Saturday, December 29, 2012

What a year! And photos to treasure....

2012 was an amazing year for our family. It was a year we tried new things, shook up habits and watched Lucy grow from a baby to a miniature person before our eyes.

As a parent it is so much fun when someone else adores your child, having all these big kids delight in the baby's antics has been an unexpected highlight.

Our five handsome guys

She has taken to calling us first and last name, it is "Mama OOTus" at the top of her little lungs with a hand perched on her hip. She is bubbly and feisty and wakes up ready to see people, heaven forbid a quiet day at home. God knew she needed to be the youngest of eight.

A rare moment of Daddy relaxing, Lucy sporting a necklace to give away the season
The other kids seem to be finding their own grooves, own interests and curiosities. As the kids get bigger and we have more time to hang out and enjoy them as people Sheff and I are floored by how much we are already learning from them.

Our three beauty girls
The difficult sides of things are the reality of having so many active people and only two drivers, homework assistants and coaches. Someday I envision a BIg coaching a Little in T ball or dance (Like Sheff coached his brother Ty) and already the reading time from Big to Little is a lifesaver on busy nights. I still struggle with Math help, but Sheff and I are working out a balance where I take over something he is doing so he can help with Math specifically. Hopefully 2013 leads to even more kid centered organization and study skills.

Mom & Dad
Sheff and I continue to get out although we are finding some of our favorite nights are hanging out in a friends kitchen with a bottle of wine. I have a goal in 2013 to find a decent dancing bar, tell me if you find one! To get a monthly dancing night fix. Sheff wants to find more time to get back to lifting, with business, coaching and kids he has taken one for the team donating his free time to family time.

Lucy's doll "Happy Baby" 
With major changes in Russian adoption law we also pause to be mindful things can change in a heartbeat. That the joy we have is not to be taken lightly, the challenges we face are gifts and the future as a family needs to be paved with gratitude. In that vein we are grateful for our community, our friends and our loved ones.

Happy New Year!

Thanks to Baylite Photography for taking our photos at the Minneapolis  club!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Teaching How to Give

This month Sheff and I have talked about how to get our children more aware of giving. The trick is that there are a lot of us and it is simply too much to manage all 10 of us volunteering at the same time. We also know many charities need resources more than anything else. 

So what to do? 

First off an Otis stand by, divide and conquer. Sheff took two kids along to work for two hours at Feed My Starving Children Annie and Mark told everyone about the boxes they packed and yummy the meal was they were invited to sample. I had Daisy and Mickey help me make cookies to donate to the St Rose bake sale which benefits our school and James, John and Nate pack new pajamas for local homeless shelters in our area. We made sure everyone had a chance to be involved, but not at the same time.

Something new we tried this year was to have our kids teach US about organizations. We choose five organizations to donate to in different ways, facebook gifts, donations in a loved ones honor with a Christmas ornament and even kids pitching in a few dollars each and choosing where their own money went. 

The kids researched, Oxfam America, Boys and Girls Clubs of America,  FEED projects, and of course in my Grandparents honor, Heifer International.

Hopefully educating the kids, and them teaching us, will be a life lesson they remember! I really want giving and service to be a lifetime goal for myself and as a family. I know I could be doing more, but this was a fun way to start thinking about what is out there. 

We hope to widen their minds to all the possibilities. To make social justice and service part of what makes our family tick. There are many, many ways to do good in the world. 

Finding a joy, an interest, or a passion can be a way to get kids excited to give!

Monday, December 17, 2012

We All Fall Down

On those hard days when things seem to be unbeatable it is really handy to have a toddler.

Minor car accident (Suburban side swiped by driver trying to turn before oncoming traffic on a green, no fault but high stress and need to fix the car) and school stress (2 out of 8 isn't bad, I know) and poor Lucy is sporting an ouchie eye.

In the midst of a stressful moment Lucy grabbed our hands and pulled me and Daisy to the Christmas tree, running off to gather all the family members she could find into a circle. She pushed and pulled on back pockets and shirt hems until she had us where she wanted. Then she started singing a song. It took a moment but Mark guessed it! Ring Around the Rosie. She squealed with glee when all her hulking brothers and even Daddy fell when we got to .."we all fall down!"

Long days, phone calls, paper work, decision, wishing there was a manual for parenthood is all paled by a toddlers game. We have changed our remodel plans to a build to be more exciting, less stress and are looking forward to Sheff being able to take a few days off near Christmas to have some family R&R.

Baby Livie, little ones are the best stress relief around. 
Focusing on the good stuff, trying to breath through the stress. Thanks Lucy for the reminder!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Filling in for Mom, 3 Things I Care About

One of the boys decided to post a paper he wrote on three things he cares about. He has more heart than sass and is such a help when things get busy. His biggest mistake this week was trying to zip-tie the handle of the snowblower so he could get it started more easily. This was actually a pain for Dad trying to undo it later but heart in the right place and all that;)


I am going to tell you three things that I care about. I care about sports, houses, and my family. Those are the three subjects I am going to write about. Each one effects me each day.

The first thing I am going to talk about is sports. I think sports are one of the best things ever because they keep me in shape and give me something to do with my energy. Sports also keep you healthy and keep you from getting the flu. My favorite sport to play  is basketball. It is all right to steal something, the ball! I also play football and baseball but basketball is hands down the best.

The second thing I am going to talk about is houses. I love houses because they keep you warm and dry. It would stink to live in a tent year round. Houses are all different in their own way. I love my house because it is near my friends. It is also nice and clean most of the time. I especially love when mom makes cookies or homemade cinnamon rolls and the house smells awesome. It is really interesting to know how houses are built, it is a lot of work to build a house well. 

The last thing I am going to talk about is family. I think that family is the most important thing ever. They keep you safe and help you if you are in hard times. They also love you with all their heart. They also make you have lots of friends. I love my family with all my heart. We have family movie nights, go to sports games together and church. My siblings can bug me but they are also great friends. I especially love having a baby sister who needs me. I can’t imagine not being part of a big family.

Today I wrote about three things I care about. I care about sports, especially basketball. I care about houses, and hope to start out working at my Dad’s company Urban Rebuilders and learn more about houses. Third I talked about family, I think that family is the most important thing of all. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Envy , giving and missing St Nick

One of the kids has been coming home with reports of a classmates Elf who leaves daily chocolate treats, like chocolate treats the size of the largest chocolate treat our kids receive from the Easter bunny.

The green monster of envy has entered our advent.

To add insult to injury I always mix up St Nicholas day and do the treat in the evening of the day, i.e. tonight rather than last night. In part I forget and in part when I was a preschool teacher we would celebrate the day OF St Nicholas day and I have not adjusted. To that I can hear James' voice in my head well, ya you have only had 13 years to adjust Mom.

It is in every kid's nature to look through Christmas catalogs and circle their wish list. It is fun to watch commercials and see the latest invention in the world of toys. I totally get this and remember how fun the huge Sears catalog was to look through. That said it is stressful for mom.

Sheff is more pragmatic. He is constantly reminding everyone to think about being kind. The kids remember when he went to get Brueggers bagels for a family whose car had broken down in Saint Paul. It was cold they had four little kids and had to wait for a tow truck. It was Christmas time and he explained that this time of year you should always go out of your way to be kind. I adore this attitude and try to promote it.

In the business of life, when I get Saint Nicolas day timing wrong, I find it difficult to do as much outside our home as I would like. We participate in a program to purchase pajamas for families in need and always give Heifer international as gifts to some family members, a tradition passed on by my mothers parents. But it is not enough! I wish I could facilitate more giving, more energy towards others and less about the stress of gifts.

As our kids get older I hope to learn about more ways we can make a positive impact in our community. Right now I am a bit overwhelmed with the purchasing, wrapping and dream fulfilling of the 8 kids right here. While I know so many kids need, so, so much more this holiday season.

Wishing everyone a balance of giving and receiving this holiday season. And if you happen to run into an Otis kid today remind them Saint Nicholas can come ANYTIME of day, i.e. while they are at school and little girls are napping.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Packing & Road Trip Tips!

We made it on family holiday to Colorado and home with one large duffel bag.
This is our family bag! Everything else (like fleece blankets and books) fit inside the Suburban. This trip we had 11 people with our 11 seat belts because uncle Ty hitched a ride.

As a child I grew up traveling. I remember in 5th grade at Saint James Catholic school we were asked what type of food had preservatives in it that we ate often. I raised my hand and exclaimed  airplane food! Mrs Porath scolded me, but then later apologized saying she supposed eating something every 4 to 6 weeks counted as often. I remember feeling so much better that I had not been dumb and also realizing perhaps I flew more often than others. We traveled all the time and my parents said I had to bring whatever I needed in carry on bag. I learned to pack things that dried quickly, matched interchangeably and items of entertainment that could tide me over during long drives or lectures.

All these years later I find the same applies to packing in one large duffel for our family of 10. Some tricks I employ translate to a family of any size!

I pack per day rather than per child. So for our dress clothes I rolled all the boys pants, all the girls dresses and my clothes together in a bundle. I try to have a vague idea of the day to day activities, hiking and swimming for example, and then make a family packet for each day, these can be in a plastic shopping bag. The bags can be reused for wet & dirty items or diaper bags. The kids have "car bags" for their individual entertainment on the long drives.

Kids making canvas "car bags" $1 each at craft store and kids color them with markers. Inside the bags go snacks, sketch books, novels, stickers, games and cards. Whatever they want for their own items for the trip. If it doesn't fit, it stays home. The little ones always make some stuffed animal friends fit:) We did this rather than backpacks because we often have school right when we arrive home and its nice to have a specific bag for car trips.
When we are packing at home the kids are sent off with what to find so I am not running all over. I might say bring me 1 pair of jeans, 2 t shirts and a fleece jacket. I also pack collapsable bins. Ikea and Target both sell them. So when we get to our tent site/hotel/cabin I pop those out and separate out everyones clothes so they are stacked by day in packets. Everyones socks and underwear are separated in individual ziplock bags that are labeled, then the bags go into everyone's pop up bin. I have 10 bins in varying sizes but everyone has one.
Our room in Maine, bins along the floor! Some collapse and some we use to pack in rather than a bag.

Dirty clothes go into into an empty duffel and almost always I sink wash or find a Laundromat in a town we pass. This allows me to pack 1/2 as much! when it works I pack a clothes line, I always wash unders & socks and keeps things from getting musty. Even an hour in the sun at a park stop can freshen things up.

When we camp we have camping pads but not all sleeping bags. So for camping we often have fuzzy fleece blankets and then each child puts their hoodie sweatshirt into a pillow case so their lap blanket and sweatshirt transforms into a bed! We make a mat of sleeping pads so it is softer but those roll up and take up very little space.

I make different kids of bread, easy to transport and slice in the car. Doesn't need to be cooled and holds up well. Sometimes we have peanut butter or cream cheese in the cooler to add to the bread to make it more of a meal.

For snacks I try to pack enough to go 2 days without fast food. Mini bagels pre spreaded with plain and strawberry cream cheese, nut & dried fruit mix, cracker snacks and cut veggies in snack sized bags. Our kids love raw cucumbers with a little garlic salt and the cucumbers hydrate and cut down on car sickness. We also make snack bags of treat cereals like coco puffs or fruit loops for a non sticky treat. For some reason all the kids will eat string cheese on a car trip but not at home! I freeze it first and as it thaws hang them back.

Watching cows at a rest stop in Nebraska, Otis style entertainment!!

Last but not least we keep electronics to a minimum and listen to books on tape. To Maine we listened to Narnia and to Colorado this time we listened to Swiss Family Robinson. We have one ipad that gets passed around 7 ways but usually it ends up charging as the kids get into the story. This trip the kids played a game guessing movies we would pass in vehicles with built in players! It was really funny, and we saw Madagascar a disproportionate amount of times in passing vans.

Now we are home and I am working through the laundry. Not a small feat, but what a wonderful trip. We were able to connect with the children's GREAT grandparents on Sheff's maternal side. Truly priceless.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Follow up results

On Friday after our last night of oatmeal we had a family round table meeting. More like a large rectangle meeting with parents on stools, but we met.

Kids talked about respect as the primary lesson. We asked about the food side of things.

James (12) summed it up I don't think this was as much about food as being nice to mom. Sometimes I am really nice abut food, sometimes I am not it has to do more with me than the food.

We asked him how he could be consistent having manners during meal times, rather than the pre teen slump and eye roll.

John-Luke (10) jumped in If we just always say thanks for the meal we are not lying or anything, I mean if we don't like it we didn't say we did just said thank you to mom for making it.

And that is the idea folks! I realize not every meal will be perfect, or beautifully made BUT it is the effort and love that went into getting it onto the table for 10 people every day that I need respected.

Markie (7) had his own ideas I will try stuff but if I don't like it I will ask for a banana and not make icky faces. But mommy if you make us corn dogs I will make extra happy faces and give you lots of hugs. 

Mickey (9) and Nate (8) wanted to weigh in on menu options, this worried some of the others because Mickey and Nate love salads and veggie stir fry, others most certainly do not. Daisy (5) and Lucy (20m) were busy rolling a  Dora ball across the table and delighted when it would occasionally roll into a piece of leftover oatmeal .

Sundays Dinner, salmon, rice and cabbage salad, well received! With Ice cream for dessert :)

Annie's (10) comment made me think of a future blog, and in turn realize what a sharp cookie my quiet girl really is. I think you should put us kids in charge of cooking some nights. We would care more about how people acted at the table if it was like they were eating our work. It would give mom a little break and help us when we have to do math problems about cooking, don't laugh! People are always adding food in math problems!

So on that note we are signing off on the oatmeal project. I am claiming success.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Our Week of Oatmeal

The week of oatmeal. I am very much hoping my kids talk about this week for years to come.

Presenting our children with meals has become tedious lately. "What is this?" and "Could you make this any healthier?" and "Seriously mom this looks like it grew feet and walked out of the garden, can we have something with a crust?" Ok so that insult was actually creative, but usually it is more along the lines of a turned up nose or rolled eyes. And some of these meals were basic fare not lovely baked fish or eggplant parm, the last straw was roasted chicken!

SO not a mother to be a martyr, the Otis kids are enjoying oatmeal for the week. Yes they will have veggies and fruit for snacks and other meals, I am quite sure they will not perish (although I have heard arguments that they might).

Old fashioned oats with raisins, cinnamon and real cream. 5 nights this week. No meat, no veggies, no spices and no curve balls. Oatmeal it is.

Day 3 kids were looking longingly at our marinated beef tips with asian slaw. Yesterday the fish looked possible. 

My hope is that I get my table back, my polite eaters. My kids who are game to try a new food and polite to the cook who prepared it. 

Kids can slide into bad habits as quickly as adults. I simply lost my patience with subtle and not so subtle slams on my cooking. SO if you have some eaters with less than ideal manners try a week of oatmeal.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Election Day & MCHO

This time of year I am always reminded of the deep need our world has for respect. As our kids talk in classrooms, hear campaign adds on the radio and collect flyers from the front stoop it becomes conversation. We have friends and family on both sides of the party line. Debate is healthy, opinions and the right to have them, are the backbone of this great country of ours.

As we navigate the political waters I hope to show moderation and kind language, especially around our kids. Keeping the language clean and the prayers calm help teach our future voters to be fair and reasonable. And those who know me well know I never swear (unless Tequila or Pepper Vodka are involved which is another blog:)

Mark Chappell Hall Otis was born on election day 7 years ago!
We gave him an election worthy name just in case:)
His initials MCHO remind me of macho which may prove more fitting than a candidate run!
It is so tempting to judge others, to condemn other choices but that simply is not my job. I will vote and I will respect others who do the same. I will tell my children what I am doing and why and hope they can see difference as a chance to learn not show fear. Seven years ago I gave birth to a big blond boy. A boy who is able to enjoy the freedoms and the challenges America offers. I can't imagine it being my son up there on either side, I understand it is the nature of the beast (politics) but I do not have to like the system.

May God bless election day to be one of peace and respect to all parties involved.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Conferences & a mouse!

I made it through 7 conferences. Sheff couldn't leave work to join me, I stacked my papers, talked to wonderful teachers (true gems) and made my mental to do list.

With a large family it is hard to get everything done, everyone's needs met, everyone's social studies homework corrected. At the same time I am amazed at how well the kids are doing overall. I have a list of goals, a list of things to congratulate each child and a list of challenges to tackle in the coming months.

Part of team Otis!
After a long day Sheff and I both had to be out for a couple hours when the kids were on their own. Converging at the end of our time away big drama had happened. A mouse in the house!

We have not had one since we moved in and weatherized so not thrilled BUT the kids handled it. Annie, our animal lover, created a humanitarian mouse trap. They got a large zip lock bag and she put peanut butter in the bag. Then John-Luke crouched down and nudged the mouse in with a hanger. He then tied the bag up, with a live mouse, and brought it outside. Annie would not let him kill the mouse "It would be a sin mom". Another sibling had kept the baby out of the room and then Nate had everyone sanitize their hands after the rodent adventure just in case germs were in the air (no one actually touched the mouse).

So there are things we need to work on, but these Otis kids are an amazing team. They work together and don't seemed phased by much. If I was home alone babysitting and saw a mouse I would have freaked. They simply made a plan and executed it while keeping little ones safe and out of the way.

A+ kids!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Here is the box, now get creative!

Trying to get kids set for Halloween can be expensive and frustrating. Early on we started the Halloween family party tradition. The weekend before Halloween we choose a night of the weekend for a party. Kids decorate, we choose Halloween themes for a charades game and bring up a big box of costumes and another of craft supplies. We light a fire, make spiced apple cider and let the creative juices flow.

My rule is I never buy a costume, never have, hope I never will. After kids present their ideas we can see what is missing. We can run out during the week to add teeth to a vampire or white face paint to a geisha but only after the kids have created and presented their idea.

After trying on costumes at a Halloween store this week I was amazed at how pre packaged this holiday as become. Find a plastic bag and inside will be the grossest or most inappropriate poorly made outfit. Where is the creative fun loving spirit in that? Now I am not saying I am a master costume maker, I am actually terrible at it. And hand me down costumes we gladly accept so I should be careful not to dis buying costumes too hard core:) But buying for 8 is just not possible so tradition is born.

Kids have an opportunity in this holiday to be creative, artistic and resourceful.

That said I bought a hippie necklace because I could not for the life of me figure out what to be, the kids are used to my one Halloween sweater (it's not that bad) and painting my nose to look like a cat. See? Not creative, but very frugal which is the other side of our family party. We want them to have traditions that are about family and fun and don't require spending a lot of money.

Starting our decorations
So cheers to a fun, safe and creative holiday! It is always such a TREAT to see the costumes and excitement. One of the best traditions around here comes the day AFTER Halloween but we will have to wait and see if the Great Pumpkin visits the Otis house this year:)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dating with 8 under foot

When I was out last week someone asked how we do it, assuming she meant parenting I responded with "Somehow it all happens, I use a lot of labels." She laughed but went on to ask about the relationship side of things. Ahhh, that side of things.

The reality of busy parents at this phase in life is it is really, really hard to make time for being a couple. Before we had Lucy we met with a spiritual leader we respect. The mother of our babysitter has heard this story many times. Because after meeting with counsel we had a prescription to get out once a week and that required a babysitter!

Part of seeking guidance when 8 was on the way was figuring out how to honestly prioritize time. There simply are not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything so we had to make a game plan and do our best to follow it. Part of that plan was letting go of our worries both job and home and spending time as a couple.

Sheff and I re charge in different ways. Perfect date night for him would be dinner & a sports game. Perfect date night for me would be a game night with close friends or dancing, weddings are the best! So we meet in the middle and try to balance it out. He needs down time and I need to talk things out. We both need to exercise and see this is something we would love to do more of, but with the kids we end up taking turns. Our best dates have been long walks and inexpensive coffee. This is still a work in progress, but a wonderful one!

He has gotten over the fact I don't drink beer (I really, really tried!) And he has accepted the fact that once in a while he has to sit through a very loud night at a bar so I can kick up my heals. I am not a big drinker at all but I love music and dancing, which has been hard as a mother to find places to dance. We both love a little Japanese restaurant in the St Paul wear-house district and anything that involves a new food we have never tried, the spicier the better. I really don't want to talk about building houses and if I share potty training triumphs he will zone out, and that's OK! We also turn to friends, guys nights, girls nights, couples nights. Church events we both love, and it is a wonderful way to be in community and re charge.  Time on quiet long walks to pray, go over the week and share a laugh can be a connection to hold us together when stress enters the week. Friends can be the best excuse to try something new & get out of ruts. It is also wonderful to get nights on the books with friends because it makes us get out and we are always so glad we did!

Who we marry is not the same person that stands before us 5, 10, 20 years down the road. One of the tricks seems to be getting to know, honestly and openly, the person in front of you now. It doesn't need to be upsetting, it can be a lot of fun. Some subjects are old news, try new subjects, new places. I am no expert yet but I really, really like my husband and look forward to getting to know him more in the next decades to come. As long as he doesn't offer me beer at Oktoberfest.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Space Changing

Our basement is currently set up to workout and play space,
soon it will serve as our interim kitchen & family room

After deliberating this summer and early fall we have decided to start a home remodel. A tear down, bust through, re create space project. Sheff has promised kids can hold sledgehammers, color on walls and save pieces to make a stellar fort in the back yard. This is all very exciting but I get a bit woozy imagining running this family of 10 without an entry way (think jackets, hats, boots, back packs) or a kitchen (think, well life all revolves around the kitchen counter!) for months on end.

I am sure it will work out beautifully. And having a kitchen twice the current size, a mud room and family room that work for our gang will be life changing. But I am predicting some highs and lows staging a kitchen in the basement  and a temporary mud room in the garage.

I often have initiated changing how we use the current 6 bedrooms, shuffling kids, kicking some out for a workout room, allowing 4 to one room and 1 to another. That fluidity seems necessary with age and gender coming into the mix. But changing decor from horses to baseball is not the same as busting out walls and gutting a kitchen.

Sheff, like usual, is cool as a cucumber in the planning. I am actually the one having  hard time envisioning change. I guess the longer you live in a space the harder it is to creatively re think it!

We will be eating on the floor more often!
As we start down this road be careful if you offer to help out, you might end up with 10 people camping out in your kitchen:)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Lucky for Mess

Thank you Lord for all the gifts in my life, for all the mess.

This morning finding baseball pants while tripping over football gear while searching for winter clothes for the little girls I felt a bit overwhelmed. I have 10 bins of clothes to switch, uniforms, winter gear, church clothes, a whole bin of khakis, and then the sports and dance bins that keep multiplying. It was a moment of "I really can't do this all and still be a balanced human being!" You know those moments,  when the sheer to do list outweighs the looking forward to list by a page.

I found the baseball pants, tossed shoulder pads into the labeled football baskets (They have the bins, why don't they use them?) and found fleeces to put off turning on the heat one more day. Downstairs Sheff had made coffee. He had to hobble to do it, if anyone has noticed he looked a little gimpy Friday night he had a nail go through his foot during the day, he pulled it out and is good for tetanus (yes he went in) but even tough guys limp. Coffee made, foot propped, kids cozied up, baby spilling oatmeal on the floor.

Sometimes I think they should actually live in a barn, with Lucy's beloved Moos.
It is a lot to maintain, it is a heck of a lot to clean up after, it is a pain to cook for, but what a tremendous blessing. Eight healthy kids, kids who can make mess, lose and win games, fight over toaster strudel are not to be taken lightly. As I trudge through the to do list of the season change this year I am focusing on how much I love fall, on how dang lucky I am to deal with this mess.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Sports Highs and Lows

Sports start early around here:)
One of the kids received some sports news today that was mixed.

Initially I went the direction of a "little league mom" and thought the breakdown did not seem fair. Then the more I thought it out I realized how key my reaction to the news would be. When he emailed me from school (a new development!) it was my turn to spin the news. Great news, you are going to have a rock solid B team this year! Not A not C, this will be a fun year.

When they got home from school he was feeling a little disappointed, said his highlight was seeing Lucy.

We talked on the front stoop. He said a plus of family is you can feel bad, mess up, and say all the wrong things and there is still a house of people that love you. In this case he really did not do anything wrong, but that is how he feels which I need to respect and process with him. We talked about how to work out disappointment and how to celebrate the parts that are good. Not making the team he wanted to make will turn out to be a blessing. He will have fun, grow and give it his all.

As a mother my job is to love my kids up, to support them and encourage them. The kids job, especially in athletics, is to do their best and grow as individuals. They will win and they will loose. Over time it is the attitude, follow through and conduct that will stay a part of them as they emerge from the chrysalis of childhood into the wide wings of adulthood.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Mom Might be an Alien...or Immigrant?

Feeling the back to school burn. After kids are in bed I try to run on the treadmill to clear my head. Wednesday night I hear a conversation start up in the hallway. Kids sitting outside bedrooms. I run in the spare bedroom at the end of the hallway. Spare bedroom? They all prefer to share rooms :) They think I am tuned into my music and not able to hear them. I took notes.

John: I think mom might be an immigrant
I can hear the pause, maybe James did not hear him, James doesn't pause he talks.
Mark: Mom is an alien??
Mickey: No dummy, an immigrant, like you know from Ireland.
Mark: Oh, she does eat a lot of green things but she is not green.
James: What are you morons talking about?
Annie: John thinks mom is an immigrant
John: I was reading this book...
James: I guess miracles do happen..
A pointed silence or someone whispered Shut up, can't hear perfectly over the treadmill whir
John: Anyway the mom in this story always tells the kids "Remember! You represent the family!" when they leave for school, she goes to church ALL the time and makes food that will help bones be strong.
A collective OHHH from the kids
Annie: And she does make us eat foods other kids don't have to eat
Mickey: This might explain somethings, but did she take a boat? And what type of immigrant is Dad?
John: I don't think Dad is an immigrant
James: I think everyone out here is a moron
Annie: not very helpful
Mark: What do we do about it
John: I could finish the book I guess.
I hear someone come down the hallway.
Nate: You guys are supposed to be in bed, none of you have brushed your teeth and I just tripped on football gear. You guys are terrible, Dad said if anyone is up when he comes up you will be on kitchen for a year.
Mickey: Clearly Nate is an immigrant too.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I had two phone calls from the nurses office today. The first the nurse was taken aback because James came in with a cut up knee. I figured if he was walking he was likely good to go. She was appalled he did not break a sweat and asked "for something sharp to dig some gravel out" before he put Band-Aids on the cut. I talked to him, he sounded fine.

 The second call Nate had hit his head. She had him laying down for a bit. He had a big egg she reported, he did not cry but was eager to get back to class.

So far we have had no broken bones, we have had 1 fracture in the last decade of parenting. Some stitches, major and minor. And lots, and lots of cuts. The kids don't cry when they get hurt very often, and if they do I run because it is rare. I really appreciate their ability to clean out a cut, put ice on a fall and dust off their hands when they wipe out.

Kissing an ouch on a little James age 5, now I have to get him in a headlock first:)
Hopefully tomorrow no Otis kids visit the nurses office. Although I have to admit if I ever get a call and they are actually crying I will be there in a heartbeat.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Back to School & New Routines

We are back in school. Lunches being packed, folders being checked, kids being quizzed and uniforms being washed. This first week is always such a blur of activity, I think I should feel more on top of the new routine than I ever actually do a few days in.

The kids all seem to be in great spirits. James is now middle school, in 6th grade. I have to get him a locker divider deal today! John & Annie are in 5th and poor Annie is already reminding John about everything he needs to get done. She stays up late after sports and goes over everything twice,  he gets oatmeal on the pages rushing through in the morning while Annie raises disapproving eyebrows. Mickey is in 4th with new kids in his class, this seems like a big year for him. Nate is in 3rd and over the moon to be back in school. Markie is in first and had 2 green light days and one yellow (warning). James' sage advice to Mark,"Dude get green in class and save red for the football field" So far so good.

The little girls are home with me, Daisy has preschool a couple mornings a week and Lucy is learning new words and ideas daily. This is a stage of development I wish I could capture in a bottle. Everyday is so new and it is a joy.

So off to the races. Back in the game. We also are living on football, baseball and soccer fields. It is busy, it is great and I have a dancing night on Sat when I won't be mom for a few hours, as much as I love life as homemaker getting out makes me able to tackle my job with new energy.

Happy Back to School to ALL!!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Leaving the Blues, Enjoying the Sun

Having pulled out of a four day funk last week I am amazed at how rarely I feel actually overwhelmed. Honestly last week was more about feeling underwhelmed. The lack of things to do, the lack of motivation on my part or the kids and the lack of a fun spark to break the mundane created a stressful pressure cooker without a release valve.

So what did we do to shake things up? I asked for a little help from my friends. I am doing a trade this week, signed up for a few days of school day camp half day and prioritized getting adult time.

For the trades I take kids here T/Th and my friend has them M/W, we swap back at noon sometimes sharing lunch. With the school camp program we are swapping roughly the same numbers and it is a fabulous way to get a handle on life.

I also got out, amen, hallelujah. I made it to weekly Mass for a holy day, took the kids to park dates and got out for a girls night. I have no desire to be a martyr, I love working hard but no judgment when I need to play hard too. Thankfully I have a husband who loves having a happy wife and helps me get out for a cocktail, sneak away to read, workout or do my nails. It saves me to get re boot girl time.

This week I reminded myself we just need to get out when I start feeling bummed. We all fit in the suburban (with the extra row), we all fit on a friend's pontoon (life jackets, check), and we all run to Cub together to grab a snack (Kemps bucket of Vanilla).

Hiking with the kids, re boot time, getting out& being creative
So happy to be back to enjoying summer and took i phone notes to avoid a repeat. Get out, get creative and find a friend who will still love you when you vent (over a GnT)!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Irish Angels

My own little Irish Angel

Woke up to Lucy having figured out how to get out of her crib. She sat on my tummy and gave me a kiss. Have to admit it made me laugh and I was already on the right side of bed for the day. Having only 4 kids home this Saturday feels like a welcome ease. Hot cocoa, cinnamon rolls and mom's beloved coffee. The sun is out, the kids are playing and I know there is a good book to read I just have to find it.

In Ireland when I was there as a child I remember walking outside Trinity College and seeing a quote similar to this one, must have been carved in a bench or on the wall. I just remember thinking it was so simple and I loved it. I went to sleep imagining angels with thick Irish accents playing outside the door, ready to whisk me to safety if a boogyman arrived. Now I keep it written down for when I need a shot of good cheer.

May you always walk in sunshine.
May you never want for more.
May Irish angels rest their wings right beside your door.

~Old Irish Quote

Friday, August 10, 2012

Need to Get My Perky Back

As a general rule, I wear coffee infused glasses. I see the caffeinated side of life. Sure it is possible, well why not? A recipe with week old veggies could be fabulous! Invite the other kids over, we can beat the Duggars for the day. I am sure I can handle that, and so on.

Most days things wash and I am not peed on. Read on to see the details.

This is one of those days when the recipe did not turn out, the clothes washer and the dishwasher broke  and I had lucky charms for dinner. The kids & DH had spaghetti and meatballs which I always forget is one of the messiest clean ups known to a kitchen floor, sigh.

This was not a prize winning day. How are other moms handling these long summer days ? The kids are happy & healthy, but I am struggling to stay upbeat & creative as August arrived. My workouts need a kick in the booty, I am not finding time to read and I am doing a terrible job seeing friends enough. I usually don't complain much, my closest friends can attest I am usually upbeat, sunny side of the bed and all that.

Today I seemed to have fallen out on my head and then Lucy peed on me, actually she did right before the dish washer took its last breath. A priceless Hallmark mommy moment to be sure. To my credit I did not swear, really I did not. But the boys asked if I was trying for a bear sound when I growled.

So, if you happen to have made a perfect dinner, have all the laundry done & actually put away (yes socks count), a new pedicure or have appliances that work please stay on your side of the bed until I get my perky back.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Enjoying the Summer Days, Weeds and all.

As July hits each year the weeds strive to take over our walkways & yard. Each year they usually win for weeks at a time. Then we go out as a force and with muddy hands pull them out the best we can, make a bonfire for sticks and fill the compost up with garden debris.

This year after a big lightning storm we were left with multiple huge trees down in the yard. After feeling a bit hopeless to tackle so much we went out with a bag of marshmallows as reward and armed the bigger boys with saws. Three hours later our yard was on the way. We still have a weekend of burning, cutting and stacking ahead of us but that first day of work is always the hardest.

Getting our vegetable garden ready to plant last year

Seeing the kids work so hard, and all that Sheff can accomplish so quickly reminded me to be grateful for all we DO get done and stop worrying about the weeds that always seem to win.

We are going to tackle the yard jobs the best we can, buy some extra s'mores fixings and invite people over to share in the process. Soon enough the snow will fall, making sure to enjoy summer days, weeds and all.

1 Peter 4:9 Cheerfully share your home !

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Being Fit, ENERGY as a Family Priority

Last night as I was sweating on the treadmill I was thinking about how to raise daughters with a positive sense of self and a healthy desire to be fit. It is not an easy thing to do. I actually see the influence of their brothers being the motivating factor in playing pick up games, races and eating what they want.

Growing things, taking care of flowers and gardens are a wonderful
way to teach daily health, I am trying to do more every year!
I would think everyone at some point is found worrying about food and fitness. The happiest I have ever been in this area is now as a mother. In part the context is so important. My happiness is based less on my self than any other phase of life. Being a good wife, being a good mother and being a good friend are the building blocks of daily life. Finding time to pray, exercise, make good meals and keep a clean home map out my day. A good book, show or conversation are the icing.

Looking back at being a girl growing up, I wouldn't go backwards if you paid me! To navigate self esteem in a culture so based on things external is tricky at best.

My girls see me make food choices & fitness choices while weighing other priorities. If I had childcare or unlimited time, I could see fitness becoming too important, being obsessive. Needing to have it fit into the other pieces of the daily puzzle allow it to be simply something I do when kids are in bed in between laundry and seeing Sheff. I get on the treadmill and my goal is to run through one Netflix show most days of the week, around 2 to 4 miles. If I do weights it is in the living room with with lots of little helpers mimicking me:)

After having Lucy I wanted to get back into great shape. It's fun to feel great abut how you look but even more key is to have...ENERGY! Being in running, dancing or hiking shape gives me stamina for the long summer days of needing to keep up with Costco trips, beach days and simply maintaining the home front.

I stuck a pair of size 26 jeans on the shelf in my closet and thought "Those will be fun to go dancing in, lets make it happen!" My biggest tricks are lots of natural fiber. Forget the calories and fat, look at the fiber and enjoying the meals. I agree after each baby you have to work to get your tummy feeling good, I wrap right after birth and I drink water like I am running a daily marathon:) Farm boxes are a great way to cheat and not think. Just eat a farm box choice daily for lunch. A huge plate of Kale with sesame oil and a little Trader Joe's spicy peanut dressing is yummy! I cut up a big onion to fry with it and the kids eat the onion. Broccoli slaw is another easy raw green as is marinating cucumbers (my kids eat these like chips). If we eat McDonalds for lunch we will grill extra veggies for dinner. If we splurge on Pizza we have a protein shake for the next snack. No extremes just never letting processed foods tip the scales.

As a mom I want my kids (daughters and sons) to see me balancing my health as a family priority. There will always be days I feel yucky, but with so many eyes watching I want to show gratitude, self control and flat out loving life as a daily mantra.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Life's a Beach

There is a country song that has the refrain "Some beach, somewhere..." I am on that beach with the kids this week. I am choosing the literal interpretation, beaches are a highlight of family time. We have been getting out daily to swim, build sandcastles or splash in the wading pool.

Look out world James is 12!
Last week when the heat hit advisory highs we hunkered down and felt very American in our multi TV air conditioned home. Sheff whipped up 3 levels of wooden storage in the basement so the kids have been helping me sort clothes and holiday decorations so everything can be stacked in the new storage. Love it! Feels like I am shopping at Costco finding the new size Ballet slippers.

Finding sea treasures in Maine

Doing summer activities with 8 kids is so much fun. Sheff took kids to John's game last night (I was at Church book club, it included wine and was heaven talking about books with smart women). Sheff said  at the ball park they found an empty field and made up games. Having grown up an only child, nothing makes me happier than seeing them play together. Summer lets them relax into being each others friends around the clock, going to the beach making a deserted baseball field into a fun zone.

Sisters on the beach
Loving summer, loving this time with the kids all home. As kids come and go with their own camps & activities I always look forward to the moments we are 10 strong as a family, even getting ice cream is better when we are all together.

The beach comes with the sand, mess, wet suits, spilled chips but the time together playing is what I choose to remember.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

17 Kids for a Hike!

All of us other than Mrs. Otis, taking the photo!
Yup, we took 17 kids on a 3 mile hike. 1.5 miles each way. It was hot, long and ...we did it!

This weekend we went up to our friends the Corniea's cabin near Backus MN.

Mickey holding Lucy with Mark on the tree swing at the cabin

The trickiest part are the bookends of getting away. The packing, cleaning and subsequent unpacking: whew, it is a workout. But the time hanging out as two families just having fun are truly some of our kids best summer memories. The kids pair up beautifully they have 6 boys and 3 girls, we have 5 boys and 3 girls.
Can you tell Otis vs Corniea? Some are tricky from  the back!

I attempted to have the kids pack for themselves (Gretchen does this with her brood but admitted it does work better to pack for the youngest 5 ). Mickey packed 2 pairs of sweatpants. Yup, that is it,  no boxers, no shirt, no swimsuit, no toothbrush and mind you it is 90 degrees out this weekend. Thankfully I had packed swimsuits for everyone or he would have been swimming in cut off sweats all weekend.

And actually he probably would have been fine. That is one thing I have learned by being a mom of a big gang. No time to sweat the small stuff. You can hike in flip flops, share one water bottle (just keep refilling in), sleep on the floor and make a "sleepover square" with four kids in one spot, make a meal out of odd leftovers, make car games with your imagination with no room for anything other than family members and guarantee good behavior with the promise of making extra pancakes for bait.

On Saturday we drove north to Itasca State park to see where the Mississippi River originates. What an amazing place! As Sheff said it should be on everyone's bucket list. First, the bigs walked the river while Gretchen and I stayed on the path with the 3 youngest. The dads waded the river  and met us at the start of the Mississippi where it flows from Lake Itasca. We swam and managed to herd our families in for family photos near the sign. Then we took a hike to the watch tower you are allowed to climb!

The hike was a bit of a comedy but we did it. Two kids forgot shoes (amazingly not Matthew! It was Mark and Bridgey) So we purchased $4 flip flops in the gift shop and headed out. We battled the bugs, the heat and the dirt and earned our Pizza and Summer Shandies.

How lucky we are to feel totally normal with our big broods together. King of the mountain on the raft, fishing, holding baby brothers and sisters, cleaning, cooking, praying and counting heads are all just part of our time together. We captured some great moments!

Hope everyone is busy making wonderful summer memories!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Summer Pros & Cons

Watering the daisies
Best parts of summer so far:
Using fresh food from our garden, radishes with garlic salt, mint in our water, basil & green onions on our fish, popping strawberries and cherries when we walk by.

Playing in the neighborhood, sprinkler, beauty shoppe on the front steps, dodge ball, medic, pushing babies in strollers (real & plastic), basketball & pitching to little brothers.

Watching baseball & soccer games.

James being an Altar Server for the first time and seeing what a gift a strong faith foundation is when you have a child entering the pre teens.

Being together.

Cozy Fathers Day moment
Patio & porch nights with friends for mom & dad time.

Worst parts of summer so far:

Getting TO baseball & soccer games.

Cleaning. How many wet suits and towels can 8 children create? Lots apparently.

Cooking, we are all getting sick of sandwhiches but really 3 meals a day a gal can only get so creative.

Our table works well for the kids but someday
 I have a huge farm table on my wish list!!
Mama time. Harder for me to find a moment to workout.

Overall a great start to summer. Annie is off for a WEEK long camp and most of the boys start football camp in the morning. We have celebrated oodles of birthdays and more to come. Our house officially is  12, 10,10, 9, 8, 6, 4 and 18m. Well and some in the 30's but those we don't disclose:)
Keeping up with miss LuLu can be a challenge but the kids fight for turns to hold her and care for her.

Looking forward to week 3, our library reading charts, some new summer recipes & a little more time at home this week. I would like to try to be better about an organized snack time 2 x a day and some kind of group work time when everyone was together but on task. The older kids often go and read but they loved doing a craft when I pulled out the pearler beads and wax paper. I would also like to do a field trip to someplace that is new, a new park or nature preserve. AND I would like to have them help me make freezer jam with the cherries from our tree. Lofty goals, hope some of your summer goals are actualized this week!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Welcome Summer

This year I am feeling special gratitude for summer!

Lucy followed a butterfly around the front yard for 5 minutes yesterday. She blew it kisses when it finely flew on to the next yard.

Mark & Daisy made a calendar of countdown to summer that listed all the things they were looking forward to in summer (including eating freezies on the back of Dad's truck).

The older children are high fiving for being able to sleep in, have their windows open and read comics.

Mickey declared summer his favorite season (each season makes this prized cut yearly, but I love his enthusiasm).

Nate is learning prayers for ordinary time.

I am still trying to tackle this desk, I really should post a photo of it clean when I manage to get it ship shape :)  Sheff finished fixing up our screen porch for summer nights and has a busy summer at Urban Rebuilders.

Wishing you lazy reads, sweet tea on the porch and memories with those who save quarters for the ice cream truck.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Getting 10 Runned as Mom

I am exhausted, feel guilty saying so, but it is the truth. Normally I have a day here and there when I don't get it all done, but this season I feel like quick sand is taking over the high ground.

I did add frozen mixed veggies to the macaroni and cheese tonight, but that's as good as it gets right now folks. No homemade bread, the oats ain't slow cooked and the cloth diapers are neatly stacked and ignored.

How can I be better at this spring season? I know when school is out I will have a better rhythm. I am having the hardest time finding time to work out, Sheff and I have to be ships passing in order to keep the right kids on the right fields at the right times. To top off this week Lucy is doing an up at night stint with 4 back molars arriving any day.

I know it is possible but I wish I could find a little more joy in my work right now. I wish I could get a little more on top of my game. Spring seems to be 10 running me weekly.

That said I am, we are, so grateful for help driving, kind words in the scramble and emotional support for mom (I have needed a bit more lately)! I have a verse taped to my computer that I read tonight. It is a good reminder as I try to cut myself some slack and renew my strength as Mom.

"But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:31

Friday, June 1, 2012

Summer Workbooks & Swinging in the Trees

I think we all need some summer vacation. I am hesitant to say that because that equals 8 kids 24/7 but I know it is true:) Towards the end of the year friendships need space, minds need downtime and bodies need to move more.

Each year I try to learn from the summer prior. What activities worked well? What was difficult? Did a daily schedule help or hurt our days (help!) Did we keep up on chore charts or need a new structure? What camps were fun and how to budget for different opportunities for the kids.

Using the Library Reading program is an awesome way to get a big family (or anyone on a summer budget!)
 to the State Fair!
Through trial and error we have found a rest time hour (when the baby is sleeping) summer work time is best for keeping up with reading and math over the summer. Most of our kids would rather climb a tree or throw a ball than sit and read (Annie & Nate are the exception) so I need to build in time for "summer school". I hit Lakeshore learning and pick up age appropriate workbooks. Each kid has a file to grab for the one hour slot and I initial the page/pages they finished. Then they need a one hour reading slot in the day (yes it can be TinTin or other comics).

I loved doing Urban Tennis last year because we had a consistent plan for 6 weeks. The downside was kids did not get a chance to do individualized sports camps or lazy days at the beach. This year everyone is doing 2 or 3 weeks of sports camps. We also do our weeklong Bible camp where I pitch in as a volunteer leader for a tuition break (and its lots of fun!) We have cabin dates, camping plans and our annual week away this year up to Ely, Minnesota to Camp du Nord, it will be our 6th time there.

I ran into someone at the baseball park (this happens A LOT:) and we were catching up. I used the phrase enjoying status quo, and its true! Our family is in a good place. Healthy, happy and bursting at the seams for summer fun.

Wishing everyone a wonderful last week of school!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Kindness Boomerang

Talking to the kids today we got into the importance of being a good friend when it is easier to do nothing. There was a moment where everyone was being really thoughtful and I reminded them how key it was to be kind.

Those moments when it is so easy to look away, walk away or simply not help someone out. How the times when they step in and help someone else build a lifetime of character.

Life is messy, people hurt. Small people, big people. Words hurt, hugs help.

Loving sisters, hoping to build a culture of kindness
Everyone messes up, but those times we choose to take the highroad, will come back to us. I gave an example of a kindness boomerang. It might be an entirely different person but that goodness DOES come back. It does every time.