Thursday, September 27, 2007

New pets!

Until today, in addition to four children, we also had

1 dog


4 hens.

Solomon was learning about earthworms in science today, so we decided to get some new pets:

12 earthworms.

Night-crawlers to be exact. Apparently they are bigger and fatter than the other kind (dillies?). Here they are:

Aren't they just darling?!? The black sleeve makes it dark inside the container.

I was shuddering and dry-heaving all the way home from the pet store (seriously). Then I had to store the container with the worms IN MY FRIDGE until we had their new habitat prepared. I cleared everything else off that shelf in the fridge and bagged the container they were in. Still, it would not be unlike me to never use that spot in my fridge ever again, no matter how meticulously I cleaned it.

Speaking of school, someone ought to be regulating these home schoolers. We have evidence that they teach children how to count using goldfish crackers, which subconsciously supports animal cruelty. Instead, they should be taught using food stamps, which is pretty much the only thing the government wants them to know how to count.

Below is further evidence of how much behind the times these home school Mommies are. They actually still teach their children to write in CURSIVE from the start. Worst of all, Solomon seems to be enjoying it!

Today is also the last day that Solomon is 5 years old. Sigh. I have been waking up almost every night this week thinking about the fact that 6 years old is almost like 8, and 8 is almost 10, which is practically adulthood. Before bed Solomon reassured me that he will still love me just as much when he is 6, and that he is still going to marry me and live next door to me in a very narrow house that he is going to build on the gravel strip on the side of our house. Also, the house will not have a bed in it because he will still sleep in our house. Here is a picture of the almost-birthday boy:

He built this harbor during recess from a play set that Oma sent for Christmas from Germany. Pretty much all their toys are from her - lucky me! Now that one of my brothers finally decided to have a baby I am losing the corner on the market as far as grandkids go, but that's okay. We practically live in a toy store by now anyway.

Solomon also likes to call me on the phone now when I am running errands and he's home with Daddy. Last night when I was cleaning the house, I found this:

Isn't that sweet?! He called me about a dozen times yesterday when I was going to the store to buy his birthday present. "What are you getting?" "What store are you buying it at?" "Is it such-and-such the store?" "What letter does the gift start with?" "How big is is?" "Is it a ...?" Of course, I didn't give him any clues, because if he is anything like his Dad he only needs one tiny clue to figure it all out.

If you, too, are starting to wonder what gift we bought him you will have to stay tuned for pictures from his birthday and the party.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Back to normal

Today was our first day "back to school" after our vacation. In case you are wondering why we didn't start back up on Monday, that's the day I have to run a billion errands for family, church, and sometimes business, call everybody under the sun, and get caught up from not having time for laundry on Sunday (i.e. six loads on Monday instead of the usual three per day). Although I normally still do a full day of school with the three oldest on Mondays, it was just too much this week. I am suffering from some mysterious illness that is giving me the worst stomach pains and a low-grade fever. Having Miriam stuck to my hip for literally 10+ hours per day didn't help that much.

Anyway, back to what I was saying - school went well. Solomon (5) is in 2nd grade this year, but on math he is in a 3rd grade book. He is a math genius, and must have gotten that from his Dad. Isaac (4) is in K5, and was reading blends for the first time today. Although he is smart, his main strength is physical. John (2) was learning about the number 1 and doing some coloring. My main challenge with home schooling is to find a way to keep the baby busy while working with the other kids. Today, she was nice enough to sleep through a lot of it.

Other than that, my day was very uneventful. This week is kind of busy because I am preparing for Solomon's 6th birthday on Friday, the church picnic on Saturday, and Solomon's birthday party on Sunday afternoon between the services. He has been in a Lego craze since our trip to Legoland, so we are having a Lego-themed birthday party for him. People who know me at all know that I love to go all out with the kids' birthday parties. I'll be posting pictures of it all next week.

Sometimes I wonder why other people's babies seem so easy-going and low-maintenance, while ours demand to be held around the clock. I am a very strong believer in strict discipline, but I could not be more opposed to letting babies "cry it out". Either the child has a need that should be dealt with, or it is throwing a tantrum and needs a spanking. Obviously, the latter does not apply to a little baby. I think that a baby's need for physical contact with his/her mother is just as important as their need for food or a clean diaper, which is why I keep the baby close to me throughout the day. By the time they start crawling they hardly want to be held any more anyway. I have various slings and wraps that I use when at home or out and about. All that being said, it would be nice to have both hands free and not having to lug all the extra weight every day. So I was actually pleased today when I talked to a close friend of mine who lives out-of-state and who just had a baby recently when she told me her baby did the same thing. Misery loves company, I guess! If you are reading this, sorry, I don't really mean that. Or maybe I do... :) I think as parents we blame ourselves for everything, including wondering whether my baby is high-maintenance because both me and my husband are somewhat high strung. My friend and her husband on the other hand are both very mellow (until they get around us, that is), yet their baby is fussy. It's not my fault, after all!

Guilt is probably something that all Moms struggle with, no matter how unreasonable. After the kids are all down for the night, you start wondering: "They did not get enough time to play today" or "I didn't make them help around the house enough"; "I didn't feed them enough veggies today" or "I wonder if so-and-so's tummy hurt because I let them eat too much corn on the cob"; "I should have sat down and played with the kids more instead of cleaning" or "They will all grow up to be slobs because I didn't clean enough today". Basically, it's a lose-lose situation, so don't even go there. Do what you can and relax, knowing that kids are happy just to have you home with them, and that God thought you were the perfect parent when he gave them to you. If you read the Bible to them today and prayed with them, you got the most important part of child-rearing done. If they had clean clothes and healthy food, that's great. A bath in the evening? - you are wonder woman!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

On the road...

We are currently still on vacation in San Diego, CA. On Sunday, we left Tempe after the evening service and got to the hotel here around 2 AM, giving us about 6 hours of sleep in bed - not bad at all.

So far this week, we have been to Legoland, SeaWorld, the Maritime Museum, the San Diego Zoo, and of course the beach. If that sounds like a lot of walking to you, you are absolutely right!! We are having a wonderful time, and I have not cooked, done dishes or laundry in 4 days!! The hotel we are staying at (Extended Stay America) has a kitchen in our room, but I have not been using it much other than for rinsing the kids' cereal bowls after breakfast. For lunch, we have been eating crackers with cheese and ham/salami, and for dinner we eat out.

I have taken close to 300 pictures (no joke) and look forward to posting the best of them. The internet connection at the hotel is not very fast so I will wait to do so until I get back home. Every night I download all the pictures from the camera onto the laptop after we get home, just in case the camera were to get lost or broken. This morning I noticed that all pictures had been erased from the camera - the boys denied having had anything to do with that. I was very relieved to know that the pictures had already been saved, and that none were lost.

Tomorrow, we are going to visit the Wild Animal Park. Originally, we had planned to drive back home in the evening after it closed, but we might be staying another night and go home on Saturday afternoon instead.

All the kids are having a great time, too. They are pretending to be whales, panda bears, and professional Lego builders. With Solomon's birthday coming up at the end of this month, I'm thinking we will get him some more Legos to play with, something he already loved before this trip. Miriam, who hates riding in the car, has been very good and easy-going on this trip.

Check back in a few days for pictures of all our adventures!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Photography 101

Although I am by no means an expert photographer, I have listed below some very basic and simple things that I have learned over the years. Small changes can mean the difference between a good picture and a great one.

* Backdrop: Make sure that you have a nice backdrop. For example, if you are taking pictures at home, make sure that there are not piles of laundry, dishes, or the like in the background.

* Edges: Do not cut the top of people's heads off, but also do not leave too big of a gap between the top of their head and the top of the photo.

* Portraits & Close-ups: It usually works best if the person's body is turned slightly sideways, but their head is turned to the camera. Bear in mind that most people look much better from one side than from the other. It's often best not to have the person in the dead center of the picture, but rather off to one side a little.

* Zoom: If you are using a digital camera, try not to use the zoom function even if your camera has a great resolution. You will always lose quality when using the zoom. Instead, if it is possible, step closer to the object you are photographing.

* Scenery: Make it a rule NEVER to photograph scenery without a person in the picture. Years from now you will not care about a picture of monkeys at the zoo or a deer in the woods when there's not also a person in the photo. If you love the scenery, buy a postcard instead - it was taken using top-of-the-line equipment and in perfect weather and lighting conditions, something that would be very hard for you to recreate. On the other hand, try to keep strangers out of the picture as much as possible, something that is not always easy at crowded tourist stops.

* Lighting: Personally, I think that this aspect is mostly overrated. Ideally you would have soft, indirect light from the side or from behind the photographer, with no shadows on any of the people's faces. Unless you are photographing directly into the sun, you will rarely have problems with this. If you are trying to get a great portrait and there are shadows on the person's face, you can reflect additional indirect light onto their face by holding a white piece of paper close to their face (but obviously out of the picture!). Avoid using the flash, which means that you will have to create/utilize as many other sources of light as possible.

* Shoot, shoot, shoot: Don't be afraid to take lots and lots of pictures. If you take 20 and only 2 of them are worth keeping, at least you will get a shot you like. This is especially true for digital cameras, which allow you to quickly delete pictures you don't like without spending money on getting them developed. Also, you should try to bring your camera with you everywhere you go, since you never know when you might need it for a great shot.

* Sit still: Teach children from an early age to follow your instructions when posing them for pictures. Older kids should not be allowed to be goofy, play around, or distract the younger children. Try to get your husband to understand that this is not the best time for him to be wild (good luck with that one!). The larger your family, the harder it will be to get EVERYONE to look good in the same photo, so start early. You will be glad you did when you go to have professional portraits done and your children know what to do and how to act.

* Equipment: The best cameras on the market (digital or not) are made by Nikon. Unfortunately, this puts them out of most people's price range. My favorite digital cameras in the lower to middle price range are made by Kodak. They are very user friendly, sturdy, and take great pictures even in less than ideal conditions, i.e. if there is a lot of movement in the picture or the lighting is poor.

This is by no means a conclusive list. Experiment on your own, and have fun!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Don't ever have kids if you...

... like peace and quiet.
... do not want to trip on toys.
... never had ambitions to work in an insane asylum, as a referee, nurse, teacher, maid, cook, taxi driver, etc. - all at the same time.
... like a clean car.
... don't want little fingerprints on EVERY surface in the house.
... prefer a job with benefits, paid vacation, scheduled breaks and the option to quit.
... get queasy at the thought of bodily functions and fluids.
... enjoy shopping for expensive shoes.
... find the "new car smell" more appealing than the "new baby smell".
... like to have meaningful conversations with other adults.
... need to sleep at least 8 hours in any 24 hour period.
... prefer your clothes ironed.
... want to go on exotic vacations.
... eat at restaurants that don't even offer high chairs.
... think that "child rearing" is spelled S-u-n-d-a-y S-c-h-o-o-l, d-a-y-c-a-r-e, s-c-h-o-o-l, or T-V
... don't want to answer the question "Why?" several hundred times a day.
... don't think going to the grocery store with no kids in tow is the greatest outing in the world.
... only want to do a couple of loads of laundry per week.
... like to live in a model home.
... don't want to get used to doing everything with one hand, while holding a baby on your hip with the other hand.
... think that influencing other people's kids is a substitute for raising your own.
... hate diapers.
... want appreciation and praise.

In other words, don't ever have kids if your life's motto is "Me, me, me!"

However, you will miss out on ...

... sticky faces cuddling up to you.
... holding a little hand in yours.
... stick-figure drawings and sincere love notes.
... someone waiting at the front window for you to get home.
... waking up to find a baby curled up next to you.
... hearing "I love you" every day.
... the most important thing in life.

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." - John 12:24

Friday, September 14, 2007

Old Movies of the kids

Since my camera that could take video clips was stolen in April, these are all older. I guess it's better than nothing.

Miriam is 7 months old

When I was pregnant with Solomon, our first, I read somewhere that when you have children the days may seem long, but the years fly by. How true that is!

My little girl is 7 months old today. She is starting to crawl up on all fours (as opposed to scooting on her belly). She still can't sit very steady, though - I guess that's not as important as being able to get into stuff. She is also perfecting the pincer grasp, better known as "you-better-vacuum-several-times-a-day-or-else-I'll-eat-all-the-trash-
I-can-grab". Here is a picture of her asleep after a long day of running around.

We spent a couple of hours this morning waiting for the tires on the van to get checked out. I did my shopping in the meantime, so it wasn't too bad. This is the fourth or fifth time in the last month that I have had to take the van in because of the tires (two flats and two blowouts). This time the "low tire pressure" light kept coming on, but they could not find anything wrong when I had the van in last week to get it checked. I went back again this week because I don't want to drive all the way to California next week with the warning light on - something MUST be causing that. So they took all four tires off again, examined them all, and finally thought the valve on one of them might have a tiny tear and be leaking ever so slowly. They changed the valve, and the light has not come back on, so I think I'm set. All that for free - I love the tire service that comes with the Sam's Club membership. The guys down there all know me on a first name basis by now, though.

This afternoon we were at the church building for several hours while the new piano was being tuned. Somebody donated it to us last week, and it is absolutely beautiful and has been well taken care of, except it had not been tuned in a very long time. So today that was a lengthy process. I called up the first number in the phone book, and an elderly man in his 70s came out to do the service. After 47 years in business, he definitely knew what he was doing! We got to talking while he was tuning and he told me that his parents had emigrated from Russia to Alaska before he was born, in the late 1920s. They were Armenian and were fleeing Russia because the Turkish (Muslims) were persecuting and killing the Armenians (Orthodox). He told me that after his father emigrated first, the Russians would not let his mother go for another 12 years. During that time, she was facing severe persecution. On one occasion, she was one of only 4 people who survived after their entire village was slaughtered, including her baby. They escaped by hiding in the pit under the outhouse, up to their chest in mire, for several days. She was crippled for life from this incident since the temperatures at night were below freezing and it damaged her hip joints. His father's brother was also killed by the Turkish. This old man told me that people in America today do not understand or appreciate how good we have it, and how precious our freedom is. He also told me that he was certain that persecution would arise very soon in this country, and that he believed the attacks on September 11 were only a foreshadowing of that.

He told me many more sad stories from his long life. How his Dad died working in a gold mine when he was only 2 1/2 years old. His only memory of that event was his mother begging his father in the morning not to go to work because she had dreamed that he was going to die, like many men had that year. He never did come back that day. How both his sister and brother died early from smoking. How his only child, a girl that him and his wife had adopted from the Alaskan Indians when she was 1, drank herself to death. Her biological mother had been an alcoholic herself, and drank throughout pregnancy, which was probably her downfall. Now that he is old, all his friends and family have died, and only him and his wife are left.

I asked him if he knew for sure that if he were to die he would go to heaven, and was thrilled to learn that he did because he believed "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) To think that this life is the best that most people will ever know is very sad.

"And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel,"
Ephesians 6:19

Thursday, September 13, 2007

You gotta love Arizona...

We live in the state with the most wonderful climate - hot and dry during the day, mild at night. Below are pictures of the guys having a water balloon fight.

Running in the sprinklers is another favorite activity on hot days - except for John... :(

For my husband's birthday, we made Hungarian goulash over the fire pit and roasted marshmallows. The pretty young girl in the picture is NOT me.

There should have been a few more candles on the cake...

Of course, Arizona is also home to the Grand Canyon, where we went for our 7th wedding anniversary in August.

Also on this trip, we stopped at a deer petting zoo in Williams, AZ.

The ten most common questions and comments I get in public

#1 - You guessed it: "Are they all yours?!??"

I used to get asked that every time I went anywhere, but hear it less these days. Either the resemblance between me and the kids is too obvious, or people don't even want to go into that with me.

#2 - "You have your hands full!"

This seems to be the current favorite. I guess it would seem like I have my hands full when I have one child strapped to my front in a sling, one in the shopping cart in front of me, and two holding on to either side of the cart. Add to that a purse the size of a suitcase on one shoulder, pushing the cart with one hand while holding the cell phone, keys, shopping list, etc. in the other hand. And then the phone rings... my husband calling from the road to chat. Must be nice, driving down the road in peace and quiet! :)

#3 - "So, are you done yet?"

Although this may seem like a question, it is always spoken as a command - firm voice, concerned look with pity mixed in, and definitely not expecting "No!" for an answer. I wonder: Done with what? I thought I'm the one that lets the natural events just take their course while they are "doing" their part to stop that.

#4 - "So, are you going to have more?"

Very similar to #3 above, but usually meant as an honest question.

#5 - "You guys need to get a TV!"

Always said as a joke, but I love to see the shock on people's faces when I tell them that we REALLY don't have one.

#6 - "Are they twins/triplets?"

Referring to the three boys. Each of them is separated by about 2 years in age and several inches in height, but that may not be obvious to the casual observer.

#7 - "How many do you plan on having?"

The subject - kids - is implied. The reactions when I tell them "As many as I can!" range from pity to anger, with sympathy somewhere in between. The fact that they even ask this question shows that they do not agree with me in this area.

#8 - "Are you not in school today?"

Usually addressing Solomon, who is almost 6. He tells them he is home schooled, which sends people running the other way. Hey, they should have guessed that when they saw me wearing a long skirt and Birkenstock sandals, with long hair tied back and no make-up!

#9 - "They are so well behaved!"

Now this may not be true as much at home, but in public I am very adamant about the kids acting their best. No meltdowns, whining, begging, running around, etc. allowed.

#10 - "They are so happy!"

Of course, this is the favorite comment I love to get. And that in spite of #9 above!

Recent Photos

I had asked Solomon to lay out the dishes for dinner, and came back to find this...

The next two pictures were taken on a church outing to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ.

These pictures were taken at Tempe Town Lake. Solomon, Isaac, and I brought our bikes, while my husband pushed John and Miriam in the stroller. Later, Daddy and Solomon went on a paddle boat ride in the dark for some one-on-one fun.

Horror Neighbors

Edited to add: I have received much angry mail lately about people who obviously did not read this post in its entirety to notice that it is a SPOOF on our own family. I wrote this from the perspective of a fictional neighbor and how they must feel about us. - Jan. 16, 2009
We once knew these people with a bunch of kids, and they were SO WILD!! Not sure how many kids there were, but there seemed to always be at least a couple in diapers. The Mom looked friendly, but usually tired. I heard her yelling at the kids occasionally, but mostly she ignored their acting like little monkeys – she seemed to think it was normal, like some form of exercise or something. One day I went outside to find that the kids had marked up all the outside walls of our building with sidewalk chalk. Now, I HATE sidewalk chalk in the street, but on the walls was just TOO much. I tried to rebuke the kids, but their mother must have taught them never to talk to strangers, much less take orders from them, because they just scowled at me and ran the other way. Later in the day they had this idea to hose the chalk off, which made the problem A LOT worse. I could go on about this incident, but I’d rather not think about it too much. It almost made me wish they would be sitting around the TV all day long like other kids instead of always playing outside loudly. Seriously, I could hear them from several buildings away every time I drove home. There are more horror stories than I care to recount. On any given morning, the kids seemed to just barely roll out of bed by the time the school bus came by at 8:00 AM.

The Dad wasn’t around much, supposedly “out of town on business”. Actually, maybe that was a good thing since he was more ridiculous than all of the kids put together. I even saw him jumping off the roof on more than one occasion, much to the delight of the kids. I was very upset about him possibly damaging the roof tiles. I also couldn’t stand it when he would change the oil in his car, because he would spill the oil all over the ground – I hate dirty driveways. I understand that with that many kids, they couldn’t afford to go to Jiffy Lube every 3,000 miles (which must have been monthly guessing by how many errands that poor woman had to run every day), but still – maybe they should have changed it at a friend’s house instead, or something.

Speaking of their cars – disgusting is what comes to mind. Not that I was snoopy, but I couldn't help but notice all the dirty messes in the family vehicle. They’d clean it up when they had company, but it never lasted long. The guy’s work vehicle was always cluttered with parts, trash, paperwork, leftovers – you name it, it was there. Their home didn’t seem too clean, either – occasionally when I walked by and the door was open I could see toys scattered all over the floor. Of course, they also had a dog, and it barked.

My guess is that they were some kind of church-goers because on Sunday mornings there would always be a mad dash to the car, kids half dressed with breakfast in hand, the guy with his (not ironed) shirt not buttoned all the way, tie in hand, woman with no make-up and uncombed hair… you get the picture. Not sure if they were Christians though, I never asked them about that. I was trying to stay away from them as much as possible and hoping (even praying) for some nice, new Christian neighbors to replace them. Looking back, I wonder whether the Lord put those people in my path so I could give them the gospel. But then again, I don’t think anything good could ever become of those kids. I know they say that today’s kids are tomorrow’s future, that they will be paying all of our Social Security and Medicaid benefits in a few years, yaddy yadda…, but not those kids – they’ll probably just have a bunch of wild kids themselves and live off welfare when they grow up.

It was an awful situation. I guess the only way it could have been worse if we had sodomites living there instead. Thankfully, the family did eventually move away, and a nice elderly couple moved in. I can’t even begin to tell you what a difference it made. Best of all, they must have never had kids, because nobody ever came to visit them, especially no wild grandkids. A couple of times I caught myself almost missing the laughter of children at play, but I quickly reminded myself that it came at the price of dirt and noise. Oh, the family? They moved out of state, I think to Arizona. If I remember right, their name was Anderson.
Am I advocating having unruly children and a messy house? Not at all. As a matter of fact, I am somewhat of a "neat freak" and like to think that my house looks mostly clean and tidy most of the time. True, you can't eat off the floors, but why would you want to when there always are clean dishes in the cupboards? At night, I cannot go to sleep until the kitchen is clean (no dishes in the sink, clutter cleared and counters cleaned), the living and dining room are straightened up, and the floors are swept. It's so much nicer to wake up to a tidy house.

That being said, when you add children to the picture you add chaos, messes, dirt, clutter, toys, etc. Now I could see myself as a full-time maid who spends her life making sure every morsel is caught before it ever touches the ground, just in case someone might come by (like that ever happens?). Or I could relax and plan on cleaning up during nap time and after the kids are in bed at night. Yes, the lady who delivers the mail has seen toys on the floor when she brought a package to the door. But she is still delivering our mail every day!

And as far as discipline goes - there is a big difference between doing wrong and being wild. They are both irritating, but the latter is perfectly normal and healthy. Kids are LOUD, and Moms tend to go deaf (at least I am starting to). My husband likes to say that our kids have two volumes: off and loud. I guess that's why TV is such a popular (albeit terrible) baby-sitter. To tell the truth, if we had one in the house I would probably put the kids in front of it, too.

Because children are not adults they do not have the courtesy and common sense of adults, and can be obnoxious because of their selfish thoughtlessness. On the other side, they will come up and hug you out of the blue, and say: "I love you, Mommy, because you always dress and talk nice!" I have never heard an adult say that to his Mom, so I guess I better cherish it now - even if it is spoken by a half-pint who has his shirt on inside out and his hands and face covered in some unidentified sticky substance.

Conclusion: Adults need to lighten up, and kids need to be taught to mind their manners. And until they do, love them anyway, and have more!
P.S.: And just for the record: the kids are not allowed to eat in our van, and it is very clean and nice inside.

A package from Germany

This is Isaac holding Miriam in her pretty new dress, a gift from Oma (the kids' German grandma, my Mom).

The boys were all excited to tear into the package from Germany. Solomon had been asking for days whether and when the package was coming, so he was thrilled when it finally arrived.

"Mmmh, I love 'big girl' food!"

Miriam loves to eat, and she loves to eat a lot. She is still nursing every 2-4 hours, and in addition to that has "real" food two or three times per day.