Thursday, December 25, 2014

Not all Merry & Bright but a Year Full of Grace

This has been a year of highs and lows, moments that brought me to my knees.

We started the year with two houses and financial strain, trusting the old house would sell, trusting we would cover the basics. We left a tight knit community and sat back more than ever before, allowing connections and support to grow slowly. Feeling lonely at times but being surprised at how much closer we became as a family in the process. The buds of connection have the first small leaves, and they are beautiful.

The house sold, such deep relief and gratitude. The teen angst descended on our oldest, trying to reconcile the loving brother with the door slamming kid suddenly my size. I prayed for patience and understanding while trying to measure my time between the other 7 and an overworked husband.

Then I got sick, really, really sick. The kind of sick that for a day or so was really scary. But man was it humbling. Having meningitis, an infection in your spinal fluid, can be fatal. I thought over mistakes I have made, socially, in my family, my being defensive coming from a place of insecurity. I thought about my own personal legacy, really my children. Who they were, how they would affect the world, how I, God willing, could support them.

We had been visiting churches, still part of a church we'd spent many years in Roseville supporting and attending. We missed many friendly faces we had come to know, but knew we needed to think as a family of 10 and find a place we could grow lasting roots and celebrate together. Finding that, feeling deep relief and gratitude once again.

Ah, but the moments of joy. There are times the stress, the strain seems to out measure the peace. Robin Williams suicide, happened and the rush of emotions, the eulogy I wrote after my biological Fathers suicide, realizing I have never told roommates, friends even some family members about what happened. Realizing I carried that shame on my own shoulders. Who am I that someone I loved would not want to stay here with me? Was I not enough? But the time of healing of understanding the importance of owning the joy. It is my right to remember Christmas with him, to see a fresh snowfall or hear Irish music and feel joy, I deserve that joy, and he would want it for me. My shame is not a gift to him. I am allowed to celebrate the amazing relationship I have with my step-father whom I call Dad, without reservation.

We celebrated an anniversary that gave hope to a strong future. We have not taken the time to mark our years, we have marked adoption and birth but not our own relationship. We walked for hours on our short getaway and talked about the last 14 years and the next 14 years. It was a pivotal moment. Standing on the stone arch bridge we prayed together, for our kids, for ourselves for the future.

This has been a year I will remember as a transition, Sheff calls it a year of humility. I became a bit quieter and intentional after being sick. Ann Voskamp writes, "Perhaps the opposite of faith is not doubt. Perhaps the opposite of faith is fear."

This is not a year I want highlighted on Facebook, but it is a year that has changed my path, our family's path. All ten of us have been healthy this winter, not a small thing. We are closer and more grounded than before, we are settled and grateful.

Wishing everyone moments of real peace, of lasting connections and prayer woven quietly into celebration.

Our fall trip to Ely, Camp du Nord, was a family highlight this year.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thankful for Mismatched Socks

Thankful Poem

Thankful for noise, because it means children are in the house.

Thankful for needing to budget, it makes the treats more meaningful.

Thankful for cold to remind me of the beauty of all the seasons and the warmth of a roaring fire. 

Thankful for too much to eat, when I know how many go without.

Thankful for family fights, with out the fights we would not have the humor of our token ice breakers. 

Thankful for mess, I de stress cleaning. 

Thankful for mess, it means creativity, good food and make believe.

Thankful for scratched floors, it means chairs were dragged to make a fort.

Thankful for my husband's cracked hands, it means he has been working hard to support us.

Thankful for my softer hands in means hours of hands coated in vaseline inside kitchen gloves scrubbing off the nourishment from the night before.

Thankful for hours of laundry, I always wanted a big family.

Thankful for crazed Sunday mornings dashing five minute late to Church, the service always holds extra peace and hope for the week ahead.

Thankful for baskets of mismatched socks, it gives the youngest a job to sort.

Thankful socks now come with different colored toes and that miss matched is "in"

Thankful for the pace of life, it means we have people to see and places to be.

Thankful to have muddy kids and muddy shoes, it means we were out there in it, nature as a playground.

Thankful for yoga pants, or "yogurt pants" as a young Daisy would say.

Thankful I occasionally stress eat so that saying I "need" a walk to a dear friend is entirely truthful.

Deeply thankful for those friends new and old, thankful for my husband and his strength of character  thankful for my children all eight on the days they ask me "do you still love me" (I always do) and on the days they make my pride spill over.

Thankful for the hardest of days, my faith is always strongest then.


Deirdre McCarrell Otis Thanksgiving 2014
I left the house a mess to go sledding with the kids, THANKFUL
for  being active so I can keep up with them &  run the hills.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Not All Days are Norman Rockwell

There were really hard moments last week. We had talked about, in my Nehemiah Bible Study, the gift of difficulty to gain both perspective and gratitude. Sometimes I wish there were an easier way to re set the outlook!

I had totally messed up my practice drop off times. Wrong child to wrong gym and then back across town for the next, forgetting to plug the croc pot IN and being totally out of bread or any usable starch for a back up plan! The worst part, was snapping the head off the WRONG child. One just happened to be in the laundry path (trying to clean up a bedding accident moments before a sleepy one needed to hit slumber). Others had been uncharacteristically sassy or rude in the midst of the chaos but this one was just simply THERE. Oh the regret in the moment. And then trying to be calm and let the day go in order to rectify the night.

I managed to check in with many of the kids before bed, but not all. There was not a happy ending or a bow tied neatly around the day but we got through it. Kids all ended up at the correct practice. Sheff worked late and finished what he needed to accomplish even if it was late and he has a bandaged hand to show for it. Wonderful Roseville families helped drive athletes home, and others ate scrambled eggs and canned pineapple for dinner.

There will be days like this my mama said, so true. And the perspective often comes the NEXT day or even later on. Gratitude came the following dinner time when I took the croc pot out of the fridge and plugged IN my stew. I let my self off the hook, apologized for being late to some and for being crabby to others, and we let the day go!

Nate put together a group of magnets for a Instagram post. Mark had asked why I don't put buttons on my coat like some moms do! Nate demonstrated why it would be tricky, too many! Lots of places to go and activities to support, 9 out 10 times we pull it off but there are THOSE days we don't manage "to plug in"

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day~ What to Do & How to Talk to Kids!

Today as we celebrate Veterans day, I wanted to talk to the kids about both what it means to serve and how we can help our troops. Having family serve in the military can be a source of fear and pride. The kids do not have immediate family abroad but have heard from their Grandfathers and family friends about both war and leadership serving in the armed forces. We made a list of what WE could do from home.

~The kids' school has a program to send care packages to the troops. Shop, Ship and Share has lists of helpful things to buy and send to the troops. We got beef jerky, sunflower seeds and baby wipes for the kids to bring in to school for the program. Many locations participate, google to find locally!

Check out for more ideas and programs happening to support our troops.

~Sending Halloween Candy to the troops, google the closest locations. We found a local Hospital that has a program. It was a great way for kids to share their candy and know it is going to a good cause. Handy to have 8 buckets for sharing too;)

Another good list that also has items that the troops could use.

~ Lastly a great video for how to talk to kids about Veterans day!

What did I miss? How has your family marked Veterans day or thought of our troops?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Happy Birthday Marky!

As a kid my favorite number was always 9! The year we went to Ireland, the year I could go explore on my bike by myself and the year I started reading TinTin books! Our baby boy, the youngest of the 5 boys, is 9! What a charming, creative and athletic guy he is. Born on election day in 2005 he seems ready to tackle life with joy.
Marky 1 year photo in hand me down Nike's &
that following summer at 1 1/2.
The MnM brothers, Nate 3, Mark 2, Mickey 4

Always found a mess to make
Baby blues turned green with age!

Fell in love with football, practicing for hours in the yard with his Dad and brothers
Our reader, have to sneak in to turn off the light, he falls asleep with books on his head nightly.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Community, Encouragement and Change

Hebrews 10:24-25 “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but let us encourage one another"

I love the idea of community being a place we can "stir up the good works" of one another. It is very difficult to maintain and foster many individual relationships, and leaving a community can also be painful. Learning how to celebrate the times in one place, such as Elementary school, and moving to another give us a chance to talk about respecting memories while embracing new opportunities.

As our children move into their own interests we are finding the need to have time as a family key for a strong community at home. Our kids have taken over the use of my phone, and Istragram account. I worry about allowing them into these electronic "communities" knowing full well to be in relationship with another person or group can't truly be electronic. Facebook can give way to envy rather than happiness for others times of connection. My hope is to create a foundation that allows the kids to use this online media for fun but turn to their living community when in need of guidance, support or celebration.

Being an only child, moving quite a lot and being in very different communities then and as an adult buying fixer uppers to re sell as our small family grew at add a fuzzy pill to water speed, craving solid community has been a thread through my life.

At one point I'd helped get a women's group started in Saint Paul when James started kindergarden at a lovely little school. The women were a really interesting group and I greatly enjoyed them. When we moved I struggled with how to stay in contact, how to stay in community until one of them wrote me a note I still remember. She thanked me for the time of connection and shared that she had moved and knew the reality of young children (this was the 6 under 6 time), she went on to say you will organically find new community, you need support, be open to it and don't worry about maintaining every connection. Oh but how hard! To see a posted photograph and feel left out even though I had in fact declined the holiday party invitation! As we have transitioned yet again I am reminded of the truth in her words. 

Community is sacred and needed, but must also be allowed to change with out resentment.

A positive result in this evolution is when threads are interwoven. Our children seeing nursery school friends at a basketball tournament, having my own childhood friend from Italy find me on Facebook , kids meeting up with neighbors as new 7th graders together, Sheff hiring an old neighbors cousin, a so appreciated birthday invitation from an old classmate, making lifelong friends that weather the changes with humor and perspective. These experiences give breadth to the concept of community. 

Change and being part of different communities has also given unexpected gifts. The gift of having the pleasure to meet a vast array of faces, to have valued friends from different stages of our life and locations. The kids accepting and appreciating really different people, places and faiths. And most of all the gift of bonded siblings, finding friendship and encouragement  from each other. I wouldn't say when they stir the pot its always uplifting! But 83% of the time there is a community of support right where we are.

In our family history people would move communities by train and maintain friendships  by post! My mother is working on transcribing letters from when my Grandmother's family lived in China and wrote letters to friends in the States. Amazing to study communities of origin and how they inform the places future generations explore.
Where will these 8 riders find meaning and community? As long as they stay connected we will ride wherever they go.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Unplugged in the North Woods Thank You Camp du Nord!

Over MEA we unplugged! We left our I pads, our computers, we logged out and headed up north. We have attended Camp du Nord summer family camps before, but this was our first time at an Autumn camp. We stayed in Danes, a wonderful old cabin right on the lake.

On our way to Ely we stopped to see the Train park in Sudan

We ate meals with other families in a Lodge, had nightly fires and each read at least two books. As a family we hiked, played soccer, did a Finnish sauna and carved sticks.

Our great Cabin, hours of cozy reading!

The view from our cabin

James and John chopped enough wood for the winter and Mickey forgot to wear cool socks the whole time. Nate wrote a "North Woods Journal" by Nathaniel T Otis (has a nice literary ring to it doesn't it?) and Mark learned how to skip rocks almost as far as Dad. Mark also had the coolest top bunk bed on chains by the fire.
The best bed
Jr making one of many, many fires
Beautiful lakefront at Camp du Nord in Ely, MN
Family Camp activity, Carving pumpkins!
I brought the seeds home to make a fav snack, roasted seeds with garlic
Daisy and Lucy played in the woods, chasing away any wild life with princess musical scores. Sheff and I had a chance to hike alone and talk about goals for the year, and simply enjoy each others company. The kids all had age group from 9:30 to noon on Friday and Saturday, all 8 made connections with staff and other campers.
James found a sport in the wilderness, tetherball!
He was reigning champion but a great challenger from Edina;)
Mark hitting the water after Finnish Sauna

Our family time was precious. I wish I could save it in a ornament to hang on our tree. We were mindful of the wilderness and connected ten strong.
Sweet girlies and mama

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What Can I Actually DO at this Phase

I have had the pleasure of attending two philanthropic events this week, and each has brought into focus the desire for change and taking action. The difficulty is how one goes about doing that in different phases of life.

We as a couple can not offer the necessary financial contribution, nor can we dedicate enough time to make the impact we would like at this time of raising children from 3 to 14 years old. I am very aware that I have two years until my youngest starts primary school, this will impact my ability and desire to work. I am in the process of discerning school, graduate program acceptance and transcript request forms are stacked under sports schedules and field trip information sheets. And I am thinking about meaningful work. I am not in a unique place, many, many mothers find themselves at crossroads when their youngest move towards the big yellow bus.
Lucy's portrait of her family, she told her teacher she wanted to use
extra people and more skin colors to be"more beautiful" 
On monday Sheff and I attended a gathering to learn more about Ploughshares, an organization committed to promoting peace by eliminating nuclear weapons We both left with a much better rudimentary understanding of the strife in the Middle East. Those who spoke to the issues motivated us to come home and pull out a map with the kids. We would like to start family dialogue about promoting non partisan peace, about war and global conflict. How can these issues be relevant around our immediate dinner table? We actually talked about the Middle East in terms of football, but teams and sports anger are not a bad way to talk and relate to global issues with pre teen boys!

Today I attended the Women's Foundation of Minnesota, and learned very scary data about the abuse of populations of girls right here in our backyard. It was a sobering lunch supporting essential work. Learning how to keep our young people safe and make changes in how at risk youth can be targeted to be exploited. Again, what can I DO right now in the busy pace of life? I can read, I can attend events to further my own knowledge and I can engage in community dialogue.

Last week I sat down with a great group of women to write thank you cards to Young Life leaders, college kids volunteering their time to spend time with our local youth. I know many who serve on school boards, are sports commissioners or take a day a month to help at a shelter or church sponsored relief project. Sheff and I look forward to the day we can give back to local athletics and education, we give what we can yearly to our Library and around the clock coaching is a huge commitment for Sheff and a joy. Giving back takes time and constancy but is vital. Different phases of life will give way to different opportunity, and that can be exciting rather than overwhelming.

As I think about the next chapter in my life my children and husband will come first, that is a priority for me personally. Faith will impact how and what I do, social justice is a passion for me. As time becomes available even in small doses I hope I can make the most of it. Be it school, more volunteer work or a part time career.

I do know that I want to continue to learn about organizations working to make our community, both local and global, a safer and more rewarding place to be for the next generation who will someday be sitting at the cross roads of what to DO next.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Anniversary Gratitude

Anniversaries have come and gone for us without enough pause. We have both been great about cards, and small meaningful things. Some long walks and a few of the last 13 years married, 14 years together, we have made it out of the house but this year was a concerted effort. We made it away, all 8 children were intact upon return. I had posted ideas about restaurants and Sheff wanted me to wait to talk about being gone until we were actually safely home. He is very nonplussed by social media and uses it sparingly and carefully. I can't say I always share his perspective, but in this case I agreed.

 Our hidden little both at The Melting Pot, they took our photo and poured champagne.

We ended up trying The Melting Pot, fondue restaurant. Really fun sweet date night idea. We usually go for as spicy as possible, Japanese or Thai food. This was a good out of our element place to try and  fun to be able to talk about our parents fondue parties of the 1070s, we were musing that the way everyone seems to be getting Kuerig machines now, then the hot ticket then was a fondue set.

Walking Minneapolis and the river, our favorite part of our time away!
The best part of our date was deciding after our early romantic dinner to lace up our running shoes and hike around the city, Nicolett Mall, down by the Stone Arch Bridge and along the river front near Mill City. We enjoyed talking, people watching and getting a workout so much we did the same thing this morning after breakfast. We logged well over 6 miles each time out, and think maybe for our next leaving the kids we will ask for advice on good little cabins with hiking trails nearby.

We are very grateful for the village it took to make this possible, and for all the times in the last 13 years we have gotten out for meals, kids have had sleepovers or even post baby meals, we feel so very grateful. We admire couples who make their alone time a priority and talked about ways to make this a regular yearly tradition.

We talked about the best times, the hardest times and what we want the future times to be in our marriage. This time away was a perfect time to reset, reflect and simply enjoy each other's company.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Why it Might be Important to Care About What Other People Think

Driving, carpooling and late night talks give way to conversations with my teen, preteen and elementary school age kids and their friends. Fall tryouts, tense games and new middle school dynamics make for constant backseat chatter. A phrase I heard often this week was "Why do you care what people think?" This made me wonder when we should care about what others think.

As a culture overall I would argue we have gone too far in the direction of individualism. Not caring about how our actions impact others, impact the earth and choosing the image of self (selfies) over community. There are times when doing your own thing, trusting your gut or running with an idea are  commendable. There are also times to listen to other people's opinions, times to allow people you respect to be mirrors for actions in question and times to follow the guidance of another person.

On a teenage level there are many opportunities to worry too much about other people's perceptions. Finding close friends to trust, fostering faith communities and parent connection time seem crucial. I still care what my parents think, I care what my close friends think and I care deeply that my overall actions are pleasing to God. My children have different points of faith in their lives but I urge them to find space to pray when they feel anxiety or worry about peers.

I want them to care what others think of their actions, but not in a self despairing way, rather in a way that allows for personal growth and reflection.

I have done a poor job at times in my life of caring too much about what the wrong people thought of my actions. I have found that if I focus on people that truly love and care about me, if I focus on my faith base, I am far more content in my words or decisions.

As my kids toss around the phrase, "Who cares what they think!" I hope to enter conversations about the they rather than agree wholeheartedly. I hope to talk more about creating community and less about one for all and all for one. I hope to be mindful of pleasing those around me for the right reasons, reasons that bring me peace of mind and allow me to respect myself as well as others.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Could we ever host a foreign exchange student?

We have had two houseguests this week. Two boys who line up with our sixth grader and our third grader, two very nice boys. I was unsure how this would work. I knew the positives were the boys shared classes and activities, and the negatives would be more about how my kids acted. For example, would the boys treat this like a week long playdate? Extra snacks, wanting x box over homework and so on? So far it has actually been just fine, the boys are good kids who are very happy to be caught up in the daily flow of Otis life.

After school we always have a fun and a healthy snack. Yesterday orchard apples and candy corn mix, today homemade cookies and cheese sticks. Simple but enough fun to run from bus stop to home to see what is out. The visiting boys figured out this the only snack until dinner and then joined in with homework and getting ready for sports. We have plenty of beds for extras and the boys who gave up their own beds for the guests (John and Nate re located) think is fun to have new digs for the week.

After football, soccer and gymnastics the biggest difference with having ten instead of eight is noise level and finding it hard to end the day. Two new ghosts in the graveyard players and football team members in the back yard make it seem unfair to head in at dark. It has been positive to mix up the dynamic, change the typical partnerships. We have had to work on more modesty, closing doors to change or go to the bathroom for the little ones, but that is a good thing to learn. The kids like tossing the ball more than quizzing each other for spelling tests, but for a week that is ok.

Am I ready for a foreign exchange student? No not yet. But I think someday it would be a joy to do so. I am glad we are a home that can welcome two more in for awhile. I am glad the kids are able to welcome new personalities into the fold, to continue to be kind to each other for the most part and model cleaning up and helping out. They taught the boys our dinner prayer and how to handle a Lucy tantrum with ease and humor.

Sometimes adding more to a plate can bring out the best flavors! Week two back in school has been busy and full and one to remember.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Week one: Re-entry time

When one of the eight has a rare sleepover or is away at camp we always call the first hours home, re-entry. The physical change of adding a body back into the flow of life, the desire of the one away to share their experience while at the same time holding onto the time away as their own, sacred "me" time in a family of ten.

Going back to school is always both a re-entry experience for the kids and for parents, especially mom. To get stories, antidotes and obligations sorted out for so many different individuals is down right daunting. Some one needs a family photo, someone needs a different color folder, someone's teacher wanted proof we are actually related to Amelia Earhart (we are), someone outgrew their back to school shoes (in two weeks, how?!) and absolutely everyone needs money.

The first four days I have cried, celebrated, calculated, prayed and navigated with the kids. I have missed my workouts and missed my friends. I have attempted to be calm, all knowing and responsible but felt more young and emotional in the face of stress. Isn't this week supposed to be a monumental relief?

I have goals to create better file systems per grade, per kid, per school. I have goals to pair kids up for homework help and to find ways to manage the one family computer. I am hopeful that the three middle schoolers having school iPads will be a blessing rather than a curse and I know I need to get back to the basics with meal planning and managing driving schedules for our 7 activity schedules this fall.

A dear friend said yesterday "You sure LOOK like you have it all together my dear!" Well, I do not have it all together. I most certainly did not have it all together this week, but I am allowing this first week to be in the category of re-entry and look forward to the second week of school.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Happy Birthday to the Otis Dad!

For his birthday Sheff is getting a ridiculously gooey monster cake from the kids, with a side of minnie mouse cupcakes from Lulu. Some snapshots of an amazing father, a fantastic husband and a man who's patience, fair mindedness and enthusiasm make the world a better place. 

We love you Sheffer/Dad!!
Aug 27 2014

Family first
Many little ones have gone to sleep this way:)

Teaching 5 sons how to be a man

A man who loves holding babies, did our nighttime feedings around here.

Working out with babies as weight 2007

A outdoorsman and his ballerina 2009

Date night! One coming up, we will make it happen for our 13th anniversary this year, pinkie promise. And goal to do an overnight away from the kids before we hit 15 years:) We always miss them so maybe 15 is about right but great long walks in the dark to fit it in, runs, hikes, Sunday morning church as a family, the little Japanese noodle shop we love with sake and black coffee early outside before the kids wake up.  Love you!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

State Fair Time!

Matching in Yellow off to the state fair 2007
Snow cones at the state Fair in 2010

Sate Fair 2013



James now serves as the "adult" to take the little girls on rides!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Taking time for conversations about suicide

When Robin Williams committed suicide my first thought, as I am sure many people had, was of his daughter. My worry in the moment was that she would feel that her love was not enough. The way it was covered, the way the story was reported may have been tactless, but it was also very real. There is no glamour in suicide and unfortunately no privacy. I do not believe suicide is selfish and I do believe the first reaction should be compassion. Compassion for those left behind and compassion for the pain in others we are not privy to. I hope this man's death, suffering and legacy creates inlets of change. I would venture to say for the person suffering they are thinking this is the only way to stop the pain, and perhaps this collective societal loss will allow more people access to help.

My biological father committed suicide when I was in college. Very few people knew about this at the time, even some of my roommates did not know. I had been living with a friend in Alaska and had to leave early, knowing from fleeting phone conversations with my father that things were changing and I was worried, although as a nineteen year old it was difficult to understand the depth of his hopelessness.

My father, committed suicide on Fathers day.

I traveled to California, met with his family, read a pretty beautiful eulogy and saved the tears for many, many years later. Thirteen years into parenthood my husband owns much of Fathers day, I still hurt but it is a soft hurt more of remembering. I have done some counseling, and read a lot of books. I have read letters my father wrote to me, I have longed for a sibling to talk to about the letters and found some solace in knowing how deeply I was loved. Focusing on the love rather than the abandonment, it has taken time but pain is a great catalyst for action. The desire to, as my father wrote me in his last letter, "plumb the depths of this life...." rather than feel shorted.

As I have thought about Robin William's death this week, and my children have asked about it, I wanted to share one perspective from a daughter who lost a father. My blessing of having an amazing mother, a steadfast stepfather who became Dad, and a faith that kept right on burning when I felt like wallowing in self pity pulled me through the early grief. I talked to our kids about pain, depression and hopelessness. How its not unseemly to feel things, really feel things. We can talk, yell and cry and still be whole lovable people. I talked about how "things" money and fame did not cure us of anxiety, how important it was to talk about worry or concern anytime. These were large looping conversations without proper punctuation, but I hope the older kids heard the bottom line: you are loved wherever you are, and if you are hurting I will be there with you to find the right help.

I hope this tragedy allows other families to have this conversation as well.

Little Deirdre by statue of James Joyce by his grave at Fluntern cemetery in Zurich. My parents were studying at the Jungian institute but anything Irish was a lifelong passion for my father.
As a toddler with my father

I miss my father on days punctuated by celebration, birthdays, holidays and
when ever a hear a Gaelic song fleetingly on the radio.