Around Here Week 28: 07/11-17

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

 A glimpse into what it is like to live in our home just this moment. 

photo cred: Heather

Intentional Outdoor Hours: 299+ hours (of 1000)
the kids set up the tarp outside for a slip'n slide all on their own and played their modified version of rundown on it. It's the thick of summer - literally thick with humidity in this pretend western pa rainforest we live in these days! - so when the weather is tolerable, we are outside. I try to get Red outside first thing in the morning because he plays so hard out there and it makes naptime a breeze (he fell asleep at lunch once this week). He has started walking right down over the hillside, pulling down the snow fence far enough to climb over and then chasing the chickens and ducks all around (good grief!?)

Reading The Book of Dreams by Nina George and really enjoying it! 

Drowning in zucchini. omigosh. pick everyday or we find 12 inch+ zucchs in the garden. All this rainforest weather has been great for our garden but the bikinis (we still call them that because Violet did when she was three) are getting out of hand. 

Closing out the baseball season officially with the end-of-year picnic. 

Swapping out the boys' clothes...Well, I started this project and then got overwhelmed and it was too hot in the attic and Rust and Grey kept mixing up the clothes piles with their dirty I gave up for a minute. Honest to the good Lord, if you could see the boys' room right now you would immediately call TLC Hoarders. Good thing the boys sleep down in the living room every night for kid campout and Red has been going through it this week and has been co-sleeping with us. Ugh, a project for next week's ambition! 

Joyfully watching the tadpoles try out their new legs! 

Meeting a new friend. Thanks to facebook, I discovered a very cool outdoor program that will be available in the fall at Nathan's Divide Watershed, put on by Wildernest. I reached out to the program director, Lisa and asked through messenger if she was ever interested in meeting up because I had a lot of questions about how she got her program started. She was gracious and obviously an outdoor free play enthusiast too - so we met up at Nathan's Divide Watershed and walked around chatting non stop while the kids explored the forest. Oh gosh, my soul sings! It was great convo and really inspiring and the wheels in my outdoor free & risky play mind are buzzing at full speed. 

Splashing at Ebensburg pool. The kids and I met up with Kate and her two for a fun afternoon swimming and splashing. It was actually the most perfect day to go because it was overcast and there was a short little thunderstorm, so outside of having to wait it out under the giant umbrellas for ten minutes - we basically had to share the entire pool with like 4 other families! 

Putting up a new-to-us trampoline. After a terrible storm on Sunday - worst winds we've ever experienced in the 10 years of living atop this mountain that we actually took everyone down to the basement!- our trampoline had suffered enough trauma that she was d.e.a.d. The trampoline is the only thing the kids consistently play with every single day, so we knew we needed a replacement fast. Luckily, my parents were looking to get rid of theirs (which is the original frame from when I was in sixth grade. They don't make things like they used to!). So the big kids helped Chum disassemble it and then reassemble back at our house. Chum even brought us sand so we could make sandbags to put around the trampoline to keep it grounded no matter the storms to come. So far, the sandbags work like a charm because we already had more severe storms this week, and the trampoline stayed put! (thank you Chum & Abba!!)

Crunching the numbers of our life to figure out what is even possible or responsible or logical for our present and future. My stomach is in knots and it's really overwhelming to think about. I know a decision needs to be made and I will at least feel better to get pointed in the direction of whatever the decision is - but until then; in this limbo phase, is making me physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted. 

Thanking my generous husband who took one for our team this week. Lots of ice and resting for two days for that guy - but I am so grateful that he suggested he would do this one thing for us since I grew and birthed six babies for our family. He was a champ and I feel so excited to grow up with this big 'ole family we grew. 

Kissing Booboo farewell for the weekend. He got a super fun weekend with his cousins at Jellystone Campground. They stayed in a cabin, swam in the pool, won a cornhole tournament (like father like son with those two guys and their athletic freakishness), and had so much fun making memories. Thank you Heather & Albert for taking him!! 

Swimming and sun'ing at the Que on Friday afternoon. As B was resting after his surgery, I scooped up the five (Grey was camping) and we headed out to the Que for 2 hours. The kids are always so happy to just play there and Red can walk right into the water, so it's less nerve-wracking than being at a swimming pool.  The weather was perfect and we got a little spot right by a tree with some shade for Olive to nap and breastfeed while the rest played in the water and built sandcastles. It was actually kind of idyllic. 

Celebrating a new home for my friend and co-worker Renee at her housewarming party. Congratulations!!

Sporting with our last volleyball games of the season. We had a double header that included a huge thunderstorm in between the two matches. We were soaked and hid out in the truck until it passed and then headed back onto the courts for Match #2! Afterwards, we had team dinner at the Woodside! (as always - we loved playing with you Cats!) Gemma participated in a basketball open gym on Tuesday morning (she loved it) and Grey was headed to middle school golf practice until it was canceled due to the storms. Violet had her meet & greet with her flag football coach on Friday night and is now really excited for the upcoming season! 

Making chicken and gravy over mashed potatoes, mac & cheese and hot dogs, butter & garlic zoodles (using up that zucchini!), and our last Green Chef (and Brandon's all time favorite) Plant Protein Baked Rigatoni - no joke he literally talked about it for two days after. If I've said it once this summer, I've said it a thousand times - thank goodness for CT family meal pick ups each week! If you have not done it yet, you are out of your mind!? It has saved my grocery bill all summer, although I did finally have to order a grocery pick up from Walmart because we've been out of ketchup, pepper, and olive oil for at least a week now (oops!)

So you think you want a big family?

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

 As a family of eight, we are well seated in the 'big family' category. I've literally never gone to a place with all my kids where a stranger has not said to me, "My, don't you have your hands full." When I was a little girl I daydreamed about having six kids (true story!) but after four actual real human children, my husband and I were pretty sure we were done. And then our fifth surprised us and just 13 months later out popped the sixth - so here we are in the reality that was manifested by seven year old Tabitha! 

Lots of people have lots of different feelings about big families. Sometimes it looks nightmareish and some people think it's a built in party = fun! Well, if you've ever wondered if you're cut out for a big family - here's my top ten list of things to consider before you hop on the big family circus train. 

1. laundry. 
this is number one on the list because honestly, imagining laundry for more people in your home might be the tipping point for a lot of parents. laundry is a terrible chore all the time no matter if its just only your own personal clothes or a regular sized family. think of how it makes you feel to look at a hamper full of laundry (dirty or clean, haha! doesn't matter)…now multiply it by 6. (bonus round: misplaced socks!)

2. general life standards
Sometimes I find myself daydreaming about my little 1-bedroom apartment I had in Brooklyn when I was living on my own right after college. Gosh, you could have eaten off of my bathroom floor it was so clean and tidy. Now, we literally call the dog in to clean the spilled dinner off the kitchen floor each night. Standards for things that are not crucial to daily survival are way down when you have a big family. Our vehicles have snacks, water bottles, and sports bags stashed in them. We have a hygiene day for the boys and the girls so I know at least, for sure everyone had a proper shower and nails clipped (!hahaha, they bathe more than that, but at least I'm sure because of hygiene day). My response to text messages is horrendous (apologies to all my loved ones). We have misplaced papers, expired gift cards, and appliances that desperately need deep cleaned...but perfection is too grand an aspiration when you have a big family. So you figure out what standards you can live with lowering and you run with it. 

3. worry prioritizing
As an adult/parent the list of things that are on your mind can be endless. As a big family parent, the same is true - but you can only ever occupy your mind space with like the first 10 on the list. The worry list changes every day depending on what's going on; a sick kid shoots to number 1 or no snacks for the lunch boxes usually holds strong at a 6 or a friend's birthday gift for their party this weekend sometimes makes it to spot 9 on the list. But things like purchasing new curtains for the living room or fixing that cracked light switch face plate never make it even to the top 10. It's not that I don't know all those things need done, I just don't have the brain space to care unless it's higher on the list. So for sanity's sake, if it seems like big family parents are so laid back, it's because we literally only have brain capacity to hold a top 10 worry list for every day and everything else that's stressing you out has been temporarily erased from our mind. 

4. noise level volume 10
it's very loud with this many people in your home. Our fifth baby actually cried for two days straight in the hospital when he was first born. We brought him home and within minutes of being in this loud environment that he was used to hearing in the womb, he was happy and content. It's loud when everyone is happy and it's loud if anyone is angry. It's loud if we're all in the same room and it's definitely loud when we are all spread out throughout the house and yard. You get used to the noise and the movement for the most part....when it's quiet - that's when you get worried. 

5. kid attention
I generally feel like there's not enough of me to go around - but I think that's how most parents feel no matter how many kids they have. Did I look everyone in the face today? Did I hug everyone today? Do I know what each kid did today that made them feel happy or sad? But being a big family has also taught me that I don't have to bear the weight of this one on my own. The kids take care of each other too. Each of them have a sibling who brings out their silliness or tenderness or can keep their secrets. And because we rely on our friends and family so much to get through this life (we have to as a big family!) our kids also know they have people in their life they can go to for a listening ear or an encouraging high five. I still go to bed tallying all the ways I had one on one time with each kid, but it's not weighted down with guilt in the ways I couldn't do it; it's carried in gratitude to know that they had each other to lean into too. 

6. meals
How do we feed them all? Hah! Sometimes I don't know. I do a lot of 'shelf shopping' to make ingredients we already have into full blown meals. LOTS of side dishes (that's the secret to stretching dinner). We have certain staples in the house for the non-stop hunger (sandwich supplies, fruit, salad ingredients). We have chickens that supply eggs and we've added a garden to supplement veggies. We keep our freezer full of locally purchased pork, beef, and deer meat. I meal plan before shopping. We always eat leftovers. Everyone drinks a lot of water. Let's just say, if you are not up for a very intense relationship with grocery shopping, cooking, and inventory of food every week- you might want to reconsider a big family. 

7. the calendar
the who-where-when logistics of a big family can make your head feel like its on backwards. Normal requirements alone can be difficult: well checks, eye, chiropractor, and dentist appointments (we try to double and triple up doctors or dentist appointments if possible) then add in activities (sports, clubs, meetings) - the calendar gets swallowed up and you have to get creative on how everyone is getting to where they are supposed to be and when everyone is going to eat, bathe, and finish their homework. A big family momma cannot survive without a master calendar, so get yourself some cute pens and get color-coding baby. 

8. your 'bedroom' is always a topic for discussion
It literally comes up in almost every conversation we have with anyone who sees us all together or who finds out we have a big family. Sex is generally not a topic that a co-worker feels comfortable bringing up or ya know, some random deli guy who is slicing up the swiss cheese - but have a big family and you wouldn't believe who thinks they get permission to ask if "you guys know how this works?" or "doesn't he ever sleep on the couch?" or "maybe you need to get a new hobby" 

9. divide and conquer method
I haven't been to the grocery store by myself in literal years; if there's an errand to run - a kid or two comes both to help and to alleviate the number of kids at home with the other parent. One parent does the bath while the other does the drying/lotioning/jammie'ing. It also means older siblings changing diapers and getting drinks, and younger siblings hanging out at practices. It's calling in extended family like grandparents and aunts/uncles to make sure there's one familiar face in the stands. With a big family, no one is going to get to do all the things, so we try to make it as fair as possible and we all come back to huddle up to make a game plan to try again the next week. 

10. Money
We go without because at the bottom line, raising kids is expensive as heck. My childless cousin once joked that he was going to get one of those stick people car decals that included him and his wife and then instead of children - just bags of money. I laughed for a solid five minutes because that's funny and also accurate. As a big family we have to make "sacrifices" because with every kid comes more expenses - this is no secret. But I say "sacrifices" in quotes because most of the time it doesn't feel like a sacrifice. The kids don't mind wearing handmedowns from older cousins who they want to emulate anyway. We may not be going on a big elaborate vacation with all the fancy room service and airplane ride, but we stayed up until after midnight laughing and roasting marshmallows at the lake a few minutes down the road and then got up and went sunrise kayaking together. Everyone has to share a room with siblings, but they have someone to whisper and giggle with before bed while mom and dad give them another warning to go to sleep already! We don't have a brand new car, but we have our busted minivan that has a name (Sheila!) and every single one of their friends recognize and calls her by such. Brandon and I are always wishing for more money to sprinkle in parts of our life - it would be great to get that house project done, or pay off that car loan....but we live within our means to make sure that we don't get a spot that money (or lack of) is an actual source of stress. We live simply but fully - and that trickles down to the kids too. We aren't rich in money, but we sure are rich in almost everything else. 

At the end of the day, if you have a big family - you can't imagine living any other way. The noise and the mess and the madness is all secondary to the overwhelming love and joy. Each person brings out a little something different and special in each other. There is always someone to talk to, or listen hanging around, and the inside jokes are so deep and plentiful that it's hard to stay mad at any one person because another funny, embarrassing, or silly thing is always just about to happen. 

The motherhood mantra that gets me through one day of a big family to the next is credited to Nora Roberts. I read this quote a few years ago and it has literally been my saving grace on days that I am overwhelmed with big family raising...

"...the key to juggling is to know that some of the balls you have in the air are made of plastic and some are made of glass." 

I think being a big family parent requires you to be able to see super clearly which balls are plastic and which balls are glass.  

Around Here Week 27: 07/04-10

Thursday, July 15, 2021

 A glimpse into what it is like to live in our home just this moment. 

photo cred: Heather

photo cred: Kate

photo cred: Taryn

Intentional Outdoor Hours:  279+ hours (of 1000)
I'm convinced we live in the rainforest now. It's blistering hot and humid and then the clouds break and we get torrential thunderstorms. It's great for our garden and all the plants, but geez oh man - I've had clothes drying outside almost every time the rain starts; including this big quilt that Grey and I joked about never getting dry again! 

Reading How to Raise a Wild Child by Scott D Sampson, but not very much. I'm feeling a little unmotivated for reading right now, and then right at the perfect time, our book club reached out to start up again and we are going for it! First on the list is The Book of Dreams by Nina George which was suggested to me from my dear friend and fellow book lover Taryn. 

Swimming and Grilling on the fourth of July. We spent the day at Pappy and Gigi's enjoying the warm, sunny weather for the holiday. I even got in, which always make the kids happy when Mom participates. We got Red in a little bit, but he still has a lot of fear for water (which I'm grateful for!) - I think he's attempted to drown himself in the bathtub so many times now that he recognizes how dangerous it is. Grey helped grill, Gemma and Gigi made funnel cakes, and we all had a great time.

Celebrating our garden! Oh, she's so beautiful. What pride comes from planting, growing, and sowing your own food. I can hardly stand myself. I picked the most perfect jalapeno and was showing it off like a proud momma to all the kids and Heather when she stopped by to drop Grey off from his sleepover. Zucchini and green peppers are growing aplenty and we can see sugar snap peas starting too! The cauliflower is growing great, although I want to wait until absolutely sure it's as big as it's going to get because you only get one from the plant! Our pumpkin plants are looking good and we only have about 4 watermelon plants that made it from the last goat escape (ugh). I did find a little Peter Rabbit who snuck into the fence though the smallest hole - sneaky fellow!  

Picking blueberries as is our annual tradition with the Fiores. Of course, per usual, we went on a day that was sunny and blistering hot. But the kids hung in there and we ended up bringing home about 7lbs of blueberries! We could have had more but Red kept reaching his hand in my bucket and eating them by the fistfuls. After everyone had sweat running down our entire body, we made the trek to Kate's house where the kids got to swim before a huge storm swept through and poured while we enjoyed dinner in the pool house. It was wonderful, as it always is, to spend time with them and then the kids and I (except Gem who slept over) all headed back home in a soaking wet Sheila because I left all the windows down! hahhaa, oops! 

Prepping for the baby shower. Each of the kids picked a book to order for their new cousin and then wrote an inscription in the inside. I wrote Red's to say, "Dude! This is going to be awesome. Let's wreck everything"....because honestly, that's the truest. We dropped off tables and the card basket at my parents' house and the kids were happy to squeeze in a little pool time with Chum at my Aunt Pete's neighboring house. 

Giggling with Gemma at her blueberry muffin attempt. She woke up early and while I was feeding the baby upstairs, she tried to make her muffins all on her own using her The Everything kids' cookbook. Alas, she didn't realize the difference between tbsp and tsp and ended up with the wrong amount of baking soda. We all still had to try them though, and I was cracking up when Gem said, "I mean their not that bad, except for the after taste, wait...ohmygosh, my tongue is swelling up." HAHAH. 

Cleaning up all the things as Red is in full blown wreck.all.the.things mode. And how are their little baby hands so quick? You don't think it's possible to be that destructive in that short amount of time, but their little fast hands can grab or swipe or dump so freaking fast. I don't know how they accomplish the messes they do (I couldn't make that big of a mess in that short amount of a time if I was trying!) but parents of the wreck it phase (about 15-24 months)....sending love to you, this is a time period where patience is needed. 

Visiting the newest Zanghi baby. The kids and I popped over for a visit and they loved playing with Ivy and her new baby sis Indi. Carli ordered pizza and we brought the snacks and it was so nice chatting and catching up while the kids all played sweetly together. Welcome to the world, sweet baby girl! 

Swimming and fishing at the Que on Friday morning with Becky and all the kids ever. She had the boys for a sleepover the night before (5 of them, including her twins) and I grabbed Gina on the way over - so it was the two of us and eleven kids and it was so relaxing and wonderful actually. Becky snagged a pavilion where we had food and snacks - all the boys are fishing self-sufficient and even helped my little ones, and the beach always keeps everyone happy. So it was an easy afternoon that gave the kids a lot of joy. 

Enjoying an evening to celebrate my baby sis and future nephew. We spent Friday night at my parents' house for Uch & Kevin's baby shower with family and friends and it was perfect. Lots of great food, such great company, and the kids had an absolute blast. My mom was a total trooper hanging in until almost 10p, but so many people helped pull the day off - especially my sister Kitty, cousin Kara, and Kevin's mom and sister. I am so grateful for the people who love my family so well (thank you!) And could my baby sis be any cuter with that little bump. Omigosh, I'm dyyyyyyyying about becoming an aunt and every time I think about that sweet little boy I just swoon over the idea of loving that little nugget with all my heart but not carrying all the challenges of being his actual parent. OMIGOSH - can you even imagine!? hahahhahaa. don't mind me, #firsttimeaunt over here. I've been waiting my whole adult life to be called 'tia' (that's aunt in Spanish) and it feels like I can hardly wait for these last few weeks to move along and let me see this baby!! (you're doing amazing Uch and I cannot wait to see you as a mumma. what a supremely lucky baby. I have to stop writing about it now or I'll burst into tears for the 800th time of your pregnancy). 

Handing out sleep overs like Oprah (you get a sleep over! and you get a sleep over!) Grey scored three sleepovers (!) one at the Rummels house on the fourth of July which included a bike ride to the Staple Bend tunnel, swimming, and fireworks! Then booboo stayed at Camp Harmony with the Stankans- swimming, gigging frogs, and fishing. and finally , he had a sleepover at the Conn's with four of his friends staying up half the night to trade fishing fly ties, jigs, and lures (hahh!) Gemma got two herself, with a sleepover at the Fiores with Sophie - swimming and girl movies and another with cousin Mallory after Uch's baby shower which was super short but so appreciated after not seeing each other for a whole year #thankscovid. And even the meatballs (Violet & Rusty) got a sleepover! They got to stay at the Vorndran's house all the way in Pittsburgh for a night. We met up half way for the exchange and they had the greatest time of their whole lives so far with best friends who are also siblings of the same ages! There were nerf battles and diy pizzas and make overs! Thank you so much to all our friends who love our kids and share their kids to give them all such special memories. We are so blessed by you. 

Party hopping on Saturday. The girls and I attended a baby shower for baby girl Siwy due later this year. Then we had a family picnic at the Garretsons house with delicious grilled food and lots of fun with cousins followed by the annual summer party at the McKool's house with tons of Grey and Gemma's friends. 

Sporting with Grey's first middle school golf practice (he loved it - thank you Loni for taking him!) B and I also had a volleyball game (thank Uch for sitting with the kids!)

Making lots of meals from our CT school meal pick up (what a blessing! CT families, sign up! it's been saving my summer grocery bill). We had walking tacos, and thawed pulled pork that we had left and frozen from Joan after the baby was born. B and I had one Green Chef this week: Blackened Cauliflower (so delicious) but I did end up canceling our subscription this week because we ran our course with it. I feel like I've learned so much though from having the meals about textures and flavors and really opened my eyes and tastes to eating more plant based. I was very happy with our Green Chef experience. We had egg sausage casserole one morning and I made a double batch of zucchini chocolate chip cookies from our abundance of garden zucchinis.