Spring

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Hunter was less than thrilled when we asked him to pose for a family picture in front of lots of people after Easter Mass. We made it quick, but a certain toddler wasn't in the mood to stand still.

Hunter was less than thrilled when we asked him to pose for a family picture in front of lots of people after Easter Mass. We made it quick, but a certain toddler wasn’t in the mood to stand still.

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We celebrated Landon’s 12th birthday and the twins 7th birthday a couple of weeks ago. Somehow I didn’t take a single picture of Landon on his birthday. Well, I can tell you that he received the dirt bike he wanted (only after he and Hunter agreed that they would share the gift for both of their birthdays) and he was very happy about it (Hunter, too!) In fact, electric bikes were the theme of our spring birthdays this year.  Maya and Alexa are riding in style on their new electric scooters now, too.

We celebrated Easter at my parents house with the whole family (my three sisters and their families…18 kids total. Crazy and fun! Gianna discovered chocolate and is quite fond of it. She may look most like her dad, but she does have a few of her mamas traits, I guess!

I had an unexpected few hours all to myself (almost) tonight. I dropped the kids off to golf and Chris wanted to keep the twins to practice with them.  They’ve been anxious to start golfing and tonight was the perfect spring night for it.  I headed home with Gianna, not exactly sure what to do with this unplanned gift of time. The house was quiet.  I decided to get a work out in. This time I really had no excuses! Afterwards, Gigi and I went outside to walk the trails around our house, and I remembered to grab my camera. I was looking for the little signs of new life that Spring brings with it, and they were everywhere. I’m so thankful for the changing seasons – and the gift of being able to stop and enjoy them.

I guess I didn’t know how much I would appreciate the time…and especially the quiet.

 

Good Things

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Just a few short weeks ago, this winter felt like it would never end. The boys spent a lot of time snowboarding ( 2 – 3 times a week usually) and I never did get to go along. Chris usually took them, or they went with their good friends (who happen to have three boys nearly the same ages as ours!). The twins and Gigi and I had some quiet(er) time together which was really nice. The boys activities have a way of taking center stage sometimes as they get older and busier. I loved having our “girl” time.  Well anyway, it’s definitely the boys’ favorite thing about winter, and I sure am glad that they spent that time together. I kept telling myself maybe nex time I’ll go with- but as it goes, next time didn’t come and practically overnight the snow is gone and we’re moving into summer. Golf shoes have already been brought out, dusted off, and it’s determined that feet grow much too quickly around here!

I asked the boys to let me take some photos of them a couple of days ago as they waited to head off on their last snowboarding day this season. I’m so happy they were willing. I always intend to take pictures but don’t get to it much lately (a running theme in my life…) I know how fast they grow up, and someday soon this moment will seem to have been a very long time ago.

Gianna loves the snow! She often walked around the house saying “noman?” (snowman) hoping we would take her outside. All the kids loved bringing her out. She loved sledding, too, and we all knew what she wanted to do when she would point outside and say “wheeeee?” I just love toddler language, and especially how it can become like a secret code that only those closest can decipher.

 

2014-Year In Review

*Warning- long post ahead. I may have broken a record with this one, but that’s what happens when you cram a years worth of posts into one. Grab a snack. If you make it past July, I’ll be impressed.

One of my favorite bloggers did a Year In Review blog post and I thought YES! PERFECT! I need to do that! All of those posts that I’ve had floating around in my head that I never got around to actually creating won’t necessarily get the focus they deserved, but I shall give bits and pieces anyway.

Here’s a snapshot of our 2014. It was a full year for this crew.

January~

We moved into our new house! On January 24th apartment living came to an end for us, and not a moment too soon.

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Before it was painted. This is what it looked like when we moved in.

 

Painted! What a difference!

Painted! What a difference!

February~

We started to settle in and get back on a school “routine”. These are the only pictures I took during February, I guess. As you can see, the study loft wasn’t fully in order yet, but we did our schoolwork anyway (with many distractions from a certain cute baby girl).

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She looks upset here, but I assure you she liked the basket.

 

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Love this one of Hunter and Gigi- such love between those two.

 

March~

The twins turned SIX! Whaaaaaaaat?

This is the only picture I took on their birthday?!? Shame, shame on me!

This is the only picture I took on their birthday?!? Shame, shame on me!

I’m so proud of these girls. Both are loving and tender-hearted. Both girls are playful and imaginative. Both love and look out for their baby sister. Man, would life be less wonderful without them. They may be identical twins, but they are their own selves, for sure. When I stop and think about the miracle of their existence and their being twins, I’m still floored. STILL! I think I always will be. THANKS be to God for the incredible gift of my girls. Thanks be to God!

Oh- and I turned 37 this month. This did not make news around here.

April~

Biggest excitement of this month? Landon turned 11, of course! This hardly seems possible to me, but it is indeed true. On top of being sweet and handsome, this kid is a gem. Want a home cooked breakfast? No prob…Landon whips up fried eggs like no other and makes breakfast for many of us regularly. He also eats eight or nine of those eggs almost every morning. Yes he does.

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Second on the list of notable activities of April was the thawing out of our new surroundings. I remember after we bought the property (before building the house) walking around that spring and seeing a million tiny little flowers popping up through the forest floor. This spring I couldn’t wait to get out to discover them again, and everything else about our woods. I was thrilled to discover those little flowers (spring ephemerals) again.

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The thawing ground also meant dealing with mud. A lot of mud. Lots and lots of mud. We didn’t have a paved driveway (still don’t actually) or even a sidewalk to get into the house. No grass, either. Just a lot of  post-construction mess and…mud. We begged and pleaded to our landscaper (I may have cried a little) to bump us to the top of his list of spring projects. Thank the good Lord, he agreed and finally we could set foot on something other than, well you know…mud.

The ground was dry when this picture was taken, but it was actually an extremely wet spring. One of the wettest in history. Not good for the mud situation.

The ground was dry when this picture was taken, but it was actually an extremely wet spring. One of the wettest in history. Not good for the mud situation.

Another stand-out memory from this spring was the birds! We have an amazing variety of birds that call our trees home, at least for a while. I have always loved birds, and it’s officially one of my favorite parts of living in this new place. We have an abundant woodpecker population that live here year-round, most notably a stately Pileated who lives in the huge maple tree in front of our porch. We started keeping a bird log to keep track of the variety of other birds we were seeing. We saw blue jays, white-breasted nuthatch, white-throated sparrow, rose-breasted grosbeak, yellow-rumped warbler, scarlet tanager, ruby-throated hummingbird, indigo bunting, black-capped chickadee, Baltimore oriole, cardinal, robin, mourning dove, barred owl, coopers hawk, ovenbird, wild turkey and I’m sure I missed a few. We lost a few to bird strikes, which horrified me deeply. One was a Tennessee warbler that must have been on migration. Each strike was devastating to me. I hope we can do more this coming spring to prevent it. On a side note…I need a zoom lens for my camera! We were obsessed with the birds, but I have very few pictures because my current lens couldn’t get close enough. I will rectify this before spring comes again.

May~

Braedan received his First Holy Communion! Praise God!

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Also- the twins learned to ride without training wheels!

June~

Two birthdays this month…

We have a teenager in the house. Wow! Hunter turned 13! I’m so excited about this new chapter in life. Watching him grow into the exceptional young man that he is…there just aren’t words for the gratitude I have. We could not be more proud.

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And…Gigi turned ONE!

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Again , when I try to verbalize the impact this little person has had on our family, words fail me. I guess some things are better left unsaid, as they say. Better to keep the perfection of it in the heart, than to taint it with inadequate words.

July~

If I had to use just one word to describe this past summer, it would be GREEN!

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The kids built this fort while the house was still under construction.

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The green “carpet” you see here is stinging nettle. It covered the entire property.

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This is actually a pretty steep hill that has become our sledding and snowboarding hill. It’s hard to tell from this perspective. You can see the hard work that Chris and some good friends put in removing a ton of that itch weed.

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This is the maple tree that our resident Pileated woodpecker lives in.

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The canopy of the trees is pretty thick. It can get pretty dark in the backyard even in the middle of the day!

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Here (and in the above photo) you can see part of the trails that we put around the whole property.

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Another shot of the sledding hill.

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We discovered a ton of different kinds of wild berries all around our woods. I don’t know for sure what most of them are, so the kids were instructed repeatedly to NOT touch or eat any. Luckily, they can get their fill of wild raspberries from the thousands that grow in the bushes in the front yard.

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I was so glad to get a shot of a monarch butterfly on the milkweed that grows in front of the house.

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Evidence of the woodpeckers!

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Preparation for our trampoline...

Preparation for our trampoline…

 

Best. Investment. Ever

Best. Investment. Ever.

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August ~

Braedan turned NINE!

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I’m just crazy about this sweet boy. He’s terribly smart, full of energy and life. I love watching him in whatever he’s doing. Specifically, I love the way he moderates conflict and takes charge. He will be a great leader someday, I do believe. This heart of mine just swells.

This was also the month the kids built our fire pit.

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Building fires occurred daily after this. Landon especially loves making campfires.

September~

We began our third year of homeschooling. I can’t believe I just wrote that.

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September also included a new tire swing!

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October~

Wow- it sure is pretty around here in the fall. Waking up and seeing gold everywhere just never got old. I’m truly grateful for the beauty all around us.

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We ended the month of October with a trip up to Grand View lodge in Nisswa for Halloween. I’ll admit I loved not having pounds of candy from our regular trick-or-treating ventures. Maybe this will become a tradition?

November~

Almost there!

The morning of the first real snow fall inspired me to take the kids hiking to look for tracks. We grabbed our field guide and headed out.

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We celebrated Thanksgiving this year at my sister and brother-in-law’s house with their sweet new baby boy, Declan.

December~

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I didn’t take many pictures this month. I wish I would have. We did the usual advent wreath and really focused on spending family time with the daily devotional. We also did the Jesse tree for the first time. Another thing we did for the first time was filling baby Jesus’ cradle with soft strings of “hay”…one for each good deed we did. This was enjoyed by all, I think. I’m sure we’ll do it each year from now on. We hosted Christmas for my side of the family. Nine adults and sixteen children (Tessa, Joe and Declan, Bovy and Bennett, we missed you!) I’m happy to host family holidays, but I need to find a way to do it and still be able to take photos. I snapped a few pictures of some of our Christmas decorations afterwards, but I really wish I had all those sweet faces to put here. It was a great Christmas, and especially exciting being the first one in the new house. A house really becomes a home once it’s been lived in and memories are made there, doesn’t it?  Even though the best ones aren’t here for you to see, they will always remain in our hearts!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

clay camp

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A few weeks ago, the two older boys participated in a clay camp offered through a local park district. I admit that in the last two years of home schooling, I’ve let art slide. I’ve been hyper-concerned about getting a handle on the core subjects, and regrettably arts and crafts too often seemed to get pushed aside. This summer, I enrolled all of the kids in several art camps or classes of some kind. My mindset is shifting a bit (maybe a lot?) and I’m making a conscious effort to bring them back to the creative side of learning and living. They loved being at the potter’s wheel, and I loved watching them work carefully to make each piece just what they envisioned. Last night the park held a student art show, where the kids were encouraged to display one of their pieces. Both boys chose a bowl. Landon called his “Bumble Bee” and Hunter “Black Star”. Landon had a little extra twinkle in his eye this morning when he saw me enjoying my morning cup of coffee in the mug he made. Proud boys. Even prouder mama.

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The end of July marked six months of living in our new home.  We’ve been settling in slowly. I’m not sure exactly why, but until just recently, I’ve had little desire to decorate or even hang a picture. I don’t mean to sound like things haven’t been good~ they have. Maybe it sounds strange, but I guess I just wanted to get to know the place first.  After spending many, many months studying blueprints and pouring over every. single. detail. of this house, one would think I already knew it well.  And I did. But not in a personal way. Drawings on paper and real live spaces are quite different.  We never walked through a “model” home of our house (there wasn’t one).  When we began drawing up plans with our builder, it was all in my head, and I imagined it in a certain way.  The spaces that I had such clear vision of in my mind didn’t always match the reality that they became. It wasn’t disappointing – most of it exceeded my vision. But it was strange and hard to explain. To know something so well, but not really.  Anyway, I still feel like I’m getting to know our new place and I believe we will be here until we’re old and gray(er) so I’m not in a rush to get done.

A couple of weeks ago one of my close friends who lives out of state reminded me that I hadn’t sent any photos of the new place.  I snapped some quick pictures on my phone and texted them to her.  It reminded me that I’ve been meaning to do the same on the blog and so finally I’ve got some photos to share.  I don’t know if the kids will remember the long and sometimes tough road we took together to get here, but someday maybe they will want to look back on the house as it was being built, and what things looked like when we first moved in.

Starting the driveway!

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The above photo was taken July 31, 2013. They look so young to me here!

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The tree wrapped in orange above almost didn’t make the final cut. We knew it was going to be very close to the house, and went back and forth on whether it would survive construction. Our builder received many conflicting texts from me…”Let’s try to save it”…”Go ahead and cut it down”…”Wait… Save it!!”…  We saved it, and it has become one of my favorite things. Its’ decades-old limbs perfectly “hug” the house, and from Braedan’s bedroom window it feels like you can reach out and touch it. You almost can.

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As I type this, I’m sitting in the far room of the photo above, looking out that window at the same tree trunk.

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Main floor staircase (above).

(Some of the following photos are smaller size and a little blurry because I took them on my phone.)

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The house before it was painted (above).

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Above is the view as you enter through the mudroom door.

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The mudroom view from the kitchen. On the right is our walk-in pantry. The door in the middle (still on the right) is a bathroom, and the very far right door is a closet. I wanted to do something fun with the color of the main door, and went with Benjamin Moore “Venezuelan Sea”.

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This corner of the kitchen is probably my favorite spot in the house. I spend a lot of time here, and am grateful for the view out of this window…especially of the incredible variety of birds that we have on the property.

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A wider view of the kitchen. To the right of the ovens is the mudroom and a second utility room leading to the garage.

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The sunroom off of the kitchen. We loved the sunroom in our previous house so much, we basically replicated it. You can barely see a black door handle on the right of the photo. This door is in the sunroom, and is the entrance (exit?) to the future deck. (Look closely…sleeping babe on the couch;)

DSC_1254Here I’m standing in the kitchen looking toward the front of the house. The staircase is in the center of the house. Dining room is in the left of the photo. Informal dinette leading to the great room to the right of the photo. On the other side of the staircase are the main front doors and the office. That small brown door you see under the landing of the stairs was built to be a doghouse. After moving in, I decided promptly (within hours) that Tebow need not enter beyond the mudroom. It is now a fort for the kids. The girls especially love bringing flashlights in and reading there. In case you were concerned, Tebow has a very comfortable spot in the garage and is still allowed in the mudroom. He is (mostly) quite obedient of the boundary, and only occasionally attempts to slip in further. Love that dog.

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Front Doors above.

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The front porch (above) which wraps around the side of the house.

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View as you enter front doors. The dining room is to your right, office and coat closet to the left.

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Same view with afternoon natural light.

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The office (above).Hard to get a good shot of this room as it’s shaped a bit odd.

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Above is a view of the great room as I’m standing on the landing of the staircase.

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Another shot of the great room. The window seat is a favorite reading spot.

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Above is another view from the landing overlooking the dinette. Here you can see better the door in the sunroom which leads out to the future deck.

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Heading upstairs, this is the view to the left as you reach the top. This room is what we call the movie loft (for lack of a better name?!?) It was originally planned to be a bedroom, until I pulled a fast one on our builder and changed the entire upstairs floor plan on a whim one weekend. He was great about it, which is the reason we worked so well with him. He’s practically like family now ;)

If you went straight down the hallway with the wood floor, you’d end up in the study loft.

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Looking back at the stairs (above shot). You can see our bedroom and the hall closet. The older boys’ room is to the right of the hall closet. Girls’ room is to the left of the photo (on your right as you reach the top of the stairs.). Behind me is the study loft, laundry, and Braedan’s bedroom.

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Hunter and Landon’s room above.  During construction, this was the only window I had trouble walking up to.  I would feel dizzy and unsteady looking out of it. Not sure why.

Below, another shot of the older boys’ room standing at the windows looking out toward the hall. You can see their walk-in closet on the left.

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Girls’ bedroom. Their bathroom/closet is on the left as you enter their room.

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View from inside the girls’ room looking out to the hallway and movie loft. You can see their bathroom on the right.

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The study loft. You can barely see the entrance to Braedan’s bedroom near the left of the photo.

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Remember the tree I mentioned above that we nearly cut down? There it is outside Braedan’s window. It doesn’t translate well in a picture, but it’s really close, and we watch the birds and chipmunks running in and out of that hole you see.

Below, a wider shot of Braedan’s room. Apologies for the poor lighting.

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Back on the other side of the house, this is a partial view from our bedroom windows (above). Again, it doesn’t really come across, but we feel like we’re in a tree house up here.

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Above, a wider shot of our bedroom.

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View from the windows above our tub.  Those leaves are so close, I can touch them when I open the windows.

Below, a wider shot of the bathroom off of our bedroom.

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That’s the house friends.  We’ve met some lovely neighbors here, who we are all looking forward to getting to know better. We do miss our old neighborhood and the great friends we made there. I’m so glad we’ve remained in each others lives. We’re glad to be just a hop, skip and jump away from them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

one and thirteen

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Braedan read Gigi’s birthday cards :)

 

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What a difference lighting makes! The cake above is shot in natural light (admittedly not enough), and the cake shots below are under incandescent lights. Same cake!

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We celebrated two milestone birthdays in June. Gianna turned one, and Hunter thirteen. The first birthday is always momentous to me. I’ve thrown a party for each of the kids when they turned one. For me, it’s a concrete reminder that we must move on from the infant stage- whether I want to or not! I adore tiny babies! But even so – even though age one is a tiny bit bittersweet, I also am excited for what’s to come.  So many exciting things are happening when the second year begins! Gigi is picking up new words quickly. She says mama, dog, all done, ball, water, dada, hi, num num, and baby. I feel like I’m forgetting some of her words, but that’s most.  The other kids get truly excited when she says something they understand. Actually, we all get excited about pretty much anything Gigi does. She’s crawling up and down the stairs by herself (we are always close behind), she rolls (or throws) a ball to us, she gives kisses and hugs. She’s close to walking.

As usual, I cannot believe how quickly the first year of her life has gone. And then for Hunter to have turned thirteen is really something.  I clearly remember, when he was around one year old, trying to imagine him as a teenager.  It seemed so far away then.  Well, here we are with this truly precious young man who we are so proud of.  Hunter is such a generous and sweet boy.  He’s respectful and obedient and has a silly sense of humor. I can really count on him.  He’s into longboarding and has asked for a new board for the third year in a row! I didn’t mind fulfilling the request, because I’m all for activities that get them out of the house and burning energy. We celebrated just our family (no party), and with a little planning between myself and our waitress, we surprised him with his gift after dinner.  It was cute. She brought it out with his dessert saying, “So, who here ordered a side of long board with their birthday treat?” After a minute Hunter said quietly, “Um…I guess that might be me!”

My heart overflows…

first month update

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September flew right on by, and we’ve had a great start to our school year! This is a most welcome surprise after the roller coaster that was our experience last year.  I don’t know what the difference is, exactly.  I guess something clicked with the boys somewhere along the way and they aren’t giving me the hard time about doing schoolwork that they sometimes often did last year.  Praise God!  It’s a Grace that I’m invigorated about teaching them once again.  I’ve no doubt whatsoever that divine intervention is at work here, because there is absolutely no explanation for it otherwise.  Things have fallen into place (for now), and I’m just extremely grateful for it.  But I’ll stop there with all the talk about how great it’s been so far, because although I’m not superstitious, I do believe life sometimes has a way of making one eat one’s words after publicly announcing how great things are.

I have two more “official” students this year.  Alexa and Maya are enjoying Kindergarten.  I’m keeping their lessons pretty simple and fun.  I don’t want them to feel like schoolwork is a burden.  There is a lot to be said about developing a love for learning by presenting material in a fun and not stressful way.  As I write this, it occurs to me that my more relaxed attitude this year might be part of the positive change we’re feeling around here.  (The not being nauseated constantly for four straight months right after school begins definitely has something to do with it too).

Now is a good time for me to share how much I appreciate my fellow bloggers. I have received so much encouragement and inspiration from other women who open themselves up and share their experiences.  This comes to mind because I read a really great post from Sarah over at Amongst Lovely Things this past summer that really stuck with me. If you’re a homeschooler, you should really read it. By the way, Sarah’s blog is one of my favorites to read!  Even if you’re not a homeschooler, you would probably love her as much as I do.  Anyway, she talks about teaching from a state of rest- and what she said was just what I needed to hear I love her approach to schooling and I’m adopting it as much as I can (including her emphasis on great literature as being critical for developing the moral imagination-yes, yes, yes!!).  Actually, saying that I’m “adopting it” doesn’t seem exactly true.  I think it’s more like I’ve discovered something about myself that’s always been there but just needed to be drawn out.  This whole experience, I’m realizing, is a bit of a weeding out process for me.  I sort of dived in without any preparation, and have been trying to find my footing ever since.  That’s because I believe the homeschooling way of life is really a calling.  I certainly felt called to it. I did not choose to do this because I thought I would enjoy it and that I would be good at it.  I still don’t know if I’m ever going to be good at it, and I certainly don’t enjoy it every day.

So that is where I’m at now on this journey. I’m being mindful about my attitude towards learning and how it affects my children.  I feel like a bit of weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I feel a little relieved.  I’m going to do more fun things this year.  Art is one of those things that got sort of pushed to the back burner last year.  I have a goal to actually enjoy our school days- not just get through them. I’m going to tune in more closely to how my learners are feeling about this experience.  If they seem burdened, I am determined to lighten their load accordingly. I want to bring smiles to their faces everyday! I want them to feel that they have a part in the process…that they have some control over their own learning experience.  I want to help them “discover” knowledge and not just cram it down their throats.

The pictures above were from a couple of weeks ago when we made our own water paints.  It was my first planned art activity of the year and it really was pretty fun.  I followed the directions on this website.  We made three trays of paint.  The kids mixed their own colors up with food coloring and they were really into it.  Even Hunter and Landon stuck around for the whole thing.  I wasn’t sure if it would keep them interested being that they are a bit older, but it did.  The paints turned out nicely, but they are different from the store-bought stuff.  We’ve used them quite a few times already, and I think they will last a while – unlike the trays I buy at the store which only last one or two painting sessions for us.