My Favorite New Morning Mercy: Oliver’s Birth Story

Alternatively Titled:  Why There is, Yet Again, an Adult Diaper in My Car

So, there’s good news and there’s bad news.  The bad news is I have no clever writing voice for this birth story as I did Arrow’s.  (Or maybe it’s good news that you won’t hear Bob Saget talking in your head?)  But the good news is this birth story is less graphic than Arrow’s, as well!  SO, if you are wondering if you’re going to be able to handle this, I’m going to put it somewhere in between Egan’s and Arrow’s in grossness.

Proceed at your own risk.

To tell this story, I am going to have to rewind back to February.  Josh and I had discussed the fact that if we are going to have another baby, we should probably not wait too much longer to do it; you see, we have this dream of one day being able to sleep through the night again.  However, I was a little nervous about pulling the trigger on “trying” to have a baby, so I asked if we could wait until I ran the 10K that I was training for before we decided.  I figured that this was a good decision because A) I would rather not run a 10K while pregnant, and B) that would give us a reasonable amount of time to pray about it, as the race was on April 1st.

This was a solid plan.  But then, PLOT TWIST, we found out we were pregnant in mid-March.

Not totally relevant to the birth story, but I did go ahead and run the race.  Just putting that out there.  Not that I’m proud of myself or anything.

After about a month of knowing I was pregnant, I figured it was time to decide what to do about prenatal care.  Honestly, I felt very grumpy about it, because the fact that we had moved 6 hours from Tallahassee made using the Birth Cottage (where we had Arrow) a little impractical.  And Kara does not do well with change.  And I kind of wanted to move back to Florida for the month of November so that I could have my baby there.

Seeing how that was not really a reasonable thing to do, I contacted a doula friend and asked for help.  As it turns out, there are only two birth centers in the entire state of Georgia, and the closest one is in the heart of Atlanta.  Kara also does not do well with driving into the city.  So we decided to take the plunge and attempt a home birth this time around.  We found a team of two sweet midwives and began the home birth journey.

I realize now that I better fast forward to the birth itself because nobody has nine months to read a blog entry.

I was due November 11th.  That day came and went…and no baby.  I honestly wasn’t very surprised; I had suspected that my due date was about a week earlier than it should be.  My mom came up on the 12th, committing to stay until the weekend after Thanksgiving.  I think the idea was that I would have a baby in the first few days that she was there and that would give her a good chunk of time to help me with the new baby.

Another solid plan.  Ahem.

I hit a week after my due date and still no baby…but I figured it would be any time as I had finally reached what I felt should be the actual due date.

Every day began to feel a little more ridiculous.  I tried listening to my body.  I tried not listening to my body.  I tried taking it easy.  I tried cleaning the whole house in one day.

No baby.

I went to the 41 week prenatal appointment a little discouraged.  It was two days before Thanksgiving, and I was concerned about what we would do with a long holiday weekend ahead of us.

However, my midwife, Debbie, had a plan.  If I had not had a baby beforehand, she would come Friday morning and begin the process of a home induction.  She didn’t even set up an appointment for me the next week because we were going to do our best to have this baby before then.

Knowing that there was a plan and there was an end in sight to this pregnancy put my mind at ease.  I only hoped that this baby would come before my mom had to go back home!

Then Thursday morning came.  Thanksgiving.  I woke up at about 3:00 AM with moderate contractions.  Honestly, this had happened several time over the past few weeks, so at first I did not worry about it.  They seemed to be coming more regularly, though, so I went and found the Hibiclens.  (We did not know whether I was positive for Group B Strep or not, so we were treating it like I was.)  I was about to use it, and I thought, “I’m going to lay down and time these for an hour first.”  So I did, and the contractions were about 10 minutes apart.

Honestly, I was pretty grumpy.  I lay there and thought, “Of course.  We have waited on this baby for TWO WEEKS, and he is going to come right at lunch time on Thanksgiving Day.  THE MOST INCONVENIENT TIME POSSIBLE.”

But about 5:30, when I was planning to get up and use the Hibiclens, I was hit with exhaustion…and I fell asleep.

When I woke up an hour or two later, no contractions!

We had a nice Thanksgiving, and about 8:00 that night I felt like the contractions were coming back.  We got the kids to bed, and I started timing contractions.  Around 10:00 I texted Debbie to let her know that the contractions were back at 10 minutes apart, and she told me to go ahead and use the Hibiclens and then try to sleep.

(I’m so sorry, but I have to stop here and emphasize that I had to…wait for it…text the midwife!  It’s like Call the Midwife for introverts!)

Now, God’s hand was all over this night, and from here on out I cannot help to sing His praises.  I do not fall asleep quickly, and it’s pretty much impossible for me to fall asleep if I’ve had any kind of adrenaline rush.  But that night, I put my phone down and went to sleep.

About 11:30 I woke up to my water breaking.  Josh came up to bed about this time and found out he would be having a baby instead of getting sleep!

The contractions got more intense immediately.  When I started timing them they were five minutes apart and one minute long if I was sitting and two and a half minutes apart and thirty seconds long if I was standing.  Poor Debbie got to experience my indecisiveness about whether or not it was time for her to come over.  She finally asked if I would have left for the hospital by now were this a hospital birth, and I said “Yes.”  To which she said, “I’m on my way.”

Debbie, a student midwife, and our friend Brandi arrived around 1:00 AM.  And to be honest, I’m not sure about times after this point because I immediately stopped looking at my phone once everyone I needed was there.

So I’m going to have to rewind a little again.  Humor me, I’m sleep deprived.

If you knew me three years ago or if you have read the blog, you know that Arrow’s delivery was a difficult one.  It was a long (for me) labor, I pushed for three hours, he had a gigantic head, and I had a third degree tear.  I ended up hospitalized for a night because of the suturing required, and the recovery was as fantastic as you can imagine.

The one thing I really regret from that day, however, was how I responded to what happened.  I had not prepared myself at all for the pain, and I feel like I pretty much complained and screamed for ten hours.

I really didn’t want to do that again.  I mean, I had gotten on my own nerves.

So as I neared the end of this pregnancy, I had not a little anxiety about this delivery.  (That would be a lot.  A lot of anxiety.)  However, I dealt with that by putting effort into spiritual preparation for labor.

First, I sent an email to a group of ladies to let them know they were being voluntold to pray for me during labor.  When I was having Arrow, I could have asked people to be praying for me, and I did not; I just did not think of it.  Most people didn’t even know I had been in labor until well after he was born.  This time, I was determined to let my circle know when it was time to pray.

And then I did a lot of praying about how to keep my focus on Jesus during labor.  I really missed the mark in this area with Arrow; the only thing I really remember praying for was poop.  (In my defense, constipation during labor is pretty awful!  But really, “Dear Lord Jesus, help me poop, oh PLEASE help me poop,” is not exactly the most inspiring prayer.  Bless my 2014 heart.)

I had read a blog by a person who had quoted Psalms during contractions, and I thought that that sounded like an amazing plan.  My original intention was to memorize a chapter, but of course, that is not something I got around to doing.  However, I asked God to guide me to verses He would have me use, and the results were a little surprising; instead of bringing me to verses that are about me or even my identity in Christ, He brought me time and time again to verses that were about HIM.  About His sovereignty and how He is creator and controller of all things.

This labor was not supposed to be about me at all.  It was about Him.  He created, He fashioned, He positioned…and He was going to deliver.

So when contractions hit, this time, I turned to the Word.  A favorite was, “Lord you are good and your mercy endureth forever.”  (Although when things got more intense, I was definitely asking God to “take me to the rock that is higher than I.”)

The Word was amazingly effective in helping me relax during contractions…which is saying a lot since it is basically impossible for me to relax on demand.

I had spent a lot of labor in a rocking chair because that helped me relax my back between contractions (back labor is a pretty big problem for me,) but after standing to make a trip to the bathroom, I felt a definite change.  I didn’t feel like pushing, but I felt very different, and I asked Debbie to check me to see what kind of progress we were making.  She checked it out and said I was almost complete, there was just a little lip of cervix left, and if I wanted to push she could hold it out of the way.

The problem was, I really felt no urge to push.  This was a surprise; when I pushed with Arrow, I really had no control, my body HAD to push and I was just along for the ride.  It was so strange to know I was dilated and COULD push, but to have no desire to.

Debbie was so amazing.  Even though things probably could have moved along faster if I pushed at this point, she saw that I wasn’t ready and was basically like, “OK, this is your baby.”  She suggested that I lay on my side and let my body continue to bring the baby down.

Major home birth perk:  I was on my own king sized bed, so Josh could lay with me.  I was hanging on to him and Debbie squeezed my back with contractions (I don’t even know, but it really helps so much!)  Although remembering Psalms may have been out the window at this point, with each contraction, I would pray.  I had to do it out loud, couldn’t really help it.  I know there was a lot of praying for God to help me to push, because I **still** wasn’t feeling any kind of urge to do it.

I finally gave a sort of practice push, more out of frustration than anything else.  When Debbie saw I was ready to give it a try, she had me change my position, assessed the situation, and announced that she really felt like we would have a baby soon if I did some good pushing.

I may have asked, “How soon?”  I’m not trying to be a hero.

Debbie explained to me later why I wasn’t feeling the urge to push, and it sounded very smart, but of course I can’t remember what she said.  She provided some pressure for me to bear down against, but even with that and some pretty intense contractions, I’ll be honest that it was really a struggle to find my center and push.  HOWEVER, pushing really didn’t last very long!  I was actually surprised when I was told that he head was delivered and I had to push out the shoulders.  Apparently the “ring of fire” is not so bad when your previous experience involves a third degree tear.

Before I knew it, at 4:50 AM, there was a baby on my chest!  He was on his belly, and it was a few minutes before Josh and I even knew who this child was.  My Mom finally assured us that this was a boy, and we got to introduce Oliver for the first time.

After a few minutes, I noticed that his face was a little gray.  Although he was breathing and crying, he was breathing very quickly and making sort of gasping noises.  Debbie explained that this was called Transient Something-Respiratory-Related (I know, my memory of all things medical is terrible.  I have other gifts!) and that it usually will resolve itself when the baby is left with the mother.  She had me doing skin-to-skin with him and indicated that we would just hang out and make sure his breathing resolved before doing anything else.

So for about an hour, everything froze.  Josh and I just held Ollie, still attached to the placenta (which was in a bowl next to me,) and kind of were just hanging out with him.  About 30 minutes after he was born, Arrow woke up, and we got to introduce him to Ollie before sending him to lay down with Ava. We nursed and talked to him in the quiet of the early morning.

His breathing did even out, and we discovered that his other end had been functioning, too!  I was sent to take a shower, and Josh took the baby to introduce him to his other siblings who were just waking up.  (Another home birth perk: you get to use YOUR OWN SHOWER, and when you come back all the birth things have been whisked away and your bed is all ready for you!)

Then Debbie examined me to see if I had had any tearing.  I had not been looking forward to this part, as I have always had tearing to some extent.  When she announced that the only damage was so minimal she thought that it would be better for the tissue to let it heal naturally than to suture it, I was one happy camper.  I may have immediately texted three friends to share the good news.

Then came Oliver’s newborn exam, and we discovered that this baby who seemed so small was actually 8 pounds, 5 ounces.  (But he really was so small!)

 

By 8:30 in the morning, the midwives were heading out and I was eating a fried egg on toast.  Josh and I got to spend the rest of the day in bed with our new little man while my parents took care of the other kiddos downstairs.

And this is the part where I just have to gush about the goodness of God.  Oliver’s birth had so many factors that demonstrated His hand on the situation.  Such as:

  • We were able to birth AT HOME.  Remember the breech baby debacle?
  • The speed of labor.  Josh said later that the whole time he had this peace that things seemed to be going really well.  This was probably the fastest labor I’ve ever had.
  • I did NOT have a baby at lunch time on Thanksgiving Day.  Everyone that attended the birth (including us!) got to enjoy Thanksgiving with family before things went down.
  • I labored through the night, and the kids slept through it!  My hope had been that the kids would go to bed one night and wake up with a sibling, and that’s what happened!  Even Arrow, who sleeps in my closet and often wakes in the middle of the night, slept through the whole thing!
  • I was able to deliver on the bed.  I know it sounds silly because women birth anywhere and everywhere, but I had really been hoping to not have to birth, say, next to a bathroom sink, this time around.  As fun of a story as that can make.
  • NO MAJOR TEARING.  Hallelujah, Amen!
  • My Mom was there.
  • Brandi was there.  She was there because she’s a friend, but she also happens to be our Children’s Minister. What a blessing to Oliver that she has been ministering to him literally from the moment he was born!
  • We had an awesome midwife!  I love the midwife that delivered Arrow, and I was really not a happy camper to have to find another one, but God led us to just the right person.  Debbie’s calm spirit helped me so much through labor, and I will forever be thankful for the role she played in bringing Oliver safely earthside.  (It also doesn’t hurt that she is OK with texting and can talk Doctor Who.  Ahem.)

I was wrapping up our study of Human Anatomy with the kids yesterday, and the conclusion of the book included some verses about God’s design for people.  I was just a little blown away by Isaiah 44:24, because it so well encompassed the focus that I felt God lead me to for this pregnancy and delivery:

“This is what the Lord says—
    your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb:

I am the Lord,
    the Maker of all things,
    who stretches out the heavens,
    who spreads out the earth by myself.”

The Maker of all things also took the time to form each of us, individually, in the womb.

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

 

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Praise in the Waiting

I am now 47,000 weeks pregnant.

Or maybe it’s 41.*

The point is, we are past the “any time now” stage.

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I started a snarky post earlier in the week about what not to say to pregnant women in public places, because, dude, people see an expectant mother and completely lose their mouth filter.

But I didn’t finish it, and now I realize that I don’t need to be publishing posts that sound bitter right now.  (Even though it would have been funny.  Believe me.)  God has me in a season of waiting, and although I consider myself a laid back, go-with-the-flow person, I am kind of in a crazy place.

To quote Inigo Montoya, “I hate waiting.”

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But a fact that we so often miss in our culture is that The Waiting is not bad.  In fact, The Waiting has value.  If you look at all the times in the Bible that God has instructed His people to wait, I think it is safe to venture to say that The Waiting can be a form of spiritual discipline.

And while I am waiting, I have so much to be thankful for!  One thing I wanted to do differently with this delivery was that I wanted to have a system in place where we could ask for prayers during labor.  When I was laboring with Arrow, I really feel like I missed the mark in this area; I felt isolated and helpless when things were going wrong, when in truth there were plenty of people who would have prayed for me had I thought to send them a text.  So I have been much more assertive about asking people to be prepared to pray for me during labor this time around.

(Isn’t it hard to ask for prayers for yourself?  At least it is for this private introvert!)

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But what has floored me is the number of texts and emails I have received over the past few weeks from people assuring me that they are already praying for me!  How humbled I am to know that, even though I might not be in the throes of contractions yet, this baby and my health have already been covered in so much prayer!

I don’t know what God’s plan is for this delivery, but I am learning that that is part of The Waiting.  And I am constantly reminded that I am not waiting alone.  Thanks, everyone!

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*Actually, I have said all along that my real due date is probably a week after my Estimated Due Date.  So it’s really not that bad.  In case you are genuinely worried.

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Created, Fashioned, Positioned

When Josh asked me if it would be alright if he missed our midwife’s 37 Week home visit because there was a lot going on at work, I said it was fine.  Prenatals are usually breezy, and since she was coming to me, I wouldn’t have to load the kids up and try to man them in her office by myself.

And it was breezy.  We talked about last minute birth supplies needed (I’m sure it surprises you that I might not quite have it all together yet,) and she quickly assessed our birthing space.  I got to lay on my own bed for the regular measuring/heartbeat check exam.  (We won’t talk about my children’s behavior during this time.  But let’s just say it affirmed my decision that they won’t need to be hanging out with me during labor.)

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Then came the kids’ favorite part: manually feeling where the baby is positioned.  After a few palpations, a slight change came over the midwife’s face.  She checked and double and triple and quadruple checked, and she was pretty sure that the baby had flipped to be breech.

Let me pause here to say that I know lots of women have breech babies, and they have to have cesareans because of that.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and if we were ever in that situation, it would not be the end of the world.  I just want you to understand that this post is not meant as disrespectful to women who don’t birth “naturally,” and I am well aware that we ourselves could end up on that road, and that it would be OK! 

It is unusual for a baby to flip at this point in pregnancy, but not impossible, especially considering this is my fifth and my uterus is now nice and roomy.  My midwife gave me lots of instructions on how to attempt to flip things around naturally, in an effort to avoid needing an external version, a both expensive and unpleasant procedure that may or may not work.  She also told me to go to an ultrasound facility so we could see exactly what is going on.

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In addition to my normal responsibilities, I was suddenly going to the chiropractor (which I have never done before,) doing yoga (which is not as relaxing as described,) and laying upside down on an ironing board (which is as unpleasant as it sounds.)

Oh, and small detail, about an hour after all this went down, my phone software completely died.  Fortunately, I had time to call Josh and make some appointments, but I did not have a chance to contact anyone to ask them to pray.  I was in a delightful state on Thursday.  But not really.

Friday morning, I had just enough time before leaving for CC to sit at my computer and send out an email to some key ladies in my village. (That was a metaphor, we don’t live in wigwams.)  I immediately felt so much more peace because I knew that these were people who would commence praying on our behalf immediately.  Everything felt the same, but my heart could feel the change. Even though they weren’t physically with me, I knew they were carrying me to Jesus.

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And listen.  Even if my ultrasound today had not revealed a HEAD DOWN BABY, God would still be completely sovereign in this situation, and I would have nothing to fear.  But I am so humbled that He would choose to honor our prayers in my own womb.

One of my friends told me yesterday that her prayer was (and I paraphrase, because, prego memory,) “God, you have created, you have fashioned, and you will position.”  And I was a little astounded by that poignant reminded of God’s hand on each of our lives from the very beginning.

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Could baby flip again?  Apparently so.  Do I need to live in fear of it?  No.  (You may have to remind me of that!)  Because He will position however necessary for the story that He is writing to play out.

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Oh, and to answer the question, “Did the baby actually flip, or did the midwife make a mistake?”  I guess there’s no way to really know.  But the hiccups are in a completely different place today than they were yesterday.

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And I am really, really happy to not have to lay on the ironing board.  At least for the time being.

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Photo Credit:  Jessica Price

The Years of the Locusts: A Story of a Family and a Restoration I Couldn’t Have Made Up

Gather round, for I have a tale to tell with all the elements that make stories fantastic: suspense, climax, cliff-hangers, protagonists, antagonists, nesting, framing.

And it’s true.

Because when the AUTHOR and perfector of our faith writes a story, He goes all out.

If you’ve been reading the blog for very long (or if you’ve been a creeper and binge read old posts – no judgment here – hey, I’m flattered!), you will have seen bits and pieces of the Harrells’ story.  But I’ve been waiting for the right time to try to put it together in a linear fashion.  And the time is now.

Bobby and Josh were coworkers back when we lived in Alabama.  He and Cynthia got married about a month before we moved to Tallahassee, and Bobby became a Family Man overnight, as Cynthia already had a son, Gage, who was about seven at the time. We did not really have time to get to know her before the big move; however, the Author of this story worked it out for Bobby to take a job at Josh’s office just a few months after we relocated, so they “followed” us to Florida and the story can continue!

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The first loss came shortly after Bobby got the new job; they lost custody of Gage.  It was not exactly on a happy note that Cynthia made the move down to Tallahassee.  Although she would have regular visits with Gage at first, over the course of the years her visits would dwindle down to nothing.

However, it was not too long before Cynthia was expecting!  I had the privilege of being at Aurora’s birth.

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When Aurora was still a baby, Bobby had a kidney transplant.  The kidney was a huge blessing (he had been living with chronic illness and was on dialysis,) but he was told that, due to his anti-rejection medication, he would be sterile.

Time passed, and the Harrells decided they desired a larger family.  They started looking at adoption options, and decided that fostering with the goal of adoption was the route that they would like to take.  They went through the certification process, rearranged rooms, bought furniture, and prepared for whoever God sent their way.

It wasn’t long before they were placed with a little boy about Aurora’s age.  While they were still adjusting to the challenges of foster care, they were contacted about a 7 day old baby who needed a placement.  Despite all the reasons they had for not taking on that task, they opened their hearts and home to one more, and Cambridge entered their lives for the first time.

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Bobby and Cynthia gave all of themselves to all of their foster children, but there is something about having a child from their first days.  (I mean, really, it’s scientifically proven.  Oxytocin and attachment and all that.)  They knew that if Cambridge were to ever become adoptable, they wanted to be his official parents.  They had had him from the beginning; he was already theirs.

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Fast forward over a year, and the Harrells were living in a home specifically designated for foster families.  They had taken a step of faith by moving there; although it was a good situation for them, it also meant that they would no longer be able to specify the age of the children that they would take into their home.  Long story short, they had Cambridge and another little girl as foster children before moving into the house, and shortly thereafter gained two older children.  They went from having one child to five in a very short amount of time!

Although it was challenging, they embraced it as God’s calling on their lives and they put everything they had into their family.

And then the next loss occurred.  False accusations were made, information was mishandled, and they lost their home and their foster children…including Cambridge.

They were torn apart.  In every sense they had made these children their family, and the loss and the injustice of it was a lot to bear.  On top of this, they had to find a new place to live.

But the Harrells’ faith never wavered, and God’s work of restoration was about to begin before the pain even ended.  The Harrells found a house in town and a few months after moving there, Cynthia got an unexpected phone call.  Gage, who was now a teenager who had not been able to speak to his mother for a long time, called Cynthia to let her know that he would be able to come back home and live with her.  He was moved in by Christmas.

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About a year later, they were in for another surprise.  After years of believing that they could not have another biological child, Cynthia found out she was pregnant!  It was a good time for a ray of hope; not only were they still having to fight the injustices that had taken away the children, but Cynthia’s father had also been recently diagnosed with terminal cancer.

However, the excitement was short-lived.  Doctors became quickly aware that there was something off about this pregnancy, and it was discovered that it was ectopic.  Christmas that year was spent recovering from a surgery and mourning the loss of a little one that they did not get to meet.

Cynthia’s father passed away shortly after the first of the year.  Since she was handling funeral preparations as well as her own grief, it is not surprising that she did not at first notice the return of pregnancy symptoms.  Finally, after the funeral, her and Bobby put two and two together and discovered that they were expecting Asher.

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They were able to find out the gender at the eighteen week check-up, and all was well.  We would never have imagined that three short weeks later we would be sitting in the hospital waiting on a stillbirth.  More about Asher here.

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A few months passed and, again, a positive pregnancy test!  This time, it was Thanksgiving that would be a time of grief.

I am not trying to be dramatic, but by Thanksgiving of 2015, the Harrells had experienced every kind of child loss I can possibly think of.

And, you know, it would have been really easy to become really hard people.  It would have been easy to be bitter towards God.  They had desired to have a home with a large family to pour God’s love into, but the locusts had eaten every field they had planted.

But they were solid and faithful and they trusted God’s plan even when they did not understand it.

And while things looked parched, there were rain clouds on the horizon.

Towards the beginning of 2015, Cynthia found out that Cambridge was going back into the foster system.  Although she was unable to foster him herself, she was miraculously able to refer the case worker to close friends who were legally prepared to foster and who happened to be “between” foster children.  This time, Cambridge came with a little sister.  He was three years old.  The Harrells would spend the next two years maintaining a relationship with him and his sister that would not have been possible with them in any other placement.

March of 2016…and another positive pregnancy test.  We were all cautiously excited.

A few months after this, we moved.  Being separated from your bestie during her pregnancy is, of course, not ideal.  I had to watch the course of this pregnancy from afar.

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The Holidays have been punctuated with a lot of grief for the Harrells.  But Thanksgiving of 2016?!  That’s a different story.  We drove down on Black Friday to officially welcome Pax to our crazy world.

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And it looked like God’s healing and restoration could be complete.  They had Gage, Aurora, and new baby all under one roof.  Cynthia finally had the three children that she had told me she wanted, so long ago, in a hospital room whilst oogling over Aurora’s tiny toes.

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But our Author?  He goes above and beyond all we ask or imagine, and this story is no exception.

After years of being in the system, Cambridge and his sister became adoptable.  The Harrells had not forgotten them, and they had spent a lot of time trying to get back into the system so that they could be available when that day came.  I have to be honest…it was not looking good for them.

So I will not forget the phone call I received in May.  As soon as I answered, only four words: “Our adoption was approved.”

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In June, they moved to the Harrells’ house.  After a 90 day probation period, and a delay thanks to Irma, this past Wednesday, they officially became a family of seven (really, eight, because part of God’s restoration has been bringing Cynthia’s mother into their home!)

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And I know that this won’t be everyone’s story.  I know that there are people who suffer loss that will not get to see God’s restoration this side of heaven.  But when this happens?  When God chooses to pen a story on earth that points right to the heart of the Gospel?  I think that that’s a cause for celebration!

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“Be glad, O children of Zion,
    and rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given the early rain for your vindication;
    he has poured down for you abundant rain,
    the early and the latter rain, as before.

24 “The threshing floors shall be full of grain;
    the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
25 I will restore[d] to you the years
    that the swarming locust has eaten…”  (Joel 2:23 – 25)

 

 

First Day of School! First Day of School! (2017 Edition)

OK, so our first day of school was 3 weeks ago.  That is pretty typical for the normal pace of my blog.

Lemme start out with a confession about this school year:  I really wasn’t looking forward to it like I normally do.

I love my kids and I love homeschooling them.  (No really, I do!  I would totally be ok with an after school program to send them to – that witching hour at 3:00 exists even for homeschoolers, but I love homeschooling them!)  (If you want to start an after school program for homeschoolers, please let me know.)  (I’m not kidding.)

But I was having a hard time getting excited about this upcoming school year.  I wish I could say that it’s because I’m having a fifth baby in a few months and am concerned about how that will affect our studies.  But if it tells you anything, I pretty much planned out the whole first semester before I remembered that I would be having a baby in November and should probably take that into account.

Ahem.

I think I had trouble embracing this school year because:

A) We had a crazy busy summer.  I really don’t know how it was so busy, because other than the mission trip to New York, we did the same things we did last summer.  But it was incredibly busy.

B) I had no. breaks.  Last year, I went on a girls’ trip to Vermont right before school started.  Although it wasn’t meant to be an end-of-summer retreat (it was for Cynthia’s birthday, which happens to be in August,) it certainly functioned as one.  This year, I have had the joy of being with at least one, usually all, of my children…at all times.  I was feeling burnt out before school even started!

(And don’t get me wrong, Josh would have been happy to help me get away.  I just didn’t realize how badly I needed to get away until it was too late!)

C) Similar to writer’s block, I was having school planning block.  Even when I was able to sit down and try to plan (which, because of Point B, was hard to come by,) I was feeling little inspiration.  I had no theme ideas, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted everyone to be learning.  Planning became a taxing chore instead of a time of inspiration.

However, GOD IS GOOD.  It all came together, albeit at the last minute, and we were able to have a successful first day of school!  Here are the students of Linker Academy this year:

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Ava is starting FIFTH GRADE.  Can you believe it???  I mean, there are some serious implications there.  It means that this is our FIFTH YEAR OF HOMESCHOOLING.  It really feels like our first year was just happening!  Although Classical Conversations gives me a little cushion because Ava will stay in Foundations for her sixth grade year, I realize that if Ava were in public school, it would be her last year of elementary school!  What?!?!  Next year, she will be in the church youth group.  I. Can’t. Even.

Ava loves academia, hence the almost smile in this picture.  She is horrible in front of the camera (by choice), but she was so excited about the first day of school, she gave me this!  It’s not uncommon to see her looking up words in the dictionary for fun…she’s that kind of kid.  She has been dying to try her hand at foreign language, so we are adding Latin to her already full load this year.

But she asked for it.

Here’s what her year will look like:

  • Math:  Teaching Textbooks Pre-Algebra
  • Grammar:  Essentials of the English Language (Classical Conversations)
  • Spelling:  Finishing up the spelling words in the EEL book…and then not sure what to do!
  • Reading Comprehension:  Guided reading activities to go along with Newbery Award recipient novels.  (We started doing this last year and are continuing since we didn’t get to all the books!)  Plus a book report every month assigned by Mom – American Lit this year to go with Cycle 3 of CC!
  • Foreign Language:  Latin for Children Primer A  (This just came in so I’ve still got to figure out how to integrate it into the schedule!)
  • Writing:  Institute of Excellence in Writing…as well as assignments by Mom because she is a writing freak.

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Israel is starting third grade!  He is so smart and funny (you should see him draw!), but he definitely doesn’t get the same delight out of school work as his sister.  One goal I have for him this year is to immerse him into a variety of literature.  Last year I assigned him relatively easy chapter books because that’s where I thought he was.  He really didn’t express interest in reading until I gave him permission to read the Harry Potter series…when he read THE WHOLE SERIES in like a month, I realized that I had not been challenging him enough with his reading.  HOWEVER, it still remains a struggle to get him to read if it’s not a topic he loves. (Dragons are a good one for him.)  This year, the goal is to not let his reading fall between the cracks.

Here is his year:

  • Math:  Teaching Textbooks, Math 6
  • Grammar:  Shurley Grammar, Level 3
  • Spelling:  Building Spelling Skills, Level 4 (Christian Liberty Press)  (This was a last minute decision…last year I did horribly with him in spelling!  I’m already very thankful that I picked up this workbook to help us along the way!)
  • Reading Comprehension:  Guided reading activities with chapter books.  One of the ways I will be making sure he reads a variety this year!  Plus a book report every month assigned by Mom – American Lit this year to go with Cycle 3 of CC!
  • Writing.  A lot of paragraphs written with Mom using the Writing Process.  It’s not his favorite.  Muahahaha.

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Egan is entering FIRST GRADE.

Since we are three weeks in, I can tell you that this is my biggest challenge.  At least until November.

He is really the coolest, funniest kid…and very smart.  But man, oh man, the energy.  THE ENERGY.

Here is what we’re attempting this year:

  • Math.  Singapore 2A and (hopefully!) 2B.
  • Grammar:  Shurley, Level 1
  • Spelling:  All About Spelling, Levels 1 and (hopefully!) 2.  (This is another blog post in itself.  I have a love/hate relationship with AAS that reveals some of the dark places of my heart!)
  • Reading Comprehension:  We just finished The Hobbit, which I had started during the summer.  My plan is to read the Little House series to him this year to go with Cycle 3 of CC.
  • Writing.  We still have a long road ahead of us here.  I am trying to remember that Israel’s writing was equally as terrible at the beginning of first grade, and by the end he could write a 2 point expository paragraph.

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This guy is THREE!  Here are his goals for this year:

  • To keep underwear dry.
  • To adjust to not being the baby (sniff!)
  • To continue rocking the man bun.

Actually, Ava has taken on his education for the year.  She is working on colors and shapes and letters with him a few times a week, and I’m all like “Sunrise, Sunset” over here because she did the same thing with Egan at this age.

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So that’s Linker Academy for the 2017 – 2018 school year!  In addition to individual studies, together we will be studying…

  • Bible:  The Ology by Machowski.  I have mentioned that I totally geek out over systematic theology, so when my Dad gave this to me for Christmas with a note saying that it’s the best systematic theology book he had found for children, I was all like “NEXT YEAR’S BIBLE: DONE.”  And it’s so cool that our theology studies from camp feed right into this book.
  • Science:  The Human Body (Answers in Genesis) first semester, the chemistry portion of Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics (Fulbright) second semester.  I have had two years that were very heavy in science, which is my least favorite.  I decided that I would like to make this year lighter in science and heavier in history.  Kind of a gift to myself due to having a baby halfway through the school year.  We already had Fulbright’s anatomy book and I felt like a bad steward for not using it, but it’s pretty intense and I didn’t want to have to figure out how to condense it.  When I found The Human Body on clearance at a Homeschool Expo…I bought it with joy!
  • History:  The Story of the World, Volumes 3 and 4.  I had felt torn about history…CC learns history in 3 cycles, so the fact that SOTW comes in 4 volumes is a little tricky.  We used A Child’s Story of America our first time through Cycle 3, and it was GREAT…but we’ve been enjoying SOTW, and I didn’t want to not cover the last two volumes.  I finally decided to tackle both volumes in one year (hence the lighter science.)  I also purchased the Test Book instead of the Activity Book…we are doing the written “tests” after each chapter, which is another exercise in Reading Comprehension without having to make “Reading” a completely separate subject.  (And the Test Book was A LOT less expensive than the Activity Book…whew!)

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Oh, and the theme that I had no inspiration for?  It may have been the eleventh hour, but I finally had a peace about this one!  I have been reading through the devotion New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp.  I have especially been sensitive to this concept the last few months as I find myself constantly begging my children to give each other mercy, only to realize how much mercy I need myself.  (Y’all.  I know this is normal, but I was an only child, and I am very non-confrontational.  The sibling bickering?  WHY?  WHY MUST WE BICKER?  IS IT THAT HARD NOT TO POKE EACH OTHER?)

At first I felt weird “stealing” this title from an adult devotional book, but the more I thought about it, the more I knew this is the concept we need to camp on this year.  (Especially in November!)  We are trying to be diligent during our Bible time to share God’s mercies that we noted the day before.  By focusing on God and His mercies, it will be that much easier to show mercy to one another.  AmIright???

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The faithful love of the Lord never ends![a]
    His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.

Lamentations 3:22-23

 

 

Summer 2017 Recap

 

Well, the binders are prepared, the welcome letters are written, and the lesson plans are made.  Linker Academy will officially kick off the 2017 – 2018 school year tomorrow.

BUT before that happens, I need to document our summer!  It’s no secret that summer is my favorite.  I have enjoyed summer adventures with the kids long before we were having homeschool adventures.  One year, I tried to document each summer activity with a blog post…and ended up blogging about summer until October!  So I’m not going to do that to you, but I did want to briefly describe our main adventures in a bullet point list, if for no other reason than to be able to remember what we did this summer myself!  Aaaaand here we go!

  • Josh’s Big Birthday Weekend!  We kicked off our summer break with Josh’s birthday.  It happened to fall on Memorial Day weekend, and I decided to get him a Ping-Pong table.  (OK, so I actually had originally planned to get it for his last birthday.)  Long story short, it doesn’t make sense to have a Ping-Pong table unless you have people to play with, and we ended up with a house full!  The Harrells, the Popes, and the Sammons were all able to come up and help us celebrate!  It was such a great weekend catching up with old friends!
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    The Harrells were there for our last day of school, and we celebrated with our first trip of the summer to the lake!

  • Remi’s Baby Shower!  Kristy was due with her third baby in the middle of the summer, so I worked with a few of her friends to throw her a baby shower!  It was so fun to put together something super girly after so many boys!
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    I only forgot one thing: my real camera.  So cell phone pictures will have to do.

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  • Camp Pinnacle.  Ava was back at Camp Pinnacle this year!  I did not have to take her this time, but when the boys and I picked her up, we made an adventure out of it!
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    Annual trip to Goats on the Roof on the way home!

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    We stopped at Amicalola Falls on the way home!

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  • Visits from Tallahassee friends!  The Wallers and the Ludes road-tripped up together just to spend a few days with us!  We really had such a good time!  We took them to the lake and, for their big Atlanta experience, to a Braves game!  It is always a treat to spend time with these sweet friends!!!
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  • Camp!  This year, camp was in June so we tackled that road trip a little earlier than usual.  This was Israel’s first year being an official overnight camper!  My mom helped me out big time by keeping Arrow (and sometimes Egan) overnight at her house, so I really got to enjoy and participate this year more than I have in a while!  The theme this year was “Rooted,” and it was basically a systematic theology course teaching campers the basic beliefs of our faith.  I have to admit that I really geek out over systematic theology, so this was a really fun curriculum to put together!
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    Our beautiful logo this year was hand-lettered by a friend who also grew up in our association!

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    Group picture, post-shaving cream war!

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    This kiddo got to participate in the shaving cream war for the first time!

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    Obligatory last day of camp picture!

     

     

  • New York!  So I’ve already told you about that!
  • The Fourth.  We didn’t do anything big for Independence Day, as I had basically been out of town for two weeks right before.  My parents came up and Josh grilled and that was that!
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  • More Tallahassee Friends!  We had a quick overnight visit with the Hilts when they were on their way back from vacation.  As hard as it was to move here, it’s so nice that we don’t go too long between seeing our favorite Floridian faces!
  • Arrow Turned 3!  It’s hard to believe that it’s been 3 years since Arrow came into our lives!  We celebrated by going to see Cars 3, and eating a cake Ava modeled after Arrow’s favorite food: the yogurt smoothie.  Grandpa Dan and The Girls happened to visit with us the day after his birthday, so it was a great time for a big cake!
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  • Remi Was Born!!!  Don’t get me wrong, I love my nephews to pieces…but I have been waiting for a niece for a while!  Remi’s birthday is just a day after her brother, Maverick’s, and she actually shares Arrow’s birthday!  She is just the sweetest, most squishy thing and I am looking forward to lots of girl time with her!
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  • Vacation Bible School.  This was our first VBS at our church up here!  Josh and I taught the Bible Study Station, and it was such a good experience.  It has been a year since I taught children in a church context, and it has truly been such a wonderful break for my soul.  But by the time VBS got here, I was ready to tackle some teaching again, and I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity!
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  • Dress Like a Cow and The Pool!  VBS was in the evenings, so of course we had to do some fun things during the day.  We ended up participating in the Dress Like a Cow day at Chick-Fil-A at the last minute, and one day we met some sweet CC friends at the public pool.  It had been such a busy summer, this was our first time getting in a pool…in mid-July!

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I was NOT expecting Arrow to be able to touch the bottom in the 2.5 feet – what a big boy!

  • Lego Builder Camp.  This was Israel’s second year participating in a Lego Builder Bunch Day Camp.  He earned his patch for Tank Basics and had such a great week creating!
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    • CentriKid.  Ava and I had the opportunity to participate in CentriKid Camp in Norman Park, GA – a place that this minister’s kid made fond summer memories growing up!  We consider ourselves to be camp people, but this was our first time at this type of camp.  It was “just” the weekend camp and, to be honest, we were not expecting much from it since it was so short.  But, let me tell you, the folks at CentriKid know how to PACK IT IN!  Even though we were there less than 48 hours, we felt like we had experienced the real deal!  And now I have a new fitness goal of being able to be a CentriKid staffer.  Their energy levels are unreal!
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    • Visit with the Millers!!!  The icing on our summertime cupcake was a visit from the Millers!  We originally thought that we would not get to see them at all this year, and the grief from that thought was really more than we could bear.  Fortunately, it worked out for them to make a big trip to see family down south, and we got to steal them for a few days of their travels!  We took them to the lake (surprise!) and ate ice cream out of waffle bowls and just tried to make the most of every minute!
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    • Potty Training Arrow.  I have never waited so long to potty train, but remember baseball season?  After our major travelling, it was time to finally suck it up and do it.  I realized that I really needed him to be mostly trained before school starts.  The good thing about him being older is it is going relatively smoothly…and he sure does look cute in undies!
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    • NOT Back to School Party.  The public schools here started on August 1st.I know.

      Our friend, Rachael, and her kiddos have a tradition of doing a Not Back to School activity on the first day of public school.  As there was NO WAY I was going to be able to start school that early, we were more than happy to participate!  We capped our summer off with another trip to the lake, this time with a hike before our swim!

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      They loved the hike!

So there you have it, a brief tour of our summer!  Tomorrow it’s back to educating the kiddos…but it’s still in the 90s, so I may not be ready to give up an occasional Icee just yet!

Linker Girls Take on NYC!

Alternatively Titled: So THAT’S Why They Call it Subway Tile!

Also Alternatively Titled:  Well That Was a Nice, Long Walk.

A few months ago, it was announced that our church would be going on a mission trip to New York City.  Ava happened to be in that service and asked if kids would be allowed to go.

Our response was, “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask Pastor Josh.”  Which should have pretty much closed the case because Ava is too shy to talk to her extended family, much less our church staff.

That booger went and stood in the church lobby until the pastor walked by and asked him.

We had previously talked about including our kids in mission trips, as we are passionate about missions, and hands-on learning is the best learning.  However, we had not made a concrete plan in regards to when and how to take them.

It has been a few years since we went to Haiti, and we were both excited to have the opportunity to participate in missions once again.  We thought about both of us going and taking Ava and Israel, but the week of the trip was not good for our family to watch our Littles, and it quickly became apparent that it would be best if one of us stayed home and one of us went.  Since Ava would be going, in the end it seemed to make the most sense for me to go with her to make hotel rooming situations easier.

Now, when we made this plan, we didn’t know that I would be keeping up with our 10 year old in NYC whilst 20 weeks pregnant.  But that’s a Moo Point.

SO, we turned in our names and our money (thank you, Mini-Shoots for Missions people!!!), we did some evangelism training, and we were set to head off to the Big Apple to help a church plant.  Piece of cake…right?

Fun Fact:  Camp ended up being right before the trip.  Camp ended on Saturday, and we left for NYC on Tuesday.

First thing was first: Ava’s first flight.  I think it dawned on me that I might not possibly have done very well preparing my daughter for this type of travel when we were standing in line for security and she found out that that involved taking off shoes.  FORTUNATELY, she didn’t have to remove her shoes due to her age, because she was wearing her high top Converses.  Which take a SWEET FOREVER to take on and off.  Had that been required of her, TSA would probably have changed their shoe removal policy pronto.  Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat.

Once we made it through security (not gonna lie, that part got hairy,) Ava enjoyed her first flight immensely.

Then we arrived at LaGuardia.

Before the next part of this story, let me back up and say that Mom had texted me before the trip to ask how she could pray for us.  My response was something like, “That I don’t lose my ten year old in the city.  Oh, and that we minister to people.”

So I guess God decided He was going to tackle my greatest fear right off the bat because the very first thing I did upon leaving the airport was LOSE THE TEN YEAR OLD.

It was very confusing.  There were Metro Cards and a bus that filled up and Ava was a number of people (from our group) in front of me when the bus driver said “No more passengers.”  Next thing I know, I’m standing on a curb while my daughter was on a bus driving through Queens.

Don’t freak out too much, she was with half of our group and I knew she would be fine.  But the irony of this being the first thing to happen was not lost on me.

Fortunately, at the next stop we were all reunited, and Ava wasn’t wearing a diaper that said “Property of Human Services.”

After our first Subway ride and a long walk, we arrived at home away from home: Comfort Inn in Queens.

Our work with New City Church would not begin until the next day, so we had some time to sight-see.  We chose to go to Times Square to eat and walk around.

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Not going to lie, the combination of our first day navigating on buses and subways and the crowdedness of Times Square was pretty overwhelming.  I was beginning to wonder if it would have been better for Josh to have gone on this adventure.

But the next day put my mind at ease.  Apparently, although NYC has a lot of people, the “normal” parts of it are not nearly as crowded as Times Square.  Also, I remembered that I could hold Ava’s hand when we got in crowded situations.  (I know that sounds silly, but it had been a LONG time since I had held her hand, due to her having 3 younger siblings.)  Also, getting on and off the subway gets a lot less stressful after a little practice.

Wednesday morning we had orientation at New City Church.  Having been born to a couple planting a New England church myself, and having been a part of a very similar church while we were in Tallahassee, their story was dear to my heart.  The pastor is a Georgia boy who felt the call to plant a church in NYC.  They started with his family of four in Long Island City, which is about 2 square miles at the tip of Long Island in Queens, right across the river from Manhattan.  LIC is known as the stroller capital of New York; its population has exploded in the last 20 years because families who have children who prefer to continue to live in the city (as opposed to moving out to the suburbs) often move to LIC.  It also has a very ethnically diverse population and a strong feeling of community.  And not a lot of churches.

New City Church started in 2013 in the pastor’s apartment.  Over the course of four years, it has grown to a congregation of about 150.  They now meet at a middle school right across from Hunter’s Pointe Park, which happens to have a great view of Manhattan.

After we oriented (?), we prayer walked around the community that New City Church is seeking to reach.  We prayed over a few parks, the local subway station, and the school where the church meets.

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That afternoon, we did our first real ministry project: street cleaning.  The church staff go to community meetings so that they know what the needs of the community are.  In this way, they discovered that the trash on the streets is considered to be a huge problem.  They decided to become a part of the solution.  All summer, mission teams don safety vests with the church’s name and clean the streets.  It is a great way to both help the community and make the church’s presence in the community known.

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Not going to lie, the street cleaning was a pretty intense workout for this Prego.  Up and down to pick up trash and then running (waddling) to keep up with the group.  I don’t think a Richard Simmons video could have been better exercise.

That evening, we went with a group to ride the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty.  Fun Fact:  The Staten Island Ferry is free!  It doesn’t get as close to Lady Liberty as some of the other cruises…oh, but it’s free.

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(This would have been a good night to bring my 85mm instead of leaving it in the hotel room.  Whoops.)

The next day, we did what New City Church calls Conversational Mapping.  We went into a community a few subway stops from LIC that needs a church.  New City Church is hoping to either have a satellite campus there or plant a new church, and mission teams are going in to collect information to help lay the groundwork for this project.  We went in with surveys about the community, seeking to speak to whoever would give us a few minutes.  The questions ranged from general to spiritual and we were told not to stress out if people wouldn’t talk to us or if we weren’t able to always complete the surveys.

I don’t have pictures from this experience since I was actually having to talk to people.  But it really was a great experience.  First of all, we were surprised at how many people agreed to talk to us.  I’m sorry, but if I see someone conducting a survey, I’m probably going to pretend like I didn’t see them and keep going.  But a lot of people were happy to speak to us.  (It probably didn’t hurt that we were a team of 2 women and a girl…and I’m clearly pregnant.)  We got to interview a scientist, a homeless gentleman, and a little bit of everything in between.  It was a privilege to get to be a part of that community, if only for a few hours.

That evening, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge before eating…pizza, of course!  The bridge itself is gorgeous and offers some pretty awesome views, too.

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On Friday, we had our third mission project: Weeding in the park.  When the church discovered that Hunter’s Pointe Park was short-staffed when it comes to landscaping, they saw another opportunity to step in and help.  We got to don our sassy yellow vests and gloves again, and after some very specific instructions on which plants did NOT need to be pulled (thank goodness, or this non-gardener would have pulled it all!), we got to work!

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Here is our group!

Friday night, we went to Central Park.  As it turns out, Central Park is BIG.  By the time we found the Grand Lawn, we were pooped and ready to head back to the hotel.  Apparently there’s a zoo and amusement park rides in Central Park somewhere?!  I don’t know, if there are we didn’t see them!

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The schedule on Saturday was different.  We had a ministry project in the evening, so we had sightseeing time in the morning.  Ava and I chose to go to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum with a group.

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The New World Trade Center, as seen from the memorial.

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The flower means it’s that person’s birthday.

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It is hard to get a good shot of the Memorial since it is sunk in the ground and surrounded by people.  This should give you and idea of the fountain.

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Not a lot of photography is allowed in the museum, but there are some things, like the last column, that we can take pictures of.

It was a really good, albeit sobering, experience for both of us.  We are studying American History this year in CC and I don’t know that there’s a better way to make Week 24’s history sentence have meaning for Ava.

That evening, we had a “Party in the Park” with New City Church.  A lot of people are out in the park on Saturday, and this event gives the church a chance to mingle with members of the community and invite them to join them the next morning in the school across the street.

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Sunday morning, we worshipped with New City Church.

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And I realized as we were preparing to leave that I had failed to get a baby bump picture in NYC, and although I didn’t really want to, I knew that this child would probably not appreciate the lack of evidence that he/she was actually there.

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So there you go, goofy baby bump pic.

So now that you have got the play-by-play, here are some reflections on the trip:

  • NYC requires A LOT of walking.  And when you are following your 6’4″ pastor who is not pregnant, and you are a foot shorter with disproportionately short legs AND pregnant?  It is a lot of power walking.  I thought, “This must be what running that marathon through Disney World is like.”
  • HOWEVER, if walking is too monotonous for you, you get plenty of cross-training on the Subway stairs!  I estimated that we were averaging climbing five flights of stairs every time we took a train anywhere.  I was feeling the burn.
  • In light of this information, I think I figured out why New York pizza is so special.  By the time you have done the physical exertion required to get to the food, you are so hungry that that pizza tastes like THE BEST THING ON EARTH.
  • Of all the maladies I could have come home with (migraines and tummy troubles would have been very likely considering the trip came right after camp,) I came home with…poison ivy.  You read that right…I went to the place known as the CONCRETE JUNGLE and came back with poison ivy.  That is pretty special.
  • But jokes aside, it was pretty incredible to get to experience this with Ava.  I got to witness a lot of firsts for her, and my prayer is that she continues to develop a love for missions.  I just love, love getting to see people reaching out with the gospel in the context of a specific culture and community, and it was very special that it is something the two of us got to see together.  I have asked Ava to write a guest blog post from her perspective, so hopefully that will come in the near future!

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Spring Break 2017

 

Listen.  I know it was two months ago.  In fact, it is now SUMMER BREAK.  But I have been wanting to blog about this trip and just simply have not had the time thanks to baseball.  So I’m doing it now.  I’m pregnant, I’ll write what I want.

Historically, we have stayed close to home during Spring Break.  Josh always has to work that week, and due to finances and there being only one of me, we have had our big Spring Break fun within driving distance of the house…with the exception of our annual pilgrimage to Eric and Jackie’s for a Braves Spring Training game over one of the weekends of Spring Break.

This year, everything changed!  It all started when Jackie casually mentioned (possibly a few years ago) that she had a vision of the two of us taking our kids on a road trip like Big Mama and Gulley do every year.  I was definitely up for an adventure, and I realized that we would need to do it soon, as I have a vehicle that seats 8.  She has 2 kids and I have 4…which meant for us to be able to ride in the same vehicle together, we would need to do it before one of us had another baby!

At some point last year, I said, “Hey, if we don’t set a date for this trip, we’ll never do it!  How about Spring Break next year?”  And Jackie agreed.

AND THEN, the Harrells decided to move very close to the Coyles!  So of course we immediately extended the invitation for Spring Break fun to Cynthia and her kiddos.

AND THEN, I found out that the Wallers’ Spring Break was going to line up with ours.  Peyton does competitive gymnastics, so it is rare that she gets a break during the school year.  I decided to capitalize on this and extend our road trip even further.

Now, this was going to mean A LOT of driving and decision making and such all on my own.  (I mean, I would have my kids, but you know what I mean.)  The prospect of this has in the past kept me home.  I would listen to other moms talk about how they road trip with their kids by themselves and I would think, I just don’t know how they DO that.  You know what I realized this year?  We can do this!

What are the scariest things about road trips as the solo adult?  I’ll be straight up that I have 2 big fears: car trouble and the logistics of public restrooms with children.  This year I realized…Hey, we have Triple A!  and also, Hey, I have a 10 year old that can help with the bathroom situation!  When I realized that some of my past concerns were no longer a big deal, I changed my thought process to we want to go somewhere…so let’s go somewhere!

We started off our trip after church on Sunday.  It happened to be a pretty cold snap up here in north Georgia, so I was more than happy to drive south!

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And here’s what my thermometer read once we reached Florida…

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Much better!!!

We kicked our week off by spending two nights at the Wallers.  Alesha and I planned to do some fun, outdoorsy things with them, but then it rained pretty much the whole time.  And honestly, it was the best!  Alesha and I got to literally sit around and visit the WHOLE TIME without feeling guilty for not taking the kids places, and you know what?  Our kids had SO MUCH fun being together that they didn’t really care where they were, anyway!

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It was so good to just hang out in our PJs without anything else on our plates!  And I’m not lying when I say that there were real tears, particularly on Egan’s part, when it was time to pull out Tuesday afternoon.  However…

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…the cold snap had hit Tallahassee, so it was time to drive further south!

We drove that night to the Daytona area to meet up with Jackie!  We got there just in time for dinner and to bathe the kids and prepare for the next days’ adventure!

Cynthia met us Wednesday morning, and we started driving further south!  (Had to, I don’t have a picture, but the temperature was dropping again!)  Of course, our first stop was the Golden Arches…

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Road trip usie!

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And after a few hours we had arrived as far south we were going to go: Royal Palm Beach.  (I learned that West Palm Beach…Royal Palm Beach…Palm Beach…it all kind of runs together.)  This was the point that I realized…Hey, I’m 12 hours from home.  I sure hope nothing bad happens!

A few months prior to the trip, I had scoured the internet looking for a place that was big enough for us to stay in AND was something we could afford AND wasn’t booked…during Spring Break!  I was really hoping to find a hotel with a big suite…but Google kept bringing me back to AirBNB.  I had never done AirBNB before, and it sounded a little scary at first, but after reading a gazillion reviews I figured this must be a real thing.  Which led us to finding a 5 bedroom house in Royal Palm Beach which, with the cost split between 3 families, which came out to $50 per night per family…I know, I thought it couldn’t be real at first, either!  Also, our host was great (he was not actually there but was very communicative,) and he made it clear that his casa was also our casa.  I was very surprised considering the fact that he knew how many children we had with us!

And at this point I must apologize to my sweet friends.  From here on out, all of the group pictures I have are of the kiddos.  I totally failed on getting pictures with Jackie and Cynthia.  Love you, girls!

Once we arrived at “our” house, we decided that this would be the night that we eat a “fancy” dinner.  We internet searched for waterfront dining that is kid friendly, and we ended up picking the Old Key Lime House.

Cynthia’s family had just purchased a 12 passenger van in preparation for their upcoming adoption (yay!!!), so we decided to load all the car seats into the Party Bus for all of our driving around the Palm Beach area.

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(This picture doesn’t do it justice; I was sitting in the first row of passenger seats, so keep in mind it has 4 rows of seats!)

We arrived at the restaurant to discover there would be a two and a half hour wait.  Not exactly what we had in mind, but we were on vacation, why not?!

SO, that’s a long time to wait for 8 kids, and the temp was seriously dropping as the sun got lower.  (WHY is the cold snap always over Spring Break???)  But we made the best of it and checked out the waterfront…

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…and had the children take their first group picture…

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…and spent some quality time with this guy!

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And it was finally time to eat!

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Considering the fact that we had spent so long at this establishment, I felt like it was only right to try their specialty!

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I blame all the key lime pie cravings I’ve had this pregnancy on this piece of pie!

We made it back to “our” house, much later than expected, and I think we had all crashed in a few minutes!

Thursday was our day at the Lion Country Safari, which is the whole reason we picked the Palm Beach area!

First, we drove through the safari…

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(That’s an ostrich pecking on windows!)

Then we found a grassy area by the parking lot and filled the kids up with peanut butter sandwiches and various snacks.

Then we did the walkabout portion of the park!

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We got to see a snake enjoying its lunch…

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And visit some aviaries…

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(This girl is a little bird crazy right now!)

And then a special bonus: RIDES!  In addition to all things animals, the park also had some amusement park rides (at no extra cost!)  And since it was not crowded AT ALL, the kids could do them as much as they wanted!

Arrow’s favorite was the Merry Go Round.

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Even though it was still pretty chilly, the water features were open, and my boys (plus Aurora) who have no nerve endings were able to hit the water slides over and over again!

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We put in a full day at Lion Country Safari and ate dinner at ChikFilA on the way back to “our” house.  And then we stuck the kids in front of a movie because we all needed to chill out a little bit!

Friday also happened to be St. Patrick’s Day, which is not the easiest day to celebrate on the road, but Jackie had us covered!

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That morning we packed up and locked up “our” house, and headed towards what my kids had been waiting on all week:  THE BEACH.

Not really knowing what beaches were good in the area, I just found the closest state park that had nice pictures, which is how we ended up driving down A1A on our way to John D. Macarthur State Park.

As we were unloading 8 kids and all of their beach paraphernalia out of the car, a lady drove by with a limousine golf cart and offered to give us a ride to the beach.  We explained that we couldn’t leave right that minute, seeing how it takes about an hour to unload so many children and things, and the lady drove off in search for others wanting a ride.  I think we were all thinking, It can’t be that far, anyway. 

Which is where we were wrong.  It was far.  To get to the Atlantic, we first had to cross an inlet of water on a boardwalk.  Which was very pretty.  And pretty far for little legs.  But it was all part of the adventure, and when we finally arrived at our destination, it did not disappoint!

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The water was COLD, and we were amazed that our kids could stay in it for hours.  The waves were pretty rough, so they did not venture out, but spent the whole time trying to jump over waves.  We watched in fascination, placing bets on who we thought would last in the water the longest.

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Jackie with the littles, who preferred sand play!

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Arrow assessing the situation!

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It really was just so beautiful and pretty much the essence of SPRING BREAK!

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Here we are heading back on the boardwalk!

It was late when we arrived back at the Coyles’ house that night, and in fact, Josh beat us there!  I can’t say that I did this trip totally alone because it worked out where Josh could catch a flight down to Daytona on Friday night, spend Saturday with us, and ride back with us on Sunday!  It was so nice having him for the leg of the journey I knew I would be the most tired!

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So Saturday, we were able to continue our tradition with the Coyles and go to a Braves Spring Training game!!!  And really, Jackie and I both agreed that it was the easiest and most enjoyable trip to a game we’ve ever had.  Since my oldest 3 play baseball now, they were actually interested in the game, our seats were in the shade almost the whole time, and the Littles seemed to be ok with eating frozen lemonade and snacks and stayed fairly calm!

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And that was that!  Sunday was the looooong trip back home, and then we jumped right back into school and work and baseball!

I am just so thankful we got to do this trip (hence the blog post 2 months later!)  Not only was it just a great time, but it also kind of represents a milestone in parenting.  We now have bigger kids, and part of that means we can do some things that were just too daunting to try when they were little.  (Yes, I still have some littles, but it’s just different when you have big kids to help!)

So here’s to a new season of life, to great friends who are worth travelling to see, to Florida, and to SPRING BREAK!

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I stand before you a survivor.

I stand before you a survivor…of Spring Baseball 2017.

Listen, y’all.  We had 3 kids playing baseball this season.

Thanks to their ages, they were all on different teams.

No, there was no blogging.  There was also no house cleaning, no grocery shopping, and no cooking.  I’d say there was no schooling, but that would have been illegal.  So there was schooling.

And, really?  Baseball has been THE MOST FUN.  You know what’s really fun on a nice spring evening?  To sit and watch a baseball game.

But, people.  3 in baseball is a logistical nightmare.  There were times where we were supposed to be in THREE PLACES AT ONCE.  I’m not great at math, but that is one more place than is actually possible for a two adult family.

But we did it, we’re here on the other side of the baseball season!  I think we all made it!

So some goals for the near future?  To re-acquaint myself with Kroger.  To re-introduce my family to the vegetable and home cooked meal.  And to return to the blog so that I won’t forget our adventures.

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That deserves a fist bump from #5!

 

 

Sorry, Mom, but I do love you.

Lest you be impressed with how “good” I am at Valentines Day, I will willingly eat some humble pie and reveal how BAD I am at Mother’s Day.  I wrote a post about it in 2012, and…yep, still bad at it.

My Mom almost always comes to me on Mother’s Day because she knows that it’s the only way she’ll get to see me.

Last year, I handed her her gift, not only unwrapped, but also still sealed up in its Amazon delivery box.

This month has been a particularly busy one, so on Tuesday I went on Amazon to send my mom a package via Prime shipping.  I thought I was ahead of the game, as it is 2 day shipping and I had 4 days to work with.

WELL, once I put in her address, 2 day shipping was no longer an option.  The earliest her package could get there would be Monday, the day after Mother’s Day.  I couldn’t figure out if it was because she has a P.O. Box or because I was trying to get a package to a smaller town during a busy delivery week, but I went ahead and placed the order, as I didn’t see any way to get anything to her any faster.

Not long afterwards, my parents announced that they were going to drive up to visit with us this weekend, and they did.

The irony that I could have Prime shipped her package to my house, it would have gotten here in 2 days, and I would have been able to present it to her in person was not lost on me.  Instead, I had to convey that she would be receiving a package tomorrow.  The day after Mother’s Day.  Even though we actually saw each other on Mother’s Day.

This event tells me that I am just naturally bad at Mother’s Day.  So sorry, Mom.  But I love you.

I would include a picture that we took together this weekend on this post…but I didn’t take one.

I know that’s a surprise.

 

A Little February Vitamin Sea

 

You never know what you’re going to get from the weather when you schedule beach shoots in February.  (Or January.  Or March.  Or April.  You get the idea.)  Scheduling a day of shoots at the Lighthouse on the last Saturday in February that required me to make a six hour trip was really taking a gamble.

But Saturday.  Saturday the air was warm and the sun was out (but would hide behind a cloud at just the right times.)  The water wasn’t even that cold.  I got to listen to the wind and the waves all day and watch the rim of the sun drop behind the firmament.

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And, you know?  I really didn’t know that I needed this therapy until I received it.

What’s Up Wednesday

So I saw that there was this blog link-up with Mix and Match Mama, and I don’t often participate in blog link-ups, but when I do, it seems to be on Wednesdays.  I thought this would be a fun way to exercise my writing muscle with a little structure.  If I can figure out all the technology before it’s not Wednesday any more, I’ll even actually join the link-up!

So here goes.  The assigned topics are:

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  1. What we’re eating this week

Well, this has not been the best week for Linker eating.  See, what happened was, I got totally thrown off of my grocery shopping routine.  Israel had baseball practice on the night I would normally shop, and I said “I’ll go tomorrow” every day until I finally realized it was too late.  (I also might have said, “I’ll get the groceries while I’m at Wal-Mart getting Valentines supplies,” and then totally chickened out because Wal-Mart the night before Valentines Day was terrifying.)  So we have eaten this week whatever we could make work with what we already had.  So this week it was tacos, chicken roll-ups (using canned biscuits instead of crescent roles,) and tortellini soup.  And since we have one kid that needs to be at the field tomorrow night and one that needs to be at the batting cages, I’ve already given up on dinner tomorrow night.

HOWEVER, check out, the soft pretzels that Ava made all by her lonesome using a Paula Deen cookbook she checked out from the library.

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She’s hired!!!

2.  What I’m reminiscing about

Lately, we’ve been realizing how much Arrow looks like Egan did at that age.  It took us a while to catch on because they have different hair, but, man, are they really twinsies!

 

3. What I’m loving

I’m not gonna lie, I’m still loving my dish washer.  It’s washing my Crock Pot RIGHT NOW as I sit here and eat dark chocolate bark.  Do you know how many minutes of my life I have spent scrubbing Crock Pots???

4.  What we’ve been up to

This week is a lighter week because we don’t have CC or my Bible study this week.  We had the nephews over Sunday night so that their mama could work on a research paper. (She is in her last semester!  I know she feels like this college degree has taken three sweet forevers, but she’s almost there, and we are so proud of her!)  Thanks to the rain we haven’t had baseball practice yet this week.  In fact, if I didn’t want to do school this week, I could get away with it with a clear conscience because our county’s public school is out this week for “Winter Break.”  But we are doing school so that we can break later. Hallelujah.

5.  What I’m dreading

Well, if you haven’t seen it hinted at, BASEBALL SEASON is coming.  Last year with one child in baseball was hard, but apparently not hard enough, because now we have three in baseball!  Right now we have practice four days a week, but once the season starts, it looks like we will be at the ball field six days a week.

And y’all.  I love that my kiddos are passionate about the same sport Josh is passionate about.  But I know God is going to use this baseball season for my sanctification because I do NOT do well with spontaneity that team sports require.  One or both of us having to be at the fields every day and then having to figure out how to feed the family nutritiously at odd hours is NOT going to bring the best out of me. So if you see anything good in me over the next few months know that it’s not possible without the transformational power of the Holy Spirit.  (Not to mention all the group texts required for sports to happen.  MERCY.)

6.  What I’m working on

I’m preparing for a 10K!  I really, really had gotten into a terrible exercise slump last year.  The first six months I rarely got to run due to Josh being out of town for the new job and the crazy schedule.  After we moved here, I pretty much threw a big pity party because I didn’t have Liz to run with and I had pretty much turned into a person that would only run if it provided a social opportunity.  About the time I decided to woman up and run by myself, I saw that Liz was training for the same 10K we ran a four years ago.  And I thought, “Why not?”

So I get to reunite with my old running buddy soon to run a 10K!  We may not get to physically train together, but I try to send her an encouraging-ish text about once every other week (like the one to follow), which is almost the same thing.

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OK, it’s not the same thing at all.  I miss my running buddy.

7.  What I’m excited about

See #6, #11, and #12.

8.  What I’m watching/reading

I’ve gotta be honest.  There are so many non-fiction books I need to read, and I’m having trouble being motivated to read them.  If I take the time to read, I really would like to just enjoy myself with a piece of fiction.  I am making an effort to read Six Ways to Keep the Good in Your Boy by Dannah Gresh.  I love Dannah Gresh, and I need to read this book, but I’m having trouble investing in it.  I even am bribing myself; I bought a fiction book off Amazon that I know will be enjoyable, and I get to read it once I am done with Six Ways.  So far, it hasn’t worked.

I am also reading Lies Women Believe by Nancy Leigh Demoss as a part of a group.  I’m only a few chapters in, but it’s pretty powerful stuff!

And Josh and I have really enjoyed watching Parks and Rec.  We don’t have as much time for TV together as we used to have, so it is good for us to watch something where we don’t have to commit to a huge story arch.  Since Josh worked for the government in Florida for eight years, we are having the best time comparing it to his real-life office experiences.  The show might not be completely realistic, but close enough for government work.

(Do you see what I did there?)

9.  What I’m listening to

Nothing special right now.  Maybe this would be a good time to try something new?

10.  What I’m wearing

This is the winter of leggings and tunics.  Yes, they are cute.  It’s also out of necessity; my jeans from last year simply don’t work, and I don’t have time to find jeans that do.  (Why is the process of finding the right jeans so terrifying?  I think I would rather get fitted for a formal gown!)  (Not that I have any desire or reason to get fitted for a formal gown.)

11.  What I’m doing this weekend

I am pretty excited about this weekend!  As much as I love this new, more relaxed life, I have been really itching to get out and work some.  With Josh’s permission, I sent out an email to friends/clients in Tallahassee to see if I were to come down this month if anyone would be interested in some pictures at the Lighthouse.  The interest was there, so this weekend, I’m headed to my Lighthouse!!!

12.  What I’m looking forward to next month

That’s exciting, too!!!  A while back, Jackie and I were talking about how we really wanted to do a road trip with our kids like Big Mama and Gulley.  We had already tentatively planned to make it happen for Spring Break 2017 when Cynthia moved really close to Jackie.  So we asked her if she was in, and she was!

So, I don’t want to ruin too much now, but I’ll go ahead and let those that follow me on Instagram know…

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13.  What else is new

I started doing a Bible study on Thursday mornings called Moms with Swords.  They offer a class during the same time slot for homeschool kids, and I thought that I should give it a try for at least a semester.

I’ve got to be honest, I was a little skeptical about it being a good fit for us because A) I am already doing a Bible study with some ladies from church, and there’s only so much one girl can study, and B) I was really nervous about losing that time that we could do schoolwork.  We have been able to move at a more relaxed pace this year, which has been really nice!

But I’ve got to say that, so far, I think we are all really enjoying the experience.  God is using the study to help me examine my own heart in a way that I have not in a long time, and the kids genuinely want to go.

So here’s to getting out of our comfort zones and trying new things that require us to get dressed and leave our houses.

Even if it means missing second breakfast.

 

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Some Free Verse Poetry Upon a Saturday Evening

They are called the “Terrible Twos” and it is a challenging year even with the sweetest of babes.  But the whole reason it’s challenging is because there’s a complex process occurring within this tiny human being.  I have had the privilege of having four two year olds now, and somehow each one of them has been the sweetest, funniest small person to walk the planet.

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You are two.

You are learning so much every day.  Shapes, colors, vehicles; daily they take on a whole new meaning.

But you are learning more than that.  You are learning that “Please” and “Thank you” make things go more smoothly. 

You are two, and when you are happy, you share it with the world.  You have your own dance when you hear good music, and you laugh when we tickle your belly.

But when you are sad, you still let us cuddle and rock you.

You are two, and you are so much bigger than you were when you were one.  I carry you and your feet are dangling almost to my knees. 

But when you have a nightmare, and you need to snuggle in my bed, you still can somehow fit your whole body on my shoulder.

You are two, and you can climb to the tippy top of the highest slide and slide aaaaaall the way down, all by yourself!

But you would still prefer for me to carry you down the stairs of our house.

You are two, and some people say that that means you’re “terrible!”

But the reason you have these terrible moments is because you are learning that there are things in your life that you can’t control, and that is not pleasant.

I am not two, and I am still daily learning that there are things in my life that I can’t control, and that still is not pleasant.

But it’s no longer acceptable for me to lay down on the floor and cry about it. 

 

Valentines Day 2017

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Some people are crazy cat ladies…I am the Crazy Valentines Lady.  This year, Josh commented that I turn Valentines Day into a mini-Christmas.

I wanted to argue with him, but y’all, I do.

I like to think that, someday, my kids will be hand crafting Valentines with their own children and say, “We used to spend a whole week making Valentines with Mom and it was THE BEST TIME.”

(If they end up saying, “We used to spend a whole week making Valentines with Mom BECAUSE SHE WAS CRAZY,” just don’t tell me.)

So we had a major advantage this year because we are in a new place…so we didn’t have to worry about accidentally repeating Valentines we have done in the past; no one would know or care!  ALSO, I didn’t blog Valentines Day last year since we were in the middle of moving stress, so YOU won’t know, either!  The kids chose what they wanted to do off my Valentines Pinterest board.  We started with making Valentines for our Classical Conversations classes.

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I just love a good pun.  You can add that to the list of reasons I love doing Valentines Day with kids.

 

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Ava made these for her class.  I’m 99.5% sure no one in the class would get a Dr. Who joke.  But she was OK with being mysterious.

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Aaaaaaand I made these for my class because I’m super mature.  Seriously, how funny is this?  (I did check with my moms to make sure they would be OK with this.  I didn’t want to be the one to send a child that struggles with bathroom humor over the edge.)

 

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We have a sweet elderly neighbor who invites Ava to come over and bake periodically.  It really has been such a blessing for all of us; it gives her some girl time (she only had a grandson,) it gives Ava an opportunity to get creative in the kitchen that I can’t always give her, and she comes home with treats that we can use so that I don’t have to bake as much!  So when she went to Ms. Sandy’s the day before Valentines Day, I was hopeful that she would be bringing things home we could use for our Valentines breakfast the next day.  And she did!  The chocolate covered strawberries were my Valentines present.

 

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And who doesn’t want a heart shaped rice krispy treat?

 

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I decided to not do our normal schooling on Valentines Day this year so that we could take a ministry field trip.  (I am still getting used to the fact that I homeschool and I can change things up if I want to!)  We invited Lisa and her kids to join us for breakfast, and then we headed out to take Valentines treats to our church’s shut-ins.

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Don’t be too impressed…I definitely made some mistakes in planning this, like trying to squeeze everything in before a dentist appointment, forgetting that at noon it is not uncommon in retirement facilities to,  you know, EAT LUNCH, and failing to check ahead of time to make sure that each person was, ahem, still alive.

Yep, not my finest moment.

Fortunately, Lisa and her kiddos were not deterred by my less than stellar organizational skills, and hopefully our efforts were an encouragement to someone.

Or at least provided them some needed comic relief.

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That evening it was time for the family’s annual Valentines trip to Five Guys, and I finally stooped so low as to bring my real camera into the restaurant and treat it like I would a wedding reception.

 

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But aren’t you glad I did?  The world needs to see my beautiful Little Bacon Cheeseburger!

 

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Since Ava had baseball practice later that night, we opened Valentines there and it was so fun to see all the kids’ secret projects they had worked on come to fruition.

 

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We just had such a nice day as a family.  I love them every day, but it’s nice to have a day once a year to focus on it.

 

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Welcome, All Ye Who Enter Here

Alternatively Titled: Room Reveal #3

When we moved here, I found myself putting a lot more thought into turning this house into a home than ever before. I had a lot of insecurities about the move and I really needed to put my own mark on this place.  (And perhaps the house I have spent on Pinterest since 2011 might have something to do with it.)

Before we had even picked out a house, I knew I wanted my new house to have a room with a Florida theme.  I wanted to pay homage to the decade of our marriage that we spent in Florida…to mix our past with our present…to not forget where we had come from as we continue our journey.  And to have an excuse to display seashells.

As soon as we saw the house, I knew that the living room would be the Florida room.  The blue accent wall kind of made the decision for me.

Another thing that excited me about our house was that it has a spot for an entryway table!  We had lived in four houses/apartments prior to moving here, but none of them had a distinctive entrance area that merited a decorative table.  It has taken me these whole 6 months to complete my entryway table, but I am delighted in how it’s turned out.

Full disclosure, I realized recently that my entryway table is the closest thing I have to a personal pet.  I’m pretty sure that people who hear me talk about my table think, “It’s just a table.”  Similar to how when I hear a person talk about cooking things for their dog, I might think, “It’s just a dog.”

But I don’t have to clean up my table’s poo, so…best pet ever!

So now the table can be officially on the blog and you can ask questions like: How old is it?  Do you know what breed it is?  Is it OK if I pet it?

I will also include my Floridian living room because they are really all in the same room when you walk in the door, and you don’t really want to have to read a blog post about this again later, do you?

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TA DA!  This is what you see when you walk in the door.  Table and baskets are all from Hobby Lobby.  We had been looking at different furniture ideas for this spot when I fell for this table at Hobby Lobby.  It was a few months before we could fit it in the budget, but then one day Josh said,”We can go get your table now!”  I wanted to do the baskets so that we would have a place for outerwear, the diaper bag, baseball gloves, hats, etc.  We don’t have a coat closet and winter in our house has always meant an explosion of jackets everywhere.

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Words.  Since the table would be the first thing people see when they walk in the house, I wanted words that would be both significant to us AND to our visitors.  When we made the decision to move, we had a theme:

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So I wanted to incorporate that concept into our words.  I was leaning towards trying to find some art that says “The adventure starts at home” when I fell in love with this string art by James and the Letters.

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So I finally settled on having “home” above my table and “the adventure starts here” on my table.

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(Lettering by Hey Monkey Vic.)

Can I just take a moment to say God bless my husband for listening to me stress for months about what words to put on my table?

Cynthia gave me these great shell hurricane candle holders for Christmas, and the kids picked out the nautical frames for me!

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This was kind of a project on a whim.  The hearts are on all the places we’ve ever lived.  (Except Pennsylvania for me, because that would throw off the groove of the map…and Josh has lived in several places in northeast Georgia, so I just did a heart in the general area.)

 

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(I spy a little PhotoJennick Photography!)

And then the rest of the Florida room!  This room is actually not complete because A) Jackie is working on a special project for me that will go in the blank spot by the hanging shells, and B) Someday we will replace the boys’ old couch with a gray sectional.  We left our old sectional in Tallahassee and we are patiently waiting for the right used sectional to appear on a yard sale site.  I know it’s out there.

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True to the theme of the room, I am limiting myself to displaying photos taken in Florida.  Yes, they are mostly at the Lighthouse.  I can’t help it.

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(By none other than the fabulous Polished Arrow Photography.)

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We left our old end tables in Tallahassee.  I had been eyeing these outdoor tables at Tuesday Morning for a while, but then right after they moved the marked them down half off.

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I love this toy storage – it’s one of the first things we bought for the house!  Our final touch (for now) on the living room is the entertainment center.  We didn’t have an entertainment center, thanks to the faithful old floor model TV we used for the first half of our marriage and having built-in shelving for a TV after that.  For a long time after we moved here we had the TV and all the technology that goes with it piled up on a little sewing machine table, which was just as attractive as it sounds.  The entertainment center was Christmas!

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It’s actually rare for Arrow to sit in the living room and play with his toys by himself, but I thought it was fun that he did it while I was taking pictures!  I love this intense dragon flying!

I’m so thankful for my home and the family that makes it so.

And my table.

Yes, you may pet it.

 

 

 

Room Reveal #2

You remember months ago when I announced that I would be revealing the rooms of my house one by one as I finished them?  And then I showed the school room?

Considering the fact that the school room is the only room I have showed so far, I’d say it’s going well.

I actually didn’t forget, but have you ever gotten a house livable but not what you consider finished?  That’s where we were at for a long time.  I’ve had about three rooms that have stayed mostly done for quite a while, but were still missing one or two major pieces of my vision for them.

So it occurred to me after my last post that gave you a little peek into Ava’s character, that it would be fun to show you Ava’s room because it really says a lot about her personality.  This was easy to do because Ava’s room is always clean.  I really don’t know where her ridiculous sense of organization comes from…but it’s not from me.  So I didn’t have to wait for her room to be clean to take pictures; I just happened to walk by when the light was nice and decided to take some!  I really feel like this is kind of “phoning it in” because I really don’t have anything to do with the layout of Ava’s room; she picked where everything would go.

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When you go up our stairs, instead of a small “landing” there is a loft area.  Ava’s room is in the corner of the loft, so she truly has a corner bedroom.  It’s the closest thing we’ve ever had to a tower bedroom, and I think that’s kind of romantic.  (You know, like in Anne of the Island?)  This is what it looks like from the top of the steps…if her door is actually open, but it’s usually not!  She doesn’t want to risk anyone messing up the order.

 

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One of Ava’s hobbies is checking out books from the library about origami.  Currently hanging over her door is an origami Yoda from…the Origami Yoda books.  She also has origami birds hanging from her ceiling, which you can see in the first picture.

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The “finishing touch” for her room was this Hogwarts poster that she had requested and received for Christmas.  She also found the bedding at a discount store.  Up until a few months ago, she just had used my old bedding (this was my bed as a tween and teen,) and she never complained about it.  We have never done Princess bedding or My Little Pony or anything like that.  I love what she picked, and I really feel it makes it officially a tween room!

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I’m telling you, the child is ridiculously organized!  She chose where everything on the walls would go.  At one time, this shelf had been painted pink, which she despises.  Eventually, it fell off the wall at our old house and she took the opportunity to ask if it could be painted another color.  We had a Tardis blue we were using to paint the accents in our bedroom that suited her much better.

Ava’s middle name is Joy, and she loves it, and we always talk about how her name is everywhere at Christmas-time.  I’m glad I snagged that “Joy” at the Target Dollar Spot one December!

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Ava got her first (and only) hit last year in her very first at bat.  It was also one of the few games they won, and they gave her the game ball.  I didn’t even realize she had it on display until I took these pictures.  (And yes, that is a German dictionary.  Another one of her hobbies is studying German.  Baseball, origami, German, Harry Potter.  If that’s not a Renaissance woman, I don’t know what is.)

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Oh, just three Memory Masters medals hanging from her mirror.  Since that represents a lot of work, I’m glad that she has them on display!  I wonder where Israel’s medal is…

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We were blessed with some big bulletin boards that came out of our old church building.  She had one painted pink before…but asforementioned, pink didn’t work for her anymore.  We painted that one white and are using it elsewhere, and this is the one that was in our old living room.  Since this is the first time she’s decorated one all on her own, I thought it was fun to see what she chose to hang.

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So the lamp is kind of the last thing from the pink/ballerina room that needs to be replaced.  (Really, I just need to remember to get her a blue shade.)  This is how her nightstand looks all. the. time.  Mine is always a wreck.  In fact, the book that I’m currently reading has flat out disappeared. 

And that clock?  Probably the best $6 we’ve ever spent on her.  She sets an alarm for 6:30 every morning.  By the time I am fully awake, she has already gotten up, gotten dressed, done her chores, read the Bible, and practiced the piano.  One time, she had measured her room, drawn a diagram of how we could fit twin girls in there if the need were ever to arise, and made a list for me of about eight sets of twin names by 8:00 AM.*

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Just a close up of her with one of her two best friends, Isabel.  She fell for this frame at World Market, and it’s so rare that she expresses interest in a decoration (that is on clearance) that I bought it on the spot.  (Most of what you see was gifted to her or she made it…I think she bought that cat at our old thrift store.)  I was disappointed that this picture wasn’t a good fit for it, but that didn’t discourage her.  Who needs both their eyes, anyway?

Not pictured:  She does have a dresser and a desk that are kept so ridiculously clean that you wouldn’t even believe they are real.

I am really so ridiculously blessed to be this girl’s mama.  I’ll be honest, there were some years I wasn’t sure we’d see the end of (you couldn’t pay me to repeat Kindergarten and first grade,) but I look into her room and I see that for some reason a young lady is living in my home.  Most people don’t get to see the awesome side of her because she tends to keep people at arms length.  Not one of the best qualities she inherited from me.

Oh, and I am working up a list of things I’m going to pay her to organize.

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There’s Harry again.

 

 

*Please don’t misinterpret this.  We are not pregnant.  And I never said anything to her about getting pregnant soon.  This was all her.

 

 

When Mama Needs a Do-Over

We all miss the mark sometimes.  It is part of being human.  But it’s when we miss it with our own children that it can really come back to haunt us and make us feel like failures.

I get overwhelmed easily by auditory stimuli.  I’ve always thought it was because I’m an auditory learner, but I recently read this article that explained that being easily overstimulated is a large part of my personality type.

Oh great, it’s just me.

God has a sense of humor because he made me the mother of four children who all make noise.

You know that whole, “God won’t give you more than you can handle?”  It’s simply not true.  God does give us more than we can handle.  It is only then that we truly depend on Him.

But I fail so miserably in this area, even so.  I can’t count the number of times that I have not responded well to my children because I am simply overwhelmed by the noise and my brain can’t function properly anymore.  This whole depending on God to help me process the noise thing is something I need to do, not just every day, but every minute.  And there are minutes that I lose it.

One such minute occurred yesterday.  I had just gotten out of bed and had already had multiple requests from my busy child for…whatever.  I was putting on my shoes and preparing to get Arrow out of bed (he sleeps in my closet,) (it’s a big closet,) when I saw Ava pop into my peripheral vision.  She was holding a muffin on a plate and said brightly, “Breakfast in bed?”

I wish I could say I immediately took off my shoes and climbed back into bed (who doesn’t want an excuse to do that?), but instead I’m embarrassed to say that I was pretty snappy with her, even though she was not the source of my frustration.  (The five year old who had already said “Mommy” about thirty times in the span of five minutes would be the source, in case you are wondering.)  I don’t know what exactly I said, but it amounted to “I CAN’T EVEN.”

And of course by the time I realized my mistake, she was gone and it was too late.  And I wish I could say I then went and found her and apologized and expressed my appreciation for her gesture…but I didn’t.  I got on with the day and neither of us said anything about the occurrence.

Today was Friday, and Josh works from home on Fridays.  It’s the last Friday before Classical Conversations and other activities get kicked back off for the semester, so I allowed myself a relaxed, slow start this morning.  Before I was out of bed, I got a text from Josh that read, “If you haven’t gotten out of bed yet, stay in it another minute.”

A minute later, Ava arrived carrying our china serving platter holding a muffin, blueberries, and an iced coffee.  Oh, and a note.

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Ridiculous, undeserved grace.  From my ten year old.

We don’t always get a do-over as parents.  In fact, I think it would be extremely rare that we do.  I’ll take this one.

 

A Lesson from My Dishwasher

So at some point Pinterest figured out that I’m interested in writing.  (It’s very intuitive, this Pinterest.)  Consequently, periodically I see writing motivational quotes, such as:

A crappy first draft is worth more than a non-existing one.

If you want to be a writer, write.  Write, write, and write… – Anne Rice

Don’t get it right, get it written. – Ally Carter

Write a page a day, only 300 words, and in a year you have written a novel.  – Stephen King

A professional writer is an amateur that didn’t quit.  – Richard Bach

There is even some occasional support from some of my favorite fictional people:

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So, needless to say, Pinterest is..encouraging…me to follow my dreams, albeit in a forceful and sort of creepy way.

And yet, I still tend to neglect the blog.  Although my favorite kind of blog to read is personal narrative blogs like BigMama, who take daily life and make it entertaining, I guess I have a hard time believing I can make my own daily life entertaining.  Between the excuses and the failure to work writing into my routine, my unexercised writing muscle is shaky when I do try to use it.  If you don’t know what I mean by a “shaky” muscle, clearly you have never seen me try to do a push-up.

All that being said, I really would like to do more on the blog, even if it ends up being something that people don’t really care to read.  Don’t mind me, just workin’ my muscle.  But don’t worry, if it is any comfort, my normal exercise is pretty sporadic, so I would expect that of my writing exercise, as well.

I guess I felt like I needed to explain myself a little bit before I launched into a post about my dishwasher.

So, you may or may not remember (I’m going to go with may not) that I had a vendetta against using a dishwasher.  Well, vendetta is a strong word, but the fact is that in the almost eleven years of marriage prior to moving into this house, I had never used a dish washer, even though I had had one available to me for about nine and a half years.  Our very first apartment did not have a dishwasher, and I grew accustomed to washing dishes by hand.  I insisted in subsequent apartments and houses that had a dishwasher that it was a waste of electricity and water and it was really just as fast to wash my dishes by hand.  Especially since the demographic of our house required me to use a number of sippy cups and plastic plates and the like that had to be hand-washed, anyway.

Well, apparently if you do not use something you lose it, and we may or may not have had a problem in the past with a dishwasher not working because it had sat for several years in our jurisdiction without use.  So when we moved into this house, Josh laid down the law and declared that, “We are USING this dishwasher.”

I have to say that in the six-ish months that we have lived here, I have totally fallen for the dishwasher.  My favorite part?  It washes our cheese grater!  We grate a lot of cheese, and I hate washing the cheese grater since it tears up the sponge and I tend to nick my fingers on it.  Now the cheese grater goes straight into the dishwasher and comes out sparkling without me having to touch it!  I also tend to do all my food preparations keeping what will fit in the dishwasher in mind.  Please tell me that’s normal.

So the title of this blog implies that the dishwasher has taught me a lesson, and I bet you are starting to wonder if I forgot about that part.

Truth be told, I got so excited thinking about the cheese grater, I almost did.

But the lesson.

I have pretty much always used plastic plates and cups with the children.  It’s one of those things that I started doing when they were little, and I kept doing out of habit.  We have a nice china set as well as every day dishes, and every once in a while I would say things like, “One day when the kids use real dishes…” but I never put a lot of thought into when that day would be.

In fact, even Josh and I had gotten to where we didn’t really use glasses any more.  We drink water at meal time (or sometimes I drink a soda, I’m not trying to be a hero,) and we often would use the water bottles that we drink from throughout the day so that we didn’t “dirty a glass.”  Our dinner table was a variety of inexpensive serving pieces, and none of it was pretty.

And then we started using a dishwasher.  It became desirable for me to use the “breakable” dishes and glasses because I could wash those in the dishwasher instead of by hand.  And it occurred to me that, yes, with the exception of Arrow, my children were actually old enough to be using “real” dishes.  Why, they could even use open cups instead of the plastic cups with lids!  (I do still use those when we are not sitting down for a family meal.  Again, not trying to be a hero.)

So now, we use real plates and drink out of mason jars for family meals.  I discovered that not only is clean-up easier, (hello, dishwasher!), but the table also just looks nicer and makes me feel better about all the work that cooking requires.

Do we ever have spills?  Sure.  But spills can be cleaned up, and we don’t have enough of them to make me want to go back to hand-washing a lot of cups.

But this lesson goes a little farther than just dishes.  I think it’s easy when we are **blessed** to be at home with babies and toddlers and spend all day cleaning vomit and changing diapers and preparing food for people who do not eat, it is easy to think that life hasn’t really started yet.  We day-dream about when the kids are old enough to take long hikes without carrying anyone, or go to the beach without having to worry about drowning in a puddle, or go to a matinee movie without having to worry about missing a nap time.  Some days, the dream is big, like being able to take an overseas mission trip together as a family.  Some days, the dream might just be about the day when all your children can wipe their own bottoms.  (I am still not convinced that day actually exists.)

By forcing me to give my children actual dishes, the dishwasher taught me that my children are real people now, and we are living life together now.  We may not be able to have the same type of experiences right now that we will be able to have in ten years, but that doesn’t invalidate the living that we are doing right here, right now.

And when I spend more time appreciating my family for what it is right now than thinking about what it could be like in the future, I may find a way to make it prettier.

 

 

 

When Aleppo Comes to Your Front Door

I am really good at avoiding the news. For various reasons; I’m forgetful and distracted and doing good to keep up with what’s going on in my own house.  But also, because the news is really depressing.

Social media makes it a little harder to avoid the news.  At some point, someone decided that Facebook was not good enough with people swapping funny quips on each others’ “walls,” so they had the great idea to start posting news articles on Facebook.  That is a huge part of the reason that I have tried to spend minimal time on Facebook for the past year or so.  (I would quit Facebook altogether, but it seems that every group and organization north of the Fall Line uses Facebook as the primary means of communication.  I guess that’s another rant for another blog post.)

(But, really, would a group e-mail be that difficult?)

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So now it’s time to make this confession: Even though I knew that something terrible was going on in Syria, I ignored it for a long time.  If I saw an article and it mentioned Syria, I wouldn’t read it.  I had a vague idea that something awful was happening, and honestly, I didn’t want to be held accountable to any more information than that.

I was turning my back on Syria, not because I don’t care about Syrians, but because I didn’t know if I could handle learning about the pain and suffering that is going on there.  And even if I knew, what could I do about it??

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My dam of ignorance and apathy finally broke down when I read this blog post by Ann Voskamp.  Not only did I finally let my heart break for Syria, but I also started clicking links.  I started reading about refugees, about their needs, about the process that they go through.  I found out that even if I can’t actually go to Syria and help there, there ARE things I can do for refugees here.

I contacted the World Relief office here in Atlanta.  World Relief helps refugees get established in the States.  A very patient volunteer coordinator has been answering my questions for a few weeks now.  Every year at Christmas, our family does a service as our birthday present for Jesus.  This year, we put together some Welcome Kits, and I have been trying to figure out with the volunteer coordinator when a good time to get the Welcome Kits to her would be since their office was closed for the holidays.

Long story short, there ended up being a need for a refugee family who is living in a hotel.  Their apartment was supposed to be ready for them today, but they will not be able to move into it until Tuesday.  Would it be possible for us to take them to the market so they could have food until then?

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So today we met our first refugee family.  Before we met them, the only thing I knew was that they spoke Arabic; I did not know what country they were from.  I am so blessed to have a friend back in Tallahassee who is actually studying Arabic and has a number of acquaintances from the Middle East.  She was kind enough to call me and talk a little bit about what I might expect and taught me how to say, “Hello, my name is Kara.”  (I’m sure she would have taught me more, but that’s about all this brain could handle!)

I packed up the best “hotel entertainment” I could come up with; games, coloring pages, puzzles.  And we headed into the big city.

We arrived at the little hotel and met this sweet, welcoming family, who smiled at us even though I know they had no idea what we were saying.  We had to rely on Google Translate and pray that it was translating us correctly.  We found out that they were from Syria and they had been in the states four days.  But I had to keep in mind that Syria does not necessarily mean Aleppo.

Within minutes, Egan had made himself at home between two of their boys playing on their phone, and we were being served almonds and dates by the family we were supposed to help feed.

We took the parents to two markets so that they could find the things that they needed.  I wondered how terrible it was for them to not understand what we were saying while in the car with us.  The children were asking questions about their country, and I was reminding them that Syria was next to Israel; that the Damascus we read about in the Bible is actually located in modern day Syria.  I wondered if they were catching the names of those familiar places, but didn’t know why we were talking about them.  That has to be a terrible feeling.

During one of our car rides, I finally was able to use my phone to ask the mother a question.  (Technology comes more slowly to me.)  I asked her what part of Syria they were from.

Aleppo.

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Now listen.  I first read that blog post and really thought about Aleppo for the first time on December 14th.  At the time, Aleppo’s situation seemed heartbreaking, but it was a whole world away and there did not seem like there would be anything I could possibly do to help.  I met my first refugee family from Aleppo on January 14th.  Do you see what I see?  In exactly one month, a part of the world that I thought I could never help reach practically arrived at the front door.

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Now please don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not saying that we did that family much good today.  They bought some salt and cheese with their own money, and for all we know, Google Translate could have terribly botched everything that we said so that they are more confused now about Americans than ever.  The point of this blog post is to not toot our own horn in any way.

So what’s the point?  If you’ve read this blog very long, you know there’s a bullet point list coming!

  • We can help.  I’ve already provided linkies to World Relief above, and I’m sure there are some other great organizations to get involved with.
  • Ignoring the heartbreak in the news may not always be healthy.  This is something I still need to work on.
  • When God burdens your heart, pay attention.  Remember my confession last year?  When I revealed I had allowed the busy-ness of my life to take precedence over a call God had placed on my heart when I was fifteen?  So I’m still learning this lesson.

Oh, and what’s up with the apple pictures?  This sweet family put fruit before us before we left them.  Although we hated to take it from them, we knew that receiving hospitality was important to them.  This was my apple.  (Which I later gave to Arrow, so it did not go to waste.)  I didn’t have any photos from today, so my apple pictures are to help me remember.

Ice, Ice, Babies

As I have gotten older, my memories seem to mush together more and more.  Some things that happened fifteen years ago seem pretty recent, but I can’t remember what I had for breakfast today.  Did I have breakfast today?

I also tend to project my own memories on other people who are close to me.  If I carry a memory of something that happened 20 years ago, my subconscious tells me that my children who are much younger than that surely know about it, too.  I know that doesn’t make sense, I’m just being honest about the scrambled up thing that most people call Mom Brain.

It’s because of this fantastic cerebral experience that I had a hard time understanding why my children went crazy when they found out the word snow was in the forecast.  Although I haven’t spent a lot of time with snow, I’ve spent enough that I know it’s cold, and beautiful, and cold, and wet, and cold, and potentially hazardous, and cold.

I’m not saying that I have a problem with cold, I’m just saying Florida had its perks.

Anyway, it took about two days of frantically excited children awaiting the possibility of snow before I realized that the kids really had no experience with snow.  Sure, Ava and Israel saw a snow flurry on Christmas in south Georgia in 2010…the flurry was so light it was impossible for me to get a picture that proved that it was “snowing!”  And there was some kind of sleet or ice in Tallahassee in January of 2014 that shut the city down…at one point I sent the kids to find as much ice as they possibly could so I could get a picture…and they brought me about 4 ice granules on a leaf.

So, for all practical purposes, we are going to say that they had not experienced Snow.

As a result, when Winter Storm Helen made her way to northwest Georgia Friday evening, our kids were live wires.  I would have shipped them off to burn off some excitement elsewhere, but we weren’t allowed to drive.

As a side note, I’m convinced that there has to be one person in this area that puts snow tires on their vehicle every winter.  The one day a year the roads get icy, he must ride down all the desolate roads saying, “Ha!  They laughed at me and said I would never need them.  But look at me now!!!”

Anyway, we warned the kids that the snow was not predicted to come until long after they were in bed.  We had a rainy, cold day of pre-snow jitters on Friday while the temperature hovered around thirty-four degrees.  Around the time it started to get dark, we finally convinced the kids to stop looking for snow out the window.

Around 7:00, though, Ava declared, “IT’S SNOWING!  IT’S SNOWING!  THERE’S WHITE FLUFFY STUFF COMING FROM THE SKY!  IT’S REALLY DOING IT!”  I was ready to let her know that it was not actually snowing (the snow was not supposed to come until midnight,) but, lo and behold, God had answered the prayers of the Linker children, and there actually was white fluffy stuff coming from the sky!

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Since it was dark, the kids were confined to playing in the snow on the back porch, but considering the low standards they had about snow I mentioned earlier, they thought it was the best thing in the world!

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After maybe half an hour, the snow turned to sleet and we took the opportunity to shuffle the kids into bed, assuring them that it was going to stay cold all weekend and they would have much more fun in the snow when they could see it.

And here’s one of God’s little undeserved blessings.  From the evidence we saw the next morning, it looks like the rest of our winter precipitation was probably sleet.  There was a lot of ice, but not a lot of snow.  So the fact that the little snow we got came earlier than forecasted so the kids were awake to see it?  That did not go unnoticed!

But ice is still fun for Floridian kids with low standards!

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Our undecorated Christmas tree was still sitting in its stand on the porch.  I asked Josh to sit it in the yard Friday night.  Not gonna lie, I was hoping snow would accumulate on it and we could go ahead and get our 2017 Christmas card picture in front of it.  (Before you laugh at me, let me remind you that making the most of every opportunity is biblical!)

Well, the wind didn’t let the tree stay standing, and of course it wasn’t covered in snow, but it did make for some cool ice detail shots!

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Arrow slept in longer than everyone else, so we made the rookie parenting mistake of bringing him out into the cold without first having breakfast.  Just a little word of explanation of pictures to come.

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Sledding time!  And yes, Josh is wearing some kind of video camera.  Perhaps he will revitalize his own blog and post videos because I have no idea how.

And yes, our sleds our cardboard.  Did I mention we moved from Florida?

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In the end, the best place to “sled” was on the ice of the actual road – there’s a pretty good hill near our house.  Josh worked out a system where he would have the kids grab his hiking stick and in that way gave them a good push to get them going down the hill.  They got pretty far that way, and I hear it was a good workout for him!

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Thank you, Winter Storm Helen; although I am not fond of your coldness, you are forgiven for it, for you have made the Linker children the happiest children in all the land.

 

The Top 16 [Pink Shutterbug] Photos of 2016

Well, sorry about that.  My intention was to get this post made before the dawn of a new year, but I was busy partying like it was 1999.

Two years ago I started the tradition of selecting my favorite photos of the year.  This is really a fun personal exercise that helps me remember the opportunities I had over the course of the year.

The disclaimers are:  I have a hard time picking the pictures because there are so many I love!  Please don’t be offended if you don’t see your picture posted.  I have picked these mainly because of their composition, but most of them also have sentiment attached to them that makes the composition that much more special for me.  These are a mix of paid work, gifts, and personal photos, but they were all taken with my “real” camera.

I’m just going to put them in the order they were taken, because it would be way too much to try to prioritize them in the order that I love them.

1.

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I have been photographing this family since their oldest was brand new, and I always get sappy when I see my newborns become big kids!  I was delighted when they asked me to do a shoot for them at MY Lighthouse.  The shoot was in February, so Mama was smart and brought rain boots for everyone so they could venture into the water and still have happy faces.  I did not have rain boots, so I can testify that it was a good idea!  At least my face was behind the camera!

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Every March we spend a weekend with our friends, Eric and Jackie.  And, since they started having kids, every March, we try to get a good picture of all of our kids together.  The results are usually sub-par, but this time we got a shot with everyone looking and relatively happy!  It was a Spring Break miracle!

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Our third nephew, Gabriel was born in March!  Of course I have been snapping pictures of him ever since, but I love the composition of this one.  It makes me think of the Helen Keller quote, “Keep your face towards the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.”

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So this was the fateful day I tried to get Spring pictures of the nephews.  Maverick was NOT HAVING IT, but I love this picture, anyway.  This is real life, folks.

5.

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This is another family I’ve been shooting for a few years.  I met Sheetal at the very park that we did this shoot for last minute maternity pictures less than 24 hours before giving birth to the fun little guy on the right.  I remember that it was right before a storm hit and we just barely eeked out the pictures in time.  For this shoot, three-ish years later, the weather was gorgeous and the boys have never smiled so easily before.  It was like magic!

6.

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This couple.  They were my last paid shoot before our big move.  I shot their wedding in south Georgia back when I was able to do some traveling for weddings.  They contacted me about doing their anniversary pictures.  For their FIFTH ANNIVERSARY.  Although I have seen plenty of “my” newborns grow up, this was the first marriage I got to watch “grow up,” and I was completely honored.

They drove over an hour to do this beach shoot with me.  I failed to warn them in advance that they would be getting wet and dirty, so they arrived without towels or changes of clothes.  But they were completely good sports about it and still enthusiastically did whatever I asked of them, even though it was going to mean a very soggy drive home.

They had done this dip pose spontaneously at their wedding and it is one of my favorite wedding photos of all time, so I couldn’t resist asking them to recreate it!

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This is another one of “my” newborns…at My Lighthouse!  We got a lot of fun pictures of her family on this evening, but I love the lighting in this candid.  I miss evenings at the Lighthouse…and this family!

 

8.

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I know you’re surprised to see ANOTHER picture at my Lighthouse.  We had to squeeze the Harrell’s family pictures in the week of the big move since they were long overdue.  I love the Lighthouse at low tide.  I love catching reflection pictures.  But, more importantly, this picture represents a family that truly exemplifies what family is all about.

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I had the amazing opportunity to go to Vermont and bring my camera along!  I really should represent the trip with a picture that is more representative of New England, but my favorite is this detail shot from the Christmas Shop in the Yankee Candle Flagship Store in Massachusetts. What can I say, the heart wants what it wants.

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Josh’s sister, Kristy, got married in August!  She had planned for me to not have to take photos so that I could enjoy myself, but a few days beforehand she asked if it was at all possible for me to shoot the reception.  I was really relieved; I feel much more natural and comfortable behind a camera at a party!  (Think: Socially Awkward Penguin.)  I heartily agreed, but my one condition was that they would let me take some couple shots at sunset.  Because sunset.

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I had the opportunity to take the yearbook photos for our new Classical Conversations Community!  I was honored that they would trust me with this since they really had not had time to get to know me.  Especially since I am also a tutor, so I was having to ask parents to cover in my classroom so that I could take photos.  This is my adorable class!!!

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I opted to go back to Tallahassee for Mini-Shoots for Missions since I didn’t have a client base here yet.  I wasn’t sure how people would respond, but the minis filled up in less than 24 hours!  I was especially thankful to have an opportunity to photograph this little guy…his parents had moved away from Tallahassee just before we did, and I did not expect to get to take some newborn pictures for them, but it worked out that we were both visiting the same weekend!  He has a pretty awesome story that I hope to write about soon!

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Another one of my minis!  This family decided to spice things up with a chalk fight!  It turned out super cute, and I really love how Mom jumped in there and was a part of it!  #goals

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This was my first official shoot in our new town!  This is the pastor (and his family) at the church that we are now a part of.  Our Sunday School Life Community Group Class all pitched in for their newborn pictures.  Little Luke rocked all his pictures, but I had to share a family picture because his sisters rocked the pictures, too!

15.

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His older brother made the list last year under very different circumstances.  Blog post on this little guy soon to come!

16.

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And finally, there’s always that one laaaast holiday shoot squeezed in at the beginning of December!  This lovely lady is Ava’s tutor at Classical Conversations, and it was a treat to grab a Christmas photo for her!  I had not worked with twin babies since Kate and Rose were tiny 5 years ago, but I came with the thought that it would be fun to put them in a box.  There was a lot of crying and we almost gave up, but after some magic worked by Dad, we had happy babies in a box!!!

When I started thinking about the photos of the year, I initially thought that there wouldn’t be that many.  I certainly have had much less work after the move than before.  But the more I looked, the more I realized how special a year it was in photography.  The first half of it was filled with “last” shoots.  Tallahassee is where my photography journey really began, and it was hard to think about leaving and starting over somewhere.  Of course, I will be going back for occasional shoots (you can’t take me away from My Lighthouse!), but I spent the first half of this year working on a sense of closure.

But the pictures of this year also represent new beginnings!  New family members and a new community that we get to be a part of!

So, 2016: The Year of Lasts and Firsts.  I like that.

If you’re super sentimental, like me, and are procrastinating doing other things, also like me, you can check out my favorites from 2014 and 2015.

 

 

 

The Books of 2016

One of my passions is reading, but I have really struggled to do much reading since I started my photography business.  There’s just only so many hours in a day, and when I edit from when the kids go to bed (which is getting later and later) until I can’t keep my eyes open any more…Well, that’s all, folks.

In 2014, I managed to read so many books that I couldn’t resist doing a blog post about it.  And then I think 2015 was a total reading flop.  (Well, I think I did read Big Mama’s new book that year.  But that may have been it.)  2016 was somewhere in between the two years.  Truth be told, I really only read one book before the big move…life seemed to stay at a pique of busy-ness those last six months in Tally!  But when we moved and had a more relaxed schedule (and significantly less photo editing to do,) I committed to make at least a small comeback in the reading territory.  So here is what I read:

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1. Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth.  This is the book that I read before the move…because when Mary An found out that I was moving, she said, “Oh!  You have to borrow this before you go!”  She was borrowing it herself, and didn’t want me to miss out on the opportunity.  She knew how much I love the show!

And, you guys.  This book is so. good.  So very interesting.  It’s a memoire of a midwife in East London in the 1950s.  Although her personal stories would have been enough to make it an amazing book, she also includes a great deal of history that makes her stories that much more fascinating.  This was a unique decade for London, sandwiched between WWII and the Sexual Revolution.

It’s also actually a great story of faith.  Her testimony of turning away from agnosticism is woven quietly throughout the book.  It’s not a sermon or propaganda that gets her attention; it’s seeing the nuns that she worked with fleshing out the love of Christ to the poor and lowly on a daily basis.

Having said this, I would note that this is not a book I would recommend for children or young teenagers.  Birth stories are very descriptive (although medical terminology is used.)  Of course midwives encountered plenty of problems with clients who were promiscuous or even prostitutes, and she doesn’t shy away from those subjects.

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2. For the Love by Jen Hatmaker.  OK, look, I know that the Hatmakers have gotten all of Christendom in a tizzy.  So let me just preface this by saying that I purchased this book for a few of my gal pals and sister-in-loves for Valentines Day BEFORE all the controversy got going.  And then I borrowed it from Jackie to read it.  (I’m super cheap, K?)  (And she did get to read it first, K?)  (Hmmm, maybe I should return it.)  So this was BEFORE the controversy was made public, and she doesn’t touch on that topic in the book.

Having said that, it’s a fun book!  It’s lighthearted and encouraging.  There are some nuggets of wisdom amongst the fun.  The style is not particularly cohesive; each chapter stands alone, so it’s really more like reading a series of blog posts.  I would recommend this as a light read, but I wouldn’t say it’s the most spiritually edifying of books.

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3.  Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.  One of my goals in life is to read all of Dickens, but I haven’t done a great job so far.  I finally snagged Great Expectations this summer and said, “It is time.”

And I know that this is not everyone’s favorite Dickens work, but I will say that I was pleasantly surprised.  This is the first thing of his that I have read that is written in first person.  I normally have trouble getting into a Dickens book (of course, about half way through I can’t put it down,) but the first person style drew me right in and made it easier for me to focus.

I knew that this is a book that has a lot of symbolism before I ever picked it up, but I think it was about halfway through when the light bulb went off and I was all like, “Oh!  This is a Prodigal Son story!  Did I know this was a Prodigal Son story?”

That’s the joy of having a bad memory.

I happen to have the Annotated Edition, which was fortunate because it included Dickens’ original ending.  He actually changed the ending of the book due to pressure by Some Important Person.  And I just want to say to you, Charles, that you got it right the first time.  Not everything has to end happily and get tied with a neat bow.  That’s not real life.  So cheers to your original ending!

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4.  The Maze Runner by James Dashner.  I snagged this book out of the Young Adult section of the library on a whim one day.  I want to see the movie, and I have weird rules about reading books before I can allow myself to watch their movies.

And I guess that this was my introduction to Dystopian Literature.  (I haven’t drank the Hunger Games Kool-Aid.)  And I will say it was…OK.  A good (albeit rather depressing) plot.  A writing style that could be worse.  About a 3 day read.

Probably my biggest complaint is something that’s my own fault…I didn’t realize that it was a part of a series.  I hate it when that happens.  (Let’s just say that when I was 15 my Dad said, “Hey, let’s go see Lord of the Rings !” but failed to tell me it was the first of a trilogy.  So, after 3 hours of Orcs  and Elfs, I was like, “REALLY?!!  That’s it??  They’re just standing on this mountain?!”)

So now I have to decide if I want to continue reading the series, and the library doesn’t have any more of the books.  Which is very inconvenient.

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5.  Life in Community by Dustin Willis and David Platt.  We read this book as a church during a Sunday School Community Small Life Group Class emphases.  (I kid, I kid.  They’re Community Groups.  I think.)  The book is basically about what living in a biblical community should look like.  There are some topics that I could immediately fist bump, like Hospitality, and there were some that were a little more on the convicting side, like Accountability.  A good read for any group who wants to make sure they are following biblical guidelines for their relationships.

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6.  Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.  Tiff gave me this book for Christmas probably three or more years ago, and as I mentioned earlier about my struggles with reading, it sat on the backburner for a loooong time.  I finally snagged it off my shelf about a month ago; we were headed out of town and I hoped to get some reading time in the car.

OK, so this is not a light-hearted book.  Although it is fiction, it is based on a real and terrible event that occurred in Paris during World War II.  And honestly, it was not an event that I was even aware of, although it took the lives of thousands of people.

But it was an important book for me to read.  I need to know about painful parts of history as well as the good parts.  And although this was not a Christian book, I believe God used it to remind me about how calloused our hearts can become.  How many times do I ignore what is happening around me and harden my heart against other people’s pain, just like the Parisians in 1942?

Sorry, went deep and dark for a minute there.  Let’s lighten things up.

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7.  Death of a Garage Sale Newbie by Sharon Dunn.  Mom gave me this book a pretty long time ago.  The main reason I know it was a long time ago is because I remember lending it to Glenda when Harlie was sick so that she’d have some reading material in the hospital.  Harlie was hospitalized when she was four…and now she’s nine.  So it’s been a while.

This is a light murder mystery.  I think I was under the impression that it would be a sort of comedy; it really wasn’t, although there was some comedic relief.  This was no Agatha Christie story; there were plenty of holes in the events leading up to the murder, and the side stories were a little bit much.  But it was fun and laced in some Christian truth without being preachy.

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8.  Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat who Touched the World by Vicki Myron.  Mom also gave me this book, and I’m proud to say it was more recently than five years ago.  (But maybe not this year.)  This is the memoire of the director of the library where the title cat lived.  I am actually still working on it, but I’m about three quarters of the way through and there is no way I’ll remember to blog about it next year!

I really like how the author ties in the history of Iowa throughout the book.  In the decade proceeding Dewey’s arrival at the library, the big corporations were buying out local farmers, which had a devastating impact on the economy.  Did I know about this?  Nope.

The author also shares some inspiring stories from her personal life about how she hit rock bottom while married to an alcoholic and worked her way up as a single mom.

But the cat.  OK, so if you’re a huge animal person, you will absolutely love this book.  And don’t get me wrong, I like the concept of the library cat and can see how it would be beneficial.  It sounds like Dewey was a pretty cool cat.  Literally.

But when the author pauses to describe the deep connection that she has with this cat (which she does about every other chapter)… Well, OK.  It’s a cat.

(If you’re a huge animal person, you can disregard that last paragraph.  It didn’t happen.  Please don’t throw tomatoes at me.)

 

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9.  Seamless by Angie Smith.  This is also one that I’m on the cusp of finishing and wanted to go ahead and write about it.  I’ve been doing this study with the ladies in my Life Small Community Group Class.  I already loved Angie Smith, so I was not worried about whether or not I would love the study.

It’s great.

The goal of the study is to help establish biblical literacy.  It is a six week course that covers the WHOLE BIBLE…so clearly she’s not going to touch on every little Bible story.  However, that’s not the goal; the goal is to get an idea of the big picture.  To not be lost when your pastor mentions The Exile in a sermon because you have no idea what that is, or to understand why it’s so important that Jesus was in the lineage of David.

I think this is a great course for new believers, but beneficial for all Christians.  I think it would be completely appropriate to do it with kids, as well.  (There is a teen version, but I really don’t think it’s necessary; it’s already written in easy to understand language.)

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10.  New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp.  This is one that I’m going to be working on for a while since I bought it later in the year.  After the move, I really struggled to settle into a good Quiet Time routine.  I’m a creature of habit, so I really need a routine in order to have a Quiet Time at all.

BooMama had raved about this book one or sixteen times on her blog, so on a whim I ordered it when I needed to purchase an Add-On Item on Amazon.  (A very spiritual reason!)

This guy brings a good word, y’all.  He doesn’t hold back.  And I like that there is a Scripture passage to be studied with each day.  I am definitely going to read this all through next year so that I can pick up what I have missed!

And those are my personal reading books for this year!  I did read some new, and old, books with the kids, especially Egan.  I’d love to blog about them, but I’ve got to rest up…I’m going to need some clairvoyance to decide on my 16 favorite photos of 2016!

 

 

 

 

Christmas 2016

I realize that this is not the most riveting material, but the fact is, as life has gotten busy I have failed to really blog Christmas over the last few years.  Those are whole years of Christmases that I won’t be able to easily look back on.  In fact, I haven’t blogged a single Christmas since I got my Canon 60D three (or four??) years ago.  Yikes!

We had a “first” this Christmas: It was the first Christmas that we did not travel!!!  In the past, we’ve always woken up on Christmas morning in our own house, exchanged gifts with our immediate family, packed everyone in the car, and made the two hour drive to be able to spend time with both sets of parents/grandparents.  Although we were of course thankful that we had family that wanted to spend time with us, it was an exhausting day, and when Christmas was on a Sunday so we were throwing in a church service, as well?  There was no peace on earth.

This year necessitated some changes.  Our move had turned a two hour drive into a four hour drive, which was virtually impossible on a Sunday Christmas.  My parents were willing to come spend the weekend with us, and we were able to celebrate with Grandpa Dan and The Girls the weekend before Christmas.  So, for the very first time in our marriage, we were able to spend the entire day at HOME!

We are not up before the sun people on Christmas Day.  We are blessed that our kids don’t pressure us in that way (and we’re not about to let ’em,) so I didn’t roll out of bed until after 8:00.  We had a nice big breakfast thanks to Mom for bringing the traditional cinnamon roles and Josh for making bacon and sausage.  We had just enough time to open our stocking gifts before church.

After church, we had to wait about an hour for the Christmas dinner casseroles to cook, so the kids watched Frosty the Snowman and Frosty Returns.  (Normally it would be Charlie Brown Christmas, but don’t get me started on our missing holiday movies!)

We had a nice dinner, and THEN it was time to open the presents under the tree!  (Delayed gratification is an important skill to teach, dude.)  This was the first time we have combined our normal tree gifts with my parents’ gifts, and as Egan put it, the tree was hit by a present tsunami!  We are the turn-taking type present openers, so it was a nice long process, and by the time we were finished, it was dark outside and time for pie!  We always wrap up Christmas by watching A Muppet Christmas Carol, which fortunately we DID have since it’s Mom’s!

Really, it was so nice and relaxed.  It was really fun to have my parents with us for the whole day instead of part of the day.  I actually love getting to go to church on December 25th, and am thankful that we were all together to do it.

So let the slide show begin!

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Gramma found Star Wars Snuggies! 

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Why, yes, all the children…and my husband…got Dr. Who crossover shirts. 

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Josh has drunk the Hamilton Kool-Aid!

And if you want to die of cute, check out this Christmas from waaaay back when I did blog Christmas.  Can you believe how little the kids are?  And they’ve multiplied since then!  So I guess the real reason I wrote this post is so that I can look back in 6 years at how “little” my kids were.  But maybe they won’t have multiplied.  Maybe.

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Pre-Christmas Activities 2016

 

Well, I know you’re going to hate to hear this, but I’ve pretty much got to write a blog post every day this week.  There are all the Christmas-sy things to document, the books I read this year, and The Top 16 Photos of 2016.  Oh, and we finally joined a church, so I guess I better blog about that.

In the words of Steven Curtis Chapman, it’s time to saddle up my horses.

Although this Christmas season was just as busy as any other Christmas season, it also felt strangely relaxed.  I guess it’s because last year, between being out of town for family business, and grieving, and being faced with the decision about the big move, we pretty much lost half our Christmas season.  Because of the schedule change due to circumstances, the kids and I were frantically squeezing in the end of our semester on top of everything else.

It was just a delightful month, really.

This year, we had the whole month of December to enjoy Christmas activities.  And I took THE WHOLE MONTH!  In fact, I broke my strict “No Christmas Stuff until December” policy, and we got started on holiday baking and making advent tree ornaments on November 30th.  It was therapy for my soul to take back Christmas…and I guess the kids didn’t mind, either!

It would be way too much to blog about all the Christmas things at one time, so I’m going to blog our pre-Christmas activities in one post and our actual Christmas Day in another.

So here are some things we did this month:

  1. The ABCs of Advent This is the “curriculum” we used for the Bible portion of school this month.  If you want to see the day-to-day of this process, you can check out my Instagram.  But I wanted to put a linky on here in case anyone was interested in using this in the future.  I’m pretty sure this is one of the Advent books my parents used with me as a child.  This year, Linker Academy made an exciting change; instead of making paper ornaments to hang on a paper tree that I would cut out of poster board, we made real ornaments to hang on a real (well, artificial!) Christmas tree!  We have a lot more room for that type of thing in this house.  This is something we will be enjoying every year!  And YOU have a great advantage!  Because if you want to get an Advent tree for your kiddos to decorate next year, you can get one in the after-Christmas sales RIGHT NOW.You’re welcome.

    Full disclosure, I discovered I’m TERRIBLE at doing an Advent lesson with the kids on the weekends in December.  So instead of doing what we normally do, which is getting way behind and then feeling very defeated about rules that I made up for myself, I thought ahead. Instead of doing one letter every day, we did two every school day.  It worked out that there were 13 school days left…26 letters of the alphabet…voila!

    I also realized that I’ve been homeschooling long enough to start rotating Christmas/Advent curriculum instead of coming up with a new one every year.  So I guess next year we’ll be starting over!

2.  Decorating the House!  Decorating was very therapeutic for me this year.  Since it’s our first Christmas in this house, we had to take some extra time to figure out where everything should go.   For the second year in a row, we did NOT put the Christmas tree in the play pin, and Arrow actually did fine with it!  (It helps that my standards are low and, if it can be broken, it probably already has.)  We also decorated outside, and I think it’s been a few years since we’ve had the time to do that!  (Nothing fancy set to music.  We will leave that to the pros!)

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(Obligatory Kids-Wrapped-in-Lights photo taken on Decorating Day!)

3.  Walk-Through Bethlehem, light displays set to music, and a free viewing of Home Alone on the big screen – all treats that we found in our new town!

4. Christmas Dinner #1.  The weekend before Christmas, we took a trip down south to celebrate Christmas, or should I say Navidad, by taking Grandpa Dan and The Girls to “Christmas dinner” at the Mexican restaurant.  We figured the queso would compensate for the fact that we weren’t actually cooking them a Christmas dinner!

5.  First Annual Gingerbread House Making Party.  We’re in a new place and the kids are getting older and I felt it was time for a new tradition.  Somehow we had never made gingerbread houses before.  (There was that one time that Josh’s Dad and Bonus Mom sent us a kit, but whoever was two at the time got into it and broke the pieces and ate most of the candy before we realized what it was.  Sorry, guys – it was very thoughtful, though!)

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We have met a sweet homeschooling family at church who was game for being a part of our First Annual Gingerbread House Making party.  It is a lot more fun to do something like this in a group, and I wanted to use it as kind of a school Christmas party.

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It was also helpful when I realized that the only way I knew how to make a gingerbread house was with a small milk carton, and I had no idea how to obtain one for each child since the only place I know to find them are public school cafeterias.  I texted Lisa with my dilemma and it turns out that she had 6 heavy whipping cream cartons.  Now, I can’t ask questions or judge her for any whipping cream habits she might have (remember my old hoarding cabinet?), but I was very thankful that she was able to save the day for our gingerbread houses!

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So here are all of our final creations!

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Clearly, our children are architectural geniuses and will be totally going into the house building biz together.

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I figured that, since the children wouldn’t be allowed to eat the gingerbread houses and that would be rather torturous, we could also use the icing and toppings to make our annual sugar cookies!  Sometimes we don’t even get to this until the week after Christmas (check out little Ava and Dana making them in 2010!), so since this was about 10 days before Christmas, we were winning!

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All the sticky stuff meant Arrow needed a man bun!

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Arrow has a tendency to pinch off icing and help himself.  Hopefully he didn’t do that to cookies that other people ate.

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It was a delightful time doing something new with new friends in our new house!

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Gigi Day

The call came as he was about to walk out the door for work.  She wouldn’t wake up and an ambulance was on its way.  He grabbed the duffel bag that he had kept packed.  I asked him what he wanted me to do.  He said to wait until he got to the hospital and could get more information.

We thought it was the tumors in her brain.

I went ahead and contacted a friend to see if she would be available for some spur of the moment babysitting if I needed it.  And then I attempted to get the children going with their schoolwork.

He arrived at the hospital two hours later and so did the information.  It was actually pneumonia.  And she wasn’t going to wake up.

I didn’t pack much, but I did grab some pillows and blankets.  I assumed we would be sleeping in a hospital waiting room.

During the first leg of my journey, the 30 minute drive to the friend who would be watching the children, the texts came rapid fire.  She’s crashing…They are trying to resuscitate…She’s gone.

Scarcely two hours after my husband arrived at the hospital, his mother was gone.  She never made it out of the emergency room.

~~~~~

Those are the words that I would have written on this day last year had I been in the state of mind to write.  I wanted to write them now because I still have the memories…and eventually I won’t.

Today was the first anniversary of Glenda’s death, and we declared it Gigi Day.  A day to discuss happy memories and do things to remind us of Gigi.  The top priority was dinner at Waffle House…Glenda started working at Waffle House when she was 11, and Josh spent a large portion of his childhood there, so it is packed with memories for him.  We talked about favorite Gigi memories with the kids while we waited on the waffles.  She would have been tickled to see the kids in their Waffle House hats; of course we would have sent her a picture.

~~~~~

I think the hardest part for Glenda’s adult children to cope with her death is knowing that our little ones will not get to know her.  Ava and Israel will probably have some good solid memories of her, but the others will have just a few or none at all.  She loved small children so much, it’s hard to think of her missing out on these little guys…and them missing out on her.

I actually did not get to know my own biological grandmothers.  My maternal grandmother died before I was born, and my paternal grandmother was in very poor health and died when I was young.  (Both of my grandfathers remarried amazing women, so I am not saying I have not had grandmothers!)  It’s because of my own circumstances that I know the best thing we can do to preserve Glenda’s memories with her grandchildren:

Tell the stories.

Tell them over, and over, and over again.  When they roll their eyes and say, “I’ve heard this a THOUSAND TIMES,” tell them again.

Because the truth is, they will eventually forget.  I have forgotten so much about my grandparents.  (Mom, Dad, I will need you to tell the stories again.)  So keep telling those stories.

That’s why December 14th is now Gigi Day.  We want our children to know that a part of their genetics was provided by a funny, compassionate woman who cared more about family being together than she did being an empty nester.  A woman who chain drank Pepsi and loved a good chocolate cake and was happiest with a baby on each knee.  A woman who is the reason that their daddy is who he is.

So we tell the stories.

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November, 2015

Bagel Sauce and Other Miscellany

So the Christmas season is upon us and I know it’s about time for some holiday themed posts.  But there’s some random business to be attended to first.

  • I found a website that generates cursive worksheets and posted about it on Instagram…because I post everything on Instagram.  It’s what I do.  Instagram is where my memories go because my brain can’t seem to store them anymore.

    Anyway.

    I really didn’t do anything special to find this website…just used Google.  But I think more people commented on this post than any other IG post I have ever made…and the consensus is that everyone wants the link to this website.  Here it is.  I just Googled AGAIN to re-find it.  Fancy.

  • Arrow is two and talkative and in the stage where his interpretation of the world is almost always funny.  (I know why they are called the Terrible Twos, but really it is a delightful age.)  He calls his pants “pockets,” he helps brush my hair and deems it “fretty” (pretty), he says “I want to be the ‘tar Wars” when he wants to put on the Storm Trooper costume.  But our current favorite is his moniker for butter: “bagel sauce.”
  • Ava’s pie that I mentioned in the last post.  Well, we made it again for another soiree.  And I will tell you.  Before Ava chose that pie, I had no desire to make a chocolate pie because it requires so many steps…and a frozen chocolate pie is only $6 at the grocery store.  But that pie is worthy and I am working on a plan to make that her specialty pie that she has to make for all the holiday events.  So that I can eat it.

    So I thought you might appreciate the recipe.

  • We’re living in a slightly colder climate now and I needed to fortify my wardrobe.  (Also, I needed tunics so that I could wear leggings all the time and never have to button and zip pants.)  But I was having trouble making my way over to Tunic Land, or Old Navy, so I finally decided to give ordering clothes off the website a try.  I figured that if it didn’t fit, I could take it back to the store, but if everything did miraculously fit, it would have saved me a trip.

    And I am here to testify.  Not only was the online shopping very convenient, they have something you won’t find at the stores: THE TALL LENGTH.  I am not a tall person at all, but I have a long torso and am always super sensitive about the length of my tops.  I also have narrow shoulders, so it can be tricky to find a top that is long enough for me to be comfortable but not look big and baggy on me.  I am just delighted to be able to add TALL to my normal size and get some extra length without extra width.  I wanted to make a note here in case anyone else would like to try it.

    I also feel that this is bringing me one step closer to living in a tower with no door and receiving everything I need through mail order.  Which is living the dream.  #hermitlife

    Oh, and did I mention, you can also order your hand soap off the Bath and Body Works website and it will arrive on your doorstep a few days later?

Thanksgiving 2016

 

I think Thanksgiving was the hardest holiday for me to think about this year.  With a few exceptions towards the beginning of our marriage, we have all (my parents included) spent Thanksgiving at Glenda’s.  Last Thanksgiving was an especially bittersweet day.

Due to various circumstances, it ended up making the most sense for us to be at our own house on Thanksgiving.  We asked my parents to join us and figured that would be it.  But then other various circumstances kept Josh’s adult sisters from travelling, as well, so we ended up with a pretty good size group!

Not only is this our first Thanksgiving in our new house, but it is also the first Thanksgiving we have ever spent at home, period.  That would have seemed daunting, except other people volunteered to take care of the turkey and the dressing.  I can cook side dishes all day long!

The day before Thanksgiving, I had finished with my “stuff” in the kitchen and Mom had arrived to take care of her “stuff.”  I had made ice cream cone cornucopias with my CC class a week prior, so I used the leftovers to make cornucopias with the little guys!

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(hair by Ava)

It’s one of those crafts I made years ago with my older kids and Josh’s little sisters, and I have to remind myself that not all of my kids have done it!

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This morning we were able to move at a pretty relaxed pace since we had mixed all our casseroles the night before, the turkey was coming from elsewhere, and the Honey Baked Ham Co. had taken care of the ham for us.  So we were able to take a little time on the Thanksgiving table!

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By putting our dining room table and school room table together, we had just enough room!

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I had the big kids make some table tents last week during Bible Time with verses of Thanksgiving.  Knights in Shining Armor are just a bonus!

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This is the first time we’ve lived somewhere that makes a good showing of fall leaves, so I gave the kids the rare permission to bring outside things inside!

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Then it was time to head outside for the first round of family pictures!

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Look at my gigantic baby!

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The struggle was REAL with these kids, to the point that I think this is the best shot I got of all four of them.  Photographer’s Child Syndrome is a real thing.

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All Gramma and Pa wanted was a picture of everyone smiling for their Christmas card.  Really, Israel, you couldn’t do that for the people that raised your mother?

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So I guess the one good thing we got out of this portion of the day was Egan relishing the falling leaves.  I’ll admit that’s pretty cool.

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Then our other company arrived and it was time for food!  Xander and Arrow had their own special table.  You know, The Kids’ Table!

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Once we finished the main meal we were too full to eat dessert right away, so of course it was time for another round of pictures!  (I know this makes you really wish you had a photographer in your family!)

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Let’s get a picture of all the cousins, they said.  It will be fun, they said.

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Then these guys hung out as long as we let them.  They are just the funniest together and I’m so glad Arrow has a cousin so close in age!  (All my big kids are jealous!)

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We rounded out the day with dessert and Josh taking all the babies (safely) on motorcycle rides.  Because, apparently, that is how we roll.

It turned out to be a nice day of food and family.  I am thankful to have had a house full of love and laughter (and delicious food!) on this day.

I will leave you with a picture of the pie that Ava found in Southern Living and insisted that we made.  It was just as good as it looks.  And I will have you know that I’m showing very great will power by not eating the very last piece which happens to be in my refrigerator right now.

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Halloween ’16

Still rhymes!

I’m even more behind than usual on blogging Halloween.  The truth is, every holiday that we have this year is going to make us squarely face The Gap, and that is not always pleasant.  I can’t think about this year’s Halloween without thinking about last year’s.

Having said that, this is our first year in our new home, and I need to be able to remember a year of new (and old) traditions in a new place.

This was our first Halloween that we were able to stay HOME.  In the past we have always driven to either a Fall Festival or my pastor’s neighborhood or a friend’s party to wear costumes and get candy.  We now live in a neighborhood that encourages Trick or Treating, so we decided to give it a go!  Although I don’t care for the scary, icky parts of Halloween (is real life not scary and icky enough???), I did want to take the opportunity to meet some new neighbors and show hospitality.

So we first needed an inviting front door!

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So, October was progressing and we had no (zilch, nada) fall decorations and I figured it wouldn’t happen.  And then, one day at CC I realized that there was a pile of hay bales at the church that had been left over from their Fall Festival.  I texted the pastor’s wife to see if they were available, and she gave me the go ahead to take one.  I wrestled one to my car, secured it in the cargo area, and slammed the back door thinking with pride how stealthy I had been getting that hay bale.  Which is when I realized that my clothes were covered in hay, and I had left a trail of hay right to my car.

And that was the moment I abandoned the hope of a life of crime.

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So we have a tradition of painting our pumpkins that I believe started when Ava was 4.  I wasn’t sure if we would get to it this year, but on the afternoon of OCTOBER THIRTY-FIRST, we had a pumpkin painting party!  Pumpkin credit for the small pumpkins from left to right: Egan, Ava, Israel.  CLEARLY, they missed the memo that A) Mama doesn’t like the ick and B) Our Halloween pumpkins also double as Thanksgiving pumpkins, which is a completely inappropriate time for the ick.  SO, these three pumpkins will NOT be around come Thanksgiving.  I was going to decoupage book pages onto them, but at this point I think seeing how far we can chunk them into the woods is more likely.

The big pumpkin on the left is my creation and the right is Israel’s under, ahem, a little more supervision.

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I was hoping to do coffee and hot chocolate, but I didn’t have time to get the supplies together, and that was probably good because it was pretty warm!  But I did sit out a cooler of water bottles, which were received even better than expected!

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And let’s not forget the bell of the ball!  Carving pumpkins is a newer tradition for us; last year was the first time.  When Josh got off work ON OCTOBER THIRTY-FIRST I handed him a free internet pattern and asked him if he could whip up this beauty…and he did.  Needless to say, the Tardis afire was my favorite part!

Oh, except for the kids…

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Here they are with our sweet neighbors about to head off for a Trick or Treating adventure!

Clearly, we did not have a family theme for Halloween this year…I simply ran out of time and gave up.  Ava is wearing a…I think it is a Ravenclaw robe.  Israel is a park ranger.  He made his costume himself, down to safety pinning buttons onto his shirt.  (In retrospect, we probably could have found him a button-down shirt…)  The Olaf costume I picked up after Halloween on clearance last year for like a dollar.  And Egan had had his heart set on the Blue Ninja costume at the grocery store for a month, so he was the happiest boy in the world when I brought it home a few days before Halloween.

We are blessed to have a few boys (and a sweet girl) two doors down to join us for these types of adventures!  And I may have possibly texted their sweet mama today to ask for permission to post this picture because, as it turns out, it’s the only picture I took of the kids in their costumes with my real camera.

The words you are looking for are STELLAR PARENTING.

It was a nice little holiday.  Since we stayed in our own neighborhood, we were able to eat an early dinner at home.  Josh and other brave adults took the kids Trick or Treating while I cleaned the kitchen and passed out candy to all the ghouls and princesses that showed up at our door.  Although we may have not done as many activities, we were able to actually enjoy what we were doing because it didn’t feel like we were running a marathon of crazy.

In other words, it was just right.

 

 

 

 

 

Soccer 2016

Don’t you hate it when you follow a blog that periodically includes some profound thoughts, and you keep thinking that the next post will be some new profound thoughts, but it just ends up being a family slide show?

Yeah, that’s the worst.

So shortly after we moved here, the church where we go to Classical Conversations advertised that they would be doing Upward Soccer in the fall.  None of our children had played soccer before, nor had we participated in the Upward program before.  But one thing I quickly learned about homeschooling is I have to outsource PE for it to happen, and nobody was opposed to giving it a try, so we entered the world of soccer for the first time.

It will probably give you a pretty good grasp of each child’s personality to hear how he/she handled the sport.

Before Ava stepped onto the soccer field, she had checked out several books about soccer from the library and knew all the vocabulary.  (Did you know that the word soccer was derived from Associated Football, which is what soccer was first called in America to differentiate it from, well, FOOTball football?  You probably did know that, but I didn’t until my 10 year old educated me.)  So, of course, her coach was a little surprised that she hadn’t played before since she seemed to know her stuff.

Needless to say, Ava seemed to fall into a position of leadership pretty quickly, and this was a common dialogue for me to hear during a game:

Coach:  It’s a blue corner kick.

Ava (not disrespectfully):  No, it’s a green goal kick.  So-and-so kicked it out.

Coach:  Oh.  It’s a green goal kick.

Although she has the most athletic prowess in our family, we did notice that Ava didn’t play as aggressively during games as we expected.  We think that it was because the teams are age based, which meant that Ava was a giant compared to some of the teams they played.  Although she’ll deny it, we think she was subconsciously trying to not squash the little people.  Which we appreciate.

Israel was on the same team as Ava.  He was the one I was most worried about not enjoying the sport.  He is our introspective child that I have to drag away from the Legos.  I was pleasantly surprised that he seemed to enjoy himself, and I don’t think I ever saw him and his sister bicker about soccer.

But he definitely did not have as high of an energy level.  The first game was the worst.  We only had 3 players show up, which meant they had to play the whole game without breaks.  The child on the team that is not mine is hypoglycemic, which means that she runs out of energy fast.  By the second half, both Israel and this little girl were just walking around the field, leaving Ava to fend for herself.  It was a proud parenting moment.

I am happy to say that A) Their team got more players so that they could have breaks, and B) I did notice Israel show more dexterity at the end of the season than at the beginning.

Israel was also very intent on letting people know when the ball was out of bounds.  So maybe he has a future in the refereeing department.

Egan was the child that I felt needed soccer the most as he NEVER STOPS RUNNING.  I was expecting him to really excel since soccer is all about the running.  What I didn’t anticipate was the need for an attention span.  He pretty much only got close to the ball when it was an accident.  He would be standing looking at something else while everyone was chasing the ball.  The ball would roll by him.  He would start trotting after it, like, “Oh look, something new!”  And that, of course, is when I would take the picture.

We were also surprised at how hesitant he was about kicking the ball when he accidentally got near it.  In his every day life, he is extremely compulsive.  His policy is to hit/jump/kick/leap/throw/climb first, think about it later.  Why he had trouble doing that when it was expected, we’re not sure.

Oh, I guess I just answered my own question.  It was expected.

I still think soccer would be a good sport for Egan.  I think he will benefit from a year of growth and maturity.

But I’m not expecting anything, just for the record.

As far as being the soccer mom, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this experience.  I had never really watched soccer on television or in person, but it is actually a fun game to watch.  Although we are lovers of baseball always and forever, I like how the kids get to keep moving in soccer.  Baseball is A LOT of not moving!

I really appreciated the Upward model because it gave our kids a chance to try a sport in a non-competitive atmosphere.  Because the focus was not winning, the kids got equal playing time.  The schedule was predictable, which was helpful for this mama who doesn’t care for surprise practices BECAUSE FOUR KIDS.

And Arrow got to eat a snow cone and follow it up by playing in the dirt.  So, you know, every child is a winner.

 

Because Apparently in Georgia, We Say “Whalecome*”

Well, you do the math.  I moved away from Tallahassee in May.  My bestie is due to have a baby at the end of the November.

Yes, this was not very convenient timing.

Is anything ever, really?

So these circumstances led to a first for me: planning a baby shower from a distance.

There was no way I was going to miss out on planning this shower for Cynthia.  This baby has been anticipated and prayed for and his family has weathered quite a few storms to get to this point.  But I’m saving that blog post for when I can post his sweet face on the blog.  For now, the shower.

Anyway, this shower was a big deal to be able to do and I wanted to do it right.  But I was facing a few limitations.  First of all, I no longer had a home in Tallahassee at which to host a shower.  Second-ly, there was no way I was going to be able to do the food for this shower, as I would be limited by both time and geography.  Of course, anyone who has been reading the blog for very long knows I do not care to “do the food,” but this time, I really think I honestly can say I could not “do the food.”  Third-ly, I needed a location that would provide me with the space and the food but would also NOT break the bank.

I thought I had found inspiration when I remembered a local coffee shop owned by a Christian homeschooling family.  I remembered that they provided a service called the “Just Show Up” party.  You would pick a theme and give them basic parameters, and they would decorate and provide the food and you would literally just show up…for a very reasonable price!

And then I looked on the internets…and found out that they were closed for business.

I was then talking to a friend and mentioned I was thinking about a frozen yogurt place that had a nice party room, and she said, “Ummmm…they’re closed.”

And then I was talking to another friend who suggested a location, and when I looked up their information…they were closed for business.

It was getting weird fast.  So then I kind of panicked and emailed every business in Tallahassee.  I knew the odds of finding a place within my budget were low, but ye have not because ye ask not.

So, long story short, I ended up hosting the baby shower in the party room of Lofty Pursuits, a fun, quirky, vintage ice cream parlor and diner in the heart of Tallahassee.  Lofty Pursuits had just moved to a new location, and because I was one of the first parties at the new venue, the owner gave us the room for free in exchange for being their “guinea pigs.”  And also, they catered the shower to my budget.  Which is pretty fantastic considering some of the catering quotes I was getting from other venders!

So, before I forget to make my little plug of thanks for Lofty Pursuits, they did a great job with this baby shower!  They were completely open for whatever I wanted to do for decorations, the party room is of ample size, the catering was good, and the staff was accommodating.  The one thing that they ask if you host a party there is that you purchase ice cream, and really, what group of ladies would not want ice cream?!  And, honestly, their normal cost for the party room is extremely reasonable.  (Trust me, I looked into a few party rooms!)

ANYWAY, not long after I found the location for the shower, the Harrells, who like to make life interesting, threw another curve ball: Bobby was taking a new job, and they were moving….two days after the baby shower!  So this turned out to be an extremely busy weekend for everybody!  In fact, Josh came down to Tallahassee to help them load their moving truck, but we didn’t even see each other because I had already scheduled a day full of mini-shoots before we found out they were moving!

Yes, when I make plans a month ahead of time, I think I have super-human strength.  Then when I arrive to the actual event, I realize that I’m a 30 year old mom of 4 who doesn’t get nearly enough sleep, nutrition, or exercise.  Maybe 14 mini-shoots and hosting a baby shower and making the 6 hour drive home afterwards was a little much to plan for one weekend.

But think of all the gas money I saved!

Anyway, back to the shower.  Fortunately, Lofty Pursuits allowed me to come in at the crack of dawn to decorate for the shower before all the other exciting events of the day.  Also fortunately, Mary An showed up to help me decorate.  If she had not come, nothing would be centered or symmetrical.

As far as planning for the decorations goes, I had to plan for very versatile decorations because I did not see the room ahead of time.  The Harrells have a whale theme for their nursery, and therefore we had a whale themed nursery because I am all about using decorations that can be recycled!  Of course, none of these ideas are actually my own, and here is a linky to my Whale Baby Shower pin board in case you ever need it!  Annnnnnnd here is what we ended up with…

The funny thing is, I really didn’t think of the pronunciation of “whalecome…”  I was just looking for a play on words incorporating whales.  But once you’ve heard someone pronounce this word with a southern twang, you can’t un-hear it!  I guess it’s fitting that I moved to Georgia and came back saying “whalecome!”

The canvas is most definitely an Etsy purchase.  I’m all about making things myself, except for when I don’t!

The beautiful cake was made by a friend from our church in Tallahassee.

Incredible!  She really has a gift!

The labels for the favors were my other Etsy purchase.  Cut out labels to fit hand sanitizer bottles?!  I will gladly pass that task on!

Because I didn’t know how many tables there would be, I opted for making a bunch of small things to be sat out on tables instead of big centerpieces.  There were these tiny diaper cakes…

…and quote cards that can later be used as thank you notes.

I was not very good at taking pictures at the actual party because I was also supposed to be hosting and socializing.  But we had such a great time with our old “Moms’ Group” and homeschool co-op friends.  It was the last time most of the ladies would be seeing Cynthia before her move and I know it was bittersweet for everyone.

There was food…

…and presents…

…and instead of games I sat out some “adult coloring pages” so that we could just hang out and visit while we colored.  Whale themed so that they can later be hung in Pax’s nursery, of course!

So there might have been a joke or 15 made about the “adult” coloring pages.  But that’s what they’re called, dude!

It was such a fun evening of friends and food and little baby onesies!  I am so thankful for a friendship that transcends geography and am looking forward to meeting Pax in the near future.

But this timing, with both of us moving in opposite directions right before his birth?

Yeah, it’s not good.

 

*Actually, no.  You know what this part of Georgia seems to be missing?  Deep Southern Accents.

 

Fall Break 2016

I realize that this is basically just a, “Hey, you wanna see my vacation pictures?” kind of post, and there are only about 5 people who actually want to see my vacation pictures.  If anyone else keeps reading, it’s just to see what snarky comments I can make about a pretty normal vacation.  I am OK with this.

We have been blessed ever since Ava was a baby to take a trip with my parents somewhere every year.  I’m not sure if they would have committed to do this had they realized how many children we would have, but they are no quitters.  Almost all of the trips have been to the mountains and we are yet to drop a child down a cliff.  That’s somethin’.

We used to take the trip during the summer, but Arrow’s July birth necessitated that we wait until fall, and we loved it so much in the fall that we’ve been doing it ever since.  This year we went to Cloudland Canyon at the very tippy top westiest west corner of Georgia.  This year our trip was pretty short due to our schedule; we really only had two full days that we weren’t travelling.  So, don’t worry, the vacation slide show will be pretty short!

A side note before I get started with official trip commentary:  When we arrived Monday night, we discovered we had forgotten one tiny item: the laundry basket that contained all the clothes for ALL THREE BOYS.  Egan was wearing footy pajamas and Israel was wearing the outfit he had first put on about 36 hours before.  If ever there was a desperate clothing situation, this was it.  Instead of making a 5 hour round trip drive to retrieve the basket, Josh opted that we go to the closest affordable clothing store (Beall’s Outlet) and get what we needed.  It is thanks to that situation that our boys in the following pictures are going to look like they are straight out of a skateboarding/hipster magazine.

Day One

For our first day we stayed around the cabin and relaxed!  We took a few hikes, on which I didn’t bring my camera because we were hauling Arrow around.  (I also might have forgotten the wrap.  You won’t be surprised to hear it was near the laundry basket.)  While Arrow napped that afternoon, the big kids practiced for and performed an impromptu talent show.  In other words, it was as relaxing as a vacation is supposed to be.

This also was Ava’s birthday, so that evening Josh grilled her traditional steak dinner.  He built his best fire ever, and we had fun just hanging out behind our cabin.  We were like Parenthood without the twinkly lights!

Ava spent most of her day like this because she received the most recent Harry Potter book for her birthday.  And she read it all.  Before the end of her birthday.

It wouldn’t be Fall Break without Gramma breaking out the dulcimer for some pre-dinner music!

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Josh had to get creative at candle lighting time because the lighter was dead!

Big 10 year old!  That’s a whole ‘nother blog post!

Day Two

We spent our second day at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, just a short drive over the border.  I went to the aquarium as a child but it has doubled in size since then!  This was a great experience because A) Arrow is at the most fun age to see so many fish!  B) All of our boys (and my dad!) LOVE animals, really! and C) We are studying ecology in science!

Our very first exhibit in the freshwater building was full of playful otters!  Really the coolest, most active bunch of otters I’ve ever seen!

Time for fish!

Do you wanna pet a lake sturgeon?

It was so fun to have Josh with us on this trip!  He has had a year of hard work and hasn’t gotten to go on many field trips as of late.  I think the kids had three times as much fun because he was there…I know I did!

Now on to the ocean building!  One of the first exhibits is a butterfly garden.  A little known fact is that the butterfly is my favorite animal and I am always happy in a good butterfly garden!

Egan was handed a newly hatched butterfly and we were very impressed by the stillness he exhibited to keep the butterfly around!

Time for more fishies!  (No, I didn’t get all four in front of the tank, what do you think I am, a photographer??)

Obligatory baby-with-shark photo!

We got there just in time for the Diving Show!  The way they do it is two divers go down.  One diver, Diver Rob, pictured above, talks to the eager audience about the fish in the tank.  The other diver…

…Diver Wally, keeps the sharks away from Diver Rob with PVC pipe.  Both divers are volunteers.  I post this second picture for the sole purpose of lobbying that DIVER WALLY SHOULD GET PAID.

After the aquarium, we headed back to our cabin at the canyon.  I was itching to go on a longer hike than we could with the baby, so Josh, Ava, my mom, and I headed out to hike more of the West Rim of the canyon.

The closest I’m getting to a good birthday portrait this year!

And that was pretty much it!  We had such a good time and are so appreciative that my parents carve out this quality time for us each year.

SO…

Happy Fall, y’all!

 

Put a Face on It

A natural disaster is happening in some part of the world all the time, it seems.  We want to be empathetic, but our minds can only hold so much information and focus on so many problems at one time.

OK, well, I guess I can’t speak for anyone but myself.  But I have a hard time remembering to pray for suffering people that I have never met in a country far away.

But everything changes when you have been to the country.  When you have walked on its sod and looked in the eyes of its people, you will always keep a place for that country in your heart.

Again, I actually can only speak for myself.  But that is how I feel about Haiti.  I have only had the privilege of going there once, but even if I never go back, I will carry Haiti in my heart forever.

So when I hear reports of a terrible storm hitting Haiti, it is significant.  Because Haiti now has a face for me.  This face is beautiful and strong, and although this face has limited resources, somehow it is always, always joyful.  And when a hurricane threatens Haiti, it no longer threatens an unknown land to me.  It threatens a translator whose heart for his country is so great that after our last visit he started an orphanage.  It threatens Pastor Jo, a white haired man who always wore sunglasses and honored my feeble attempt to speak to him in French.  It threatens Woodky, who survived the earthquake in 2010 because God told him not to go to a place that would end up being destroyed.

I thought I would help you to put a face on Haiti, too, because it is much easier to remember to pray for something with a face.  Pray for the recovery from Hurricane Matthew in Haiti.  There is a long road ahead of them.

Also, if you want to keep up with information as it comes in on Haiti’s status, you can follow the blog on 410 Bridge’s website – this is the organization that we went to Haiti through.

Community is Weird

Well, I’ll be!  Since my last post, I have had several people come alongside me and assure me that the fifth year of a child’s life is a hard year for parenting.  I’m so glad that the Linkers are not the only ones that are hooligans when they are five!  I think parents of five year olds should have a support group.  I’ll come if there’s chocolate.

So we have lived here four (four!) months now.  Why, that’s a third of a year!  (Don’t worry, that’s where my mathematical skills end.)  (Edit:  The sad part is, I originally used the wrong fraction and Josh had to correct me.)  For the first couple months, we basically lived like we were on a long vacation (during which Daddy worked,) but slowly and surely we are doing things that makes it feel like we actually live here.  Don’t worry, we haven’t done anything drastic, like going to the dentist for crying out loud, but we have made it through the first quarter of Classical Conversations, the kids have completed almost a whole season of soccer, we frequent our library and have already paid a few fines, I have a Kroger card (hallelujah!), and we are regularly visiting a church.

Oh and about that, the visiting of churches thing.  To be honest, it’s been awhile since we have been in what I consider a traditional church.  (And when I say traditional, I mean by organizational structure, not musical style.)  Our church in Tallahassee, though traditional in doctrine, was not traditional in structure.  Up here, though, we are back in the Bible Belt.  And although the Bible Belt is getting less Bible Belt-y every day, one thing is for sure: there are A LOT of churches.

And my purpose today is not to really discuss the different churches we have visited, but to state a realization I have had during this church search process.  It is deep and profound and complex and goes something like this:

“Looking for a church is WEIRD.”

So I know you’re impressed with this tid bit of wisdom.  In fact, I think you’ll want to press into this, as I recently heard Beth Moore say.

But seriously, when we visit a church, if someone straight up asked us what our motive for visiting is, and if we are straight up being honest, we would say:

We just moved here, and we don’t know you, and you don’t know us.  But we are looking for a group of believers to do life with.  We are looking for people that are going to become like family to us.  We are looking for people that are going to rejoice with us, and mourn with us, and pray for us, and probably do a whole lot of babysitting for us along the way.  And we are looking for people that are going to allow us to do that for them. 

And, if you took an honest look at that, it’s WEIRD!  Or, to put a little more meaning behind the word, it’s counter-cultural.  I mean, if someone stopped me in the street and told me this, it would creep me out because it is so outside the norm of what I’m used to.  And yet, when we are looking for a church, that is what we are looking for.

And I’m putting this in writing so that, in future, when my family is well settled in a church family, and visitors come in, I will remember why they might feel uncomfortable despite anyone’s best efforts to make them feel at home.  Being a part of a Bible believing church is biblical…but that does not mean that the process of finding that church is easy.  It might even feel a little weird.

Parenting the Busy Child

Alternatively Titled:  Mama’s Gonna Need Some Dark Chocolate

I don’t know if it’s true for all children, but it seems to be the case for Linker children that they need some extra parenting during their fifth year.  Ava’s was an issue of cold-blooded defiance and disrespect.  Israel’s was an issue of tearful meltdowns resulting from slight provocations.  So now it’s Egan’s turn, and it’s enough to drive Josh and I to drinking.

Except we are good Baptists, so we are not actually driven to drinking.  But I’m going to blame these extra-lovey love handles I’ve obtained this summer on the stress eating Egan has caused.

OK, so I really blame those on the stress of moving combined with the crazy schedule and lack of sleep and exercise.  And dark chocolate peanut M&Ms.  And iced coffee.

But I digress.

So I’m going to write about some parenting struggles we have with our third child, not to complain, but to remind you that we are actually real people with real struggles, lest my blog posts or Instagram pictures tell you otherwise.  Also, there might be some moms out there with the exact same problems, and I would really like, if possible, to meet you at Starbucks, hold your hand, and cry with you.  If that is geographically impossible, I at least would like to take a moment and pray for you.  Because this struggle?  I know it’s real.

So what’s the deal with Egan? 

No volume control.  Everything he does is loud…unless I need it to be!  His voice is naturally loud.  He walks loudly.  (This is our first time in a house that’s not on a concrete slab, and it takes a while to get used to how loudly people walk!)  We know when he’s in the bathroom because he RAISES AND LOWERS THE TOILET SEAT LOUDLY.

No actual listening.  The last time I took him for a check-up, sweet Dr. Perry asked what our concerns were.  I said something like, “He has trouble listening.  I’m pretty sure that he can hear fine because when you do the whisper test in a few minutes, he’s going to ace it.  He just doesn’t listen.”  I could tell Dr. Perry was a little concerned about potential hearing problems, but sure enough, Egan passed the hearing test no problem.

And here’s the thing.  I don’t think Egan ignores me on purpose.  I very rarely feel like he is purposefully defying me.  But he has extremely selective hearing.  To the point that he if he is running towards a road and I am screaming at the top of my lungs for him to “STOP!”, well, he’s just not going to hear me because he’s focused on what he’s doing.

Which is terrifying.

Touching all. the. things.  This seems to be a little better in this house, but there are days where it’s a constant, “Leave that alone, Egan.  Now leave that alone.  Leave that alone, too.  IF IT DOESN’T BELONG TO YOU, LEAVE IT ALONE.”

Not taking “No” for an answer.  I am ashamed that a lot of times I let him wear me down from my “No” to some sort of compromise.  I shouldn’t allow this, but it’s like some kind of survival gear kicks in whenever he has completely worn me out and I’m like, “Fine, eat the cake, I don’t even care anymore.”

Constant need for company.  At some point, Ava teased him about spiders in the bathroom, and then he simply refused to poop unless one of us was with him.  Which is not always a possibility.  At one point, he became so anal retentive and constipated I had to resort to a suppository.

Guess who’s pooping on his own again, now! 

He can’t clean his room because he’s lonely.  He can’t get ready for bed because he’s lonely.  It’s rare that he’s even willing to play by himself.

Hunger.  He’s always dying of hunger.  Which is strange, since he rarely eats much of his meals!

One day I was in the check-out line at the grocery store.  Egan was being…himself, which means, in this particular place, I’m saying, “Don’t touch that.  Put that down.  Leave the mirror alone, she needs it at that angle.  No, you can’t have candy.  If you wanted candy, you should not have TOUCHED THE THINGS!”

A sweet lady behind me simply observed, “He’s busy, isn’t he?”

YES.  That is the word to perfectly sum up Egan.  He is so, so, so very BUSY.

So what are we going to do with this wonderful, hilarious, intelligent, and very BUSY child?

Well, clearly, I am still working all this out.  But here are my thoughts so far:

  • Pray for guidance.  This little guy is just a different ball game for us.  Ava is typical first child; she is independent and driven.  Israel is typical middle child; he plays well by himself and rarely demands our attention.  Egan is a typical last child; he is crazy and fun and very demanding of attention.  The problem is, he is NOT a last child!  Which means that we can’t pour all the attention on him that a last child can typically get.  How do we give him the attention that he craves and still do a halfway decent job of taking care of our family and obligations?  It is about this that we are praying!
  • Carve out some Egan time.  Clearly, he needs it.  The good thing about him being home for Kindergarten is I read with him every afternoon.  But he definitely craves more one-on-one time, and we’re going to have to be creative to get it for him.
  • Adjust his diet.  Alright now, this is where you know it’s getting real.  I am particularly stubborn about food.  We are three-meal-a-day people.  And we’re not huge snackers, although in recent years I have caved to the mid-afternoon snack.  (Which is always something pre-packaged.  Lest you be impressed.)  Part of me wants to say that Egan’s complaints about hunger are just an excuse to get out of schoolwork/cleaning/anything unpleasant.  But another part of me says that he might just be one of those people that would do better with small meals throughout the day rather than three big meals a day.  I cannot prepare multiple meals a day, but I also don’t want to fill his belly with empty snack calories.  SO, I am actually looking at the world of healthy snacks, and considering starting a snack schedule regimen for him.

    So I guess you could say things are getting pretty serious.

Parenting a Linker five year old is not for the faint of heart.  I’ll just be over here reminding myself how much of a privilege and honor it is to be chosen as this particular five year old’s mama.

(This is an honor and privilege.  This is an honor and privilege.  This is an honor and privilege.)

 

 

Various and Sundry

friday-favorites-flower-look

I actually wrote this post a while back, but never got up the gumption to finish it off.  When I saw that there is a “Friday Favorites” blog link-up, I figured that was the time to finish off the post!  So here are a few of my current favorite things:

  • Real Butter.  I grew up eating/cooking with margarine, so when we got married that’s what I naturally used.  I know along the way there have been debates about which is healthier, butter or margarine, but I just stuck with the partly hydrogenated oils and didn’t worry about it.  More recently, when I was in a quest to be a little more natural, I gave butter a whirl.Oh. my. goodness.  I have no idea if it is healthier, but if butter is wrong, I don’t want to be right.  And if regular, plain ol’ butter was not good enough, Land O Lakes came out with a spreadable butter with olive oil and sea salt.  I could make bread to just have an excuse to eat this stuff.  Get thee to the grocery store and purchase yourself some right now!
  • The Cup Song.  I became obsessed with “The Cup Song” about a year ago when Josh and I watched Pitch Perfect.  (Hey, it takes time to keep up with pop culture.  It’s our practice to not see an original movie until there’s a sequel or two.)  It just so happened that I was introduced to the song right as I was beginning to plan for teaching my first music theory class, and using rhythm for something so fun piqued my interest.  Although I’m sad to say I did not get to use “The Cup Song” with my music class, I DID download it and, thanks to my kids requesting it every time we get in the car, have got to listen to it A LOT.  It sort of became our theme song as we were moving and the lyrics apply well to that situation.  I totally cranked it up when I was pulling out of my driveway following the UHaul.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmSbXsFE3l8
  • HOWEVER, I didn’t actually know how to play the cups.  (Or I guess I should say cup.)  That’s a part of my youth I somehow missed.  (I can’t complain, as I did spend plenty of time as a teenager on youth trips playing Phase 10 and Spoons.)  I have spent the past year listening to the song and enjoying it, but not without a bit of sadness that I could not create the rhythm myself.

    AND THEN Stacey, who is 13 and of prime age for playing the cup[s], stayed at our house.  And I thought it was perfectly sensible to hold her for ransom until she taught me the art.  As it turns out, Cynthia can also play the cup[s] and I had no idea – so my lesson could have come much sooner!  I’m 30 now and have birthed 4 children so it is harder for me to learn new things, but under the patient tutelage of my peeps, I finally can do it!  I would post the video that Bobby made but that would require some kind of technological knowledge; I might be able to play the cup[s] now, but let’s not get too hasty with my abilities.

    Edit:  I have now discovered that playing the cups works beautifully with the Usher song “Yeah.”  Which is very useful information to you, I’m sure!

  • Iced Coffee.  If you follow me on Instagram, you’re probably like, “I get it, you like iced coffee, enough already!”  What can I say?  Two years ago, I went through a smoothie phase.  Last year was a protein shake phase.  This is The Year of the Iced Coffee.  (Please do not point out to me that my phases are getting progressively less healthy.  Life is hard, man.)
  • Turquoise.  I’m decorating my house with it and I’ve dyed my hair with it.  I think it’s safe to say it’s my current color.  I think the fam might be a one more picture frame away from a turquoise intervention.

Official New Schoolroom Reveal!

A fun fact that never made it to the blog because I was very busy at the time:  Josh looked at our house by himself when he was house shopping, and I didn’t see it in person until after the lease was drawn up.

Some people act a little surprise that I was OK with that, but I would always say, “I wasn’t worried; he has more extravagant taste than I do!”

And sure enough, our [rental] house is beautiful and much more than I could ever ask for.

Here’s another, not-so-fun fact:  I am not particularly good at decorating a house.  Our last home, though very much a blessing in the fact that it had enough space for our family, was not particularly attractive, and I soon stopped caring about decorating it because there really isn’t much you can do with dark wood paneled walls and yellow tinted light fixtures without investing a lot of money.

But I felt like our new house necessitated that I take it up a notch.  The interior is so light and bright and beautiful, and I didn’t want to ruin it by moving in all our shabby stuff!  We really haven’t invested much in our furniture in the past (with the exception of our dining room table, which Josh built and then purchased chairs for over the course of a few years,) so we have been using a lot of hand-me-down stuff that doesn’t necessarily match or look nice.

Originally, we planned to leave all the shabby furniture behind, but then we realized that we did not have the funds to replace all of it right away, so some of it had to come as a temporary fix.  We are slowly but surely making the house the way we want it, and as we complete each room, I would like to post it on here!  NOT because I expect to impress anyone, but simply because it symbolizes, to me, the transformation of a house into a home.

So today’s post is about the first room that I feel is complete, or at least very near complete: the schoolroom.  The first step in the process was picking where the schoolroom would be!  At our old house, we had taken what was meant to be a formal living room and used it for two purposes: originally, half was for Josh’s office, and half was for my office/crafting area.  Although I never really got around to unpacking my half.  So when we were called to homeschool, it was very convenient that we had a half of a room that could be turned into a homeschooling area without really disrupting anything.  The arrangement worked well since we only did school while Josh was at work, and he only worked in his home office after we were done with school, so we were never bothering each other.  It was also nice, since I am a pretty messy person, that if I didn’t feel like cleaning up the schooling mess at the end of the day, I could simply close the door to the office and no one would have to see the mess.

This house, however, is a different situation.  Now that Josh is working from home a good bit more, we really needed to have a separate office and schooling area.  He decided to set up shop in the basement.  Our ground floor has a rather peculiar layout; it is basically all one open room, with a half wall between the two main living areas.  At first we thought that maybe it was meant to be a living area and a formal dining area, but the more we studied the layout (and where the cable outlets were!) the more we realized that the intention was for one side of the wall to be the formal living area and the other side to be the more casual den.  Which is kind of a weird way to do it, but the half wall does provide a nice separation between a living room and a school room!

The other possibility for a schoolroom was the loft area that is at the top of our stairs.  I really debated about the two spaces, but I finally decided that I would like to be downstairs for school.

The thing about doing the schoolroom downstairs was that it made it EXTREMELY visible.  This corner of the house is the first thing you see when you walk in the front door, it’s the first thing you see if you’re walking down the stairs, and it’s the main thing you can see from the kitchen.  I didn’t want it to have the cluttered office feel that it had before, with mix-matched bookshelves and supplies all over the place.  I wanted to have an area that would be both functional AND beautiful.

Which means that we had to get creative with our storage.  Josh found an old TV armoire that came with two matching bookcases on Craigslist.  They were a medium wood finish, and I am trying to keep everything light and bright, so we spent a few weeks painting and contact paper-ing.  (Josh is the KING of contact paper application!)  Once we got the main storage put together, the rest of the room fell into place!

Obviously, I still have some clutter to figure out, which is why I said the room was close to being done.  But this still makes me so happy!  The close-able cabinets allow me to store all the craft supplies and such that I would prefer not to be in the open.

This L-shaped desk came with the house, and it is perfect for the printer, the school computer, and my computer.  Which is nice because at our previous house my computer didn’t really  have a home.  Because the schoolroom only has two walls, one of them is taken mostly up by armoire, and the other is completely windows, we didn’t have the wall space for the giant bulletin board I usually use.  I purchased this small board at Tuesday Morning, and I opted to display our theme for the year on a canvas.

Although what I keep ON my teacher desk could still use some work, I’m very pleased with the area ABOVE it.  This is where we keep up with the kids’ allowances, chores, and the family calendar.

Of course the cardboard letters are my favorite!  Once we got the furniture arranged, I felt like I needed something above the armoire but it would have to be pretty high up so I didn’t want to put pictures or anything with tiny details up there.  I’ve done the cardboard letters for other people before, but I’ve never had an excuse to do them for myself so this was super fun!  I already had a ton of scrapbook paper from various events, so all I had to do was purchase the letters.  If I have ever hosted your baby/bridal shower before, look alive – there’s probably some scrapbook paper you will recognize!

And in case you are wondering – YES, that is a typewriter on the top shelf!  Josh got it for me a few birthdays ago, after he heard me say that I felt every real writer should have a typewriter.  Unfortunately, I have not had a good place to display it out of the reach of little fingers…until now!  Isn’t she a beauty?!

Our schoolroom table is our old dining room table.  One nice thing about the way this area is set up is we can use it as an overflow table without having to move it when we have a lot of company over for dinner.  I wanted the schoolroom to also work as a second dining area without having to rearrange any furniture!

Well, now that we have a beautiful place to do school, it will be a breeze.  Right?  Right???

 

First Day of School! First Day of School! (2016 Edition!)

Well, howdy folks!  First of all, I would like to assure all of you, especially the State of Georgia, that today is not actually our first day of school.  It was a few weeks ago, but things just get blogged about late around these parts and I have learned to accept that.  It probably doesn’t do much for my “platform,” but it’s just the way it is and the upside is you can be assured that I don’t write anything without thinking about it a loooooooooooooooooong time.

SO, we have officially begun a new school year in a new state!  I followed my typical summer pattern of living in happy denial of the need to educate my children until about mid-July and then panicking because I barely had time to order any curricula and I didn’t even know which curricula I wanted.  I also had a few trips scheduled in the beginning of August, which seemed like a good idea when they were planned, but then as they grow closer I realized that they very much cutting into my I have procrastinated and now I must prepare for the school year time.

Nevertheless, things got planned and ordered and we arrived at the beginning of our school year!

It took me longer than usual to come up with a theme for this year.  (And no, it’s not normal for homeschools to have a theme.  I’d like to clarify that because I don’t want anyone to judge anyone else for not having a theme.  It’s just a weird thing that I do that makes me feel better.)  Our first year of homeschooling, we didn’t really have a theme other than “Please, dear Lord, help us survive!”  Our second year, I chose the theme “Team Linker,” because it was the first year of having multiple students and I really wanted to focus on working together as a family unit.  Our third year, I chose “We Love Our Tribe!” as kind of a continuation of the previous year.

So I finally decided on “This is Our Story.”  The more I thought about the goals I have for this year, the more I realized that they centered on…Story.  Israel will be writing a monthly book report on a book I assign, examining the plot, characters, and setting of each book.  Story.  Ava has been writing book reports for a few years now, so she will also be taking an independent course that will take her deeper into theme, conflict, and other elements of literature.  Story.  Egan, whose attention span for listening has taken longer to develop than the others, is finally ready to sit and listen to chapter books such as The Chronicles of Narnia.  Story.

So we will also be talking about God’s Ultimate Story, and how our own stories will fit into His.

I’m kind of excited.

I love stories.

So this is what the school year will be looking like for each kiddo…

Ava is working almost completely independently now!  In addition to the Foundations program of Classical Conversations, she is participating in the Essentials class for the first time.  She is also voluntarily teaching an extra science class to her brothers (if I had known she wanted to, I would have had her teach the actual science class!) and I have asked her to teach their art class once a week.  The girl is organized and driven and I can barely keep ahead of her!

Israel is also having to work much more independently this year.  He decided he would like to try doing his math on the computer (we use Teaching Textbooks), and he should be starting on that next week!  I have added a daily writing assignment and monthly book reports to his schedule.  He is learning cursive and I also plan to introduce him to typing this year.  (I know not everyone will agree on this, but I prefer to have them learn to type as soon as possible because you know who doesn’t have time to type papers for her children?  THIS GIRL.)  So far he has had a much better work ethic this year, and I’m impressed with his maturity!  It’s like he’s growing up!

And this boy is home for Kindergarten!  This will be Egan’s first official year in Classical Conversations, although he has been listening to the songs for years!  My standard goal for kindergarten is to have the child reading by the end of the year.  For Egan, personally, I would also like to have him sitting still longer and listening better.  So that he will survive until first grade.

The main goal for this adorable guy is to keep him alive whilst the others are educated.  So far, so good!

All this goes to say that the Georgia Branch of Linker Academy is officially open!  Let the school year begin!

 

The Earth Laughs in Flowers…In New England!

Well, it all started when Cynthia turned 39 last August.  When I realized it was a year before the “Big 4-0,” I honestly felt a little panicked.  Cynthia is GREAT at birthdays, and I already knew that she was planning something awesome for my 30th.  I felt a despair that there would be no way that I could plan anything for her turn of a decade as amazing as what she was planning for mine.

(And my birthday was awesome, and I failed to blog it because we were moving.)

Add in the fact that we ended up moving a few months prior to her birthday, and I really was in trouble.

HOWEVER, we were very blessed and circumstances all lined up for us to take a girls’ trip to visit Tiff in Vermont!!!  Since neither of us have been to this part of New England before, and neither of us even fly on a regular basis, this was just the most exciting opportunity!  We were pretty much giddy the whole weekend (OK, maybe that was just me,) and I still am trying to figure out why all those other people in the airport were not visibly excited to be getting on a plane! 

We were just delighted to go to Vermont and would have been happy to hang out with Tiff at her house, but she was super awesome and planned an itinerary for the weekend.  I have decided that having a local person show you around a new place is the best way to vacation.

A big perk of the trip for me was I brought my real camera and took pictures of everything possible!  I don’t really travel with it because my hands are full of kids, but since they weren’t with me, I could go picture crazy.  Also, not a single store in New England minded if I took pictures inside (and we did ask!)  Which is really strange, but I went with it!

So consider this your 70s style vacation slide show.  Seriously, this is about to be the most pictures I have eeeeever put in one blog post.  I hope the internets can handle it.  I will also try to include linkies to these places in case you ever want to plan a New England trip of your own!

We started out Saturday morning (after flying in Friday night) at Green Mountain Coffee in Waterbury.  It is a Vermont founded coffee company.  It is completely fair trade, and they send all their employees to work a coffee farm (in South America or Jamaica) for a week so that they can appreciate where the beans are coming from.  I was very impressed that this fair trade company still was much less expensive than Starbucks!

Next was the Cabot Cheese Annex in Waterbury!  I already loved Cabot Cheese (down here you can get limited flavors at Sams,) but because they are Vermont based, there are a lot of flavors and products (butter, sour cream, etc.) that are only available in Vermont.  The Annex has many flavors available for sampling – we basically made a meal out of it!  I think we all agreed that the Garlic and Herb was our favorite.

There also is maple syrup EVERYWHERE in Vermont!  More on that later!

In the same complex as the Annex is Lake Champlain Chocolates.  There weren’t as many samples here, but we ooodled over the beautiful chocolates and then Tiff got us each one truffle, which of course we had to sit down and savor!

Next was what was possibly my favorite part of the tour…the Vonn Trapp Family Lodge!  As a huge Sound of Music fan, this was just a treat!  Here’s the story:

Tiff’s favorite view of the Green Mountains is from the Lodge, but when we first got there the weather was not providing us with a clear view of the mountains.  So we went inside and explored the Lodge a little!

We perused the family library!

The sun started to come out so we were able to explore the grounds more than we expected.

We all wore our hair in Dutch braids to capture the Vonn Trapp family spirit.  Because we are classy like that.

I had to make Cynthia take a baby bump picture every time we found a pretty spot.  Because she was pregnant IN NEW ENGLAND!

OK, so let me take a minute to talk about the flowers in New England.  THEY ARE EVERYWHERE.  Both wild flowers and cultivated!  And look.  Where we live is HOT, and there are not that many flowers to be seen this time of year…they gave up in June!  But New England is alive with flowers right now!  So even though I am not typically a photographer of non-humans…I couldn’t help but take as many flower pictures as possible!  It was just so refreshing to my soul to be surrounded by the beauty!  So you will be seeing a lot of them….sorry, not sorry!

Our most delightful discovery at the Lodge was the Vonn Trapp Family cemetery.  Honestly, we weren’t sure if it was the cemetery or just monuments, because there was no historical marker explaining anything!  But yes, this is where the actual Maria Vonn Trapp and her family are buried.  Each grave has its own flower bed, and I have to see that I think it was the loveliest cemetery I’ve ever seen!

We found one of the gardens at the Lodge!

And finally the clouds started to clear and we saw the view that Tiff was talking about!

For lunch, we had bread and butter from the Lodge’s Bakery and we ate with a gorgeous view.  We’re not even sorry about the nutritional value of the meal.

Next stop was the Cold Hollow Cider Mill, where we enjoyed their famous apple cider doughnuts and looked at the machinery that makes the apple cider.

Tiff said that this was a quintessential view of Vermont.  Vermont places a huge emphasis on the environment, so there are solar panels everywhere.  (It is also illegal to not recycle!)  They also make shopping local a big priority, so you will see very few retail chains in the state.

The next stop was the Ben & Jerry’s factory!  We ended up not taking the tour, as they weren’t actually making any ice cream that day.  We actually also did not eat any ice cream – which was a shocker, even to us!  But we enjoyed walking around and seeing what we could without standing in line.

The Flavor Graveyard!

This is the back of the factory – those huge tanks are for milk and cream!

That night, we drove over to New Hampshire and stayed at a charming inn Tiff had found.  Sunday morning, we made the short drive down to Massachusetts for the YANKEE CANDLE FLAGSHIP STORE!

So, this may be perplexing to some, but it was so fitting for us because all three of us LOVE Yankee Candles!  We used to sniff every single candle in the Tallahassee store, which of course led to us not being able to smell at all.

And I will tell you.  I was a little confused as to why Tiff only scheduled this store on that day’s itinerary.  As it turns out, it is an ALL DAY EVENT!  It’s not just candles.  It’s ALL THE THINGS that I want to look at!

Let the sniffing begin!!!

Beach Walk is still my favorite.  Always and forever.  **heart hands**

Just a few tarts to pick from!

Although we opted to eat at the snack bar instead of the fancy restaurant (note the nachos!), Cynthia still got the fancy restaurant’s bottle!

And then there was the Christmas Bavarian Forest and village!  Tiff wouldn’t let us enter it until the end, and it really did blow us away!

We even got to experience a New England snow!  (And this picture feels very Narnia!)

Inside the castle!

Channeling her inner Viking duck face!

Of course there was a Santa’s Workshop style toy store at the end.  Love the Shel Silverstein quote!

And we had to pick up some of this magical stuff before heading out of the state…Dunkin Donuts was born in Massachusetts, so it was only right!

On our way back, we stopped at Tiff’s favorite rest stop.  It has a botanical gardens using the waste water from the restrooms!

I bet it’s nice to stop here and get a little green in the winter!

The rest stop also afforded us the most clear views of the weekend.

Did I mention their goldenrod is blooming at the same time as the wild flowers?!  Which I guess is an allergy nightmare…but it’s gorgeous!

Had to get a baby bump picture in the goldenrod!

On Monday we hit the streets of Montpelier.  It is such a fun, European feeling town!

Flowers still everywhere, even in the streets!

Tiff’s favorite bookstore!  They had a Beauty and the Beast style sliding ladder!

And this is in the public library!

We went into this store.  There’s a giant selection of both already made jewelry and beads, and the shop girl makes jewelry in between waiting on customers.  Good thing I didn’t have any room in my luggage to spare!

The Winooski River runs right through the city, and there’s all these awesome looking bridges.  I do love a truss bridge!

The Capital Building!

The girls humored me and took some bridge pictures!

Fun view of the city from the bridge!

For lunch we ate some incredible sandwiches at their local co-op and sat with a view of the river.

We picked up Tiff’s girls and headed out to our last Vermont adventure…the maple syrup farm!  We taste tested and learned all about the process of making maple syrup.

IT’S A HEALTH FOOD, FOLKS!

We even got to see how they tapped the trees!

Soft serve ice cream is called Creemees in these here parts, and apparently the maple creemee is a particular delicacy!

And this was our creemee eating view!

And that was our adventure!  We were up at 4:30 the next morning to catch our flight.  We were back in Georgia by 9:00 AM!

We just had such a good time!  Since I can’t live near my besties, this opportunity to spend time with them AND see a new place was just such a blessing!

And we are already talking about what we’ll do next!  Eventually, Tiff is going to turn 35!

Outdoor Day Trip Tips from a Camp Enthusiast and Mom of 4!

Well, the end of summer is here.  Tomorrow, Linker Academy will jump back into the rhythm of school. Granted, it will still be hot here until October or later, and I will probably come up with excuses to sneak off to the lake from time to time, but there’s something about the start of school that just kills the spontaneity for me.  Like the fact that we have responsibilities and places to be.

And here is my confession:  I am not a particularly flexible homeschool mom.  As in, we have a school room and that is where we do the majority of our work.  We work on a schedule and I make lists of goals for the year and dad gum it, WE ACHIEVE THEM.  When we are invited by other homeschoolers to do fun things during the school year, I often decline because we (read: I) need the consistency of a predictable schedule.

But in the summer?  IN THE SUMMER.  This is when I “let my hair down” and we go off and have FUN!  There are probably multiple reasons for this:

  • I’ve already waxed poetic on here about how much I love camp and all the summery activities that come along with it.  You can get the counselor out of the camp, but you can’t get the camp out of the counselor.  Or something like that.  #camp4life
  • I often end up with child-sized visitors during the summer, and I feel like we should show them a good time.
  • It’s really mentally easier for me to get us out of the house than for me to deal with bored children in my house.  This might not be the best motivation, but there it is.
  • Also, if I’m in my house, I need to be cleaning it.  Can’t do it if I’m not there!
  • I bought that bathing suit on clearance at Target at the end of last summer, and we’re going to get some use out of it!
  • We don’t have a pool.  Which I’m 297% ok with – I really don’t want a pool.  But since we have lived in regions that tend to feel like the surface of the sun, except more humid – we have to go elsewhere if we want to cool down.

Because of these reasons, and because money doesn’t grow on trees and Josh usually needs to work all the way through the summer, we go on a lot of day trips throughout the summer, most of which involving the Great Outdoors.  Back in Tally, a lot of our outings involved inviting friends to join us.  But since we moved we’ve pretty much been on our own!

And I get it.  It’s hard to get out of the door with kids of any size, but especially with babes in diapers or worse, potty trainers!  (**shudder**)

So I now have a few tricks up my sleeve to make your Summer Day Trip a little smoother.  Maybe these are elementary thoughts, but it’s taken me 9 years to develop them and I’m sure I have lots more to learn!  (And I realize that you probably won’t be needing these tips until NEXT summer.  But I’ll forget by then!)

Kara’s Outdoor Day Trip Tips

  1. Get a Bag System and Keep Your Bag(s) Ready.  In Florida, if you needed a towel between April and November, it was very likely that I had one in my car to lend you because I actually kept a loaded bag in there in case we ended up at a water front.  Although I am not THAT prepared, currently, I do have a Bag System that is working well for us this summer.First of all, I finally came to terms with the fact that we are now a Two Beach Bag Family.  There’s just not enough space in one bag to carry essentials for 5 – 6 people.  SO, I now use my big, pink, oversized beach bag for our beach towels, and our blue and white striped bag for sunscreen, goggles, swim diapers, extra clothes, etc.  The bags stay packed throughout the summer, so that all I have to do is ensure that the right number of towels and undies are in the bags before we load up and head out.But DON’T PANIC.  If you are in a situation where you become a Two Beach Bag Family, that doesn’t means you will always be lugging around two beach bags.  It means that you have at least one child who is now old enough to carry at least one bag!

2.  Develop a Preparation Drill.  When we are preparing for a Day Trip, about 15 minutes before we leave I send the kids to put on their bathing suits and bring me their extra dry clothes in a plastic shopping bag (which I place in Beach Bag #2.)  I have the kids put their clothes in individual shopping bags because, when they are ready to change, I can send them to the restroom with their individual bag.  It gives them a place for their dry clothes (bath houses can be icky!), and then they can put their wet suit and towel in the bag and bring it back to me, so it is less likely that they will lose something.

Of course, this might have backfired the other day when we brought some swimming trunks home from the community pool….that did not belong to us.

3.  Develop a Laundry System.  I am TERRIBLE at keeping up with laundry.  I typically wash about every 9 days, which means that Laundry Day is a big project.  HOWEVER, during the summer I like to have the bathing suits and beach towels ready at a moment’s notice.  So when we get home, all the wet things immediately go into the wash.  A lot of times, unless there is a Laundry Day interruption, they just stay in the dryer until we need them again, eliminating the folding/putting away process.

This system also works especially well if your kids are doing a daily Day Camp that involves swimming or taking swimming lessons.

4.  Don’t Forget Lunch!  An important factor to keeping kids happy is being able to provide food at the right time.  I know not everyone will agree with this, but I like to keep some pre-packaged things in the summer to make this process easier.  (Squeeze apple sauce, Goldfish crackers, chips, gummy snacks, etc.)  I also prefer peanut butter sandwiches because they don’t require refrigeration.  Our picnic lunch system is a cooler for water bottles, drinks, and sometimes string cheese (don’t forget an emergency Cherry Coke for yourself!), and a reusable shopping bag of sandwiches, carbs, and a roll of paper towels.  And a big ol’ bottle of hand sanitizer never hurts!

5.  Trade in that diaper bag for a backpack STAT!  I have an adorable diaper bag, but if we are going to be hiking, playing putt putt, walking around camp, etc., I make a switch to a backpack.  (I also have taken the padding from my camera bag and put it in my backpack if I happen to be bringing my big camera.)  Also, tuck a few diapers in all the beach bags/backpacks so that you won’t have to walk all the way back to your car to retrieve a diaper or lug the diaper bag in addition to your other bags.

6.  Strategically plan your treats and bribes.  This is most likely the most important tip I have.  This summer, on two separate occasions, I took my kids plus a few extra on a 3 mile hike.  I made it clear at the beginning of the hike that having a good attitude and not complaining would result in a treat afterwards.  We made it through both hikes with minimal complaining, which, considering they both involved Egan, is saying A LOT.

(I may have also threatened to strap the 30 pound toddler I was wearing to whoever complained.)

Our favorite treats are Sonic Happy Hour (slushies for less than $1!), ChikFilA ice cream (kids’ cones for less than $1!), and Icees.  Health food families…I’ve got nothing for you.

7.  Don’t forget to Instagram!  I rarely bring my real camera when I’m the only adult because, well, toddler.  But that doesn’t meet I can’t record the memories!

8.  Have music both you and the kids can agree upon.  One of my favorite memories of this summer was watching 5 kids jam out to Aviici in the rearview mirror!

9.  Proper shoes are essential.  I can get away with forgetting clothes, but the right shoes are important!  If it involves water, flip flops are needed – no one wants to try to wedge a child’s wet feet back into their stinky tennis shoes!  If there will be hiking or a lot of walking, though, good tennis shoes are needed.  And if the trip involves both…bring both.

On our first hike this year, one child arrived without shoes at all and one had Crocs (which I approved) that ended up rubbing blisters.  Ooops and double ooops.  Don’t repeat my mistakes!

10.   Don’t stress out when things go “wrong.”  If you take a lot of Summer Day Trips, eventually you’re going to hit some rain or forget to pack lunch.  If you maintain a positive attitude and make it feel like an adventure to the kids, they will still have fun!  And, who knows, that thing going “wrong” might end up being their favorite memory of the summer!

Just ask my kids (or Tiff’s) about the time I got pulled over driving to camp 3 years ago!

The Gap

The Gap has been a part of life throughout 2016.  Sometimes it is expected and somewhat prepared for, and sometimes it is a complete surprise.  Like a crack in the earth after an earthquake, once The Gap appears it cannot be ignored.  It has to be navigated around; sometimes that can mean simply stepping over it, but other times, The Gap is wider and we end up bruised and scraped and exhausted as we scramble down and up the jagged rocks.

I think God uses The Gap to remind us that this world is not our home.  While we live in this life, it is impossible for us to have everything, or every person, that we desire to have near us.  I’m sure that God also uses the way we navigate The Gap for our own refinement.

Many times, I come to The Gap while I’m driving.  2016 has meant A LOT of driving, and therefore, a lot of thinking.  “Blessings” by Laura Story will come on the radio, one of her favorite songs, and there it is – The Gap.

I might be trying to get information from text messages, when I run across the last text message that she sent me.  The Gap.

I was thinking about Mother’s Day, last minute, of course, because I’m terrible at Mother’s Day.  I usually just get two sets of everything, and it hit me that I only needed one.  The Gap.

Josh has to step over The Gap when he takes pictures of the kids in their antics, and then realizes he can’t send them to her.

I brought Arrow to camp with me this year, and I kept wondering, “Why is this so HARD?  He’s my fourth one!”  About halfway through, I realized that I had never brought a 2 year old to camp before; she would always do “Gigi Camp” with them when they were that age.  The Gap.

Those are times The Gap is relatively small.  It is sad, but it is small.

But other times, The Gap is wide and deep and we’re not sure if we’ve made our way through it.

Heather had her first baby in the spring, and it is the first grandbaby that Gigi hasn’t gotten to cherish.  The Gap is wide.

And this weekend The Gap was deep.  Kristy and Jason celebrated their marriage on Glenda’s birthday.  I am tickled that they chose that day, as Glenda was never one to draw attention to herself and her birthday, and I believe she would be honored for it to also be Kristy’s anniversary.

It was a wonderful day with family and I’m so glad we had something to turn our mourning into dancing (literally!) and birthday cake into…wedding cake!  But I know Kristy could not help but feel The Gap as she planned this wedding on her own.

And I know Glenda would have admired all the decorations, and she would have had so much fun putting on Xander and Maverick’s suspenders.  She would have been tickled that the dress she wore for both Josh and Heather’s weddings matched Kristy’s colors perfectly, so she could use it again.  She would have made Kristy laugh when she was nervous and would tear up a little, just a little, at the appropriate time.  She would assure Kristy that she is already an amazing woman and mother, and she is going to be a wonderful wife.

The Gap is always going to be a part of life now.  I imagine that over the years its occurrences will be fewer and farther between.  There will be times that The Gap will become a reminder to think of happy memories and share them with our children.  I know that that will be the case for me on August 6th.  I will be able to say, “Today would have been Gigi’s birthday.  But it is also Aunt Kristy and Uncle Jason’s Anniversary, because on the day Gigi would have turned 55, they got married!”

Happy Birthday, Glenda!  And Congratulations, Jason and Kristy!  We pray many years of happiness for your family that we already love so much!

 

 

 

Summer Catch-Up

Well, all that time I thought I would have for blogging?

I don’t even know.

Truth be told, our summer has been full of company and travels, and hasn’t been the relaxed, boring post-move summer I was expecting at all.   I told Josh when our last company (for a while) pulled out yesterday, that it was the same feeling you get after having a new baby.  When you first have a new baby, there’s this honeymoon period where people are bringing you meals, and family members come and stay to be  helpful, and friends are volunteering to babysit your older kiddos.  But there comes a day when all that is over and you have to figure out your new life on your own.  It’s both a good and scary feeling.  It seems to be that yesterday was the end of our honeymoon period in our new house; up until this point, we have almost constantly been spending time with friends and family who have come to visit (or be babysat,) that we really have had no need to meet new people here.  But now I have that good and scary feeling that it is time to get out and start meeting people here and build actual lives.

Eh, or maybe next week.  You know, why rush this thing?

So here’s a few things that have kept us busy this summer:

  • Aunt Camp.  Kristy is getting married in just a few weeks, so I’ve had more opportunities than usual since our move to hang out with Xander and Maverick while she prepares.  My kids have been super accommodating for the changes that occur in our family when this happens because we’ve discovered that three toddlers are a lot harder than one!  So parents of multiple children 2 (or 3!) and under – I SALUTE YOU!  I know I’ve done it before, but truth be told (and let this be an encouragement to you!) the brain, after awhile, will forget how hard that season is!   We’re so glad we live close enough to the nephews now to really be involved in their lives and give their sweet mama a break sometimes – now I am reminded of how much she needs it!
  • Big Kids’ Camp!  We have also had the opportunity to host the Wallers at our house for a few days while Alesha went to a training, and Aurora and Stacey this past week!  I have waxed poetic about how much I love summer time before, and when I have other peoples’ children over is when I am at my best!  (A little accountability goes a long way!)  We’ve gone hiking and played in the lake and visited a few local parks and found Dory and dressed like cows to get free chicken and gone to the community pool.  There have also been some less glamorous moments, like when our air conditioner was out for a few days and it was a little bit more like camp then we had bargained for.
  • CAMP Camp.  I’m talking about the camp we go to every year that I have the privilege of writing curriculum for.  This we a very special year at camp for 2 reasons:  1) There was room at camp for me and the boys to have a cabin and stay at camp the whole time, and 2) Tiff’s family happened to be in Florida for a month, so Isabel got to go to camp with us!!!  (Super fun fact:  Her sister, Gwiny, went to camp with us at the exact same age!  It’s a Miller Girl rite of passage!)  We ended up making it a big road trip for me and the kids and we were gone 8 days total.  In addition to doing camp, we got to spend a little time with Tiff and her girls!
  • Company Who Did Not Camp.  My parents came up the weekend of our 11th anniversary so that we could have a date!  The Ludes spent the night with us on their way back from vacation, and the Greshams came by to see us on THEIR way back from vacation so we could meet their new baby and take a few pictures!
  • (A perk to being close to Atlanta:  everyone ends up near Atlanta at some point during the year!)  Josh’s sisters have come by several times and let me feed them.  Finally, the Harrells got to come see our new digs this past weekend.  We are so thankful to have seen so many friends and family this summer!
  • Unpacking and Painting.  So, whenever we have had a break in company, we’ve been working on making the new house a home!  We pretty much decided to paint everything possible white.  I like things light and bright so this seems to be the most reasonable and inexpensive course of action.  Josh made A LOT of progress while we were away at camp, so the house has come a long way!  I finally got the school room unpacked this week, so now I can finally plan for the next school year.  Which is just around the corner!
  • The Church Hunt.  This deserves its own blog post, but we have been to 5 different churches that are close by and now we are prayerfully considering which ones we would like to repeat.  This is really the first time we have had to LOOK for a church, so we are taking the process very seriously.
  • VBS.  The kids have gone to two VBSs this year – none of which I had to direct!  I’m so thankful to have had this option this summer to help them get out of the house and give me a little break, as well!

OK, that sounds like a lot, so to keep things real, here are some things I am NOT doing well this summer.

  • School.  We haven’t lifted a pencil this summer.  I had intentions of working with Isreal on his math and with Egan on his handwriting, but we haven’t done nary a thing.  We really haven’t even done that great with summer reading.  I’ve decided to just not worry about it this year.  I’m letting summer break be an actual break and then we will come back refreshed.  Right?  Right???
  • Foot Care **Gross subject alert**  OK, so every summer for the past four years I’ve had this problem, and it’s time to come out and talk about it.  At some point during the summer (usually at camp), I will develop some kind of Athlete’s Foot/yeast/fungus/whatever between my toes.  When this happens, my foot swells up like a balloon and I’m pretty much useless for a few days.  I look terrible hobbling around and of course everyone wants to know what’s wrong with me.  Apparently it’s not a normal thing for this to happen, so now I have to ask: What IS wrong with me??  Does anyone have any insight into why I appear to be allergic to a relatively common foot fungus?  Natural remedy people, this is your time to shine!  Give me some answers!
  • Taking Pictures.  The pictures to this post are sparse because I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gotten my camera out since I moved.  Of course there’s plenty to see over on Instagram!

Parenthood: A Series Review

So, I know I have plenty of things in my real life to talk about, but first thing’s first:  I finally finished watching the Parenthood series.  (Don’t be impressed.  It took me years.  Like, I think I started watching it right after I finished Friday Night Lights, which was when Egan was a baby.)

So because I became emotionally invested with the Bravermans, I have to share a few thoughts.  And let’s just get this out of the way right now:  SPOILERS.  SPOILER ALERT.  SPOILERS AHEAD.

mdot_parenthood

I’m going to break it down by family unit:

Adam and Christina.  Adam is such a classic first child and I love how the whole series is for him about finding balance between his desire to be stable and actually pursuing something he’s passionate about.  Although I don’t (that I know of) have a child on the autism spectrum, I love how Max’s character was portrayed throughout the series and thought that they realistically dealt with some hard issues that are happening to parents all the time.  (OK, so opening a special needs school may not be realistic for everybody, but weird things always happen when a series is coming to a close!)  Likewise, I also felt like Christina’s portrayal of breast cancer was realistic and still respectful to those who actually deal with the sickness.

Sarah.  Well, who doesn’t love Lauren Graham??  But besides that, I don’t think it would be accurate for a family of this size to not have a single parent, and she handles the role beautifully.  I also love watching Drew and Amber grow and mature – Amber’s journey was especially cool to follow.  As far as Sarah’s ending?  I loved seeing Ray Romano embrace the role of a man with Aspergers, but in the end I felt like that was an odd match for her and she was more compatible with the English teacher.  Just an opinion.

Crosby and Jasmine.  I feel like the first few seasons of Crosby were kind of awkward, but once he and Jasmine actually got married he became a much more solid character for me.  And let’s not get started on how gorgeous the actress that plays Jasmine is!

Julia and Joel.  OK, there’s a lot to unpack here.  Let me just say that overall I did not find Julia to be a likeable character.  For her to be unfaithful to Joel, at first emotionally and then when they were separated physically, and to not see anything wrong with that because he had been emotionally distant for a short time, really got under my skin.  HOWEVER, I will say that that did highlight what an amazing guy Joel was; not only did he put up with her career aspirations (which, let’s just say it, were annoying,) not only did he remain faithful while separated, but he also pretty much single-handedly put their family back together again and accepted the blame for their problems.  I did love their portrayal earlier in the series about their struggles with infertility and adopting an older child, and how in the end that story arch was completed by the adoption of Victor’s newborn sister.

Zeke and Camille.  These are just amazing actors.  I hope to someday be the gracious host like Camille and to have a loooooooooong table lit by café lights in my backyard for all my children and grandchildren to gather around for family dinner.  I love how Zeke connected with his grandchildren, especially the fatherless ones, and how he was such a tough guy but had such a current of tenderness underneath.  My favorite scene was when he confronted Amber after her car accident and basically told her that one thing that kept him going in Vietnam was the dream of future grandchildren, and she was not allowed to make choices that would hinder that dream.

And now, let’s just take a moment to honor how beautiful the filming of this show was.  I’m sure that Josh would qualify it as “slow” because there are plenty of long pauses and no explosions to make up for them, but it was really just incredibly well put together and there were moments that I just sat in awe of the cinematography.  It wasn’t a surprise to me at all that the executive producer was also the executive producer of Friday Night Lights, and since I had FNL withdrawal it was nice to have some of the actors make appearances on Parenthood.

Although this show was certainly not “Christian,” I like to look for truth in anything I take the time to absorb.  I think that Parenthood sucks people like me right in because it shows that family relationships are difficult.  They can be messy.  But they are so worthwhile.  And yes, this beautifully written show will make you want to be a Braverman.  But we don’t have to be.  Because God placed us in our own family units to have difficult, messy, and worthwhile relationships.  Café lights optional.

(But I really want them!)

The Legacy of Faith, Fun, and Closed Toe Shoes Continues!

Shortly before our move, I was asked if we had any fun plans for the summer.  And I was kind of like, “Ummmm, no.”  In my mind, the move was the end of time, and there was really no reason to do much planning for after that.  So when we arrived here at the first of June, I had signed my children up for nary a VBS or camp to keep us from going insane.

I had realized shortly after we decided to move that one perk would be that we would be living MUCH closer to Camp Pinnacle, a Girls’ Missions Education Camp nestled in the mountains of northeast Georgia that I went to both as a camper and as staff the summer after high school.  70 years old, Camp Pinnacle has had a strong impact on many girls and women throughout the years.  And I am not a trailblazer in my family when it comes to Pinnacle; my mother was a camper before me!

To say that this is a special place to me would be an understatement.  Although my time there was brief compared to most (I was only a camper for two years and a staffer for one,) the impact of the relationships and experiences I had at that place have provided me with great memories for a lifetime.  As a camper, I would go as a socially awkward child, (I know!  You are so surprised!) and leave feeling special, cherished, and inspired to follow Jesus.  As a staffer…man that is some GOOD LIFE TRAINING there!  I may have a B.A. in Christian Counseling, but you know what prepared me the most for serving in Children’s Ministry (including paid work, lay work, writing curriculum, and directing multiple Vacation Bible Schools?)  CAMP.  And you know what experience was probably my best preparation for the sanctifying stage of life called parenthood?  CAMP.  And what did I pull from the most when teaching homeschool co-op classes for the past two years?  Well, I didn’t learn a song about a Wishy Washy Washer Woman or a skit about toilet paper in college!

Let’s just say that, if I had had my druthers, I would have totally gotten married in the Prayer Garden and had my reception in the dining hall.  Especially if Mama Margaret would make Poppyseed Chicken.

This is the first year that Ava has been old enough to go to Pinnacle; but seeing how we were living nine hours away in Florida and were consumed with some pretty huge issues, I failed to even realize it until maybe March.  I thought about it long enough to mention it to her, but then it escaped my mind until we moved here.

Disappointed in myself, I looked at their website, thinking “There is NO WAY I can swing this at such a late notice.”  Sure enough, the ONLY DATES that would work for us was the very first session of camp, which was only 5 days away!  Since registration is required to be turned in 2 weeks prior to the start date, that seemed like that was it.  But I did go ahead and e-mail to see if it was even possible to enroll in Session 1.

Within minutes I received a return e-mail of, “Yes!  There are still openings!  Here is a link to registration!  And, if she’s a first time camper, HERE’S A DISCOUNT!”

I discussed it with Josh, not sure what he would say, but he was all for it.  However, since we had not had time to get established in a church, I wasn’t sure about how Ava would feel about going to camp not knowing a single person.

But she was all for it!

To say I was excited for her would be another understatement!

While we were in closing ceremonies on Friday, I was watching the back of Ava’s capped head and I had a moment of doubt: “What if she didn’t like it?  What if it wasn’t her thing?”

Here’s the thing.  Even though Ava and I have VERY similar personalities, we rarely seem to have similar interests.  If I suggest a book, activity, or even a food to her, it almost automatically gets disregarded.

But now we have something we can agree on: CAMP!  My worries were for naught.  Ava had a wonderful time at camp, and our drive home swapping memories and singing songs was better than I could have ever asked for.  It was so neat, not only to see her develop a love for Pinnacle, but to get to have the opportunity to become her own person in a group of complete strangers.  As it turns out, she was considered to be “the funniest one in the cabin.”  She did not go on The Hike, which disappointed me a little, but she did it for the practical purpose of getting to try more camp activities, like pottery.

I thought that, by having been both a camper and a staffer, I had had the full Camp Pinnacle experience.  But I was wrong.  Having a daughter to go to Camp Pinnacle?  Well.  That’s something.

An In-Between Place

We’re in an in-between place right now.

It’s almost two weeks since the big move.

Our lease on the old house is up, so we are officially back down to a one house family.

I’m still editing pictures that I took before we left (and will be for a while,) so I’m constantly looking at my old Florida haunts.

I’ve signed up for my Kroger Rewards Card.  (A grocery store we didn’t have in Tally.)

My vehicle has a Georgia plate, but my license is Florida.

We’ve visited a church, but when I listed a church for Ava’s camp application, it was LifeBasics.

We have yet to find a doctor, dentist, etc.  I haven’t even done serious research for the kids extracurriculars.  Right now, I’m doing good to make it to Starbucks and back.

So the truth is, up until this point, this has really just felt like a weird vacation where we took all our stuff.

So if you need me, you’ll find me in this in-between place.

The Wallinkers and the Pre-Answered Prayers

I’ve done a lot of reflecting in the past few months as we prepared to move, but I didn’t have any time to write any of it down.  So, although I will be blogging about my new life, I also want to document some of the thoughts I’ve had about our “old” life.

I also would like to share about the people God has placed in our path that have blessed us over-abundantly.  Some of them have been blogged about before, but some, like the Wallers, will be making their “blog debut!”  We have such an amazing “Cloud of Witnesses,” and I never want to forget what God has done for us through other people.

 

Two years ago around this time, my friend Mary An mentioned to me that she had a homeschooling mom friend moving to town who would be living near me and that I simply HAD to meet.

The day before I had Arrow, less than 12 hours before my water would break, we were at Mary An’s daughter’s birthday party.  I had found a seat in the back yard as I actually didn’t have any children to supervise, and it felt like Arrow was trying to shoot out of my stomach like the baby on the Doritos commercial.  (Don’t worry, it wasn’t creepy for me to be at a child’s birthday party without children – we brought some other children and some bunny rabbits!)  (That might be creepier.)

ANYWAY, it was at this glamorous moment in my life that Mary An was kind of like, “HERE SHE IS!  You must talk to each other!”  And I met Alesha.

Less than a week later, Alesha was sending me congratulatory brownies.  And I was kind of like, “She’s sending me Baby Brownies after knowing me less than a week?  I LIKE HER.”

A few weeks later, when I was just starting to feel well enough to give my older children attention, (hey man, that third degree tear is NO JOKE,) Ava said, “I wish we could do more with art this year.”  And I was kind of like, “Ummmm…I’ll try.”

The problem was multi-fold:  A) I had a new baby and would be doing good to just go over the bare basics of schoolwork.  B) Art is NOT MY THING.  C) Although our city offered many, many classes, like art, for homeschoolers, they were all on the north side of town.  We lived south of town, and I really couldn’t see adding another long drive to our weekly schedule since we were already making it once a week for Classical Conversations and twice a week for gymnastics.  D) Ava had not had a stellar first year of homeschooling, emotionally speaking, and I was afraid that if I was not able to encourage her in her interests, it would lead to another not-so-great year.  But I really had NO IDEA how I was going to incorporate more art into our days.

About a week after this conversation, we met Alesha and her kids at a local park.  It was the first time our kids would get together.  While we were there, Alesha said something like, “Hey, I’m thinking about teaching this art class for homeschoolers in the area – I’m going to ask the public library if we can use their space.  Would you be interested?”

Ummmm.  YES and YES and YES.

So I went from having no idea what I would do about art to having an art class less than two miles from our house pretty much handed to me on a silver platter.

And the thing is, I had not even yet taken the time to ask God for help on the art thing!

When I first started to get to know Alesha, she did not seem interested in Classical Conversations.  She knew it was tuition based and had been successfully homeschooling basically fo’ free for years, so it did not have a draw for her.  I didn’t really ever bring it up with her or try to convince her it is worthwhile; if I’ve learned anything about CC, it is that you can’t push it on people.  It’s either perfect for them or it’s not for them at all.

Towards the end of the school year, Alesha announced to me out of the blue that she would be coming to the CC Practicum and that she was seriously considering putting her oldest son in Essentials the next school year.

By the time Practicum arrived, she had done her research, decided that CC would be a wonderful fit for her family and help provide them structure as they got older.

She also saw a need for a campus on the south side of town.  I, of course, knew about this need, but had no desire to be the one to fulfill it.  Alesha, on the other hand, immediately began considering it.

Not only did she end up enrolling her kids at our CC for this past school year with no coercion from me, but she also ended up tutoring her first year out of the gate!  (AND she WILL be directing a campus on the south side of town this year!!!  Fortunately, she made the decision AFTER we decided to move – or the move might not have happened at all!  It will be half a mile from my old house!)

And the thing is, I never asked God to have someone that lived close to me come to our CC.  But having someone?  Someone who would pick up my kids when the baby was sick or to drop them at karate when I had to leave early for an appointment or just to hang out with during lunch?  That was such a gift!

Ava is very selective about who she considers to be a close friend.  I would criticize that except I know she’s just like me.  So when our lobsters moved away AND her two best homeschooling friends ended up going to private schools for this past school year?  It was looking like it would be a lonely year for her – so much so, that when we started talking about the possibility of moving, she was all for it!

But Alesha’s daughter, Peyton, swooped in to fill that gap and by the end of this school year, the two were quite inseparable.  Not only that, but Alesha’s boys meshed so well with my boys that it just became natural to dump all of our children at each other’s houses.

And the thing is, although I should have been praying about my children’s friendships, I gotta be honest and say that I really wasn’t.  But God answered that un-prayed prayer in such a beautiful way, and our house rang with the laughter of children in the past six months like it did before the Millers moved away, and that ministered to my soul, as well.

One day in January, Alesha asked if she could start picking our kids up on Sunday nights and take them to an Awanas program her family had started attending.  Ummmm…yes!  Sunday afternoons were my lesson planning time, and I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to pull it off with Josh being out of town for his new job.  Thanks to Alesha, I had THREE glorious [almost] kid-free hours every week!  Oh, and my kids were memorizing Scripture at Awanas, which is an area I’ve had a hard time with since we started homeschooling.

And the thing is, I did not ask for God to provide someone to pick up my kids for a few hours every Sunday.

We signed Ava up for baseball, but it was looking like that would mean I would have to sit up with the boys at the ball field a lot since Josh would be out of town for the first few weeks of her season.  The Wallers signed Trevor up for baseball, but we had no idea if they would be placed on the same team.  They WERE placed on the same team, and we were able to help each other out with getting them to their prospective practices and games.

And the thing is, we signed Ava up not even knowing the Wallers would be interested.

The week of our move, Alesha probably “kept” my kids more than I did because she knew I needed that packing time, and Ted was the first person at our house to load the truck even though I’m sure there are about 4,523 things he would rather do on a Saturday.

And the thing is, they volunteered to do these things before I could even think about what kind of help we would need.

So I’m calling this a series of Pre-Answered Prayers.  God has used this family to answer so many prayers over the past two years…that I never took the time to pray!  So many blessings that we don’t deserve have come to us through them over the past two years, and although I don’t understand it, I am humbly grateful to be on the receiving end of those blessings.

Oh, and along the way, God has blessed me with another friend that happens to share the love of Cherry Coke and Dark Chocolate Peanut M&Ms…another extroverted friend who can bring some [awkward] socialness out of introverted me…another friend that encourages me in my walk with Christ…and another friend who was very hard to leave.

And the thing is, I didn’t ask for that, either.  But I can’t imagine these past two years without it.

 

 

 

May Memories!

So before I start waxing poetic on our new life in a new state, I need to share about some recent memories before they are gone from my head forever!  This was the busiest semester that we have had yet, and I need you to appreciate why I am so tired!  Here is a non-comprehensive list of the events from the last month…

~ The Finishing Well Ceremony

Although Classical Conversations wraps up in April, this year our rewards ceremony was in May.  This is significant because we had not one, but two Memory Masters this year!!!  Ava completed her third year of being a Memory Master (which means that she has done each of the 3 cycles!), and it was Israel’s first year!  I am so proud of these kiddos…and I gotta say that must have pretty awesome parents to help them through the process!

(If you don’t know what Memory Masters is…the kids are able at the end of the year to recite all of the memory work from the past year…24 weeks of information in the subjects of Latin, History, Timeline, English Grammar, Science, Math, and Geography.  Trust me, it’s a WHOLE LOTTA information!)

~ Asher’s Birthday

It has been a year since Asher was born and the Harrells allowed us to be a part of the day.  They released a lantern in his memory.  Bobby and Cynthia are now expecting another sweet baby, and I know they appreciate prayers as this is an exciting yet scary path for them!

~ Epic Birthday Weekend!

As mentioned in the last post, I turned 30 this year and my request was, “Please, no big party.”  That’s just a lot of work for someone to prepare for me being very socially awkward.  Instead, Jackie drove up and Tiff flew down and joined Cynthia and I for a girls weekend.  We had the nicest time, and it was so nice to only be socially awkward with the ladies who love me despite myself.  I didn’t bring my real camera, but of course there are plenty of pictures on Instagram!

~ School Year Wrap-Up

Not gonna lie, I was a wee bit anxious about finishing up our school year on time!  But we made check lists and hunkered down and got her done!  Along with wrapping up their normal curriculum, the kids each wrote a research paper and did a project.  I know, I’m a little bit crazy to have them writing research papers (complete with note cards and a works cited page.)  But I have come to a place where I am OK with my crazy and I hope you can arrive there, too.

For the kids projects this time, I said “NO DIORAMAS.”  All they ever do is dioramas and I wanted them to try something new.

Ava opted for a model volcano.

Israel chose to make a lego model of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

They both suspiciously look like dioramas.

~Egan Graduated from PreK!!!

Anyone who knows Egan understands why we are a little relieved that he at least survived to his PreK graduation.

This was a very, very bittersweet year for us as we know that he’s our last child to go through Little Lambs Preschool.  We have had a child there for the past 6 years, and the school has been such a blessing to our family.

It does help a little, tiny bit to know that Ms. Kim, the wonderful lady who has taught all three of my kiddos, will also not be returning to Little Lambs.  She has the opportunity to be the headmaster of a school, and she’s going to do great!

The graduation ceremony was as adorable as ever!  (Just like Israel’s was before that and Ava’s was before THAT!)

Aurora is also a Little Lambs alumni!

Us and our grad!  I would post a family photo, but Ava’s efforts at a smile were a little terrifying that night!

~ Baseball

We had our first experience with team sports this year as Ava played baseball with little league.  She was NOT interested in softball, so she was the only girl on her team!  She really enjoyed herself and it was so nice to see her develop a passion for it.

But I gotta confess that I am a TERRIBLE sports mom!  All the spontaneity required to participate in a team sport did NOT work well for me.  If we do this again (and I know she wants to!) I will have to be PRAYED UP, because you know what’s not cool?  Getting a text at lunch time to announce a practice in six hours.  **Shudder**

~ Good-bye to the Dojo

Israel tried out karate in the fall.  Not only did he love it, but Ava decided to leave her beloved gymnastics to give karate a try!  I totally counted our 3 trips a week to the dojo as our PE!  The big kids excelled and were highly complimented by the sensei.  Egan joined the Little Dragons class, and even with that much structure the struggle was real for him.  He had to bring Sensei Burke a letter apologizing for his behavior once and probably should have many more times.

Since I didn’t pay to have their “karate pictures” done, I snagged some shots while we were at one of their last classes.

(Don’t tell her I’m even talking about this, but that is the best photo smile I’ve gotten from her in a possibly a year!!!)

So proud of how hard this guy works in karate!

Accurate depiction!

Even with all the moving craziness, I’m so thankful that we were able to have a well-rounded ending to our school year!

 

 

 

Moving Day!

This morning, some amazing people loaded all of our worldly belongings onto a 26 foot Uhaul and a small flat bed trailer.  (Well, everything but the sectional.  Curb Alert!)  After about six hours of strategic loading (real life Tetris!) and six hours of driving, we are finally at our new home.

The season of our lives leading up to this move has been full of a lot of reflections on what God has done for us in the 8 years that we lived in Tallahassee.  Unfortunately, it has also been one of the busiest seasons of my life so I haven’t had time to document it in the blog.  (I did capture as much as I could on Instagram:  #linkermove2016.)  HOWEVER, now that we are (hopefully!!) in a much less busy season of life, I would like to make a return to the blog.  It is time to record our adventures in Georgia!

Until then…

Thanks for the adventure, Florida!  It has been an honor!

Photo credit: Jennifer Gann

Because I’m Old and I’ll Write What I Want

I’ve arrived at the ripe old age of 30* at last.  Part of my birthday gift to myself is writing a blog post.  (Another part of it was getting the dishes washed.  Just so we’re clear where I stand.)  I’ve been thinking all day about what I would like most to write about.  I thought about trying to write 30 thoughts.  So here we go.  Happy birthday to me!

  1. Pandora is a wonder.  I’ve been using Pandora for at least 5 years now, and we’ve gotten to a point in our relationship that Pandora will say, “You’ve never heard this song before, but you will love it because I know you better than you know yourself.”  And I’m all like, “Oh, ok – thanks Pandora!”
  2. SO, thanks to Pandora’s intuitiveness, I have finally had to accept a truth about myself: my taste in music has mellowed with my age.  My preferences now definitely hover in the alternative rock/folk genre (some of that being Christian, but Christian is not a genre, people; it’s a topic!)  My jam these days seems to be folky music (think Lumineers and NeedToBreathe), instrumental hymns, and adult contemporary covers of pop songs.
  3. If you end up in the same boat as me, I want to point you in the right direction in case you don’t have 5 years for Pandora to guide you through the musical world.  My favorite groups that do covers of pop music are Boyce Avenue and Anthem Lights.  Such great harmonies!  And a great way to hear the catchy pop tunes without having to be blasted with crazy loud music.  Because we are old, and loud music is for those young whippersnappers who still have all their teeth.
  4. Speaking of music, I just wrapped up a year of teaching my first music class in a homeschool co-op.  I don’t know how much the kids learned, but it was a huge learning experience for me!  My favorite part is that it forced me to bring music back into my life; something that’s been on the backburner for a looooong time.
  5. For the class, I borrowed my mom’s autoharp so that I would have something easy to use/carry to use for accompaniment.  If you’re not familiar with the autoharp, it’s an instrument designed for people who don’t play instruments.
  6. Incidentally, the autoharp is the perfect instrument for me.
  7. However, the autoharp is also a pretty quiet instrument, so I asked my dad if he would come and play the guitar for our final Parent Night.
  8. My dad doesn’t typically play in public (although he’s very good!), so I don’t think he was delighted to do this; however, I am his only daughter so resistance was futile.
  9. I taught the kids folk songs for Parent Night, and it was a lot of fun re-living some of the songs that I had to, I mean GOT to perform in my years of chorus and show choir.
  10. As a part of our preparation for Parent Night, Dad and I made videos so the parents could easily practice the songs with their kids.  This fulfilled my lifelong dream of getting to jam with my parents.  (Although mom did not have her dulcimer, so I guess it only partially fulfilled the dream.)
  11. My dad and I are both the type to not want to show the internets our little videos.  But what the hey, it’s my birthday!

    (And it seems the internet doesn’t want to talk to me right now, so if  you’re having trouble viewing the embedded video, here’s a link.)
  12. I would say we’re available to book concerts, but we’re not.  We’re pretty busy.  And we’re more like sing around the camp fire people, anyway.
  13. Also, I’m sure there’s a more attractive way to play the autoharp.  I have no formal training, dude.
  14. What, you want another one?  Well, OK.  I don’t play for this one, but I do try to hold some helpful signs for my students.

    (Again, a link.)
  15. To me, that’s the ultimate song for the folk music lover to get to perform in a group.  Preferably while wading into a river single file whilst holding candles.  But we can’t have everything.
  16. So I think I’ve exhausted the subject of music and will now awkwardly transition to something else!
  17. Our big move is now officially a month away!
  18. A lot has happened since I last blogged about it.
  19. Josh has worked his new job for two months now!  He trained in Atlanta (read: I was a crazy person) for 5 weeks, and has since then been able to work from home (read: I feel much better now.)
  20. We now have leased a house.  Josh picked it for us and I didn’t see it in person before we signed papers, but I knew I could trust my hubby to make the right decision.
  21. And I was right because it is beeeeeautiful.  I love our new house!  We camped out there about a month ago when we got the keys.
  22. It really is a shame that we’re going to have to put our stuff in it.  Right now it’s so nice and clean!!!
  23. That doesn’t mean I won’t miss our life here.  We have begun a series of Last Things here.
  24. Our homeschool co-ops have had their last meetings.
  25. I’ve taught my last class at church.
  26. I’ll admit I won’t be so sad when we make it to Ava’s last baseball game.  She’s been playing baseball (NOT softball!) and she loves it and I’m thankful, but it feels like a huge time suck.  Two more weeks to go!
  27. We are trying to push through the school year a week before we usually finish due to the move, and we lost about a week if not more with all the family “stuff” that has gone on.  I’m not great at math, but that throws us two weeks off.  But we can do it, and the end is in sight!
  28. We have already registered with a Classical Conversations community in our new town!  We were able to visit them during our Spring Break and the kids immediately clicked.  It’s so nice to be involved in something that gives you connections with people right away!
  29. If you would prefer a well thought out, reflective post over my silly list of thoughts, here is a link to the post I wrote reflecting on adulthood last year.
  30. Also, there was this post 5 years ago, where I made 30 goals to achieve by the age of 30.  (Except it was actually 15 goals, because even at 25 I didn’t have the energy to come up with that many goals.)  I am pleased to report I have achieved about 8.5 of those goals by age 30.   So a few things (running a half marathon, camping as a family, and reading a collection of classic literature, to name a few,) will now be floated to age 40.  We’ll check on those then!
    *I actually don’t think that 30 is old, and being this age does not make me uncomfortable or sad.  That was sarcasm, folks.

Because Sometimes, It Takes 15 Years to Write the Post

I remember the corded phone shaking a little in my fourteen year old hand as I made what I thought was a big announcement to my then boyfriend.

“I’ve been thinking about what I want to do with my life.  I think I want to go into some kind of counseling.  Like work in a crisis pregnancy center.”

There was a moment of silence on the other hand.  “Ummmmm.  Ok?”

I’m not sure what I was expecting from a fifteen year old boy who couldn’t think far past all the fun he was going to have riding home from the football game on the marching band bus, but I knew I needed to tell somebody the discovery of my life calling.

As my years in high school went on, my calling seemed confirmed.  I loved helping people and listening to people.  By the end of high school, two of my best friends would face unplanned pregnancies, and I had a first hand perspective of their struggles.  Also, I hated math, so a career in the social sciences sounded like a good idea; the school guidance counselor could not admonish me for not taking calculus when I told her which direction I planned to go.  My senior year, I applied for a college with a solid Christian Counseling program.  A little bit of an overachiever, I graduated with a 3.98 GPA (blast you, history class with crazy professor!) in 3 years.

And then I made a bee line for the nearest crisis pregnancy center and got a job.  Right?

Wrong.

I may have graduated college in 3 years, but I also graduated with a husband and a 7 month old.  (I guess I was a little bit of an overachiever in the family department, as well.)  We’ve always had a passion for me to be a full time parent, so a full time career was out.

So then I ran to the nearest crisis pregnancy center and started doing volunteer work.  Right?

Wrong.

There were always excuses.  We had a baby.  I had a part time job as a children’s minister and time for nothing else.  We moved to a new area where I didn’t know anyone.  We had another baby.  I became a photographer.  And another baby.  We homeschooled.  I think there was another baby?

Sometime last year, when I was still on facebook way too often, the flood of Planned Parenthood videos hit the internet.

I’ll have to be honest with you.  I haven’t watched a single video.  The descriptions in the captions are enough for me.

But my heart was pricked.  If women do not have abortions, which is, of course, ideal, then what happens to them?  What happens to their babies?  Who is going to take care of them?

God started whispering.  “Remember, that call when you were fourteen?” 

Somehow without trying, I found out that our city has an abortion grave.  600+ babies buried in one place.  Just days before it occurred, I found out that there’s an annual memorial service at that grave.

God was still whispering.

I told Josh, “This is kind of crazy, but I think I should go.”

Josh said, “Go.”

I called Cynthia and said, “This is kind of crazy, but do you want to go?”

She came.

It was raining.  It was a very Catholic service so we probably stood out because all we know is the Lord’s Prayer.  But we went.

And now what?

Josh finally laid down the law.  We sat down and he basically said, “I know this has been a passion of yours for a long time.  We’re going to do whatever it takes to make this happen, even if we have to hire a sitter once a week.  Start looking into pregnancy centers.”

So I did.  I started with the one that’s seven minutes from my house.  Low and behold, they needed counselors, and a workshop for Biblical counseling training was being offered there in just a few weeks.  I took the workshop, and what a blessing that was!  (I would like to write about what I learned in another blog post, but here’s a hint: it had little to do with pregnancy!)

I started the training process for counseling.  But THEN.  We found out we would be relocating.  I was FINALLY working towards fulfilling my passion, and I couldn’t even finish training for counseling because I wouldn’t be there long enough to counsel someone through a pregnancy.

So my story is ongoing, and I don’t know what God has in store for me in our new area.  HOWEVER, in the mean time, I have been volunteering at the Wakulla Pregnancy Center on Friday afternoons.  I am not able to counsel, but I can answer phone calls, vacuum floors, and organize diapers with the best of them!

I tell my story for two reasons:

  1.  Maybe you’re in my shoes.  Maybe God called you to something a looooooooooooooong time ago, but you have allowed your calling to get buried with your family’s laundry.  Don’t forget that call.  Listen to the whispers.
  2. Next Saturday, April 16th, I have the opportunity to participate in the LifeWalk for Wakulla Pregnancy Center.  The Center is non-profit and supported by donations, and this is its biggest fundraiser of the year.  If you are local, come and walk with us!  It’s going to be a great reminder for me that God made all life sacred.  There will also be a silent auction and a bake sale, and since our church is doing one of the baskets for the auction, I can tell you there will be AT LEAST one amazing basket!

If you are not local or cannot walk, (and this is the part I hate doing,) I would humbly ask you to help sponsor my walk with a donation.  You can donate here.  And I’m not talking big; $10 would be great!  This is not a charity I found on the internet; this is a ministry that I have worked with on a personal basis for about 6 months.  I can tell you that the hearts of the people in the ministry are AMAZING, and they are helping young women in the area in an amazing way!  (I have had the privilege of meeting some of these phenomenal young ladies!)  Even though I cannot stay, I would love to know I left the Center with a little more security for the coming year because you guys donated!!

I’m not trying to make a political statement or guilt someone into changing their beliefs.  It is the conviction of my heart that ALL human life is sacred and loved by God (the unborn, the young, the old, all races, all belief systems, refugees, fast food workers, executives; all caps ALL!)  In the delicate situation of an unplanned pregnancy, if a woman chooses life, Christians need to provide a support system for her and the baby.  We need to provide a net of love to catch her in, not one of judgment.  I am pushing the laundry off that conviction and seeking to follow God wherever He will take me to do my part in that support system.

Join me?

 

Good Friday 2016

Well, I have failed to blog Egan’s birthday, our Spring Break, an update on Josh’s new job and the move…so I’m at least going to get Easter blogged, dag nab it!

I used to be really good at doing Holy Week activities with the kids.  We would do something special each day of the week leading up to Easter.  (There was even that one year that I did two separate Holy Weeks.  Past Kara may have been an overachiever.)  But then I started homeschooling, and I could never seem to get myself together to that level of organization.  I finally decided that if I pour it into one day, Good Friday, that would be close enough.

We invited a few friends over for our Good Friday activities because the kids have more fun with friends AND I am MUCH more likely to follow through with something I planned if other people are coming.  Full disclosure.

This year we spent Holy Week studying the four Servant Songs in Isaiah.  They are prophecies about Jesus, with a particular focus on His death, so they seemed especially appropriate for Holy Week.  (It’s also nice to pull out a commentary from college every once in a while.  My parents payed for that Seminary Extension class on Isaiah, so I better use it!)  When our friends arrived, we studied the fourth and last Servant Song.  It has always been profound to me, but it was particularly special to hear children’s voices read this part of God’s Word.  After studying the Scripture, we made a craft portraying the key verse, Isaiah 53:5 – “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”

They turned out so nice!

After the Bible study portion of our morning, we headed out for the Egg Games [Lite].  We have been doing the Egg Games with Cynthia and Tiffany since Egan was brand new, so there are lots of happy memories there!  There were the Egg Games at our old apartment complex (when our babies were, well, BABIES!), the first Egg Games at this house, the Egg Games that became a church-wide event, the Egg Games that didn’t make it to the blog because I was pregnant and it was the first year we homeschooled, but as I recall Gigi’s Girls joined us and we threw paint-filled eggs at canvases to make some awesome art!

After that, Tiff moved away and I just couldn’t bring myself to plan an Egg Games last year.  This year, I decided to do squeeze an Egg Games [Lite] in with our Good Friday activities.  It was great fun, although the Miller girls were certainly missed!

It was a yucky, rainy day, so we did most of the games on the back porch.

We mainly did the classic relay games with all manners of carrying/balancing/rolling the eggs.

 

The only new thing I introduced was the grand finale: Glitter Eggs!

By this time the rain had let up enough to set the kids free in the backyard.  We gave each one an egg full of glitter.  The goal of the game was to smash your egg on someone’s head, and be the “last man standing” that hadn’t been smashed on.  So, basically, the Hunger Games.

But I discovered that it was hard to take pictures of the egg smashing when they were chasing each other, so then I needed volunteers to be smashed on with the extra eggs so I could get pictures.

I had a few volunteers!

For the last egg, I felt like Cynthia needed to smash it on her teenager.  She agreed, and said it was great therapy!

We wrapped things up with a special Good Friday lunch.  Although I did NOT want to attempt a traditional Passover meal, I did want to give the kids a little taste of the types of food that would have been eaten at that meal.  We ended up with a spread of unleavened bread, lamb (which most of us had never had before,) grapes, dates, and grape juice.  And I had just enough plates left from the woodland baby shower to complete the presentation!

And that was that!

Although it can be an overwhelming responsibility, it is such an honor to be given the responsibility of spiritual education for my babies.  And it is such a relief to know that, although I will never do a perfect job, God will fill in my gaps.  It is something I say jokingly at times, but it is also true.  While we are adding, He is multiplying.

And He is risen!

Into the Woods…for a Baby Shower!

I’m going to get another nephew!!!  My years of waiting to be an official Aunt have recently paid off with not one, but THREE nephews!  (For those of you keeping score at home, I am still waiting for some nieces to be added to that number!)

Josh’s beautiful sister, Heather, is expecting her first baby in a few short weeks.  Losing her mom in the middle of her pregnancy was, of course, devestating.  I know this is not the road that she was expecting her first pregnancy to take.  Although we can’t replace Glenda, Josh’s other sister, Kristy, and I put our heads together to try to figure out what we could do to remind Heather and her husband Jeremy that their baby is precious and they still have extended family to support them as their immediate family grows.

We ended up throwing a baby shower!  Kristy opened up her beautiful home for the shower and provided food, and I developed the theme and decorations.  I most definitely got the good end of the deal!  (You may be reading this and say, “Hey, when I threw a shower with Kara, I had to do The Food, too!”  I guess it’s time to be forthwith.  I’m not good at The Food.)

And here is my disclaimer before I launch into the pictures.  Lest you think that I possess creativity, let me explain my shower planning process:  I spend about 30 minutes on Pinterest, entering my theme into the search bar.  I pin the things I like.  I do the pins that I like.  No, seriously, it is a tried and true process for me.  Here is a link to my Pinterest board for this shower.  It was a secret board so that Heather wouldn’t see it until a few minutes ago.  Did you know you can have secret boards??

I tell you this so that A) You won’t try to put me on any kind of pedal stool of creativity, and B) In case you struggle in the creativity department as I do.  There is hope!  There is Pinterest!  You, too, can steal, I mean borrow, the ideas of others and throw a very nice looking shower!

OK.  NOW I can show you the pictures.

 

We chose a woodland animal theme because that is the theme of their nursery and I am all about making decorations that can be reused!

I had to use their last name for the focal point because it has taken them so long to choose a name for their baby boy!  Good thing they have a cool last name!

Our favor table!

Kristy had this gorgeous owl jar that was perfect.  I made bird seed ornaments using this tutorial.

They shed a lot and liked to break, but enough of them pulled through for us to have some favors!

S’MORE fun it is!

I’ve always wanted to do one of those.

I DID NOT make this sweet woodland animal garland, but purchased it here.  I’m letting you know because it is completely adorable and I kind of wished I had purchased myself one.  Not that I have a place to put it.

The dessert table!  I took advantage of some free printables for the garland and the framed animals.

Kristy put together some magnificent owl cupcakes…

…toadstool sugar cookies…

…and a chocolate platter, complete with chocolate bark.  Which I made sure to consume.

We decorated our drinks with more free printables…and how cool are these birch print straws?

And somehow Amazon knew that I needed disposable wooden plates and utensils.  No, I had no idea there was such a thing before we started planning.  Amazon is a wonder.

Instead of a guest book, we did a thumbprint tree for baby’s nursery!

And a blessing tree!

I’m so glad we had a chance to celebrate this new little guy.  I can’t wait to meet him!

Linker Kid Update

After a period of family crisis/big decisions, it has come to my attention that I have not taken the time to blog about my own children.  Sometimes, I just need to write a quick update on each one.  This is one of those times.

The weather was amazing today and we had a spare hour, so I forced, I mean encouraged, the kids to get some updated portraits.  All the stars aligned and I’m delighted with our pictures!  I think the key is I let them keep their T-shirts on.  If I had taken the time to make them put on nice clothes, they would have gotten cranky and it would have all been for naught.

So, here we go, in height order:

Ava

Ava  is officially a tween.  She is tall.  I mean seriously tall.  She only has about 4 inches to go to be as tall as me, and we wear the same shoe size.  (Did you know that a child’s size 5 is the same as a ladies’ size 7?  Now you do.)

Ava gets an occasional case of Tween Angst and it’s enough to make us want to take to drinking.  Fortunately, her bouts of Life-Is-Totally-Unfair-And-I-Don’t-Understand-Why-I-Can’t-Be-My-Own-Boss are pretty infrequent right now.  The rest of the time, she is a semi-rational person who is an excellent big sister.  She has taken on a lot of responsibility around the house, and I feel sorry for anyone who has a baby but doesn’t have a 9 year old.  (Although I did it thrice, so I have served my time.)

After 2 and a half years of total devotion to gymnastics, Ava has given it up (there’s only so much a very tall person can do in that field, I am told.)  However, she is now training at the karate dojo with Israel three times a week.  She also is going to try baseball this spring for the first time.  (NOT softball.  She is very passionate about NOT doing softball.)  She also enjoyed an archery course in the fall, and received a bow (with some arrows!) for Christmas.

Ava is doing excellent with her schoolwork; I’d say that she is working 85% independently now.  She is a voracious reader and I’m just trying to sneak in as much good literature as I can.  (This is another blog post in itself.)

She loves Star Wars and seems to prefer to company of boys because they understand light sabers.  She turned a corner over the course of the year; after spending years begging me for a sister, she is now asking me for more brothers!  Although I might not be able to control THAT, I am comforted that she has accepted her fate as the lone female sibling.

Israel

Israel is still the thoughtful, artistic type, with a good bit of Star Wars thrown in for good measure!  As he is a first grader, he got to choose his own extracurricular activity this year.  He chose karate, and is now a yellow belt.  Some day I will write a blog post about how cool it has been to see him arrive at an activity by himself.

Israel is doing well in school.  First grade with him is interesting because I also taught Ava first grade.  It is fun to see how he is different from her, but still capable of so much!  He has reached several of the goals I have for him for this year already.  Although I wouldn’t put him in the “voracious reader” category, he is a good reader, and I’m trying to develop a love for reading in him without pushing him away.

Israel makes friends easily and seems equally comfortable hanging out with both genders.  I love watching how naturally he interacts with his peers; I wish I felt that natural!

Egan

Egan has always been a game changer for me.  He has so much more energy than anyone else…and his ears just DON’T WORK.  Although I rarely think he’s trying to be defiant, he really just does not listen.  Not too long ago, I told him, “You’re an amazing boy and I think God has big plans for you…and I want you to live so they can happen so you have to START LISTENING TO ME!”

(And don’t misinterpret that as a threat.  I really am concerned for his personal safety because of his difficulty in listening and obeying.)

Of course, he is also the funniest little guy.  He doesn’t know a stranger and he doesn’t do anything halfway.

He’s in PreK now…but bringing him home for kindergarten sure will be fun.  Or at least different.

Arrow

This guy is still the sweetest baby.  He is now 19 months old…and still not walking.  There’s nothing wrong with him…he’s just taking his time!  In fact, when I took him out to take these pictures, he started standing without assistance for the first time.  Maybe he was just waiting for a camera?

Arrow is a LIGHT sleeper.  He typically only naps in the car, and he ends up in my bed halfway through the night.  He is a big cuddle bug, and since he’s not walking, still gets carried around a lot.  Not many people get to see his personality since he’s shy, but he can get so tickled.  He loves shoes and socks and thinks they’re so funny when we put them on.  He says his sibling names, “hi” and “bye,” “cracker” (his favorite food!), “kit-TY” when he sees a cat, “dog” on occasion, and he emulates a lot of sounds.

I sure love that little dude, even if I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in 6 months.

He’s lucky he’s cute.

~~~~

My church is in a 40 Days of Prayer Campaign, and as a part of that my pastor is writing a devotional a day for 40 days.  I had the honor of doing a guest post for him on Day 28!  You can check it out here…and you should check out his other posts, as well!

Virtual Tour of My Favorite Place!

The problem with blogging so rarely is I have so much that I want to write about that I don’t know what to pick.  So maybe I should just PICK SOMETHING ALREADY!

A few weeks ago, we invited Dana and Nichole to come visit us.  (Nichole is a cousin who has graciously been staying with The Girls and helped them with this transition.)  Since we don’t get them down here often and it was a quiet weekend, I decided we needed to do All The Things that make our little corner of Florida special!  Of course, at the top of the list, was The Lighthouse.

Not everyone understands why I love The Lighthouse so much.  That is OK.  You can support my kind of crazy without understanding it.

I was first introduced to The Lighthouse in 2012.  However, this past year has really intensified my love of it.  It is a beautiful place I can go to renew my spirit.  Most lighthouses have some sort of commercial/tourist twist, but not this one.  It’s just the way it was left.

The kids and I have gotten to know The Lighthouse and the surrounding nature pretty well over the past year.  Thanks to a few field trips, the boys can name the species of butterfly and occasionally the birds that they encounter.  We can identify horse mint and prickly pear cactus and the milkweed that the Monarchs congregate on in October.  Oh, and the gators.  But those are pretty easy to identify.

We were very fortunate on our most recent adventure because there was a lot of wildlife.  It was a warmer day after a series of cold ones, and I suppose the animals were enjoying the sunshine just as much as we were.  Also, I rarely bring my camera there (unless, of course, I’m doing an official shoot,) since I have a non-walking baby and half the time we end up in the ocean.  However, this time, I had plenty of people to help with Arrow, so I splurged and documented our excursion with my real camera instead of taking the poor quality cell phone pictures I’m usually uploading to Instagram.

Although, I am NOT a nature photographer by trade.  Just keep that in mind throughout the next few minutes and show some grace, s’il vous plait.

SO, come along with me – I will give you a little virtual tour of my favorite place! Come on in, the water’s fine!  (Well, actually, it’s cold this time of year.  But worth it.)

There were ducks all over the place that day!

We started out at the levee, about half a mile from The Lighthouse. 

Talk about walking on egg shells, I mean, oyster shells!

Let’s keep walking, shall we?  (Sorry about the cheesy foot pictures, I promise this is the last one.  I may have possibly bought these shoes for the specific purpose of hiking at The Lighthouse.  And check out the awesome tribal print leggings my mom got me for Christmas!)

We saw this guy on our travels (yikes!)

And this guy!

Josh said this is their album cover!

And we’re finally to the actual Lighthouse!

It may have been January, but these chicks could not resist the call of the ocean!  (It was a little nippy, though – those high steps aren’t staged!)

And of course my children are good Floridians that don’t have nerve endings in their feet!  I love this picture!

Well, that’s that!

Except for this guy, who said, “Don’t let the marsh hit you on your way out!”

That Leap.

Alternatively Titled…The Secret I’ve Been Keeping from Myself

I think it’s about time for the blog posts to be…about less epic things.  I’m really ready to be blogging about the kids’ extracurricular choices and what dark chocolate I’ve been trying lately and the Sherlock Special.  (“Well, Kara, maybe if you blogged more than once a month, you could do that.”  Duly noted.  But I really don’t see how that’s related.)

So here’s a little back-story to my story:

A) When Josh and I (and Ava) moved to this area, it was never thought to be where we planned to live the rest of our days.  We moved here because Josh really, really needed a better paying job, and there happened to be a job here.

B) For years, Josh and I have dreamed of going somewhere else.  Although we have talked about a number of places, there are probably about three parts of the country that we gravitate towards.  Probably #1 on our list has always been the greater Atlanta area.

C) Josh has gotten a lot of calls/e-mails from job head hunters over the past five or so years, and many of them have been for jobs in the greater Atlanta area.  However, his job and our lives here are good enough that he’s never applied for any of them.  We were in a good place and could afford to be picky.

D) My brother-in-law has been talking to Josh about joining him at his company for over a year.  When we signed a new lease on our house last summer, we made it month-to-month just in case something came of this.  However, we had a lot going on with family that seemed more pressing and I didn’t worry too much about a job that was still hypothetical.

E) IN THE MEANTIME, we have built lives here.  On what was meant to be temporary ground, we have had three more children.  We have made the transition to becoming a homeschooling family and are a part of what I’m convinced is the best homeschool community in the world.  We’ve invested in a church adventure for seven years.  Josh has developed his developing skills (ha!), and I have learned how to shoot a camera and have a group of people who want to be on the other side of my lens.  Life is what has happened while we were making other plans.*

So I guess the back story is pretty much the story.  The time has come for us to relocate our family to an area that we have been talking/dreaming about for a while, and I’m having a hard time finding the joy in it because I kind of love it here now and moving a family of 6 is hard, dag nab it!  AND, luckily for my readers, although Josh starts his new job February 1st, we are not moving the family until the end of the school year.  Which will allow for plenty of time for me to go through all sorts of 30ish Year Old Moving Angst before it’s all been said and done.  Like the slow removal of a bandage, God’s going to be peeling back everything I let my heart hide behind and reveal the ugliness for what it is.  And you get to be along for the ride!  You lucky thing, you!

So this is it.  2016 will be the year we take That Leap.

I might need you to hold my hand.

 

*Paraphrase of Saunders/John Lennon quote – lest you think it came from my own brain!

Top 15 [Pink Shutterbug] Photos of 2015

Last year I did a post on my favorite pictures of the year and I think it was a good exercise for me.  I was thinking this year was not that “big” of a year for photography, but the more I reflected on it, the more I realized this year had some distinctive qualities:

Newborns!  Between friends and new and old clients, this ended up being the year of the newborn!  I believe I did ten newborn shoots this year.  I’m sure that’s not a big number for a lot of photographers, but it was for me!

School Pictures  I was asked last school year to shoot the children’s pictures for the year book for our Classical Conversations campus, and for whatever reason they asked me back again.  It’s actually really great because I am partnered with an amazing lady that handles all of the organizational aspects, leaving me free to just shoot.  I wish I could take Angela with me to all my shoots!

The Lighthouse  I have found a “sweet spot,” both for photography and the renewal of my spirit.  I have come home with sand in my shoes and on the bottom of the camera bag many times this year!

SO, I have done my best to select 15 of my favorite photos of the year.  Most of these are for clients but a few are personal.  They are not in any particular order.

#1

One of my clients always puts together an amazing styled shoot for her family for Valentines Day.  Valentines is her anniversary and birthday, so she pulls out all the stops.  Really, this glitter was just the icing on the cake!

#2

I started to get interested in nursing photography when I started to see some amazing classy breastfeeding pictures taken by other photographers.  Fortunately, my friend Steffany is the same kind of crazy as me and was up to a Mommy and Me shoot!  And I’ve had the opportunity to do some nursing shots for some other ladies since then, too!

#3

My friend Stephanie had her first baby this year, and although I don’t live close enough to her to do all their photos (although I’d love to!), I had the honor of doing her maternity.  The back light and the tall brown grass here?!  I was freaking out just a little bit!

#4

I shot this little guy’s sister’s newborn pictures four years ago in the same house, and we tried to recreate a lot of poses.  It was fun recreating, but it was also fun applying everything I’ve learned since then.

#5

One of my favorite things about newborn shoots is capturing the connection between mother and baby, and of course it’s even more special when it’s a family that I’m close to!

#6

They aren’t photos that bring about warm fuzzy feelings, and it’s not the photo shoot that I would ever want to have to do, but I had the honor of taking some photographs to remember my best friend’s son.  I just can’t leave Asher off this list because he is a significant little guy.  You can read more of his story

#7

I had never shot a senior shoot up until this point, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do!  This guy totally surprised me; he came with multiple outfits and lots of inspiration!  I also got to try out a spot I had been wanting to shoot at for a long time!

#8

I love the composition of this shot so much!  (Taken against the lighthouse, of course!)

#9

This little lady was a pioneer for me – my first newborn to pose on an elephant!

#10

When you’re having a tough time getting the 3 year old in the mood for pictures, it’s nice to see a dandelion nearby!

#11

I just can’t handle the cute!

#12

Always an honor to shoot for another homeschool family.  Especially at the lighthouse.  Especially when they have such amazing hair!

#13

Lighthouse again with a dear friend.  We were in the water on Halloween.  I guess I can only speak for myself…but Totally. Worth. It.

#14

This has got to be my favorite sibling pose in the history of ever.  And kudos to this little guy for letting me lay a naked baby on his face!

#15

We got a lot of special pictures of Gigi on Thanksgiving, but as a photographer, this one is my favorite.

Well, there you have it, the Pink Shutterbug 2015 in a nut shell!

Oh, and Happy New Year!

There really should be words by now.

Things are the same…and different.

We actually had a nice Christmas.  Because of all the circumstances, we basically had to pack a month worth of Christmas prep into a week.  (A LOT of Christmas prep goes on at this hiz-ouse because that is my brand of crazy!)  It’s the first year that Josh hasn’t had to help me stuff Christmas cards, but Christmas cards got out.  (Good thing we have kids old enough to fold and stick now!)  Each child got an individual shopping date, even if it meant that Ava and I had to be there and back again before the sun rose two days before Christmas.  (Which, by the way, she LOVED.  How did I feel about it?  NEXT TIME, COFFEE COMES FIRST!)  I baked for preschool teachers and made treats for neighbors and presents were bought and wrapped at the eleventh hour.  Even though I knew we could get a “pass” this year for anything we didn’t do, I think I needed to DO.  The comfort of tradition and the marathon of preparations were the distraction I needed at that moment.  I think Glenda would have been baking and wrapping, too, if roles were reversed.

But we didn’t do everything the same.  We didn’t cut down a tree this year, and the tree went up MUCH later than usual.  We didn’t put up outside lights, AND we don’t feel guilty about it.  I never got around to finding my book of Christmas CDs.  I didn’t even find the Christmas jammies for the baby, and I don’t think one of my children wore a festive sweater or shirt.  We fell behind on Advent readings, and we didn’t even start on the Advent calendar until halfway through the month.  My Christmas cookie cutters have not left their drawer.  On Christmas Day, we celebrated with Grandpa Dan and The Girls but then we went to Dennys for dinner instead of worrying about cooking a meal.

~~~~~~~~~~

I have decided that this week might be my favoritest week of the whole year, this week between Christmas and New Years.  This past semester was a particularly exhausting one.  I drove to two co-ops, I drove to gymnastics, I drove to karate, I drove to a number of field trips…between that and the family issues, I think I about drove myself into the ground!  So this week?  The one week out of the year with no extra-curriculars whatsoever??  THIS IS SO BEAUTIFUL.

I spent yesterday making a huge clothing shift.  We got Egan a dresser for Christmas so that his old dresser (which was once Izzy’s dresser, which was once Ava’s dresser, which was once my dresser, which was once my dad’s dresser…) could be used for Arrow.  Considering the fact that all of Arrow’s clothes were exploded around my bedroom and bathroom, this was a much needed change!  So I spent the day boxing up Egan’s clothes that were too small, unboxing clothes for Arrow, and organizing the whole thing.

The funny thing is, it made me think a lot of Glenda.  You see, Glenda was SERIOUS about children’s clothes.  I think that that was a side effect of adopting four girls at one time.  She was the queen of the clothing rotation.  She was constantly rotating their clothes for the seasons and giving me things for Ava that we would later pass back for the next child.  I have never really had to shop for clothes for Ava.  And, honestly, I haven’t had to shop much for the boys, because even though she doesn’t have boys, Glenda just knew how to score clothes.  She was a mean consignment shopper, and also seemed to always be getting large bags of hand-me-downs from someone or another.  In fact, the last thing I remember doing with her was helping her rotate clothes.  It was the day after Thanksgiving, and she asked me to help her go through the girls’ dressers.

So things are the same, and different.  And I guess it will always be that way.  I’m still here, baking Christmas goodies and sorting clothes.  But something is missing.

This is the part where I write the words.

There should be a myriad of words, thoughts, emotions.  And it all comes down to this.

I have had the honor of watching my husband make the most difficult journey alongside his mother.  He has championed her, supported her, literally held her up when she could not hold herself.

And when he could not fix her, he passed her into the Hands that could.

 

Thanksgiving 2015

When October rolled into November, I wasn’t sure if we would be having a real Thanksgiving celebration this year.

I am so thankful to be proven wrong.

I could not have asked for a better Thanksgiving this year.  Not only was Gigi feeling well enough to participate, but she had all her children and their spouses and children under one roof.  (And my parents got to join in with the fun!)  I really don’t think we’ve had everyone together like that…well…ever.

Leading up to Thanksgiving, the kids and I learned about some hymns of Thanksgiving.  One of them has followed me this week, as I have been reminded

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.  (James 1:17)
Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
mount of thy redeeming love.

Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I’m come;

and I hope, by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!

Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.
Robert Robinson

Gigi’s Crosses Blog Sale!

Alternatively Titled:  I’m Not a Sales Person so Please Be Nice to Me

First things first: An update on Gigi.  Gigi is doing well, although she is ready to be allowed to do things again!  She has a torso scan scheduled for Tuesday and an appointment to interpret the scans on the following Tuesday.  This is to evaluate what the cancer is doing in her lungs and the rest of her body; the brain cancer was so serious, they did not scan the rest of the body at that time.  Please pray that these scans will have good results!  She will hopefully be having a scan of her brain in mid-December after the radiation has had enough time to take effect.

So when Gigi was having chemo in the summer, Ava purchased a small decorative cross and sent it to her.  Gigi loved it and carried it in her purse; she would sit it out on the little table next to her at her chemo treatments.  As it turns out, one of your comments on my blog revealed a story that I did not know: When this sweet lady’s father was battling cancer, Gigi gave her a cross to carry as encouragement.

SO, since we were seeing a cross theme developing, and since our kids wanted to do something to help the family, the idea of Gigi’s Crosses was born.  Josh and I “constructed” the crosses, but the decorating was all on the kids.  They took the crosses to Classical Conversations’ Market Day, and now I’m going to ATTEMPT to sell the crosses online.  (I say ATTEMPT because I am about the worst sales person on the face of the planet.  We’ll see how this goes.)

The purpose of Gigi’s Crosses is 2 fold:

  1. To raise money for Gigi’s family to help cover medical expenses, gas, etc. during this time of sickness.
  2. To be an encouragement to someone else!  These crosses are meant for people who might be suffering and need a reminder of the hope we have in Jesus.  It could be someone who is sick, a family member of a sick person, or someone who has experienced loss.  Of course you don’t have to give the cross to anyone – I’m not the boss of you – but we definitely would like these to be encouraging to others.

Here are the crosses.  Each one is hand made and decorated by a Linker child.  (I was going to try to list each one by who made it, but I’ve already forgotten a lot of them.)  Attached to each cross is a poem about the purpose of the cross on one side and information about Gigi and how this helps her family on the other side.

Cross A

Cross B  (Faith by Izzy)

Cross C

Cross D

Cross E (Cancer Free! by Ava)

Cross F (Creative Face by Ava)

Cross G

Cross H

Cross I  (“G” by Egan)

Cross J (Random Heart)

Cross K

Cross L (Monotone by Egan)

Cross M

Cross N

Cross O

Cross P  (What does this spell?  by Egan)

Cross Q

Well now, wasn’t that nice?

What, I have to talk about what you need to do if you want to buy them?   

So here’s the deal if you want to purchase a cross:

PLEASE E-MAIL ME.  If I have some people facebook commenting (which I won’t even see unless it’s Sunday night,) some people blog commenting, some people Instagram commenting, some people texting, some people telling me word of mouth…I will lose my mind and you won’t get your cross.  So if you would like a cross, please e-mail me about it!  E-mail kara@linksoftsystems.net and give me the following information:

  1. The cross that you would like.  (Or, for bonus points, go ahead and give me your top 3 choices so that if I don’t have your first choice still available it will save me a few e-mails.)
  2. How you would like to pay.  (Options will be PayPal, mailing a check, or if you’re local, you’re welcome to hand me check or cash.)
  3. Your mailing address (unless you will be picking it up or I can give it to you at church or something like that.)

OK, and that’s that.

What, I’m also supposed to tell you how much these cost?  Man, selling stuff is hard!

OK, here’s the deal.  These crosses are for donations, none of the proceeds will go to us at all.  We made them with stuff we had around the house and the important part is the thought that’s behind them.  So I’m going to leave this open-ended.  You can donate whatever you feel led in your heart to give.  Of course, I have hopes of raising some much needed funds for Gigi’s family.  But the second purpose of Gigi’s Crosses is more important than the first.  If you know someone who can use the encouragement and you don’t have much (or anything) to give, well, the encouragement is way more important than the money!  And I know Gigi would agree!

Oh, and one more thing!  Please share the link to this because you know I’m not going to be good at advertising!  If you say anything on those places on the internet that uses hashtags, please use #gigiscrosses.

OK, and I think I’m done for real.  Whew, that was rough.

That Time My One Year Old Took Me Out

Well, this blog is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re gonna get. 

So yesterday’s post was on the serious/spiritual side.  Prepare yo’ self because this post…is not.

In fact, if you are a man or you’ve never nursed a baby before, there’s a strong possibility that you will consider this post TMI.  I give you permission now to gracefully bow out and not burden yourself with what is to come.  I mean, I really won’t know the difference either way.

A few weeks ago when we were out-of-town to spend time with Gigi, we were spending the night with my parents.  Arrow, who is making up for all those times he slept through the night at a ridiculously young age, was up at o’dark thirty nursing, when it happened.  He bit me.

I’m sorry, I didn’t say it loud enough.

HE BIT ME.

There was fire and ice and I screamed and I think I blacked out for a second.  Josh, who was immediately on the alert, must have done something with the baby because the nursing session was definitely over.  And I cried.

Full disclosure, I wept.  For a long time.

I could tell Josh thought that I was going through more than physical pain because he was doing his best to silently comfort me and the baby in hopes of not waking Egan, who was in the floor.  Later, he gingerly asked, “Was it just the physical pain or were you releasing pent up emotions?”

And I truly wish I could have claimed to be releasing the emotions saved up from that very stressful week.  But I had to say, “It was really the pain!”

That morning, I tried to give Arrow a cup of milk for the first time because I just couldn’t bring myself to try to nurse.  He didn’t care for it, and I couldn’t let him not have milk, so I latched him for the first time that afternoon.

I was able to tolerate it at first, but the problem with a bad nursing bite is, every time there is a nursing session, the wound is re-opened.  I had a tooth-shaped hole that wasn’t going away.  And the pain was getting worse.

By Monday night, I couldn’t latch him without verbalizing discomfort.  Finally, on Tuesday, I did what every Millenial would do (WWEMD) and looked to the internet for help.

Ironically, that is when the internet decided it had nothing to say.

That night, I pulled out the ol’ pump in hopes of making something happen.  Ironically, Arrow is 16 months old and it’s the first time I’ve pumped for him at all.

And I will tell you, that pump saved the day.  It was so much more comfortable to pump.  Even though Josh was out of town and I had my nephew and it was certainly NOT THE WEEK I needed to add an hour and a half of pumping to my daily schedule, I made the time for it because it was what kept me from handing Arrow a cup of milk and telling him to have a nice life.

After a day and a half of strict pumping on that side I had to start nursing a few times a day because the pump wasn’t draining the breast well and it was getting engorged enough that it hurt just as much not to nurse as to nurse.  And now, 2 weeks after the fact, I can finally nurse comfortably.

Well, as Ma Ingalls always said, “There is no great loss without some small gain.”  I may have lost blood, tears, and a whole lotta time in this little adventure, but here is what I’ve gained:

  • Arrow is now officially drinking a cup of cows milk a day.  Although I’m not ready to wean, I AM ready to not be his sole milk source, and so we figured out a way to make him drink milk.  It may involve Ovaltine.  Whatever.  Don’t judge me.
  • I now have this picture:

That would be my baby drinking breast milk through a straw.  Can I please, oh please, use it in his senior yearbook, complete with the caption “Drinking mommy’s milk”?

It only seems right.

He’s Still Waiting

There are times when God brings certain Scriptures to my attention time and again.  I’m not saying that I sit down and flip open my Bible and that’s where it lands.  I’m saying that in different places, with different people, the Scripture is brought up and I really have nothing to do with it except my presence.

When we first answered the call to homeschool, it was the “Feeding of the 5,000.”  That story showed up in my life so many times, it was eerie.  I’m sure I haven’t unpacked everything God had to tell me, but I know He definitely had a message for me that year about how I am counting while He is multiplying; about how he has already worked miracles in my life and I am sitting there waiting on a miracle.

Over the past few months, a recurring theme for me has been the Prodigal Son.  While I was writing a camp curriculum on Nehemiah (which is an awesome piece of the Old Testament and worth a blog entry on its own,) I saw Israel’s story of exile and then return to be so similar to the Prodigal Son, that I wrote it into the curriculum.

Later, I was shown how Israel could ALSO be seen as the jealous brother in the story of Jonah.  Israel is both brothers?  Mind.  Blown.

So I got to thinking, Who am I in this story? 

And, honestly, although my upbringing in a minister’s home in the Bible belt has led to me struggling, at times, between the line of legalism and grace, I don’t really see myself as the jealous brother.  At least not right now.  If an unlikely person comes to Christ, I’m not going to be upset about it.

However, to be honest, there are times I’ll be surprised. I’ve grown to be skeptical, cynical, about whether or not people can change.  I am in a generation burnt by people blasting opinions on social media (one of the reasons I just don’t spend much time camped out there any more,) and I think it is really easy for a person to think, “Well, that is who a person is, and they aren’t going to change.”  Especially people who have made it very clear about how they feel about Christianity.

So who am I in this story?  I’m one of the servants in the Father’s household.  I saw the son leave.  I probably heard rumors about what he was up to and listened in a half-interested sort of way.  But he was gone now, and people like that don’t come back.  I have a job to do and I can’t just sit around speculating about the son’s whereabouts.  I may have thought about him a lot at first, but as days passed and turned into weeks and months and years, well, he was probably not a high priority in my mind.

But, the Father?  He was waiting.  He was watching.  I may have even said to a fellow servant, “What is he doing?  He is not coming back!”  And after a while, I didn’t even notice the Father waiting and watching any more.

But He never. stopped.  “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” ( Luke 15:20)

One thing God has convicted me about lately is my lack of patience.  I am in the “microwave generation.”  If things don’t happen within a brief amount of time, they aren’t going to happen at all.  If someone has been cynical about Christ, and they don’t respond well when I invite them to church or Small Group one time, then clearly, they aren’t going to change.

But the change I’m talking about doesn’t come from men, but from God.  And He is still waiting for them.  He is straining his eyes as He peers at the road.  He is anticipating an amazing Homecoming celebration.

And I don’t want to be an indifferent servant.  I want to be waiting with Him.

 

Halloween ’15 (Hey, that rhymes!)

First thing’s first – Gigi is doing MUCH better cognitively, praise God!!!  Thank you so much for all you prayers, and please, keep ’em coming.  She has two more radiation treatments, but beyond that, we’re not sure of the future for her medically.

I have had so many things I’ve wanted to write about and so little time, so I’m making myself take the time to pick one thing and just, you know, write about it.  I’ve picked Halloween because Gigi shared with me that she does not remember it, and I thought she would like to see some pictures!

The day before Halloween, Heather and her husband, Jeremy, shared one of their traditions with the family: pumpkin carving.  I chose to make myself useful by grabbing my camera to document the memories.  Which also conveniently kept me from having to handle pumpkin guts or sharp objects.  That’s a win/win.

Heather and Harlie working on a pumpkin.

Stacey was the only kid who attempted a pumpkin by herself.  It took a sweet forever, but she was diligent and prevailed!!

The batteries on this…whatever you call it…were dead, so Dana was a good sport and pushed Xander all around the yard to distract him from wanting sharp objects!

Arrow getting some Aunt Kristy time!

My newest nephew, Maverick, with Great Aunt Audie.  He is SO SURPRISED to have his picture taken!

My three guys working on a pumpkin together.   Egan had a small saw this close to other people’s hands and no one was injured…it’s a Halloween miracle!

Arrow was released to explore the finer things in life!

And of course he had some help making sure he got the full body pumpkin experience!

What, you want a picture of the finished pumpkins?  What do you think I am, a photographer??? 

The next day was Halloween.  I had brought costumes with us, because I really didn’t know if we’d have an opportunity to actually go to any festivals or Trick or Treating.  So I had the kids wear their costumes all day!  The boys loved it.  How did Ava feel about it?  Well, the boys loved it.

You know the only reason I even consider participating in Halloween is so that I can do a fun theme with the kids.  There were a sheep and a sheep dog.  There were Tinker Bell and Peter Pan.  There was my personal favorite, The Bug Collection.  There were the Kratt Brothers.  (Full disclosure, there was also a year like this one, where they were on their own and wore dress-up clothes and pajamas.)  I realized this year’s theme pretty early because something pretty epic happened for our kids this summer: they were introduced to Star Wars.  We decided IT WAS TIME and watched all 6 movies over the course of a few months.  Suffice to say, it’s all Star Wars, all the time at my house.  (Which, ironically, are the words my dad taught me to the theme song:  “It’s Star Wars, nothing but Star Wars, nothing but Star Wars, all of the time.”  Try it.  You’ll never hear the song the same again!)  SO, we let the kids be ANYTHING THEY WANTED…as long as it was a Star Wars character!

I also did something I never thought I would do…I bought costumes.  Homemade Star Wars costumes?  Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat.  When I realized I could get them off Amazon inexpensively and not have to leave my house…I totally converted to the store bought costume!

We started our day back at Gigi’s house before heading back home for a few days.

First thing was first…

Hugged by a Storm Trooper!

Bribing the Jedi with the ball!

Before we left, I made the kids go ahead and take their Halloween pictures because I knew that I wouldn’t have time later.  Tori was the only one of The Girls game for putting on a costume early, so she joined the Star Wars party!

Group picture with their great grandmother, Mawmaw!

The two Jedi.  Arrow was supposed to be Yoda, but the head piece didn’t come with the rest of the costume.  Jedi Baby is fine!

Tori was a very impressive…Zombie Doll?

She did the make-up herself!

Can you tell Ava really relished the opportunity to NOT smile for pictures?

What a terrifying Storm Trooper!

Captain…somebody.  Storm Trooper/Clone related.

It was specified to me that this was during the Clone War so everyone was a good guy!

Last but not least, Jedi Baby!!!!!!

We did end up doing a little Trick or Treating with the Harrells that night…it was a nice end to a crazy and emotional week.

SO, if anyone wants to make us Dr. Who themed costumes for next year, you can go ahead and get started!

 

The Update I Did Not Want to Type

I was beginning to despair that Arrow would not get a good moment with her.  For the first few days, any time we would hand him to her, he would begin to cry.  Normally, she would get him to warm up to her by sitting in the floor and playing with him, but she simply can’t do that now.  Today, she wasn’t even aware enough to hold a baby.  She had said very little all day and had not expressed any emotions.

When we were leaving, I bent down to hug her while Arrow was on my hip.  He was smiling and chatting.  Unexpectedly, her eyes lit up and she went for that baby.  They touched foreheads and smiled at each other.  There were no cameras around, but I would pay a lot of money for a picture of that moment.

Let’s rewind.  In June, I told you about Josh’s mom, Gigi’s, diagnosis of lung cancer.  Gigi’s cancer was a pretty aggressive type, but we were told that the good part about that was the more aggressive the cancer, the better it responds to treatment.  Gigi immediately started a chemo regimen.  3 days of chemo, 3 weeks off, and so on, and so forth.

Let me just say, true to herself, Gigi handled chemo like a champ.  She was like the poster girl for an excellent cancer patient.  Her side effects were mild; she would feel tired for a few days and food would taste funny.  As the cancer in her body began to shrink, she actually felt better than she had in a long time.  She felt so good, she tried to convince everyone that it would be ok for her to drive herself to her treatments.  I don’t think she ever did that, but between treatments she did make a trip to visit a new grandbaby by herself, as well as taking Harlie to her out of town doctor’s appointments by herself.

After a season of the chemo, she had another body scan.  There was good news and bad news.  The good news was, the growths were shrinking.  The bad news was, there were new lesions on her bones.  So an even more intense chemo plan was introduced.  5 days on, 2 weeks off, and so on, and so forth.  She had another body scan scheduled for November 12th, and we were all hoping to get to use the word Remission at that point.

Fast forward to a week and a half ago.  Josh’s sister, Kristy, called Josh concerned because she was talking to Gigi on the phone and she began to slur her speech.  She talks to her on the phone every day, and this is the first time she had heard this happen.  A few days later, a cousin that is staying with them let the siblings know that Gigi was having some short-term memory loss.  It was thought to be “chemo brain.”

By the weekend, her neurological symptoms were bad enough that Dan decided to take off work Monday and take her to her chemo himself so that he could ask about them.

On Monday, she was sent home without treatment, and an MRI was scheduled for the next day.

Tuesday morning I got the text from Josh.  Brain tumors.

By the afternoon, more information.  Lots of small tumors throughout the brain.  We are looking at weeks.

Josh immediately headed up to be helpful.  He sat with his mom in the hospital and helped bring her home when she was discharged.  The kids and I headed up the next day.  We all needed some time with Gigi.

As you can imagine, our hearts are breaking.  We have thought of many possible scenarios, but I don’t think this one has ever crossed our minds.

IMG_20151029_153032_bnw

Gigi with Maverick yesterday.

I was waiting for a go-ahead to write this post out of respect of family privacy, but I am writing it now because I think it is important for people to know how to pray.  So here is how you can pray for Gigi and the rest of the family:

  1. The Ultimate Miracle.  We are a practical people.  We know where this is likely going.  HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean we believe in God’s healing powers any less.  God may not be done with Gigi yet, and if He isn’t, well…He will take care of this thing.
  2. An Improvement of Cognitive Function.  Right now, Gigi is not able to truly communicate.  Her speech is slurred, she needs assistance in walking, she forgets things almost immediately.  She is now having a radiation treatment that is supposed to shrink the tumors enough to help her sort of become herself again.  Please pray that she will regain who she truly is.  Tonight, Kristy shared with me that she just wants one real conversation with her.  Just one.  I think we all can echo that sentiment.
  3. Comfort and Peace for Gigi.  Because she is not able to communicate, we have no idea how much pain she is feeling.  We have no idea how aware, if at all, she is of the circumstances.  It feels so helpless wondering if she feels helpless!
  4. Dan.  My father-in-law is 13 years Gigi’s senior, and I don’t think he ever imagined having to live life without her.
  5. Adult Children.  Josh has two sisters, Heather and Kristy, who are just now starting families of their own.  Even though they are mamas themselves, they love their mama fiercely and this is not a road any of us were ready to walk down while our children are young.
  6. The Girls.**  Everyone knows that Gigi’s 4 youngest are “The Girls.”  Ages 13, 12, 10, and 7, Gigi is not only their mother, she is the ultimate example of God’s love to them.  When their family broke and they lost their biological parents, she pursued them and adopted them.  She may not have a degree in counseling, but she has dealt with all the repercussions of broken attachment and made them a family.  When Harlie got sick, she became nurse and caretaker as well.

And this is why I am begging God for a miracle.  For us, it’s a tragedy.  But for The Girls to experience More Loss, and at this level?  I cannot comprehend it.

So we covet your prayers.

**If you encounter The Girls in real life, please be sensitive to the fact that they may not completely understand everything that is happening.  It is fine to ask how Glenda is doing, but please don’t ask about the specifics of her condition.**

9 Years of Parenting so Why Do I Feel Like a Novice?

I will be driving all day on her birthday and then will have to go right back into All the Extracurriculars, and it could be weeks before I can stop to breath, I mean, blog.

In approximately 4 days, she will be 9.

And that was ok until a friend who also happens to have birthed a child on October 11th, 2006, pointed out to me that that means we are halfway there.

Ohhhhh.  Was that really necessary?

But it’s true.  It’s hard to believe that in 9 more years, we’ll be done. 

Well, not completely done.  I mean, there are at least 3 more.  And I know she’ll still need help with some things.  But our relationship with her will drastically change.  But, by and large, [with our first child] we’ll be done.  OK?

And, really, I kind of still feel like I’m new to this parenting thing.  Truth be told, 9 years in and we are still figuring this thing out.  Which makes me worry that we will never figure this thing out.

I guess not.  Parenting, I believe, is the most humbling, sanctifying experience that I will ever have.  Some runners-up are homeschooling (which is a part of it, but I’m listing it separately because not all parents homeschool,) dealing with Comcast, touch screens, church committees, and trying to read a graphic novel out loud to a 4 year old.  **shudder**  But parenting certainly tops them all!

So, I’m going to set aside all of my insecurities about parenting for a couple minutes so I can brag on my girl.  This girl may be the only one I ever get.  (May!  I don’t know what God’s plan for us is!  May!)  So I think I tend to heap all of my girl expectations upon her.  Between that and being a textbook self-driven first child, it’s amazing that her sanity is still mostly intact.  So cheers to Ava surviving the first half of our 18 year experiment, I mean, experience!  Here are some awesome things about her…

My girl is tall.  I don’t know what genetics are in play here, but she is about up to my shoulder.  If she doesn’t slow down, she’ll be taller than me before she hits her teenage years.  Of course, this comes to her advantage a lot.  People tend to think she is older than she really is, and she can ride all the amusement park rides already.  Although she doesn’t complain about it, I know it can have disadvantages.  She loves gymnastics but doesn’t have the best build for it, and she tends to make friends with girls that are small for their age, which I know might make her feel even bigger than she really is.

My girl loves…boys.  Not in the romantic sense (yikes!), but she has decided she genuinely enjoys being around boys.  Since she has 3 brothers and no sisters, I am definitely counting this as a blessing.  Before Arrow was born, she was ardently hoping for a sister.  Something has definitely changed in the past year, because now she’s asking for 2 more brothers and no more sisters!  At homeschool co-ops, she definitely wants to hang around the boys. (I can’t say that this is always reciprocated.)  She loves Star Wars and explosions, and has discovered that these things make up a big part of Boy World.

My girl is smart.  And I can’t say that has anything to do with her teacher; her studies are almost completely independent now.

My girl is a lot more organized and disciplined than I am.  She has started keeping her room clean.  She has a daily morning cleaning/Bible reading routine before I am even awake.  She cleans up the school room every day when we are done.

My girl is becoming spiritually sensitive.  She has expressed interest in accepting Christ as Savior.  (Although she wants to be baptized, we are taking a slower path to baptism with her to make sure she is completely confident of her faith.  I know that not everyone would agree that this is the right way to approach it, and that is ok, but we have prayed about it and talked with our pastor and feel comfortable with asking her to wait.)

My girl is creative.  She loves the process of creating stories.  Since that is something I might personally love, myself, I hope that this passion continues!  (I’ve already lost the ballet battle, surely I can have the writing one!)

My girl is developing endurance and the ability to do things that she doesn’t love.  In August, we started exercising together.  Our “workout” includes an upper-body workout to help her in gymnastics, but it also includes jogging.  Now, jogging is decidedly NOT HER THING.  And we have had some rough runs.  I may have once uttered the words, “If you go in your pants, I’ll wash them – KEEP RUNNING!”

But, you know?  The child can now jog a whole mile without stopping to walk.  (She’s one of those with fast-twitch muscles that can sprint and walk, sprint and walk, and STILL fly by you at the end of the race!  Like those basketball players they used to set lose at cross country meets.  **sigh**)  But more importantly than developing the ability to jog at a steady pace (which is VERY IMPORTANT,) she is starting to more often choose to do it without complaining.  Which is SO HUGE.  And makes me so much prouder than any athletic thingamabob she could achieve.

Now I just need someone to convince her that running a 5K with me would be fun.  She seems to think that running with thousands of people would not be at all fun.  WHERE HAVE I GONE WRONG?

My girl is a natural leader, whether her people want to be led or not.  She could lead a pack of playing cards if she took a hankering to it.  Of course, there are a lot of issues there that aren’t completely positive, like constantly reminding her that she is not her brothers’ parent and that she can’t dictate how her company plays with her toys.  But this is a birthday post, so we are talking about positive things!

When we were shopping for her winter duds, she picked out an athletic shirt that said “Lead the Pack.”  I told her that that meant that meant she had to run a 5K with me.  (Because I am oh so subtle.)  She explained that the pack was her brothers and that she leads them.

Well.

She’s right.

But don’t tell her that.

 

A Few Favorites

Well, hi there!  We’ve made it through hump day, and I thought I’d celebrate with a little writing!  However, I can’t bring myself to write anything deep, so I thought I’d cover a topic of utmost importance…some of my current favorite things!

~ The Best Fitting Panty.  I had not bought any new undies since, well, the last time I blogged about buying undies.  (And I have to insert here that I just took WAY TOO MUCH time trying to find that blog post and I CANNOT FIND IT.  But I know I wrote it!  It was titled something like “My Underwear Makes Me Feel Like A Super Hero” and I know it’s not just in my head because I remember several people speaking to me about it.  At least I think they did…)  (Edit::  Josh saved the day!  I don’t know why I didn’t find it.  It must have had a perception filter.)  (3,245 points if you caught the perception filter reference!)  And let’s just say that my special time of month/back-up when I’m behind on laundry panties were threatening to fall apart.  (In their defense, I bought them when I was a senior in high school, and they have served me well for 11 years!)  SO, the last time I was in Wal-Mart, which happened to be with all of my children on a day Josh was out of town and we were trying to accomplish All the Shopping for the month, I grabbed a pack of panties.

The brand of these panties?  “The Best Fitting Panties.”  That title was a little red flag to me, however the price was right and I didn’t see any Hanes around, so I snagged them.

Later, as I was taking them out of the pack to pre-wash them, I was looking at them thinking, “I just don’t think these are going to be that awesome.”

WELL.

I don’t know what they did to these panties, but they really are The Best Fitting Panties!

~ Men’s Basketball Shorts.  On that same exhausting shopping trip, I decided to drag my children to the athletic section so I could quickly grab a pair of running shorts.  I somehow managed to lose two pairs of shorts over the summer, so I was down to one pair and I’ve actually been doing pretty good at exercising 2 or 3 times a week, so there was a need for another pair of shorts.

A quick look-over of the women’s exercise clothes revealed that there are two ways women dress to exercise right now: either very short shorts or skin tight pants (basically leggings, but I guess the fabric is a little thicker.)  Not only are there modesty issues there, but also…who wants their clothes to touch them when they exercise???

So I headed to the men’s department.

Now, I realize that there are other stores that probably carry exactly the kind of shorts that I wanted in the ladies’ department.  But that would involve going to other stores.

SO, I bought a pair of men’s basketball shorts.

And let me tell you.

These things are SO COMFORTABLE.  And they have pockets.

If cross-dressing is wrong, I don’t want to be right!

~A fun free font!  I’ve really been digging the Appleberry font lately.  It makes everything better.  You should try it!

~ The Piano Guys.  The older I get the more…mellow…my musical preferences are.  I love that these guys cover a wide variety, from pop to classical.  My personal favorite?  Their Lord of the Rings Medley!  It will  make you want to be a better person and go watch all 6 movies…all at the same time!  (But I wouldn’t mind a little more “Orc Music.”)

~ World Market’s White Chocolate Mocha Mix.  Unfortunately, ever since conceiving Arrow, hot coffee has not really been agreeable to me.  (You better believe I can consume some McDs iced coffee, though!)  For those mornings that I just really want to start out with something hot in a mug so I can feel like a real homeschool mom, this hot chocolate mix is just right.

~Special K Protein Shakes.  For pretty much all the other mornings.  I made a lot of breakfast smoothies last year…but what can I say, this year has been busy!

~ Downton Sixbey.  Pretty much everything Jimmy Fallon touches turns to funny, and in this drought between seasons of my favorite period shows, these videos are just right!

~ Staying off facebook.  I  had let facebook become a big part of my life, to the point where I felt like it wasn’t possible to get off.  I convinced myself that it would inconvenience others for me to not be on there, since that is how so many people communicate, send invitations, etc. these days.

Well, long story short, God finally had me look square in the face of the lies I had been telling myself.  And I signed off.  So now I’m on once a week to check notifications, and that’s it.

It’s like a caffeine addiction…it’s hard at first, but after a few days, you start to wonder what the big deal was.

And now I can focus on more important things.  Like reading.  And sleeping.  And getting my work done.  Oh, and Instagram and Pinterest.

It’s not like I’m trying to be a hero.

A Shout-Out from the Boy Mom Trenches

Well, maybe blogging 3 times a week was too big of an expectation to have for myself.  Let’s start with once a week.

The good news is, we survived the first week of All the Extracurriculars.

Also, I now have a 7 year old boy in the house.

When I was thinking about writing Israel’s birthday blog post, I tried to think of all the sweet, sappy things I would typically write.

But I just wasn’t feeling that.

SO, I’m going to write about quirky things, instead!  Even though I have 3 boys, it wasn’t until recently that I started to feel like a “boy mom.”  Ava is just so high maintenance (I think it’s a first child thing) that I had not had time to put a whole lot of thought into the implications of having so many boys.  But as they get bigger and rougher and louder, it has been brought to my attention that I am, indeed, a “boy mom.”  But then I try to forget about it because the thought is just a little terrifying.  I was sure that I would have a house of girls, so that we could reenact Little Women on Saturday nights.  I didn’t really grow up with boys, so everything that is happening is new to me.

I guess it validates the saying, “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.”

In other words, I’M WINGING IT.

So here are some peculiarities about boys that I’ve discovered since becoming a “boy mom:”

  • LEGOS.  The boys love Legos, and I think that’s awesome.  I’m not going to pretend to know how it works, but I know that Legos are good for the brain.  (I also know that they can occupy my children for large blocks of time.  Hallelujah.)So my beef is not with the toys themselves (the prices, however, are a different story.)  The peculiarity, to me, is how many series are a spin-off of Legos.  Right now, the boys are really into Lego Ninjago.  At some point, someone decided to take 4 Lego ninjas with the personalities of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and make a show and book series about them.

    A Lego crafted after a show I can understand.  But a show crafted after a Lego?  I am still scratching my head.  And still trying to figure out where to draw the line with such…toy violence?

  • EXHIBITIONISM.  We are trying to at least teach them not to streak when we have company.

  • ALL THE VIOLENCE.  I know this is controversial so if you fall into a different school of thought you can cover your ears and say “LALALA.”James Dobson explains in Bringing Up Boys that God places an inner desire within boys to battle.  (He explains it so much better, there’s something about a testosterone flood and some other stuff….go read the book!)  I definitely see that in my boys, and even though we don’t really have “war toys” (light sabers and bow and arrows don’t count,) everything is all fighting, all the time.  I’m still trying to figure out how to balance cultivating a respect for life and proclivity towards peace while honoring their God-given desires that will hopefully someday turn into them being protectors of their families, their faith, and maybe even their country.
  • NIGHT-TIME POTTY TRAINING.  Israel seems to finally be out of the woods, but I’m wondering if Egan will ever get there.  There are some things that can’t be taught, folks.
  • COW LICKS.  Israel’s whole head is a cow lick.  Seriously, if his hair gets much longer than it is in these pictures, he starts to look like a peacock.
  • TRANSFORMERS.  It’s like the ultimate boy obsession.  Not old enough to watch the feature length explosions disguised as movies?  Don’t worry, there’s Transformers Prime.  Not old enough for the cartoon?  Don’t worry, there’s Rescue Bots.  Now that I think about it, maybe toy violence isn’t so bad!

Despite the winging it, I think I’m going to really like this “boy mom” thing.  I may not have a clue about football or marshal arts or necktie usage, but boys give the best cuddles, and that’s something I understand!  I may not have had a lot of experience with boys, but I have been blessed to spend a lot of time with two wonderful men: my dad and my husband.  My eldest son shares a lot of personality traits with them both, and I could not have asked for anything better.

Now, if you need me, I’ll be trying to figure out how to get the pee smell out of their couch while wondering how the rubber rat got stuck to the ceiling.

First Month of School! (AND my FIRST ever free download!)

Well, hi there!  We have found ourselves already wrapping up week four of our school year, so I thought that if I was going to write a “beginning of the year” post, the time would have to be now!

Remember when two years ago I meticulously documented the first day of school with photographs and blogged a detailed description of that day?

Yeah, that’s not happening this time.

But I did manage to get our traditional first day of school photo…

I know, who are those gigantic people?!

Every year I pick a theme, and this year, as you can see, it’s “Linker’s Gone Tribal.”  I realize that this is sort of a continuation of last year’s theme, “Team Linker,” but I ended up using it because…

  • The tribal thing appears to be trendy, and we are oh-so on top of the trends around these parts.  (Psyche!)
  • We are studying ancient history this year, and there are a whole lotta TRIBES involved in ancient history!
  • First and foremost, I was able to recycle a lot of things from Arrow’s birthday party to decorate our bulletin board!

The first month of school has gone very smoothly.  I was a little anxious because Israel’s workload going from kindergarten to first grade has basically doubled, and I didn’t know how well he would do having to sit for that long.  So far, so good!  Arrow is now officially mobile, so I wasn’t sure how he would do.  So far, he’s been content scooting around the school room under our feet!  Probably my biggest challenge is Egan, who is constantly interrupting instruction to tell me SOMETHING or another.  Waiting his turn will probably be his biggest lesson this year!  Fortunately, a few weeks ago he started PreK, which has given us some quiet school time and him a chance to run around on the playground like a hooligan, which is just not something I can provide for him right now.  (He’s still with us on Mondays and Fridays, so he gets the best of both worlds!)

But honestly, I feel like this past month was just a teaser, because this coming week, THE EXTRACURRICULARS BEGIN.

In other words, our week is about to look like this:

Sunday: Morning church, afternoon archery for Ava (shhhhh, don’t tell her, it’s still a surprise,) evening Small Group.

Monday: School at home, afternoon gymnastics for all the kids, evening karate for Israel, late night jog with Liz.

Tuesday: Egan at PreK, Classical Conversations, Pre-Essentials for Ava (while I am picking Egan up,) home!, Ava and I “work out”

Wednesday:  Early morning school at home, art/music co-op, pick up Egan from pre-K, go somewhere for our history lesson, gymnastics for Ava, evening church.

Thursday: School at home, pick up Egan from pre-K, evening karate for Israel, Ava and I “work out”.

Friday: School at home aaaaaand done!  I am going to do my best to do our monthly grocery shopping on the first Friday of each month, starting with a lunch date with Cynthia’s at Sams!

All of this is daunting, but that Wednesday is especially scary looking!  BECAUSE, as we enter our 3rd year of homeschooling, it will be my 1st year teaching any kind of co-op class!  I will be teaching a music and drama class for elementary age students as well as a music ‘n’ movement class for preschoolers.  I am both excited and terrified.  Excited because my children are desperately in need of some musical education AND I do love music, but terrified because I have never attempted to teach music before and it has been a looooooooooooong time since I have done anything with music.  (Long story short, I was involved in All Things Musical growing up, but I haven’t been able to do anything with it since Ava was born because there was a greater need in children’s ministry than music ministry everywhere I went.)

So, all that goes to say, I appreciate all your musical and dramatic prayers this Wednesday.

And if anyone wants to come teach it for me, don’t be shy!

~~~~~~~~

FREE DOWNLOAD!

SO, I love writing and Josh and I have been talking about how I need to pursue that passion more.  The easiest way for me to do that initially would be to spend more time writing the blog that I already have!  I’m not going to make any promises on how many times I will write a week or anything like that (3 would be nice, but no promises!), but I did think it would be fun to kick off my “Return to the Blog” with a free download for whoever wants it!

A few weeks before school started, God started drawing me to 1 Corinthians 13.  I know it is a very commonly used Bible passage, but I felt like we needed to start our school year by really unpacking what “love” means by using this passage.  The kids and I analyzed each “Love is” statement, and it ended up taking us 15 days to do it.  I realized that this could be a handy resource for other parents, not because there’s anything magical about what I did, but because sometimes our brains are tired and we just want to do a pre-written Bible study!

AND I WILL TELL YOU.  God really used this process to prick my own heart.  So don’t get into this unless you are ready to think about whether the love in your own life measures up to God’s standard of love!

So here’s some disclaimers, because you know I have to have some of those…

  • I’ve never done a free download before, so I have no idea if this will actually work.
  • I used the Holman Christian Standard Bible.  If you want to use a different translation, obviously, you can.
  • I didn’t get out a Lexicon or anything like that with this study.  Other than the one Greek word I had to look into, I stuck with the English.  I’m sure if you dug deeper and looked into the original language, it would be that much better!
  • I was a counseling major, not a theology major.  Please look at this with grace!  (And make any necessary corrections with love – or just correct it when you teach it to your own kids, depending on how you roll!)

OK, so here goes…

The “Love Is…” Bible Study in .docx format

The “Love Is…” Bible Study in PDF format

 

 

A Whole Year of Arrow!

So, as I mentioned, Arrow turned one.  As our family doctor said when I brought him to his one year check-up, “That was a fast year!”

So I know I did a terrible job about blogging about his little guy this past year.  But you know where I made up for it?  INSTAGRAM.  I got my first smart phone a few months before he was born, and although I don’t care for touch screens or being connected to the web at all hours – I DO LIKE THE INSTAGRAM.  (And the Pinterest app.  That is very nice!)  Instagram is my baby book.  In fact, since I never kept a baby book for the others (sorry, guys!), Arrow is the first child I’ve had that I will be able to tell him when he first ate rice cereal or went to the fair or banged on a pot with a spoon.  So if I fail to answer some questions you may have about Mr. Arrow in this blog post,  hop on over to Instagram, #arrowgram.

Here are some things I thought I would record about his first year before I completely forget it all:

Homeschooling with a Baby

As I’ve mentioned once or seventeen times, I had a lot of anxiety about homeschooling with a baby in the house.

I was assured by a sweet friend, “Homeschooling with a baby is easy.  Homeschooling with a toddler is hard!”

And now that I’m getting closer to that age with Arrow, I wholeheartedly agree: last year was easy!  He was such a chill baby as long as he was being held, and I was able to hold him…A LOT!  Arrow used the Rock ‘N’ Play until he was 6 months old, and I was able to pull that sucker right into the school room.  If I wasn’t holding him for his nap, which I probably was, he could nap right there!

I taught (I am using the word teach very loosely!) the preschool class during our little art co-op, and Arrow was right there, in the stroller or sometimes even worn.  I brought him to the kids’ classrooms with me during Classical Conversations…I think the only time I left him in the nursery is when I took the class pictures!  He was really an easy, peasy little side kick all year, and for that I am so grateful!

Milestones

If Arrow’s birth story was any kind of foreshadowing to anything in his life, it’s this: THE CHILD TAKES HIS TIME.  He didn’t roll over until the day before he turned 6 months old. He didn’t sleep in an actual crib until he was 6 months old.  We started him on baby food at 6 months, but until recently he had a very sensitive gag reflex to anything that wasn’t a puree.  He didn’t cut a single tooth until a week before his first birthday.  He didn’t start really crawling until a week ago, and even now, it’s not really a crawl; he scoots around on his bottom with an occasional army crawl if he REALLY wants something.

And since I have four children?  I am SO THANKFUL that he has taken his time.  There are times I have looked at him and said, “I should be worried about you…but I’m just thankful!”

Selfishly thankful that he’s not super mobile yet, but also thankful that I can savor his babyhood as long as possible.  It will be gone in a twinkling.

(And don’t worry, he doesn’t have any big developmental delays!)

The Hippie Stuff

Breastfeeding

Arrow is still “full-time” breastfed.  I went for 13 months with Izzy and 15 months with Egan.  I like the idea of getting closer to Arrow’s 2nd birthday, but since we have reached that big 12 month goal (Can I get a What? What?), I am happy with whatever “extended” nursing we can fit in.  He has never tasted formula and he didn’t have the scary weight loss issue like Egan did.  We haven’t (knock on wood) had issues with mastitis or thrush like I’ve had in the past.  I’m thankful to have made it this far and for the ship to have sailed so smoothly this time around!

(I was tempted to say something here about how the longer I breastfeed, the less I wear the cover in public.  Unless I’m in close quarters with a man I’m not related to, I’ve found that the use of the cover is drawing attention to something that otherwise would not be noticed.  But that is controversial, and I don’t post about the controversial unless it’s of the upmost importance.)

(Oooops.)

Cloth Diapering

The funny thing about cloth diapering is when you first start to do it, you do a lot of research on it and everything is all cloth diapers, all the time.  But once you get into the groove of it, it just becomes a part of your life and you don’t feel the need to,  you know, blog about it anymore.

The great thing about using cloth with Arrow is all the diapers we have were actually purchased for Egan.  That’s right, the only cloth related purchases we have made since Arrow was born has been the detergent.  Since I feel like we got our money’s worth and then some out of the diapers with Egan, every time I put a cloth on Arrow, it’s just bonus money we are saving!

Having said that, I also don’t let myself feel guilty for the times I use disposables.  I didn’t even get the cloth out until he was about 6 weeks old.  (Remember, he was a week early, and it really threw off my groove!)  Between travelling, getting behind on laundry, and weeks that I just need a mental break from something, he probably averages being in disposables 2 (or 3!) days a week.  And I have a peace about that.

The way I see it, when we weren’t doing cloth, we averaged a case and a half of diapers every month.  If I can only buy a case of diapers every other month, then that’s a success!

 

Baby Food

I have totally failed in the crunchy category here.  Josh and I decided that I would NOT attempt to make baby food this time around.  (I made the majority of Egan’s baby food.) But then we started buying it, and I was reminded of the prices, and started second guessing my decision.

Enter, the Coupon Fairy.  A sweet lady in our art co-op started showing up on my doorstep with nice, organic baby food.  She said it helped her out to buy the baby food because then she would get a gift card to buy her other groceries with, and she was just so glad to have someone to give it to.

I really have no idea.  But I am so happy to help!!

Baby Wearing

Here’s the thing about baby wearing.

Or I should say, here’s the thing about baby wearing in Florida.

IT’S HOT!

But I do still love it when it’s practical!  I’m not one of those that has multiple slings/wraps/carriers to match with my outfits.  I still have the Sleepy Wrap and I LOVE how it distributes his weight.  Camp was the week of his birthday and, as it was not stroller friendly, we traipsed all over that place with the good ol’ Sleepy Wrap.  (IT WAS HOT.  But his weight was distributed!)

I did borrow a ring sling for a season.  I do like how much easier it is to throw on and go, but all of the weight was concentrated on one side of the body, and I couldn’t get it to be comfortable.  I did recently use a coupon to purchase a fitted sling, seeing how this kid will probably be carried for another 6 months or so.  I like how lightweight and easy it is, but I’m still skeptical to how comfortable it will be!

Having said all this, I also don’t let myself feel guilty about using the stroller.  We have a great, lightweight stroller, and I can honestly open it up and get it situated faster than I can the wrap.  There are just some places where the stroller works better.  IT’S HOT.

Personality

I saved the best for last!  Our first 3 kids have such different personalities, we were VERY curious to see what would happen with the 4th.  (Especially since Egan has the typical last child personality, but he’s now not the last child!)

He is just the absolutely sweetest little guy.  He was so serious at first, I think he was 4 months old before I could catch his smile on camera.  He sucks his two middle fingers to self-soothe (no paci for him!) and even though he’s much more on-the-go than he used to be, he still has the best snuggles.

When he wasn’t crying, he was quiet for a long time (we kept him with us in church until he was 10 months old because he was quiet and it was easier not to disrupt his nursing schedule!)  But now he is a talk-er to rival any of his siblings!  Of course it’s not English yet, but the guy certainly has something to say.

Speaking of siblings, he ADORES his!  I can honestly say his first intelligible words were their names!  (Egan first…that’s the one he hears us yell the most!  But “A-ya” is not far behind!)  It has been really sweet to see the bond between Ava and Arrow.  This is the first younger sibling that she has been old enough to really help with, and the relationship is just so different than what I’ve seen in the past.

And I suppose that’s that!  Instinctual Mama Love (yes, I just made that up,) is amazing.  It’s hard to understand that a little person can live inside of your body…and then when he comes out of your body, he will take a little piece of your heart with him…and he will keep it, his whole life, and there’s nothing that that Mama can do but love him fiercely, because that’s what happens when someone has a piece of your heart.

It’s hard to understand that this can happen once.  But what’s even more incredible is that it can happen over, and over, and over again.

Well, I can testify that it can happen at least four times.

Because that has been my experience.

And, I believe, God created Instinctual Mama Love to show us how He feels about us.

The story behind the pictures:  I didn’t have a formal one year portrait session for Arrow, because I was going to keep things “simple.”  So Steffi snagged a couple shots of him during our anniversary pictures – credit for the first two shots go to her.  Then I took the kids down to the lighthouse while The Aunts were staying with us, and Stacey helped me get a few more shots of him in outfit #2.  Then we went back to the lighthouse and I took some more shots of him in outfit #1.  It was very “simple”!

 

 

Anniversary Photos!

Alternatively Titled: What, you didn’t wear your wedding dress on your anniversary?

So, as I mentioned a few posts ago, our tenth anniversary was kind of a big deal to us.  I had been thinking for a few years about doing a special photo shoot with Josh, and we decided that our anniversary was the perfect time to do it.  (No, really, a few years.  The idea actually made it to the blog three years ago.  It takes a while for things to happen in these parts.)

The idea was to do an anniversary shoot with me in my wedding dress.  Kind of in the spirit of a “Trash the Dress” shoot or a “Day After” shoot.  I had multiple reasons for wanting to do this.  When Josh and I got married, I was not very interested in the photos, so I did not put much thought into planning them ahead of time.  Our photos were a (wonderful!  much appreciated!) gift, it rained on our wedding day, we had a morning wedding, and we chose to not see each other before the ceremony.  All of the circumstances combined to produce a standard set of traditional church pictures.  They are wonderful and cherished, but as I got older and started to love photography, I was sad that we did not have any couple photos that could classify as “artsy.”  But I also learned that it wasn’t too late to get the pictures, and anniversary pictures are actually a thing!  My goals for this shoot were…

  • To feature my beautiful wedding dress!  My mother made it and I love it, but I feel like my veil/headpiece in the pictures from our wedding day distract from the dress.  I wanted to have a reason to use it again and to get some pictures that feature it really well.
  • To incorporate our wedding color.  I had picked aqua/turquoise for our wedding color, but the bridesmaid dresses ended up being straight green.  I took this opportunity to use the actual color the way I had envisioned.
  • To have fun taking pictures with my husband!!  On our wedding day, I made the mistake of wearing a pretty high heel.  My feet were killing me by the time we were taking pictures of just Josh and I, and I was ready to be DONE.  You can tell in our pictures that the majority of my smiles were strained.  I wanted a do-over, so to speak, where we could relax and have fun.  And kiss, you know, not in a church!
  • To take pictures with my husband!  Once you start having kids, couple pictures get fewer and farther between.  We needed this reminder that our marriage is actually important and worthy of documentation!

Why was it a perfect time?  Well, mainly, because I’m not pregnant!  I was relatively confident of being able to fit into the dress because its empire waist would be forgiving to the mama belly that I didn’t have 10 years ago.  But then I found out that having children can actually expand the rib cage, and I thought, “This is NOT going to happen.”  (Do you know how big that last baby was??)  However, in a moment of bravery, I tried on the dress in April, and it FIT.  (Being able to breath or raise my arms is not important!)  SO, the picture planning was on!

I asked Steffi from Polished Arrow Photography to do our pictures.  Steffi shot both our maternity and newborn pictures last year, and did an amazing job!   She is the QUEEN of lighting and foreground, to the point that when I deliberately put foreground in my pictures, I say to myself, “I’m going to pull a Steffi.”  More importantly, she has a heart for the Lord and you can see that in how she handles both her clients and her work.

Originally, I planned to do our shoot relatively close by.  BUT THEN I saw another photographer post some head shots he had taken on a river about an hour away, and I was all like…

Steffi was game for a little travelling, so thus began our crazy journey to a place we had never actually been to take pictures with a wedding dress 10 years after our wedding.  Oh, and we brought the Harrells and the kids.  I said I wasn’t pregnant, I didn’t say I wasn’t breastfeeding.

I started off at Cynthia’s so that she could straighten my hair.  Unfortunately, my hair is all cut off right now, so I decided the easiest thing to do would be to go for a 20s look.  Kind of Great Gatsby meets Downton Abbey.  Then we drove to the place in one vehicle, while Josh and Bobby and the kids drove in the other.  Yes, I think we got the better end of that deal!  But it was ALL WORTH IT, because when we got there, Steffi was able to set up a sort of First Look.

I had to include this picture to show how nice Cynthia had my hair before the humidity kicked in!  The headband also has a fun story; after debating on Etsy for way too long over headbands, I had narrowed it down to two, and this was one of them.  A few days later, Jackie sent me this headband for my birthday.  And she had NO IDEA that I was planning for this OR that I liked this headband!

Here comes the handsome groom!

Steffi also had us do a “first dance,” having no idea that we didn’t get one at our wedding.  Very cool.

 

This old limestone bathhouse surrounds a natural spring.  I want to go to there.

At this point, things got a little crazy.  A guy started yelling that they were about to close – and this blushing bride was about to be MAD!  As it turns out, they were locking the gate, but they didn’t care who was in the river.  The Harrells ended up moving our vehicles outside of the gate and hanging out with the kids there for the rest of the shoot.  They’re the kind of friends that will drive an hour just to sit by the road with your kids for an hour and then drive an hour home.  I think I owe them a fun trip to the river sometime soon!  (And thanks, guys!!!)

These portraits were the hardest!  Steffi quickly discovered how awkward I am in front of the camera.  The struggle is real.

I love this!  It’s very impressive because my dress literally holds water, like a balloon.  I was heavy!

I love this one!

 

We were finished up and ready to head back when Steffi saw that there was some pretty backlight that needed to be used!

This was such a gift on several levels!  It was a gift to be able to do some things that I was simply not of the mind to do as a 19 year old bride.  It was a gift to be a part of the creative process of a talented photographer, and the end result of that creative process be something that can go on my own walls!  But most of all, it was a gift to get to celebrate ten years of marriage with the best husband ever in such a fun and memorable way!

A huge thanks to my mom for making the dress and not freaking out when I got it wet, to Cynthia for saving the day YET AGAIN with my hair, to Bobby and Cynthia for being our chauffeurs and feeding our kids peanut butter by the side of the road, to Steffi for not giving up on me when I was so stiff and awkward (oh, and for taking the pictures!)  But most of all, to Josh for putting up with me for ten years and then agreeing to celebrate it by standing in the middle of a river of questionable sanitation.

After all, isn’t that what marriage is all about?

(Don’t worry, for our 20 year, we can go to Hawaii!)

 

 

Arrow’s Birthday Pow-wow!

Well, I really didn’t want it to happen, and I took measures to avoid it, but it happened anyway.

My baby turned one.

There are all sorts of thoughts and emotions that go with that, but those are for another post.  First thing’s first, we need to talk about the PAR-TAY!

While having a baby in July seemed like a good idea last year, we failed to consider what the implications would be for scheduling his first birthday party.  (I say first because, who am I kidding?  I throw a party for the first birthday and then I’m done!)  Camp is always the week after the 4th of July, which means that we either have to have the party on a holiday weekend or wait a sweet forever.

I opted to wait a sweet forever because I really wanted to take the time to put together some nice things for the party, and there’s just no way I can do that while preparing for camp.  So, instead, we had it right before the VBS I directed.

Like I said, July may have not been the best month for a birthday.

ANYWAY, the theme for Arrow’s party was sort of a given because his name is Arrow.  I was also blessed to have Stacey stay with us the week between camp and the party.  I’ll be totally honest, her and Ava made the majority of the decorations.  I bribed them by letting them stay up late and watch chick-flicks while they worked.

Here are the finished products!

My mom made the cupcakes and the girls made the banners and garlands and cupcake toppers.

The favor table!

 

These arrows were a fun, easy craft.

I had to include this picture because…tribal washi tape.  Amazon is a wonder!

I ordered the pencils from Oriental Trading and Josh helped me tape the feathers on.  The girls helped me make the headdresses for the kids!

This game didn’t get a whole lot of love…until the adults found it after the kids had all left!

And here was the entrance to the backyard!!!  Someone had donated this teepee for VBS years ago and it’s been in our laundry room ever since.

 

I think the arrow signs were my favorite part!  My dad had bought them for us to use in a photo shoot and they, too had been in our laundry room!

When I was planning this party, I didn’t want to try to have it inside because we were inviting a lot of people.  But I also didn’t think it would be fair to have an outside party, in Florida, in July, unless it was a water party!  Josh bought the materials for the Slip ‘N’ Slide (which he was more than happy to have an excuse to do!), and we pooled (get it???) our kiddie pools and sprinklers together and I think it turned out to be a nice little water park!

 

Of course there would be a water balloon war…

 

AND water piñatas!

And I had to have one archery game!

 

A few or our guests enjoying the park!  I don’t think I uploaded a picture of it, but we also borrowed 3 canopy tents so adults of little ones would have some shade while they were watching their kids.

The birthday boy!!!  Thanks to my dad for snagging pictures of people having fun!

Tori modeling our archery game!

I’m afraid the goal of the Seminole Wars became getting Bobby wet.

Water piñatas!!!

And at some point I realized we were supposed to give the birthday boy cake!

As you can see, he handled it like a boss.

It was such a blessed day and such a great reminder of the tribe of people that surrounds our family with love.  I wasn’t of the mind to get a group shot, but my parents, Josh’s parents and siblings, our nephews (including Maverick, who was born the day before Arrow’s birthday!), the Harrells, Jim and Lauren, Jay P, friends from church, friends from co-ops and play groups, were all there to celebrate with us.  (And I know there were plenty of people out of town that wanted to be there!)  THANK YOU to all of our people for taking the time to spend the day with us.  Arrow is so blessed to have you, and he doesn’t even know it yet!

And because I’m all about a trip down memory lane:

Ava’s First Birthday.  In which Lauren and Jim meet.  (Or met for the second time or something.  Close enough.)

Israel’s First Birthday.  In which we squeeze a baby dedication and party into the same day.  (Because we’re cray-cray.)

Egan’s First Birthday.  In which I finally ventured into the world of THEMES.  And also, pencil favors.

Also, if you’re interested in any of the decorations above, they are ALL spin-offs of things I found on Pinterest.  I’m not going to linky everything on here, but check out my party board if you want to find the links!

Kindergarten: The Expected Unexpected Journey

I remember during the first Classical Conversations Practicum I ever attended, we had a break-out session for moms of younger children.  One seasoned mother told the story of how she had debated about what to do with her daughter when she reached kindergarten age.  Since she had not homeschooled from the beginning, she had no experience teaching kindergarten, and she seriously considered sending her daughter to private school to get the kindergarten fundamentals and then homeschooling after that.  However, she decided to homeschool her, after all, and it ended up being “the sweetest year.”

A year later, I found myself about to teach Kindergarten for the first time.  I could say that I was looking forward to spending the year teaching my sweet Israel, but honestly, I was terrified.  I was going from one student to two, and didn’t know if I could successfully juggle the different levels.  Furthermore, I had a new baby, and I hear those can be demanding of time.  But what really concerned me the most was I was afraid I would not be able to teach him to read. 

Not only did Ava go to Kindergarten elsewhere, but she has always been an extremely natural reader.  I had nothing to do with her learning to read whatsoever, and I really don’t even know how she was taught.  She is also very typical first child and pretty self-motivated academically.  Izzy, on the other hand, has what I call “motivational issues.”  If he doesn’t feel like doing something, there is no dessert on this planet that will entice him to do it.

Come to think of it, maybe I need some motivational issues.

Anyway, let’s just say I had some strong anxieties about teaching Kindergarten to my first middle child.

But you know what?  It really was the sweetest year!  There were definitely some challenges (which I will get back to,) but I’m so glad I had the opportunity to spend this year with Israel.  And, he can read!  Hallelujah, amen!

So here are some things I learned my first time teaching Kindergarten:

  • Phonics work.  I was not taught to read phonetically.  I was raised in an era when people were skeptical of the effectiveness of phonics.  But, apparently, when  you homeschool, phonics are a part of the deal.  I cannot say enough good things about the easy-to-use format of Phonics Pathways.  Josh and I learned rules we never knew about.  And it’s amazing to me that Israel can sound out words that he’s never heard.  Today, he sounded out the word “knickknacks” perfectly.  Then he asked what it meant.

  • Reading takes time.  Three days after we started our official school year, I had my last post-partum follow up visit with my midwife team.  In an effort to feel out my emotional health, and because I think they actually care, one of them asked how homeschooling was going.  I took a deep breath and said, “Well, we’re 3 days in, and Izzy isn’t reading yet.”

    As you can imagine, they weren’t really sure what to do with that.

    But seriously, I realized that day how ridiculous I was.  I was already stressing out about Israel not being able to read…I was imagining what it would be like if our evaluator at the end of the school year saw that he wasn’t reading…and we hadn’t even begun to blend letters together yet!And here’s the thing.  Unless you have one of those crazy kids, like Ava, reading will take time.  Israel progressed just fine throughout the year, but it was slow and steady, not lightning fast.

  • Children’s eyes have to be trained to read, and it can exhaust them.  You know one thing that children aren’t born knowing?  To read from left to right.  Yes, there are things we can start doing, even when they’re little babies, to begin teaching that concept, but it’s not innate.  Phonics Pathways has exercises to help children learn to read from left to right, and the book calls them “Eye-robics.”  Why?  Because it’s exercise!  They are working muscles that they aren’t used to using.

    And because of this, they can actually wear out, just like I wear out when I’m physically exercising.  Even after Israel started to read well enough to read from actual books, I quickly discovered that if I tried to get him to read from a book that had more than a sentence or two on a page, he would shut down and say, “I can’t read this.  It’s too many words.”

    At that time, reading required so much focus and concentration, he was only able to comfortably do it for short periods of time.I was worried that this might just be laziness (see “motivational issues” above,) but I saw that, as he practiced reading more, he was also able to read for longer.  Before the end of the school year, we were reading books that he wouldn’t have even attempted one or two months before.

  • It’s OK for Kindergarteners to play.  The first few days of our school year, for some reason I felt like Israel needed to be in the school room anytime I was “doing school” with Ava.  I prepared coloring pages and such (read: busy work) for him to do while I was giving her attention.  This did not go nearly as smoothly as I thought it would.

    One surprise I had was Egan decided he had to be with us at all times; there was no going to play in another room while we were all in the school room.  This led to five of us in the school room all the time, and the volume level made it hard for real learning to take place.

    Another issue I had was that Israel simply didn’t have the attention span to sit for that long.  He would become resistant during phonics (re: “motivational issues”), and by the time math came around, he was a tired, whiney mess.

    About the end of the first week, I had had enough and I sent Israel to play with Egan in their room while I taught Ava grammar.  It was so much better.  I brought Izzy back in to teach him his math while Ava did something independently, and – lo and behold! – he seemed refreshed and much more capable of actual focus.

    This is when I realized my original error.  I had tried to make him sit through the morning like “traditional school,” but if I was going to bust my tail to homeschool these children, why on earth would I feel the need to make their experience so much like traditional school?

    So for the rest of the school year, we found a groove that really worked for us.  We would start our day with Bible as a family.  Then Ava would do her math on the computer, and I would do Israel’s phonics.  Phonics Pathways does not really have a set lesson plan since it is designed for mastery, but I decided that we would do 2 pages a day.  Starting out, this could take us 45 minutes (as I said, “motivational issues.”)  But by the end of the school year, he could zip through his pages in about 15 minutes.

    After phonics, I would give Izzy a 30 minute break while I worked with Ava on her grammar and spelling.  Then, I would bring him back in for math.  Israel is pretty natural at math (thank goodness!!!), so it was rare for us to spend more than 30 minutes on a lesson.

    Depending on what day it was, we would have history or science right before or after lunch.  Ava would read the lessons out loud and Israel listened.  After lunch, we would read something as a family, and then Ava would go do her personal reading while I read to Izzy.  This is when we worked our way through The Magic Tree House series.  Which is basically just Doctor Who for kids.  But that’s another blog entry.

    All that goes to say, Israel had a lot more playtime this year then I originally planned for.  However, I have learned that this is actually developmentally correct for his age, and it has helped, not hindered, the learning process.

  • Kindergarten is a sweet age.  I feel like, in many ways, I missed Ava’s kindergarten year.  It just seemed to fly by, and since I had two little ones at home, I didn’t get to volunteer at the school or do much of anything to participate in her year.  Furthermore, the school had a policy to not give out ANY information to parents (a far-cry from when I was growing up and they sent home school directories!), so I had no way of contacting the parents of the friends Ava met at school to develop relationships and plan play dates.

    I’m so thankful I’ve had sort of a do-over with Izzy.  It has been so fun to watch him learn and develop; to be the one to cheer him on and high-five him when he meets a goal.  To watch him make friends at co-ops and build LOTS of cool things out of Legos!

And did I mention??  He can read!  Although I don’t think it’s REALLY fair for me to take credit for that (the curriculum did all the work, I just showed up,) it’s such a delight and an honor to have been a part of the process. So, maybe Kindergarten is the sweetest year, after all.  I just hope there will still be some sweetness in first grade!

Ten Year Anniversary!

Alternatively Titled:  Just HOW MANY watermelons did Kara swallow???

Ten years.  In my mind, that has always been a big deal.

I’ve put some thought into what to write for the Ten Year Anniversary Blog Post.  Because, obviously, there has to be a blog post.

And pictures.

But, honestly, you have to know your limits.  God has placed the most amazing man in my life, ever (‘sides Jesus,) and I don’t think any of my own words could adequately express how that feels, ten years in.

So I will borrow somebody else’s words.  I don’t think she’ll mind; a lot of people have done it.

So get ready for not one, but TWO blasts from the past!  One of them being a trip to your old high school British lit class.  The other being a walk down Memory Lane, via a bunch o’ photos of Josh and Kara through the years.

It’s a lot to take in, I know.  Just do your best!

How Do I Love Thee?  (Sonnet 43)

How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

 

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love the to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love the purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints.  I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, and tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Happy 10 Year Anniversary, My Love!!!

 

 

Memory Masters: An Unexpected Journey

Well, we’ve done it.  We have evaluated with a certified teacher, and our 2014-2015 school year has officially drawn to a close! 

I’ve debated on how to write about our school year because, well, I have four kids and that’s a lot to write about.  I’ve finally decided to make an individual blog post about each child’s journey this year, because they are all so unique and have had different challenges to overcome.  (Although I’m not great at math, I do realize that means I’ll have to write three more blog posts before the end of the summer.  That’s probably a good level of commitment for me.)

SO, I’m going to start with Ava, my original homeschooler!  Her post is going to be a little different, because it’s actually going to cover TWO years…seeing how I never actually wrote a review of her first year of homeschooling.  Don’t worry, I have a terrible memory, so the details will be spotty at best.  But I do want to write a little about our experience last year, because I feel like our story can be useful to new homeschooling families who are trying to figure this thing out just like we were.

Just as a refresher so people know where we’re coming from, we sent Ava to kindergarten at a public school just around the corner.  It wasn’t a bad situation, but about halfway through the year, I started to feel like this may not be the best fit for us.  I asked Josh to pray with me about it, and through a serious of events I believe that God orchestrated, we made the decision to bring Ava home for first grade right as her kindergarten school year was ending.  You can read a MUCH more detailed account here.

Our first six weeks of homeschooling were golden – truly a honeymoon period.  Ava was highly motivated and seemed to love being at home.  At the beginning of October, she began saying little things indicating that she wasn’t happy.  That she missed seeing her friends at school and that she was lonely.  We started to have some behavior issues.

The day before Fall Break, it really hit the fan.  She had had a meltdown and I had sent her to her room.  When I went to her room to deal with it, she basically made the ultimatum that she was miserable and wasn’t learning and wanted to go back to “real school.”  Not trusting myself in her presence, I ran to my bathroom, shut the door, and sat down in the floor and cried.

After a few minutes, I heard a terrified, “Mommy?” on the other side of the door.  Ava’s not used to me crying, and I think it really scared her.  Her behavior improved after that, but I think she was really afraid that I would cry again.

I felt like such a failure.  I had poured my heart and soul for the past 4+ months learning how to homeschool, and all that work had put me in the bathroom floor, thinking I had ruined my child’s life.

I wish I could say that the drama runs deep in my family, but they are actually a pretty stoic people.  This was all me.

It took me a while to get the opportunity to talk to Josh about it (there are little ears EVERYWHERE,) but once I did, he was able to start putting things into perspective for me.  He encouraged me to keep trying and not to let a 6 year old’s opinion on a good education interfere.

I also e-mailed my homeschool sounding board, Debbie, who is such a saint for making it through my insecure e-mails that year.  I knew that her son had been in a traditional school setting, so I asked her if they had gone through something similar when she brought him home.  She assured me that these were normal emotions, and said something I will never forget: “For every year that they are in school, it takes a year to get the school out of them.”

I wish I could say that I rallied after that and became a peppy, 5 star homeschool mom again.  Truth be told, the rest of the year was really a struggle.  Ava had one or two meltdowns a week. She would completely shut down so that I wouldn’t be able to work with her.  I liked to call them “Math Meltdowns,” because most of the time they were first thing in the morning, which is when we were doing math.  Math is our least favorite subject to do together (SO THANKFUL that she’s been doing it on the computer this year!), so when you combine that with all the emotional stuff we were going through…well, you can see how Math Meltdowns were a thing.  She also declared that she hated our co-op, she hated memory work (which is the basis of classical education,) she didn’t have any friends…according to her, life was terrible.

Around February, I told Josh we had to decide once and for all whether Ava would pursue Memory Masters.  In our co-op, Classical Conversations, the children spend the entire year memorizing facts.  They memorize facts in 7 subjects every week, and there are 24 weeks of material.  For a child to reach Memory Master status, they have to be able to recite ALL of these facts to their tutor.  It take about an hour and a half to cover all the material.

Memory Masters is completely optional, and Josh and I decided that we weren’t going to worry about doing all of the subjects for the first year.  I had REALLY struggled working with her on the math facts (remember the Meltdowns?), and there were several other subjects that were not going well.  We called her into the room with the intention of telling her that she would be held accountable to history, science, and geography at home, but that we would not be attempting Memory Masters that year.

That’s when Ava surprised us.  She declared that she WANTED to do Memory Masters.  I stared at the child, the one who had said she hated memory work, in disbelief.  We ended up telling her that we would give her a day or two to think about it, because once she decided to do it, we weren’t going to let her quit.  We asked her again after a few days, and she was still sure that that was what she wanted to do.

The problem was, I had not worked with her all along on memory work like I should have if she was going to do Memory Masters.  We had kept up with science and history, but there were whole subjects we had not worked on AT ALL at home.  She had about six weeks to learn everything.  This meant, not only working on it during the school day, but also working on it for an hour after the boys went to bed every night.  (Josh handled most of the evening sessions, including via Skype when he was working late.  If you guessed that he was the one to teach her the math, you are correct!)

But I will say, once she started drilling for Memory Masters, it was like she was a different student.  Her behavior improved dramatically, and her motivation with it.  All the hard work paid off, and she achieved Memory Masters without a problem!  Because she was my only student and is able to work at a fast pace, we had some time after co-op ended to do some extra field trips and work on things that we enjoyed more, like poetry.  The not-so-awesome first year of homeschooling ended on a pretty positive note!

My babies last year.  Sniff!

With Ava representing El Salvador at the homeschool geography fair last year.

Which brings us to this school year.  Throughout first grade, I really had to stay right with Ava for her to do her work, even though she read well enough to do work independently if she wanted to.  I was a little worried that that would be her expectation this year, because I would have more children at home and less time to devote to individual children.  By God’s grace, she was SO much more mature this year, that I really feel like she did 80% of her work independently, and with a happy heart!  We had plenty of behavior issues with her this year, but very few of those occurred during the time we were doing school.

I am so proud of the student that she became this year!  Last year she hated journaling.  This year she wrote in her journal three times a week without being asked and admitted that she enjoyed it.  She taught herself cursive, pretty much completely independently.  She stopped complaining about writing (last year it hurt her hand so badly to write a paragraph!) and wrote a lot of meaningful pieces.  She wrote 8 book reports and 2 research papers with minimal assistance.

But Ava hasn’t just grown academically.  After a meltdown on the first day of school (we were off to a roaring start!), she didn’t have another one that interfered with the school day until November.  NOVEMBER.  One glance at her tells you that she’s tall for her age and an early developer.  Well, I’m not an endocrinologist, but if she’s going through physical changes, I figure she’s going through hormonal changes, too.  Which helps to explain why us changing where we keep the toilet paper might RUIN HER LIFE!

However, even with all these things going on inside of her, I noticed about halfway through the year a maturity blossom that wasn’t there before.  She started to actually be helpful.  She started picking up after herself and taking care of the baby.  She can now (most of the time) have a conversation with someone outside of our family without making me cringe or feel embarrassed.  She’s started being kind and helpful with younger children instead of ignoring them and going off to find an older child to play with.  (I’m still working on the table manners.  My apologies to anyone who eats with my family.)

Although we still have a long, bumpy road ahead of us, I feel like we’re starting to get glimpses of the woman that she might become.  And after a year of Math Meltdowns?  YES.  THANK YOU, JESUS!

And yes, Ava did achieve Memory Masters again this year.  But I feel like she’s achieved so much more in her heart.

And how does she feel about homeschooling now?  WELL, I no longer cringe when we drive by her old elementary school or see a school bus, because I no longer have to hear a commentary about it.  I couldn’t tell you the last time I heard her refer to “real school.”  And in her paragraph reviewing the school year?  She said, and I quote: “My second grade year has been my best school year yet.”

SO, here are some things that I learned in the first year of homeschooling my oldest guinea pig, I mean, child.

  • A six year old should not be given the power to choose how he/she will be educated. 
    I’m not saying you can’t take their opinion into consideration.  But in the end, you have to realize that you are the parent.  You are doing the very best that you can for your child.  You have thought about it, researched it, and prayed about it.  Not to mention you have years of experience and maturity that they lack.  They may not be happy with their situation, at least not at first, but if you have the child where you feel like is the best for your child AND your family, don’t let their opinion change your mind.  Ride out the tantrums, Mama, they won’t last forever.
  • It is normal for a child to grieve leaving school, and it is OK to grieve with them.
    At first, when Ava showed she was grieving her change in situation, I took it personally and allowed it to hurt me.  It took me a while to realize that this was not a personal attack on me.  What helped me to put it into perspective is when I realized this: If we had kept her in public school, but we had made a necessary move and had to put her in a different school (which happens ALL THE TIME,) she would have felt loss.  It is normal for a child (or an adult!) to grieve a change in situation, even if it is a good and/or necessary change.  I had to get to a point that I could allow her to grieve the change without immediately interpreting it to be an attack on homeschooling.  Eventually, I was able to join her in her grief.  Change is hard.
  • DO NOT USE COMPARISON TO SCHOOL AS A TOOL OF DISCIPLINE.
    I had to use caps AND bold lettering on that because I learned that the hard way.  I caught myself saying, “If you were in public school, THIS would be expected of you, you have it so much better here,” or, “I’m so glad I’m not sending you to school, because if you behaved this way to a teacher, things would NOT go well for you.”  I finally realized that if I wanted my child to stop comparing public school to homeschooling, I would have to stop, too.
  • Group-Think Mentality is real, and it lingers.
    Do
    you remember how I said that Ava claimed to be lonely?  What I didn’t mention in that paragraph was HOW MANY PEOPLE she was around all the time!  At the time, we were spending one day a week at co-op, going to gymnastics, and church twice a week. Not to mention homeschool day at the park.  I honestly think we’ve gotten out and met WAY more people since we started homeschooling than before.  However, what Ava was expressing was, she felt like she needed to be constantly around people in order to be able to learn.  She missed seeing the same people day-in and day-out.  This was very frustrating for me, because, although she was having plenty of social opportunities, I simply could not give her the environment that she was looking for.  I am thankful to say that, this year, she seemed very content to do school with her brother, and she’s finally warmed up to the people in our co-op…it has just taken her a while!
  • You have to learn what makes them tick. 
    Why did Memory Masters seem like a magical fix for Ava?  Because she is HIGHLY MOTIVATED by people seeing her achievements.  She spent the first half of the school year thinking that no one was seeing the work that she put into school but me.  When she realized that homeschooling didn’t just mean your parents seeing your work?  When she realized other people outside of our house would still see how smart she is?  She might as well have said, “YES.  Sign me up for THAT!”  (Israel, on the other hand, could care less about accolades.  But I will save that for the next post!)
  • Homeschooling is sanctifying.  And I don’t mean for the student.
    H
    allelujah, amen.

When the “Big C” Hits Home

On the same day of The Great Hurt, we also got The Bad News.  My mother-in-law, who had not been feeling well for a while, found out there was a possibility of cancer.  One week later, she found out the The Worse News: lung cancer, inoperable, aggressive.   She started her chemo THAT DAY.  Her prognosis from here on out will depend on her body’s response to the chemo, but she was told that, had it had been left untreated, she would have been dead in two months.

Now, let me tell you a little about my mother-in-law.  (Who, from here on out, I will refer to as Gigi, which is her “grandmother name.”  “Mother-in-law” sounds way too stuffy for her!)    Obviously, she raised an amazing son, but there’s even more to her than that.  I met her when I was 14, so, although I may not have known her all my life, when I did meet her, I still had braces.  ‘Nuff said.

When I was an awkward 14 year old trying to find a place in life, Gigi accepted me without any questions.  It didn’t bother her that I was a minister’s daughter.  (I think a lot of my friends’ parents were…delicate…around me because of that.)  I was in a strange place in life; I had just been dumped by the boy I was sure I would marry (with typical 14 year old angst), and I was coming out of a stage of spiritual rebellion.  I was looking for something solid; I needed a home away from home.  As far as Gigi was concerned, I had been a part of her family for years.

When it became obvious that Josh and I were interested in each other, Gigi didn’t chase me away because she was concerned about her reputation.  (Remember, he’s 6 years older, and I’m a minister’s daughter. Yikes!)

When I was in a car accident at 16, she was at the hospital within minutes.

When my parents were out of town when I was sick, she sent Josh to stay at my house and kept me at hers to take care of me.

Shortly before we got married, she sent me a note that said, “My son has truly found his soul mate.”  I may not be able to find the card (the struggle is real,) but I will never forget that.

I personally feel like she has been one of my biggest cheerleaders.  When I do something crazy, like start a photography business or start homeschooling my children, she’s right there cheering me on and giving me free workbooks.

She is an amazing grandmother.  Even though she has a ton of responsibility (more on that in a minute,) she is ALWAYS there for our children.

But she’s even more than THAT.  Nine years ago, she found out that her nephew’s 3 daughters had been placed in foster care.  At the time they were 4, 3, and 18 months old.  It broke her heart to think that they were separated from each other and the rest of the family.  So, with my father-in-law’s blessing, she began the process of fostering to adopt all 3 girls.

A year later, the girls had another biological sister who was immediately removed from their bio mom because of drugs in her bloodstream.  Without hesitation, she was made a part of the family.

I have the privilege of knowing a small handful of people who have adopted 4+ kids.  They are all very different from each other, but one thread they all have in common?  THEY ARE INCREDIBLE.

But Gigi’s even more than THAT.  Three years ago, her youngest daughter, Harlie, was terribly ill.  Since then, she has been in and out of the hospital numerous times.  She has gone from “never walking again” to running, she has gone from “never eating again” to not needing TPN feedings anymore.  Gigi has been with her every step of the way.  She has hooked her up to her feedings and maintained her physical health EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  There has been a lot of screaming and tears and infections and medicines and a WHOLE lot of vomit, but Gigi is in this journey with Harlie, and she’s in it to win it.

But even though she’s used to hospitals, she’s not used to being the patient.  And I know that it’s hard for her to be on the receiving end of care.

So what do I do with this blog with all this going on?  I have been thinking about it for a while.  I finally came to this conclusion: I’m going to keep blogging as normal.  Why?  Because I get the impression that Gigi likes the blog.  And she’s got more time on her hands than usual to do some reading.  Do I want my readers to pray for her?  ABSOLUTELY.  And I’ll drop a reminder of that from time-to-time.  But I’m not going to make everything all doom-and-gloom all the time because, frankly, that would make for some TERRIBLE hospital reading!

SO, to start off with, I’d like to show some pictures from Mother’s Day, the day before The Bad News Day.  We dedicated Arrow that day, and our families came over for lunch afterwards.  Gigi was not feeling well so I didn’t pester her to come into the heat for pictures, but I still managed to get some family photos that I think she will appreciate:

All the kids that day.  (Obviously, the word “kid” used loosely!)  I’m sure Gigi would agree that the Harrells are truly a part of the family!

My apologies about Egan’s posing.  He’s going through a phase.  I tried to get him to do a normal pose again.

And again.

I also feel like we need a moment of silence in honor of this get-up.

Josh’s tie was so long on him, the back of it doubled as a belt.

Gigi’s “kids,” in-laws included.  (There will be one more next year!)  I am so honored to be a part of this bunch!  (Also, let it be noted that I’m an only child, so I knew the only siblings I would get would come through marriage.  Do you see what I did there?)

Josh’s sister Heather and her hubby Jeremy, who have worked hard the past 3 weeks to help Gigi out with this transition!

Josh’s sister Kristy and her son, Xander.  Yep, this Xander.

Grandbaby #6 on the way!!!

And I saved the best for last…

This is very-quite-possibly the first time I have taken a picture of all of Gigi’s children in one group without other friends/family in the shot.  **insert heavenly angels singing here**

SO, all that goes to say:  We love you, Gigi!  We’re praying for you!  Thank you for being our biggest cheerleader; now it’s our turn to cheer for you!

 

The Hope and the Hurt

I got the text Monday, threw peanut butter at the kids, and drove to the hospital.  Josh met me there and took our kids, Aurora, and Cynthia’s mom.  I headed directly to the delivery room.

The room was empty.  Cynthia had gone for an ultrasound as soon as she was admitted, so other than her purse, there was no sign of an inhabitant.  I sat in the silence and gazed at the room.  It was all prepared for its next patient.  Everything there had a hint of familiarity.  The bed was made up and folded just right so that a mama could easily slip under the blanket.  The bedside table was ready with ice, cups, bendy straws, and Chap Stick.  The computer was prepped, ready to monitor those contractions.  A cart was there, ready to receive baby.

It was eerie, looking at those things.  Things that, in the past, have always symbolized new life.  This would be mine and Cynthia’s fourth delivery room experience together.  Life is hard, and between the two of us, there have been plenty of bad days.  But Delivery Room Days?  Those are supposed to be good days.  Those are days of joy.  They may be days of pain, but the end is always worth it.

Until now.

You see, this Delivery Room Day was not supposed to be until September.  On Israel’s birthday, in fact.  I had already planned on having Arrow accustomed to enough cow’s milk by then to be able to leave him all day, if need be, so I could be in the hospital with Cynthia.  I had planned on having her show me everything she was going to teach Aurora in the fall, so that I could easily “substitute” for her in homeschooling so she could spend time just with baby.  I was thinking about what kind of shower to throw her.

But then I got the text, and it was Delivery Room Day already.  And when there’s no heart beat, Delivery Room Day is very different.  There’s a picture of a floating leaf on the door.  There’s significantly less traffic in and out of the room.

And to watch your best friend go through the terrible physical pain of an induced labor while she struggles with the emotional pain that’s far worse?  To come back in the morning to a tiny bassinet inhabited by a tiny, fearfully and wonderfully made  person, who wasn’t actually there because he was already Home?

I feel older.  And tireder, if that’s possible.  And my heart breaks for my friend. And I would do anything to give him back to her.

And I know I’m not alone in that emotion.

What I love about Bobby and Cynthia is that, regardless of the terrible things that are thrown at them, they vehemently cling to their amazing faith in Christ.  They always have Hope.

But, even with Hope, there is Hurt.  And this is a terrible Hurt.

I’ll be honest, sometimes it’s hard to know what to pray.  Because there are no words.  But God knows that.  “For we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”  – Romans 8:26

Please pray for my friends.

The One Where My Lobster Came for My Birthday

One of the things I would have blogged about last year had I had time to blog at all was the fact that our family faced a huge loss.

We lost our lobsters.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m sorry.  I lived in a dark cave, too, until a few months ago when Friends finally made it to Netflix.  (And yes, this concept works with platonic friendships.  Chill out.)

The Millers moved away.  At first, it was manageable.  They moved three hours away from us in January, and although it was sad, we were still able to see each other once-a-monthish.

BUT THEN circumstances ended up sending them to Vermont, which is 20 hours away.

We no longer see each other once-a-monthish.

We’ve done the best that we could.  Neither Tiff or I are talk-on-the-phone kind of people, but we occasionally get a fix by sending each other texts that, to the common eye, would probably look rather bizarre.  I can always trust her to appreciate the dream I had about the toilet with the swivel sink, and she can always trust me to appreciate the strange occurrences that take place in the foreign country of New England.

But I’m not going to lie.  When I found a deodorant that smells just like Tiff’s house?

I bought it.

Anyway, their move was rough not only because Tiff is my lobster, but because her kids are my kids’ best friends.  So we are all sad.  Amused by the fact that the Millers have to use a sled to get their clothes to the Laundromat and then will most likely end up with Canadian quarters, but mostly sad.

SO, when I found out that, through a series of magical events, Tiff and the girls were going to manage to be in our area for around 16 hours, a couple days before my birthday, no less, I WAS JUST A LITTLE EXCITED.

So excited, I decided that the only logical thing to do, would be to throw a brunch!  So all of Tiff’s friends could see her at the same time!

That was a LOOOOONG intro mainly to serve the purpose of making sense out of The Pictures.  Because you know that if I’m going to do any kind of entertaining, the key element is The Pictures.

Ava with her girls!  We managed to completely surprise her – they came into her room while she was reading and she had NO IDEA they were coming.  Best surprise she could ever have!

Emma and Aurora’s 5 Year Portrait!!!  We’ve taken their picture together ever since their first birthdays, and I thought it wasn’t going to happen this year.  I’m pretty STOKED that it did!!!

All the kids at the brunch!  My girls were super sweet and surprised me with some birthday goodies!  Love the hats!  (And I apologize about Egan’s shenanigans.  I can’t even.)

This is my new favorite picture!  Every single one of these ladies are so special – I love that we were able to get this picture!

Arrow’s first time meeting Tiff – he was well aware that he was meeting A LEGEND.  Seriously, it has been sad not having Tiff around for his baby-hood – but I’m so glad she got to meet him before his first birthday!

Love this lady!

All SEVEN in our combined crew!

We packed a lot of fun into our tiny visit!  And now, if you need me, I’ll be curled up with my deodorant.  Thanks.

The Elephant in the Living Room

After Arrow was born, everybody saw his sweet, chubby cheeks and decided they needed to get some for themselves straight away.

At least, that’s what I’m thinking.

Seriously, his birth started a wave of calls/texts/e-mails/facebook announcements revealing that [almost] all my girls were pregnant!  Let’s just say that there were many moments towards the end of 2014 that the flow of our day was interrupted by me squealing and jumping up and down after glancing at my phone.

What can I say?  I love my girls.  I love babies.  I love taking pictures of my girls’ baby bumps and newborns.  I love coming up with excuses to hold my girls’ babies so they can eat or use the bathroom or breath or whatever.  It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

So I’ve debated on how to blog about #babywatch2015 because, clearly, I struggle in the blogging consistently department these days and don’t want to get anything started that I can’t finish.  So, today, I’m going to focus on ONE baby, that is due tomorrow.  But she might just want to wait a day and come on my birthday.  Because she’s awesome like that.

One Sunday night I sat down to lesson plan like a good little homeschool mommy and found a text message of my friend Jackie’s son, Cade, wearing a “Big Brother” shirt.  [Insert squealing and jumping here.]  Jackie no longer lives here, but she still has friends in the area and I definitely wanted to have a little shower for her.  At first I thought that we would just do a ladies’ night at a restaurant because I am not exactly in a phase where I’m doing much entertaining, but then she found out she was having a GIRL and I couldn’t resist the desire to create some girly decorations.  Fortunately, Cynthia was willing to host because I can NOT clean my house AND decorate it.  It’s an either/or kind of thing.

Jackie’s plan was to convert Cade’s nursery to Alyse’s nursery and move him to another room, so she was going to keep the jungle theme.  Jackie loves monkeys and her first shower had a monkey theme, but I decided that I couldn’t just do monkeys again – that would be way too easy.  Jackie also told me that she preferred purple over pink, which also sent me back to the drawing board, because, remember the night that Pinterest threw up?  I was totally planning on using those decorations!

SO, after some Pinterest searching, I decided that purple elephants were the way to go.  I wasn’t sure if Jackie really loved elephants, so it was a little bit of  a risk, but you get to a point that you just pick something and go with it.  Fortunately, she either likes elephants or is really good at pretending.  So here’s our décor –

The drinks/favors/desserts.

A friend of mine throws a lot of showers and she always uses mason jars.  She gave me permission to do it, too.  Which was great, because I was planning on copying her, anyway.  But now I feel better about it.

And it was so much fun to get the die cut machine back out!!  Fortunately, there was an elephant die in the pack that I had bought for the monkey die I used for Jackie’s first shower.  Now that’s efficiency

We have extremely gifted decorative cake makers in our group of friends…but I am not one of them.  We decided chocolate covered strawberries were the way to go…pretty but much easier.  And very yummy.  (There was also a Not Yo’ Mama’s Banana Pudding.  Mmmmm.)

OK, so this looks fancy, but I am here to tell you that this is one of the easiest and purtiest things I have ever done.  Cardboard letters from Hobby Lobby.  Scrapbook paper.  Mod Podge.  This was my first time using Mod Podge, and I’m not sure what I’ve been doing all my life.  I want to make Mod Podge names for all the little children of the world.

Josh helped me make the baby wash cloth elephants.  Because he’s that awesome.

This little guy is my favorite.  Those ears.  He just needs a lucky feather.

So I just have fun shooting the fairy lights.  What of it?

We had such a great time!  Cynthia made chicken noodle soup, I made bread.   We played a game matching some of Jackie’s favorite childhood books to their authors.  It turned out to be really hard.  So then we sniffed baby food to try to figure out which type it was.  It turned out to be really gross.

Oh, and there were presents!  Ruffles and lace and bows galore!!!

Here are all the prego ladies in attendance!  At least, they were prego at the time!  😉

Jackie’s mom and aunt drove up to attend!  It was such a privilege to have them there!

All the ladies!

Hostess picture!

The best thing about seeing Jackie for her shower was I got to see her AGAIN 2 short weeks later for our annual Braves Spring Training/St. Patrick’s Day Adventure!!!  Of course, it was time for some maternity pictures!

This little guy seems so grown up!!  It seems like just yesterday I was taking HIS newborn pictures!

She Purdy.

The dip returns by Jackie’s request!

Look at that sweet bump!

All our kids together!  Next time, we’ll finally be adding another girl to the bunch!!!

OK, so now let’s talk about the REAL elephant in the living room.

Alyse, it’s time to come on out!!!

 

 

When I Grow Up: Things Learned in my First Decade of Adulthood

Well, it’s happened.  I have been blogging ten years.  That’s right, I have had an internet journal for a whole decade.

Not sure about the significance of that?  Let me put things into perspective for you.  When I first started blogging, I didn’t know anyone with a “smart phone,” and sending a text was a tedious process involving punching numbers multiple times while peering at a tiny screen.  Although I can’t say facebook had not been invented yet, it was at the time exclusively for selected colleges; I did not have a facebook account because my little Baptist college had not made the cut.  Therefore, my primary form of communication with the people I loved was AOL Instant Messenger.

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I’m just going to let that sink in for a little while.

When I started thinking about writing a celebratory post in regards to 10 years of blogging, I realized that the beginning of the blog also represented something even more significant: the beginning of my adulthood.  It’s hard to make a definitive line between my adolescences and adulthood because many of the “rites of passage” used to acknowledge the event don’t apply to me.  I was blessed, financially, to go directly from my father’s umbrella of protection to my husband’s, so there wasn’t that moment of being completely on my own.  It could be argued that I became an adult when I graduated high school because I immediately got engaged, moved off to work for the summer, and then moved to college.  It could also be argued that I didn’t become an adult until I got married since I maintained a room in my parents’ home and they paid my bills during that transitional year.  SO, I’m going to compromise between those 2 views and declare that February of 2005, which HAPPENS to correspond with the beginning of this blog, was the beginning of adulthood for me.

At least, sort of.

Since I have come to the sober realization that I have been an adult for A DECADE, I have spent the past few days thinking of what I have learned as an adult.  I have tried to not limit my thoughts to marriage and parenting, although those 2 areas have made up a LARGE percentage of my focus during my adult life.  Instead, I have tried to think of general life truths that I have gotten to learn first-hand as an adult.

(And here is my classic disclaimer:  I am a Christian, and most of these things center on that.  I am not trying to offend you if you believe differently than I do.  If you have questions, thoughts, etc., I would welcome them in a private conversation, but I’m not going to engage in a religious debate on social media; my observation has been that that is not edifying for anyone involved.  Also, PLEASE don’t read this list and think that I am passing judgment on you if you’ve made a decision contrary to something on my list.  These are simply general truths that I have learned through both observations and events; I promise I have no underlying motives.  In other words, I LOVE YOU GUYS!)

And SO, in no particular order, I present…

10 Things I Have Learned in 10 Years of Adulthood 

1.  Friendship Gets Better With Age.  I struggled in the friend area growing up.  Although I was blessed with good friends, I constantly felt inadequate in this department.  (I’m sure being an introvert in an extroverted world had NOTHING to do with it!)  I always felt like there was something wrong with me because I didn’t have that ONE BEST FRIEND.  As an adult, I have learned that I had really short-changed myself by being so concerned with one type of friendship that I was oblivious to others.  The truth is, God puts a variety of different people in our lives and we will form a variety of relationships with those people.  I am so blessed now to have a small group of ladies that love me for who I am and will fight my corner.  Many of us are separated by geography…but when that teleporter is invented?  WE’RE GONNA EAT CHEESE FRIES EVERY FRIDAY NIGHT!

2.  God’s Design for Family is in the Context of Marriage…AND God’s Design for Marriage is in the Context of Family!  We live in a society where it is VERY common to start a family outside of the bond of marriage.  Although these are situations that God can redeem (and it has been my privilege to watch that happen multiple times!), there is so much potential for heartache for all involved when things are done “out of order.”  God didn’t design the family unit based around a married couple because He’s stuffy and trying to cramp our style; He did it to protect our hearts.

HOWEVER, I have seen that a lot of people in our culture have the opposite problem; they have entered into a marriage, but they are not yet willing to function as a family unit.  Finances, decision making, etc. are still done as two individuals.  To use a little “church-ese”, the couple is not behaving as one flesh.  And I see a lot of heartache in that type of relationship.

Marriage and family.  They go together.  (Like dip da dip da dip doowop da doobee doo.)

3.  The Body of Christ is so beautiful when it functions as The Body!  Don’t get me wrong; the church is made of imperfect people, and imperfect people mess up, and when imperfect people that are representing Christ mess up, the media latches onto it like nobody’s business.

HOWEVER, I have been so blessed to witness the church get it right, and when it does, it is AMAZING!!!

Our churches have fed us and supported us after the birth of FOUR babies, treating each one as if he was our first!

After Ava was born, a mom in my Sunday School class felt led to minister to us by coming to my home and watching Ava while I went to my morning class.  And she wouldn’t let me pay her a dime. 

When Harlie got sick, not only did we get to watch her local church rally around their family and shower them with meals, financial support, offers for babysitting – you name it, but also OUR church chose to help Josh and I financially because they knew we were burning a lot of gas going back and forth to help.  We didn’t ask for it or express distress at our financial situation.  They just did it. 

And I could go on.  The Body of Christ is so beautiful.

4.  God Honors Tithing.  Oooooook, if you haven’t thought that I’m a little bit cray-cray up until this point, there’s a good chance that you think that I am now.

But you’ve made it this far, so hear me out.

Josh and I have been through some not-so-awesome times financially.  However, I am so, so, so, so blessed to have a husband who has never wavered on his stance on tithing being a priority.

And listen, it does not make sense on paper.  It simply doesn’t make sense to give up 10% (or more, whatever it is you feel led to,) of your income when things are tight.  And I can’t explain it, but I am so thankful that God’s economy is drastically different than our economy.  I can’t tell you how He’s done it, but I can tell you He has NEVER let us down.

5.  God Honors Giving.  I promise, I’m not trying to be redundant.  Tithing refers to a specific giving to our local church.  But we have so many opportunities to give above and beyond in church offerings, para-church ministries, secular charities, and to individuals in need.  And it’s not just money; honestly, for me, it’s much harder for me to sacrifice time than money!  Although I can’t say that we’ve been perfect in answering God’s call to give, I can say that when we do give, we are ALWAYS blessed.

6.  Life is too short to carry a black camera bag.  (Unless you just love black.)

In other words, I need to take the time to create some beauty in my life.  It is worth the time (and an occasional investment) to create a space where I can truly enjoy being where I have been planted.

7.  The Crock Pot is my BFF.  When I got married (ALMOST 10 years ago!),  I truly didn’t know how to cook.  Fortunately, though, if one thing stuck with me from the little bit that I  paid attention to my mom cooking growing up, it was this: a crock pot is very, very handy.

I have seriously crock potted constantly for the past 10 years.  Not only is it a huge time saving device, but the food often comes out better.

Because, evening cooking?  Ain’t nobody got time fo’ all dat!

8.  The Older I Get, the Less I Know.  (Or maybe it’s the less I know that I know.)

I remember being so confident of so many things in high school.  Now I’m not even confident of what I had for lunch today.

9.  Christ-Followers Should Aim for Unity.  I have a STRONG heritage in Southern Baptist churches.  Both of my parents were raised Southern Baptist.  My dad has received his masters and now doctorate in Southern Baptist institutions and has ministered within the denomination for decades.  I experienced the full gamut of Southern Baptist age appropriate church activities growing up.  I went to a Southern Baptist college.  I have worked on both volunteer and paid levels within several different Southern Baptist churches, as well as being a camp counselor within one of their auxiliary programs.

And you would think, based on the fact that I don’t get out much, that most of my circle of friends would be Southern Baptist.  HOWEVER, in God’s infinite wisdom, He has included in that small circle of ladies I mentioned earlier, a Lutheran, a Catholic, a Methodist…and possibly some other denominations.

My precious Catholic friend allows me to pick her brain on occasion, and one day she said something so simple that blew my denominational paradigm out of the water.  I can’t even remember what question I asked, but her response was, “Well…I don’t think God wants us to have denominations.”

Don’t get me wrong.  Church doctrine exists for a reason, and if you’re ever wondering why I go to a church that baptizes by immersion, I will happily tell you!  But, the older I get, the more I see how important it is for all believers to come together in unity for the cause of Christ.

10.  Life’s Hardships are Sanctifying. 

When I started this blog as a squeaky almost-nineteen-year-old, I had no idea what the hard stuff would be like.  I had no idea what it would be like to try to finish college after having a baby.  Or what it would be like to be thrown into the ugly side of a church’s politics.  Or what it would be like to move to a strange city late in a pregnancy.  Or what it would be like to have to sell things I found by the dumpster to be able to buy Christmas presents.  Or what it would be like to walk through a pregnancy loss with a friend.  Or what it would be like to pray and pray and work and work for our church to grow and have no visible results.  Or what it would be like to watch extended family go through a major health crisis.  Or what it would be like to lose my grandfather.  Or what it would be like to watch a friend deal with unfaithfulness in her marriage.  Or what it would be like to feel called to make a huge life-change (**cough cough** homeschooling,) that would change my whole perspective on the future.

But you know what I also had no idea about?  I had no idea how deep and meaningful my relationship with Christ would become during those times.  There are plenty of Scriptures about God using our trials and tribulations to mold and shape us, and I am not going to go too deep into the implications right now, but I am here to tell you that He totally does. 

And I am so thankful for this.  Because life is going to be hard, either way.

 

 

Valentines Week, 2015

Alternatively Titled: Give me a glue gun and Pinterest, or give me death.

SO, it is no secret that I take Valentine’s Day seriously.  At least, for the kids.  (But I remembered to get Josh some candy this year, so that’s a win!)  However, this year, I knew I didn’t have a whole lot of time for crafting Valentines.  Fortunately, when I pulled up my Pinterest board to let the kids pick what they wanted to make for their friends and classmates, EVERY SINGLE ONE that they chose came with a free printable!  It really was a low maintenance year with some cute results.  So low maintenance, I didn’t even photograph everything – because most of it was just a free printable hot glued to some sort of treat!  Here are some highlights:

Our teacher gifts.  So incredibly easy, I’m not even going to bother looking up the linky.  My conclusion?  For being homeschool kids, they have A LOT of teachers!!

These minions.  Although this was the highest maintenance one I had to make, it was still SO MUCH FASTER than the mice of last year.  And it was truly easy, so I wanted to pass the word along.  Believe me, if I can do this, you can, too!  (Besides, there’s nothing classier than sending your kid to a Valentines party with a twinkie box!)

Although this was EXTRA easy, I want to note that when you see a “15 stick” box of Extra, it does NOT, in fact, have 3 individual packs of 5 pieces of Extra inside it.  It IS, in fact, 15 sticks of Extra in a box.  Apparently, 15 is the new 5.  Just keep that in mind, for budgeting purposes.

There was also some bubbles for Egan’s preschool class and some mustaches for my class of preschoolers and possibly lip baum for a few people….but  you get the idea!

I must confess that, once I was done with all that, I was sort of out of time to do much for my own family.  Although I’m pretty proud of Josh’s “card”:

Which even had some Hebrew on it, as an homage to Josh’s seminary days.  I think it says, “I am my beloved’s and he is mine,” but the Bing translate people could have just been messing with me.

Creative wrapping was not really my thing this year, but my kids followed me in an act of solidarity:

So this will be known as the year of the paper bag.

I was a little worried that the kids were going to be pretty materialistic this year because apparently I’ve created a high standard for Valentines Day gifts.  However, I couldn’t have been more delighted with how thoughtful they were towards each other.  The boys went to the thrift store and bought everyone gifts with their own money, and Ava, whose bank account was still hurting from Christmas, hand crafted their gifts:

And what was in those paper bags?  Well, we’ve had a lot of rain around here lately, so I decided we needed this:

They love them!  Possibly the best $12 I’ve spent on these kiddos in a long time!

As far as celebrating goes, we made our traditional Five Guys pilgrimage on Friday night since I had a late afternoon shoot on Saturday.  A lot of times we spend our time in restaurants just trying to keep everyone alive and trying to keep Egan from terrorizing the people around us, but this time I can genuinely say that we had a really nice time together as a family!  I’m really working on taking the time to ENJOY my children.  Although I get to spend more time with my children than most people do, I stay overwhelmed with responsibilities that I rarely take the time to just have FUN with the kids.  Here’s to a lot more fun in 2015!

 

A photo posted by kara (@karathecucumber) on Feb 13, 2015 at 5:14pm PST

Homeschool 3/5 Review

Well, we wrapped up our first half of the school year before Christmas and I thought, “I’m going to sit down and write a Mid-Year Review RIGHT NOW before time escapes me.”

Hi.  Time escaped.

So I’m estimating that we are about 3/5 of the way through our year, and I’m sitting down RIGHT NOW to write about our school year before…well…it’s over!

(I actually never wrote a review of last year.  It really deserves a post of its own and I hope to write it one day before I’ve completely forgotten.  But today is not that day.)

I’m not going to lie, I had a lot of anxiety about homeschooling this year for 3 reasons.  A)  I would have a relatively new baby.  Enough said.  B) Israel was coming home for kindergarten, so I was going from teaching 1 to teaching 2.  (That’s double!)  C) Israel was coming home for KINDERGARTEN.  I’ve never taught anyone to read before, and I was pretty terrified of not being able to pull it off!

I was really hoping to knock out a lot of planning for the school year the week in July that the kids were gone.  You know, the week that Arrow was supposed to come at the END of?  Well, seeing how THAT didn’t go as expected, I also didn’t have that quiet week of planning that I had been counting on, which added another layer of anxiety to the beginning of the school year.

However, ready or not, the school year started!

Here we are on the first day!  I picked “Team Linker” as the theme for our school year because, well, we live together and probably spend 85% of our time together, but there are a lot of times it feels like we’re not functioning as a team!  I know sibling rivalry is a normal part of life, but my goal is to really minimalize that as much as possible.

SO, I really can’t review our WHOLE year in one blog post, so I will cover our curriculum today!  If you don’t think that’s exciting, you might want to stop reading now.

Here’s what we’ve been studying:

Together:

  • Bible – Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Loyd-Jones.  When I saw that there is a devotional by the author of Jesus Storybook Bible, I said sign us up!
  • Bible (for December) – The Truth in the Tinsel.  This e-book was a perfect Advent study for us.  It’s great for a variety of ages, and everyone enjoyed it.  It’s hard to find something that works for Ava AND Egan, so that’s pretty huge!  And I’ll be completely honest and say that I put down the extra $4 to print ornaments instead of making them as she suggests.  We just don’t have time fo’ all dat.
  • History – A Child’s Story of America.  We are learning about American history in Classical Conversations this year, so this is our history.  We read a chapter a week.  I honestly have not done a whole lot with the kids besides reading it; on occasion I will give Ava a writing assignment that deals with the book, and they both did a history project in December when we were not having co-op meetings.  But we are enjoying going through the book, and I’m learning a lot, too!
  • Science (first half) – Apologia’s Exploring Creation Through Human Anatomy and Physiology.
    The first half of the Classical Conversations year was centered around human anatomy, so we did this to parallel.  Ava would read it to Israel, and it took us about 3 days a week in order to cover a chapter a week.  It was SO MUCH, that we were doing good just to read the information, so we really didn’t do much else with it!  In December, Ava wrote her research paper about the digestive system and Israel made a model of the axial skeleton.
  • Science (second half) – Apologia’s Exploring Creation Through Chemistry and PhysicsI know, I’m glutton for punishment getting another Apologia book, but I felt like I needed the predictable format.  However, I’m making two big changes this semester that seem to be helping.  Instead of trying to skip around the book to stay consistent with the CC memory work, we’re just going straight through the book this time.  I’m also creating science notebooks for the kids as we go so that they have a small, age appropriate assignment to go with each day of reading.  Last semester, I would often skip the fun parts (experiments!), but the science notebooking is helping me to stay accountable to doing the experiments with the kids.  And I know the people that follow me on Instagram just LOVE it!
  • Reading:  I know Ava is a very proficient reader, but I still want us to have family reading time together.  Now family reading time is about 15 minutes after lunch, and then we break up and Ava does her reading while I read to Israel.  Together, we have read The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan.  Now, we are reading the Beatrix Potter collection.

Ava:

  • Math – Teaching Textbooks: Math 5.  This has been a great decision for us.  Last year, my biggest struggle with Ava was math.  (And, let’s face it, I don’t love math, either!)  I was also really concerned about time management when I would add another student to the mix.  Teaching Textbooks is a computer software that does it ALL, from lecture to grading.  Although I don’t want to be constantly sticking my kids in front of a screen, this works perfectly for our life stage.  Ava loves it, she gets it done while I teach Israel phonics, and we never have a Math Meltdown.
  •  Shurley Grammar, Level 2.  I adore Shurley.  It makes my Grammar Nerd side very happy.  Not everyone likes scripted curriculum, but I can skip over/summarize the script when it gets too tedious, but I never have to actually come up with wording if I don’t want to.  Win/Win.
  • Cursive: Prescripts for Classical Conversations.  I love this.  Ava does it entirely on her own, and not only has her cursive really improved, but it reinforces her learning her history sentence every week.
  • Spelling:  the internet and other free resources.  Seriously, she flew through two years worth of spelling curricula last year, so I decided I’m never buying her curriculum again.  We first went through all the spelling lists in a second grade workbook that was passed down to us, and then I printed out a 3rd grade list off the internets.
  • Writing: mah head.  Ava has to do 3 journal entries a week.  Last year it was pulling teeth to get her to write more than a few words in a journal.  This year, she’s learned to love it.  Another thing she does completely on her own!  I also give her about 3 paragraph assignments a week having to do with things we are learning.
  • Reading and Reading Comprehension:  The library.  And sometimes Amazon.  The girl is a fast reader.  She goes through 7 – 10 chapter books a week.  I don’t make her “do” reading comprehension exercises with those books because I don’t want her to lose the delight in it.  HOWEVER, in keeping with our theme, she reads a piece of American literature (of my choosing) each month and writes a five paragraph book report on it.  So far, she has read “Rip Van Winkle,” The Witch of Blackbird Pond,  Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims, Alone Yet Not Alone, and Caddie Woodlawn.  Charlie Skedaddle, Little Women, and My Side of the Mountain are to come!

Israel:

  • Math – Singapore 1A and 1B – I taught this to Ava last year, and she flew through them both in the first half of the year.  (They are supposed to each take a semester.)  Since she obviously had already learned most of it in kindergarten, I decided it would be safe to start Izzy with these instead of searching for a Kindergarten curriculum.  I thought we might end up taking longer than intended, and I was OK with that…and then December started, and I realized that Izzy was almost done with 1A!  So we ended up starting 1B in January!  I did end up buying the student workbook for 1B, and I’m so glad…I found myself making a lot of worksheets for 1A, so I figured I would save some time and get the workbook!  And his reading skills are now to the point that he can read a lot of the workbook himself, so that is a nice surprise!
  • Phonics – Phonics PathwaysThis was THE hardest decision to make in regards to this year’s curriculum.  As I’ve mentioned, I was terrified of teaching someone how to read.  Also, I really was not familiar with phonics; that’s certainly not how I learned how to read!  I was recommended 5 or 6 different curricula, all with a variety of prices and preparation needed, and I basically prayed over the list.  I ended up coming back to the first one I had ever heard of: Phonics Pathways.  It is recommended by Susan Bauer in The Well-Trained Mind.  And it seems to be working great!  I love watching someone develop literacy, it is truly such a gift and such a privilege to be a part of it!
  • Writing – also mah head.  We started working on handwriting over the summer.  Now, every day I dictate a sentence for Izzy to write (giving him spelling hints, like, “This word will get its long vowel sound with a ‘magic E’.”)  Then I give him two more sentences to trace and copy.  In the end, he has a paragraph to read!
  • Reading – I’ve gotten lots of quality time reading with Izzy!  We’ve been reading through The Magic Tree House series, and he loves them!  Not sure what we’ll do when we’re through!

And there you have it!  Tune in later for review posts on:

  • Our not one, but TWO co-ops!
  • Field trips
  • The highs and lows of shepherding little hearts

The Top 14 [Pink Shutterbug] Photos of 2014

I haven’t done much blogging about photography this year because…well, I haven’t done much blogging about anything!

This past year, photography was about cutting back and doing a few things really well.  Before Arrow was born, I second shot a couple weddings and only shot one or two birthday parties; the rest was what I love: PORTRAITS.  After Arrow was born, I finally made the call to officially NOT shoot events for the time being, and just pursue what I love: PORTRAITS.

There you have it, folks.  I am now a natural light portrait photographer.  This year, my goal has been to bring the focus of my work to people’s eyes.  Have you ever REALLY taken the time to look at people’s eyes?!  So many different shapes and sizes and colors…and they are all wonderful!  I have also in the past few months also been making a conscience effort towards including foreground in a lot of pictures.

SO, I got it in my head that I wanted to blog my top 14 favorite pictures of 2014.  I’ve taken so many, it has been REALLY hard to narrow it down.  So please don’t be offended if your pictures are not included!!  I’ve really tried to pick pictures whose composition represents my style, or the achievement of a goal, or that I just LOVE the composition of.  Not to mention that I have an emotional attachment to a lot of them as well.  Some of them are from paid work, some of them are gifts, and some of them are personal.  (But all are taken with my real camera.)  So, without further ado (and in chronological order, because there is NO WAY I’m going to be able to pick a favorite)…

#1

In January, I shot newborn pictures for my nephew, Xander.  It was a cold day, so we were limited to the confines of Kristy’s apartment.  I was sick and pregnant, but we still managed to get some beautiful shots of him!

#2

OK, I know this is technically a collage, but it’s the best way to represent this baptism!  When we were invited to the baptism service of a young friend of ours, I asked if they would like to have a photographer.  I’ve never shot a baptism, and I think it’s such a significant event that it merits REAL pictures.  My friend (and her pastor!) graciously agreed to let me do it, even though I insisted on being on the steps ABOVE the water.  They didn’t understand why I wanted to be in that spot so badly…until they saw the pictures!  Buried with Him in baptism, raised to walk in newness of life.  Amen!

(And I’m pretty proud to have done this with no flash!!)

#3

(I promise they won’t all be black and white!)

This sweet family had their SIXTH baby in March!  I love this shot of everyone’s hands over sweet Asher…this represents, to me, what family is all about!

#4

When a young man asked me if I could take some prom portraits for him and his friends, I had to try to contain my excitement!  It’s VERY rare that I get to work with high schoolers, and they are so much fun to pose!  Hint hint to all you people looking for senior portraits!

#5

This was the perfect Father’s Day surprise for Josh.  It is on our wall.  Those faces.  Gah.

#6

Mandi was my BFF in first grade.  When I found out that she was going to have a Dr. Who themed wedding, and she was game for me coming in to take some themed shots, I was ecstatic!  Because you know what’s better than going to the wedding for your childhood bestie?  It’s going to the wedding for your childhood bestie and COMING HOME WITH TARDIS THEMED PICTURES.  **happy sigh**

#7

This picture from Izzy’s graduation.  I love it so much.  This was just a week before the Millers moved away.  All our babies.  The facial expressions.  I just love it.

#8

I love this shot of this sweet family!  And since I was climbing around at 9 months pregnant to get it…well, that makes it all the more significant.

#9

This was my very last shoot before I had Arrow.  It was like all the stars aligned and it was everything family portraits should be.  Lots of bright colors and happy kids.  In an evening light.  Amen.

#10

Then I had dat baby.  You all know how I hate the light in my house.  There is oooone spot in Ava’s room where I can get this kind of shot in the afternoon!

#11

I lugged my big camera on this field trip along with a diaper bag and a baby in a ring sling, and was starting to wish I hadn’t brought it.  (The camera, not the baby!)  But then this happened.  This picture is everywhere.  It’s on our wall and our Christmas cards and computer wallpaper.  When you get the shot, you get the shot!

#12

Oh, the emotions behind this picture!  Korben was born premature (around 28 weeks gestation) and our family joined with many other prayer warriors asking the Lord to allow him to grow up.  I was so honored to get to take these “newborn” (he was 2 months old!) pictures of a healthy, happy baby boy at home!  Praise God!

#13

This was such a fun engagement shoot!  Joel is a film student so he was totally down with posing in weird places so that we could get a nice backlight with some good foreground.  This picture represents, to me, my journey in photography this year.

#14

I just took the plunge and purchased an 85mm lens, and this is one of the first shots it gave me.  Here’s to looking forward to another year…shooting a little less, but getting more out of each shot!

(See what I did there?  LOOKING?  It’s a picture of an eye.  Get it?)

The Books of 2014

I’ve talked before about how I’ve had a hard time finding time to read and maintain my photography business at the same time.  In view of that, this has probably been the best year since the birth of Pink Shutterbug for my reading!

(Unfortunately, the same can not be said about my blogging.  Ahem.)

SO, I thought I would recap the books that I have read this year with  a little, teensy-winsy review for each one.  Because I know there’s a slight chance you might want to know if one of these books is worth reading.  I will also try to categorize them to save you even MORE time!

Category:  Parenting

Six Ways to Keep the “Little” in Your Girl by Danna Gresh

I have been a Dannah Gresh fan ever since I shot one of her events over a year ago.

(That sounds very fancy.  Our Christian radio station hosted the event and they needed a photographer that was crazy enough to shoot it for free.)

(Hi.)

This book did not disappoint.  Dannah has seriously done her research in the area of girls and sexual purity, and this book is packed with practical advice.  Its target audience is moms of 8 – 12 year olds, but in today’s culture it wouldn’t hurt to read it a few years before your daughter gets to her “tweens!”

Grace Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel

I’ll be honest, I was frustrated at first by this book.  I was really hoping for Tim to say “You need to be a grace based parent, and THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT.”  Once I got over the fact that this is NOT, in fact, a step-by-step manual, I got a lot of good information from the book.

If anyone finds the step-by-step manual, though, let me know!

Category:  Personal/Spiritual Growth

Nehemiah: A Heart That Can Break by Kelly Minter

OK, so I did this as a part of a small group Bible study, but I’m including it because I really LOVED the daily “homework” that came with it!  It has been a long time since I have done this type of intensive Bible study, and it was just what I needed!  I highly recommend this one!  (The DVD that we watched when we met every week, though?  Eh, I could take it or leave it.  The meat was in the homework!)

Mended by Angie Smith

I asked for this for Christmas last year because I love Angie (and am TOTALLY on first name basis with her!), but I had no idea it was a devotional!  These devotions have helped me through the months right before and after having a baby – always a hard time for me spiritually because I am a creature of routine and babies like to mess with my routine!  Seriously, there are some real blessings in this book!

Category:  Children’s Literature that Was too Good Not to Share!

The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne

I read this to the kids upon recommendation at our homeschool practicum.  Of course I was familiar with the Disney-fide Winnie the Pooh, but I had never read the real thing.

Oh my goodness.  It is just the sweetest, most endearing collection.  You need to BUY IT NOW for your children or grandchildren or nephews or kids that live in the apartment above you and read it with them.  You will not regret it!

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

I also read this with the kids.  So much fun!

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elisabeth George Speare

I read this to make sure it would be appropriate for Ava.  (She reads a piece of American literature to correspond with our study of American history and writes a book report every month.)  It was great; it had a lot of the same themes as The Scarlett Letter and The Crucible, but without any “adult” issues that Ava’s not ready for.  Oh, and the ending is happier, which is nice.

Category: Memoirs

A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet by Sophie Hudson

I love Boomama’s blog, and I love the endearing stories she shares about her Southern family.  It’s a win/win!

The Antelope in the Living Room by Melanie Shankle

It’s no secret that I have an internet crush on Bigmama.  So, of course, Josh was smart enough to get me her second book as soon as it came out!  If it’s possible, I loved this one more than Sparkly Green Earrings  because the stories were new to me since most of them took place before her blog.

And if you don’t laugh out loud when the creature in her kitchen throws toast at her, there’s something wrong with you.

Something Other Than God by Jen Fulwiler

OK, so now I also have a Catholic internet crush (yes, this is a thing.)  I love Jen’s blog, Conversion Diary, and I made sure Josh got the message that I would be wanting her first book ASAP when it came out.  Although I’m not Catholic, I found her story of conversion from Atheism to Catholicism truly thought provoking.  And the writing is wonderful.

Oh, and I’ll never forget this book.

My water broke while I was reading it.

Category: Fun!

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Somehow I missed being assigned this book in high school, so Josh and I thought it would be fun to read it and then watch the “new” movie.

When I read it, I felt like I was missing something.  I mean, I really liked the writing style, but the whole thing left me feeling kind of…meh.  I felt like it was trying to make a point, but I wasn’t QUITE seeing what that point was.  Fortunately, I got to talk to a literature professor at a party (which makes me sound much classier than I really am,) and she confirmed that I was very justified in feeling…MEH.

So I can’t say I recommend it.  Or don’t recommend it.

Meh.

Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Collection by Arthur Doyle

I’m still reading this, but I’m going to include it because I can!  I’ve been reading this on the Kindle App on my phone.  Although I certainly prefer a paper book, it is nice to have access to reading when I am nursing/in the car/waiting on a client.  These stories are really working for me right now because I don’t have a lot of time for reading, and they are short, easy reads.

After thoroughly enjoying the modernized BBC series recently, I thought I best read the books so that I could really appreciate the series.  I am thoroughly enjoying these, and yes, I totally picture Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman while I am reading.

So there you have it!  It has been, well, not a great, but a better, year of reading for me.  I would reveal some reading goals for 2015, but I don’t want to get too carried away!

A Little G.K. Chesterton because I am High Brow Like That

I’ve been meaning to share this since…May.

Man, I am doing good!

I heard this quote at our homeschool practicum, and I just thought it was incredibly beautiful.  Having 4 kids involves a LOT of  monotony, so I need this reminder from time to time…and I thought you might, too!

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”  – G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Today was the day…

Today was the day that I thought we were making good time getting ready for our homeschool co-op*, only to leave 5 minutes later than usual.

Today was the day that I didn’t remember to ask my daughter if she had all her body parts** until we were five minutes down the road.

Today was the day that my typically responsible (for her schoolwork) daughter FORGOT the body parts.

Today was the day that I opted to be late so that we could retrieve said body parts.

Today was the (bitterly cold, even in Florida) day that we arrived, 10 minutes late, for co-op, only to discover that my three year old did not have any shoes.  And we would be out all day.  In the cold.

Today was the day that 3 of my 4 children had a doctor check-up at the same time.  (Which I did on purpose, but still sounds daunting!)

Today was the day that our family doctor (bless him!) had to watch 3 children show him their best gymnastic skills because clearly, he needed to know they had said skills to be able to assess their health.

Today was the day that my 6 year old decided that the worst thing in the entire world would be to get a flu shot.  It would be worse than any disaster wrought by fire or water, and everyone in the doctor’s office and the surrounding businesses understood his feelings.

Today was the day that said 6 year old’s habit of going commando backfired when the nurse was preparing him for the evil shot.  (She ended up giving it in the arm.)

Today was also the day that my 8 year old decided that getting shots is really fun and she can’t wait to get another one.  (??!!)

You know?  That’s actually not a bad day!

Some disclaimers:

*I have to let it be known that the only reason we ever get to our co-op on time is that Josh has personally taken it upon himself to get us out the door.  He realized that me getting 4 children ready in a timely manner at that hour is simply not possible, and he had mercy on my plight.  So, every Tuesday, he makes our lunches and gets the boys dressed.  And ladies, he’s mine.

**The kids were wrapping up their study of human anatomy by glueing a bunch of pictures of internal organs/bones/muscles to a traced image of their bodies.  I promise it wasn’t some weird zombie thing!

Seven Quick Takes on Dr. Who, Feeble Efforts Towards Healthy Living, and Cabbage Patch Kids

I’m not Catholic.  But I secretly want to be a Catholic blogger.

So I’m going to try to piggy back on this Seven Quick Takes thing and see if they’ll let my Protestant self in.

It’s all very rebellious and exciting!

(Truly, I’m just looking for an excuse to write a quick blog, because, November?  THE EDITING NEVER ENDS.)

(And I think Catholic mommy bloggers are super cool!)

Take 1 

I was editing a shoot the other day that involved a child who REALLY did not want to smile.  Well, considering the fact that a lot of my clientele are between the ages of 0 and 5, this actually happens pretty often.  But this child was particularly stubborn.  And I realized that, every time I’m in this situation, this is how I feel when I finally get that smile:

Give me this one day!  Just this once!  Everyone smiles!!!

Take 2

Speaking of Dr. Who (ooooooooh, that was smooth, wasn’t it??), we are actually caught up on watching it!  (Thanks, BBC America!)  So I, of course, need to give my thoughts on Peter Capaldi.  Josh and I have both agreed that he has great potential.  He’s like an older David Tennant, which really works for us.  However, I’ve observed 2 big problems:  1)  The writing has been terrible since his arrival.  Seriously, his first episode and the finale were the only story lines that really worked, in my humble opinion.  2)  I’m just going to say this now…I’m not a big Clara fan.  There, I said it.  I don’t have a problem with her as a person, and I think I actually like her more with Capaldi than Matt Smith, but I think the writers tried too much too soon with her…they basically tried to make her another Rose, and you just can’t do that.  From what I understand, she’s exiting now, and I look forward to seeing who will be boarding the Tardis now!

Take 3

Actually, I know who I would like to see on the Tardis:

Miranda Hart

It would be fantastic!

I also want to see this happen:

hello sweetie

Thanks.

Take 4

OK, so this might just end up being One Quick Take on Dr. Who, but I also must say that, after a lot of going back and forth about it, we started to let the kids watch it.  We had to start back with #9, of course, so it is a fun trip down memory lane for us.  They are LOVING it, but watching it with them is not for the faint of heart, because, OH, THE QUESTIONS! We end up with a bunch, even when we tell them, “YOU CAN ONLY WATCH THIS IF YOU DON’T ASK ANY QUESTIONS!!!”  We do the best we can with the answers, but at some point we have to throw in the towel:  “It’s not supposed to make sense.  It’s science fiction!!!”

But it’s all worth it when you hear Egan try to explain what a Dalek is, or when you hear Izzy say “The Tardis is in your phone!”  (which means I got a fb message,) or Ava writes “Are you my mummy?” at the bottom of her test.

That’s straight up special right there.

Take 5

We are in the process of going hormone free on our animal products.  That sounds terribly arrogant, I know, but we  have some good reasons for trying it.  We’ve started looking at different stores and pricing meat, and the whole thing is so overwhelming and makes me want to breath into a paper bag.  (Good thing natural food stores carry those!)  Here is what I’ve learned so far:

– Natural/green/whatever-you-want-to-call-it stores are NOT designed for people who need a month’s worth of groceries at a time.  The carts are tiny…and when I asked for 5 pounds of ground beef, I had to wait, because there WAS NOT ENOUGH OUT.

– I really could use a personal grocery shopper.  I ain’t got time fo’ all this.

– This.  This is delicious.

bark thins

It’s all I want for Christmas.  And New Years.  And Groundhog Day.

Take 6

I now have an 8 year old in my house.  To celebrate, we took her to Babyland General Hospital to adopt a Cabbage Patch doll.  We were in the area for Fall Break, and I really wanted to do something for her that was really girly because, well, there’s a chance she’s the only girl I’ll ever have.  **sniff**  And you know what made perfect sense as a kid but doesn’t as a 28 year old?

Watching a cabbage give birth to a baby.

**shudder**

Good thing Ava could handle it!

Take 7

Speaking of Cabbage Patch Kids, I think this little guy bears a striking resemblance:

Halloween was made for pictures.

What, and you thought it was for collecting candy and glorifying the things we spend the rest of the year trying to convince our children are bad?

You are mistaken!

It is so that we can document our kids wearing our awesome creations.  Or, in my case, someone else’s awesome creations.

Let me be straight up honest with you.

I don’t care for store bought costumes, and I don’t have any spare minutes for costume construction.  However, my kids are old enough now to appreciate a good costume.  I may have been so desperate that I put a plea on facebook for help.  And I may have a friend so amazing that she responded by sewing Ava a costume.  And I may have a husband so amazing that he hand-stitched the boys’ costumes.

But I took the pictures.

We started off our evening at the Harrells because A) Ava needed eyeliner to be a proper Cleopatra, of which I have none.  and B) The pictures!

Here is our whole crew…

Here is my Cleopatra:

I’m not kidding, my friend Morgan sewed this costume for her and came up with the whole collar/armband thing.  Isn’t it amazing???  Josh took her to buy the wig, and Cynthia did the make-up.  Thanks, guys!  She was so happy to not have to be Laura Ingalls AGAIN!

My Wild Kratts!!!  The boys love playing Wild Kratts so much, but coming up with a costume seemed an impossible feat.  Toys R Us sometimes carries the vests, but that would have involved GOING INTO A STORE THAT DOESN’T SELL FOOD.  Which I don’t do.  So thankful for a man who will sit sewing for two whole nights to make two very happy boys!

Josh’s Costume:

Oh, yeah.  He went there!

And then the Arrow.  When Ava decided to be an Egyptian princess, I got all kinds of excited because he was the perfect age to be Baby Moses, and all I would have to do is swaddle him and put him in a basket.  It would have been the cutest theme ever, not to mention the easiest baby costume!  But then Ava caught wind of my scheme and declared she must be CLEOPATRA, because far be it from her to do something that will make my life easier!

So this morning I pulled out the ol’ fly costume, and I felt kind of bad because he didn’t have a cool costume that someone (not me, of course!) had put a lot of thought into like everyone else.

BUT THEN.

I thought of an amazing photo project that could make this look like it had been my plan all along!  So I present to you…

The Fly Series

The End.

Oh, wait, we did also do a little Trick ‘o’ Treating and attend a party at Josh’s co-worker’s house.

But that doesn’t really matter, because you know what matters?

The pictures.

Commercial Time!

Instagram

I have been meaning to mention in every post since April that I have finally entered the world of the smart phone, and part of that is having an Instagram account!

I’ve really enjoyed using Instagram during this season where I have so little time for blogging.  I’m also not comfortable putting our “real life” pictures on facebook because A) Facebook is already crowded, and ain’t nobody got time fo’ all dat.  B) I feel like the only people who are going to take the time to follow me on Instagram are the ones who love me for who I am.  It is much less political than Facebook.

SO, if you need a fix because you’re missing the blog, than follow karathecucumber on Instagram.  If you can figure out how to do it – I have little to offer in technical help.  THAT is where our real life – topless boys, cute baby galore, school achievements that nobody cares about but me [but I share them anyway], dark chocolate snacks, and even the occasional [tasteful] breastfeeding selfie – can be found!

Baby Q & A and Long Lost Pictures!

Alternatively titled:  She Does Know He’s Not a Newborn Anymore, Right???

Sorry, this is the laaaaast baby catch-up post.  Then I’ll go back to regularly scheduled blogging.

Or maybe I should say, I’ll go back to trying to regularly schedule blogging.

Anyway, when Ava was born, I filled out a little survey of commonly asked questionsI did it again after Egan was born.  So it is only fitting that I do it for Arrow!  (I know, I know, I actually have 4 children.  Poor Izzy will be able to trace all his problems back to not getting a survey filled out about him!)

Also, I know it’s a travesty, but I didn’t even bring my camera into the Birth Cottage.  It was in my car.  I had wonderful intentions.  I was going to set the manual settings between contractions so we could use the natural light and pass it off to Cynthia to shoot with.  But we already mentioned in my last post about what happened to my PLANS that day.  However, Cynthia snagged some pictures with her phone, e-mailed them to me, and I found them…2 months later!  So hooray for surprise birth pictures and I will now pepper them throughout!

I was so glad Cynthia got this shot – it’s the only one of me and Arrow before I went to the hospital.  I know I don’t look all loving an maternal, but better than nothing.  And check out all that natural light!  We could have done so much…sigh.

Question:  How are your nights going?

Answer:  The reason we have so many kids?  They sleep through the night by about two months.

Seriously.  The first couple weeks were rough, but once Arrow learned to love the Rock and Play, he’s been a good sleeper ever since!  And he really does give us a good 9 hours at night.  Of course, I have melons on my chest by the morning, but it’s all good, we’re sleepin’!

Peachy with Arrow!

Question:  How was your labor and delivery?

Answer:  You must have missed this epic blog.

Question:  Are you breastfeeding?

Answer:  Am I ever not breastfeeding?

Arrow’s start was a little different in the breastfeeding world because, well, that’s all I’ve ever done with him!  Even though I exclusively breastfed the boys for the first year, I did a pumping/supplementing routine for their first few days of life until my milk really came in.  However, with Arrow, I ended up spending an unexpected 24 hours in the hospital after his birth.  Because that wasn’t planned, I didn’t have my pump or any formula with me.  I also had taken Percocet, which, in addition to causing me to send my best friend a series of texts post scripted with #narcotics, it helped me to not stress out about feeding the baby like I normally would.  I put him to the breast (which, thankfully, he took to!) and trusted God with the rest.

And how is breastfeeding going now?  Well, I can’t get anything done in the afternoon thanks to cluster feeding, and he’s now a 13 pound chunker.

In other words, he’s a boob man.

Question:  Have you taken her him out yet?

Answer:  Well, obviously, at 2 months I have.  But, thanks to all the help I had and the fact that I had more restrictions than I’ve had in the past, Arrow and I didn’t get out right away.  I thought that it would drive me crazy to be on bed rest for a week and not get to drive for two weeks.

As it turns out, it was AWESOME.

Of course, now, he gets to experience it all: gymnastics, co-op, the other co-op, church, restaurants, the grocery store.  Just part of being in a bigger family!

Gramma worked hard that day to get to this moment!

Question:  Do you have help at home? Are you going back to class work?

Answer:  I have been blessed with SO MUCH help.  Josh took the first week off after Arrow was born to take care of me while the kids stayed at their grandparents.  Then my mom brought the kids back and stayed with us for a week and Josh went back to work.  Then Josh took another week off!  Not to mention that Cynthia shows up at random to clean the house/cut the grass/wrangle the Egan.  I am a very blessed lady!!!

My main job, homeschooling, is back in full swing now.  My side job, photography, is also back!  HOWEVER, I am ONLY doing portrait shoots for the rest of this year…and maybe even forever!  I’ve been wanting to get out of event photography for a while now…and having another baby finally gave me the extra push to do it!

 

My amazing birth team!  Layla, Peachy, and Heather.  I didn’t mention Heather in the last post because she came in towards the end, but she’s the one that helped me get from Point A to Point B every time I would have to walk after the birth, so she was definitely an important part of the process!

Some New  Newer Questions!

Question: Where did you get the name?

Answer:  We had a list of three first names and two middle names, and Israel picked the name from that.  (Ava picked a girl name!)  Keith, the middle name, is my Grandad’s name.

Arrow is a little harder to explain.

Honestly, it just kind of happened.

When I was about 8 months pregnant, Lauren became concerned that we had not yet picked a name (I mean, I had a whole ‘nother month!) and sent me a link to a name list website.  It seemed a little less overwhelming than most that I had looked at, so I perused the names starting with vowels and saw Arrow used as a first name for the first time.  I thought it was cool, and sent it (along with some others) to Josh, who was out of town, so I wouldn’t forget them before we had time to discuss them.

In the end, Arrow made the final cut (along with Anders and Orin,) and Izzy took care of the rest.

BUT, after he was born, I discovered that our photographer (who happens to be Polished Arrow Photography, and that didn’t even cross my  mind when we picked the name!) has an awesome verse that she uses with her business, and she said that I could steal it for Arrow’s Life Verse:

“He made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.”  Isaiah 49:2 B.

Although this is admittedly a little out of context (it’s a reference to Christ Himself in one of the Servant Songs,) my prayer for my Arrow is that God both keeps him in His quiver, and uses him as a sharp and swift tool for the glorification of His Kingdom.

Not to mention, it is a totally awesome name!  😉

OK, so these are with my camera from the 48 hour check-up our birth team did at our house.  I had to come out of my non-camera funk, because, this scale?!  It’s like we’re in an episode of Call the Midwife!

Question: How is being a mom to three four kids going?

Answer:  If you ever want to try it, I have four you can borrow!

But really.  There are days that the boys never change out of their pajamas and there are weeks (like this one!)  that the laundry never gets done.  My meal planning/grocery shopping is terrible right now.  The house is a constant wreck.  I eat more in the car than I do at my dining room table.

But I am so, so, so, so very blessed!  (Do you see what I did there?  4 “so”s!)  I have incredible kids!  Incredibly difficult to raise, yes, but incredible still.  And I have an AMAZING support in my husband.  Seriously, what a privilege it is to raise a family with Joshua Linker!

Eeeeeek!  Toesies!

Well, lookie there!  I have more pictures than questions.  I guess I will have to come up with…

Some New, New Frequently Asked Questions!

 

Sweet Layla getting some Arrow love!

Question:  Is this your last baby?

Answer: Mind your own business!

Hehe.  But really.  Although we are in no hurry, we will not complain if God expands our family biologically or through adoption.

In the future.

Like, not right now.

Word.

 

I just love her shirt.  It really does take a village!

Question:  How do you do it all?

Answer:  Oh my goodness, I don’t.

I was totally serious about the laundry/grocery/mess situation.  There are days where I really feel totally defeated. 2 Corinthians 12:9 often comes to mind: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Let’s just say I’m giving God a whole lot of weakness to work with!

Peachy snagged this shot.  Check out that aperture.  That is a niiiiiice aperture.  And man.  And baby.

How I Had Your Brother

Alternatively Titled, “Why There is an Adult Diaper in My Car”

Also Alternatively Titled,  “So THAT is What Kegels Are For?!”

There is no real way to write this birth story in a discreet, dignified manner.  SO, if you are not sure that reading it is for you, here is what I recommend:  check out Egan’s birth story.  If you read that and thought, “That was WAY too much information!”  OR you thought, “That was just about the right amount of information,” then this birth story is not for you.  If you thought “That story was NOT GROSS ENOUGH!”  then this birth story MIGHT be for you! 

Oh, and this is a picture-less post.  I know having pictures would be ideal, but truth be told, if I waited to have everything, this post would never get written!

And forgive typographical and grammatical errors, pretty please.  Again, if I had time for intensive proofreading, this would never get written.

SO, without further ado, (and yes, you will totally imagine Bob Saget reading this even though it makes NO SENSE for him to be telling a birth story in first person), I present…

How I Had Your Brother

Year 2030

Kids, I can’t help but noticing that you seem to be a little annoyed by your brother Arrow.  I’m not sure if it’s his habit of leaving his sweaty football jersey in the bathroom sink, or if it’s his tendency to drink straight from the milk carton and then put it back in the fridge, but somewhere along the way you’ve started to treat him with a little less than respect.  It’s times like these that I think it might be good for us to look back and be reminded of what a miracle life really is.  Particularly, your brother’s life.  Oh, and you will want to take a seat.  We will be here for a while.

Kids, it was the summer of 2014.  Ava, you were just starting to transition from calling us “Mama and Daddy” to “Mom and Dad,” and it took everything within me to not get you in trouble for growing up.  Israel, you had decided it was your destiny to run an art store in the summers to help fund your scientific exploration the rest of the year.  And Egan, you were so fearless and compulsive, it was truly a miracle that we were able to keep you alive.  But you all had one thing in common: you were looking forward to the birth of your fourth sibling.

I was due on July 12th.  This was the last day of camp, and you guys KNOW how much I love camp, so I had arranged for you to spend the week at your grandparents so that you could attend.  On July 4th, Gramma and Pa came to spend the day with us.  They took the three of you back home with them.  Looking at a full week without kids ahead, and no baby until the end of the week, I had great plans of catching up on some cleaning around the house, making last minute cloth diaper preparations, and selecting and ordering our homeschool curriculum.  I also planned that, once I was in labor, it would be a fast one, because it was a fourth baby and all of the fourth babies I knew had simply walked out when they were ready.  I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you to know that your brother had different plans than EVERYONE else, right from the womb!

On Sunday, July 6th, I was particularly uncomfortable.  I had firm (but not painful) contractions all day.  We went to church and later to a party as we had planned, but I can’t say my heart was in the process.  Your Daddy was a little worried, but I tried to not think too much about being in pre-labor because there is nothing more inconvenient than a false alarm.  Not to mention, my Glorious Plan!  It did NOT involve a baby early in the week.

That night, I had taken the luxury of sitting up in bed and reading.  I was really enjoying my book and knew I was probably too uncomfortable to sleep, anyway, so I made the call to stay up and finish my book and then sleep in the next morning to make up for it.  Because, had I mentioned?  There were no children in my house to get me up early in the morning!

I remember feeling all day that your brother was jabbing at me – like he was TRYING to pop the balloon he was in!  WELL, at 2:00 AM, he succeeded, and my water broke.  Now, kids, it is really not painful when this happens.  However, I had never experienced it on my own before, so it was a little startling.  OK, very startling.  I woke your Daddy up and we knew that it was time to get the show on the row.

Kids, I don’t expect  you to remember this, but this was the pregnancy that your mother’s Hippy Side won out over her Conventional Side.  So instead of using a hospital to have your brother, we had decided to use a birthing center.  It’s not open 24 hours a day, and since it was the middle of the night, I had to…wait for it…CALL THE MIDWIFE.

(Oh, right, you wouldn’t get that.  Call the Midwife was a delightful BBC production that I used to watch while I was working.  Do NOT roll  your eyes when I mention BBC!)

Layla, our midwife, seemed to have been sleeping, for some reason, at 2:00 AM.  I told her what had happened, and she asked if my contractions were timeable.  Well…no, I had not really waited long enough to have any contractions.  She then suggested that I contact her again around 7:00, and if they weren’t timeable by then we would…try to make them happen.  To which I had to ask…”What about the antibiotics I’m supposed to be on for being positive for strep?”  To which she replied dolefully…”Oh yeah…that changes everything.”

We agreed to meet at the Birth Cottage in an hour for my first round of antibiotics.  We might as well have, because about 30 seconds after getting off the phone, the first hard contraction hit.  When we got in the car, I started to time them, and they were 2 minutes apart.  This seemed to be a good sign for the fast labor that I had planned!  While we waited in the Birth Cottage parking lot (who knew that going in the middle of the night would shave 10 minutes off the travel time?!), your Daddy found a Contraction Timer app for my phone, because he knew that my memory couldn’t handle more than it already needed to.

This is, perhaps, the key to our marital success.

When Layla and her student midwife, Peachy, arrived, they took my vitals and had me shower (because I was not smart enough to do that at home!), gave me a round of IV antibiotics, and then left us in one of the birthing rooms…basically telling us they would be back in 4 hours for more antibiotics unless we needed something.  I think the expectation was for me to sleep before labor got too intense.  I know there are women out there who sleep through contractions…but I am not one of them.  For a while I sat and read between contractions.  (Because, remember?  I was supposed to finish my book that night!)  After a while, I decided sitting was for the birds and started to pace the little room.  I was still pretty consistently having contractions every 2 minutes.

At some point (was it 4 AM?  5 AM?  6 AM?)  I felt a definite change in labor.  I got extremely nauseous.  I felt a change in the contractions and started to feel a lot of pressure in my lower back that I hadn’t felt before.  This seemed to be going along nicely with my plan for a fast labor, so your Daddy went to get Peachy so that I could ask to be checked.  She did…and I was at a whopping 4 centimeters.

Around 7:00, Gramma and Aunt Cynthia arrived at the Birth Cottage.  I wish that I could give you accurate times for the rest of this story, but the truth is, most of this day was a blur and there are whole hours during which I have no idea what happened.  I do know that the pain was getting very intense, but I was also very exhausted since I had not slept the night before at all.  At one point, I was sitting on the birthing ball, but that didn’t last long because I was literally falling asleep between the contractions, and some people seem to think that that’s not safe while sitting on a rolling object.

When the midwives went to give me the second round of antibiotics, they had trouble threading the needle into my baby veins.  After several unsuccessful attempts, they gave me the option of washing every four hours with a super strong soap that is used in Europe to treat for strep.  To which I said, “yes please!”  No more needles for me!  Or so I thought.

Now kids, I have heard that this doesn’t always happen, but in every labor that I’ve had, the back labor has been extreme.  This labor was no exception.  And if you have ever wondered what back labor feels like, the lipstick taser is the best example I can come up with:

 

To go along with the normal major back pain, I continued to have pressure in my lower back.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure if it was the baby or…something else.  And, for whatever reason, this really, really bothered me, although I was assured that BOTH things needed to come on out.

Kids, I don’t know how else to say it, but your mother was constipated, and a baby squishing the intestines was not helping the matter.

Since I didn’t seem capable of passing what was bothering me on my own, Layla told me I was welcome to try castor oil or an enema.  Well, I didn’t know much about enemas, but I had heard about castor oil…so I opted for the enema!  Aunt Cynthia went to the drug store to get one for me..and if that doesn’t seal her into The Annals of Forever Friendship, I don’t know what will!

I think it was around 1:00 PM that I started to feel “pushy” at the end of each contraction.  The thing is (and kids, this is not how I want you to think about me, but I can’t really leave it out without changing the story,) what I was pushing out for the first hour or so was NOT a baby.  Remember, the enema?  HOWEVER, at this point my back labor was at the extreme.  I overheard people saying that there was a visible bulge in my back where the baby’s head was (or was the head pushing my pelvis to make the bulge?)  I was feeling ALL of the contraction pain in my back, which I didn’t even know was possible.  Layla (or Peachy?) had me up on all fours hugging a beanbag chair (I can’t make this stuff up!) to use gravity to help alleviate the pressure as much as possible.  The LAST place I wanted to be was sitting on a toilet, so you can imagine what people were having to do for me after each “push.”  Let’s just say I owe these people approximately 5 trillion dollars!!

Oh, and they had to deal with noise, too.  I didn’t think I was a verbal pain person.  In past labors, I’ve been able to internalize pain and not let the world in on it.  Of course, in past labors, I’ve asked for an epidural when I couldn’t keep it in any longer.  Apparently, when it comes down to it, I’m a screamer.  At one point Layla had to teach me how to control the noises I was making to somehow help with the contractions.  Or maybe she was just tired of hearing that ear-splitting pitch.  And God bless the people who had to hear me wail, “Why does my back hurt so bad?”  1,893 times.

But around 2:00 PM, Josh informed me, “Look, she’s getting blankets out, you’re about to have a baby!”  Sure enough, Peachy was making obvious baby preparations.  I felt so relieved.  I MEAN, I had not planned on a LABOR lasting that long, but we were obviously almost done!  I pushed both boys out, with epidurals, in about 15 minutes, so a med free delivery was going to probably take half that time!  Peachy then said, “Don’t push again until Layla gets back in here!”  and she was already talking to Josh about getting ready to catch (which is not a conversation he expected to have!)  All good signs, all good signs!

Your brother.  Yep, he’s always been a game changer.

We pushed.  We pushed, and we pushed, and we pushed.  I’m not going to lie, there was vomit and probably more poo and A LOT more screaming and wailing and gnashing of teeth.  I’m pretty sure I almost squeezed Gramma’s hands clean off because she literally kept me from flying off that bed for a long time.

Most of the pushing process was an extreme blur, but I do distinctly remember Layla asking, “Does it normally take this long for you to push out a baby?”  And then, sometime later, “This is Layla, do you mind if I check you?”  At that checking, there was a sad report that I was not actually fully dialated between contractions.  The baby was also a little crooked, which was not helpful for the descent into the birth canal.  She suggested that I NOT push through some contractions so that last little bit of cervix could recede.

Which is when I entered some of the scariest minutes of my life.  First of all, despite me trying with everything in me not to push, there was no NOT pushing during these contractions.  I felt like I had completely lost control in that respect.  I started to worry that I was going to harm the baby by pushing when he wasn’t ready to come out.  I also let myself get fearful that, despite our best efforts, I was destined to end up in the hospital, maybe even with a cesarean.

Now, kids, I am not proud that I let this fear creep in, and I wish that I could just skip that part of the story.  You know, that if anyone, anyone, knows better than allowing fear to get the best of her, it’s me.  I had you guys memorize 2 Timothy 1:7 when you were just wee ones: “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and a sound mind.”  But I have to be honest, I was allowing myself to fall into a very ungodly fear during this time.  To the point that I finally asked Peachy when a transfer to the hospital would be made.

In hindsight, I was actually in very good hands.  The midwives were constantly monitoring my blood pressure and the baby’s heart rate.  If the situation had become something that they could not handle, they would have moved me immediately.

I, honestly, also was feeling I had finally reached my pain threshold.  I really didn’t feel that I could continue going on like this for hours…especially if I would end up with a cesarean regardless.  (See how quickly my mind goes worst-case scenario?!  I’m so glad God is bigger!)

Peachy talked to Layla and she finally said, “OK, let’s get you to the toilet.”  It was, after all, the best place for a conference!

I wish I could say I expressed my concerns in a calm and dignified manner, but I think the gist of what I was able to say was “I can’t do this anymore,” (which Gramma claims I said all day!) and “I HAVE to get some relief.”  Layla, ever so patiently, agreed that this was a hard labor and things weren’t progressing like she would like.  And then she said, “OK, let’s make a deal.  It’s 4:30 now.  If the baby’s not born by 5:00, we’ll transfer you!”

And then she suggested ooooone last position.  Now kids, I haven’t tried to describe all the positions I had taken in the last 13 hours, but that is because I honestly can’t remember them all.  But let’s just say, if you can think of it, I probably did it.  This non-flexible, jogging-is-my-only-form-of-exercise-EVER kind of gal had become Yoga Master for a Day.  (Not always willingly, but that’s a small detail.)  But this last position Layla suggested I thought was going to be truly impossible.  She wanted me to come to the bathroom sink, and lean on it to rest between contractions.  Then she wanted me to drop down during contractions, hanging onto the sink in a squatting position, and to “shoot the baby towards the sink.”

I mean.

Somehow despite all my protests, my village managed to get me to the sink.  And somehow, still despite all my protests, I actually followed instructions.  And as crazy as that plan sounded, my midwife knew what she was talking about…

because your brother was born at 4:40.

Of course my first question was, “Is it a boy or a girl?”

I probably shouldn’t have had to ask that, but he was laying on his side below me on the bathroom floor (on an sanitary pad, my goodness, people!), and although I thought I had caught a glimpse of something, I couldn’t be sure.

Layla, however, was not going to make it easy for me, so I don’t think it was until I was able to pick him up that I was sure.  And then I croaked out the name that no one except your Daddy and brother and I knew about until that moment.  “This is Arrow.”

I wish I could say that, after that, everything was easy.  But, as I tried to hold this large and slippery baby while in a position that, on a good day, would be extremely uncomfortable, I started to hear words like “lost a lot of blood.”  It felt like ages that I was in that awful squatting position, although in truth I’m sure it was just a few minutes, and your Daddy was literally holding me up by that time.  Finally, I was cleared to get up and move back to the bed, but it was a slow and arduous process.  Once finally there, the placenta was delivered.  Then I was examined to see if I would need to be sutured at all.

It turns out that I had a third degree tear, which was beyond what Layla was comfortable fixing.  So it was looking like we would be taking a trip to the hospital, after all.  However, Arrow seemed to be doing great.  He weighed in at 9 pounds, 6 ounces, which sort of helped me understand what I had just experienced!  Layla also graciously showed and explained the placenta to us, which is something no one has taken the time to do before!

I will have to make a long story short at this point, which I know makes you very sad!  We did make a trip to the hospital, which we had been hoping to avoid, so that I could be sutured up properly.  However, Arrow was not admitted to the hospital and we only spent one night there, and we were honestly so exhausted that we didn’t really care where we spent that night.

Thanks to the tear, my recovery was not the quick, painless process I had hoped for.  (Or planned on, remember the wonderful plans I had made?)  So it took a few days before I really could bring myself to reflect on the birth process.  But once I was able to, the one word that summed it up was:

Amazing.

It was amazing to be in the midst of a camaraderie of wonderful women, all of whom were singly focused on bringing new life into the world.

It was an amazing amount of pain!  It is true!

It was amazing to feel like I was truly and completely a part of the process that women have been going through for thousands of years.

And the spiritual implications of natural childbirth are also amazing.

You see, natural childbirth is painful for a reason.  Because of our sin (Genesis 3:16).  And yet, when Jesus came to this earth, he didn’t descend in light and glory.

He came through a natural childbirth.

And, despite how our pretty little Nativity set would make it appear, it was not pretty.  It was painful and bloody.  There were no sanitary pads, and we don’t even know that there was a patient midwife there to help guide him onto the ground.  That’s how He came.

Through the very symbol of our sin.

Kids, life is a miracle.  Your brother, he’s a miracle, sweaty jersey and all.  And YOU.  You may have come in a very different way, but YOU are a miracle.  Your Daddy and I, we are just so honored to have gotten to play a part in that process.  We love each of you, and your individual quirks, more than life itself.

So be kind to your brother.  And each other.  And bring glory to the One who came…through the same means that you did…so that you could experience the miracle of life.

Forever.

 

 

 

 

Apparently I was pregnant…

…because I had a baby!

I’ve been debating how to write about our most recent birth story because…well…I haven’t even blogged about the pregnancy, and this birth was so different that I can’t really NOT blog about the pregnancy.  So I’ve decided to split it into two posts – one about the pregnancy, one about the birth.  Which means that I’m committing to come back and write another entry in a reasonable amount of time.  We’ll see how this goes.

Let me preface this by saying that this was the FASTEST PREGNANCY EVER.  Seriously, I look down at this child and I think, “How could this even be possible?”  So, I’m just going to give you a highlight reel of the whole thing!

August, 2013:

Josh and I went to Haiti.

Now, you might ask, what does Haiti have to do with being pregnant?

When we committed to going on  the trip, we knew that that meant deliberately postponing pregnancy until sometime afterwards.  We don’t have our family super planned out or anything, but we knew it was about the time we would normally be getting pregnant.  I talked to my doctor, and she recommended preventing pregnancy for 2 cycles after our trip to make sure I hadn’t contracted anything while I was there.

SO, 2 cycles later…

November, 2013:

I was shooting a wedding that evening, and Josh was out of town.  Cynthia had graciously agreed to watch my kids until he got back, and she picked them up a few hours earlier than she needed to so that she could take them to an activity.  As they were leaving I realized that A) I was probably late enough to justify taking a pregnancy test, B) I hadn’t used the bathroom yet that day, (ladies, you know why this is important!), and C) I was alone and FREE to do whatever I wanted without little eyes and ears!  So I did what any sensible woman would do: I went to Dollar General, bought a pregnancy test, came home, and took the test.

Oh, and it was positive.

December, 2013:

For the first month or so that Josh and I knew I was pregnant we did…nothing.  Poor 4th baby!

Although we typically don’t wait until the end of the first trimester to announce a pregnancy, I would be finishing my first trimester right at Christmas, so we decided to TRY to delay announcing the pregnancy until then.  (I say TRY because, it was a fourth baby, and I was “showing” before I was even pregnant!)  We like to have an ultrasound before we make that announcement, so as we got into December I knew that we had to make a decision about what medical route we wanted to take with this pregnancy.

As you probably know, we have taken a traditional route in the past: traditional doctor group, traditional hospital delivery, and, most importantly, traditional epidural!  However, this is also an expensive route, even with insurance (Egan was 2 before we paid all the bills from his birth!)  I’m also not a fan of spending two days in a hospital. Also, with the added responsibilities of homeschooling, I was not wanting to sit with 3 crazy kids in an OB waiting room for an hour or more every month, only to be seen by the doctor for 10 minutes. (Not to mention the parking!  Yikes!)  When I was pregnant with Egan, we had done a little research on an alternative route our city had to offer, but we ended up chickening out and sticking with what we know.  This time, I felt a little braver.  Enter, the Birth Cottage.

The Birth Cottage is a birthing center run by a mother/daughter midwife team just a few blocks from the hospital.  We went for a consultation there so that we could make sure that it wasn’t too crazy.  We liked what we saw and learned, so then I had to decide…did I like it enough to forego my traditional epidural??  I decided that if there is a time to “man up” and have a natural childbirth, it’s with a 4th baby.  So we had our first ultrasound and visit with the Birth Cottage just in time for Christmas.

Surprisingly, although I’m sure some people were starting to figure it out, our family was still in the dark about the pregnancy.

 

For the grandparents, we made them a framed picture that included an ultrasound picture of ALL of their grandbabies.  Of course, I don’t actually have a picture of that!  For the kids, I hid the ultrasound picture in the tree…

They were so excited!  Our kids aren’t perfect, but they are always delighted to add someone to the family!

January, 2014:

I was rounding out nicely, so on a girlfriend photo shoot, I had Cynthia attempt to take a picture where I looked pregnant and not just fat!

And here I am with my girls…I lurv them!

I had A LOT of fatigue in my second trimester.  I know that’s not normal, but my theory is I put so much effort into hiding the pregnancy (particularly from Ava, who was with me 24/7,) in my first trimester that I saved all of that fatigue for my second trimester.

February, 2014:

We were already halfway through!  (Like I said, it went incredibly fast!)

Of course, we kept tradition and didn’t find out the gender.  Ava was really, really rooting for a girl.  To the point that I briefly thought about finding out the gender just so she would have time to recover if it ended up being a boy.  But we didn’t.

March and April:

I don’t even know what happened!  We were super busy with Memory Masters, Spring Break, and wrapping up our co-op.  Other than our Birth Cottage appointment each month, and the fact that getting dressed was really inconvenient, we weren’t thinking about the pregnancy much at all!

Including names.  One night I said to Josh, “It probably says a lot about us that we are 6 months pregnant, we don’t have ANY names picked out…and we’re not worried about it.”

I did have a nice surprise at the end of April.  Tiffany and Jackie came back to town, and my girls surprised me with a baby shower!  I mean, this was totally uncalled for, as these were the same girls that threw me a surprise baby shower when I was pregnant with Egan!  We had dinner and ice cream, decorated onesies (my favorite was Tiff’s: “Don’t know if I’m elated or gassy!”), and I was gifted with a new swing and Caffeine Free Dr. Pepper.  Yes, these girls know my heart!!

May:

You already know about the crazy belly painting!

Josh and I also had a nice little “babymoon” in Atlanta one weekend!

June, 2014:

It was maternity pictures time!!  I will be using pictures from our shoot with the amazing Steffi of Polished Arrow Photography for the rest of the post.  I e-mailed myself A BUNCH of phone pictures to illustrate the end of this post…and now they seem to be lost somewhere in cyber space!  Oh well, at least these pics are MUCH better quality!

In June, I directed VBS on Sunday evenings.  That may not have seemed optimal, but my VBS team is so amazing that I knew they’d be fine if I had to leave for whatever reason.

I also was doing an “accelerated summer fun” program with the kids!  I knew that, once the baby was born, I wouldn’t be able to do much outside of the house, so we had to pack all our summer fun into one month!

We went down to our local beach a couple times, the activity pool a few times, blueberry picking once, a few trips to the splash pad…as well as swimming lessons and summer gymnastics.  I tried to keep us on the go as much as possible!

I also realized that Ava is old enough to need a more thorough explanation of what is going on.  One Saturday, we took a breakfast date to McDonalds with my Bible and college biology book.  We read Psalm 139, looked over some diagrams…and well, it was a lot of info at one time, but it was at least the START to an ongoing dialogue!

And the Birth Cottage.  I will wax poetic on the merits of midwives and birthing centers in the next post, but I will just say that even the prenatal experience with them was different, but in a good way.  The first thing that struck me was how incredibly family friendly they are.  The waiting room and exam room has some amazing toys, so our kids loved coming to my check-ups!  And we also virtually never had to wait, so we KNEW we would be in and out in half an hour.

I have already mentioned that it is run by a mother/daughter team.  We met with Alice, the mother, for our first consultation and visit, and then she left the country for the remainder of my pregnancy (smart lady!)  Which means that her daughter, Layla, and a few midwife students were stuck with me for the rest of the time!

I joked that I was the “Black Sheep” of the Birth Cottage…I was constantly losing/forgetting forms I was supposed to fill out, I don’t eat all organic, I had no interest in eating or burying my placenta, and what exactly ARE Kegels, anyway??  But everyone was super patient with me..and our kids, even when Egan stuck a toy in Layla’s cup of coffee!

 

The experience was interactive for the kids, too.  They were always getting to help with the Doppler and measurements, and everything was explained to them so beautifully.  We were even told that it was fine for them to participate in the birth…which I politely opted out of!

July, 2014:

With our vehicle finally loaded with the supplies we would need for birth, we were down to one thing we really needed: a name for this child.

We had narrowed it down to three-ish names for each gender.  Ava had REALLY wanted to name the baby my whole pregnancy, but of course I have all sorts of issues with number of syllables, not rhyming, starting with a vowel, spiritual meaning, etc.  Finally we decided to make a list of boy names and a list of girl names.  We let Israel pick out a boy name and Ava pick out a girl name from the list.  We didn’t tell ANYONE the names.  We figured with just a few days left, it might as well be a surprise!

WELL, the plan was for my parents to come spend July 4th with us and take the kids back with them for a week hanging out with grandparents and going to camp.  I was due July 12th, so MY plan was to spend at least a few kid-free days wrapping up with photo editing, homeschool planning, organizing around the house, and maybe even chilling out and watching a few movies!

Let’s just say, the baby had other plans.

But that’s a WHOLE ‘nother post!

 

 

Let’s just say it’s still Father’s Day!

**WARNING WARNING: BELLY PICTURES AHEAD**

**SERIOUSLY, THEY’RE COMING**

**DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU**

**REALLY, IF YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE THEM, STOP READING NOW**

I’ve had the opportunity to get to know a lovely lady, Sarah, who does a lot of balloon art and face painting at parties that I have shot.  When I saw her at a party just before Easter, she asked me if I was going to do a belly painting.

My initial reaction was “Ummmm…no.”  I couldn’t think of anything that would be significant enough that I would want painted on my belly!

But, then, the more I thought about it, I realized that doing something baseball themed for Josh could possibly be the best surprise for him ever.  He was going to be out-of-town for a week, and in that week, there was only one day that we had free that we could do our secret project.  I asked Sarah if she happened to be free that day, thinking that she wouldn’t be and I could just forget my crazy idea.

She was free.

So then I contacted Cynthia to see if she would be free to come and take pictures, thinking that she probably wouldn’t be.

She was free.

And thus, one of our craziest friendship schemes was born: Project Albatross.

NOT ONLY did we pull all of this off without Josh finding out (which was miraculous, because plenty of evidence was left around the house!), but ALSO the kids kept it a secret from Josh for a MONTH so that we could gift him with the pictures for Father’s Day.

Belly and face painting credit goes to the amazing Sarah at Sarah’s Face Painting and Balloon Art.  You should totally contact her for your next party or event or…baby belly!  Photo credits go to the amazing Cynthia…but you can’t have her for your next event, I keep her too busy!

Oh, and ***4 REAL, THE BELLY PICTURES ARE COMING**

So, without further ado, I present Project Albatross, or…

Our Baby Braves

 

 

 

 

 

Israel’s Pre-K Graduation!

Hi! Let’s go back to pretending that I am blogging on an acceptable basis, shall we?

Seriously, I have been itching to write, but if it’s not one thing it’s another.  Tonight, I FINALLY finished a camp lesson and put together what I need for Ava’s academic evaluation tomorrow, so I am going to post 7 pictures, dag nab it!

A week or two ago, Israel graduated from Pre-K!!!

If you want details about the graduation, read about Ava’s graduation, and interpose Izzy’s name for hers.  The fact is, it was pretty much the same, except much hotter and without Mr. Thomas there to help them groove.  Oh, and Israel said that he wanted to be a scientist in his video instead of a ballerina.  And we went to Firehouse instead of Wendys because Izzy got to pick.

Oh, and I didn’t climb on a chair this time to take the photos.  I sat on the end of a row and made the best of it from my seat.  Poor middle child with a very pregnant mommy!

I didn’t even get a shot of him receiving his diploma because I was all in position to get it happening on one side of the room…and halfway through the process they CHANGED SIDES.  So, there he is after receiving it!

My handsome graduate!

We have the greatest friends!!!  And I heart, heart this picture so much!!!

There’s our family, in pieces, because getting one of all 5 of us together would be simply too much!

I am so proud of my little man, and am excited (albeit nervous) about including him in Linker Academy this coming year!!!

 

Spring Break 2014

You know how it is said that teachers look forward to Spring Break more than the kids do?

Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I can tell you that this teacher-of-one was PRETTY PSYCHED that we had an excuse to take a week off of school work!

The tricky thing about Spring Break is it is smack dab in the middle of the state government’s session. This means we will never get to take a long trip (at least, not with Josh!), and it also means that there’s a chance we won’t even SEE Josh much during our break. Because of this, it would be really easy to make Spring Break just a lazy week around the house. However, I’ve always felt that we need to do some out-of-the-ordinary things during the week to make it memorable. (Case in point: Ava’s first “spring break” from preschool when Egan was only 2 weeks old!) Now that we are doing school at home, I feel even stronger that a break merits getting out of the house!

We started out our break the weekend prior with our annual trip to visit Eric and Jackie (and Cade!) and go to a Braves Spring Training Game.

AKA: the day we take the kids to a baseball game and spend our day wondering why we took our kids to a baseball game.

Just kidding.  Well, sort of.

Cade’s first Braves game!

Our kids are totally in this for the food!

The men ACTUALLY watching the game!

It was a quick trip because of Josh’s work schedule, but we were able to stay for church the next morning, and snag a couple portraits in the back yard, of course!

Can you believe that little baby Cade is already this big???

An effort at a group picture!

One thing I don’t have pictures of from the weekend is how much we sat in interstate traffic.  IT WAS A LOT.  But we finally made it home Sunday night, just a few hours later than we thought it would be, and immediately got geared up for the rest of the week!  And here is the recap!

Day One

On Monday, we went to visit some friends who had just had a baby.  The hubby is one of Josh’s co-workers, and the family started homeschooling this year just like us and joined our co-op, so they pretty much have no choice but to be our friends!  While we were there, of course I had to take some pictures…

Then we brought Calli, who is in Ava’s co-op class, home with us for a sleepover!

Day 2

Tuesday was pretty laid back.  The girls played around the house in the morning and I helped them work on their memory work, because Spring Break is not a thing when Memory Masters is only a few weeks away!  HOWEVER, things quickly got exciting when Amazon delivered Frozen to our doorstep!  My kids had not seen the movie yet, and I had been hoping to take them to see it at our “dollar theater” during Spring Break.  But it had not reached that theater before it came out on DVD last week, so we made the call to purchase the movie and watch it at home.  So we did something we NEVER do.  Drop everything in the middle of the day and watch a movie!  No one complained about that!

Afterwards, we headed to gymnastics (the gym had closed the week before for the college Spring Break.)  Josh got off on time (yay!) so we met him for dinner and for shoe shopping.  Fancy stuff!

Day 3

On Wednesday morning, I announced to the kids that we were going to head down to our little beach, Shell Point, for a picnic.  It was chilly and gray and I didn’t think that this idea would be met with much enthusiasm.  Boy, was I wrong!  All the kids had bathing suits on in about 2.5 seconds.  (Egan even had a 2nd pair of trunks on his head!)  When we got to the beach, I really regretted not checking the hour-by-hour forecast.  It turns out that, although the afternoon would be sunny and in the 70s, the morning was about 60 degrees, windy, and overcast.  I was wearing a sweater and still chilly.  A toe in the water confirmed that it was icy.

But if you could see my kids (and you can’t, because the only pics from that day I have are on my phone and I’m not walking across the house to get it, sorry,) you would think that the conditions were tropical!  They were in nothing but bathing suits and splashing around having a great time!  After a while, Cynthia, Aurora, and Gage joined us.  We had our picnic and the sun FINALLY came out.  We ended up staying for a few hours after lunch and the kids had the best time!  And since the water was, in actuality, pretty cold, it was fun for me, too, because I didn’t have to chase Egan in the water and keep him from drowning himself!

We went home and, since it was Spring Break from Wednesday church activities, Josh got home earlier than we expected.  We celebrated this by watching Frozen again so that he could see it.  I know, what is happening to us?  He even managed to hook it up to a projector so we could have the big screen experience, after all!

Day 4

On Thursday, there was much rejoicing because the Millers were in town!!!  Since we had missed out on doing Aurora and Emma’s annual birthday photo shoot, that was a top priority for me.  Since I ALSO have neglected to do birthday shoots of…pretty much everybody…in the last year, I decided to just have a big portrait session.  We met up at a park and it was a gorgeous day.  I just shot hit and run style.  Whichever child was closest to me as they ran in circles got nabbed for pictures.

February birthday girls!

I can’t believe how grown-up Gwiny looks!  So much gorgeousness!

Isabel’s birthday was actually today!

The whole group!!!

And attempt at a “just the big girls” picture.  Can you tell Egan is happy to have his Gwiny back????

So much can be said here.  The lost teeth.  The curled hair.  The crazy cat earrings.

Pretend like I posted this on his birthday at the beginning of the month!

Just adding to our arsenal, I mean collection, of Izzy/Emma pictures.

After fun at the park, we headed to McDonalds to celebrate All the Birthdays.  And then to gymnastics.  Woot!

Day 5: The Greatly Anticipated Spring Break Adventure!!!

Over a month ago, Tiff and I started discussing the possibility of taking an adventure over Spring Break.  You see, right now, we have an 8 passenger vehicle.  Which means, for the first time, Tiff and I and ALL OUR KIDS can fit in the same vehicle!  Which opens up a world of possibilities!  HOWEVER, we have a small window of time to take advantage of it, because when the new baby arrives in July…well, the numbers will be off again, and we will have to ride separately wherever we go.

ANYWAY, we did all sorts of research about state parks and other such cheap entertainment within a 2-ish hour radius. We texted and e-mailed back and forth different ideas for weeks.

And what did we end up with?

A boat tour at the state park that is literally between our houses.

Of course, we still picked them up so that we could all ride in the Yukon, because, SPRING BREAK ADVENTURE!

It was such a nice day, and we had the best time!

We started with a picnic.

And then we took the boat tour!  It was only mildly terrifying to have Egan hanging over the rail of a boat in alligator infested waters!

Such a pretty day!

Tiff ended up keeping up with 5 of the 6 kids.  The Linker Conversion System:  1 Egan = 5 kids 5 and up!

(And, of course, most of the alligators were on her side!)

When we got back to dock, we decided to let the kids stick their toes in the water even though we didn’t bring bathing suits.  The river is fed by a natural spring, and is a cozy 69 degrees year round.

It’s a good thing I had some extra clothes, because, again, you would have thought it was tropical the way they played in the water!

We had such a good afternoon at the state park, and then we brought the Miller girls back to our place for a sleepover.  It was a perfect way to cap off a nice staycation week!

It was probably crazy of me to schedule so much over Spring Break…and the house was definitely looking like a war zone by the end of the week…but the memories are totally worth it!

 

Valentine’s Day 2014: DOCUMENTED.

Confession: I’m a Valentine’s Day overachiever. WELL, not in the normal way. I didn’t buy a single person (including my husband) a card this year, and Josh’s gift was a canvas for our wall…so it might have been a gift for me, too. However, I LOVE doing Valentine’s Day with kids, and am a little compulsive about it. Case in point: last year.  And the year before that. And the year before that.  I even have mental (and now written!) reasons for this craziness:

1)  I don’t HAVE to do anything on Valentines Day.  Christmas, Easter, and birthdays are wonderful and meaningful, but they are also obligatory holidays.  There is a certain level of expectation involved with them.  But Valentines Day?  No one is obligated to do special things on Valentines Day!  And it’s a lot more fun to do special things when you don’t feel like you have to!

2)  February is a DREARY month.  The weather is poor, we don’t get out much, and it’s just kind of depressing.  It’s nice to have something to look forward to in February!

3)  Being sort of on the heels of Christmas, I’m already in a craftier mode than I am for the rest of the year.  It seems natural to hot glue all manner of things together for V-Day because I was just doing that in December.  Now, by Easter?  I’m doing good to hard boil some plain white eggs so we can roll them down the driveway!

4)  Valentines Day is about love.  I know that it’s not a “Christian holiday,” but dude, God is love.  So fun to have an extra reminder to talk about God’s love with the kids!

Since the dawn of Pinterest, it’s been really easy to go crazy on Valentines Day.  I pin things all year that I like, and then before I do my big February shopping trip, I let the kids look at my pin board and pick out what they would like to make for their classmates.  I don’t even have to turn my brain on.  So here’s what Pinterest guided us to do this year:

We made these for teachers!  SO easy, and I know it’s something I wouldn’t mind getting!

These little mice were adorable…and time consuming!  Even with the kids doing the cutting and writing, they took a long time!  But, of course, they were worth it.  Ava made these for her co-op class.  Izzy wanted to make some, too, so we made them for the other pre-k class at his school.  I’m glutton for punishment like that.

Ava made these for her GA class at church on Wednesday night.  Or, at least, she cheered me on while I glued them together.  (Once that girl’s old enough to wield a hot glue gun, we’ll be in business!)

This was Izzy’s Valentine for his pre-k class.  SO easy, it felt wrong!  But so cute!

The morning of Valentines Day came, and I had made the mistake of talking it up, so the kids were REALLY excited!  Originally, I had planned on us going out to breakfast as a family to make it special, but the night before, I finally realized that getting out the door early enough to eat breakfast at a restaurant BEFORE an 8:30 AM appointment we had was RIDONCULOUS.  However, I had been telling the kids that we were going to be going out, so I needed to have SOMETHING cool for breakfast.  I hit Pinterest and found this idea…

Josh was working late, but was fortunately game for stopping by Wal-Mart on the way home to collect the needed supplies so that we wouldn’t have to get up at 4:00 AM.

Here are the kids when we finally released them from their rooms!

Izzy with his gift: a zoology textbook.  I kid you not.  And he LOVES it!

Egan and his gift: the “Indian” plane (I know, I know, it’s the Mexican plane!)  Oh, and sausage!

Ava’s gift from me: earring holder!  She had her ears pierced on New Years, and is looking forward to the quickly approaching day that she can change her earrings!  Josh got her a little pair of pearl earrings, but they didn’t come in until later that day thanks to Snowmageddon II in Atlanta.

After breakfast and presents, we headed out to get some pictures of this little guy or gal…

And then we came back and did SCHOOL.  I know, was it even worth trying?  I actually just planned some fun Valentine’s themed review activities, so it was pretty painless.  And thanks to a heart cookie cutter, lunch was even slightly festive…

Josh and I had a real treat that night because my parents VOLUNTEERED to come spend the night and watch the kids so we could go out!!!  I really don’t think we’ve had a date, just the 2 of us, on Valentines Day since we became parents.  I mean it’s possible that we have…but I certainly don’t recall it happening!  We went to Five Guys (of course!) and saw The Hobbit at the dollar theater and even sat in a Starbucks until we couldn’t stand the loud music anymore.  It was grand and so greatly appreciated!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When I was lesson planning for the week, I was really stressing over history because we were learning about WWII, and well, there are many words to describe my stress, including complicated and tragic and needing much more than 2 weeks to teach!  And WWII and the Holocaust are certainly not topics you would generally associate with Valentines Day.  But then I was thinking about my favorite WWII hero, Corrie ten Boom…and things just came together…

In the future I will be blogging about some of the struggles of homeschooling (and OH, THERE ARE STRUGGLES!), but what a privilege it is to be the person to share, not only the world’s tragedies with my child, but how God’s love has prevailed and shined through the cracks of our humanity despite them.  Happy Valentines Day.

 

 

 

Xander is Here!

I’m baaaaaaaaaack!  I know, I know, you feel so much better now.

I thought about doing a HUGE try-to-catch-everyone-up-on-everything type blog post, but I was overwhelmed by the thought of it, which is a good sign that my readers would be overwhelmed by the sight of it.  So, instead, I will pick one thing and blog about it.  You’re welcome.

AND, since first thing is first, I pick my new nephew!

As I mentioned before, my nephew was finally born!  A few weeks ago, Josh, Ava, and I had the opportunity to go visit him and his mama Kristy.  (Thanks, grandparents, for watching the boys!!)  Of course, while we were there, newborn pictures were a priority, so I have what I need to show my nephew off!

 

Xander rocked his pictures!

When I first met Kristy, she was in 6th grade.  So much fun to get to see her transform into a lovely young mother!

Josh was just a little excited to meet his nephew.

And Ava was excited to meet an actual cousin!

Truth be told, I was pretty sick with some upper respiratory stuff.  So although I would like to remember our time with Kristy and Xander like this…

It was really more like this…

AND, to show that I have completely lost all shame, I will reveal how amazing, professional, attractive, etc. I was while I was shooting that day.

Don’t you wish your photographer was hott like me???

(And yes, that’s a baby bump.  I’ve been trying to think of nice ways to make a bloggy announcement, but we’re 18 weeks in and I think a bad bathroom selfie with a creepy mask will have to do!)

ANYWAY, we’re so delighted to welcome the newest member of the family and can’t wait to see him again!

And if that wasn’t riveting enough, here are some topics I am hoping to blog about in the relatively near future…

  • Homeschooling: A Mid-Year Review
  • A New Depth of Field: Reflections from the Photography Journey (oooooh, that title might be too pretty to use!)
  • Random Bullets o’Blogginess: Book Reviews, Bologna and Spinach, Pierced Ears, and More!
  • Random Pictures o’Blogginess:  Because Not Every Picture Has a Category

Thanks for letting me back into the blog world.  I’ll try to treat it right, this time!

 

More cute videos in lieu of actual posting…

I know, I know.  You would think I had disappeared from the blog.

I sort of have.

But I would love to come back.

Maybe when I’m done wedding editing.

But here’s a video of my little scholar classifying a sentence.  I think she has a future for making tutorial videos on YouTube.  That pays, right?

PS – The sentence was actually “The library book fell on the floor.”  We had some technical difficulties with distance from the camera.

PSS – My nephew was born yesterday!!!!

7 Things

I’m pretty good resisting “liking” things on facebook that require me to actually write a post of my own, but I slipped up so now I’m assigned to write “7 Random Things” about myself.

That’s not actually going to happen.

However, since I haven’t taken the time to blog in a sweet forever, I thought I would blog 7 random things, (although not necessarily directly about me.)  And I’ll link it to facebook.  That’s as close as I’m gonna get, folks.

1.  I hate to start with something sad…. but please, please, please stop whatever you’re doing and take the time to pray for the Hayden family.  Jaci and her daughter, Hadley, (who happens to be Egan’s birthday twin!) come to the play group that we went to when we had time for such things.  They had a sweet little boy, Case, born prematurely at 28 weeks gestation.  He was a fighter and lived 10 days in the NICU before Jesus took him home.  We are all so heartbroken for them.  Jaci very graciously blogged the details of Case’s brief but impactful life here.

2.  I have only shot 3 weddings this year.  Guess what the dates were?  November 2nd, November 9th, November 16th.  Yep, somehow the only weddings I had were 3 weekends in a row!  It was a lot of work (and will be a lot of work….) but I loved the brides I worked with, and since it had been 20 months since I had shot a wedding, it was a nice change.

3.  Have I mentioned our kids take gymnastics now?  Ava decided ballet wasn’t for her, so she tried a gymnastics class over the summer.  She loved it, so now we have the boys in gymnastics, too!  (I only have them doing it because their classes are at the same time as hers.)  Ironically, it costs us less to have 3 children in gymnastics than it did to have 1 child in ballet.  Go figure.

4.  Josh and I took a little trip to North Carolina in October, and I thought I should share in case anyone else would be interested in doing this in the future.  Every year, there is a Marriage Getaway at the Southern Baptist Conference Center at Ridgecrest.  (And you certainly don’t have to be Southern Baptist to go – I think the speakers themselves represented several different denominations!)  It is a wonderful mix of worship sessions, breakout sessions, and even free time to spend together.  And of course the mountains in the fall are BEAUTIFUL.  We have been wanting to go for years, and since this was a year that I didn’t have a nursing baby attached to me, Josh made it happen!  So much fun – and the lack of humidity was great for my hair!  🙂

5.  We have a new family member!  You may (or may not) remember that we parted with Ellie last year.  It was a season of our lives that we were truly too busy to care for a dog.  Of course, the kids have been wanting a pet (don’t all kids???).  But we take SO MANY trips on the weekend that Josh and I knew we couldn’t commit to another dog.  (Besides, no dog could be as good as Ellie!)

Our solution?  A self-sufficient cat, with a feeder that will carry it through the weekend just fine!  I had a very specific list of qualities I wanted in a cat, and I certainly didn’t have time to visit animal shelters to get to know the animals and find the right match.  (Sorry, animal rights people.  It’s nothing personal, I just don’t have that kind of time.)

So I took the easy way out.  I made a list of my requirements on facebook to see if anyone HAPPENED to know of a cat that met my qualifications and needed a new home.  Lo and behold, some old friends from Cloverdale had just such a cat, and they were hoping to find her a new home!  So we now have Gracie.  She was technically a birthday gift for Ava. And it works out, because she has claimed Ava’s room as HERS.

6.  Have I mentioned that I finally get to be an aunt???  Josh’s sister, Kristy, is having a baby boy in January! I have looked forward to being an aunt for a VERY LONG time.  Unfortunately, Kristy does not live very close to us.  I may or may not be coming up with a diabolical plan to move her closer to me.  Because, after birthing 3 nieces/nephews for her to spoil (but that I have to raise), I am so ready to SPOIL HERS ROTTEN.  Amen.

7.  Sooooo, while I have your attention, I have a request.  One thing I really, really, REALLY miss is reading for my own pleasure.  (I do read to the kids.  Which I really enjoy.  But we’re talking about reading for me, here.)  I am not a good multi-tasker, but when I edit pictures after the kids are in bed, I am able to watch TV, listen to music, or listen to Big Mama/Boomama podcasts.  Which has led me to realize that I might be able to handle listening to audiobooks while I work!  Sooooo….my question is, is there a place/website that I can get free audiobooks???  (Borrowing is fine – and I’m sure that there are some at my library, but I need to figure out how to better use the search engine to find them.)  I do REALLY love British classics.  But I would ALSO really, really LOVE to “read” Christian parenting books and other books that Christian ladies are coming out with these days.  (Priscilla Shirer, Angie Smith, Lisa Terkeurst, Kelly Minter, etc.)  I looked at audiobooks on Amazon, but they are pretty pricey, and I really can’t do $10 per book.  (And I’m talking about books that are actually read by the author or a narrator, NOT a computer program monotonously “reading” the book – **shudder**!)  I know that podcasts are a thing, but do they have them of books?  And I also don’t actually have iTunes on my computer, although I hear it’s free.

In other words, I’m starting at the very bottom of the audiobook informational barrel, so any advice you can give will only bring me up!

Well, hi there.

Well, hi there, stranger.  How goes it?

Isn’t it sad that it’s a period of life that I have  more to write about than ever before…but I don’t have the time to write it?

We’ve homeschooled for 9 weeks now.  A whole school quarter.  People are always sweet to ask, “How’s it going?”  The answer is…it’s complicated.  I mean, academically, I feel like it is AWESOME.  (But keep in mind I don’t really have anything to compare to!)  Ava is pretty easily mastering the Classical Conversations memory work, she’s already completed the first half of the 1st grade math curriculum, and she’s successfully identifying parts of speech in a sentence.

But emotionally…we’ve both had some low points.  There are things that Ava misses about traditional school, and understandably so.  I have a hard time finding the balance, at times, between teacher and parent.  I’m struggling to learn what battles to fight, what freedoms to let her have, what to let go.  I am trying to stay in constant prayer, not only for my own guidance, but for Ava’s little heart to have peace, as well.  I am so thankful to have other homeschooling parents that are farther along on their journey to encourage me.

And TIME.  How wonderful it would be to have 2 more hours in the day!!  Keeping up with my business is becoming increasingly harder.  The house is always in a desperate state (although we do clean some as a part of our routine!)  I told someone last weekend that, “we just eat weird stuff,” because I don’t have time to make an actual trip to the grocery store.

And it’s taken me a while to even write about these issues because I have been so gung-ho about homeschooling on here, and I was afraid of being seen as some kind of failure because everything wasn’t daisies and roses all the time.

Which, as usual, is me being ridiculous.  This blog is a place to be real, and hopefully encourage others in the process.  Like anything else in this life, the stage we are in is HARD WORK.

And it is such a privilege.

Haiti 2013

I know, I know.  It has been almost 2 months since we went to Haiti, and I have yet to share about it with many people, and have showed pictures of the trip to even less than that.

It wasn’t because it wasn’t a good experience.  Quite the opposite, I couldn’t really write about it in the very few sparing minutes that I’ve had here and there because, well, I wanted to have the time to do it justice.

Here in this rare quiet hour, I’m going to try.  At least try to describe what this experience meant to me.

Since I didn’t write about it much beforehand, let me give you a little background on the trip:

Last year, my church started a partnership with Fond Baptiste, Haiti, with an organization called 410 Bridge.  410’s philosophy is that it is not helpful, in the long run, to do mission work in a developing nation by giving them a bunch of stuff and doing a bunch of work for them.  This is proven to create a dependence on “the white people” coming to do mission work, and local people still, once the missionaries have gone home, don’t know how to support themselves.  Instead of doing that, 410 tries to come alongside hurting communities.  They appoint local leaders in the community to select and carry out mission projects.  Missionaries can come in and assist with projects, but the local leadership has to do the bulk of the work.  In this way, the community will develop a lifestyle that they can sustain on their own.

(Let me interject here that I think God has used all sorts of missions over the years, including the kind that “give a bunch of stuff.”  If that is the kind of organization that God has led you to, awesome!  I personally believe that the most Christ-like approach to mission work is probably smack dab in the middle of the two extremes.  As usual.)

What this means is that, when we partner with a community, the most important thing that we set about doing is to build a relationship with the community.  Building relationships takes time, which makes regular trips with at least a few recurring people important.

Our church took their first trip to Fond Baptiste last October and Josh went with them.  Between the fact that, when arrangements were being made for the trip, Egan was still nursing, and the fact that Josh had NEVER had the opportunity to participate in a mission trip ANYWHERE, it was the right time for him to go.  It was a great experience for him.  And when he came back, one of the first things he did was announce that, next time, I would be going with him.

Now let me take the time to confess some things.  Although I went on a number of mission trips in the U.S. as a teenager, I had never been out of the country on ANY kind of trip.  At the beginning of this year, I didn’t even own a passport!  And the closer the trip got, the less excited I felt about it.  Although the kids were at an age that I felt comfortable leaving them, making the plans for them to be taken care of while we were gone really put me on edge.  We had friends and family who graciously agreed to help, but since we were both going, we had to be very thorough in our preparations, all the way down to signing a Power of Attorney for medical care.  And then there was the emotional stress of worrying about how they would behave while we were gone.  Would we still have friends when we got back??

And then there were irrational fears.  I guess you could say, in Southern Baptist vernacular, “the enemy was trying to get into my head.”  You see, I’ve always had a passion for missions.  I don’t think I could help it if I wanted to; I am a Missionary Kid!  (Did you know that?  I am!  My parents planted a church in Philly, and that’s where I was born!)  (That would be Philadelphia.  The locals call it Philly.  At least, I think they do.  I kind of moved away when I was 18 months old.)  Not only was I raised by missionary parents and in every church missions program possible, but when I was 18 I worked at a GA camp and taught kids about foreign missions in Ecuador for a whole summer.  After we got married, Josh and I tried to get plugged into our church, and I started helping with GAs.  Much to the surprise of the ladies who had been doing it, I think, by themselves for 20 years.  I’ve prayed for friends and family on foreign mission trips, and Josh and I have even hosted a few commissioning services for some special friends before going on their trips.  In more recent times, I’ve written camp curriculum that focuses on missions, and for a year and a half, I taught Mission Friends for our current church. 

But here’s the thing, although learning about and even teaching about foreign missions my whole life, I had no experience.  And here is where the irrational fears crept in.  What if I’m not needed on this trip?  What if people are wasting their money by supporting me?   And, the biggest, most common fear of all:  WHAT IF I’M NOT GOOD AT BEING A MISSIONARY?  After spending my whole life giving special attention to foreign missions, I was afraid I was going to find out I was some kind of missionary farce.

As you can see, I was in a wonderful state of spiritual peace and wisdom when I got on that plane.

Not.

But here’s the thing that I knew already. Because, to quote Samuel Johnson, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”  It’s really not important if I’m a “good missionary.”  What is important is that I represent a good God.  A God that loves Haiti.  A God that loves me.  And the fact that I got to have a teeny, tiny part of spreading that love in a hurting nation that He loves so much…well, it was nothing short of an honor.

So, to answer the question that so many of you have graciously asked, How was your trip to Haiti? …

It was amazing.  As you can see by these pictures, the scenery is incredible.  The people are beautiful.  And despite the fact that they, on our standards, are living in poverty – they are so much more content than we are here. 

We did a Vacation Bible School.  At the point of our highest attendance, we had 260 kids.  260 children.  For our tiny church that rejoices when we can get 15 children to attend an event, 260 kids in one room is impossible to even consider.  But it happened.  In Haiti.  Were there challenging and frustrations in a room of 260 kids that can’t even speak the same language?  Absolutely.  Was it still amazing?  Absolutely.  (Although it didn’t feel amazing when were we cutting craft supplies in halves and thirds in order to have enough for everyone, while children were sticking their hands in our faces from all sides.  Full disclosure.)

We met some amazing, godly leadership from the community.  Pastors and teachers.  Their faith is so strong and beautiful.

We bounced up and down the mountain every day.  I’m not kidding, we bounced.  Roads are different there.

We attended an incredible church service.  These people don’t have a lot of instruments, but they sure can SING.  And there’s something so special about hearing people worship in a different language.

We walked the dusty streets.  We saw (from outside) the Unicef tents set up for Typhoid patients.  We saw the market, complete with donkey parking lot.  And, from many points on the mountains, we saw the glorious sea.

Our translators had all been affected by the earthquake of 2010 in Port au Prince.  They took us to the mass grave on the way back to the airport and told us their testimonies.

We had the privilege of getting to know our pastor’s family (above, with a Haitian brother,) that much better.  There’s nothing like sweating together for bonding!

And I hope to be able to write some more specific stories on here in the future.  But hopefully this will suffice as an answer to the question, How was your Haiti trip.

And one of the things I learned in Haiti?  Alleluia is the same in every language.

Five!!!

Well, hello, bloggy world!  I’ve missed you so!  And I want nothing more to sit here and type out the bajillion things that have gone through my head over the course of the last month.  (Which, granted, would be the most confusing post.  Ever.)  However, I need to do the dishes before small group.

No, I don’t think you understand.  It’s not that I want to do the dishes.  I NEED to do the dishes.

I’m not much of a cleaner, but for some reason, lately, all kinds of OCD have come out in the area of my dishes.

Weird.

ANYWAY, the least I can do with you is share some of Israel’s 5 year portraits!  It’s hard to believe, but his 5th birthday has come and gone!  He’s a big Pre-K boy now, but, fortunately, he is still my most cuddly.  He has such a sweet spirit, is the best brother ever, and is very creative.  He LOVES animals, and could spend hours asking questions about snakes, Komodo Dragons, and birds.  We’ve been working on letters for the past year, and I’m pretty convinced that he knows A LOT more than he lets on!  As sad as I am to see him growing up, I’m looking forward to seeing what this year brings him!

His portraits were so very easy this year because we were staying at my uncle’s house.  Which, as you can see, gorgeous!  And Israel did GREAT, by far the best that any of my children have ever done for a portrait session!

Some expressions are more realistic than others.

How old are  you?

That’s not Izzy.  It’s a cupcake.  That’s supposed to look like a turtle.  Ava, Josh, and I made them to send Izzy’s class.  I’m all about decorating cupcakes…with candy!

 

First Day of School! First Day of School!

Presenting, for the first time ever, the students of Linker Academy!


It’s a good thing homeschooling frees us from stereotypes!

In all seriousness, today is a big day because it’s our first official day of homeschooling, ever!  So I thought I would post pictures of our schoolroom so that you can see the before.  At the end of the year, I will have to post pictures of the aftermath. 

Here is our school wall!  Right now, my little childhood table is on this wall.  When Josh finished building our new dining room table, we will make the current dining room table a permanent school room feature so that we have more space for multiple children to work.

We have several beautifully large bulletin boards because, once upon a time when our church still had its own building, Josh and I were in charge of selling things out of the building.  We were told to throw away the bulletin boards we couldn’t sell.  Ummmm…we didn’t.  (With permission, of course!)  The U.S. map was in the dollar bin at Target!

The paintings Ava created when Melanie was babysitting her.  Melanie is super artsy and believes in letting children paint on actual canvas!

One day, I would like to have quotes [that I like!] about education on the top part of the wall.

Our marker board!  When Cynthia had moved into a new house, someone had left huge framed prints of cottages that she didn’t want in the house.  She wanted to throw them away.  Ummmmm…I wouldn’t let her.  (And it’s conveniently exactly the size of a piece of poster board, so I didn’t even have to cut anything!)

Our pocket thingy!  I found this in the Target dollar bin, and I know a lot of teachers use them, so I got one.  I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be for, but right now it’s housing our schedule!

My husband’s awesome pallet creation that has changed this room forever!!!  Someone had free pallets by the side of the road, so Josh picked them up because, fortunately,  he follows Pinterest and knows that you can make anything with pallets!  Only two of them were the same size, so he sanded them down (which took a sweet forever because the wood was OLD!), added some wood that he had leftover from other projects as legs, and built me the prop storage that I’ve been wanting!!!  Look how beautifully my props fit on the top of this thing!  The plan is to build some shelves on the right hand side of the structure for me to use for curriculum.  The sewing machine fits on this, freeing up the sewing table for me to use as a computer table in the living room.  I love this.  I’ve been leaving the office door open just so that I can see it when I walk by.

Here’s my “teacher’s desk.”  And there’s also a book case that, once I get it cleaned up, can be useful.  Nothing special or organized about this space, yet, but I wanted to show how it backs up against Josh’s side of the office.  The way we have it now, we can put up a baby gate between the wall and the cabinet the printer sits on so that the kids, in theory, can’t mess with Josh’s stuff.  The desk is the one that my friend Michelle gave me after she read that I needed one on the blog.

The only “expensive” thing we’ve bought to prepare for homeschooling is the new printer.  The printer that we had wouldn’t use the black ink cartridge (???), and since I pretty much only need things printed in black, it was super expensive to keep buying color ink cartridges that it was using to make black.  So Josh found a good deal on an office jet type printer so I can print in black to my heart’s content!  (It will also come in handy for printing things for church – that’s what I was using our old printer for last year!)

Our curriculum box!  Eventually this will all be on the shelves that I mentioned, but right now it’s in a super stylish diaper box.  The teal binder is my “teacher book;” it has a Classical Conversations lesson planner I printed off of Half a Hundred Acre Wood that was really a blessing, as well as any other teaching material that is not in the books.  The purple binder is Ava’s – it’s her favorite color!

People that don’t care about curriculum can skip over this part, but I already know that homeschooling parents like to compare notes, so if you’re interested, here is what we’re using (or planning on using!)

  • Bible:  Just Mom and Me Having Tea by Mary Murray (I feel very little pressure here since the government will not care if I do Bible study or not, so I picked something we already had that looked fun and bonding!)
  • Math:  Singapore  (a lot will be review but I wanted her to learn their concepts from the beginning)
  • Grammar:  Shurley English
  • Spelling: Rod and Staff Grade 2  (They don’t offer a first grade level, so I went ahead and ordered 2nd grade…I figured if it does end up being too much, I can save it until next year.  This was a last minute decision and it hasn’t come in yet, so right now I’m using 1st grade spelling lists I found online.)
  • Writing:  I plan to give writing assignments based on the things she is learning…it is the Classical way!
  • Science:  In CC, Ava will learn science facts every week.  I plan to elaborate on those each week.  My mother-in-law has passed on some science textbooks to me, and we can go to the library for information if needed.  (Example:  Next week, the science fact is about biomes.  A 5th grade text book that I have has a section about them that we will use, and I found there are great online resources for flash cards and worksheets about biomes!)
  • History:  A HUGE part of CC is memorizing a timeline of the entire history of the world.  Half a Hundred Acre Wood has a great book list to go with every week’s history topic.  I have already started putting together a list of books that are in our library system that correspond with the book list.  I am going to try to mainly stick with the library, but we may end up purchasing (or putting on our Christmas list!) some books that look particularly good that the library doesn’t have.  We’re not starting history until next week, so I’ve yet to get that going.
  • Geography: I don’t think I’ll be super intense with this, but CC will cover a geography topic each week, so we will do some work labeling maps (which there are plenty of online – and we purchased a cool dry-erase map at the practicum!)
  • Reading:  We are really just going to continue the reading habits we started over the summer.  I read to both Ava and Izzy (over the summer, it has been The Chronicles of Narnia,) and Ava is required to read independently for an hour and keep a record of what she has read.  I will have her write about what she reads and may sometimes even give her multiple choice quizzes or something like that, but I don’t want to take the delight out of reading!
  • Fine Arts:  I plan to do Fine Arts on Fridays, because Izzy will be home on Fridays and I think it’s something he can also enjoy.  We are going to use a free curriculum that covers 8 artists (and corresponds with books that are, fortunately, in our library system!), and I want to try Classical Storytelling to start exposing them to classical music in a fun way.

Our co-op orientation is tomorrow, so hopefully I will have a better idea about memory work and Latin after that!

Here are the read-aloud books I’ve set aside for after we finish Narnia!  I’ve been collecting them at the thrift store (25 cents each!), consignment sales, and my parents’ house.  I’m not a shop-a-holic, but my one real weakness is children’s literature!  (And I realize that most of these are on a level that Ava could read them by herself, but I want to read them, too – K?!)

So that’s the current state of our school room!  Josh has been super awesome to put all of that together for me!

SO, as I mentioned waaaaay back at the beginning, today was the first day of school!

Ava’s school day started off at 6:30 this morning – with P.E.!

Josh is the official P.E. coach, and for the first semester he has chosen to do Couch 2 5K with Ava!  Here they are after their first run.  Josh is showing off the app that they are using.  (I told Ava that, when I was her age, we had to use stopwatches to time ourselves!)

After Bible study and chore time, we had a few minutes so I THRILLED my children by saying we were going to take first day of school pictures.

See?  Unbridled joy!

Well, the props helped a little!!

And of course we had to take turns being Class Clown and Teacher’s Pet!

Then it was time to get serious about some Math!  Here is Ava learning about number bonds:

At this point, I wanted to run around the house saying, “I taught someone math!”

It may not be my strongest subject.

And here she is practicing with the cool laminated number cards her daddy made!

Our first lesson with Shurley – classifying things into groups.

First spelling test, which she claims was her favorite part.  Rats, she got them all right!  I will try to stump her again tomorrow!

First writing assignment!

Science!

And geography!  I picked a simple personal geography project that Ava and Izzy could both do.  (His pre-k doesn’t start until September!)

Just so you don’t think I’m like supermom or anything, this is what Egan did for school:

And this, for the most part is what Izzy did:

I am still trying to work on letters with him, but I’m going to have to figure out how to time things to be able to do that. I think one of the trickiest parts of homeschooling for me will be keeping the boys busy – I DO NOT multi-task easily.  I think, while we are waiting on PreK to start, we may resort to “Dinosaur Train” to occupy the boys for half an hour!

Well, all that goes to say, we made it through the first day of school!  Only 179 to go!

The Valley of Loss

“Considering how steep it was, the descent down into the valley seemed surprisingly easy, but perhaps that was because Much-Afraid desired with her whole will to make it in a way that would satisfy and please the Shepherd…

‘Nothing else really matters,’ she said to herself, ‘only to love Him and to do what He tells me.  I don’t know quite why it should be so, but it is.  All the time it is suffering to love and sorrow to love, but it is lovely to love Him in spite of this, and if I should cease to do so, I should cease to exist.’  So, as has been said, they reached the valley very quickly…

One thing in particular comforted her; after the hardness and slipperiness of the way on the mountains, where she had stumbled and limped so painfully, she found that in those quiet green fields she could actually walk without stumbling, and could not feel her wounds and scars and stiffness at all.

All this seemed a little strange because, of course, she really was in the Valley of Loss.  Also, apparently, she was farther from the High Places than ever before.  She asked the Shepherd about it one day, for the loveliest part of all was that He often walked with them down there, saying with a beautiful smile that it was one of His favorite haunts.”

~ excerpt from Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hunard

I don’t know about you, but I have friends and acquaintances in the Valley of Loss.

Different kinds of loss, but loss just the same.

Broken relationships.  Deaths.  Injustices that can tear a family apart.

It’s a complicated emotion, going to Haiti and seeing God at work and spending time with our children and looking forward to our first year of homeschooling.  But at the same time, my heart is so, so heavy for my friends.

I was skimming over a blog today, and I came across one of God’s names: Jehovah Shammah.  I couldn’t remember what it meant, so I looked it up.

It means the Lord is there.

Oh, thank you Jesus.  You are there, in the valley.  And You have not forgotten.  Walk with my friends through the valley, that they may be that much closer to You when they start to climb back up to the heights.

 

Cute Videos in Lieu of Actual Writing

Brief explanation for my bloggy absence: I was in Haiti for a week. I tried not to say too much about it prior because well, SECURITY. And it was such a good experience and I have so much I want to share with you/write down so I won’t forget, but I am working through editing some photos that clients are patiently waiting on. Thank you, patient clients! So please accept these cute videos in lieu of any actual writing for the time being.

So, it has come to this.

The end of summer.

Last summer’s song was “Call Me Maybe.”  This summer?  What has been playing in our car/at our house almost nonstop has been Superchick’s cover of “The Water Buffalo Song.”

Why?

Because it’s Egan’s favorite.

I tried so hard to capture what comes over Egan when we play “The Water Buttalo Tong,” but he got distracted by the computer and wasn’t nearly as animated.  At least he still did his best Steven Tyler impression at the climax.  This happens every. time.

Last year, we celebrated the end of summer by making a “Call Me Maybe” video with the Miller girls.  This year, I thought it only appropriate that we do a follow-up video of “The Water Buffalo Song.”  The Miller girls were subjected to hearing it multiple times when they went with us to camp, so they were all too familiar with it.  I admit that I had to bribe them with popsicles to get them interested, but in the end they came through for me.

As you watch this, keep in mind that A) I had NO INFLUENCE on this video (except maybe a little freestyle dancing at the end…), this was all the children’s creation.  B) If you can’t figure it out, the girls are water buffaloes.  And Isabel is the lucky one that gets picked by the water buffalo herder (?) to go to the store.  C) Apparently when you lip sync, you don’t have any teeth.  Or actual timing.  D) This is a piece of art, and therefore may not suit everyone’s tastes.  Tiff and I thought it was hilarious.  Josh deemed it “The weirdest video we’ve ever made.”  I like to think that it’s open to interpretation.

MORE Congratulations are in Order!!!

If you see me with dark rings under my eyes at church tomorrow, just pretend like I was up late saving the world. Or blogging. Whatever. But I am excited and need to share!

Last year Jackie called to let me know that she would be having a baby in April. And it’s completely possible that I got a little – or LOT – excited. It was about that time that my childhood friend, Stephanie, let me know that she would be getting married in May. And I figured that 2013 was totally complete for me.

But then a very few short weeks later, Jenna called and said she would be having her first baby in June!!!

It’s been a little harder to get together with Jenna and Tyler than it was with Eric and Jackie because they live farther away and in the opposite direction of, well, everywhere we travel to. I was bummed to COMPLETELY miss Jenna’s pregnancy without getting to see her once…the one baby shower that was only a few hours away was scheduled for a day I already had an obligation, and it ended up not being feasible to travel to her city during the right window of time for her pregnancy.

And then baby John was born a month ago and we chatted about the birth story but it still wasn’t the right time for the trip.

But TODAY. Today Jenna and Tyler were visiting with her parents (who live considerably closer,) and we were able to make a visit happen! We chatted over the ups and downs of nursing and how exciting sleep deprivation is, and Josh watched the Braves with Tyler and Mr. John, and, of course, WE TOOK PICTURES.

I didn’t know if they would really be “newborn” looking pictures since John is a month old and pretty alert, but he did beautifully! And I try to avoid “showing off” my work on the blog…but I can’t resist the urge to show off my beautiful friend and her family!

We had just enough break in the weather to do some outside shots…

He was the smiliest new baby ever!


Whoops, that’s not John!  I couldn’t resist a shot of my boy against the bricks.


Then the rains came down and we headed inside!  This family quilt is 70 years old!


I just love her!


Tyler wore this shirt as a baby!


This.  THIS is why I love taking pictures!!!


Happy grandparents!


Just a part of the family!


This girl.  At 3, she was Jenna’s flower girl.  Here we are at 6…


I am so thankful that we got to meet little John, not to mention see Jenna and Tyler in person for the first time in over 2 years!

Welcome to the world, little guy!!!

Camp 2013!!!

So, the week finally arrived:  Camp!  This year’s camp was extra special because!

1.  It was Israel’s first year as an official day camper.

2.  We brought our best friends!

Remember how going on a trip to your friend’s grandma’s house/bringing a friend to your grandma’s house is sort of a rite of passage?  Yeah, totally happened this week!

This year was also a little different because my Dad did not have to direct the camps.  We had incredible directors for both Day Camp and Overnight Camp.  Together, the 4 of us were able to collaborate about the theme, which made my job of writing curriculum that much easier!

The theme this year was “Love the World.”  We decided that we wanted to change camp up by introducing a missions element.  In addition to Bible study, presentations were made by people who had gone on short term mission trips each day, and we also did crafts to reinforce the culture that they had learned about.  When I was thinking/praying about this theme, I didn’t want to make The Great Commission the center of the theme.  That has done many, many times, especially by our denomination.  Of course, it is extremely important, but that just wasn’t the angle I was feeling.  In the end, we decided to make John 3:16 the center of it; we taught them about how God loves them, as individuals, by focusing on the death and resurrection of Christ in Bible Study, and then they were able to see in the missions lessons how that same love can be applied to the whole world.

Of course, camp isn’t just sitting and learning!  I was put in charge of crafts this year (which is always an act of desperation!) and I had fun working with both day campers and overnight campers.

And, of course, there was SWIMMING!


Poor Mr. Chris was patient with a nervous Izzy!

Even though I was only there during Day Camp hours, I managed to sneak over to the cabins one afternoon to see how my girls were doing.

Oh, and for the first time, there were HORSES.  For realz!


Ummm, yes, so I did!  That face is the one of discovering muscles that aren’t used…well…ever!  But let it be known that (although I had to be given very specific instructions,) I mounted by my own power! 


Sweet shot, Miss Ansley!

It was such a great week.  It’s not a secret that I’m passionate about camp, and I’m so thrilled the my kids, sisters, and friends are now experiencing it right along with me!

If you’ll excuse me, I have some bug spray to shower off.

Summer so far!

Alternatively titled, THE POST WITH ALL THE PICTURES!

We’ve had a nice, relaxing first half of our summer break.  Which is really good, considering the fact that the last half is going to be like HOLIDAY! and then CAMP! and then VBS! and then HAITI! and then VACATION! and then HOMESCHOOLING?!

So here is what we’ve done so far according to the pictures that I’ve taken…

Remember how I said that Ava was sick and missed her last day of school?  Well, fortunately, it was extremely short lived, because the next day we had a celebration at Gigi’s house to celebrate Josh, Heather, and Kristy’s birthdays.  Since the pool was the main event of the party, it was the perfect way to jump into our summer break!


Even Harlie had a treat and got in the pool!


I made Heather and Jeremy get some good pictures because we don’t see them often and, well, I need pictures of them for the calendar that I make for Gigi every year!  I might have suggested that they put on some sweaters and take some more after they got out of the pool for me to put on the “December” page.  (I don’t know why they didn’t go for it!)

Birthday kids!

And then there was VBS!  We’re doing our VBS every Sunday in June this year.

Our garden is producing!  Cucumbers, that is.  I don’t really like cucumbers, and we are growing A LOT.  Anybody want one?

And then there was Lauren’s birthday!  We went to a skating rink/laser tag place and then had Chinese for dinner.  Ava is sure she can skate now.  Which is terrifying, because it took 2 people to hold her up, and even then it was touch-and-go.

Our annual fishing derby!

The wedding of a good friend!

Father’s Day!  We didn’t do very well for Father’s Day this year…next year we’ll try to make it more special!

My friend, Mandi, and her mom came down to the area, so we went to meet them at our closest beach!  Mandi has known me for over 20 years now.  There are very few people (other than my family) that I keep in touch with that I can say that about!

And more VBS!

And a trip to our beach again with some of our bestest friends!

And this morning’s activity: blueberry picking!

And I’m sure we’ve done more, but that’s all I have pictures for!  I love this time of year!  Happy Summer!!!

 

A Little Homeschooling Q&A

When I tell people we are planning on homeschooling next year, of course there are some general questions that people ask. And I can’t blame them, since I ask them to myself multiple times a day! So, I’m going to attempt to answer a few that I’ve heard, or at least I imagined that I’ve heard.

Question: Why are you removing your child from public school?
Answer:  There is a lot implied by this question. It is basically the nice way of saying, “Did you have a bad experience with our public school?  And, if so, WHAT WAS IT?”  I could give a long answer to this question, but the short answer is the answer you used when you broke up with someone in high school, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

I was well pleased with Ava’s public school.  The staff was personable, it very much had a “community” feel to it, and Ava learned a great deal.  It’s not because of Ava’s school that we’re making these changes; it’s because of changes that have been made/are being made in mine and Josh’s hearts.

And please know that how your child is educated is an EXTREMELY personal choice.  Different families have different needs, and if public school is a great fit for your family, that’s wonderful!  Parenthood is tough enough without being critical of each other.  I will support whatever decision you make for your child/family, and I’m sure there will be plenty of days that I fantasize about the school bus, anyway!  (Like, tomorrow.  Summer break is not for the faint of heart!)

Question:  So what IS Christian Classical Education, anyway?
Answer:  I know, right?  I’ll get back with you when I figure it out.

Just kidding.  Well, sort of.  There’s a lot to Classical Education, and I know I’ve only scratched the very surface of the knowledge.  But basically, in super simple terms: where modern/standard education focuses on teaching students different subjects, classical education focuses on teaching students how to learn.  Its goal is to not only teach the student about each subject, but to teach about how ALL subjects relate to each other and EVERYTHING relates to God.

I mean, seriously.  The practicum I attended focused on teaching math (which was amusing because, well, my husband handles anything number related in our family!), and we straight up had church in the middle of math class!  OK, so no one raised their hands or spoke in tongues, but the facilitator was able to explain how math provides us with important insight into God’s character, which put math, and the importance of learning it, in a whole new light for me.

I could go way more in depth with the Trivium and the 3 different phases that classical builds upon, but there are many people that have already explained it far more eloquently than I ever could.  A lot of the reading that’s been recommended to me is pretty heavy (I started The Well-Trained Mind today while waiting at the doctor’s office, and I think I’ll be doing well if I can work through the whole thing in 6 months!), but for anyone who wants to get a feel for what Classical Education is all about, I recommend “The Lost Tools of Learning,” an essay by Dorothy Sayers.  I loved it before I read it because, well, it was written by Dorothy Sayers, but it really is quite good.

Question:  So how does this co-op work?  How often will you go to it?  Do you choose the curriculum?  Is it assigned to you?  And, most importantly, how much is all this going to cost???
Answer:  We will go to our co-op class once a week.  For Ava, who will be in the Foundations group, it will be a 3 hour meeting in the morning.  This will be an opportunity for the students to review memory work together, have new memory work introduced (there is a lot of memorizing for young children in this model of education – because that is what they are designed to do at this age!), as well as do some things that are easier in a group setting, like science experiments.

The way Classical Conversations is designed, the parent is always the teacher.  The leader of the Foundations class is called a “tutor,” not a “teacher.”  The final call on all curricula will be mine.  We will follow the Foundations guide to keep up with our co-op, but I am responsible for selecting curriculum for math, grammar, science, etc.

A beautiful thing about homeschooling is this: we can be following a Classical model, but I can do it however I want to; I am the teacher!  For example, in the Classical model, younger children are not encouraged to write creatively, under the premise that it is best to wait to do this until after they have learned how to write.  However, Ava has already done a great deal of creative writing, and it is something that both of us have a passion for, so I will probably supplement in some creative writing from the beginning.  And that is OK.  Because I am the teacher. 

As far as money goes, although I have a massive amount of research yet to be done on curriculum, what I’m learning is this:  There is a wide range of prices for curriculum out there, and you can go as expensive or as cheap as you want/need to.  Also, once you get plugged into the homeschooling community, you have many opportunities to purchase curriculum used!  And yes, there are fees involved with joining Classical Conversations, but they are very reasonable, and we find it well worth it to help us not be isolated while educating our children.  One thing I’ve already noticed about this homeschooling community is that they are very money conscience.  Everything is done as inexpensively as possible, and that is something I really appreciate.

Question:  So how in the world are you going to be organized enough to homeschool?  Will you still have time for your photography business?
Answer:  NO JOKE, this is going to take a lot of self-discipline on my part!  But I’m not as stressed out about this as I probably should be, and that is because, while Ava was away at Kindergarten this year…

nothing seemed to get done during that time.

I’m not sure what happened.  I mean, I was busy ALL DAY.  But I had little to show from the time that she was at school!  The house wasn’t clean because Egan was messing it up.  I didn’t get editing done because I had a policy to not work while the kids were awake.  Of course, I spent quality time with my boys which I could never replace, and there was some dish washing and laundry done on occasion.  But, to be completely honest, I did very poorly managing my time. 

So, although we’re not anywhere near ready to start officially homeschooling  yet, I am starting to work on changing my habits to do a better job with the time God has given me.  The biggest change I’ve made so far is, on weekdays, not logging onto facebook until after the kids are in bed.  It’s amazing what a time-suck facebook is.  I didn’t think I was a junkie, but making this change has really freed up a lot of my time!  (Of course, there are exceptions – today Josh stayed home because I was sick, so I allowed myself a sick day and got on facebook early.  I’m not going to be legalistic about this.  🙂 )

And the beautiful thing about not networking while the kids are awake is, it has freed me up to do some editing while the kids are awake!  (Provided that they are safe and accounted for and all that!)  I realized that I have “screen guilt,” meaning that I feel guilty whenever my kids see me in front of a screen.  Like it’s hypocritical, because I try to keep them away from screens as much as possible.  Josh (whose career keeps him in front of a screen) is helping me to understand that, if my children see me in front of a screen, but they know that I’m not bumming around on facebook or Pinterest, but that I’m working, and that screen is simply a part of my work, there is nothing to feel guilty about, and it is actually probably good for them to see me working some and know that Mommy has responsibilities outside of the home.

So, yes, I do plan to keep the photography going, although I may have to limit my load more than I do now!

Another change we’re making is trying to stick to a summer schedule (I’m calling it our “Idle Day” schedule because, hey, it’s still summer vacation, and if we get the opportunity to go out and have fun with friends, we’re taking it!)  A big part of our schedule is not one, not two, but THREE blocks of time during our day is reserved for cleaning our house!  Anyone that has seen my house knows that this will be a stretch for me to keep up, but I would really, really love to “un-learn” my children from the sense of entitlement they have developed about having a house that is cleaned for them, and “learn” them to take ownership of their dwelling place and contribute to its maintenance.

Because I’m obviously not able to keep it clean by myself.

Question:  Did you realize that you are already up to 1500 words, and no one is going to want to read past 1000?
Answer:  Yes, so I will leave off for now.  But I will end with an awesome little nugget of knowledge.

When I was attending the Practicum, I discovered that the Challenge B (8th grade) Classical Conversations students take a logic class.  And EVERY time I heard about it/thought about it, I thought of this line:

“Logic,” said the professor, half to himself, “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?”

I couldn’t get it out of my head, so I finally did the research and discovered CS Lewis was educated classically.  Which means that Classical Education was referenced in Narnia.

If you don’t understand why this is exciting to me, I’m not sure we can be friends.  🙂

A Small Father’s Day Tribute!

 

 

It occurred to me that I had not taken portraits of my own kids (together) since…well, 2013.  Well, the tricky part of taking group portraits is everyone has to be clean and dressed relatively nicely at the same time.  Between the fact that Egan is extremely messy and Ava and Izzy pick out their own clothes…well, that doesn’t happen very often.

2 weeks ago..IT HAPPENED.  We were bathing the kids on a Sunday morning before church, and the boys happened to have clean matching polo shirts.  Ava picked out something pretty for herself.  And I thought, “THIS IS IT.”  I was blow drying Ava’s hair, and the NEXT thing I planned to do was pull them outside to snap some pictures.  Josh stuck his head in the bathroom and said, “Egan’s dancing in his milk.”

I can’t make this stuff up.

Fortunately, he somehow avoided getting the spilled milk on his shirt, so we were able to move forward.

 photo IMG_6597_big_zpsc2775742.jpg

Happy Father’s Day to the man that cleans up the spilled milk…and so much more!  We love you!

We’re having a…

I’m not really sure how to start this post.  I really just want to share what God has done in our lives.  Just as much for Josh and I to have to look back on as for other people. So I guess I will do just that! 

I really want to be able to say “it all started…” but I can’t say for sure when it all started.  Maybe it started the first day of Kindergarten.  I was sending my baby away and that didn’t seem right.  But, of course, all moms feel emotional on that day, and the emotions would wear off over time.  They always do.

Maybe it all started when it took Ava, the child who would have been happy to LIVE at her preschool, a good 2 MONTHS to get over her anxieties regarding going to school.  I use “get over” loosely, because she had anxieties until the end of the year, but at least she finally got to a point where she wasn’t crying when she went to bed at night AND when she got up in the morning.  Maybe that’s when I started to feel that this might not be the path for us.  But I’m not sure.

I KNOW that something started in my heart just before Christmas when the Newtown shooting occurred.  It happened in every mama heart across the nation.  But God did not give us a spirit of fear, and I didn’t want my daughter to have one about going to school.

My prayer, starting at that point and lasting the next few months, was that if we were supposed to homeschool, it would come as a revelation to Josh, not to me.  He is the spiritual leader of our home, and he is also much more level headed about these things. 

But no vision seemed to come to him, and I tried to remain silent.  But my uneasy feeling about taking my baby to school grew. 

And it wasn’t just safety.  I didn’t like taking the back seat in my kindergartener’s life.  Decisions about what she would learn, who she would interact with, what and when she would eat, they were all being made by another entity.  I was getting her for a few hours in the evening, during which time she would emotionally throw up on me because she was so exhausted from being good all day.

But this is what we do.  We let our children grow and fly out of the nest and if our culture says they are ready to do that at 5 years old then they certainly must be.  And besides, using a local elementary school was going to help us connect with our community and shine the light of Christ, right? 

But my uneasy feeling grew.  And finally, I couldn’t take it any more on my own.  A few months ago, I asked Josh to be praying about Ava’s schooling.  At that point, I had NO IDEA what we were supposed to do, I just knew my soul was miserable.  We looked at a couple private Christian schools (which would take a miracle to be able to afford), we contemplated trying to get her into a different county’s public school, and, of course, we lightly batted around the idea of homeschooling.

I felt such a peace just talking to Josh about it, I thought, maybe this is it.  To be willing to do what God wants us to do, instead of just assuming we are supposed to take the standard route.  Maybe we wouldn’t need to make a change, after all.

This is going to be a little out-of-order, but I have to mention now that, when I was a children’s minister 6 years ago, my supervisor’s wife was a teacher at a Christian Private School that used the Classical approach to education.  We had them over to dinner, and she happily explained to me what that means.  I found it fascinating, but since Ava was just a baby and I never anticipated being able to afford private school, I didn’t put too much thought into it.

OK, fast forward back to present day.  When I asked Josh to pray with me on this subject, we looked at the Christian Classical academy we have here in our town.  Of course it is uber expensive.  However, through a Google search, I discovered that there are also classical homeschooling co-ops in our town.  I filed this in my mind, but I didn’t make any moves right away since we were just in the prayer stage. 

About a month ago, I e-mailed the director of one of the co-op groups to ask some preliminary questions. She responded and I loved her answers, but she asked if we could get together to talk so she could answer them more thoroughly.  HOWEVER, she went ahead and told me that they didn’t have any openings in Classical Conversations at that time.  She assured me that I shouldn’t be discouraged, that if this is what my family should do, God would make a way.  But in my head, no opening meant no go.

I went ahead and set up a meeting with her (which, because of our schedules, would be a few weeks away,) but I continued to not take the thought of homeschooling seriously because, well, there were no openings, and I certainly don’t have the confidence to do something like this by myself!

I was busy and really didn’t think much more about it until a day or two before I met with Tina.  I felt so conflicted.  I really loved the concepts involved in the classical approach…but there were no openings!  I was afraid that I would meet with this lady, fall more in love with the concepts, but not really be able to do anything about it.

So I prayed one of my most selfish prayers ever.  In the shower, on the morning of that day.  Last Tuesday.  “God, if this is what you want us to do, please let there be an opening NOW.”  I mean, I was straight up laying out a fleece.  And my faith should be FAR beyond fleeces by now.  Regardless of what God’s desires were, I did not expect Him to honor this prayer.

So I met with Tina.  And, as I expected, I loved everything she had to say.  From teaching the trivium to being able to go on vacation during the off (cheap!) season, I was loving the idea of this co-op.  I felt blessed to get to have the conversation and see into another mom’s life.  But I wasn’t optimistic.

But towards the end, she tagged on, “I JUST found out that our north location just had THREE spots open up.”

I couldn’t believe it.  I felt tears.  Ever since we have moved here, whenever we pray about making a change, we have felt the answer to be “No,” or “Wait.”  We’ve been waiting on something, we weren’t even sure what, for five years!  We have been waiting for so long for a door to open, I had forgotten what it feels like when one does!

And then I found my family sitting at a cross-roads.  With a decision to be made.  And rather quickly. 

That night there happened to be a meeting for moms in my group to help each other plan the next school year.  Josh and I dropped the kids off with friends who graciously agreed to it at the last minute, and we met the group.  I left that meeting a little bit terrified because the topic had been picking a science curriculum.  Josh left that meeting excited because he could do science with his kids!

So we prayed hard.  We knew that, if we wanted one of those spots, we needed to register Ava as soon as possible. 

There was a practicum scheduled for this week for classical homeschooling parents.  They had an affordable Day Camp for the kids to go to during that time, but the Day Camp was full.  I wasn’t sure if I could find someone to keep my kids for 3 whole days on such short notice.  On Wednesday, more day camp spots opened up.  I went ahead and signed myself and the kids up.  I think it was Thursday that we finally were able to say to each other, “Yes!  If the spot stays open long enough for us to register Ava, this is what we’re supposed to do!” 

So we came to Friday, which was the last day of Kindergarten, and possibly Ava’s last day of going to that school at all.  And I had it sort of built up in my mind as this bittersweet thing.  I was going to have her wear the shirt she wore on the first day of school and the whole nine yards. 

And she ended up running a temperature and I had to keep her home.  And that seemed oddly fitting, too.

Last weekend, we just happened to be going “home” to see both sets of our parents, so we had the opportunity to tell them, in person, what was going on.  It felt a lot like announcing a pregnancy.  You know, “We’re having a…teacher!”

We spent the first 3 days of this week in our practicum all day, and it was so good!  I learned so much about the classical approach, as well as time management in the home and such, and it was such a privilege to rub shoulders with ladies who have been home educating for as long as I’ve been alive. 

And Ava spent her time learning about cartography and making friends and it was hard to believe the delightful child I was bringing home with me every day!

And I CANNOT possibly go into everything I’ve learned or what our plans are in this blog post, and I’m sure there are many posts to come on the matter.  But I wanted to have our story of the last few months written out, as I tend to forget things.  🙂  I know we will get cheers from some people and “boo”s from some people and indifference from many for our decision, and I may get brave and try to address some Q & A from all camps of people on the blog, but for now, I just wanted to record the journey.

This is not, at all, the path that I would have expected God to take us down.  As CS Lewis said, “you thought you were be being made into a decent little cottage; but He is building a palace.  He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

 

In the beginning…

Well, this is…different.  I have had a blog on the Xanga platform for 8 years.  EIGHT YEARS.  I mean, that blog has seen my engagement, marriage, 4 moves, 3 children, and a WHOLE LOT of M&Ms. Although I didn’t know many people who were still using Xanga, I couldn’t just hop over to any other platform because I had so many memories wrapped up in the one.

But now Xanga is closing down.  And, if I’m going to keep blogging, I’m going to have to move.  Here.

It’s really not all that tragic; my superhero programmer hubby is working tirelessly to write a program to import my Xanga blogs.  (Because Xanga doesn’t seem to be too keen on exporting.)  So, if all goes as planned, in the end this will be just like my Xanga blog with a new address; the old posts will (hopefully, fingers crossed!) all be safely tucked away right here.  But it will be even better.  Because how adorable is this pink vintage camera template?!

And, honestly, it seems very fitting for me to make a change in my blog at this juncture in my life.  We are making a change in our family that we had no idea God was going to call us to do.  So let’s start over fresh shall we, why not?

This is the story of a girl…

…who got busy and forgot to blog.

(As a side note, I heard the song referred to in the title on Pandora recently and got excited and mentioned it to Josh. It’s not often that our 6 year age difference becomes apparent, but it did this time because he just stared at me blankly. But you remember that girl, don’t you, dear blog reader? You know, she cried a river and drowned the whole world?)

So if I wrote everything about the last few weeks, it would fill many, many very boring books. So let’s look at a few highlights:

Stephanie and Brad got married!!! It ended up being The Coldest/Rainiest First Weekend in May in the History of Creation, but they pulled the wedding off beautifully despite all the last minute changes that had to be made, and they are MARRIED now. And that is what matters!!

Photo credits to Josh’s cell phone! I had to make sure we got a picture because I failed to get a picture with her at my wedding (which she sang at!), and it has haunted me ever since!

Josh’s mom kept Egan, and my parents kept Izzy, so Ava got to try out being an only child for a weekend! Which I thought was fitting, because Stephanie was able to spend a lot more time with us before the boys were born:

It’s no secret that I am pretty excited for Brad and Stephanie. They are such a great, Godly couple and I am excited to see what He will do with them. Congratulations, guys!!!

And for another, but slightly less significant highlight:

I made it two years. I know that’s longer than most. But my mother was dropping very un-subtle hints and my husband was making declarations. And people in the grocery store were calling him a “her.” So this happened:

Sniff.

Although it is nice to see his eyes.

Congratulations are in order!!!

My friend Jackie was due to have her baby on tax day. Well, he’s a pretty smart baby, and he knew that many people have negative emotions when they think of April 15th, so he decided he didn’t want to have a birthday on a day of so much sorrow…so he came early!

Jackie had a wonderful, natural, SUPER FAST delivery (she had him about 45 minutes after they got to the hospital!) on April 10th. Baby Cade came into the world just perfect!


Photo credit to Jackie’s mom!

A good bloggy friend would have made a big blog announcement that very day, but since that would totally ruin my reputation of perpetually staying behind, it has taken me a few weeks. But my excuse is I had to wait until I went to see her this past weekend so that I would have pictures!!

Saturday, Cynthia and I made the trip down to [undisclosed beach] to meet little Cade. This is the first time the 2 of us have taken a road trip together…ever! We had a great time cruising and listening to whatever we wanted to and chatting it up, and we were so full of coffee and Dr. Pepper that I was starting to worry that I would be too jittery to hold the baby once we got there! And we only had to make one U-turn, which wouldn’t have been an issue at all if Cynthia’s British cell phone GPS had made things a little more clear. (But she totally redeemed herself with me when she said, in such a lovely voice, “Follow the course of the motorway.” I was just waiting for her to say “Tea is at 4:00, but any of you are welcome at any time!”*)

When we got there, Cade was all ready to be adorable, and we ooooohed and ahhhhhed for a while and then we got started with the official newborn pictures! It was awesome because I had THREE great assistants! We even were able to use my reflector INSIDE. Very fancy stuff! And of course the Coyles are wonderful models, and their baby is no exception!


left: Inside set-up using natural light with the reflector! right: First full “family” photo!


left: Oh. my. word. Those eyes!


right: He got pretty mad when he was changed into his Clemson duds and had trouble calming down. I ended up using this trick. I had read about it multiple times, but I had never bought it enough to try it. Low and behold, it works!

After a great photo session, we ate cheeseburgers and caught up and Eric and Jackie even surprised me with a birthday cake! Cynthia and I were both excited to get a full night of uninterrupted sleep. The next morning we realized we had forgotten some of the poses that Jackie wanted to use, so poor Cade was subjected to a few more pictures!


left: We struggled for a long time trying to figure out how we wanted to prop him on the books until Cynthia finally suggested making two level stacks instead of one tall stack. Ummmm….yeah…that makes sense… right: Tally cat had to get her own close-up!


“I prayed for this child…” Samuel 1:27

Then Cynthia and I provided food for the new parents by picking up a KFC chicken bucket (only the best for our friends!) And then it was time for MORE pictures because we had to document that Cynthia and I had been there, too!



Then it was back to the motorway for Cynthia and myself. We pretty much did a repeat performance of the day before, except it was Cherry Coke instead of Dr. Pepper keeping us going. That’s the most I’ve talked in a loooooong time. Cynthia was probably starting to wonder what she had gotten herself into!

It was a wonderful weekend and I am so glad that I got to see Eric and Jackie’s little one while he is so tiny! And I am SO glad that Cynthia was able to share the experience with me! A HUGE thanks to our husbands for watching our children so that we could go off and galavant!

But most importantly, welcome to the world Cade Joseph Coyle!!!

Our Weekend…Social Media Style

I don’t Twitter and I don’t Instagram. And I don’t update Facebook while I’m on the go. Of course this is because I don’t have a smart phone; but I have a wonderful techy husband who would be more than happy to get me a smart phone if I expressed the desire. The real reason stems from two facts: A) I don’t think it’s the smartest thing to tell the world where you are every minute of the day. I prefer to share my activities at the end of the day, when I’m safely locked inside the comfort of my own home. And B) Oversharing. I have a hard enough time avoiding this WITHOUT having access to the social networks every second of the day.

The flip side to this is “I will update my blog about this later…” turns into NEVER recording some of the cool things that happen. Like this past weekend, which was a series of fun events. But I thought instead of droning on and on about my weekend as I usually do, I would try to recreate what it would have been like if I DID use Twitter and Instagram. Which I don’t. So this may not look anything like real Tweets. But this is what I think Tweets look like from what I’ve seen on facebook and how I hear people talk when they are reading Tweets to me. Because I am, apparently, a Grandma that only knows about Twitter because the kiddos told me about it.

(Actually, there are probably a lot of Grandmas out there using Twitter quite proficiently. Sorry for the stereotype!)

ANYWAY, SO this is what the weekend would have looked like if I was documenting it on the Twitter…

Friday, April 19th.

3:17 PM. Oh. my. word. We completely forgot Ava’s reward ceremony was today! Granted, the car was in the shop and it was raining cats and dogs but… #worstmomever

6:48 PM. Pastor Don’s chicken wraps FTW! #yardsaleforHaitiprep

8:37 PM. Been tagging the hanging clothes for the yard sale. Prob taking too long on each one, but the neater it is, the more it should selll! #yardsaleforHaitiprep

Saturday, April 20th.

6:32 AM. Meant to get up 30 min ago. So much 4 being early!

8:42 AM. Don’t know how I ended working the cash box. Don’t they have ne1 that is better at math?? #yardsaleforHaiti

9:17 AM. Sweet, some1 wanted some VHS tapes! Can’t really beat 4 4 a dolla! #yardsaleforHaiti

10:18 AM. Made $270 so far! But not enuff peeps are buying clothes! #yardsaleforHaiti

11:30 AM. What, no1 wants these 10 cent romance novels?? We gotta move some books! #yardsaleforHaiti

12:46 PM. Packing it all up. Wasn’t going to buy nething, but the hubs got me a shirt! #yardsaleforHaiti

1:30 PM. @Cynthia & @Melanie – Thank you for the surprise early birthday lunch!! And my gifts ROCK!!! #soblessed #loveFiveGuys

3:04 PM. Droppin stuff off at the thrift store stuff that didn’t sell. Josh’s first time going to our thrift store! But we can’t spend money. #poppinsometags

3:17 PM. Ava just bought a porcelain doll with her own $$. She negotiated price and everything. She is so flippin proud of herself! #poppinsometags

3:59 PM. OK, so we spent money. Outfit for Ava, 2 ties for Josh, 3 toys for the boys, and 4 books. Spent a whoppin $5! #poppinsometags

6:48 PM. Still full from 5 Guys. Pancakes for dinner it is! #goodnight

Sunday, April 20th

8:37 AM. It’s mini-shoot day!! Josh took kids on to McDs so I could get gear together in quiet! Thanks honey! #minishootsforHaiti

9:24 AM. McDs with the fam. Mmm iced coffee! #caffeinefix

10:17 AM. Isn’t it annoying when people tweet in the middle of church? #Iwouldneveractuallytweetduringchurch

11:47 AM. Gettin started on shoot #1 a little early. These kids are a lot more smiley this time!! #minishootsforHaiti

1:30 PM. Just did 3 shoots in a row. Every1 did great! Now eating the lunch Josh made 4 me, thanks again honey! #minishootsforHaiti

2:53 PM. Just gave @PastorDon an impromptu Photo Shop lesson. He has CS6. I didn’t even know that existed yet! #jealous #notreallyjealous-itsamac

3:33 PM. Just did an awesome chalk fight shoot!!! #minishootsforHaiti

5:00 PM. Just finished shoot # 6 – I have a little break so will watch the 5K supporting Boston go by. #minishootsforHaiti

7:06 PM. Just finished my 8th and last shoot! Thanx for all the support for our Haiti trip!! #minishootsforHaiti

11:48 PM. I haven’t been this tired since…the last time I was this tired. #goodnight

So…what do you think? Would I be a tweeting queen? Or should I stick with blogging 3 times a month and keep the rest to myself?

Don’t worry, you don’t have to answer that. It was rhetorical. Or, should I say, #itwasrhetorical.

But you’ve gotta admit, that was #onereallygoodweekend!

He Has Not Forgotten

This morning, I was running on very little sleep, thanks to my own late hours and Egan’s current sleeping habits. I flipped on PBS for Egan, and sat with a mug of coffee for a few minutes before I took a shower. I checked Angie’s blog, and found this post that she wrote on her deceased daughter Audrey’s fifth birthday. Although it was actually a pretty cool post about how God had orchestrated some things in her life lately, I found myself weeping.

And I really wasn’t sure why.

But I think that I was reminded of something. Something so very, very simple that I needed reminding of. And I thought I would write it on here, just in case there’s someone else that needs reminding.

God has not forgotten.

He has not forgotten the big stuff.
He has not forgotten that we had to sign a deed in lieu on a house we could not sell and our credit score bares the scars.
He has not forgotten that our little church has struggled to reach out to the community and grow for 3 years to [what seems like] no avail.
He has not forgotten that we have 3 children that need to be educated and raised in an increasingly scary culture.
He has not forgotten that I often lay awake at night fighting fears.

He has not forgotten my dreams.
He has not forgotten that we want to grow our family.
He has not forgotten that what I’ve REALLY wanted to do since I was Ava’s age is be an author.
He has not forgotten that I dream to use photography on a trip with Compassion International.
He has not forgotten that I would love to sing in some sort of choir again someday.

He has even not forgotten the silly things.
He has not forgotten that I wish my house was more asthetically pleasing.
He has not forgotten that I have yet to find the perfect jeans for my body or running shoes for my feet.

And, if you’re still reading this, I want to make sure that you know that He has not forgotten YOU.
He has not forgotten your marriage.
He has not forgotten your finances.
He has not forgotten your losses.
He has not forgotten your children.
He has not forgotten your fears.
He has not forgotten your dreams.
He has not forgotten how badly you were wronged.
He has not forgotten your unemployment.
He has not forgotten your infertility.
He has not forgotten the babies you never got to hold.
He has even not forgotten your “silly things”!

Even if you don’t know Him, he knows all about you, and He has not, and will not forget anything about you!

This is not a prosperity gospel. God doesn’t give us everything that we want. What kind of good parent does that?! There may be some things on my list that, from my perspective, are left unfulfilled. But that doesn’t mean God forgot them.

And I know that, if this is something you have struggled with, there are lots of questions. Why did God let this happen? What good could possibly come out of this? and so on, and so forth. And the purpose of this post is not to try to answer those questions.

But sometimes, it really helps to be reminded that He remembers. And I need to stop living like He doesn’t.

These photos are of love letters that my Grandad wrote my Grandmother in the 30s. My Dad found them after his funeral. This is just a small fraction of them!

The Race

So one of the 5,461 things I HAVEN’T been blogging about because…well…life…is that Liz and I participated in an 8 week training class to run a 10K. And this morning we ran the race! At a clipping (for us) 10.5 minute pace, might I add!

We’ve been running together for about 4 years, and we’ve been running a solid 3 miles in each session for…about 4 years. And we’ve been saying that we’d like to train for a 10K for…about 4 years. In January, we got word of a free training group for this particular race and, seeing how **free** happens to be both of our love languages, we decided to give it a try!

I am SO GLAD we took the class, because, DUDE, I’m pretty sure every hill in Florida is on this course! Since we had already run quite a bit on them, there were no surprises.

I could talk about technical terms of exercise, but considering the fact that I hydrated with 2.5 glasses of sweet tea the night before, I’m not really a fitness expert. But here are some anecdotes from our experience:

~ Training for a 10K at the time you would normally be eating supper every Monday is really confusing for your body.

~ Running a 10K on a Saturday morning after a light breakfast is a little easier on the body.

~ We’re not really sure when the race actually started. And we were so far back in the mob of people, we really weren’t even sure where the starting line was for a minute or so after everyone started moving.

~ A lot of people that live on the race course were out on their yards/driveways to encourage us…or to stare at us. My favorite was the lady who had “Chariots of Fire” playing over a loud speaker.

~ My family doctor also ran the race and we crossed paths. I feel like this should automatically get me some health brownie points at my next check-up. That is, if I was responsible enough to go to regular check-ups.

~ I don’t know what was stranger…the fact that beer was passed out at the finish line…or the fact that were many people that were able to immediately drink it. That seems like