The short version:  I had cellulitis in the tissue around my eye and it landed me in the hospital for three nights.  I got better.  See the long version and more photos below.

I’m typing with my eyes closed.  My  right eye is very tired.  It’s been working overtime.  I’m trying to give it a break.  Let me back up.

Thursday night (Thanksgiving night) Jimmy and I left the kids with my parents and decided to go to some Black Friday sales.  As we were checking out of the last store, I started to feel shaky.  That night I laid on the couch under a blanket, cold and achy.  Friday was more of the same, not feeling great but finally starting to show a specific symptom, the bridge of my nose was sore, I decided I must have a sinus infection.  I don’t really get them often, so I’m not real familiar.  I had two photo shoots on Saturday and five mini sessions Sunday, so I tried to rest a lot and wondered if I would have to cancel.

I felt a little better Saturday.  We drove back from my parents. I had to leave for my first photos shoot at 2:00.  I laid down at a little after one, setting my alarm for 1:45. When I woke up, I tapped my left eyebrow as I put on my glasses.  It was very tender and hurt.  I thought that was weird, but it was kind of how my other sinus areas had felt, so, whatever.  I got my stuff together.  I did my two shoots, and got home a little after five.  Jimmy and I decided to run to Publix with Violet and pick up some supplies for church and get groceries for the family.  In the car I asked him to look above my eye and tell me if he could see any redness or anything at all.  He said no.  It had still been bothering me.  We got home, fed the kids, I gave Violet a bath and put her to bed and I went to the mirror and compared my eyes.  The left one was noticeably redder and bigger just below the eyebrow.  I went to my room and got out my computer to begin editing photos and looked up stuff about sinuses to see if there were sinuses above your eye.  There are, sorta, they’re behind your eye I think, anyway, I called my sister who said she’d had many sinus infections in the past and asked her if she thought it could be related to my sinuses.  She wasn’t sure, but told me I probably needed to see a doctor and get some antibiotics.  I figured I would Monday. 

I spent a few minutes editing photos, but my eyelid began to get so big and heavy that it was hard to keep it open so I just closed that eye and kept editing.  Then, when I opened it, I could see in my vision my own eye lid.  The Florida/Florida State game was going on.  I looked at the score.  Would Jimmy possibly be willing to take me to urgent care?

This seemed like something that needed drugs.  I didn’t want to wait twelve more hours.  I wanted the drugs in my system,  I had five families counting on me the next day.  FSU had a decent lead.  Jimmy agreed to take me, though not super happy about it. I don’t blame him, who wants to go there?
In the ER Saturday night.  Waiting for prescription.

By the time I saw a doctor at about eleven pm I could only open my eye a slit.  I was starting to be very confused.  What happened?  He ordered a strep test and urine test and I tested positive for strep. He prescribed me oral antibiotics, Augmentin, to kick it in the rear.  I had cellulitis on my eye.  Said I should feel better in twelve to twenty four hours.  We got the drugs from Walgreens and I took them along with some ibuprofen for the pain, and went to bed.  I spent a good part of the night awake and nauseous from the medicine.  Yuck. The next morning I got up and went to the bathroom after trying to nurse the baby, poor thing, I didn’t have much, and went back to bed.  I didn’t set even a toe on the floor again until nearly four p.m.  I had to cancel my photo shoots.  I just laid there all day fighting the infection.
Sunday morning.

To make a rather already long story maybe a tiny bit shorter, I continued to get worse and swell more.  I knew that when I awoke Monday I would be at about the thirty hour mark.  Since he told me twelve to twenty four, I knew I would need to make a decision.  I let Mom know the night before that I may need her.  They came when I awoke the next morning to be just as swollen, now down into my jaw.  Monday at one pm Jimmy and I were back in the urgent care.  I did not see a doc until three third or four.  I wasn’t looking good.  I was in pain.  I could pry my eye open if I used both hands.  The doc ordered an MRI of my head and blood cultures, some other blood work. 

He said I have cellulitis, I was annoyed that I had to explain my entire backstory to him…don’t they have records?  Are they just too lazy to look them up?  Wouldn’t they want to read the doctor’s notes? (Maybe they have, maybe they act like they don’t know so they can hear your version.)  Anyway, he said I might need IV antiboitics, but he’d wait for the MRI and blood work.  I’m like, great, hook me, up, drain it in here, and I can go home and go to sleep.  What?  I have to be admitted to the hospital?  For this?? Okay, well, we can drive over there.  (We were in the ER facility close to our house, not connected to the hospital.) Oh, no, you have to go in an ambulance.  And it will be for one or two DAYS.  Not hours, DAYS.  What?!  I have a baby I need to nurse before bed in a few hours.  The whole thing was annoying me like crazy.  And making me feel really weird.  Why?  Why is my face becoming a scary mask that no one wants to buy that you find in a discount bin the week after Halloween?  I was trying to be a good patient though.  I got one round of antibiotics there before going to the hospital.

Possibly at my worst.  Learning I'm not going home.

And really, I feel more sad in this moment about this nursing thing than I have ever in this whole process. I think my body was so focused on trying to kill whatever was blowing up my face that I had zero emotional energy to be sad about being forced to wean.  Because I knew if I skipped even two nursings that we’d be done.  My supply was already so low from being sick.  My sweet Violet.  But I was no good to her with a Quasimodo face.  So let’s get this done.

The MRI shoed no abscess.  This is good.  Blood work showed super high c reactive protein levels  which meant I had a crazy amount of swelling happening.  NO DUH.

I start to be acclimated to hospital time.  “I’ll be right back” means twenty minutes minimum.  “You should be ready to go soon” means an hour and a half.  “You’re next in line” means forty five plus minutes.  “The doctor is picking up charts” means, well nothing.  It may just mean that he’s picking up charts and playing Jenga with them or something.

I ride in the ambulance.  Which is really hard to to enjoy or even pay attention to you when you’re super sick and can only see out of one eye.  But I try to remember it so I can tell the kids.

I make it to my room.  And it’s official.  I’ve been hospitalized.  I’ve never been in the hospital except for six glorious times to have my babies.  Even when I broke my arm as a kid I didn’t spend the night.  It was weird and awful but I wanted to be better.  I wasn’t feeling so bad that I couldn’t make a Jim Gaffigan joke when the nurse asked me if I wanted a hospital gown.  “Why would I want a gown that someone could have died in yesterday?”

I had a visit from my friend, boss, and pastor Josh and our friends Keith and Carey.  All of us and Jimmy had a good talk, Josh prayed for me and by 10:00 I went to sleep.  What followed was a night of people waking me up to treat me and me trying to be coherent and hope they weren't just injecting poison into my veins, because they certainly could have put Sunny Delight up in there and I probably wouldn’t have noticed.
Recovering...excited that I can open my eye a little!

It’s Tuesday now.  I am hopeful I will get to go home today.  That maybe I need one more drip and I can go home and sleep in a real bed.  But I wasn’t improving.  Yet.  They said I probably need at least three, maybe four rounds before they will be sure it’s working.  Well, they can only give me the IV dose every 12 hours.  So, do the math, that puts me here another night for sure.  I am devastated.  But the next day for sure.  I want to get out of here, I want my children to have a mother again.  A mother without a scary halloween mask.  But we already covered that.

I Facetime with Violet. I only show her half my face.
I do a lot of thinking about how hard it is to get well in a hospital.  You have a very uncomfortable bed.  You can’t get any fresh air.  You can’t sleep when you want, you have people bothering you all the time, you become very, almost too, sedentary. When someone has a cold you don’t say, “Hey, why don’t you make a hard bed on the floor and then have someone come wake you up for no good reason every few hours?  That will probably help you get better faster!”

Tuesday night I had a weak moment and I looked up some stuff on the internet about cellulitis.  So of course I called Jimmy worried that I was going to die.  Although I had improved in my face, though very slowly, the redness and tenderness was moving down into my neck.  They had told me it was gravity but hadn’t indicated it would continue to move even after the medicine seemed to be working.  I was worried. 
Going down my neck
I asked for a doc to come look at me, no one had seen it since that morning, and I got the same doctor who saw me in the middle of the night when I had first got there and looked pretty much at the worst.  She said I looked much better.  That when she had first seen me she thought we might be looking at surgery, so she was very pleased.  I was almost convinced, but really I think my main concern was not that I wasn’t getting better, it was what it would mean if I really wasn’t.  First, more time in prison.  I mean the hospital. Second, it meant I couldn’t go home.  And I need to be at home. 

So all night I built my case in my mind.  I wanted to get these drugs as long as they wanted to give them to me, but I wanted to go home in between.  I can just come here every twelve hours.  Because in between I’m just sitting here twiddling my thumbs. I’m trying to use the time away form the kids to rest, but it’s hard when you’re afraid you might die of flesh eating bacteria .  Which I wasn’t of course, but I used to watch ER.  I was like the person who comes in with a weird red mark and they draw a line around it with a sharpie, and it just keeps getting bigger.  And then, they die.  And a doctor learns something about himself.  Like every ER episode.  I love ER.  In the 90’s.  Awesome.
Carey and I making a Quasimodo pose
Now it’s Wednesday morning.  I plead my case and lay my worries before two docs.  There are Kleenex involved.  The resident says she will see what she can do and take my pleas to the infectious disease doc, who holds my fate.  Can I please get out of here?

The answer? Yes, if you must.  But I think it would be better if you stayed one more day.  But I already wrote you prescriptions for your oral antibiotics at home.  But I think it would be better if you stay.  No emotion, no trying to convince me to stay, just the facts.  I knew it would be better to be on the IV antibiotics a little longer, I wasn’t fighting that, I just wanted to do it as an outpatient.  But that wasn’t the option given.  I would have to decide to go ahead and move to oral.  Which I knew weren’t as effective.  And I have had a pink blob growing down my face for four days.  So even though I want out of prison, I decide to stay.  But now there is a light at the end of the tunnel so I can handle it.  That night, I get a visit from the kiddos.  I hold Violet, who had just taken her first steps that day, and I missed it.  She tries to pull at my shirt.  It is hard.  She also tried to poke my fat eyelid.  Babies.

And now I am typing this.  Although I will not go home until tomorrow afternoon, and my journey certainly isn’t over, I am still having to take it easy as far as movement with my head, and I can still only open my eye a little bit without help form my fingers. I have been thinking about what I learned form this.  I know there is a take away.  There always is.  God uses these trials in our lives for many, many reasons.  To bring Glory to Himself as the over arching theme, to make us like Jesus of course, but is there something specific for me?

And part of it may be this:  In those few moments last night when I broke down and read statistics that scared me about infections and complications, etc. and I entertained the possibility of  leaving here in a body bag, I was seriously sad.  Heart broken.  I wanted to write my kids letters, because I certainly couldn’t make them a video message, looking like  Sloth from Goonies.  But something happened.  I realized that I would go to heaven.  And I knew how great that would be.  And I was excited about going there.  And even though I knew that would leave my kids without a mother, I knew that if that’s what God had for them, that He would use it to make them into the people they were supposed to be and he would use it to bring glory to himself.  And that even though it would be really sad, they would be okay.  Because even though I am their mother and I am the glue around our house, I am not God.  He is the one holding everything together.  And in any moment, at any time, anybody could get an eye infection that ends badly. So I want to make sure I’m doing every day the stuff that Ive missed doing these last three days. 

I’ve been working alot, it’s our busy season with house rentals and photo shoots, so I want to make sure that that stuff doesn’t stress me out or get me so busy that I don't have time to push my baby in her swing.  Do puzzles with my preschooler, read books to everyone who will listen, take bike rides, have conversations with my older kids…I want to make sure I’m doing that stuff every day.  Because I love work.  Work is good for many reasons.  But if it pushes out those day to day meaningful moments (even if you spend half the time frustrated with the bike rider or yelling at the kid stealing the puzzle pieces) then that’s not good.
Jimmy makes a meme while we're waiting in the ER

I want to wrap all this up with a nice bow and poignant moral, little joke and quirky saying.  But my eyes are closed and I’m tired.  Just know that if you get cellulitis, you might end up writing a super long essay about the meaning of life with your eyes closed.

Waking up Friday Morning
It’s Friday evening now.  I got to come home yesterday and have had absolutely wonderful sleep in my own bed.  Sleep in your own bed is double cure.  Since I got up from my nap this afternoon I have been looking out of both eyes, without straining muscles to do so.  I am still tired and healing and now adjusting my stomach to two antibiotics running through my gut.  But I am so grateful. 

I don’t know really why this happened to me, but I was going like crazy and this has made absolutely everything come to a screeching halt.  To get cellulitis where I did is a very common case among children.  I am so very grateful it did not happen to one of my children.  We couldn’t have them with scary Halloween mask/Quasimodo/Sloth face.

After not having the use of one eye for five full days, I can tell you I “see” differently.  I am so grateful for sight.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.”
Psalm 121:1-2

And one more thing:  I find it pretty hilarious the number of selfies I have taken in the last week.  I never take selfies.  Obviously I only endorse selfies for medical purposes. Selfies that are extremely unflattering and ugly make you exempt from any possible accusation of vanity, I think.


Today I'm Thankful

Before I totally run out of steam I just wanted to record, for posterity, the normal crazy that went on around here today.

12:30am- (Because this calendar day began with me still awake...) I turn out the light after a long night of photo editing.

7:45am- Violet and Juliet wake up and come lay in our bed.  Eventually Penelope comes in.  I make it last as long as possible, then get up, get dressed, and head to the kitchen.  Breakfast.  I make it for the little three and myself, everyone else is still asleep.  Penelope has gotten out her school books and done some math problems already.  Score!

I get Juliet, Penelope, and Violet dressed, delegating as much as possible.  We have to search for appropriate clothing, as we have finally had the first cold day of the season.  I then head out the door with Juliet, Violet, and Penelope to take Juliet to preschool. 

8:57- Preschool starts in three minutes, but I forgot to buy Reddi Whip for Juliet's "Thanksgiving Feast" which I signed up for, so I have to go to Publix.  I lock my three children in the van, hoping no one notices, and literally run to the back of the store, grab the stuff, check out, and run back to the van.  All is well.

9:14- We finally arrive at preschool.  I thought that the feast was at 9:30 and that I was supposed to stay and help, but I learn from another mom that it's not until 11.  We chat.  She asks me if I'm coming back.  I say no, that I home school, and then have to reveal that I have six children, which is information I never offer, only tell if asked.  I don't know why, it just seems weird to announce it.  The mom I am talking to opens up a bit to me about her son having a hard time wanting to go to school.  I tell her we will pray for him.  It is a nice conversation.

9:30- I'm back home.  Jackson and Jimmy are still in bed.  This is not usual, I must say, or they will both be mad and accuse me of making them sound lazy.  Jackson has not been feeling well.  Jimmy usually gets up but with there being zero noise in the house, he was without his normal kid noise alarm clock.  I say something along the lines of, "Time to get up and make those real estate deals!" or "Are you going to get up sometime today?" I honestly can't remember. 

I do dishes and other random chores and get the kids mentally prepared: It's Monday.  We're doing school.  I look in Jackson's throat.  His tonsils are huge and there's at least one white dot that I can see.  I call the doctor.  I make an appointment.  I do a puzzle with Violet on the floor.  I get school stuff.  I tell Jimmy not to schedule anything, that I need the van to pick up Juliet from school and then go to the doctor.  (We currently only have one vehicle, which must be soon remedied or we will all lose our heads.)  He says he already has a 12:00 inspection to sit for.

10:00- We sit down.  We pray.  (I remember Juliet's classmate!) I read out loud.  Bible, History, and some historical fiction.  I pound my fist at least once, threaten punishments multiple times, and ask everyone to limit distractions with a mere furrowing of my teacher brow.  I have to stop to lay Violet down for a nap.  After I read, I let them loose to do their own work.  I tell Cash if he can't find the book he lost he has to pay for it.  We find it.

11:10- Jimmy and I make a plan.  We will pack lunch, leave at 11:45, drop Jimmy, Cash, Libby, and Penelope at his inspection, and myself, Jackson, and Violet will go to the doctor.  Juliet has a sty I wanted looked at and Violet needed the second half of her flu shot.  After the doctor I will come back to get Jimmy and the kids.  I edit a few photos while sitting at the table with the kids, who, I'm not sure were really getting all that much done. 

11:30- Libby packs lunch and I help everyone get some school books and something to read packed in a bag.  I pack lunch for Violet and something for myself.  Cash wears his roller blades in the van, hoping to skate in the parking lot of the commercial building they will be at.

12:00- We drop off Jimmy and kids, go to Juliet's preschool, and make it to the doctor on time.

12:30-1:00- We sit in the waiting room.  I have plenty of time to feed Violet applesauce, a cheese stick, a piece of bread, and a baby granola bar.

1:00- We wait inside the exam room.  I get a call from an art student.  I try to answer his questions but get interrupted.  I tell him I'll call back.  We see the CRNP.  Jackson has strep.  Juliet needs hot compresses and an ointment.  Violet falls and bumps her head, cries, barely has time to recover, and then screams terribly for the shot.  Juliet still has her boots off from when she stepped on the scale and we all have to wait while the baby screams to put on the four year old's shoes.  It seems like hell on earth as I type it, but really, it wasn't all that big of a deal.  I'm pretty immune to the chaos.

2:00- On the way to pick up Jimmy and the kids I call back my art student. After we pick them up wet head to Publix to drop off the prescriptions.  Libby tells me that while they were at the inspection they wrote 75% of their Thanksgiving play, and that they even gave Juliet a part.  When we get home we all clean out the van, since we're going on a trip for Thanksgiving.  Jimmy and I call everyone back to task multiple times.  I get the baby changed and laid down for a nap.

2:30- We come inside and I unload the dishwasher.  I get people back to work on school stuff and play Operation with Juliet.  Jimmy has something to do.  He leaves.

3:00- I help Jackson eek out a Spanish assignment because I've been getting texts from his Virtual Spanish teacher.  I text her and let her know he's been sick.  He has to call her at 4:30.

3:40- I wonder where Jimmy is, I have to leave for a photo appointment that starts at 4:00.  He shows up.  I get myself together and grab my camera and head out, not even speaking to Jimmy, he was standing on the front porch talking on the phone.  (I had told him to make those real estate deals, after all.)  While sitting at the light to get out of our neighborhood I text him, "JACKSON ****MUST**** CALL HIS SPANISH Teacher at 4:30.  Do not drop the ball on this!" Sometime during my photo shoot he texts back, "K".

4:00- I have a photo session with a family with two little girls and their newly adopted chiuaua.  It goes well!  They are super nice.  The 2 and a half year old held my hand whenever we walked around.  It made me feel good.  I love kids.  They asked me about my baby.  How old my other kids were.  I thought they knew I had six kids, so I just rattled off the ages.  After that they sort of had that jaw dropped look and said, "So you have five?"  "No, six."  "And you still have time to do this?"  And I replied appropriately, but I should have said, "It doesn't really feel like I have time to do anything, so I might as well do this!"

4:45- I head to Publix to pick up the prescriptions.  I call Jimmy and ask him to start building the quesadillas for dinner.  We have a discussion about buying cars.  Right before we hang up I say, "If you have any kids help you with the quesadillas, make sure they wash their hands first."  He says, "What? Oh right, you wanted me to make quesadillas."  I hang up.  Not mad, just wanted to hang up before he forgot again.  I'm at Publix.  I buy salsa, disinfecting wipes, and pick up the prescriptions.  This is the fourth time I've been to Publix in less than 24 hours.  Good thing it's a pleasure to shop there.

5:00- I get home.  Jimmy and Libby have already built and grilled the quesadillas!  Juliet has fallen asleep on the couch.  I check on her.  I also check on Violet, she is still asleep.  I throw some frozen corn in the microwave and get out the raw spinach.  And that's dinner.

5:05- Jimmy leaves again, was waiting for the van.  Has to go to a property.  Jackson goes with him.  Violet wakes up and the kids and I eat.  I get Juliet to sit up and eat on the couch.  While we are eating Penelope announces to me that this has been "the best day ever."  When I ask why, she tells me that they went for a bike ride and she and Libby made a plan for name place cards they want to make for Thanksgiving.  They mention the play again.  Libby is going to be John Smith.  And apparently, we are related to John Smith, according to Dad.  He looked it up.

After dinner the kids play outside in the garage and driveway.  I get Violet bundled up and buckle her in the wagon and give her a ride.  Juliet revives and goes out to play too.  They work on their name place cards in the garage.  I go in and do the dishes.  I get some laundry going.

6:15- I tell the kids that if they clean the kitchen and living room in 15 minutes then they can have hot chocolate.  They get to work.  ish.  Jimmy and Jackson come home, eat dinner.  The kids don't really make it.  I don't give them hot chocolate.  We sit together at the table and read a home made book to Violet that I made for Jackson when he was a baby.

6:45- Bubble bath for Pip, Juju, and Violet.  I go into the attic and hunt for our space heater and footed pajamas for Penelope.  I throw a couple more things down.  I send Libby to do Math.

I don't know what time it is now.  I pull out all the summer clothes from Penelope and Juliet's drawers and replace them with jeans and long sleeve t-shirts.  While I'm doing that Jimmy lays on the bed and plays the Beach Boys for Violet and plays me an Andrew Peterson song.  Penelope tries on a couple outfits and dances around like only a Penelope can.

8:00- I am expiring and am ready to get the baby to bed.  I doctor up Juliet with her ointment and tell Jimmy that he is in charge of everyone and I take Violet to her room, nurse her, sing to her, rock her, pray with her, and hug and kiss her.  She wraps me in her sweet baby cocoon of wonderfulness.

I take a shower, tell Penelope and Juliet goodnight, spend about five minutes reading my Bible verse of the day and praying, then start editing photos galore.  Jackson sits with me and does some school work.  I do take a short break for ice cream.  I edit some more.  I make myself go until 11, then decide maybe I'll write a quick blog before I turn in.  Now, 45 minutes later, I've written an obnoxiously long blog that no one will read, and I'm super tired.  This is our day.  And in light of it being Thanksgiving week, writing all this down has made me so thankful for such a full life.  It never disappoints.


I'd like to tell the truth

I want to be positive, tell stories about our family, and bring some laughter and joy while recording the memories we're making.  But today I just want to tell the truth.

I'm sad that my baby is weaning.  I'm sad for it to come to an end.  I think about where I was last year, with a six week old newbie, trying to deal with some pretty intense breastfeeding issues, and it seems so far away it's like it happened to a different person.  I had a good run.  I should feel full.  Instead I feel sort of cheated.  I wanted her to be more attached and for longer.  I fear it is my fault.  That the stress in my life has dried me up.

I love taking photographs.  Often I drive to a photo shoot tired and feeling like I have nothing to give.  And then, all of a sudden, everything fades except the task at hand and I forget absolutely everything except capturing light.  This is not an exaggeration.  But I want to do it better.  I want to push myself creatively.  Yet I feel discouraged that I have so much going on I don't have enough time to devote to it.  I want to teach my kids to find what it is in their life that, when they do it, they get lost in it.  I want them to find what God has made them to do.

I hate cooking.  I want to be one of those moms whose kids tell amazing stories about huge yummy dinners.  I want to have "the best mashed potatoes" or "the best apple pie." I hear people say that cooking calms them, helps them to de-stress, and I scratch my head.  What exactly about it is calming, exactly?  The crowded grocery store?  The chopping?  The stirring?  The mess?  The clean up? The multiple complaints from children who think it sounds gross?  What I do enjoy is making breakfast.  Because when I make breakfast, I usually just make one thing, and I make it well.  Grits, oatmeal, scrambled eggs...I have my methods and they are good.  If every meal was scrambled eggs I think I could handle that.

And on a similar note.  I feel such a large level of guilt for feeding my children processed foods like chicken nuggets or hot dogs. But if I didn't use any convenience foods, I'd be in the kitchen all day preparing meals and snacks and my children wouldn't be home schooled at all.  And we've already covered my desire to be in the kitchen all day.

Let's talk about what I do love.  Swinging Violet in the backyard.  Reading to Juliet.  Kissing Penelope goodnight.  (Even though the way she must do it is quite the process and sometimes annoys me.)  Hearing Cash play the piano.  Watching Libby carry Violet around.  Talking to Jackson about anything and everything, and telling him funny stories about himself as a little kid.

I think about the way things used to be when I was growing up.  How the boom of technology has changed everything and I wish I could bury my head in the sand and pretend like terrible, horrific, things are not one click away from everything.  It's not here yet, but I feel it looming.  I have to navigate parenthood with no point of reference related to smart phones.  Me, who didn't even own a computer until age 19, will have to teach my teenagers how to carry one around in their pocket.  It makes my head explode.  I don't want to raise selfish kids whose self esteem is completely skewed.  I want them to know that they are worth something because of who Jesus is, not because they have a certain number of likes.

Time has changed for me.  Now that I have a lot of kids and work, time passes faster and often leaves me feeling like a whole day went by and I didn't do anything, yet I was super busy all day.  I don't know how to make this stop.  I often want to go back to the days that I thought were so hard- when I had two in diapers and two more on top of that and literally ran around dealing with whatever destruction they left in their path.  Those days were hard, but I could get everything to come to a screeching halt if I just sat on the couch with a book and started reading to them.  Now, when I read, I compete.  I compete with the noise of the house, I compete with other things I should be doing, and I compete with my older children who want to be the one reading.  I have worked very, very hard to teach my children to read.  Yet I really liked the days when I was the only reader in the house.

I am wondering if I will regret writing this.  Telling the truth, writing a blog in the wee hours.  But these are the hours good for writing, yet I'm so tired these are the things that come out.  We are in a busy season of life.  The fall always is.  I am comforted by these words: "My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot be moved, he who keeps you will not slumber."  (Psalm 122:2-3)  So even though I am headed to bed, God is not.  He will be up all night doing his divine work.  Taking care of our family and helping me, taking hold of my hand.

I write to tell the truth.  I am feeling tired and busy.  Home schooling and raising six kids is overwhelming to say the least.  But there is a bigger truth.  Children are a blessing.  A heritage.  They bring a deep joy found nowhere else.  When I was a kid I dressed up like a mom for career day.  And here I am.


Happy Birthday Penelope!

Penelope turned 8 a little over a week ago and it was her year for a "friend" party, so we had a little celebration last weekend. After she had already had a party at Granny and Grandad's house the weekend before! She had quite the birthday this year!

It is so hard for me to think of Penelope as 8 years old. She is petite, and has been missing her front teeth for years, so in my mind she's just my little Pip! She is nothing short of wonderful and we all love her very much. 

She had a My Little Pony cake at her party in Brandon and all three of her great grandparents were there. They gave her money and she gave them lots of kisses. She got a Lego Friends set which is all the rage with Penelope these days. 

When we had her party at our house she wanted grilled cheese sandwiches and wanted to decorate her own cupcakes. I had all the girls make their own sandwich and mark it with their initial. I wasn't about to make that many sandwiches! This way it was done in 5 minutes!

The girls had fun playing easy games like hopscotch and pass the parcel. Libby was a huge help. She is my assistant in so many ways! Juliet helped me make party favors. Cash was awesome and went with the flow, jumping right in there and playing with the girls and having fun for his sister and helped be the demonstrator for the dress up game. 

Penelope had lots of little girls come because you know what? She's awesome! I'm sure glad she's my friend! Happy Birthday Penelope!


Violet's Birth Story

When Violet turned one a month ago I meant to post her birth story, which I wrote just about a year ago.  But life happened and I never did.  So I'm doing it now.  Parts have been redacted because they may not be for young or male ears.  It is long but I make no apologies.  It is for Violet.

When I suspected I was pregnant with Violet, I was in disbelief.

But this seems to be how we roll...surprise!  We’re pregnant again.

I was not thrilled.  It was so unexpected.  Five seemed to be our number.  Six seems so out there, so many kids.  We would need a larger vehicle.  We are filling up our four bedroom house now...I would be 37 when the baby was born.  Not to mention the nausea, vein problems, weight gain, and the fact that I had a job now and would have to break it to my boss that I was pregnant and thus wouldn’t be a very good assistant in approximately 8 months.  It was all overwhelming.

We made it until I was at about week 11 before we told the kids.  I was just so sick and tired.  I was going to be early every single night and the children were bringing me “Get well soon” notes.  The kids were happy.  Libby’s reaction was the best.  A quiet, almost tearful joy.  But reserved, as the first thing she said was, “I thought Mom didn’t want any more kids.”  She was afraid I wasn’t happy.  It was sweet.

It took me seriously until about week 17 before I accepted the fact that I was having a baby.  I really thought it wasn’t happening.  That I would lose the baby.  I just felt detached.  Maybe it was because it had been so long.  My baby had just turned three.  I had gotten rid of all my baby stuff.  I was moving on.  I felt like I was going backwards in a way.

Between 16 and 18 weeks I found out my alpha-fetal protein levels came back abnormal.  I had tested at a higher risk for having a baby with downs syndrome, or possibly another chromosomal abnormality.  After a few weeks, during which I had an ultrasound and blood tests run, it was determined everything was totally normal.  This was hard.  I felt like I was in limbo and didn’t know what the future held.  It was strange.  I felt the fear of the unknown.  God spoke to me the Psalm that says, “When I am afraid, I will trust in You, in God whose word I praise, in God I trust.”  

The summer was full of swimming next door in our neighbors pool, in attempts to help my circulation.  I tried to swim, to burn some calories, because the weight gain was plentiful.  I felt jealous when I watched my kids jump in the pool.  I wanted to be able to have fun like that.  Instead I felt huge and uncomfortable.

The vein issues forced me to bed every night early to elevate my feet.  I had no other choice.  Looking back I can see how slowly I became more and more withdrawn and unhappy because of the state of my body physically.  It was impossible for me to feel happy when I felt physically undone.

When I got to the end, I was retaining fluid and if I was up on my feet all day, by about 4 p.m. I was really exhausted and my legs just felt tight and huge.  My lower legs began to get red and splotchy.  I was unable to squat and bend all the way at the knees without feeling like something would explode.

All this is a very long way to say that me and pregnancy were not getting along any more.  We used to be best friends, but now it was as if we were enemies forced to be roommates.  Or maybe like inmates where one (the pregnancy) beats the other (me) up.

But it all would come to an end.  And I was hopeful I could go out on a high note.  That I would have an easy natural delivery without any labor inducing drugs or the need of an epidural.

I wasn’t expecting to go early.  None of my kids had come early, except one.  But as I got closer I hoped for it.  I was so miserable, I wanted to get a week or two off for good behavior, as my OB put it.

A week before my due date I was 3 centimeters and 50 percent effaced.  I’d had some good contractions.  It was Thursday, and my doctor was on call that Saturday.  He joked that it would be a great time to come in and have the baby.

But nothing happened.  I hoped for it.  I would have some good contractions at night when I was resting, but nothing would materialize.  Nearly a week later, the next Wednesday, September 24th, I had some real good contractions that lasted until nearly 3 a.m.  I was hopeful.  My mom and dad decided to go ahead and come to stay.  Thursday came again.  I went back to the OB.  He checked again.  I was nearly 4.  He stripped my membranes.  It hurt so bad I yelped.  I was embarrassed for screaming.  He had caught me off guard.  I hadn’t expected it to hurt like that.  It was about 2 p.m.

I went home.  I walked as much as I could that afternoon and evening.  I had a lot of contractions.  By about 9 p.m. I was ready to put my feet up.  I really thought I was going into labor.  But the contractions, which at first were coming every 6 minutes, by 11 p.m. died down and I went to bed.  I had a few more in the night, but I knew it wasn’t what it takes to get a baby out.

Then, for days, nothing.  It was as if my body had settled in to being pregnant.  Tuesday came.  I was back at the OB.  Standing at the front of the office to sign in, I read the large calendar.  It was September 30th.  I realized in that moment that I had made it.  That unless something crazy happened, my baby would be born in October.  This would mean that all my kids would have a different birthday month.  I had another ultrasound to make sure the baby and my fluid looked good and that there was no need to get her out.  She passed all tests.  I saw the Dr.  He stripped my membranes again.  We decided on induction Friday if needed.  I would be over a week late by then.  I stopped by the scheduling desk.  They told me I would have to come in on Friday, somewhere between 4 and 7 in the morning; whenever they had a bed available.  I was not enjoying the fact that I was having to do this.

When I got back from the doctor visit, I was determined to keep the contractions going.  I knew that stripping my membranes would get some of the hormone going that causes contractions.  I walked.  I took a very short nap.  I walked some more.  Jimmy and I left the kids with my parents and went out to dinner.  Then we walked around a couple stores.  We had to drop off a saw at a friend’s house.  On the way there, it occurred to me I should ask people to pray for me.  So I texted everyone in my contacts that I thought would lift me up in prayer, specifically that I would not have to be induced Friday; that I would go on my own before then.

When we got home from the date we walked some more, around the neighborhood.  I put my feet up at about 8:45.  I was exhausted.  But I was still having contractions.  At about 9:15, after watching the clock, I could see that my contractions were becoming less frequent and they felt less painful.  I had a moment of realization.  I could get back up, walk some more, and even though it would be hard, it would make the contractions harder.

So I made myself get up.  I remember having a mental picture of myself in a hospital bed, hooked up to an IV of the evil pitocin, blanket up to my chin with chills because of an epidural, and I thought about how much I did NOT want that to be my birth experience this time.  I wanted to push this baby out naturally on MY terms.  I got out of bed and started to walk.

At first I just did some chores, making sure I stayed on my feet.  Then I began to walk around the circle that exists inside our home, living room, front room, entry, kitchen, hall, over and over.  My dad was getting ready for bed.  I said to him, “I’m in protest.  I am not going to eat or sleep until I push this baby out.”  I don’t think he believed me.  I don’t know if I believed me.  But it ended up being true.

I walked for about an hour and a half but I could do it any more.  I was starting to swell up and my legs were getting really tired.  I laid down for about 30 minutes.  But I was determined.  I got up again.  I put on some headphones and listened to music and just walked the circle again and again.

By about 12:30 a.m. though, I decided I couldn’t do this all night.  I decided to go to bed.  So at 12:45 I laid down.  Contractions were coming, though, but not real close together.

Now everyone was asleep.  But I couldn’t sleep.  Not because I was in labor, but just because I was all done sleeping as a pregnant person.  I had been restless for about a month already.  

At about 2:15, with contractions still coming, I decided to get up and walk again.  I figured I could really speed this process up if I could just make myself walk a little more.  I knew the contractions were way more effective if I was on my feet.

I walked for 30 minutes, loud music in my earphones, using the length of songs to time the distance between contractions.  I was surprised to learn they were coming strong, every 3-4 minutes.  I decided to lie down at 2:45.  I knew that if they kept coming that close together even while I was resting, that I was probably actually in labor and that there may be no turning back.

They kept coming.  So at 3:15 I nudged Jimmy and told him that I wasn’t positive, but that we’d probably be heading the the hospital soon and he might want to get up and be coherent.  I started to get things packed up.  I put on my jeans, I got the camera and computer packed up, we woke up my mom.  When they continued to come strong every 3-4 minutes my mom and Jimmy wanted to get me there.

We left at about 3:50.  I told them that if I was anything less than 5 cm dilated that I wanted an epidural.  We argued about which way to drive to the hospital.  I pleaded with Jimmy to go slow on any bumps.  

We got there about 4.  Jimmy dropped me and my mom off at the door.  He would park the car and be right behind us.  In the elevator, I told my mom that the ladies at the triage desk would be real complacent and to not yell at them or anything.  Not that my mom ever would.  I was right.  When we walked up to the desk we had to stand there for quite a few seconds.  She finally acknowledged us and said, “why are you here?”  And I said, “Um, I’m in labor.” To which she replied, “Okay, let me finish processing this newborn paperwork and I’ll be right with you.”  I blame this on all the ladies who come into the hospital when they are NOT in labor but think they are.  Shame on you.  All of you.  At this point I have no patience for women with a low pain threshold.  Anyway, I had to fill out paperwork.  They had contacted me and told me I needed to do this, but I didn’t know I’d need to do it while in labor.  I had to walk away from the desk a few times during contractions; the pain being so bad I couldn’t stand still.

Eventually I made it back to a bed in triage.  I got out my free pass to call Dr. Brickler and not whoever was on call.  I made a comment to my nurses that it was kind of quiet tonight.  She quickly came back, "Girl, shut your mouth!" It was pretty funny.  I told her that when I get to seven I go quick, so we shouldn’t fool around.  After a few minutes she checked me and I was seven.  I knew it was go time.  An interesting thing happened too, when she checked me.  It was weird.  I smelled the smell of childbirth.  It was startling. It all became real at that moment.  I knew that soon I’d be pushing my baby out and I’d smell it again.

So I got back to the L&D room at about 5 a.m.  I walked around a little bit.  I used the bathroom.  I wanted to take a few more contractions standing up because I knew that once I laid down, I wouldn’t get back up.  Right after I got into the bed Dr. Brickler came in.  He'd been up since 4 something and had already been jogging.  This is who you want delivering your baby.  He checked me again.  I was 8-9.  He asked me if i wanted to go ahead and start pushing and just get the baby out.  I was feeling a small urge to push at the peak of my contractions, so I said sure.  He went to gown up.

He came back at 5:15.  I was wanting to push.  He had wanted to break my water but I asked him to wait.  I was getting such a good break between contractions that I was afraid to change anything.  He agreed to wait.

I started to push.  The nurse asked him to let her know when to call the baby nurse.  He nodded.  I think I actually thought I would only have to push once or twice.  After a few minutes I could tell I had some work to do.  I would wait for the contraction.  The crazy thing was, my contractions were still 3-4 minutes apart!  So there were a few times in between where we were all twiddling our thumbs, so to speak.  It was kind of awkward.  But things started to happen.  I was moving the baby down.  I would get frustrated when my pushing for that contraction was over and I knew I had to do it again.  I wanted to be done very badly.  Dr. Brickler did break my water after about 20 minutes or so of pushing.  I felt a little bit of relief.  I think things moved down a bit.  

When I pushed once and I heard my doctor say, “Okay, call them” I knew I was about to push the baby out.  I bore down really hard and the head was out.  I asked “Now what do I do?” and he said, “Relax.”  And I did.  For a few seconds.  Then I pushed a little more and I heard my doctor say, “Reach down here!”  And I said, “NO!” (gross!) but he insisted, “reach down here and deliver your baby!” and I did and pulled her little legs out and dragged her up on to my chest, smelling that delivery smell and talking to her and feeling SO much better.  

You are almost in disbelief that you’ve done it, and mostly I am in disbelief at how amazing God is and how generous and gracious He is to have given me a perfect human being.  She was so big!  And beautiful and wonderful.

My mom had been rubbing my forehead and saying encouraging things to me.  Jimmy too of course, but I remember mom rubbing my forehead because just the day before Juliet had not been feeling well and I held her on the couch and rubbed her forehead in exactly the same way in an attempt to make her feel better.  I told mom how much I enjoyed that- especially because I had done it to my own child just the day before.

And then, you are post partem.  And though it is an ending to pregnancy, it is a beginning of something else.  The immediate post partem is not super fun, but it is waning...I am nearly three weeks out as I type this.  I still feel some of the physical challenges and still don’t want to bend over, even though I can much more easily.  I am desperate to lose my weight, but not so desperate to do anything desperate.  I’m feeling like a breastfeeding machine and am enjoying every minute my baby sleeps on me, because I know it doesn’t last nearly long enough.

I love you baby Violet!  You are my last birth story and you are wonderful.

Costumes 2015

The Alley house is currently being rented this weekend so we are in Brandon, FL for Halloween.  We have already enjoyed First Baptist's Fall Festival and we will go to Calvary Chapel Brandon this evening.  It is nice to already have the photo session over with- now, if their costumes get messed up at least we have captured it all for posterity.
 Here they all are.  Jackson decided not to dress up, but I had him put on the George Bush mask so he could be in our photo.  Violet is scared of George Bush.
 Juliet is Rainbow Dash.  This is the second time we've had a Rainbow Dash in the mix.
 Penelope is a bird.  She wanted to be a peacock, but we both had a pretty difficult time with the fact that peacocks are male birds.  So she's just a bird.  She's my bird.

 Cash has rocked his Hulk costume hard this year.  Has been wearing it around the house for over a week.  I didn't know the Hulk had a sensitive side, but you can see here his rage stopped long enough for him to kiss his muscles.

Libby is a baker and Violet is a cupcake.  It is fun and fitting for these two to have costumes that go together.  They love each other.  

Candy! Costumes!  Fun.


So, a mom walks into a bar...

A couple weeks ago something wonderful happened.  Jimmy and I went out on a double date with our very best of friends, Spencer and Carey Mitchell.  And we didn't have babysitters.  We left our very capable teenagers in charge of their siblings and we went out. 

Let's just pause for a moment to relish in the significance of this unprecedented event.

(Still relishing...)

Okay.  Moving on.  It really was a wonderful thing.  We went to an arcade/bar in Midtown (where Jimmy and I dominated in a couple vs. couple Foosball game and then Carey schooled me in Ms. PacMan) and then out for shakes and fries at a burger joint.

Without children.  Without paying money for a babysitter (we pay ours in room, board, and screen time).  It was a super fun night.

Jimmy mentioned it again this week, how it was as if we'd "arrived".  For you see, ever since little Jackson popped out 14 years ago we have been practically prisoners in our own home.  But no more.  Jimmy said how he'd like to go back to the arcade.  How it was fun and how he felt like an adult. (Usually we are regulated to kids night and places with a playground.)

Even though I had a wonderful evening and look back at it with lots of fondness, I replied, "I don't really want to go back there right away."

Jimmy said, "Why not?"

And I realized. Going to a bar/arcade wasn't much of an escape.  At a bar/arcade it's loud.  And there's no where to sit.  And you have to yell to be heard.  And it's not really very clean.  And it's loud.  Did I mention it was loud? Do you see the parallels?  At my house I never sit down.  I'm in a room full of loud people who play games (and drink/eat a lot) and I have to yell to be heard.  And it's really dirty.  You never know what you might find in the bathroom, or really, you might find dirty underwear just lying in the middle of the kitchen floor.  Why would I want to go to an arcade with a bar to escape my normal life?  I live in a bar!

But just as I wouldn't trade our night out with our best friends for anything, I wouldn't give up my every day life no matter how crazy, loud, and dirty it is.  My whole life is a night on the town.

And there is one more parallel.  I told Jimmy, "I liked the milkshake part of the date.  When it was quiet and we could talk and relax."  Because this is me every night when I shut down the arcade, go into my room and close the door, and eat ice cream in the peace and quiet.

I should leave a "tip jar" on the kitchen island or charge quarters to open the game cabinet.  Or maybe I'm taking this metaphor a little too far...


Our Trip! Part Four

This post contributed by Cash Alley.

When we left Niagara falls we went to Rochester Hills, MI to see our friends the Bateys.
The first thing we did was eat pizza it was amazing.
Then we watched a movie called Alvin and the Chipmunks 2 and went to bed.
In the morning we ate bagels and went to a cross country meet for their son Cole.
After that we went home and ate lunch.
Then we picked apples and berries. This was probably the best part of the trip.
We picked a lot of macintosh apples.
And there were raspberries and blackberries.
When we finished apple picking we ate donuts!

                                                And here are the pictures................

Our Trip! Part Three

The following is an interview with myself (Julie) and Penelope (age 7) about the third leg of our trip, our time in Niagara Falls.

Mom:  Tell me about the first thing you saw when we got to Canada.
Penelope:  The toll bridge when Cash had to use all his money.

Mom:  Why did Cash have to use his money?
Penelope:  Because Mom and Dad didn't have any at that time.

Mom: Do you remember how much to cost to cross the bridge into Canada?
Penelope: $13, right?

Mom: No, that's not right.  We're going to move on. Where did we stay in Niagara Falls?
Penelope:  In a hotel.

Mom:  Did you enjoy your stay in the hotel?
Penelope:  OH YEAH!!

Mom: Could you expand on that please?
Penelope:  I had a lot of fun because I liked going to the pool and I liked that we had a big hotel room.

Mom:  Do you remember the first time we saw the falls?
Penelope: Yes.

Mom:  What was going through your head when you saw them?
Penelope: It was cool.  (Takes off her clothes and says, "OH these pants are so sweaty!")

Mom:  What was your favorite view of the falls?
Penelope:  I like the boat.

Mom:  Could your describe your experience on the boat?
Penelope:  It was very cool because we...it was awesome because it was very cool because....because...(giggling...) It was very cool because, um... (laughing...) because we got free ponchos and we got to ride on this boat and we got like 15 feet close to Niagara Falls.  It was cool because I found my own loonie.  It wasn't really a loonie, it was 10 cents.  Overall I found 35 cents because I found one 10 cents and one 25 cents.  I found my own coin under the falls.

Mom:  Moving on...What is "the strip?"
Penelope:  OH the Strip!  The Strip!  We call it the strip except without the "p".  It was the coolest at nighttime because all the lights were on.  It was so cool, it was like the best thing about going to Canada.  Oooooh.  Nailed it!

Mom:  Could you try to use to use an adjective besides cool?
Penelope: Good!  (laughing.) Sorry.  It was amazing.  And good.  And cool.  And it was way colder than it is in Tallahassee.  It was like boom!  I love the air!  I love the air SOOOOOOO much.

Mom:  (silence)
Penelope:  Ask me another question!  Hey, you're writing stuff I didn't say!  Stop writing stuff I didn't say!

Mom:  Okay, could you please think very hard and tell me one more thing you experienced at Niagara Falls that you will remember forever?
Penelope: OH! My pencil thingy!  I bought a pencil thingy and then I bought some gum.

Mom: Is there anything else you would like to tell me?
Penelope:  I didn't like it that much because it wasn't in the United States but I loved it still.  THEEEEE ENNNND.

Our Trip! Part Two

This post contributed by Jackson Alley. Edited by Jimmy Alley

The third stop on our trip that we made was Piqua, Ohio. We stayed at Chad Spruance's house for a couple of days. Chad is my dad's cousin and when I say house, well I probably should say mansion. This house was so big you can get lost in it. It reminded me of the Addams Family mansion with all of its tall ceilings and infinite amount of rooms.

Me and Cousin Chad
Aunt Mary and Violet
While staying in this natural creepy mansion, we did a lot of fun things in Piqua. One thing we did was visiting this new library that used to be an old hotel. They kept most of the original architecture on the inside and outside of the hotel, and it was super cool. Another thing we did was we went to the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. This was fun, for the first hour. It got pretty boring and tiring for me and my siblings towards the end. But this part of our trip was my favorite because of the weather and beauty of small-town Ohio.

                                                             My Dad and his cousins!

Another stop we made was Cleveland, Ohio to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This was awesome!! One of my favorite parts was seeing this really cool prop used by Metallica during their ''And Justice For All'' tour. Overall we saw a lot of cool stuff and it was a lot of fun.

Our Trip! Part One

This post contributed by Libby Alley.

Our first stop was the Phillip's house, south of Nashville, TN.  When we got to the Phillip's they gave us a tour of their house. We got to meet their dog, Toto. The girls slept in the same room and the boys slept in another room.

After we woke up the next morning Mrs. Stacy had made us a delicious french toast cassorole.(it tastes as good as it sounds.) We played "Just Dance" with them on the TV after breakfast. After that, we decided to walk to their neighborhood pool and swim. It was very big, but it was also very cold. after we got used to it, we had a lot of fun! When we were done swimming,we went to the park next to the pool. There was a rock wall, swings, slides, and lots other fun things. Then we got some bread from our car and walked to the lake close to their house and fed the fish and the turtles. There was a big fish who every one in awhile popped out of the water and grabbed a piece of bread and when back down again. It was fun to watch him.

After that we went for a walk in a civil war battlefield for about 30 minutes to an hour, then we went home. The parents went to downtown Franklin and ate at Chili's and the kids ate chilli and watched a movie while Jackson babysat us. Then we went to leave the next morning.

The next day for lunch we stopped in Louisville, KY at Ms. Darcy, Madeliene, Nena, and Eloise's house.  We ate yummy sandwiches for lunch and played for a few hours.  We had a blast!


Yearly Update: 13, 11, 9, 7, 4, and 11 months

It's time again for our yearly update!  I wanted to get a shot of all six of them together looking their best, but that requires people not being in their pajamas and hair brushing and face wiping, and on top of all that remembering to take a picture of them when they might be put together as above, and that just hasn't happened in the last month.  But we are leaving on a big trip tomorrow and I want to post this before then.  So the pool photo is it.  And here they all are...

Jackson, 13 years...
Jackson is in 8th grade.  He's into music, friends, guitar, computer coding, reading, tv, youth group, and planning his financial future.  Jackson babysits for us a ton, masterfully motivating the kids to do their chores using the age old tactic of bribery (food and television as rewards).  He is always coming to me with dreams and ideas and his take on how certain things are going to turn out.  Jackson is slowly becoming more disciplined and has really gotten on board with home school.  (It only took 9 years, Jackson...)  I have enjoyed helping him with his Algebra so far this year.  Jackson is a pretty cool big brother, and will always be our number one.  He has been our buddy for a long time.  Jackson's head shot is a silly face (Uncle Rico) because I was doing head shots for our church and decided to do the kids at the same time...he helped me test the lighting but when I was actually ready to shoot them, he was off socializing.  Typical!

Libby, 11 years...
Libby is in 6th grade.  She's into drawing, reading, and creating.  She's doing piano and gymnastics. She also loves to help me.  It is wonderful to have a helper.  When someone comes and asks you if they can put their little sisters to bed, asks if they can read to the baby, the answer is a resounding, "yes!"  I don't feel bad at all, having her help with my mothering.  Because when I was 11, all I wanted to do was take care of babies and play with little kids.  Libby is a wonderful daughter and sibling.  She takes things to heart and we all love her very much!

Cash, 9 years...
Cash is in 4th grade.  My big smooshy marshmallow has turned into a smooshy boy who wears glasses and likes to read.  Cash never misses a thing.  He likes to sit right next to Jimmy at the dinner table, and will sometimes plant himself there at 4:30, intending to keep his bottom there until dinner begins.  (Which, let's be honest, in our case isn't that long...but he is usually forced to get up and do chores.)  He and Jimmy enjoy playing computer games together, and he loves music.  He and Jackson sleep with the radio on.  Cash is taking piano and playing flag football with his buddies, friends who moved down the street this past spring.  Cash is fun to be around, and is not afraid to speak up and contribute to any and all conversations.  We love you, Cash.
Penelope, 7 years...
Penelope is in second grade.  She is still toothless in the front, and we all remark about how weird it will be when she finally gets teeth.  Penelope is regularly seen rollerblading in the house wearing only her underwear, and other such antics.  Penelope is taking gymnastics and swims like a mermaid, going way down deep with her hair flowing behind.  Penelope is just a lot of fun.  She is a leader to Juliet and looks out for her sister with a deep love.  She still loves all things My Little Pony.  Every night I receive multiple kisses from her all over my face. She is just plain awesome, that's all.

Juliet, 4 years...
Juliet has started PreK at a preschool down the street.  Libby helped me (with illustrations, of course) make her a bedtime and morning routine, and she willingly follows it; preparing her snack and getting dressed and brushing her teeth, etc.  Juliet refuels by playing, pretending, drawing, or coloring alone.  Lately she has begun writing, and will put the first letter only of each word.  She brings me wonderful letters that say Y A D B M (You are the best Mom) for example.  She often has marker smudges all over her hands.  Love that.  Juliet is so compliant, and I do not take this for granted.  I am so grateful that she takes things to heart.  Juliet has four outgoing older siblings, and she has somehow survived and found her own voice.  The other day I was helping her fold her laundry and I left her there, came back, and said "How can I help you Juliet?" and she said, "I can handle it, Mom."  And that's Juliet.

Violet, 11 months...
Baby Violet.  Violet is smothered with love every single day.  I have to fight my children to open her door when nap time is over.  We all want to be the one to get her up.  To see her smiling face and pick up her baby cuteness.  Really, I hope she survives.  She is rarely not being held by someone.  I am often telling the kids to leave her alone, let her crawl around, teach her to play on her own.  They just want to run to her at any little noise.  She loves music.  If you give her a beat, she dances to it.  Right now it's "Barbara Ann" by the Beach Boys.  She asks for it..."bah bah bah..." Violet is our baby.  Forever and always.  An angel straight from heaven.  She gives kisses and is ticklish.  How much more could anyone ask?  Nothing but sweetness.  We all love you, Violet!

And some bonus photos:  Juliet on the first day of preschool and Cash's Uncle Rico pose.