Thursday, December 30, 2010

husband 101

what love looks like
I couldn't let today end without extolling Scott's remarkableness.

First, I awoke to 12 of the most beautiful, long-stemmed pink roses. In our world of debt elimination, fresh cut flowers were a line-item budget cut, so these were a delightful surprise. And they smell just like roses should.

Then as I was helping the children reassemble all their beds with freshly laundered sheets and quilts, we began to notice delish smells wafting up into the second floor. I came down to discover that Scott had made dinner. And not just any dinner. A healthy, colorful, undo-all-the-holiday-eating-madness dinner. Using no recipe, he put together this amazing dish using all of his acquired knowledge of cooking ala Julia Child. What came out was a bowl of whole wheat noodles and freshly steamed vegetables tossed with olive oil, various spices, and Parmesan with Gorgonzola cheeses. The kids have all stopped in just to say, "Yum!"

We are so blessed to have Scott in our lives. Both as an amazing example of what a man should be, as well as what a man can be.

christmas for 10, plus 4

a Rutherford Christmas morning
We often get asked if Christmas at our house is absolutely crazy. Bonkers. A zoo. Our answer is the same every year. Nope. It's just a whole lot of fun.

There are things we do to simplify the process and enable us to enjoy the time together a little easier. Traditions reign supreme during Christmas. Traditions have given us a sense of continuity along with the security of knowing what to anticipate. Whoever chooses the Christmas tree is allowed to hide the pickle ornament. Whoever finds the pickle ornament gains the privilege of opening the first gift, after which we open by age. When we prepare the Christmas Eve party menu, we prepare the same foods that have been around since the first party back around 1981. There is a simple joy in feeling free to enjoy the ride without the pressure of making decisions.

On Christmas Eve from 2 to 6 in the afternoon, the kiddos open one gift each every hour from family and friends close enough to be family. Not only does this help ease the crazy anticipation that fuels gift-ripping mayhem, it allows an hour to enjoy every new gift. Everyone is able to be part of the fun of watching a treasured wish come true and then there is plenty of time for assembling, building, learning rules, and trying out. After the final gift opening, stockings are hung by the chimney with care, cookies are carefully selected for Jolly Old Saint Nicholas, a frigid glass of raw milk is poured, and the rocking chair is carefully positioned for optimal posterior resting.

Christmas morning, Scott usually slips downstairs early enough to brew a pot of coffee and enjoy the soft glow of the tree alone for an hour or so. He so loves hearing that first excited footfall as the children begin to slip out of their bunks. A call is put in to the local family who rush over to our home in their jammies before the children are allowed downstairs. This year the local family included both my parents and Uncle Ryan and Aunt Laura (my brother and his wife.) Believe it or not, gifts are opened one round at a time with clean-up happening in between each round. We learned a few years ago that not cleaning as we go means the inevitable search for utterly important pieces which have been thrown away amid oodles of discarded wrappings. Trust me - not the most fun to be found on a Christmas afternoon! 

The rest of our day has us enjoying new gifts, almost always assembling Legos, playing new games, and eating the intentional leftovers from the Christmas Eve party during a movie siesta. Close friends drop in throughout the day, adults take turns at showering, and there is almost always a nap or two. It rarely feels rushed or overwhelmed. 

For Scott and I, we both feel with each passing year that Christmas is taking on more and more of a storybook feeling. I don't know if it's pure experience which allows us to better flex each year or if it's the sense of fleeting time which helps us to grasp onto each memory and hang on tight. I do know that I love this time of year for all the extra time we gain together.

cool new blog

Through a group of moms I belong to, I recently learned of a great blog. This family is truly living a dream of Scott's and mine - big family, 10 acre ranch, manageable livestock, gardening, and lots of laughter. I have enjoyed perusing their blog today and heartily encourage all of you to just click and visit, even if it's just for a peek into a world that many of us just don't experience in our suburban world!

My original reason for visiting was mine and Scott's new found love of all things cast iron. As we continue to delve into French Cooking, we love the Lodge heavy-bottomed enameled dutch oven we purchased in order to prepare so many of Julia Child's recipes. But I learned today that Janelle is giving away a great cast iron casserole in my very favorite kitchen color:  red!

And as I tend to think that if I find a great opportunity, then I think everyone might like to know about it, I am including the link to her blog's giveaway. Perhaps one of us will get lucky!

my post-christmas downer

Tonight finds me wondering if in the midst of our big family joys, our kids are getting shorted. We went bowling this afternoon & I relished the joy of doing something together just for the sheer fun of it.  There was laughter, cheering, and encouraging as our family joined the Dubach side for a jolly-good time of sending one heavy ball after another down a long, narrow lane just to knock things over.

So now I find myself thinking about the amount of time spent on homeschooling, piano, church planting, and living that just doesn't seem to leave a lot of room for stuff like bowling. I find myself thinking about things like finite amounts of money and increasing costs of gas which makes longer trips harder to accomplish in our gas-hog van. I find myself frustrated that we have been working on becoming debt-free for three years now, and even though the end is in sight it still feels too long off.

This is uncomfortable territory for me because I love every one of our kids more than anything and, if I could, they would have every possibility for life on a platter placed before them in order to select accordingly. But that just isn't going to happen. And some of our kids are old enough that they are now well aware of the truth that having ages 16 months through 14 years in one family means a lot of compromise by everyone.

Usually I can see this fact as a positive - that our children are going to be so well prepared for life with their own families. That growing up learning to share space, time, attention, and possessions is helping to craft selfless, humble, patient, and generous individuals. That if being part of a sports team helps children to learn to work together towards a seasonal goal, how much more blessed our kids are for being a part of team Rutherford working together towards a life goal.

Not so tonight.

Tonight all I can seem to think about is what we don't and can't give them. To think that just the number of kids we have might cause some of them to be frustrated at what we choose not to do or simply can't do breaks my heart. Do our kids feel this way and choose not to share it with us? Or do they feel this way but aren't able to articulate their feelings yet? Sigh. I hope not.

Just the very size of our family leaves us fairly unsupported by conventional wisdom. I know hundreds of families have been there, done that already, but sometimes it really does feel like we are flying solo. What if we really, really mess this one up?

Bummer thoughts, aren't they?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

just happy

Scott and I celebrated 16 years of marriage last week. On the actual day, life went on as normal. But the next day Scott had arranged to have the night off, leaving us free to enjoy our annual "Day of Us." We didn't do anything major. We grabbed some coffee at Dunkin' Donuts, enjoyed a late lunch at Buca, caught a movie ("Tron" - which was painfully awful. We absolutely should have gone with our gut and simply watched "Harry Potter 7 Part One" again.), before coming home to watch a "making of" documentary while playing Scrabble.

We had a fabulous time. And yes, we are aware that we are utterly boring.

But the truth is, I would rather be laughing with Scott while playing Scrabble or drinking coffee or watching a really bad movie than just about anywhere else in the world. He truly is my perfect match in every way.

Happy anniversary, dearest.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I've been mulling over the idea of personal accountability a lot lately. Just today there was a news bit on an organization (The Center for Science in the Public Interest) who, along with the help of a mother of two from California, is suing McDonald's for exploiting children by marketing unhealthy food through the use of toys. Really? Have we sunk so low that we'll now blame the cheap, plastic, made in China toy which accompanies the burger, fries and soda for our unheathly lives? Surely it has nothing to do with the parent choosing to stop at McDonald's and purchase the meal.

We decided to homeschool our kids because we weren't very impressed with the public school offerings where we lived at the time. Not passing judgement - it just wasn't a good fit for our family. The local private Christian school really is amazing, but we looked at the tuition and looked at my college background full of physics, literature and preparing to teach high school before coming to the conclusion that we might as well try homeschooling first.

Homeschooling for us has been like any other major decision in our lives -- there is no way we could be prepared for the way it would affect everything. There are just some things that our kids really are clueless about (most of which I'm pretty thankful for) and then there are other things which they have more knowledge of and experience in than adults.

We experience our fair share of "He did it!" around here, but our eight are actually fairly quick to accept responsibility for both the good and the bad. I think that a lot of their attitude about accountability has been nurtured through our decision to homeschool. They are constantly surrounded by people of all ages helping to hold them to a higher standard. Either the younger brother or sister is looking up at the ball-dropper with devastated eyes or a loving adult is gently reproving a bad choice. Rarely are they in a position to have someone of equal maturation level encouraging them in their foolishness or putting the brakes on their aspirations.

Also, when one of our kids makes a disastrous choice, we have a lot more authority over their time to make it really, really uncomfortable. We can say no friends until . . . and mean it. My parents said "You're grounded!" and off I went to school to spend most of my day with surrounded by my friends. In hindsight, groundings for Scott and I didn't carry nearly the weight that our kid's groundings do.

On the flip side, when our children make wise decisions, we are equally in a position to offer immediate gratification. You got up early and started your school work so now it's 10:30 in the morning and you're finished? Cool! Take the next couple of hours and have some fun. You saw that a family is really struggling and you would like to serve them by watching their children/cleaning their house/cutting their grass/ etc - no problem. We can absolutely make time.

Because we have so much control over our schedules and time, we are really able to use time to teach in all aspects of life -- not just the Three Rs. Don't get me wrong - education is important and we take it seriously. But there is so much more to education than book work and I truly have come to cherish the flexibility homeschooling allows.

I would much rather have a child who grows into adulthood with the ability to accept responsibility than a child who can recite population figures for China.

"In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned. Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authority, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men." Titus 2: 7 - 8a; 3:1-2

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Magic Number?

When we announced that we were expecting again after baby number four had turned one, we were not met with joy. Rather, the comments ranged from teasing incredulity to plain old rude. I think of all the ways to ask why someone would have yet another child, we heard them all.

You do know what causes this, right?

Nothing to do on Saturday night at your house?

Just haven't made the perfect kids yet?

Hoping to create your own country all by your self?

You do know that there are other ways to evangelize, don't you?

Ah, your parents were the conservative ones who kept you out of sex ed, weren't they?

You just don't have enough to do yet?

Don't you think the world is populated enough?

I think China's one child policy might not have been such a bad idea, don't you?

Hoping to have enough children that everyone will simply give you things for free?

Do you know that a full quiver was really only 5 arrows?

So your plan to keep Scott out of the house is just to have more kids to take care of so he'll need two jobs?

On and on and on they went. Some of the comments came from acquaintances. Some from family. And, here in the good old Northeast, some came from perfect strangers who felt the need to comment on the ever expanding belly with four other children walking along beside me.

And then at our routine ultrasound we discovered not one little Rutherford head, but two. (Yes, the phrase little Rutherford head here is used metaphorically. Our kids have gigantic heads. And to borrow a phrase from the immortal Dr. Seuss: no one quite knows the reason.) We were shocked. Every measurement, every symptom, every visit had been that of a routine, single pregnancy. Within the next two weeks, however, my body swelled from a normal 20 weeks along pregnancy to looking almost full term. Scott is convinced that  my mind needed the information before my body was allowed to take over.

What we were the most struck by, though, was the complete about-face the comments took.

How wonderful that you'll have so many hands to help you!

What a blessing to have such a large family!

Oh, the wonderful memories you'll make for these children!

What a gift to have such big helpers at home already!

Isn't it wonderful that God waited until you had so much experience before sending twins?

How exciting!

You  must be thrilled!

I always dreamed of twins!

Can you imagine how much laughter your home will hold?

The same naysayers who struggled with the idea of us having five children were now dancing a jig over six. What is that about anyway? I mean, shouldn't the post-twin news have been just as maligned? Shouldn't the news that we were not only bringing one child into the world but two be greeted with equal scorn, mockery, and loud whispers of "overachievers?"

I don't know what had me thinking about this today, but I did find myself chuckling over the memory quite often. Perhaps it was Aidan's comment that he hopes were are going to have another baby soon. Or, as he put it, he hopes I am making another baby. Even now, while we do get the occasional snarky comments, most people seem to think that the news that another little Rutherford is on the way is a good thing. We have no such news to report, but that doesn't seem to stop the hopeful queries.

Scott and I continue to wonder what precisely made five children odious but six children glorious. For he and I both, this bit of wisdom eludes us.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Coed Naked Wrestling

What is it about more than one boy in a room which immediately requires wrestling? And even more puzzling to me is the preference to do it after bath time, resulting in naked wrestling. And, dratted homeschool kids who listen, they know the original olympics were naked competitions so whenever I request less naked time, inevitably one of those boys will pipe-up with "We're just being authentic,  mom!"

Our Abigail, who has gorgeous ringlets and adores pink is also quite impressed with naked wrestling time. It is not unusual to see her as a completely clothed bystander one moment and a naked participant in the blink of an eye. Then her chirping voice can be heard over the ruckus: "I'll rip your head off, boys!" Ahh, the gentility and charm she exudes during these moments.

Now, Elias has begun to catch on. Once the naked wrestling begins, he often tracks down one of the older members of the family tugging at his footie-jammies, his version of would you please assist me in the removal of my clothing so that I may participate with my siblings in their vigorous exercise this fine evening?

I would love to think that this version of family time is not unique to our home, but I'm really not holding my breath. And, just be warned if you come by our home in the early evenings, you may see more of us than you anticipated.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Just Do it

I am a member of an online group of women with larger families. I have come to cherish this group of women as they have some of the same bizarre daily living decisions to make that we do, and have often times already been there, done that. Such as the dilemma of keeping track of 8 toothbrushes and 8 cups while also keeping them separated so as not to transfer germs. You don't really stumble across advice like that in Modern Parenting or Family Circle.

Recently, a question was posted within this group about how to learn to enjoy getting up early. I chuckled out loud thinking about how I've been trying to figure out how to enjoy it for years now. But, after some thought, this is what I have discovered.

I hate to get out of bed in the morning. It is so cozy and warm and soft and nobody is poking me or asking me for things or  needing to be taught anything . . . Well, that is as long as Elias/Elyas is still sleeping.

For me, I know that as much as I despise to get out of the bed, I know how much better I feel about my day, myself, and my relationship with my family. When I get up with the alarm, there is time to linger over my chapter in Proverbs, there is time to wash my face and put on make-up, there is time to tiptoe in and wake the children gently instead of the alarm doing it, which gives them a gentler start and a better attitude.

There is time to go downstairs and start a pot of steel-cut oats (instead of the old fashioned kind, which cook in 5 minutes but just don't taste nearly as yummy) and fold a load of laundry while having quiet chats with the children who are trickling downstairs. There is time to eat together as a family and greet Scott when he comes in from his night shift at the hospital. 

We are able to begin school work for the olders by 8:30 and whoever is in rotation to play with the littles first always has more patience when they've had a few hours to be awake already. I can complete the day's worth of 2nd grade and kindergarten by 9:30. 

There is time to move through our daily chores with the little ones "helping," so the extra time required for their participation isn't as impatience inducing. We have the time to prepare the meals on the menu in my head rather than rushing through a second bowl of oatmeal, PB&J or anything else that might be fast.

There is time for games and puzzles because the olders finish their school before the younger ones take their naps, so we have time without little fingers undoing everything we are trying to put together.

In short, the difference in our days when I get up is night and day so I truly focus on how much better I'll feel 15 minutes after I've gotten out of bed. I still hate to get out of bed. But I prefer the 10 minutes of "ugh" to the 12 hours of "catch-up" I have when I don't get up. So it isn't really that I feel better about it, but rather than I feel motivated to just do it.

How much of life is truly about making the decision to simply do what one ought rather than what one wants? And, if I'm honest, how much more of my life should be about doing what I ought instead of what I want? Scott and I work hard daily to help teach the kids by both word and example that what we need and what we want are two very different things. Of course, the downside to this education is that trying to pry a Christmas list out of our kids is quite a challenge because they are (for the most part) extremely content.

Wouldn't the world be a much better place if the oughts were occurring far more often than the wants? I often wonder if Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men should actually be stated more along the lines of Keep Your Mouth Shut if You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say and Don't Do Anything That You Wouldn't Want Your Mother to Find Out About

Of course, that doesn't sound nearly as Christmas-y.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


As we were drawing up Shelby's goals for her first year of high school, I announced that she would finally be delving into really good literature. Both she and Scott cringed because they knew with my background as an English Lit major, my version of really good literature usually means old, boring, and difficult to read.

I love Shakespeare and one of my dreams is to one day sit in The Globe Theater and watch Macbeth, my favorite Shakespeare play. But I have never agreed with the notion of forcing students to read the plays by The Bard. They were never written to be read - they were written to be performed. So we have continuously exposed all the children to Shakespeare through summer plays and great DVDs from the library. Of course, once we realized there is an entire graphic novel library for Shakespeare's works, we had to have them for our personal library. I absolutely adore looking over and finding Dawson curled up on the couch re-reading Macbeth or A Midsummer Night's Dream. Shelby knew there wouldn't be any Shakespeare on her list, but she was still concerned at what I would consider "great reading."

Instead, we were focusing on a smattering of authors over the decades. Charolette Bronte. Homer. Mya Angelou. John Knowles. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Harper Lee. Scott shared that he had never read most of these books either, so the two of them are working through her list of 12 books together. Except for The Oddessy by Homer. Scott won't touch that one. Wuss.

Shelby began with A Separate Peace by John Knowles. I wanted her to experience the book because of it's historical references to World War 2 and the way the war affected the boys of the era. But, truly,  I can't stand the book.  I find it as dry as toast and the characters make me crazy. Scott, however read it and thought it was amazing. I was certain there was some resonance for him with the characters as a man, but mostly I was just pleased he enjoyed the book. And then Shelby came to me as if confessing a deep, dark, sin.

"Mom. I like the book. A lot. And I'm really frustrated that I like it."

You see, Shelby and I are as different as different can be. Yes, sometimes that makes for really tense mother/daughter moments. But usually, I enjoy how different we are because I appreciate her perspective on things as it is so far from my own thoughts. She often gives me more to mull over or see than I would have observed on my own.

But for her to like a book that I said she had to read (never mind that she likes the book that I don't) was the equivalent to saying, "Hey mom. You were right." And right now in Shelby's world, that is about the hardest confession to make. Ever.

So, as each book makes its way through her hands I usually only have to wait for a few chapters into the story before she hunts me down to say, "Hey mom - this book is really good!"

A small part of me wants to look at her and say something really cheeky such as: "Duh. The book's only been printed a billion times and read by millions over several decades. But it's nice of you to give your stamp of approval."

Another small part of me wants to say: "SEE! I do know something!"

But mostly, I am just really, really enjoying the camaraderie of sharing books with my daughter. I am appreciating the bridge that is forming between she and I as we find even more common ground. That as different as we tend to be, we are actually a lot more alike on the inside than I think either one of us would have realized otherwise.

Scott and I have always approached books with the idea that we would eat beans for a week to afford a good book. I just never expected this love of reading to become the inheritance for our children that it has. It never occurred to me that when all else failed for conversation between my 37 year old self and my 14 year old daughter, there would still be books.

A Rose By Any Other Name

Scott and I have been reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan since college. Somewhere along the line, I stopped reading the new books as they came out due to total lack of self-control and a houseful of kids needing a mom. But, as Scott was reading this summer, he asked my to please consider beginning the series again so we could manage to talk about it together.

So far, I'm on book 9 (out of 13 with one more to be published) and I am completely enjoying myself. It is a little mini-vacation every evening when the children are in bed, Scott is at work, and the washing machine, dishwasher, and dryer are merrily humming away.

However, one aspect of re-reading this series has thrown a wrench in our otherwise idyllic life here in Rutherford-dom. I discovered that we spelled Elias's name wrong.

I could let it go, but it really bothers me that we named him after a book series on purpose, yet couldn't be bothered to check the spelling. Not to mention that it doesn't really set the realm's best example for our homeschooled kids when they discover that mom and dad don't check either. Sigh.

We are in a family debate over whether to officially change Elias's name from Elias Cullen Dale to Elyas Cullen Dale. Part of me feels like we should just let it go. The kid's 15 months old, it isn't hurting anyone, and it will be a huge pain. Another part of me says we should just fix it.


Monday, December 6, 2010

Phase One: Complete

Last year, we decided to break up some of the holiday nutiness and what we discovered was that we enjoyed everything so much more. Our normal MO consists of a crazy sprint to have Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, break out the Christmas china before breakfast on Friday, then decorate the house and cut down the tree that weekend before stashing all of the boxes back into the attic to enjoy hot cocoa, popcorn, and "It's A Wonderful Life" on Sunday. Whew.

Last year, Elias was just 3 months old and really, really didn't like to be anywhere but someone's arms, so we felt a shift from the usual was in order. So,we decided to adopt a more marathon approach to our holiday traditions. We went to tag our tree instead of cutting it down the Sunday before Thanksgiving with Ryan and Laura. We had never tagged the tree before so there was a much freer sense of tromping through the woods to look for the perfect tree. Of course, we ended up with the very first tree we had looked at, resulting in some good-natured grumbling from Scott. But we also captured some fantastic photos of the day, which normally doesn't happen because we're in too much of a hurry.

We watched the Macy's Day parade and had our Thanksgiving Turkey, which was wonderful. And we did get the china out on Friday morning for our annual pumpkin pie breakfast. And it was here that we rested again. It wasn't until the following week that we decorated the house and then the week after that when we cut down and decorated our tree. And the cookies? Not a one was baked in this house. I love to bake, but we receive such bountiful gifts of cookies every year that we all decided to simply enjoy the cookies others gave and invest our time into Elias and each other.

It felt strangely wonderful. There was no frantic scurrying from one goal to the next. There was plenty of   time to watch and enjoy the children, to take our time, to savor the moments. There was something so delightful in laughing while we worked!

This year, we decided to approach our holiday festivities with the same type of calm, deliberate, and  tortoise-like pace. And that is why it isn't until today that Phase One: The Decorating of the House is complete. And, pleasantly enough, we are still digging this method within our madness. I loved that when we plugged in our 30 foot garland for the mantle only to discover that two light strings were out that there wasn't the freak out moment of years past being fueled by the sense of I don't have time for this! Instead, there was just the calm acceptance of sure, light strings go out. No worries.

It still seems strange to be two weeks into December before our tree is up, but I wouldn't trade those two weeks of a dark corner for the franticness the holidays had become for us for anything. I find that now I really, really enjoy decorating with the kids. It didn't bother me that it took us over an hour and a half to get Scott's Santa Collection placed because each Little Rutherford participated. There was chatting and memories and nostalgia. You just don't get that when you're rush, rush, rushing. I find that now I am actually a part of the moment, instead of the frenzied mill-boss shouting orders at everyone while running by with my arms full so we can move, move, move.

It makes me wonder why we rush at all? I know there are moments when we are going to be busy. But is it really the best way to do everything? I'm not talking about being slothful here. I'm talking about packing our schedules and our calendars so tight that there isn't the room to be delayed by even a moment, let alone a blown-out diaper. I truly appreciate the opportunity to genuinely participate in what is happening around me, rather than hearing about it second-hand because we had divided our numbers to conquer more of our to-do list in a shorter period of time.

So tonight, as we read from "The Lost Hero" in our very cozy and Christmased living room, I enjoyed studying the treasures that are only released from their attic prison once a year. And I found myself anticipating (rather than dreading) that we still have more to come next weekend. On to Phase Two.