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That woman with 14 kids

Undoubtedly some of you who read that title thought I was referring to Nadya Whats-her-face, the Octomom who recently gave birth to 8 babies at once on top of the 6 she already has. No, I am not referring to her and her plump lips. I’m talking about my grandma.

Grandma was sassy

Yes, that there lady done birthed 14 youngins, and we still talk to some of them! Joyce, Charlene, Donna, Steve, Nancy, Annette, Dennis, Larry, Rick, Ron, Elaine, Greg, Brian and Lori. That’s seven girls and seven boys, which goes to show that probability really does work out over a long enough time span. Now, my gramma had her babies over the course of 25 years, not 8 at a time. My aunts and uncles have limited themselves to 3 offspring a piece at the most, suggesting they were not so fond of the situation as to repeat it themselves. So, it’s certainly a different situation than the octomom. Stilll, I always feel a bit odd when people say something like, “That’s crazy! Can you believe she has fourteen kids?” Why, yes I can. And what you be sayin’ about my momma’s momma?

My mother’s family grew up in rural Indiana, where there were a couple other families with 12 or 14 kids. Grandpa worked at Sears his whole life and Grandma raised enough kids to start a couple basketball teams. They lived in a tiny house with 4 beds in a room. Each kid got a drawer and half a shelf. All those kids managed to go to college too. I don’t know how, but they did. It was only when my mom brought only one suitcase of belongings to college that she realized how poor they were.

So when I think about this recession, which might become a depression, I know I will survive somehow. Things could get bad. I could lose my job and have to move in with someone else. I might have to give up Netflix and sell my couch. It would suck, but all that is survivable. And, okay, sure, my mother joined the Peace Corps straight out of college and lived in Micronesia for two years because she just had to get away. But she turned out all right! She’s probably reading this entry right now. Wave to my mom, y’all!

I don’t know what Grandma was thinking, spending ten and a half years pregnant. I don’t know what the Octomom was thinking either. I know I wouldn’t make the same choice. But if you ask me if I can believe that someone had 14 kids, the answer is, “Yes, I can.”

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65 Comments

Pam • March 12, 2009 at 8:08 am

What a beautiful picture!

My grandfather had 10 or 11 sisters, I can’re remember, (so much for the law of averages!). I think it’s the all-at-once thing that flips everyone out. Some of my neighbors have big families – from a family of 14, most of the grown kids are in the area and have families of 10 -12 each – the smallest family of the bunch has 4 kids. And most live within a few blocks of each other.

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Jill • March 12, 2009 at 8:35 am

*waves to PQ’s mom*

My husband’s gramma had 13 kids, so we are familiar with the big family thing. I think back then it was more normal to have a bunch of kids – maybe because there was less birth control available?

And I think that is the most gorgeous wedding photo I think I’ve ever seen. Seriously.

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PastaQueen • March 12, 2009 at 8:44 am

@Jill – I know! Clearly all the ugly comes from Grandpa’s side of the family :)

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Mara @ What's For Dinner? • March 12, 2009 at 8:46 am

Your grandmother is beautiful!! The whole “huge family” thing is beyond me, since the most kids any of my friends’ families had was 7, and THAT was huge to me!

I think octomom is nuts…but your grandma? FABULOUS!

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dg • March 12, 2009 at 8:49 am

So now we know where those gorgeous curls come from :)

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Debbi • March 12, 2009 at 8:50 am

Oh, your Grandma was so beautiful. Love that portrait, and you look like her!

Your point about surviving, no matter what happens, is something to think about. Many of us are further away from our families, both physically and emotionally, than they were in your grandmother’s era. That can add to the stress levels of modern living in this economic uncertainty.

Thanks, as always, for words to ponder.

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Wakati • March 12, 2009 at 9:03 am

Wave to mom:-) Your grandmother is beautiful.

I have an aunt with 9 kids and she’s a judge. Her children are all healthy in every respect. She is one of my role models. I don’t aspire to have 9 children or be a judge, but she is a model of joy, love, and spiritual centeredness.

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Amy • March 12, 2009 at 9:34 am

Wow, your grandmother is so beautiful. I love how photos were taken back then. My great-grandmother has some similar ones, and they’re just gorgeous. I don’t know what was different (aside from all the high-tech digital-ness), but something was lost in photography as years went on. Women of that era looked much more elegant and classier than a lot of women look today, but that’s probably a whole other story.

My dad’s mother had eight kids (7 boys and 1 girl) and my mom’s grandmother (the great-grandmother I mentioned in the above paragraph) had six (4 boys and 2 girls). My Grandma had children from 1957 through 1972. My great-grandmother had children from 1933 through 1955. And it was hard for both women, my dad’s mother especially, but they made do. I think when it comes down to doing what you have to do to survive, especially when there are other mouths besides your own to feed, you figure out a way.

BTW, just wanted to tell you, even though you don’t know me from the man in the moon, I bought your book last week and I’m about halfway through it, and I love it. :-)

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Deb • March 12, 2009 at 9:42 am

A heartwarming post. Love to you and your family.

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Anonymous • March 12, 2009 at 9:49 am

Beautiful photo!

Having 14 kids is, of course, a whole lot different from having 8 newborns at once. It’s a whole different family dynamic when they come naturally,

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Jen • March 12, 2009 at 10:04 am

I was going to say how pretty your grandma was but everyone beat me to it. She also looks very young, so they had plenty of time to make those 14 kids…

My own grandmother on my dad’s side had 6 kids, but only 4 of them lived past the age of 2. So times were definitely different. I think sometimes about my 20-year-old grandparents grieving the death of their first son and wonder how they ever got through that. My own problems seem trivial in comparison.

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Sue • March 12, 2009 at 10:08 am

What a beautiful photo; I do believe you resemble your grandmother!

I really liked your post; I think there may be great benefit in households combining, with less isolation and more self-sacrifice.

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Dee • March 12, 2009 at 10:11 am

I too have to comment on how beautiful the photo is and I agree with a previous poster, something is lost in todays photos compared to then. *sigh*

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Kyle • March 12, 2009 at 10:21 am

Hi Momma PQ!

I am so jealous you did the Peace Corps!!! That was always a dream of mine, until the US government snatched it away from me. :( You should write a guest blog about it here so we can read about your experiences!!!

Haha, PQ, was your Grandma Catholic by any chance? Mine was and she had 7 kids. And I’m pretty sure what she was thinking the whole time she was pregnant was, “Damn my stupid religion that won’t let me use birth control. I’m going to keep popping these suckers out until the good lord tells me I’m done.”

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Yum Yucky • March 12, 2009 at 10:21 am

Yes, I do adore the picture. Yes, I already have 4 kids, and NO you couldn’t pay me to have another. My pregnancy experiences were like visiting the pit of hell.

I applaud your grandma.

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Dawn • March 12, 2009 at 10:32 am

I agree, a beautiful picture. I also agree that you resemble your grandmom. That’s an amazing story, 14 kids, all went to college too, what a family you have.

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PastaQueen • March 12, 2009 at 10:37 am

@Kyle – Yes, indeedy! They are a Catholic family from a German Catholic area of Indiana.

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Aline • March 12, 2009 at 10:49 am

There are definitely worse places to escape to than Micronesia!

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Aline • March 12, 2009 at 10:50 am

@PastaQueen – Are you kidding us? You look just like her!

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Chicky • March 12, 2009 at 10:53 am

My mother in law is one of 16 living children. There were 4 siblings that died at birth or really young. Her mother had 20 children. She started at 15 with the first and had her last when she was in her 40’s there was 1 set of twins (one of the twins died). All 16 children are still alive.

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Tina • March 12, 2009 at 11:17 am

What a great wedding pic! So glamorous!

My great grandparents had 17 kids (2 sets of twins). They were a strong, Catholic, Canadian-born chicken-farming family that moved to the US when my grandmother was a kid. People’s eyes always get huge when I tell them–especially when I add that the initials of all the kids spell out Jesus, Mary Joseph. (The twins got to share initials.) The first question people ask is: “What if they were only able to have enough kids to spell out Jesus, Mary, Jose?”

My great-grandmother lived until she was 102, so clearly keeping up after all those kids kept her healthy. In fact, she was in her 90s when she sustained a hip fracture. The docs told us that people in their 90s usually can’t survive a hip fracture. If they do, they usually end up in a nursing home. Not her–she was playing cards the day after surgery and she lived independently until the day she died!

God–I may not want her beehive hairstyle, but I hope I got her genes.

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Bob Burchfield • March 12, 2009 at 11:20 am

Jennette,

When I was a young lieutenant in the US Air Force back in the day, I knew an NCO who was determined to have a boy. He finally got his boy–on the 13th try! Can you imagine growing up as the only boy in the family with 12 older sisters???

And my Dad was one of eight kids. I don’t find anything unusual at all about a woman having (or wanting) so many kids.

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Amy • March 12, 2009 at 11:57 am

My great grandma had 17. We have natural quints in my family, should I be worried?

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jo • March 12, 2009 at 12:02 pm

I am the youngest child in a (Catholic) family of 12. 7 girls and 5 boys. I have a twin sister. We are spread out – my mom had babies from 1951 to 1972, so there were several kids already out of the house (even married) by the time I was born. A comletely different situation than 8 newborn babies at once. Most of my siblings have 4 or 5 children. Except me…I have just 1. BTW my mother was the oldest in a family with 17 kids.

I agree that your grandmother was a beauty and you look just like her!

BTW I also purchased and read your book. Loved it!

Jo

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Lyn • March 12, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Wow, you look like her!! What a gorgeous photo. I hope it’s huge on a wall somewhere. It’s just beautiful as an art piece in itself.

I used to want 12-15 children when I was younger. I was an only child (like octomom) and just *wanted* a bunch of kids. But after five children it was dreadfully obvious I overestimated myself… five is PLENTY for me! I am so done!

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Tanya • March 12, 2009 at 12:15 pm

@Amy – My Grandma has pictures like that also. I asked her why the colours were like that, and she said that they added them to the photograph after they took it. The camera didn’t take them to look like that. That’s why the colours are all soft and pastel-like.

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susie • March 12, 2009 at 12:40 pm

My grandma had 7 boys and 6 girls. The stories my mom tells are nothing like the families on TLC. Most of them start like this, “remember the time I ran you into that pole and broke out three of your teeth.” I think of my mom’s childhood now that I have two kids and my hubby and are totally overwhelmed.

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Becca • March 12, 2009 at 12:59 pm

what a glamorous photo!!!!!

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Rah • March 12, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Hi, PQ’s Mom!

Thank you for a reconceptualization of the Octomom. You are right–it wasn’t all that unusual a century ago.

That is truly the most beautiful wedding picture I have ever seen, and your grandmother was beautiful, and you DO look like her, beautiful and all!

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Karen • March 12, 2009 at 1:25 pm

My dad was the eldest of 8 kids – 4 boys, 4 girls. Another German Catholic family.

I think perhaps Octomom’s money would have been better spent on psychotherapy than on the astonishingly bad plastic surgery she “hadn’t had done.” Riiiiight. Girlfriend is a seriously hot tranny mess.

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Elizabeth • March 12, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Hey there… beautiful pic… I have a similar one of my grandma and I always think she looks like a movie star! :-)

Anyway, as some of the other posters have said, it’s not the sheer number of kids, it’s that she has 14 under the age of 8. Plus, several of her original 6 have learning disabilities… and, oh yeah, there’s the whole not having a job and no solid support system… 14 kids, that’s fine, but not when she can’t physically or financially care for them…

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tony • March 12, 2009 at 2:25 pm

I have to agree with everyone else – that is one gorgeous photo!! How elegant she looks! Both my grnadmas came from large families, 9 bros and sis in each, and each had a reasonably large family of her own – five for one and six for the other. Not counting miscarriages. They both came from farm families, and I guess it was what you did. One guy I worked with had 15 kids in his family, no twins, all singles.

And yes, even if you give up your couch and Netflix, you’ll be fine – it’s all from your family.

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victoria • March 12, 2009 at 3:13 pm

I love the photo, and the story, but one minor caveat: when people criticize octo-mom for having 14 kids, their criticism could not be considered applicable to your grandmother, who had her kids one (or, at most, two) at a time.

Having 14 kids is manageable, if the parents are willing to live without any discretionary spending money, free time, or peace and quiet. Some people love kids so much that they are willing to live their entire adult lives without any adult-only recreation (apart from the recreation of making more babies). I don’t think anyone would begrudge your grandparents their choice.

But Nadya Suleyman is very different. She chose to have 8 newborns AT THE SAME TIME. No matter how much you love kids, no matter how efficient and energetic you are, there is no way a single caregiver, or even one with a devoted grandparent on hand, can properly care for 8 newborns at the same time as they’re looking after 6 older children.

Caring for one or two newborns is a full-time job. Since Nadya has 8 at once, we can all be 100% confident that some or all of her children will suffer neglect. And, since she is unemployed and unmarried and lacks marketable skills and now will never be able to complete her education and therefore will never be able to acquire any marketable skills, we can be 100% confident that she cannot support 14 children, even if she receives welfare. (Even Brad and Angelina, whose family is half that size, and who have vastly more resources and almost unlimited childcare help, describe the task of parenting a large family as exhausting.)

Nadya’s choice was irresponsible. Her stated belief that she could handle this task is delusional. This woman is not living in reality.

While mentally ill people can be adequate parents, and while Nadya is devoted to her children, she is indisputably mentally impaired and certainly not capable of handling this monumental task. In fact, probably not even the most rational, mentally clear, and capable person in the world could properly care for 8 newborns and 6 older kids at the same time.

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MaryK • March 12, 2009 at 4:10 pm

That has got to be the most beautiful wedding photo ever! I doubt the photos featuring today’s strapless hoochie-mamma wedding gowns will hold up so well when we’re all great-grandmas!

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Michelle • March 12, 2009 at 4:18 pm

Wow, your grandmother is stunning, you look a lot like her.

My husband is number 8 of 9 children, my father in law was in the military and would come home just long enough for my mother in law to get pregnant and then leave again for an extended stay in Asia. I have so much respect for those who can live with that kind of responsibility and noise, it’s just not for me.

Clearly the octomom has some issues, but really we all do, ours just aren’t necessarily aired in such a public way. My sister in laws have issues with the “neglect” they suffered from having a mom that was always doing something FOR her children just not necessarily WITH her children.

My motto as a mom of two fairly normal girls is “I’m doing my very best and if that isn’t good enough, there’s always therapy later”.

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Mary • March 12, 2009 at 4:23 pm

What an absolutely gorgeous wedding gown! What a perfect pose!! Now I know how I want to look and what I want to wear to my wedding! Look at all that gorgeous satin, so lovingly arranged, even the flowers spilling over…

My father has 10 brothers and sisters, 11 all together. Only 9 survived, 2 were taken by the Spanish Flu, the twins. They grew up on a farm. It was almost a contractual obligation to have as many kids as you could squeeze out in those days if you lived on a farm….

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Tiffany S. • March 12, 2009 at 5:11 pm

I agree your gma’s gorgeous and great photo! Just wanted to add that though I don’t know everything, I’m pretty certain you’re not going to have to sell your couch.

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Isabelle • March 12, 2009 at 5:36 pm

I agree with everyone else. Doesn’t she look carefree? And you do indeed look like her. Do you have lots of other lookalikes among her many descendants, I wonder?

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Nicole (Sweetie Pie) • March 12, 2009 at 6:15 pm

This picture is so amazing!!! My mama’s mama got married at city hall not long before my mama’s daddy had to ship out to serve in WWII. They were poor farm folks in Arkansas, and they weren’t able to have a “real” wedding. I’ve always wished I had a picture of my memaw in a wedding dress. You are lucky!

Meanwhile, all those years of hardship must have done them good. They were married until “death they did part.”

Before you resort to selling your couch, you should consider getting the kitties employed. Maybe someone needs a nice footwarmer– cats are so good at that!

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Jenn • March 12, 2009 at 6:30 pm

@victoria –

I agree with Victoria’s comments re octomom… the issue with octomom isn’t just the large family it’s the way she went about it. She’s a single mother without a job, several of her older 6 children have special needs and any time you have multiples you run the risk of complications. I really think there’s not only something wrong with her but also with the medical system that allowed her to get into this situation.

I don’t agree with Victoria’s comment about parents of large families not having a life outside of their kids. Most of the large families I know are Catholic and they have support systems that allow them to still have a life. (Family and Friends that help out so they can go out and still have a life outside of the kids).

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G.G. • March 12, 2009 at 6:33 pm

You mentioned before that your Mom was a seamstress, right? If she grew up looking at pictures of that dress, I’m not surprised!

Aren’t you glad you don’t have to do Photoshop stuff the old-fashioned way? It’s a lovely old tinted picture (and your grandmother is lovely too, of course).

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PastaQueen • March 12, 2009 at 8:33 pm

@Isabelle – Pictures of some of my aunts as teenagers look a lot like me as a teenager. So, yeah, there is a resemblance.

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Chris • March 12, 2009 at 10:26 pm

I come from a large Greek Family. My grandfather jumped off the boat as he entered New York Harbor because he was told they weren’t letting anymore people in. We will get through this and all life’s struggles I believe if we just stop and breathe and go on. I loved your post.

Chris

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MommyAmy • March 12, 2009 at 10:45 pm

It’s kinda amazing how back then it was so much more common for people to have big families. My dad’s dad came from a family of 14. Only 3 boys out of that many kids too! Needless to say my dad grew up surrounded by loving Aunties. :)

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kristisummer • March 12, 2009 at 10:57 pm

great post. your grandmother was a saint!

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Lydia • March 13, 2009 at 12:39 am

Now THAT’S a wedding portrait.

Thank you for sharing a little piece of your family history with us.

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Merry • March 13, 2009 at 12:40 am

I’m amazed — and a bit bemused — by the existence of all these other people from large families. Where the heck where all of you when I was a young’un? (“There are how many in your family???”)

One more thing. When people talk about the octomom raising all those kids in a 3-bedroom house — listen, it’s not the number of bedrooms that matter, it’s the number of bathrooms. TRUST me on this one.

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Marsha • March 13, 2009 at 11:36 am

My mom grew up with 10 siblings during the depression. They had a blast working/playing together on the farm. They all retired to the same little town of 1000. Every Tuesday afternoon they and their spouses get together to play cards and have lunch. Each week its at someone else’s house. When someone loses a spouse they help take care of each other which was a tremendous blessing to me when my dad died. My husband has 7 siblings but we’ll never be as close as my mom’s family.

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Alexa • March 13, 2009 at 2:40 pm

One thing to remember about big families and adults having time to themselves is that as the years go by the older children help with the younger children – they really do!

My grandfather from Ireland was the youngest of 13 – all raised in a tiny cottage. He was younger than many of his nieces and nephews!

And let me join in the chorus – that is one beautiful wedding picture! Now we know where your prettiness comes from!

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Julie • March 13, 2009 at 6:06 pm

First off your Grandma was beautiful!

It really wasn’t that long ago when kids all had to share a room and big families were the norm. My MIL is the youngest of 9, she had 6 kids. They never used any kind of birth control, it was just take what God gives you. (and no they weren’t Catholic or Mormon)

A friend of mine was the oldest of 8 and she hated it when we were teenagers. I don’t know what she thinks of it now that they are almost all gown up and have families of their own. When she was in high school she would buy some groceries and they would be gone the next day.

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anji • March 13, 2009 at 7:44 pm

French-Canadian families often were HUGE… Martin’s mom is 1 of 14! It used to be you needed so many kids to help out with the chores on the farms and stuff… you don’t usually see such big families but as part of the province of Quebec’s solution to the French/English quibbles of Canada is to increase the french population of babies. You actually get PAID to have babies over there… AND free health care… AND subsidized day-care. If you plan on having babies and having free headache care and cheap day-care, maybe you should move north?? hehe… the parlez-vousing en francais, you may need to practise a bit.

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Blue • March 14, 2009 at 10:49 am

This was a really lovely post (and a beautiful photo!).

Thank you.

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Laura N • March 14, 2009 at 11:24 am

Gosh, she’s gorgeous. You totally take after her looks! Simple living is more and more appealing, the older I get.

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Kelly • March 14, 2009 at 8:45 pm

My mom’s one of fourteen too, also German Catholic. They’re a less shining example of probability though, with 10 girls and 4 boys.

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Frenchie • March 15, 2009 at 5:35 pm

I LOVE that pic!!

My mother was from a family of 8 and my father was from a family of 9. I have an aunt who has 10 kids, and I am distantly related to a family of 21. I’m the youngest of 6 and my parents (now passed on) would be old enough to be my grand-parents or even my great grand-parents. My mother was 46 when I was born and my father was 54. If they were still with us, my mother would be 93 and my father would be 101! Yep … good God-fearing French Canadians … you keep having children until the good Lord decides it’s time to stop. The eldest in my family is now 71. At this point I am a great-aunt 20-times over, and only half of my nephews and nieces have started their families. There will certainly be more to come. All I can say is … bring it on!

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NJ • March 16, 2009 at 1:59 am

Bah! You stole my party story!

My dad is the youngest of 18. Every year when I was little he would regale me with stories of how horrid it was and finish up with “and that’s why I wanted 1 child…a girl. You’re it kid.”

So I am only child. And quite confused by the concept of big families. My mind always boggles at the idea of taking care of that many kids.

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Esmeralda • March 16, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Your thoughts about our possible impending depression were actually very comforting.

Thank you for the perspectiave

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Swistle • March 17, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Hello! Now I have a crush on you, after reading this!

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Dee • March 17, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Just to add to the count: My mom’s mom had 15 kids: 10 girls, 5 boys. I don’t know how it was growing up, but now, there are two cliques amongst them that don’t speak to each other, and a handful, like my mom, who refuse to clique and are tolerated as “floaters”. (The cliquing didn’t start until after their parents died about a decade ago.)

I would love to have 15 kids, but only if I were rich. I’d settle for 8 on a decent household income, but at 35 I’ve run out of time and will be grateful to have 1!

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PastaQueen • March 17, 2009 at 3:18 pm

@Dee – Practically the same thing happened to my aunts and uncles after my grandparents died. There are two cliques and a couple floaters.

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Mdc • March 18, 2009 at 9:36 am

I am getting on the bandwagon too. My mother is one of 10 children. They were born and raised in Jamaica. Today the number just sounds to weird too comprehend and whenever we do hear about such things, it is always about the families who are on benefits so everyone hates to think that their taxes are being used to bring up other people’s children.

In those days, no-one thought about whether or not they could afford so many children. They just got on with life and made do.

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Mdc • March 18, 2009 at 9:39 am

I am getting on the bandwagon too. My mother is one of 10 children. They were born and raised in Jamaica. Today the number just sounds to weird too comprehend and whenever we do hear about such things, it is always about the families who are on benefits so everyone hates to think that their taxes are being used to bring up other people’s children.

In those days, no-one thought about whether or not they could afford so many children. They just got on with life and made do.

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gfe--gluten free easily • March 18, 2009 at 7:40 pm

What a fabulous picture of your grandmother! It’s obvious she felt gorgeous and happy in that photo. And, yes, I do see a resemblance. :-)

My mom came from a family of 10 and my dad from a family of 7. Not that unusual for that generous. Neither family was Catholic. Just much more common back then.

Shirley

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Mary in TX • March 25, 2009 at 7:28 pm

Late to the party but still wanted to comment. My mom is the youngest of 13, all born one at a time over 23 years. Not Catholic either; just a frisky grandpa. Kind of weird to think about OctoMom who was pregnant only 6 times to get 14 kids.

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Katie • May 14, 2011 at 3:57 pm

I just happened across this beautiful picture of your grandmother. My mom had 14 children as well, 10 boys and 4 girls. The girls were vastly out numbered. I like that 7 and 7 mix.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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