Sunday, January 7, 2018

Looking Forward

2018 is going to go by in a blink. 

I remember when I used to dread January.  It meant weeks ahead of cold, dreary weather.  Weeks of sickness and cabin fever and boredom.  Spring was an eternity away.

Now I think I'm going to blink and it will be spring break.  Blink again, it will be Easter.  Turn around, and it will be the end of the school year and time for all our summer plans.  Then school will start again and before I know it the holidays will be here yet again and  then I'll be trying to figure out how to write 2019 on my checks. 

It's all rushing by so fast. 

I like even numbered years; they feel friendly to me.  I think 2018 is going to be a good one.  I know I have the power to create good things, good moments in my life, no matter what happens around me.  So it will be a good year because I will make it so.

This year will see the end of diapers at our house.  It will see the end of high chairs and strollers and sippy cups.  It will see the beginning of Bean being able to drive independently, which will ease my burden of being the primary chauffeur around here.  We will then enter the stage of our house becoming a revolving door, where independent children come and go, taking flight on their own.  This stage will last as long for us as the stage of diapers and strollers did.  It feels just as dizzyingly frightening to gaze ahead at that stretch of the road as it did to gaze at newborn Bean and think of all that was ahead then. 

2018 will have seasons, storms, rain, flowers, leaves, growth.  There will be surprises and challenges. 

I love the cycles of nature, the cycles in our lives. 

For the last couple of years I have followed the popular practice of choosing a word to be my focus for the year.  Last year it was "nourish." 

This year my word is "bloom." 

I feel like now that my kids are a little bit older I am at a point in my personal development where I am ready to bloom in ways that I haven't been able to for a long time, if ever.  I feel like I want to help make things bloom around me: from flowers in my yard... to my children... to the scout troop I manage... to my marriage... to my home as a place of peace and delight. 

At the moment, I feel a strong urge to organize and improve everything around me.  I want to clean and declutter and beautify every room in my house.  I want to set my personal habits back in order after the overindulgence of the holidays.  I want to refine my character.  I want to educate my children in every way that I can. 

I am excited to feel this feeling because I haven't felt it for awhile, at least not to this degree.  As the twins get older and less demanding of my time and sleep, I am looking at so many things I have put on the shelf over the last few years and I'm saying, "I think I might be able to pick that up again soon."  It's quite thrilling.

Part of me doesn't want my little babies to grow up.  Oh, how I love tiny feet, chubby paws, and sticky kisses!  But grow up they will, so I might as well be grateful for what I will gain out of the process, while at the same time I savor the sweet moments I have left with my small tots. 

This year looks to be somewhat of a golden window in that regard.  I won't have the demands of toddlers, but yet they are all still at home to associate with and enjoy.  I intend to do just that.     

Friday, January 5, 2018

Looking Back

2017 was a good year for us.  We had our ups and downs, sure, but nothing very traumatic.  I am so grateful for that. 

The year went by so fast.  They always told me how time seems to speed up the older you get, and they were right. 

The kids just kept inching their way along toward growing up.  Bean got a driver's permit, turned 16, took the PSAT... that sort of stuff.  Fish turned 14 and started going to church dances.  Roo started school at Plumfield, leaving homeschool behind and taking a huge leap forward in her maturity.  The Rabbit then had to become my right hand helper at home, which she does extremely well.  2017 also saw Roo and the Rabbit progressing nicely with a piano teacher that wasn't their mom-- first time any of my kids has had a teacher besides me.  Peanut turned 7 and while she still isn't an early bloomer, I have seen a lot of growth in her this year.  Frog is now 5 and, unlike a year ago, is able to understand and follow complex directions from his building kits.  And the twins have changed so much in the last year!  They were babbling toddlers... now they speak sentences and follow directions (sometimes!) 

I just pulled out my planner from 2017 and looked at the goals I wrote down last January. 

1. Climb Mt. Timpanogos-- well, I climbed most of it!  I was satisfied with how that hike went, but I'm planning the next one, which will include standing on that summit!
2. Run three 5K races-- I only ran one "official" race, but I did keep at my running
3. Paint the front door-- nailed it!  I am so happy with my beautiful blue front door!!!!
4. Make Peanut a quilt-- well, the top's done, and I have the fabric for the backing...
5. Get blinds for the front bay window-- had to be curtains instead because of the way the window frames are built, but they've been up since last spring and it's good to remember how we lived in a fishbowl for 2 years with nothing to cover that front window.  I have made progress!
6. Clean out and beautify planting bed on the side of the garage-- I got it all cleaned out and half of it planted in flowers last summer, plus the boxwood bushes trimmed.  This summer I hope to get some more shrubs and perennials in there. 

In addition to these specific goals, I wrote down that I wanted to focus on the following:

Strengthening muscles
Cardiovascular endurance
Home organization
Home beautification
Eliminate murmuring

I think I made progress in all these areas, though some more than others.  I know I grew more muscles than patience. 

Finally, I had a bucket list with six places I wanted to visit within a few hours' drive of my home.  I made it to three of them: the site of Little House on the Prairie, the science museum in Oklahoma City, and the local homeschool convention. 

Yes, it's been a good year. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas Day

Oh, the aftermath of Christmas morning!  A glorious mess.  I spend all day picking up tangerine peels, pistachio shells, and bits of cellophane, and I don't mind at all.

Here's a selfie with me and my stocking.

I love my stocking.  It was a gag gift from my sister Crocodile almost ten years ago after she visited Graceland.  I am not a die-hard Elvis fan, but there's this running joke from my teenage years about me having a romance with Elvis, so it was pretty funny.  I didn't intend to use the stocking at the time, but I hung on to it.  Well, then three years ago when we were living with the Badger's parents Fish's stocking disappeared right after Christmas.  Fish and Bean had these gorgeous matching hand-knit stockings (made by Aunt Crocodile, actually!) and we just kept thinking that stocking would turn up... it HAD to turn up.  But Christmas 2015 arrived and it was still lost.  So I let Fish use my stocking... a beautiful blue velvet stocking that had my first initial embroidered on it, which is the same initial as Fish's.  That meant the only spare stocking that Christmas Eve was Elvis, which made me giggle.  And I decided I liked using the Elvis stocking.  So that's what I'm going to do from now on.

The twins played happily All Day Long.  A co-worker of the Badger's gave the kids some Christmas presents (so kind!) including some plastic farm animals (PERFECT) and coloring supplies.  The twins were so content.  They had their pretty dresses, they had plastic animals, and they had crayons and animal coloring books.  They partied hard until they crashed, crayons in hand.

I got the Rabbit this cool 3-D puzzle of the Eiffel Tower.  She loved it.  We got right to work and got it put together.  It was fun working with her.  I love that about puzzles.  When you work on them with your kids you have quality time to talk and just enjoy being together.

Oh, and see the chicken pot pie?  And the bowl of Ramen?  Tee hee.

I got Bean this game called Dragonwood, and we had a blast playing it with Roo.  Well-designed game with delightful illustrations and lots of quirkiness.  See, one of my cards there is a bucket of spinach, and we're going to use it on our magical dragon-slaying adventure.  I love it.

Games, puzzles, food, family, hearth and home.  Such a perfect day.

Two thoughts I kept having throughout the day:

First, I told the kids that the joy of Christmas morning, celebrating the Savior's birth with so many wonderful delights, is a foreshadowing of the joy and delight of the Savior's second coming.

Second, I thought often throughout the day of the lyrics to one of my favorite songs: "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need."  As I watched my little ones and their utter contentment, I kept thinking of this:

The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may Thy house be my abode
And all my work be praise!
There would I find a settled rest
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest
But like a child at home

How I desire to be as content in the house of God as a child at home.

Christmas Morning

The kids weren't the only ones who had a hard time sleeping Christmas Eve night.  The Badger and I had a hard time sleeping as well.  Finally at 6 we got up.  By 6:30 all the kids were lined up on the stairs for the traditional Christmas morning stairs photo.  

We all go down together and of course we first open our stockings.  

Stocking contents is one of those things that has varied from year to year.  When I think of stockings I think of chocolate, oranges/tangerines, nuts, and maybe a small fun non-food item or two (when I was a teenager I always got camera film in my stocking... oh, those olden days!)  

We've mostly done that, but there have been some variations.  One year there were tins of canned octopus in the stockings as a joke (as well as other good stuff!)  A can of Spam has been seen several times as a joke.  Sometimes if we are on a health kick there are treats from the health food store, especially in my stocking.  There have often been plastic Schleich figures in the kids' stockings, but other than that not usually too many toys (either you buy cheap ones that break quick and end up in the garbage or if you want to go for quality it gets expensive really fast.)

Anyway, Santa's elves had kind of a funny idea this year.  

Here's the backstory.   Growing up, the tradition at my house was that on Christmas Day after the presents were opened my mom hit the kitchen and spent all day making a gorgeous fancy turkey dinner.  We all dressed up, people were invited over (usually people who were alone for Christmas for some reason), and we had this very nice dinner that afternoon.  It was lovely and felt very festive, but the Badger and I have not wanted to continue this tradition because we like to be lazy on Christmas Day.  We both agree that there should be fun presents that you can spend the day playing with together as a family and that you should spend the day in your pajamas just playing together.  (Sometimes we have done a turkey dinner on Christmas Eve instead.)

When the Badger was growing up, the tradition was to have a special breakfast on Christmas morning.  The menu was as follows: pigs in blankets (homemade biscuit dough wrapped around full-sized Smokies sausages), fluff eggs, orange juice and tomato juice.  When I met the Badger, I just loved this tradition, and when we got married there was no question that this was what we were going to do Christmas morning.  

After a few years, each year the Badger would threaten not to do it.  "Those pigs in blankets are so unhealthy," he'd say.  "You feel like a slug after eating them."  Plus, they're a fair amount of work, which nobody feels like doing on Christmas morning.  So he'd often say we weren't going to do it, but then he'd change his mind and go buy the Smokies anyway, because it just wasn't Christmas to him without those pigs in blankets.  I was okay either way-- I love the pigs, but I don't have to have them because it's not a childhood thing for me.  

Well, this year we finally didn't do it.  We have had so much rich food and partying since Thanksgiving that when we talked about Christmas we just wanted to keep everything simple.  We didn't want to do a ton of chocolate and candy either. So, what to do instead?  

I had the idea that we could fill the stockings with their breakfast.  I mean, that's what happens anyway, right?  It's 6:30 am and everyone starts chowing down on their chocolate and tangerines and nuts and candy.  No one's even hungry for pigs in blankets or anything until 10 or 11 am, and everyone has the jitters from eating so much sugar.  So, let's put in granola bars and juice boxes.  That way they can be eating breakfast while we're opening presents.  Efficiency, right?

The Badger liked that, and then he added to it.  He went and bought a bunch of frozen chicken pot pies to put in the stockings as well.  Instead of the pigs in blankets, we could just pop those in the oven mid-morning... a Christmas brunch with no prep work!  Brilliant!  Since we never buy those, they're quite the treat.  We also ended up buying a case of Ramen noodles on impulse when we were at the store and throwing a pack of Ramen in everyone's stocking.  We never buy Ramen and they love it, so it was a fun treat.  

Alright, back to the pictures.  See that pot pie?  You just never know what's going to come out of your stocking in this house!

Good morning, Fish!  Hard to see, but he's holding a juice pouch.  

Bean is always the one with the little kids on his lap.  He helped both the twins unload their stockings.  The twins were so fun this year-- old enough to start to get what was going on, though still a bit bewildered.  It was so cute to watch them.  

Bean's stocking contained something very special.  He's going to Spain next summer with my sister, so there was a US passport in his stocking.  

On to the presents!  We blew off another tradition this year: instead of handing out the presents in order starting with the youngest and moving up through each child, we just handed out whatever we grabbed next from the pile under the tree.  As always, though, we all wait and watch while each gift is opened rather than having everyone tear into the whole pile at once (I can't even imagine what chaos that would be at our house!)  

The Badger always tells me exactly what he wants and I just get it for him.  I'm no good at surprising him with things he actually appreciates.  So shopping for him is easy.  It's usually mostly books.  Maybe camping gear.  But mostly books.  

All the twins ever want to wear lately are fancy dresses.  I found these nice Little Adventures dressups in just their size on clearance.  I don't think they're ever going to take them off. 

Love the way when one child is opening something there's always at least one hovering right there, trying to get in on as much excitement as possible...

Frog was easy to shop for this year.  He mostly just needed this Engino set.  He was pretty happy.  

It's tricky balancing the Christmas presents for eight children.  You only have so much money, and you want each kid to be really, really happy.  You know that, say, the Engino set is exactly what Frog wants most and he's going to be so thrilled, so what can you get for the other kids that's about the same cost that they're going to be thrilled with?  And what about the kid that really really really wants something expensive that there's no way you're going to be able to buy them?  Luckily my kids don't have a huge problem with jealousy or entitlement, and despite the long, long wish lists they give me every year they always end up so happy with whatever they get.  But I still spend quite a bit of time trying to make sure the gifts are as balanced as possible, and I always worry a bit about one or two of the kids.  

I always realize later that it was silly to worry.  This year they said it was the best Christmas ever.  I think they say that every year.  Just like every year we tell them, "Now, we don't have a ton of money this year, so don't get your hopes up too high."  We say that, and they roll their eyes and say "Mo-om, you always say that and then Christmas is always awesome."  Well, it's awesome because they're grateful for what they get.  And because their mom is really good at picking out quality toys on a budget.  

I've got kids begging me to play a game with them, so I'm going to break this post up.  I'll share the rest of our day later.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Eve

Oh, what a wonderful Christmas we have had here this year!

I've said this before, but I am so grateful for each day when I have all eight of my children together at home.  I'm just savoring it.  They are just my favorite people.  To spend a Christmas together was just heavenly.  I told the kids that it was a taste of heaven, and also that during hard times later in their lives they could look back on this time and hold on to this beautiful memory.

Tonight I'm going to blog about Christmas Eve, and then tomorrow I will move on to Christmas day.

First of all, I just want to say that one of the things about our family at Christmas is that we don't have a ton of well-established traditions.  Because of all the varying circumstances we have had over the years (especially living in different places) Christmas has looked a bit different every year.  Sometimes I wish we could be more consistent and in the future I would like to solidify some more traditions, but I'm also grateful for our ability to be flexible.

This year, Christmas Eve began with Peanut playing with my phone and taking this picture, which I was going to delete until I noticed that the rays of the rising sun look like an angel.

Church was wonderful because it was just Sacrament Meeting, and that was mostly music.  I enjoyed that so much.  I love going to church on Christmas Eve. 

Sometimes we have a big meal on Christmas Eve.  Sometimes it's turkey, sometimes it's fancy.  This year we went with simple.  We had taco salad.  We ate at the table together and had more exciting fixins than usual, so it felt special.  But it was just taco salad.  Easy, especially for a Sabbath when we had just come home from church.

As it got dark outside we fired up the fireplace and started gathering in the living room.  When I came down from my Sunday afternoon nap Fish was Christmas reading stories to Frog and the twins.  This absolutely warmed my heart.  And Good King Wenceslas is a favorite.

Reading Christmas stories aloud on Christmas Eve was a a tradition for me growing up, so I read a few things, including a story I remember my dad reading called "Stubby Pringle's Christmas."

We got out the festive hats to make the evening more special.  We did not do new pajamas this year.  That was a beloved tradition for me growing up, and we often do it, but not always.  This year I felt that most of the kids didn't absolutely need new pajamas, and I was trying to simplify and pare down expenses.  The kids didn't mind too much.  I guess that's the nice thing about all the change we've had over the years... they're not so set in their ways that they're going to throw a fit and say "but we ALWAYS do that for Christmas!" because there is very little that we always do.  I'm grateful that they are usually game to do things a bit different.

We had a nice devotional all together.  This is a consistent tradition, though the content varies a bit from year to year.  We usually do the Nativity story with some hand puppets my friend Julie made for us many years ago, but this year the kids wanted to act it out.  Since some of the puppets need mending and I'd forgotten to do that, I said yes, though I didn't feel like trying to find costumes for everyone.  So they improvised with stuff like baby blankets.  It was pretty informal.  Baby Jesus was a teddy bear.  They enjoyed it though, and it settled everyone down and brought the Spirit in enough that we could bear our testimonies of Christ to each other for a few minutes.  It was sweet to ask the kids to share and hear what they said.  Fish talked about the spirit he felt during some of the music at church.

Then we got out our stockings and laid them out.  I used to dream of having matching stockings for the whole family (preferably those lovely needlepoint ones with names embroidered on them) and hanging them up all through the month of December as decorations.  It hasn't worked out that way.  Our stockings don't match at all, but they each have a story, starting with the Badger's beloved olive green corduroy stocking from his childhood.  So we keep them put away until Christmas Eve and then we lay them out for Santa to fill.

Then we sent the kids packing to bed and stayed up for a bit enjoying the fire and the tree.

This year the Rabbit left cookies and milk out for Santa.  She led the kids in making sugar cookies on Friday, and then somehow, with no input from me, they got decorated on Saturday.  I had very little to do with the process, which was a change.  Anyway, I think this is the first time we've left something for Santa.  Santa is not a huge deal at our house... he comes, but no fuss is made over it and little effort is made to conceal his identity.  (One of those marriage compromises... not the way I would prefer to do things, but at the end of the day it's not that big a deal.)  So it was cute to me that the kids wanted to leave cookies this year.

When I finally went upstairs I found the younger kids all lined up in bed in the little girls' bedroom.  They all decided to sleep in there together.  It was so adorable to see them all lined up like that, fast asleep, visions of sugar plums no doubt dancing in their heads. 

Dream, dream, dream... of the joyous day to come...

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

December Evening

It's 10:30 and I'm parked in front of the Christmas tree with my Chromebook.   Not all of my children are asleep yet (sheesh!) but it's quiet enough, finally.  

I love December evenings in front of the tree.  This December it seems like we have something going on almost every evening.  The parties and concerts and stuff just go on and on.  So if I want tree time it has to be late in the evening. 

I'm going through a bunch of Christmas albums on Spotify and finding songs I like to add to my Christmas playlists.  Right now I'm going through a Josh Groban album, which is quite nice.  I have several more albums stacked up to check out.  I love Spotify. 

The twins and Frog have croup, and I'm grateful for onions.  An onion cut in half placed near the sick child so they can breathe the fumes is absolutely miraculous with croup.  It will make a big difference in how much sleep I get tonight.  

Bean stayed home sick from school today, and he spent a good portion of the day making cardboard shields for the little kids.  I love it when my older kids play like little kids again.  

Frog has recently discovered audiobooks.  In recent weeks, since we moved him in to share a bedroom with Bean, he has taken to shutting himself in his room with Engino or Legos and building stuff for hours.  A couple weeks ago I got a couple of audiobooks at the library that I knew a five-year-old would enjoy (Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Rabbit Ears Treasury of Tall Tales) and showed him how to play them on Bean's stereo.  Success!  

This was what Bean and Fish did hour after hour when they were little: audiobooks in their room with construction toys.  Bean says it's one of the best things I ever did for him.  But the three middle girls haven't done a lot with audiobooks.  Not as much as I was hoping anyway.  Audiobooks haven't been huge in our house for the last couple years, so I am so excited about Frog getting into them. 

Roo and Rabbit had a piano recital on Saturday.  They did well.  Here is a picture.  

Plumfield had their Christmas choir concert last week.  It was so wonderful.  A real highlight of this Christmas season for me.  Music is my favorite thing about Christmas.  I wish you could have heard their select choir sing an a capella version of "Mary, Did You Know?"  Magnificent.  

Unfortunately, the concert was also a huge trial for me, because I brought Frog and Peanut, and they decided to be absolutely awful through most of it.  They squirmed and kicked and made weird noises and Frog absolutely would not stop talking.  I thought I had it made because I got to leave the twins at home, but I was wrong.  

I want them to learn concert etiquette though, and if I always leave them at home, how will they learn?  

Let's see... what other photos do I have?  Here's our van all torn apart in our friend's shop, awaiting its new engine.  

Here's a picture I took as I sewed the last of the Eagle-required merit badges on Bean's merit badge sash:  

I am so grateful for the knowledge, skills, and experience all those little circles represent.  Working through the Boy Scout ranks has done my boys so much good.  Those sashes mean a lot to me.  So why did Fish have to go and lose his after the court of honor last Wednesday night?  Kids!

Finally I will leave you with another picture of cute sleeping twins.  

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Growing Up

I'm feeling really proud of my oldest son right now.

When he was little, he seemed to be very slow to mature.  He had very little focus.  I had a hard time imagining him as a responsible adult.  I worried.

I also prayed.  And God guided us as we raised him.  It's amazing to look back over the way his life has been shaped in answer to those prayers.  Like being able to give him the extra time he needed to learn to read when he was little because I felt so compelled to homeschool him.  Like how we felt we needed to put him in football even though we were not football people.  Like how in 5th grade we were told he needed lots of one on one help with his schoolwork to overcome a learning disability and how circumstances in our life changed so that instead of totally impossible we were able to do just that his entire 6th grade year.  Like finding Plumfield and watching him blossom there.

Last night Bean presented his Eagle project proposal to both the troop committee and, later in the evening, the district advancement chair.  I was in both these meetings and I listened to him explain his carefully planned project.  He communicated clearly.  He answered questions thoughtfully.  The committee brought up a couple of problems and he discussed those concerns with them until a solution was agreed upon, even though I knew it wasn't the way he had wanted to do things.  He was very mature about it.  I was so impressed.

I thought, "what an amazing young man!"

He runs the school chess club.  He sings in the select choir.  He put up my outside Christmas lights.  And he's fixing our car.

The fixing our car thing was mostly his idea.  When we were trying to decide what to do about our dead car last month, Bean urged us to take it to our friend Mr. Z, who he had worked with a bit last spring on auto mechanic stuff.  We weren't sure it was worth it to fix it, but he said "I want to work with Mr. Z and put in a new engine."  So that's what's been happening.  What an awesome learning experience!

I am so grateful for Bean.  I look forward to continuing to watch him develop his talents.