Fallish Things


We’ve been having a busy month. First, this replica Lewis and Clark expedition boat showed up at our riverfront. The real Lewis and Clark traveled with one keelboat and two pirogues, but they only brought one pirogue on this trip. Back in 2003-2006, they used these boats to reenact the whole journey, which is both pretty cool, but also, “Do you people not have lives?” They called this their Eastern Discovery Tour, and they visited several museums, but also lots of small river towns like ours. Pretty neat, huh?


The fellow up the hill at the encampment had a rope making device that Lewis and Clark might have had. Maybe. But theirs would probably have needed to be bigger, since their ropes were made out of elk hide. Anyway, kids love to make ropes and he loves kids, so he picked up a rope-making device and gives demonstrations, over and over and over again, to as many children as want to make ropes. We heard the same spiel with minor variations three times in fifteen minutes while waiting our turn, and he never appeared to weary of it. God bless that man.


I just think the wood on this boat is so beautiful.


While we were at the park, we remembered to collect some osage oranges. Rumor has it that they are insect repellent, and especially useful against spiders. We brought them home and tossed them in all of our dark, spidery corners, since this also happens to be the Large Spiders Coming Indoors time of year. For the sake of science, I also put some where spiders were actively dwelling in order to gauge their effectiveness. The spiders in question did not seem at all offended by the fruits; in fact, the one I watched most carefully seemed to be more relaxed, actually enjoying the mild, citrusy scent. Later that weekend, when I cleaned the living room, I also noted several large spiders apparently taking refuge from my vacuum behind an orange. The verdict? They are not spider repellent at all. I suspect that, generally, the appearance of the fruit coincides with colder weather and the natural spider life cycle, and they usually are dead or hibernating by now. I think it’s not a cause-and-effect, just a coincidence. But it was fun to find out.


Also, may I just say how nice it is to have a big family? You always have people to pick up and go see historical ships with you, or to help you glean from nature’s bounty, or to carry the baby when your arms get tired. And they always do it so cheerfully.

This week, we went to an unphotographed circus, which was fun, and we also went to the pumpkin farm.


They have a really nice playground here for the children, but there were some crazy kids on this day, and our children don’t care for boorish playmates. They tend to look at them like they are alien creatures and pull off to the side to watch disapprovingly. They have goats and ponies to pet, though, too, and that was fun, except I noticed some boorish adults hanging around the pens, presumably the parents of the ill-behaved children (the Nuts and Trees theory), and I didn’t much care for my little ones to get bored with the animals and take note of their surroundings, so we didn’t stay long.


We did get pumpkins, though! This farm does not actually grow many of their own. The small ones are grown on site, but the jack-o-lantern sized ones are imported and artfully strewn about the field. Usually. Last year, they left the boxes out there, too.


The other night, I remembered that there was a chestnut tree at church, and it was probably time for the nut drop. I was right! We spent a happy half-hour after Mass in the bright Autumn morning, harvesting this undeserved bounty from amidst the gravestones in the parish cemetery.


When I dumped them all out at home, we had most of paper grocery sack full. That’s too many for us, so I packaged some up for my mom and sister. My mom and sister live in New Jersey.


A couple of weeks ago, I woke with a weight on my heart, and as I went through the morning prayers, I became more and more certain that there was only one option. At breakfast, I said, “I think I need to go see my mom.”

Davey has lived with me for a long time, and he just nodded and said, “I think you should. Go!”

So we’re going, those of us with no obligations outside the family, which means me and five children. If you think of me in the coming days, say a little prayer for us for a peaceful and pleasant journey? Many, many thanks in advance.

My Boy


He’s fifteen. He’s already man-sized, and he’s got a lot of growing left to do. He’s strong. He says, “Can I carry that for you?” I say, “It’s heavy…” He says, “Nothing is heavy for me.”

He loves his little siblings, and he’s a good friend to his older sisters. He spends hours watching his fish swim. He spends many more hours building things out of Legos. He’s really good at it. He likes Amtgard, and I remember that, when he was a wee thing and we’d sword fight with wooden spoons in the kitchen, he never backed down. He still never backs down.

He always enjoys the meals I make for him. He’s less picky than his father, so lots of times, I cook for his pleasure instead. A girl likes to be appreciated. :-)

He’s really smart, and very well read, especially about wars, weapons and armor, castles, and medieval Japan. He’s handsome and chivalrous, too.

And I’m honored that I get to be his mother, to play my small part in helping him become what he is meant to be. What a gift he is.

Apple Picking


We haven’t been to an orchard since 2003.

Most of my poor children can not remember ever going apple picking.


I had an excuse when we lived in Georgia; apples don’t really grow there, so we really couldn’t go. But we’ve been here for eight years. The orchard isn’t far away at all. And we still hadn’t gone. The reason? Oh, I don’t know. Too many have-to-dos crowding out the want-to-dos, but I am becoming increasingly aware of the fleetingness of this life we live together. It isn’t going to last. These children are growing, and they’re going to fly before I’m ready for it, and I don’t want to have put off miniature golf or hayrides to the pumpkin patch. Or apple picking.


This farm was a little more efficient that others we’ve been to in the long ago past. We were in and out of the orchard in something like 20 minutes, and they charged an extra fee to visit their playground area, so we went elsewhere to eat our lunch.


We picnicked on the lawn of a pretty little church, Our Lady of the Annunciation, and then went inside to say hello to Jesus.

After that, a bathroom break at a favorite antique store, and now we’re home again. Next up: apple pie! Of course. :-)

How Silly of Me

A blue September morn.

A blue September morn.

Yesterday, I got word at the last minute that there was a free event that afternoon at the art museum. “I wish we weren’t doing chickens, today,” I mentioned to Delaney early in the morning. “Otherwise, I’d totally be there.”

She looked at me with raised eyebrows. “You know you can do both, right? You’ll be done with the chickens by lunchtime, and then you can go to the museum.”

Well. That’s a rather shocking suggestion, don’t you think? Two major events in one day?

We did finish the chickens by lunch, and so I bravely buckled up the stressed out babies and drove them into Louisville. And I’m glad I did. It was fun! Well, mostly. At a couple of the art stations, the staff deliberately ignored us, and that was pretty obnoxious.

We hopped on an elevator to go downstairs to the art lab. We admired the pinkness of the elevator, and we chatted about what we were going to do down there, and about how lovely the day was, and how angry the performing poet we’d just seen outside. I was starting to think that the elevator ride was taking an unusually long time, but before I had fully formed the thought, Penelope asked, “Um, should I push one of these buttons?”

“I thought this was taking a while!” Brenna said, as we all burst into laughter.

I’m just going to chalk that one up to exhaustion. Mr. Henry has suddenly decided to wake four or five times a night, and since he’s been sleeping straight through since he was born, this is an unusual development. I don’t have the stamina I used to, and I can seldom get him and Evie both napping at the same time, so we’ll just have to ride this one out! I’m sure I’m in good company, though. Here’s to all the mamas up in the middle of the night to feed and change the babies!

It wasn’t THAT windy…

We were minding our own business, eating a lunch of tuna salad sandwiches and enjoying the breeze on our almost finished patio. Suddenly, we heard a noise, like a cracking or a falling.
“I hope that wasn’t the beehive,” said I.
“More likely it was the tent,” said he.
“You’re both wrong,” said Meg, returning from a scouting mission. “It’s a tree.”


“At first, I thought it was a bush,” she said. “But I didn’t remember having a bush there.”


“Half of the tree came down.”
“And you can see the heartwood!” Penelope added.
“It’s rotten,” I said. “No wonder it fell.”
“There was a crack,” Jon added sagely, “and the water has been slowly seeping in.”


We’re all in shock, as you can see, but grateful that no one was playing nearby.
And that the chickens in their crate were on the other side.


It was a Bradford pear, enormous, and well known for instability.
In a place like ours, which receives so much interesting weather, it’s a wonder it has stood this long.
Its neighbor was once struck by lightening.


It barely missed squashing this tomato. It’s our first one.
@brandibruner and her Mittleider Method have nothing on us.

Henry, Four Months Old

8x10 feet bw 8x10 henry hand bw henry face

I just adore this child.  Especially those legs!  Those arms!  He is so chunky, so sturdy, and he has the most gorgeous skin.  Most of us are pretty fair, but Rosie and Henry have this gorgeous Mediterranean skin, smooth and deep, and did I mention gorgeous?  He’s round about 20 lbs already. (!) He’s very much wanting to taste our meals, so I share anything that’s tastable, like mashed potatoes and ice cream.  He usually sleeps pretty well, but he’s so big that I wake him up between 2 and 3AM to feed him, just to keep my milk supply up for him.  Lately, though, he’s been waking two or three times per night, and sleeping a lot during the day.  I suspect another growth spurt is imminent. (!) He has a most lovely personality, much milder than Miss Evie, which is good, because two Evies in a row would be crazy!  One Evie is more than enough for anybody.  But if you can follow an Evie up with a Henry, you’re doing okay.

A couple of weeks ago, I had both of these babies lined up on the floor for tandem diaper changes.  (Evie’s taking a potty break.)  “Look at me!” I said to Davey. “I’m 44 years old!  What were we thinking?”  But here’s the reality.  These people – these children, this man – are my road to Heaven.  They are the ones who inspire me to be more than I am.  They open me up to a bigger and more meaningful life than I would ever have found on my own.

So, twenty years into my motherhood, I still change lots of diapers.  I still cut food into tiny pieces or mush it in a blender.  I still wake multiple times in the middle of the night to check on small people.  I still think of outings in terms of stroller-friendliness.  I’m still limited, bound by the needs of children who depend on me for their most basic needs.

And twenty years into my motherhood, I still need to learn over and over again about sacrificial love.  I still need to learn to die to self, to not mind another diaper change, to work cheerfully with only one free arm, to patiently rise from my bed to nurse by the light of a digital clock, to listen to another story, to toilet train another child, to commit to educating just one more.  It’s hard, and in some ways, it’s getting harder.

But then, those sweet faces smile at me, pudgy arms wrap themselves around my neck, and I melt into a puddle of contentment.

What the heck.  Sleep is for sissies anyway.

How I Use Social Media

“My Facebook is more like Dramabook today,” she said.  As she told me about her friends’ angst, I remembered a younger me, a different time, when every cause on the web seemed like something that ought to be taken up.  But older me has learned that (a) nobody really cares what I think about any particular issue anyway, and (b) these arguments do nothing to further my vocation to motherhood, to raising and educating these children for the glory of God.

I’ve learned – and keep learning – that I can’t change the hearts on the other side of my computer screen, but I can influence the ones around my table.

There was a time not so very long ago when there was a vibrant community of Catholic “mommy bloggers” on the web.  Most of us are quiet now, except on Facebook, and I always think that’s such a shame, for we still have so much to offer one another.  And actually, most of us are quiet on Facebook, too; it’s not a good forum for communicating deep thoughts, and when we make an attempt, we are bombarded with a barrage of hateful, hurtful comments.

We’ve become so accustomed, as a society, to communicating via screens, and we forget too easily that there is an actual person on the other side of that screen, a person already wounded by this soulless world.  We let careless words fly, heedless that they cut like daggers.  We read too much meaning into the most innocuous of posts, tearing down instead of building up.

Another glorious sunrise.

Another glorious sunrise.

It’s a harsh world, and it takes some effort to keep all that drama and angst from defining your day.  It takes vigilance to avoid becoming part of the problem.

Sometimes, for some people, the answer is to walk away, at least for a time, but so many of us have found community through social media where none exists locally.  And for the more transient among us, it allows us to keep up with the friendships we’ve acquired in our travels and the extended family we’ve left behind.  It’s a shame to give up all the good to protect against the bad if it isn’t absolutely necessary, and I find that some basic ground rules are effective for me.

  1. Don’t be afraid to delete comments.  I consider my spaces on the web an extension of my home, and if you speak to me or my guests in a way that would be inappropriate in my living room, I just delete.  I don’t explain myself or offer any warnings.  The comment just disappears.  I don’t mind disagreement and discussion, but I expect visitors to always honor the person they are speaking to.
  2. You don’t have to be friends with everyone.  It’s not a contest to see who can get the most friends, likes and follows, even though it can feel like it sometimes.  Unfriending or unfollowing the people who routinely make me feel uncomfortable, discouraged or angry keeps my feed angst-free.  Mostly.
  3. Find the forum that works best for you.  I love my blog, but I also post often throughout the day to Instagram.  It’s a friendlier place than Facebook, and the photos and captions are collected automatically into Chatbooks, which they print and mail to me each month.  The whole family adores these little books, so my posts are mostly memory-keeping.  I seldom post directly to Facebook, choosing instead to share selected Instagrams that I think my mom would like.  Or Marla, being the archetype of Friends Who Aren’t On Instagram.
  4. Be the light you’re looking for.  Whatever you wish you were seeing in your feed, be that for other people.  There’s a difference between needing prayers or encouragement on a bad day and constantly complaining about every little thing that happens.  There’s a difference between sharing a concern or thought that invites discussion and telling your friends why they absolutely must support your point of view.  I try to come from a place of love, understanding and gratitude.  I don’t always succeed, but that’s the goal.  I don’t want to be bitter or hard-hearted, not in real life, and not on the internet.
  5. Watch your time.  There’s a whole beautiful world out there, full of intriguing, wonderful people.  There’s one standing at my knee right now, two years old and singing the ABC song as I type.  I don’t want that screen to come between me and the people I’m supposed to be loving.  I don’t want that to be the thing they remember most about me.  That means that I really can’t have Facebook on my iPod.  It’s too tempting to spend too much time there, and it’s a shallow, shallow place.  Better to keep a book handy for those forced down times (like nursing the baby) which are my trigger.
  6. Leave a comment. The whole point of social media is to be… social.  We need to talk to each other, not just “like” and run.  Share a helpful experience.  Offer praise.  Commiserate.  Encourage.  Laugh.  But go ahead and speak.  That’s why we’re here.

How about you?  What is your favorite social media and how do you keep it from dragging you down?  Do you worry about likes and follows?  Do you want to give it all up? What are your favorite pizza toppings?

I can't believe God does this every day.

I can’t believe God does this every day.








Back Again!

I just keep disappearing. :-) Actually, I’m going to blame it on my laptop. It’s been quite a while since my laptop worked properly. First, it was the battery. My beloved bought a new one, but it was an off brand, and it only held a charge for 20 minutes – less time than the one it was replacing! So no battery. Then, suddenly, the keyboard was on the fritz. Not all the keys, just some of the keys. So I attached an external keyboard, and if you need a keyboard, you need a mouse, too. My laptop had very much become a desktop. But babies play on the floor, and they like to have a mama nearby, and when I got time at my desk, I worked on school planning. That wasn’t going too well, either, because I wasn’t getting too much time at my desk!

The other night, Davey asked me, “So what do you want for your birthday?”

“Can I think about that for a minute?” I asked.

He nodded. “Oh, by the way, your new laptop will be here on Monday.”

“Wonderful!” I paused. “You know what? Let’s just call the laptop an early birthday gift. Come to my bowling party and we’ll call it good.”


Henry and laptop

So now I have a new laptop that is actually portable, and I can sit on the floor with the baby and write, or edit photos, or type up the school lesson plans. Also, I get to celebrate my birthday for the entire month. Laptop this week, party next week before the girls go back to college, cake on the actual day, and, later, ice cream at Emery’s. Davey said, “Perfect, because nobody really likes August anyway.” True enough!

The face of hot.

The face of hot.

Last week was our county fair, and the family made a pretty good showing in the home economics building. One of us even won a Grand Champion ribbon! Penelope won for a crocheted piece. It’s our family’s third one, and I’m really proud of the effort the children put into their projects.

The weather was a little milder than the week before, but it was still hot! We drank a whole case of water and about a dozen lemonades in the five hours we were there. It was still pretty quiet when we left at 7:30, so we had a great time on all the rides with hardly any waiting. Also, funnel cake. Lots and lots of funnel cake.

Can you tell who they're dressed up as?

Can you tell who they’re dressed up as?

I should be able to blog more regularly, now that I can write just about anywhere!  I’ll share some of our school plans, and also those make-ahead breakfast recipes I promised.  Easy mornings are good!

Taco Week!

Harrell's nice old pick-up.

Harrell’s nice old pick-up.

When you let the kitchen helpers plan the menu for the week, and they choose meals they have been craving instead of meals that kind of make sense together, you might start noticing a certain trend forming by the time you get to Wednesday.  In our case, for this week, the girls were feeling very taco-ish, and every single dinner features – you guessed it – homemade tortillas.  For a family our size, that means we’ll be making something like 150 tortillas this afternoon.  Now, normally, I would have adjusted their suggestions to make for a bit more variety, but sometimes it’s just fun to run with it.

I’ve been planning monthly for several years now, but I’m trying to go back to a weekly schedule, just stocking up on pantry essentials and frozen veggies once a month, and doing all the rest of the marketing on Fridays.  And, because this is the sort of thing we women shared back in the old days of blogging (ten years is a lifetime on the internet!), I’m sharing my menu plan.  :-)



First, we’ll need lots of homemade tortillas, which we’ll make all at once today.

Saturday: potluck picnic at the neighbors’ 4th of July party
Sunday: Chicken Enchiladas
Monday: Chicken Tacos
Tuesday: Chinese Burritos
Wednesday: Greek-Style Burritos (recipe coming)
Thursday: Ordinary Tacos (recipe probably coming)

Most of these will be tripled for making freezer meals.  I’ve used all of mine up and I miss them!  Also, there’s no sense in making just one pan of enchiladas.  They’re too much work and mess to waste the effort.


Blueberries and Other Things


This is the summer I can’t hardly abide being at home.  And home is my favorite place in the whole wide world!  But go out, we must, and go out, we do.  We have access to two libraries, both of which have fun summer reading programs and lots of attendant performances by folks with varying degrees of talent.  One week, we saw a show by a pair called Impossible Magic.  It was a great show!  The next week, we saw a different magic show by Mr. Moustache.  Even the two year old was disappointed.  Silly gimmicks don’t impress us; we want to see some real magic!  Last week, we saw a fun folk storyteller and a strange little puppet show. It’s hit-or-miss, but it’s a free Something To Do, and the children are enjoying it.

(Did you know my dad could rub an eagle through a quarter?  Or turn three sticks into rocks?  I was a rock collector, so that was a handy trick, and he always made the best rocks.  I particularly recall a nice, smooth, pink one.)


Blueberry picking is one of our regular summer activities.  We pick a whole year’s worth in about an hour, and then go home for blueberry pancakes.  These photos were taken toward the end our picking time, and Delaney was taking a break by throwing blueberries at me.  She said she was aiming for my pail, but I am doubtful, as most hit me right in the chest.


Boo needed a break, too, so while I nursed the baby, he snacked on his pickings.  I got scolded for snacking on mine, but, fortunately, Delaney threw enough at me that I didn’t suffer too much.


Big kids and outings. I have found that to be one of the hardest things about them growing up. I want them to come, too, but one or the other is always out! I’m sorry to say I’ve given up. I just put things on my schedule and go with anyone who is available and interested. The little ones and I are having much more fun this way. 

How are you spending your summer? Reading? Traveling? Library programs?