Mom in VA

Mom in VA

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Happy New Year!

It's that time of year again.  Time to make the first perfect little entries in a brand new planner.  Time to get to work on those resolutions.  Time to put the finishing touches on plans for the 3rd Quarter of homeschool.  Time to catch up with friends near and far.  And, most important, time to reflect on the many blessings I received in 2013.

But first . . . My "real" entry for our Christmas letter . . . A few nights ago, Jeff was writing our Christmas letter and asked me what I wanted to include about my year.  Let me just say, I love reading friends' Christmas letters, and I like sharing the accomplishments of my kids.  It's just that, for me personally, this stage of my life isn't really Christmas card material.  There's no tidy list of projects accomplished, goals met, honors received.  The most accurate description of my year--of my life-- is "full".  Full of children.  Full of activities.  Full of noise.  Full of chaos.  Full of beauty.  Full of learning.  Full of laughter.  Full of tears.  Full as in "wow, you have your hands full," and full as in "it is with a full heart . . .," and full as in "fullness of the Faith."  Even my iPad reminds me each evening that I have "a full day" tomorrow.   I'm here to tell you, full is good!  It's crazy busy, and sometimes drives me nuts, but it's good!  My days and weeks (and now years) are very repetitive in many ways.  I do the same dishes, fold the same sheets, drive the same dance runs,  teach the same lessons to each new first grader, correct the same misbehavior, etc.  The tasks stay the same, but the people--my people--are changing in countless ways each day.  They're growing up.  Some days, I miss their littler selves.  Most days, I rejoice in their new discoveries.  That's what I'd say in the Christmas letter, there just isn't enough room.

Now for some GRATITUDE . . . I am absolutely overwhelmed by God's generosity to me and our family in 2013. 

ALICE--Best of all, we welcomed our seventh miracle in June.  Alice, who is named for my Grandma, is a force of nature and a big time Mama's Girl.  I have spent a huge chunk of my year nursing and snuggling this little person, and I wouldn't trade a minute of it. 

JEFF--His life makes my life possible. (Those are two halves of a plastic Easter egg that someone put on his head.)

OUR SIX OTHER INCREDIBLE AND UNIQUE CHILDREN--My kids are awesome, hilarious, interesting and fun!  I can't imagine life without any one of them.  (Finally, a use for all their selfies that have been clogging up my iPhone!)

TIME WITH MY DAD--Our whole family cherishes the time we spend with Grandpa Dave when he comes at Christmas and for our annual trip to the Outer Banks each May.  He just left and the kids are already asking how long it will be until they will see him again.

WONDERFUL INLAWS--One example: Jeff's parents celebrated their 50th anniversary this summer.  They very generously hosted their children and grandchildren at a resort in the Pocono Mountains on a date that accommodated our kids' camp schedules.  Who knew that I would get pregnant after the reservations were confirmed and be due on the middle day day of the trip.  I ended up delivering early, so all but the two babies and I were able to attend.  Mom and Dad patiently waited until the last minute to know who would be able to go and who wouldn't.  Their example of always put family first is an inspiration  to me.

GREAT FRIENDS--I am surrounded by a group of the smartest, funniest, and most caring women on this planet.  The fact that they can help me laugh on those days when the walls are literally falling down around me is a miracle. I pray that I never take them for granted.

SO MUCH MORE--"It's all good" is a common expression these days, but this year, in this place, it really has been good.  And I am truly grateful.

Farewell 2013.  Look out 2014, here we come!

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Momadoro Technique

I love reading about ways to become more efficient . . . it gives me a break from actually having to BE more efficient. A couple of years ago, a friend introduced me to the Pomodoro Technique.  This uber-simple approach to time management gets its name from the tomato-shaped ("pomodoro" in Italian) kitchen timer.  Basically, you measure your productive life in 25-minute increments called . . . wait for it. . . "Pomodoros".  During each Pomodoro, you shut out the world and focus exclusively on a single  task until your timer dings.  You then rest for five minutes, reset your red timer and start again.  This anti-multi-tasking approach cultivates all sorts of good habits and seems to be a near perfect system for achieving one's goals.

There's just one GLARING problem!  While this system may work wonderfully for a dad cleaning his guns, a five-year old drawing flowers, or a college student studying for finals, there is no possible way it could work as written for a homeschooling mother of seven.  I can count on one hand the number of times in a given week (or month) that I've been able to focus--without interruption--on a single task for 25 minutes straight -- and that includes attending Mass.  (Pardon me while I go nurse the 4-month old who just woke up from a dead sleep to laugh at me.)

Enter the "MOMadoro".  It has all the genius of the original, with one simple modification . . . shave 20 minutes off the timer.  I can usually focus on a project for 5-minutes without neglecting someone.  If all goes well, I'll get a second one in before the phone rings, someone starts bleeding, a baby poops, or someone "accidentally" sits on his brother's head and then complains about the teeth marks on his rear end (loudly, with tears) while I'm on the phone.  (All of these actually happened today.)

Here's the cool part!  You get to add up your completed Momadoros each day, knowing that each one represents a little dent in the chaos.  At the end of the day, you can quantify your progress (something we moms rarely get to do).  You can even keep a list of the Momadoros you want to do when you have time, so you'll always be ready to use those free five minutes to accomplish something that's important to you.

So, what are you waiting for?  Grab your tomato timer (or free tomato timer app) and get going. You'll be amazed at what you can do in five uninterrupted minutes.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

72 is Our Magic Number . . . What's Yours?

I haven't posted in some time, and a long Baby Alice update is overdue, but it's late so this will be a text-only, serious post about one of the issues occupying my thoughts these days.

Life in this big family can get pretty chaotic.  I do pretty well with moderate levels of chaos . . . I always have.  Some people close to me might say that I sometimes create a bit of it just to keep things interesting.  But there are members of my family who don't tolerate it well at all. And, I've come to recognize that in the long run it's like a millstone that slowly grinds away at everyone's peace of mind.

Lately, I've been thinking about ways to reduce the chaos in our home.  In thinking about this, I've had a glaring realization about the nature of big families that I wish I had paid attention to much earlier in my parenting life.

I did not grow up in a large family. . . there were four of us. . .  Mom, Dad, Son and Daughter.  That means there were 12 relationships (4 people times the 3 others they relate to)--with all of their ups, downs, and nuances--playing out constantly in our home.  That's a fairly complex system, with plenty of opportunity for conflict, misunderstanding, and--well--chaos.

Now take my own family, with its nine members (not counting the dog), that's SEVENTY-TWO relationships swirling around this house all day long (which is probably why I haven't been able to write this during "normal" hours).  Up until now, I've thought of the difference between my current family and the one I grew up in as simply having five more kids.  But, when I look at it as being 60 more relationships, I see my role as "peacemaker" in a whole new light.  It's not just about the arguments or conflicts now.  Two wound-up happy boys can disturb others' peace just as much as if they were fighting.  So, I'm asking myself what is reasonable to expect from everyone, given the wide range of temperaments in our family.  I don't have many answers yet . . . but I'm giving it a lot of thought.

What is your magic number?  How do you bring peace to your home?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Birthday Reflections and Thoughts About Lent

Well, here we are . . . February 11, 2013 . . . My 46th birthday . . . The day Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to resign . . . Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes . . . Day 1 of my 18th Week of Pregnancy . . . The day before Mardi Gras . . . Sick day for Jeff (and sniffly for a few others).

Well, here I sit . . . Reclined on the couch . . . Pawn Stars on in the background . . . Awake way too late . . . Barely prepared for tomorrow's school day . . . Needing a good night's sleep . . . Blessed by a good husband, beautiful children, and many friends . . . Thinking about Lent.

I believe the question for this Lenten Season is how to reorder my priorities, my time, and my outlook in order to make room for God's voice. I was struck today by the contrast between Pope Benedict's announced retirement and Pope John Paul II's decision to remain Pope until his death. The latter humbly showed the world the value of all human life, even that which is no longer "useful" by the world's standards. The former is abdicating the Chair of St. Peter with the same spirit of humility, recognizing that the Pope must be more than an example to the world. He must also be the Shepherd to the world largest flock. Two men facing the same decision, coming to nearly opposite conclusions. Both confidently choosing the right course based on their deep understanding of God's Holy Will.

God reveals to us through these men that doing His Will requires us to listen to him, to pay attention. How often have my children failed to do what I've asked simply because they were so focused on what they thought I wanted that they didn't hear me tell them what I actually needed them to do?  How often have I done this in my relationship with God . . . assumed I knew what He would want me to do, and skipped the paying attention part (which can be rather time consuming and inconvenient)?  How many times have I told myself that being a busy mom was a sufficient excuse to cut short my time spent discerning His guidance?  I'm guessing both of these Popes were at least as busy as I am. I'm sure they both longed for days of monastic solitude to listen quietly for God's whispered voice. But they weren't called to that sort of quiet, and neither am I. They certainly didn't wait for it in order to listen for God's voice. Neither can I wait for perfectly quiet moments of inspiration. I must seek His voice in my noisy days, and I must make it a priority to shut out the noise long enough to really listen to his answers.

I think I've found a goal for Lent.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Advent or Waiting for the Baby

It's been a while since I've written here, but not because life has been boring.  Quite the contrary . . . we are blessed to enjoy this Advent season waiting for The Baby as well as waiting for our baby.  We are expecting the 7th little Hunter in early July.  Today marks the beginning of my 10th week, and I am eagerly awaiting that 13-week mark when I (historically) am freed from "morning" sickness--more like all-day-sickness this time. 

This is the first time that my first trimester has fallen at Christmas time. It has made for a much quieter, much more scaled-back Advent. Jeff has been doing double-duty for the last month, for which I am eternally grateful.

While I would never have imagined that I would be the mother of seven, I have nothing but gratitude for the incredible children who bless my life (and make me crazy sometimes).  What continues to amaze me is how different they all are.  You'd think that among six, there would be a couple who are similar.  But, as those of you who know my kids can attest, they are all unique in their own special ways.  Following last week's tragedy, I just can't stop thinking about how grateful I am for those differences--how none of them could be replaced.  Our family is truly blessed in our abundance.

We're all looking forward to the arrival of Grandpa Dave on Thursday, and Jeff's birthday on Saturday.  We may not have completed all of our Advent traditions, but we will have done the most important thing . . . we will have waited for the baby.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Hunter Family Advent Countdown

As we approach Thanksgiving weekend, I am relaxing with a big smile (don't tell my Mother-in-Law, who I am sure is at home scrambling to put together the feast we will enjoy on Thursday).  Why am I smiling? . . . because this is one of the rare years when the First Sunday in Advent does not arrive on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  That means I have a bonus week to dust off the Advent gear, choose the special craft projects and outings, and lay out the game plan for our family's Christmas preparations.
Each year we do a few new things, and skip some things that we've done in the past.  As I start my planning for Advent 2012, here is the list of non-negotiables for the Hunters, listed in roughly the order they happen during the season:
10.  Begin Elizabeth Foss' Tomie de Paola Advent Study
Since Will was born, Tomie de Paola stories have been a beloved part of our Advent tradition.  Around the time Will started Kindergarten, Elizabeth Foss posted her family's homeschool unit study based on these books.  We have used variations of these plans every year since, as well as her awesome Fudge Recipe.   Each year we collected a few more books until we had them all.
9.  The Family Advent Wreath
Several years ago, a friend hosted a scrapbooking night for a group of friends to make their own Family Advent Albums.  In them, we put the prayers and traditions to guide us through Advent.  This ready reference has kept me from scrambling at the last minute to find the prayers and readings for the Advent Wreath.  Each Sunday in Advent, one of the children lights a candle, another child reads, and Jeff leads the prayers.  Each year, it gets slightly less chaotic . . . we have a ways to go.
 8.  Visit "The Real Santa Claus"
Nothing compares to the wonder of a visit to "The Real Santa" at the original Merrifield Garden Center.  Beginning with Santa kneeling before the Baby Jesus, leading all the children in traditional Christmas carols, through the two-plus-hour wait on line (never stressful--really!), to the mysterious time with Santa himself, this is a not-to-be-missed part of our Advent.

7.  Drive Through The Festival of Lights, and eat and play at the Carnival
The Festival of Lights at Bull Run Park is a drive-thru wonderland of moving lights.  It's pretty much the same every year, but that just allows everyone to anticipate their favorites as we approach them.  We also sing a very bad rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas as we pass each character in that song.  It is crucial that a visit to the Festival of Lights be planned for a night when the carnival at the end is open.  First stop, the incredible handmade food (think hand-dipped corn dogs and hand-cut french fries).  One year, they even had an authentic crepe truck making Nutella crepes to order (there were other types, but I didn't pay much attention beyond the Nutella).  This is a fairly pricey tradition for a large family, but we skip some other things so we can do this one.  Don't forget mittens and wipes for sticky fingers.


6.  The Feast of St. Nicholas
On December 6, St. Nicholas makes a special visit to our home and leaves gifts for the children in their shoes.  This feast day is extra special, since this saint is the patron of our own Nicholas.  This is also a day that we read our collection of stories about the Bishop of Myra.
5.  Springerle
Jeff makes this traditional German Christmas "cookie" with these beautiful molds.  Springerle dough is slightly thicker than concrete, and was directly responsible for the death of my Kitchen Aid a few years ago (to the mixer's credit, I think Jeff had doubled or tripled the recipe).  Once the dough is rolled out, it is then pressed with the mold, cut out, and dried for days.  Then you bake the cookies in a VERY low oven, where two degrees can make all the difference, because you never want the cookies to darken.  They are a beautiful white color and flavored with anise.  A lot of work, but definitely worth it.
4.  Buy a BIG, live Christmas Tree
Growing up the daughter of a forester in the Pacific Northwest, I will always prefer a live tree.  Jeff will always prefer a BIG tree.  The result of this marital union is a very large, live Christmas Tree.  We are not the folks who are in line the day after Thanksgiving to buy our tree.  We are the ones who go out the weekend before Christmas, hoping that the tree farm hasn't already run out of trees (which has happened more than once).  Fortunately, there are usually a few beautiful giants left at the end of the parking lot sales.  Once our tree is found, it comes home to wait in the cool garage until the 22nd or 23rd.  Then it comes in and we begin the long process of decorating.  First Jeff wraps the many strands of lights, and brings up cases of ornaments from the basement.  Then the carefully orchestrated decorating begins.  Efforts are made to give younger children unbreakable ornaments for the bottom of the tree.  Older kids get somewhat fragile ornaments for the area that they can reach.  Then, Grandpa Dave and I put the really breakable ones up high.  Finally, Jeff climbs the ladder and does the very top, and adds the angel.

 3. Welcome Grandpa Dave
Dad usually arrives on the 21st.  Since we only see him twice a year, this is a major highlight of the season.  For the kids, his arrival kicks off a marathon of Christmas story reading snuggled up with Grandpa Dave.
2.  Celebrate Daddy's Birthday
When Jeff and I were engaged, I made the mistake of giving him a combo-birthday/Christmas present.  It was a VERY nice sweater (think cashmere Nieman-Marcus).  He was gracious in his disappointment, but it was clear that people with birthdays during Christmas week don't appreciate having their birthdays "combo-ed" with Christmas.  I have never repeated the mistake.  It doesn't have to be a big deal (he usually prefers that it's not), but it has to be its own celebration.  Most often, it's the traditional pilgrimage to Red Robin, complete with singing servers.  But, it's always special on its own.  And, everyone knows that Daddy's birthday celebration signals Christmas is just around the corner.
1.  Midnight Mass
The perfect end to the Advent Season, and beginning of the Christmas Season!  Every year since Jeff and I were married, save one, we have packed up all of our children and gone to Midnight Mass.  I love Midnight Mass.  Watching the priest carry the Baby Jesus up the center aisle at precisely 12:00 am is, in my opinion, the very best way to start Christmas Day.  We've had many years where children slept through Mass . . . we've had a few years when I've prayed that children would fall asleep . . . but mostly we've had children who have enjoyed the wonder of the lights, the music, and most of all the story of Jesus' birth.  We have been blessed by an extra set of arms (Grandpa Dave's) to help hold those sleeping babies throughout the years.

There you have it . . . the Hunter Top Ten.  I've probably forgotten something huge, but I've definitely covered the majority of our family traditions.  I'd love to hear what your families do!