warmly, xoxo

warmly, xoxo : hugs and kisses from a mama who is learning not to lecture

We have a tree up, with lights and breakables and strands of popcorn clinging to it. We have a nativity and garland on the mantle, and many years’ worth of accumulated paper snowflakes hanging from the ceiling.

We are festive. We are merry. We are…freezing.

It’s minus 22 out there tonight. I didn’t even send the kids out to play today, and we made forts and paintings and other messes instead. The temperature doesn’t really matter, because when it’s cold outside we can still keep it warm inside.

warmly, xoxo : hugs and kisses from a mama who is learning not to lecture

Unless we don’t. Unless there’s bickering and bossing and snapping and strife, and I assign consequences and replay lectures all day long. The temperature drops in our connections, and it takes lots of hugs and kisses and happy conversations to warm things up again.

It was warmer last week – outside, at least – and the kids were sledding and hollering on the hill behind us. And they know – they know, I tell you – about waiting to go down until the people at the bottom of the hill have moved out of the way so they don’t slam into them.

Especially if it’s the littlest sister at the bottom of the hill.

Especially if all five of her siblings are piled into one sled and bowling into her.

But no…there’s screaming and bossing and sheepish giggling and fuming and praise God, no blood, but mine is boiling. I have told you and told you…yada, yada. I wipe tears and give severe looks to older children and send them all off to play again.

warmly, xoxo : hugs and kisses from a mama who is learning not to lecture

Thirty seconds later, I peek out the window to check on everyone. Big brother and little brother are thrashing each other in the snowbank next to the sledding hill.

I knock fiercely on the kitchen window to get their attention. Three kids turn to look, and in my aggressive charades I point to the eldest, who has paused the friendly pummeling of his little brother. I motion STOP á la the Pointer Sisters, and he gives me a questioning look that says he can’t hear me.

I’m about to holler “I KNOW YOU CAN UNDERSTAND ME” through the glass, but the little brother – who I couldn’t see because he was standing perfectly behind the big brother – shoves him from behind, totally knocking him over. Faceplant in the snow.

I go down, too, hiding behind the kitchen sink and laughing hysterically. Sure, whatever – go for it, boys. If you can dish it, you can take it. Just don’t involve the baby sister.

A few minutes later they are back to sledding, going down the icy hill on their bellies, on their bottoms, on their boots. Actually, they start on their boots often, but end up on their backsides.

And after some years of experience, we’ve decided this is a no no, because sliding down rough, icy hills using expensive polyurethane thermal attire as sleds is poor stewardship of snowgear. It tends to create tears and shreds in the fabric.

The preferred method of repair is not, I’m sorry to say, my superior sewing skills. It is duct tape, Alaska chic. 

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Every winter we take inventory to see what fits, what can be grown into, and what is beyond even the appreciable scope of duct tape and must be replaced. 

And we’ve talked about it. A lot. I have told you and told you…blah, blah, blah.

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They finally come in from sledding and I assign consequences, and do my best to balance them with warm hugs and kisses. Extra chores to make up for the extra money we have to spend on more snowpants if they keep using them as toboggans. And, just to keep things sweet…they each owe mama a footrub, too. Like hugs for cold feet.

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Warming up over tea, we talk about patches instead of replacements. We still have Iree’s old snowpants – the ones that were duct-taped on the rear from the last two years. There’s lots of usable material on them. Nice, thick, padded…hot pink…material.

Perfect. Festive, and merry.

I inform the boys that it will be used for patches on their snowpants, should patches become necessary.

And just to remind them how much I love them…because I have told them and told them so often but sometimes they just don’t listen...

…maybe I’ll even embroider a little something on those patches as a reminder:

XOXO.

warmly, xoxo : hugs and kisses from a mama who is learning not to lecture

 

this place isn’t normal

We had a dilemma this Christmas. A few years ago, when there were just six of us, I bought some gorgeous handmade stockings from a friend of mine. I meant to buy two more this year, and forgot…and then, getting closer to Christmas, I thought I would whip something up all quick-like, but the sewing machine broke. I’m sure it’s an easy fix, just something about “tension” and tightening something or oiling something else, but I don’t like machinery. I’m a knitter, but knitting stockings is not fast work, so we were really at a loss…

this place isn't normal: when Christmas is out of your comfort zone

…until Vin thought of this:

Why, yes, my friends – that is a hockey bag and a hipwader! Oh, the classy dude! In all fairness, the man reads Cicero and quotes Churchill, Shakespeare, and various irreverent Johnny Cash songs…and we ended up using our hiking backpacks instead. Phew. That was a close one.

Andrey and Reagan finally experienced their first Christmas with a family. Everything was new to them – why is there a tree in the house? Why are there little lights everywhere? Why are there presents under the silly tree, and why can’t we open them? Normal weird Christmas stuff. Neither of them even recognized a picture of Santa, and as far as we can tell, they have never had any kind of Christmas before.

Everyone has their own odd traditions. We put little treats in the kids’ stockings, like yogurt covered pretzels,  peppered cashews, sesame candies, and way too much chocolate. We open stockings first, and dump the the treats into bowls to share for a snacky breakfast while gifts are opened.

We remove the dishes of sweets, add some chopped apples and nuts for a second course…though in retrospect, we probably should’ve reversed the menu.

No one gets underwear in their stockings, but we always have boxes and boxes of tea, and the three smallest ones each got their own tea mug.

Reagan got her own hairbrush, and it’s clear that she was immediately suspicious of a holiday in which people give each other instruments of torture.

Several knit items are always called for, and one of these years I will get them all finished before 2am on Christmas Eve.

It is happy, simple, and warm. It’s weird, though, too.

This year we had no big traditional meal either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. We saw family both days, we missed other family both days, and it will never be like it used to be. Our little family has changed, our extended family is changing, and it is not normal. It is out of the box and awkward and more than a little uncomfortable, like trying to get dressed in the dark when someone has turned all of your clothes inside out. The older kids ask questions and we pray and try to smile and give the best answers we can.

It’s not so bad for us, though. We have other loved ones whose lives are completely flipped upside down, who are starting completely over, who are in a new place, who are spending Christmas in the hospital, or who are without a home entirely. This Christmas, this year, this place, isn’t normal.

This isn’t the way things are done. At the very least, we think the surface of things should be like a nice Christmas photo: pretty, posed, and stylish. Quirky enough to be charming, but please, none of that messy reality that shows that things underneath are infected and painful and requiring intervention. It’s just too unconventional.

But life happens and sometimes you don’t have a choice between unconventional or inconvenient or heartbreakingly messy. He is here in the midst of it, and He made the holiday for those of us who live there. He intimately knows the messy, awkward, and heartbreaking.

He was born in a rock shelter, delivered by an unmarried teenager on a dirt floor, with a carpenter as a midwife. His first bed was a feeding trough. Adopted by a man who was not His biological father. Gossiped about His entire life, until finally sentenced to death on trumped-up charges by people unworthy to walk in His shadow.

He rose again, though, three days later. He walked out of that cave alive.
He wrote the Book on unconventional living. In whatever kind of not-normal we are in, in all of the unknown, in all of the pain and strangeness, He is Emmanuel…God with us. With us.

There is nowhere we can go, or be taken, or suddenly find ourselves in, where He will not meet us. He is here, with us.

Where can we go from His Spirit?
Or where could we hide
that we could not be found by Him?
In marriage, divorce, or separation,
He’s there…
If I sleep in a hospital, at a friend’s house,
in a different country, a shelter, or a new home,
He is there…
If I fly across the ocean or sail in ships,
 even in the strangest places and most remote seas,
even there He leads me,
and He holds my hand.

Psalm 139:7-10, roughly paraphrased

When the world caves around us, He reminds us that even the One born in a cave and buried in a cave can walk out of that cave, alive. Triumphant.

When all feels bleak and and we have no idea what will happen tomorrow, He is there.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
 even the darkness is not dark to You;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with You.
Psalm 139:11-12, ESV

Life will be irregular and excruciating and bizarre. He is here. Walking with us, making us uncommon. He will lead us out of the cave, alive.

phantoms, flurries, and snowdrifts

A milestone. We’ve been home for almost four months and – wait, wait, drumroll, please…

I went on an outing with all six children by myself. Your applause is appreciated.

It was the smallest of small outings. We got in the Suburban named Stagecoach, picked up a parcel, and came back home. Sounds simple, but it still took almost an hour from the time I said “Shoes and coats!” to the time we pulled back into the garage. Ah, kids…

It was a beautiful drive. Clear and windy, snowdrifts are everywhere. During exceptional blasts, flurries swirl across the roads like an outbreak of snowy tornadoes, or a wall of snow rises from one side of the road and sweeps across, a huge white phantom. That’s all it is, though, a phantom – you drive right through, keep it between the lines, keep singing Christmas songs, and go on your merry way.

Unless, of course, there are enough of them over a short time; then those dense snowdrifts pack into the side and start creeping onto the road, and plowing through is a little stickier. The sun was already setting when we got home around 3pm.

We’re learning to take delays as they come. We got caught behind a school bus on the drive, and thought about going around the long way to avoid all of the stops. Thought again, and followed, praying for the kids as they got off the bus and made their way home.

We had a meltdown over lunch before we left. Food is still pretty tricky around here, and meal prep is often interrupted by a child who refuses to get out of the kitchen, get out of the way, get out of the fridge, or get out of my face while I’m trying to chop veggies or make sandwiches. Maybe that sounds harsh, but it’s just not safe to have a child wedging her way between mama and the food cooking on the stove. She went stiff and wouldn’t leave the kitchen, and we moved immediately into holding while Mattie finished lunch for me.

(you really should click on this to see it enlarged)

She’s not starving. She’s gained a lot of weight (and a couple of inches) since coming home. But she thinks that maybe she will be left out, maybe food won’t come, maybe it’s only there to torture her. She drives through phantoms, too.

 

We had a similar issue  on Sunday while walking up the steps to church. Reagan is a slow stair climber, and if there’s a railing along the stairs, she feels she must hold onto it. It was -10 degrees, and she refused holding our hands and wanted to hold the metal rail, even though it was so cold that it hurt to touch it. She kept shrieking and would not move, would not let go of the railing while the rest of us were waiting for her and freezing…and I removed her from the rail under her loud protests and carried her rigid, stiff body up the stairs so we could get into church before hypothermia or frostbite set in.

She doesn’t need the railing. My hand was right there to hold, all the way up.

 

Sometimes I wonder if people jump on here and read one post and think, Wow, what’s the big deal about taking six kids out? What’s her problem? Or they will see us somewhere and notice a certain child still in diapers and think, Geez, what’s wrong with those parents? Tsk, tsk… And sometimes I wonder if people think I’m nuts when they gush over Andrey and do more than just shake his hand, and the Mama Bear in me has to come out and say, “Thanks so much, but please don’t touch him.” Maybe they think he has something contagious. Maybe they think I’m strangely controlling. People mean well and they have no idea that he manipulates our family with their affection later.

Mama fights phantoms, too. Sometimes they blow through and condense like a packed snowdrift, and plowing through them is a little stickier.

(Apparently, though, I do have a serious drinking problem. It’s like this: I get a glass of water, and within ten minutes our stripey cat has his head in it, helping himself. I can’t imagine how many times a day he does this without getting caught and I’ve finished the glass anyway.)

Ooh, busted!

I figured out how to avoid this by adding a little apple cider vinegar to my water (see? It’s good for more than tummy aches!) because he doesn’t like it that way. I wish all problems were so easily solved.

 

 

 

As I write this, the sun is rising and the wind is whipping and all of our trees are black silhouettes bowing west. There is a clear theme to the soundtrack in our life right now.

I lift my eyes up…my help comes from the Lord…
Psalm 121:1-2

 

When our posse walks through church or the store, I hope people don’t always feel like they have to take a detour to avoid all of our stops. I hope they pray for us while waiting, while we make our way home…but if it’s ten below, I’ll understand if you go the long way around to avoid a delay. We’ll do our best to pull over. ♥

out of control, out of the dust

Minus ten degrees. Inside, all is twinkle lights and candlelight and a roaring fire. I am under a quilt on the couch and the white cat has nosed her way under the covers, too, and she is on my feet like a fluffy hot water bottle.

The season is upon us and we’ve been festooning. I came home the other night after a much needed catch-up with a dear friend and walked into a magical place – Vin had finished putting up all the lights, and there was greenery above all of the cabinets…paper snowflakes hanging all over the ceiling. Candles were lit. He and Iree were playing chess over some lemon bars that were still warm from the oven, and I was enchanted.

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepyhead;
Blinks but an hour or two, and then
A blood-red orange, sets again.

Outside, it is bare, brown, dirty, and dry. Kinda ugly. It’s the beginning of December in Alaska and we have no snow. It reminds me of always winter, and never Christmas…but we will have Christmas (whether brown or white) to celebrate with two little kids who have never known it before.

Before the stars have left the skies.
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,

By the cold candle, bathe and dress.

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or, with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap:
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod,
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad,
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding cake.

– Robert Louis Stevenson, Wintertime

One of them had a birthday recently. I don’t think she understood it, but she enjoyed opening presents and having us sing to her. She also loves finally possessing her very own Sturdy Plastic Resilient Non-Breakable and Completely Shatterproof Tea Set that she can play with whenever she wants to.Did I mention that it’s Reagan-proof?

Our Christmas tree is up and we are saving all glass and otherwise breakable ornaments until after the probationary period is over…which will hopefully be sometime before Christmas.

 

She loves to touch things…buttons need to be pushed, textures need to be felt, pages need to be flipped and crinkled, and all surfaces need to be tapped to see if they…what? Move? Light up? Make noise? Zap her? I have no idea.

 

 

So we have survived three months of having three 6 year olds, and our new age count is 12, 8, 7, 6, 6, and 3…until January, when the next one turns seven.

 

The kids decorated the tree and I haven’t even bothered to rearrange ornaments this year. There are clusters of them hanging off the same branch and other sections that are completely neglected. I’m learning to give up lots of little areas of control.

There are only so many things that I have a say over – for example, I can decorate the inside of the house, but I have no say over the temperature outside. I don’t manage the weather, but I do manage the thermostat.

I can make all kinds of snacks and dinners and treats, but I can not, not, not make a child eat certain foods. You can lead a boy to celery, but you can’t make him eat it.I can provide clothes for the girls, but I cannot keep them from dressing up as Rainbow Brite, Punky Brewster, and Gooney Bird Greene.

We have a cat outside that has adopted us. We call her (him?) Wicket and she is the color of leaves, and she comes when she hears us come out. She purrs when we pet her and she nuzzles the kids and tromps with them through the woods. We have a bowl of food that we keep out for her, and she has a little warm box on our deck to shelter her as she eats…but I can’t make her go it in and be warm, even when we have 80 mph winds.

Outside, it is usually cold and dark and ugly. There’s no snow to play in or brighten the landscape. The wind blows something fierce, there is dust everywhere, and it makes us clutch our coats tighter.Out of our home, there is attack and sadness and heartache, and I can’t heal marriages or fix bodies or detox addicts. The onslaughts are something fierce, there is dirt everywhere, and we clutch our loved ones tighter.

Inside our home, it’s not always twinkle lights and romance and hot tea. There is also attack and sadness and heartache, and not enough coffee in the world to keep up with six kids on some mornings. I can’t force obedience or manipulate learning anymore than Reagan can negotiate the relationship between a turtleneck and plastic clothes hanger.

I can’t clean cat puke, break up an argument, change a diaper, teach math, read Plutarch, keep dinner from burning, or answer the phone while holding a raging child…and, no, this is not a good time for you to teach your brother what a spit wad is.

Go put those straws back. Wait – are those business receipts?!

 

The big kids come to the rescue often…they can turn off the burners, read to little ones, clean up messes, let the piano teacher in (boy, has she seen us in all our glory!), and finish making scrambled eggs in a pinch.

 

 

We do have an unofficial buddy system. It’s like this: the kids are all buddies with each other, and I am buddies with the Sophie cat. When I need a break in the middle of the mayhem, I run upstairs and she is almost always curled up on the bed, ready for a quick cuddle. She is a great listener, never complains about the food, rarely makes messes, and never requires my assistance if she’s having a conflict with someone (that’s what claws are for).

 

It’s a good system. I just love her.

 

 

 

 

We are out of control, but it’s for a season and not forever. It’s okay that it’s not beautiful in the way we hoped it would be. He makes beautiful things out of the dust…but we all want snow for Christmas.

 

 

Christmas card 2011

Behold

                                     

I bring you good news

of great joy

 that will be for all the people


for unto you is born this day

 a savior
who is Christ the Lord

He will be great

He will be called the Son 
of the Most High

He will reign 
over the house of Jacob forever 

and of His Kingdom 
there will be no end.


Forever, and ever, and ever.



 Merry Christmas, friends. ♥