Saturday, December 31, 2011

Handmade Christmas Items (Maybe you'll find some ideas for next year?)

So here we are on the last day of the year!  I thought that while I sort thru and respond to our stack of Christmas letters, I could upload some pictures of things I made for the kids for Christmas.  It is obvious that my skill as a photographer has a lot of room for growth - but don't worry.  I've already added that to my hopes and plans for 2012.  :)

It was a pillowpalooza year.  I have an inordinate amount of felt, and "felt" that I could surely come up with a way to give a  gift to each child that represented their individuality.  I don't have pictures of each pillow - mostly because I'm too lazy to run all over the house - but here's a sampling at least.  Sam will forever and always be our "monkey boy."  Not only does he love monkeys, he seems part monkey with his climbing and acrobatic skills.

Ben is our animal lover, especially puppies and kitties.  He has also coveted these buttons from my button jar for a long, long time.  They are rain-bow hued in concentric circles.

And maybe this Princess looks a little creepy, but Mariam likes it.  :)  I did them all free-hand without patterns, so sometimes that turned out okay and sometimes that turned out scary.  :)

This one for Josiah is self-explanatory.  :)

This is Emily's pillow - I made a very similar one for Julia.  I took the fabric from a "former" dress they both had worn when they were ten years of age - it was a cute little yellow seersucker fabric.  Memories.  :)  I made a LOT of these pillows, not just for the kids.  For my brother and father, I used red plaid and grey micro-dotted cotton.  I neglected to get pictures of all of the other pillows before they left our house.  Directions for these pillows are here.  They're super easy and fun to make.

Follow Me on PinterestAnd that reminds me.  If you want to follow me on Pinterest, you can do so here!  It's the most fun ever.

 Rosie got a new sister.  She is yet-to-be-named.  Rosie's sister is wearing Rosie's new dress.  (Just like a sister, isn't it?)

And I was reminded just how fun it is to make dolly dresses.  This was made with fabric from another one of the girls' outgrown skirts.  I keep special/favorite clothing around from the children, planning to make memory-type items for them someday.  It is nice when that actually works out.  :) 

We have plans to make several more doll outfits this coming year.  For a 3 or 4 year old, I like to sew on the little velcro circles rather than buttons.  (That's mostly because I don't like making button holes.  :)  I have used the same basic pattern for years now - it's McCall's 9066 - because it is easy.  It's likely out of print, but there are internet sites where you can find old patterns.  I am also making Barbie some FABULOUS evening dresses from the girls former (and worn-out) velvet dresses.  I found an easy pattern from the Simplicity Archives (but available at Joanns or Walmart) number 5785.  I have often been intimidated by Barbie sewing, but found this pattern to be enjoyable.

And finally, our solution to doll clothing storage.  Like most little girls, I found that Mariam tended to throw her doll clothes into a basket or bag - then she ended up not using a lot of it.  So, I found some doll-clothes hangers on Amazon.  They are the kind made for 18" dolls and are super sturdy, came in a pack of 12 for $6.  I'd like to link to them, but Amazon is still freezing up on me.  We hang them on the end of Mariam's bunk bed to make a little closet of sorts.  :)

Thanks for letting me share some of the projects that have kept me busy over the last month.  They were all fun to make; but I'm ready to start some new knitting projects.  I'm also hoping for some reading time.  :)

God bless you all.  We wish you a peaceful 2012.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 Pictures

I thought you might like to see current photos of all of our children - current as of September, at least.  :)  We did not get a "group shot" this year - it's way too difficult to get everyone home, dressed nicely, and to have cooperative weather all at the same time.  This was the best we could do....and I'm pretty sure that grandparents are glad we finally updated pictures on their walls.  :)  Here they are, oldest to youngest:

Age 19

Age 17

Age 16

Age 13

Age 9

Age 7

Age 5

Age 4
Age 14 months.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone.  We've had a busy few days here, celebrating and enjoying being with relatives.  So much good, so much life, so much fulness. 

If you have given me even a moment of your time this year, I thank you.  You honor me with your presence, and in this vast, vast land of web addresses - it means a lot that you chose to spend a little time at mine.

Many, many good wishes from our home to yours - wherever that may be.  We are looking forward to a good year - for us, and for you. 

God bless you friends, and God be with you.

He always is....


Thursday, December 22, 2011


My daughter broke the flower candlestick while cleaning the kitchen for soon coming company.

I found her huddled over the countertop, holding thick chunks of blue glass and Elmer's glue.

"I broke it, Mommy," she wept.

"It's okay," I said simply, while I turned her hand into mine and transferred the glass.

"But I didn't want to break it.  My hand slipped."

Our old kitchen was gleaming; as good as it was going to get, anyway.

She was so sad ~ the candle vase that broke came from my Grandpa and Grandma's house.  It is the only thing that I received when they both were gone.  There was no real estate.  My mother, their daughter, brought home some worn dishtowels and a couple of pots and pans and that was it.  Mom wanted me to have something, so gave me the candle vase.

It was sea-blue, thick glass, shaped like a tulip.  Nestled in an antique black twining metal of leaves, it has sat on my kitchen window for 22 years.  Blue is my favorite color; I have stared at it often and wondered, "Where did my grandfather get this?  Did he think it was pretty?  Does a farmer born in 1906 think such things?"  Regardless, it has been carefully wrapped and unwrapped and set in every kitchen window of every house where I have lived.

And today?  I swept it casually into the trash and asked my daughter to please, don't cry.

It's simple:

It's a thing.  Just a thing.

It was lovely.  I enjoyed it.  But it's a thing.  It's not worth my daughter's upset, not deserving of her dismay.

She couldn't quite believe me, was angry at herself and wanted to berate herself long past my request to "please don't cry."

Emily, darling, I got over "things" long ago.  Things don't reveal true worth.

With nine children, my nice things broke one by one years ago.  I confess that I was angry with the first broken "pretty," dismayed at the second, grieving at the third, resigned at the fourth, and so on.  And then, I just got over it.

(And this is not to say that  we shouldn't teach children to be careful, particularly with treasures which belong to other people.  We should.  My husband likes us to use glass cups, even for the little ones, for this very reason.  He sees clean up of glass and the potential mess as educational - it teaches them to be careful.  But children are children and are going to break things, regardless.  *I* still break plenty of things.)

I have almost nothing original from my wedding.   No china, no casserole dishes, no trinkets from the bridal shower.   I have gone thru two lovely gold and diamond rings that could not hold up thru cloth diapers and the cooking, cleaning, gardening and laundry that comes with raising a large family.

Right now, I wear a $6 dollar sterling silver ring in place of a wedding band.  It suits me just fine - it should, I picked it out.

And I'm just as much married, just as much in love - no, MORE in love - with my husband than the day we were married.

And Emmie?  I have so much more of Grandpa than that candle vase.  I have memories of him in my heart.  These are secure, as long as I remember, and that is where they really matter.  I remember he always kept gum for me, always had lemon drops for us in the red pedestal vase on his bedroom dresser.  I remember his work suits hanging in his closet, the way his Vicks vapo-rub smelled when I hugged him in his recliner.  I remember that he took me with him to deliver water to the country people with cisterns and how he'd buy me a "sodie pop."  I remember the day when I was around eleven years old and he lost his balance and fell face down in the dirt.  One of his old buddies said to me, "Help him up, girl.  Help your Grandpa up.  He falls down because he had Polio as a boy.  His legs still freeze up."

I wondered why I never knew that, but I certainly never forgot that day nor forgot how much comfort and security my Grandpa gave to my life.  The vase - a thing - was pretty, but gave nothing.

Things are never more important than the people who use them, or even the people who enjoy them.  Things have zero eternal value.  Things come, things go.  Let them go, lightly.

You, and I, and the rest of us here at home - our lives together and the memories we create - these remain for as long as one of us remembers.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Come with me on a trip to Amish country - part 1

Every other month or so, my mama and I take a drive over to Amish land.  I thought I might document the journey.  It's not very pretty at this time of year; the fields that usually wave green or gold lie mostly fallow and the trees are desolate.  Next time, maybe I'll remember my camera in the spring.

We start out early.  I am in Indiana.  Our small town sits on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River. Once we leave town, we wind thru field and forest until we come to another couple of rivers we must cross:  first, the Wabash, which lands us in Illinois, and then, the Little Wabash.  Both of these rivers were swollen destructively this Spring.  Many homes were ruined, little towns nearly went under.

I have a couple of tag-alongs today, Mariam and Julia.  They are bundled against the cold; but they come for the cheap candy.  We will stop to pick up Grandma in Illinois.

Aside from the rivers, the landscape is flat.  This is mostly farming territory - well, that and oil wells, and coal mines.  The rivers are vital shipping routes for both fuel and food.  This area is also rich in Native American history.  There are several large Indian Mounds and archeological sites in our location, plus many which have never been excavated.

After driving for about 45 minutes, I come to the Shawnee National Forest.  It, too, is drab in winter, but it is full of life.  I almost always see wild turkeys, perhaps a bobcat, and of course, herds of deer.  I find that I can't show good perspective with my camera from this angle.  In reality, my van was headed down a very steep hill, and the road ahead is a steady climb upward.  It always makes the kids in the back squeal with delight.  Fifteen minutes on this road, and then we hit gravel or dirt for the rest of the way.  In over two hours of driving, I will cross three rivers and thru three states, yet never go thru a town of more than 400 people.

This photo is looking down over a wide and sweeping valley.  The road I take is part gravel, part dirt; it rides the rim of an extinct volcano.  The rim is hilly and rugged, forested.  The inner portion, mostly plains and used for keeping livestock.  The soil is too rocky to grow much more than hay.

It's about 7:30 now.  I'll be at the farm in less than 10 minutes.  I'm running right on time, mom should be expecting me.  I'm guessing she'll bring sandwiches for lunch and maybe a bag of popcorn.  We like to go to the Amish stores in Kentucky, because they have a store of discontinued items and also a bulk foods store.  I can buy 25 lb. bags of oats and a gallon of coconut oil, home-made cheddar cheese and bacon.  We stock up when we go - enough to last several months if need be.

It takes awhile to learn to drive these backroads.  I could never remember if it was "right at the Y" and "left at the T," or the other way around.  You'll notice there are no street signs.  :)

This is what we call the "ridge road."  A few people live up there.  It has recently been cleared, after being blocked for the better part of a year following an ice storm.  My vehicle would never make it all the way to the top, it would require a four-wheel drive.  An ATV would be better, as the road gets skinny. 

Almost there.  Mom is waiting, Dad is picking out pecans at the kitchen table by the light of one tiny lamp.  The wood smoke smells wonderful in the crisp country air, the cabin is a deep comforting warm.  When we return, Dad will still be picking out pecans to give to us kids for Christmas.  He always makes sure that I have a gallon or so picked out before Christmas, so that I can do my "Christmas baking."

There's still frost on the ground, and a light glazing of ice on the pond.

First, a quick stop at Grandpa's outhouse.  Does anyone recognize what these stepping stones are?

(Old combine disks.  I've been tripping over them barefoot for thirty years.  Freezing cold on a cool morning, searing to tender toes in the heat - but better than the sharp rocks that surround them any day.)

We wash hands (you were wondering that, weren't you?,) collect Grandma (yes, to the sandwiches and popcorn,) wave goodbye to Grandpa and we're off.

Off thru more woods, past the long-horn cattle and across a few streams, thru a little town, until we come to the ferry that will take us across the Ohio River.

As you can see, the town is heavily decorated for Christmas.

The ferry is on the other side of the Ohio.  It will be a 15 or 20 minute wait.

The river is high today, higher than I've ever crossed it before.  (But not higher than it's ever been, not by a long shot.)  Usually, there is a large parking lot, and the ramp is out by the trees.  I actually have to drive thru water when I drive off the ramp on the other side.

I'm at the front of the ferry.  There's just one other vehicle on with me today - a semi truck.  That's better than being positioned in between two huge trucks carrying logs.  That always makes me uncomfortable.

The river is choppy today - the ferry keeps getting pulled into the current.  I always admire the captain and his skill; but think what a boring job it must be to make the same trek, back and forth, back and forth - all day long.

We're halfway to Kentucky now, looking back at the limestone cliffs.  You can't see it very well, but tucked into one crevasse there is a large cave.  It was used originally as an Indian dwelling, then as a pirate's cave.  River pirates would lure steamboats in with music and booze, then rob the passengers.  In later years, it was used as a location for making bootleg whiskey, and even as a gangster hideout in the 1930s and 40s.  The cave and the river have a sometimes wild history.   That always makes for a fun fieldtrip, especially with little boys.
This is looking East down the river.  And this is where the battery of my camera died.  :)
Next time, I'll take you the rest of the way.
We returned home by 2 p.m.,  loaded with bounty ~
happy to be back and thankful for a good day completed.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Late nights

The contents of my button box.  My little ones love to play with the buttons - sorting, choosing their favorites.  I remember doing the same thing with my mother's button box.  Good memories.  :)

So much "last-minute-gift-making" going on around here; so little I can show. (Too many little eyes....)

Dolly dresses, hand-made felt ornaments, special things made for special individuals - according to their likes and specific tastes. (I'll try to show you after Christmas.)  Nine children, ages 19 thru 14 months.  Can you imagine the FUN, the SECRETS, the ANTICIPATION? 

I'm up way too late most nights, sewing away after everyone else is in bed. I'll crash and burn and turn in early every few nights - but otherwise I am visiting 1 or 2 or even 3 a.m.  It is all worth it to me. It's not about material things, it's not a mad and ugly selfish rush, it's about reflecting the Savior's love for us and exemplifying that love to give good things to those who share our house. Yes, we live and love and serve each other every day - with Jesus as our great example - but we enjoy tradition and creating family memories at Christmas time too. We try to be clear with our children that the reason we give is because God gave; and the reason we love is because God first loved us. Love begins here, hearts are filled first at home, and from there it is poured out beyond the walls of our house.

Sometimes I have to rethink and revise my lists down, same as Soulemama and perhaps, same as you as well.  A little less effort here, a little more there; but always focusing on intentionality and on each person and on what means the most to each heart.

I'm pretty sure, though, that I'll never regret these busy nights, secretly making things (and memories) for my favorite people in the world.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gabriel - 14 months

Gabriel is a little over 14 months old now.

He's such a climber - can't hold still for me to snap his clothing.  I've got to catch him on the go.

He really, truly doesn't like toys.  He just wants the computer keyboard or the mouse, 
or the light switch or the bookshelf  or the phone or anything with buttons.

He has ten teeth and is in the process of cutting two more.
He hasn't been too hard of a teether - at least not in comparison to some of my children.
He says a few words, laughs a lot,
does so many cute things to make us laugh.

He wears 18 month clothing.  (I say this here because I haven't been too good at writing in his babybook or at scrapbooking.  I like to remember these things.)  
He loves to take baths, loves his siblings.
I can't imagine how it must feel to be SO adored.  :)
Often, I wonder what is going on in his head.  What does he think of having so many people around?
What, especially, does he think of having so many big people around?
He seems to clearly be aware of distinctions - when he's hurt or tired, he wants mama.
He saves his best smiles for when Daddy comes home at night.

When he grows up, I wonder if he'll think the big kids were more "sibling-like", or more "parental like?"
(There's 18 years between Gabe and Jake, 16 between he and Nick.  How will that play out, what will that look like when they are older?  I *think* that they'll be close, but I can't know that.  I'm fascinated by larger families where the kids are all grown - I run into people from large families all of the time.  The other day I at Gordon's Food Service the man that scanned my groceries told me that "You're just like us.  There were seven of us."  Yes, I always get asked if I'm buying for a business or for a family.  :)  And today, I spoke with an Amish boy who came from a family of nine boys and three girls.  People from larger families speak of themselves as "us."  I love that - it tickles me.  :)  We received a Christmas letter from a 95 year old man who had seven siblings.  All but three of them are gone now, but they remained close for all of their lives.  My daughter Emily caught me with tears in my eyes and a huge lump in my throat over that one - "Oh, Mommy.......," she said. 
I'm so glad they have each other.

 (Finally got that kiss.  He's hard to pin down.)
Gabe still loves to lay between mama and daddy for his late night nursing - seems to settle him and give him such comfort to be able to reach out and touch both of us at the same time.
(And I'm so thankful to the Lord to be able to give that to him.)
Gabe is a fun, busy, wonderful little guy.  
We're thankful, every day, that he's ours - all of ours.  :)

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Occupy Happy Meals?

I took two of my little children with me to town today.  They both had dental appointments and since every child draws a sibling name for Christmas, we had a little bit of shopping to do as well.

I don't usually take just Ben, age 5, or Mariam, age 4, with me to town.  We're usually in a group with all of the other kids or they are at home with an older sibling.

Thew were so cute, so excited to be going somewhere.  (That's kinda sad, huh?  We're home a lot.)  They had showers and brushed their teeth extra good and Mariam put on her Christmas dress.  (Red velvet with white cuffs.  Because going to the dentist is a Big Deal for her.  She made Ben wear a red sweater with a train on it because she wanted him to match her.  The world truly is her stage, and everyone else has either a supporting role or is a bit actor.)

The dentist with his spit-sucking machine and trial-sized tubes of sparkly toothpaste was a huge hit with my little ones.  They had so much fun you would have thought it was Disneyland.  But the excitement was just about to begin.

We went to McDonalds.

(Yes!  I know!  So exciting!!!)

Funny thing is - it really was exciting - for them.

And this was such a good mom moment - one of those rare times when I realize I have done something right.

We stood in line and my little ones did not know what to order.  They did not know about Happy Meals.  They did not whine between chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers.

They felt so big to just *be there.*  Catsup in little cups?  How cool is that?  A TOY in the bag?  A boy toy and a girl toy?  For real?

And a play place, too?

Ben didn't even know where to put his shoes.  He didn't realize there is a shoe shelf - he thought he was supposed to line his shoes up nicely along the outside of the netting.  They were so excited to see other children there, and a baby too!  Oh my - life does not get better than this.

A part of me felt pathetic, as in, how sad is this?  My boy is five, and he doesn't remember ever going to McDonald's?  A part of me felt old, as in, "has it really been this long?  Where has the time gone?"  I used to be a regular back when I only had three little ones.  It was a cheap way to socialize - the three of them couldn't even finish two $1 sandwiches at that point.

But another part of me felt great, as in, "Really?  I have succeeded in growing children in my America, into the latter part of 2011, and they don't know they have the right to whine for ice cream at Mickey D's?"

I've heard so many grown-ups complain this year because they don't know what to give the children in their lives:  "They aren't excited about anything," they say.  "They've already got it all," another grandmother told me.  "My toys won't interest them."

Now, I have no room to be pompous - my floors are cluttered with toys as I type.  My children have so much more than they truly need in the toy department, and my husband and I have no delusions that we can keep our children from all forms of materialism.  We're all greedy over something.

But we have chosen a fairly simple life for our little ones, purposefully.  No cable, no Wii, no network television with hyped marketing.  There's nothing wrong with those things, so please don't think I'm judging (except for the hyped marketing comment.)  I'm not.  I think we would enjoy any of those things in another season.  There's just so many interesting things going on with so many children and so many ages living here - that we don't miss the things we don't include.  Like McDonalds.  They'd never asked, I'd never taken them.

There is an answer to children who are already bored with the stuff of life:  give them less things, and more of you.

These little ones know about taking cans to church for the food pantries.  They know about sending packages and letters and praying for Compassion and World Vision kids.  They know how to pray for the hungry and the hurting.  (And okay, just so you know they're real, they have days where they fight like cats and dogs and turn up their noses at what I've made for supper and cry when they have to go to bed...around these parts we can construct a hierarchy of needs/wants/ownership very quickly when we are so inclined.)

But they didn't know about McDonalds, and they didn't know they deserved it.  They both said "thank you, mommy, for taking us to McDonalds," from the back seat on the way home.  Without prompting.  I was stunned.

That doesn't make me feel  better than anyone else, because I have my failings along with every other mother on the planet. 

But it does give me hope, and makes me feel very grateful to the Lord for these precious little ones He's given me to raise.  I think if we knew how much influence we have been given in our children's lives, of just how much consequence we have for them (and I'm not really talking here about what they eat, but rather, in their hearts and spirits,) we would scarcely be able to get out of bed in the mornings - the responsibility and our role would seem too great.  It's simply....huge.  There are no guarantees with raising children - but we can guarantee that we will always be the foundation under their feet, and we can always turn them toward the Cross.

I may not have given my little ones Happy Meal entitlement; but they know they have the right to their dad and me (to relationship) at any time they have a want or need.  There's so much I can't give my children; but so much that I can. 

I hope that helps them grow up "healthy" in more ways than one.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Children's clothing, a "sensitive" subject.

My little Mariam is extremely sensitive to various types of clothing.  She's always been this way, even when she was tiny.  She'd fuss and pull at things I thought looked adorable and wanted her to wear.  I sighed and tucked away many outfits that she outgrew without even giving them a second chance.

You know the type.  Her socks have to be perfectly aligned along the toe, all tags need to be cut out.  She hates even soft pants that have even the slightest flow around her leg - she fusses and says they are "all floppy."  She will take thirty minutes trying to find a pair of underwear that seem "just right," and misses a lot of outdoor play because she is attempting to find the absolutely perfect combination of shirt/pants/underwear/socks/coat/hat/mittens/shoes to wear.

When I pulled out her fall/winter clothing, I set aside everything that I thought would give her fits.   I limited her choices, but gave her clothes I thought she could "live" with.   She loves to wear dresses, and I'm fine with that, except for the fact that I want her to be warm in the winter.  So in her drawer I left her favorite soft dresses and some leggings that come to just the right place (and tightness) on her ankle.  It's worked pretty well, and I accept that these are her sensitivities and she may or may not outgrow all of them.  I just don't want her missing so much life because of clothing issues.

One of the hardest things has been trying to get many small children out of the house when one is so particular.  If I give her too much time, she will change her clothing several times, end up with something that does not match remotely (at home I don't care,) and still not be ready when it is time to go.  (The last minute shrieking over shoes can really wear a mama down....)  Since I am aware of her sensitivities, I have been trying a new tactic.  When it is almost time to go, I help her get ready last.  I choose her outfit. 

She doesn't really like this, but honestly, if we wait for her to choose and get ready on her own we will be an hour late to everything.  I am careful to only choose things I believe to fit her basic proclivities, and then, don't allow too much fussing.  It's just the way it is, Squinky.  You've got to get dressed and this is what you're wearing and no, you can't throw a fit, it won't do you any good.  She is coming to accept this well, but with a caveat.  She wants me to assure her that she can change her clothes when she gets home.

I am okay with that.  It sounds like a good compromise to me.

So, that first picture above is what happens as soon as we hit the door and re-enter our home.  That is a little Mariam clothing pile, coat, shoes, socks and all.  She doesn't talk about it, she just remembers how things are and within five minutes I know what to expect.

Sometimes, parenting means finding a compromise everyone can live with.  I win on some things - such as wearing something other than a slip and Snow White slippers outside in the winter, and she wins at other times, as long as she is warm and covered.  It's a Win-Win situation, with much less last-minute stress and trauma for everyone.

The picture below?  Well, obviously this is a much better choice, don't you think?  (That is a pajama shirt, covered by a Tinkerbell-type dress, with a winter hat tied around the waist.)
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