I am so grateful that we are close to so much family!  It's fun all the time, but especially at Christmas.  We spent a little time at Susan and Jeff's with Richard and Jess and their kids.  Isaac and Beckett are getting to be pretty good friends.  And I swear the last time we went over to their house Isaac grinned at Beckett with recognition.

Sisters cuddling in their Christmas jammies at my sister, Laurel's house.

Laurel and Hunter turned on the pool heater for us (it was in the high 70's in Houston).  I love Texas.

Charlotte and baby Abbi.  She's darling and loves running around after her cousins, who all seem to dote on her.


My date today.

Ella and I went on a date to Marble Slab where she chose chocolate ice cream with gummy bears, York peppermint patties, marshmallows, and hot fudge.


The School Room

This will be our fourth year homeschooling, since I consider Pre-K my first year.  Although, sometimes people ask me when I started homeschooling and I say "at birth", which is technically true.  But I didn't use a curriculum until Pre-K.  That first year we just used the kitchen table as our school area, and when we moved to the new house (that we have now lived in for two years) we used the upstairs room to do school.  I filled it with comfy bean bags and a coffee table, because, let's face it, Kindergarten is really mostly about reading and love of learning, so I wanted it to be comfy and fun.  

We moved school downstairs to our dining room last year because every time we went upstairs to do school, Max would spend the majority of his time unpacking the manipulatives.  (Counting beads, scrabble tiles, wooden letters, rubber bands for my geoboard, colored pencils, bingo markers... All.  Over.)  I had special toys for him to play with, they just weren't as exciting as the other stuff.  I don't know why it didn't occur to me to buy locks for the cabinets, but it didn't.  So, we moved school downstairs for Ella's 1st grade year, and that worked fine until this summer, when Issac started pulling himself up on anything he could find.  He discovered our little plastic drawers that we keep our art supplies in, pulled it on top of himself a couple of times, and then discovered he could just open the drawers and entertain himself that way.  Surprisingly, neither of these options were acceptable for me.  Also, during the course of the last year more and more school supplies and maps and books relocated to the dining room and Paul began complaining that the dining room looked too much like a school room (which it was...) but he believed, that since it was also a public space, we should keep our educational marks upon it to a minimum.  

So, I did some brainstorming and decided that the time was ripe to move school back upstairs, this time with cabinet locks and a new set of drawers for supplies, that I think is positioned in such a way that the baby will be unable to terrorize it.

There is also a cedar closet upstairs, which used to be kind of a catch all for pillows and blankets, we also keep our extra twin mattress in there.  We still have all our extra blankets and pillows up there, but I rearranged it so that we have a cozy little reading nook.

Here's a picture of our table.  The kids are old enough that a desk or table is really the best surface for their work.  No more bean bags.  You can also see the cabinet locks.  I keep the stuff in there that we don't use daily.  The other supplies are in a little cabinet under the table; hopefully that will keep it safe from the baby-monster.

Our whiteboard, calendar, maps, and filing cabinet.  Also a soft chair for me to sit in while I crack the proverbial whip.  Yes there are two maps of the United States.  I bought the top one and then a few months later found a matching set with a US and World Map.  The World map is on the other side of the window.  I decided you really don't need that many pictures of the school room, so I didn't include that corner of the room. Those little black things on the wall are binder clips that we use to hang up work that we are proud of.  Usually art work.  Also I hung a bunch of bugs on the wall because I found them on clearance at a homeschool store, and thought, why not?  So we'll be practicing our bug identification a bit, too.

Dallas Arboretum and Children's Garden

We went to the Arboretum and their (fairly newly built) Children's Adventure Garden.  We were there from 9am until 3:30pm or so, but I only snapped a few pictures of this cutie-bug playing in the water.  Clearly I was more busy making memories... or talking with my friends.  

Sudie and Grandpa Jeff's House

For the second year in a row, Susan and Jeff invited all the cousins (that are old enough) to their house for a few days of fun and a big joint "birthday party".  They went swimming, and rock climbing, and made cupcakes and opened presents, and everyone got to pick out their very own candy, which was a totally big deal.  Cereal and Graham Crackers were also part of the fun, treats that my kids pretty much never get. 

I think this picture will go down in history as one of the best cousin pictures ever.

That's Charlotte up at the top, and Jeff helping Ella get started at the bottom.  Apparently they both made it to the top several times.

Here's one with "Baby Tate" (standing next to Max) who you can see is no longer a baby.  He lives in Austin, near Jeff and Susan and got to be part of the festivities, too.  I am guessing it won't be too long before he wants to be a bigger part of the action.


Me and the baby.

While the big kids were in Austin, me and the baby got some quality time together.  Some of that consisted of a shared piece of chocolate cake at Ikea while shopping for a few items for our school room.

I had a long list of things I wanted to get done while the kids were gone, and I am happy to say that I completed most of them and started all of them.  The last thing is halfway done, waiting for me to sand and paint it!  

Cousin Twins

I mean, not twins in looks, or girth, but they are only two months apart to the day.  So, it's really so fun to watch them grow up together.

My phone.

I assume that while I have children in my home without a cell phone of their own, that my phone will never be truly mine.  And I'm mostly okay with that.  There's not much for them to do on my phone anyway, I do have a few educational games on there for emergencies, but they are pretty obedient about not playing games without asking.  I have relinquished almost all control of my camera, because it is easy to erase pictures en masse, and I like seeing what they decide is worth documenting.  But one of their favorite activities is changing the name on my phone.  It is really easy to do, thanks to Siri, and basically their tactic is to say as many silly words as possible until Siri stops recording.  Above, you can see my current name.

Grandma Donna and Grandpa Archie's

My mom and Archie invited the girls to North Carolina for a week last summer.  They got to ride on a plane, where they were served as much soda and peanuts as their little hearts desired.  They were, by their own account, excellent travelers.  We may never know what really happened on that plane, but in their eyes, it was a roaring success.  Here they are at a science museum.

And canoeing.

I think this was at the science museum, too.

And Ella celebrated her 7th birthday in North Carolina.  

After their stay in North Carolina, Ella and Charlotte drove back to Dallas with my Mom and she stayed with us for a few days before heading back to Houston to finish packing up her house.


The boy.

My girls are out of town visiting Grandma. So Max and I are living it up, fulfilling all the dreams of an almost three-year-old. So far we have done lots of puzzles, played lots of games, read lots of books, and been to the zoo twice. This guy loves the zoo. We discovered this fact in the Spring at homeschool zoo day. I was shocked when Max showed as much enthusiasm for the animals as his older sisters, and even more disinclination to leave. 

Today we spent three hours at the zoo looking at animals, and then he was thrilled to play in the splash pad area while the baby finished his nap.



My house is full of little helpers. And while I did catch a happy moment here, I would say that a solid seventy percent of the time, Isaac is not thrilled about being "helped". It really is amazing how sturdy babies are. 



For the third year in a row, we stayed in Brownsville for a week. It is about 45 minutes away from South Padre Island, but we found an old and very affordable condo there that we have happily returned to twice. And can I just say, I love Brownsville. I will not get into all of the reasons here, but I honestly think that all other factors being equal, I might choose Brownsville. 

We went to Sea Turtles Inc., a turtle rescue nonprofit, and we made it for feeding time, which was super fun. 

Me, Jessica Lynn (the other Jessica Christensen) and Susan with the babies and Ella. And actually, you can see Paul, Charlotte, Richard, and Soren out in the water behind us if you squint. 

Max drew his first recognizable picture on vacation. It was a chalk drawing, so I could not save it for posterity. But here is a record. :) It's the Sun and he is laying on it. He has been drawing pictures for a while, but they are indiscernible. He brings them over and says things like, "Mom, look! A dinosaur!" (Or dragon.) I think there are some major advantages to drawing something as simple as the sun. The biggest of which is you don't have to tell you audience what the picture is.


The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Ella was in a children's theatre program that performed the Wizard of Oz. She had the part of the Wicked Witch of the East, which mostly consisted of her laying dead. She was also in the chorus, which was fun, too. She was a bit twitchy for a dead person; it was a long scene to lay still. I was pretty impressed with the production overall. The kids didn't have anyone backstage giving cues, so they had to be really aware of their parts and take responsibility for getting out there on time. Overall, it was fun to participate in, especially since my contribution was minimal. I put on the CD to help her practice the words to the songs, and drove her to practice. I do better with low time commitment activities :)


Life around here.

Isaac lives a life of luxury where he is constantly entertained or coddled by someone. It's a pretty sweet gig, being the youngest of four. This photo is courtesy of Ella, who is also the one who plied him with toys and stuck a pacifier in his mouth. For the record, he doesn't actually use pacifiers in the traditional sense, he just chews on them when a sibling sticks it in his mouth. 

These three don't have it too bad either. Charlotte got a princess dress up (store-bought) for her birthday and literally wore it until it was falling apart, sewn back together, and falling apart again. I decided it was the cheap construction and offered to make her another one in the colors of her choosing. Ella also wanted a dress, and so did Max. I do admit to some gentle pressure to choose a knight or prince costume, but he was insistent that a princess dress was all he would be happy wearing. So I made three gowns for three happy children.  I must note here that Ella's dress is a queen dress and she corrects anyone who calls it otherwise. She also got a royal cape, just for fun. 


Colorado vacation

Back in the olden days I would have invested at least 20-30 seconds into coming up with a blog post title that was at least semi-creative. Those days are gone for now. Today it was a 3 second reflection on what a lame title "Colorado vacation" is. 

But it was a great vacation. Our family has done a Spring vacation for the last several years. And it has always been somewhere warm. Although last year we went to New Mecico where we had both warm and snow days, so that was fun.


The kids requested that we see the snow this year, and so we decided on a town on the southern border of Colorado. It was perfect. The majority of our snow play was free (sledding on a local hill and building snowmen) but we did splurge one day on downhill skiing. The plan was to get a sitter for the little kids (Charlotte, Max, and Isaac), but the night before, Charlotte threw up, so we cancelled the sitter and Paul and I took turns watching the kids while the other skied. Ella was in ski school all day. 

We had a lovely time over all, even though Charlotte was not at her best. We love going on vacation as a family. Life is so good when all you have to do is play. 


I know you want to homeschool, too.

Because we had school at the park today. And it was amazing. 


My ballerina

Max loves to dance. He twirls around the dining room to , sometimes with his sisters, sometimes without. And recently, while dancing, Charlotte let him borrow one of her tutus so he could be a "real ballerina". Well, he is now officially my most tutu obsessed child. He has been known to wear them to sleep, and often requests them when we are going somewhere special. I have had to dig in the laundry for clean ones on occasion. And we own, like, three. When his cousin Soren came over today, Max hurried to put his tutu on to show Soren. And I can't blame him, there is something delightful about the swish of the tutu when one is moving around the dance floor.



We had family in town a few weekends ago. Although, technically, we always have family in town since Richard and Jess literally live in the same town as us. 

But Carolyn and the cousin formerly known as Baby Tate (who is a full-fledged toddler) also came, along with Jeff and Susan. Baby Beckett was blessed at church and we all had a lovely weekend, except for Paul who spent all of Saturday battling a stomach bug. 

I am so selfish when it comes to things like that. Sure, I'll bring you a soda and crackers, but don't expect me to get too close. I'm sorry your are sick, but really, better you than me, friend. 


This is really happening

Yes, today, January 28, my children are playing in the sprinklers. This was not our plan when we came to the park. But we arrived and the water feature was on. (Which, by the way, helloooo? It's midwinter people!) So we just went with it.


This is why we live in Texas.

I know I say that every winter, but seriously, it is amazing. It tends to be chilly, but then we will get a few days of great weather and everything is right in the world. 


2014 in Review

I was sitting with Max this evening while he fell asleep (or more accurately, chatted at me about his varied interests), and I let my mind wander over the last year and what has changed and what hasn't, so I thought I would get a few things down on "paper" about my 2014.

Obviously, our biggest change is adding a new human to our family.  Overall, I am pleased with how I handled this pregnancy and transition.  I was gentle with myself during the pregnancy and did a pretty good job of not beating myself up for our high levels of media consumption.  I also feel like I have dealt with my postpartum depression with grace.  I have not felt depressed in about a month, and so I am also very grateful that it was short lived, but I take no credit for that.

This semester of homeschooling has been our most consistent and productive so far.  I am a sprinter, not a marathoner.  I love working with intensity for a short amount of time, and then letting my project drop and move on; so, consistency is not my strong suit.  We joined a new homeschool group (Classical Conversations) and this has provided the framework and accountability to really help me buckle down and get it done, even with a newborn.

This has been a great year for our marriage.  I am not sure when it happened exactly, but Paul and I have reached a point where our relationship comes very easily.  We resolve conflict quickly and feel closer after we are done.  We want to serve each other and we are mindful and grateful for the sacrifices that each of us makes.  We have always had a good marriage, but it is only recently that it has become easy.  I don't know if it will stay this way, but it is a great payoff for nine years of hard work.

In my lesser roles, I taught a youth Sunday School class this year and I am pleased with the relationships that I developed over the course of the year.  All of my students will be moving on to the next class, and I will genuinely miss each of them.  I was also the field trip coordinator for another homeschool group and I am happy with my work there.  I feel like I added value to the group through field trips. I coordinate the local drop point for a co-op called Azure Standard.  I fulfilled my responsibilities there, but it was very minimal.  This year I plan to increase my communication with current customers and spend a little time advertising to new customers.  I admit freely that this is completely selfish, since they recently added a small (very small) commission for orders.  I was a pretty consistent visiting teacher this year as well. I had a really easy route, and a great companion, so I'm not sure how much credit I can take for that.

My house is still perpetually untidy.  I'm never really sure what is considered 'normal' for a family with lots of little kids.  I imagine I am in the normal range, and truthfully, I have spent very little time trying to improve.  I have other things that are more important to me.  We have talked about having people over weekly, as that guarantees that at least once a week the house will be perfectly clean.  Plus, we like having people over.  I am improving at preparing to leave town.  The house used to look like it was ransacked when we left town for any amount of time, but now it looks mostly normal.  I am figuring out how to pack in a more organized way, and my kids are getting older so they no longer channel a tornado while unattended.

I still do not spend the one on one time with my children that I would like to.  I am having a hard time consistently making the time each day, which has been my goal for a while now.  I have a new plan that I will start on Monday (which is when we start school again after winter break).  Overall, I am happy with my parenting.  I am usually kind, affectionate, and quick to forgive.  I am getting better at expressing myself before I get too angry or overwhelmed, ie, "Ella, I know that you are not meaning to upset me, but for some reason I am not handling [insert annoying but not necessarily bad behavior] very well today." or just telling the kids I need some time along to calm down.  I have been reflecting recently that I spend too much time correcting behavior that could be corrected, but doesn't need correction.  It is hard for me to trust that my children are capable of figuring out appropriate behavior the majority of the time, even though I believe this is true.  My goal is to be slow to correct and criticize and also do it mindfully, instead of in the moment.

I didn't spend the time I wanted to writing.  I love to write and I just don't make the time to do it well.  I am not sure that is going to change this year.  There are other things that are more important to me right now, and I have other outlets that fulfill my creative needs.  But long term, I imagine I will revisit this goal.

I did spend more time this year practicing the piano, and I have even seen improvement, which hasn't happened in a long time.  I play well enough that I can get by without doing very much most of the time.  But I volunteered to play 30 minutes of solos at a church event and it was a wonderful motivator to spend the time practicing.  I loved it and have continued the habit.

We are not eating as many vegetables as I want, I recently made a goal to include vegetables at every meal, and we have done okay.  It should be easier when we get back into the swing of things next week, and this is a relatively recent goal, so it hasn't really taken hold yet.  For those of you who are curious, I have found that tomatoes (grilled), avacados, and bell peppers go with breakfast very well.  We usually have cucumber, celery, or raw tomatoes with lunch, and then eat cooked vegetables at dinner (squash, broccoli, roasted carrots, peas, green beans).  I personally eat too much sugar, but I think that might be the holidays talking.  I will be glad when there is not so much access and focus on treats.  Other than that, I am happy with our other food choices, we eat meat, but pretty sparingly.  We usually eat one chicken a week, and then a pound of another meat spread out over a couple of dishes for the whole family.  This has been just about right for me to not crave meat (like I did during Max's pregnancy), but not feel like we are eating too much.  We are relatively low dairy I think, we go through about a half a gallon of milk, about half pound of cheese, a quart of cottage cheese, and a quart of yogurt, and a pint of sour cream each week.  (These are averages based on how often I have to buy these items.)  About half of our dairy is grassfed, and for now that's good enough for me.  I could write forever about food, so let's just leave it there.

I never exercise.  So, that's a problem.  Also, I don't spend as much time outside as I want to.  In my perfect world we would go on family walks every day.

I am happy with my relationship with my iPhone.  I have disabled my internet browser and email and deleted Facebook and my other time wasters.  This has been going on for at least six months.  I love it, it is a tool not a toy, and it has worked really well for me.

I might watch too much television.  I usually watch a show in bed while I nurse the baby before bed.  Plus one other show with Paul during the week, plus a couple while I fold laundry (if I am lucky enough for my kids to leave me along and fold laundry in peace).  Let's call it five hours a week.  I'm not committed to cutting down, but I will consider it.

I also have studied the scriptures more consistently this year than I have in a long time.  I haven't missed a day in maybe four months, possibly five.  I am also pretty happy with our family scripture study, we read scriptures every day we do school.  I would like to do better at reading again in the evening with Paul, and we also stink at Family Home Evening.  But we do pray as a family at least twice a day.  Also, Ella hates to pray (I assume only at home, since her primary teachers haven't said anything), and I would like to figure out what to do.  We have tried a few things, FHE lessons on prayer, and also just talking about it, but she is a stubborn little cuss.  Maybe we should just drop it.  I have pointed out to the kids when I am feeling the Spirit to help them recognize it several times, and that has had a positive impact both on the moment, and also the time following it.  I will continue to do that, and seek to do it with more frequency.

Well, I'm out of priorities.  Here is to another year of growth and change.