Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Woes of Modern Technology and 3-Year-Olds

Do you remember a few years ago, when fancy flat TVs and Wii game consoles were starting to become the norm in average households?  Remember those stories and youtube videos of the unfortunate incidents of a Wii remote leaving someone's hand and smashing the TV screen?  I remember feeling like that was one of the more awful accidents I could think of happening.  I couldn't imagine spending all that money on a TV and having it wrecked, just like that.  The TVs when I was a kid were practically indestructible, and it was typical for us to have the same one in our living room for a decade or more, so I was looking at these new ones with their modern technology as being pretty fragile and kind of dumb.  Wow, that makes me sound old, doesn't it?

Alas, the male portion of my household eventually won, and we, too purchased one of these flat screen accidents waiting to happen.  The Wii had been previously gifted to us.  For three years, all was well.  The TV and the Wii got along just fine.

Then one day, on a sunny weekend in October, the news came from the basement:  Sebastian had "made cracks" in the screen on the TV.  We went down to survey the damage.

Was it a Wii remote?  Nope.  A penny.  Yes, he threw a penny at the TV, and it hit in the upper right corner.  The cracks that were reported were not even in the outer screen, that part is unblemished when it's turned off.  It looks like a chipped windshield, and it's the inside screen (?), which apparently houses lights and pixels and pathways of sorts, which are now broken and/or blocked.  Or something.

So now this is what it looks like:

See that vertical line over Father Mitch's finger?  And the horizontal line at the top of the screen?  Where those two intersect is the point of impact of the penny.  The whole screen has lines and bluriness, and varying degrees of weird light.  It's pretty much toast, unless you like being really frustrated when you're watching something.

So that's that.  I guess this is one of those stories we'll tell over the years - "Remember when Sebastian threw a penny at the TV and we still let him live with us?"  Now we just have to see how the story ends - "...And you guys all emptied your piggy banks so we could buy a new one?" or "...And that was the winter we went with no TV and everyone learned to knit?"  Or perhaps from the youngest Smiths - "WHAT?!  We had a TV?!"  I'm  tempted.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Loving Encouragement

I received this message recently:

You are such a crappy blogger!
Wait, you're thinking, YOU have a blog troll?  Who would bother?  
No, just my husband.  Apparently he's noticed my lack of posting.
So maybe I'll give it a go again?  I've got lots of stuff swirling around in this old head of mine...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

lessons from the great outdoors

We went camping again this past weekend, at Ionia State Recreation Area.  We've had this trip on our calendar, and the site reserved and paid for, since back in May.  It's a good thing too, because if we had been able to back out at the last minute, we may very well have done so.  We have a lot going on right now, with a project we've taken on as a family, and it wasn't easy to get ready for this trip.

I won't say it was always pretty, but we made it.  The kids love camping, and I know it's important for us to take time away from the daily grind once in a while.  But still, it's a lot of work.  When we camped for a weekend back in June, we remembered how hard it can be with a crawling baby.  There's not much for her to do, except get really dirty and try to hurt herself, so we ended up just holding her 24/7.  (As opposed to the 22/7 that would be the usual average at home.)  I really thought that she'd be walking by this trip, but she's still very firmly a crawler.  And not a patient one.  Turns out she spends a lot of her time wanting to be somewhere and/or do something that no one is accommodating, and she lets us know about it.  Loudly.

On Saturday morning, Mr. Smith (Do I really always call him that on here?  I guess I do.  I think I'm too tired to keep up that charade any longer.  I suppose I had a reason for doing it at some point but my priorities have shifted.  One day I'm going to start talking about Ryan and y'all are going to wonder who this Ryan guy is.  That's my husband.  There, I said it.) So anyway, Ryan took the boys down to the lake to fish.  Genevieve and I stayed back at the site to clean up a little, and then I walked her in the stroller to where they were.  We were planning on going swimming after lunch, and after a bit of fishing some of the younger boys were ready to get going.  I said I'd walk back with them, and just meet the rest of them back at the site.

So I walked back with my four kids age 7 and under.  No biggie, I do this all the time.  Got them lunch.  Got them bathing suits.  Got them sunscreen.  Super woman, I know.  Still no big guys though.  We waited.  Genevieve continued her scream/squeal-when-I-have-a-need-that's-not-being-filled-immediately routine.  No big white van pulling back up to the campsite.  The boys started breaking down because they were hot and the beach was calling them, and they were starting to not believe me that they'd be back any minute.

That's when I saw it.  Our "neighbors" were packing up their site, on Saturday late-morning, only they weren't packing to go home.  They threw their air mattress up on top of their car, still inflated, and drove deeper into the campground, clearly moving to another site.  Why would they do this?  Well, it only took me about 3 seconds to figure out why: Obviously we are way too loud and our baby cries too much, that's why.  They couldn't stand being our neighbors.  It was like someone had punched me in the gut.  I could just picture this couple going up to the front office and explaining that they could not stay on their site for one more hour because of the obnoxious family next to them, and I was totally embarrassed.  I called Ryan on his cell, "Are you guys planning on coming back here sometime today?" (When I'm upset it's hard for me to contain the snotty.)  My innocent husband, "Yeah, we're headed to the van now.  Everything okay?"  And I think I told him to hurry up before I hung up on him.  Yup, I'm that nice when I'm flustered.

They got back and rushed through eating and changing, while I huffed and puffed and glared.  I explained what was bothering me to Ryan, how I couldn't believe we were THOSE campers, and maybe we just shouldn't be camping with a baby, and why does she keep screaming like that.  Etc.  My dear, patient husband just looked at me, and listened, and got ready to go.

We got to the beach and I started to relax.  The weather was beautiful and the kids love, love, love the water.  Eventually he came over to me and said, "I've been thinking.  When I booked this trip, a lot of the sites were only available for one of the two weekend nights.  It could be that they couldn't get that site two nights in a row, and just had to move to one that's available tonight."  Well sure, I could see his point, but no, they moved because we are the most barbaric and repulsively out of control family they had ever encountered and they couldn't bear to be near us any longer.  (Yes, it really might have grown to that caliber in my mind.  I struggle with pride.)  He was just trying to make me feel better.

By that afternoon, a motor home had come in and we had new neighbors.  Okay, so the site was booked for that night.  Still...

My sister and her family had come in for the day, and we went to do some more fishing after dinner.  I had been holding Genevieve for most of the evening, and at one point Ryan took her from me, and brought her back up to the dock where the boys were.  My sister and I were entertaining some of the other little ones near our vehicles.  When we were all back together again, he came and whispered to me, "You know our old neighbors?  They were up there fishing too.  I was trying to help one of the boys, and the woman saw me struggling with Genevieve.  She offered to hold her for me, and went on about what a cute baby she is.  I'm pretty sure they don't hate us."


I processed this bit of information, and as the night went on I realized that we really weren't any louder than anyone else in the campground.  And certainly not as loud as the chorus of night time creatures and insects.  I was magnifying the situation through my own lens of insecurities.  I wonder how often I'm doing that and not being proven wrong.

I've considered many times telling Ryan that he's free to take the boys camping whenever he wants, but that I'll be sitting the trips out for awhile.  I'll pack for them, prepare food for them, and get them out the door, and then G and I will sit back and chill for some girlie time.  But then I think about how much fun we have, in between the work and the stress, and I wouldn't want to miss it.  And I wouldn't want my boys to think I wanted to miss it.  These are our family vacations, and I want to be in their memories of them.  I guess it's like any other part of raising a family - you st priorities, take the good with the bad, you do your best, and try to enjoy the ride.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Oliver gets up and comes into the kitchen, "Good morning Mama".

"Good morning, Oliver.  Did you sing Happy Birthday to Genevieve yet?"  My way of reminding him it's his baby sister's first birthday today.

"Oh!  No, I didn't yet."  He runs to the dining room where she is in her high chair.

I finish pouring my coffee, and can hear a soft, sweet voice singing a tune in the other room.  I revel a little bit in the love of a big brother.  I walk out to join them, catching the end of his serenade,

"... and you weigh that much too."

Oh well, big brothers are big brothers.

I can't believe my baby is one.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Birthday

Well, Blake turned 14.  I'm not sure who gave him permission to do that, but it happened before I could do anything about it.  Not that I would change anything, but gosh how does 14 years go by so fast?
He's such a great kid, and is growing into these teenage years with grace.
I'm thankful that he's still very much a kid.  He's never been one to scoff at something because it's "for little kids", and he has not once, ever, not wanted to do something that the whole family was doing.  Maybe that will still come, but in the meantime I'm enjoying his pleasant, resourceful nature, his company, his help, and his playful sense of humor.
He really wanted to have friends over on the day of his birthday.  So we cleaned up the basement and invited his four closest guys over.  They hung out down there for the afternoon, we had pizza and cake and ice cream, and then I drove everyone home in the evening.  We attempted to claim our free slurpees (the perks of your birthday being 7/11), but the location we stopped at had given out all the small cups, so we paid for big ones.  I don't think the boys minded.
Blake is a huge J.R.R. Tolkien fan, and is, to put it mildly, consumed with excitement over the release of the The Hobbit trilogy.  We're counting the days until the next one comes out (143 from today), and LOTR, and Tolkien in general, is a daily topic in our home.  So for his birthday we got him this and this.  He loved the book so much, that he immediately used a gift card from my sister to buy the other one in the set.  So, given all that Hobbit-ness, I couldn't resist a few playful touches to his day.

(Jessica has this document available for free!  Just check out her party themes tab.)
All in all, it was a great day.
Next up:  A certain little girl is turning one soon.  What to do about that...

Monday, July 8, 2013

Beginning Again

Today kind of feels like the first day of the rest of my life.

I just can't explain, or really even comprehend myself, how busy life has been lately.  And by lately, I mean for as long as I can remember.  Is it homeschooling?  Is it having seven kids?  Is it having teenagers and babies at the same time, with a bunch in between?  A combination of all, I'm sure, plus some.  Some days I just feel like I don't have time to breathe, much less relax.  

So we pretty much finished up our school year a few weeks ago.  We didn't get everything done, but I'm comfortable with where we're at.  Some math is going to continue to happen for several children, but mostly anything we didn't get to will be pushed into our new year, with a start date to be determined soon.  It must be a big relief to have schooling off my plate for the time being, right?  Well sure it is, but since we stopped our formal schooling, we've had:

  • a major yard reconstruction project
  • two asthma episodes for Isaac, with one resulting in a hospital stay and both resulting in many, many trips to the doctor
  • a week of VBS for 5 of the kids = utter, mind-numbing, suck-the-life-out-of-all exhaustion
  • a week of in-laws in town from Tennessee = non. stop. spoilage.
  • the 4th of July
(must interrupt bullet points for this very important and related photo)

(necessary, yes?  I thought so.)

  • a broken water heater = a Tuesday away from work for Mr. Smith to replace it = a Saturday at work for Mr. Smith to make up the hours
  • a camping trip
  • a new vehicle for the Mr. = trying to sell the old one
  • two birthdays
  • the general, everyday craziness that is our family life
So I guess it's no wonder that I haven't felt the sipping-iced tea-on-my-back-porch-while-the-kids-romp-in-the-sprinkler thing happening just yet.

But will I?  I mean like, ever?  Sometimes it doesn't feel like it.  It feels like the weight of the housekeeping and child rearing alone are enough to crush me, never mind all my other responsibilities and anything extra that might spring up.  How will I ever keep up with it all?  I don't know.  Maybe I won't.

But I do know that today is a new day.  There's nothing monumentally challenging on my calendar this week, or really for the rest of July.  Today I got up early and in the wee dark hours of the morning a little voice told me to make some time for a quiet rosary today.  I think I will.  My morning coffee/clicking brought me this reminder.  Why yes, I think I needed to hear that today.  And at this very moment I have a soon-to-be 14 year old who's eager to have some friends over later in the week, waiting for me to join him to clean up in the basement.  Sounds like a good place for a fresh start to me.

So that's what I'll do.  I'll begin again.  I'll pray.  I'll simplify, and wipe out the cobwebs.  I'll continue to find inspiration for good, and I'll have hope.  That will be enough.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

We have our work cut out for us

I love our home.

We bought this house in July, three years ago, and one of the things that sold us on it was the yard.  It was a good size for city dwellers like us, with nothing at all in it, a blank slate, just waiting for us to kid it up with a swing set and bikes and balls, and gardens just the way we want them.

We've done all of that, but in the meantime we've figured out that we have some pretty serious issues when it comes to water.  With any significant rain the whole yard floods, and sometimes even forces seepage into our basement.  It's rendered the backyard useless for much of the spring and fall seasons, which is not good when I have boys with pent up energy.  We think it's a combination of compacted soil that doesn't receive the water very well (it just sits on top of it), and our yard just plain being too low compared to neighboring ones.

So this is the year we decided to do something about it.  On Memorial Day weekend, we ordered 10 yards of dirt and had it dumped in our driveway.

Ten yards is A LOT of dirt.

We started right at the back of the house, tilled up the compacted soil, and built up the dirt by a good 12 inches.  We created some simple flower beds (which we'll plant later) against the house, and tried our best to very gradually slope the dirt out from there.

Ten yards took us about 1/3 of the way back, and we roped it off and planted some grass seed, hoping for the best.  We planned to do the yard in phases, so that the kids could still use the back half of it while we got grass growing in this area.  (That area to the right of the white fence will later be my patio.  We're ignoring it for now.)

A couple of weeks later, we got our first heavy rain.  A test.  I kept looking out to see what our new area was looking like:  
So far so good, it seems to be draining.  But wait -- just beyond where we finished looks even worse than usual.  Well of course it does, we haven't done that part yet, and that's why we have to.  No wait -- it looks pretty bad, like lake bad.
Well, maybe pond would be a more accurate description, because soon we had this:
If you knew where we live, you'd know how hilarious this actually is, because you just don't have ducks in your backyard here.  I could not believe it when I saw them.  They hung around for a couple of days, just doing their duck thing.

That picture was taken nine days ago, and only the last couple days can we walk around out there without being in a soggy mess.  The water didn't have any place to go (which is good, because our basement wasn't on its list of options this time!), so it sat there, and killed what little grass had been there, and made our yard smell like a swamp.  It was looking like that's how it would be with any rain at this point...

So... phase two has come sooner than we had hoped or expected.  We had another 10 yards of topsoil delivered.  We're tilling and wheelbarrowing, and praying this all works out!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


We're in the middle of birthday week again.  (How did we manage to create birthday pairs so many times over?)  Sebastian turned 3 yesterday and Isaac will be 5 tomorrow.

We went camping this past weekend.  It was so, so much fun.  It had been a while since we had all camped together as a family, and this trip reminded me that we're really good at it!  Camping suits us well, and we're sure to be doing more of it in the near future.

There's so much else going on, and so many things I'd like to record here, but time eludes me.  For now, a photo dump of our weekend:

 Mmmmm.... there's nothing like cooking over a campfire.

 These cloaks have served us well.  In fact, we have some new ones, freshly made for this trip.

 The view over my shoulder at the campfire.  This girl loves the Ergo.

 Walkie-talkies are always handy while camping.  (Who is that mysterious figure in the background?)

 They certainly enjoyed the public bathrooms more than I did.

 I'd like to say that this is just my camping look, but no, this is pretty much what I look like all the time.

 Oliver is a true outdoorsman.  Nothing bothers him.  No amount of dirt embedded in his skin, or sand filling his clothes can get this kid down.  And he takes his coffee black.

 Check out this profile.  Love.

 She was happy as a clam at the beach, playing in the sand.


 All six of the boys are in this picture.  Can you spot them all?

 Sebastian can be kind of ornery. (ahem) And bossy.

 In these pictures, he's mad that I'm trying to take his picture instead of taking one of the boat like he was telling me to.

 "It's over THERE!"

 "Point the camera THAT WAY!"

 "This is edible rock, right?"

 "C'mon, I was kidding!"

 My sweet husband.

 We brought home lots and lots of sand.  Not on purpose, and not all in one place.

 Maybe no one will notice...
"Owen, put her back where she was."

Dang, caught.

 Sorry, G.  They're not going to let you have any fun.

 Back at the campsite.  That pack n' play was gathering dust in the basement.  I never use it, but have held onto it since Blake was born.  I thought it might come in handy this weekend.  It did...for about 12 minutes.  Maybe time for the donation pile.

 Thankfully, a messy campsite doesn't bother me nearly as much as a messy house does.

 This was Sunday morning, after a night of crazy thunderstorms.

 I did a lot of this.

The end.

Monday, June 3, 2013

On a Monday Morning

It's a beautiful, sunny morning here today.  The start of a new week and a new month.  I'm feeling happy and optimistic, two things that can be hard to come by some days.  What treats will come my way today?  What obstacles?  Who knows.  Can I handle it?  Oh sure, I usually do.  As long as I remember why, and Who, I can do all things. 
Because it's a big job, you know.

Friday, May 17, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday

It's finally springtime around here, after a long Michigan winter.  We're getting reacquainted with our yard, soaking up every minute of sunshiny goodness.  It's times like these that remind me of just how much B-O-Y we have going on.  I thought I'd dedicate my Quick Takes to them this week.


There's an oh so tempting water spigot on the back of the house, just steps away from the main play area.  It's off limits, but no one under the age of 10 seems to understand that.  They like to have "just a little", to make soup, or a river in the sandbox, etc.  After many, many warnings and last times and do-you-know-what's-going-to-happen-if-you-do-that-agains (nothing!  because frankly, you're outside!  and that's not inside!  and I really like that!), they finally started to leave it alone.  Then a few days ago Peyton came running into the house with a horrified/amused expression and told me:
"Sebastian just peed in a bucket and he's using it to make soup in the sandbox."
They will find a way, these boys, they will find a way.


I hate when the thing I am obviously supposed to correct is actually totally hilarious.  It makes it hard to find my stern face.


Every time Isaac puts on his bathing suit, he comes to whisper in my ear, "I took my undies off."  
Still getting used to these bizarre summer rituals, I guess.


 What happens when I ask the oldest brother to watch the baby in her sink-bath for a minute?


Blake asked me midday yesterday if I had an old pot or bucket I wasn't using.  I directed him to one, and for the rest of the afternoon there were various indications of construction going on.  He has limited access to some power tools, and he was apparently pulling out all the stops.  By evening we had this:
It's a battle practice dummy.  It's weighted on the bottom with pebbles, and they can pretty much beat the heck out of it without much consequence.  So far, only one semi-smashed finger to report.


Peyton and Oliver are the best of friends.  Because of this, I'm always surprised at how very different they are from each other.  Peyton is thoughtful and sensitive (I walked away from this and made the mistake of leaving it up.  I just heard, "I am NOT thoughtful and sensitive!!"  Oops.), he loves to sleep in and is a natural animal lover.  Oliver is wild and happy, up early every day, and a diligent worker.  (I must make a side note here, that I mostly despise the practice of putting children into "boxes".  I almost never give descriptions of them like this, as they are constantly growing and changing and figuring out who they're going to be.  I especially don't like it when they are told these types of things, as I think they take it too much to heart, and sometimes even feel like they need to live up to it.  These are very loose generalizations, for the sake of the story at hand.)  One day last week, I asked the two of them to help me weed the front flower bed.  I said they could either work on the dandelions along the walkway, or pick up my piles of pulled weeds and put them into the yard waste bag.  I started pulling and Oliver was right behind me, cleaning up my mess.  After a few minutes, I looked at Peyton.  He was kneeling in front of a dandelion, studying it.  I asked him what he was doing and he said he was having a hard time getting the dandelions out.  I suggested he go back to the shed to find another tool to work with, and off he went to the back yard.  He never returned.
About 20 minutes later, Oliver and I had finished up and we went inside the house.  There was Peyton.  "What happened to you, Pey?"  "Oh, I got distracted by a butterfly.  I was following it around the yard.  I almost caught it a few times!"  I know eventually he'll have to learn to work hard and stay on task, but for now I'm pretty happy letting him chase his butterflies.


Sebastian has discovered that worms live under things.  Now every stone, brick, or log is a potential worm hunt, and he can't bring himself to pass one without turning it over to check.  He and Isaac disappeared from my view at the kitchen window, so I went out to investigate.  I found them behind the shed (The Ugly part of the yard.  Does everyone have one of these?).
  "We are looking for worms (womes!), Mom-mom!  Do you want one?!" 
"No thank you, I don't really like worms."
Thoughtfully, " you like roly polies?"

Not so much, sweet thing, but I do love little boys.

Visit Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!