Saturday, February 6, 2016

About That Puppy Photo Shoot...

With 10 puppies in the house, I didn't have to think too hard about what I wanted to include in this month's blog header.  ;-)  Just so I'm never tempted to hang up my shingle as a pet photographer, here are some behind-the-scenes pictures of how that photo shoot really went.  ;-)

As soon as I hung up the sheet I wanted to use as a backdrop, Willow came over and got it dirty modeled for me.  Kind of her, wasn't it?  
Then Tobin sat down, and I quickly put all 10 puppies with him...and Willow, protective mom that she is, stuck her nose right in the middle of everything to make sure her babies were OK.  "Well, of course they're OK, Willow!  Don't you trust me?"
I coaxed her out the door with a treat, then quickly shut it and started snapping pictures.
Because I knew I only had a very short amount of time, I didn't take much time to fiddle around with camera settings; and because I wasn't getting crisp pictures without the flash, I ended up using it for a few photos--something I rarely do when photographing my kids--just to make sure I could get something that wasn't blurry.
Willow quickly devoured her treat and came back to the door, peering in at Tobin while he looked back at her.  "Not much longer, Willow!"
I tried to get some without the flash (faces look SO much better without it)...
...but too much motion made them blurry.
Still cute though.  :)
We finished up in a hurry and let Willow back in, simultaneously scooping up the puppies and putting them back in their box.  Before we could get to this one however...
...Willow did.  She nuzzled her close to her, and Redemptress got some alone time at the milk bar--a rarity indeed!
I'm taken more pictures of animals in the past two weeks than I have in the past 10 years. When these dear little puppies all depart for their next homes, I'm sticking to easier subjects to photograph--like a mug of hot tea!  ;-)

Friday, February 5, 2016

A Fine Friday Evening

After an afternoon spent with homeschooled friends at the local roller skating rink, we had a very important stop to make before we headed home for the night: our church building to see a baptism!
 As the evening sun streamed in the western windows, our young friend Ryan made a very big step...
 ...and we rejoiced!
 "...having been buried with him in baptism, in which you {Ryan} were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him {Jesus} from the dead!" - Colossians 2:12

Lessons of 2016 #1: Seeing My Children

A few days before the new year, I read a book that taught me a lesson--and then watched a movie that confirmed it.

For Christmas, Jeff had given me a book I asked for: The Plain Choice by Sherry Gore.  Sherry writes about her life and some of the difficulties she faced growing up as well as her eventual decision to join the Amish.  It's a very interesting book, but what stood out to me the most is that as a young person, she felt unseen by her family.  She made wrong choices at times just to get their attention because she felt so strongly that they just didn't see her.

"Aha," I thought. "It is so important that each of my children realizes that I see--really take notice of--him or her."

And then, on December 30, we were able to take a very fun trip to Pennsylvania to go to Sight & Sound Theater (which really deserves its own blog post); but on the way home, to pass the time on the long drive, we watched Cheaper by the Dozen, the version with Steve Martin.  There are a lot of positives about that movie and some negatives, too, of course; but again, what stood out to me is how one of the boys in the family felt unseen.  His dad even kept calling him the wrong name (I do that sometimes, and I only have six children, not twelve!).  I wanted to tell the parents in the movie, "Stop! Slow down! Really look at your son and SEE him!"

Well, wouldn't you know, I couldn't say anything to them that would change the movie.  ;-)  But I CAN change how I mother my children, and this principle has become, I believe, the first big lesson I've learned in 2016.

With having a larger than average family, I need to work a little harder to make sure that each of my children is seen...and what's more, that each of them FEELS seen.  I'm determined to do what I can to make sure that happens.

I was thinking about all of this on Wednesday of this week and decided to write down something about each of my kids that particularly stood out to me on that day.  Wanna see what I came up with?  :)

Josiah - It does something funny to a mother's heart when her son comes home from a shopping trip with his dad, carrying his first real suit.  At least, that's what happened to me on this day.  My first little boy is becoming a man; and now that he's getting ready to participate in a speech competition, he was required to have a suit to wear for that.  I was so grateful that Jeff wanted to be the one to go with him to shop for it--let's give a cheer for involved dads!  :)  Josiah has grown so much in ability and confidence during this past year, and his suit is just an outward sign of the maturation I see in his soul.

David - My second-born son has become very proficient with computers and various other forms of technology; and for his Google account, he wanted a picture of himself to replace the generic "D" icon that Google gave him.  He had asked me previously for help; but on this day, I actually felt like I had some spare time to devote to this (not that it really took that long, but some days it's hard to find even 30 seconds of "free" time!).  ;-)  "Here, David, come to the window and I'll take your picture and then show you how to use it for your Google account," I said to him.  So he did, and I did.
He was well-pleased with the new look of his Google icon, and I was am very well-pleased with this beloved (and, might I add, handsome!) son of mine!

Tobin - I walked into my room mid-morning on Wednesday and found Tobin curled up under the covers of my bed.  It's a cozy spot, for sure, but not one that he normally occupies at that time of day! ;-)  "Tobin, what's wrong?" I asked, slightly alarmed. "Are you not feeling well?"  He told me that he was alright but that he had gotten frustrated because Shav kept beating him in a computer game so rather than lashing out, he decided to go away and have some time alone.  What a wise thing to do!  It takes a great deal of maturity to know when one is in danger of losing control and deciding before that to disengage from the conflict.  I was so proud of how he handled that situation!

Shav - Not just on Wednesday but on many days recently I have noticed how Shav, although the youngest of the four big boys, is capable and determined and plucky enough to hang with his big brothers. They've been playing Ticket to Ride (and Jeff has played it with them some recently); and although Shav hasn't ever won that game, he knows how to play, enjoys playing, and almost always keeps a good attitude, even when he loses.  On Wednesday afternoon, he played Castle Risk with his big brothers; and he was the first one out.  But did he grumble and complain and pout?  He did not.  He gets high marks in my book for, not only knowing how to play these games that involve long-term planning and strategy and having the attention span to complete such a game, but also doing so for the enjoyment of participating with his big brothers...even if he doesn't win.  (And one of these days, he'll start winning!)

Moriah - I sat down on the couch Wednesday morning and told Moriah I could read to her if she would pick out some books, so she very happily did so and returned from the bookshelf with, among other things, three books from the Thomas the Tank Engine series.  If you're familiar with Thomas and the other trains, you'll know that they have faces that express different emotions; and Moriah, being very quick to pick up on the emotions around her, kept pointing to all the faces that looked sad or puzzled or scared or angry and asking, "Why is he sad?"  We would then talk about the reason for that expression--maybe the trees in the forest fell down because of the big wind, or maybe that particular train was being sent to have repairs done, or whatever the case may be--and then we'd go on to the next one, and again the question, "Why is he sad?"  But I was reminded of how good Moriah is at sensing emotions--and not only sensing them, but also wanting to know why a negative emotion is occurring so something can be done about it.  Even if it's just the "emotion" of a toy train.  :)

Benjamin -  Babies are funny.  Sometimes you think they're not doing much changing from day to day and they'll NEVER hit whatever particular milestone you're waiting on; and other times you feel like every time you blink, they do something different!  Well, one thing I've noticed about Benjamin recently is that he has learned to arch his back slightly when he knows I'm going to pick him up, anticipating the movement that his body will soon make.  If he's in the swing, for example, or the bouncy seat, and I lean over him; he gets his body going in motion, leaving room for my hands to slip behind his back when he arches it so I can pick him up more easily.  The fact that, at only four months of age, he knows me well enough to guess pretty accurately what I'm about to do and then physically anticipate that with his body is amazing and endearing.  :)

To all of my children, I have a message:  "I SEE YOU.  You are incredibly important to me; and I love to watch you, to study you, to notice what brings you joy and what brings you pain, what challenges you and what propels you to soar.  If you ever feel unseen, forgive me.  If you ever feel lost in the crowd of our familly, have patience with me.  You are each an amazing, unique creation; and every day we have together, my eyes will be on you.  You are precious to me!"

I hope, as I go on to other lessons this year, I won't forget this one.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Early Days of Little Fish #6

As these winter days go by, my thoughts turn to how life was one year ago for me.

Having found out that I was pregnant on January 6 of 2015, I was dealing with the first trimester issues that are common for me: heightened emotions, nausea (although mild and occasional as was normal for me, not severe and constant like some women have), fatigue (for example, the second wind that I usually get after I put all the kids to bed often abandoned me in those days and made me unable to stay up late to do anything productive at night), and physical growth (looking back, I sort of grin and shake my head as I remember how quickly my baby bump appeared).  :)

In those days, Jeff's protective nature bumped up a notch.  In fact, I jotted down a note that on January 16 of last year, he cautioned me to be careful when moving the couch (with him on it!) because of me being pregnant.  :)  

Back then, I was enjoying the song "I Get to Be the One" by JJ Heller as my little one grew inside me.  And I was already tentatively looking forward to the music I wanted to listen to during labor, remembering that I had made a list long before I was pregnant of some songs I wanted during that time: "To Whom It May Concern" by The Civil Wars, "The Greatness of Our God" by Hillsong, and "Still" by Hillsong.  As it turned out, when I really did make my labor playlist months later, two out of three of those songs were on it.  :)

In January and February, so close to the beginning of my pregnancy, I was already thinking ahead to the end of it and to the beginning of life with my new baby outside the womb; and I was planning how I wanted things to go.  I reminded myself, for example, that in the early days and weeks after the baby was born, I wanted to pump a lot when my milk was plentiful so that I could have a good supply stored in the freezer.  That particular resolution makes me laugh now because as it turns out, I have hardly pumped at all and I have exactly zero bottles of milk in the freezer!  The only times I've pumped, as a matter of fact, have been in preparation for the handful of times that I've been away from my baby--either on a date with Jeff or at a concert or some such outing.  In those cases, as the date has approached, I've had to scramble to pump a bottle and have it ready for the babysitter (or for Jeff, on the odd occasion that it was just me going away from home).  So much for making extensive preparations in advance!  It was a good idea; but this time around, I have savored the time spent nursing my baby more than ever before and haven't felt the need to be freed, so to speak, from the bondage of breastfeeding.  It's a privilege, not something that enslaves me.  :)

More than anything else, however, when I think back to life a year ago, I remember how unreal it all felt.  Despite the positive pregnancy tests, despite the first trimester symptoms I was feeling, despite the tightening of my waist in my regular clothes, I still felt quite a bit of doubt and anxiety.  I had longed for a baby for so long, but knowing that one was on the way didn't instantly release my heart to bond with my new child and to leap for joy as I soared over mountaintops.  It just felt so...well...unreal.

But now...
Look at this boy.  He is so delightfully big and solid and REAL.
The beginning of a pregnancy is a time of such intense hope and joy and, yes, even fear; and I smile as I remember how all of those emotions and many more rushed through me last year this time.  It was a sweet period of my life, that beginning of my last pregnancy.  But how much sweeter and how much more joyful is it now, to have a real live little baby boy under our roof, in our arms, and forever in our hearts!

Last year, there were so many unknowns; but what was then unknown has become known to us.

In February 2015, he was a dream.  In February 2016, he is reality.

Precious Benjamin, how we love you!!  Thank You, God, for this gift!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Life on the First Day of February

I'm late, as usual, with my new blog header--a reminder to me that so much of the time, I still feel like a sandpiper, scurrying along just in front of the huge wave that's rolling in behind.  The wave is my schedule, and the sheer number of tasks left undone each day causes what should be a gentle swell on my heels (if a sandpiper had heels!) to feel instead like a tidal wave bearing down upon me.

However, there is hope!  

The kids had choir rehearsal tonight; and as I prepared for that and then spent several hours away from home for that, I couldn't help but remember how completely challenged I felt last fall on Monday nights.  Benjamin was born the day before the first choir practice of the fall semester; and each time I went to one, I felt a little--or a lot--out of control and unsure how things were going to go.  As it turned out, things went mostly fine, even if it did feel like hard work sometimes!  But having six children was so new, and so many days I felt like I was just hanging on, barely getting to the essentials of what I absolutely had to do.  Planning ahead was virtually unknown last fall, and even a simple evening away at choir felt demanding.

Tonight was different.  Oh, I still felt--and currently feel right this very minute--that I'm not finding the time to get to anywhere near the number of tasks I should be accomplishing.  But while I was sitting at choir this evening, I thought, "Wow, this feels so much easier than last fall did!  I know a little of what to expect from Benjamin, I'm confident that Moriah will sit still and listen to Shav's class without disrupting it, the older boys know what they're doing and I don't have to give them play-by-play instructions.  We've really come a long way since the fall!"  :)

My sandpiper costume began to transform ever so slightly into that of a seagull.  Someday I'll feel the sensation of soaring again.  :)

In other news on the first day of February, the puppies--the ones I really thought would just be a bother and I didn't want to have anything to do with them--have wormed themselves into my heart so much that I'm already having to steel myself against the day they start leaving for their new homes.  Oh, I definitely want to make sure they each go to a good home; and I'm sure that when they're bigger (and noisier...and smellier), I'll be ready for them to depart.  But for now, I'm savoring the sight of puppies snuggling and just being generally adorable.  Don't grow up too fast, little puppies!!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

4th in a Series of 12

Before this calendar month disappears and February dawns, I really must finish something: Benjamin's four-month blog post.  After I turn around two times, fix a few meals, and lie down for three or four sleeps, it will be time to do his five-month one, I think!  :)

I usually intersperse my observations about his development between the pictures I choose for his monthly posts; but in this case, I want to do things a little differently.  Here is a series of pictures; and if you scroll down through them and focus on his face, it will give you a sense of what I often see when I look at him.  Ready?  Go!

Did you see it?  Those smiles of his are kind of like waves that roll in and break and then recede.  These days, when I catch his eye, he often gives me a huge grin, the kind that makes his entire body wiggle a little.  For a four-month-old, smiling can be a whole-body sport.  :)

Wanna see another one?  :)

I melt.

Who knew a fifteen and a half pound lump of boy could have such an effect on me, just by smiling?  :)

Well, now that we've got the smiling issue out of the way, let's see what else we can talk about.  :)
On the good side, Benjamin has much less spit-up now than he used to.  Occasionally he still spits up a little bit, but it's insignificant enough that I don't even carry/wear the burp cloth I always used to have with me when I was holding him.  Burping, as well, is not a big issue anymore.  After he nurses, he does not routinely have a burp--oh, once in a while, he does, but usually not.  I can lay him down after he nurses without fearing that he'll get a great big gas bubble in his tummy and fuss as a result.
On the...well...not-so-good side, Benjamin is not a fan of tummy time.  His tolerance for it is very short, despite our efforts to entertain him with all the bells and whistles we can conjure up.  Oh well, he's not the first of my kids to disdain tummy time; and so far, they've all turned out OK.  ;-)
Benjamin's eyes are beautifully blue; and despite appearances, he really does have some hair growing in on his head.  It's just that it's so light!  David was hoping that we would have another blondie in the family, and I do believe he got his wish.  Benjamin's dark hair that he had at birth has nearly all fallen out, and it's being replaced by a light peach fuzz that's almost indiscernible.  But someday it will actually be visible to all!  :)
When our other boys learned that we would name this son Benjamin, they started talking about nicknames and were quite opposed to certain ones.  We didn't plan to use any particular nickname with him, but so far this is what has developed.  I call him "Benjaboy," Jeff calls him "Benji-menji," and our pastor sometimes calls him "Ben-jammin'," which always makes a Bill Withers song start playing in my head.  :)  There's another man at church who sometimes calls him by his first and middle names, and I delight to hear "How's Benjamin Caleb today?" because I love both of those names so very much.
One big thing that occurred during this month was the need for some sleep training.  Because of Benjamin's easy-going, sleep-pretty-much-anywhere nature and because of a busy family schedule that did not make it easy to prioritize his naps, I had not done much sleep training with him during the first three months of his life outside the womb.  But then as he grew older, he did not naturally fall asleep in the swing or wherever he happened to be.  Plus there were a few nights when I would feed him, he would fall asleep in my arms, I would lay him down in his crib, he would wake up and cry, I would pick him up, and the whole cycle would start over again.  That gets old fast, and spending the hours from roughly 10-midnight (and sometimes longer) every evening doing that was not appealing in the least.  So, it was time for Sleep Training 101.

I started during the daytime when I have more stamina and clarity of thought and paid more attention to the eat-wake-sleep cycle that I wanted Benjamin to be able to follow.  For once, I looked at the clock when I fed him and then calculated when he would likely be ready for sleep.  Then it was a simple matter to put him in bed while he was still awake and let him learn to go to sleep by himself.

In my head, it always feels like SUCH A BIG DEAL to do sleep training; but when I actually do it, I am amazed at how quickly my babies pick up on the notion that they can put themselves to sleep if I place them in the crib when they're awake.  And then I wonder, "Why did I wait until month 4 to start this?"  ;-)

I will confess though that, aside for the sleep training that naturally bleeds over from the daytime to the night, I haven't done any training with Benjamin in the middle of the night.  If he cries, I still get up to feed him and don't let him cry it out--part of my rationale being that Jeff needs his sleep, too, and I don't want a crying baby to interrupt Jeff's slumber.  :)  Plus, Benjamin got pretty good at going for six or so hours of straight sleep and, although that is not as long as my other kids at that age, it's decent, and I can live with it.  Besides, he's the youngest, and everybody knows the baby of the family gets away with anything.  ;-)
This month, I particularly loved...
~ watching him discover his toes.  Such fascinating objects waving around at the ends of his feet!
~ dancing with him to "Secrets" by Jennifer Thomas (and remembering dancing with Josiah when we lived in Israel and Josiah was just a one particular memory, I held him in my arms and danced in the kitchen of our Tel Aviv apartment to the music of a lullaby CD...and now here I was 13 years later, dancing with Josiah's littlest poignant).
~ all his smiles.  He's at such a smiley age; all I have to do is look at him, it seems, and out pops his grin.  Those pictures I shared at the beginning of this post?  Well, I get the incredible privilege of seeing that happen on a daily basis.  :)
~ hearing him laugh one day when I gently rubbed his neck.  Jeff is still the pro at tickling Benjamin and getting the most laughs out of him; but on that day, I did it, too...and felt on top of the world.  :)
Oh, Benjamin, you are a joy!  Thank you for these four fantastic months together!!