late, and most certainly, never sending my Christmas letters late.  As a matter of fact, I was early, you see.  An entire YEAR early!  I am thinking I should just forget about Christmas cards or letters, call them New Year's letters, and stop feeling guilty about the entire thing.

Some of those Christmas/New Year's cards never got sent.  Yes, that's right...a few are still sitting on my bookshelf waiting be sent.  My intentions are good, but in all just Might. Not. Happen.

So, even though this is late (or early, depending on how you consider the situation,) I thought that perhaps the rest of you might like to read our Christmas letter.  If you've already received this, you'll just have to ignore the following.  Here it is:

Dear Family and Friends,

This letter is “take two.” Last night, I sat down and stayed up late as I wrote you a long, informative letter. For a final touch, I attempted to insert a picture. The entire thing crashed, and everything was lost. If it had not been two years since we'd sent Christmas letters, I would have scrapped the entire thing. As it is,we know that we have been delinquent friends...and we want you to know how much we love and value I will try again. :)

It has been a whirlwind two years since we left Yale, Michigan. We moved southward to Southern Indiana in August, 2007. It was a hard transition, as at that time Jeff left the pastorate, we relocated close to aging parents (and picked up extra responsibilities), and we all left our church and friends of six years. We experienced five months of unemployment, bought a “fixer-upper” of a home (almost 2000 sq feet for $16,500) and a brand new baby girl, Mariam Annaliese joined our family that same year. (Third girl, eighth child.) We learned much about God and His love and faithfulness during those days. He tenderly guided us and led us, just as He promises.

Jeff has been working now for almost two years as a family counselor for a private social services agency. The hours are long and unpredictable, but it is good to see how God is able to use Jeff to help families rebuild their lives after abuse, drug use, and other circumstances that break families apart. Some of the counseling he does is pre-emptive, helping families learn to communicate better to keep from slipping into chaos. Jeff also bought another “fixer-upper” to work on to either sell or rent. The cost was $3,500. Unbelievable.

Our children continue to grow, as children tend to do. :) 2009 has certainly been a momentous year for us, with plenty of action to keep us from getting bored. A quick rundown on each child:

Mariam turned two in November. She is the sweetest most articulate two year old we've ever known. (And we've known lots of two year olds.) How utterly poor and grey would our lives be without our little Mariam. What if we'd not had this eighth child, who seemingly came at such an inconvenient time? During her pregnancy (during which we moved) she and I were diagnosed with a rare rh factor problem. Things were uncertain for a time, but she was born healthy and whole and beautiful, and now she is the absolute candle on our cake. Benjamin is almost four. He and Jeff share a birthday on Feb. 14th. Ben is smart, mechanical, energetic, loving, and always hungry. Fortunately, he seems to have outgrown his propensity to escape all locked doors. Samuel is five. He gave us a big scare back in September, when he hopped on a parked (not running) four-wheeler at my parent's very isolated farm in the Illinois hills. Even though the parking brake was set, the vehicle began to race down a very steep hill. It fell and flipped into a 6 foot ravine, and Samuel was flung off onto the sharp rocks at the bottom. Samuel's face was gashed and there was a large wound on the back of his head. He was awake, but groggy. He took a very lonely helicopter flight from a remote Illinois country hospital to a larger hospital in Evansville, Indiana. It was so difficult to leave him strapped to body board to fly alone, but the helicopter was too small for a parent to go with him. Jeff and I drove separate vehicles, he – taking care of our other children and I - trying desperately to get to our little son so that he would not be frightened at being alone. It was a long day, a long drive – but God's peace was present, and we again knew God was with us. Long story short, after all sorts of scans and care and stitches, Samuel was absolutely fine. He LITERALLY hopped out of the pediatric ICU after 24 hours, and he sports an adorable smirky scar on his left cheek. He has instructions to NEVER DO THIS AGAIN. Josiah was kind, and gave us an easy year. He is seven, and doing normal things like practicing riding his bike and improving his reading. He's a loving boy, who would be happy to be left alone to play legos until it is time to eat. Julia is eleven, that magical age between child and teen. She is a readaholic, like every other family member before her. This fall, Julia had some testing done for digestive difficulties. She swallowed some cutting-edge technology in the form of a pill-sized camera, which recorded her digestive processes for 48 hours. The results showed lactose intolerance, something relatively easy to deal with. She is feeling much better than she has in years, simply by taking a pill that helps her body digest dairy products. Emily, 14, gave us her own little health scare this fall as well. Her doctor was alarmed at the size of some moles on her arms, and a biopsy was performed. We experienced a tense week while we awaited results, but thankfully everything came back benign. We did learn that Emily has extremely photo-reactive skin, so this is something she will need to protect against for her entire life. Otherwise, Emily continues to grow into a wonderful young lady. She loves to read, to write stories, to draw, and to play the piano. Nicholas is almost deserving of his own letter this year. In July, the week that he turned 15, he was attacked and mugged while he walked home from work. (Nick has a fairly active business going in which he mows yards, does lawnwork, painting, etc.) It was a totally random crime, committed by a young man we did not know. Nick looked pretty rough, with a horrible black eye and stitches on his temple, and one tooth was broken off. Nick was able to identify the young man a few days later, and an arrest was made. We experienced a lengthy educational process with our local law enforcement and judicial system throughout the fall and summer. Nick gave testimonies, a deposition, and waded through line-up photos. (There was a second man involved, who has never been caught.) The perpetrator is a 19 year old with a record of violent crime, who is also known to belong to a local gang. He has been in prison since July. The case has never gone to a jury court, so we assume that a plea bargain has been made. We hope to learn more in the coming year, and we pray for this young man as he has faced confinement. We want him to know the love and peace that Jesus can bring. Nick has handled this incident well, with bravery and a good attitude. He has taken six months of basic martial arts training, so knows how to handle himself should another situation arise. He continues to do well as a freshman in highschool (homeschooled) and still plays the piano, although guitar is his true love. Jacob will graduate from our homeschool this spring. He is 17. He has done so well, and we are so proud of him. It seems hard to believe that he is ready to wrap up his high school years, but since we still have three who need to learn to read and one to potty train, we do not feel ready to self-congratulate. :) Jake attended college part-time this year, and will do so again in the spring. It was a good experience for him. He plans to pursue a two-year degree in computer programming at one of our local colleges, and then perhaps transfer to a larger school. He scored in the 97th percentile on national college testing, so he did pretty well for himself. That certainly makes a home-schooled mom and dad feel pretty good. It kind of verifies our “Grand Experiment,” which is good, as we have had plenty of self-doubt and fears over the years. God has been gracious. :) Jake works part-time at our local library, loves “all things” computer, and enjoys photography. He's a great son and an excellent big brother.

And that encapsulates our year in a nutshell. Thank you for sticking with us. Thank you for loving us through the good days and the difficult days. As the years pass, we are more grateful than ever for the gift of friends and family.

God is good. Stay close to Him, rejoice in Him, always. We have enjoyed reading your letters, and look forward to hearing how God is working in you and through you in the coming year.

Emmanuel, God with us all.

Holly, for Jeff, Jake, Nick, Emily, Julia, Josiah, Samuel, Benjamin and Mariam


Monday, January 4, 2010

Here we are!

I've made the move.  Apparently, I'm feeling pinkish, for today at least.   I'll flesh out and customize my new space over the next month or so.

Say hello, please!  I'd love to know who is here.