Monday, December 8, 2014

Power Trippin'


     One day, early in the school year, there was a meeting for the Parent Partnership Program. During this meeting, we learned of any new rules or regulations handed down by the school district or federal government that might impact how we are educating and/or reporting said education. We also heard from the PTA, and various other groups that work in the community in conjunction with our school.
   After hearing about a raffle for a guaranteed parking space (totally coveted by all the parents, and a well funded raffle!), and about the additions to the out door play ground area (benches that convert to tables, and an enormous chess board painted onto the black top with people-sized playing pieces), we heard from the person that co-ordinates an amazing food drop-off for the school.
     I'm a little bit confused about what to call it, in order to respect her position that a particular world for this ministry irks her. I suppose using the word 'ministry' would be irksome to her, as well. She dislikes the word 'gleaning', and prefers to say 'rescuing'.
     So, her message is that no one is actually giving this food to the organization, but rather, she and the organization are going in and liberating this food, then dispersing it. Please, do away with anything that sounds powerless. Don't allow the businesses that are donating the food items to have any power. Strip that power away. Sure, the food would be thrown away if there weren't any organizations picking it up. Someone in each company has to comply with someone's rules, and must file the correct paperwork, complete with required signatures in order to give away the food that they are removing from their shelves. They must co-ordinate with the many organizations that are looking to make use of food that is still edible, but due to industry standards, can not remain on the shelves for retail sale.
     No, let us take the power for ourselves. Let us be glorified and held in high esteem! Let this amazing woman be known as the one that rescues the food! She has POWER! She is IMPORTANT! No one gives her any handouts!
     What's the matter with us, that we are offended by words that infer grace, charity, and humility? I refuse to obey, or defer. I will partner. I will help. Soon, those words will be offensive, too.

     Let's get off the glory train, and quit power trippin'.







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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Chaotic, or Eclectic?


     Today, we turned on the heater for the first time this season. I'm always challenging the family to push through October before turning the dial on the thermostat. This year, October was warm! It was chilly yesterday, but we wore shoes and sweaters. Today, the wind is brutal. It is blowing through every tiny crack and crevice. I am grateful today that I can have heat blowing, on demand, in all the rooms in our house. I am also grateful for the warm blanket that is over my legs while I sit on a comfy sofa with my laptop to write this post.

   Yesterday, I played Christmas music while Mr.TheZoo made breakfast. Healthy whole-wheat banana pancakes, recipe courtesy of 100 Days of Real Food . She says to freeze the leftovers, but there aren't any of those here.
     The Christmas music was fun! The Zooligans thought I was being a nut until they heard the Charlie Brown Christmas song. Then they did the dance and appreciated that this was helping motivate me to tackle a
 decluttering project rather than remind them of their academic duties.

     A neighbor and friend came over in the afternoon for a cup of tea and conversation. I was able to finish a hat that I had been crocheting for one of the Zooligans, and my neighbor showed me a new crochet motif that she discovered in a fantastic pattern book from the library. I wish I could remember the title so that I could share it with you, but she promised to share the book with me again. I've been looking at making a snowflake blanket (someday), and her motif looks like a snowflake at the half-way mark. I'm excited!
     I also managed to get a couple of more dishcloths done for my friend at Kelli Gau Studio . I promised them several (gulp) weeks ago. I was agonizing over the fact that they keep coming out rectangle shaped instead of square. I've made literally dozens of this same dish cloth. I was certain they were all square. My oldest reminded me that mine have been washed and dried several times and are shrunken. I conceded, and am now ok with rectangle dishcloths. Sort of. But, Kelli is getting rectangle dishcloths stitched with love and much prayer.

   In the evening, when it was much too late for littles to be up, they helped dad walk the dog. Then, one of the older boys said a phrase "Kee-ko kee-ko blasky!". It was from when he was about five years old. He's now 13.  We used to have a Curious George movie with a couple of other short stories on it. One of them had a ridiculous (my favorite) song. Zooligan 2 couldn't understand the words, and thought up that phrase. We all began using the phrase, now it's a family favorite. While we were all up too late, anyway, we looked around online for the song. It's part of a stop motion animation called 'Mouse Soup - Long Ago and Far Away'. The actual phrase is 'don't be so bombastic'. Sounds like a great kid's song, right?
     Go ahead and click on the link. It'll take you to you-tube, and you'll spend 25 minutes that you can never get back. The last song in the story is the one we enjoy so much. The level of ridiculous in that song is what makes it delightful. To me, that is.

     My yesterday. Was it chaotic, or eclectic? Or maybe it was 'just' life.







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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Challenges




Do you need a call to challenge? I like to think that I do. I need to challenge myself to begin or end a habit. I need to challenge myself to kindness, or maybe to look or feel a particular way. 
Recently, I have noticed that I really don't need to formally challenge myself. Challenges area already present and at the forefront of my life.  I am challenged to raise seven people to be kind, mindful citizens. That one is a loud, persistent, no way to ignore it except completely on purpose. This challenge has built in constant reminders!  I am challenged to get up and walk around, you know, doing stuff all day. I can choose to ignore it, but that other, loud challenge is there needing clean clothes, food, and education, among other things.
I have the challenge of teaching a mix of great kids, some of whom are on the autism spectrum, and some who aren't. 

This challenge isn't boring. There is nothing boring about it at all. 
Tedious, sometimes. Overwhelming, often. Boring, never.


If life begins at the end of my comfort zone, then I've been at this life thing since the beginning of mine. There has never been a comfort zone. I don't know what a comfort zone feels like. 
Okay, maybe that isn't entirely true. I really, really like being at home with Netflix running, the smell of some yummy treat baking, and a project happening. Inside my house. With just my family, and no socializing. I am comfortable there. People can run around without shoes, or autistic kids can indulge in stimming, or neuro typical kids can just indulge themselves in being weird without judgement. I can allow my little autistic boy to show his affection for me with a head slam into my arm, or light 'punches' to my backside, because, while he will occassionally seek out a hug, mostly he doesn't want arms to close in around him. This is my comfortable place. But life happens there. It's challenging and hard. Things aren't usually comfortable. There aren't Hollywood Style happy endings. There's always another beginning, another challenge, another hard thing to face. But I choose to believe that it's a good life.
There's love there. That's what motivates me to rise to the challenge. That's what makes it good.





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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Duped by Pinterest

     I was duped by Pinterest. Again.
     Pinterest is a great place to go for ideas and inspiration. I like having a place to 'pin' photos and links to things I'd like to do or research later. Once in a while, I feel ambitious. I believe in my heart of hearts that I can make a project just like the one in the one in the photo.
     Yesterday, I realized that I have been wanting to make bread for our family for quite a while. I have made bread in the past, but it was white bread. Delicious, but not in keeping with the 'food life style' that we are leaning toward these days. I knew I had pinned some amazing bread recipes, so I searched. I found it. The amazing '5 Minute No Knead Bread'. This bread incorporates both whole wheat and white wheat for a  version of a rustic bread that still has a nice texture and pleasant flavor.
     To be fair to both Pinterest and the publisher of the recipe, I didn't read it all the way through before beginning. I scrolled through the content, admired the photos, and made sure that I had fresh yeast to work with. I began the process thinking that there must be some rising time involved, but wasn't too worried about it. Then I saw that while I wouldn't be punching down and technically kneading the dough, I would be forming it into a ball shape and tucking bits underneath after an initial rising time of about 40 minutes, then letting it sit and rise again for an additional 40 minutes. 20 minutes to bake. About 8 minutes to actually make the dough. Also, I'm a messy cook, so factor in the time to clean up the flour that I managed to duster over the entire kitchen. Somehow it took me about three hours to make this bread.
     I don't remember my little white loaves taking this long. Then again, I wasn't trying to make them at midnight. Why midnight? Because I was out of flour. Mr.TheZoo picked some up for me on the way home from celebrating his brother's birthday in a city about 2 hours away. I'm not complaining about the celebration or the 2 hours. I just want you to know why I waited until 11 pm to begin this process. Also, I refused to purchase bread at the grocery store. We haven't had it much for the past two months and are getting used to preparing meals without it.  I decided I wanted a dense crusty bread to put in the lunch bag for today, so naturally a bread billing it's self as a 5 minute wonder caught my eye.
     The house smelled spectacular! Not that anyone else appreciated it. Maybe the dreamed about sleeping in a bakery. This morning, while slicing the bread to pack, I tasted a bit of it. It is fantastic bread.


     Do you want to try this recipe? Find it here.  Next time, though, I plan to make a similar version of this bread, but with a much longer, sleep through it rise time. Even if I begin it at 11 p.m., I don't have to see it all the way through until morning! This one is called Amazing No Knead Bread.  It looks just the same. While both recipes are undoubtedly fabulous, my judgement is clouded by sleep deprivation. 
     




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Monday, October 27, 2014

The Sleepers

     Over the last two weeks, TheZoo has been sharing a yucky cold. The kind that builds up over a few days, then flattens you out for two days, then tapers off, leaving that three week long hacking cough. Ew, yuck, blick, no good, very bad, awful, terrible, horrible.
     I thought we dodged the annual beginning of the school year illness. Generally, it's the second week of school when everyone begins to show signs of The Ick. It begins with the youngest, and works it's way up. Last year, the younger two were old enough to sort-of quarantine. They each had a spot on the couch, a pillow and a blanket. They had folding tables set up for their water and juice and crackers. Their books and a few toys were set out, and movies of their choosing were stacked up next to the television. Biggers were instructed NOT to give hug and kisses. No snuggling, and do not share cups. Amazingly, we didn't all share in that round of colds. Hooray!
     This school year, we didn't get the cold right away, and I let down my guard. Ugh. Bad move. We got the cold. Many kids at school already had it and were over it. Four week in, we came down with it. It wasn't even one of the youngest kids that first showed symptoms. It was a bigger. *sigh* I wasn't sure when this bigger began showing signs, so I didn't know for how long they had been spreading their germs all over the house. I frantically disinfected doorknobs and light switches to no avail. Every three days, another Zooligan succumbed.
     Sleepless nights, sitting up with coughing littles ensued. We blow through a bottle of cough syrup so fast, your head would spin! We mostly used home made honey mixes to soothe irritated throats, but none of them are the 8 hr relief variety. We begin to believe that perhaps this cough will persist indefinitely. We've had it forever already, and it's going to last the rest of forever. It's hard to remember when there wasn't any coughing. Being well is a distant memory.
     Then, one night, the only coughing keeping me awake was my own. One of the biggers found that sitting upright allowed him some relief, so he spent the night on the couch. I finally fell into a deep sleep at around 3 A.M. When I awoke, I found this:

     It seems that my sleep was deep enough that I missed the littlest one waking up. Usually, she will come into the parents bedroom for assistance, or climb over us with some magical kind of stealth and join us in our slumber. Today, she went out to the living room and joined her 'bwuva' on the couch. I watched them for a bit before deciding to snap a photo. By then they were beginning to wake. I guess the flash on the phone camera is brighter than I thought!
     Here's to the tail end of this rotten cold. Here's to (hopefully) just a week left of this awful cough. Here's to sweet moments where siblings take care of one another.




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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hustlin'


     Hustling. It's something that I tell the kids to do, like, all the time. Hustle up! "We're right on time! Let's do this!" to "Hustle up! We're running behind! Gah!"
     It seems the hustle here at TheZoo is about whether we are out the door, in the car, or on the road on time. It isn't often about what we are doing to meet a goal that isn't necessarily time related. Of course, now that some of the Zooligans are older, there is much hustle happening for school work, team and club activities, and dance and instrument practices. What about those goals?
     I have spurts of hustle toward my goals. I write for this blog three to five days a week. I might journal sometimes. Once in a while I spend a few weeks sketching out the bones of some new book idea. I spend time in the garden. I do a bit of research and learn a thing or two about some plant or another. But hustle? For my dreams? Nah. I hustle all of the time already, for all of the other things.
     I often feel all hustled out.
     Recently, I've been following Jon Acuff on Twitter and Facebook. This guy. He says funny things. This tends to capture my attention. I like humor for the sake of humor. I like humor to celebrate good things, and I like humor to diffuse bad things. Humor is a great way to get me to think about something. Solemn, somber, or judgmental lecture are not.
     Jon talks a lot about Hustle. He wrote a book about it. Get out there and work toward your goals, whatever they are. Don't let someone else tell you what your life goals should be, they're your goals. Go for it.
     Today, I'm hustling by using my time sitting at the school where my kids take classes with our Parent Partnership Program. I'm reading a book that would be dry and uninteresting to anyone that doesn't want to write for children.

                           

This is a pretty good book. It's one hustle closer to presenting my stories to you.
Do you have a goal? Are your working toward it? Get to it! Hustle!



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Monday, October 20, 2014

Snickers

     The candy bar kind, not the laughing kind.
Our oldest Zooligan made them. She was in the mood for Snickers bars, but we don't keep junk food in the house anymore. Much. So I told her, half jokingly, that maybe she could make some. She checked the internet and found a recipe!

Before I share the link, Here is our terrible food photo:

           


We didn't have enough chocolate to dip the bars in, so we spread some on the bottom and the top and cut them. When you follow the recipe, you will have nice looking candy bars. Also, we were ready to DEVOUR these candy bars. Also, we found out that this home made version is rich and delicious! Even our little sugar fiends were unable to eat an entire bar. They all saved the other half for the next day. We ended up cutting the rest into 'fun size'.

The link to the recipe is here at Sweet and Crunchy Blog.


     While these don't fit into our 'no refined sugar' rule, they do fit into the "you can eat junkfood as long as you make it yourself' rule. I'm hoping that TheZooligans learn that making things requires, sometimes, many ingredients, much planning, time and energy. That seeing goodies being devoured in two minutes and still having children ask for snacks withing ten minutes of said devouring is frustrating. I want them to realize that we can savor something, enjoying the flavors and appreciating the work that went into it. 
     We'll probably have to move and buy a milking cow, because I can see that they currently don't appreciate the cost of milk.





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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Friends



     Have I told you before that my dear, wonderful friends moved across the country? It's been months and months since she's been gone. We text and facebook chat and call on the phone too keep in touch. It's not enough, though. I miss her so much my heart aches. Her kids and TheZooligans were like siblings. They fought with each other and loved one another fiercely.
     So, I've been lonely. We were the kind of friends that could stop by the house and just start doing whatever needed done. Show up for a visit, and start washing a sink full of dishes. Coming to pick up or drop off a kid, run a load of laundry. Have a cup of coffee, and clean up a spill. It was community living. Maybe it was sisterhood.
     Now I'm in a community of busy people. I'm a busy person. Kids are getting older and involved in things with teams and friends and competitions. They are discovering what they are good at and things they'd like to try. They are learning that following a passion can be challenging and gratifying, or frustrating and unfulfilling. We don't have a lot of time to stop and have a cup of coffee. Who goes to someone's house and does their dishes? Not many people, I guess.
     Last night, when the family had done all the things they intended to do with the day, leaving some things for the next morning, we put on our comfy pajamas, brushed our teeth, and settled in for relaxing evening activities. I was browsing the internet for a specific cowl necked, side tied, hoodie sweatshirt that a zooligan would like for Christmas, when I received a text. It was a picture of a donut.
     What? I replied "Are you teasing me because my donut pans haven't arrived yet?" I am a Pinterest junkie, and have been seeing baked donut recipes that look so yummy, and do-able with our real food choices. I've been going on about them for days.
    Next text reads "open your door". I open the door and see nothing. Then I see three ladies standing in the street waving at me. I shut the door. I rummge for a sweater, because I am not decent. I find a lined winter coat. I wear it. The ladies came in with happy smiles and hugs. Mischievously happy smiles.
     Then they hand me these:

So exciting! They stayed and visited for a bit, not too long, because one of them had a crazy day of driving all over the Puget Sound area dropping people off and picking people up starting at 3 a.m. She was done! 
     I am blessed to tears. These ladies are my friends. Friendships don't all look the same. I already know that a preconceived idea of friendship is no good, but somewhere along the way, I forgot. When folks can be friends despite busy schedules and stresses, sharing kindness, joy, and patience (to name a few) you have friends. 
     This morning's bounty from last nights beautiful, thoughtful gift:

These are spiced cake donuts coated with spiced sugar. They smell amazing, and taste even better.


Have a friend, be a friend.




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Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Goal of Mine



     Remember that post a while back about dreams changing? I'm going to share with you one of my 'new' dreams. It's new because I didn't realize how interested I am until fairly recently.
     Herbal and natural medicine and remedies area passion of mine. It's amazing that there are uses for nearly every plant that grows. There is a purpose beyond a pretty flower or a nicely shaped leaf. There is usefulness to plants beyond landscaping. Most plants offer some part of themselves to our well being!
     Recently I discovered the Herbal Academy of New England . This school offers primary and secondary courses, with certification upon completion. It's a respected educator in the world of natural medicine. While I don't aspire to becoming a doctor or nurse, I do want to be more involved with our family's wellness. I'm terribly excited to have found the HANE, and I'm even more excited to begin my education with them. I'm hoping to start in February, when my kids begin their second semester of school, and we will all be so organized that my concentrating on classes won't be a problem at all! Right? Right!

                                         
                                           

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pregnancy and Infant Loss

     October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Week.

     Living with the death of an infant, either during pregnancy or after, is a grief that the world seems, for the most part, to ignore. Some say that they are so sorry for our loss when they are told, then forget. It's easy to forget. The child is never born. There are no photos to like on facebook. There is no happy birth announcement. People must carry on, continuing to report to work and care for families. There is no outward reminder that there was a baby. The world quickly resumes as though nothing is has changed, but our hearts don't. We remember the babies we never held. We grieve for the ones that lived for a short time. Though we may have been blessed to meet and hold babies in the years since, the others aren't forgotten.
     Please say a prayer for those that you know have suffered the loss of an infant.




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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What's That?


     Our 11 yo is taking 6th grade courses this year. She's also taking a slew of electives. Not even just a slew. The electives she is taking are many and amazing. The kid opted for piano, violin, Irish dance and Introduction to Japanese. No, really!
     We came upon violin that someone was selling for a low, low, ultra-affordable price. Then we needed to restring it, purchase a music stand, a chin rest, some other kind of strappy thing, rosin and this little tid-bit.



Wait, can you read that? It's hard to see. Maybe you will recognize this view:



Still stumped? When your child is taking violin, for the first time ever, you will want one of these. It's at least as important as the music stand. It's possibly even more useful than a chin rest. With eight other people living in our house, it's a sanity keeper. 
The thing is called a Violin Mute. A new violin student may practice drawing a bow without the sound filling the house. Ahhh, sweet relief! The keyboard has volume control, the violin doesn't. 11 yo is learning, and quickly at that. Still, this little piece of wonderful is one of the best purchases we've made yet.




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Monday, October 13, 2014

Surprise Pumpkin!



     One day, when I was out looking at this year's neglected garden, I found a vine. I hadn't planted anything that would grow a vine. I watched the vine and tried to guess what it was. A neighbor thought it might be an Acorn Squash, since it looked like the one she was growing. The vine wasn't producing any fruit. It just kept flowering. Many of the flowers would fall off, looking as though they had been cut neatly at the stem. I started looking for cutworms, but never found any.
     I then learned that some of the flowers were male, and some were female. The female flowers have a 'hip' at the base of the flower that could become a fruit if the flowers were fertilized. The male flowers would simply fall off the vine. I looked for weeks and didn't find any fruit growing.
     One day, I remembered that I had planted watermelon seeds. I was almost certain they wouldn't grow, but since our growing season here is long and has been consistently warm the past few years, I thought I'd give it a go. I was so excited that we might be getting watermelon from our own garden! Several more days passed, and no fruit.
     An hot afternoon found me outside in the shade of our trees, inspecting this vine. It was rather thorny, and had sprawled out everywhere! There was one fruit, growing under the leaves of the wisteria that climbs the fence. It was a tiny green ball with a striped pattern. I was convinced still that it was a watermelon. About a week later, the tiny green ball had grown quite a bit.
             
I might have still thought it was a watermelon if it weren't for the stem. Definitely a pumpkin stem. This is when I found out, via Google, that pumpkins turn orange on the vine. I've never seen pumpkins grow before! This was exciting!  As the pumpkin became larger, I could see it from the kitchen window. I started looking out every time I was at the kitchen sink. I am there quite a bit.

Soon, it looked more like this:  

The vines are beginning to die back, and we'll harvest our one pumpkin. There is a lot of speculation in the house about who will get to use the pumpkin and to what purpose. I know now that if we grow pumpkins again, I will turn them or put straw under them to keep them from getting flat on one side. I will also pinch off female flowers to give fewer buds a better chance at becoming pumpkins.
     Not bad for a volunteer plant!
















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Thursday, October 9, 2014

It's All New!



     Take a look at the new digs! There's a new design on the blog today. I will have info on the tabs at the top in the next couple of weeks. Right now, every tab shows the blog posts.
     Isn't it fabulous? I'm excited about it, and now, I'm getting to work on the information for those tabs!
Have a great Thursday!










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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Catalog Season



     'Tis The Season to mix up all of the end of year holidays and celebrations in catalogs of every kind in the mailbox. The truth is, I LOVE the catalogs. And, I hate them, too. I love to see the new, sparkly, shiny, clever, and ridiculous. I hate that if I had unlimited funds, I would actually purchase many of anything considered ridiculous. I like fun, and I adore funny. That surge of serotonin when I crack a smile, and that muscle relaxing relief when I get to belly laugh.
     I have already received holiday book gift suggestions, holiday shower curtain sales, and cordless, pre-lit sheer curtain panels. I am certain that we need those pre-lit curtain panels. Many of them. In all the rooms.
     My favorite catalog arrival so far is this one:


     Do you see that title? PajamaJeans. Pajama Jeans! This must me the 20-teens 'Thing'. I knew they existed, I just wasn't aware there could possibly be an entire catalog devoted to them. How many pages could such cataloge contain, anyway? That would be 27, by the way. 27 pages of pajama jeans. I busted up laughing when I saw this catalog. I was laughing so hard that many of the zooligans came to see what could possibly be so hysterical. 
     Then, I started looking through the catalog, because, hey, catalog full of ridiculousness. That's when I found this: 
   
   

     Multi-colored Pajama Jeans! I could have red, ocean blue, jade, even  a line of fall colors. I could choose indigo, black or vintage wash. I could choose brocade print! But wait! It isn't just the Pajama Jeans pants! There's more!



     The Pajama Jeans Jacket! Now, a denim look jacket that is cozy and warm and totally goes with those blue brocade print pants, that I can wear with heels and completely fool all of the public! I must have these!  Oh, and there's something fantastic tucked away in the middle of this lovely catalog of amazingness.


    That's right! MEN'S Pajama Jeans! Something for everyone. You can't tell in the pic, but those socks are cheese burgers and beers. For real. Pajama jeans and Cheeseburger Socks. The men on your gift list never had such an amazing Christmas! It's the stuff of dreams!
     It isn't just me here at TheZoo that is suddenly excited about these Pajama Jeans. At least three of the zooligans wrestled this catalog out of my hands and began to exclaim how amazed they are that there are now boot cut AND skinny fit to choose from, and that perhaps this fashion no-no has suddenly become  'Say Yes to the PajamaJeans!' 
     This might well be the 'Something to Wear' portion of our holiday and birthday gifting guideline here at TheZoo. If you've not heard it before, it goes like this 'Something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read." I wasn't clever enough to come up with this sweet little piece of poetic wisdom. I saw it on Pintrest. While I was looking up pictures of sparkly, ridiculous things. 
   Happy Holiday Catalog Season!

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Different Person


     Picture day at the Parent Partnership Program was yesterday. We don't usually go in to school on Mondays, so even though I knew it was coming up, had marked it in my day planner, and had entered into the calendar on my phone, I forgot.
     I was posting yesterday's blog when I noticed a friend had mentioned on facebook about forgetting picture day today. We began the frantic scurry. While it was still fairly early in the day, I didn't want to spend the time to pack a lunch and be out over the lunch hour. I also didn't want to wait until after lunch, because I knew that I would get busy and forget the time.
     The 4 yo was badly in need of a trim on her bangs, but that hadn't happened yet. We had been using headbands. Yesterday, I tried to pull her bangs back with one of those microscopic hair bands made for babies. It looked terribly cute. She felt her hair and decided she didn't like it. I asked her to look in the mirror, and maybe she would change her mind.
     She climbed on the step stool and looked in the mirror. She stared in the mirror. For a long time. Finally, she spoke. "I don't like it. It looks like a different person." Sigh. I told her that I could cut her bangs in a hurry, but she'd have to sit very still so it looks nice in the pictures. She did. She sat still! I was able to give her a quick bangs trim and brush the hair off of her sweater. "Look in the mirror now." I instructed. She looked, and immediately smiled. "I like this! I look like me!"
     How many times does something change in my life, forcing a new schedule or responsibility on me that I don't feel prepared for, or that I am not qualified for. Those times when I believe that whatever new thing it is that I am doing just doesn't look like me. I don't recognize myself in that role. I can't see myself in it.
     Usually, some small tweak, one that won't change the outcome of the project or responsibility but will change how I see it, or how I see myself in it seems to make it work. Sometimes the tweak is learning more about what it is that I need to accomplish. Sometimes it is in meeting someone new that is already good at whatever it is I need to accomplish. I don't have to change who I am and become unrecognizable in order to accomplish something, I just need to make some improvement to what is already there. I have to admit that I do like what I see, and that freshening up my skills and attitude a bit will allow me to continue to recognize myself, and see myself in a better light. Then I can say "I like this! It looks like me!"

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Monday, October 6, 2014

My Highlights Reel?


     You know how I've mentioned that sometimes, a mom sees TheZoo out and about and raves about how amazed she is with how 'together' our family seems to be? Do remember how I laugh and point out that 'seems to be' is really the key phrase in that sentence? That cheesy facebook meme about the highlights reel of life is rather fitting in these times. I almost wish I had a laminated version that I could pull from my purse and hold up at times like these.

                                                           

     When people are amazed because all seven children made it out of the house with shoes on and backpacks ready to go, and they stop by the table we are eating lunch at and see healthy fare on the children's plates, that they are eating, and I am instruction and couple of kiddos on some bit of academic pursuit, I feel the need to stop them and explain.
     Here's the truth. I actually lost sleep over this lunch menu. I needed something healthy, because we are trying to omit refined flour and sugar from our diet. They are happily eating it because they are hungry from refusing the dinner the night before and the breakfast this morning that was so full of healthiness that they deemed it disgusting. Now their stomachs are demanding that something, anything, fill that void.
     All of the kids are out of the house with shoes on and backpacks ready to go. Their was a 20 minute aerobic workout just as we were going to leave the house to move furniture and dig through laundry baskets to find matching shoes for at least two of the children. Also, I guess you didn't see us last year when the then current 4 year old could be seen wearing two shoes, but unmatched ones on various occasions.
     The two children that are currently receiving academic instruction are politely and quietly doing so because for whatever reason, I did not help them manage their time to get this finished before today's due date, and they need this done for the class that meets right after lunch.
     What you see isn't always what you get. Please know that I am not hiding the reality. Go ahead and ask! I will be real with you! For whatever part of our family that looks smooth running and easy, there is a part that is challenging and crazy.
     Recently, I received maybe one of the best compliments ever in my motherhood life of 18 years. A friend told me that her group bible study is using a study that asks them to identify a fellow mom that they admire for some reason or another. She put down my name as the admired mom. That isn't the amazing compliment part. The amazing part is that this lady is a friend. A good one. She knows me. She knows about how my family's life really happens. She has seen my family grow over the years, she knows the struggles we face, and the victories that we celebrate. She's heard me nay say the 'have it together' phrase. 
     I'm not big on receiving compliments, they make me uneasy. I have a hard time reconciling whatever the compliment is with the whole view I have of my life. I'm not talking about "I love your shoes!". I'm talking about any compliment that has to do with perceived personal success. My life is a series of successes and semi-successes interspersed with an even more impressive series of failures. 
     When you see our family out, whether what you're seeing is a success moment or a fail moment, please extend the grace that comes with understanding that it is just a moment. In fact, please extend that grace to any person that you come across! 


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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Back in June



     Back in June This little thing happened.
     Our eldest graduated High School!
     While this may not be the most important milestone in her life yet to come, it was one of the most important milestones in her family's life. The oldest of the children, now an adult. I mean, technically speaking.
     While we won't be empty nesters for quite a long time yet, this graduation has given us a new perspective on how time passes. Our previous perspective has been through the tired, blurry lens of having newborns and toddlers in the house always for 15 years. While there are many things I will miss about my babies being babies, those years that my eyes always felt desert dry, and my bones were always aching with need to rest, those memories will not be missed.
     Now, with the youngest at four, completely toilet trained, getting herself in and out of the car, putting on her own shoes. It feels like we've moved into the summer season in our lives. I don't know, maybe that's too poetic. We have a grown up child, a couple of middle schoolers, a handful of elementary agers, and one that is still called the baby, even though she is determined to be more grown up than anyone else in the house.
     This morning she told me that someone left a crap in the toilet and didn't flush it. Really, she said 'crap'. I said "poop", she said, "No, it was a bunch of crap." I have no idea where she gets language like that. No idea at all.
     Well, these next 15 years are going to be a blast. I can just tell.

Here are a few fuzzy, crazy photos of that graduation taken mostly by a mom whose eyesight was fuzzy, not with lack of sleep, but with the tears of awe that we kept her alive all this time.  Graduation Story
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Monday, September 29, 2014

Heads Up!


     I asked our 4 yo why she was upset. I expected something along the lines of "He isn't being nice!" or "They won't let me play.", or even "They're mean!".
     What I heard instead was "I gave him wise council, but he won't make a good choice and he's annoying me and that's very rude!"  Whoa! Who taught this one how to talk?
     It's sometimes a little bit funny,  but always fascinating, to hear the phrases our family uses coming from the littles. We have quite a few of them. They're reminders. Easy, quick ways to sum up a larger idea. The four year old doesn't have a firm grasp on the idea of wise council, though. She thinks it means that her direct order is the same thing as good advice. She hasn't heard the chat about reminding someone of rules regarding safety especially, but also about any number of things. Being a good friend, being a good neighbor, etc. The chat includes information about how to remind someone. It should be done gently, with patience and love. When we give wise council, we have hope that the listener will make a choice that will keep them from injury, destruction of property, or mangling a relationship. We hope to help someone avoid a scenario that includes unpleasant consequences.
     The 4 yo has heard the phrase 'wise council' often enough along with a reminder of whatever the rules are, that she tried to use it to her advantage. She knows which words seem to please my ears. She has an idea that the phrases she's borrowed from the older the kiddos will soften me to her plight.
     After some investigation, I find that someone has something she wants and won't give it to her. She demanded that the object be given to her, but the order wasn't well received. Instead, the holder of the object made it clear that he wasn't ready to give it up, and that he didn't appreciate her demand. Eventually he ignored her, and began chanting some nonsense words as part of his play. Essentially, she truly was annoyed, and she did find it rude, but she wasn't giving good advice. She was tattling. Understanding already that her choice of phrasing would likely win her favor in the argument. Except, it didn't.
     The concept of wise counsel was explained, along with the concept of telling bad news in order to ensure that someone 'gets in trouble'.
     Even with our intention to teach the children how to be good friends and neighbors, to give grace and to be humble in receiving it, we've reduced some of these ideas to slogans. When a parent is faced with repeating certain ideas uncountable times each and every day, it makes sense to explain the concept, then attach a memory helper. It does work. It works when the child can actually connect the helper phrase to the concept. The older children have heard the concepts behind the phrases explained numerous times. The younger children hear bits and pieces by default. They hear shortened versions. Then they misuse the phrases.
     I do it, too. With grown ups, and with Jesus. I fling the phrases out there, knowing that they sound right, but just not feeling it. Saying the right thing, because it's easier than saying that I struggle, or don't want to get into the whole deep, time consuming truth behind the phrase. I don't have time, I'm feeling annoyed, I'm not getting my way.
     Oh, four year old, thank you for the heads up.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Having It All Together. Or Not.


     Fridays we don't go to Parent Partnership Program classes. There aren't any sports practices, club meetings or other extra-curricular activities. We spend Fridays on research projects, math practice, instrument practice and chores.
     With our commitment to make healthier food choices comes the task of preparing our food at home. Our goal is to eat real food, avoiding refined sugar and chemically processed sugar substitutes whenever possible. This means we spend a lot of time prepping and cooking. I decided today would be a good day to make toaster pastries, chocolate almond butter cups, chocolate truffles, pumpkin bread mini-loaves and refried beans as well as the meals that we would eat today.
     What I got done was vegetable stock, refried beans, chocolate truffles, and our meals for the day. The rest of the day was spent handling repeated and escalating conflict between two of my kiddos.  It was exhausting! Two of the smaller ones approached me approximately every 20 minutes asking if the pop-tarts were done yet. All.Day.Long. I chopped, cooked, and washed everything. Chop, cook, wash, repeat. All.Day.Long.
     I was so excited when these were finished:

Chocolate truffles with toasted coconut. 
What a treat, right?

     Oops, I bought prunes instead of dates. I don't even know how I did it. The package clearly states "Prunes. Dried Plums" So, these lovelies taste like chocolate Dr. Pepper. This does not, in any way, satisfy my chocolate craving. At all. This is terribly sad.
     Also, there is no stash in the house. I mean, sure, there is still some refined sugar, but that we are saving for the holidays. I'm just not ready to try to replace our traditional, family favorite treats with dates and pecans and honey. Maybe next year. Maybe. Just, chocolate, folks. gah!
     


Happy Friday! Was your week a success, even in some small way? 


     

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Do Hard Things


     Zooligans do hard things!

     This is what we say in regard to just about anything lately.  There are a lot of hard things that we need to do recently. A couple of middle school aged kiddos adjusting to a more challenging academic load, littles who are just big enough to learn chores that require a little more time and effort, a grown up zooligan trying to navigate the new choices in front of her, ZooMama and Mr.TheZoo endeavoring to help these kids make wise choices, anddealing with the immediate effects of almost completely but not quite eliminating sugar, artificial food coloring, and pre-packaged snacks from our home.
     Sugar withdrawal is a real thing, and it affects some people more than others. It's been crazy grumpy around here. We're going on week three, and are seeing some some attitude improvement. I'm talking about myself, here.
     The kiddos around here have all shown they are capable of persistence and hard work. Sometimes it's in debating their requests. Often it's in helping out with some job or another. All of the kiddos have been keen on helping Mr.TheZoo with vehicle maintenance and repairs.



                                             4 yo Zooligan using the floor jack to help Mr.TheZoo with fixing brakes
                                                                 on a  truck.

                         
                                                     Yes, she was actually able to remove this lug nut. Of course, it was
                                                        loosened just a bit, but she finished the job.

                 
                                                     The rain didn't bother her, because she had her Daddy helper
                                                      helper holding the umbrella for her.


                                                  Zooligans do hard things from the very beginning.


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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Frantic!

     Sometimes our schedule feels hectic. I begin to feel over committed, the children are constantly grouchy and we always feel tired. So, we back off a bit. We drop an activity here and there. The last time we did that, we dropped nearly everything that was directly related to school or church for almost two years.
     Our family was desperate for that time. We were having babies in the midst of our frantic lifestyle, I had two (minor) surgeries and battled cellulitis in a leg. There was no time off for anyone! Mr.TheZoo was working as much overtime as possible due to our property taxes rose, the gas prices were up again, the price of food was creeping up, and the electricity rates had made a significant jump. Children were growing and needing shoes and coats, etc. It was a crazy time. My family lives a couple of thousand miles toward the East, and Mr.TheZoo's family, though in the same 200 mile radius as us, are spread out and busy. For recovery time after surgery, my sweet MIL helped out for a few days. We don't have a spare bedroom, though, so she slept on the couch, and helped to look after the (five at the time) babies and kept up with the cooking, dishes, and laundry. She needed to go home after a few days too look after her kitties and take care of her own health, though, so I was on my own!
     We decided, just after our 6th zooligan was born, to take the 'frantic' out of the equation. After spending years doing the pregnancy waddle while chasing children across soccer fields, and dragging all of the children with me to grocery shop and anything I needed to do, we chose to slow it down.
     The decision to rest was made in prayer. We hadn't said anything to the children about it, when our oldest daughter approached us after a rather unhappy soccer season to request that we allow her to quit. After playing with the same team for 7 seasons, she was placed with a new team when her coach decided to pursue his daughter's select soccer career. The new team had been together for just as many seasons, and were a somewhat exclusive bunch. There were three new girls to the team that season. None of them were ever accepted into the fold. It was a sad situation. Mr.TheZoo and granted her request, and saw how it would begin to clear up our schedule. That meant two fewer practice days, and one fewer Saturday game.
     About the same time, I was researching symptoms and behaviors for our oldest boy, finding that he is certainly on the Autism Spectrum, with the likeliest diagnosis being Asperger's.  He had already been diagnosed as ADD with high anxiety when he was six. As he aged, and began to be able to communicate, or not, it was clear that something else was challenging his perception of, well, everything.
     Our break up with the rat race, meant that we had time to learn to understand our son, getting to know him and have some idea, at least, of how to help him succeed at being a friend, learn some academics, and how to show people in general some respect. It meant that we were able to have babies at home and play Candy Land (ugh) and listen to Veggie Tales all day (I actually enjoyed this, and we all still do. Who doesn't like a family chorus of I Love My Lips?)
     I was able to focus on the zooligans academic status, where they needed more instruction, where they should move ahead, what they enjoyed the most, and what the didn't enjoy much at all.
     This reflection on leaving behind the frantic days comes because I am feeling, this morning, like we are on the edge of frantic once again. The differences are that our youngest is 4 1/2 years old. Everyone can wipe their own behind and buckle their own car seats. They can all sit quietly for a while. The difference now is that instead of one older child, we have a college age zooligan and three older zooligans. Two of those older ones are middle school age. The activities are picking up, and we find ourselves running taxi service rather often. A blessing, though often seeming disguised, is that Mr.TheZoo's schedule is more predictable. Though he is scheduled for 12 hr work days, he generally works four days and had three off. This means that he is available to fix things at home, help with academics, and is able to sometimes take that one kiddo that doesn't have a class or activity, but is longing for some time doing something special. Even if that special time is running the garbage cans to the transfer station with Dad. It's always an adventure around here!
     Though our schedule has ramped up again, the children are older and take more responsibility. The zooligans that have the most extracurricular activity have earned the privilege of being transported to meetings and events by keeping up with their responsibilities, with the understanding that if they seem overwhelmed, we'll lay out their schedule and decide what activity needs to be dropped.
     Here's hoping we continue to make responsible choices with our time. Even more, praying that we help our children to make responsible choices with theirs.




What do you do to keep your schedule and family activities from overwhelming  your days?


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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tuesday Morning


     It's a good thing we had that perfect morning last week. That one day when we were prepared the night before. A healthy, filling, yummy breakfast was ready before the kids got up, lunch was packed, backpacks were prepared, everyone was able to find a matching pair of shoes, no socks were yet missing. I enjoyed a (somewhat) leisurely cup of coffee before motivating everyone out of bed.
     The moment was fleeting, but memorable. I will remember that moment as my benchmark. My measure of perfection. Even if the perfection lasted only 15 minutes. Even if that is the only perfection that I will experience in the flesh.
     Tuesday morning, this week, is as far from that benchmark of perfection as we could get. I did have breakfast ready today, but a few kiddos didn't like it. Those ones have been begging for lunch since we arrived at the school building.  The socks were still easy to find, the shoes weren't. It was hard to get zooligans out of bed, and two kiddos couldn't find their backpacks, let alone what should have been in them.
     While we did get everything together and out the door, one thing still bugs me a bit. The WiFi at school isn't spectacular, and I wasn't able to share the adorable video of Mission Impossible Squirrel that the preschooler and I have been watching repeatedly. It's great, I promise! Look it up on YouTube. Watch, laugh, repeat.
     Happy Tuesday!

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Monday, September 22, 2014

From the Tiny House Files: The Laundry Is Multiplying!



     It happens every three to six months. I will have a marathon laundry party, then find that when it is all clean at the same time, it doesn't fit!
     Generally, it's the younger children's clothing that seems to multiply in the laundry basket. Somehow, as I am sorting through a closet, I come up with 25 complete outfits, plus extra shirts. Always with the extra shirts! There are often, I don't know, three or four shirts to each pair of pants or shorts.
     How does this happen? I go through the clothing twice a year making sure that there are 10 outfits per each child, with two extra long sleeve and two extra short sleeve shirts. That's it. We live rather casually, dressing even semi-formally for only a few occasions, so just one dress-up outfit suffices. Really, who needs more than seven changes of clothes each week? We keep ten because things happen. Paint, clay, bleaching, grease (which I have finally learned how to take out. You can find a link to the incredibly smart blog post about that at wegotreal.com ) , excessive dirt that must be changed out of for an evening activity, etc.
     If each person in our household wore all ten outfits each week, we'd be washing 90 sets of clothes! That's besides bedding, towels, and cleaning rags. Now, imagine that all of the expected laundry needs to be done, plus another fifty or so articles of clothing that have been dumped on the ground while a child is searching for something specific, left and trampled on, then eventually stuffed into a hamper.  We don't have room in the house for that many clothes! When there are FOUR tall hampers overflowing with dirty laundry, plus five smaller baskets overflowing with clean laundry, the washer and dryer are both running, and there are still clean clothes in the closets, that's a problem.
     It baffles me sometimes because I spend days going through our outsized clothing bins in storage, making sure that every stitch of laundry is done in order to accurately move the clothes from one season and size to the next. Our house looks like the backrooms of a second hand shop! It feels so good to have an abundance to choose from. Knowing that through other people's generosity either directly to us, or donations to thrift shops where I can purchase great quality items in fantastic shape, is a blessing! Rarely are we desperate to clothe our younger children.
     So, I do it all again. Sort through, count up the outfits, put the excess away for the next sibling up. Recently, however, I have found an activity just as exciting and full of blessing as receiving hand me down clothing for my children. Giving some away! The younger two are growing, as they should, and there aren't any behind them. The girl's clothing is often in excellent shape as her sisters are 7 and 14 years older than she is. I don't hold clothes for seven years. Baby girl's clothing usually comes from people that have one girl, or from a consigment or thrift store. She usually gets brand new tights and shoes.  It's lovely to be able to put aside those excellent condition clothes and bless someone else.
     We are at the point right now where summer weather isn't quite finished, we're still having eighty degree afternoons, but fall weather is imminent. There are shorts and summer tees fighting for space with the sweaters and hoodies. I'm looking forward to another round of closet cleaning. Already.
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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Braised Chicken. No, Really.

   

     A while back, my mom sent me this:  

It's an enormous dutch oven. I had made Chicken Cacciatore by using a skillet, then a casserole pan, but the amount of food that I was cooking for nine people plus leftovers ended up spilling out and burning all over the bottom of the oven. Yuck! I went online looking for something that would work better, and found this Lodge, enamled castl iron beauty. And look! It's blue! 
I've been learning a little about braising meat. I had some chicken on hand, so we made this: 

It's a hit! Every.Single.Zooligan. Asked me to make it again. So simple, all real food (Wait, I guess cooking wine isn't real food), and delicious! They even ate the celery!
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