Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sunday morning comin' down

Seasons of life are funny things. Since my family straddles several right now (are we in the "growing family" category? The "parents of teens" camp? Midlife? All of the above?), we find ourselves finding our own norms and making our own rituals and rhythms as the old ones begin to feel stretched. One area where the expansion of our family has been most keenly felt, as of late, has been in our Sunday morning routine.

Our church offers three Sunday morning options: 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m., and 11:15 a.m. For years, we have bounced between the 9:30 and 11:15 options, never quite settling on one but instead letting the events of the morning (and menfolks' ushering schedule) dictate which service we'd be attending. We're early risers, but our love of big, celebratory weekend breakfasts, combined with more than a few small people to wrangle from pjs, to potty, and into acceptable church attire, meant that more often than not, it was 10:30 before we were walking out the door. That meant that Mani, Seven, and Reuven were unlikely to get their normal nap in. It also meant driving home with hungry children who had been up since 6:30 a.m. and were more likely to be whining than singing "Jesus Loves Me."

Fast forward to our arrival home. A frantic rush to pull together a suitable lunch. A crying baby just wanting to be nursed in a quiet spot. A frazzled Daddy halfheartedly assigning clean-up duties. Older kids wiped out and just wanting to find a book and a place where no one will ask them for anything.

And then, it's 3 p.m. A couple of hours, then it's dinner and bed. Where has the day gone? 

In the midst of one unhappy Sunday afternoon, Mr. Blandings turned to me and asked, "We do this again why?"

And I knew just what he meant. Not "Why do we go to church?" or "Why do we have all of these kids?" He was asking why we were doing the same thing, over and over every week ... when clearly, it worked for no one.

So we sat down and thought it over. Why hadn't we ever tried the 8 a.m. service, we wondered. Sure, it was early. But if we ate a light breakfast-- just enough to get by-- we could be out the door by 7:30 easily. Then we could come home and substitute a fabulous brunch for our normal elaborate breakfast. If all worked according to plan, we would still be able to work in naps, and maybe even a few hours of quiet family time that we'd all enjoy. Imagine that!

With a little trepidation, we tried it out. We're creatures of habit, we Blandings, so it felt odd at first. The 8 a.m. service has no childcare option, so we're still one of the only families attending with small children in tow. The difference at this service is that the general population is over 65 and somehow doesn't seem to mind the happy babble of babies nearly as much as people still in the active stages of parenting young kids. The music is a little quieter, the tone a bit more subdued. The first week, we hurried to shush Reuven the second he offered up his indignation at waiting for her early morning snack. Rather than being startled at the intrusion, nearly everyone who noticed (very few folks, it turns out) turned to smile and attempt to elicit the same from him.

In other words, we were very, very quickly more at ease in our church home of 10 years than we have ever been.

In addition to finding a beautiful niche for our family worship, we've also enjoyed the benefit of Sundays being relaxing. No, really. 

We chill out on Sundays now. 

A little pre-planning on Saturday nights (baths for everyone, everyone's church clothes laid out and ready, a simple breakfast of yogurt and fruit or granola and dried blueberries all set) and the morning goes off without any major snags.  

When we return home, Mr. Blandings pulls out board games with the littles. 

The bigs help me assemble brunch in the kitchen.

We all listen to music and sing.

Then we enjoy time around the table.



Bacon, fruit, egg dishes, whatever else sounds fun and festive.

And then we have the rest of the day. Enjoying one another. Being together. And celebrating all that's good on a Sunday.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Surrendering the master {big family, small house}

When people find out how many children are in our family, they tend to make one of two assumptions:

1. That we live in a sprawling house on property,
2. That we subscribe to the "stacked like cordwood" mentality and have people sleeping in closets and whatnot.

The answer, on both counts, is no.

The entire stateside Blandings clan lives in one 3 bedroom, 1500 sq ft (give or take) townhouse in your basic suburb. We have a 200(ish) sq ft backyard of our own (that opens onto a nearly 2 acre common area). We converted our garage into play space, school storage, and a pantry. And we make do.

We live here because God wants us here. Because we can afford it. And, in all honesty, because we bought this place when we were a family of 5 and it seemed like we were done.

We make do by keeping "stuff" to a minimum, aligning our priorities with our family vision, and by being very, very patient with one another. That patient part? It's usually the most important.

The biggest shock, for most people, comes when they find out that years ago, Mr. Blandings and I moved out of the master bedroom. Doing the math, it just made sense. Four boys or 2 adults? Hmmmm .... I think the four boys rate the space, don't you?

This isn't a revolutionary idea in large family circles, but seems to be rare to the point of absurd to most folks. You gave up your master bedroom? The one with the private bathroom? The one with the big walk-in closet?

Yeah. I did.

So, to satisfy the curious, here's how it looks in our house. These photos were taken on a random day to most accurately reflect the situation. Please note that there is no sweet and wonderful theme to this room. We opted instead to let each boy personalize his own little space on a blank backdrop. Note also that the only real "toys" in this room are the little guys' Lincoln Logs and trains. So while there's a book shelf full to bursting that ends up scattering its contents from time to time, the room is rarely more than five minutes away from being what passes for clean. I've done this on purpose-- it's that whole "keeping stuff to a minimum" that I talked about earlier, as well as the benefit of that garage play space.

This is the view from the bedroom door. You'll probably recognize the big set of shelves from Ikea. They hold special treasures, library books, and things that teens and pre-teens don't want their younger brothers to have. Securing that shelf to the wall beside it was one of the hardest home improvement projects ever, BUT ... the end result is that I can scale it and it won't even think of tipping. Worth the hours of frustration. 

The sides of the room are divided by personality, for sanity's sake. This side belongs to Logan (top bunk) and Oli (bottom bunk). Both of them tend to be a little more on the random, messy side ... so it's for the best that they deal with one another. The wall hooks you see under the windows are for backpacks, clothes to be put back on, belts ... whatever shouldn't be on the floor. Logan's only piece of permanent "collection" is the Pooh Bear print given to him by Benny years ago. He adores it. Right now, he also has Atticus' Moon In Your Room light (also a gift from Benny) and a whole lot of flight school stuff. Oli has wall stickers that glow in the dark. He tells them good night each and every evening.

This side belongs to Atticus (top) and Mani (bottom). As you can tell, Mani is a stickler for making his bed. And Atticus decorates with mementos of his achievements, as well as a Nepali silkscreen of Jesus given to him by Bee. Those small square windows serve as night stands, of sorts, to the older boys, allowing them to keep things nearby in the night. And that stained glass window is mine, y'all. I just don't have anywhere else to put it and it makes my heart sing when I drive up to the house and see it, so it stays there.

Behind the Ikea shelf is a small area for reading. It's also where the plastic bins of trains and Lincoln Logs are stored. Those bins will be replaced with large baskets as soon as we can find large enough options for a decent price at our favorite thrift shops. And see? I told you the place was anything but perfect. That bookshelf is embarrassing.

This shot gives you a better idea of the size of the reading area. The trains and Lincoln Logs usually don't get played with over here; they prefer the larger area under the windows. However, Atticus loves to drag his pillow down from his bed and stretch out in this spot to hang out.

Looking in the closet. Those small dressers belong to Oli and Mani, and area labelled with photos to help them keep their clothes in order. You can't see the large area to the right, which holds a small table (to be pulled out when needed for play) and Atticus' hanging clothes. Those are Logan's above the dressers.

And, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that this is also, clearly, the armory. Check the lightsaber collection!

The view from the wall with the small windows. That armoire holds Atticus and Logan's folded items. It belonged to Mr. Blanding's parents, and so is a treasured piece of family history. The door to the right of the armoire is the master bathroom, which is kept heavily childproofed (and has a childproof handle) to keep Oli safe.

So there you have it. Four boys. One room. And still enough space that no one minds sharing. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

MG's Taste of Summer Muffins

I know I'm back, per se, from my new baby honeymoon, when I'm ready to start tinkering in the kitchen again. This recipe was the result of a napping baby, a sunny afternoon of outdoor play for everyone aged 2 and up, and the very last jar of last year's home-canned peaches smiling at me from the pantry shelf. They combine some of my favorite summer flavors in one not-too-heavy-but-still-moist-and-yummy muffin. Atticus wolfed down five at 6:15 this morning, so they must pass muster.

MG's Taste of Summer Muffins
1/2  quart canned peaches, drained & diced
3 1/2 cups flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup applesauce
1 cup sugar
2 whole eggs
2 egg whites
2 TBS. coconut oil
2 TBS. vegetable oil
1/2 cup whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare muffin cups with spray or paper liners.

2. In mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt.

3. In a separate bowl, combine applesauce, sugar, whole eggs, egg whites, and oils.

4. Stir applesauce mixture into flour mixture, alternating with milk. Mix until moistened, then slowly add diced peaches.

5. Spoon into muffin cups. Bake 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven & cool on wire rack, 

Makes 24 muffins.

Sunday, June 23, 2013


With each of my children, the time they have spent in our bed and, later, in a crib, has gotten longer and longer. Jo was ushered into a toddler bed at just 16 months old-- a combination of her Hudini escape abilities, the unforgiving nature of our ancient hardwood floor, and my desire to see her easing into the sweet little bed I'd been gifted by my cousin. The following children followed a similar trend, with a few months tacked on each season. Truth is, I just appreciate the sweet baby days now more than I did  in my early days of mothering. Yes-- there is so much goodness coming as the milestones are reached ... but, oh ... how precious are these moments here, now

As a result, Mani was two and a half when he graduated from the same crib each of his siblings has occupied straight to a big boy bunk. And Seven? Well ...

Seven is three months shy of her third birthday. And she's been pottying like a big girl for a year now. So, really, it was time.

Working together, Mr. Blandings, Atticus, and Logan made this bed. Part school project, part needed thing ... homeschool happiness!

With life being what it is right now, it took forever to get the project to completion. But finally, it was ready. I took Seven and Reuven to the library so that it could have its final assembly in secret. We returned home to the grand unveiling.

Funny how Seven didn't even notice that her beloved crib was in pieces and sitting in the hallway. Or that the animals she likes to enjoy rest time with were scattered on the floor. (Big no-no in her world!) Instead, she made a beeline for that girly white, four postered little bed.

The menfolk were rewarded with a, shall we say, exuberant reception. Atticus even recorded it for posterity's sake. He is a sucker for that baby sister, I tell you.

After noting that her special elephant quilt from Nepal was neatly folded atop her new bed, Seven showed us how big girls get into bed without being lifted.

Then Dolly-Baby joined her and, of course, she hasn't looked back. Because while I wasn't quite ready to admit that she's not a babybaby anymore, she most certainly is. She's happily transitioned to her new bed without a hitch. 

Another milestone. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Handy ManCub

Mr. Blandings has been a little, you know ... busy ... lately. What with the job searching and all. ((sigh))

The good news is that a six month temporary position has been opened for him. Six months' grace. A six month reprieve we hadn't even dared to ask for.

See? God is good!

Anyhow, the job search continues and continues and continues.

And meanwhile, life here must go on.

Things must maintain some semblance of normal for all of us, lest we fall into the swirling pit of doubts and limbo that we've been so good at avoiding during the upheaval of the past few years. Books must be read. Music must be made. Forts must be built. Meals must be cooked. 

We do a pretty good job of keeping the pie plates spinning. That's one thing that large family living will teach you-- having balls in the air is just what you do, even on the boring days. 

Lately, though, Mr. Blandings has found it more and more difficult to keep up with the additional bits that fall into his to-do pile. He has had a harder time managing interviews and phone calls and say, stringing chicken wire around the garden. Something has had to give. 

And since none of us can play Mr. Blandings (even on the phone), it's those others-- the things he'd actually rather be doing-- that have fallen into the hands of someone else. 

Capable hands, it turns out. Atticus-- already having emerged from a baptism by fire during my bed rest-- is filling in these days as the mender of gates, the getter of high items, the assembler of IKEA dressers.

Part of me wants to slump my shoulders and ask God why. Why, Lord, after the tough season we've just endured? Why is this poor kid now stuck helping out so often again? Most boys his age are spending their time in organized activities and enjoying hours of guy time. Why is my boy having to spend more time as the man and less as the cub?

Just when I purpose to do those things myself, to make sure he never has to do another "project" for us, I hear this, from my son's own mouth:

"I'm so glad I get to do this stuff. You guys really trust me. Thanks for letting me do cool things like this all by myself."

And I sigh. And I thank God. Because the thing I thought was the distraction is the point. And the thing I thought was the punishment is the lesson.

When will I ever learn?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

There is blessing here

I love summer in the Pacific Northwest. It's not too hot, not too dry, and not too long. None of those things appeal to me, and I'm woman enough to admit it. Daytime highs of 70 degrees are perfect. Afternoons interrupted by showers are lovely. And six weeks is plenty.

Go ahead and throw eggs at me, but summer is my least favorite season. I prefer autumn, winter, and spring. In that order.

BUT ...

I love my garden.

I love watching things grow.

I love time outside, tending our postage stamp-sized urban plot of bliss.

I love bouquets from my children.

I love lunches carried outside to be eaten in the grass, with my boys' sandals abandoned beside me for an al fresco soccer match ...

... and a pink-cheeked toddler who is not, not, NOT tired napping on my skirt.

Which I why I don't fight summer too much. Because, like all seasons, there is blessing here.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Be that voice

One of my biggest convictions regarding the raising of my daughters has been that I do not want them stepping into domestic life as woefully unprepared as I was. Despite having spent my early childhood at my Mamaw's knee, learning how to cook and clean and bake and can and sew and do all those homey things, my teen years were spent in far more (ahem) practical pursuits. Like studying for SATs. And school clubs. And getting a part-time job.

None of which I regret or would seek to deny anyone, by the way. Just not ... well, applicable to the life I find myself living.

Despite my grandmother's best efforts, I still made spaghetti (with jarred sauce) for dinner for my new husband 4 nights out of 7 for the first year of our marriage. I still threw away my husband's shirts when they got holes in the armpits. I still looked at my hours-old daughter and wondered how in the heck I was supposed to wrangle her into a new diaper.

I was too embarrassed to ask for much advice in those first early years; I was terrified that my Mamaw would either roll her eyes at me or tell me what a disappointment I was to her. When I finally caved and begged for advice, her reaction was anything but what I had expected. On the contrary, she was delighted to be called on to share sprinklings of her wisdom. Having had no daughters of her own, and not feeling needed by her daughters-in-law, Mamaw had assumed that her chance to mentor a young wife had all but passed her by. My questions about defrosting chicken, nursing babies, soothing bug bites, and cloth diapering gave her a new lease on her own worth.

The circle was complete. She was passing on wisdom, just like God had designed her to do.

Many (most?) of us homemaking/homeschooling wives and mothers nowadays find ourselves treading new waters. Trained by society for careers in the professional world, we struggle with the daily laundry duties, the constant to-do list of running a home, the ongoing nature of that blasted meal planning. Unable to keep up, we rush to latch on to the newest ebook touting 100 Ways to Keep Your House in Order. We haunt websites that offer day-by-day cleaning plans. We create pinterest boards dedicated to organization, tips, and household stuff. 

And all the while, we lament that there is no one there--no wise woman in the wings-- willing to step in and fill that Titus 2: 3-5 role in our lives. 

And you know ... for most of us, there isn't.

For most of us, books and websites and blogs and a few friends walking in our same season-- that's as good as it gets.

So we acknowledge it, and maybe even mourn it a little. We feel somewhat cheated. But we carry on, and we make darn sure that our daughters--our young women-- they will not suffer the same way. They will know how to make a cake without a mix, how to fold those pesky fitted sheets, what to do when a skirt's hem is two inches two long. They will be ready. And if they're not-- well, we're only a phone call away.

Which is a very good, very worthy thing. 

But ...

What about the small, quiet army of new moms today?

What about your sweet neighbor who just outlined her perfectly reasonable plan to go back to work when her baby is four weeks old?

What about your new sister-in-law, who can't cook a lick, bless her heart?

What about the mom at the playground lamenting that her new baby won't sleep more than an hour at a time?

What about the lady at the library who admits she's at her wit's end trying to keep the place clean?

What about that couple at church? That lovely lady is clearly having a hard time balancing the new role of wife.

What about the woman in the grocery store staring at all fifty varieties of jarred mashed bananas and looking overwhelmed?

What about the newbie homeschooler you just met, who says she's pretty burned out already?

What if you could very gracefully, very gently, without an ounce of condemnation or implied authority, what if YOU could be the voice that somehow speaks into the heart of that woman?

What if you were the one who could teach another woman how to do more than just survive the crazy chaos that is the blessing of being a wife and mom? What if part of your role here, now, in this season, is to be a mentor to the women God places in your path?

If you're saying you have nothing to offer, you're wrong. If you've survived a year of marriage, a month of parenting, a week of homeschooling, well-- you've got a little time served under your belt. You know something. You have some hands-on learning. You can encourage, even if you can't directly help.

Salvaging burnt rice? Can do. Avoiding diaper rash? Yep. Taming two year-old tantrums? I've got some tips. Lining up your own libido with your husband's?  Let's talk.

Ladies, take a second to be that voice. Even if you can't fully take a younger woman under your wing, go out of your way to share what you have learned on your journey. There is no shortage of Titus 2 women available to teach, I believe ... just a whole generation of women who have yet to realize that they can fill the job description.

Monday, June 3, 2013


Mani is five years old today.


In our house, that always feels like a big step into a bigger world. Five year-olds seems to get it, if you know what I mean. Their eyes are opening to the realities of life-- both harsh and beautiful. They step on a beetle accidentally and mourn its death. They break a dish and realize that it may not repairable. They get that every Monday is music lesson day for the big kids, and can look forward to the little guy-focused game time that ensues without being reminded that it's coming. They feel the rhythm of the house and respond to the temperature thereof. They ask questions of an abstract nature, and begin to understand the grey answers in what was once a black and white world.

Some of Mani's realities are more stark than the ones my previous five year-olds have had to face. He's already delved into the truth that he grew in another mommy's tummy. He's already grasping that he rode in an ambulance when he was a tiny baby-- "Smaller than Reuven, even!" He can already report that police men took care of him for a while, and that social workers knew him before Momma and Daddy did.


Vibrant, vocal, curious, bold. Manolin enchants each of us, daily, with the hunger for life that he exudes even in his most agonizing moments. Mani is a fighter. We see evidence of this every time that he sets his face against our wishes, or determines that he is big enough, by golly. Mani will grit his teeth, dig in, and thrash far longer and far harder than seems possible. When he relents, it is with either a calculated trust or a total exhaustion-- there is no in between. Thankfully, he chooses his battles quite carefully and rarely decides that something is so needful that he must, must, must hold on to it.

Which is good, because when Mani purposes otherwise, the world knows it. And this, dear friends, is not something I try to squelch. In truth, it is the very thing that kept him alive in the desperate days that followed his birth. A less passionate child, a weaker one ... well, those are the babies whose stories haunt you long after you set down the newspaper. Those are the cases where evil triumphs and there is simply no punishment here on earth that will satisfy the just.

But then ... there is Manolin. Strong. Alive. Thriving.

And five.