My Beamish Brood

My Beamish Brood

Monday, September 9, 2019

Dreaming of New Orleans

At the beginning of this month, Paul and I celebrated 13 years of marriage! In that time, we have traveled without children exactly twice, and one of those was our honeymoon in Colorado. In April of this year, thanks to my amazingly generous parents, we took our second trip together. This time we flew to New Orleans and spent a long weekend in the French Quarter. We made a short list of things that we wanted to do and see, but we left the majority of our time wide open to do whatever the spirit moved us to do.

I could sum up the trip in three words: walk, listen, and eat. We put in tens of thousands of steps each day wandering the shops and the waterfront, and it's a good thing we did because I ate my weight in beignets and seafood every day! And everywhere we walked or ate, we were surrounded by the sound of music. There were musicians on every corner and in every cafe, and not just a-guy-and-his-guitar live music, but accordions, banjos, upright basses, and even entire brass bands.

We stayed in a hotel just off of Bourbon Street, right in the heart of the French Quarter. We didn't rent a car, and we took public transportation only once, because there was so much to do right where we were that we didn't feel the need to go far. Thankfully I wasn't yet into my third trimester of pregnancy, because I still had the stamina to do a great deal of walking. But I'll take responsibility for every stop we had to make... Paul could have walked forever! We flew in on Saturday and spent the day exploring the area around our hotel. We had dinner at the French Market Restaurant and ate our fill of jambalaya, gumbo, red beans and rice, and just about everything else on the menu. I ran out of room long before I wanted to be done eating!

Early Sunday morning, we walked to the waterfront to taste our very first beignet at Cafe du Monde. Oh my word, it was a treat! There was about an inch of powdered sugar on the crispy pastries, and it was impossible to eat them without making a mess! The cafe had their service down to an art; we found an empty table and a waitress came almost instantly to take our order. We ordered our coffee with chickory and an order of beignets, she took our money right away and came back moments later with our food. There were no bills, no waiting, very few choices... it was perfect!

Later we attended Mass at the oldest cathedral in the United States, the St. Louis Cathedral. It was pretty neat to pray in such an historic location! After Mass, we wandered down Pirate Alley to Faulkner House Books, a tiny bookstore housed in the former home of William Faulkner. It was one of the few places on my must-see list, and while it was very exciting, it was overshadowed in my memory by the other New Orleans bookstore that we stumbled upon. Directly across the street from our hotel was a nondescript little storefront with a sign that said "Arcadian Books". Of course my interest was piqued, but the store had seemingly random hours so we kept our eyes open hoping to come upon it when it was actually open.

Our Lyft driver from the airport had recommended a spot for fried chicken that all of the locals frequent, so we decided to check that out for lunch. It was a dark, dingy hole in the wall, but the chicken was the real thing! Delicious and greasy... so when we hadn't walked off the weight of our lunch by dinner time, we opted for a light meal at Cafe Beignet down by the water. We listened to some wonderful jazz music while the breeze blew through the open air cafe, forgetting for a time that our hometown was covered in a frozen blanket of snow at that moment.

Later that evening, we decided to check out Pat O'Briens dueling pianos. It ended up being the perfect spot for me to rest my feet after a long day of walking. The pianists took requests from the audience, and we were serenaded with every song imaginable. We stayed for quite a long time and got to hear four different pianists. After hearing "Piano Man" played twice, we began to wonder how many times that song actually gets requested each night!

On Monday, we took another trip to the waterfront for a beignet and cafe au lait. We then took the streetcar partway across town to visit the shrine of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos. It was a peaceful refuge in the middle of a loud, dusty area of town. We spent some time praying and wandering the grounds, then began to make our way back. The walk to the streetcar was long, and the temperature had risen, so my pregnant body began to fade. Thankfully the people of New Orleans are kind and compassionate, and someone jumped from their seat to make a place for me to sit on the crowded streetcar. We got off for lunch at a restaurant we had our eye on for one of New Orleans' iconic sandwiches, the Po' Boy. It revived me enough to make the walk back to our hotel, but by the time we got there, I was exhausted and barely able to stand up. We turned the corner onto our street and low and behold, the bookstore was open! Paul asked if I was up for a visit, and I almost said no. But my love of books won out against my exhaustion and we decided to check it out. We were greeted by the most glorious sight... piles and piles of books, stacked, shelved, in seeming total disarray. In other words, sheer beauty! My energy returned as we perused the store.

After I had squeezed my way around and through the narrow corridors, my baby belly nearly knocking over books at every turn, we finally returned to the hotel for a break. We took a dip and read our books by the hotel pool in the central courtyard. In the evening, we returned to the restaurant we had gone to our first night in the city. The one cuisine we had not yet attempted was the crawfish boil. How could we leave New Orleans without eating crawfish? It was delicious... and spicy! I did the best I could, but my mouth was burning!

On our way back to the hotel, we passed by Preservation Hall, the most iconic spot to listen to live jazz in all of New Orleans. We had tossed around the idea of trying to get into a show, but we never planned ahead to make sure it happened. But when we walked by that Monday night, it happened to be about a half hour before one of their shows was about to begin. The line seemed manageable- short enough that we thought there was a chance we could snag tickets. We decided to step into line and give it a try. Paul ran to an ATM to get money for the cash-only tickets, and soon after he returned, the house manager came out to make sure everyone had their cash in hand. If we were not ready as we walked through the door, we would be turned away. No rifling through purses, no counting out bills. So we got ready and the line began to move. We made it into the building before the tickets ran out, but the house was packed! Miraculously, there were two floor-cushion seats available in the very front, so we managed to snag what I think were the best seats in the house! And when the music started, the energy was fantastic! The musicians were inches away from us, putting on an amazing show. Even though my feet fell asleep, I didn't want it to end!

But the show did come to an end, as did our amazing weekend away. On Tuesday, we spent the morning buying some souvenirs for the kids, sitting by the water one more time, listening to a street band, then we made our way to the airport to catch our flight home. I wanted the weekend to last forever, and I'd go back in a second! I am so grateful that I had the chance to spend some one-on-one time with my love before Baby Leo arrived. Hopefully we can make it happen again before another 13 years passes!

Friday, August 30, 2019

Leo Ellis: The Wait is Over

Eight days after his due date, our little man decided to enter the world! It's funny, the longer we waited, the more it felt like he would never arrive. As Paul kept reminding me, as each day passed it was actually more likely that he would be born, but boy did it feel like the opposite! What a change from my first pregnancy to this one... I have officially experienced the whole gamut, from preterm labor and bedrest to 41 week appointments and plans for possible induction! What a trip.

I had resigned myself to probably just being pregnant forever when our baby boy finally chose to make his arrival in the early hours of the morning on Friday, August 2. Paul's mom had planned to come to town for his baptism, but when he was still in utero two days before he was supposed to be baptized, we had to re-evaluate. She came to town anyways, all of us praying that Baby would come before she had to head home, and I am so grateful that she was here! We woke her up to let her know we were heading to the birth center, and she prayed with us in the living room before we made our way to the car. She settled in to wait for news while our kids slept peacefully, not knowing their baby brother would be born before some of them even awoke that morning!

All of my previous babies were born in a traditional hospital setting, with a traditional doctor. But after Blaise was born, my hospital closed its maternity ward. No big deal, I thought, there are other hospitals. Then when I found out we were expecting, I went to my first appointment. My doctor of almost ten years congratulated me heartily... and then informed me he was retiring from OB practice! He would be delivering his last babies in April, and this one was due in July. So, left with a completely blank slate, expecting baby number six, I decided to try something completely different: A midwife at a birth center.

So now, in the early hours of the morning, I was approaching the birth center completely unsure of what this experience would be like. I was greeted at the door by my smiling midwife and led to the beautiful, quiet birthing room in the back of the building. Then we were left alone! She and the nurse checked in periodically to listen to baby, but mostly we had the room to ourselves while we waited for labor to progress. I almost didn't know what to do with myself with no papers to sign, no monitors strapped to my belly, just me and Paul quietly waiting.

After we had been there about an hour, things really started to happen. I had been hoping to try a water birth for the first time ever, so I eventually got into the tub... and the relief was instant! My body relaxed and I could actually enjoy the moments between contractions. My one regret is that I didn't have all five previous babies in the water!

Leo Ellis entered the world at 7:33am,  9 lb 11 oz, and 21 inches long. We were again left alone as a family to snuggle in the comfy queen-sized bed and get to know each other for awhile. We then called my mom, who lives just blocks from the birth center, to come and meet her newest grandbaby. She brought us pancakes (my traditional post-birth request) and held Leo as we ate our breakfast. I am so glad she got the opportunity to meet him without all of the other kids in tow! Usually she and my dad are on kid duty, so their first interaction with my new babies happens while trying to herd our whole crew through a hospital. 

At around 10:30, the nurse came in and told us we were clear to go home if we chose, but there was no rush. Paul and I looked at each other and decided that we were ready! My biggest fear about the birth center was that we would have to go home so soon, but when the moment came it seemed so natural. We packed up our things, strapped Leo into his carseat, and drove home to introduce him to his siblings. They all ran out to meet us and ogle their new little brother. Leo had fallen into a deep sleep in the car, so while Paul passed him around and snapped pictures, I went to bed and slept for several hours. Eventually my parents took the kids to their house, and we had the house to ourselves for two nights!

He has been with us almost a month already, and everyone is absolutely in love with him. The kids want to hold him all the time, and they pride themselves on being able to calm him down when he cries. They are not big on chores or work, but if I give them a job that involves helping me with Leo, they will all jump at the chance.

We are happily adjusting to being a family of eight, and I just can't wait to see how Leo grows and develops his little personality among the beautiful chaos of our crazy, wonderful home.


Thursday, September 6, 2018

Two Crazy, Two Cute

Well I just have to say, it's a good thing they make toddlers cute! Blaise has kept me running since the day he was born. I get exhausted just thinking about the distance he covers each day, even if he doesn't leave the house! He is into everything, climbs on everything, escapes from everything, and he does it all with a huge smile on his face. He is the joy of his siblings' lives, and he feels the same. Most mornings, Blaise is the first one awake. As his brothers and sisters wander down the stairs one at a time, they are each greeted with an enthusiastic squeal... and often a tackle. The same goes for his Daddy... when Paul gets home from work, you'd think it was Christmas the way Blaise trips over himself to get to the door. He sure makes us all feel loved!

These past two years have brought a lot of growth in motherhood as I juggle the needs of older kids who just keep getting older with little ones who just want MOM. I still haven't figured out any magic formula, but I wouldn't trade the craziness for the world! Sibling relationships bring their challenges, but I know that my kids will never wonder if they are loved. On the days that my patience has run out and I snap a little louder than I wanted to, they can always turn to their sweet brother for a snuggle or a smack in the face... his two favorite ways of showing affection.

I will not be a bit surprised if Blaise ends up being an extreme sports fan when he grows up. Every drive we take, he points out (actually, shouts out) each motorcycle, big truck, and brightly painted car that we pass. The louder and faster, the better. His goal in life is to ride his big wheeler as far down the street as he can before I catch him. Once he made it to the end of the block, and I didn't see him slowing down at all as I ran to catch him! I honestly don't know how far he'd go! Monica and Glenn, if you open your door one day to find him on your doorstep, don't be surprised.

He thinks helmets are the coolest thing since sliced bread... literally. He loves bread. I once found him in our bread drawer eating whole slices plain. But helmets are even better! He has been known to steal helmets from unsuspecting kids who biked to soccer practice. Thankfully, he has always returned them... so far.

But for as much as he is on the go, he still loves to snuggle in my arms with his paci and blankie at bedtime. He has amazingly turned into a great sleeper, a huge 180 from his first year of life! I have been getting full nights of sleep for over six months now and it. is. amazing. And necessary... oh man, he hits the ground running every morning!

Blaiser, Blaisius, Blaisey, you are the joy of my heart. I hope you never lose your enthusiasm for life!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Cabin Life

Have you ever had an experience that felt too good to be true? This summer has give me a taste of that, since my parents purchased a cabin on a lake in Wisconsin. I keep pinching myself. Can we really get away with our family whenever we want? It has been unbelievably fun and amazingly peaceful, and this is just the beginning of a lifetime of memories to come!

If I could name one downside of living near my family, it would be that we don't do overnights like we did when we lived far away. Since they live only minutes away, there is no reason for us to sleep over when we visit. And the vast majority of our time together is with the kids around, so we don't get to spend much adult time alone. But the cabin changes all of that! When we go, we go for a weekend. We settle in and relax and just enjoy each other's company. We can stay up late drinking wine and playing games long after the kids are in bed. 

The highlight for my kids is definitely the extra time spent with their cousins! When we were able to visit at the same time, the kids spent hours splashing and digging and coloring and enjoying each other. They have come up with a host of games that keep them busy for hours while we relax (or chase Blaise around, depending on his mood). Edith and Sammy have become inseparable water buddies, having conversations about secret things that none of us can understand. I love watching all of their bonds deepen as they spend this time together!


The cabin has even allowed us to spend more time with extended family. Both of my sets of grandparents have made a point to come up as often as they can, and my kids have spent hours chatting and reading with their GREAT grandparents. How many kids can say that??

I have gotten packing for the cabin down to an art already. When Paul gets off work on a Friday, we can turn around and make it to the cabin in time for a late dinner! It has been an amazing blessing for our family already, and I can't wait to see what the future brings!