We're starting to get into the busy part of the garden season - lots of things are planted, but there's still lots of planting & weeding to do, plus harvesting too! Did I tell you? We're running a small CSA this year with some families from our parish! I think it's going to be a good experience for all of us, but it definitely puts a little more pressure on. The kids are *ecstatic* to be able to share the food from the garden with their friends, and they're not even complaining that they don't get to eat all the strawberries themselves!
Edith follows me around (okay, mostly she demands to be carried) and eats various herbs & greens from the garden. The strawberries have *finally* started ripening, so we're picking the spoiled ones (a week of nonstop rain will do that to you) to feed to the chickens and she's begging for "Mo! Saw-bee! Pick! Eat! Yummy!!!" Of course we're all pushovers, so she's probably eaten more than the rest of the family combined.
We had our first CSA pickup on Saturday - I was frustrated that the strawberries & sugar snap peas weren't ready (two extra weeks of cold weather threw everything off) so everyone got a sourdough baguette in their bag, along with tons of lettuce, some kale, herbs galore, and lamb's quarters (which, okay, are weeds, but they taste like spinach and are INCREDIBLY good for you! We made pesto out of ours and it was so yummy!). The kids were all *so* excited to bundle the herbs for me and pack the bags. Like, legitimately helpful! We've turned a corner, I hope.
Last week we went to a May Crowning party hosted by a sweet friend - the kids were SO EXCITED to be able to "shop the yard" and make beautiful bouquets for Mary. We had lilies, irises, buttercups, sage, thyme, lemon balm, and probably other things I'm forgetting! Then when it came time to process & crown Mary, Peter screamed "NOOOOO DO NOT SING!" through every verse of "Hail Holy Queen Enthroned Above" so I think when we do our May Crowning at home it might be to be a silent procession? First we'll need to move the chicken tractor out of the way, though...
The humidity is terrible here, just like every summer. But Edith's curls? Make it all worth it. I'm just wrapping a scarf around my head to hide the horns flyaways give me... But maybe I need to chop off all my hair and go super-short like the baby? Although then I'd probably just have an afro.
We live in a 3-bedroom house. With 6 kids. It should probably feel tighter than it is, and it actually *does* start to feel pretty tight during the winter when I can't get the kids outside as often as I'd like. But people have asked how we make it work, so here's how! --1--
Our bedrooms are all upstairs (+ one bathroom + storage room), so I mostly don't have to worry about kids thundering past the door when the baby's napping.
Edith naps in our room in a pack n play and we just moved her into the boys' room at night (which was amazing because now she's sleeping through the night! Only took 17 months...). The boys have an IKEA bunk bed and Edith has a mattress on the floor. Then the other three girls share a room, and eventually (when they're not so ridiculously loud when going to sleep at night) Edith will be moved into their room, so we'll have two sets of bunk beds in there.
The kids spend a LOT of time outside.
I mean, a LOT. It's pretty contingent on good weather, because I still haven't figured out how to get them to stay out for hours when it's sub-freezing or raining or anything. But during spring? They're out there before breakfast a lot of the time, always outside after breakfast, (school goes in here but we're almost done for the year) mandatory "outside time" goes from about 12-1:30 (when the baby's napping and I sit inside eating chocolate and drinking Aldi sparkling water), and then I'm usually out there with them until 4 or so.
At 4 pm we do a clean sweep of the entire downstairs (living room, dining room, Grandma washes dishes in the kitchen and I try to get that floor swept also), and the kids go to Grandma's while I make dinner. Then after dinner they're outside again until bedtime, and bedtime gets moved later and later during the summer because... If they're out there leaving us alone, we let them stay up a lot later.
"Outside time" really does seem like a lovely thing for me, doesn't it? Unfortunately we're still working on the whole "you must stay outside for all of outside time or else I'll lock the doors" and I spend a lot of time refereeing fights, helping Peter with the inevitable potty emergency, refereeing more fights, and dealing with children who want to come inside early (because it's where I am). Generally wherever I am, they want to be. But I do much better with a little bit of a break from the constant neediness so... They'll learn eventually, but it always takes a while to get them back into good habits with the changing seasons and changing routines.
Speaking of Edith sleeping through the night, a lot of people have asked how we did it. Which always makes me chuckle because guys, she's 17 months old, it's not like she's 6 weeks old and sleeping through the night! Normally we move kids out of our room around 15 months (twins moved earlier) because I'm usually pregnant at that point, although this time I'm not. Then within a few nights of being in their own room, they're usually sleeping through the night on their own because Andrew goes to them if they wake up, and once they realize they're not getting milk, they decide it's not worth the trouble of waking up.
SO! Mattress on the floor. Dad's in charge. And we waited way too long. It's not exactly a parenting book's worth of advice... But I will say one thing, we always psych ourselves out and think it'll be horrible and that it's way easier just to keep the baby in our room and not risk waking the other kids up. But the fact is, the other kids sleep like the dead and nothing could wake them up. And it's always SO MUCH BETTER to have our own bedroom back.
So if you're on the fence? Just move that baby out of your room!
I mentioned above that we're almost done with school - we have four books to finish up, and John Paul and Cecilia both want to read multiple chapters a day so that we don't have to drag things out any longer. I'm SO ready to be done! A few days ago they both happened to take tests for their math chapters that they had just finished, and I asked if they'd like to begin a new chapter or just be done with math for the year. You'll be SHOCKED to hear that they both voted to be done with math for the year. Then yesterday John Paul found the portable DVD player and they all sat like zombies in front of the tiny screen, watching the next math lesson for John Paul's book. This is what happens when you don't give your kids much screen time. Anyway, I decided I should probably give John Paul a standardized test to cap off his year, so I let him do the CAT test, knowing that he's weird like Andrew and me and would probably LOVE it (everybody in my family and Andrew's family loves standardized tests. It's just how our brains work).
And he adored it. He didn't want to take ANY breaks, but I finally convinced him to stop for lunch. So even with a lunch break, he blew through the whole thing in an hour (I think it's supposed to take 2? But I've always been a fast test taker, so that seems reasonable to me), then danced around waiting for his scores, saying, "I hope I pass, I really hope I pass!!!"
You'll be shocked to hear that he passed. We have plenty of parenting challenges with these crazy (CRAZY) kids, but at least standardized tests will probably not be something we ever struggle with?
I was going to get back going on the MUTU system during Lent, then made it a few weeks and ran out of steam because of some extra work I was doing... But y'all, they redid the system and the videos are really lovely! I always very much preferred that Wendy, the trainer, has a British accent and doesn't yell at you like in a lot of other videos. And now they've got ladies doing the exercises who are a wide range of sizes, which is a nice touch! Plus pregnancy modifications, too.
All that to say, the system is on sale this weekend! It's the first sale they've had since they revamped everything, and you can get 20% off with the code MOMS20 - here's my affiliate link if you'd like to send an extra commission my way! You know I wouldn't recommend this if I didn't think it was legitimately awesome, and it's made such a huge difference for me. You can read my full review here. If it's too long to click through, I'll give you a quick recap:
- My chronic back pain was eliminated after just a few weeks doing the MUTU exercises - My belly was visibly flatter and firmer (it'll never be totally flat, and I'm okay with that) - My diastasis recti closed up after about 8 weeks (you can do the program even if you don't have DR! It'll help you no matter what) - I no longer needed to grab the handles inside our monster van to haul myself up - I can squat to weed in the garden without killing my knees, because I actually know how to squat properly now
Without the sale, the price is comparable to other systems (which I can't vouch for, but I think they're all pretty similar and get good reviews?), but with the sale you get a pretty darned good deal, IMO. Here's my link again!
(FYI the code doesn't apply to the kit bag - you can buy all those things on Amazon for about what they'll cost you from MUTU, but you can get them all for $27 through MUTU if you buy at the same time as you purchase the program, which might be easier than putting a kit bag together yourself)
I'm headed to see Jennifer Fulwiler speak tonight! She's the one who originated this linkup, so it feels appropriate to post a 7 Quick Takes post on the day that I meet someone I've been internet friends with for years!
I noticed the dogwood trees had started blooming in town, so I packed the kids up and we headed to our local arboretum, where there's a gorgeous lane full of dogwood trees, lined with rock walls on either side. It's GORGEOUS but I was sad there weren't any pink dogwoods blooming! Maybe they all died? I know that's a common issue with dogwoods, and it's pretty sad.
First we had to head over to the little picnic area, because they like to pretend that the giant yew trees are their houses. It was so sweet, Edith could actually "climb" these on her own, and she LOVED it! There were a few older women leaving, and they remarked about how amazing it was that the kids came to the arboretum and immediately started playing in the trees! They said it looked like they were having a great childhood, which definitely boosted my confidence. We get VERY different reactions to our family size out here in the country versus when we lived in the suburbs closer to DC!
Then we walked down the dogwood lane, Peter whining all the way, and Edith yanking on my hair from her position in the carrier. It was magical, as you can see. And no, I didn't really get any good pictures. But we had fun!
We headed over to the pollinator garden to see what was blooming and to ogle the gorgeous irises - they have a TON of different varieties and everyone had a different favorite. Irises are my favorite flower! And the twins were especially enchanted by the bleeding hearts.
After we walked down the dogwood lane, we went to sit in the grass in the little amphitheater and the kids decided to put on an impromptu play. It. Was. Amazing. John Paul marched out on the stage and started out lamenting, "Alas! Alas... My love... Has... Gone away... And deserted me..." Then Cecilia was his scornful lover, and in the middle of a very tense scene the twins entered the stage as...
You wish you had been there.
The play went on for QUITE some time, and I finally had to call it over because I was tired of sitting in the sun watching them not really do anything because there was really no plot (except, apparently, for the penguins).
Edith is really getting astonishingly big. She kept wanting to walk on her own (and keeping up with us!), pick up rocks, dig in the dirt... She spent a while in the head garden just entertaining herself by picking up rocks and putting them on the wall. I'm still calling her a baby though, and you're not allowed to correct me!
Hooray, it's finally spring! The apple blossoms are showing off, the cherry blossoms are glorious, the peach trees have little baby peaches starting to form, and the strawberries are starting to form their little fruits, too!
Everybody decided they wanted to eat lunch outside, which lasted approximately five minutes before they decided it was "too windy" and then retreated indoors. Now this week it's apparently too hot already. It takes a little while to get used to the new heat, but we'll be reveling in it soon. I do wish we had gotten a few mild days while the fruit trees were in full bloom for them to get to lie under them with petals raining down on their faces but... There's only so magical a childhood really needs to be, right?
The girls and Peter have been keeping me supplied with a steady stream of bouquets on the dining room table. My favorite is the one at the top - bluets, violets, buttercups, and ground ivy. How sweet is that? Right now we've got lilacs, azaleas, apple blossoms, cherry blossoms, and buttercups on the table. I love that we'll have centerpieces from our yard until October or November!
Growing up, my mom always HATED Mother's Day. She thought it was ridiculous and over-commercialized, so we were instructed to abhor it and ignore it. Then there was the year she changed her mind without telling us, and got really angry that we didn't get her anything... Whoops?
You've probably got a lot of mothers in your life to think about - your mother, your children's godmothers, aunts or close friends who are like mothers to you/your children, maybe you're even in charge of buying yourself a Mother's Day gift (no shame, some of us would rather shop for ourselves and let our husbands know how thoughtful they were). If you're looking for ideas, here's a wide variety to inspire you! Some are Amazon-prime-able, some are from my favorite artisan friends who are so blessed by your support when you purchase from their small shops, and (if you order now) all should arrive in time for Mother's Day gifting!
Affiliate links below:
For the woman in need of spiritual nourishment:
Ponder and Ponder for Kids would be a fabulous way to encourage a family devotion to the rosary - pair both books with a pretty rosary and some nice journaling pens. Add a beeswax candle from Salem Studio or one of her sweet rosary cases for a beautiful gift bundle! You can find some beautiful rosaries at the following shops:
Delphina Rose Art coloring pages are beautifully-detailed and can be printed again and again! ($2 off $10+ with code MAYQUEEN through May 31st!) Download a few & have your children color and gift them, color them yourself, or give a coloring care package with coloring pages and beautiful pencils to accompany them. (These are our favorite pencils, the hues are incredibly rich)
If you know someone who loves to journal, these journaling stamps from Arma Dei would make a great addition to her routine!
The stickers, stamps, and totes from Look to Him Be Radiant would also be great for the creative woman you know. For the woman who loves to accessorize:
The weather's starting to warm up in Virginia, but many days it's still cool enough for a light scarf - these floral prints are so fresh and lovely!
Check your local garden center and see what's blooming! Flowers that can be planted after they're done blooming indoors are perfect, especially if they'll come back year after year. A gorgeous flowering tree (that you plant FOR her) will remind her of you every year.
Grab a raised bed kit and a few bags of top soil (or some lumber to build one yourself) and make her a kitchen herb garden or a perennial flower garden! Sage, oregano, lavender, and thyme should all come back year after year. Add some basil seeds & zinnias and marigolds to attract pollinators, and you're off to a good start. For the foodie woman:
Maybe I'm the only one, but can anyone ever have TOO many mixing/serving bowls? Most of mine have met an untimely end in the past 10 years of marriage, and I'm due for a new set... I love this set!
The unique cookie cutters from Salem Studio are really fun to work with, and she's got a couple cool linen towels for the kitchen as well!
I wouldn't complain if somebody got me fancy coffee. Know any coffee lovers who won't treat themselves, but would totally appreciate something nice?
For the gallery wall-loving woman:
Find a print or two that she'll love and frame them (I can't tell you how many prints I have sitting, waiting to be framed, that I still haven't hung!), and gift them!
Some good shops to try for prints:
Rakstar Designs (10% off $15+ with code BLOGFORMOM10 - order by this weekend for Mother's Day delivery)
Sweet Little Ones (20% off printables, excluding customs, use code CATHOLIC20 after May 6) - Jessica just started offering physical prints, so if you've been eyeing her shop but don't have a decent printer, now you can get some of her lovely prints in the mail!
Last year I said our Silver Wyandotte rooster, Handsome, was destined for the stew pot. Well, he's still here. He's just... So handsome! And not a nuisance like our other horrible rooster (named Darth Maul because of his creepy red eyes). We all get a kick out of watching Handsome strut around his territory, interrupting Darth Maul every time he tries to crow.
Andrew dug a ton of trenches for the potatoes we planted last weekend, unearthing tons of stones that I convinced the kids to carry to the Mary Garden to use for edging. Free! Fun! Industrious, and kept them busy for approximately 10 minutes! Edith watching, pigtails sticking straight out, and mostly didn't throw Play Doh debris into the garden, so we'll call that a win.
So far we have daffodils, tulips, and anemones blooming, a new peony just starting to put out buds, lilies getting buds, and lemon balm and painted daisies coming back from last year. Peter planted a whole bunch of calendula seeds that seem to be coming up as well, so I think it'll be pretty full of flowers as the season progresses!
I was hugely pregnant, trapped in an MRI machine while they scanned our baby to see if the large mass in her lung was life-threatening or not. The "calming" ocean sounds they piped in through the ear buds didn't do a thing to mask the loud beeps & clunks emanating from the machine. I'm not generally claustrophobic, but being stuck in such a small space certainly made me feel like it.
I closed my eyes and tried to hold still, joints screaming, bones aching, willing the jumpy, fidgety baby in my womb to hold still, just for a few seconds.
It didn't work. They scanned and rescanned, and I ended up in there for an hour and a half. I'd been feeling spiritually numb, dry, just generally on pause since that first ultrasound when we found out something was wrong. I spent much of that second half of pregnancy curled up in the fetal position, trying not to think about all the what ifs. But forced to lie in stillness for that long test, all I could do was pray. Even though I'd been avoiding it.
Anything concrete just made me cry, and I felt a little whisper that the rosary might be safe, might help me focus my thoughts & pass the time without my prayer turning into "please God don't let my baby die."
Our Lady would have some consolation, surely. So I prayed. Even though I had never really felt like I was "holy enough" to pray the rosary. I mixed up the Apostles' Creed with the Nicene. I couldn't remember which mysteries went with which day. I finished five decades and began another round still stuck in the machine.
It wasn't until the following Lent that I finally convinced myself it was stupid to keep pretending I didn't have time to pray the rosary. I had excuse after excuse, none of them good ones. So I took it up as a daily habit, and my spiritual life improved dramatically. Prayer begets prayer, and convincing yourself that you don't have time for it, or that you're not "holy enough" is just the evil one seeping insidiously into your thoughts. You have time. You'll get holier.
May is the month of Mary. Will you honor Our Lady by taking up this devotion? There are plenty of free resources available, but I think you'll really enjoy Ponder (less than $20 on Amazon now! That's my affiliate link). I've read it and reread it during the hours I spent editing, and now every time I pray the rosary I find myself thinking about the different reflections from our writers. The study begins on Mother's Day, and would make a great gift for the mothers and godmothers in your life! Or as a gift for yourself, in honor of Mary ❤
It's Good Shepherd Sunday, and by an accident of circumstances we ended up going to a different Mass than usual, and I'm glad we did! Today especially we pray for vocations, and Father discussed what that really means in his homily, which echoed a lot of the sentiments I feel when it comes to my children and their vocations.
I went about it all wrong at first, I think. Our oldest has always had a keen interest in the liturgy, and started "playing" Mass at a very young age. We encouraged this, talking about how he would be a priest when he grew up, and maybe even a bishop! Or a pope! I hated when he got older and expressed a desire to get married... My little priest! By golly, we're a Good Catholic Family and we're going to show it by having THE MOST VOCATIONS TO THE RELIGIOUS LIFE!!!
That's not the point of vocations.
Growing up, it was always assumed we would all get married. There was absolutely no talk of the possibility of a vocation to the religious life. Even though my mother and father had planned to enter the religious life before they met each other (as an Episcopal priest and a monk, respectively), they never suggested to any of us children that we might have a vocation to the religious life. So I suppose I felt like I should take that in the opposite direction, and talk all the talk about vocations to the religious life! And how great that would be! And how that's the BEST vocation!
Ha. Well, it's a good thing I figured it out before my kids were too old to be permanently scarred by their mother's obsessive religious fervor.
Because the point isn't to pray that God calls all our children to the religious life, in order to prove just how holy we (the parents) are, and how we raised them right!!! Nope. The point is for us to be praying that our children follow their vocation, whatever it may be.
Maybe they'll be called to the religious life. Maybe they'll be called to marriage. Maybe they'll be called to remain single and celibate, but not as members of a religious community (Father rightly pointed out that this is probably the hardest way to live, since there's neither close family not religious community for extra support in this case). But none of these is the absolute best vocation. Because if there were one "right" vocation, wouldn't we all be called to it?
Oh wait! We are! We're all called to be saints.To live our lives following Christ so that we may ultimately join Him in Heaven. And how we follow Him looks different for all of us, doesn't it?
So now instead of cheerfully encouraging all of my children to pursue a vocation to the religious life, whether that's what God's calling them to or not, I've calmed down. We talk about discernment. About the different ways of living out God's will.
Right now I have two children who say they feel called to married life, one who would like to be a sister, one who would like to be a priest (so he can talk at Mass, he says), one who would like to work in a variety of careers and never marry or have children, and one who mostly just wants to eat pretzels and pick flowers (she's 16 months old, she's got time). We talk about how they might feel drawn to one occupation or vocation right now, and how that might change as they get older. And that's okay.
They don't need to label themselves from an early age. But they do need to pray and ask God to help make their vocation clear. And to pray for the courage to follow Him, even when following Him looks ridiculous to the rest of the world.
We do like to encourage our children to educate themselves about different vocations to the religious life. Frequent exposure to religious communities is best, but if you don't have any near you or it's too hard to get to them, here are some resources we like (affiliate links): Mass Kit & Magnetic Church Set - for explaining the different vessels & the anatomy of the church building. And for playing Mass, for those kids who like to do that.
Saint Blocksfrom Almond Rod Toys always spark good conversations about different saints and their stories. Lindsey also sells an affordable wooden mass kit.
Peg doll saints & religious are always fun to watch them play with too. We have a set of nuns from The Fig and Thimble that the girls especially LOVE to play with! They talk about the different orders and habits and it's adorable. Our peg dolls from Punch and Judy Pegs are probably my favorite though, solely based on the style.
We read a lot of books about saints! Ethel Pochocki's Once Upon a Time Saints is a favorite series, and this Saints book is an absolute gem - sacred art, a saint for each day, brief biographies (St. Agatha is the most graphic depiction in the whole book, so if you're not okay with her martyrdom story you might want to skip this until the kids are older). Tomie dePaola has a lot of beautiful saint biographies (now is a really good time to buy them, there are lots of copies available of some of our favorite out-of-print ones like The Lady of Guadalupe, The Holy Twins, Saint Patrick, and Saint Francis) that we always love reading.
Last, this book has a TON of info on different saints, vocations, general questions about the faith. The kids love looking through it on their own, and it's really great to read together! How do you approach teaching about vocations with your children? Any good resources you can recommend to the rest of us?
Well, if it ever warms up, we'll be in the swing of things for garden season! People keep asking what we're planting this year, and I think it might be better for me to tell them what we *aren't* planting... We aren't planting: sweet potatoes, turnips, or kohlrabi. There are probably other things too, but not many!
I find gardening really fulfilling, and I think it's something anyone can do, even if you think you have a black thumb. Here are 7 reasons why:
--1-- It'll teach delayed gratification. It takes a long time for food to go from seed to table. So many of us are completely divorced from the process of raising our food all the way from the beginning, and it's really eye-opening to see that you need to start planning in February to eat a tomato in August!
--2-- It'll give you a greater appreciation for farmers. Sure, if the squash bugs kill your zucchini plants, you can head to the store and buy some. But somebody else had to raise those zucchini, and their livelihood depends on that produce making it to the store unharmed! If your garden's a total flop even after you put a ton of work into it, you'll absolutely be more grateful that there are people all over the place who can grow food without killing it, and that food is feeding you! And if your garden is a raging success, to the point where you're dropping bags of tomatoes on your neighbors' doorsteps, you'll feel a kinship with those professional farmers who might end up with tons of extra tomatoes that they probably shouldn't be dropping on anyone's doorsteps...
--3-- You'll be more in touch with the seasons.
Spring is great because the weather finally warms up, but spring is also great because strawberries are coming! And asparagus! Especially with fruit, we try to stick with things that are local and in season, because they just taste so. much. better. A warm strawberry straight off your strawberry plant is more delicious than anything else you've ever tasted; grocery store strawberries are a shadow of the glorious fresh strawberry you can grow in your garden. By the time you're sick of them, it's time to move on to blueberries, peaches, apples, and then you're so tired from canning/freezing/saucing all this abundance that you'll be yearning for the first frost so you can finally REST and eat all the delicious things you've grown.
--4-- Eden will seem even more attractive. I bet Adam and Eve didn't have to deal with powdery mildew on their pumpkin leaves. Their apple trees certainly didn't succumb to any fungus. Harlequin beetles absolutely didn't flock to their kale, leaving it studded with orange-and-black bugs. The tomatoes never cracked after an onslaught of moisture from a summer thunderstorm. ALL OUR PRODUCE WOULD BE PERFECT if it hadn't been for The Fall!!!
--5-- Dirt is good for you.
No really! There are all sorts of scientific studies that talk about the microorganisms and whatnot... It's good for your mental health to be out there digging in the dirt, it's good for you to be out in the sun (within reason),
Note that I say you can save money gardening. You can also spend a ridiculous amount of money. But let's say you started small, just a few pots of perennial herbs and a few flower seed packets from the Dollar Store. Those herbs will keep growing for years, and at maybe $4/pot, if you get TWO uses out of each herb plant, that'll cover the $2 you'd pay for a pack of fresh herbs at the grocery store. And you're bound to get a few decent bouquets out of any flowers you plant, plus you can save flower seeds for the following year. Cheap! Easy! Rewarding!
Once it warms up, every Saturday we're outside as a family all. day. long. Planting, weeding, digging, eating... We don't do sports, because Saturday games would totally mess with our Saturday gardening. And everybody loves pitching in and working together! Nothing beats watching your 5-year-old forage a bag full of edible weeds to eat as a snack during the week.
What do you think? Do you have better reasons? Are you going to give it a try? You can always start small! It even tastes better when you grow it yourself!
Awesome books about gardening (affiliate links below):
How Does My Garden Grow (seriously this one is SO lovely! We got it from the library and I promptly bought it, it's that good)