Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Me again.

Hi there, it's me again. I intended to write last Monday about the state of things and that it is a sad, sorry state. Particularly if you ask my feelings or sanity. I have spent many days this year feeling extremely overwhelmed, despondent, frustrated, lonely, angry, and hopeless. I wondered at times if postpartum depression was striking, but I think it's been wholly circumstantial.

Having a newborn is always struggly for me. I'm awful at sleep training and I inadvertently follow attachment parenting principles, so I end up with super clingy babies and fractured rem cycles. Then there are the four older children. The toddlers are demanding by disposition, and Amelia has suffered from displacement in a manner that makes us all suffer. It has been a truly difficult year managing her emotional volatility. The olders are older and easier, but have their own emotional hangups, plus homeschooling them is no simple task. The time we actually spend studying curriculum is nothing compared to the time and energy invested in researching new products, curriculum, techniques, opportunities, and anything else that could possibly improve how we're learning. I will never feel like I'm doing enough for their education.

It's also been nine months since we started a restrictive diet to treat Libby, Erik, and Charlie's severe eczema outbreaks. In January, their skin all flared up to an unprecedented extent, and the persistent itchiness quickly turned into open wounds, scabs, and more eczema spreading up their arms, chest, neck, face, and legs. Between the miserable itchiness and pain and social embarrassment over their striking resemblance to lepers, these kids were suffering. I felt I had to do something effective, so it had to be drastic. After a good long scouring of library and online resources, I settled on the GAPS diet, which attempts to heal them from the inside out through nourishing, easy-to-digest foods. This meant eliminating ALL grains and starches (rice, corn, wheat, oats, quinoa, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, etc.), ALL sugar except minimal honey, all uncultured dairy, and anything processed or with weird ingredients. I could say a lot about how this has worked out for us, but this post is not about food. It's about life's burdens, and depriving my family of all grains and sugar has been a tremendous burden. Sure, it's become much, much easier over time, but it's still a sacrifice of time, money, and effort that I wouldn't have undertaken if I'd felt there was a reasonable alternative.

When I was called to be the primary president a few months ago, I knew something in my schedule had to give, and preparing meals was such a time-suck, so I went with rice. Reintroducing rice helped considerably decrease my workload in the kitchen, actually. Being primary president has been a great experience, though it's also been one more area of life in which I under-perform. I just can't stay on top of it all.

The other circumstance that has contributed to my sorrows is my absent husband. When Kyle started consulting over a year ago, I tried to be tough about parenting solo for four days out of every week. I was positive for as long as I could, but eventually I decided to be honest with myself. It's hard. For a lot of reasons.

On top of all this, my dearest, wonderful mother is dying of cancer and I'm far, far away from her. There's almost nothing I can do for her or do about my parents' situation and it's just awful.

So, for a lot of this year, getting through the day with breaking down emotionally has been difficult. Sometimes I'm okay. I'm functional. I'm happy when I interact with friends. But I yell at my kids, a lot. My house is a disaster and that is mostly why I yell at my kids. Sometimes I throw away their things or say mean things or lock myself up in my room and make them put themselves to bed. Sometimes I feel anxious or heavy-hearted about just making it through the moment or the hour. It just doesn't feel like things will get easier in the foreseeable future. I'm doing all I can to keep myself intact spiritually, eating well, and trying to be grateful that things aren't worse in the countless ways they could be so very much worse. Usually this results in feeling crappier that I don't appreciate my charmed life, such a blessed and ideal life compared to so many others.

In all this complaining, my ultimate message to myself tonight is that there is hope. Sometimes I don't see it, but today I do.

I spent this past weekend blissfully surrounded by dear friends from college. The sight-seeing, excessive gluten consumption, and abundant meaningful conversations were weekend highlights. Another was an observation made in the science museum. We were witnessing baby chicks hatching from their shells and I expressed my desire to break into their cage and help the exhausted, struggling little darlings out of their shells. My bosom friend explained that actually if you help a chick hatch from its egg, it will die because it won't have developed the strength necessary to sustain its own life. Wow.

I came back from this girls weekend rejuvenated in several ways, and already in two days I can see that I really do love being at home with my children and I do have a happy life and I can do this and do it well. Today I had normal hard mommy moments, but nothing resembling despair. I felt like me again.

I think I really just needed a break. Inevitably, all of my responsibilities will continue to wear on me and dark times will resurface. But I think I won't hope and pray for someone to save me from my struggles. I think I'll break out of my own shell, painstakingly though it may be, and have the strength to live my life. It's a life very much worth living.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


That was surprisingly easy. I actually expected to have forgotten how to create a blog post, but it was a single-click effort. Blogger must really be desperate to keep this dying art alive. It's still one click too many for most of us, though.

I decided to write a brief journal entry tonight, but instead perused a few previous blog entries and scrolled through my bloglist only to discover that I am not alone. Almost none of my friends still attempt to blog regularly, and the titles of most of our last blog posts are something akin to, "Yeah, I never blog anymore..."

Normally, I would let dying things die. That's what I'm doing with my houseplants. In the case of blogging, though, I feel a (probably fleeting) urge to renew these self-reports. I have no presence on facebook, twitter, instagram, or whatever other social media outlet currently reigns. True, I've written sporadic, lengthy journal entries to myself over the past year or two, but sporadic is a generous description of their frequency.

Mostly, I'm in need of some therapy, and blogging is self-therapy, so maybe it will fit the bill. (More than actual therapy that costs real dollars, that is.) So there it is: a blog post. That was simple. That was a start.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

I want moooooore!

I'm not a minimalist.  "Less is more" never applied to me when it came to verbal expression, color-coordinated accessories, lively acquaintances, wall collages, etc.  It's just not my nature.

Why, then, have I felt so compelled lately to simplify, to streamline, reduce, and minimize?  I don't just mean sorting through and tossing out stained and unused kids' clothes.  I do that pretty regularly.  We hold at least one enormous garage sale every year.  And with four little ones under foot, shopping of any kind is pretty much not worth it.  Where do our groceries even come from?  I don't know because it is DEFINITELY not worth taking all the kids to the grocery store.

Anyway, I read Simplicity Parenting last year-- loved and embraced it.  Still, I craved more simplicity, less clutter, distraction, and mayhem.  It's so contrary to my core preferences and yet, I find myself being drawn to a simple, meaningful, minimalist life.  Well, let me clarify here.  Minimalism with four kids is not being able to fit all your possessions into an over-sized suitcase.  And as romantic as it sometimes sounds, it's not moving to a tiny cottage in the woods and living off the land.  It's just getting rid of excess, whatever that means.

What it boils down to for me is that there are certain things I greatly value in this life, eg family, friends, faith/relationship with God, good music, nature, books/learning, travel/exploration, wholesome eating, creative expression, "service"/being useful to others, and maybe a few more.  Those are the things that fuel me and make my life worth living.  Everything else, the way I see it, is a distraction from those things that I truly love and value.  Granted, many things are necessary distractions and I don't begrudge those.  Others are simply distractions.

My hope, my goal (and I'm really taking a leap of faith here) is to achieve greater peace and fulfillment, as well as time and money to spend on the things I really love by eliminating as much as possible of everything else.  So.... I love you, skinny jeans in every color of the rainbow, and I love you, vintage table linens too pretty to ever use, and I love you, boxes of flamboyant holiday decor, and I love you, Millie's adorable collection of bathing suits... but you might not actually be adding to my happiness because, collectively, you're emotionally cumbersome and materially burdensome.  (I fully acknowledge that simplifying our schedules, access to media, and other such things are incredibly helpful, too.  Physical clutter is what is frustrating me most, though, so I'm starting there.)

I'm not entirely convinced, though.  I do love my stuff.  I'm just finally to the point where I don't want to love my stuff as much as I do.  And perhaps I'm even prepared to do something about it.  Not tonight, but sometime....

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Be careful what you wish for...

Okay, so we've got a brief sampling of recent pics here.  Good thing "done is better than perfect" because quality posting completely alludes me these days.  At least there's Millie.  Talk about a pick-me-upper.

In other news, be careful what you wish for when you discover five baby birds squeaking in a nest built into your friend's front-door wreath and openly covet the preciousness of new life that's right before their family every day.

Because then, a few days later, you discover three dying baby birds (that aren't nearly as adorable, but that's beside the point) across the street and dedicate your entire afternoon and evening to trying to save them and despite your dedicated effort and prayers and hope and love, they die.  

This one's for Judy, who told the hilarious tale of Kyle and his sibs despairing over their lack of accolades after school field days.  "All I want is to get something other than a participant ribbon!," she quoted, to Kyle and my hysterical belly laughing.  I get it.  I totally get it.  And with that genetic heritage from both sides, what other type of ribbon would our kids earn at field day?  The difference: our kids are still stoked to earn a participant ribbon.  For now.    

One of my favorite things about spring and early summer is making my kids eat every meal, snack, and treat outside.  They'll lose whatever table manners they might have had, but I'm down to mopping the kitchen floor once a week so I'd say that's more than worth it.  

Thursday, April 24, 2014

I was going to

I was going to write about how I've been following through on my New Year resolution to read more.  Not lots, just more.  I've no less than a stack of parenting self-help books on my night stand on any given day and my ward's monthly book group has helped me supplement with a broader genre of novels.

I was also going to narrate more of our recent-ish travels, meaning anything within the past six months, before I forget how much I loved Turkey, New York, and New Orleans.

Then I was going to share how delightfully verbose little Mill is becoming.  (She's fiercely loyal to her besties, Claire and Olive ("Cleh and Ovuh"), and yesterday I discovered her on the counter, stuffing canned olives into her mouth and declaring unrepentantly, "me taking many ovuh."  Now if only she can only find some best friends named Mushroom and Cauliflower...)

I might've even gotten around to writing about the wonderful Easter weekend we enjoyed with Keesaw.

And lest we forget, tomorrow's the day we celebrate the love of my life.  I would've wrapped up with a heartfelt tribute to the many wonders of being wed to such a man.

That's what I was going to write about.  But today Kyle's mom is in the hospital having some heart problems.  And today my mom found out she has two new tumors.  And today I have a dear friend who is struggling in her marriage.  And today the kids' guinea pig died.

Yep, they bought her with their own money, searching for the perfect piggie on craiglist every day for weeks.  She only made it two weeks in our home before she deserted us, just like Midnight before her.  Only this time we suspect blunt trauma.  There were too many people over for us to understand what happened or who was responsible.  Could've easily been one of our kids' carelessness.  The pain is visceral, though.  And it's only a faint shadow of the grief that will overcome us if any of our family members ever dares to desert us.

Overall, this is good for me.  I need to suffer more.  My life has been too easy, and I feel badly about that.  If difficulties must arise, though, please just let them be mine alone.  Is that too much to ask?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Thawin' in Nawlins

The good news about weather like this is that it drives doting grandparents south from Minnesota to our neck of the woods to thaw...

which allows me to sleep in scandalously late every morning, among other blessings.  We so enjoyed and appreciated our visit from Kyle's parents last month.

We kicked it off with a surprise Valentine's day dinner, since they arrived around dinner time on the 14th.  We set the table with our finest correll and ate gourmet homemade over candlelight, with our paper napkins on our laps and everything.  It was lovely, and they were delighted by the gesture, which is really what made it count.

Kyle's parents are so good about going with the kids wherever their hearts and imaginations carry them.  Erik had planned a birthday party for his favorite stuffie, Hua-mei, and on Grandpa's invitation Erik had written an assignment to bring chocolate-dipped pretzel "bamboo stalks."  Grandpa ran to the store for pretzels rods and delivered.

Oklahoma had very recently bid farewell to winter weather so we were all ecstatic to enjoy the great outdoors for the first time in months.  At a local park the kids quickly engaged in their own, highly predictable activities: Ellie immediately made a new friend to play with, 

Charlie found a large stick,

Erik staked out a quiet corner and sketched something of inspiration,

and Millie ceased to wandered further than a pace away from me.  Grandma's goody bag had nothing to do with it, I'm sure.

And another reason I love Ron and Judy is because they consented to being dragged an additional 12 hours south to New Orleans.  Needless to say, this trip would've been impossible without them.  As it was, despite an isolated incident of road trip barf, lots of traffic jams, and the usual crowdiness and crankiness, I found it to be the most relaxing and enjoyable road trip with kids in my memory.  I highly recommend the 3:4 adult to child ratio for traveling.

Kyle's parents followed the Mississippi all the way from its origin in Minnesota to its end at the Louisiana delta.  

We stayed with our fabulous friends, the Tersigni's, who've lived there for years but are moving in a few months.  This was our last chance to experience Mardi Gras with them and we had to take them up on it!  Plus, Thomas loves outer space and plain lettuce almost as much as Erik and Henry has a stick collection so you know our kids are soulmates.

We were a little concerned about swamp walking through the bayou after hearing reports of rogue gators, but then we couldn't even find any gators which seemed to be much worse.

We did find this incredible tree which now constitutes my dream back yard.  The roots grew this way because Native Americans buried mounds of shells under the tree and somehow the roots grew around them.  There were still shells lying in the dirt all around the tree meaning this was the perfect site for digging, climbing, and hiding out-- will this specific tree please live in my yard forever?!

P.S. We did find a gator or two, as it turned out!  The first one was a baby and other was on the opposite bank so it really wasn't intimidating at all, which was a little disappointing, but also relieving. 

Mardi Gras means lots and lots of beads (but no even partial nudity, not to worry)!  Even two weeks before the actual holiday, parades were running strong all day and night over the weekend.  After one and a half parades, we had our fill of cheap stuffed animals and plastic necklaces, and yet there was an undeniable competitive thrill involved with procuring unwanted trinkets from double decker floats.  So much so that we plan to recreate that thrill for our friends by forcing them to line our street while we drive back and forth chucking at them all that unwanted loot we fought for at the parades.  I mean it. 

I kind of love cemeteries (I think it's a Goodwin girl thing), so Cities of the Dead were on my itinerary without debate.  I wish we'd had time to stroll through a little longer, especially with the sunset back drop and the warm, quiet air.  This was at the end of a long day, though, and I thought an enormous, above-ground cemetery after dark might not be the best place to lose my children. 
Another great thing about Kyle's parents is how often they buy us ice cream. (I think they were just super excited to be warm enough to enjoy a cold treat.) We enjoyed some funky flavors here at the Creole Creamery.  Poor Kyle missed out on all of this New Orleans fun, which really is a shame considering he's the lover of jazz music and creole cuisine, but it looks like I at least called him periodically to let him know what a great time we were having.  All in all, a fabulous trip.

I think I am realizing something about traveling.  I've always known I love it, and also recognize that I romanticize it.  Some people say getting there is half the fun.  For me, perhaps half the fun occurs afterward, not beforehand.  I really, really enjoy my trips in retrospect.  Just like a good thrift store run, reliving the fun and adventure of traveling sometimes can be just as enjoyable, or even more so, than the actual experiences.  There's no stress, hunger, exhaustion, sudden changes of plans, or any of the other struggles of traveling when you're warm and cozy in your own home recalling the trip.  It's all roses.  If our plans go awry on the trip, that only fuels better stories to tell afterward.  With this expectation, there's much less pressure to have an incredible travel experience.  Whatever bliss evades me at the time is only yet to come.

Monday, March 03, 2014

It's Art

                                         Okay, formatting all the pictures on this post was the most miserable task I've conquered in a while, and actually I far from conquered it as you'll notice.  Regardless, welcome to the somewhat mediocre evidence that my poor homeschooled children have learned something this year, or at least been exposed to educational information. Our goals, curriculum, and schedule are ever-evolving, but our study of famous artists and composers has remained constant, and not coincidentally, been my most favorite subject to study with them. 
Splatter painting seemed a good place to start, enter Jackson Pollock.  Here's Erik's interpretation, with Ellie's and mine below, respectively.

Edgar Degas's famous ballerinas were a delight to study, and finding a painting simple enough to attempt to duplicate proved the challenge.  Ellie and I gave it a shot.

Erik opted for an equestrian sketch, another famous subject for Degas, though Erik took some artistic liberty adding the cowboy.  His drawing always makes me smile.

Thanks to TMNT, Michaelangelo was the next artist they selected.  First we created artwork by taping paper to the bottom of our kitchen table and definitely gained an appreciation for the method Michaelangelo used painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Then we tried some hands, which were surprisingly difficult!

Erik put a good effort into Adam's hand but decided God was up for a high five instead.

Next up, Georges Seurat in all his pointillist glory.

Again, a good start from Erik but struggled with the follow-through.  In his defense, these are all pretty challenging projects.  We seem to be surprised at the emotional fortitude required each time to complete an art reproduction.

Learning from Michaelangelo's hands, I went ahead and printed a sketch of Leonardo Da Vinci's Maddona of the Rocks.  The detail and subtlety was daunting, but for better or worse, we persevered!

Erik opted out of participating in our Van Gogh painting session and I must've been too emotionally drained to care.  Ellie and I tried using plastic forks to create the stripey texture, but I think having the proper paint and canvas would've helped.  Still a fun project.

I don't think this is the actual Claude Monet original we copied, there were so many after all, but it captures the essence.  At least for me and Ellie, this was one of the more rewarding art sessions.  Lily pads are much more forgiving than facial features.

I wish Erik would've finished because I think he'd have made something beautiful, but after several frustrated outbursts over the particular shade not being achieved, his paper had been wiped off and scratched to its breaking point.  He was also at his breaking point.

Matisse made some fun paintings that we would've enjoyed copying, but his paper cutting work is unique to him so we had to give the method a go.  Erik actually did finish a nice paper collage of a rose, but unfortunately lost it. 

Ellie created a scene of Byzantine worshippers in front of the Hagia Sophia.  Totally her idea.

I was feeling much more light-hearted, depicting my kiddies entertaining themselves in our lovely backyard.

I love Mary Cassatt's impressionist work, mostly of mothers and children.  Ellie chose this artist, eager to study our first female artist.

I was so proud of Erik for finishing this painting!  I recall that it took the larger part of an entire day, lots of redirecting, validating, persuading, encouraging, adapting, and waiting patiently.  Noses are really struggly to paint, I know it.  That's why I'm so proud of him.  Also, I'm proud of me because all of those unfinished paintings of Erik's above are really just evidences of my unwillingness to painstakingly walk him through the process, not allowing him to give up just because it's difficult.  Now I know what we're both capable of!

This was the original work of Cassatt's that Erik chose to copy, on account of it appearing to be an easier project.  You'd think we'd have learned by now that they are never, ever easy!

And what a homely likeness it is!  Faces are so, so struggly, I tell ya.  

Ah, good ole Picasso.  Can't go wrong here, right?

I really love the way our collages turned out, and it was refreshing to create something with somewhat lower expectations of its visual appeal.  

This month it's Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Georgia O'Keeffe, just like last month...  We slacked a little on our art curriculum in February.  Still, we're learning something together, we three, and if the Department of Public Education or whoever enforces these things shows up at my door demanding to know what my children have learned over the past six months, this will be most of the hard evidence I can offer.  Is there a way I can get a hard copy of their improved critical thinking, creativity, curiosity and contentment? Yeah, didn't think so.  Wish me luck!