Saturday, June 25, 2016

Ice Cream Cones

Nineteen Months

Life with the twins is very busy and exciting these days.  Now that they have full mobility, it's time for them to start learning to talk in earnest.  So far it's just mostly experimenting with various sounds, but it's so cute to hear them babble, especially to each other.

They play together a lot now, and I keep coming across cute little tableaus like this:

Or this one, which I found one morning when I came downstairs.  "Let's sit in the brown chair together and play with our stuffed animals."

Less fun, of course, is when they hurt each other and make each other cry.  But they definitely cooperate more often than they fight. 

They each have their favorite naughty thing to do.  Leaf has a specific bookshelf that she unloads again and again and again, sometimes multiple times a day and often right after I have just put the books back.   And they are quality homeschool books and right in a major traffic pattern, so they get stepped on a lot.  I should probably move them to a safer location, but I keep thinking she will get tired of it soon. But she hasn't yet.

Leaf also really likes to put things in her mouth still.  So, we have to really watch stuff like Legos and marbles still with the bigger kids.  Twig loves to throw all the shoes off the shoe rack in my closet.  And both of them adore climbing on the table or counter and throwing anything they find there onto the floor (we have lost several dishes in recent weeks!) 

I really wish they slept better.  Leaf likes to stay up late and Twig likes to get up really early, so I end up getting shortchanged on both ends night after night after night.  It's really taking a toll on me. 

But there are no words to convey to you the cuteness and the dearness of those two little sets of shining eyes and chubby hands.  When they coming running with their arms outstretched to hug me after I've been gone, or when I watch the two of them babble and play together, or when I get two sets of gooey kisses, those are the moments my cup runneth over. 

A Father's Day Tradition

A few years ago I bought the book I Love My Daddy by Sebastian Braun for Father's Day.  It has become an annual tradition for the Badger to read it aloud to the kiddos on Father's Day. 

I love this picture with six little ones crowded around him, but alas our two oldest are now too old to come running excitedly for this tradition.  Someday they'll all be at that stage where they think they're too big, but I bet you some day they will all come back and want him to read it to them again. 

Passing on a Love of Books

I'm so pleased with the culture of literacy in our home.  Of course, I cultivated it deliberately, but it really warms my heart when I see the older kids passing it on to their younger siblings.  How can Leaf and Twig not love books?  There are books all around them, in every room of the house, which we allow them to handle (for the most part.)  There are bookshelves in every room of this house, and someone is always reading.  Library trips are highly anticipated events, even though they are frequent enough to be commonplace.  Reading is a big deal in this house, and yet is as natural as breathing. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Potatoes and Fireflies

Harvesting potatoes is one of the funnest garden chores.  You are literally digging for treasure.  It's a blast with little kids.  Last night when it was finally cool enough to be able to stand being outside, I went out and dug up some of the potatoes that are ready in my potato patch. These happened to be the extra-fun red and blue varieties.  I had a lot of help, and we had a lot of fun!

As we were finishing up, it was firefly time.  I still can't get over the magic of fireflies.  They make me so happy!  I love to watch the kids running around the yard, calling out "I caught one!"  I love it that they are so easy to catch that even Frog can manage it.  And I really, really love it that our yard has a lot of them! 

Frog loves to catch fireflies.  The other kids have already gotten tired of it this season, but not Frog.  He is always so excited to go out in the twilight and chase them around the yard.  Last night I tried to get some pictures of this.  They didn't turn out as fabulous as I had hoped, but they will be good memories in the future. 

I kept hoping that I would catch some fireflies on camera... there were dozens of them twinkling all over the yard.  But they are hard to photograph!  In this picture, there is a firefly lit up by Frog's foot that just looks like a light speck.  

And this one turned out blurry, but I had to keep it because there was definitely a green light from a firefly!  

The twins like fireflies too!  

Good times!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Happy Father's Day!

It's Father's Day, and I want to talk about my dad.  It's also late, and I really ought to go to bed.  So this will not be eloquent or terribly profound.  But it will be heartfelt.  

I love my dad.  The older I get, the more I am in awe of what he did for my siblings and I as our father.  When I was young, I thought he was too strict, and I wasn't so sure he really understood me.  Now that I am trying to raise eight kids, I understand where he was coming from, and I am so grateful that I had a father that supported and loved me.  He truly was the wind beneath my wings as I was growing up, which fact I really did not notice then, but do now.

My dad is now 84 years old.  I am not sure how that happened.  He is in good health, but he is slower and travel is becoming very difficult.  I sure would like for him to be able to come visit us in Kansas, but that is not very likely.  I miss him.

This last trip to Utah in April I got to spend a morning with him-- just the two of us at his house.  He fixed me food and we talked-- mostly about family history.  We looked at family pictures on the computer.  It was glorious and precious.

When I think back over my life, the memory about my dad that jumps out at me first is the hike I went with him up Mount Timpanogos when I was nine years old.  I grew up in Minnesota, but we always drove out to Utah every summer for two weeks of visiting relatives and spending as much time hiking and camping in the mountains as we could manage.  Hiking Timp is a big deal: it takes all day and the summit is at 11,750 feet.  The summer of 1988 was to be my first time up there after hearing about it my whole life.  A big group of assorted extended family members started out from Aspen Grove first thing in the morning.  I enjoyed the hike very much until we got to the last stretch.  Most of the hike takes place in a series of glacial cirques on the back side of the mountain; there are meadows and trees and waterfalls.  Then you reach a point called the Saddle, where you cross over to the steep, rocky front face.  You are now above timberline and you are surrounded by nothing but rock and wind and scary dropoffs.  I was terrified.  I did not think I could go on.  My Dad reached out and took my hand.  Holding on to him, looking straight down at my feet, and whimpering a little, I managed to finish the hike.  He never got impatient or frustrated with me, he just kept holding onto my hand and leading me forward.  It didn't seem like a very big deal at the time, but it says something that when I think about my Dad that's the first thing I think of.

Another memory of my Dad that stands out to me is something that occurred when I was in 9th grade.  The high school I was attending had a very renowned choral music program which I was a part of.  I was in their elite, audition-only choir and I felt like that was pretty cool.  We sang some pretty challenging music, after all.  In the spring we were having a big combined concert with all the choirs in the area.  We were learning this very magnificent and powerful version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  It wasn't easy, so we were really working hard at it and it was starting to sound really good.  One day I was talking to my dad about it, and he told me that yeah, he knew the arrangement I was talking about.  In fact, he had sung it when he was in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  I'd grown up hearing about how my dad had sung in the Tabernacle Choir, but I hadn't really heard any details.  Now, my Dad told me that when the Tabernacle Choir was singing this particular arrangement of Battle Hymn in the late 1950's, it actually got to the top of the hit parade.  To a 14-year-old who listened to a lot of American Top 40, this was shocking and really, really cool. Then he said that they had actually won a Grammy award for that song.  My jaw dropped even more.  He had even been part of the group of choir members that had traveled to Los Angeles for that event and to perform the song on the Ed Sullivan Show.  You know that moment when you're in elementary school and you run into your teacher at the grocery store and it suddenly dawns on you that she has a life outside of being Mrs. Smith in your first grade classroom?  That conversation with my dad was the moment when I really internalized that he had had a life other than being my Dad, a life where he had done a lot of really cool things.  I mean, I knew he had a life-- he had a job he went to every day at the university, he had been Bishop of our ward... but those were just part of his Dad-ness, they were ordinary.  Now I suddenly understood that my Dad was an extraordinary person. 

Those are just two of many memories that I have, but they are the two that stand out the most and I wanted to write them down.  Happy Father's Day, Dad.  I am so grateful to be your daughter. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Tallgrass Prairie

A couple of weeks ago we visited Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve with some fun friends of ours, and I thought I would share some pictures.

We happened to show up on the one day of the year when they have special farm activities for the kids to do, including milking goats.  Oh, my older kids were excited about getting to milk a goat again!

And the Badger loved holding a baby goat again!  We miss our farm days.  I am glad we are not farming right now, but I would like to again someday in the future.   

After the kids did farm chores, we went on a glorious hike over the green, green prairie.  It was so incredibly beautiful.   There was an amazing variety of wildflowers in bloom.

Here is a picture of Fish and Twig at the farmhouse (which you can tour and which is very cool!)

Here is a butterfly that we all thought was just gorgeous. 

It was a really magical day. 

Year's End

Our school year is winding down and we are really wrapping things up.   

I thought I would take a few minutes to bore you all to tears talking about each of my students.  

Bean has come so far this year.  He is better at managing his time and following through on his assignments.   However, he has a maddening habit of being diligent until he has done about 80% of his work.  The constant need for him to catch up was very stressful to me, since it was just more stuff for my already overloaded brain to deal with.  

I am most proud of Bean for his hard work on Algebra this year.  He has had a hard time because he has been on his own with only the lessons on the Teaching Textbooks CD ROMs and no one to ask questions to.  I don't remember Algebra,  so I was no help.  Near the beginning of the year I thought it would be helpful if I took the course as well so I could help him when he needed it.  I tried, but I was just spread too thin and I couldn't find the time.  A couple of times I was able to have Bean talk to or spend time with someone who does know Algebra well, and I think that helped,  but mostly he has had to figure things out on his own.   At this point he is a little over halfway through the course with a B average on the first half (and that's letting him redo stuff.)  He wants to keep working through the summer and finish before fall, which shows some determination and initiative that I am glad to see.  

Bean made great progress with writing this year, but I still feel like he is way behind where he should be.  That's another situation where I felt spread more thin than I would like.  I did work a lot with him on spelling and he improved a lot there.  

Fish did very well this year.  The stomach problems were a challenge and they set him back some, but he was determined and diligent.  He has done well in all his subjects... Latin was sometimes a little hard for him, but he got through.  In the end he is doing just fine in math, despite the fact that I made him skip a level and that was hard for him at first. 

Roo is currently my student that is the least demanding of my teaching time.  She works very well independently.  It's nice to have one like that, with so much else going on.  She sometimes skimps on me though, just doing the bare minimum on, say, a writing assignment so she can say she's done.  When I had time to sit down with her and help her edit and rewrite her writing, adding and clarifying content, it was a good thing.  I wish I could have done more of that.  

Teaching writing well can be very time-consuming.  I enjoy it, I just wish I could find more time for it.  One thing I finally got going this year was a school newspaper.  We managed to get five issues out this winter and spring, each with four pages of the kids' writing.  It was a lot of work but we all really enjoyed it.  We mailed copies to the grandparents and they just loved it.  I definitely want to keep doing that in the future. 

The Rabbit grew a LOT this year in her ability to focus and get work done.  At the beginning of the year I dropped some of her secondary subjects because I just could not get her to get her work done.  I figured we could just battle it out over math, language, and spelling.  By the end of the year, she had her groove and it wasn't a battle anymore.  It was hard to get her to pay attention during history and science.  She didn't seem that into it.  Which is okay.  I was thinking recently about the Thomas Jefferson Education book, which I read years ago, and which has some really good content.  I like the way it describes the phases of learning, and I thought about how the Rabbit is still coming out of the core phase.  She is not really in the love of learning phase yet, where stuff like science and history would be so very interesting to her.  And that's okay.  She'll get there. 

Peanut will get there too.  She is not going to be an early bloomer, which is a blessing to me right now.  We try to read to her as often as possible, but I haven't had much time to work on academics with her this school year.  When I have, I have seen that she is not ready yet, and I know from experience now that when she is ready she will catch up beautifully.  I do hope to work more with her this summer though, since I won't be so completely caught up in working with the older kids.  A summer preschool sounds like fun!

Of course, I have so many things to do with my free time this summer that I am really going to have to plan and schedule to make sure I get them done!  I have cleaning and organizing around the house, gardening, time with friends, outings around town, and of course planning for next year.   But I have nine whole weeks... which at the moment sounds like the most amazing luxury. 

Here's to summer!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

My First 5K

The day of my first 5K race dawned with absolutely perfect weather.  This was a tender mercy, as I was really wondering if I was crazy to actually be doing this after all.  I will say this again: being in a 5K was a huge deal for me.  So much of the transition from "I am someone who only wants to spend her entire life sitting on the couch and eating pizza and ice cream while reading heaps of fluffy novels" to "I am fit and healthy and I enjoy being active" has not been physical, but mental.  Few people will ever know how hard this process has been for me. 

I knew I would not be able to run the whole way, but my goal was to run the majority of it and to finish in less than 45 minutes.  

My race was actually just a fun run put on by my stake (church community.)  It was free, so there wasn't a lot of hoopla but we did have bibs and we were timed.  About 60 people signed up for the 5K, and another 50 or so for the 1 mile run.  Roo and the Rabbit were excited to run the mile.  I encouraged Fish to sign up for the mile too, since he has been trying to train with me but has been hindered by his stomach problems.  But he was adamant about doing the 5K.  The Badger surprised me by signing up for the 5K as well.  I didn't know that it was something he would be interested in doing.  

There was a lot of excitement in the air as we lined up.  There was this cool group energy vibe and it was neat to be a part of it. 

And then we started running. 

I knew I was going to get left in the dust, but honestly I was surprised at how fast it happened.  Pretty much right away the Badger, Fish, and I were not only at the very end, but everyone else was yards and yards ahead of us.  I thought there would be a couple other stragglers or walkers, but it turns out that besides our family, only a bunch of rabbits signed up for this year's race. 

That was okay, though.  This wasn't about me versus them, it was about me versus me.  And I was doing fine.  I ran the first mile and a little beyond that, and then I started taking short walking breaks.  At that point I was alone on the course.  The rabbits had all long gone, and the Badger had stayed back with Fish, who was aways behind me.  He had woken up that morning with a cold that was really draining his energy, but he still wanted to participate.

It was a glorious morning running past lovely green Kansas farm fields.  I was enjoying myself and doing well by my standards.  I was a little worried about Fish's morale, but I knew the Badger was with him and I was very grateful for that.    

At about the 2 mile mark I saw my friend Cyndi approaching.  Cyndi runs marathons.  She is strong and fast.  She is also an amazing, understanding friend.  She has given me a lot of advice and encouragement throughout this process. 

Cyndi had finished the race and then turned back to find me and run the last leg with me.  Having her there with me was really wonderful.  She pushed me to do more, but she didn't push me too hard. 

When I reached the finish line, I was thrilled to learn that my time was 40:38, way under my 45 minute goal.  Everyone else had long ago left the finish line and moved on to the food tables and if they thought about me at all they probably thought how incredibly slow I was, but they had no idea how far I had come and what an amazing time that was for me. 

A few minutes later, Fish and the Badger were the last to finish.  They walked most of the way, but they enjoyed their time together.  Fish's Young Men's leader also went back and found Fish and covered the last half mile or so with him, which is why he is known by the name "Brother Awesome" at our house.  Fish was very happy that he had finished the course despite not feeling well, and I was very proud of him. 

So it was a great experience, and now I am planning my next race.  I am going to give myself plenty of time... I am thinking September or October.  My goal is to be able to run the entire thing, which for me will be a heroic achievement.  I am looking forward to it!

(I wish I had some pictures!)

A Chance to Blog

It is so hard to find a time to blog lately!  I am now competing with at least four kids who always want to be using the computer and then I have several small ones who always seem to want my attention.  If I do sit down to type, I end up having several kids climb on me and it's hard to type.  Getting to type with both hands is a rare, rare luxury for me these days.  It's ironic to me that I spend so much time using screens and yet it's so hard for me to write like I want to... it's easy for me to browse on my phone while nursing the babies or when I'm unwinding at the end of the day when the lights are out, but if I am going to be on a screen I would really like to be able to type with both hands on a real keyboard. 

Here it is a pleasant Sunday afternoon and I have negotiated with the kids for an hour of computer time with both hands free.  I want to catch up on my blog!  Where to begin?

Here comes Twig crying and wanting to be held.  Okay, so it will be computer time with one hand free.  Well, with one hand it is easy to post pictures! 

Here are some I took of the yard and garden at the very end of May.  Do you remember in 2014 how I took pictures of the garden every month so we could see how it grew?   I think I will do that this year.

We had a lot of rain in May, so everything was very green and muddy.  

Here is the kids' garden area... still looking a little messy around the edges, but lots of good things are growing.  And that $10 bale of peat moss has provided hours of extremely messy entertainment for the twins.  

Roo's garden... I need to get a better picture of the little fairy garden kits we found at Aldi.  We have been wanting to make fairy gardens forever, and then one day there were these perfect little kits at Aldi for a good price so we bought a couple.  You can see a little bit of the picket fence in this picture.  I will get more pictures later. 

The twins love the peat moss best right after a rain storm when it's soggy...

Gotta love the muddy hand prints all over the side of the house! Kids!

My front yard flowers are growing well and looking better and better all the time!  They make me so happy!