Thursday, July 28, 2016


Last month, Grandma-Grandma came to visit.

She's my husband's father's mother. And in true Allison tradition, everyone calls her "Grandma-Grandma," because isn't that what everyone calls their great-grandmother?

The children with Grandma-Grandma, and also Grandma

Everyone here does.

She's a spunky, cute little thing. She has this infectious love of history and family connections and can make you laugh in spite of yourself when she says the most unexpected things.

Grandma-Grandma and Ethan, in Grandma's house

She's also an incurable flirt. When Grandma (Marlys) and I went with Grandma-Grandma to the Depot Grille, she flirted nonstop with our in-his-20's waiter, telling him she was going to pack him up in her carry-on and take him back to Oregon. Marlys and I played with our food and smiled apologetically.

The waiter brought Grandma-Grandma a complimentary huge dessert and three forks and told her, "I like you. I really like you!"

Grandma-Grandma and Ben, at Grandma's house

But of course! 

I don't know anybody who doesn't.

We all love you, Grandma-Grandma. Come back soon, and bring your stories.

And happiest of birthdays to you! We're so glad you were born.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Rhythm

Planning is not for the faint of heart. And usually, it's not for me, either. But as we contemplated the coming school year with eleven children needing to be fed and laundered, a twelfth child joining them, a teen entering the high school years, and various and sundry chores and sicknesses and outside duties making their siren calls...

it became abundantly clear that some sort of schedule/routine/rhythm/PLAN is in order.

That sounds so neat, so structured.

I'm not sure whether I had truly grasped the work and disorder and chaos involved in creating a routine for this tribe of kids. It's a mess! First there is the school planning -- who will do what. Then there is the logistics planning -- what will be done where and when. And then there are the 3yo and the 1yo and the coming newborn, who are the living, breathing, crying wrenches in the works.

It's enough to throw one into a panic, or at least an extended nap.

But then I re-read this:
When planning routines, priority must be given to the most important things. The person matters (be it child, husband/wife, or friend). We’ll need time to talk, read, relax, and work together. Our relationship with God matters. Where is the time to be found for that? I am a part of this creation. Where will I find time to get out and enjoy nature? There is too much work to be done, and I am finite. I need to accept that reality, and plan the time and priorities carefully.
~ Susan Schaeffer Macauley, For the Children's Sake

and also this:
We ought to do so much for our children, and are able to do so much for them, that we begin to think everything rests with us and that we should never intermit for a moment our conscious action on the young minds and hearts about us. Our endeavours become fussy and restless. We are too much with our children, ‘late and soon.’ We try to dominate them too much, even when we fail to govern, and we are unable to perceive that wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education.

~ Charlotte Mason, School Education

and then, also, this:

If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents. The mother would be able to hold herself in 'wise passiveness,' and would not fret her children by continual interference, even of hand or eye––she would let them be.

 ~ Charlotte Mason, School Education

and my morning readings, which this week have been in Ecclesiastes, where Solomon again and again urges that the hand of God gives pleasure in your toil.

And that got me to thinking.

  1. I need to schedule Rest/Outside Time. I really, really need to view the REST and the OUTDOORS as necessary components of our day. Seriously. Our health and well-being demand it.
  2. I need to be so careful about our margins. If I do not give myself margins throughout the day, I will drive myself and everyone else crazy. Margins, I think, are what will make a schedule/routine doable for me. Block scheduling is one thing that will greatly help *me* with this, as the time it takes to get stuff out/set up/etc. is minimized due to having to do it only 2-3x a week (or so) instead of every day.
  3. If I cannot figure out workable margins, then I have too much going on. I will have to scale back. Too much of a good thing is still too much and ruins the good thing. So if meals are taking me too long, I will have to figure out how to simplify them even further. If history is taking too long, I will have to figure out the priorities (for me, the living book portion) and cut out the rest.
  4. Especially for my youngers, there is no real need to get history done in one year or all the literature done in one year, etc. I may try doing a timed lesson with them instead of trying to get through such-and-such material, especially as I have varying ages and can never predict what questions will arise/what explaining will need to happen.
  5. The goal of this year for me is to help my children grow in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and to help them glorify God and enjoy Him forever. If my attitude is a harried, frustrated one; if I cannot speak with kindness and wisdom on my tongue; if I have no time to seek the Lord first in my day...then I am in error and must adjust the routine accordingly.

And then, just like that...I can breathe again. The daily rhythms are still being made, the simplified menus are being configured, the checklists and reminders are finding their places. But included in them is a sense of peace, not of urgency and fretfulness.

There is a place for Rest.

And that is sweet.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Rock-a-Bye Baby

(There is a video embedded in this post. Email subscribers may need to click over.)

Monday, July 25, 2016

I-Just-Want-to-Nap-All-Day Week

Today marked the official start to I-Just-Want-to-Nap-All-Day Week. As in, I said to Ethan, "I just want to nap all day."

And he said, "Well, yes. This is I-Just-Want-to-Nap-All-Day Week."

Some people call it the week of Vacation Bible School.

We call it like it is.

It's not even like I'm doing anything for VBS. I'm not. I was going to, and then along about April (hello, first trimester) I thought, "What in the world am I thinking? I can't handle basic life, let alone devoting an entire week of mornings to being out of the house and chipper among children. I will be miserable, and everyone around me will be miserable."

So I backed out of helping. I would feel bad about that, except I just can't muster the energy. Besides, Ben (14) offered to teach the preschoolers, and everyone knows a 6'4"(?) 14-year old boy way beats his 5'9" 30-mumble-year old mother. Especially when said 30+ person is mother to two of said preschoolers.

Zebby (3) and Ben (14)
So, see? I'm not even doing anything. My job is to make sure the laundry gets done and meals are plentiful (by the way, thanks for dinner tonight, Sweetie).

The mornings start early, with nervous older children who double- and triple-check to make sure they have everything they need and excited younger children who "cannot WAIT for GPS/UPS/BBS/Whatever-it's-called!" Karen picks up the oldest four at 8:15AM so they can do whatever they need to do as teacher/aides, we make sure the next six down are there by 9:00AM as participants, and then the 13mo gets to spend the morning with Mama. (Doesn't that sound cozy? "The baby gets to spend the morning with her mother." Perhaps I should remind you that this child is used to having at least TEN people to bossily fuss at and demand attention and applause from, and now this child must be content with just her mother. These are trying times.)

At noon, the six partipants get picked up, Karen drops the oldest four off a little after that; and we eat and hear about the day's adventures and misadventures and nap and pretty much lie around the rest of the day.

It's just exhausting.

Miriam and Abraham (11). She's doing Nursery Work this week and plays a hawk in the skit; he is the Recreation Assistant and plays Terry the Turtle.
Eve (13 mos.) with Lily (12). Lily is helping with one of the classes and plays Brittany Butterfly in the skit; Eve is an absolute pudge who must be squeezed all of the time and is a terror if you are far away from her sheepskin-lined bed.
We're only one day in, and when we picked up Ben and Abe from their Trail Life meeting at 8:20 tonight, Ben said, "I'm ready for bed."

Me, too. I'm getting tireder just thinking about all I am not doing this week. Maybe tomorrow I can catch at least a couple of naps.

These are chickens. I don't know their names. Chickens are dumb; and no, they can't come in, even if it's raining. Go away, chickens.

Friday, July 22, 2016


Six is... when some real scary things start to happen to your body, it's around then that your teeth start coming a-loose in your mouth.... At first you think it's kind of funny, but the tooth keeps getting looser and looser and one day, in the middle of pushing the tooth back and forth and squinching your eyes shut, you pull it clean out.... You tell some adult about what's happening but all they do is say it's normal. You can't be too sure, though, 'cause it shakes you up a whole lot more than grown folks think it does when perfectly good parts of your body commence to loosening up and falling off of you.
Unless you're as stupid as a lamppost you've got to wonder what's coming off next, your arm? Your leg? Your neck? Every morning when you wake up it seems a lot of your parts aren't stuck on as good as they used to be.
~Christopher Paul Curtis, Bud, Not Buddy 
Salem, who is (surprise!) Six. And here is proof.

Thursday, July 21, 2016


Ada (4): In Sunday School, we talked about when the snake told Eve and Satan to eat the apple and then they did and then Eve was bad so she told Adam to eat the apple and then he did and he was bad and so Adam and Eve and Satan hided in the garden but God knew where they hided. Oh, and also, Mama, the picture showed a little part of their bottoms. But just a little part. It was OK.

Me: Well, you're almost right. The serpent told Eve to eat the fruit, and she and Adam did and then they hid from the Lord.

Ada: Which is exactly what I just said.

Ada: Papa, I just feel like I understand everything.
Ethan: You are so much like your mother.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Two weeks ago, after having a 21-week ultrasound and meeting with the person known hereabouts (that is, in my mind) as Midwife Plague, whom I usually avoid like ... you know ... a Level 2 ultrasound was scheduled for the Fetal Care Unit at the Children's Hospital in Charlottesville.

At that meeting two weeks ago, Midwife Plague, ever enjoying her role as Bearer of Potentially Bad and Disruptive News, put on her best "I've never had children and this is why" face and proceeded to tell me that

  1. The baby has a cyst on its brain.
  2. There is excess amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios), and
  3. You are old and have lots of children. What else did you expect?
She suspected that a) it could be nothing, but b) it was more likely something, esp. because of the aforementioned no. 3. The "something" she suspected and I should ready myself for was one of the Trisomies -- Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome), Trisomy 18 (Edwards' syndrome), or Trisomy 13 (Patau syndrome).

I agreed to scheduling a Level 2 ultrasound and perhaps meeting with a genetic counselor and then drove straight to Ethan's office, sat down, and cried, saying, "There's nothing wrong. Ignore my crying. There's probably nothing wrong." I told him I was NOT going to google anything and then went home, only to have him call and say, "Maybe you should google it...I've looked it up and I think she's wrong." He found more and more evidence to put his mind at ease while I found more and more to put me on edge.

The next two weeks were spent praying, and reading my Bible, and being thoroughly irritated with Midwife Plague's bedside manner (which had also thoroughly irritated me when she was the attendant at Zeb's birth), and praying some more, and pleading, "Make me a willing servant, and Thy will be done, but please be merciful in Thy will," and not sleeping very well.

And then yesterday came. Ethan and I drove to the hospital, sat in the darkened ultrasound room, and tried to decipher the ultrasound pictures and the sonographer's poker face.

When the doctor came in and said, "Your baby looks perfect. I see absolutely nothing concerning in any way. Your fluid levels are normal; there is no cyst...and if I did see a cyst, it wouldn't concern me because as our ultrasound equipment gets better and better, we are seeing more and more of them...everything looks wonderful..." well, there just are not words for the relief and shock that overwhelmed me.

All that was left to do was celebrate. We took a 15-minute tromp through Whole Foods (because 15 minutes of pretentious cloth bag-carting yuppies and mothers who will. not. stop. talking. to their disobedient long-haired little boys is about all I can handle, plus, there's that whole "we love our crystal stick deodorants and raw garlic salves and should we pick up more patchouli?" smell that overwhelms the pregnant nose). Then we pranced through World Market, picking up a whopping two items: Red Curry potato chips and some dark chocolate with mango and coconut. We tried out Karen's wonderful suggestion for a restaurant: the Mediterranean Mezeh (and to my sister, Rebecca: GO THERE!). I had the lamb and Ethan had the steak and we could probably eat there every night of our lives and still want more.

Then there was Williams-Sonoma, because everyone needs a good laugh in an air-conditioned pristinely white "I'll take the copper KitchenAid and you take the strawberry huller-and-slicer" environment.

And finally, a coffee and a pastry to nourish us on our way home.

My belly was (more than) full, my heart was so light, and in my purse were eleven copies of the profile of another little Allison Stinker, because the doctor said every sibling should get his/her own picture.

I know these things don't look like much. I'm always saying I can never tell whether it's a baby or a pending weather alert. 

But this...all eleven copies of this ultrasound picture and all eleven real-life copies asking about a reminder to me. He is faithful, and He has been merciful, and this would be true even were the outcome different.

I give thanks for that solace.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Quiet in the library, please

Today we took everybody to the library as a reward for finally really cleaning their bedrooms.

I sat just outside the play area with Eve while the other Littles played and the Middles and Olders found books to read (32 in all, plus a movie).

Seated across from me was a mother knitting. Her 18-mo. old was also playing in the play area.

I know his name because she must have said it over a hundred times in the forty minutes that we were there. "Matthew (name changed to protect the ... I don't know ... something), can you get the egg? Get the other part of the egg, Matthew. Matthew, do they want to see your egg? Show the other children your egg, Matthew! No, Matthew! Please, Matthew, let's not go outside the play area. Oh, Matthew. OK. Listen, Matthew. You may play in the play area, or you may sit in one of these chairs here at this table outside the play area. OK, Matthew? Matthew! Matthew! Matthew, please come back here. Let's not run in the library, Matthew! Matthew!"

Over and over and over. It will come as no surprise to anyone (excepting, apparently, his mother) that Matthew was quick to do exactly what his mother did not want him to do, almost as if he hadn't heard her.

And why not? This is what she had trained him to do. The nonstop talking, the saying of his name over and over and over...

His defense mechanisms kicked in and he tuned her out.

I was, I will admit, jealous.

Salem, this is a random picture of you, Salem. Do you want to look at the picture, Salem? Salem, why don't you look at the picture? Salem, are you ignoring me, Salem?

Saturday, July 16, 2016


Ahhh.. Things are eerily quiet right now, considering it's only 8:11 PM and there are eleven children in this house once again.

Lily (12) and Miriam (11) are the two in hats.

The dryer is running, the hot water heater is recovering from a few hard hours of showers and laundry, and tomorrow's potluck meal is simmering in the crock pot.

This year's Lichenville

My children are lying in bed exhausted, their duffle bags and sleeping bags are lying helter-skelter in the upstairs hallway awaiting a trip to the attic, and somewhere at the very edge of these children's emotional thresholds lie the fresh memories and ruminations of another Science Camp week completed.

Benjamin (14), modeling the latest in camp headgear

We have heard little about what transpired this past week. Our oldest four were visibly subdued and fragile this afternoon as we traveled home over the three mountains ("It's the top of the first's the bottom of the first hill...only two more to go...").

For some, it was the thought of friends that they will not see for another year. For others, it was the thought of friends whose last year was this one, and the question of whether they will ever be seen again.

I had to steal Lily's camera after she went to bed to try to get an idea of what went on at this year's camp. (To be fair, it *is* my camera so perhaps it's not stealing, after all. Just borrowing back.)

There were numerous pictures of blue-bedecked buddies making crazy faces from tire swings, and lichen and mushrooms and science experiments in various stages of bloom, and a couple of videos of children of varying ages out in the remote countryside having the time of their lives.

That made me happy.

But this, too, made me happy: two pictures of home, taken before she left. Pictures she could look at to remind her of others she loves, of other bosom buddies and roommates and ones with which to laugh and giggle.

Eden (9) and Ada (4). If you took out the carpet, this could be a camp picture!

A reminder that action awaits them here at home, too.

So we'll give them time to rest up and find their emotional footings, and we'll air their sleeping bags and sneakers and put away their toothbrushes, and then, I'm quite sure, we'll hear all about the nicknames and the food and the songs and the silliness.

But for tonight, I hear only the dryer.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Art, and Salad Tongs.

Food should be chosen to give pleasure, and to cheer up people after a hard day's work, to comfort them when they feel down for some reason, to amuse them when things seem a bit dull, or to open up conversation when they feel silent and uncommunicative...
Food should be served with real care as to the colour and texture on the plates, as well as with imaginative taste. This is where artistic talent and aesthetic expression and fulfilment come in... 
Food cannot take care of spiritual, psychological and emotional problems, but the feeling of being loved and cared for, the actual comfort of the beauty and flavour of food, the increase of blood sugar and physical well-being, help one to go on during the next hours better equipped to meet the problems (Edith Schaeffer, "Food," The Hidden Art of Homemaking). 
Miss Dotti makes superb salads.

And Miss Dotti is an artist.

I'm not sure that you would view her art and instantly know she makes superb salads.

But I am quite sure that you would view her salads and instantly know she creates art.

I probably don't need to say this, but being on the receiving end of one of (MANY of!) Miss Dotti's salads is a wonderful thing indeed. Each salad is a feast both for the tongue and for the eyes.

Zebby (3) trying very hard not to pick at the salad

And it tickles me that every time she brings one, the children "ooh" and "aah" over the different patterns. It is a well-established fact that one of them will say, "You sure can tell Miss Dotti is an artist when you look at her salads." 

They say it every time.

And it also tickles me to see which part of the salad will be their "favorite" part this time. Once it was radishes. I thought they were picking them out to discard; they were actually picking them out to eat first! The same child who asks one time to please pass the tomatoes on to the next sibling over will gobble up the tomatoes first thing in one of Miss Dotti's subsequent salads.

There's just no telling.

Miss Dotti is also a magician. She serves her salad on a very shallow glass platter. Upon first glance, I would say that her salad was half the size of one of my (lame, mostly greens, throw-some-dressing-on-there-and-call-it-salad) salads in my big glass bowl.

BUT. Her shallow plate holds the equivalent of TWO of my huge-glass-bowl salads. And the added bonus is that with every scoop, you get every single layer, all the goodies included.

They are exquisite masterpieces, every one.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Camp 2016

Monday we dropped our oldest four off at Science Camp. These are the pictures I got from then:

So, for anyone who is counting, that's exactly one picture with any of my Science Camp kids actually in it (the bottom picture: the two girls in hats are mine). Mostly this is because from before our van doors even opened, we were surrounded by eager campers who gave their Siren call to our children and whisked them away, pillows and sleeping bags and duffle bags and hats and all, to waiting cabins and friends.

They didn't even say, "Goodbye." And we couldn't even find them when we left, so we didn't say, "Goodbye," either.

Which is how it should be at summer camp.

This week is the highlight of my children's lives. Those who are old enough (10 and older) count down the days from the end of one camp to the start of another. And those who are not old enough cannot WAIT until they are.

It has been quiet here at home. It's strange to see the dynamics shift a bit when the Olders are not here...the 9yo and 8yo seem older and more capable, and the 6-year olds and 4yo and 3yo (yesterday! Zebby is 3!) content themselves with playing with one another and bringing the clingy 1yo to me. Again.

A friend stopped by with pizza yesterday and one of the children asked, "How many days until Science Camp is over?"

"Three," I said.

"You must miss your older brothers and sisters," said my friend.

"Not really!" was the overwhelming response. "It's nice and different without them here. And the house stays cleaner!"

This bit about the house is true, and I haven't quite figured out why. Certainly the laundry and meals are much easier...but that's simple to figure out. My four largest eaters and biggest laundry-wearers are missing.

I'm so glad for this week and what it does for all of my children. The Olders come back a little teary-eyed and full of stories and memories and addresses of friends and usually begin right away to continue researching this year's camp topics (Fungi are on the list this year...I am a little nervous).

The younger children enjoy their stint of being the "oldest" around the house and having more of my attention ("Hello, 3yo washing your chicken-poop covered Crocs in the bathroom sink, I see you..."). But by the end of the week, they are also ready to have the Bigs back and hear the mesmerizing tales of late nights at camp and what food Grandma (the camp chef) prepared and what nicknames everyone got this year. And, of course, last year there were the plant presses and learning all about wildflowers, and the year before that there were bugs galore to find and put in the freezer, and goodness only knows what fungus experiments there will be to undertake this year...

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