Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My Heroes

It's not the first time this has happened. Todd leaves for deer hunting and in comes a snowstorm. 

It usually isn't a huge deal. It's a pain in the butt, but not a big deal. I have gotten pretty good with the snowblower and when the snow isn't heavy or wet it is a fairly easy job. However, said snowblower has a broken handle and I have not yet gotten comfortable using the plow that Todd uses to get the job done.  

So, when I heard reports that we would be getting 4-6 inches of snow I was a little annoyed. Not only that but it was a real wet and heavy snow and most of it would be dumped in the middle of the night. I would probably have to get up an hour earlier to make sure I gave myself enough time to shovel the driveway so that the minivan could make it out in time to get the kids to school.

The snow began falling around 2 in the afternoon and kept steady throughout the evening. When we dropped Joey off at basketball practice at 6 there was already a good inch or two of snow. We got back home and Tommy and Ben volunteered to go outside and clear the driveway for me. I was thrilled because I had pulled my shoulder earlier in the day and I was having a hard time lifting my right arm. I was not looking forward to shoveling heavy snow. With the boys clearing some of the snow away at night at least that would be a little less snow for me to shovel in the morning.  

Knowing how heavy the snow was I told the boys not to do the entire driveway (it is a big U shaped driveway) but just the part that leads down from the garage. The boys only had a small window of time before we had to go back out and pick up Joey again and it would have been a bit much.

Tommy and Ben worked together and did a great job. I was very thankful I had such willing volunteers. I made sure to give them extra cookies when they came inside and let them know exactly how thankful I was. When we went to pick Joey up from basketball the boys were proud of themselves for giving me a clear driveway to back out of.

As the evening wore on the snow kept up. I checked out the window one last time before bed and the boys' wonderful shoveling job was completely snowed over. I guess it was going to be an early morning for me.

Morning came much too quickly (as it always does) and I woke up extra early. I grumbled down the stairs, fixed myself a cup of coffee, and noticed that my shoulder was still a problem. I had a hard time lifting the coffee pot to pour my coffee. Shoveling was going to be a real pain. Literally.

I quickly slugged down my coffee and began to get ready to do some shoveling. Just then my boys came bounding down the stairs. Immediately, they threw on their snow pants, jackets, boots, hats, and gloves, and took off outside to clear the driveway for me. WITHOUT ME EVEN ASKING. WITHOUT ME EVEN ASKING, PEOPLE!!!!

Even as I was telling them that they didn't have to help, and that maybe they should just relax before school, they insisted that they wanted to do it and took off outside before I could say anymore. It was enough to make this mama cry. I sat inside my nice warm house with a cup of coffee in my hand and watched as my three boys made their mama's morning.
With the three of them working together the job was done in a half an hour. They cleared the driveway and the big pile at the end of the driveway. And just as they were finishing up the snow plow came through and deposited another big pile of heavy, wet snow at the end of our driveway. The boys went to work and cleared it for me once again.
The boys came back in the house to a breakfast of champions. They quickly ate, changed into their school clothes, and got their snowpants, hats, mittens, and boots packed into their backpacks, grabbed their lunches, and we were out the door without any time for my boys to relax.

I am so grateful for these wonderful helpers of mine. So thankful that my fine young men didn't mind waking up and immediately jumping outside into the cold to do some heavy lifting, because I sure did. They saved me from the tedious chore AND from further injuring my wounded shoulder. My little heroes.

What a lucky mama.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Every Year

It gets easier and then it gets harder.

The week before Thanksgiving is always the same. Baking, cooking, arranging, packing. And this isn't even for Thanksgiving. It is for deer hunting. Every year on the Thursday before Thanksgiving Todd packs up and heads to the cabin for a week for gun deer season. Every year I spend a whole lot of time helping him prepare the food for the deer camp. This year I made 150 cookies and a massive batch of applesauce. It was one of my lighter cooking years since I didn't make and soup or a main dishes.

It always makes me laugh how much effort it takes to help Todd leave me for a week. Honestly, I don't mind doing it (most of the time). It is the one thing that Todd really looks forward to every year and I'm happy he can have a little getaway with his friends. I knew this was the deal when I met him and I was prepared for it. My dad had the same tradition and I was used to it.

I wouldn't be completely honest if I didn't admit that I used to love having that week to myself as well. I'd have the house to myself, watch as many chic flicks as I could, take long baths, eat all my favorite foods, hog the bed, sleep extra late (Todd is such a morning person), and be as lazy as I wanted. Many times I would have my friends over and we'd have a girls weekend. Sometimes I would drive to Minnesota to visit my best friend for the week. Basically, the week was a win/win.

Things changed a bit when Todd and I had kids. All of a sudden the week he was gone became a bit harder, especially when we had multiple children. I will never forget the year that Ben was just 6 months old. I had a 4 year old, a 2 year old and a little baby and all THREE of the kids were sick. And Todd was gone. For a week. After I had just spent days baking and cooking for him to leave I was stuck in the house with three small sick children. It was rough.

The first year we moved into our new house stands out in my mind as well. Joey was 6, Tommy was 4, Ben was 2 and Grace was just 3 months old. Wouldn't you know it 3 of the 4 kids were sick. We were in a new house. A big house. In a new neighborhood. My father had just died a few months earlier. I was feeling a bit lost. Displaced. It was not a great time. It was tough.

There were times when all the kids were healthy and it was still hard. The kids missed Todd. They wanted to go up north too. To keep everyone in good spirits I worked extra hard to make the week special. Most of the time it was little things. I'd change the kids' sheets to their fun flannel sheets and buy them special new jammies. We'd make blanket forts and rent kids movies to watch with bowls of popcorn. We would help pack and deliver Thanksgiving boxes to those in need. We'd take trips to the free zoo nearby. We'd play outside, go for long walks, buy a few dollar store toys. Basically, anything I could think of to keep the mood happy and light. Needless to say, it was exhausting. And there were certainly tough years. Years when Todd would come home and immediately I would want to run away. Run away from the kids, run away from myself and how poorly I "handled" them, run away from the boys telling me that they wished I would go away and daddy could stay. Yep. That one was probably the worst.

And then, slowly but surely, deer hunting week started to get easier again. As the kids got a little bit older we were able to do more and it was less stressful. And just as I was beginning to look forward to the week of deer hunting it changed again. Last year Joey went to deer camp for the first time and we were thrown out of whack once again. We were missing one of our crew. It felt off. And Tommy and Ben had a hard time thinking of Joey up there enjoying what they couldn't yet. I once again had to work harder to make the week special.

This year was Joey's second year at deer camp and Tommy's last year staying home with us. And it kind of hit me all over again. Just as this tradition became fun and easy it began to get difficult again. This time the difficulty comes in realizing that this time does not last. The time with the kids young and with me and HERE is fleeting. And it's going too fast.

Todd and Joey call to tell us how they are doing. As we wrap up our conversation Joey asks to talk to his siblings and I overhear him telling each of them that he misses them and loves them. He listens patiently to Grace as she tells him about her new LEGOS and he feigns enthusiasm at her stories. As I listen to the conversations I can hear a new maturity in Joey's voice and it makes me ache. I long for those crazy, hectic, awful, difficult, magical weeks with all four of my kids.

Today we are meeting at the halfway point to pick up Joey and bring him back home. Todd will stay for the rest of the week and come home the day before Thanksgiving (just in time for me to cram in some grocery shopping and cooking for the Thanksgiving we always host) but Joey needs to get back to school.

The kids are excited to see their big brother and I'm excited to have all four of my kids with me again. I'll do my best to make the next few days fun and magical because I know how quickly it goes by. I'll remind myself of this very thing when patience is short and my temper threatens. I'll remember that I only have a few years left before they will all be gone for the week.

Yes, I'll be happy to have my crew back. This is the easy part.




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Another Last "First"

I am feeling rather melancholy as we experienced yet another last "first" in our house tonight.

Tonight Grace lost her first tooth. It is the last time we will have a child lose a first tooth in our house. It is a small thing, but life is made up on small things and so it feels like a big thing. And I tend to make big things out of small things, so there's that. 

The tooth had been loose for a week. I was relieved at the wiggling because Grace already had two big teeth coming in behind her baby teeth on the bottom. She had two rows of teeth! My little shark girl. It was time a few started to loosen. At first, the thought of losing a tooth terrified Grace. Then she remembered the Tooth Fairy and that helped a bit. But still, would it hurt? 

It turns out the tooth just popped out as she was wiggling it with her tongue. No pain whatsoever. Perfect! 
Grace was so excited and I was equally excited for her. The boys rallied around her and cheered and clapped for her first tooth, adding to her excitement.

Grace immediately went to work on her Tooth Fairy envelope. Yes, the Tooth Fairy is rather lazy around these parts and instead of leaving the tooth under a pillow it is put in and envelop on and hung on a door where the Tooth Fairy leaves the money. Genius. And lazy. Whatever.

Gracie decorated her envelope and was so excited to tape it to her door.
Before bed Gracie excitedly told me that she didn't think she'd be able to sleep tonight. She was so "cited"! She just knew she would see the Tooth Fairy's sparkly wings glowing beneath her door. "They sparkle, you know!" she said.

I hope the fairy can find some glitter to leave at the door so that Grace can see traces of the magic left behind.

Yes. Another last first. Our baby took yet another step away from babyhood. And meanwhile, I'm holding on for dear life.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Refreshing

I was not looking forward to the weekend, especially after the week that I'd had. What I wanted to do was run away from home, not pack up everyone's bags and hole up in the cabin together for the entire weekend. I wanted to get away. AWAY. I didn't want to be around anyone. Instead, I packed everyone's bags, got all the food together, got all the kids snowpants/hats/mittens/gloves/boots/coats together, and drove to the northwoods. It was probably a bad idea.

The week had been filled, and I mean FILLED, with errands, and meetings, and boy scouts, and basketball practices, and choir practice, and tons of homework, and 9 parent teacher conferences at two different schools, and more meetings, and dance class, and haircut appointments (one for the dog and one for me), and Ben's 1st Reconciliation preparation meetings, and Todd gone bow hunting, and me with a sinus cold. There was so much stuff I had to write hourly lists just to make sure I didn't miss a meeting or a pick up or drop off, or my mind. 

By the end of the week I was spent and I did not want to drive my 4 obnoxious children 3 hours to the cabin surrounded by 18 inches of freshly dumped snow. Kids. Snow. Cold. Trapped. Not great. Alas, that was the plan. 

Todd left early on Friday so that he could plow out the driveway before we got there. It was a smart idea seeing as how it took him 3 hours to plow out the driveway with the tractor. I can not imagine the kids waiting for 3 hours in the car, after the 3 hour car ride to get there, as Todd plowed a path to the cabin. 

Still, I was dreading the drive (actually the whole weekend). I normally like driving, but just that morning Tommy and I  had another huge blow out (man, that kid has got to be going through a phase because we have had our fair share of blow outs lately) and it put me in a foul mood the rest of the day. It was also my dad's birthday (he would have been 83) and I was feeling a bit melancholy and sad. Basically, I was in a mood. 

When the kids finally got home from school they sensed my mood.  They tried their best to listen and behave and soon after we got on the road all of the boys feel asleep. Grace was quiet for the boys and it was a peaceful ride for almost 2 hours until we stopped for dinner. The kids continued their good behavior at the restaurant and my mood started to turn around. 

By the time we got back in the car we were happily telling stories about grandpa and, as a tribute to him, listened to Frank Sinatra the rest of the way up north. These same little people that had me at my wit's end all week had managed to turn my nasty mood around. 

We finally arrived at the cabin just as Todd was finishing up the driveway. We dragged all of our stuff inside, turned on the heat, unpacked, got into our jammies, and relaxed for the first time in over a week. And despite my snuffy, phlegmy nose I slept great that night. 

The next morning I awoke to a crackling fire and a hot, steaming cup of coffee. The kids excitedly dragged me to the picture window to show me the fresh snow, and even though I wasn't ready to embrace winter just yet I had to admit it made a beautiful picture.
The kids rushed through breakfast and were begging to go and play out in the snow. Though it wasn't even 8 o'clock yet I bundled them up and sent them outside.
Hours passed and the kids finally came in for a warm up. It was 8 degrees outside and there were plenty of red cheeks and cold fingers to thaw. The snow clothes went into the dryer and the kids sat in front of the fire.

After an early lunch (we forgot to turn the clocks back since last we'd been there and I thought it was 11:30 but actually it was 10:30- which also means I got up at 6:30 instead of 7:30 like I thought-boo) I helped the kids back into their snow clothes and sent them back outside.
When I wasn't outside taking pictures, or handing out drinks of water, or adjusting mittens, or checking up on behavior, I was inside by the fire with a book. I only had a few minutes of peace at a time before another little voice would be calling from the back stairs for more water, or more help, or more shovels and sleds, but it was enough.

As I watched Tommy help his little sister it reminded me that even though he has had quite a few trying moments lately, he really is a great kid.
It reminded me to put aside the craziness and focus on the facts. Through the madness of all 9 parent/teacher conferences we did not have one teacher bring up any problems. Each teacher had nothing but positive things to say about my kids.
Joey, who has really struggled to adjust to the expectations and demands of middle school still managed to pull off all As and Bs on his report card. No small feat considering how challenging his classes are and what is expected of him. And all of his teachers praised his work ethic and his drive while laughing at his goofy personality.

My kids are thriving. They are learning. They are trying their best. And even when they are driving me crazy I need to remind myself just how lucky I am. Even in the difficult days/weeks, even through the tantrums and the sass, at the heart of it I really couldn't ask for more.
Though I was surrounded by freezing temps and mounds of snow I was toasty warm on the inside. Just like the grinch, my grumpy heart had grown three sizes that day.

The kids came in for the final time that afternoon and were treated to hot chocolate and cheese and crackers. We snuggled by the fire, we watched movies, and we played games.
After church on Sunday morning we packed up and drove back home. The ride back was just as peaceful as the ride up, perfectly rounding out our refreshing weekend.

I guess sometimes peace comes when you are least expecting it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

WW- His Time To Shine


After years of watching his older brothers Ben finally got a shot at the Boy Scout boat regatta. The kid is full of hot air. He finished 4th in the race. Needless to say, he was thrilled to get his very own trophy. The kid has been in one pinewood derby and one boat regatta and got a trophy both times. How's that for lucky? Way to go, Ben!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Howling Halloween

The week leading up to Halloween is always filled with excitement. This year there was just a little bit more excitement than usual because not only did Halloween fall on a Friday it also happened to be a Friday that the kids had off of school. AND, this was also the first year that we told Joey that he could trick or treat with friends and have them sleep over. It was exciting, people!

Then Monday happened. Tommy came home from school achy and cold. He muscled through his homework and then asked to go to bed. That's when I knew he was really sick. Tommy NEVER wants to go to bed. He took a little nap, sat in a hot bath, and then tried to eat some oatmeal. I gave him Tylenol and, thankfully, he finally started to feel better. 

Ben had his last football game of the season that same night and Tommy sat in the car trying to take it easy. It was difficult for him because it was a balmy 60 degrees and he wanted to be out tossing the football and climbing in the trees with everyone else. Still I insisted that he rest. 

After the football game I rushed off to choir and Todd took the kids home and got them into bed. I was hopeful all would be well, but on Tuesday morning Tommy woke up feeling much worse. He had a sore throat, aches, hot/cold flashes, headache and stomach ache. Needless to say, Tommy stayed home from school. That same day Ben and Joey came home from school saying that they had sore throats too. 

Wednesday morning Tommy felt well enough to go to school. Ben and Joey didn't feel so great but wanted to muscle through anyway since it was an early day (out by 2:15). When they came home from school that day all three boys were spent. They did indeed muscle through and came home feeling exhausted and achy. Luckily, they didn't have much homework (unusual for them) and we had a full evening of sitting around, taking baths, and trying to rest up and relax. 

Thursday morning everyone seemed to be feeling a bit better, save for a rogue sore throat or headache, and they all went off to school. 

At 1:00 we got a phone call from school that Ben wasn't feeling good and had a temperature of 103. Ben was promptly picked up from school and brought home to be properly babied. Poor little pickle. He was miserable. And medicine didn't seem to help. He spent most of the day in his bed trying to sleep. By that evening Grace had begun to feel achy and sick too. It looked like we weren't going to be having such a Happy Halloween.

Here it was Thursday evening, we had two sick kiddos, and we just remembered that we hadn't carved any pumpkins yet. Joey and Tommy begged to carve their own pumpkins all by themselves for the very first time this year, and since Todd and I were busy comforting Ben and Grace they got their wish. As Joey and Tommy set about their work Grace got so excited by the pumpkins she forgot about being sick. Too bad it didn't work that way for Ben. He was so sad he couldn't join in on the fun. Todd tried to cheer him up by playing video games on his phone but Ben could only do it for a few minutes before he got a sick stomach. 
I knew in the back of his mind Ben was really worried about not being able to go trick or treating the next day. I could tell that weighed heavily on his mind. I tried to assure him that he could still get better overnight, that all he needed was a good night's sleep, but he didn't seem convinced. 

He may have been right. Ben came into my room in the middle of the night (it was the 6th straight night one of the kids came into our room in the middle of the night- ugh) to tell me he was so sick. I tried to offer him some medicine but he just didn't want it. He said his stomach hurt and he was so thirsty he was dreaming he was drinking Lake Michigan. I took Ben downstairs to the living room couch and got him to drink water. Then he drank some more. And after that a little more. Soon he started to feel better. Ben fell asleep on the couch with me next to him. In the morning, on Halloween, Ben was asking for food. 

Halloween afternoon I had all the kids lie down and sleep. Everyone had been so sleep deprived with all the late night visits to my room and the ick running around the house that I figured a little bit of extra sleep might give them the strength they needed. Luckily, this time, I was right.

All the kids woke from their naps feeling healthy and strong. Thankfully. Because they would need all the strength they could manage. All week the weather had been a nice 50-60 degrees and sunny. On Halloween the weather was 36 degrees with 50 mph winds. It was crazy!

Because of the hideous weather we scrapped all of our original costume ideas an wracked out brains for warm costume ideas. The boys all opted for either a soldier or a hunter and Grace went as a bumblebee. The kids were so bundled they didn't even feel the cold. 
Joey was disappointed when one of his friends wasn't able to come over and trick or treat but the other friend came and made a great addition to our group. We drove the kids over to my mom's house and started there. We took the kids around for a few blocks (can you see creepy Michael Myers following us in the above pic? CREEPY!) and then let the big boys go on their own. Joey and his friend went on their way with instructions to meet up with us in an hour and a half (in front of our old house) so that Tommy and Ben could join them and they could all all trick or treat back to our house by themselves.

I wondered if Joey would plan it out and be responsible enough to meet us when he promised but as we pulled up to our meeting spot we saw Joey and his friend (also named Joe) sitting on the grass in front of our old house. Not only did it make me melancholy to see Joey sitting in our old front yard but it made me so proud that he kept his word and got there early so he wouldn't keep us waiting.

Grace had had enough trick or treating so we left Tommy and Ben off with the Joes and told them to be careful, stay together, mind their manners. I was a nervous wreck as I drove away from my boys. I went trick or treating by myself (well, with a friend) at a very young age but it is a whole different story when it is my own kids. HA! I'm not ashamed to admit that 30 or 40 minutes later I hopped back in the car, found the boys (they told me the route they would be taking to get back home) and asked them how they were feeling and if they wanted a ride back.  They were having so much fun together that they wanted to keep walking back to the house even though their buckets were so full they weren't trick or treating anymore.

When they got home there was a roaring fire, pizza, and apple cider waiting for them. It really turned out to be a fun evening. The kids felt good, they had a blast, and they got home safely. All was well.

There was only one little hitch in the whole night, and it still irks me to think of it. Not even a half an hour into trick or treating a woman handed out candy to my kids and said, "Aren't you a little old to be trick or treating?" What??? My kids were too confused to even answer. I stepped up and said, "Well, they are dressed in costume, they are being polite, and they are having fun. You're never too old to trick or treat. Let's let them be kids as long as possible, right?" She didn't answer me. She just stared at me. I added, "It is good innocent fun. Let's let them be young and have fun." And she just stared at me.  I stared back and said again, "Right?" She continued to stare. I was FUMING. So angry. If I was thinking properly I would have added, "They are 5, 7, 9, and 11!!!!!  What age to you deem to be an appropriate trick or treating age???" AHHH!!!!   It honestly made me so angry. I just don't understand people like that. People complain about kids growing up too quickly these days, the innocence of youth being gone, and then when kids want to be kids they get this kind of response. I just don't get it. And my kids aren't even teenagers yet!  So maddening. I wish people like that just didn't hand out candy. I tried not to let it ruin my night because the kids didn't seem bothered by it, but it sure bugged me. Put a real damper on my evening. Dopey lady.

Anyway, other than dopey lady it was a very fun Halloween night.

The next night Todd and I had a costume/vampire party to go to. It has been a long time since I had a Halloween party to go to and being the Halloween fan that I am I was excited to go. It was so much fun!
It has been a crazy week, full of sickies and sleepless nights, frigid unbelievably windy winter weather, and Halloween fun. Thankfully we had all day today to sit around and recover. And hopefully we have gotten all the sickies out of our system before the next wave of holiday fun begins.
How was your Halloween?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Flying Through Fall

We are quickly making our way through October. Before you know it Halloween will be over and November will be upon us.

Here we are, almost to Halloween, and we haven't had one opportunity to get to the pumpkin farm. If our schedule wasn't keeping us away it was the weather. There just was never a good moment to enjoy one of our favorite fall activities.

This weekend was our last chance to get in some pumpkin farm fun and this time we were granted the most perfect fall weather. Saturday was warm and sunny with just enough wind to cause the remaining orange and yellow leaves to cascade out of the trees in huge luminous sheets.

Even this weekend proved to be a challenge in getting to the pumpkin farm. Todd was up north, Joey had a football awards ceremony, the kids had homework. Still, we managed to make it work.
It was a long awards ceremony (2 hours) but it was fun seeing Joey up there with his coaches and teammates one last time and listening to them all hoot and holler for Joe when his name was called. Plus, it was kind of neat being in my old high school again and pointing out to my kids where my dad's photo hung in the school. They thought it was pretty cool to see their grandpa up on the wall of fame, too.

Still, once the ceremony was done the kids were more than ready to leave. We did not stop at home. We did not pass go. We went straight to the pumpkin farm. We had waited long enough.

Fun was had, people. Fun was had.
The kids obliged me and sat for a few seconds so that I could get our annual family pumpkin patch picture. Unfortunately, because Todd was up north it was not really our whole family, just the kids. But, beggars can't be choosers, right?

The kids ran around picking out pumpkins, apples, pies, and cider. They pet all the animals and played in the haystack maze for hours (I should have brought a book). By the end of the day the kids were tuckered out. Still, we went back home, picked up our Molly, and took her to the dog park for a bit of exercise.

We rounded out the night with pizza and a nice warm fire as we watched Halloween themed cartoons. It was a fantastic fall day.

The next day Todd came back home, heard all about our fun at the pumpkin farm, and decided the weather was so wonderful another trip back to the pumpkin farm was a great idea. Besides, he knew how much I wanted to get my family picture.

Needless to say, the kids were thrilled to be going to the pumpkin farm two days in a row.

There was more feeding of animals, more haystack maze, more apple goodies (pie!!), and more pictures.
 We even managed to get our annual family pumpkin patch picture.

As I placed our new family picture over the top of last year's picture in the frame I couldn't help but look back at past years' photos. Ten years worth of fall family photos taken at this orchard. I saw just how fast each of those years came and went. Amazing how quickly the falls flew by.

It may seem silly to make such a big deal out of getting this picture every year but I just feel like I have a limited amount of years left when the kids will happily go along on little family trips. Soon the family outing to the pumpkin farm won't sound so appealing to my kids. Soon they will forgo the pictures and trips and opt for hanging out with their friends instead. It is the order of things. The way it goes.

But for now, I'm going to enjoy it. I'm going to capture it. I'm going to remember it.

Words To Live By

Be grateful for each new day.
A new day that you have never lived before.
Twenty-four new, fresh, unexplored hours to use usefully and profitably.
We can squander, neglect, or use them.
Life will be richer or poorer by the way we use today.
Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could;
some blunders and absurdities crept in;
forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day.
You shall begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be
encumbered with your old nonsense.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson