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.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Floor of My Van

We spend a lot of time in the van lately.  By necessity it ends up functioning as a dining room, a dressing room, a study, a napping room... 

It's crazy how fast layers accumulate on the floor of the car.  Layers of school notebooks, socks, shoes, jackets, blankets, dishes, toys, etc. etc. 

I just wanted to document this so that years from now when I'm an old lady driving around in a pristine (and much smaller!) car, I can remember what it was like. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

December Happenings

Life is busy.  I have found a quiet few minutes and I thought I'd just blab a bit on here about what's going on lately.

You would not believe how much time I spend driving.  Hours each day behind the wheel.  I make a conscious choice to enjoy it and most of the time I succeed.  It's nice to have everyone buckled in place and not making messes, to be able to talk, listen to Christmas music, or just think and pray.  And I am grateful I can do this for my kids.  However, every now and then I want to scream and I think I can't stand one more trip across town.

But then I get a good night's sleep and I get up and do it all over again the next day.   And again I try again to enjoy the driving time.

The good night's sleep is something new.  I get typically 6 or 7 but sometimes 8 whole solid hours of sleep at night lately.  This feels like pure luxury after all those months of 4-6 hours of sleep in chunks.    I am loving the twins being 3.

Our tree is up, our living room is decorated, and it feels like Christmas around here.  It's such a special time of year.  I love curing up in front of the fire with the tree lit and reading, either aloud or to myself.  Tonight we read "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" aloud.  Such good memories.

Here is a picture of when we decorated the tree a few nights ago.  We put the tree in a different corner of our living room this year, and we did colored lights instead of white.  I like white, the Badger likes colored, so we take turns.  When we do colored lights we do all white and clear ornaments.  Lots of icicles and snowflakes.  The twins loved helping put stuff on the tree.  They have messed with the ornaments a little but since then and we have had a couple of broken icicles, but for the most part they are leaving the tree alone this year.  A refreshing change.

Another beloved part of Christmas around here is the carousel, which we light on Sunday evenings.  We then each take turns choosing a carol to sing.  Such a warm, fuzzy time.

The girls are getting ready for a piano recital and the piano gets played almost constantly.  (I am SO THANKFUL for that piano!!!!!)  The Rabbit does most of the playing.  She can't leave the piano alone, and since she's home all day, she logs a ton of practice time.  She learned her recital songs in a week.  One of them is a jazz version of Jolly Old St. Nicholas.  It's really fun, and it sounds great when she plays it.

Lately the favorite toy around here is the Magnatiles combined with the tub of Schleich figures.  I can't get enough of watching my kids be creative.

The farm animals are still a huge favorite with the twins.  Every day.

We eat so much macaroni and cheese around here.  Please don't tell that to the Me of five or ten years ago.  I used to be proud of the fact that I never bought boxed macaroni and cheese.   Finally I caved.  It's just so easy.  And I have always loved it, I just didn't used to buy it because I wanted to feed my children healthier stuff.  But I still love love love it.  I could eat it every day.  Okay, I do eat it just about every day.   You can be appalled if you want, I don't care.

On the subject of food... have you noticed how the price of real vanilla extract has gone through the roof lately?  Real vanilla is one of those thinngs that is really important to me, and I'm willing to pay extra for it.  However, it was tough to go to Costco last month and have to fork out $26 for 16 oz. of vanilla.  Well, the other day I was looking for something in one of my top kitchen cupboards and I found a package of whole vanilla beans that I bought a few years ago.  I paid a few dollars for them then, but what I had there would probably be worth $40 or $50 in today's market.  I got pretty excited... there's enough there for several batches of homemade vanilla extract.  I bought some glycerin on Amazon, as well as some cool glass jars to put it in.  Bean helped me get my first batch going.  In 3 months or so I will have some killer vanilla and hopefully I won't ever have to pay $26 for a pint of vanilla ever again because by the time I get through all of this  homemade stuff the price of vanilla will be back down again.

It felt good to make that vanilla... I used to do a lot of stuff like that, and I identify as someone who lives a lifestyle of growing, preserving, and making things myself.  The reality is, though, that at this stage of my life I don't do much of that kind of stuff because I just don't have time.  My time is gold these days, and when you factor that in it's cheaper to buy applesauce and jam and things rather than make my own.  Sometimes I really miss those days when I used to do things like can apple pie filling and juice my own grapes.  So this ten minute vanilla project made me feel like myself again.

Well, if I'm going to get that good night's sleep I was bragging about, I'd better go to bed now.  I will leave you with this sweet scene:

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Thanksgiving Break

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and we had a wonderful break this year.

It's funny though.  I have a hard time getting a grip on holidays lately.  Maybe because I am so busy, I don't have brain space left for much else besides regular daily life.  Usually, I am planning out Thanksgiving weeks in advance.  I am picking out recipes and planning how many different kinds of pie I am going to make.  I start the food prep early in the week and usually spend all day Wednesday and Thursday cooking and baking.

This year I finally sat down on Wednesday night and made out a list of what we were going to have and what I needed to buy at the store.  Wednesday night!  I still can't believe that.

We still managed to have a very nice Thanksgiving dinner.  The Badger made the turkey, as usual, along with the gravy and the corn.  I enlisted all the older children to help me in the kitchen.  Fish did stuffing.  Bean did mashed potatoes.  Roo made green bean casserole.  The Rabbit made cranberry sauce.  The girls both helped me with the pies: two pumpkin and two pecan.  So while it was a lot of work, it wasn't too stressful.

The meal was delicious.  The abundance we enjoy just blows my mind.  I am so grateful.

After Thanksgiving dinner we had a little devotional.  I had tried to encourage the kids to each memorize a verse of the 100th Psalm.  Some of them actually did, and we tried to record a video of the recitation to share with relatives.  It didn't really turn out well, but maybe next year will be better.  I read the kids the classic Thanksgiving editorial from the Wall Street Journal, followed by Louisa May Alcott's An Old-fashioned Thankgsiving, which I love more every time I read it.

The rest of the weekend it was so nice to just have everyone home and be together.  I am so aware that we don't have very many years left before my birdies start leaving the nest and we don't have everyone together for holidays, so I am trying to savor these times.

The weather was nice, so there was lots of playing outside, fighting with Mashoonga swords and jumping on the trampoline.  Inside there were board games, jigsaw puzzles, and movies.  We celebrated several birthdays and generally ate way too much.

There was some stress related to our minivan breaking down, discovering a hole in the engine block, and us trying to decide if we were going to have to buy a new car which we really can't afford right now, or if we should get the van fixed and how, etc.  We spent a bunch of time shuttling vehicles around-- pulling the dead van up to the shop of a friend who can put in a new engine, driving an hour to pick up a car that a friend will kindly loan us until our van is fixed and having that car not start, etc.  So it wasn't a perfect weekend.

But it was pretty close.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


I now have three year old twins.

Can you believe it's been three years?

I'm so grateful to be at this stage.  They are so much easier now than they were.

I love how they play and talk and sing together.  They usually get along, and these days any conflict they have is usually short lived.

A few weeks ago I subbed in the nursery at church.  Leaf was there, but Twig was home sick.  It was so interesting to watch Leaf in the nursery.  She played completely by herself.  Like most of the other kids in there, she wasn't much interested in the kids around her.  I learned years ago that this is normal for kids this age, and I have always seen that to be true with the kids I have been around.  Until the twins came along  When the twins are together, they are nothing like the "parallel play" the pyschologists talk about.  But only when they're together.  When they're with their peers, it's business as usual.  The nursery leaders tell me they've seen the same thing when Twig is in there by herself.  They also said that the other set of twins in there-- four months older than mine-- fight constantly.  I guess I got lucky.

It is so absolutely delightful to watch them interact, especially when each has a stuffed animal or plastic animal and they are making them talk to each other.

Twig is pretty much potty trained.  Leaf could be, but I decided I wanted to work with them one at a time.  I am perfectly happy to keep Leaf in diapers for a few more weeks while Twig gets solidly comfortable with the potty, especially in public situations.  Once it's old hat for her, getting Leaf up to speed will be easy.

I have started to venture out with them a little more often.  They are starting to become tractable on outings, at least for the first 45 minutes or so.  For the last couple of years we have rarely gone to places like the zoo, museums, parks, libraries, etc.  If we have, we have left them at home.  Now that my older kids are in school and I don't have a babysitter during the day, going anywhere has seemed like a huge ordeal.  But now it is starting to get less overwhelming.   There is a monthly community education thing for preschoolers that I have loved taking my other kids to... last year I took Peanut and Frog and left the twins at home.  This year, we haven't gone until just today.  Now that the twins are three, they can go.  So I took Frog and the twins and left older kids home with the Badger for a change.  I was a little apprehensive about it, but it turned out fine.  The twins listened and follwed directions pretty well.  The lady in charge was helpful and understanding, and I left feeling pretty happy that I was able to pull off something like that.

There are some really good times ahead with these cute little critters.  They are growing up a little, but right now they are still my squishy wee babies.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Happy Birthday, Badger!

I would like to wish my Badger a very happy birthday.

His birthday celebration was pretty simple this year.  He had to work and came home tired, so we didn't have a huge party.  We got Chinese takeout and then later had this yummy German chocolate cake that the Rabbit and I made earlier in the day.  The cake was pretty amazing.  If you've never had homemade coconut pecan frosting, then you're really missing out.  Especially if the pecans are toasted.  I believe in toasted pecans.

I am so grateful for this Badger of mine.  He works so hard for us, and it's not easy.  Going to work can be drudgery and tedium, or stress and pressure.  I sure appreciate his suffering through all that.  I also appreciate what a kind and loving husband and father he is.  Not to mention how well he cooks eggs.

Happy birthday, Badger dear!  We love you!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Fun with Yarn

The other day I got some sticks out of the backyard and some yarn out of the craft bucket and taught the kids how to make god's eyes.  I was thinking of Peanut when I started, but the Rabbit wanted to make one too, and then Frog had to join in.  All three of them did great and loved it so much. 

The only problem is that now they want to make god's eyes all the time.  As I keep telling them, yes, they're pretty, and they're fun to make, but there's only so much you can really do with them.  So let's please not fill the entire house with them. 

I need to get them back knitting again, or doing something more useful with yarn... 

Sight Word Activities

Recently I had a great conversation with a friend of mine in my ward.  She is an experienced Kindergarten teacher.  I talked to her about Peanut and her specific challenges with reading, and asked her what she does with kids like that in her classroom.  She says she gets one or two like that each year.  She talked about how music and movement help them learn, and I pumped her for more ideas of ways I can use these things with Peanut.  It was great to hear from an expert that there are other kids out there like Peanut, and while it is rare, it is not too uncommon, there are plenty of things you can do to help them, and with help, they do just fine.  Very reassuring.

So I have redoubled my efforts to keep Peanut moving while I teach her to read.  Before we start Peanut time every morning I have her do a few cross body exercises.  That does seem to help her focus while we read in a book.  After a little bit of book work, I try to have her do a movement activity with her words.  "Word hop" has been such a great success, and I keep finding new ways to adapt it, making it more fun and exciting.

Word hop up the stairs!  This was a huge hit.

Sight word Twister!  This was a little trickier, but it was fun for awhile, and it helped her learn.

I got an email the other day from The Good and the Beautiful saying they have a new Level K Primer, which will bridge the gap between PreK and Kindergarten levels.  This was sorely needed, and I am so excited about it.  Peanut loved the PreK book and was so excited about the Kindergarten book, but from the very first lesson it was too big a jump for her.  It was a major train wreck and she was really sad. So was I.  I knew that eventually the Jenny Phillips crew would fix the problem, but I didn't know when that would be.  We went back to using the "100 Lessons" book, and then this fall I picked up "Phonics Pathways."  Now I find out about this new Level K Primer I want to buy it on the spot, but I've had to ask myself if I really need it.  I have two great books for helping with sounds and reading, so why should I buy another?  I don't know... another thing that really attracts me about it is that there are a bunch of songs that go with it, and that is exactly what Peanut needs.  So we shall see. 

Meanwhile, I am grateful for Peanut's progress, and for all the things I've been guided to do to help her.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Star Wars Crew

This year for Halloween, my youngest five children were all Star Wars characters.   May I present the Rabbit as Rey with Leaf as BB8, Peanut as Princess Leia with Twig as R2D2, and Frog as Yoda.  


My children love to trace.  Give them a pad of tracing paper and one of Mary Englebreit's fairy tale books, and they will stay busy for hours.  Roo and Rabbit have done this for a long time and now Peanut and Frog are getting into it too.   It's the perfect time to read aloud to them.  Get them all busy tracing and they will listen happily for ages. 

True Love

Peanut drew me a picture of a squid because she knew it would make me happy.  And it did.

Family Dinners

Growing up, my family had a nice dinner together every single night.  With the table all set with a tablecloth and everything.  Homecooked food from scratch.

I had no idea how hard that was to pull off until I had a family of my own.  Mom, you are superhuman.  Especially since I only ever helped you with dinner under duress.

At our house, dinner tends to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants thing.  It gets made at some point during the evening, whoever's home dishes up themself and dishes up for whatever small children are floating around at the moment (my big kids are really good about helping feed the small people.)  Then people sit at whatever table they can find a chair at.  Chairs can be tricky in this house because we're always trying to hide them from the twins.  It's not often we all sit down together around one table at the same time.

This is something I'd like to work on improving.

I have help with this: my daughters.  If we do all sit down together, it's because either Roo or Rabbit said, "can we have a family dinner tonight?"  I say, "sure, if you'll set the table."

They loooove setting the table.  They like to try to make it nice, with a tablecloth and stuff.  They don't mind rounding up enough chairs and dragging in the piano bench.  It is so funny to me because when I was a kid all this was drudgery, but my girls think it's fun.  Probably because they only do it once every week or two, and only when it's their idea.  Be that as it may, it brings me great joy to watch them have so much fun setting up our family dinners. 

Recently I made wild rice soup for dinner.  That is a special dish from my childhood in Minnesota: a creamy soup with wild rice, ham, sliced almonds, and shredded carrots.  We don't have it very often, and it's absolutely amazing, so my girls decided it warranted a family dinner. 

One little problem: our dining table seats eight, and the twins decided that they were going to steal Peanut and Frog's spot on the piano bench.  If they won't sit in their high chairs, we can't all fit at the table. 

It's hard to get upset when the usurpers are so adorable.

Peanut decided to sit in the high chair, and Bean was happy to sit in the living room chair, so we made it work for now.  But if we're going to keep having family dinners, the time has fully come for a new dining set.  It's really hard to find one that seats 10 that doesn't cost a fortune, but we will keep looking! 

Another thing we need to work on with family dinners: no one wants to clear the table after dinner. 

We have plenty of room for improvement, but I'm grateful for family dinners.  Some of our best memories are made when we're all together around the table. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

3rd Annual Autumn Poetry Reading

Yesterday we did our autumn poetry reading for the 3rd year running.  It has become a tradition I really look forward to.  Most of the kids are also pretty excited about it, mostly because of the popcorn.  My teenage sons weren't too interested this year, but we had a lovely time without them.  

As the poems wind down, the kids play in the autumn sunshine and I love being outside to watch them.  I don't do that often enough.  

Our ash tree is at its peak of color, which isn't as good this year as in past years, but it's still pretty. 

Our neighbor's tree across the fence is absolutely gorgeous.  

Oh look, I found my missing mixing bowls!

It's hard to keep the Rabbit off the trampoline.  

Long live the autumn poetry reading!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Nauvoo in the Autumn

We just got back from the most wonderful trip to Nauvoo, Illinois.  

I fell in love with Nauvoo when we took our family there back in 2008.  It is such a wonderful place for a family vacation, especially in the fall when it's not crowded.  I've been dying to get back, and finally the stars aligned.  Bean and Fish were the only ones who really remembered our last trip, and four of our kids weren't even born yet then, so I was really excited for my children to have the experience.

I just love the Nauvoo Temple.  It is magnificent.

The flowers by the Temple were absolutely breathtaking, especially combined with the fall foilage. 

Run, twins, run!

Everyone always wants to touch the Mississippi River...

The fall color wasn't at its peak yet, but there were still many lovely autumn trees, and they made me very happy. 

Here we are in the blacksmith/wagon maker's shop, learning all kinds of cool stuff about pioneer times and having tons of fun...  Bean says if he lived in 1840 he would have been a blacksmith.  I can totally see that. 

I would have worked in a printing office. 

Carthage...  standing in the room where Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed...

We had a nice lady take a picture of our family in front of the statues of Joseph and Hyrum... and then later I realized that Peanut wasn't there... she was under the trees gathering acorns.  

So I called her over for a picture with just me and her, with the Rabbit thrown in for good measure. 

The twins were a challenge.   A huge challenge.  We quickly learned to leave them behind when we went on tours, and we took turns watching them.  Bean watched them while we all toured Carthage Jail, and he had them running all over the lawn hugging all the trees.  So cute.  (Then we sent Bean through on his own Carthage tour while we ate our picnic lunch.) 

My kids love potato chips, a rare treat...

Tinsmith shop...

Smith family cemetery...

There's just something about Nauvoo.  There's a special feeling there; it's hard to describe.  I'm so glad we could go back again.