Honestly, don't even bother reading this one.

Today, I'd had enough.  I was going to accomplish something besides the washing, drying, and piling laundry, doing dishes, teaching kids, and attempting to dig out from a house full of clutter that definitely finds its way to the wrong place a lot faster than the right one.  So I plunked Noah down in front of Sam and said, "I need to be away from him for like ten minutes."  I picked a simple task - thinning out the magazine stack.  I have only subscribed to one magazine in recent history (All You) because it has a ton of coupons and easy-to-read articles...which was really great...back when I had time to both coupon and, well, read magazine articles.  Each one contains a fun little puzzle page at the back with my favorite crossword puzzles.  I love these particular ones because they aren't too difficult that I can't finish them, but they aren't so simple that I don't have to think about them.  I made a stack of the oldest year of magazines and decided, by golly, I was doing those puzzles.  But not at the moment.  Talk about becoming derailed.  No, that's ridiculous.  What I was going to do made so much more sense. 

I thought to myself these would be great to take on our upcoming cross-country field trip.  Sam and I could work on them together as we traverse the country with the wind in our hair and five kids sitting silently and happily in the back seat. 

But, seven extra magazines might be a bit bulky.  Packing space is at a premium for this thing, so, I set out on my little project.  I pulled each puzzle page and solution, trimmed them with scissors, and taped the puzzles, two to a page, to computer paper.  Then I taped all of the solutions to another sheet and laminated it so it wouldn't get ruined.  While I was doing all of this, Sam walked in holding the Noah that I'd delivered to him for my ten minute break and just stared at me. 

"Soooo.......what's going on in here?"

I was sitting there on the living room floor amidst a pile of magazine scraps and re-taped crossword puzzles, and I suddenly realized how utterly stupid I must have looked.

And, yet, it had seemed like such a good idea when I set out.

Sam smiled and tried to humor me.  He did some nodding.  He asked if I was going to laminate the crosswords puzzles too so I could do them in dry-erase marker and reuse them when I was done.  Maybe even sell them.  Start a little cottage industry.  I could really recover my investment from that magazine subscription. Yeah, pretty sure he was scoffing.

I shook my head at myself, packed up the project, and we fixed dinner.  A couple of hours later, I looked at those crosswords puzzles taped to paper and I busted a gut.  What in the world what I thinking???  Hahahahaha.  That was so dumb.

Sam, always at the ready to joke around, joined in the fun.  "I didn't know what to think.  One minute you're crying because you don't have time to do anything...and then, the next, you're taping crossword puzzles to a piece of paper."

Then, in an instant, as fast as I started laughing, no kidding, I literally cried again.  Because the whole reason I wanted to do a project at all came flooding back to me.  Because I needed something, anything that was just for me.  And I'm tired and basically just a mess.  A mess who apparently felt owed five minutes of time to do something completely alone and without interruption even if it was stupid.  Like cutting and taping crossword puzzles. 

Now, I'm laughing again. 

It must be extremely difficult to be married to me.
Basically, this post is dedicated to the man I love, who loves me in spite of violent mood swings and strange quirks. 

We'll see, though, if I let him do those taped crossword puzzles with me on our out-west adventure.  That'll really show him.   

This post is also dedicated to all of the single-parents out there.  I spent 4.5 days this week alone while Sam was away on business and, apparently, 4.5 days is how long it takes for me to go completely insane.  Hats off, my friends.  You are the strongest, most amazing people I know.

Goodnight, everyone.

Tomorrow, maybe I'll start a rubber band ball. 


The Best Mess

I've been quiet around this blog for a multitude of reasons.  None of them are probably good reasons, but they are reasons nonetheless.  We went "back to school" (or back to the kitchen table, the living room floor, and even occasionally my big, comfy bed, as it were) in August, and being on the horizon of an epic fall adventure with the family, I determined in advance that we would hit it pretty intensely for the first two months.  So far, that's going well.

This is the first year I've been "schooling" three kids, which has presented its own challenges.  As has trying to school three children with a precocious two year old and a mobile nine month old running and crawling about.  Nevertheless, we press on.  Because that's just what we do.  Because quitting and giving up and "I can't" are forbidden in this house.  Even, and especially when it's hard.  I'm a bit of a taskmaster in that way.

Things I am not a taskmaster about:

1.  Keeping a clean house.
2.  Following curriculum instructions exactly.
3.  Drinking water instead of other tastier, bad-for-you beverages.

As I type, Sam is in St. Louis for five days, I am "down" with strep throat, and my house is a total disaster.  I seriously hope I don't get in a car accident or fall out with a kidney stone emergency because if someone came into the house right now, I would die.  Of embarrassment.  But my kids are awesome.  So I do have that going for me.  Aside from a few minor mishaps, mostly involving a particular two year old's solo bathroom misadventures that are best left untold, they have cared for themselves well the past two days while I was laid up in bed watching Parenthood and being a weenie over a fever.  (I don't handle fevers very well.)  While this was the perfect opportunity for me to become derailed, yet again, we press on.  At the risk of sounding too much like a Pixar character, we're just going to keep pressing on.  Just keep swimming.  Progress is progress.  Even if it's imperfect.

Most days I feel like a mess, but that's okay.  Because life is messy.  (Just take a look around my house.)  In my Ready, Set, School post in August, I mentioned grace being the theme of the year.  Oh my goodness, is it ever.  I'm loving grace.  It's all going to be okay.  In the middle of the mess, I'm digging in.  I'm experiencing this life.  Imperfect though it may be. 

Imperfectly sandy.  In every nook and cranny, even.

Sometimes the mess is in the form of a mysterious sticky substance in the two year old's hair.  "What is that, Leah?" - "I don't know. Oh. It's milk." - "Why did you rub milk in your hair?" - "I don't know."

Sometimes the mess isn't a mess anymore because the big sister steps in to comfort a suddenly-scared-of-the-dark little sister with a tight embrace until they fall asleep in each others arms.

Sometimes we're just a sweaty, geocaching mess.   

Sometimes Mommy and Daddy try to soak up a little too much life and Leah has to lay down in the middle of feeding turtles and take a little rest.  (She's not actually asleep here.  But we aren't exactly sure what she was doing.)

Sometimes, I'm so distracted by the rest of the mess that I forget to feed the baby and he has to eat drawer handles for lunch.  (Objection, relevance?  Sorry.  I just love this picture.)

Sometimes we forego elaborate birthday celebrations in favor of finding 11 geocaches on an 11th birthday. At night.  In the Target parking lot.  And behind small businesses.  In the trees.

Sometimes what was a big, huge mess last year turns out to be this year's greatest joy.  This kid, right here?  I could not be more proud of the young man he is becoming.  I look forward to each day I have with his goofy sense of humor and his dizzying intellect and his tender heart for his little sibs.  

Sometimes the mess I should have recycled months ago becomes the best toy on the premises.

Sometimes I rag on my precious middle child and her wild counterpart two year old sister, but the truth is, they're both pretty awesome.  Sarah has requested the job of putting Leah down for her afternoon nap.  She reads her a book (or four), then lays down with her for a few minutes until she goes to sleep.  Sometimes they both do.  You guys...I'm dying.  This is the child whose door I would have to stand guard at for literal hours to get her to take a ten minute nap.  Those messes you battles for hours at a time?  In three years, you'll likely reap some sort of reward.  The hard work is almost always worth it.

Sometimes it feels like I'm neglecting my littles for the sake of education or basic sanitation practices or those darn meals that need to be made.  THREE TIMES A DAY.  Then I look in the [disastrously messy] playroom and see this kid playing contentedly.  In her snowflake shirt.  In September.  And I smile.  Because, man, I love this mess.

You know why this mess is the best?  Because it's the mess God gave me.  This is my life, and I am forever grateful for every imperfect minute of it.
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. ~Colossians 3:17

Ben Eleven


It's fleeting.  It's precious.  Some days it drags on slower than a slug dipped in cough syrup, and then, suddenly it's been eleven years.

Eleven years.

If I were to write a blog post for each of my kids' birthdays, I'd spend my life writing birthday blog posts.  (Large family humor, it's a bit of an exaggeration.  This is true.)  I do, however, feel led to address these offspring of mine on their birthdays from time to time.  This year, this eleventh year, is one of those times.

This past year with Ben has been a game changer.

This kid rocks.

Each year of childhood has its challenges.  Newborns don't sleep.  One year olds can't talk.  Two year old are highly volatile.  Three year olds are stuck between toddlerhood and childhood and that's frustrating for everyone.  So on and so forth.  Six year olds lose all of their teeth.  Seven year olds grow new, huge ones back in their places.  Nine and ten year olds know everything and are anxiously awaiting that rite of passage into the age of "middle school."

Middle school.  Yikes.  Not anyone's finest years, am I right?  I think back to when I was eleven.  I bought my first pair of Reebok classics with my own money because it seemed really important to have name brand shoes in middle school.  I walked those gigantic, bright white size 10's down to the bus stop on my spindly little chicken legs.  Everything about me was at least as awkward as those shoes.

This doesn't seem like that long ago.

It was 1994.  20 years ago.

I think the most alarming thing about Ben turning eleven this year is all of the math problems I've associated with it.  If he follows a traditional path and goes to college after his senior year of high school, I only have seven years left with him in my home.  This is less than half of his entire life up to this point.  And I know how fast eleven years has gone.

When Ben blessed us with his presence on September 5, 2003, I was 20 years old.  If Ben were to follow that particular path, he could be a dad in a mere nine years.  Say what?

Wasn't he just born yesterday?

Yes.  Yes, he was.  That day changed the entire course of my life.  Retrospect has given me the gift of seeing now that it was only for GOOD. 
My Amazing Ben,

The moment I found out I was pregnant with you, I knew I had become "a mom," but it didn't hit me until we left the hospital that your dad and I were fully responsible for you.  I admit right up front that I didn't know what I was doing.  I still don't.  I hope it's not obvious and that I at least fake it well, but I'm going to need lots of grace, especially from you, my dear, oldest child.  Although I've never been "an oldest," I see now what's expected of you and how much we had to learn as we reared you, and it's not an easy job.  The good news is, you kind of rock at it.

I've watched you grow now for eleven years.  I cannot believe it's been that long since that day we first met 8lb 13oz you.  Such a plump, precious baby with a head full of dark, dark hair that had everyone questioning if there had been some sort of parental mix-up.  You still have the thickest, most enviable mop of dark, dark hair, but you're no longer as plump as you are a strapping young man.

I won't dwell too much on Baby Ben, but I do want to highlight a few things from this past year because I am so, so proud of you.  In your tenth year, you learned personal responsibility (should I bring up the math lessons here?), you learned the value of a good attitude and how it affects your performance, you laughed so much, you learned to take a joke and even how to make some at your own expense, you become a big brother again, and you continued to grow and develop your relationships with three little sisters who all adore you.  You grew in wisdom and in stature.  Hey, we can even share shoes now.  You have exhibited maturity in ways far beyond your years, and you've cut loose with giggles and sillies that could not be more appropriate for a boy of ten.  You have hit your quota of words by 10am on countless days, but you keep right on chatting.  You might make an amazing radio personality someday.  You have helped in the kitchen, folded a million towels, cleaned toilets, unloaded dishes, cleared off tables, babysat.  You're going to make the most amazing husband and father some day. 

I cannot believe you are eleven years old, but I'm glad you are.  Because even though I thought I was unprepared for the awkward middle school years, I'm finding that I enjoy you more with each passing day.  You are a hoot!  I love your sense of humor.  (I'm claiming that one.  You're welcome.)  Keep making me laugh, Ben.  Keep loving on your little sisters and brother.  Keep being a brother worth admiring.

Just for fun, here's a little photo overload of your past ten years.  Maybe when you're a dad you'll realize why this made your dear old mom cry.

I love you, Ben Eleven (nope, not as nice a ring as Ben Ten). Keep smiling and making me smile.  You are one awesome young man.  I'm honored to be your mom.


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